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A forgotten fly box brings back some real memories

PUBLISHED: 10:18 24 October 2017

How can a grown man be so obsessed with such a seemingly modest fish? Picture: John Bailey

How can a grown man be so obsessed with such a seemingly modest fish? Picture: John Bailey

Archant

I could hardly believe it! I thought I’d lost my House of Hardy leather fly wallet for good, years ago. Well, I had, but remarkably it was returned to me when I checked in to a Spanish hotel last week. It seems I’d forgotten it there at least a decade ago.

I got up to my room, looked inside and recoiled in horror. I really must be just about the messiest fly angler on the planet. I always envy those trout anglers whose fly boxes are so spick and span and cobweb-free whilst mine look as though a whirling Dervish has been at work. I guessed the flies were dating from around about the turn of the century when I had a real passion for the most realistic imitations possible. I was friends with a genius of a fly tier who pored over the most minute aspects of any fly that he tied. In amongst the rubbish of my returned fly box there really were some gems. Artificial ladybirds, for example, a wasp and even a hornet. None of them had caught much, if anything. I have always tended to think trout actually make a mouth at a vague shape, perhaps a colour, sometimes just a movement. Whether they analyse what they are eating through a magnifying glass I’ve always doubted.

The flies in the pouch that had always worked for me are the ones that you would expect. They were all imitations of caddis grubs. Most were tied on size 14s, I guess, and the colouring ranged from the creamy buttery yellow that caddis sport to white and even green. Over the past year or so, readers of this column will know that I’ve really appreciated caddis grubs as a super bait and that is exactly how the grubs look in the wild. My fly tier friend had got caddis grubs spot-on.

This particular fly pouch had come back to me, then, at exactly the right time. If 2017 has been in any way special for me, it has been the year of the caddis. What glories these grubs have shown me through the last 10 months or so. Looking at my diary, I can hardly believe how a grown man can be so attached to grubs.

In the spring, I was catching wild brown trout for fun on the upper reaches of the Wensum, on caddis imitations, of course. These were sparkling fish, immaculately marked, bursting with health, promising to grow big. Staying on the river, a lot of my chub over five and a half pounds have fallen to caddis grubs fished one way or another since June. Chub absolutely adore them. Of course, they don’t bother to take the shells off the caddis but eat them in their stony or stick cases in their entirety. My guess is that if chub aren’t eating small fish or crayfish then it’s caddis that are next up in line.

One of the more exciting experiences in my life this year is watching big bream in a crystal clear lake, coming into the shadows and browsing on the caddis beds in four feet of water. They have simply gone berserk there, stuffing themselves, revelling in score upon score of caddis. Once again, like the chub, they don’t shell the caddis, but eat them case and all. I guess the caddis stays inside them, the rest gets exuded. It’s no surprise, therefore, that my great mate JG landed that goliath 16lb 3oz bream back in the early summer on a size 12 with three or perhaps four caddis grubs impaled. That was a fish and a half and all down to the caddis magic.

I’ve never pulled off a double figure tench quite myself but I had a big nine on caddis in the later part of May. A guided client managed to bag a 10lb 2oz tench the same day, again, of course, on the wonder grub.

It’s a shame perhaps that coarse anglers are so obsessed with artificial baits bought from the tackle shop or even the supermarket. Boilies, pellets and sweetcorn are great and all catch legions of fish, but that old fly box should remind all of us that all our fish everywhere eat naturals first and shop-bought second. I guess if all of us freshwater men use nothing but caddis grubs, we’d notice an upturn in our catches for many species, throughout the winter, too.

It was lovely the weekend just gone, fishing with a good friend of mine, Phil, from the north. Angling has passed down to him through four previous generations of Sheffield fishermen. Of course, like even his great, great grandfather, Phil is obsessed with roach, like all good Sheffield men are. We caught one particular fish in the cold of the Sunday afternoon that couldn’t have weighed more than six ounces, but it was pristine. Immaculate. A complete joy to behold. Phil drove back northwards aglow, in raptures about a fish that weighed less than half a pound. I’m sure 99pc of the country’s population would deem us absolutely crazy, but the true anglers out there will appreciate exactly the little boy excitement that we shared.

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