Category Archives: Fly fishing

tiddler treasures in the thames


This weekend I was privileged to be able to fish both days during the switch of tides. The water was clearer than I have ever seen it and although there are always man made items in the river, the amount of plastic has vastly reduced compared to the levels I became accustomed to seeing in 2013.

Massive thanks to everyone who makes real effort to reduce litter and pollution in this city. The water clarity is the best I've seen it and the prolific abundance of fish is evidence of a recovering river.

Massive thanks to everyone who makes real effort to reduce litter and pollution in this city. Water clarity is the best I’ve seen it and the prolific abundance of fish is evidence of a recovering river.

I worked my way through my favourite spots, eagerly anticipating a bite, scanning for evidence of fish as always. Cormorants, herons and grebes are abundant – sure signs of viable fish populations. It was not long before I saw shoals of baitfish and I did my best to put together a pattern that worked. Low tide is an exciting time, below and above the surface. Fast currents pull food to waiting fish, slow waters gather nutrients and provide comfortable resting places for predators and prey alike.

On both days the magic happened during a little time window coinciding with the onset of the incoming tide. The best way to describe it is when the current gently grinds to a halt, then s.l.o.w.l.y. changes direction. All of a sudden the river begins to boil softly with the constant rising of myriads of baitfish. There is little chance of predicting exactly where they rise – all around me in every direction: spates of little fish leaping clear of the surface or delicately sipping morsels from the film.

My humble Mrs Simpson chugged along, faithfully tracing staccato arcs through the water – how long before a giant slab of silver would latch on in the frenzied hope of yet another mouthful? Action came in tiny yet explosive packages – brave perch knocked my fly doggedly, regardless of their diminutive stature. First one took me by surprise and I did not have the heart to set the hook – it bounced free with an unplanned tailwalk into a splash landing. I chuckled at my heightened senses, the pounding in my heart inversely proportional to the size of the prize. The next attacker was larger and less fortunate as a result – even tiddler perch have cavernous mouths – and I was delighted to get this unusual picture for my catch catalogue:

The joy of fishing in the Thames is not knowing what may latch on - every cast could produce one of many different species. This time it was a feisty perch - Perca fluviatilis falling prey to the seductive powers of a Mrs Simpson pattern tied from woodcock feathers.

The joy of fishing in the Thames is not knowing what may latch on – every cast could produce one of many different species. This time it was a feisty perch – Perca fluviatilis falling prey to the seductive powers of my Mrs Simpson pattern tied from woodcock feathers.

Back into the Thames on the rising tide... The water was the cleanest I've seen it since I started fishing there in March last year. Big thanks to everyone who makes real effort to reduce litter and pollution in this city.

Back into the Thames on the rising tide… The water was the cleanest I’ve seen it since I started fishing there in March last year.

Not long after the fun began, it suddenly turned quiet. A westerly wind came up and I had to return to the safety of higher ground, driven by the rising tide. After having blanked on every previous visit since August last year, I was overjoyed to have caught and released a new species on a metiefly pattern, irrespective of its tiny size.

Day two was even more fun for me as I anticipated the prospects of success, armed with my recently acquired knowledge. I had visions of a shoal of sea trout cutting through pods of baitfish, chasing them down in the shallows, herding them against the surface and gorging on my meticulously presented fly. I toyed with the option of a smaller fly to specifically target the baitfish, then quickly rejected it, steadfast in my resolve to catch a sea trout. After all, the little fish last night had no trouble gulping my Mrs Simpson:

This fly proved itself with tiny perch... would it step up to the challenge of a wily Sea Trout?

This fly proved itself with tiny perch… would it step up to the challenge of a wily Sea Trout?

I chose to fish upstream into pockets of rolling currents, challenged by the need to strip my fly quicker than the current to give it some action – after a few casts, I was shocked to have a savage take, only to discover this – for a few milliseconds I was besides myself thinking it was a young trout or a salmon par, then to discover it was a dace, known to ichthyologists as Leuciscus leuciscus. Another new species – Mrs Simpson was on a roll!

Leuciscus leuciscus - dace... These can grow to a decent size. I look forward to finding out more about them in due course.

Leuciscus leuciscus – dace… These can grow to a decent size. I look forward to finding out more about them in due course.

Like clockwork, the tides switched and the boiling began, this time I cast in the region of the biggest swirls, retrieving rapidly in the hope of attracting attention to my fly. No bites. As soon as I slowed down my retrieve to a steady figure of eight – wham! Another stunning photo opportunity:

Day two, number two - I was amazed at how hard he struck and with the bend he managed to put in my rod! Notice how clear the water is, despite a downpour earlier in the day.

Day two, number two – I was amazed at how hard he struck and with the bend he managed to put in my rod! Notice how clear the water is, despite a downpour earlier in the day.

My next perch was the brightest of the bunch, helped by a perfect splash of sunshine exactly on time for the picture:

Perfect poser! I love these colourful little fish... So do cormorants and grebes!

Perfect poser! I love these colourful little fish… So do cormorants and grebes!

I was in the zone, having worked out how to catch them, each one seemed slightly larger than the one before…

See what I mean about cavernous mouths?

See what I mean about cavernous mouths?

Finally, just when I had waded back towards my homeward shoreline, I had the biggest take of them all:

Day two, perch number four!

Day two, perch number four!

What wonderful additions to my Thames catch catalogue after two highly enjoyable afternoons. I am thrilled to have discovered what lies underneath the surface during “happy hour” – one thing I know for sure: some of those baitfish were leaping because they were chasing down food; most of them were leaping for their lives, desperately escaping much bigger mouths under the surface. It will not be long before my next sojourn…

Thank you for reading – I look forward to seeing you back here again soon!

99 blogposts – not out!


For my 99th blog entry I feel honoured to share this video.

It is not my work.

It definitely echoes my sentiments – great work by its creators.

Enjoy it and thanks again for visiting my site

I look forward to your return!

JLM Special makeover – back to Abaco?


Constructive feedback is a wonderful inspirer. Esteemed fellow blogger and author of a stunning Bird book, RH (of rollingharbour.com) painstakingly limited his catch rate on my behalf during his last sojourn in the Abaco Marls. Persisting long after his wiser companions abandoned the JLM Special in favour of their tried and tested stalwarts, RH very kindly gathered all the empirical evidence he needed to tell me the following:

These flies don’t work in Abaco! Not even by accident! (These are my own words – RH is far more generous and polite :-))

RH went on to provide constructive insights to help me refine my approach:

“Basically, much too dark for the waters of Abaco, too bushy, no streamer tail, no sparkle.”

My first creative reaction is to take care of the colour tones…

Prototype1 - this albino variant is made by combining arctic fox tail with ginger (yes ginger!) elk hair and white embroidery thread. To give it some colour and fine movement, I used blonde hare fur tips. For the telson, a sliver of red wool . Photo - metiefly

Prototype1 – this albino variant is made by combining arctic fox tail with ginger (yes ginger!) elk hair and white embroidery thread. To give it some colour and fine movement, I used blonde hare fur tips. For the telson, a sliver of red wool . Photo – metiefly

The streamer tail and addressing the bushy profile is a matter of correcting proportions:

Longer and fewer arctic fox fibres , a whiff of red in the main body - each iteration is a little step closer to the end goal!

Longer and fewer arctic fox fibres , a whiff of red in the main body – each iteration is a little step closer to the end goal! Photo – metiefly

I have no idea what the final design will look like – in the meantime, I thoroughly enjoyed myself in the ongoing pursuit of what Abaco’s bonefish consider a tasty morsel.

Ready for postage... Thanks again to RH for his great attitude and collaboration...

Ready for postage… Much appreciation to RH for his patience, great attitude and collaborative spirit. Photo – metiefly

Thank you for visiting – I look forward to your return.

Burkheimer – true craftsmanship!


I saw this video on the Fishing in Style website… I am inspired by the passion for quality and perfection that goes into every rod… The narrator says “part of that person, part of the passion goes into each rod…”

Powerful stuff!

Thames adventures and aquatic beetles in Africa


I spent several hours on the Thames over the last two days reconnecting my casts in pursuit of a sea trout, or any species willing to hunt my offerings. The wind has been perfect, allowing me to cast upstream and work my fly through riffles and runs at low tide. No bites so far and plenty of time to ponder – what a tremendous way to iron out all the wrinkles that work and commuting create.

I longed to tie a credible Walker’s Killer since my very first attempt at dressing a hook, back in 1984 when I first met my trout hunting friend Gareth. From an early age he tied flies for his family’s annual pilgrimage to the mountains of Nyanga – perfecting many techniques, trusting his instincts and improvising with locally sourced materials and colour combinations. Hooks were hard to come by in tiny sizes and I would often tie a fly, examine it for a while, then I would cut off the thread, feathers and wool to start again!

Last night I rekindled my enthusiasm for this pattern using woodcock feathers and squirrel tail… My technique needs further refining however I am confident that with continued practice and the right feathers (partridge feathers are best) I will master it at last!

Herewith my first prototypes for the time being:

This magic pattern mimics water beetles, dragon fly larvae or small fish. Have a go at tying your own and let me know when you succeed!

This magic pattern mimics water beetles, dragon fly larvae or small fish. Have a go at tying your own and let me know when you succeed!

The more I practise, the easier it gets - I discovered that a similar pattern, the Mrs Simpson is used specifically for sea trout in New Zealand, fished at night... Will mine work in the Thames this season?

The more I practise, the easier it gets – I discovered that a similar pattern, the Mrs Simpson is used specifically for sea trout in New Zealand, fished at night… Will my equivalents work in the Thames this season?

I use liquid fusion superglue to cement their heads... Make sure they dry sufficiently before you handle them or store them to prevent them from sticking to each other.

I use liquid fusion superglue to cement their heads… Remember to ensure they dry sufficiently before handling them or storing them to prevent them from sticking to each other.

woodcock feathers produce a different effect - I look forward to using partridge feathers to recreate the original in due course...

woodcock feathers produce a different effect – I look forward to using partridge feathers to recreate the original in due course…

Water beetles are ubiquitous in the lakes and rivers that I visited as a boy – perhaps this is why the Walker’s Killer is such a hit there:

Photo - Art.com

Photo – Art.com. Cybister tripunctatus is a predatory water beetle that hunts Odonata larvae… In Southern Africa There are over 200 species of water beetles in the Family Dytiscidae alone.

Thank you for visiting – I look forward to your return!

lessons from history – Walker’s Killer pattern


I understand I’m getting older when what was once considered current affairs is now taught in the form of history lessons!

I met my first Onchorhynchus mykiss on Mare Dam in the Rhodes Nyanga National Park. In the words of my beloved Granddad, I stood “knee high to a grasshopper” at the time. Magical fly fishing holidays now flit amongst my neurons in the form of spectacular memories and deep seated core knowledge… No box is a fly box if it does not contain Walker’s Killers. Some of the finest fishermen in the land would carry only this pattern, save for a dry fly or two in case of an evening rise. They had good reason too!

Attributed to Mr. Lionel Walker, the Walker’s Killer consists of a tail of black dyed squirrel tail fibres, a red chenille body and several paired sets of double sided wings. Literature mentions up to eighteen striped partridge feathers per fly tied opposite so as to present a slim, almost flat profile. This allows for streamlined casting and straight swimming once submerged.

Trout guzzle this fly when conditions are perfect, when conditions are awful, and wherever conditions may fall in the whole spectrum inbetween!

In London most of the people I have spoken to about this pattern are unaware of it. Time for one of the most wonderful blasts from the past:

There was a time when this fly needed no introduction!

There was a time when this fly needed no introduction!

Beautiful construction - if one parts the wings a body of scarlet chenille is revealed.

Beautiful construction – if one parts the wings a body of scarlet chenille is revealed.

The slim profile allows it to cut through the air during casts and to swim straight as an arrow underwater.

The slim profile allows it to cut through the air during casts and to swim straight as an arrow underwater.

Please drop me a comment if this fly stirs up great memories, or even if it piques your anger - the pattern was so successful that some traditionalists even considered it to be cheating!

Please drop me a comment if this fly stirs up great memories, or even if it piques your anger – the pattern was so successful that some traditionalists even considered it to be cheating!

This fly happens to be my only one, still treasured after I discovered the hook had snapped off during one of my early adventures many decades ago. I strive to learn how to tie such neat and robust flies… This one is my motivator because it still looks good after more than thirty years!

I look forward to teaching myself to tie this pattern… Thank you for reading as always.

urban trout wanderings…


Today’s bright weather seemed ideal for me to return and search for the completely unexpected trout that graces my memory so often since I saw it four years ago. Up early, I enjoyed an invigorating walk, admiring the clean water in the Thames as I went. I left the river wondering how soon I will meet another sea trout, or perhaps even my first Thames salmon this season… Amazing thoughts!

I cannot help thinking that all the rain we received earlier this year definitely helped flush out our waterways. The Tidal Thames seldom looks crystal clear, however the water is in the best condition I have ever seen it at the moment.

I cannot help thinking that all the rain we received earlier this year definitely helped flush out our waterways. The Tidal Thames seldom looks crystal clear, however the water is in the best condition I have ever seen it at the moment.

As I made my way towards the magical stream, my excitement grew  – is it too much to expect a small population of fish to cling on to survival, despite all the potential threats? What about all the rains we had in the winter? I peeped into the water as I crossed the first bridge, delighted to see it running clear and full, ample sign of aquatic life in every nook and cranny. In stealth mode, I walked quietly and swiftly, eyes peeled and tuned into my surroundings… Springtime is such an intoxicating gift, so full of promise and abundance!

Embracing the joy of Springtime - definitely worth the long winter nights...

Embracing the joy of Springtime – definitely worth the long winter nights…

The first shoal of fish gave themselves away, scattering as a breathtakingly beautiful pair of mandarin ducks sneaked along the far shoreline. About thirty fish slightly longer than my hand darted with such speed… I think they were common dace, conspicuous by their fast movement and the reddish tinge to their fins. Glad that I had spotted some fish, I was even more eager to locate a trout!

This pair has a massive territorial range, unless there are multiple pairs along this stretch of river - I saw some at the top end of my walkabout, as well as near the start. They are literally breathtaking especially when the sun shines on them so perfectly.

This pair has a massive territorial range, unless there are several pairs along this stretch of river – I saw some at the top end of my walkabout, as well as near the start. They are stunning to behold, especially when the sun shines on them so perfectly.

I pushed further upstream until a large, deep pool gave me reason to feel that there must be a trout here if there are to be any in the river… Shadows criss-crossed the calm water and I was grateful for my polarised sunglasses, peering into the depths. Almost imperceptibly, a shape loomed up from the darkness… About 30 centimetres of exactly what I had been searching for! Two others joined it and I savoured the experience of watching them frolic in the slow moving current. I caught myself wondering what the passers by thought I was staring at so intently. Clear pictures would be tricky to take because of the reflections in the water so I marked the spot mentally for future visits and walked on upstream.

The following video was taken after I had witnessed countless trout in several sections of the stream… Ideal habitat is limited, however from this short clip you can see for yourself that numbers are strong for the time being:

I spent a couple of idyllic hours filming and photographing these amazing fish… Enjoy the footage and if you want to see more, please visit my urban trout page.

There were about four species of fish schooling together... I would love to know if there are a mix of brown trout and rainbow trout in this population! Perhaps the need to conduct some catch and release research in due course

There were about four species of fish schooling together. I would love to know if there is a mix of brown trout and rainbow trout in this population! Perhaps a need to conduct some catch and release research in due course!

Considering the number of pictures and videos I took, there are not many that show them up close and personal... But then again most of my readers will know how hard it is to get within close photographic distance on a clear sunny day!

Considering the number of pictures and videos I took, there are not many that show the trout ‘up close and personal’… then again – most readers will understand the challenge of getting within close photographic distance on a clear sunny day!

I am still struggling to contain my excitement - and to think that I saw fish from at least three different year groups. I will have to catch and release a few to ensure correct identification... Will they be resident browns, sea trout or rainbows?

I am still struggling to contain my excitement – and to think that I saw fish from at least three different year groups. I will have to catch and release a few to ensure correct identification… Will they be resident browns, sea trout or rainbows?

Once again I sincerely thank all the wonderful people who toil so hard to keep our rivers clean – please let’s all continue to do whatever we can too.

Thank you for reading, I look forward to your next visit!