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Opening Day on an English Chalk Stream

By Roger Ellis, UK

I drive down to the river, for the first time this year, on a damp cold day when even the new lambs in the meadow alongside the narrow lane look miserable. But the sight of the water, as I cross the little bridge opposite the fishing hut, and the smell of it as I pull on my boots, make me realise how much I've missed the river during the long winter months. And a little later, when a watery sun appears briefly between the showers, and a thin, plaintive birdsong can be heard from the alders upstream, I know that I have arrived back in paradise once again.

I put up my rod in the shelter of the hut, and tie on a hawthorn fly dressed months ago during one of those long, wistful winter evenings. There is no fly life of any sort to be seen, either on the water, or in the bushes along the margins. But this is the first Sunday in May and, I reason, there ought to be hawthorns about somewhere.

The river bottom looks cold and empty at this time of the year, before the lush green streamer weed really starts to fill the channels. But the water is glassy clear and this is a great time to get to know the deep runs under the willows and to see the holes and obstructions that make such good lies for the trout. Later, this nakedness will be hidden under a great profusion of growth and only the gravel runs between the weed beds will be visible.

Suddenly there is a movement under the tussocks on the far bank, and, moments later, the movement is repeated as my floating hawthorn fly is taken confidently by a smallish angry brown trout that, in due course, shakes his way into my net. He's lucky: half an inch shorter than the strictly imposed limit here (above which, alas, all fish must be killed) and so he goes back, in a huff of silt, to recover from the indignity.

Later in the day a bigger, deep-shouldered fish takes the same fly after my fourth attempt to drop it close to him between the damp downstream gusts. When I examine him later, while cleaning him for my supper, I discover that he is virtually empty and I experience a small bleak feeling of guilt. I tricked him with this big leggy imitation on a day when he struggled to find even a single natural fly. I feel just a little ashamed.

Although I see a lot of trout, deep down, dark and remote, I do not see another move near the surface and I finally pack up, with chilled fingers, as the wind increases and the sky grows dark with rain. As I drive past the meadow I slow the car to look at the lambs, which are now pressed in a tight group around the base of a sheltering tree, looked on by a circle of doting mothers, chewing vacantly as they lay in the wet grass. And I can hardly wait for next weekend.

About the Hawthorn Fly


The first tie is the Oliver Edwards foam bodied pattern, with white poly yarn wing, as given in his Flytyers Masterclass book. This imitates the distinctive profile of the natural, with its large thorax and head, very well indeed. The second is a simple pattern with hackle point wings which is not quite so realistic but is, nevertheless, very effective. This is dressed with a black dubbed body, black hackle and white or pale blue dun hackle points as wings. The legs are black dyed feather fibre - goose or any suitable feather, knotted to form the distinctive joints. In each case the rear legs are dressed very long, as in the natural. Both patterns are dressed on size 12 hooks.

The insect photo is from John Goddards book, Trout Fly Recognition, and is included for your information.

I don't know if this dipteran, or one similar, exists in the States. Strictly, its a terrestrial since no part of its' lifecycle is aquatic. It usually appears around the end of April, often in fair numbers, and is a large, slow flying insect which often seems to gather, as the name implies, around hawthorn bushes adjacent to the river. The hawthorn is in bloom at the time of its' appearance and I believe the adult probably feeds on nectar from the heavy scented blooms. As Oliver mentions, you often see it 'head down' in the blossom. Although little is known about its' lifecycle, save that it is not aquatic, it is likely that the larval stage, at least, requires damp conditions since the adult definately seems to prefer locations close to water. What is certain, however, is that it often appears on the water, and, being rather large and ungainly, probably gets blown there. Trout feed avidly on it during the short week or two that it is in evidence.

For the flyfisher, it fills in nicely after the Grannom (an early spring sedge here), if, indeed, Grannom are present at all, and before other fly life 'gets going'. It is a luxury to be able to fish a comparatively large pattern at this time.

Although the season is very short, trout will often take an artificial for some time after the fly itself has disappeared - which is an additional bonus.

In the North of England and Scotland there is a very similar insect, the heather fly (Bibio Pomonae), which I believe (not knowing it personally very well) appears much later in the year. This fly has bright red legs and is a very distinctive fellow indeed. It is notable that many traditional 'bibio' patterns incorporate a bit of red in the dressing, although this is often in the body rather than the legs. There are, of course, a number of other 'bibio' species around, but I know of none in the UK with any red colouration. The renowned black gnat of fly fishing literature is also usually identified as a bibio species - bibio johannis. In fact, I believe that 'black gnat' is a name given to a number of species of diptera, all much smaller than the hawthorn.

That's about all I know I'm afraid. There are many traditional patterns around and it seems that most of the 'big names' of the past have had their favourites. Hope this stuff might be of interest! ~ Roger Ellis, May 2002

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River Piddle, U.K. - By Paul Slaney
A Day on the River Test By Mike Pratt
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The Good Place (Ireland) - By Jim Clarke
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The Odd Couple - By Jim Clarke
Fly Fishing Scotland - By Franz Grimley
The Artist - By Jim Clarke
One to Remember - By Jim Clarke
The Italian Secret - By Ralph Shuey
Opening Day on an English Chalk Stream - By Roger Ellis
Kolpakova River, Western Russia - By Rob Merrill
Fishing in the Czech Republic - By Tim Baldwin
2004 Fishing Season in the Czech Republic - By Tim Baldwin

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