( Story ) Start of a lifetime of Fly Tying

by Jonathan

Some time ago a close friend sent me a cutting from the Times, by Brian Clarke the fishing correspondent and writer. His description of the origin of artificial flies, for fishing, in Mesopotamia in 200 AD., brought back happy memories of a childhood on the fells of County Durham.
I am not saying that I was around in 200 A.D. but the article went on to elaborate on the use of hand held vices for tying fishing flies.
I am now 78 years old and still fishing. I have tied flies since I was eleven years old. I must confess that I cannot remember a time when I was not fishing in one form or another. I am not saying that I was around in 200 A.D. I might look old but not that old. The article went on to elaborate on the use of hand held vices for tying fishing flies.
How and why did I get started tying fishing flies? My father was the village policeman in Cockfield, then a small mining village on the fells in County Durham. Some of my earliest memories are of the family walks across the fells to the river Gaunless. It was hardly a river, it was a cold clear stream in its middle reaches, running through a valley on the fells on its way to the River Wear.
On our first walk along the banks I was mesmerised by the huge shoals of minnows flashing in the pools. I could not resist the urge, even at the tender age of six years, to catch those beautiful fish. When I was seven years old I was considered sensible enough to go the river on my own, just as long as I was accompanied by Lady our liver and white Springer Spaniel
In the early days my tackle was a garden cane with an old cloth flour bag with wire threaded through the top and pushed into the top of a garden cane. That and a two pound jam jar with string handle, was sufficient to take my trophies back home.
On my frequent ‘fishing trips’ trips to the river I came across some of the older village lads fishing with longer garden canes with a longer length of thread tied to a bent pin for a hook. They were always very secretive about what they were putting on the hook. Because I was the village bobby’s son they usually made off when I and Lady came along. They always fished under the bushes on the opposite bank and would not answer me when I asked them how they were catching the fish. Always they made a hurried exit when my father was with me, but this did not seem to bother him. In fact I think he enjoyed their displeasure. He knew who they were and they did come from the ‘rough end’ of the village, which was his most troublesome area.
When I was about eight years old I was on another one of my adventures, together with Lady, I came across one of the older lads fishing with a proper rod and line, without a reel, and watched as he caught a trout, it looked enormous. It probably was about ten inches long. When I asked him what he was fishing for he just laughed at me and ran off.
Now minnows looked very inadequate. I wanted to know more about these bigger fish that the older lads were catching. The seeds had been sown for a lifetime of trout fishing, but it would be some time yet before the seeds bore fruit.
The first lesson to be learnt was the deadly bait. My father asked one of the trout fishers in the village and found it was the caddis grub! There were always piles of the shells scattered in the grass where the lads had been fishing. Where did they come from? When the answer was revealed it meant I had to go barefoot into the river, or have some wellingtons, to get into the river and look under the larger stones. There was a War on and the wellington boots idea was a non starter.
For the next couple of years I would content myself with catching minnows, sometimes with a jam jar tied on to length of string, sometimes in my flour bag net on a cane. I always failed to find a way of tying a bent pin as a hook on to length of thread to fish the caddis grub. Things were going to change very soon and I would learn to be a fisherman. My first trout was a complete accident whilst I was foraging for caddis bait. I had found that sometimes I could dislodge some of these caddis shells from under the larger stones by holding the net below the stone and lifting and dropping the stone. On this occasion a trout made a hasty exit from its lair and charged straight into the net. It was about nine inches long and was the biggest trout I had ever seen. I pushed it head first into my two pound jam jar full of water and ran all the way home with my trophy. My first trout and my Dad would have it for his breakfast.
My dad realised that he was going to have to do something to help me be the fisherman I dreamed about. The first step was the acquisition of an old greenheart rod and a brass reel complete with cuttyhunk line. It was still the age of gut, nylon mono was very much in its infancy. Somehow he acquired some used gut to hook casts and a box of split shot. I was going to be a trout fisherman!

Written by Dave Cammiss

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