FLY OF THE MONTH – APRIL 2023

THE DAWSON’S OLIVE

HOOK: Size 10 long shank.
THREAD: 6/0 black.
UNDERBODY: Lead sheet or wire (optional)
TAIL: Amber marabou.
BODY: Olive chenille
RIB: Medium oval silver tinsel.
WING: Olive marabou extending about half-way along the tail.
THROAT HACKLE: Guinea fowl.

This is a popular lure at Hallington and many other stillwaters in the
country, the amber showing up particularly well in peat-stained
water. It was devised by Brian Dawson in 1984 after he saw some
olive-coloured leeches at Tunstall Reservoir. Brian was an excellent
angler and also fished the River Wear, taking 20lb plus salmon and
two 14lb seatrout. I fished alongside him once or twice while he was
manager of Witton Castle fishery, and I can remember him catching
trout when no one else could. Part of his success was due to his
prodigious casting – he could reach fish that his fellow anglers couldn’t!
Sadly, Brian’s untimely death in his early fifties robbed
him of seeing the increase in popularity of the fly he devised, and
which bears his name, not only locally but nationwide. Brian’s
recommended method of fishing his fly was to use a jerky ‘figure of
eight’ retrieve to simulate the natural movement of a leech.

(Thanks to Ken Muter for this information on the origins of the fly.)

Other flies to try at the start of the season are lures such as Viva,
Humungous, Yellow Dancer, Black Fritz, Irving’s Inducer etc. Large
weighted nymphs such as stickfly, shrimp, App’s bloodworm etc.
can also be very effective. Midge pupa imitations in black and grey
are worth a swim on mild days when there may be midges hatching
and the odd fish rising. Don’t forget that brown trout are out of
season until May 1st so if you do hook any, please return them as
quickly and carefully as possible.

Sharp-eyed readers will notice that most of the following advice and
information is the same as last year’s. This is natural as one year is
much like the next. In addition, we may have new members this
year who will appreciate some help in their first season at
Hallington. I would add that in my opinion, winters are getting
milder, spring often seems to come earlier and consequently natural
fly life often appears sooner in the year than expected.

In the cold weather of early season, and from the bank, concentrate
on fishing your fly or flies as deep as you can without continually
snagging on the bottom. Stripping in your flies quickly using a
floating line will usually mean you are fishing above the fish, deeper
and slower will work better. A floating, midge-tip or sink-tip line will
usually be adequate, especially off the natural banks where you
might only be casting into 6-8 feet of water. When fishing from the
dams and embankments an intermediate or slow sinking line may
be more useful as you are generally casting into much deeper
water. If you occasionally snag on a rock or weed, you are doing it
right, but you have to be prepared to lose one or two flies. Check
your hook if you do hit a rock and carry a stone or diamond
sharpener in case the point is damaged. In most areas, the natural
banks shelve away gently, and most anglers will wade in to fish.
Before you enter the water though, it is worth dropping in a few
short casts in front of you in case there is a fish lurking in the
shallows. Although I recommend fishing fairly deep, it is surprising
how often you will catch a fish close to the bank in very shallow
water even at this time of year. In fact, if you wade too deep there
may well be fish behind you! Don’t forget that even if you are
wearing chest waders, you are only allowed to wade as deep as if
you were wearing thigh waders. This is for safety reasons and is
stipulated by the water company from whom we lease the lakes.
Please don’t wade any deeper than allowed as we wouldn’t want
wading to be banned altogether.

For boat fishing, firstly make sure you have plenty of warm clothing
and most importantly some good waterproofs. You are at the mercy
of the elements in a boat out on the lake. If you get wet and cold at
this time of year it can quickly dampen your enthusiasm. A thermos
flask with a hot drink or soup is almost mandatory. As for fishing
from a boat, it would probably be best to concentrate your efforts
along the shorelines, especially those areas with the wind blowing
onto the bank. I prefer to anchor the boat 30-50 yards from the
bank and cast downwind towards it. Most bank anglers prefer not to
fish directly into the wind so you are unlikely to interfere with them
on a cold and windy day. Other areas to try are around the sunken
island on the west lake and the large bay in the north-east corner of
the east lake. When the east lake is full, most of the north shoreline
can only be fished from a boat. Here the fishing can be good but
there may be a lot of bushes and long grass in the water which are
easy to snag up on. The area around the inlet stream in the south-
east corner of the east lake is always worth a few casts. Best lines
for early season boat fishing are intermediates and slow sinkers.
Generally, a Di3 line is about as dense as you will need because you
should be aiming to fish your flies between four and eight feet deep
for most of your retrieve.

Whether fishing from bank or boat, an early season tactic which will
almost always put a fish or two in the bag is booby fishing. A
buoyant fly on a sinking line with a short leader will fish deep and
usually avoid snagging up on the rocks and weed. As a method it
has been much maligned and banned on most small catch and
release waters. In the early days many lazy anglers were casting
out and not retrieving, letting the fly fish stationary. This resulted in
most fish swallowing the fly and so were released with not much
chance of survival. This is why most small waters do not allow it. If
you are going to take fish home, it is a legitimate tactic providing
you retrieve your line. Don’t use this method if you intend to
release your fish, even when a booby is retrieved, the fly can be
taken very gently and the fish deeply hooked. As for flies, booby
versions of all the lures mentioned above should work well, use a
steady ‘figure-of-eight’ retrieve for best results.

During the first week or two of the season, most of the fish are
freshly stocked, they are hungry and curious and are not too
difficult to catch. However, once they have been caught and
released a couple of times on large gaudy flies, they can become
quite difficult to tempt, then it may be worth trying smaller, drabber
flies such as stickfly, black and peacock spider, midge pupae, small
wet flies, nymphs etc. On calm, mild spring days you might come
across a few rising fish. They will probably be taking either hatching
midges or small beetles at the surface. You might see midges
coming off or see their empty shucks floating past, but it is a bit
more difficult to spot the beetles. It is worth trying a size 16 or 14
foam beetle or a similar size black Shipman’s buzzer in the surface
film for these fish.

Below: The Black Shipman’s buzzer

If you are interested in learning to tie your own flies, the WFFC are
holding two fly tying sessions in the clubhouse this season. Details
are available now on the website, social media etc. There will also
be an entomology presentation, or as I prefer to call it “Hallington
fly life, their imitations, and how to catch more fish”.

Tight lines for the new season!

Phil Bilbrough