Camouflage – by Mike Connor

I was squatting in a large bush on a small stream I fish regularly, watching a beautiful brown trout of about two pounds gracefully rising slowly and confidently to a series of olives which were hatching steadily. I had been watching the fish for about fifteen minutes, and was trying to figure out how best to get a cast at him without putting him down. The fish suddenly “stiffened” and sank slowly into the depths, and two other fish, smaller ones which I had not noticed up to that point, flashed past going downstream as if the devil was after them.

Damn I thought what happened there, what made them do that? And then I heard it too, two Anglers strolling along the bank looking for fish and discussing the water conditions, what flies to use etc. They were about thirty yards away at this point, and walking along the river bank about six or seven feet from the edge. They stopped at my bush, and continued talking for a while, I knew the older man slightly, and after listening for a few more minutes to their complaints about there being hardly any fish in the river, and how the canoeists were ruining everything etc I stepped out of the bush.

I think I must have frightened them half to death, the younger man dropped his fly-box, and the older man took several steps backwards and nearly fell in the river, he would have done but for bumping against a wire fence which stopped him taking the last step over the brink.

They were both quite angry, and asked me what the hell I thought I was doing hiding like that. I told them I was not hiding, I was fishing, and that is how I always do it. I must admit I was wearing a full camouflage suit including face mask and wrap around Polaroids, so it must have been something of a shock for them, they probably thought the Russians had invaded.

They were both wearing thigh waders, and very tasteful off white fishing vests over light tee-shirts and duck green trousers, the older gentleman had a very highly polished golden coloured reel which was flashing and glinting every time he moved, the bright white sheepskin patches on their fly vests looked like those things the army puts on dummies so you can hit them at 300 yards with a rifle. The general impression from a short distance was that of a perambulating Christmas tree!

After they had overcome their initial shock, we began exchanging pleasantries. They asked me if I had caught anything, (I had, several nice browns!) and I asked them if they had caught anything, (they had not!), the younger man then said that this was his worst season on this stream so far, last year there had still been some nice stocked rainbows in the stream, but he had not had a single one this season, in fact he was seriously considering leaving the club if things did not improve. He had never caught a brown trout here, and it was his considered opinion that there were none in the river. I refrained from commenting any further on this opinion.

The older gentleman who knew me from casting and tying classes at the club evenings asked me what flies I was using, I gave him two gold ribbed hares ears to try, he thanked me, and then asked if I knew a good place to try for a fish today. I walked down about seventy or eighty yards to the next weir with them, and showed them a place where there was usually a fish. The young man promptly waded across the gravel at the tail of the weir pool, until the water was almost slopping into his waders, and proceeded to false cast about fifteen times before plonking his fly down into the run about twenty five feet above and across from him.

As luck would have it a suicidal rainbow of about eleven inches shot out of the run and grabbed his fly as he was dragging in line for another cast. After a lot of messing about he caught the fish, knocked it on the head and put it in the hand woven French creel attached to his wader belt. That is more like it was his enthusiastic comment as he waded back in again, lovely fish, I will just see if there are any more there!

I spoke for another few minutes with the older gentleman who asked me why I had no net or waders? and whether it was worth going to all that trouble and looking like a freak in camouflage gear? I told him I wore it to save ruining my other clothes, and that I very rarely wade any way on small streams and waders are too hot and clumsy anyway. His opinion was that most of the places on this stream were impossible to fish without wading because of all the trees and bushes in the way, he had thought of mentioning this at the last club meeting, it might be a good idea to clear some stretches were one would then be able to cast properly.

I declined to comment. I wished them both tight lines, and slowly made my way back to my car about three miles down stream. I couldn’t help thinking what some of my fishing companions years ago in Yorkshire might have said. I am certain it would have been unprintable , but somewhere along the lines of “study to be quiet.”

Tight lines!

Mike Connor

About Mike Connor

I had the honourable pleasure to get to know Mike Connor while he lived in Germany close to Hamburg. I visited him several times and learned a lot about fly tying, fly fishing and life in general from this most humble, warm and kind man.

He also gave me a lot of his books and also a very nice creel, which is now hanging on the wall here at Skålestrømmen. I used it over several years until it started falling apart. He gave all these things away as he was moving back to England. I then lost contact with him and even after years of research on his whereabouts, I was not able to find him again. I spoke to several others who knew him and we all tried getting in touch with him, without luck. He sort of “vanished” and I really would like to know what happened to him. Really sad as it was always a pleasure talking to him.

Mike has written numerous articles about traditional techniques and methods. These have been published on various websites before, but can mostly not be found anymore without significant effort and the use of “back in time of the internet” services. Back when we had frequent communication I saved most of what he sent me on my hard drive. That was in those times when was one not “online” permanently and the internet was still steam powered.

I believe that this material needs to be saved from disappearing so I take the freedom to publish it here so interested flyfishermen and outdoor enthusiast can enjoy Mike´s work. I do not claim any copyright on this material of course and do not seek economic gain from keeping these texts alive. I am sure Mike wouldn’t mind.

Have fun reading.

Cheers & tight lines,
Thomas Züllich

P.S. – Please feel free to get in touch via email ( should you know Mike as well.

Conservation – by Mike Connor

Before one is really able to conserve something, one must have at least an idea of what exactly one is trying to conserve, and how to go about it. With regard to conservation of fish in freshwater, one is obliged to engage in the study of quite a number of things, in order to be able to do this effectively. These things are covered by the term “limnology”. 

Limnology is the study of freshwaters, including lakes, ponds, streams and rivers. The topics involved can be very wide indeed, physical processes as a result of heat, light, water chemistry, transport, and of course biological processes and their effects on the creatures and plants in these habitats. 

Even after one has gone to very considerable trouble, studied, checked, measured, consulted experts, and the available literature. One must still be extremely careful before actually doing some things. Stream and other ecologies are so extremely complex, some interdependencies are simply not known or understood, that even apparently minor changes imposed on them, can have disastrous consequences.

A propos experts, the following little story might be of immense value when appraising some experts;

A frog is drowning in a quicksand. He looks up and sees an owl on the branch of a tree above. The owl is wearing a T-shirt bearing the name of a well known firm of consultants.

“Owl!” cries the frog, “Can you help me? I’m drowning!!”.

“Well, that´s not exactly correct”, replies the owl. ‘You are being sucked down by what we at Mc Doitalls call a quicksand, and you will suffocate, not drown”.

“Well, can you help me?” calls the frog. “It will kill me anyway!!”.

“Yes, we can help, but it will be very expensive”.

“I don’t care about how much it costs”, says the frog, “I’m dying!”.

So the owl flies around the tree two or three times, hoots a little, and then says “My advice to you, frog, is that you should learn to fly”. And presents his invoice.

“How the **** can I learn to fly when I’m drowning, errrr… pardon me, suffocating, in this quicksand?” screams the frog.

“Ah well, we at McDoitalls don’t get involved in the implementation of our recommendations”.

In many cases one may call on past experience in achieving certain goals, and hope that by doing the same or similar things, similar goals may be attained, or at least previous pitfalls be avoided. Unfortunately, there are no guarantees for this. 

Very great care must be taken when interfering with ecological systems, as exactly the opposite of what one is trying to achieve may occur, or other equally unwanted side-effects have very adverse results. Some changes which have already occurred, have had such far and wide reaching consequences, that it is quite impossible to do anything about them. When looking at projects such as stream renaturalisation, introduction of fish, and other animals, one should be aware of whether such actions are even theoretically feasible. Much time, effort and money, may otherwise easily be wasted. 

Conservation, in its simplest form, would be simply to leave things alone. This of course is quite impossible nowadays. There are already so many things which have affected our environment that it is impossible to even list them all, and their various effects.

What many try to do, is to ameliorate some of these effects, even reverse them. Or at least to conserve and improve what is left.

Here again, what one person considers an improvement, may be anathema to another, or of no interest at all. Obtaining the wherewithal, and the necessary consent for improvements, or changes generally, which also invariably involves achieving a majority of votes, even among like-minded individuals, is no easy task.

Once having done so, the implementation of such projects is also fraught with difficulty. I will digress somewhat ( as is my wont!) in order to illustrate this.

Struggling up the bank dragging a large dripping sack, he paused for breath at the top and saw me standing there.

“Morning”, I said. “What exactly are you doing?”.

“Oh I am just getting some gravel for my aquariums. Just the right size this stuff, have to wash the slimy bits out though”. He replied.

Not at all surprised that it was “just the right size” for a host of things, as I had personally barrowed in about a ton of it some six weeks before, after carefully selecting it at a local quarry, along with several other club members. I proceeded to explain to him that he was in the process of destroying a redd, and that the slimy bits floating downstream as a result of his not inconsiderable efforts were fish eggs.

“Oh” he said, apparently unimpressed. “I didn´t know that”. “It´s my last sack anyway”.

I proceeded once again to explain to him, that it was not only his “last sack”, but that the sacks now sitting in the back of his pick-up must be returned to the stream immediately.

He got quite upset at that, “What do you care, it´s not your fucking gravel anyway. I can take what I like from a public stream”.

Tiring somewhat of explaining anything at all, I agreed that it was not my “fucking gravel”, it had been expressly provided by the members of my club, at considerable effort and expense as “fish fucking gravel”, and he was engaged in destroying the excellent and extremely heartening results of such activities, by digging it up, and stealing it, at the same time killing all the fish.

He got even more upset at this. In the meantime, my colleague, who was still waiting somewhat downstream of the whole business, had called the police, and several other club members.

By the time the police arrived, several club members were already there, and had succeeded by means of main force in preventing the gentleman from driving off, and also in preventing him from braining me with a sack of gravel. 

He was screaming and cursing like a lunatic, and generally behaving as if he was unhinged. A few friendly words from the policemen, and being told that he would be charged with a number of very interesting sounding offences if he did not calm down, and start behaving reasonably, eventually shut him up.

We removed the sacks from his pick-up, and tipped the gravel back into the stream as best we could. The redd was pretty well destroyed, but we did our best to cover it up again.

As it turned out, the gentleman owned three pet shops in the area, and had been collecting gravel from a couple of our feeder and breeder streams for several years. He was selling this, packed in plastic bags of 1kg, at a premium price, to people who wanted gravel for their aquariums.

He had slightly over five tons of gravel in the back-yard of his main shop when the police checked, along with a large and varied assortment of stones and boulders. Apparently it was a most lucrative endeavour.

The hefty fine and compensation he was obliged to pay, including the cost of transporting it all back to the streams, hopefully made a big dent in his profits, but somehow I doubt it.

My colleague and I had noticed that a fairly large number of fish, and a few birds, were concentrated at the confluence of the feeder beck with the main river, and after watching the rather frenzied feeding activity for a while, we had waded across the river further down, where this was possible, and then wandered up along the feeder beck to investigate such a relatively unusual occurrence.

The fish were having a field day on the eggs that were being washed down the beck. But for this, we would never have discovered the damaged redd, or ever found out that this fellow was rendering a great deal of effort and expense useless by digging up redds for the gravel. Some of the members had remarked on the fact that redds seemed to disappear sometimes, but had put it down to flooding etc.

Not too long ago, we had a similar case on another stretch. We had managed to acquire Several lorry-loads of medium to large boulders. Natural stone of various types, and had struggled along the river banks with these, sometimes six men to a stone, and using a floatation collar for the very heavy stuff. Placing these at various strategic locations on the river, as fish holding areas.

Imagine our surprise, when some of us went the next weekend, and all the big boulders were gone! We later discovered that another “nature lover” had come down with his sons and a helper or two, and dragged the boulders out, and they were now part of his really quite excellent “rock-garden”.

When we place such stones now, we anchor them to the bottom! There are various ways of doing this, although none is absolutely foolproof, and if somebody is determined enough, he can still get them out. We also mark the stones, in such a way that we can recognise them again, and prove they are ours, if necessary.

There is no way to do this with gravel of course, although a chemical analysis will show where it came from usually. This is not a lot of use in proving a case though, as the gravel may have come from practically anywhere originally.

“Fascinating”, you are probably thinking, “but what has this got to do with conservation? Some greedy little businessman flogging gravel which he has nicked from a stream, is not really a major conservation concern anyway, or is it?”.

Well it is, but probably not for the reasons one might at first imagine. Of course the redd was destroyed, and of course all the work was for nothing, and we doubtless had less fish that year as a result.

But the main reason is, the chap with the gravel, and the chap with the boulders, did not even think they were doing anything wrong!

Stream improvements are all very well, and necessary. Breeding and planting fry, minnows, bullheads, trees, bushes, etc etc. All very excellent endeavours, useful and laudable. 

Unfortunately, they are also a complete waste of time, unless people are aware of the reasons for doing these things, and why they are necessary.

Conservation takes place primarily in the minds of men, not on stream beds. This is where a great deal of our “improvement and conservation work” must be directed.

At least it must if you wish your children, or their children, to be able to enjoy the same things you were able to. Even just a pleasant walk along your local stream.

Such things must be more important to you than having an impressive “rock-garden”, or an aquarium full of tropical fish.

Things which occur elsewhere must also be important to you, not just fish-kills on your local stream. Even though you are unable to do anything much personally about the extermination of whales on the high seas. It should still be important to you. If it is not, then you are not really a conservationist. Not all anglers are conservationists anyway, although most apparently like to think they are.

As we all learned in school, water is H2O. one Oxygen atom and two Hydrogen atoms bound together into a molecule which forms water. This is indeed the case for pure water. However, what we have in our streams, rivers, lakes, and ponds, is much more than that.

Depending on the things dissolved in it, the temperature, and a host of other related factors, the water is affected very considerably in its properties and characteristics. This in turn affects all the animals and plants that live in it.

Some knowledge of water chemistry and related subjects will actually help you to catch more fish. Animals behave in various ways depending on their environment. Fish, as far as they are physically capable of doing so, will always be in the most comfortable or otherwise advantageous zone for them, with regard to temperature, oxygen content, etc and also usually close to their food source. Some fish, like trout, which are territorial, will also have a bolt-hole somewhere close by. 

Oxygen content? Why oxygen content? Water is H2O, there is loads of oxygen in it isn´t there? and fish breathe water anyway don´t they?

The answer is no. Fish breathe oxygen, but they do not extract it from water molecules. They are reliant on dissolved oxygen, free molecules of O2 (oxygen can not normally freely exist as a single atom due to its reactivity, it is only found as molecules), which they extract by means of gills. The amount of oxygen which can be held in solution in water is dependent on the temperature of that water. Cold water can hold more dissolved Oxygen than warm water.

Gills vary quite a lot in structure. For our purposes, at least as far as the fish we mainly catch are concerned, we are most interested in the so called “opercular” gills. These are characteristic of bony fishes, and consist of a single large gill pouch, a single opening to the water, and a mobile “operculum” (gill-plate) covering the opening.

Other important functions are also carried out by Gills,(some of which are not as yet completely researched), the main one being the excretion of nitrogen waste. All animals produce nitrogen compounds as by-products of dietary protein. One such compound is ammonia, which is highly toxic. Many animals, including humans and some fish, convert ammonia to a substance called urea. 

Although less toxic than ammonia, urea must still be excreted. Terrestrial animals do this through urination formation in the kidney. How the elimination takes place in fish, however, is not so well understood. It is thought that they transfer urea across the gills by means of diffusion. 

The gills also contribute to the fish´s osmoregulation. Osmosis is the diffusion of substances through permeable membranes.

The body fluids of a freshwater fish contain more dissolved salts and ions than the surrounding water. As a result of this imbalance there is a constant influx of water into its body and a loss of salts and ions from the blood outwards. 

Consequently the fish has to rid itself of excess inflowing water by constant excretion of a weak urine solution. Fresh-water fish may urinate up to thirty per cent of their body weight in 24 hours. Various salts etc are removed from the urine before it is excreted, and others are actively extracted from the water by the gills in order to maintain the required internal levels. This constant process requires energy, and is essential to the survival of the fish. Anything which affects this process will either damage or kill the fish.

By the way, in marine fish, the situation is reversed! The sea contains more salt and ions than the fish´s body, and so there is a constant movement of water out of the fish into the sea. In order to replace this, marine fish actually drink sea-water and excrete the excess salts etc. Special cells in the gills known as chloride excretory cells are used here.

Obviously, any water changes which affect the fish’s osmoregulatory systems, either fresh water or marine, will invariably prove fatal. In fresh water,fish will rapidly accumulate water, and in the sea, they will dehydrate. 

To recap then. A fish, simply because it lives in water, has to contend with two major problems. Relatively low levels of available oxygen, and the need to constantly regulate and maintain the make-up of its body fluids. 

Various chemical interaction, or physical changes in water can easily and quickly prove fatal to a fish as a result of this.

Here we have an inkling of one reason why some fish have very clearly defined temperature ranges. Fish are cold-blooded. This means that their body temperature is dependent on the temperature of their surroundings. When the temperature starts to rise, oxygen is driven off, and the capability of the fish to extract it from its surroundings no longer suffices. Above a certain temperature, there is simply not enough dissolved oxygen to supply the fish any more, and it will eventually die. One common symptom of trout which are being starved of oxygen, is the fish coming to the surface and swimming around with their jaws open. They are attempting to gain oxygen from the air.

This may often be observed in high summer on still waters, when the water temperature has steadily increased to a point where a great deal of the dissolved oxygen has been driven off, and this is insufficient to support the fish. The temperature itself is not the main problem for the fish, the lack of oxygen caused by the high temperature is. 

Having said that, sudden temperature changes of only a few degrees can have unpredictable and often even fatal results on fish.

Fish are not the only creatures with this problem. Practically all the organisms which live in our waters require oxygen in order to survive, although there are some notable exceptions. Most aquatic creatures use gills in one form or another to extract dissolved oxygen.

Many immature insects use external gills, connected to trachea ( which would be the windpipe in humans). Mayflies for instance may be distinguished from immature damsel flies and stonefly nymphs, by the presence of gills along the abdomen. These look much like feathery leaves, and the trachea may be clearly seen within them. (The term “mayflies” is used here in the international sense, to cover all Ephemeropteras, and not just the large mayfly species E.danica, etc).

Major respiration occurs through the abdominal gills, but some gaseous exchange also occurs through membranes in the body wall. Some species may vibrate their gills in sequence, giving the gills an undulating appearance .This increases the flow of water over the gills and aids respiration.

Oxygen then is of absolute primary importance here. Without it, or with too little of it, many creatures will simply die. Constant oxygen deprivation will also have other deleterious effects. An animal which is unable to breathe properly will not feed very well, and there are a number of other side effects.

Osmotic regulation is at least as important as the oxygen supply.

So, we have discovered that freshwater fish do not drink but urinate a lot, and marine fish drink like fishes, and hardly urinate at all!

Mind you, I hope we have discovered a few other things as well!

Moving on to other aspects of water chemistry and its effects on the plants and animals which live in it, we come to the much quoted and often misunderstood pH value.

pH is defined mathematically as the negative logarithm (base 10) of the H3O+ concentration. PH values are calculated in powers of 10. The hydrogen ion concentration of a solution with a pH of 1.0 is 10 greater than a solution with a pH of 2.0. The greater the hydrogen ion concentration, the smaller the pH; when the pH is above 7, the solution is basic (alkaline), and when it is below 7, the solution is acidic.

I bet you are glad to learn that?

To put it simply, the pH scale is an arbitrary scale by which the acidity or alkalinity of a solution may be determined.

For water containing fish and other creatures this is of paramount importance. The pH scale runs from 0 to 14, with values below 7.0 becoming increasingly more acid, and above 7.0 increasingly more alkaline. As a rule, a neutral pH – 7.0 – is fine for most fish, but they also will do well in moderately alkaline water – closer to 8.0. Some fish can tolerate mild acidity, but few will do well under such conditions.

Fish will not tolerate sudden changes in pH. Although they are able to tolerate values outside their ideal range if slowly acclimatised.

The pH of a water affects the animals in it very considerably. In acidic peaty waters, growth rates are low, the total supportable biomass is much less than in similar streams of a less acid nature. Aquatic insects and plants are fairly rare, and the habitat is generally not really suitable for fish and many other animals and plants. There are fewer species extant, and even small imbalances in such streams will cause major damage to the inhabitants, as they are already living at the limits of their capabilities.

Many upland waters have been affected in recent times by acid rain, and others are also being affected by it. Results of acidification of various freshwaters were first accurately identified in the early 1980’s. The effects are often extremely severe.

Acid rain is caused by the release of sulphur and nitrogen gases into the atmosphere from the burning of fossil fuels, much of which is then converted in the atmosphere to sulphuric and nitric acid. The increased acidity of the resulting rainwater causes much higher concentrations of toxic metals in rivers and streams, notably aluminium, which above certain concentrations, is poisonous to fish and other aquatic life. Not only aquatic life as such is affected. many birds and other animals which feed on or near the stream on various insects and other flora and fauna are severely affected.

Salmonids are especially affected by such changes, as their main habitat, and most especially their spawning grounds, the headwaters of cold clear streams and rivers, are severely damaged by it. Especially young fish are unable to survive such acidic conditions, and the population declines, or is even eradicated.

We are reminded of the unfortunate teacher;

“Alas, the chemistry prof he is no more, for what he thought was H2O, was really H2SO4″

Forestry projects with coniferous trees exacerbate the problem considerably, as such trees scavenge pollutants, and increase the acidity even further.

In some cases, where it is practicable, large scale and constant dosage of lime may be used to buffer such effects, and this has been done in a number of places with some success, it is however very expensive and difficult.

In order to protect and conserve the fish, the habitat itself must be conserved and protected, and this is proving very difficult indeed in many places. There are now such difficulties on a global scale, and no immediate solution in sight.

The final bill for burning fossil fuels on such a massive scale may be a very great deal higher than anybody now imagines, although some are beginning to realise it.

Even if this massive pollution were to cease immediately, which is not likely, it would still take a very long time for many systems to normalise, if they ever did.

I have tried to group these various subjects into orders of importance, but it is not really possible to do this exactly, and so what follows is not in any particular order of precedence.

And so we move merrily on to ammonia, ammonium, nitrite, nitrate, phosphate, sulfide, and various other interesting bits and pieces.

One of the most informative pieces I know of on the nitrogen cycle, is here ;

As it saves me a great deal of typing and research, and is also doubtless of considerably more use than my wittering on, I have taken the liberty of using it here.

On then to other things, among which, water hardness seems a reasonable place to start.

Water Hardness
The degree of water hardness is dependent on the amount of dissolved minerals, especially calcium and magnesium, in the water. It is generally expressed as the amount of calcium carbonate (CaCO3). It is measured in ppm (parts per million), kH (carbonate hardness), and dH (degrees of hardness) or gH (general hardness). Water is described as “soft” (having few dissolved minerals) or “hard” (having many dissolved minerals. General levels of water hardness are expressed in the table below (1 dH is equivalent to about 17 ppm).

very soft 0 to 70 ppm0 to 4 GH (dH)
soft 70 to 135 ppm4 to 8 GH (dH)
medium hard 135 to 200 ppm 8 to 12 GH(dH)
hard 200 to 350 ppm12 to 20 GH (dH)
very hard over 350 ppmover 20 GH (dH)

So what does this tell us about fish?

Well for one thing, it tells us how to set up our gear for electro-fishing!

Passing an electrical current through the water,allows one to measure the level of conductivity. The measure of conductivity indicates the amount of ions (electrically charged particles)present in the water. The harder the water,the greater the conductivity. Measuring conductivity of the water only finds the total amount of ions present in the water, and does not give the origin of the ions, whether they are Mg, Ca, or Fe. 

Water hardness is extremely important as it affects so many areas. The hardness of the water has major effects on pH and pH stability. It also affects the toxicity of many common substances. Also it affects fish osmoregulation very considerably.

So what actually is water hardness?

Water accumulates many dissolved substances on its various cycles. Hardness is really a measurement of the concentration of divalent metal ions such as calcium, magnesium, iron, zinc etc, usually acquired as rainwater percolates through the earths crust, especially certain rocks. Most water is hard because of calcium and magnesium salts, with trace amounts of other metals.

Two types of hardness:

Unfortunately, the subject is somewhat confusing because there are two types of hardness that we need to consider, one is permanent hardness, and the alkalinity (often referred to as carbonate or temporary hardness). The sum of both types of hardness is referred to as general or total hardness.

Alkalinity is the hardness derived primarily from carbonate and bicarbonate ions and directly reflects the buffering capacity of the water. This form of hardness is also called carbonate hardness or temporary hardness because it can be precipitated and removed by boiling the water. This is the lime-scale which forms in kettles.

Permanent hardness is a measure of the other ions present, such as nitrates, sulphates, and chlorides etc, that are not removed by boiling. These are not usually involved in buffering but can affect pH values.

The buffering capacity of water is dependent on the total amount of bicarbonate and carbonate present. Water with low amounts of these ions quickly loses its ability to buffer pH fluctuations.

Carbon Dioxide

Contrary to popular opinion, the carbon dioxide content of streams and other waters is not generated by anglers farting in their waders, and is not directly related to how many pints of fizzy beer one consumed the night before.

It is in fact simply another gas present in water, which is a byproduct of the respiration of the organisms living in it. During photosynthesis, plants require carbon dioxide. If there is insufficient carbon dioxide, the leaves of plants begin to yellow, and growth slows .Some of the carbon dioxide dissolved in water forms carbonic acid, which lowers the pH. If there is too much carbon dioxide the fish and other organisms will suffer. 

That is probably more than sufficient for the time being.

Incidentally, one or two people asked me if it is really necessary for an angler to know all this stuff. Well, it is here, if you want a fishing licence in Germany, you will have to know all this, and a great deal more, as you have to pass a test in order to obtain the licence. many people learn fairly intensively what is necessary for the test, and then promptly forget most of it. Others go on to learn more.

This and other similar articles are based largely on notes which I use for instructing people studying for a licence.

While such information and knowledge may not always help you to directly catch a fish, under any given set of circumstances, it will certainly improve your chances generally, and also give you a lot more insight into the environment in which your quarry lives, and that cant be bad!

There is a very great deal more to be said about water chemistry, and its various effects, but these articles can only really touch relatively broadly on a few things, and an in-depth review of even parts of the subjects covered would require far too much space and time, and a great deal more knowledge and expertise in these fields than I possess. 

I am an enthusiastic amateur, and I indulge in these things as a direct result of my angling hobby. When writing these articles, I make every possible effort to ensure that the information therein contained is as accurate as it can be at the time of writing. My time and resources are of course limited. Like most of you who are reading this, I am most unjustly obliged to waste very large amounts of my time and effort in working for a living. I would much rather be off somewhere fishing, or collecting insects, or tying flies, and engaging in similar important and fascinating endeavours. Alas! such is life.

Should you wish to learn more about these things, and I hope you will, it is all part of being an angler and conservationist, and this is really just a foretaste of some of the fascinating things awaiting to be discovered in the course of your angling career, then you can find a great deal of information on the internet quite easily, by the judicious use of various search machines like Google, and others. Searching on practically any of the obvious keywords in these articles will bring you a wealth of information at the touch of a button.

One or two people asked why I do not give a list of attributions for all these things. There are several reasons for this. I have gleaned much of this information over a considerable period of time, from a wide variety of sources. I could not possibly say where I first heard or read it. This is not a scientific paper, or a commercial publication, and I earn nothing from it, it is designed solely as an introduction to some subjects for interested anglers. 

Giving great long lists of references, which hardly anybody is likely to read anyway, would be a waste of time and space. Lastly, with the advent of the Internet, which you have access to if you are reading this, it is relatively easy to obtain and check information simply by searching on the relevant keywords. 

Chemical indicators were more or less covered in the last article. For many of these, special tests and equipment are required, although some are quite simple, others are quite impossible to carry out without the relevant equipment and knowledge.

Fortunately, there is another more direct, and also rather easier, (at least in its simplest form), way of ascertaining general water quality and conditions. This technique is now used as the preferred method of professional testing in many places, and uses biological indicators.

Indeed, one can even obtain historical data using such indicators, which is not possible with a simple chemical test. If you stick litmus paper in the water, and discover it is acidic, you only know that it is acidic now, not what it was like an hour ago, or a week ago, or even last year. It is also impossible to predict a trend from such a measurement, although a series of measurements over a period of time might allow you to do this. 

Biological indicators can provide such information, one simply needs to be able to interpret them.

“Grooan!!!!!….”, ripples through the ranks! “Not more scientific bull shit!?”.

Not really, ( well perhaps just a little?). 

Biological indicators are not some sort of bionic arms which pop up when one goes around a corner on a push bike. They are simply flora and fauna, which by virtue of their existence and condition, attest to the quality and general state of the waters (or indeed other environments) in which they exist.

Short and long term effects of various chemicals and conditions on some of these biological indicators is known, and by carefully studying the indicators, or even just finding some of them, one can deduce the stream conditions at the present time, and also how they were, for quite a long time beforehand. In some cases decades, or even more. They are called indicators, because they give indications, and not measurements. One may also predict some things with great accuracy.

Anglers usually wish to know what the conditions are at present (although current trends and history are often very important as well) and this is quite easy to do. One simply needs to know which organisms to use as indicators.

“I don´t know the short or long term effects of etc etc whatever, on biological indicators, I don´t even know any biological indicators”, I hear you say.

Well, in point of fact, as a fly-angler you already know quite a lot of them. Quite a few of the insects which trout and other fish eat are commonly used as biological indicators. Indeed, fish themselves are excellent biological indicators. 

Some fish are routinely used as biological effluent testers. Not to put to fine a point on it, if the fish in the effluent sample cocks its clogs, there is still too much shit in the water!

The same basic principle of using canaries in mines. As the birds are more sensitive to gas than humans, if the bird falls off its perch, then get out quick.

A basic premise with regard to many common biological indicators, is that if a certain indicator exists in a certain environment under certain conditions, then that environment must be more or less suitable for its existence! It will also most likely be suitable for similar organisms

Simple eh?

So let us have a look at some actual biological indicators.

The major groups are:

  • Fish 
  • Invertebrates 
  • Periphyton 
  • Macrophytes

These types of biological indicator species are important and unique environmental indicators, because they can give information about the condition of a system. They can also be used to give an early warning of pollution or progressive degradation, or indeed of improvements.

The term “indicator species” although often used, is actually not quite correct (“Now he tells us!!!”).

Indicators are actually really groups or types, which can be used to assess general and specific environmental conditions. The existence or behaviour of one single specimen, or even a few, is not a reliable indication.

If one effluent control fish is used, and it dies, that does not necessarily indicate that the effluent is not clean enough, the fish may have choked on a used tampon or a lump of old toilet paper, or even been poisoned by various long chain polymer tensides, or it may simply have had a heart attack. If however, a hundred fish are used, and they all die, then something is definitely wrong! 

An interesting experiment by the way, if you have an aquarium and a few fish you are sick of looking at. Just place a drop or two of washing up liquid in the tank. The fish will be in a similar condition to Monty-Pythonesque parrots in a remarkably short space of time, only sans perch.

For more information 

One can nevertheless carry out a fairly good quick analysis of a water, by simply choosing a few species, and checking for their existence. Or conversely, if one finds certain species in a given water, one may draw certain pretty exact conclusions from this.

Fish have been used for many years to indicate whether waters are clean or polluted, improving or deteriorating. Fish are absolutely first class indicators of water health for a number of reasons. They are easy to identify even in the field, they are relatively easy to observe or collect, they live in the water for their complete lifespan, they differ very considerably in their reactions and tolerances to various amounts and types of pollution, or other factors, they live for a number of years.

In the meantime, there may be other criteria of importance, in fact there almost certainly are, some of my texts and notes are a little out of date. They are nonetheless still valid as far as I can determine.

Most fish species have relatively long life spans, from two to more than ten years in some instances, and as a consequence, can be used to indicate relatively long-term past, and also current water conditions. 

Fish living in a water automatically integrate the chemical, physical, and biological history of that water. They have a very wide spectrum of tolerance ranges, from extremely sensitive to highly tolerant, and their response to chemical, physical, and biological changes in a water is characteristic and specific.

Now this is doubtless really fascinating, but what does it all mean? 

In simple terms, it means if you find a certain type of fish, or other bio indicator in a water, that water must be good enough to support that fish. The condition of the fish, or bio indicator, how many of them there are, their general condition and state of health, may also be used to draw conclusions as to the further suitability or otherwise of the water to that animal, and by means of extrapolation, other organisms concerned.

Benthic macro invertebrates, (or just “benthos”) is the term used by scientists for aquatic invertebrates which live on the bottom. (benthic = bottom, macro = large, invertebrate = creature having no backbone). These are also excellent bio indicators because they also live in the water for all or most of their lives, they tend to remain in areas conducive to their continued existence, they are relatively easy to collect or survey, they differ widely in their reactions and tolerances to varying volume and types of pollution or other factors, they are relatively easy to identify, most live for at least a year, some longer, they are not very mobile, and like fish, they also integrate general environmental conditions.

“OK OK already, so give me an example of an invertebrate bio indicator”.

A fairly simple example of a good bio indicator in a trout stream is the stonefly. Most stoneflies are excellent typical indicators of clean water (there are exceptions, some stoneflies can tolerate dirty water). If you find plenty of stoneflies in your stream, then you can usually safely say that you have pretty good water quality at least.

Chironomids (non-biting midges,”buzzers” ) on the other hand, are typical indicators of dirty water (in streams and rivers).

Basically, it is as simple as that. If you choose a few “signal” species, with specific characteristics, you can assess a water very accurately as to its condition, potential, and past history. Of course far more complex analyses are possible, and indeed very large scale and complex studies are carried out using bio indicators. 

One must also be aware that a water may vary very widely within itself. It may be possible to find anaerobic conditions in some parts of a stream, where all one will find are midges and tubifex worms. Other stretches or areas will yield other creatures which indicate good oxygenation. 

Some common sense must also be applied. If one only collects or observes particular creatures from particular areas, then they will reflect the conditions pertaining in those areas, and drawing conclusions about the whole water from this would be unsafe, to say the least!

We will save ourselves the trouble of discussing Periphyton and Macrophytes, although I am keenly aware of how much you were looking forward to it, and the depth of disappointment you are now experiencing as a result of my failure to do so, and I will instead direct you to a most excellent resource which will explain to you far more clearly and comprehensively than I can, probably all you will ever need to know about bio indicators.This site is absolutely brilliant. 

Most unfortunate that I only found it after researching and typing the above article, while checking some data. As far as information on bio indicators is concerned, the URL would have sufficed.

Oh well, at least it kept me busy for a few hours, and I was pleased to discover that my data was for the most part correct! 

Just to see how many people are following these articles, and how much they are learning, (not that its any of my business of course, but I am a nosy bugger), I will compile a quiz for the next article, similar to the questions posed in the German angling test. There will be a prize for the person who sends in the first set of correct answers. 

We may announce what the prize is, or we may not. (More or less depends on whether anybody donates one!, or whether I have to tie another set of flies!)

Apart from which, the whole thing depends on whether Paul agrees to do it at all anyway! We will just have to hope that a lonely sojourn around the wilds of New Zealand, on a diet of beans and chilli has fogged his senses at least as much as the windscreen of his van, and he simply says yes without considering the ramifications of it all.

Presumably he does not consider ramifications much anyway, as he would otherwise not be on a lonely sojourn around the …………… with beans and chilli!!! 🙂

About Mike Connor

I had the honourable pleasure to get to know Mike Connor while he lived in Germany close to Hamburg. I visited him several times and learned a lot about fly tying, fly fishing and life in general from this most humble, warm and kind man.

He also gave me a lot of his books and also a very nice creel, which is now hanging on the wall here at Skålestrømmen. I used it over several years until it started falling apart. He gave all these things away as he was moving back to England. I then lost contact with him and even after years of research on his whereabouts, I was not able to find him again. I spoke to several others who knew him and we all tried getting in touch with him, without luck. He sort of “vanished” and I really would like to know what happened to him. Really sad as it was always a pleasure talking to him.

Mike has written numerous articles about traditional techniques and methods. These have been published on various websites before, but can mostly not be found anymore without significant effort and the use of “back in time of the internet” services. Back when we had frequent communication I saved most of what he sent me on my hard drive. That was in those times when was one not “online” permanently and the internet was still steam powered.

I believe that this material needs to be saved from disappearing so I take the freedom to publish it here so interested flyfishermen and outdoor enthusiast can enjoy Mike´s work. I do not claim any copyright on this material of course and do not seek economic gain from keeping these texts alive. I am sure Mike wouldn’t mind.

Have fun reading.

Cheers & tight lines,
Thomas Züllich

P.S. – Please feel free to get in touch via email ( should you know Mike as well.

Grayling – by Mike Connor

Thymallus thymallus, the European grayling, a fish surrounded by contradictions.  Although most definitely a salmonid, as clearly demonstrated by the presence of an adipose fin, in many places classed, and indeed treated more or less as a coarse fish, due to its spawning times. Although many anglers now consider it a worthy quarry, and travel a long way for the opportunity to catch them. Unique among salmonids, grayling spawn in late spring and summer. All other salmonids are autumn and winter spawners.

Grayling require clean water to survive, although they prefer well oxygenated water, they can in fact withstand relatively low oxygen levels if forced. Even minor pollution can wipe them out, and in many places, precisely this has occurred. They require relatively cool water, less than 18°C in summer, although they can also withstand somewhat higher temperatures for short periods of time.

Much better eating than trout, and a real delicacy when smoked, winter grayling are also a very worthy adversary, and not to be compared with the slow lazy fish of summer. Best after the end of September, many anglers extend their fly-fishing over the winter months by targeting grayling.

Many trout anglers who catch grayling in the summer months consider them poor fighters. In summer, grayling are not in the best of condition, and even larger fish will put up a relatively poor fight. They are also liable to die rather easily when released. Some time and effort is required to resuscitate grayling before release. They will not stand much handling either, and should preferably be brought to hand and released as soon as possible, without touching them at all, if one can help it. Assuming one wishes to release them in the first place of course.

Often found in small shoals, grayling may be caught using a number of methods, one of which is of course fly-fishing. Large grayling tend to be solitary creatures, and require rather special methods.

Relatively shallow streamy gravelly runs are a favourite haunt of small to medium sized grayling, and they will often be found in such places, in various sized shoals. Older, larger fish, will be found at the head of a shoal, and one may pick these fish off, using the right methods. One such method is to use largish “Klinkhammers”, size 12 or even 10, and fish them downstream!


Usually, the single main problem when grayling fishing, is finding the fish. Shoals move about quite a lot, and what was a good spot one day, may well be empty the next. This does not apply to the large solitary fish of course, but these may require considerable effort and planning to catch. Such large fish do not get large by chance, and they are very wary, and usually in extremely well protected places.

There are a large number of “grayling” flies extant.  Peacock-herl-bodied flies are especially popular. These flies will also take trout of course, but many are better known as grayling flies.  I have never had any remarkable success with them myself, and have little faith in all the variations. Apart from the “Klinkhammers”, which really are exceptional flies, I like a “Grey Duster” variant, with hares ear body, no tail, and a fairly sparse badger hackle.  One really effective and little known fly for winter grayling fishing is a simple “buzzer” (chironomid) pattern.  These will often take fish when other patterns fail, but are not in common use on running water.  On occasion, the only flies hatching at all in winter will be midges of some description. Using very small flies, like size 20 “Griffiths Gnats”, and similar, as our American cousins often do, will often prove successful. Personally, I almost never go below a size 16, but I have a few friends who use the extremely small flies very successfully.


“Czech nymphing”, and the old traditional “Down and across”, with a team of spiders will also often prove successful for grayling. Nowadays, I invariably use a single fly only. Most of the waters I fish only allow one fly in any case. Whether one fishes upstream or down, is largely dictated by the terrain here. I actually prefer to fish downstream usually, as it tends to be more successful, especially when fishing a shoal.  On occasion, dry-fly fishing is better upstream. Sight fishing with nymphs is rarely possible where I fish, and is seldom done.  One thing that should be remembered is that grayling will hardly ever feed in cloudy or coloured water. At least not on flies!

Larger grayling specimens tend to be solitary, and territorial, and will usually be found in deep pools, often under tree roots and the like, where they rarely rise to take floating flies, and it is necessary to go deep for them. Heavily weighted flies are often required for this. Tungsten bead-head hare´s ears and similar flies are popular choices. My own choice for this, is either the “creeper” described below, or a very heavily weighted shrimp pattern. Sometimes, even a large woolly bugger will work very well! I have had a lot of success for large grayling, often well in excess of fifty centimetres, with a Woolly Bugger tied using a hare fur base, a grizzly cock hackle, and a short bright green tail.

I also tie some with red tails. But although they catch fish as well, they are nowhere near as successful as the green tailed variants. Unfortunately, I can no longer remember why I tried the green tails. Doubtless I had a reason for doing so, but I failed to note it at the time, and it now escapes me. Whatever the reason may have been, it was a good idea! I seem to vaguely remember catching a lot of grayling with a lot of green stuff in their guts, and this may have been the reason, but I really can no longer remember.

The small mouth myth

Over the years, many angling writers have maintained that grayling have small mouths. To be honest, I can not imagine how this impression arose. One very successful technique here for large grayling, is to use a well-weighted size 6 long shank hook overwound with herl, and a black or brown head hackle. Some people prefer a grey wool body, and a grey hen or partridge hackle.  Such a fly was also often used on some rivers in the UK years ago, and was called a “creeper” The fish seem to have no trouble taking it. The Woolly Buggers I mentioned above are also on size 6 long shanks. 

Years ago, when I fished in the UK, the standard rod for most river fly-fishing was a nine foot #6 weight.  This is actually rather heavy for most stream fishing, and I prefer to use a #3 weight for grayling fishing, and indeed most of my other stream fishing nowadays.  Long casts are very rarely needed on the streams I most often fish, a thirty-foot cast being a long one! I usually use a #4 DT silk line on this rig. It casts better, and the presentation is better than with plastic. Grayling here (North of Germany) grow larger than those in the UK. I have no idea why this so. A one-pound grayling in some English streams would be a very nice fish, but is only average here.


Grayling are not as easily spooked as trout, although stealth is still of course required. Many times, I have been standing still in the stream, and looking down, have noted grayling finning near my feet.  I have never experienced this with trout.  Anybody watching would doubtless have been highly amused at my ridiculous contortions in an attempt to catch such fish! Some day I will maybe even manage it! Site BiteIf you want to learn more about Stealth go here!

As far as fly-patterns go, I would be more than happy with a selection of the patterns mentioned, and I don´t bother with lots of fancy flies. In England I used to carry a fair range of “fancy” grayling flies, but they were never as successful as the ones I use now.

One very popular fly, the “grayling bug” using the famed “Chadwick´s 477” wool, caught me quite a few fish in England, but I now use a simple hare fur bug instead, where such might prove useful, and have noticed no drop in catches. This is just a relatively heavily weighted size 14 or 12 hook relatively thickly dubbed with hare body fur, which I mix so that it has a sort of “fawny pink” colour. No hackle, tail etc, ribbed tightly with wire, either copper or brass (“gold”!), and then well brushed out with a piece of Velcro.

So, how does one go about catching a large grayling?  This is not at all easy, and requires special tactics. Normally, most people will never see a large grayling, as there is usually no way of even knowing they are there, apart from actually catching one. There are exceptions to this of course, one is mentioned below.

Special flies alone will also not suffice, although they are required, the tactics are all important. One must also be able to “read” the water, for likely grayling lies. As previously mentioned, these are large solitary fish, and are territorial like big brown trout. They will not roam about much at all, and they will almost never be seen feeding, except perhaps at mayfly time, or when large numbers of caterpillars are falling into the water at certain times of the year from certain types of trees.

One may occasionally get an inkling of such a fish, when seeing it “flash”, or even an occasional “bow-wave” when one is spooked. But as they are usually in deep water, this is by no means common.  By “deep”, I mean anything in excess of five feet or so. 

For years, many people tried to eradicate grayling in some places, but they are very hardy fish, and about the only thing that will finish them off in a particular place, is pollution.

Among other things, I engage in quite a lot of stream conservation and improvement work, which also involves the stocking and control of fish.  I realise that this is not common in other places, and is mostly left to professionals, but here in Germany most clubs are obliged to look after their own water. The clubs I belong to have a “hard-core” of members who engage in this work, and are specially schooled for it. Every club member is obliged to take part in working parties on occasion, but only properly trained and certificated members may use some of the special equipment involved. Some members with special interest go on to take special courses in these disciplines, sometimes a club will finance this, most often the member concerned pays for it himself.  Various fishery authorities provide these courses for anglers who are interested, considered suitable, and sponsored by the clubs concerned.

As a consequence, and also because the whole thing fascinates me, I went to the trouble of obtaining various “extra” licences, a long time ago. One of these is a licence to use “electro-fishing” apparatus. Using such equipment on small streams, (in my particular case we use it mainly for removing and collecting brood stock, checking our feeder becks, removing large pike and eels from such feeders, and also for catching seatrout prior to stripping them and rearing to the fry stage in our breeding station), is a real eye-opener!  If ever you get the chance to watch or assist in such sampling etc, then take the opportunity. You will gain a very great deal of knowledge as a result, which you would never otherwise obtain. Indeed, it is just as fascinating as angling.

One word of warning here, not least because I get a lot of questions about it.  Electro-fishing apparatus is highly specialised and dangerous equipment. It should only be used by trained operators. Attempts to build such equipment, or use batteries and similar stuff, will most likely not work at all, or in some cases put the person so indulging in very considerable danger. Best not to even try!

Electric current has a number of widely varying effects on fish, depending on a whole host of factors. The pH of the water, the resistance (actually the conductivity is usually measured which is 1/R, the reciprocal of resistance), of the water in question, the frequency and type of current, the field strength generated, the strength of the current itself, and the voltage involved. All these variables must be carefully measured, and known, and the equipment set up and adjusted appropriately before commencing to fish. Just blasting a current through the water is dangerous, and not likely to prove successful.

Electrofishing is more or less the standard technique in many places for doing population checks, removing small or unwanted fish, emptying feeder and brood becks, catching fish for stripping (removing eggs and milt for use in breeding stations), collecting brood stock, etc.

Assuming a trained operator, and correct adjustment of the equipment, fish are neither killed nor damaged. They are simply temporarily stunned. The equipment also makes it easier to catch the fish, as once in the field radius, they are attracted to the charged net. Normally there is an operator, and at least two “catchers”, with ordinary nets, who collect the stunned fish the operator misses. The apparatus consists of a metal laced and rimmed net on a long plastic pole. This is one electrode. A long blank copper strip is dragged behind the operator on an insulated lead. This is the second electrode. There are various types of equipment, generator or battery powered. Some may be used from a boat, or towed along behind the operator. The type I have mostly used is a battery-powered backpack.  Bloody heavy as well! 🙂

The operational radius of the equipment varies according to water chemistry, (mainly conductivity, but not only), the type of current, voltage and frequency used, and the size of the fish to be caught. (The effects are directly proportional to the body area of the fish). Most equipment in common use has an effective radius of about ten to fifteen feet around the charged net. Some equipment has a much greater field radius. This also depends on many other factors. Such equipment is of greatest use in small streams, and of the least use in deep water, (still or running), as the fish simply dive under the field as soon as they sense it.

There are several effects on fish which are touched by the field. The first one causes flight, then the fish is involuntarily attracted, and then stunned, (in small streams it is virtually impossible for a fish to escape the field). There are a number of physiological effects, which also depend on a whole host of factors. These factors must be ascertained on the spot, and calculated so that the equipment is correctly adjusted before use. Otherwise damage and fatalities will occur.

In most places such equipment is of course illegal, certainly for private use, except for the purposes mentioned, or for scientific study.  It is also extremely dangerous, the currents and voltages used can easily kill a man, and horses and cows etc, will be either killed or severely damaged if exposed to such fields. “Safety men”, who keep their eyes open, and are aware of the dangers, are required to be placed at strategic points when using this equipment, in order to prevent such unfortunate occurrences.

When used incorrectly, it can severely damage, or kill fish, especially small fish. “Turning up the Voltage /frequency/ Current etc etc, “ will not catch any more fish, it will simply damage or kill the ones you would have caught anyway. Small fish may go into muscular spasms, which will break or at least severely damage their spines. Other animals like insects, small mammals, crustaceans etc will also be damaged by incorrect use.

Fish subjected to such fields produce far greater amounts of slime afterwards, there are no other visible ill effects, (assuming correct adjustment and operation), and the fish swim off fully recovered, after a very short time.

My apologies for the rather major digression, but I am often asked about electro-fishing, and it seems as good a place as any to explain a little about it. Not least because it explains how I know that there are some very big grayling hanging about in various places, which nobody ever sees!

You may well have no access to such equipment or information, and have never even seen or heard of a sixty centimetre grayling, or even larger ones, and so we must perforce proceed on a number of assumptions.

Assumption number one, is that if there are grayling in a particular water, then there will also be a couple of big ones. Perhaps a fair number.

Assumption number two is that such large grayling behave differently to the rest of the population, and are indeed solitary, territorial, and only found in certain places. You will have to take my word for this at first, until you manage your own “proof”.

What follows, is the distillation of a number of years seeking and catching such fish. If you follow these methods and considerations, you will eventually catch larger grayling.  Inside knowledge of a stream, such as may be gained by electro-fishing, scuba diving, and one or two other methods is obviously invaluable, but if you don’t have it, and can’t get it. You need some other way of obtaining it.

Just about the only other feasible way of doing so, is trial and error, and developing an “eye” for the right spots to try. Some common characteristics of such spots will help you to do this.

Tactics used in these spots must be tailored to suit the habits of large grayling. This basically means, that one must be able to reach the fish, and that whatever one reaches the fish with, must look and behave in a manner which is likely to induce it to take.

Normal equipment and tactics are generally useless, and catching a large grayling on “normal” gear is likely to be a very rare and highly serendipitous event.

OK, we’ve all done it. read a book or a magazine article about some clever-shite who wanders around getting paid for catching fish. Often large ones, in interesting and exotic places, which we will never ever see. Wonderful pictures of various stream and river-scapes, and fantastic fish are depicted, perhaps a re-hash of some tactic or other we have all heard a hundred times before, a list of flies, some technical information on lines or rods etc, and that was it.

Long ago, I decided that if I could not visit all these places, then I must find a way of catching such fish and enjoying myself close to home. The reason I explain this, is that anybody reading this can do exactly the same. It requires some application and knowledge, but once you have this, you can not fail. The result is inevitable. After all we are only trying to fool a fish, this is not quantum mechanics.

As I mentioned in a previous article, in my opinion #6 weight rods are far too heavy for most stream fishing, and most especially for grayling fishing. “Oh of course”, everybody doubtless thought at the time, and continued reading avidly, as they would also like to catch lovely fish on light gear, and then went on to wonder how I manage to cast a size six long shank weighted Woolly bugger, green tailed or otherwise, with such a rod.

Well, I will let you into a little secret. Just like all the other clever-shites, I cheat! There is no way you are going to be able to cast such a heavily weighted and wind resistant fly using a standard #3 weight set-up. It is pointless even trying, you will cry tears of frustration, and if the rod does not shatter the first time the heavy fly hits it, then you will doubtless break it across your knee, and curse the fool who ever suggested such a thing to oblivion and worse.

There is however an extremely simple and effective trick which will allow you to cast such a monstrosity, in the manner I will presently describe, without any trouble at all, to the everlasting amazement of your angling companions, (who don’t know the trick yet), and hopefully the inevitable downfall of large numbers of nice fish.

This trick is absolutely germane to many of the techniques I use, I could not possibly do without it, and if forced to, I would probably not catch very much, certainly not many very large grayling.

So, enough suspense building, what do I actually do? Quite simple, I use a heavier line. I never need to cast more than thirty feet, and so I simply use a thirty-foot piece of #6 weight fly-line. I have no trouble at all hurling leaden monstrosities with such a line, and as I never have more than thirty feet of line out, the rod has no trouble handling it either. I have even used a piece of #8 weight line on a #3 weight rod without any problems at all.

So why not use a #6 weight rod to start with? I hear you asking. Because that is not the same thing at all. If one fishes heavy flies on light tippets, then one must perforce use a light rod, as otherwise the rod will simply not provide enough cushioning effect, and the fish will break you. One may use 2 lb tippet on size six long shank woolly buggers with impunity, as long as the rod is light enough to cushion the fight of the fish.

One must indeed constantly check the knots on such a leader, and also change the tippet at the slightest sign of abrasion, or after a hang-up etc. But it works perfectly well.

Standard tapered leaders are useless for this type of fishing. One may use the butt of such a leader, but it must be modified, usually by adding a much heavier butt. We need a good length of light line in order to get down deep quickly, notwithstanding the very heavy fly, in order to stay in the “strike zone” as our American friends say, and a normal leader will not allow this.

“Oh dear!”, I hear some of you mumbling, “That does not sound much like the fly-fishing I know and love”. At this particular point in time, one is bound to decide, does one wish to fish? Or does one wish to catch a few as well? Preferably large ones!

For those of you already sickened by this philistine approach, then cease at once I beg you. Because it gets worse! 🙂

Most people go and buy a fishing rod somewhere, for any number of reasons, and then start trying to get the rest of the tackle they are of course then also obliged to buy, to match it in some way. This very rarely works, and is the main reason why many have awful trouble catching fish.

In this particular instance, we require absolutely specific flies and leaders, in order to attain our objectives. All the other gear used is a direct result of this. If you want to try these methods on a #6 weight rod, then go ahead, but they will not work anywhere near as well.

So, we have our fly, preferably the size six long shank weighted green tailed woolly bugger already mentioned. Other flies may be used, but this one works perfectly, and is easy to tie.

Because such grayling are large, solitary, and territorial, they are also often cannibalistic. “Not the beautiful ´Lady of the Stream´”, I hear some exclaim, “how can this be?”. But I assure you it is indeed the case. Large fish need more food to support them, especially if they wish to keep growing. As a result, they are bound to concentrate their efforts on larger food items, as the energy returns from insects, unless they are in massive abundance, will not even keep them alive.

This is why a woolly bugger is attractive to such a fish, it is large, it moves, and it looks like a nice juicy meal. In most fish, such an object, when presented correctly, will trigger a response of some sort. In larger fish, usually an attack or feeding response. So it is with large grayling. Even small fish will often attack such a fly with abandon.

We have our fly, our rod, our piece of line, and we are about to assemble our leader. Normally I use up to nine feet of 3 lb breaking strain nylon. Just ordinary nylon as sold on the hundred yard spools in any tackle shop. I do like Maxima, but I don’t get heart failure if I have to use something else. I don’t bother with “double strength”, “Fluorocarbon”, or all the other stuff which is now available, as it offers me no particular advantages.

Depending on the depth of water I wish to fish, I tie this long fine tippet to a leader ring, and thence to a heavy, short, steeply tapered butt.

This is easy and quick to do, and is very quickly changed or adjusted at will. If one wishes, one may use an indicator as well, but I don’t, I rely on watching the end of my line, or on “feel”, depending how I am fishing.

Even very deep and quite fast water may be fished properly in this manner. Usually I dead drift the fly through a likely run at least once. If nothing occurs, I move it! Usually the move does the trick. The move can be anything from a couple of twitches, to actually retrieving the fly upstream. The hits are of course unmistakable in such a case, and the fish is nearly always well hooked. It really wants that fly, and makes every attempt to obtain it. Then the fun begins!

Large grayling are very powerful fish, and fight like demons. Unlike trout, and some other fish, they will not run for cover, into weeds etc, but slug it out in the open. Even in small confined pools, the fish behave in this manner, and so one simply has to hang on, and fight the fish in the normal manner.

Basically, grayling love highly oxygenated water. Large grayling will normally be found in deep pools, usually under trees or near obstructions, especially after waterfalls, the deep tails of streamy bubbly runs and similar. So all you now need to do, is go along and simply prospect in such places. You may be extremely pleasantly surprised. I do hope so.

For a time, fortunately short, rather early on in my long and chequered angling career, I was an adherent of the so called “exact imitation” school. I imitated, or tried to, everything I read, from hats, to rod, to reels, and a lot of other stuff besides, but I drew the line at trying to exactly imitate flies!:)

Most of the obtainable books at the time, concerned chalk stream fishing, and much of the information therein contained was rather useless to someone who fished North country rivers and becks. In most cases, three dry flies will suffice for practically any eventuality on such streams, and carrying more just wastes space. Mind you, I carry a large number of flies nowadays, but I know what they represent and when to use them, and I do so because I enjoy doing so, and not because I feel I have to.

I remember the first time I used a dry fly in the presence of an old acquaintance on a beck we were fishing. After watching me messing about for a while with floatant, false casting it, and all the usual hanky-panky with amadou etc… My acquaintance strolled up to me and said, “Just spit on it lad, that´ll sink it”. I did not bother even trying to explain.

Most anglers, indeed probably all, go through various phases as they progress in their fishing careers. One of these is often the compulsion to carry enormous numbers of flies. This is invariably contra-productive, as at the beginning, they have no idea when or how to use them. I remember struggling to memorise Latin names of various insects for quite a while. Rather a useless exercise, as it did not help me to identify the actual insects any more accurately. It is only later that such knowledge became of practical use.

Asked by a friend of mine on the stream to explain what my “Weighted Green-tailed Woolly Bugger” was designed to represent, I simply replied “Fish food”. he was not impressed. He asked me what I thought the fish took it for, and was equally unimpressed when I replied “I have no idea, but they take it well!”.

“Well, what does it look like to you?” he persisted. The reply to this got him somewhat agitated, as I said “It looks like a weighted green-tailed Woolly bugger to me”. ( my weighted flies have a small spot of red varnish on the head, so I know that they are weighted). With many of my weighted flies, this red varnish is indeed somewhat superfluous, as I would simply need to drop them, and listen to the earth shudder from the ensuing impact.

Of course I like to catch fish rising to flies on a good imitation of what they are taking. It is a most satisfactory and enjoyable experience. Unfortunately, if I relied on it for my fishing, I would only be able to go about twice a year! Hatches such as described in much chalk stream literature, simply do not occur where I fish, and not in many other places either. On most streams and rivers, a veritable potpourri of insects is usually flying around, sometimes in large numbers, but this may only very rarely be referred to as a “hatch” in the normal sense. There may be several hundred different insects abroad, in all shapes colours and sizes. Luckily, fish are not usually at all selective on such occasions, and will take practically any well presented fly which lands in their immediate vicinity. Or not, as the case may be. Having an exact match for something is usually very much less important than the presentation involved.

And so we come to grayling flies. There are hordes of these artificials, many so similar that it would be absolutely pointless to carry more than one pattern. Whether you use a “Red Tag”, “Treacle Parkin”, “Sturdy´s Fancy”, “Bradshaw´s Delight”, or “Fred Bloggs´ inevitable”, is probably quite immaterial. The only things that these flies, and a host of other similar ones can possibly represent with any degree of accuracy, are terrestrial beetles, and similar insects. Add to this, that one is often fishing in the depths of winter, and there is absolutely no sign of anything even remotely similar, either around, or on the water, then the pointlessness of carrying large numbers of such things with various coloured hackles, and sporting varicoloured arse ends becomes apparent.

In view of this, kidding yourself that you are fishing “correct imitations” of anything at all, when using these flies, is pure delusion. Usually, you would be better off with a few sparse spiders or similar in any case.

My most killing fly for grayling, and many other fish, all year round, and under a host of circumstances, is without a shadow of a doubt the “Klinkhamer” from Hans van Klinken. Much controversy surrounds this fly, and discussions rage as to whether it is a dry-fly, an emerger, a wet-fly, etc etc, and the ethics of using it under certain circumstances, and so on and so forth.

Regardless of all this, it is one of the most interesting modern fly-developments of all, and one of the most successful. It works best when tied as its inventor intends it to be tied, although variations will also work. You can find the original, and the developments and improvements later included,  here ; complete with background info, tying instructions, and straight from the “horse´s mouth” as it were. Thus saving you a long and doubtless unnecessarily involved diatribe on my part.

One other pattern I would not like to be without in Winter, is the “Grey Duster” variant I already mentioned in a previous article, This is my “standby upstream dry fly for winter grayling”. The Klinkhamer will of course work upstream as well. Also, I usually have a few buzzer imitations, some weighted hare fur shrimps, and a few sparse Yorkshire spiders.

I don´t usually use bead-head “nymphs”, as I don´t like them much. They will work alright, and some people use them practically to the exclusion of all else. I prefer not to use them. One reason is, that such things will “ding” a rod very badly, and even shatter a tip, if one miscalculates, or the wind decides to be uncooperative. This will rarely happen with a woolly bugger, or a fly in which the weight is covered with dubbing, or well hackled etc.

As I don´t fish for grayling in summer, I don´t have any flies specifically for catching them then. They will in any case take any of the above, and a host of “normal” trout flies then in any case, so the problem, should it be one, does not really arise.

Tactics for using these flies are important, and here are a few. The buzzer, a black one is usually enough, although I have a range of colours, ( one after all has to do something with all those reels of tying silk, and similar material obtained at great expense and trouble over the years !:)), should be small, no larger than a 16, and fished on a fine tippet greased up to an inch or so before the fly, and this presented dead drift. Owing to the peculiarity exhibited by the larger shoal grayling of staying at the front of the shoal, this operation is best carried out from upstream.

Much the same applies to the “Klinkhamer”, except the leader should be degreased, ( pulling through a piece of Fuller´s earth mixed with washing up liquid, or a small damp sponge, soaked in the washing up liquid), and the parachute hackle treated with floatant. No floatant should get on the body!!! I like to pre-treat the hackles with watershed. Otherwise I mainly use Permaflote, which I still have a supply of.

Amazing as it may seem, grayling will take even very large examples of these flies, size 8 and larger, quite confidently. Even though once again, there is nothing even remotely similar floating around at the time.

In both the above cases, a normal tapered leader, about one and a half times the length of the rod, made up to your preferred specifications, will prove more than adequate. If you use shorter leaders, you may have various problems. Leaders are required to allow good casting. If you practice casting on grass, or in the back yard etc, then you should still use a leader.

Sparse spiders, I like Stewarts “semi-palmered”, and “full-palmered” spiders, as well as some sparse dressings with just a collar hackle, as the fancy takes me, may also be fished on the same leader, which should be thoroughly degreased beforehand. In this case, the wet flies should be small, once again, no larger than a sixteen.

The “Grey duster” can be fished wet or dry, as the fancy takes you. If you wish to fish it dry, then a little more hackle than in the wet version helps, but don´t overdo it.

Weighted fur shrimps may also be fished on the same leader, but the tippet should be longer. Appropriate to the depth you wish to fish. They may be trundled along dead drift, given a little action ( a “little” action is the watchword here, shrimps can not travel upstream at a rate of knots, under any circumstances whatever).

One may make up a “cast” of flies, using a weighted shrimp on the point, a spider on the first dropper, and a buzzer on the top dropper. Such a cast can be amazingly successful. One is of course covering a fair bit of the water column with it. This may be used “across and down”, or however it takes your fancy.

When smaller flies are being “worked”, either swinging them around, or giving them movement in some other way, you will experience a fair few “misses”. This is in the nature of the beast. The fish are not “coming short”, they are having difficulty taking the fly properly. Changing flies or sizes, is invariably a waste of time in such circumstances. Best to change tactics if it is very bad.

Using a piece of split shot, instead of a point fly, may be of advantage in some places, or even instead of the first dropper. This allows one to present the flies at a specific depth. One must adjust the tippet to allow this. I like the “leader rings” invented by Edgar Pitzenbauer for this. They save a lot of time, trouble and expense.

Last, but by no means least. One may also fish the weighted green-tailed woolly bugger on a normal leader. In relatively shallow water, its weight is sufficient to take it down to the fish. One may also increase tippet length to increase depth. Dead drift it first, and if nothing happens, move it. Move it “slowly”!!. When dead drifting, cast well upstream, and allow the fly to sink well, perhaps by mending. Even heavily weighted flies will not sink far on a taut leader. Even on a slack leader, they need time, and a chance to do so.

For the sub-surface techniques mentioned, one may also use an indicator, cork, foam, yarn, etc, or a “Klinkhamer” with a buoyant post. This will take a few fish in its own right usually.

For the surface techniques, or when a fly is being actively “worked” an indicator is just a hindrance.

All these tactics can be used on any half-way “normal” rod. Best in my opinion for most circumstances is a nine foot #4 weight, although I actually personally prefer a three weight. I overline this with a #4 DT silk line, as I prefer the superior control, casting capability, and presentation which a silk line allows. This has nothing to do with traditionalism, or purism etc etc. It is simply better suited to the purpose. Plastic lines will work alright though.

For the very heavy flies, remember to use a heavier line if you are having trouble casting. You should be able to cast easily, “lobbing” or “chuck and duck” is inadvisable, as you lose control too easily. Rather softer rods are better when casting heavy flies, as the action is slower, and this helps to create rather wider casting loops, which will keep the flies away from you, help prevent tangles with multi-rigged flies, and you will be less likely to “ding” the rod. Such a rod will also protect fine tippets much better than a heavier or stiffer implement.

Shoals of grayling will generally be found in relatively “open”water, in the middle of the stream, or of the runs concerned. It is usually a complete waste of time fishing close to the banks, undercuts, etc, as you will simply end up hooking a lot of out-of season trout, and virtually no grayling.

Several techniques have actually been covered here, some “tight-line” techniques, and some “slack-line” techniques. What these are, how to differentiate between them, and how to set them up and use them, is really the subject for another article.

Crunching underfoot, and making an awful lot of noise in the still air, the frozen snow surface breaks through at every step, jarring uncomfortably occasionally, as the distance to the solid sheet ice below it is misjudged, and my feet come down too hard.

About a foot deep in most places, but sometimes more, the going is quite difficult, I am forced to lift my feet very high before each step. I am glad of my neoprene thigh waders. Only a lunatic would go wading in this weather in thigh waders, but they are certainly keeping me warm and dry, even when I sink into the occasional hole or depression under the snow.

My exhalations form little clouds, suspended unmoving in the completely windless air, and rise slowly upwards as I trudge on.

Trees and bushes hanging low with a heavy coat of ice, some already broken under the unaccustomed load, add a rather festive air to the proceedings, somewhat reminiscent of overly decorated Christmas trees.Looking back over a series of fields and fences, the virgin snow, broken only by my tracks, testifies to the fact that nobody else is abroad, or has been for a while.

The last snowfall occurred two days ago, and since then nobody has ventured this way. Little puffs of vapour hang in the air behind me, slowly rising and dissipating, looking more than anything like the trail of an errant steam engine.

Just after seven in the morning, and with the sky lightening rapidly, I carry on along the river, stopping occasionally to view the prospects, and then moving on again. After about forty minutes fairly brisk although sometimes difficult walk, I reach my first target area, and commence operations.

My gear is already prepared, I had tackled up at the car before starting out, and all that remains is to tie on a fly. 
Scanning the fairly wide deep flat with my binoculars from a safe distance, I finally espy a ring at the tail of the flat, in relatively shallow water. It is quickly followed by two further rings slightly further down, and this is repeated several time in the space of ten minutes.

Rises in the middle of flat shallow water, over gravel in the depths of winter? Could only be Grayling. Good, that is my intended quarry.

Try as I might, I can discern nothing hatching. As far as I can tell, no flies or other insects of any description whatsoever, are abroad. Checking deep under a nearby bush in a spiders web, which also glitters with tiny ice pearls, I discover a few smallish grey coloured midges which look fairly fresh.

I very rarely fish extremely small flies, and these are smaller than anything in my box, but undaunted, I mount one of my “old faithful´s” in such conditions, a size sixteen hares ear bodied fly, no tail, and with just three turns of short badger hackle.

My flies are invariably pre-treated nowadays, so messing about with floatant is not necessary, and I tie the fly on, after adding a foot of tippet to my tapered knotless leader. Drawing the tippet and leader through my soap soaked sponge is all that is required.

Several overhanging bushes to my left preclude getting below the fish and reaching them with an upstream cast, and so I remain where I am, and cast a fair way straight downstream and across with a “wiggle” cast, immediately paying out line as the fly lands.

After about three or four feet the fly starts dragging, and just at this moment it disappears in a ring! Striking gently, with a short pull of the left hand, I am immediately rewarded by a wild plunging and head shaking on the end of my line. After a very spirited fight, a very nice grayling of 45 cm comes to hand.

The water is icy cold, although I have not measured the temperature, I doubt it is much over 5°C, and it takes a while for my hands to warm up again after landing and despatching the fish. A warming cup of tea with just a small dash of “sweetener” occupies a few minutes, while I wait in the same position, for further developments.

Grayling, unlike trout, are not easily spooked, unless one does something really foolish, and sure enough, after about ten minutes, a solitary ring appears just below where the first fish was taken. Identical tactics culminate in an almost identical result, and a second fish, practically the twin of the first, lands in my creel.

Despite a further twenty minute wait, and another cup of tea, nothing else moves.

Unsure as to whether the fish are still there, and simply no longer feeding, or have decided to seek less dangerous pastures, I change my tactics.

The dry fly is snipped off, the tippet removed, and replaced by a piece about three feet long, to which is attached a size sixteen, lightly weighted, brushed hares ear nymph.

Three casts later, allowing the nymph to trundle across the flat, with an occasional twitch of the line, the line tip dips, and I once again strike gently with a short left hand pull.

This is a much larger fish, and puts up a very good fight, using its large dorsal fin to good advantage in the relatively fast water. Eventually it also comes to hand, ( traditionally, no net is used when grayling fishing), and is despatched and admired before being consigned to the creel, where it only just fits, being 52cm. A very good fish indeed.

One more fish for my “limit”, and I move down a few yards to a break in the bushes, and deploy my binoculars once again. Some thirty feet away, right at the tail of the flat, where the water starts deepening and getting faster as it funnels into the next cascade, I see a small shoal of grayling holding steady in the current.

They are not apparently feeding, just finning and remaining stationary in the current. Five fish, all of reasonable size in line abreast, like old warships waiting to engage in battle.

I squat between the bushes watching them for a while, they do nothing at all.

This being one of the few occasions when I have a camera along, I decide to try and photograph the fish. Although I have no trouble whatever seeing them perfectly clearly through my polarised binoculars, I can not see a thing through the viewfinder of the camera, and an experimental click on the shutter release, merely serves to confirm that my luck with regard to cameras is holding true. Nothing happens!

I suppose the cold is too much for the accus. The second set of accus from my inside pocket proves no better, and after considerable extremely inventive cursing, fortunately heard by nobody, and which presumably is entirely wasted on the fish, and “lovingly” packing the %””&$&$ useless piece of high tech “$$&% back into its padded waterproof case, ( although a watery grave seemed more appropriate at the time) I reluctantly give up my attempts.

After another cup of tea, and a final long glance at the fish through my glasses, I decide not to try for them. Three decent fish is enough.

Dismantling my gear, I walk slowly back through the snow to the car.

Although I did not have many trips this year, and this was only a relatively short one, I was away for less than five hours all told, I thoroughly enjoyed it, and was once again charmed by the pleasures of fishing in a “winter wonderland”.

I only fell down a couple of times, (I must get some studded waders for winter fishing), and I never got close enough to the river to fall in!

On the way home I bought some freshly baked bread and one or two other things, as my neighbour and I have invited a few people round for supper. My neighbour is enjoying a stiff rum grog, ( as indeed am I ), and keeping an eye on the smoker, where the fish are presently sojourning, along with a few others, while I write this short trip report.

Back out to the smoker now, a few neighbours and friends have turned up for a grog and a bit of hot smoked fish. Just the right conditions for it as well, -4°C, twilight, snow about a foot deep, and still a few snowflakes falling, the trees and bushes lit by our open fire, indeterminate but pleasant music drifting on the air from the shed beside the smoker, we will get the guitars, banjos, harmonicas, and so on, out later, aromatic smoke, and the smell of fish cooking, the distant sound of hunters engaged in a drive, with an occasional horn blast, or gunshot floating over the woods and fields around my house.

A very nice day, and it has not ended yet. Rather a shame I don´t like fish ! Oh well, I can always have a sandwich, and at least I like rum grogs ! 🙂

Hope you had such a nice one too.

Finding specific spots where one may regularly catch fish in winter requires very careful observation, and a lot of deduction. Intimate stream knowledge is also more or less essential. Although it is possible to find certain areas and conditions on streams you do not know, and also make some deductions, it is far more difficult to do so, than on your home water.

Midges hatch throughout the year, even in winter. Unfortunately, they may only hatch in certain specific areas. Fish of course , will be found in these areas. One reason for the success of all sorts of outlandish concoctions for grayling, is that if they are actively feeding, and see what looks like a reasonable mouthful, they will simply grab it, whatever it looks like. If they are not feeding, then they will usualy ignore practically anything you throw at them, except for things like woolly buggers etc, which they can not afford to pass up.

The main reason for the fish feeding in such spots is that the midges hatch there, or very close by. If you check that water exactly, you will find a slower deeper spot with some silt/mud or similar, and the midges hatch from this, and a constant parade of them drifts down the feeding lane. I noticed this peculiarity in quite a few places, a long time ago, and actually checked it out by diving to the bottom of the stream and checking the surroundings ( I used to have scuba gear). I damn near froze anyway, a wet suit is not much use in a cold stream as I discovered, especially if you are getting in and out all the time, but I gained a lot of invaluable information.

In the mainly freestone ( rocky spate rivers),streams I used to fish, there were a few places where amounts of mud or silt became deposited, and the midges and their larvae only exist there. Sand, gravel, scoured rock etc etc is completely barren of midges usually. They need mud/silt to live in.

Some of these spots change from year to year, due to flooding etc, but some remain constant. Some pockets of silt may be small, in a crack in the stream bed, in a depression etc, but enough to support a population of midges.

In all the spots I knew where this behaviour was apparent, and checked, there was mud or silt close by. Sieving this produced larvae. Where there was just sand or gravel, there were no midges to speak of, and no fish either.

It has invariably also proved so since. There are quite a few such spots on my home stream. Others which look similar have no silt/mud for the midges to live in close by, and the fish in them ( fewer fish usually) will not look at midges.

Midging grayling on freestone streams, will only be found in such spots in winter. It is often a waste of time trying the midge anywhere else, they don´t even look at it. They are more likely to grab a mobile wet fly. or even a dry. At other times, especially in summer and autumn, they are found almost exclusively in gravelly streams.

It is my belief that this is one reason why fish may always be found at such spots in winter. This is borne out by the fact that when such fish are killed, cleaned, and inspected, they have a very large proportion of midges in their guts. Fish caught in other spots have virtually none.

Sometimes the fish will key on the larvae, sometimes on the pupae, especially during a hatch of course, as the insects spend time in the water column, while ascending, and may also spend some time in the film as well, although sometimes they come off very quickly, depends on the weather, and the strength of the film, and sometimes the fish will key in on the emerging or adult midges.

Because midges are more or less a universal insect, although of course species may vary, relatively few patterns suffice for them, irrespective of where they are found.

My favourite author on midges at the moment is Brian Chan, and you can get a lot of his stuff here:

All well worth a careful read. Some of these patterns are quite deadly for midge feeding fish.

For some odd reason, many anglers, especially in Europe,( and specifically in the UK) more or less ignore midges ( meaning chironomids ), totally, on moving water, although many fish with them consistently on still waters, sometimes practically to the exclusion of all else.

I have had some of my best winter fish on them over the years, and best days as well. Many times I have caught fish on both still and running water which were chock full of chironomid larvae, or pupae. The main problem when massive hatches come off, is getting your artificial noticed. Although this is rarely a problem on running water in winter. I generally exaggerate the breathing filaments, if I am using “standard” ties, ( see below)and try for a brighter colour, a hook size larger, or even two, and occasionally a complete colour contrast. All these things work quite consistently. 

The various techniques used are also important on still water. Less so on running water, as these are more or less normal presentation techniques which one would use with other flies as well.

I hardly ever use hooks ( in fact practically never nowadays ) smaller than #18, indeed very rarely indeed below a #16.

These midges are found in large numbers in practically any body of water. Cold clear freestone streams do not have massive populations when compared to other waters, but still massive in terms of sheer numbers. In actual fact, in most places it is rare to catch a fish ( practically any fish, not just trout and grayling), without some form of chironomid in its gut. 

One of my most successful patterns is the plain old “Snipe and purple” soft hackle spider. I tie the silk more around the bend, and rib it with silk or wire. Changing the silk colour gives you a whole range of patterns. Starling hackle works more or less just as well. I have these in sizes from #18 to #8 in a range of colours. Red, green, brown etc etc. They all work well depending on the colour of the “midge de jour”. You can clip the hackle on some and you have a hatching pupa imitation. They usually work better than more complex patterns as well.

Regarding “midge” pools. I have found that it is nowhere near as successful to fish with midges in “barren” pools, or in the runs below them. You will occasionally take a fish, but not as consistently. The fish in the “midge” pools, and below them, are sitting there waiting for the insects to drift along. In other pools, without mud/silt etc, such a fly might be taken serendipitously, but you can not rely on it.

When I fish my “midge” pools, I fish the pools and the runs below them, and then change flies for the stretches in between, if I want to try fishing them, as the midge is just not as productive outside these areas.

This mainly applies to freestone and similar relatively “barren” streams. On others I will confidently fish a midge all day. Usually a snipe and purple upstream in the film, just like a dry fly.

Midge larvae are quite difficult to imitate successfully. These are also known as “bloodworms”, and although I have tried quite a few patterns, none were as yet particularly successful on running water. In still water I have caught a lot of fish on bloodworm imitations. In slow rivers, these are the staple diet of many fish, including carp, roach dace, bream etc etc.

Fast flowing freestone streams are not conducive to fishing bloodworm imitations really. Some extremely successful coarse fishermen use these as bait on tiny hooks, the larvae are glued on with a spot of superglue, as they would otherwise burst and become useless. The #32 crystal hooks from Mustad were produced for just such a purpose. I assume you will not want to do this!:) You get very cold hands anyway, grubbing about in the mud for worms!

The pupae and the hatching adults are your best bet. As an aside, it is my belief that the “Klinkhåmmer” from Hans van Klinken is probably more often taken for a hatching or crippled chironomid than for anything else, and is one reason why it is such an effective general pattern. Especially in the original tie from Hans himself. Many “Klinkhåmmers” you see in shops etc bear little resemblance to his design. It is hardly ever even spelled correctly, as most European and other keyboards do not have the characters necessary readily available, quite apart from the charcter sets which may be loaded.

By the way, although the creatures mainly under discussion hereare called “midges”, they are by no means always small. Some get very large, and are an attractive mouthful for the fish. especially if large numbers are hatching. The only other authors I know with much relevant information on chironomids are mainly British stillwater specialists. I know of none of them on the web.

Although some of the following is primarily of interest on stillwaters. The patterns and techniques practically all work well on running water. most especially for grayling. Here are a couple more pages on entomology, patterns etc etc.
You should have a good look around the whole site. There is some very worthwhile stuff on chironomids.

There is one point stated here which I disagree with however, and that is that the larvae will be found on any type of bottom. I have never found them except in silt or mud. Sand laced with various detritus may contain them, but they are usually only found in oxygen poor environments. The larvae are often bright red, as a result of the large amounts of haemoglobin they require to survive in such environments, which are known as “anaerobic”.

Our rivers do occasionally freeze to an extent, but it is quite rare, and even under such conditions, even a little sunshine will often provoke a midge hatch. Midges are without a doubt one of the most important insects in winter. Trout are out of season here in winter, but they are still often caught when fishing for grayling. In winter it is fairly common to find trout and grayling in such midge pool places, especially in deep slow water. In summer you will rarely find grayling there, and nowhere near as many trout either. Mostly though, trout will be holed up somewhere in an undercut bank, or deep hole, conserving energy.

There are one or two pools on my home stream that are full of fish in winter, simply because of the midges, and perhaps because of one other linked phenomenon ( see below ). In summer the fish redistribute themselves,as more insects and other food becomes available. In winter, midges are practically the only things moving at all.

One other point which might be of interest, although it is difficult to check. The water flowing over silt/mud, and rotting detritus generally, is warmer than the other water in the area. This is presumably because of the heat generated by the decomposition, and the insulating properties of the mud. All the chironomid larvae I have found have been found in such conditions. The temperature difference can be appreciable. This may cause conditions similar to those pertaining in still water with a “thermocline”, and fish may be holdimng at a veryspecific depth because of this.

You need special equipment to check this, but I have measured a steadily decreasing water temperature gradient above such mud, the mud itself sometimes being ten or more degrees warmer than the water. As such deposits are only found in relatively slow moving areas, the water directly above the mud warms up.

The water three feet above the mud ( in the water column),and ten feet below it ( in stream flow direction ), was up to two or three degrees warmer than the rest of the water flowing past, which in this particular stream is otherwise a fairly constant 6…8°C for most of the winter, although this temperature varies a lot at various parts of the stream. Chironomid larvae and especially hatching pupae were inevitably found in this “warm stream”. This is still the case when the surface is frozen. The “cold” water eventually mixes with the “warm” water of course, but at the spots where this occurs there are often quite sharply delineated areas. 

It is basically the exact opposite of looking for fish in summer when the water is too warm. One is then looking for cold springs, inflows etc. where the fish feel comfortable, and there is a food supply. Comfort being the first priority in this case.

In winter, the warmer water near such mud seems to be preferred, which would also help to explain why fish congregate in such places, apart from the supply of midges. There are lots of variables of course. The fish seem to hang around at the edges of such places, and do not apparently venture into the anaerobic regions. ( Understandably! )

The mud itself contains virtually no oxygen, and in summer such places are not always good fishing, as the water here is badly oxygenated. Fewer fish are found in these areas in summer. Presumably the temperature in such places in summer is also higher than the surroundings. I have never checked that. Interesting to find out. I will put that on my list of things to do this summer. 

One of the main tricks here is to use a fly with just enough weight, and a long enough leader to reach the bottom, or the depth at which the fish are holding, and stay there, but still allow you to “brake” the fly gently without it lifting too much. If you hang up on the bottom occasionally, you have it right.

You may “cheat” here by using a piece of split shot on a dropper off your main leader. This may be anything from six inches to eighteen inches long, depending on how far off the bottom you wish to fish. You should use an unweighted fly then of course.

This rig is best fished with an indicator of some sort, as takes are often very delicate indeed, and you will miss many at first. For some reason many people find it easier interpret an indicator, than the end of a fly line. The indicator will also help to keep the flies at the correct depth. The fly line may be pulled under. The length of the leader is very important here. If it is too short and thick the rig will not fish properly. If too long, you will miss too many takes. When fished correctly, by holding the line slightly taut, ( try not to fish with the line taut though ), you should be able to “feel” the split shot “ticking” along the bottom. If it stops, or you see the indicator move etc etc, immediately strike with your line hand. don´t move the rod. The rod should be pointing at, and “following” the indicator at all times during the cast.

Tippet length and size are also very important indeed. In deep water I will use up to nine feet of tippet on a seven foot leader. Occasionally even more if the water is very deep and the area is not too confined. ( Long tippets love trees and bushes! :)). Shorter, thicker leaders, or heavy tippets simply will not reach the fish.

You may also “high stick” very successfully with the rig described. It is also good for reaching deep water when required, and is just as versatile in shallow runs.

This technique works well for imitative flies like chironomid pupae, nymphs etc, and is very productive, although very work intensive, and after a while somewhat boring. One “fishes the water”. It will be necessary to modify the rig for every pool and run, regarding weight, tippet length etc. One reason for using a ring connector for attaching your dropper and tippet in the first place. Knots are a nuisance, especially in winter with cold hands, and the ring allows you infinite variation without ruining leaders etc.

These are tiny silver rings available from some dealers. If you have problems, Sportfish in the UK stock them. They are virtually weightless, and do not affect casting etc. In fact I also use them for dry fly fishing, this means I can use the same leader all day, and just add or remove tippet as required. They are absolutely ideal for dropper fishing.

In slow spots, it is often best to treat the situation as if you were on stillwater with a slow current. ( There is of course virtually no such thing as absolutely still water, some sort of current is always there, even on sheltered lakes). In this case “slow” means something else. 

It is unfortunate that so many terms like “slow” “fast” cold” “warm” are completely relative, and as a result often inaccurate and difficult to define. By slow in this case I mean either at the same speed as the slowest current, or slower. This may seem difficult, but is merely a matter of practice. In slower spots, the water at the bottom of the pool etc, moves more slowly than the surface current, in fact there may be little movement dead on the bottom.

Your fly, a weighted woolly bugger for instance, is cast above the spot you wish to fish, allowed to sink, and then “followed around” by your rod tip, much like high stick nymphing. Here just watch the bow in the line hanging from your rod tip, if it sags, straightens etc, strike immediately with your line hand. You can of course also use an indicator here as well. Watching the line tip is most effective, but also the most diffciult skill to acquire. At any range, it is also entirely dependent on more or less perfect eyesight. 

Once the fly is below you, a slow retrieve ( although you may vary this of course) just inching the line in with your line hand is often very successful. A retrieve slightly across the current is always more successful then straight up against it. You may also pay out line slowly from your left hand allowing the fly to tumble downstream, stopping occasionally or giving a few short pulls etc. This often results in a strike, and is good in low clear water where you do not want to scare fish by casting. The only difficulty here is maintaining contact with your fly while it is tumbling downstream. One reason why a larger fly like a woolly bugger works best here, is that you can “feel” it more easily than a small fly.

Sometimes even stripping quite fast will work, although some fish will flee in panic from such a fly, the line disturbs the water as well, and it is best to try this as a “last resort” before moving to another spot.

“Dead-drifting” is a slack line technique, and requires considerable practice to do it properly without using tricks like the split shot rig described. At first you will either miss all the takes, or indeed not even realise you had any. Then you will begin to notice them, but miss most, and after a while you will start catching plenty of fish. There is no substitute for practice and experience here, you have to do it in order to realise what is involved.

It should also be realised, ( if not already obvious from the above), that current speeds may vary considerably in the water column, and that the speed of a “dead drift” on or near the bottom may be a lot slower or faster than on the surface. If you are not getting any takes, then it may be due to this. Try braking the line gently to slow down the drift. ( This is then the borderline between dead drifting and tight line fishing). Or throw an upstream mend.

Throw a slight downstream mend in your line to speed it up, etc etc.

The classic “dead drift” is a drag free dry fly floating downstream, and this is what people usually mean when they say “dead drifting” . When sub-surface fishing things are complicated by the third dimension ( depth), as the current speed may vary considerably in the water column. Small amounts of drag will not cause much harm usually, but it is common for fish to refuse “dragging” sub-surface flies. It may actually be beneficial though on occasion, this is a case of trial and error.

I usually start by dead drifting, and if that produces no response, I move on to other techniques. For upstream fishing with small flies, dead drifting is the most productive technique. Some “inducement”, like lifting the rod, jigglin the line, etc may be used to advantage on occasion, but should be done with restraint.

Once again, streamers and large flies may be actively stripped downstream, or forced to travel downstream very fast, by using downstream mended loops to “tow” them, and this often produces savage responses from the fish. Trial and error. This “U” mending technique is excellent for this, as control is easier. You can not strip line as well, or in the same manner.

Fish holding in cover in cold water in winter, will rarely leave that cover to grab dead drifted flies, unless it looks as if it might be worth their while to do so. They can not afford to waste much energy on minor titbits. If there is a midge hatch in progress, and the fish are actively feeding, then they will be in their feeding stations, and not in cover.

Fishing to cover station holders in winter is very difficult indeed, for a number of reasons. The fish are not actively feeding, and must be provoked into doing so. A midge or similar fly is unlikely to be successful here. A streamer or a woolly bugger, etc are much better bets.

Casting the fly beyond the cover, and then retrieving it up past it, ( or down past it ), and to one side, is often successful, but be careful not to let your fly get directly behind or directly in front of the fish, they will often simply panic then. Here one is attempting to stimulate either an attack reflex, or a feeding reflex, but in a fish which is not actively feeding. This can be very frustrating at times. Fishing to feeding fish is much easier.

One last point here, in very cold water, in winter, fish are easily completely exhausted very rapidly. ( Much the same as when the water is too warm in summer, but for slightly different reasons). Small fish ( or those which you intend to release in any case), should be played out and released as quickly as possible, they will die otherwise, their energy reserves are low, and their metabolism is not capable of producing the energy required for prolonged battles.

Fish are “cold blooded”, meaning they are dependent on their environment for body temperature. The body temperature controls the metabolic rate, and is directly responsible for the speed with which energy may be generated and used by the animal. One reason why even small temperature changes may have drastic effects on their behaviour. They do not use any of their food energy for generating body temperature, and are consequently at the mercy of every whim of climate.

In very cold water the fishes metabolism is slowed down considerably, (if it is cold enough, then actually to a standstill, which will kill the fish anyway), and this also has several other consequences. The fish does not need to eat as much, which is just as well, as not much is available in very cold (fresh), water usually. It still may feed occasionally, (although some fish do not feed at all in cold water), but not as often, and not as much.

All fish have certain ranges of temperature in which they can survive, some of these are very narrow ranges, some quite wide. This is directly dependent on the metabolic rate of the fish involved.

This is also why one is able to tell a fishes age by counting the rings on its scales. These mark periods of good versus bad feeding, and correspond to the climactic changes over the year, and in actual fact reflect the changes in metabolic rate. Even if a lot of food is available, it is no use to the fish at low temperatures, it can not even digest it properly.

As an interesting aside, it is not possible to count “year” rings on scales or otoliths etc from fish which live at constant temperatures with a regular food supply. Aquarium fish for instance. Their metabolic rate stays constant.

I believe that most fish (especially trout), caught in very cold water are caught as a result of reflex action, either the attack impulse, or reflexive feeding reactions. Very few will be actively feeding. On slightly warmer days midge hatches may occur, and if the water is warm enough, the fish will then feed on them. Even if a massive hatch occurs in very cold water, the fish will not feed, because they are simply unable to.

Severe exertion when the metabolic rate is very slow will kill a fish quite quickly, it is simply not capable of converting enough energy at a great enough rate for any prolonged antics, and will quickly build up muscle poisons. This does not stop it trying to do so, ( this is an automatic reaction in many animals, the fish of course has no control over it ), and it is then obliged to mobilise its emergency reserves almost immediately, and these are very quickly exhausted, also being affected by the slow metabolic rate. It will tire very quickly, and even after release, because it is still not capable of releasing any backup energy, it will not recover for a long time, if at all. Especially small fish will die very quickly under such circumstances.

This is independent of the oxygen situation. In cold running water the oxygen content is normally more than sufficient. Oxygen is required to burn calories and provide energy, if the metabolic rate is very slow, this process is no longer efficient. The oxygen is useless to the fish, as it can not convert any calories to use with it.

This is the main reason why fish caught in very cold water do not put up much of a fight at all, they are unable to mobilise any reserves. Many trout caught in winter will be very thin, as they have already used up much of their summer reserves, most especially after spawning. These fish will often die minutes after being released.

One reason I try to avoid catching trout in winter. ( They are legally out of season in any case), I target grayling on my home stream, and it is relatively easy to avoid catching trout usually.

This is not limited to freestone streams either, although these can be extreme, quite a few other streams and more than a few lakes often suffer from such phenomena. When the water temperature is at or above a certain level, the fish are forced to feed or starve, their metabolism demands it. In “cold” water ( as it relates to the temperature range of the fish concerned), most fish can go for a very considerable time without feeding, in “warm” water they must feed regularly in order to survive, and of course to grow.

Fish like trout and grayling are “regular” feeders usually, if their environment allows it, this means they may feed several times a day. Other fish like pike and some others, are “irregular” feeders, and one large meal may last them a week or longer. There are exceptions, larger cannibal trout and grayling do not feed so often, and smaller pike in relatively sparse environments may also only feed once a day or even less on smaller fish.

About Mike Connor

I had the honourable pleasure to get to know Mike Connor while he lived in Germany close to Hamburg. I visited him several times and learned a lot about fly tying, fly fishing and life in general from this most humble, warm and kind man.

He also gave me a lot of his books and also a very nice creel, which is now hanging on the wall here at Skålestrømmen. I used it over several years until it started falling apart. He gave all these things away as he was moving back to England. I then lost contact with him and even after years of research on his whereabouts, I was not able to find him again. I spoke to several others who knew him and we all tried getting in touch with him, without luck. He sort of “vanished” and I really would like to know what happened to him. Really sad as it was always a pleasure talking to him.

Mike has written numerous articles about traditional techniques and methods. These have been published on various websites before, but can mostly not be found anymore without significant effort and the use of “back in time of the internet” services. Back when we had frequent communication I saved most of what he sent me on my hard drive. That was in those times when was one not “online” permanently and the internet was still steam powered.

I believe that this material needs to be saved from disappearing so I take the freedom to publish it here so interested flyfishermen and outdoor enthusiast can enjoy Mike´s work. I do not claim any copyright on this material of course and do not seek economic gain from keeping these texts alive. I am sure Mike wouldn’t mind.

Have fun reading.

Cheers & tight lines,
Thomas Züllich

P.S. – Please feel free to get in touch via email ( should you know Mike as well.

Elastic Modulus – by Mike Connor

Thomas Young, an English Doctor and physicist, coined the term “Modulus” in the early 1800´s.  The term is used as a constant in equations, as “Young’s Modulus”, to calculate specific properties of certain materials.

In simple terms, it may be seen as a mathematical description of a material’s property of resistance to bending.

Calculations using this are essential for developing the fibres used in many modern composite constructions. The fibres, such as carbon fibre, boron, glass fibre etc, provide the stiffness, at the same time reducing the weight which using other materials would involve (“standard” carbon fibre is about 30 % of the weight of aluminium, and roughly 250% stiffer) and the epoxy resins used hold the whole thing together.

So what does this have to do with fishing rods?, and why is the term “Elastic Modulus” so often bandied about?


It has to do with them, insofar as the term may be applied to the materials used in their construction. IM6 Graphite for instance. IM6 has a modulus of about 35 million, although many rod manufacturers use fibres of much higher modulus.  IM6 is actually only a trade name for Hercules fibre in any case, Hercules being the largest producer of carbon fibre.

However this may be, the fibres used in rod construction are only a part of the story. The taper, wall thickness, and of extreme importance, the weaves and resins used, and the actual manufacturing process are at least as important. In actual fact, of even greater importance than the modulus of the fibres used.

Rod designs vary considerably, and this may be controlled by any and all of the factors above.  Using a suitable design, resins etc., practically any rod action may be obtained, anything from a floppy noodle, to as stiff as a poker. This really has little to do with the modulus of the fibres used, and is mainly the result of other design factors.

Although higher modulus fibres may be used to produce stiffer lighter rods, they may also be used to produce noodles if desired.

Light, heavy, stiff, soft

Although light rods are generally desirable, they do have some disadvantages.  Some light rods will not load very well at close range, as they lack the mass to “pre-load” themselves, which a cane rod for instance has, and will not “cut the wind” very well, and will often not be very robust. Differences of half an ounce or so, or even quite a bit more, between various otherwise similar rods, will not really make much difference in terms of practical fishing either.  Rod length is more of a factor here than rod weight. Rods of about nine feet are usually more or less optimal for most people. With much shorter rods the weight is not even a major factor.

Whether you choose a stiff rod or a soft rod depends, (or should) mainly on what you want to use it for. Nowadays, this is not considered as important as it once was, as other technological advances in lines, leaders, floatants, sinkants, etc. have made it less of a problem. Casting techniques have also improved greatly, and a good caster can produce wide loops or tight loops at will. Once upon a time, all this was simply not the case, and specific rod actions were deemed essential for specific applications. It is still a good idea to choose a suitable tool for your particular application though, and not just rely on “feel”, or advertising hype.

From cloth to blank

Back to modulus.  The modulus given by the fibre manufacturers only applies to the fibre used, which comes to the rod maker in the form of special “matting”, or “”graphite cloth” and once this has been built into a composite (sometimes also rather inaccurately referred to as “laminates”), it no longer applies, as the actual “modulus” of a finished rod (to which the term is not really sensibly applicable in any case, although it could theoretically be applied), is not dependent on the fibre used, but more on how it is used in the construction, wrapping, resin bonding, etc.

Hollow blanks are made by wrapping very carefully measured pieces of the matting around a steel mandrel. This is then coated with special resin, and “baked” in an oven.  Manufacturers keep their exact processes secret.

When finished, the mandrel is withdrawn, and used again for the next batch of rods.  Usually fairly large batches of rods are made at a time.  How good the finished rods are, depends on how good the design is, and on the quality control of the resulting blanks.  There are often a number of rejects in each batch, due to cloth imperfections, and various other problems.

Many marketing departments have swooped on the term “modulus”, and use it quite indiscriminately for all sorts of things, basically none of which have to do with the properties of finished fishing rods. It is basically hype.

So, does modulus mean anything?

It is not possible to compare fishing rods in any meaningful way by calculating their elastic modulus, and using the elastic modulus of the fibre used in their construction as a basis for such “calculations” is just nonsense, and will really tell you nothing useful at all about the rods in question.

The quality of modern composite fishing rods is dictated primarily by the manufacturing process used, the quality control, and the hardware and cosmetics.  Practically any modern blank, even Far East  “cheapies”, will make decent fishing rods if good procedures and materials are used.

Rods produced in America and Western Europe are more expensive than those produced in Korea and similar places, simply because the cost of producing them is much higher. Labour, materials, marketing, etc etc etc are all more expensive.

Do you really get what you pay for?

There is indeed considerable controversy about cheap rods vs. expensive rods.  Some people maintaining that a cheap rod can not possibly be as good as an expensive one, merely because of its very cheapness. This is factually incorrect of course, certainly as far as composite rods are concerned, any composite rod built anywhere to the same specifications, under the same conditions, will be more or less identical to one built anywhere else. The price of course may vary very considerably, even though the rods are identical.  The same applies to any manufactured goods.

There are now quite a number of very good cheap rods available.  If you put good quality hardware and cosmetics on a “cheap” blank, then you no longer have a “cheap” rod. Also, the word “cheap” here is used in the sense of the final retail price. It may have nothing whatsoever to do with the actual quality of a blank.

Composite blanks are by their nature “cheap” products, as they may be mass produced easily and consistently at will, once the specifications are known. Pricing policies of various firms have little to do with the quality of their blanks, although of course may reflect good quality to some degree.

Comparing blanks

There is no generally accepted way at present of mathematically comparing various rod blanks to one another in any meaningful or useful way. Most anglers choose their rods absolutely subjectively, based on how it “feels”, how it “looks”, price, manufacturers name, “modulus”, etc etc.  Quantifying such things is an impossibility. Some good casters, and quite a few anglers know pretty well what they want and expect from a rod, but this is the result of long practice, quite a bit of skill and knowledge, and is subjective in any case, although some may pretty well agree on some things.

Some manufacturers, and a number of other interested parties have been working on various systems of definition and comparison for some time, but as far as I am aware, nothing of general application has yet emerged. If you have never cast a rod, and have no other knowledge of the subject, then it will not help you anyway, as there is no way as yet to translate such system results into useful information. They all require some prior knowledge.

Money doesn’t talk

If you think that a very expensive rod is better than some other less expensive tool, then you must perforce buy the expensive one.  One thing is certain, it will not normally catch you any more fish than a cheapie.

Quite excellent rods which cost ten dollars ex-factory in Korea, or Taiwan, are regularly sold in Europe and America under various brand names, for well in excess of two hundred dollars, and sometimes a very great deal more. The final price has little to do with the cost of actually producing the rods, and certainly not with the raw material cost or the inherent “quality”.  Transport, advertising, several middle-men taking their profits, etc etc, all jack the price up.

This is also why comparing rods based on their retail prices is absolutely senseless, as you have no way of knowing how this price was set. It may have absolutely nothing whatever to do with the quality of the rod.

Tools like rods, must not only be suitable for the application itself, fishing of course, but have a whole range of other properties which makes them more or less desirable for the purpose, and may be used to determine their “quality” more accurately than any mathematical equations relating to the stiffness or otherwise of materials used in their construction.

“Useful life”

As far as I am aware, there are no absolutely conclusive studies about the useful working life of various composite  rod-blanks, but modern resins, coupled with the manufacturing techniques now available should produce rods which will certainly last a very long time. There is some literature on the useful life of composites in aircraft manufacture, but this is highly technical, and not a great deal of use, as any conclusions drawn would have to be based on the use to which a material is put, and theoretical projections of such behaviour, with regard to composites built and used for other purposes, would be suspect at least.

Apparently, bamboo is susceptible to “going floppy” after a while, presumably as the “springiness” of the power fibres lessens in use, to put it simply.  Similar effects in other materials are often referred to as “fatigue”.  This will also occur with other fibres (like carbon fibre), but will take much longer (in normal use), and be less apparent. In fact it is unlikely that a difference may be found at all in normal use, although it may be possible to measure one after a certain time in use. I am not aware of anyone having done this however.

Although I have heard that this is often the case with bamboo, I have never actually attempted to measure or quantify it.  Bamboo is interesting for a variety of reasons, and although I no longer have any bamboo rods (at least not in use), and the only ones I ever built were really quite awful, I still read a lot about it, and listen with interest to any comments from experts.

I would have no qualms about using even the cheapest composite blanks to build on, as all I would have to lose would be the time involved and a few materials. Hardware etc may be used again, should the rod turn out to be useless, or not up to expectations in some way.

One may also save a lot of time and trouble, take some casting lessons in order to obtain the necessary knowledge and “feel”, and simply walk into a shop and buy the best rod one can afford, that one feels is suitable, after trying it out.  It is then most unlikely to be a “lemon”. What “modulus” fibres it may contain, is more or less irrelevant, especially if it has a lifetime guarantee!

Tight lines!
Mike Connor

About Mike Connor

I had the honourable pleasure to get to know Mike Connor while he lived in Germany close to Hamburg. I visited him several times and learned a lot about fly tying, fly fishing and life in general from this most humble, warm and kind man.

He also gave me a lot of his books and also a very nice creel, which is now hanging on the wall here at Skålestrømmen. I used it over several years until it started falling apart. He gave all these things away as he was moving back to England. I then lost contact with him and even after years of research on his whereabouts, I was not able to find him again. I spoke to several others who knew him and we all tried getting in touch with him, without luck. He sort of “vanished” and I really would like to know what happened to him. Really sad as it was always a pleasure talking to him.

Mike has written numerous articles about traditional techniques and methods. These have been published on various websites before, but can mostly not be found anymore without significant effort and the use of “back in time of the internet” services. Back when we had frequent communication I saved most of what he sent me on my hard drive. That was in those times when was not “online” permanently and the internet was still steam powered.

I believe that this material needs to be saved from disappearing so I take the freedom to publish it here so interested flyfishermen and outdoor enthusiast can enjoy Mike´s work. I do not claim any copyright ion this material of course and do not seek economic gain from keeping these texts alive.

Have fun reading.

Cheers & tight lines,
Thomas Züllich

P.S. – Please feel free to get in touch via email ( should you know Mike as well.

Wanton Wiggling – by Mike Connor

“Have a wiggle!”. “Go on, have a wiggle”, he said. So I had a wiggle.

Unfortunately, even after wiggling, I was not much wiser than before. Despite the fact that I have handled thousands of rods, and fished and cast with a goodly number, all I get from “wiggling” them in a tackle shop, or indeed anywhere else, is a very rough idea of their unloaded action, whether they are particularly stiff or floppy, and a vague inkling of what they might be able to do.

Under no circumstances would I buy a rod, as a result of such a wiggle. I consider wiggling, a time honoured, but basically more or less useless tradition, and I only really do it to satisfy the wishes of sundry tackle shop proprietors and similar unfortunates, many of whom continue to labour under the erroneous and often dangerous misapprehension, that it is essential.

Rather crestfallen, apparently because I only wiggled weakly ( I am a weak wiggler by nature, and also by conviction, in point of fact I really prefer not to wiggle at all if I can help it), and I did not immediately burst into enthusiastic praise of the rod, he took it from my hands, and said “Watch this”.

Oh ominous phrase! On quite a number of occasions, especially when casting, or handling fishing rods generally, the utterance of these very words has proved to be a harbinger of impending disaster, and nowadays, when hearing them,I get the almost uncontrollable urge to hide, or run for cover. In this particular instance, I did neither, I simply took several steps backwards to what I fervently hoped was a safe distance.

I had no idea what he was actually going to do, but I was fairly certain that it would be neither impressive or sensible. Over the years, quite a number of factory reps, tackle shop proprietors, proud rod owners, and potential world record casters,( at least they thought so), have been moved to do the most amazing and silly things with fishing rods in my presence. Perhaps I am a bad influence?

Long ago, after the first few such incidents, I realised that it was absolutely pointless trying to persuade them not to, and that simply allowing me to have a cast or two with the implement in question would more than suffice as a demonstration.

Every single time, my exhortations proved completely futile, and unsettlingly often with disastrous results.

Unmoved, and indeed apparently absolutely oblivious to my protestations and misgivings, the gentleman poked the tip of the rod over the counter towards his shop assistant, and said “Hold it tight!”.

My attempt to take yet another step backwards also proved futile, as I bumped into a set of steel shelves behind me.

The assistant grasped the rod tip, and our worthy wiggler raised his hand hard, putting an awesome bend in the rod, and continuing to do so until it had very nearly described a complete semicircle from butt to tip. At this point, the spirit of carbon fibre apparently decided that he had had more than enough of this vile treatment, and gave up the ghost.

Quite a small report sounded, followed closely by a shriek from the shop assisant, followed yet again by another much louder cracking report, and a sound like hailstones hitting a tin roof.

This all occurred within a split second.

The assistant had barely completed his marrow curdling shriek, before clapping his hands to his face, from between which amazingly large quantities of blood began welling and dripping. The wiggler stood apparently dumbfounded for a second, and then dropped the remains of the rod and began wiping his eyes.

Quite a few minutes, and considerable gentle persuasion,was required to get the shop assistant to take his hands away from his face, so that I could view the damage. A long deep gash ran from the side of his mouth, nearly up to his eye, and although the flow of blood had by now diminished a little, there was still plenty to go round. Indeed, the counter top, his clothes, the floor, the cash register, had all received a more than ample helping, and more was being freely distributed by the second, should the first few gushes indeed prove insufficient.

All anglers in Germany are required to have a first aid certificate before they may obtain a licence. I had originally assumed that this was in case of accidents on the stream, but now realised that the powers that be must be aware of what dangerous places tackle shops can be.

After about twenty minutes, an ambulance arrived and carted him off, after one of the medics had removed a few loose splinters from the wigglers eyes, and admonishing him not to rub them.

I heard he had to have sixteen stitches in the gash. He will have a scar that any Cossack would be proud of, for the rest of his life.

In the meantime, the wiggler picked up the butt, and a few bits and pieces, and holding them in his hands he looked at them, and then up at me, saying “I cant understand it, nothing like that has ever happened before! Must have been defective!”.

I refrained from further comment, and took my leave shortly afterwards. This particular tackle shop is no longer on my list of “places I like to visit”.

For those of you interested in the technical aspects of such an occurence, here they are.

If you grasp a rod at the tip, practically any lateral pressure you exert on this thin part of the blank will cause it to snap like a carrot. Having done so, and still being under considerable pressure from any wanton wiggler who is holding it at the time, the broken end will spring up and out with very considerable force. Should anybody be unfortunate enough to have placed his physiognomy in the arc which this, unlike a carrot, extremely sharp and jagged implement, is now describing at very high speed (which is basically unavoidable if he was foolish enough to hold the tip of a rod for a wiggler), it will almost certainly be permanently altered as a result.

Steel beams placed relatively low under the roof, are not a good idea in tackle shops owned by wigglers (much the same applies to ceiling fans). Having carried out the rapid, unwonted, and fairly large scale plastic surgery on the luckless emloyee now holding his face, the tipless rod continues its unstoppable journey upwards, until it contacts just such a steel beam, with a resounding crack. Being already damaged, the impact causes the remains of the tip to shatter like glass, and spray fragments all over the place. Some of which may cause injury or discomfort to innocent bystanders, and of course the by no means innocent wiggler, and his already severely injured assistant.

There are any number of morals to be gleaned from this story, but I will confine myself to those having an immediate effect on anglers wishing to purchase various fishing implements.

Wanton wiggling is a waste of time and effort, and risky to boot. If you see tackle dealers, or anybody else carrying out wanton wiggling, then don´t buy any rods from them. Even if nothing happens at the time, a rod which has been wantonly wiggled is highly likely to fail at some future date, as they are simply not designed to stand such treatment, and will almost certainly be damaged by it.

The extremely high incindence of broken tips, for no immediately apparent reason, when fishing, is in my opinion, at least partially a result of wanton wiggling. Those who fish bead-head and similar flies, using fast rods and tight loops, often have only themselves to blame, but for many others, the reason is that you are probably the unsuspecting victim of a wanton wiggler.

Tight lines!
Mike Connor

About Mike Connor

I had the honourable pleasure to get to know Mike Connor while he lived in Germany close to Hamburg. I visited him several times and learned a lot about fly tying, fly fishing and life in general from this most humble, warm and kind man.

He also gave me a lot of his books and also a very nice creel, which is now hanging on the wall here at Skålestrømmen. I used it over several years until it started falling apart. He gave all these things away as he was moving back to England. I then lost contact with him and even after years of research on his whereabouts, I was not able to find him again. I spoke to several others who knew him and we all tried getting in touch with him, without luck. He sort of “vanished” and I really would like to know what happened to him. Really sad as it was always a pleasure talking to him.

Mike has written numerous articles about traditional techniques and methods. These have been published on various websites before, but can mostly not be found anymore without significant effort and the use of “back in time of the internet” services. Back when we had frequent communication I saved most of what he sent me on my hard drive. That was in those times when was one not “online” permanently and the internet was still steam powered.

I believe that this material needs to be saved from disappearing so I take the freedom to publish it here so interested flyfishermen and outdoor enthusiast can enjoy Mike´s work. I do not claim any copyright on this material of course and do not seek economic gain from keeping these texts alive. I am sure Mike wouldn’t mind.

Have fun reading.

Cheers & tight lines,
Thomas Züllich

P.S. – Please feel free to get in touch via email ( should you know Mike as well.

The Old Man – by Mike Connor

The old man was there again, and he obviously had a good fish on, judging by the bend in his rod. We watched him land the fish with a long handled net from the high bank.

“Looks like another good one for the old man,” my companion remarked, “he certainly does seem to do well over there, hardly anybody else fishes the place, too dark under the trees and very difficult to cast, the high bank is a nuisance as well, he must be good to get fish there.”

This was my sixth trip of the season to this particular water, and every time I had visited the place, the old man had been there before me, even when I arrived at four a.m., always in the same place, and had always seemed to catch fish. He had still been there when I left as well. We went back to our fishing, and when we left at about eight ó clock the old man was still there.

We discussed the day a little on the ride home in the car, and I asked Dave if he knew “the old man,” “No,” he said, “never actually met him, but he is well known here, always fishes the same place, and always gets a couple of nice fish, he must really know his stuff, this is a difficult water, I heard he always fishes dry flies as well, a real ace, keeps himself to himself though, bit of a legend here actually, nobody ever sees him come or go, but he always seems to be fishing in the same place, no matter when you come or go, must just about live here.”

We moved on to other topics, and were home in a short while. We arranged to meet on the following Saturday, and Dave took his leave.

As luck would have it, I got a day off in the middle of the week, and decided to fish the water again in the hope of better results than at the week-end.

When I arrived at just after five a.m. “the old man” was already in his accustomed place, it was eerie really, somehow not quite normal, one had the impression he had never left the place, and the irrational “ghostly” feeling was enhanced considerably by the dancing swirling wreaths of early morning mist partially shrouding his dark figure on the opposite bank, making it seem to float wraithlike above the ground. He never seemed to move much at all, but often when one looked up he was playing another fish, or so it seemed.

I fished hard along the rocky shore for several hours without a take, the water was littered with midge cases all along the waterline, but not a fish was moving. I looked up again at about nine, and “the old man” was playing yet another fish.

Heavy overcast and no wind and the lightly swirling mist made the water absolutely still, and nothing was moving at all, the mist was slowly dissolving, although the sun had not yet put in any worthwhile appearance. It was fairly cold and clammy. I had tried most of the standard methods I knew, but without success. I resolved to trek around the lake and ask “the old man” about his killing methods.

It took me a good forty minutes of walking at a fairly stiff pace to get to the bay opposite where I had been fishing, and I was sweating profusely by the time I got to the stand of trees overshadowing the bay.

I have no idea what caused me to hurry so, there was no real need, I had the whole day before me, but for some unaccountable reason I felt haste was important, as if he might disappear before I got there or something.

I moved quietly and slowly now, down through the trees towards the water and was about at the middle of the stand of trees about thirty feet from the waters edge, when a voice seemingly from nowhere said “now then”. I very nearly suffered a heart attack on the spot, and fully expected to be struck dead on the instant, god knows what nonsense flashed through my mind in this moment, flight, death, demons, the devil or worse. The sweat running down my back turned icy cold and I shivered uncontrollably for an instant, resisting the overpowering temptation to break into headlong flight, and at the same time being rooted to the spot.

As nothing happened, and my pounding heart slowly subsided to a somewhat more normal rate, I turned slowly, and saw him standing near the trees at the waters edge. He looked perfectly normal, was not flying with horns and claws bared to attack me, and so I did the only sensible thing, I replied almost unintelligibly “now then.”

“Don’t get many round this side” he said, again perfectly normally, and I am afraid I made rather a fool of myself then as I replied rather forcefully “no bloody wonder!”, exhaling at the same time a large quantity of pent up breath, which I did not even realise I had been holding up to that moment.

He turned away from his rod again looked at me rather closely, and then said “yes it is a long hike, especially in waders, you doing any good?” Having gathered my shattered wits and composure in the meantime I was able to reply in a more sensible tone. I told him I had caught nothing, and he showed me three very nice fish he had caught. I asked him if he would mind if I sat and watched for a while, or if it would disturb him. “No no, you go ahead”, he agreed and so I sat down and got my flask and sandwiches from my bag.

I offered him some tea from my flask, and a sandwich maybe. He declined the sandwich but accepted the tea. He reeled in his line, and came and sat down on the same grassy knoll where I was sitting.

We got to talking about the fishing, and I asked him if it was true that he only fished dries.

“Yes, that´s true, I can’t retrieve very well at all, I have arthritis very badly in both hands,” he remarked quite matter of factly, “and dry flies are easier to fish, I just pay out the line and let them float around the bay here, and occasionally I get a fish or two.” “My gear is pretty old and decrepit as well, I doubt if it would stand up to much casting anyway, I just pay out line into the current around that small headland, and it floats my fly out over the deep water, the fish seem to patrol this route, and so I get quite a few this way.”

He showed me the fly he was using, a big bushy brown and white dry fly about size eight, “it is a bit big he said, but I am getting a bit blind as well, I have to use something I can tie on and see, and the fish dont seem to mind too much.”

We talked for quite a while, he seemed happy to have some company for a change, it turned out he was on the pension now, his wife had died some time before, and so he went fishing nearly every day to while away the time, and to “get out from under peoples feet” as he put it. His daughter brought him down to the top of the wood in the car on her way to milking most mornings, and his son picked him up at the same spot late in the evening. He had a pensioners season ticket, so did not have to go through the normal access gate to the lake, which explained his rather ghostlike comings and goings.

I showed him my fly-boxes, and offered him a couple of flies, but he declined, saying they would not do him much good, as he could not cast or retrieve them properly anyway. He admired my gear, and my flies, although he had obvious difficulty even seeing some of them properly. His gear was indeed old and decrepit, but he was still fit, apart from his gnarled and damaged hands and the obvious pain he was in when he moved much.

I managed to find a few big bushy dry flies in one of my boxes, and he seemed happy to accept these, saying it was difficult to get the flies he required at any of the shops, and they were a bit expensive anyway. I gave him all I had, a couple of dozen perhaps, and two tapered casts which he also declined at first, but then accepted when I pressed him.

We talked for a while longer, and then I rose, gathered my gear, took my farewell and moved on along the lake after wishing him tight lines, and giving him one of my business cards so that he could phone me if he needed any more flies, having told him that I tied my own, and it would be no problem to tie up some for him if he wished.

I met him quite a few times after that, and we always had a longish chat, he told me lots of local history, and talked of the war which he had fought in and a myriad other things. I tied him quite a few flies as well, but strangely enough I never told anybody about it. I don’t really know why. I fished with Dave on the Saturday following the first meeting, and never mentioned it to him, even when he remarked “the old man must be having a day off ” at lunchtime when we sat down to eat our sandwiches “no sign of him today.”

I took the old man boat fishing a couple of times on another lake with some big trout in it, he enjoyed it, and he got a couple of lovely fish, but sitting in the exposed boat on the hard wooden seats even with a cushion was something of an ordeal for him, so we did not go very often, although he obviously would have liked to.

His name was George Reading, and he was seventy-six years old when I met him. I attended his funeral three years later after his daughter had telephoned to inform me of his death. His son found him sitting on the stile at the top of the path through the wood to the lake, he had three large fish on his lap, and was sitting quite peacefully on the stile, dead, apparently having had a stroke.

I have fished that lake a couple of times since then, although it was a long time ago now, and every time I fished it I found myself looking up every now and again towards the stand of trees half expecting to see “the old man” had got another fish.

Tight lines George wherever you are, I hope the fish are just as obliging. ~
Mike Connor

About Mike Connor

I had the honourable pleasure to get to know Mike Connor while he lived in Germany close to Hamburg. I visited him several times and learned a lot about fly tying, fly fishing and life in general from this most humble, warm and kind man.

He also gave me a lot of his books and also a very nice creel, which is now hanging on the wall here at Skålestrømmen. I used it over several years until it started falling apart. He gave all these things away as he was moving back to England. I then lost contact with him and even after years of research on his whereabouts, I was not able to find him again. I spoke to several others who knew him and we all tried getting in touch with him, without luck. He sort of “vanished” and I really would like to know what happened to him. Really sad as it was always a pleasure talking to him.

Mike has written numerous articles about traditional techniques and methods. These have been published on various websites before, but can mostly not be found anymore without significant effort and the use of “back in time of the internet” services. Back when we had frequent communication I saved most of what he sent me on my hard drive. That was in those times when was one not “online” permanently and the internet was still steam powered.

I believe that this material needs to be saved from disappearing so I take the freedom to publish it here so interested flyfishermen and outdoor enthusiast can enjoy Mike´s work. I do not claim any copyright on this material of course and do not seek economic gain from keeping these texts alive. I am sure Mike wouldn’t mind.

Have fun reading.

Cheers & tight lines,
Thomas Züllich

P.S. – Please feel free to get in touch via email ( should you know Mike as well.

Changes – by Mike Connor

Rivers and streams change constantly. Gravel and sand shifts, even large rocks are moved in time. Banks are eroded. Floods change the way the river bends and flows. Some features though, seem to be almost permanent from year to year.

When I first saw it, on my first visit to the new water belonging to the club I had just joined, the bush was bare, its branches looked gaunt and naked, and the tangle of roots at its base was also lacking the cloak of weed which would cover them in summer. It was early spring, and a solitary fly hanging forlornly from one of the low branches, gave the lie to my idea that I might have been the first visitor to the water this year.

Beneath the bush, was a short gravelly run, and immediately below the thickest roots, protected by the low branches, a deeper pool had formed. This deeper run had obviously been the target of at least one other angler this year. I tried a cast to the head of the run, and promptly hung up on one of the branches. My tippet wrapped around the branch, and try as I might, I could not free it.

Wading over, up to my waist by the time I was able to reach the branch, I removed both flies, and waded back to the bank.

Quite a number of times that season, I tried the run again. Leaves now hung on the lower branches, which brushed, or even dangled in the water, occasionally collecting various debris. On a number of occasions, my casts were crowned with success, and I even managed to get my fly to swim down the run without a hang-up. Several rimes I even caught a fish. Usually a brown, about a quarter pound or so. The run was obviously attractive to the fish, but I never got anything of any size out of it.

At the beginning of July, the bush was in full leaf, and the underwater roots completely covered by weed. There was a lot of water in the river and quite a few of the lower branches were actually under the water. Standing alone, on a long, fairly level stretch of the stream, the bush, and the run below it, were the only real features on this particular stretch.Two larger pools, which were excellent for seatrout, were several hundred yards further down the river, and one passed the bush in order to reach them. I had often watched others simply walk past the bush on their way to the other stretches, and occasionally, somebody would try a cast.

Practically every time I passed the bush, I tried a cast or two, and I left quite a few flies hanging in its branches. Most of which I retrieved by wading across, and thus ruining the run for the nonce.

On the eleventh of July 1983, exactly one month after my birthday, I was late getting to the river. It was already 21.00 as I climbed the fence at the beginning of the stretch, and hurried down the bank, tackling up as I went, wishing to take up position on one of the larger pools, and wait for full dark. Even after all these years, and untold numbers of trips, I am still incapable of curbing the impatience which overtakes me when I see the water. It is a wonder that I have not broken a rod, or worse, long since, as a result of it.

On a whim, and because I often had a “practice cast” at the bush run, before moving on down to more productive water, I stopped and tied a fly on my leader, one of my favourite “start up” night flies, a size 8 Connemara Black.

Extending line, and using a very low sidecast, I cast obliquely up towards the top of the run below the bush, and luck was with me. The fly and leader snaked in under the overhanging branches, and landed at the top of the run with a slight plop. The three lead wraps underneath the seals fur body caused it to sink immediately, and I threw an immediate upstream mend into the line, allowing the fly to sink well, before the line again began to form a belly, and then I allowed the fly to start accelerating out of the run towards me, being moved ever faster by the ever increasing belly in the line.

“Not bad for a practice cast” I congratulated myself, as the fly came more or less level with my position, and was about to start retrieving some line, when the water almost at my feet erupted, and my line shot away in the wake of a large “V” somewhat reminiscent of a large carp on the surface, but a lot quicker!. I had no time to strike, and it was unnecessary in any case. The fish was well hooked, and rushing upstream at a fair rate of knots. The sudden jerk as the last loop of loose line shot through the rings, and jerked the reel spool into motion, almost pulled the rod from my grasp. The old click and pawl reel started whining rather angrily, as the spool revs increased, and a dismaying amount of line disappeared upstream into the gathering darkness, without a sign of slowing.

My half fly-line shot away, in an incredibly short space of time, and the backing started peeling off at a dismayingly rapid rate. Gently, and with some trepidation, I palmed the reel a little, without making any appreciable difference to the speed at which it was revolving, and simply putting a rather awe-inspiring bend in the rod. I palmed a little harder, and the rod bent even more, and still the line shot away.

Feeling rather hopeless, I watched in horror as the last few yards of backing spooled off the reel, there was a hell of a jerk, as the knot was reached, a terrible commotion commenced somewhere about a hundred yards upstream, and then everything went dead. Despite carefully and slowly retrieving, I could feel nothing at all. The fish had gone!

Extremely disconsolately, I started reeling in my line. It seemed to have wrapped around a snag or two, as it drifted back downstream towards me, and at each little tug, or slight resistance from such a snag, hope sprang anew that the fish was still on. It was only snags though.

My heart was still in my mouth, and the adrenaline still pumping through my veins, as I continued reeling in with shaking hands. All the backing was now on the reel, and the flyline now came in without any further resistance. With less than a yard or so of fly-line out, plus ten feet of leader, I realised that I was snagged in the roots of the bush, and jerked the rod a little, in the hopes of freeing the fly.

Once again the run exploded! and history seemed to repeat itself, as once again my line shot off upstream at high speed, and my knuckles got a bashing from the reel handles. Dazed and bemused, I simply hung on, palmed the reel again, and hoped for the best. The fish was unstoppable, and exactly the same thing happened again, all my flyline disappeared at an alarming rate, my efforts to prevent it doing so proving totally ineffectual, and my backing arbour knot was once again severely tested, as the reel stopped short at the end of the backing, there was another massive jerk, a hell of a commotion upstream, and everything went dead.

The same thing happened twice more in the space of the next ten minutes or so, and I seemed to be caught in some weird moment of space time, doomed forever to repeat what I had already experienced, accompanied by a whole gamut of extremely violent emotions, ranging from massive elation, to searing disappointment, as each time I thought I had lost the fish, and then it was there again when I reeled in, sitting in the run opposite me. I was beginning to think I really must be dreaming, when I finally managed to get a little control of the beast on the end of my line.

He ran again, once again straight upstream, but this time taking only the fly-line and a little backing. Eventually I managed to get him back down into the pool, and he leapt several times, showering me with water, and frightening me half to death each time. Only adding to my by this time rather distraught state He sat then for a minute or two in the fast water, immovable, despite fairly heavy pressure from my rod, shaking his head violently, and then, with no warning whatever he shot straight across the stream, my rod sprang vertical, the fish hurtled past me, and leapt up on to the bank behind me, and started thrashing around in the grass!

After a short while he lay still, and I scrambled up on the bank. There he lay, a magnificent fish, all of twelve pounds, and as bright as molten silver in the now very rapidly fading light.

I am not a catch and release fisherman, and I very rarely release sizeable fish, in fact normally never. But for some unknown reason, which I am still at a loss to explain, I came to the immediate conclusion that I had not won fairly, and did not deserve the fish. It had fought magnificently, but that was not the reason, it was a beautiful fish, but that also was not the reason. I just thought it had not lost fairly.

Removing the fly, and laying my rod down on the bank, I carefully cradled the fish, and carried it back to the water, I slid down the bank, held the fish for a moment or two in the fastish water at the edge of the run, and it suddenly flashed away into the deeps, with hardly a disturbance.

I stood for quite a while in the darkness, listening to the rushing water, and the sounds of gathering night, staring at the impenetrable surface of the dark water flowing past. There was no sign that anything at all untoward had occurred. The only sign being the slowly subsiding pounding of my heart. Then I turned, scrambled up the bank, collected my gear, and went home.

For sixteen years I fished that spot, always one month after my birthday. I arrived at 21.00 and essayed my first cast at exactly 21.10 my notes reveal that I caught fourteen seatrout under such circumstances, eight of them on the first cast, and on one memorable occasion two almost identical fish of six pounds within a few minutes of each other.

Apart from when the seatrout were up, and at various other times of the year, I had a cast at the bush run every time I passed it, even in winter, when after grayling, but only ever got small browns. On other occasions, I also got a few seatrout from the run.

At the beginning of the season in 1999, I was unable to fish the stream in early spring, business and other commitments prevented me from doing so. Indeed, it was already early July before I managed to get the time to fish this stretch. I decided to wait until the 11th, and have my usual belated birthday seatrout bash.

Climbing over the fence, I looked at the water, and tackled up while walking down the river. It was quite light still, and I had no problems, although my eyes are no longer what they once were, especially in twilight.

Scanning the water as I went, I approached the bush. Unfortunately, there was no bush. There was a large long gouge in the bank, where the bush had been, but there was no run, just flat sand, and the pool which had been there had disappeared.

Rather shocked, and not a little confused, I checked up and down the bank, and then decided to go home. I did not even try the pools lower down. I had no confidence in them. Not like I had had in the bush.

Enquiries among club members, revealed that the farmer who owned the field had pulled the bush with very considerable difficulty, using his tractor, earlier in the year. Nobody knew why, apparently he just felt like it. It may have interfered with the barbed wire and electric fencing he used to keep his cattle out of the river. I meant to go and ask him why, but I never did get round to it. Most unlikely that he would understand why I wanted to know, in any case.

Unfortunately, I never got a picture of the bush. There was never any need, it was always there, and did not seem remarkable enough to warrant taking any special precautions. I never really thought about it much. It was just an ordinary “run of the mill”, bush. I can still see it perfectly in my mind´s eye of course. Even in pitch black darkness, one could sense it, looming over the bank, (don´t ask me to explain how!), and the fish I caught there. But I would still have liked a picture. It is an awful shame that I am a totally lousy artist, or I might even try painting it.

Nowadays, people often wonder when they see some of my “fishing” photos, of perfectly nondescript rocks, trees, bushes, and the like. Although I have a few pictures of fish as well.

I still fish every year on the 11th of July, and I try to get there at 21.00. Indeed I have caught quite a few seatrout in other places since. 21.10 was always a “magical” time for me, and for my elder brother, as far as seatrout are concerned, but that is another story.

I really do miss that bush though.


About Mike Connor

I had the honourable pleasure to get to know Mike Connor while he lived in Germany close to Hamburg. I visited him several times and learned a lot about fly tying, fly fishing and life in general from this most humble, warm and kind man.

He also gave me a lot of his books and also a very nice creel, which is now hanging on the wall here at Skålestrømmen. I used it over several years until it started falling apart. He gave all these things away as he was moving back to England. I then lost contact with him and even after years of research on his whereabouts, I was not able to find him again. I spoke to several others who knew him and we all tried getting in touch with him, without luck. He sort of “vanished” and I really would like to know what happened to him. Really sad as it was always a pleasure talking to him.

Mike has written numerous articles about traditional techniques and methods. These have been published on various websites before, but can mostly not be found anymore without significant effort and the use of “back in time of the internet” services. Back when we had frequent communication I saved most of what he sent me on my hard drive. That was in those times when was not “online” permanently and the internet was still steam powered.

I believe that this material needs to be saved from disappearing so I take the freedom to publish it here so interested flyfishermen and outdoor enthusiast can enjoy Mike´s work. I do not claim any copyright ion this material of course and do not seek economic gain from keeping these texts alive.

Have fun reading.

Cheers & tight lines,
Thomas Züllich

P.S. – Please feel free to get in touch via email ( should you know Mike as well.