Ben Bangham takes his new wacky patterns to Surrey’s Frensham Lakes to see if the trout think they are weird or wonderful…
The weird, the wacky and the downright insane. Sometimes you need a bit of this to get by in life. Evidently, though, it isn’t just us that need it, it’s trout as well.
I have some pretty weird flies in my boxes that are sometimes just what you need to tempt a trout that isn’t in a giving mood. Over the last few months the editor has commented on some of my more bizarre creations and asked if they actually worked or were just the creations of a madman (bit of both really).
This signalled a challenge for me to create some weird or wonderful flies made from bizarre materials to see if they would work on some unsuspecting trout!
Nestled deep in the Surrey countryside is a quiet beautiful set of lakes at Frensham Trout Fishery. It has two separate venues not far from each other. The main one comprises six lakes, all with different characteristics. The trout are strong and healthy because there is a constant flow of water through all the lakes, and the owner, Richard Twite, is a keen advocate of letting nature do its bit. This means there are plenty of trees and bankside vegetation to hold a huge larder for the fish to gorge themselves on. As a result, it is a fantastic dry-fly water almost throughout the year because there is always something around to drop on the water.
The other part of the fishery is called Crystal Pools and, as the name hints at, the water is crystal clear in these ponds, and the fish are big! It is like an aquarium of big rainbows and a smattering of browns. When you see the main lake and stocking levels you think that things will be easy – they aren’t. These lakes are available on a catch-and-release ticket as well as a catch and kill, so these big fish have seen it all and are well educated.
We decided to separate the day into two parts. We started on the main lakes to give the flies a run through on a water more akin to most fisheries. Then we planned to take them for a swim in the specimen pools, where things might be a bit trickier and more of a test for the flies on some large catch-and-release resident fish.
The Blood Chain
Well here is the crux of the article in the form of the three weird flies, the Wotsit, Blood Chain and Marigold. Catchy names I know, but they describe what they are pretty well, I think.
The Wotsit is a simple fly that is made from one of those modern dusters with the bobbles on. The colour that I tend to favour is the hot orange. Each duster has a hundred or so bits to tie with, so they are great value.
It’s easy to tie. Get your hook and bead ready and then cut off a bobble and slide it onto the hook, lash it on and then put a small bit of dubbing on the thorax – job done.
The Bloody Chain is the easiest of the three to tie. It’s made from plug chain in red from B&Q. Cut off a good length and then whip it onto a grub-shaped hook with pink Nymph-It. That’s it, very simple and very effective.
The Marigold is my favourite. Tie in a marabou tail and then a Fritz body leaving a gap at the front of the fly to accommodate the marigold part. To finish the fly, cut off the tip of a finger from a Marigold glove (be careful of the wife) and make a hole in the tip, push it onto the front of the fly yellow first. Then whip it in by just catching it so that it stays in position. Push it so it inverts over the fly so that you are left with a white cone. On this cone I paint two eyes with an oil marker and that’s the fly finished.
The Wotsit, the Blod Chain & the Marigold
As is normal for the stillwaters I fish, out came the Sage Bolts 9ft 5-wt with matching reels, the perfect small-water tools. I set one up with a clear intermediate line and a short 6ft leader of 8lb fluorocarbon to which the Marigold was tied.
The second rod was set up with a floating line and a bung to fish the other two flies. I set the depth of this to about four feet because as I was setting up by the lake I saw a trout cruising at that depth.
Time For A Wotsit
I was at the end of the lake when setting up so that I could see most of the water and look for any signs of fish. I caught sight of a few moving fish in a hard to reach corner of the lake, which I kept my eye on while fishing the area where I had tackled up. I started with the Wotsit, casting it around the area to see if I could catch. I missed one fairly quickly, which I hooked but couldn’t keep on. I caught sight of a rainbow coming into the area so I flicked the Wotsit into its path. Much like me, this trout couldn’t resist a Wotsit and the first fish of the day was soon being netted.
I wanted to carry on with the early success so I took the opportunity to get the Blood Chain on. I carried on casting around the swim without much luck. All the time I saw the odd sign of fish in the hard to reach corner.
I said to myself: “One more sign of a trout and I will go over and fish the area.”
Sure enough, less than a minute later I was making my way around to the corner. There were trout absolutely everywhere. I started putting the Blood Chain in front of several fish, which elicited a large amount of interest but without any takes. This continued for a while until eventually one made a mistake. This did surprise me. Normally this fly has produced the goods for me; just not today.
There were still lots of trout in the area and they were pretty active as well. I thought that it would be a great opportunity to give the Marigold a go. I love this lure, and although it looks like nothing on God’s green earth it really catches fish. The head makes it wobble erratically on the retrieve and this really seems to get the trout’s attention. We saw this really well on the crystal-clear pool later on.
On the first water, though, the fish were tight to a reed bed in the corner. Due to the trees and bushes around the peg it meant an awkward roll cast over my wrong shoulder. I roll cast down the reeds, letting it all settle for a bit, and then retrieved. Well with all the fish stacked up in this corner, how could I fail? I didn’t. Every cast was either a take or a landed trout; they were loving the Marigold! To be honest, it was so easy that we decided to move off because it was losing some of its appeal. We decided it was time for the challenge of the educated big fish of the Crystal Pools.
Marigold Magic In The Crystal Pools
Marigold magic. The movement of this fly in the water proved too irresistible to both the fresh stockies and big residents
I found the hour or so we had on here very interesting. As in the other lakes, I started out with the bung fishing the Wotsit and the Bloody Chain to no avail.
First cast with a Wotsit a good fish took but spat it instantly and that was it in terms of action for this fly.
The Bloody Chain fared even worse, without even getting a look, so it was down to the Marigold to see if this fly could produce.
Out went the fly, I let it sink for a couple of seconds and then started the retrieve and the fish went crazy, four or five trout following it one time, what a sight! I frustratingly missed a couple of fish because they were hitting it and spitting it so quickly I simply couldn’t connect. After about five minutes one managed to hang itself, so I was the proud owner of a rather large rainbow that fought like a runaway steam train. It tore up and down the pool for a good few minutes, testing my tackle to the limits.
After this the action died. The trout weren’t interested at all in the fly. I decided that I would wet a few of my favourite lures to see if they would elicit a response. Well the trout were less than complimentary to my lures, showing no interest in them at all.
I switched back to the Marigold after a while and immediately took a fish again, which was amazing. As before, they would then ignore it until I fished other flies then switched back. It seemed as though they were forgetting the fly after a while and would then eat it again once reintroduced.
I have caught fish on all the flies over the last few months and it was great to show Andy how effective they can be. Without a shadow of a doubt, though, the star of the show has been the Marigold. With its seductive wobble it has accounted for numerous trout and will no doubt account for many more in the near future!
Now where has the wife left those Marigolds?
Ben Bangham takes his marabou lures to Albury Estate Lakes to see if the simple approach to catching trout works as well today as it did when he first started fly fishing.
On a recent fishing trip, I was having a chat to the editor about articles and what we looked for in them when we first started fly fishing to where we are now. What we both agreed was that sometimes we, as writer and editor, might write articles based around fairly advanced techniques and flies, especially the flies.
Most fly anglers are at what I call a happy level of fly tying, ie they can tie flies and love to use and catch fish on them. Most of the flies in the magazines are fairly advanced to tie. For most people, these are hard to do, as well as using a multitude of materials that many might not have at their disposal. Sometimes they use techniques that are fairly tricky.
A handful of simple lures coupled with a floating and intermediate line was Ben's choice of attack for the Albury Trout
So as a result of that chat we decided that for this article I would go back in time to when I was fishing solely for fun and really just getting into fly tying. It was back to the old school and a few flies based around the classic Dog Nobbler-type patterns that I used to use religiously in the early years.
This is one of the most simple lures to tie and is very effective. More importantly, it doesn’t use a lot of materials and doesn’t have any advanced tying techniques in its creation. All you need is a hook, a bead, a marabou feather for the tail and body, and a bit of rib to hold it all together.
Fish could be seen close in, so keeping a low profile and casting back from the water's edge was required early on
Colourwise I used to use orange the most but this time I tied up a few more variations just in case. I knew as I was tying them that they would work, the question I had was would they work as well as some of the more modern, more advanced lures that are out there now?
I decided that fishing in the spirit of things I would only take the bare essentials with me. This consisted of the new Sage Bolt rod in a 9ft 5-wt, which is my go-to rod for all small stillwater situations now. It casts a line beautifully, giving the impression of a fairly stiff casting tool; however, when you play a fish with it the rod almost seems to soften up and give you a really exciting playing tool. I matched it up with a Rio Gold 5-wt floater loaded onto a Sage 4250 reel to get a beautifully balanced outfit.
I also set up a rod with an intermediate line on just as a backup. To be honest I much prefer fishing a floater than an intermediate nowadays.
Leaderwise I didn’t do anything special at all, again looking at how I used to fish. All I used was 10 feet of 8lb fluorocarbon. Obviously, I didn’t have fluorocarbon when I was starting out, but this is what I use on stillwaters now and so on it went. Very simple and very easy.
We headed down to Albury Estate Fisheries, a place that I had driven past a few times over the years, but had never wet a line there. I guide with one of the Albury’s fishery managers, Cameron Craigs, from time to time so I thought it was high time to go down and catch a few of his fish!
Wth a slight tinge of colour in the water, the Albury fish wanted brighter flies, with the sunburst lure pick of colours.
The fishery essentially consists of four separate fisheries: Powder Mills, Syon Park, Vale End and Weston. On this occasion, I decided to concentrate on the day-ticket waters that make up Weston Fishery.
Weston consists of three lakes: Main Lake, which is the biggest of the three, Lower Millhouse Lake and finally the smallest one, Wood Lodge Pool. I wanted to fish each of the lakes to see if the flies could catch across all three.
Black To Start
I headed up to the furthest of the lakes – Wood Lodge Pool – to start. On the end of the leader was the black and orange bead version of the lure that I had tied, as I have a lot of confidence in black flies. The lakes are normally crystal clear, but today they were carrying a touch of colour. Not so much that you couldn’t see the fish but you had to look hard and work your flies in the areas where you saw movement.
I had managed to spot a few fish cruising a couple of feet under the surface of the lake, but despite covering them all only one or two showed any interest in what I had to offer. I changed retrieves to see if that would make a difference, but it had very little effect at all, if any.
I wondered whether the water carrying that tinge of colour meant that the rainbows might be a bit responsive to a splash of colour being pulled through their watery lair. It was a toss-up between the sunburst with a purple bead and the orange with a black bead. I opted for the sunburst as I just thought that extra brightness might be the key to unlocking these fish.
A swap to the orange lure brought success on Lower Mill House Lake. Changing colour can make a big difference to your catch rate.
It turns out that I made the right choice, as it was only a matter of minutes until the steady slow retrieve resulted in the line tightening and I was playing my very first Albury Estate rainbow. It was a great fight and it was fairly hard fish to get on top of. It went off like a rocket, racing around the lake putting a great bend in the rod. It eventually gave up and came to the net!
It pays to watch the water before selecting where to fish. Keep an eye on rising fish, wind direction and other anglers before choosing your peg
"Once I had located a few active fish I knew it wouldn't be too long until I had my limit, and I was right"
With the first fish in the net, it was time for a move. While we were taking photos I noticed that on main lake there were a few fish moving in a certain area. I marked the place they were moving and started to pack up my kit ready to move. At the end of Wood Lodge Pool, right in the margin, was another trout about the same size as the one I had just caught. I stopped and slowly sank to my knees using the bankside cover to my advantage while I got my rod ready, keeping my eye on the fish all the time.
It didn’t really need a cast, the fish was that close. I just swung the fly out and let it sink down right in front of the rainbow’s nose. It sank seductively and before it had touched the bottom the trout had snaffled it – game on!
Once again the fight was great and the rainbow gave a very good account of itself but I soon had it in the net.
This time I managed to get onto the Main Lake. I headed straight for the area that I had seen the fish moving in and started to work it methodically, fan casting and varying the retrieve and depth that I was fishing at. I never counted it down too long as it seemed that the fish were mainly working the upper levels of the water column.
It wasn’t too many casts before the little sunburst lure had done its job again and another hard-fighting rainbow was doing its best to strip all the line from my reel. Another cracker about the 3lb mark.
For my final trout on the four-fish ticket, I decided to move to the last lake of the three to give it a whirl. Cameron did say that this lake was having a few issues due to lack of water flow, but it seemed to be not too bad and I could see a few fish moving. I changed up the fly to the orange one as I have a soft spot for it.
I spent 10 minutes walking around the lake just trying to locate the fish and in the process I had my licence checked by an EA bailiff (which was great to see). Once I had located a few active fish I knew it wouldn’t be too long until I had my limit, and I was right. Again this fished punched well above its weight and tested my tackle, but there was only one outcome – a happy angler. That brought an end to my first session on Albury Estate Fisheries, but I can say for sure that the next time I drive past I shall definitely be stopping.
I wanted to go out and use a fly that everyone can tie. It was my first ‘useful’ fly that I ever tied and caught me most of my early trout. It was such a great thing to go out with this fly again and catch on it.
As I progressed in fly tying this pattern went to the back of the box and eventually out of it all together. So how does it stack up compared to the more modern, more complicated counterparts now, and does it get a place in my box again?
Happy memories. The buzz of catching on your own creations takes some beating!
I would say very well. On the day of the article I can hand on heart say that I caught those fish as quickly as I would have done with my normal lures; I was stunned at just how effective this pattern is. It is great to see that it hasn’t lost its potency over the years and has gone from being a bit of a blast from the past to having a firm place in my everyday box, praise indeed.
So get out the vices and the marabou you have lying around, whip it onto a hook and catch a fish. Get that buzz from catching on your own flies – it’s great.
The Keep It Simple Marabou Lure
Hook: Hanak 260 or similar, size 10
Bead: 3mm tungsten
Thread: Colour to match the body
Tail: Pinch of marabou
Rib: Silver or copper wire
Slide the bead onto the hook and run a layer of thread down the shank to the bend.
Take a pinch of marabou and tie in the tail. Run the thread over the marabou towards the eye to keep an even body ad return to the bend.
Tie in the copper wire rib and a marabou body and run the thread to the eye of the hook.
Wind the marabou up the body and tie off and then take the wire up in open turns to form the rib and secure.
Whip finish and varnish. Using your finger and thumb, nip the marabou tail to the required length.
Venue: Albury Estate Fisheries
Location: Estate Office, Weston Yard, Albury, Guildford, Surrey, GU5 9AF
Albury bailiff: Mob 07976 810737
Ben Bangham steps back in time on a trip to the River Avon where river keeper and angler Frank Sawyer brought us the Killer Bug.
There are a few names that are synonymous with fly fishing and none more so in the more modern era than Frank Sawyer. He has given the fly fishing fraternity many things in his years as a river keeper and fly angler, in particular, his fly patterns the Killer Bug and Pheasant Tail.
He holds a special place in my heart as a fly angler because I cut my teeth fishing on the Avon, which is the river that he had a passionate love for and spent all his life both keeping and fishing.
Adam Sinclair (left) and Ben Bangham on Frank Sawyer's commemorative bench
He was born in 1906 and got his first job on the Avon as an under keeper in 1925 at Lake in the Woodford Valley. It wasn’t long until he got a head keepers job on the Officers’ Fishing Association waters around Netheravon in 1928. The club changed its name to the Services Dry Fly Fishing Association (SDFFA) and is still called this today. Frank was the keeper of this stretch until his death in 1980.
The Avon now has a healthy sustainable population of wild brownies...
Restoring The Avon
We who fish the Avon can really say thank you to Frank because he made it what it is today. In the early 1930s, the river was in a very bad way due to the army training around the river on Salisbury Plain, as well as the farming practices employed in the area. This meant that there was a huge amount of silt running into the river and destroying the trout’s redds. If the eggs did manage to hatch then the river itself was still in a good enough condition to support the trout population. It was really just the build up of silt that was the problem, suffocating the redds.
... With plenty of prized specimens thanks to work done by Frank Sawyer and SDFFA
This meant a huge decline in the trout population on the Avon. Frank, spurred on by his love of the river, took it upon himself to rectify this. He started a stocking programme of fry that he hatched just for this purpose. He introduced around 100,000 fry into the Avon for nearly 25 years. This brought the fish stocks back from the brink of collapse. As well as this, he started a project to clean the river up by removing hatches and sluices to speed it up, setting up silt traps and dredging the worst affected areas. This along, with other projects, really set the groundwork for the river I know and love today.
The Killer Bug
In fishing terms he has also contributed several things, such as the induced take, a method of making the nymph rise up in front of the fish, therefore inducing a take. Nymph-wise, the Pheasant Tail is the most famous of the flies he gave us and is a generic nymph pattern that is still used in many shapes and forms and has caught fish all over the world. It's lighter cousin, the Grey Goose Nymph, was a very well-known fly that seems to have gone out of fashion somewhat in recent years. There were a couple more but the one I am concentrating on is the Killer Bug.
The 'special grayling'. Not the biggest of fish but one that will remain with Ben for the rest of his angling career!
It is said that it was originally concocted as a grayling fly, representing the Gammarus that are so plentiful in the Avon. This was so that Frank could remove the grayling from the river because they were considered vermin back then. As a result, he wanted a highly effective fly and he certainly found one. Like most of his flies, it is a simple pattern that involves two materials – copper wire and yarn. The original pattern was tied with the legendary Chadwicks 477 wool that ceased being produced in 1965 and is now a bit like gold dust! It still makes the best killer bugs in my opinion.
A Trip To Hallowed Waters
I have used this pattern over the years on the Avon with good success, but they have mainly been commercially tied Killer Bugs that do not incorporate 477. When a friend of mine, Adam Sinclair, got his hands on a card of Chadwick’s 477 it wasn’t long before I had managed to alleviate him of some and I was finally able to tie a few Killer Bugs ‘original style’. Adam also happens to be a member of the SDFFA, the beat that Frank used to keep. When we talked about the Killer Bug and Frank he suggested that he might be able to get me permission to do an article based on the bug at the actual place it was invented. The SDFFA kindly agreed to let me onto the hallowed waters to do this article; a truly amazing opportunity.
The Avon offers a nice mix pool and riffles with plenty of hidden lies to target.
I decided to use the commemorative bench that is on the river just outside Netheravon as the starting point and centrepiece to the article, where I would tie a Killer Bug using the original Chadwick’s 477 then fish the water that Frank used to keep.
It was a very mild autumnal day, warm and just right. We met Adam and made our way to the bench. The sun was shining, the leaves were turning, the river low and clear and the fish visible – perfect.
Tying the Killer Bug on Frank’s bench was special, to say the least; then to tie it on my cast and catch a grayling on it in sight of the bench was just amazing. It did make me feel pretty special and I think Adam and Andy were also a bit touched by the whole experience. It’s as close as you can get to going back in time. It’s something that I will remember for a very long time indeed.
So how did I fish it? I wanted to keep in tune with what Frank would have used as much as I could, so to start with the nymphing rod stayed in the car, along with my modern-day nymphs. Just a normal fly rod, tapered leader and single nymph cast upstream was the attack.
Tying at the water's edge. The Killer Bug is a simple pattern to tie and deadly when used!
I started with a 9ft, 4-wt Sage Method with a floating line, a 9ft tapered leader to a small section of RIO Two Tone indicator tippet. This is the best indicator line on the market, I think. The colours are amazingly vibrant and don’t fade like many others. The other advantage is that the coloured sections are short, which makes it easy for your eyes to pick up any movements. Onto this, I tied three feet of 0.12mm Stroft and then the freshly tied, fabled Killer Bug.
Later I did crack out the proper nymphing kit to fish as effectively as I could. I couldn’t help thinking: “I wonder what Frank would think of this kit and my flies?”
The Special Grayling
I used the single nymph in the stretch opposite Frank’s bench, just working slowly up the shallows casting into likely looking spots. I concentrated on casting to the small gravel patches or the back of the weed patches. As I moved up I spooked a grayling that was sat behind a bit of weed that I hadn’t cast to. This fish then moved a few more that were sat in the same spot. I slowly moved back downstream to a safe distance and waited for a couple of minutes. I didn’t think I had spooked them too much so hoped that I could still get a couple.
A change of tactics for the deeper, slower water meant a heavy modern bug was tied on the point and the Killer Bug onto the dropper
Once I had given them a good rest I made a cast into the hole and was treated to a sharp jag on the indicator tippet. I struck and instantly saw the twisting, turning silver flashes of a small grayling in the clear water. To me this was a very special grayling indeed.
This spot was good to me and produced a fair few small grayling but none as special as that first one.
It wasn't just the smaller grayling that liked the 'Bug'. The Avon holds some quality trout and grayling, proving that Frank's fly was still to their liking
When Old Meets New
I then switched to my normal nymphing approach and coupled the Killer Bug on the top dropper with one of my nymphs on the point, depending on the water depth. I caught steadily on all the flies throughout the day and had a huge number on the Killer Bug, giving me a slightly warm feeling inside.
It’s a shame that I only have this space to write about the experience because I could probably fill the whole magazine. It was truly special and I am privileged to have been able to do it. When you have been doing this as long as I have, it is rare to feel how I felt about that small grayling. Firsts for me in fly fishing are generally a distant memory, and of them all, this, as well as being the newest, is probably the best.
It was a special day, a special place, a special fly and a special grayling. A huge thanks to Adam and the SDFFA for making the day possible.
Tying The Killer Bug
Hook: Hanak BL200, size 12
Thread: Fine copper wire
Body: Chadwick’s 477
1. Secure the Hanak BL200 in the vice.
2. Start with the wire at eye of the hook.
3. Build up a couple of layers of wire on the first half of the hook to give the fly some weight and a uniform body.
4. Tie in two bits of the Chadwick’s 477 yarn onto the back half of the hook. Leave the wire at the back of the hook so you can tie the fly off at the back.
5. Wind the wool up to the eye of the hook and then back down to the back of the hook. When you reach the back of the hook use your whip finisher to finish the fly and break off the wire.
6. I add a drop of superglue on the wire at the back for peace of mind.