As far as 30th birthdays go, mine was a bit of a non-event. I was in the middle of a big project at work and was at my desk first thing in the morning and did not get home until after midnight, so basically missed the entire day. Moreover, our daughter had been born only two months earlier so things at home were rather chaotic and any thought of birthday celebrations had understandably taken a back seat. However, I did get one great present from my wife and newly born daughter – two Richard Wheatley mahogany fly boxes with a lovely engraved message on them.
Beautiful things indeed and they would look even more alluring when populated with neat rows of delicate flies. I promised to myself that I would fill the boxes with only flies of my own making, which would essentially require relearning the art of fly tying (something I had not done for over 15 years). However, a wedding, a change of job, two family relocations (from Moscow back to UK and back to Moscow again), countless nappy changes and sleepless nights meant the boxes remained unopened and empty for the next four years.
During those four years, I periodically had bouts of enthusiasm for the project of stocking my new boxes. On one visit back to the UK, I had dug out my old fly tying tools from my Mum and Dad’s loft. An Amazon voucher I got one Christmas had been put towards a few new materials and an excellent book by Mike Harding on north country wet flies. I would daydream on occasion about spending the long Moscow winter nights tying delicate nymphs and spiders and finally learning how to tie dry flies, but with work and family commitments I could never quite find the time or muster enough energy to actually do it.
The impetus finally came with the booking of a day’s grayling fishing on the River Hodder in Lancashire for my Dad’s 65th birthday. As a kid I had learnt to tie flies from books and magazines. I remember it being slow progress and many of my early creations never got close to water let alone the mouth of a fish and they certainly did not look anything like the examples I was attempting to produce. However, ultimately by my teenage years I had put together box of flies that, whilst not particularly pretty, were capable of putting in a workmanlike performance on my home water of the River Wharfe at Addingham, as well as on trips further afield including the Rivers Eden and Till. Reopening that old box for inspiration – the feel of it in my hands, the musty smell of the pock-marked foam and the sight of those faithful old flies – brought back so many wonderful memories.
Relearning the art in my thirties has proven much easier and even more enjoyable than in my youth for a number of reasons. Firstly, the advent of YouTube means no more deciphering of fusty old diagrams and descriptions, instead you can tie along with experts like Davie McPhail. Tricky skills like tying proper spider hackles and dubbing neat bodies are much simpler once you had seen someone doing it on screen. Secondly, I can now tie my flies with their proper accompaniment – single malt whiskey. Thirdly, and most importantly, I now have a little buddy to tie with.
Whilst still a bit rusty, within a month or so I had put together a box I was rather chuffed with (see photo at the top of this post). Some rows of spiders in various shades and some beadhead nymphs in different sizes. They looked the part, but what would the Hodder grayling think? I will be writing about that soon.