Friday July 27, 2018

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The Enigma Of The Wet Fly

Written by Alan Goodwin

The trout within yon wimpling burn,
Glides swift......a silver dart,
And safe beneath the shady thorn,
Defies the anglers art......
R. Burns

Wet Fly is a state of mind - simplicity personified. It is a feeling, a time and a place.
Wet fly means tumbling streams, open sky and the wind in your face.

It is sounds and smells, bright colours and bog myrtle. Life is all around us, grazing cattle or the gentle bleat of sheep. A golden eagle soars overhead and a dipper dives for creepers (stonefly nymphs). Curlews rest in the field and from the Scots Pine come the cheep cheep of the chaffinch.

Wet fly men are alone with their thoughts. No guide or clanking oars, just peace with his inner self sounds or the smell of the river.

Inspiration is what makes a good wet fly man. By comparison the dry fly is police work, investigate the evidence and produce an imitation. Wet fly is all about underwater. There is little evidence, indeed intuition and experience rule the roost. It is one of constructive imagination, not an exact science. A wet fly man reads the stream. He follows the eddies and bumps, a world of its own. The flies are on an errand, personal emissaries not tools. That difference elevates the wet fly man to a higher status, not of ammunition but that of partner.

We are but mere apprentices guided by what has gone before. The old time fly fisher knew that. He put his name to his creations, dry flies tend to be called after the insect, not so the wet fly. These proud men put their names to the fly. Interpreting them is another story and fierce locale variations are well guarded secrets.

Misinterpretation can invoke fierce loyalties. Who can forget the Durham Canon and his Greenwell’s Glory, WC Stewart’s Black Spider, Broughton the Penrith shoemaker or Peter Ross of Killin Perthshire? Who was he? I have often wondered? I have visions of a heavenly podium of wet fly men aloft from the rest of fly fishers in the big stream in the sky.

Sometimes I can feel the hair on the back of my neck stand on end as I ponder a tricky stretch of water or a choice of fly. What would they have done? How would they have approached it? Sometimes I swear the answer comes “from above”. Oh I would have loved to have spent a day in their hallowed company. One never knows, maybe they would have liked a day with me.

I flick my team of 3 flies down and across a Partridge and Orange on the tail, second dropper the ubiquitous Greenwell and a jaunty wee Red Tag on the bob. As they float down the stream I sense the presence of trutta unseen but waiting. The flies follow the nooks and crannies, the humps and eddies interplaying with the current. A wee broonie darts out, a silver flash, and intercepts my wee Greenwell. A pull, the rod bends and the trout protests its hooked state by turning below me, jumping and throwing the hook.

Damm blast, rod too low…..shit.

The hairs on the neck stand on end……. Tut Tut Highlander, easy does it I seem to hear from behind me, but other than the protesting sheep no man is there. A few casts later a nice brown brout of around a pound rests on its bed of fern. Its butter coloured belly and blacks spot resplendent in the early spring sun, rod held high, it was well hooked on the spider. I sense a certain satisfaction.

That’s better the voice says.……was it in my head?
Or did it come from the Podium.
I will find out some day.

Tight Lines

My thanks to Stephen Williams for the poetic license and to The Bard who furnished the wee poem.

Alan Goodwin lives in Erskine Renfrewshire, married with two children and two grandchildren. A long time devoted traditional fly fisher for brown trout. So much so, he has devoted some time to his website "The Highlander Way", to introduce new and old to the somewhat forgotten art of the "traditional flee". Alan also specializes in tying Clyde style flies and there are a couple of pages on his site about this unique form of fly fishing.

Alan can be found at


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