Colours for Sea Trout Flies
An article by Alun Rees.
Have you ever wondered why blue is such a successful colour when used in Sewin flies? I’m sure you haven’t thought about it that much. After all, what trout flies contain blue materials in their makeup? There’s the Blue Zulu, the Teal Blue and Silver and……………???
When you think about it there aren’t that many flies that do contain blue materials in their makeup. I know there are a few Salmon flies like the Blue Charm and Silver Wilkinson, but like the Blue Zulu and Teal Blue and Silver; these traditional flies are out of favour with most anglers. In their place are more modern flies like the Ally’s Shrimp and the Blob. You have to ask the question though, would anglers still catch fish on these traditional flies if they were used more often? I think that they would for reasons that I’ll explain below.
I have a friend called Edryd who hails from a small village called Cwmgrach, near Neath in South Wales. He’s a bit of a character, to say the least. Most of his life has been spent fishing for the Sewin that run the River Neath and he’ll often tell you of the enormous runs of fish that used to occur and the large bags that were landed. As ever though, things aren’t what they used to be. Sometimes his stories change, the fish get bigger with each telling! However, one thing has remained constant in his stories and that’s the flies he’s used, anything with a bit of blue material in it. Whether its feather fibre or squirrel tail, as long as it’s blue it doesn’t matter.
I never gave it a second thought. Many a time I have picked him up on my way to the River and I’ve had new concoctions to try. Some have worked their charm. Others have been consigned to the bin! He’s always mentioned though that if I tied the flies with a bit of blue they’d catch more fish. After one of our outings, he gave me a fly that had always done the job for him. It didn’t have a name other than Ed’s Blue Tube.
It’s a simple affair. Tied on a 1-½ inch aluminium tube, a bunch of blue bucktail top and bottom, a pinch of silver crystal flash and a well-marked teal feather tied to lie halfway along the top of the tube.
As it happened, I quite liked the look of the fly and tied up a dozen ready for our next outing and with a view of giving a couple to Ed to restock his fly box.
Anyway, one night I picked him up and took him to a stretch that he hadn’t fished in a long time and to my surprise, he commented that he’d never caught a fish out of this one particular pool and felt that we’d be wasting our time. I had anticipated his comments and had made sure that there were fish in the pool having carried out a reconnaissance on my way home from work. I reassured him that the pool was full of fish but he wasn’t having any of it.
At times like this, I often feel that it’s fatal to lose the positive mental attitude that you should have when sewin fishing. Success is hard to come by even when there’s lots of fish about. Negative thinking will not catch any fish. To my mind, there was plenty of fish in the pool and as we were there we might as well give it a go.
I set up with my usual intermediate and Ed followed suit. I had put an American Express on the point and on the dropper a Hairwing Butcher. We both started to fish in the pool but the fish didn’t want to play ball. In the meantime, Ed had lost a couple of flies to those very numerous rockfish and wasn’t happy at all. I have to admit I’d forgotten all about the flies I tied earlier and it hadn’t crossed my mind to give any to Ed. I asked him if he wanted some flies but he decided to carry on regardless.
My usual killers weren’t working their magic and realising I had the tube flies in my box, I thought back to what Ed was constantly talking about, anything with a bit of blue in it! Immediately I changed to one of the tubes and decided to head back up to the top of the pool to go through again.
On my first pass through the pool, I hooked three fish but only landed two. I couldn’t believe it! “What are you catching on Al?” shouted Ed. “An experimental pattern, I can’t tell you the secret yet, it’s still in the development stages!” I replied. Laugh, I nearly fell in the River. Here I was fishing a fly that Ed had given to me and catching fish on it as well. I couldn’t believe it. Had I been so ignorant to disregard what he’d been saying? Was I that conceited to think that I knew it all and ignore what other people had to say? Of course not. 90% of my time is spent talking to people on the River about their methods and what brings success for them. It’s only a fool that thinks he knows it all. To cut a long story short, after I landed my sixth fish, Edryd grabbed my fly line and pulled my fly in. His face was a picture when he saw what I was using. The language that followed even embarrassed me I can tell you! Not that I was listening though, I was too busy laughing. He did end the night with a couple of fish though.
Although that brief story tells a tale of Sewin reacting to a different pattern of fly, as ever, I always try to understand why. If I can reason why under particular circumstances one fly works while another doesn’t, and it seems valid to me then the circumstances, place, method and numerous other factors all get stored away for the next time.
The reason why this pattern had worked and others hadn’t eluded me for quite some time. It wasn’t until I sat down to start tying flies ready for the new season that I started to piece together reasons that justify the inclusion of flies dressed with blue materials in my fly box.
I am constantly messing with fly patterns to try to enhance or create something that incorporates trigger points that will provoke a reaction from the Sewin or overcome some difficulty that I encounter when fishing for Sewin. At this time my topic was colour.
I had just received a book through the post written by an enthusiastic Steelhead Angler from North America called Dr Colin J Kageyama, entitled What Fish See. I thought this book might be interesting for a number of reasons but in particular because he is an Optometrist. His research has led him to understand how light is affected in different mediums, in particular, water and how this is then interpreted by the fish by analysing the fisheye and its structure. In addition to this, he has also analysed how the structure of the fish’s eye changes as it moves from the sea upriver to spawn and how the fish then interprets the light.
I know this all seems a bit far-fetched and scientific for Sewin fishing but what I read made more and more sense. The only difference that I could see was that he was talking about Steelhead and Pacific Salmon and I’m looking at Sewin. But couldn’t I draw a comparison between the Steelhead which is essentially an Ocean going Rainbow Trout and the Sewin which is an ocean-going Brown Trout? Why not?
In his findings, Dr Kageyama has found that while still in the ocean, the sensitivity of Steelhead’s eyesight is centred on blue and green colours. After entering the Rivers, over a period of time this changes to red and orange colours. In the case of the Coho Salmon, he further adds that as they approach spawning time, the eyesight further deteriorates so that the fish can only see drab brown and black colours.
To make sense of all this, I looked over my catch returns and found similar patterns in my catches of Sewin. Early in the season when I fish mainly close to the estuary, nearly all my fish came on flies that were mainly blue and green with some silver in them. As the season went by, I found that more of the patterns I was using contained red and orange. Towards the end of the season and fishing further upstream my flies tended to be black and silver. Is this just coincidence, or was I manufacturing a reason to fit in with what I had read in the book? I don’t honestly know. But why shouldn’t it be a valid reason? As they say, if the cap fits, wear it. I wonder if there is any reader out there that has had similar experiences?
So where does all this fit in with the colour blue? It so happens, that the night Edryd and myself fished the River, we were well downstream and only just above the tidal reaches. If you compare this with what’s written then you can draw your own conclusions.
As a result of that night however and my investigations, I developed Ed’s Blue Tube further. When I go fishing, I have a variety of patterns tied on a variety of mounts, hooks, tubes etc. all to suit varying water conditions I might find. As far as I am aware, the fly Ed gave me has never been tied on a hook, so that’s where I started. In addition to this, he never uses tinsel for the body, preferring to use the aluminium tube Ã¢â‚¬Ëœnaked’. Out of this was born the Blue Crystal.
I have tied the pattern with both silver and holographic silver bodies and found that on the night it has often made a difference.
I’m very much a fan of the Hugh Falkus’ Medicine. To me, it embodies the classic lines that all Sewin flies should have; slim appearance, minimal dressing and a proven record of catching fish! However, I have never been quite clear as to why he tied the fly with either a teal wing or bronze mallard as the wing.
So as Falkus did, so did I. I introduced bronze mallard as the winging material.
I have got my own theory and think that Hugh Falkus was onto something a long time before all of us. Once again looking back to what has been written in the book, What Fish See, I wonder if Hugh Falkus intended the Teal winged Medicine for fresh fish and the Bronze Mallard winged Medicine for fish that had been in the River for a while? Ultimately though, I can thoroughly recommend the Blue Crystal in all it’s guises as a good taker of fish, as I can Ed’s Blue Tube. What success you have on your particular River will remain to be seen.
I hope though that the article has inspired those of you out there that are adventurous enough to experiment with the patterns in your fly boxes and to dream up new patterns that will bring us ever closer to finding the ultimate pattern for Sewin.
If any of you regularly fish for Sewin on the Usk and take fish, give me a shout. I’d be grateful to spend a night or two with you and exchange ideas, flies, whatever! Don’t feel either that this theory is bulletproof, I’m sure you all have your own theories. Let the forum know how you fare, what patterns you have found success with and the reasons you feel they have been successful.