Small devons

Confession, I found this in my ‘draft posts’ folder. I was simply going to delete it but then thought it was just a saunter down memory lane, so some of you may enjoy the read.

Some seriously old minnows

We all have them, those tiny metal devon minnows which used to be so popular. I’m talking about the little metal ones which were made out of turned brass or alloy and had a pair of vanes or wings brazed on to them. They will be found in dusty old Golden Virginia tobacco tins or those little plastic boxes with internal dividers (usually cracked or with a broken hinge) alongside some rusty swivels, a worming hook and a couple of coloured beads. We would never dream of using them now of course because we have all moved on from using such crude methods of fishing. Most of them have lost their colour by now, the paint’s chipped off long ago, leaving scarred little fishes with a hole through their middle. Small devons were part of our angling past but they are of no use to us now. Or are they?

As a wee lad back in Scotland they were one of my favourite baits for those times of the day when the trout were uncooperative on the fly. As a pre-teen, my angling apprenticeship on the riverbanks of North East Scotland often featured wading in the streamy water between pools, flicking one of these metal minnows upstream, under bushes and trees, around boulders and other refuge spots and then winding them back as quickly as my trusty Mitchell 410 reel would allow. In those far off, fish hungry days I was more concerned with getting a bend in the rod than the methods employed and the small metal devons certainly did that. These days I would fish a deep nymph but back then nymphing was a complete mystery to me and the closest I got was fishing wets upstream. I got pretty proficient at fishing skinny water with the upstream wets but when I needed to get down near the bottom I turned to the spinning rod and a small metal minnow. The Inverurie town water, Kintore, Fintry and Caskiben – I landed an unholy number of trout from those beats on Don with the wee metal minnow in my misspent youth.

Nowadays you can buy loads of tiny metal minnows second-hand for small sums and they still work. I use them only very occasionally on the extremely overgrown parts of small rivers where it is impossible to use the fly. One of the drawbacks I found was while you can buy the metal minnows easily finding the tiny mounts to fit them is a bit of a problem so you will have to make your own. The secret to making a good minnow mount is to get the length exactly right. You want the ‘barrel’ of the swivel to be half exposed at the head of the bait. I know that sounds very easy but in practice it requires some attention to detail. You can get away with a mount which will work if the swivel is slightly too long but not if it is too short. That brings me to the reason why you need a mount in the first place. When casting a minnow it will ‘hinge’ on the line unless a mount is there, causing frequent tangles and damaging the line where it rubs against the inner edge of the central channel. The fat barrel of the swivel stops that hinging effect and virtually eliminates the tangles.

this lad has had a hard life

As for colours, a blue and silver one was my favourite. Gold ones were good but the blue ones were the best and I made sure there were always a few in my bag. I also had them in red/gold, brown/gold and even yellow belly. A typical days fishing would see me set up the fly rod and run a team of three wets down-and-across a few pools. Then, if I hadn’t tempted anything I’d switch to the spinning rod and the wee devon. Usually this produced a trout or two before the hatch started during the late morning when I changed back to the fly rod, but this time armed with a tiny dry fly. A one pound trout was a monster to us young fellas back then, half-pounders were much more likely. I can still see the sun dappled pools where the trout rose on those far off spring days, hear the burbling water as I waded as deep as I dared to reach that steady riser under the far bank. The thrill as the ivory coloured line tightened into a fish, the heartbreak of the knot that slipped as I drew the spotted fish to my cheap folding net. I knew the first time I cast a fly rod it was going to be my preferred method of fishing, my passion, but those wee blue devons were just so good the spinning rod always accompanied me.

In use, always attach one of those small plastic anti-kink vanes to your swivel about 18 inches about the minnow. Failure to do this will result in the most appalling line twist. I recall losing my last anti-kink one day and trying to spin without one. The results were horrendous and the line ruined (a financial disaster for twelve year old me). Talking of line, four to six pound breaking strain was always my choice of mono, anything heavier seriously reduced casting distance.

Perch are great lovers of the metal devon too and will take it avidly. I doubt if anyone uses them for perch these days though with all the new lures that are on the market. I have a notion to try them out on the huge shoals of perch which congregate under the bridge at Pontoon every summer. From above you can watch them chase your lure or worm so the wee devon could be good.

Trout are too precious these days to be hauled out willy-nilly with small spinners. It has been many seasons since I used the small devon and it may be many more before I do so again. But there are lies on some local streams where the green tunnel created by overgrown trees make it impossible to fish with the fly so a tiny spinning rod and the devon gets an airing once in a blue moon in those tight corners. It takes me back to simpler days half a century ago when us kids on bikes with cheap rods strapped to the crossbar laughed and fished together.

The Urie, a superb trout stream and the main tributary of the Aberdeenshire Don. I haunted this place as a kid!

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