For almost as long as I have been fly fishing the Wickham’s Fancy has been a favourite of mine. Rainbows used to love it and brownies accepted it willingly either as a small dry or the wet version, especially in the evenings. Sea trout fell for its undoubted charms too and it could frequently be found on my cast on those far off halcyon days of my youth as I fished the ADAA Pots and Fords water on the lower Dee.
I used to love fishing here on the Pots and Fords
The only issue I have ever had with the Wickham’s is the wings. The blae wings, made from paired slips of Jay or Starling, always looked lovely on newly tied flies but by the time they had caught one or two fish the wings had become a shapeless mass of broken fibres, even though the rest of the fly was in perfectly serviceable condition. I thought it was high time I made efforts to address this issue.
The wings look grand when newly tied
As well as giving the fly a new wing I decided to use Fire Orange tying silk (a common addition these days). Leaving a few turns exposed at the end of the body as a sort of tag and clear coating the turns of silk at the head gives not one but two aiming points for the fish.
dimming light on a summer’s evening, time to try this fly
The rest of the dressing remains the same until we get to the wing. Here I was looking for a strong material which could take a good deal of punishment without being too stiff. Squirrel tail hair, unbleached but dyed olive, fitted the bill nicely. I aimed to keep the wing quite slim so there is some movement in it. I will give this one a swim when I am next in a boat fishing for trout.
Rummaging through the gear which I took back from my recent trip to Aberdeen I came across a wee box which rattled enticingly. Hard as I tried, I could not for the life of me remember what this small black box contained. It was in with a jumble of fly boxes but whatever was inside weighed considerably more than some salmon flies, even weighted tubes or Waddies. Like a small child on Christmas morning I excitedly prised the lid off…
Inside, in varying states of repair, I found not one but six Sutherland Specials. These are well known and loved baits in Scotland but many readers may not be familiar with them. Most plug type lures sport one vane or lip under the head to make the bait wobble and/or dive. The Sutherland sports no fewer than 4 vanes, one curved one under the head , a small one mounted vertically on the back and two semi-circular vanes, one on each side of the lure. Made of cast lead, it came in three colours – all gold, brown / gold and blue / silver. My little treasure trove contained examples of all three.
A blue and silver Sutherland Special
To mount the bait simply thread the line through the hole which passes through the middle. Protection from chaffing is provided by a thin rubber tube inside the hole. Now tie the line to the split ring which is attached to a size 4 treble hook. Like a devon minnow, the Sutherland slips up the line when a fish takes, leaving just the hook in the fish.
The Sutherland was a proficient taker of both salmon and sea trout as well as brownies in the river. Some sea trout enthusiasts added a feather (such as a cock hackle) lashed to the treble hook to increase movement. I presume they are still available to buy. The originals were hand made by the Sutherland family who were great fishers on the river Don in Aberdeenshire.
Cocker’s pool on the ADAA’s Upper Parkhill beat of the Don
I will buy some new hooks (the ones in the black box being rusty after so long) and take them with me next season to try on my local waters. I can see no reason why they won’t work as the action is very lifelike. As one or two of these ones are looking a bit shabby I might re-paint them in new colours. I am thinking that copper might be useful.
The Cothal Pool on the same beat. Salmon lie just out from that beautifully trimmed hedge on the far bank.
Funny how some memories come back to you without any invitation. What makes the human mind decide to delve back into the past for no obvious reason? I can think of no ‘trigger’ for suddenly and unexpectedly thinking about Ord Dam the other day. I was not reminiscing about my angling past, nor my Scottish upbringing at the time. Just out of the blue I mentally leaped back to my formative years and a small pool of water by a back road just beyond the outskirts of Aberdeen. I can place the time of these recollections quite accurately as they coincided with one of life’s seminal decisions – I wanted (and received) a fly rod for my birthday. Ord Dam was to be one of the first places I used this weapon which was going to serve me so well as I took my first faltering steps learning the gentle art of fly fishing.
I don’t know what Ord Dam was built for, the ‘river’ feeding it was little more than an agricultural drain and in summer the flow over the concrete spillway was a tiny trickle, easily negotiated by young teenagers in wellies. I guess it was intended to impound water so that the fields would be well watered. There was a good path around the whole loch except for a bay on the Northern end near the road which was heavily overgrown with brambles. And, most importantly, it was stuffed full of wild brownies. That inconspicuous puddle held an inordinate stock of fish, way beyond what would have been imagined or dreamt of. On summer evenings as the light faded and the creatures of the night came snuffling out of their dens and holes, the surface of Ord Dam became pock marked with the rises of countless fish. It was that mental image, seared into my memory banks, of the darkening skies and the frantic rise which flashed back to me across the years.
The rod was a glass fibre made by the Clan company in the Trossacks. Nine and a half feet long (all the better in case I hooked a sea trout George in Brown’s tackle shop earnestly informed me), you could nearly tie a knot in it, it was so soft. It was my present on the occasion of the celebration of my arrival on this rocky planet 13 years earlier. I loved that rod. Isn’t it funny how we become so attached to crappy tackle just because it was our first? Perhaps the same could apply to motor bikes, cars or even girlfriends but let’s not go there right now. Over the years that rod suffered an immense degree of physical abuse and by the time I gave it away to a young lad many years later it was a couple of inches shorter thanks to an unpleasant argument with a car boot and sported two very obvious extra joins where the normal two-piece set up was increased to four pieces when I fell off a bicycle while cycling home from the river Don one day. These days we would say it had ‘character’.
Back to Ord Dam…………… I probably blanked more often that I landed fish there until I discovered the nefarious joys of float fishing maggots for trout. Perhaps I should feel deep shame admitting to this foul deed. Maybe there is help for reformed maggot drowners who hold meetings in drafty halls to support each other as they struggle to come to terms with the enormity of what they did. The thing is, trout are suckers for maggots and young lads who go fishing simply want to catch as many fish as they can, regardless of methodology employed. So floats and maggots became part of my armoury for fishing Ord Dam until the nine foot six fly rod entered my life. The timeless joy of watching the brightly coloured top of the float was replaced virtually overnight by the physical challenge of learning to cast a fly. Simple decisions such as one maggot or two were rendered obsolete when I was now confronted by the bewildering choice of artificial creations. In short, Ord Dam became a fly fishing classroom for me and while my fellow maggot drowners (yes you, Mickey Gibson, Alan Robertson, Bobby and Callum) stuck grimly to the float fishing slaughter I would wander the banks casting, getting caught on weeds, bushes, trees and very occasionally small trout. While my first fly-caught trout was taken on the Kintore beat of the Don most of the next few dozen were landed in Ord Dam. These fish were small, one or two of them might have made 12 ounces but most weighed half a pound or less and I longed to catch something bigger but in those days access to good water was beyond my reach so the tiddlers in the dam suffered my inept attentions instead.
I wish I could go back to those day of innocence and wonder when every trip to the dam was exciting and joyous. I can fish any number of first class lakes and rivers these days but that sense of unbridled fun I experienced as a thirteen year old learning to cast on the dam has long gone. Exactly when and how it slipped out of my life I can’t pinpoint, maybe it was gradually eroded like a pebble in a stream.
Many years later I returned to Aberdeen to visit family and as I was driving out the back road to Banchory I took a notion to look at the dam again. Something like 25 years had elapsed since I had fished there so I wasn’t expecting too much and unfortunately I was right to prepare myself for disappointment. The water level was considerably lower than before and the whole loch was a mass of weed with no clear water to be seen. I didn’t linger and drove off feeling chastised for even stopping there in the first place. Childhood fishing spots are, like old motorbikes and girlfriends, best left in corners of our memory rather than seen again in the harsh light of reality.
Footnote: All may not be so bad at Ord Dam after all. A quick google search has revealed that the dam is now under the control of Aberdeen City Council Countryside ranger service. The photo accompanying this post is the property of the service and it shows the water back to a good level and free of the weed.
I came across an old cardboard box in the shed with some fishing related odds and ends inside. There was my father’s old tackle bag for a start. I washed and dried it and it will give me some more years of service even if it is a little faded. A filleting knife from an Aberdeen fish house was in there too and I can bring it back to good condition with a little elbow grease. These knives were wonderfully flexible and easy to sharpen so it will come in useful later this year when the sea fishing picks up and I have some Mackerel and Pollock to fillet.
Then there was a small bag containing my long lost repair kit for rods. A spare reel seat, lots of whipping threads, hot melt glue, some rings and a few corks. Now I have been looking for these corks on and off for a year or more as I have a Hardy fly rod which is out of commission due to a broken handle. So this morning I set about using my newly rediscovered goodies to repair said Hardy. The rod in question is a ten foot six, 3 piece Sirrus which I used for grilse fishing. It had accounted for many, many fish but was in good condition until the third cork from the top of the handle gave way. Any other cork would have been only a cosmetic issue, but this one is directly where my thumb sits when fishing so the rod effectively became useless. It has been gathering dust for 2 seasons now and its replacement (a meaty Diawa 11’3) is now my preferred rod.
I started the repair by cutting off the broken cork. As soon as I had done that the source of the problem became evident, there was a layer of filler which only extended half way up the broken cork meaning it was not fully supported.This is very shoddy workmanship and it is so disappointing that Hardy have let their previously high standards slip since production was shifted to the Far East. Next I cleaned up the exposed area of the rod blank and wrapped the whole are with silk to provide an even base. This was an awkward job but it is vital that time was spent making sure I didn’t repeat the same mistake as before.
Next it was time to get messy. Araldite was mixed up into a milky gloop and then spread on the new whippings and the exposed ends of the corks on either side of the gap.
An appropriately sized cork was split into 2 and the faces given a light coating of Araldite before being carefully positioned. I then secured them tightly in place using some more whippings.
The excess glues was wiped off and the job set aside to dry before I shape the new cork to match the rest of the handle.
At the very bottom of the old cardboard box I unearthed my fishing wallet. Dating from the early ’70s this cheap brown leather wallet accompanied me everywhere in my formative fishing years as it held that most precious of documents – my ADAA fishing licence. The Aberdeen and District Angling Association (ADAA) controlled most of the fishing in and around Aberdeen so when my application to join as a junior in 1974 was accepted my fishing setted into a new world of possibilities. No. 1328 made the maximum use of these opportunities and I learned how to fish on the hard pressed waters of the Don at Parkhill and the wonderful Machar Pool on the Ythan. When I became a full member on reaching the ripe old age of 18 I was issued with a photo ID card. Where oh where have all the years gone?
Finally I came across numerous small tins of humbrol paint which I used to paint devon minnows. Unbelievably some of these are still usable after 35 years! I will give some of my baits a tidy up with this new found treasure during this spell of bright, hot weather when there is no fishing.