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fishing flies and rod.jpg

man holding a fishing rod and fishing lure




The long winter is over and heralds the start of the trout season. Those first few weeks are tricky, with sporadic fly hatches. Often fish do not oblige with a rise, and the thought ‘why didn’t that get snaffled, they must be hungry after winter!” springs to mind. I then take a deep breath and admire the beauty of our Wharfedale and Littondale surroundings. The new season brings the joy of meeting of old friends and new, where the chatter soon returns to fishing, the where and how?

The last few seasons my first line wetting began ~10am at the bottom limit marker stone of White Beck Down. Depending on how busy our beats are with other members I fish through to the top of Lower Conistone-Byrom. This is excellent, varied water that lends itself to the full spectrum of fly-fishing techniques. 

  1. The first 15-20 minutes I spend in observation, useful time spent when setting-up. I hope at that time for a hatch but at 10am at the season’s start this is very rare.

  2. Targeting the quick water, I start using a French leader 2 nymph setup, weighted 2.5 – 3mm (occasionally 3.5 – 4mm) tungsten nymphs size 14, fishing an upstream semi-circle I search the riffles thoroughly. Water close to banks may appear quick but beneath the surface there are pockets of slack that hold fish where I spend more time. 

  3. If a hatch starts, I slow my fishing down and look for hard to observe rise forms, even if seeing no rise forms and fed-up with nymphing I switch to a size 12-14 Deer Hair Emerger (DHE): the natural flies are not small at this time of year and the DHE encourages fish to rise for a big food parcel. I concentrate on zero drag, this means very short casts and keeping the line off the water.

  4. To target the flowing deeper water at the base of riffles where wading is restricted, I will use a single nymph, standard leader setup with a bunch of Ginked sheep’s wool set with a half-hitch knot at a distance from the fly the same as maximum water depth - too long and take sensitivity is reduced.

I mark my fishing season by the hatches and in the first week of May black gnats make an appearance and the opportunity of catching the larger fish increases tenfold.

a selection of three fishing flies

This YouTube link gives a basic overview of French Nymphing


Tight lines everybody as I wish you a thoroughly enjoyable trout season…



April - the hardest month to fish, where I had blank after blank - is over and the onset of May brings fresh excitement with the prolific mayfly hatches and the nickname ‘duffer’s season’. The bad news is the Upper Wharfe has an absence of soft silt rivers beds where these nymphs make their burrowing homes. We hope and pray for black gnats, or even the bigger hawthorn fly, plus any olives thrown in that start the large trout feeding giving the best opportunity of the year to hook a specimen.

Peter Ramsden ties a fabulous black gnat that is available from the fly selection boxes at the Slate. Determining whether a fish is feeding on small terrestrials or nymph emergers can be tricky. When I am unsure I use my go-to fly, one that fish can and do take for both food items. A simple design is given here: -

an infographic featuring a photo of a fishing fly

Patience plays a large part in my approach to large fish, emphasised last year by a 3lb fish caught in the glide immediately above the B6160 Skirfare bridge that took 1 hour and 15 minutes from first sighting to hooking, using the above fly. Move slow and low, hiding your silhouette against the bank, tree and bushes. I am no fish, but my gauge is they can see an object 5 feet above the waterline at a distance of 30 feet. I like to use a 4lb 12oz tippet but with low water and small flies go down to 3lb 6oz. There is nothing worse than leaving flies in fish and I change my spools annually for any weakness by sunlight degradation. I use copolymer for suppleness and low diameter but some great anglers use fluorocarbon for dry fly fishing to help prevent lines being cut through by the trout’s sharp teeth.

My preferred angle of approach is 45° to the fish, upstream or downstream. This minimises spooking the fish by lining over it and increases the chances of multiple casts. Fly drag over an experienced fish is a no no, they have been caught before, are no fools and once their ‘uh-oh’ sixth sense is activated they stop feeding. Slack line casts are essential, YouTube the Aerial Mend to minimise drag coupled with, ‘get as close as possible’ and I often use 18-foot leaders in glides. My final tip on finding a good fish is check the fly knot is secure and new and not weakened by previously caught fish, better still, tie a new one!!

Tight lines and I wish everybody good luck this month - maybe you'll catch that fish of a season.



(notes made in July 2023)


Just coming towards the end of this visit to KAC. Just hit the 60 mark for five days on the Wharfe and only 2 stock fish amongst them. As promised, here is a detailed description of the method that I use in these conditions.



I use an 8ft Hardy rod, a 3wt., with a light reel and a DT3 Cortland 444 Sylk line. It is light tan in colour and does not scare the fish. Avoid lines that flash in the sunlight. The tackle is balanced up by an eleven foot leader including a 2ft tippet of Hardy 7X copolymer high strength, BS 2.2lbs and 0.10mm dia. If joining fluorocarbon to copolymer use a 5 or 6 turn blood knot.



The most important thing in these low conditions. Wade slowly, stopping after each step. Sometimes I take 15 minutes to get into position. If you can get directly behind the fish so much the better. Depending on the time of day you can sometimes split the river into two halves, a dark side and a bright side. The dark side is best for vision. Try to see what flies are on the water.



In these conditions I use Partridge midge hooks from sizes 20 down to 24s. A list of dressings is given later.



Pick out the rising fish and give 3 or 4 casts then take a break for a few minutes and try again. If no response then change the fly. Don’t always expect a big rise when fishing with midge hooks as they often just suck the flies off the surface often causing the tippet to twitch slightly. Midge hooks are very effective at hooking fish despite their small size, but don't expect to haul fish in when using such fine tippet. Play them lightly. After fishing for about 30 minutes or when leaving  the pool cast the line onto the grass field and clean the line with a paper tissue and give it a light grease with Mucilin or Permagrease. It is vital with this fishing method that the line sits as high in the water as possible. For those people who have difficulty in putting on a very small fly then tie some onto some lengths of tippet at home and get round the problem that way.



For tying midge flies I use Semperfli Nano silk 30D as it sits flat on the hook shank when put under tension.


Here’s a selection of the patterns I use:


Black Gnat Hook size 22 or 24. Tail - Black hackle fibres.  Body – black silk. Take the hackle from the base of  neck about ½  long is about right.


Black Beetle  Hook size 20.  A strip of black ethafoam about 1/6 inch wide.  A length of black straddle string.


Method Tie in the silk and take down  towards the bend of the hook then tie in the end of the ethafoam followed by the straddle string. Take the silk back to the eye. Wind two or three turns of string towards the eye and tie in, then pull back the foam over the string and tie off at the eye. You now have a true to life beetle. The trout love them.


Another pattern you can try is well-known:


Grey Duster  Hook size 20.  Body - Rabbit fur.  Hackle – Badger.  Tail – optional.


At this time of year – high summer - you may notice that the sycamore leaves are becoming very sticky which is a sign that the undersides of the leaves are cover in greenflies (Aphids) When mature they drop off into the water, especially if there is a slight breeze blowing, and the trout love them.


Aphid  Hook size 24  Body - Green tying silk.  Hackle -  Green.


There has been a lot of very small black flies on the water lately with a thin strip of white on the body. The fly to use is the Caenis.


Method  Hook size 22 or 24    Black tying silk and a few strands of white poly yarn  Tie in the silk and take to the end of the hook shank and bring back towards the eye , then take a few stands of yarn and tie them in at right angles to the hook shank making it look like a small cross. Do a few cross-over turns with the silk to make them secure, and tie off. Cut the yarn back to an 1/8 or 1/16 of an inch. This is a deadly fly if you fancy your chances in slack water.



This type of fishing is not suited to everybody. It takes a lot of patience, self-belief, dedication and hard work but the efforts can be so rewarding.


Hope that these brief notes are of some help to those who think you can't catch fish in low water.



Flies available for sale.

The following collection of flies is available for sale from the Kilnsey Angling Club slate every morning of the trout season. The collection offered is based on their popularity and historical usage, and form a good basis for the contents of any River Wharfe angler’s fly box. Other flies can be tied to order.

All the flies are tied on good quality hooks from either Partridge, Kamasan or Fulling Mill and use only the best natural feathers, furs and synthetic materials available. Most flies are tied on barbed hooks and I would recommend filing the barb down or flattening it with pliers prior to fishing.

Pete Ramsden

Twilight Flies

Dry Flies
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I can’t think of a better all-round dry fly than this American pattern. The inventor tied this fly to represent various sedges. Although the anatomy of this fly does not really match that of a edge, it does work well during a sedge hatch.

Dependent on hook size, it also makes a good representation of a may fly, march brown, large brook dun, various olives and pale wateries, and hence can be used throughout the brown trout season and well into the grayling season. This version of the fly is tied in parachute style with a white hackle post to aid visibility and yet not stray too far from the original pattern. Also, having good buoyancy it can be used as the dry fly in the New Zealand style of fishing.

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Black Gnat:

This small black fly will be on the water all year round, but the major appearances will be from late April to July when thousands of black gnats will be on the water keeping the trout preoccupied. September will see their reappearance but not quite in the same numbers. Good artificials are the Griffith’s gnat, foam black gnat and black Klinkhåmer. You could also try an iron blue dun! The foam black gnat offered here is tied with closed cell foam to aid buoyancy as well as providing a realistically shaped profile. With the addition of the brightly coloured sight post it makes fishing with a black fly a pleasure.

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Black Klinkhammer:

This is tied in the style of the original fly designed by Hans Van Klinken. It is a good fly for any time of the season and especially when black fly (hawthorn flies in April and May, and black gnats) are about. Due to high visibility and good buoyancy it is a good dry fly for searching the water when there is no surface activity. As with all Klinkhåmer fly types, they are ideal when used in conjunction with a nymph in the klink and dink method. On request a “dink loop” can be incorporated into the fly dressing.

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There are many fly patterns designed to imitate the crane fly, but this is one of the best. All the key features are covered: the wings tied spent to make a prominent outline/silhouette; the long thin body made of foam to aid buoyancy; and the long gangly legs. The crane fly peak appearance is usually in September, although in recent years there have been a number flitting around the banks of the Wharfe in early May. This fly is also worth a try at any time of year; when all else has failed and when fishing for a particularly difficult fish to tempt.

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Dry Simon:

This fly is a “fancy” variant of the Simple Simon fly. It is good general dry fly that can be used throughout the season. Although the tinsel tail adds a bit of flash that can attract a trout’s attention, this tinsel tail should not be overlooked as a reasonable representation of the shuck of a hatching fly and therefore can be a very imitative addition.

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Elk Hair Caddis:

Obviously, this fly is used to represent a sedge pattern and it does a very good job. Sedges start appearing during the summer months and last until around early October. However, the coloration of this particular fly can lend itself to representing March browns and large brook duns, so is worth a try even on opening day of the season.

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F Fly:

This simple fly is one of the best dry flies to represent the various olives that will be on the water throughout the season. During a large dark olive (LDO) hatch in spring use a size 16 version. Later in the season, to represent pale wateries, a size 18 is more suitable and can be tied with a lighter coloured CDC wing. Anglers are often amazed how lifelike the fly is when sitting on the water. The fish think so too!

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Greenwell’s Glory:

A very famous dry fly and is a derivative of the winged wet fly. It makes a good representation of all of the olives, from large dark olives, olive uprights, medium olives, pale wateries and even blue winged olives. The one offered in this collection is tied in a parachute style. This fly is one of my early season favourites and accounted for my biggest Wharfe fish that I caught on the second day of the season. I will switch between this fly and an f fly during a hatch of large dark olives. Prior to the afternoon hatch of large dark olives, that occur most days in early season, I will be fishing this fly in conjunction with either a suspended Copper Mary or a Sawyer pheasant tail nymph, New Zealand style.

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Grey duster:

A good general fly pattern. The size (16) offered here makes a very good impression of any of the flies categorised as pale wateries. This is definitely worth a try from June onwards and in low water conditions.

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Griffith’s Gnat:

Although the body of peacock herl and the grizzle hackle are not intuitively matched to representing small black midges, it is one of the best flies when fish are feeding on those flies. Low diameter tippets are required to prevent drag. It is a fantastic fly for grayling from September onwards. In the larger sizes (14 and 16) it also works well when fish are feeding on brown/black beetles and black gnats. They are now offered in sizes 16, 18 and 20s hook sizes to cover most eventualities.

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Hawthorn Fly:

Also known as St Marks fly since hatches often start on 14th April or just prior to the blossoming of the hawthorn tree. It is a terrestrial. Fantastic fishing can be had when these flies are in the air in good numbers and on such days any black fly in size 14 and 12 will catch plenty of fish. The flies offered here are a more lifelike representation.

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Iron Blue Dun:

During late April and May the river Wharfe can have some good hatches of iron blue duns. To concur with many writings on this fly, it can be difficult to spot a hatch as the flies are small and dark, and are not easily seen on the water. As most hatches occur on dull days this improves their camouflage. The fly offered here incorporates a brightly coloured hackle post into the parachute construction to aid visibility.

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Large Dark Olive:

During late April and May the river Wharfe can have some good hatches of iron blue duns. To concur with many writings on this fly, it can be difficult to spot a hatch as the flies are small and dark, and are not easily seen on the water. As most hatches occur on dull days this improves their camouflage. The fly offered here incorporates a brightly coloured hackle post into the parachute construction to aid visibility.

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MB (March Brown) Jingler:

During late April and May the river Wharfe can have some good hatches of iron blue duns. To concur with many writings on this fly, it can be difficult to spot a hatch as the flies are small and dark, and are not easily seen on the water. As most hatches occur on dull days this improves their camouflage. The fly offered here incorporates a brightly coloured hackle post into the parachute construction to aid visibility.

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Olive Klinkhammer:

This fly is tied in the style of the original fly designed by Hans Van Klinken. It is a good early season fly making an excellent impression of a hatching large dark olive. With this fly having good buoyancy and visibility it is the ideal dry fly for searching the water when there is no surface activity. As with all Klinkhammer fly types they are ideal used in conjunction with a nymph in the klink and dink method. On request a “dink loop” can be incorporated into the fly dressing.

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Pale Watery:

This fly represents all the flies that are nowadays categorized as pale wateries, which include medium olives, spurwings and blue winged olives. The natural adults are light olive in colour and small, and are well represented by this parachute dun tying, especially in the size 18 offered here. There is a good alternative available that uses a golden badger hackle instead of the light olive. The classic representation of the dun is the grey duster. To imitate the nymph try a yellow partridge spider, hares ear nymph, Sawyer’s pheasant tail and grey goose nymphs.

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This is the original fly pattern by Hans Vans Klinken but includes a hackle post of pink to improve visibility. The fly was originally designed to represent a hatching or an egg laying sedge but does a good job at mimicking March browns, brook duns and large dark olives. Due to the high visibility and high buoyancy it is a good dry fly for searching the river when few fish are showing. Obviously, this is the ideal fly for the klink and dink method. On request a “dink loop” can be incorporated into the fly dressing.

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RAB: (Red Arsed Ba****d

This South African pattern has recently been used as a general dry fly on the Wharfe. The long squirrel tail fibres are used to impart life in the artificial and also provide a thistledownlike landing. Included in this collection is the parachute version and the more conventional high water (high riding) RAB shown here.

Wet Flies
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Black Magic:

In terms of spider fly patterns this fly is relatively modern, appearing in books in the 1960’s. It will obviously represent anything small and black such as midges, black gnats and even hawthorn flies. When fishing for particularly difficult fish, that is concentrating on feeding on midges and gnats, it can be used as an effective alternative to a dry fly, especially when fished in the surface film. This is a must to have in your fly box at all times. Ring the changes between this fly and a Stewart’s black spider. It is a good fly to fish for smutting grayling in October and early November.

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Black Pennell:

Traditionally, a lake or sea trout fly in the larger sizes. However, many fishermen swear by this fly pattern for fishing rivers for brown trout. Since the river Wharfe has an abundance of black fly most of the season it is always worth a try. I’ve found that tied on a size 14 hooks works very well on the Yorkshire Dales rivers.

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Copper Mary:

A bead headed variation to the Sawyer pheasant tail nymph giving the fly a little more “flash” by incorporating a copper bead, green tinsel and peacock herl at the thorax and head of the fly. The bead also adds weight to the fly enabling it to pierce the surface film and provide good sink rates to get the fly down to the fish. It is the ideal fly for the klink and dink method for early and late season fishing and in higher water throughout the season. It will represent all manner of underwater creatures from olives, march browns, brook duns (heptagenids), sedges and stoneflies.

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Greenwell Spider:

This spider fly pattern can represent all manner of natural flies from the upwing fly nymphs of olives (particularly large dark olives early in the season), March browns and brook duns to sedges. Fish it like any other spider pattern, upstream or downstream.

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Hares Ear Nymph:

A good general nymph pattern which incorporates a little bit of “flash”, but not too much: just enough to get it noticed. It will represent any of the creatures normally found underwater. This particular tying relies on the heavy weight hook to pierce the surface film and give a reasonable sink rate. This is a good nymph pattern to target rising fish in low water or as a searching pattern presented under a dry fly New Zealand style or klink and dink. It can also be used as a point fly with a couple of spider patterns on the droppers.

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Orange Partridge (Partridge and Orange):

Probably the most famous and possibly the best soft hackled wet fly there is. It is a good general spider pattern that will represent various species of nymphs including the smaller stone flies e.g. needle fly and willow fly. It can also represent the drowned spinner of a blue winged olive. Consequently, it can be used the whole season through and well into the winter for grayling. Fish this fly either upstream (mid-stream, just below the surface or in the surface film) or across and down.

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Sawyers Pheasant Tail Nymph:

One of the first tyings of an artificial fly to try to emulate the form and shape of a nymph. The underbody of copper wire adds weight to the fly allowing it to pierce the water and sink relatively quickly. A good wet fly for the whole season and is particularly good at representing all the many sizes and shades of the olive family of flies. It can be fished upstream, New Zealand style (suspended from dry fly), klink and dink or across and down. When water levels are low and clear, with slower flows, it is a better bet and is a more subtle approach than fishing a bead head nymph due to its slower sink rate and more subdued colour.

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Sawyer’s Grey Goose Nymph:

Similar construction to Sawyers pheasant tail nymph and should be fished in a similar way. Being of lighter colour it is a good representation of the flies generally described as pale wateries and consequently is good from June onwards. This is a great nymph to try in low, clear water conditions.

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Snipe and Purple:

Another famous and deadly spider pattern. This is one of my favourite river wet flies. I’m not really sure what it represents specifically, although it does have the general colouring of the iron blue dun. Being a drab/greyish pattern it can represent many of the nymphs of upwing flies and drowned insects such as spiders, midges and gnats.

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Stewart’s Black Spider:

This fly can be on your cast all through the season, as there are always black flies around on the water (river or lake). It is particularly good in May and June when black gnats are about. Use it as an alternative to using a small dry fly to a rising fish.

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Waterhen Bloa:

This is one of the most famous wet flies for fishing the Yorkshire Dale’s rivers. This is a reasonable representation of the nymphs of the olive family and iron blue dun, but is a good general pattern to use throughout the season. Surprisingly, this is not one of my favourites and I much prefer the snipe and purple or orange partridge as a general wet fly pattern. Fish it the same way as the orange partridge.

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Yellow Partridge (Partridge and Yellow):

This spider fly pattern is a good representation of the flies generally described as pale wateries and consequently is good from June onwards. Fish it the same way as the orange partridge.

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