How to deceive a fish: Fly-tying

In this blog we speak to DCRT trustee David Rowley on his favourite past-time, fly fishing, and learn how to make a fly ourselves!

Hi David,
Thank you for taking the time to teach us about fly-fishing today and the wonderful art of mimicking riverflies!

How is fly-fishing different to other types of fishing?
Fly fishing as the name suggests uses a fly to attract and catch fish. Trout and Grayling feed on both the nymphal and adult stages of invertebrates. So artificial flies are made to fool the fish into trying to eat them.

The main difference between fly fishing and other forms of fishing is that the means by which flies are propelled to the fish. The flies weigh almost nothing so the energy imparted into the fly line by the fly rod makes the fly fly through the air into range of the fish. Other forms of fishing use some form of weight attached the end of the line to get the bait to the fish.

What species of fly are you trying to mimic?
Trout and Grayling will eat any insects in the river. So all the mayflies, we call them upwings in the UK and reserve mayfly for the very large Danica that hatch in May and June (particularly here in the North). Flies are tied to imitate the nymph and adult flying stages of river insects. Sedges, baetis, stoneflies, blue winged olives, heptagenids. Tying nymphs to remain under water and winged flies to float on the surface is a further complication.

How do you make a fly?
Flies are made by binding pieces of hair or feathers onto a hook to mimic an invertebrate, the natural food of fish. Watch my video to learn how to tie a fly known as the Black & Peacock Spider.

Flies are tied from all sorts of materials both natural and artificial. The most common natural materials are feathers, pieces of fur and hair. You can buy these from specialist shops/the internet either natural or dyed in a variety of colours. These are coupled with synthetic materials from the carpet makers or haberdashers such as threads and wires.

Why did you take up fly fishing?
Fishing is a very good at taking your mind off the issues of the day. You have to concentrate completely, not dissimilar to golf. I took up fishing simply because my son wanted to go fishing. I had not fished as a child so had to set about finding out how to do it. I got hooked and 40 years later am still fishing.

How do you pick the best spots to fish?
Fly fishing can be done on lakes and reservoirs from the bank or a boat but can also be done in rivers either from the bank or wading in the river.

In still waters the fish swim round constantly looking for food. Food can be on the surface, in the surface film or below the surface at the depth that the food is.

In rivers fish still swim but they tend to stay still relative to the bank, they swim to maintain position. They want a location that is just off the current to save energy but near to where food will be delivered to the. There is a pecking order, the biggest fish have the best lies where the most food source is. If a fish is caught his place will be taken by the next strongest fish.

The best places to fish are learnt either by experience or asking someone who fishes that water regularly.

Do you fly-fish? After two decades of work on weirs along the Don, Atlantic Salmon are now finally able to migrate to spawning grounds in Sheffield! We’d love to hear if you think you’ve spotted one (you can email with any photos and we will get them identified!)

A Classy Rain Garden

This volunteers’ week we hear from DCRT volunteer Barry Caldwell about some fantastic work he’s been doing during lockdown to help us on our mission to reduce flood risk in and around Chesterfield.

Inspired by Debbie’s recent weekly newsletter article on rain gardens, I thought I would give it a go, albeit a little different from the original instructions! I already had two water butts being fed from my garage roof but when full and if I forgot to take water out with a watering can, they were draining down the drive into the roadside drains, especially in winter.

Of course, this is not great for ‘slowing the flow’ (nor my drive!). So, I found an old water butt and used materials already lying around the garden for this rain garden butt and irrigation system that will use excess water from the rain garden butt to drain into three large plant containers and two large plant pots. I can also take water out of the rain garden water butt via the tap at the bottom if needed.

For the rain garden butt, I filled the base with some limestone chippings (1) and covered these with membrane (2), as per the rain garden instructions. I connected a short piece of piping from the second water butt and fed it into a deep plant pot filled with gravel (3) in the rain garden butt and filled with soil. I planted a bamboo (4) that I had spare from elsewhere in the garden as they are quite thirsty plants and in themselves will take up some water.

In case of the rain garden butt filling up and overflowing, I decided to run a 12mm piece of piping from the rain garden butt overflow hole into the other containers/plant pots down my drive, there is already a natural gradient. I drilled 4mm holes every 2cms in the piping to allow water from the rain garden butt overflow to dribble into the containers/plant pots if the rain garden water butt ever fills up with water (5).

To add a touch of class (not something I’m known for!) I put a bit of champagne cork I found in the garden from last Christmas in the end of the piping to stop it draining out (6). My wife is always telling me to ‘put a cork in it’! The full rain garden and irrigation system (7) will hopefully ‘slow the flow’ as well as saving me from watering the containers/pots as frequently as before! I might be the only person now excited for rain / winter to see how it all works (if at all). I just need a panda now to eat the bamboo shoots!

Matt’s experience nature journaling

Two weeks ago I challenged myself to keep a nature journal and so here is my experience of writing one…

I was maybe a bit over ambitious thinking I would be able to keep one every day as I only made four entries in those two weeks but I’ve realised it is something that you don’t have to do every day. Here’s how my first entry went –

“20th May 2020

Cycled through Kelham Island, Sheffield central and Nether Edge on my way to the allotment.

I saw sand martins nesting in a crack in the wall next to Blonk Street bridge.

I tried to find a wildflower ‘Spring Beauty’ which I had made a record of on my iSpot account a few years ago in Nether Edge but when I got to the place where I had seen it all the paths had obviously been sprayed-off. I wondered whether there was a way that path maintenance and footpath wild/wallflowers could co-exist?

I heard a blue tit and a song thrush in the allotment”

I then decided to draw a picture of the wildflower ‘Green Alkanet’ which had popped up next to the seating area at the allotment.

As you can see the drawing is very rough. I would never usually consider doing this but since it is a useful part of a nature journal I decided to do it. Whilst observing it my attention was drawn to its very hairy stem, deep veined leaves and the purple-blue colour of its small flowers. I studied the flowers further and noticed how the petals were formed to give the flower its shape.

I found the act of drawing it really lifted my mood and made me feel a deep connection to nature.

Other entries…

“21st May

Ate lunch outside and saw a lime tree leaf had galls on it. I researched it and found out it was of a mite call Eriophyes Tilliae. It has red finger-like projections protruding out of the top of the leaf.

Cycled along the river after work, saw lots of yellow-flag iris”

“23rd May

Very windy. The cow parsley heads were rocking back and forth like a metal loving headbanger”

“31st May

Cycled up to the allotment and saw a cinnabar moth land on my ragwort I’d been leaving to grow. I got very excited to see it and felt justified for leaving it grow so big next to my lettuce. Hopefully I’ll see some caterpillars on it soon.”

Cinnebar moth which lays its eggs on ragwort and whose black and orange catapillars can be seen chomping through it in summer

I’m going to continue to keep a nature journal as I found it to be quite reflective and it helped me to consider the beauty in the world that bit more. I may invest in a few better pens to draw with as well as a better note book to do it in.

Rotherham River Revitalised

The final piece in the jigsaw of a 20 year vision to enable salmon to return to the River Don has been completed. People passing by Forge Island in Rotherham will now be able to see the Masbrough Weir fish pass, thanks to a partnership between Don Catchment Rivers Trust, Canal & River Trust, the Environment Agency, Yorkshire Water and Rotherham Metropolitan Borough Council.

The completed fish and eel pass at Masbrough Weir, Rotherham

For the first time in 200 years salmon will have a fully joined up river so that they can get to their first available spawning grounds in the centre of Sheffield. Speaking about the project, Anthony Downing, Environment Agency catchment coordinator for the Don and Rother, said:

“It is very exciting that this month we will see the completion of the fish pass at Forge Island. With Sheffield City Council also finishing the fish pass on Sanderson’s weir, this will open the entire migratory route from the North Sea to spawning grounds upstream of Sheffield.

“The work to open up the route has been a great partnership effort involving many organisations to enable fish passage at 18 previously unpassable weirs and hopefully we will now see a sustainable salmon population in the river Don after an absence of around 200 years. Not only will salmon benefit from the fish passes but many can be used by other species increasing connectivity and benefiting other wildlife in the river corridor.”

It was in the early 1990s that there were reports of salmon being caught in the lower Don around Doncaster, which was a strong sign that more life was returning to the river. These sightings of salmon set the wheels in motion for organisations to start talking about how to enable them to return to spawning habitat in the Pennines.

The removal of Crimpsall sluice in Doncaster, and water quality improving on the river Don gave the inspiration for organisations to work together on a vision to enable salmon to get back up to spawning grounds in the upper catchment for the first time in 200 years. Masbrough weir is 18th major obstruction that has been made passable, allowing salmon to move freely up and down the river. Dr Ben Gillespie, Technical specialist (river resilience) at Yorkshire Water said:

“At Yorkshire Water we are invested in improving and maintaining the environment around us. We are proud to be partners in this ground-breaking project, returning migrating fish back to their spawning grounds for the first time in 200 years is an incredible achievement.”

Together, the project member organisations raised the funding in time for construction at Masbrough to be completed ahead of the upcoming Forge Island development work. Not only will the fish pass help wildlife, but the river will now be a prominent feature that people will be able to see and enjoy as part of the new leisure quarter. Speaking about the benefits of the project, Stuart Moodie, Heritage and Environment Manager for Canal & River Trust, Yorkshire and North East, said:

“Canal and River Trust are delighted to be part of this project. The Trust recognises the importance of improving the environment of the River Don for all of its wildlife, particularly migratory salmon, and also for the human communities that enjoy the river. This project is vital to promote the health of the river and the wellbeing of people spending time next to its waters”.

Despite losing five weeks to the weather at the beginning of the year, Bailey Contracts Ltd in conjunction with Visio Management, have persevered through deluges of rain, high waters and the lock down, to complete the works on time and on budget. Councillor Denise Lelliott, Cabinet Member for Jobs & the Local Economy, said:

“I’d like to thank workers on the site who have carried out the work on the project through tough winter conditions and the implementation of the Coronavirus lockdown period. The project is an exciting one that we are proud to be part of. It’s another important step in the regeneration of the town centre which includes improvements to the river, three new town centre housing developments and the leisure development at Forge Island. I’m sure the fish pass will prove to be an attraction for visitors and residents in the area for years to come.”

Although construction is now complete, this is not the end of the project. Once social distancing rules allow, there will be a community event to celebrate the opening of the fish pass, and a story telling and animation project for local school children in conjunction with Grimm and Co.

Speaking about the project, Rachel Walker, project manager at Don Catchment Rivers Trust said:

“I can’t imagine a tougher set of circumstances for building a fish pass, but we’re there now, and we are very proud that the River Don is coming back to life.  If there is one thing we have learnt during the lock down, it’s that people need access to the natural environment for their wellbeing. Now, we’ve put the pieces in place for the people of Rotherham to enjoy their river. We look forward to celebrating this with you, and communities all along the Don, as soon as we can!”