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!)