The emerging fly and prime feeding areas

Words by:
Barry Grantham
Featured in:
May 2023

In February’s edition of Lincolnshire Life, I wrote about ‘prime lies’ of trout in small rivers like the Upper Witham and Great Eau and what the angler should do when there is no sign of trout feeding or insects hatching. In this issue, let’s move on to the next stage: emerging flies.

We have arrived at one of our prime fishing areas and can see trout feeding, on an insect on the surface, or just below in the surface film. The trout are swimming with their dorsal and tail fins showing above the water. They are gently sipping the insect, just as it starts to emerge from its nymphal shuck. This is one of the most vulnerable times for the hatching fly. If you just imagine, the fly has just struggled free from its shuck and is on the water surface, trying to dry its expanding wings. It is a prime feeding time and easy food for the waiting trout.

So the next step would be to identify the insect and select a pattern to use that will deceive the fish. Early in the season it most likely will be a large dark or medium olive. These flies tend to hatch out early afternoon but on warm sunny days can hatch late morning, or on cold dismal days it can be mid-afternoon. A cold day does not deter the olives from hatching and it has been known for them to hatch in snow showers. But in these conditions when it is cold, it will certainly delay the hatching process a little.

Let us assume we have identified the insect as an olive. What we need is a fly imitation that will look like the insect emerging, or just emerged from its nymphal shuck. A pattern I use is one of my own. I use deer hair, as it has excellent floating capabilities. The dressing is as follows:

Hook: size 14 to 20 nymph hook (barbless)
Tying silk: olive
Tail: deer hair
Body: medium olive fur dubbing
Thorax: medium olive fur dubbing
Wing: deer hair flared upright on top of the hook.

This is an easy fly to tie. It imitates the newly emerging fly as it tries to break free from its nymphal shuck. You can treat it with a floatant but the buoyant deer hair will keep it in the surface film. The imitation can be cast and allowed to drift with the current, without any drag; or give the fly a little twitch, to give it some movement and make it look like a fly struggling to dry its wings and make flight.

Another method I have found deadly is to suspend an imitation nymph of the same fly that is hatching, a few inches below the emerger. The length between flies can vary, but I mainly use a link about 18 inches long. The depth the nymph will fish depends on the flow of the current and weight of the nymph. Again this is a really easy set-up. The emerging dry fly is attached to your tapered leader. A length of nylon is then attached to the bend of the emerger, using a blood knot. The breaking strain of this link wants to be slightly less. If my main leader was 4lb breaking strain, my link would be 3lb. A nymph that imitates the emerger is then attached. With our olive emerger, it would of course be the olive nymph.

One of the best olive nymphs, in my opinion, is one that was designed by the late David Collyer.

OLIVE NYMPH – David Collyer’s version
Hook: size 14 nymph hook (barbless)
Tying silk: olive
Body and Tail: olive swan or goose feather. A gold rib can be added
Thorax: olive ostrich herl. Peacock herl can be used
Wing Case: olive swan or goose feather
Head: olive silk

Again this is an easy fly to make. The hook is placed in the vice and the tying silk is wound down the hook, from the eye to a point just before the hook bend starts. Tear three or four strands of herl from an olive or swan primary feather. Tie this in, just before the hook bend, with the point of the herl sticking out behind the hook to form a tail. This should be about one-third of the body length long. What I do next could make purist fly dressers squirm: I put a coat of varnish on the silk that I have wound down the length of the hook. I let it become tacky and nearly dry.

I then wind the strands of herl down towards the eye of the hook, stopping two-thirds down and tying the herls in, so they stand upright on top of the hook. The herls are very fragile and the varnish sticks them down. This helps protect them from the trout’s teeth and unravelling when mouthed. Next tie in the ostrich herl and wind round the hook and form the thorax.

Wind the herls forwards and backwards, stopping just before the hook eye, to leave room for a small head, and to where the body was tied in.

Stroke the splayed out ostrich herls from the top of the thorax and pull the remainder of the body material forward over the thorax herls – this makes the ostrich herl splay out, imitating breathing filaments. Tie the winding silk in, forming a nice neat head. A coat of varnish, using a dubbing needle on the head, completes the fly.

By using different combinations of herls, many nymph imitations can be tied. You can substitute the ostrich herls for peacock, and a fine gold wire rib can be wound down the body.
Go and look for those prime feeding areas and put the emerger and nymph to the test. You will not be disappointed.

In my next feature, I would like to tell you about a Lincolnshire angler who along with his wife was a master of using the above techniques.

Please make sure you have a current fishing rod licence, I do know that regular spot checks will be taking place in Lincolnshire.

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