Punky fly unlikely to start a revolution

Annalisa Barbieri On Fishing
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The Independent Online

There is some excitement in my household, at the prospect of winter. For one, winter means Christmas and the whole world slows down and gets festive. And you can put off annoying tasks because it's nearly Christmas and you'll do them in the new year. But also, because we are primarily fly fishermen, the season for river trout is now closed and the season for salmon is over or nearly over in most places. Although we'll start fishing for the grayling soon, this time of year leaves a little time for the peripherals of fishing, no less enjoyable in their own way than the sport.

There is some excitement in my household, at the prospect of winter. For one, winter means Christmas and the whole world slows down and gets festive. And you can put off annoying tasks because it's nearly Christmas and you'll do them in the new year. But also, because we are primarily fly fishermen, the season for river trout is now closed and the season for salmon is over or nearly over in most places. Although we'll start fishing for the grayling soon, this time of year leaves a little time for the peripherals of fishing, no less enjoyable in their own way than the sport.

The most meditative of these - well, when it's going right it's meditative - is fly tying. Every year I think I'll get myself acquainted with Pete's equipment and all those fancy bits of feather and fluff he has in his fly-tying box. I just know I'd come up with some fantastic new fly, doesn't everyone? A few years ago, on our first summer holiday together, Pete brought his fly-tying kit with him and set it up on the desk. Other girls would have wondered what they'd let themselves in for, but I was enthralled. When he was out one day, I decided to make a fly. He made it look so easy. After two hours of chasing a bit of thread round the shank, trying to make it stay, I had finished. A tousled bit of red marabou atop what looked like a comb-over of red silk and my Punky Buzzer was born. We found it again the other day, it had gone through a wash cycle. "What fly is this?" asked Pete. "A bedraggled bloodworm," I said, quite sure. "It's Punky Buzzer!" said Pete, quite overcome with emotion. I hadn't remembered it looking so professional.

Although I've yet to fish with the PB - it's become rather too precious to, anyway - it's by such happy accidents that new flies and techniques are born. One hundred and eight years ago the legendary fisherman George Skues was fishing without much luck. So he put on a Blue Dun which soon became waterlogged and sank and a fish took it. He continued fishing upstream with this now wet fly, and caught two more fish. [Readers interested in reading the full version of this can do so in his book, Minor Tactics of the Chalk Stream which he wrote in 1910. You can get it from the Flyfisher's Classic Library, tel: 01364 653828, £45 plus £3 p&p.]

After spooning the stomach of various trout he tied flies to imitate the nymphs he found therein. Then he started to look at the various stages of an insect's life and he asked himself, why not fish all these stages? [He was not the first to think this, however; nymph fishing had already been tried in the United States and in England, by other fishermen, some 50 years before].

Skues' ideas caused a huge stink which shadowed his life until his death in 1949 because at the time the fly fishing world worshipped at the altar of Frederic Halford, another celebrated fisherman who believed that only dry fly would do. Today this debate rages although Skues changed the face of fly fishing with his inquisitive mind.

Suddenly the idea of my Punky Buzzer being a killer fly doesn't seem so stupid does it? Now, I need your help. I had a charming e-mail from a non-fisherman but none the less an avid reader of this column, bless. Alison Green edits the Uppingham School magazine and, following a letter from an "old boy" needs help tracing the inventor of the Haslam fly.

She writes, "although it's been attributed to Sam Haslam of Uppingham, now famed for founding the excellent fishery at Rutland, it is doubtful if Sam Haslam is accountable for introducing it to Wales, and the river Dovey, its acknowledged home. [This much is quoted from Moc Morgan's book: The Trout and Salmon Flies of Wales]. There was a Samuel Haslam in the 19th century, a housemaster at Uppingham who went to school near the Dovey. He was known to be a keen angler but could be the father of the Haslam fly. The problem lies with Morgan's mention of the Rutland reservoir. There are two in Rutland, one built in, I think, the 1920s and the other filled in the 1970s. I do hope our Samuel Haslam was the inventor, can you shed any light on it?"

Sadly, I cannot, but can anyone out there? If so either e-mail me or write to me at the usual address. Somehow, I doubt my old school will ever need help with tracing the Punky Buzzer.

a.barbieri@independent.co.uk">a.barbieri@independent.co.uk

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