Fish don't always play by the rules

Wentwood is a pleasant water but the fish are moody enough to switch from cooperative to difficult with no obvious reason for the change, leaving you well and truly in the doldrums. Although I had what was thought to be the best spot in the shallows the bloke next door was doing much better. Close on bagging his limit he beckoned me over.

“Here – try this.”

He held out a fly in the palm of his hand: not a recognisable pattern. In fact, quite strange – a fat fuzzy light purple wool ball like the daggy bits you get on old jumpers, tied on a short shank hook around size 10.

“Gawd knows what they think it is,” he said. “Watch. You’ll like this.”

It was a calm day, the surface falling flat more often than not to reflect the high grey hill beyond. He put out his line, started a steady draw almost immediately. Oh dear, I thought as a V-shaped bow wave started spreading out, surely he wants that to sink…

All at once, out of the blue, a fin broke surface a good 20 yards away from the fly. In seconds it appeared again, closing the gap, then in a sudden lunge the fish fell on the bobbing blob and turned down. Rod bending, the blob’s creator turned and grinned.

“See? They can’t get enough of it.”

“What is it?”

“Dunno.  I just made it up from bits I found lying around. I only made three. Call it what you like. I was getting desperate so I thought it can’t do any worse if I put it on.  Doesn’t matter where you cast it. Give it a go – you’ll see.”

The day really demanded light lines and small nymphs, certainly nothing so bold and intrusive, so it was with misgivings that I aimed for the hill and dropped it on the mirror surface. Now that I had the same perspective on the lure of the other  chap the bow wave looked huge, and there was noticeable resistance as it bobbed in. The first cast was disappointingly blank, and I thought the second was going to be the same until an almighty wallop sent spray high in the air and line started zipping through my fingers. I almost jumped out of my skin. I heard a chuckle from behind and caught a cheery wave from my erstwhile companion who was returning home with a heavy bag.

Profitable Experiment
I never did get a real pattern to emulate that fly, because on fish number four the dressing had completely unravelled. I’ve tried to match it – I can remember what it looks like well enough – but none of my attempts have come close to the irresistible blobby beast. However the incident does show there can be profit in experiment, as if we really need to be told this lesson when looking at the flies for all occasions most fishermen carry with them. All are originally based on experiments with shape, materials and colours, and not all are based on natural insects or other creatures. I suppose the blobby beast could be categorised as an ‘attractor’, something that looks strange and behaves so oddly that it deserves to be snapped at. However, no attractor I have used has ever been attacked with such enthusiasm as the blobby beast, and I’m inclined to believe it did actually look like something they know, something  as irresistible as scones  with cream and jam – like the man who gave it to me, I would love to know what the fish really thought it was!

The Deadly Pillow Fly
I can claim one notable success with one of my own stranger creations, in this case also tied out of bits and pieces found lying around, a couple of small downy speckled hen feathers that had escaped from a pillow. They were simply whipped like folded wings on a longish shank, a one-off. A few days after Chew trout season opened one year I’d tied this contraption on in semi darkness while waiting for better light to put on some tinier flies: it was simply one of the biggest things I could find in the box, with an eye large enough to thread when held against the sky.   Emerging on the bank by a clump of willows, I had simply flipped the line ahead preparatory to wading out. A belt of scum and pussy-willow down extended 15 or so yards out and the pillow feathers fell towards the outer edge. At the merest twitch of my rod tip, a nose poked through the film, drank in my fly and before I knew it line was whipping away.

Soon the backing was running out – it was a good fish for sure. I wondered if I would ever be able to stop it because I couldn’t even make it turn. But then it did stop, abruptly. I tightened into dead weight, weeded. And, convinced the fish had now gone, I couldn’t shift anything by tugging on the rod and was forced to haul by hand. Slowly, slowly it started to budge: a great clump of weed, I guessed.

By now the light was getting better and I could hardly believe my eyes as the weed mass beached – the fish was still there in the middle of the mass. It was stone dead, drowned.

I felt sorry such a magnificent fish had met an ignominious end. Though only four and a half pounds it was sharp-tailed and had been fighting fit, one of Chew’s best.

I’ve deduced that fish had been waiting under the scum for moths to fall out of the willows, easy pickings. I’d no doubt presented him with a pretty reasonable representation, given the light conditions. Incidentally I was then a member of the small but exclusive Stewpond Stewart Angling Association and that fish topped the year’s best for trout and we later had him served for our annual dinner!

I won’t pretend the pillow fly is a ‘must’ for everyone’s box, but I do often think quite differently about the purple wool ball presented to me at Wentwood. Everyone should carry them. If you do happen to be the man who tied the first blobby beast, do please get in touch!

Ted Lamb

Journalist Ted Lamb trained with Angling Times (1960-69) and is author of The Penguin Book of Fishing and The Bait Book (David and Charles). He was founding editor of Sea Angler in 1972 and is currently editor of a local free weekly in the Forest of Dean after working (and fishing ) for British and Australian newspapers during his long career.  Fishing titles on Amazon Kindle include Brassribs (the story of a carp), Fishing Magic – all about angling for Boys and Girls, and One Last Cast (verse). Details on or

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Ted Lamb

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