Tuesday, 1 May 2012

A Realistic Hawthorn & Heather Fly

First day of May and the time of year in the north of the country when we can expect to see Hawthorn Flies on the banks of our rivers and lakes. It is known as St Marks Fly, because its emergence normally coincides with St Marks Day on 25th April. However, in northern areas it usually makes a later appearance and in my experience I would say it is more likely to be the first 2 weeks of May (though I did observe a swarm in Scotland on 20th April this year).

The Hawthorn is a big black fly with long, trailing, back legs, which are probably its most striking feature. They form swarms on the banks of rivers and lakes, often near hawthorn trees, hence the common name. With anything of a breeze these flies are easily blown onto the water and trout take them readily (they love em!).



Heather Fly (Bibio pomonae) - note the red upper legs
Heather Fly (Bibio pomonae) - note the red upper legs
The Hawthorn Fly (Bibio marci) is closely related to the Heather Fly (Bibio pomonae), which emerges later in the summer, from July to September, and as the name suggests, usually near heather. Of course heather is usually found in upland, moorland areas and that is where this fly is most prolific. The main difference between Hawthorn and Heather Flies is the bright red upper leg of the latter species and it is this feature that spawned the well known fly the "Bibio". The Heather Fly is found in far greater numbers than Hawthorn Flies and because of its upland habitat it is more associated with lakes and lochs than rivers. Where there are rivers running through heather moorland it will be found and one such place is the Upper River Tees, both above and below Cow Green Reservoir. I had some fantastic fishing in 2011 on both the river and the "Big Cow" to the Heather Fly imitation (below), when Heather Flies were out in big numbers and being blown onto the water.

Hawthorn Fly - perfect imitation
This is the only pattern I use to imitate Hawthorn and Heather Flies (in the past I have used an all black Klinkhamer which did very well). Many years ago I used to attend meetings of the Fly Dressers Guild in what is now the Devonshire Brasserie at Bolton Abbey, on the banks of the River Wharfe. In those days it was a lovely traditional dales pub joined onto the Devonshire Arms Country House Hotel. The walls were full of old pictures of fishing in the dales, stuffed trout and old cane rods. It was a welcoming angler's pub, serving excellent local ales in front of a real log fire. Then it was 'modernised' with jazzy wallpaper, sofas and modern art to justify the expensive food and drink prices we see today. One of the regular speakers was Simon Ashworth, who is now the river keeper just up the dale at Appletreewick, Barden and Burnsall Angling Club. I always admired the flies he tied with such skill; one of the most skilled tyers I have ever watched.

One evening he tied a Hawthorn Fly and I couldn't believe how realistic it was when it was passed around the room. This was in the days before Oliver Edwards became well known for his intricate, life-like, patterns, and before realistic flytying took off. Up to this time the Hawthorn Flies that were available were crude, traditionally hackled jobs, but they were the norm and I accepted them. Then I saw Simon Ashworth tie this and my flytying took a different direction. This Hawthorn pattern is based on the fly I saw Simon tie that evening. I used the words 'based on' because I don't remember exactly how it was tied, but it is very close. I do remember it had knotted pheasant tail legs, a detached body and foam thorax/head.

Hawthorn Fly Dressing
Hook: TMC 103BL size 17.
Thread: Uni Thread 8/0, black.
Detached Body: Black Easy Dub Micro Chenille, end singed with lighter flame to taper and seal.
Body Dubbing: Fly-Rite Extra Fine Poly Dubbing, black.
Wing: Poly Yarn, white.
Rear legs: 2, dyed black, pheasant tail fibres, knotted together twice to form 2 'knee' joints - last section one fibre removed to give tapered effect.
Heather Fly underside - trout's eye view
Front legs: Single, dyed black, pheasant tail fibre, knotted once.
Thorax: Fly Foam, black.
Head: As thorax.

Heather Fly Dressing
As above but using Cock Pheasant Colour Extracted Tails, dyed red for the legs. After completing the tying the lower legs are coloured with a black permanent marker.

Tying Instructions
  1. Take thread to opposite hook point and tie in singed chenille to a total length of 12mm (hook eye to tip of abdomen).
  2. Bind down chenille with a few turns of thread and cover the base of the abdomen with a small amount of the dubbing.
  3. Tie in a fairly sparse wing to end at the same point as detached body.
  4. Tie in rear legs. Don't worry too much about length they can be trimmed later - it is more important to get the knotted joints in the right place and equal each side.
  5. Take thread to eye and prepare a thin strip of foam by rounding off the corners slightly so that it will look bulbous when tied in. Bind down foam at the hook eye forming a small head. Continue to bind down the foam until you meet the wing/end of abdomen (I use open turns to give the foam a segmented look. This helps with floatation and bulks the thorax out). Half hitch your thread to hold in place leaving the foam pointing backwards.
  6. Take thread forward slightly and tie in middle legs with the knotted joint a few millimetres out from body. Try to get them at right angles to the shank and equal both sides.
  7. Manoeuvre the waste butts so that they go up each side of the thorax and bind down forwards as you take thread back towards the eye (these will be the front legs).
  8. Stop just back from the head and force out the waste butts to form the front legs. You can fracture the fibre later to produce a leg joint in the same place as the knotted knee on the middle legs.
  9. Pull over the foam to form the thorax cover and bind down at the back of the head.
  10. Whip finish at the back of the head and varnish the whips.
  11. Trim legs to length and if tying Heather Fly version tint the lower legs with black marker. 'Break' the front legs to kink.
A natural Heather Fly with the imitation I use - close copy or what!
A natural Heather Fly with the imitation I use - close copy or what!
Of course the Heather Fly version is a bit of a bullshit exercise - the trout will not refuse the Hawthorn version in a Heather Fly hatch - but it adds interest to our flytying. It is a fairly simple fly to tie and very effective on the water. Tight lines!