The Medlar News Blog

Medlar has been publishing fishing books since 1994 and we are proud to have produced works by many of the finest angling writers. In our Blog we’ll give you an insight into the new books we’re working on, provide the occasional extract from our Books of the Week, author news, book reviews and loads of angling snippets (from how to fish to fishing history, fishing tackle, great angling literature and much more).

Something Different

On Opening Day
Stacks Image 1604

June and the Merry Dace

Jack Hargreaves

Opening Day approaches and a great army of coarse-fishermen are polishing their tackle and getting out their floats and bottom-rods. They are gearing up to catch tench or carp, perhaps a barbel or two or even a roach. Yet Jack Hargreaves suggested they change from such a traditional approach and try something far more interesting instead - fly fishing for the merry dace. In case you were wondering, the dace engraving above is by none other than Thomas Bewick . . .

'It is true that coarse-fishing legally begins on the 16th of June and that, in the lakes and canals, the tench and carp are ready to be angled for; but in the rivers the roach are still haunting the weeds. It is hot weather, perhaps, and bright water. The underwater vegetation is swarming with larvae and shrimp and snails. Most of the fish are burrowing there and can’t be reached with an underwater bait.

But, whatever he may be hunting below, the dace keeps half an eye on the surface. He will rise to anything that might offer a mouthful, and he does it with a dash to get there ahead of his shoal-brothers. Sometimes two come from opposite directions and collide with a splash on the surface. Sometimes, unable to suck under an over-sized victim - a grasshopper, a late mayfly or a daddy-long-legs - the dace will try to fling himself out over it and flap it under with his tail. A merry performance, showing the angler clearly that the fish are there and suggesting how he should approach them. We will fish for these dace with an artificial fly.

Here I would say something to the bottom-fishers who think that fly-fishing is too difficult to venture on. It takes you about twenty years to become a crack fly-caster. It takes one day to be able to cast well enough to catch fish and enjoy yourself. Anyway, fly-fishing is least of all a matter of fancy casting. The man who catches most and biggest fish every year on the trout-water where I fish freely admits himself to be a bad caster and says it is too late for him to become a good one. The game really consists of the same knowledge of fish and water, the same quietness and patient concentration that the good float-fisherman already possesses in full measure.

So we will introduce the technique of fly-casting - there will be plenty of floatwork later on in the year.

In all other kinds of casting it is the weight of the business end of the tackle - lead, float, bait, spinner - to which you give momentum, and the comparatively light line follows after. But in fly-casting the lure itself weighs practically nothing, so the line has to be cast by its own weight.

Imagine a length of clothes-line lying straight out on the lawn. Hold on to the end of it with arm outstretched and give a firm pull. After one or two attempts you will find you can make the whole line fly across and lie straight in the opposite direction, the end still in your hand. That - in the crudest terms - is the principle of casting a fly-line.
There are tens of thousands of words about it in fishing-books. Among all the literary attempts to describe a subtle, physical knack, W. C. Stewart got closest to it in the fewest possible words a hundred years ago - ‘Take the rod in your right hand, raise it with sufficient force to make the line go to its full length behind, and then pausing for a moment until it has done so, with a circular motion of the wrist and arm urge the rod forward, rapidly at first, but gradually lessening the speed, so that when it stops no recoil of the point will take place. The whole motion of the rod in casting should be in the shape of a horseshoe; and care must be taken not to urge the flies forward till they have gone the full length behind, or you will be apt to crack them off.’

Practise that, then, and you will soon be able to throw a fly over a dace. Throw the line upstream to him because he then has his back to you and you can creep close to him unseen and fish with a short, straight line. This is most necessary because a dace rises and is gone again the moment he feels that the fly has a hook. He must be struck quickly. For the same reason, you must draw back line through the rod-rings with your left hand as the fly floats downstream towards you. (There is a special trick of the fingers for doing this which is hard to describe. Look out for a fly-fisherman doing it and you will understand in a moment.) So you ensure that there is no slack line to be taken up when the fish rises and your strike can be just a turn of the wrist.

Tackle is to be spoken of separately, so here I will say only two things about fly-rods. First - start with a cheap one. The first rod will not satisfy you when you have progressed at the game, and you will inevitably buy one - probably an expensive one - that suits the tastes you have developed. So let the first one be of the good old second-hand greenhearts that can often be found in antique shops. As long as they are not too floppy they have a lovely action and they cost only shillings.

Second - don’t buy too long a rod. Long casting is much less important than most people would have you believe. The important thing is to throw eight or nine yards softly and accurately. Now, no rod casts well until it has enough weight of line in the air to bring out all its action. If you buy a nine-foot-six or ten-foot rod it will be dead and clumsy with the length of line you most often want to use. A seven-footer, on the other hand, will be fully alive with seven yards of line, and you will begin much sooner to feel skilful and satisfied with your performance.

And only one thing about fly patterns. Buy Wickham’s Fancy dressed on number nought hooks - a dozen or so dressed ‘dry’ (that is, to float) and three or four dressed ‘wet’.
If you would like to read more by Jack Hargreaves try his classic book Fishing for a Year. The book is beautifully illustrated by Bernard Venables.
Stacks Image 1636