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Fly tying connects you to fishing in the off-season

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Northern Lines by Dr Keith Williams

Just before the Christmas break, the Kyle of Sutherland Fisheries Trust successfully hosted an online auction to raise funds. Flies and fly boxes are usually popular amongst bidders, so I donated a nice box, made by a famous maker, replete with a dozen salmon flies of my own tying.

Dr Keith Williams is the director of Kyle of Sutherland Fisheries.
Dr Keith Williams is the director of Kyle of Sutherland Fisheries.

At one time I dressed many hundreds of flies a year, and used to teach youngsters in Lairg and adults in Bonar Bridge how to tie their own flies. On that basis, producing a dozen specimens ought to have been relatively straightforward but, I have to say, a lack of recent practice made it a frustrating experience.

Several flies were dressed and, for one reason or another, subsequently rejected. These sub-standard specimens will find their way into my own severely depleted boxes for use in the coming season. I get more pleasure in catching a fish with one of my own flies rather than one made by somebody else.

Lest I make it sound like too much of an ordeal, I did get a degree of enjoyment from the time spent at the vice. Fly tyers are fortunate in that they can maintain a close link to their pastime even in the otherwise barren months of the close season, and it was good to feel the connection with fishing again.

I was also reminded of how quickly time passes when concentrating on constructing a good fly – a whole evening seemed to pass in the blink of an eye.

For some exponents, tying flies is a pragmatic craft whose sole purpose is to catch fish. Others elevate their hobby to an artistic level, even producing flies that will be framed and will never see water.

In the case of the latter approach, it can become an all-consuming pastime. Indeed, one famous tyer of my acquaintance stopped fishing entirely. His output was passed to his friends to fish with and, although he sought feedback as to the success of his creations, he was no longer interested in actually fishing with them.

During the period I was tying flies I was reading Megan Boyd – the story of a salmon fly dresser and was reminded that the celebrated Kintradwell resident famously never fished. I met Megan on one occasion, although sadly her dressing days were behind her by then.

The prices currently being reached for her work at auctions show how much she is appreciated in the angling world. It has been good to see during 2021 that moves are afoot in Brora to recognise and celebrate her further.

Keith Williams is the director of Kyle of Sutherland Fisheries.

A Cascade salmon fly which has just had varnish applied.
A Cascade salmon fly which has just had varnish applied.

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