Updated
2016-11-03

Swedish version

 

G.E.M. Skues and the hatching BWO puzzle
By Goran Grubic and Aleksandar Panic

G.E.M. SKUES

G.E.M. Skues is our favourite fly fishing author for many reasons. The most important reason is that his texts are still interesting to read although some were written about hundred years ago. He was one of the “founding fathers” of modern fly fishing, and it is amusing to discover in his texts ideas which created whole trends in fly fishing as we know it today. One of the main things remembered about Skues is that he was “the father” of nymph fishing. If we consider how important and diverse nymph fishing became, it is quite appealing to read his own descriptions of how he slowly evolved his techniques and laid a foundation for the ways we fish today.

  During his long life Skues spent considerable time on the “way of a trout with a fly”, but also thinking and writing about fly fishing. All of his books, aside from the last one, were actually collections of his articles published in The Field, Journal of The Flyfisher’s Club and other magazines. He had enough time and space not only to explain how to fish with his flies and methods, but also to describe how he developed them. Some of his solutions are as good today as they were in his time, and we use them quite often on various rivers. However, he was not able to solve everything, as no one is. One of the things that remained to be solved was what we can call “the hatching BWO puzzle”.

Blue-Winged Olive, male Dun
Blue-Winged Olive, male Dun

  Blue-Winged Olive (BWO) is a fly fisherman’s name for Serratella ignita (formerly Ephemerella ignita), which is very important for trout fishing, not only on the Itchen which used to be Skues’ favourite chalk stream, but also on most rivers throughout Europe. Very often the flies supposed to imitate BWO fail in seducing trout or grayling. Skues created or used several flies to imitate the BWO, but he was never sure in their effectiveness, and he wrote with caution about them. Courtney Williams (A Dictionary of Trout Flies) wrote that “Mr. Skues has obviously paid a good deal of attention to copying the BWO and has provided several attractive ties. Fishing on the Itchen as he did for so many years, he had exceptional opportunities for testing them”. However, “Unfortunately for the fly fisher the BWO is one of the most difficult insects to copy successfully.”

  Skues created three nymph imitations for the BWO (Nymph Fishing for Chalk Stream Trout) and wrote about them: “I had occasionally had trout on an actual imitation”. Also “Then (though I never been able even to surmise) a pattern dressed thus will sometimes be taken greedily”. But, as you can see, he was honest enough to be reserved about those flies.

Trout on No-hackle BWO
Trout on No-hackle BWO

Skues was quite successful when there was a spinner fall of Sherry Spinners, which is the name for BWO in its final dress. He recommended (The Way of a Trout With a Fly) two dry flies for such occasions: Pheasant’s Tail (“when deep ruddy brown Sherry Spinner is plentiful”), and Rusty Spinner (“excellent representation of the male spinner of the BWO also called Sherry Spinner”). We caught a lot of trout using those flies in such circumstances, and can tell that these recommendations are still excellent. However, when it comes to duns, there was no consistent solution. For BWO subimago Skues recommended  (The Way of a Trout With a Fly) Orange Quill and “another pattern which occasionally kills well is dressed in the same way except that the body is of heron herl dyed greenish-yellow olive”. He wrote about BWO emergences that: “From mid-June to the end of the season there is scarcely an evening rise when it may not put in an appearance. When it does put in an appearance there is always a chance of a big fish. When puts in an appearance in quantity there is a chance of a big basket, and all of the fish in the basket big”. But “It may be asked why the Orange Quill is taken at night for the BWO. I answer frankly, I don’t know.” Latter (The Blue-Winged Olive and the Welshman’s Button (Side-Lines, Side-Lights & Reflection)) he also wrote: “Mr. H.S. Hall writes under his description of his description of his dressing of the BWO, in his charming paper on the dry fly in the ‘Fishing Volume of Badminton (1885),’ that ‘no satisfactory pattern has yet been dressed’. And that observation remains true to this day. It is no doubt the fact that has been discovered that when BWO is hatching out of an evening and the duns are being taken on the surface, the Orange Quill is often enthusiastically accepted, and that there are one to two other patterns which are at times taken almost equally greedily; but still the angler is at times faced with utter defeat on evenings when the trout seem to be mad on the BWO, its nymph or its male or female spinner, and all these patterns fail him.”

Blue-Winged Olive, female Dun
Blue-Winged Olive, female Dun

  As a conclusion he wrote (The Way of a Trout With a Fly) that: “The BWO is seldom taken on the surface during the daytime, and when it is its artificial imitation is still less frequently accepted, but I have had excellent sport with well sunken nymph”. Latter he discovered a fly called McCaskie’s Green Cat, and wrote: “when in the day time the trout are taking BWO nymphs (and they never, or almost never, take the BWO sub-imago form during the day) a fly dressed on a No. 1 hook with pale orange silk dubbed lightly and loosely with McCaskie’s Green Cat (McCaskie Green Cat (Side-Lines, Side-Lights & Reflection)) and hackled lightly with soft dark blue henny hackle and glycerined to sink properly is really very effective, even in the hands of an angler who has a prejudice in favour of thinking he knows why he uses any particular pattern rather than another”.

  As we can see, Skues had no solution for trout feeding on the surface during the BWO hatch, and he had to use sunk fly (or what we today call “emerger”) to catch them. Obviously some other sort of fly was needed for such situations, and it took some time and effort to attain the correct solution. Even today fishing BWO emergences can be complicated and frustrating, but there are flies which can catch even the toughest trout. Interestingly, the best solutions that we know for that problem came from Bosnia, which is a place known and visited by Skues (Turco as a Fly Fisher (Side-Lines, Side-Lights & Reflection)). He wrote (Speculations on the Origins of Fly Fishing (Side-Lines, Side-Lights & Reflection)): “I paid a holiday visit to Bosnia with a friend in September 1897, and spent some sixteen days in wild parts of that lovely and romantic looking country.”

Trout on BWO Emerger
Trout on BWO Emerger

  In his brilliant history of fly fishing Herd (The Fly) wrote that it is likely that Skues got an idea to use wet flies on chalk streams in Bosnia, although about that Skues (Nymph Fishing for Chalk Stream Trout) wrote: “I am omitting reference to other rivers, including Norwegian and Bosnian streams, which had little or no bearing on my progress towards nymph fishing in chalk streams”. As a lawyer he was very precise with his words, so we believe that this statement is true. However, we are positive that this Bosnian visit helped him in his experiments with wet flies on chalk streams (the Itchen actually), which eventually led to his development of nymph fishing.

  If we examine his progress with wet flies, we can see that in 1892 Skues had the “first experience of the efficiency of the wet fly on the Itchen (Minor Tactics of the Chalk Stream).” The second experience came 2-3 years later, and then several years after that, and his experiences with the wet fly on a German stream he realized its potentials. He explained: “I began to experiment on the bulgers with small double hooked Greenwell’s Glories as Mr. Ewan M. Tod recommended for his Scotch rivers (Minor Tactics of the Chalk Stream).” Than in 1897 came his Bosnian trip where Skues had witnessed the efficiency of fishing wet flies with a short fixed line. That was clear confirmation that catching grayling and trout while feeding on small ephemerides in “gin clear” rivers is not only possible but very successful. All this led to his further experiments with wet flies which he described in a series of articles that were subsequently gathered in a book (Minor Tactics of the Chalk Stream).

Skues' flies from Minor Tactics
Skues' flies from Minor Tactics
(Click image for larger version)

  In chapter IV of Minor tactics of the chalk stream “On wet fly dressings for chalk streams” Skues lists Greenwell’s Glory tied with blackbird and starling wings. All of the flies listed had wings but there is no doubt that Skues wanted to imitate nymphs with them, since he wrote: “It will be observed that hooks are a size larger than those employed for floaters can often be used. Nymphs are slightly larger than their duns.” Greenwell’s Glory is quite famous and its history well documented, but it is strikingly similar to a traditional fly used in Bosnia with the name Kreja (Jay). It is common for traditional flies to have names given according to the bird which provided feather for the dressing (like Orange Partridge and similar). The name Kreja referred to the pale dun wings made from jay’s primary wing feathers. The fly itself has several variations, with bodies made of silk, hemp and stripped quills, mainly in some shade between olive, yellow and brown, and it was often used when BWO was hatching.

The Sanica river
The Sanica river

  It is interesting to note that locals with their crude “pre-Waltonian” tackle caught more grayling than Skues with his “post-Halfordian equipment” (Turco as a Fly Fisher (Side-Lines, Side-Lights & Reflection)). About their fishing methods he wrote: “I found the natives on several different rivers, divided by stiff mountain ranges, pursuing the sport of fly fishing with gear of identical character (like those mentioned by Aelian). I judged from the identity of method in use in different valleys that the method was probably traditional, and it seemed to me to be quite a possibility that it might have come down with little variation from that described by Aelian above mentioned as been practiced by Macedonians in his day – the second and third centuries A.D. – and it may have been much older (Speculations on the Origins of Fly Fishing (Side-Lines, Side-Lights & Reflection)).”

The Pliva river
The Pliva river

  The rivers Skues visited were The Pliva and The Sana with their “dazzling blue waters”, and they are as beautiful today as they were in his time, in spite of all the troubles that that country has seen in the meantime. The Pliva and the Sana with its tributaries (the Ribnik and the Sanica), are among the most beautiful rivers in Europe and with good keeping the fishing is probably better today than it was in Skues’ times. What is more, those rivers are what we call “The BWO Academy” because it is hard to find a place where hatches of that insect are so dense and last so long. As a matter of fact, there is five recorded species of BWO on the Balkans, members of Ephemerella family (Serratella ignita, Serratella maculocaudata, Serratella spinosa, Ephemerella mucronata, Torleya mayor), which look almost identical and live in the same rivers with variation only in their size (from #14 to #24). They are hatching almost every day during the summer and autumn. In effect such rivers are giving more than average conditions for experimenting with flies. So it is not surprising that there were numerous great fly tiers and fly fishermen in Bosnia, in the past and today. Using modern knowledge and materials they created flies that can catch trout or grayling during the daytime hatch of BWO. The flies are emergers, intended to be fished with their bodies sunk into the surface film, and the material for their wings are CDC (Cul de Canard) feathers.

The Sana river
The Sana river

  CDC is not exactly a new material, as it was used by Swiss fly tiers Maximilien Joset in Courtfaivre and Charles Bickel in Valorbe in Jura region since the 1920s. Skues was alive in those times, but was not aware that those gentlemen are starting the “CDC revolution”. In the first flies the CDC feathers were used as hackle, turned around the hook shank. Than in 1983 Marjan Fratnik from Slovenia discovered a new way to use these feathers, as wings. His simple F-fly was a great achievement, and its offspring are many dozens of new patterns, mostly emergers used to catch fish when they are most selective. The Bosnian BWO imitations are in that category. There are many variations of those flies tied by locals, but actually all that can be reduced to two patterns. One is a grandchild of the already mentioned Kreja, called Krejica, which is just a diminutive, meaning “small jay”, and interestingly it is tied without any jay feathers. It is just a bit more complex than F-Fly, with hackle tails, thread body and CDC wing. The other one is called The Emerger, and it is really a variation of a British fly called Shuttlecock. Of course, there are hundreds of various emerger patterns, but in Bosnia only this fly is called The Emerger, and not without reason, because it is very effective.

The Ribnik river
The Ribnik river

  On the presented pictures we are showing those patterns in the color which was most successful for us, but in Bosnia they tie the bodies from pale yellow, to olive and brown, while wings are normally of natural CDC ranging from very pale gray to almost black. If you prepare those flies in sizes from 16 to 20 (with some 22 and 24), you will be ready to tackle the most finicky grayling or trout you can find eating on the surface. Those flies are very reliable and if trout taking BWO pass up those two patterns, the angler can be almost sure that his presentation is at fault (to paraphrase the Datus Proper’s words (What the Trout Said)).

Recommended flies for hatching BWO (our versions of Bosnian standards):

CDC No-hackle BWO (The Krejica)

CDC No-hackle BWO (The Krejica)

Hook: TMC 100 or any other light dry fly model (size 22 is on the photo)
Thread: UNI Light Olive 8/0, on smaller hooks Veevus 12/0, 14/0 or 16/0 in Light Olive is excellent
Tail: Metz natural medium blue dun hackle fibers
Abdomen: tying thread
Thorax: Pale Evening Dun Super Fine Dubbing
Wings: two CDC tips or clump of CDC barbs in natural grey or khaki
The tying is basically same (with the added dubbing for thorax) as described in the following article: http://www.rackelhanen.se/eng/10442.htm

 

CDC BWO Shuttlecock (The Emerger)

CDC BWO Shuttlecock (The Emerger)

Hook: TMC 100, TMC 2487 or any other light fly model (size 22 is on the photo)
Thread: Light Olive, UNI 8/0 or Veevus 12/0, 14/0, 16/0
Abdomen: tying thread
Thorax: CDC dubbing in natural grey or khaki, or Tan Super Fine Dubbing
Wings: two CDC tips in natural grey or khaki

  Fishing recommendations:

Use a long leader (at least 5 m.) with a fine tippet (0.10 mm). Use medium fast or slow rod to protect the fine tippet. Try to avoid drag at all costs using whichever casting and mending technique is needed. Use fly one size smaller than the naturals you see on the water (they appear larger in the air). If the fish refuse a fly after several correct presentations than change to one size smaller fly. Fill your box with ample amounts of those two flies (we have a dozen of each size from 16 to 22). Don’t waste time on drying CDC flies, let the fly dry on a “fly patch” and replace it with a dry one. Barbless hooks are not only better for releasing fish, flies tied on them also last longer.

Grayling on BWO fly
Grayling on BWO fly

More details about the BWO-s and their imitations is given in the following article: http://globalflyfisher.com/fish-better-patterns/euro-bwos

By Goran Grubic and Aleksandar Panic 2016 www.flyandtrout.com

 

 

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