By Allister Wallace
James Peter Hay (Peter) was President of Perth and District Anglers Association for a number of years in the seventies. He also held the position of Tuberculosis Officer for East of Scotland in the sixties and seventies.
During this era as a Glasgow teenager, I was developing my passion for game fishing (which was chiefly limited to trout and grayling fishing on the upper reaches of the Clyde and its tributaries). Holiday trips to the hill lochs of Argyllshire and Loch Earn brought another dimension but no less enjoyable. Salmon fishing was for other people that hopefully, one would progress to when older.
My favourite angling books of the time were by William B. Currie, whose writing would take you on fishing journeys to the magical rivers of Scotland that as a teenager, were always out with your reach. Images of Bill Currie and his contemporaries usually with huge salmon jumped out from the pages in all his publications.
Salmon fishing did come around later when you progressed to the Loch Lomond Angling Improvement Association and its tributary rivers.
On joining PDAA, I revisited one of Bill Currie's books, namely "Days and Nights of Game Fishing". Chapter 4 is titled "Three Tay Days". Very quickly Currie indicates that he had "received a charming and encouraging letter from an experienced Tay angler", a Mr Hay.
Here in brief description, was a proven and well thought out process for early season fishing in January and February. Its premise related to how the fly could beat the spun bait in high water. I studied the text microscopically, given that it directly related to my growing passion for springtime salmon fishing, coupled with fly tying.
Peter gave a description of his own springtime technique and fly dressing he used to great success when he took his fly rod out in the early weeks of the season. Crikey, I thought! This is useful stuff.
Essentially what he explained was as follows, and you have to remember that this was in an era when catches were much higher than we experience today. It was also probably just prior to the modern development of the tube fly.
Peter's letter in brief:
"There are times and places where the fly will beat the spinner - especially in January in high water. On most beats there is usually a little pocket at the near side of a stream where running fish will rest ... I use the heaviest quick sink line on a Sharpe's 15 ft spliced cane rod.
Cast square across on a slack line. When it comes into really slack water retrieve by hand very slowly - fish usually take firmly on the second pull...
The lure must have life and offer no resistance when the fish gulps it. And it must be at least four inches long and offer no leverage.
"Take a length of 24 lb nylon and laying around the joint of a tapered treble hook, he spliced it firmly on. He firmly whipped the heavy nylon to form the basis of the fly body and on to this he dubbed a black wool body, added gold tinsel, and at the head and tail of this long fly he added hot-orange hackles ... four and even five inches. But they were light ...
From the rear in the water it looks like a poised minnow ... It does not work after February or in smaller sizes ... The rear hackle is the more important. Wings are no use, nor hackles along the body. In other words it is a minnow or fry to the fish and the hackles are the tail and fins".
What this piece tells me is that here is a tried and tested but probably long forgotten early spring technique that can be tapped into, giving todays' angler a sporting chance in recognisably difficult, early season conditions.
Consider this. We know what high water in January/ February looks like. The force of current pushes the fish into the side and they hug the slower moving water just above the river bed. Peter is exploiting this by fishing in a distinct way of where he knows lying fish can be located. He is definite about fishing within the "scallops", and his procedure is straight forward.
By using a specific dressing of light fly, coupled with a heavy line, casting square across and hand lining the fly towards the bank, he has created a unique set of circumstances designed to capitalise on what fish are likely to respond. He also talks about how the fish takes his creation - from the rear and explains the importance of the tail hackle over the head hackle.
Peter's depth of knowledge and insight into a period of the season that I struggle to cope with, had an instant effect on me. Given that we in PDAA have access to some great spring beats then here is an opportunity designed specifically for those willing to try the fly in the challenging weeks of January and February.
Dressing my own interpretation of Peter's creation on a long lightweight tube, I started to experiment with it on Upper Redgorton. It was my first season in PDAA and, having introduced myself to the ghillie, he enquired what fly I was using and I relayed the story. "That was my grandfather's fly".
Of course I speak about Mike Hay, one of our most valued Tay ghillies who looks after us with constant good cheer! Mike went on to explain that he personally had discovered the publication of the story by chance, having spotted Bill Currie's book within a Dunkeld bookshop. A copy was duly purchased and it was taken to grandfather who was amazed to learn of the letter's inclusion by the author.
Clearly Peter's pattern and technique was developed in the time of plenty when Tay numbers were huge by comparison with today. As Peter emphasises, "FISH USUALLY TAKE ON THE SECOND PULL!"
It begs a question. Only one fish at a time can take the fly and we know that we can improve our chances of a take when the fly comes within the fishes immediate window. If the salmon's DNA has not altered over the space of 40 years or so, and who is to say that it has, is there not a case for adopting or even developing such a successful technique?
Admittedly, to date, my attempts have come up short, although I have had a couple of pulls. As Bill Currie says, Mr Hay was a thoughtful angler and I recognise that I have a long way to go to match his skills. One of my aims is to prove this technique successful. If so, hopefully there is another little part of the angling jigsaw I can build upon.
The photograph is my interpretation on what I think Peter had created. Mike Hay recognised it instantly and I shall see if it works next spring. Give it a try if you follow the logic.