This extract is taken from a record kept by the vicar of All Saints Church in Dorchester Dorset, written on September 11, 1907.
The Reverend Filleul was fishing the waters of the Dorchester Fishing Club, where he was a member from the late 1800’s until his retirement in 1918. In the year of his death, 1931 it was noted ‘The death of Rev. S.E.V.Filleul was reported this year, as one of the Clubs oldest members and perhaps the finest fisherman the Club ever had, he would be surely missed’
Dry Fly Record
I got to the riverside just below our town of Dorchester at about 6 p.m., and began to fish where the two principal streams of the Frome unite. There were several fish rising, and taking chiefly minute insects of some kind. After trying many flies, and only getting one touch, besides bagging one small trout under a pound in weight, I left them in despair, really believing that the rising fish were dace, and not trout.
In about half an hour I passed the place again on my way home, and noticed that two or three were still occasionally rising. This was just after 7 o’clock. It was getting dusk but being a light evening and the water quite open I could see to cast fairly well. My fly was taken quietly after a cast or two, and I struck gently.
The response was terrific splashing and boiling on the surface of the water, like the action of a fish that is very lightly hooked. For a moment I though that I must have accidentally hooked an otter, or that an otter had seized my fish. However the commotion ceased and the fish came down towards me into the deep water by my side. This was a large hole eight to ten feet deep. For about a quarter of an hour the fish remained at the bottom, cruising round and round, then slowly worked downstream about 50 yards, whilst I kept as firm a pull on him as I dared. Then, fortunately, he turned, and another quarter of an hour of up and down work followed. Once or twice he rose to the surface, and lashed the water with his tail. Once he sprang up clear above the water and then for the first time I realised what a monster I was into.
After about another quarter of an hour he began to yield and was more often on the surface than below, and I could venture to pull him about a little. Seeing how hopeless it was to land him myself, I looked about for help. No one was in sight except two women ironing by lamplight at the open window of a cottage two hundred yards away. I shouted and whistled to try and attract their attention, but all in vain. I felt that I could never land the fish alone, and must risk something unless I was going to stay out all night. So I gave the fish a good hustling, then fixed my rod into the bank overhanging the water, with the line arranged to run freely, hurried across the field to the cottage, and asked the women to try and find a man or boy to come down to me.
I ran back again, took up my rod and found the fish still secure. Soon two men came down and we decided that we could not land the fish without a large landing net. We found it impossible, owing to the depth of water, to get at him and lift him out with the hand. So one man went off for the river keeper ( T.Pomeroy ) , whilst the other went home for a lantern, as it was now dark. The keeper was still out, and this led to further delay, whilst all the while I was towing the fish round and keeping him tired.
At last the keeper came with a landing net, but this was too small, so we determined to get the loan of a clothes basket from the cottage, and try and lift him out with that .
The keeper sank the basket, and held it out at arms length with one leg in the water, while the lantern was arranged to light up the closing scene.
Presently I was able to tow the fish into the prepared trap, and then with a great lift he was swung up in a streaming basketfull of water on to dry land, the keeper between him and the water.
It was twenty five minutes past eight then; I had hooked him about an hour and a quarter before. We gathered up all our tackle of different kinds, and marched off home.
Here we weighed him on a grocer’s scales, not a spring balance, and found his weight to be exactly 12 3/4 lbs. This was after thoroughly wiping and drying him. It was a male fish, not sewer fed, as our water is now all unpolluted. His length was 29 1/2 inches, and girth 18 3/4 inches. He was in splendid condition, with clean white belly and silvery sides, full and deep.
Of course, from first to last, the capture of such a fish on the lightest dry fly tackle was simply owing to a succession of fortunate accidents. My rod was a light 10ft two joint split cane weapon – Hardy’s “Perfection” – the fly a No. 0 Hare’s Ear, dressed by Ogden Smith of Hyde Park Corner, on a fine 18 inch point.
The fly happened to catch in the leathery edge of the upper jaw, so that the fine gut was never caught on the creature’s teeth, but always lay over his smooth snout. Then the area of the fight was remarkably free of long weeds, and though the gut was badly frayed it had never been checked for an instant in the weeds. Further the movements of a fish of this size were always comparatively slow and dignified, which saved the tackle from sudden jerks. Also, the increasing darkness prevented the fish from seeing me and rushing away down stream, as he certainly would otherwise have done. And lastly, the keeper’s experience in handling these slippery creatures enabled him to land it in the way he did. His first remark as we surveyed our prize was ” It is a miracle to have landed this fish” and I thought the same.
To return for moment to the beginning. It astonishes me, first, that a fish of this size should notice such minute insects on the surface of the water, and secondly, that with such an enormous head and mouth it should be able to swallow them down without disturbing the surface of the water any more than a half pound trout or dace.
At 10 o’clock that evening the fish was in the train directed to Mr Cooper of Radnor Street. I hope he will make the return journey safely, and often refresh me with the memory of our eventful encounter.
Samuel Edward Valpy Filleul
Why the Gold Ribbed Hares Ear?
It all started after a chance meeting with a former Honorary Secretary of the Dorchester Fishing Club, Lt Cdr D.B.Jeffery.
We met while fishing the Club’s water and talked about its long history. He wondered if I would be interested in seeing a photograph that he had of a 12 3/4 lb. brown trout caught by the Reverend in 1907. This fascinated me as I was already looking into the Club’s history and arranged a time when I could see the photograph.
There were two photographs in the frame, one showing the preserved trout and one of the keeper holding the basket in which the fish was finally landed. He agreed to let me borrow the pictures and copy them. Carefully opening the frame I discovered a typed document that was neatly folded behind the pictures. Gently I opened it and there before me was the Reverend’s own account of his epic battle. The river he describes is one with water depths of 8 to 10 feet and the nearest cottage 200 yards away. The water depths are now nearer 3 to 4 feet and houses built up to the waters edge. Nevertheless, away from the town, it is a delightful river full of ranunaculus and wild trout.
I was still in my infant years as a chalk stream dry fly fisherman and luckily could fish the same waters that the Reverend once mastered. If the Hares Ear worked then, surely it must still work now. I opened my copy of ‘A Dictionary of Trout Flies’ by A.C Williams and found the dressing for the Gold-Ribbed-Hare’s-Ear (page 182). Using this original dressing and with my rudimentary skills as a fly dresser, produced a few Gold-Ribbed-Hare’s-Ear.
Body: Dark fur from the roots of a hare’s ear spun on primrose silk
Ribbing: Flat gold tinsel
Hackle: Long strands of the body dubbing picked out with a dubbing needle
Whisks: three strands as hackle
Hook: 14 to 16 (size 16 hook seems to be the optimum size)
The next weekend I was fishing the shallows below Whitfield Hatches during an early season hatch of Blue Winged Olives. I paused after tying on my first Gold-Ribbed-Hare’s-Ear. What was this non-descript fuzz on a hook meant to represent? This is something that has been puzzling anglers throughout history. It has none of the credentials of a classic chalkstream dry fly – no perfectly matched split wings – no genetic cape hackle and no slim shining body. These thoughts; plus echoes of Halfords dismissal of this dressing, went through my mind.
I cast to a rising trout and as the fly landed it vanished from view. I strained my eyes and managed to spot the fly suspended in the surface film; this was certainly different from the pertly cocked split wing variety. The trout’s reaction was also very different and is stamped on my memory. Slowly and confidently the trout rose and sucked in the fly. I raised my rod and the fish was on. This I remember well, but the size of the trout alludes me – all I know is that both the trout and I were grabbed by this fuzzy fly.
Since that day I have become a ‘fuzz man’ and have relegated my genetic capes to the bottom draw (and no you can’t have them!), I much prefer now to use spun hair or soft feather hackle. These give my fuzzy creations, the all-important appearance of a cripple struggling to break free from the nymphal shuck. I presume this is why trout take this fly so confidently; they know it is not about to escape and can leisurely swim up and suck it in.
G.E.M. Skues was a great ambassador of the ‘damp’ fly and I thoroughly recommend his Dotterel hackle fly. G.S. Marrayat, another past Member of the Club (1879) experimented with imitating nymphs long before Skues had thought of them. It was correspondance during 1888 between Skues and George Holland ( fly dresser and an associate of Marrayat) that gave Skues ‘The germ of an idea’. It would be fascinating to think that Marrayat may have experimented with imitation nymphs on the Club’s water and it was these that gave Skues his inspiration.
If there were to be a King of the Fuzz, it would be Roman Moser. I have seen him only once demonstrate his skills as a fly creator, but it was a revelation to me. There he sat; surrounded by pieces of carpet and other strange materials, creating wonderful fuzzy flies that just oozed with life. My favourite sedge dressing (Delta Wing Sedge) is one of Roman’s. I think it should be a nymph pattern, but administer a liberal amount of Gink, it floats forever – and the trout just love it.
My current flies have evolved from the original Gold-Ribbed-Hare’s-Ear dressing. I now prefer to use rabbit fur, which suits the smaller flies and is a little softer. To make the small stumpy tail more durable, I use ginger/honey cock hackles fibres and I have replaced the gold tinsel ribbing with the new gold holographic material. The wing traditionally is made by teasing out fibres from the thorax. I achieve more floatability and life by spinning the fur on. Wax one of the modern micro threads (UNIthread 8/0) and gently attach the plucked rabbit fur to about 1-inch of it. Whip this over an undercoat of hot orange squirrel; the hair will flare out and produce a hackle full of life.
During our wonderful Grannom hatches I add a wing of golden olive polypropylene, this also helps in making the fly more visible against the early spring light. If the fish are concentrating on nymphs or my quarry is one of our large grayling, I change the hook from a lightweight barbless to a gold sedge one. Adding lead or a copper bead; makes a deadly nymph dressing. I still have a soft spot for the original dressing and always have some in my fly box, ready for action.
I have dabbled with other fur winging materials and I use a large sparkle dun when the mayfly are hatching. However, it is the ease with which the GRHE is to tie, that makes them my favourite. Using the many different colours found on natural rabbit fur, one could adapt them to represent the majority of hatching fly. Light colours for the pale wateries, slightly darker for the Blue Winged Olive and with extra orange squirrel dubbing, makes an excellent evening spinner dressing.
The Reverend’s trout was sent to London to be presevered by Mr Cooper of Radnor Street. I discovered from a fellow Member that it was still in existence in a large house just outside Dorchester. I wrote to the owners, explaining my interest in their preserved fish and enclosed a copy of the Reverend’s story. Within a week I was driving towards the house, ready to view this wondrous fish. The lady of the house is the granddaughter of the Reverend and she was with her father in 1959, when he landed the second largest trout taken from the Club’s water, 5lbs 4ozs. At last there before me was the fish in all its glory, enclosed within the case is the actual gut and fly that landed it. I was glad that I had moved over to the ‘fuzz’ side before I had seen this fly – because there tied on top of the thorax are two perfectly formed split wings
Halford was ere!
Interesting things are happening to Wessex rivers. New fences are restraining cattle from damaging the banks; ingenious methods, mainly using local timber and materials are being devised to narrow the river and thus to speed up its currents; and perhaps most crucially, underwater groynes are being installed to restore some of the diversity that was lost when dredging programmes straightened these rivers and badly damaged their natural habitats.
Dorchester Fishing club is not asleep. Already, you may have noticed the new cattle fences that line many of our stretches along the Frome and the upper Stinsford. Watch out for further, much-needed fencing that will run the length of Poundbury and which waits only for drier ground conditions.
However, you are less likely to have seen the five groynes installed downstream of the Blue Bridge. Last season this important stretch was a disaster area: the current was uniform, very shallow yet sluggish; the riverbed was silted and covered in silkweed; there was an absence of Ranunculus; and very few sizeable trout remained in it. Few members bothered to visit it. John Grindle and John Aplin decided that things had to change so they studied ways to turn this featureless stretch, into a diverse, productive ecosystem, settling for a series of groynes, made out of willow stakes and hazel faggots.
In the three months since these groynes were installed, astonishing changes are underway. Already, deeper runs are found alongside gravel shallows; currents vary from powerful, surging and fast, to gentle and steady; eddies and backcurrents throw up new banks of silt, which add important habitat; fish are moving back in numbers and size. As if to enter into the spirit of conservation, the heavy winter rains have ensured waving beds of bright green Ranunculus. From last season’s travesty of a trout stream, this stretch is changing towards what it must have been like in 1877, when the Blue Bridge was built and our Club established.
Who have done all this work? Who hammered all those willow stakes deep into the river bed, in a line at an upstream angle of 45 degrees? Who tied in the hazel faggots, to complete the groynes that cleverly criss-cross the Frome right down to Mayo’s boundary? I’ll tell you. John Secretary and John Keeper were the planners, inspiration, and workers, crucially supported by the muscle and ideas of members, Peter Leatherdale, Rod Crane, Trev Stroud & Adrian Simmons. They are owed the warmest of thanks from all members.
This is just the beginning of an important project. Weekly, we are checking that the groynes do not damage the banks and riverside fences. Already, we have modified the first groyne to improve the direction of the main flow and to eliminate erosion of the steep, crumbly bank, where the groyne creates a back eddy. A systematic note is being made of any observed changes to the river, fish life, plants and bankside habitat. Perhaps equally important, we intend to put into practice what we learn, on other stretches of our waters, which we have identified for similar improvements.
The only bad news is that the fishing won’t get easier – just better!