The February 2007 Adventures in Fly Tying installment featured the Killer Bug and the Pheasant Tail Nymph as tied by Frank Sawyer. Christopher Knox saw the article and we began a conversation through one of the many fine on-line fly fishing forums. I've harbored a fascination with this river ever since I first read Sawyer's book Nymphs and the Trout. I couldn't resist asking Christopher, who fishes the Avon regularly, if he'd contribute a couple photographs to the Fly Fish Ohio site. In the true fashion of a gentleman angler, Christopher has added this fuel to the fire of my daydreams. Fly Fish Ohio sends its most sincere thanks! - Joe C.
The River Avon and Frank Sawyer
Story and Photos Courtesy of Christopher Knox
If we had to come up with the top ten rivers in the world, I’m sure one of these would be a Southern English Chalk stream. Steeped in angling literature both modern and old, the chalk streams have seen a wealth of famous names tread their banks. These names include many that have changed the face of angling as we see it today, be it Halford and Skues.
The chalkstreams run clear much of the year round and support a vast number of river organisms due to the chalk that most flow over. The Avon surprisingly, which has its start in the Marlborough Downs and runs through Salisbury Plain, flows over Greensand, making it technically not a ‘chalk’ stream. However, no one will deny the Avon is anything but a chalkstream due to its clarity and amazing fishing. When we think of chalkstreams, many will think of the Test, Itchen and Kennet, though in my opinion and many others, the Avon is unrivalled, still keeping a vast amount of the original ‘Avon browns’ and countless Grayling, or ‘Lady of the Stream’ as they are often called.
Due to the nature of the Avon, lush thick weed grows abundantly, so management is of the utmost importance in maintaining a healthy head of fish. The rivers are kept by ‘keepers’, whose job it is to maintain the delicate balance between nature and man. Nowadays, there will virtually be no ‘full-time’ river keepers for one section due to the ever increasing technological world we live in today. However in the past, the rivers were managed 365 days a year, 7 days a week. One of the most notable keepers on the Avon was of course Frank Sawyer, without whom we could forget much of what we know today when it comes to upstream nymphing. Next time you tie yourself a Pheasant tail nymph or variation, remember that it was through this man that you came to tie it.
The Pheasant tail nymph is of course not the only pattern that Frank devised. When the ‘Killer bug’ is spoken, I’m sure there are few who haven’t heard of it. Simple in nature, Frank used the materials that were on hand, such as cock pheasant tail and sock darning wool (which collectors are prepared to spend £100 / $170 on this ‘Chadwick’s 477’ yarn at auction!!!). The killer bug was supposedly designed to imitate the Fresh-water shrimp, though as Frank says in his books, the killer bug along with the pheasant tail nymph can imitate any nymph; all you have to do is to change the size. He notes that even pike have seen an interest in this apparently bland nymph!!
What makes all of his flies so deadly is the very fine reddish copper wire found in most electrical elements (e.g. hairdryers). Nowadays many of us forget about the colour of our under body’s, and how this can DIRECTLY influence what colour the fly looks like in the water and to the fish. A simple fact to overlook, though one that Frank did not forget when he devised flies that have created so many magic moments for us today.
I hope you have enjoyed reading this article from someone who fishes this lovely river. One day I’m sure you’ll discover the magic of these streams for yourself!
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