A Gathering of Flies: BFFI 2017

What has 20,000 wings, countless legs and a whole lot of creativity crammed into three large halls? It could only be the BFFI (British Fly Fair International), an annual event that has become a regular pilgrimage for so many fly anglers. Whether you want to stock up on rare or hard to find materials, tools and books, or indeed meet some of the best fly tyers in the world, it’s a brilliant and friendly gathering. And while I find myself back at home and semi-shattered today, I at least have some new things to enjoy and a few highlights to share.

At the End of the Line George Baron fly fishing book
One fantastic part of the show is always the selection of books and authors. I remain as keen on devouring others’ words as I do producing my own ( to be honest, you get quite tired of your own stuff so it is always lovely to have something fresh to read). One unexpected surprise was finding my stand right next to that of talented wildlife photographer and filmmaker Jack Perks this year. I simply had to get a copy of his hardback Freshwater Fishes of Britain. This is already proudly on my coffee table and is absolutely jammed with beautiful images, from grisly lampreys to beautiful grayling. Lots to drool over and perfect daydreaming material when there is no chance to go fishing! Do grab a look at Jack’s site too, where you’ll see further images, clips and other mouthwatering stuff.

The other great find was George Barron’s new book At the End of the Line. As a big fan of loch-style patterns, this seemed a must have from one of the modern masters of this style of tying and fishing. It seems like only yesterday I was chatting to George at a previous show about the challenge of independent publishing. I fully expected this book to reflect his wealth of experience too, but I am still blown away by the quality and design.

It has been hard to put down so far and in fact this volume has successfully kept me from my to do list this morning! It is beautifully put together and a joy to read, I must say. There are plenty of bite sized sections where you’re peppered with fly fishing wisdom and healthy debate, but it’s pithy enough never to get too bogged down. Best of all though, you have over 100 fly patterns with tying and fishing notes from George. His observations are witty, practical and intriguing and I can already tell this is a book I’ll keep coming back to.

You’d have to say that England has a much poorer tradition when it comes to these lively, bushy patterns. Nevertheless I find them excellent for the wilder lakes of Dartmoor and Cornwall, where breezy weather and wild browns are the norm. This new book promises to keep me busy at the tying vice for plenty of happy hours to come, and what a bonus to get it signed from George himself at the show. If wild lakes and loch style fishing are your thing I strongly suggest you snap up a copy! You could buy it from one of the usual suspects, or even better drop the author a line directly (email: george_barron@btinternet.com) for your own personally signed copy!

It’s probably a good thing I also stocked up on some materials, coming to think of it, because the BFFI is also such a rich place to find just the right ingredients. These days I get most of my hooks and materials from Turrall, but there are always a few items that are rare, special or different.

We might live in an age of new-fangled materials and brightly dyed synthetics, but you still cannot beat many of the original feathers for shine and quality. Natural black hen and Coq de Leon are two staples for me these days, which I get from Chevron Hackles. The hen is ideal not only for many loch style flies, but the vast numbers of spiders I tend to get through and give to other every season targeting rudd and roach. Hence the need for a replacement- my last cape was going as bald as Phil Mitchell!

The Coq de Leon, on the other hand, is something of a natural “special effect”. It’s not super cheap, but does add a real something extra to your skinnier nymphs and it only takes a small amount to provide quite a few tails.

Not that most of the patterns I tied at the show demanded a great deal of finesse it must be said! I opted mostly for chub terrestrials and perch streamers. For the latter, I’ve been catching well on a newish pattern I dress on dropshot hooks, with two tungsten beads providing a “keel” and bucktail helping to reduce weeding up on the typically weedy canals and drains I’ve been fishing.

These are catching lots of perch but I suspect they may also be useful for bass; having the weight further back rather than right on the nose also seems to help avoid weeding up.

The show was certainly busier than ever with both tyers and punters this year. Was it just me, or were there more female anglers and younger fly fishers present than previous years too? Perhaps things are slowly turning round after all, but certainly the proudest moment of the show was signing an absolutely worn out looking copy of Flyfishing For Coarse Fish for a teenager who had not only read it half to death but actually used it for inspiration directly on the riverbank!  I always love to see books in what might politely be called a “used” state (as opposed to destined for Ebay in 2040), so whoever you were I thank you, you made my weekend.

Perhaps the only shame was that I got little chance to get around the other stalls as much as I’d have liked to because this is such a fantastic event for independent retailers and things you don’t find in amidst the big brands and usual glossy catalogue suspects. I did manage to poach a couple of bits though, including a cracking fly pin for my fishing hat from Bruno Vincent aka Superfly Guy:

Another great indie retailer present were Old Youth, who make classic looking hand-crafted wooden items. When you consider that Ray Bans or Costa glasses could set you back £100 and the rest, their rather beautifully finished polarising fishing glasses are not only much cooler, but an absolute snip at less than half that price. Do check out their website for more crafty items to appeal to any 21st century angler who appreciates a touch of old school charm!

Old Youth fishing polarised sunglasses

It’s always good to see folks with ideas of their own, willing to go boldly forth in fact and this is one of the most exciting things about fishing at the moment. One of these is new e-zine “Fly Punk”, who were also at the show. Some of the posh traditionalists might be tutting at this point (yes, they do still exist) but I say thank bloody goodness there are folks trying to make fly fishing a little more exciting and accessible, especially with the new generation in mind. You can read the current issue here.

Fly punk e-zine


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