Tuesday 4 October 2016

Meet the MCX Family

Don't be deceived by the title.  This post isn't about my wife, children, their spouses and our grandsons.  It's about the MCX Shrimp Family, which for the first time has been tied in its entirety.  I should love to be able to report that I had tied them myself, but I cannot.  I've never learned how and as I have a hand tremor caused by Focal Dystonia, exacerbated by injury, that gets worse when doing fine work under pressure, I lack the confidence to start.  I can do the science, the analysis and the conception, but not the execution.  Accordingly I sought the help of others: Darragh Digney who tied the Version 1 prototype; Martyn Roberts who developed V2; and now Peter Nightingale of Classic Flies who has tied the full family of V3.

The Design Process

Followers of my ramblings will be aware of the amount of time I have devoted to the study of light, contrast and colour in water of differing colours and brightness.  In Eye of the Beholder I demonstrated that once in the water it was almost impossible for us to differentiate between the most popular shrimp patterns, and I very much doubt that the salmon can either.  Indeed, if they're minded to take there's a fair chance they'll take whatever half way sensible fly you put in front of them.  My grandfather always opined that most salmon flies were tied to catch fisherman and not fish, and to be frank there's an awful lot of lily-gilding goes on amongst fly tying that isn't to my taste.  You give someone a brief for a simple design and the prototype comes back with a jungle cock 'eye' on each side and a load of sparkly floss stuck to its backside.  After a bit of deft scissor work I get back to what I wanted, although I do have a small pang of regret about vandalizing someone else's art.

All of my research, Yorkshire genes and inclination lead me towards simplicity that verges on austerity.  I carry very few fly patterns - see Inside the Box for the evidence - and only change my fly when there's clear reasons for doing so.  After all, there are more reasons for a salmon not to take than just the choice of fly.  The proof of that statement is simple: for 99% of the time they take nothing at all.  If you do change the fly and then catch a fish, you have no means of knowing whether the previous pattern would not have delivered the same result.  Of course, the blindingly obvious conclusion from this line of reasoning is that I shall be unable to prove that anything I come up with is demonstrably more effective than anything else.

By the end of the research, design and analysis phase I had a clear mental picture of a simple fly in two variants: for higher water, a predominantly dark design to achieve strong contrast to enhance detectability, with enough orange (remember that's grey underwater) to break up the details to achieve the desired "impressionist" effect; and for lower clearer water, a light design in which its pale grey anonymity prevents the salmon getting "too good a look".

Version 1

MCX Dark Shrimp V1
(Darragh Digney)

The sparsely dressed V1 had a brief but useful career before being snatched by a hard bit of Yorkshire rock.  It proved utterly lethal on Ure sea trout, even in broad summer daylight.  The austerity of the design and the modest aesthetics appealed to me and it inspired confidence.  However, the abject lack of salmon in the Ure precluded gathering any evidence.  Of course the downside of austere dressing is fast sinking, which is what caused its loss.

Version 2 

MCX Dark Shrimp V2
(Martyn Roberts)

The more heavily dressed V2 proved to be a highly effective fly against a small number of fishing outings and salmon caught.  It looks pretty bushy here, but after a bit of light pruning and use it becomes somewhat more conservative in appearance, as shown below.

MCX Dark Shrimp V2
Pruned, swum and salmon-chewed

In fact this fly caught a salmon on every day that it was used, but the sample was too small to count as evidence.  However, on two days it was the only fly to catch fish on the Ure, one of which was the Beast of Wensleydale, which was good for morale if not for statistical discipline.

Sadly, when Martyn had to close his business All Water Fly Fishing - another expert small tackle shop throttled by the web heavies - he was unable to tie further examples and recommended that I approach Peter Nightingale.

Version 3

MCX Dark Shrimp V3
Pre-production prototype
(Peter Nightingale)
The development of V3 involved lengthy consultation and discussion as Peter is a perfectionist who wished to be absolutely clear as to exactly what I wanted.  The pre-production model arrived in time for Norway, but had its first UK outing on the Ure in mid-September in almost unfishable conditions - near 30 degree heat, ultra low water and finally a violent lightning storm.  As the fish came awake towards last light I had one good take and loss as the lightning arrived before I fled the scene.  A week later in better conditions but turbid water (+8") I had 3 takes and landed one fish.  Overall I was happy with the design and had the confidence to ask Peter to tie me 4 examples of every member of the family.

Here they are in serried order, working away from the camera:

  • Light double #14, 12, 10
  • Dark double #10, 8, 6
  • Light 0.5" Conehead & 0.5" ultra-light
  • Dark 1" conehead plastic, 1" conehead brass, 1.5" conehead copper
Of course opening the envelope was a matter of much excitement - even my art historian wife was aesthetically impressed.  Beyond the art they are beautifully tied and look suitably rugged and durable.  I'm delighted, so for your delectation here are some of the individual family portraits.  

Light #12

Dark #8

Light alloy mini-conehead

Dark 1" conehead

Out of the envelope - the whole family

Bring on the next outing, even though there will be no water, following a September with less than 1/3rd of average rainfall, and a cold dry east wind to boot.  I probably won't catch anything, but I shall have the great pleasure of sharing 2 days on the Ure with young HMCX, staying in the outstanding Bolton Arms at Redmire, enjoying good beer and eating too much, and all the best bits of father and son bonding in a balanced life.