Gordon Mack, in the latest addition to the Not Exactly Fishing series, relates a painful encounter with the gentle Daddy Long-legs and warns of the unseen perils of fly-tying.

FOR LONG I have ranked the lethal power of the Daddy Long-legs high in my arsenal of trout battling weapons. Despite the crane fly’s slender body and deciduous spindly legs, each season it accounts for an abnormal proportion of fish in my log book.

Only very recently, however, did I encounter a darker, more sinister side to its nature – one which ensured that the delicate, graceful insect harmlessly fluttering at my windows on a summer evening, will forever remind me of a bizarre encounter with Tipula paludosa which has left me permanently scarred.

It was the penultimate evening of the winter session at Perthshire’s Stanley Fly Dressers’ Club – a cheerful weekly gathering of friendly and hugely knowledgeable fly-tiers and anglers and a club with a 40-year pedigree. They had made my first few months of membership highly productive with a satisfying personal tally of almost six dozen trout and salmon flies output.

I had picked up many new tips and tricks, but was keen to master one more – the slim detached body of the Daddy was just as appetising to me as to a hungry brownie or rainbow cruising for a tasty mouthful.

The culprit – tied at the second attempt
The culprit – tied at the second attempt

Club president Ken Macmillan effortlessly demonstrated the art of binding deer hair on to a fine needle which I had earlier ‘borrowed’ from The Ghillie Herself’s sewing box, showing me how to conceal the tying thread, varnishing it over and then sliding it off and whipping it on to a long shank hook alongside hackle, wings and knotted legs.

Easy-peasy when you know how. Now it was my turn. With the needle set horizontally in my vice I reached over to pick up the bobbin sitting on the table to my left and clumsily knocked over the small jar of varnish. Instinctively I grabbed for it with my right hand and, damn, the arm of my jersey caught the tip of the needle and knocked it out of the vice.

There was a small ping as it disappeared and two of us got down on our hands and knees on the floor to search for it. No luck – it had clearly vanished between the floorboards. No matter, I had a spare and so I carried on. I tied three Daddy Long-legs that evening in different colours. Not perfect, not even close to being perfect, but still certain to trap an unwary trout in a good wave in Wester Ross in the summer. I was smugly pleased.

The session over, I joined some friends in the pub for a few refreshments before heading home, quite unaware that the deadly Daddy had already struck. Only when I undressed for bed and attempted to brush my teeth did I feel one tiny twinge of pain. I examined my right arm which displayed a minor red mark on the inside, just above the elbow, nothing more.

Had I pricked it with the needle? Probably. I decided to sleep on it. Next morning, my elbow was throbbing gently. Maybe the point of the needle had snapped off and was now festering like a thorn in my arm. Worse, that needle had been lying amongst old feathers, wool, bits of wax and general detritus in my tying case for weeks. Fears of septicaemia set in.

Stabbed!  The Daddy's revenge . . .
Stabbed! The Daddy’s revenge . . .

The junior doctor in A&E at Perth Royal Infirmary examined my arm and seemed sceptical but sent me for a precautionary X-ray. Neither I, nor subsequently a long list of medical staff from nurses to consultants, could quite believe it – the whole 5cm needle was embedded in my arm: the Daddy had a sting in the tail after all. Despite a local anaesthetic and much probing, it refused to come out.

Miraculously it had missed bone, tendons, muscle and major blood vessels. And just as bizarrely I had never felt a thing. As the surgeon later said while I lay prostrate in theatre awaiting a general anaesthetic to have it removed: it obviously went in easier than it was going to come out.

That had me in stitches – six to be precise – though their tying was really not up to the calibre of my Perthshire club colleagues.

Now, however, I can rank fly-tying alongside some of the world’s more dangerous recreational pursuits like downhill skiing, F1 racing and hang gliding. This year I’ll be treating my small collection of Daddies with considerably more respect and next winter I think I’ll stick to tying size 16 nymphs – on barbless hooks of course.