Sunday, June 15, 2014
Fishing the water
What a peculiar course my trout fishing season has taken so far. With the cream of the year's sport supposedly now upon us I would have expected to be spending nearly all my time stalking individual rising trout, preferably large ones. Yet, as I write, midway through glorious June, I can count on a few digits the number of fish I've been able to approach in such a manner; and although I've caught good numbers of trout on each of my last few visits, the overwhelming majority have been on nymphs and a general MO of just 'fishing the water'.
Why this should be so is a question I've pondered to death recently. Unsurprisingly, the results of my ponderings have been inconclusive and as it stands, I've still no real idea what's going on. However the facts are stark and irrefutable: over the course of half a dozen sessions on various rivers in the last month or so I've returned somewhere in the region of 100 trout...and only a dozen or so have been to the dry fly. Of those dozen, maybe half came from blind prospecting, leaving a very modest number of actively rising fish successfully targeted and landed.
Whether I've just been unlucky and hit on a bad run of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, or whether it's just turning out to be a very slow season surface sport wise, I don't know. A friend of mine has witnessed somewhat better dry fly sport in the upper reaches of a river I regularly fish (although a noticeable dearth of large trout); and one or two others who fish in different parts of the country have had superb dry fly sport from opening day. Yet whilst I cannot begin to describe my seasons so far as being poor, it has certainly been a whole lot different to how things normally pan out. I've been forced to reassess my expectations, focusing very heavily on the full range of nymphing methods to catch fish in good number....but all the while wondering what the hell happened to the rising fish.
"Whit's that in its mooth?"
So, fishing the water then. I have to admit that there have been times in recent years when that whole concept felt a bit unsatisfactory to me. I long since lost the urge to hare around trying to catch as many fish as I could on any given day. There was a time when I felt it imperative that I catch consistently for as much of the session as possible and set about learning all the different river techniques required in order to achieve that goal. Admittedly there is something satisfying about constantly adapting and tweaking one's approach in order to keep in touch with the river's signals. Inevitably though, I just got older - and maybe a touch lazier - and started to accept the fact that there are times when trout and grayling just don't respond....those periods when the driving force to their feeding - invertebrate availability - is just lacking and the result is a river sleeping. During such times you'll have been more likely to find me taking a kip in the grass while I wait for some decent fish to show.
These last few sessions have reversed that trend and I've forced myself to adopt a more proactive approach and the thorough searching of water I once found so compelling. It's been an interesting and rewarding exercise which has further added to the sense that this is a season which I hope to remember for its variety and experimentation. I've been lucky enough to get out quite a bit and fish with a number of different friends on many different waters. The net product of that might be that I've lost a bit of touch with my regular haunts, not been quite so 'in tune' with them as normal....but the trade-off has been worthwhile, not least because I've been able to get my eye back in to methods such as upstream nymphing, French leader, and the 'trio'.
After a couple of weeks away from the river, I made a trip over the Pennines to meet up with a friend of mine, Danny Gill. We fished the headwaters of his local spate stream and enjoyed a challenging but rewarding session which summed up a lot of what my season has been about. The river positively bristles with small trout and in the right conditions a proper cricket score can be achieved. Danny knows this and has tuned his approach to take maximum advantage by closely following the gauge station readings each week and selecting the best beat to fish. When it works out, some truly phenomenal numbers are on the cards; when it doesn't, well the fishing is still absorbing as we found out the other night.
It never ceases to amaze me how a river's moods can change so drastically. We fished a section where the week before, Danny had returned something like 125 trout during an afternoon session. Now, with the river over 4 inches lower and crystal clear, it was hard in places to imagine where fish might be hiding, such was the lack of depth and cover. We toiled away for an odd fish or two but it was difficult to progress without spooking small ones rising in the pool tails, which in turn seemed to put the entire pool down as they bolted off upstream (at one point I crept into the back end of one pool to tackle the three or four fish which were rising steadily in the eddy above, only for them all to go down the instant I extended a line!). A better bet proved to be bypassing the slower sections altogether and quietly drop in to the broken water at the head, where fish would come to small bead headed nymphs right enough.
I was reminded of the days of our north country forefathers where large baskets of trout were frequently described by the likes of Pritt and Walbran, generally achieved by fishing spider patterns in the 'fining down' water following a spate. Danny's neglected little river seems to me to exhibit such traits still, where most of our more famous northern spate streams have suffered terribly at the hands of predation land management and no longer hold such impressive numbers of game fish.
As the evening progressed the odds slowly began to tip in our favour. Lengthening shadows and the discovery of some deeper sections upstream, led to a steady increase in catch rate and fishing the water with either nymphs or dries brought regular interest from superb wild little trout up to about 10" in length. It was a lovely evening - the first such I've enjoyed this summer - warm and still and the air heavy with the scent of elderflower and freshly cut meadowgrass. At this time of year, there is nowhere in the world I would rather be.
Finally, I'm pleased to report that the July 2014 edition of Total Flyfisher magazine contains an article of mine. Pennies From Heaven is a discussion on the tactics and flies required to negotiate the Blue-Winged Olive spinner fall, which should be providing us with some electric evening dry fly sport any time around now. I hope it proves interesting to anyone who regularly buys the mag.