July 2006

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My brother and I are no Paul Maclean’s. We won’t win any fishing competitions, certainly won’t win any casting competitions, and neither of us is likely to marry Jennifer Aniston any time this year. What we lack in those departments we do however make up for in the ‘bullheaded determination’ category. To this end we got up at 5am on Sunday morning to go and see what was happening down our favourite river.

A pal of mine mentioned to me a while back that during the hot summer months he’d had most success on his local rivers very early in the morning. At such times the water temperature is lowest, and coupled with a steadily increasing air temperature as the sun comes up this may lead to good fly activity. I used to fish for tench very early in the morning, but what about trout?

We arrived expectantly awaiting a kettle of feeding fish, but of course we found a rather different river. Just the occasional gloop broke the smooth surfaces of the glides, and the bubbling runs busily chatted away to each other, the trout eavesdropping somewhere else.

I tried casting to a couple fish I saw rise, but after cycling from a DHE to a Shipman’s it looked rather like the fish couldn’t really be bothered. So we both switched to nymphs, vague haresy jobbies with black or gold noggins. I set things up with a little tuft of sheeps wool a couple of feet from the fly, perfectly happy that I was going to disown myself later for this terrible act of heresy. About 500 false strikes later I was ready for a DHS again. A size 18 brought a handful of takes, but it was obvious that things weren’t really happening. I began to wonder whether some rivers are naturally better ‘evening’ or ‘morning’ streams. Perhaps their orientation to the sun (as in directly upstream/downstream) has an effect. Certainly this matters to fishermen..!

This cracker took a size 8 Royal Wulff. At one stage, as the backing knot wizzed ever closer, I felt a pang of doubt over my abilities as an angler.

Further upstream I caught a couple of pretty trout to the DHE, fished with almost only the leader on the water. The more we fish here the more we realise this is the way. Charles Jardine had an article in FF&FT a couple of months ago about this. It’s got to be the best way to fish fast pockety water.

We had breakfast at about 1pm. Madcap dedication I say, considering we hadn’t really caught very well. But it was a lovely morning, a wee breeze and some flittering clouds adding to the yellow sunshine. A few sedges milled around landing on us and generally looking sleepy.

This chap caught my eye with his tigery patterns. John Goddard tells me he’s a brown silverhorn sedge, and is very common on streamy rivers.

Afternoon and nap time. Nothing like a kip on the river bank, especially after a couple of hours sleep the night before followed by 7 hours straight fishing.

About 4pm we stirred and thought about heading back to town for our evening arrangements. Wondering down the river we noticed that the breeze had strengthened and there were rain clouds on the horizon. What followed was totally unexpected.

A hatch. A big hatch. Of blue-winged olives.

It was fantastic to see little explosions in the riffles as trout broke the surface. Careful weighing up of the maths and we decided that the following formula had been applied by the trout:

Big BWO hatch + howling gale = loadsa flies on the water

We furthered this with:

Loadsa flies on the water + loadsa trout = a cracking rise

Which turned out to be spot on. Only it took me a short lifetime to realise exactly what was happening. First I managed to go through about 7 fly changes, from red-tags to bibios to double badgers, with thoughts of a terrestrial fall. The fish, however, were definitely experiencing some tunnel vision.

Finally I began to wise up and put on my never-fail CDC F-fly in a size 16, and started hooking fish. It was odd, it almost seemed like they were so clued into the duns that even the standard emergers were being ignored. I’m sure this had something to do with the strong wind, and slightly inclement conditions. This meant that the duns were really struggling to get airborne, so that many more ended up on the water than usual. Fascinating stuff I thought, and very exciting to be a part of. Next time I’ll try not to be caught so unawares. I suppose you don’t expect such good surface activity in the middle of the dog days.

As my brother pointed out, our takes-to-hookups-to-landings ratio was totally horrendous. I had so many fish splash at the fly, with my bullet-strikes failing to connect. I hooked quite a few despite this, but lost all before ‘proper’ release was possible. I was a little frustrated by this, especially as we had to leave while BWOs were still stumbling around on the water. But in hindsight, it was just great to be in a proper hatch again, and casting to rising fish with at least a vague idea of where the fly was.

It was amazing to witness how a really difficult fishing situation can suddenly become almost ‘easy’. A writer called Bob Wyatt (the guy whose fly patterns I usually use) wrote an article about this very thing in last months FF&FT, and to me it just makes more and more sense the longer I’m a fly fisherman. If there’s food, there’re fish. If there’s no food, use a wooly bugger.

Things have been hot recently. Weather wise I should add. It seems there’s been continuous sunshine for weeks and all my regular rivers are looking thin and summer silky.

I managed to fish three days in a row this weekend, down on my favourite bit of water. We spread things out so no water was fished more than once. Turned out to be a fascinating run of fishing. I think it highlighted some important things to me, which I may have ‘known’ already but are best learnt with real experience.

First night it was hot, with a little breeze to start with. We headed to a bit of river we haven’t fished before, but were dissapointed to find it was poor fly water. Actually it was more reminiscent of a narrow loch, the surface rippled in the wind. Not the nice streamy pocket water we usually fish. The water temperature was just about right for simmering bulgar wheat, so we walked and walked in search of riffly water. I felt smug that my decision to wet-wade was not going to be regretted.

Eventually came to a cracking pool, with dozens of channels between streamer weed and rocks. I waited whilst the brother fished the nice bits. As he was flicking the fly line out of the rod tip, the fly (a standard DHS, superbly tied once again) landed a couple of rod lengths ahead in some slow flowing water. A nice fish slashed at it and a Class A Bullet Strike followed, sending him packing to his bolt hole.

I ambled upstream finding more dead water and some enthusiastic parr feading on floating fag ends and anything else on the surface. It wasn’t until the sun was well gone, maybe 10.15, when I noticed some nice fish moving in a pool just downstream. I crept up and watched. There were mini-submarines in that pool. Big swirling wakes were all I saw of the fish as they supped down sedges and BWO spinners. One fish was well over 2lb judging by the water displacement, the other at least 2lb. Casting to them was just about impossible due to wading issues and sh!te casting ability on my part. So I accepted as much and enjoyed the knowledge that I’d found some whoppers.

These photos are of a BWO male spinner. As far as I know they don’t feature much in an evening rise, as it’s the females that lay eggs and die on the water. I think sherry spinners are much more vividly orange as well.

Next day and some serious fly tying took up a good bit of the day. I think I’ve cracked those DHEs. Seem to turn out well every time now. I tied a few with a bit of fluff to suggest a shuck. Not sure if that makes sod-all difference but I felt slightly intelligent doing so.

The weather was a little more cloudy this evening, and very humid. We were fishing at the bottom end of our more usual beat, again an area we haven’t fished much. A couple fish rose lazily, and I felt chuffed to catch a nice one of around 10oz to the DHE above. The brother had a few throughout the evening, to the DHS.

Something we both noticed was that drag was even more of an issue than normal, and it’s normally difficult to control. We reckoned the low water was making things worse, as the surface of the pools and flats we fished was always very ‘swirly’ if you catch my drift. Of course all rivers are swirly, but this was noticibly difficult. I thought about things for a very long time and came up with an amazing formula:

warm water + crap casting + bad drag = difficult

Next night I opted for a longer leader than usual, probably around 15′, with oodles of limp tippet (if you know what I mean). This definitely helped the drag issues (of course), but my hyper-crap casting made controlling where the fly went interesting. This was worst when casting only a couple of feet of fly line, fishing pocket water at close range.

Interestingly I caught a grayling, which seem quite rare where I fish. I see Ali had a similar experience the other night. Total fluke on my part, I was just beginning to drag the size 12 DHS across the water to cast again. Late on the fish really started to show, taking some of the BWO spinners that had returned. Definitely some caenis feeding going on as well. And some sedge feeding fish, so all in all quite good given the tepid water.

So fishing three days in a row at this time of year taught me a lot. The importance of timing of course. At no stage was it really worth fishing before 9pm. Peak of any rising was 10-11pm. Spinner feeding fish are a damned arse to cast to when you’re fishing a long leader and can’t see a thing. Caenis feeding fish take the piss. Give me a sedge feeder any day, please. At least until my casting gets better (it will I hope).

And each night it was quite different. First night some rises, very late on. Second night not much, despite apparently better conditions. Third night the best by a mile, as there were more flies on the water. Just shows how much you miss out on by fishing only once a week. Solution: fish every day.

If there are any folks reading that have never been to Scotland, or who know little about fishing in this lovely country, perhaps this post will give a wee suggestion of why I love it here so much.

On Saterday afternoon the weekend’s fishing took a turn for the hills. We were to head up a remote burn (that’s a small stream for anyone not from around here) and to a tiny wee lochan to fish for wild brownies.

This fellow had the cheek to ask for a permit. I gave him a superbly tied DHS and that seemed to bribe him enough.

Taking our time in the blazing heat of early afternoon we stopped off for ice cream and a visit to the nearest chippy. This would prove to be a sly move due to some ration issues later on. An hour or so later and we were leaving the car and heading up the burn. Occasional drifts of cloud were welcome relief for us and maybe the fish too.

My my this was a cracking little place. Places really, because everywhere you looked there was just great fishy fly water. We knew the fish would be small, but that was part of the joy. Brother was first tackled up and fishing a stunning wee plunge pool.

Almost straight away a wee trutta dashed out and tried to grab the size 18 sedge I had tied up a few nights before. A couple more drifts and another take. An absolutely rediculous fight ensued with the fish convinced he was some kind of giant lightening bolt.

Managed to calm him down for about 3 seconds, just time for a snap and away he went. At this stage I was about as excited as I have been for a long long time. I know some may find that a little odd given the modest size of the quarry, but for me burns are where it’s at. Along with the fact that we were in the middle of nowhere and these fish had probably never been fished for it was just wonderful. It’s not a way I feel that often and I savoured the moment. Things just felt perfect.

I opted for the “I’m a real man” approach and stuck on a tiny wee nymph. Time for some busy upstream nymphing practice. This was absolutely fantastic fun. At times it was a challange with the fast turbulent water but quite often the fish took the fly very obviously just under the surface, so that you could see a clear flash of the take.

As the picture shows the water was clear and swift. Great water for getting really close to likely lies and fishing with almost only the leader out the rod tip. And for a change I found that almost every likely lie held a fish, who would almost always have a go at the fly. Typical upland fishing this, and simply fantastic fun.

For me there could be no better way to introduce someone, of any age, to fly fishing than taking them to a burn like this. I think it gives you a great insight into what it’s really about, for me anyway. No pellets, no bag limits, no tailless misery. And to be honest, it sets out right away that fishing is about more than expectations of big easy fish. True, the trout in burns like this are not difficult to catch, as long as you approach the fishing with a modicum of stealth and cast carefully. Many times all we saw when approaching a pool were little brown topedoes bolting for cover. That sort of visual lesson soon gets learnt.

Amazingly the fishing seemed to get better the further up the burn we went. Many places it was one stride wide, and in such cases it was usually very obvious where the fish would be lying. Again brother managed the best fish, an absolutely stunning fish than just gleamed brown and gold in the afternoon sun.

There really not much I find more satisfying in life and fishing than seeing a fish like that caught from a remote little burn. He was maybe half a pound, but the fight he gave was just insane. Take a gander at that tail fin!

After a good few hours working our way up we managed to pull ourselves away and strike on for the loch. We needed some dinner and to set up the tent, and I was feeling paranoid about a possible midgy attack. Unbelievably I hardly saw a single midge in the end, even in the flat calm that descended on the loch around 9pm. The gods were really grinning on us this weekend.

We took a short excursion to watch the sunset over a distant loch before returning to fish into darkness. No monsters caught this time but I know they are there.

If you’ve never been to my country let me tell you there are hundreds and thousands of wee lochans and burns full of feisty little trout. Sometimes you just fish and watch the landscape and think life can be wonderful. The fishing is only part of the experience, but together with the hills and clear highland air it can be really special.
There are also some places with feisty big trout, but I’ll save those for another time.

It’s been a pretty fishy weekend. There was a bit of an epic fishathon planned up in the highlands with several pals. Things didn’t start well as Ali was struck down with the lurgy. I suppose the trip could have happened anyway, but like Queen without Freddy, things just weren’t going to be the same. Hopefully that trip will happen another time (unlike the Fredster).

Lost without our planned fishing mission we pondered staying behind and fishing our local stretches. But we were in an itchy feet kind of mood and hastily hacked together a plan for an alternative trip. There were going to be burns, lochs and heavy backpacks involved and maybe even a fish for tea.

First though things started with a wee evening session down our local urban river on Friday. Weather was hot and bright and rather July like. Once again a good few fish were moving, but once again the rising was a little sporadic. I winkled out a few small fish and lost one maybe 3/4lb. Fishing the sedge sedge sedge as usual.
Brother managed better with two around 3/4lb and lost another larger one. There were plenty of BWO male spinners around at one stage which isn’t something I’ve really seen much of on this river. Needless to say there wasn’t a particularly noticable spinner fall.

Next morning we took our time packing everything we could find in the northern half of Glasgow into our backpacks. That I can tell you is an achievement because they like their concrete cinder blocks in these parts.

Down to a river in the south of Scotland it was we went. Amazingly we were still in a rush to get to the river despite an apparently incredibly large quantity of time when we left home. This happens too often to me. Need to sort that out, though to be fair the ‘directions’ given by the ticket required a bit of Crystal Maze style mind juggling to work out.

Fishing was ok, though not great. The weather was again hot and bright. The fish got quite excited around half nine, but I couldn’t work out exactly what they were taking. Something small and just under the surface I think, possibly caenis.

Like most Scottish rivers (outside the NW highlands) there are usually some sea trout present at this time of year, so when it got dark I had a go swinging some big, dark flies through some pool tails.

This is a wooly bugger by the way. I love this fly. What a great name. I’ve never caught any trout with it, but then I’ve not fished it much. It tends to work its way onto my cast towards the end of a quiet fishing day when a certain despondancy moves in. I know this is not a fair way to fish such a successful fly. A pal of mine would tell me to fish it stripped past sunken trees, and he’d be right (he is about many fishing things I find).

Nothing showing, probably the lowish water or my crapness. One day I plan to give sea trouting a proper go. I’ve even got a book, so I must be serious. There’s also a plan to visit the moon, which is probably marginally less likely than me becoming good at this any time soon.

Still there was enough evidence of fish to make us want to come back, which I plan to do early next season. Hopefully there’ll be some March Browns milling around at that time, and maybe some proper sized olives..!

Dinner that night was noodles. Exciting stuff.

Here’s a contribution to the fishing diary from my brother.

Yesterday was a day of savage wind, which finally dropped at around
7:30. I was on the river by just gone 8, fishing a well-known stretch
but some less well-known pools.

In about two hours of fishing, six trout were landed from the 6-7 inch
range to a couple of half pounders, including this one:

It fell to a size 14 sedge. I had seen the fish rise once at the head
of a riffle-pool and took it on the first cast. Really good fighter.
That’s what I have noticed about the fish in this part of the river this
season, all have fought hard and swam off with healthy power on release.
Not surprising when you see the size of the tail fin. It looks like a
beavers’, which explains the power with which such a trutta can swim and
maintain itself in a fast current.

Moved upstream, catching here and there. Was a brief hatch which
turned relatively sporadic rises into a kettle for a while, but for some
reason a couple of larger fish would not be tempted by my flies. Had to wade
through a pool about 5 foot deep, an experience made all the more spooky by
the encroaching blackness of the air.

Was a shame to lose a genuine big boy from a pool I’ve overlooked in
the past. Lack of experience really, wasn’t sure how to play it once it
had run 40 feet downstream. Guestimate towards 2lb, certainly 1 and a half.

All the fish fell to sedges.

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