Last week I really got into a fishing groove for the first time this season. A full day down at one of my usual spots proved to be very difficult, as did the next at another big-fish river. The bright sun and suddenly scorching weather seems to have left the fish thinking they’re all in Barbados, and don’t need to worry about olives and my flies any more.
On Thursday I managed to sneak a few hours at one of my oldest haunts, a place where one glorious May afternoon saw the capture of my largest brownie. It’s also a place not far from where the Spring Submariner lived last year, and my thoughts were of running into one of his relatives. I parked the car and walked close to the pool, stringing up the slightly stiffer 4 weight rod in place of my usual 3 weight matchstick.
Upon arriving, however, I experienced one of those strange, uncontrollable magnetic attractions to walk, walk.. I walked past some really nice water, all the while thinking “that looks nice, I’ll just get in down at the next pool..”. But I kept walking and musing and ho-huming in the bright 11am sunshine. No fish seemed to be showing, and something about the next run drew my attention.
I finally arrived at the run, glorious and full of small seams, rolling boulder-rounded water and a final silky flat. Straight away there was a rise in a seam near the head of the pool. I waited for several minutes, creeping up to the bank edge on hands and knees and peering in to the lightly Jura-stained water. Another fish rose in another seam. Hairs stood up on my neck for the first time this season: finally some trout at the surface, feeding and making me smile. I wondered why the fish in this pool were back from Barbados. Looking around it became pretty obvious, as the sun flitted down from behind a huge wall of trees: shade! The whole pool was bathed in shadow, creating that wonderful kind of crisp spring light that tells of warmer days to come, but reminds you of the cooler days not long past. Perhaps it was just the sheer intensity of the May sun that had caused all the problems on the other rivers, and the real secret was to hunt shade first, and then trout.
A few olives and the odd brook dun were coming off, though I felt that I was actually at the tail end of the morning rise. I should have spent less time in the village shop getting my ham salad baguette made up and more time making like my father’s wind and down to the river. As I glanced downstream I spotted another couple of rises in the rolling water of the mid-run. They looked like better fish, but I opted to try for the wee rise in the head of the run and purposefully tied on a deer hair emerger in a scruffy size 14. After a bit of wonky casting in the stiffening south-easterly he rose nicely to my fly, and a quick tussle later he was in the net and sparkling in that shadow-light.
I waded back to the near bank and started to skulk very slowly down the edge of the river. I felt a little naughty as this kind of wading seems to be universally heralded as the ultimate in fish-spooking, but again that magnetic draw made it hard to concentrate on anything other than the twinkling river surface. Then there was one of those rises that really makes the hair on the back of your neck wake up. Fins and tails wafted in the surface as the fish sipped emegers. In my experience only the better fish ever rise like this, so I immediately got out of the river and took a huge detour downstream by a potato field and slipped in at the head of the next pool.
Wading slowly across to be well under the shade of the trees I saw another couple of rises, which suggested at least three good fish in the run. It was one of those slightly confusing situations where you aren’t sure if there’s one fish or ten, and you’re afraid to wade any further in case you spook any of them. It’s also difficult to judge where to cast, so in the end I spent a long time waiting up to my waist in the water until something rose just a couple of rod lengths away. I speedily covered the rise (DHE no. 14 again..) and had an instant, swirling take. I struck and he bolted off across the river, jumping clear of the water and twisting between rocks. At first I thought he was foul-hooked as he really made a meal of things, jigging around and dancing merrily. He eventually slid over my net and looked truly fantastic in the last moments of the morning. He wasn’t a real leviathan at 16″, but after a long winter without any grayling or trout, El Beautio was like a shark and really made my day.
I quickly phoned my dad to break the news. He was fishing for carp, bream and roach down in Cambridgeshire with my uncle, and it turned out he’d had a great morning too. Nine fish including a nice bream against my uncle’s blank. Bizarre really, as my uncle is a fine fisherman and often helps my dad get set up at the start of a day. I munched away on my (rather superb) baguette, followed by a delicious slice of tiffin, and eyed the pool for further action.
Nothing much seemed to be happening. Perhaps the capture of El Beautio had spooked the pool, but I actually think I was lucky to catch the tail end of the hatch and rise. After half an hour of pondering, a couple of splashy rises suggested things might be happening again. I crept back into the river from under the trees and assumed position in the lee of a particularly large branch.
A fish rose in the water ahead of me, right in the middle of the river. After neither my DHE nor DHS turned up any interest, I started to get confused. I tried a small dirty duster but that didn’t work either. When my usual absolute-winner-super-duper-never-fail CDC dry didn’t produce I got desperate. The fish kept rising occasionally, but my staple dries seemed to be useless. I dug around in my box of lesser-used flies and my gaze was quickly attracted by an old badger-hackled red tag. As I moistened the knot I became oddly confident that the fish was actually munching terrestrial bugs, and so the old fly might in fact be a perfect choice. Second cast down and the fish aggressively took the fly. Despite his slightly disappointing size, it was a pretty satisfying conclusion to the days events and I headed off back upstream and towards home.
In other news, I found out during proceedings that it is in fact possible to cast a size 6 long shank woolly bugger on a stiffish 4 weight rod, even if you look like an Olympic javelin thrower doing it. Watch this space..