April 2011

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The spring public holidays are greeted by fly anglers with particular enthusiasm. Time off from work right in the middle of the early spring hatches, a chance to escape down to some flowing water. I planned my own debacle last night. Leaking waders were further patched with aquasure, flies properly arranged in their boxes and old rotting bananas removed from the depths of the fishing box. There’s a special satisfaction in having plans laid and all equipment prepared the night before. Time enough for a wee dram and for the flow of memories past and perhaps to come.

I arrived at the waterside this morning in good time, despite the longer nature of this foray. The fishing is really all about catching the spring hatches at this time of the season. Arriving by 10.30am I reckoned I would have a good chance to watch an olive hatch start, build up and fade away. The searing warm temperatures made me a little uneasy, however. Well over 20C in April is a bit odd, and I wasn’t sure if this, perhaps coupled with the very low water conditions, might affect the aquatic insect activity. It did.

I ambitiously opted for the slightly shorter, and increasingly floppy 4 weight rod. There was barely a wheeze of air at the car, and I knew the river level was already at summer low. I convinced myself that in order to optimally stalk and cast to the legions of spooky rising trout that would surely be found, a light-line approach was most suitable. This was a cock up.

As I crept up to the riffle it was instantly obvious that things were going to be tricky. The river was about as low as I’ve seen it, and out in the open the bare wheezing of air experienced at the car was more of a prolonged sneeze. Undeterred I strung up a long leader and headed below the riffle to a lovely pool with a long, flat tail out. Here the bright sun revealed every stone on the riverbed. Twenty minutes of observation revealed nothing at all except for the odd hawthorn fly being blow downstream.

I opted to fish a small blackish nymph. A bit of sheep’s wool served as an indicator placed a meter above. The tiniest shot I carried went on 8 inches above the nymph to get it down into the depths of the seam ahead. It turns out that this setup, with a 15 foot leader, a 4 weight floppy rod and a pleasant downstream breeze allowed me to consistently place the fly line tip and the entire cast within 5 inches of each other with a 90% success rate. The other option, namely that of actually landing the cast extended, was achieved with a success rate of 2%. This quickly lead to an angry/happy quotient of approximately 0.95, and a probability of the angler being a moron of 1.

Twenty minutes and a mile of circular walking later and the much more friendly 5 weight shotgun Sage was strung up with a similar setup. Despite the excellent casting possibilities afforded by the new approach the end result was still a consistent 0 fish. There was also no hatch, no sign of rising fish and a bit of general malaise on the part of all concerned.

I wandered upstream, trying my best to spook something which at least looked like a fish, and didn’t even succeed in this task. The feeling at the waterside was really quite odd. Blasting sunshine and blazing hot, with almost no aquatic activity of which to speak. It seemed more like the middle of August than a time of the year I always look forward to in the hope of hatching olives.

The obvious move was to put up a dry fly and blank with that instead of battling with the increasing wind and the convoluted nymphing setup. On went a wee dirty duster, and some minutes were passed in a semi-doze at the water’s edge. I saw no more rises behind my eyelids than on the river’s surface, so went back to some casting practice up the next run.

Quite suddenly there was a rise barely 3 meters ahead. I paused, then flicked the fly up above the rise, all whilst doing my best impersonation of a lifeless tree. This was a kind fish, for he instantly engulfed the fly and gave a really excellent scrap before coming to the net. A very respectable 16″ (not weighed), in great condition. I made special note to remove my excessively yellow-tinted polaroids to admire the iridescent sheen to the gill flaps, then held him in the current just a bit longer than needed.

The mystery of a dead river coming to life in the form of a spotted brown trout, held for a few moments in my hands. The seeming impossibility of it all is what fascinates and frustrates and delights during any day on the river. It’s the mystery that’s magic.

A flash gallery of all my selected photos from today’s trip. This is a test really, not sure if I’ll use it again. Click the full screen button for a 3D-like immersive experience.

The weekend past fell in the middle of a fairly remarkable period of spring weather. I say spring, but it’s really been more like summer, with temperatures well above 20C, a very light south westerly and a general feeling of the goodlife. I say summer, but as local residents of this country will attest, such words don’t always inspire memories of beaming sunshine and melting ice creams.

Saturday awoke like a world with dew still on it. I say this not just for the well-placed Norman McLean reference, but because it was true. Beautiful, big drops of dew all over the grass. Promising start.

I decided to head for water which I’d skipped at the last moment the week before when I opted for a closer-to-home season opener. This time I made good time, arriving at the waterside, new polaroids at the ready, before 11am. A few olives peeled themselves off the water and lazily fluttered upstream in the slightest drift of a breeze. An upstream breeze here is quite rare, and even rarer when coupled with pleasant weather.

I watched the water for a good half hour. Plenty of time to make up the season’s first 15 foot dry fly leader. The season’s first olive-hatch-matching dry fly was a deer hair emerger. Nothing new to see here..

A few fish were rising in a run on the far side, but to get there would require a short hike upstream to cross in shallower water. The minds ticks slowly at moments like this, as it weighs up the likely benefits of going to all that hassle, possibly for a couple of small fish, while a sixth sense (also known as prior experience in this case) suggests it’s worth staying put and waiting. I waited.

A large, water-pushing rise in mid-stream. A second fish just upstream of my right-bank position. I opted to try for the nearer second fish. After a couple of ‘come-short’ rises where my strike resulted in hooking thin air, finally a solid take and an enthusing tussle before a beautiful 12oz spring brownie came to hand. Thoughts of taking fish like this on a dry fly in April take up large chunks of musing-time between October and March.

Time to concentrate on the creature pushing around all that water in mid-stream. I watched for another 5 minutes as olive after olive met their demise, with a few March brown’s thrown in for measure. I made some pleasingly drag-free drifts (at least I thought they were drag-free) with no response. Feeling a bit desperate, I added the secret weapon of a mini leopard-print skirt to the DHE and tried again. Suitably dragged-up, the fly was annihilated in a large splashy rise and I watched with some disbelief as my fly line payed out in a quick-step across the river.

A long fight followed, during which I had time to variously contemplate that I might be about to break my personal brown trout record, I might be about to loose an amazing fish, I’m sure I’m going to loose this whopper, and finally I’m about to wet myself. Some minutes passed, but I could barely move the bulk of fish attached to my line, and held on in hope as it repeatedly stripped off huge reams of fly line. At last it decided to investigate the nearside bank, and I managed to gain most of the line back. As the fish swam around and around in front of me, I got my first proper glimpse. What I saw was not very brown, or very trouty. It did, however, make my net look quite comically small.

Some careful maneuvering and as much side-strain as my 5-weight rod could bear and the silvery fish swam headfirst into the aforementioned comical net. The tail remained thoroughly beyond the rim. I threw my rod onto the bank, and paused for a handful of seconds to cradle the fish. And what a fish. Shining silver, deep-forked tail, a smattering of spots above the lateral line. I’m not a migratory fisherman, but I believed then, and do now, that it was a fine spring salmon of about 8-9lb. Not huge for a springer, but in excellent condition (with the exception of some possible net damage on the head). And caught fairly and in good faith on a size 16 deer hair emerger during a spring olive hatch.

A bit bizzare, and a one-off I’d have thought if it hadn’t already happened 2 seasons ago. I’ve since been in touch with a fisheries biologist to recount these unexpected spring catches, and he has confirmed that such things happen every season in Scotland. Quite why salmon feed on fly hatches like this is not clear. Whether they gain any nutritional benefit is also unclear, and probably unlikely given that the stomach lining of a salmon begins to disintegrate in fresh water. But rise they do.

I must confess to feeling a bit short-changed at the time, given the several minutes during which I thought I might have a genuine whopper-trout on the line. It’s been quite a few seasons since I’ve had that privilege. In retrospect, however, that’s perhaps a bit of a silly way to think. I now feel rather grateful to have had an encounter with a fish that’s been to Greenland and back, and that it so-appreciated my dragged-up deer hair emerger.

Interesting news article this morning on the front page of the BBC Scotland website. Conservationists and environmental campaigners seem to have struggled of late to get much publicity on this issue, so it’s good to see the other side of the salmon farm debate get some airtime.

Evening clouds over Edinburgh, Scotland from Mike Tamanawis on Vimeo.

The season is now open on all rivers. Today I kicked off my own fishing year by wandering down to a local small stream for a few lazy hours. Over the past 24 hours or so we’ve had a bit of rain, so I was expecting there to be a good bit of water pushing through. Indeed the river was a bit coloured, but not overly high. The pale brown tinge emphasised the early season feel, complementing the blustery breeze and fleeting sunshine.

I saw 5 upwinged flies in 4 hours of pottering about. Not exactly a bonanza hatch, but a warming reminder that the time is fast coming where dry flies may be used without irony.

I started off with a tungsten-beadhead nondescript nymph. I lost it first cast in the branches above my head. The lovely orange indicator/float I intended to use for take detection immediately pinged off and sailed away downstream as I hopelessly jiggered the rod trying to free the nymph. The distinct feeling of the season passing early comment on my dubious methods passed over along with darkening clouds and a stiffening wind.

I decided to replace the beadhead job with a more castable nymph, and second cast a pretty little brownie gobbled it up. Such quick success, sometimes a good omen, but generally not.

First cast after returning the trout and another encounter with an overhanging branch. Another attempted jiggle of the line and another pinged indicator. I made a mental note to head up the hill later on to stock up on sheep’s wool, these modern mini-football indicators just don’t stay on fine tippet very well.

For the rest of the day I opted for the comedy dry fly routine, and fished a wee dirty duster. This felt much better balanced on my light line setup, and I finally started to remember how the whole casting thing was supposed to work. Moments later and a single rise spotted. First cast truly dreadful, an over-gunned, under-slacked cockup job. Second cast and a rise and take, hooked for a few moments then lost. Would have been slightly larger than the first, but nothing remarkable. No worries, there aren’t that many remarkable fish in this bit of river anyway. At least I’ve never come across any.

I gave up about 4pm, opting for a relaxing evening of watching clouds (see next post). Luckily, we’ve got lots of them around here, and plenty big ones at that.