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.