Pals

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Last weekend I met up with the pal Al, and headed down to a nice bit of water. Once again the conditions seemed good, but once again the clock chimed that it was late in the season, and the trout were thinking of other things.


We both started off with dries, myself putting up the usual emerger pattern. I worked up some lovely runs, but only one take registered the effort, and came so out of the blue that it was missed. Desperation began to take hold and I tackled up nymphs that were three months heavier than usual. I refer of course to the deep nymphs of winter grayling fishing, but the river seemed as dead as any December afternoon.


It wasn’t too long before I found some fish. First a small grayling, then a better one from precicely the same spot. Great to see them starting to shoal up, in ones and two at the moment but soon to be more, let’s hope! A couple of trout followed from an adjacent seam, and the hint of a beaming grin passed across the cheeks.


The sun began to sink before I knew it, and it wasn’t too long before I followed in a similar fashion into the river. For some reason I only seem to get properly wet when I’m fishing with the Al pal. Has to be some kind of voodoo curse involved. Having said that, there wasn’t too much involved beyond idiocy when trying to wade through a 5′ deep hole.


This weekend I headed a little South to fish with the brother again. We fished all day using every method known to the (moderately) self-respecting fly-man but couldn’t connect with much beyond parr. The end of the season feels close. It is close, barely a week away.

In the end I guess everyone deals with the end of a season in their own way. I tend to feel pretty philosophical about the whole thing and try to look at things in perspective. The close season is really a good thing. It concentrates the mind and you get so much more out of the months you can get on the river. And if I’m still saying that in Feburary, I’ll eat all the hats.


It’s been difficult to reach the heights of our northern trip in the last few weeks. In fact the fishing has been at best difficult, and at worst useless. I’ve found myself on some usual haunts, as well as a couple of new ones. But the running theme has been one of dour days and precious few fish.


The weather has been unseasonably warm, but it seems the fish just don’t look out for sunglasses weather when it comes time to think about getting it on. Despite all things it has really begun to feel like the clouds of another season are beginning to be blown away. It’s a funny feeling really, because while I feel sad to know the season will soon pass, I also know that there have been some great moments that can only ripen in the memory. All that is needed is a winter break to focus the mind anew and bring the excitement of a fresh spring.


Ealier in September we took a wee jaunt up to Perthshire to fish a couple of rivers for a weekend. It coincided with a family celebration (no coincidence) so of course fishing had to be a major feature. The first afternoon was hot and bright, and we struggled away on a lovely little stream full of pocket water and banked by old Scots woodland. A couple of small trout provided minor breaks in the blanking, but this was perhaps a day for enjoying some of the other distractions of a highland stream.


The next day we headed off to a much larger river, and managed to time things pretty well. Soon after arriving some trout started to feed on a small hatch of late olives. We took a few pretty fish to the usual patterns, DHE and a little dun creation of mine that’s been doing quite well this season. A little voice in my head suggested that this might have been the last worthwhile rise of the season. Little voices are often right.


Last week I met up with a pal of mine for a spot of urban fly fishing. We headed down the River Almond in Edinburgh, a really pretty river which has seen a lot of persecution over the years. I’m aware of at least 2 significant fish kills on the river in the last 2 seasons, from diesel fuel and industrial chemicals. Amazingly some fish stick it out, and can provide a nice distraction for a quick evening session. I’ll be paying close attention to things on this river in the coming seasons, and really hope it gets a bit of a clean run of health.


We got down for around 8pm, and I tackled up a little nymph to fish through the pockets of water. It was quite difficult fishing, with plenty of current tongues to drag your line around. I soon found a cracking looking spot in front of a nicely angled boulder which slowed the river current a little. It was one of those times where you absolutely know there is a fish lying there, even though you can’t see him.


It took a bit of inventive casting/chucking of the nymph, but eventually I got a really nice drift. It was really difficult to see the leader, so I wasn’t sure how I was going to detect a take. Then something wierd happened, a bit like an experience had a few months back on a similar urban river. The feeling struck, and I struck, and the fish stuck. Worth practising this nymphing lark.


Now a good part of this river is very close to Edinburgh airport, and you certainly know about it fishing in the evenings. I know Alistair has plenty to say about urban fly fishing, but this was hardcore! Planes, planes everywhere, every two minutes rushing a couple hundred feet over our heads. At first it was exciting. Then it was a little tedious. Then it began to get downright annoying. We do suffer for our sport 😉


It was getting pretty late, so we found a nice run and tackled up some big scary flies, hoping for a passing sea trout. After a good while of fruitless casting, I opted rather bizzarly to do some extreme roll casting practice. Not a pretty sight, especially when there’s a size 8 longshank muddler minnow on the end of the cast.

Actually this photo isn’t me, but my pal had better loops than me tonight 🙂

Once the water was almost completely churned up by the beautiful presentation I was getting, the fly was left dangling in the current whilst we had a natter about something or other. Probably the damn aeroplanes. Out of nowhere the line tightened sharply, and I was into a fish. For just a split second I thought maybe, maybe it’s a sea trout. But it turned out to be a feisty brownie of a nice 3/4lb. Really good for this bit of river. We decided I’d reached a new nirvana of fishing, where I hook fish without even meaning to.

In case you’re wondering, he was bigger than he looks here.


It was now getting late, and nothing more was showing so it was on with the headtorches and back home. The moon made a lovely view as it rose upriver.

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.

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