In autumn, who needs words?
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What is summer to you?
To me summer is late evenings on my favourite stream, casting at crimson water with sedges buzzing around my head. It’s the feeling of ariving to swarms of spinners pulsing forward and back, up and down around my car. It’s the sight of a blue winged olive perched on the windscreen, looking at all his pals in the air.
The other night I pulled the car up next to the verge and stepped out into the gathering dim. Swallows swept in their loopy dance above the field, and that feeling of summer magic crept out from its hiding place somewhere in my conciousness.
In recent months I’ve spent rather too much time contemplating where I’m going in my life, and thinking about all the things I’m not doing. Although I am still what one might call ‘young’, I do sometimes feel that life is moving on rather too fast. But on evenings with swallows and fragile little olives, I feel sure I’ve found something special and worth looking after, and enviable to most if they only knew.
Summer is blue winged olives. It’s the squinting eyes that dart to and a-fro in search of the little sherry spinner on the end of my leader, as it’s tugged forth and back through low water eddies. With the passing seasons, though, I worry less and less about actually seeing the size 16 speck on the water.
I increasingly view spinner fishing as being the mysterious brother to upstream nymphing, where the best success comes from seeing the surface of the water rather than looking for a fly lying prostrate on it. I try to focus all my attention on casting the end of the fly line to where I’ve seen a sipping trout, subconsciously timing the pace of the river as it brings the spinner back to the fish, and waiting for a rise. In the gloaming of 10pm in July it hardly seems worth the effort trying to see an artificial fly lying flat in or just under the water’s surface.
There usually comes a point in the evening where I decide that’s it’s time to cut loose and sedge for glory. This time normally arrives as I determine that it’s getting close to the point of no-tying-on-a-fly return. If the fish are obviously still on the spinner then it’s obviously a bit silly to switch to the sedge. But I have grown rather fond of the release granted by suddenly having a hunk of deer tied to a size 10 hook at the end of the leader, instead of the delicate filaments of poly-yarn and seal’s fur that comprise my sherry spinner.
It’s been a strange year down at riffle city. Since I discovered that supplementary stocking of trout takes place there, things just haven’t been the same in my head. Nevertheless, summer has become so connected with riffle city that I’m uncontrollably drawn there come July.
The trout this year have been uncommonly small. As with one of the other river’s I like to fish it has been hard work to get through the wee’uns. I’m beginning to think now that come summer the rule to follow is that there’s an inverse relationship between the apparent agressivness of the rise, and the size of the fish. So during these past two trips to the riffles I have been trying hard to spot the subtle rises.
I’ve even had some success using this principle, but have no evidence to prove as much. It’s also been a season of fish falling off.
The last couple of weeks have been much warmer than the blustery chill of early spring. I’ve been watching in wonder as the evenings have pulled away into endless fading blue and orange, waiting for the right moment to have a proper evening session. Last Tuesday morning I resolved to head out straight from work, just before five, hoping to be fishing well before six.
As I drove my mind flickered between locations. I always find this the difficult bit, which exit to take.. I eventually decided on a bit of small stream action on my favourite of small streams. However, as I drove close to its bigger brother, I felt inexplicably lured to have a go there instead. Time was short, so I stopped at the nearest access point (ok it’s not the nearest, but near enough the nearest) and pulled on my waders.
Looking around me the light was really beautiful, a piercing warm orange glow as the sun passed close to a storm cloud. The cloud seemed to encourage the wind too, for it was merrily puffing away as I strung up the 5-weight. I vaulted the nearest fence and made like a ferret across the field in a downstream direction. I say made like a ferret, but that’s not really a particularly accurate statement of fact, as indeed the fact was that with at least one broken rib I probably made more like a wheezing, crippled goat across the field.
I walked for a while, until I was well downstream of my target pool. Standing in the riffles beyond the tail, it looked sumptuous in the evening light, swirling eddies and foam lines like a mass of jumbled contours on a map. I slowly edged forward..
An hour later I slumped myself down on the bank and scratched my nose. Parr rising and splashing all over the place, and nothing else. I’d carefully fished more than halfway up the pool on dries, and things were ending up looking more like a session of casting practice. I turned over the idea of chucking a streamer down through the riffles and into the pool below, but it somehow didn’t feel right on such a beautiful evening.
On a complete whim I decided to put up a pair of small nymphs and fish them upstream through the rest of the pool. I slid myself off the bank and slowly ambled a few feet into the water. It had been many moons since I last fished nymphs like this, so after letting the current lengthen the line I pulled up the leader and slipped a tiny foam indicator about 3 feet above the top nymph. At last satisfied with my setup, I made a cast upstream and slightly across.
It can be a funny business fishing nymphs like this. In the winter I have failed many times to catch grayling using such techniques, growing steadily more frustrated as each little bob and stop of the indicator turns out to be a piece of weed or a rock. Second cast up, and as the indicator was brought back to me by the current, it paused for thought about 2 or 3 metres upstream of where I was standing. I pulled my rod up and stripped in the slack and found myself attached to a moving rock. It swam in a small circle, before heading downstream towards the riffles. I caught a glimpse of a silvery side as it flashed past.
It didn’t take long to realise that not only was the rock not a rock (two nots don’t make a right…), but it wasn’t a trout either. Finally drawing the fish towards me I saw a gigantic dorsal fin, which flipped over from side to side as I slid the net through the water and under him. A beautiful spring grayling, not really a fish to be targetted at this time of year, but nevertheless a welcome surprise. A quick look at the weigh-net scales showed he was a smidgen over 2.5lb, a real beauty in any river, and in absolutely cracking condition. I know the grayling should be getting into spawning season very soon, if not already, but you wouldn’t really have known it from this fish.
After slipping the grayling back I fished on for another hour but connected with nothing else bar a few enthusiastic parr. I don’t know if I’ve ever had such an immediate and superb response from a change in tactics. I was undoubtedly lucky to come across such an apparently solitary large grayling, but it was still a really good feeling to think that I managed to do everything else right. Perhaps I’ll have to give the winter lark another try..
Just to round out a truly fantastic evening, on the way back to my car I came across a cute wee hedgehog padding through the grass. I tried to get a close up, and was greeted with the spiky-football treatment.
April has been a very mixed month of a few glorious highs sprinkled sparsely amongst a shower of blanks. I’ve been too busy to make posts for each of my outings, so I’m going to blurt it all out here in a wonna or a twoer.
Back on the 7th I went down to a nice bit of water known to produce the odd monster. I was hoping for (April) March Browns. As I crawled up to the water I immediately spotted a couple of wonderful swirls. Adjusting my gaze above the water’s surface I quickly made out ranks of tell-tale zeppelins fluttering upstream.
The slightest upstream wind warmed my neck, and that feeling of infinite possibility crept out from its winter hibernation. The sight of rising fish in spring always convinces me that having a six month closed season is worth it, if only for the heightened sense of joy come April. Senses dulled by months of time away from the water find themselves jolted back to life. Memories and feelings thought passed forever return with renewed vigour. What a great time of year.
I stealthily stumbled down to the water’s edge and tried to take in the sight of multiple rising fish before me. Which to choose?
I decided that the most steadily rising fish, twenty yards upstream, looked the most temptable. I began a slow waddle through the thigh-deep water, suddenly more afraid than ever of spooking my newly-reacquainted adversaries.
I paused and prepared to cast by letting the current pull out a long loop of line downstream. As I looked around to check the line for tangles a fish swirled aggressively in the seam just off to my left, barely five yards downstream and across from where I stood.
Gift horses in the mouth and all that, I decided to have a speculative chuck. Two drifts produced nothing more than a nice V-wake as my DHE dragged downstream. I tried a third cast, incorporating a ludicrously over-exagerated upwards motion to try and produce a parachute cast. The fly and cast landed nicely and started to slip downstream. As the cast neared the point of no-drag-free-drift return the fish came up and engulfed the fly. By some twist of luck or ironed-in instinct I struck nicely and the fish was on.
As fly-angling readers will know it can take a trip or two to really get back into things after a winter away from all things fishy-tailed. This is particularly true for playing hooked fish, which can be an art-form in itself. The recently-attached fish paid no ounce of thought for this as it screeched off across the river at full pelt. There was little need to put the coils of loose line back on the reel as within moments they were distinctly straightened and heading for the far line of trees. I tightened up the reel and tried to lever the fish back in my direction. This succeeded in transmitting a message to the fish that the only route of escape was upwards, which was exactly where it headed, twisting and turning in the sunshine.
Some moments passed, and as I started to get control of things I got a good look at the cause of all the trouble. Hmm…distinctly silver flashes, but was it just the light? I finally slipped the net underneath the water and drew the fish over the rim. Glory hallelujah, it was silvery all right. Long, slightly lean, full-spotted and shimmering with blue-silver energy, it was unmistakably a sea trout. I popped off the handle of my weigh-net and the scales drew down to just a smidgen over 4lb. Regular readers may know that I’ve been on the hunt for a sea trout for some time, and have failed quite miserably to ever catch one using conventional wisdom. Well, there on that beautiful spring morning, March Browns a-buzzing, I caught my first sea trout, with dry fly and floating line. Not the worst start to a season I’ve ever had.
I had a good look at the fish as I cradled it in the current. Despite its silvery sheen and keen battle-spirit, I guessed that it was a kelt. Its lower tail was quite badly torn up, which I thought may have been due to spawning frolics. But who knows? Maybe it had just had a run-in with a seal on its way up the estuary. Whatever the case, its short visit to have a chat with me opened a little jar of happiness by that quiet riverbank.
Time on the river has been extremely limited this season. I’m currently going through the process of writing up a big project for my job (ok, it’s a thesis..) which appears to be more and more like torture every day. The few times I have been out seem to have taken on a new significance, like rare glimpses of sunlight at the end of a big dark cave.
Last weekend I headed over to a favourite river for some serious lone time. Lone time, with added trout. As part of my ongoing musings into the optimum rod to use on rivers, I strung up the shotgun for a bit of a fling. Old stiffy, as she is now also know, turned out to be a whole lot better than I imagined. (For new readers, Old stiffy is a Sage XP, 9′, 5 weight.)
Streamers and dries lie at the opposite ends of the fly fishing spectrum. I already love dries, and fish them wherever possible. But I’ve recently felt an unnerving attraction towards streamers, with their unashamed brashness and ‘use me or screw me’ attitude. This may or may not have something to do with the incredible number of large trout that a certain fishing acquaintance of mine has caught whilst using them over the past couple of seasons. The problem, or perhaps `challenge’ is a better word, lies in combining the two approaches in an outfit that allows both vices to be enjoyed equally.
For the first couple of hours I used an intermediate line with a fast sinking polyleader looped onto the end. Together with a weighted streamer this combination can get reasonably deep quite quickly, so is perfect for searching out deeper runs and seams. This last sentence is yet another wonderful example of the bullshit I spout on occasion (`only on occasion‘ the audience screams!), for I am a total newbie to streamer fishing, and have only ever caught a handful of fish like this. What I should have said was that it feels like a perfect setup for searching out the blah blah blah..
Well I searched and I searched for quite a few hours, and didn’t see, hear, feel or smell any trout. Disgruntled that all my good feelings about streamer fishing weren’t producing, I sat down and mused. There was plenty of evidence of the recent floods our rivers have experienced. The high water line looked like a frightening prospect in comparison to the clear water flowing past my feet. It was funny to see the silt deposited on leaves that normally only shower in the rain. The clear water drew my attention again, and I longed for dry fly simplicity.
Off with the intermediate-sink-tip-polyleader-good-feeling nonsense, and on with a floating fiver. This one hadn’t been used in more than a season, and still had the glued-in leader butt I once eulogised over to anyone who would listen. It really is a nice setup, so smooth and with excellent turnover. As usual I overestimated the required leader length, ending up with something that could be used to measure swimming pools. Something like 20′, which is really a little obscene.
With my lewd leader I thus marched off up to the next run. During the lengthy process of switching over my setup I had noticed a single, solitary rise in a small bit of creased water where a tiny burn flowed into the main river. With no more sign of life forthcoming I began short casts from the back of the run, slowly working up towards the burn. Third or fourth cast in and there was a wonderful, savage take to my fly. It was the kind of take that reminded me of the cutthroat trout in the west of Canada a few seasons back. Eager and willing. The fish now connected to Old stiffy quickly demonstrated that stiffness is a relative term, which is both reassuring and disturbing at the same time. It was the first fish I’ve hooked on the rod that actually made me feel like there was going to be a fight involved. There was.
The trout jumped out the water maniacally, showing the same eagerness to reach for the sky as she’d shown for my floating fly. I had that glorious, stomach churning feeling as I realised that this was probably my fish of the season, and I’d better not cock up. She quickly decided that the fast riffley run downstream looked like a good spot for a picnic, and bolted off. I had foolishly thought that a bit of sneakiness with side pressure and a ready net might forego any complications, and was left with one hand on the rod, one clutching my net and the other… flailing for the fly line. That’s three hands, which is what it felt like.
I performed that kind of half-shuffle, half-long jump motion required to pursue a fish downstream through thigh-high water, whilst waving my rod about quite a lot and repeatedly muttering “don’t come off, please don’t come off…”. In the quieter water beyond the riffle I started to apply some strong pressure, which caused the fish to jump again. There seems to be no better time for a fish to throw a hook than during a jump, so I eased off a little. By now I’d seen the trout quite clearly through the water (did I mention it was clear?) and she was a beauty. A more controlled application of side pressure brought her to the surface, and with a couple of desperate reaches with the net she was in.
As it happened I had chosen this day to take along my new net, one of those nice Maclean weigh-nets from New Zealand. The idea of a weigh-net is actually quite funny for most of the fishing I do, what with micro-parr and the odd half-pounder signifying a good day at the moment. But I had got a good deal on it, so plumped up the cash in an act not far from self-mockery. The beauty with a weigh net, over the more conventional Salter scales that you manually hook onto the net at the opportune moment, is that the reading you get doesn’t have to be adjusted for the weight of the net. It’s already calibrated. So what you see, for one God-foresaken time, is what you get. In this case that was exactly 2.5lb of golden, gorgeous trout.
A few moments for a photo session and I eased her (I’m pretty sure it was a female; she was certainly very pretty and slightly feminine in a Lara Croft kind of way) into the flow. A couple of moments and she pushed forward and quickly disappeared into the background of the rocky riverbed. Unquestionably my fish of the season, and unquestionably the nicest feeling I can remember for quite a long time.
After all that I had to phone someone, so it was my dad and brother who got the first telling. They were sitting down to a lovely curry at the time, which eased the reception of the fact that I was having amazing fishing and they weren’t. There’s an amazing rush of excitement after a trout like that which is hard to explain to folks who don’t fish. It’s a kind of head spinning rush of joy which seems to far outweigh the material fact of the capture. Even if the trout was quite big, even if it was beautiful, why does it feel so incredibly, soul-burstingly satisfying?
I fished on up the run with nothing to show for it. Nothing except for the whopping great grin on my face from that trout, of course. I slowly started to sink back into something like a regular fishing mode, and began to appreciate the reason that Old stiffy is so highly regarded in the trout world. She really does turn over leaders like the All Blacks against England. Loops unroll quickly, smoothly and with pin-prick accuracy. Even a fairly moderate breeze doesn’t seem to be a great problem. There’s still no question that when fishing dries I feel more at home with my slightly noodly 3 weight, but in all honesty it wasn’t too bad. And it certainly makes fishing the streamers a little less comical. Perhaps I just need to accept that fishing dries and streamers requires quite a lot of compromise on both parts. I think that a stiffish 5 weight like this is probably as close to the useful middle ground as can be had.
After an hour or so of fishless fishing, I crawled out the river and walked up past some moderately interested cows to a long flat. There were fewer trees, but oddly enough a couple of fish rose almost immediately. There had been no sign of any hatch all day, so I wasn’t sure what had brought them up. The rises were gentle though, so I put up a little CDC thing. Eventually I got a solid take, which turned out to be a very feisty grayling (are grayling ever not feisty?). A clean 1lb and a quarter, according to my what-you-see-is-what-you-get-net. He (I think it was a he, the dorsal was pretty long and he looked pissed off) was slipped back with a bit of a splash on my camera, and I decided it was time to trundle back to the car. I don’t know how many more days I’m doing to get on the river this season, but I hope this one will give me a little smile when the going is rough. It will certainly be a long time before I forget the enthusiasm of that take from the beautiful brownie; a bit of cutthroat hope in a big dark cave.