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REPORTS

Clark Colman enjoys a short but memorable visit to one of his favourite Cumbrian hill tarns, Small Water, and meets a true Lakeland angling legend along the way. 

“Difficult of access and often disappointing” was how the Where To Fish guide for 1961-2 wrote of Small Water, an 11-acre tarn above Mardale in what Lakeland guidebook writer Alfred Wainwright called “the Far Eastern Fells”. I’m sure the contributor to this veteran publication had his reasons for such condemnation but as my line pulled tight halfway through the retrieve, and the rod bent against the dash of a wild mountain brown trout, I couldn’t have disagreed more.    

 

A Flying Visit

Regardless of the plump, lively fish that had snatched my fly, the dramatic scenery and atmosphere around Small Water was enough to render disappointment an impossibility. As to the difficulty of reaching the tarn, which lies at an altitude of just under 1,500 feet, I’m sure that by the time we’d returned to the cars, my companion for this short but memorable session had developed at least a degree of sympathy for the view expressed in my old book. 

This was the second time in two days that I’d dragged TFF editor Andy Taylor into the high Cumbrian hills. With the memory of yesterday’s exertions still fresh in his mind and legs, Andy will be the first to admit that he was in no hurry to set out on yet another steep climb! 

With plenty of trout and pictures already secured, along with changeable weather conditions and lengthy drives home looming, the plan we’d hatched over breakfast was simple. We’d drive up from our Kendal base to the Mardale Head car park and try some mountain stream fishing, while waiting for a sustained break in the weather that might give us a chance of the cover shot we were still after. If it came, we’d immediately strike out for Small Water before the clouds and rain descended again. If not, we’d carry on up the beck that runs down from the tarn into Haweswater for a little while longer before calling it a day.

 

A Familiar Face

As our Land Rovers picked their way through the driving rain, I wasn’t even sure whether we’d make it out of the car park. Still, we weren’t the only ones braving the wet weather and narrow, twisting roads in the hope of some sport to the fly. Another angler was already tackling up in a small lay-by near the Haweswater Hotel – no doubt intent on fooling a few of the better than average wild brownies that share their home in Mardale’s dramatic, moody reservoir with the occasional silvery schelly.

IMG 8608 TFF may 16
Tarn expert Terry Cousin shares his many years of knowledge of the Lake District waters

Taking your eyes off the road here can be risky even on a fine day, so I allowed myself only the merest glance to the left as I passed by, with Andy following close behind. There was something about the elderly chap’s face and attire – what little I saw of it – that seemed familiar, though at the time I was more concerned with road safety and reaching our destination than trying to remember where I’d seen him before!

Few vehicles had beaten us to Mardale Head that morning, and we were in two minds whether to applaud or pity the handful of hardy walkers setting off up the track into the fells. Even in the worst of weather conditions this rugged corner of Lakeland still has its charms, and with the rain still falling, Andy and I were perfectly content to sit in the front of his Freelander and put the game angling world to right, while watching white streaks of water streaming down the surrounding hillside ghylls, and dark clouds stalking over Harter Fell, High Street and the Nan Bield Pass. I thought of the other flyfisher we’d seen, and hoped that he too was taking shelter from the elements in the warm of his little white car.

 

Braving It On The Beck

Just as we were starting to contemplate heading for home, the rain eased off into a faint drizzle and an optimistic hint of blue sky appeared overhead. 

“It’s now or never!” announced Andy, so we sprang from the car, grabbed our gear and headed off across a slippery wooden footbridge towards Mardale Beck – a boisterous, gin-clear watercourse of boulders, pockets and miniature falls below the nearby confluence of Blea Water and Small Water becks.

main3 TFF May 16
The many becks also offer some superb sport and are well worth a cast between fishing the tarns.

Such high-gradient upland streams are seldom if ever, fished today, with few now containing those four-to-the-pound pan fillers that once delighted anglers of yesteryear. While I already knew for a fact that there were still one or two trout to be had in Mardale Beck, the racing currents and low temperature (even in May these hill streams can still be icy to the touch) meant that however hungry they might be, tempting one wouldn’t be anything less than challenging.

After a few minutes’ worth of pocket picking with a fixed-line duo setup, the bushy Retirer Sedge on the dropper disappeared as it drifted below a bankside boulder. I’m sure many of us have experienced what followed, and there are few things more humbling to a fly angler than four or five inches of startled wild brownie hurtling through the air towards you on the strike! 

I couldn’t help but beam with delight as I eased the size 16 barbless Copperhead Pheasant Tail Nymph from the corner of his mouth. His little spots were more orange than red, and they glowed like gemstones in the pale morning sunlight before the fish twisted out of my wetted hand and disappeared back into the tough, rough-and-tumble world from which, somehow, trout still manage to eke out an existence here.       

 

Putting A Name To A Face

With dark clouds looming once again, Andy was keen to reach Small Water before it got too late, so I reluctantly forced myself away from the beck and prepared to move off. I had, however, left my waterproof map case in the car, so decided to jog back and recover it rather than risk my map getting soaked to pulp by any further rain. 

In doing so, I discovered that the angler we’d encountered earlier had made his way down to the car park, and was now preparing to try his luck in the shallow, likely looking bay below it. He smiled warmly as I drew near, before asking where we were bound. When I explained that Small Water was our objective, as part of an assignment for a fly fishing magazine, he became even more interested. 

“I know it well,” he said over a firm handshake. “My name’s Terry Cousin.” 

It was then that I realised where I’d seen that wide-brimmed hat, spectacle cord and lean, outdoorsman’s face before. This was one of my all-time Lakeland angling heroes, whose newspaper articles and magazine contributions I’d read for years – but whom, until now, I’d seen only in photographs. 

An all-round angler, vintage-tackle enthusiast, former River Eden bailiff, award-winning entomologist and conservationist, Terry’s also the veteran fishing columnist for the Cumberland and Westmorland Herald. His sage advice on all matters piscatorial, and dedicated work on the significance of river flies for anglers and running-water environments in general, have benefited many related organisations both locally and nationally – and in 2008 brought Terry Cousin a special award ‘in recognition of excellence and achievement’ from the Association of Rivers Trusts and the Salmon & Trout Association.

I was honoured when Terry agreed to appear with me in front of Andy’s camera. You’d struggle to better his knowledge of the fishing to be had on Cumbrian hill tarns, and with Small Water evidently one of his favourites, I could quite happily have stayed to reap the benefit of his wisdom on this and other venues all day. 

However, with time running out for Andy and I, and the Haweswater trout awaiting Terry’s skilful attention, we said our goodbyes and parted company in the hope of meeting up again soon.

 

A Rewarding Climb 

Whatever mood the Small Water brownies might be in, my day had already been well and truly enriched by a hill-stream fish and a true Lakeland angling legend. And there were, even more, delights to come when, after a steady climb up a well-defined track, we scrambled up the final, narrower section and caught our first glimpse of the tarn. 

Surrounded by rocky, grassy slopes, and overshadowed by the dramatic Nan Bield Pass, its rippling and sun-dappled water was very welcome in photographic terms, and we soon had the potential cover shot we’d been hoping for. All we needed now was a trout or two; however, the cold water and bright, breezy conditions weren’t going to make this easy. 

Cast-and-step tactics near the entrance of a feeder stream on the southwestern shoreline came up trumps for me. Ten minutes’ work with a 9ft 6in 6-wt rod, slow intermediate line, 16ft leader of 4lb fluorocarbon and two traditional wet flies spaced eight feet apart, produced a solid, lightning-fast tug from a plump, plucky fish with spots like a leopard. For once, it hadn’t preferred the size 14 Black and Peacock Spider on the point, instead opting for the flashier charms of a similarly sized Silver March Brown on the dropper. 

Then it was my turn to go behind the lens as we negotiated our way round the rocky margins so that Andy could try his favoured area around another feeder on the shallower, shelving northeastern shore. His line, leader and flies had barely settled beyond the drop-off before our second, similarly sized, Small Water brownie was fighting for its freedom after pouncing on a black pearly Dabbler variant – also on the top dropper. 

IMG 8719 TFF May 16
These heavily spotted fish are truly beautiful!

 

Mission Accomplished

Our short but sweet second day in the Lake District mountains ended with a fairly quick descent back to the car park at Mardale Head – where, having caught two nice fish of his own on Haweswater, Terry Cousin was also packing up. Despite the aching legs, thumping heartbeat and dry throat he’d endured along the way, Andy had clearly been mesmerised by our hill stream and tarn adventures. As he bid goodbye to Terry and I, I’m sure that part of him wasn’t at all sure how easy it would be to return to stocked fisheries after the thrill and beauty of his first-ever tarn trout. I well remember having similar feelings over 20 years ago. 

For my part, it had been good to revisit Small Water – if only for a little while. Every inch the classic Lakeland hill tarn, my experience had been rendered all the more memorable for meeting Terry Cousin, and I’ll certainly never forget his parting words to me before I too headed for home.

“I didn’t expect to meet another angler out here today,” said Terry after another good chat and a final handshake. “And I’ve certainly met a friend.” What more could I have asked for?

end pic use big Tff May 16

Professional angling guide Andy Buckley spends a week in Slovenia to sample the stunning rivers and superb fly fishing this country has to offer.

It doesn’t matter whether you’re into glamorous long-haul adventures or short weekend breaks, finding fresh angling opportunities is becoming more difficult. For the angler looking for a long weekend of fishing, central Europe and the Balkan nations offer some of the finest fly fishing on the planet, but the more widely known waters are becoming increasingly expensive and heavily pressured. 

When quality fishing is in such high demand it is up to the angler to look away from the crowds and think outside the box a little. Slovenia is certainly no secret to the game angler: rivers like the mighty Soča, Sava Bohinjka and Idrijca have long been considered as world-class angling destinations but such recognition is attracting higher volumes of anglers than ever before. 

For the adventurous flyfisher, though, this is excellent news as there are huge numbers of alternative river systems full of wild trout and grayling, which go unnoticed in the shadow of the more well-known waters.

Guides Fly Box tff april 16
Guide Uroš  Kristan's fly box. Note the heavily weighted Red Tag theme to his flies...

bistraspring 3 tff april 16
... which the Bistra grayling seemed to like.



Book A Guide

One such area is only 20 minutes from Slovenia’s capital city, Ljubljana, so England youth team captain Will Robins and I hopped on a short flight to meet a world-renowned guide who had waxed lyrical about a district neither of us had heard of before. Travelling to Slovenia is a simple affair with regular flights departing from both London Stansted and Manchester and taking no more than a few hours. 

Upon arrival we were met by Slovenian guide Uroš Kristan who was not only to be our mentor for the week but had offered to provide our transport for the duration of our trip, negating the need for a hire car. 


"There is a wealth of information available about Slovenian game angling, and while it would be possible to make the journey alone I would strongly recommend hiring a guide."

Many of the finest angling areas are very much off the beaten track and having gone through the ordeal of being lost on the side of a mountain on a previous trip, I can assure you that a little extra local knowledge will always equate to more time at the river and more fish on the bank. 

 

Bistra First

Our transfer took us on a short and scenic drive southwest of Ljubljana to our lodgings on the outskirts of Vrhnika. A small town rich in culture, its emblem is the Argo, the ship that Jason and his Argonauts sailed upon during their mythical mission to retrieve the Golden Fleece. Legend has it that it was at one of the springs of the Ljubljanica river that the Argonauts had to dismantle their vessel and carry it on their shoulders to the Adriatic Sea. 

Vrhnika has 40,000 years of settlement history, including one of the oldest examples of a man-made wheel, which dates back some 5,000 years! A strikingly green and lush area, the many bridges around Vrhnika also hint to the huge number of angling opportunities in the area. 

Bistraspring 6 tff april 16
A typical Bistra grayling. Fish to 40 centimetres are common on both dries and nymphs.


Standing in the grounds of a 13th-century Carthusian monastery, our hotel was also only two minutes by foot from the tiny Bistra Spring, our first water of the trip. Rising abruptly from the earth in the centre of the monastery grounds, Will and I were sceptical of this unremarkable-looking piece of water, which was only a few rod lengths wide and just 18 inches deep, but a 25cm grayling on the French leader settled our cynicism. 

The fishing here got better as the day progressed, as we both caught a succession of wild brownies and grayling to over 40 centimetres on both nymphs and dries. At times it was hard to comprehend just how many large fish were holding in such a tiny stream. Uroš suggested that the heavy rainfall that fell prior to our trip had forced more fish than usual into the cold and rich waters of the spring. 

 

Huge Chub

Half a mile from its source the Bistra Spring flows into the Bistra River proper. Bistra is the Slovenian word for ‘clear’ and for good reason; the water here runs pure and cool, which makes the perfect habitat for all kinds of flora and entomology. The Bistra is an overgrown and unfettled river; fishing here is technical, wild and done entirely by sight. 

We caught a number of excellent grayling on weighted nymphs before stumbling across an enormous chub hidden underneath heavy foliage on the far bank. I pitched a number of casts towards the fish with an enormous streamer jig that our guide assured us would tempt the huge fish from its hiding place. 

Uroš and Will acted as my eyes from their elevated position and fed me information on the reaction of the fish to different drifts. After a dozen presentations, including a handful of false alarms, I got the call: “STRIKE!” "My little 4-wt rod buckled over like spaghetti but after an attritional tug of war the net was slid under a magnificent fish of nearly 7lb, one of the largest our guide had ever seen in Slovenia."

 

Red Tags The Way

The next morning we travelled for 10 minutes across Vrhnika to fish one of the two springs that form the Ljubljanica River. The Mala (small) and Velika (big) streams converge to form the main river but even before their juncture, we found excellent numbers of big and beautifully marked grayling. 

The shallows of the Velika spring produced many fish to 40 centimetres on small CDC red tag dries fished blind through tumbling riffles, while the deeper pools fished well with our guide’s extra-heavy nymphs proving irresistible not only to the grayling but also some beautifully marked rainbow trout. The theme of red-tagged flies recurred throughout our trip and for the angler making the journey to Slovenia I would strongly suggest taking a selection of both CDC and hackled dry flies with bright tags. 

Our guide’s box was full of them in different guises and throughout our adventure, it became more and more obvious that the little flash of colour makes a difference. 

 

Clear-Water Stalking

Further downstream as the river broadened we found the most engaging sight fishing imaginable, stalking large grayling at close quarters beneath the tree branches of the near bank. By hiding behind the trees and using a mixture of improvised roll casts and archer-style presentations we were able to pitch our weighted flies far enough upstream to get them down among the fish. 

There can be fewer more fascinating sights in fly fishing than watching a large grayling move towards and then inhale a well-presented nymph in crystal-clear water, a sight that Will and I saw a dozen times each in little over an hour. 

After a long, heavy and appropriately boozy lunch away from the searing heat of the early afternoon we moved further downstream to the main Ljubljanica River where, glancing over the bridge, we spotted a large Danube salmon. This European taimen is prevalent in the Ljubljanica and while we couldn’t stir this fish from its torpor we were later shown pictures of specimens of over a metre in length by Marko Barisic, chairman of the Vrhnika angling club. Marko also informed us that we were the first non-nationals to fish the Bistra springs and river for 20 years as the club had only recently moved to offer day-ticket angling – a rare honour and a real privilege. 

 

Cheaper Than Hampshire?

The waters around Vrhnika present the travelling angler with such a breadth and diversity of angling opportunities. From tiny spring creeks full of trout and grayling to swinging streamers to Danube salmon and pike, it’s all here and it’s all so accessible. 

Bistra 7 tff april 16
It's not just trout and grayling, as this huge chub took hold of Andy's streamer!


With flights from London taking two hours, Vrhnika only minutes 

Clark Colman refines his dry-fly techniques to enjoy good early season surface sport on a taxing but a productive river, whose wild brownies can often be found ‘looking up’ right from opening day… 

As a devotee of modern, light-line, European-style nymphing approaches, it’s not always easy for me to lay these aside in favour of other methods when the new wild trout season dawns on our rivers and streams. With over 80% of a trout’s food being taken sub-surface, and with insect hatches or falls yet to gain real momentum and volume, my first trouting sessions of the New Year usually involve the same techniques that serve me well for grayling during the autumn and winter. 

Wild brownies respond just as well as ‘the lady of the stream’ to the delicate presentation and sensitive take detection afforded by my favourite 10ft 2-wt and 3-wt rods, fixed-line leader-only setups, and tungsten-beaded bugs presented on the finest tippets that conditions and fly weight allow. With bumper catches possible right from opening day, it’s all too easy for me to become fixated by such approaches. However, there are times when greater flexibility is called for in making the most of changing situations or a venue with certain fish-feeding peculiarities of its own.

 

Speculate To Accumulate  

 

One such place is a largely unknown and very challenging river lying a short distance from my former home in the northeast Midlands. Seldom more than thigh deep, the narrow, gin-clear and largely sedate stretch on which I tend to concentrate appears made for the single-fly French nymphing technique, especially at the start of the season.

MAIN3 dries from the off 2
Given the mild winter we have had this year, don't be surprised to see early hatches of winged flies...


Given the right conditions, dry-fly fishing is equally productive at this time. The shallow water here can warm up a good deal earlier than on other, deeper rivers nearby, which stimulates a good deal of early aquatic plant growth and invertebrate activity. As a result, the river often enjoys decent hatches of that familiar early season upwing, the large dark olive, not to mention ‘hardy perennials’ like black gnats and midge. So if ever I’m in the mood for some good surface sport right from the off, this is one of the places to which I head.

 IGP2844 dries from the off 3
... especially in the  shallower runs and glides

Tackle For Twitchy Trout

 

One particular dry-fly session on this difficult but rewarding venue stands out in my memory. It started on a crisp April mid-morning around three years ago, under bright blue skies, minimal cloud cover and piercing sunlight, which, together with the river’s crystal-clear water and intermittent rises, foretold of wary fish and the great care that would be demanded in terms of equipment, fly patterns, watercraft and presentation.

With little opportunity to get close to trout, my 9ft #3 tip-flex rod would allow me to cover them at distances beyond the reach of a French or presentation leader, while still aiding delicate presentation. The latter would also be helped by a more gently tapering weight-forward line for tight loop formation, turnover of long, light-tippet leaders and minimal landing impact. The one I opted for sported a willowy-olive colour – a perfect compromise between visibility and minimisation of line flash.

I’m usually well outside my comfort zone with anything less than 12 feet of tapered leader when dry-fly fishing. Given the conditions, today would have been no exception, and I was thankful for the largely clear surroundings and lack of downstream breeze that rendered a necessarily longer leader both possible and comfortable. The one I used was formed by barrel knotting a 5ft tippet of 0.10mm copolymer to the 0.12mm point of a 9ft tapered leader. 

I’ve been a convert to the drag-reducing benefits of long, level tippets for some time now (largely through Jeremy Lucas’ influence), and was confident that such a leader configuration could be more than adequately presented via my choice of rod and line. To further aid turnover I’d also removed the small welded loop at the tip of my fly line in favour of a needle knot line-to-leader connection, which is far more efficient in transferring energy (built up during false casting) from fly line to leader. 

The raised, open banks on my side of the river entailed keeping a low profile while observing rise forms and choosing an appropriate fly pattern. There were one or two large dark olive duns on the water, but from my vantage point, it appeared as though the trout preferred more easily targeted emergers over fully hatched adults that could disappear in a second. 

In such circumstances, an appropriately sized Parachute Adams or my own GPE (General-Purpose Emerger) usually finds its way onto my tippet. These are hardly the stuff of legends when it comes to creativity; however, I seldom find the need for anything more complex at this time of year and prefer (on the basis of experience) to prioritise presentation over close-copy imitation.

MAIN4 dries fromtheoff tff 4
Bringing fish downstream to the net quickly in the shallow glides will avoid spooking the other rising fish upstream.

 

Gently, Bentley! 

 

Recent work by Paul Procter, Dave Southall and others has questioned the need for regular degreasing of dry-fly tippets on running water and instead argues for the greater benefits of slack-line casts and tippet collapse in aiding natural, drag-free drifts. I don’t doubt for one second that their experiences and expertise more than bear this out; however, I’m at my most confident when using all available ways of minimising poor presentation – especially on this hard taskmistress of a river. 

Thus, before sliding carefully down the bank into the gin-clear water below, I went through my usual leader-preparation drills. First up was greasing everything to within three feet of the fly, to ensure clean, smooth pick-up when rolling or lifting off into the next cast (or striking into a fish). I then used sinkant paste to degrease the remainder of the tippet, which would prevent it silhouetting on the calm, oily surface like a scratch on a mirror. 

Whatever technique I’m employing, I always try to get as close to rising fish or likely looking areas as possible, so as not to jeopardise presentation and line control with longer than necessary casts. In this respect, the gravelly riverbed offered comfortable, secure wading, which very much supported the ‘gently, Bentley’ approach that would make all the difference between success and failure that day. Even with the slowest and subtlest of leg movements, I could do little to prevent expanding ripples from arcing upstream towards rising trout; however, the tail of a narrow, foam-flecked run afforded a measure of cover from which to make my first casts. 

Smooth acceleration to crisp stops over a narrow casting arc served to load the rod and turn over the long leader with minimal fly line beyond the tip. After three failed attempts, I managed to drop the size 16 GPE just above the nearest rising fish, and up it came. Afraid that his splashy acrobatics would spook other trout in the run, I quickly steered this plump, vividly-spotted 10-incher downstream and into the net for a quick photo, before releasing him back into the cold, clear water.

 

Parachute Adams Variant

 

Urban Oasis flies f 5


Hook: Orvis Classic Extra-Fine Dry-Fly, sizes 14 to 20
Thread: Semperfli Nanosilk (grey) 
Tail: Mixture of Grizzle and Rhode Island Red cock hackle fibres
Abdomen & Thorax: Hare's Ear or Wapsi Superfine dubbing (Grey) 
Wingpost: Orvis Poly Pro Yarn (White)
Hackle: Grizzle and Rhode-Island Red cock hackles, wound together

 

GPE (General Purpose Emerger) 

Clark Colman FLY

Hook: Kamasan B100/B100 Gold, sizes 14 or 16
Thread: Semperfli Nano Silk, olive
Abdomen: Stripped Peacock quill, dyed olive; varnished for protection
Wing: Two natural CDC plumes, backward-sloping
Thorax: Olive-dyed Hare's ear
Legs: Dark dun cock handle, clipped
 

Something A Little Bigger…

 

With large dark olives continuing to trickle off, and the run rested briefly, the antics of this first fish wouldn’t prevent more of a similar size from following in reasonably quick succession – providing, of course, that I’d dried the fly with floatant dust and retreated the leader. Then, while distracted by a busy water vole some little distance upstream, I almost missed the slow, unhurried swirl that engulfed the GPE in the shade of a left-bank reed clump.

Clearly no 10-incher, the trout bolted off upstream as I struck, accompanied by all the line I’d retrieved (at the same speed as the current) to keep in touch with the fly as it drifted back downstream. More line followed by a singing reel, before the fish paused, hung in the placid current and shook its head a couple of times – always the sign of a bigger brownie. Then it was off across the river, intent on burying itself under the bank. 

A big tail and long, golden-olive flank slapped angrily on the surface before the hooped-over rod tip sprang backwards and the barbless GPE dropped sadly down to the surface. “At least you know they’re here,” I said to myself, in a not-entirely-successful bid to assuage my guilt at losing what was clearly a very special trout for this river. 

 

Onwards And Upwards

 

It soon became obvious that the escapee had put his smaller cousins to flight, so I crept slowly upstream to the tail of a wider, slower and even shallower run, where I’d observed several fish rising consistently while tackling up. They were still there, and in good numbers too, but longer casting and even greater care with presentation were necessary here.

At times I was my own worst enemy in this respect. Whether mulling over my lost ‘monster’, engrossed in watching the fly or distracted by my new friend the water vole, I wasn’t always quick enough in retrieving line to maintain drag-free contact with the GPE. This caused a loop of line to pass behind the rod tip, creating a ‘pulley wheel’ effect that zipped the fly downstream in a pronounced V-wake – clearly very offputting to the trout. Also, if takes from less-discerning fish had come at that point, I’d have needed to lift the whole loop off the surface before driving the hook point home – by which time they’d likely be long gone. 

A bit more self-discipline was necessary to bring several more pretty wild brownies to the net, including a fine, olive-hued and large-spotted 13-incher. Given their preference for helpless emergers, takes weren’t exactly hurried, and the number of rising trout here made it all-too-tempting to recast immediately if the GPE passed over one without disappearing. This would, however, have caused much disturbance, so I waited until the fly, leader and fly line were well downstream, raising the rod tip all the while to create a D-loop, before gently rolling the line high off the water and accelerating into the back cast.

Given current weather conditions, this day on one of my all-time favourite early season rivers seems like a long time ago. To judge from the cold, wet and windy scene outside, not to mention the welcome fire crackling in the hearth, it’ll be a little while yet before the large dark olives start to appear in sufficient numbers to warrant resting my nymphing rods and heavy bugs. 

When they do, however, I might well celebrate with a trip back to the Midlands, armed with a light-line dry-fly outfit and a box of appropriate imitations – plus a reassuring tub of leader sinkant or two! 

For all the satisfaction I get from leader-only, European-style nymphing tactics, I must admit to missing the sight of a fly line and leader unrolling over a rising river brown trout. It should at least make for a nice break from the norm, and hopefully, Mr Vole will be there too – I do miss his company! 

 

 IGP2986 Dries from the off 5
Don't rule out the dries this spring... 

 

 IGP2941 Dries From The Off 6
... the rewards are well worth it! 

 

(Photography by Will Burn) 

 

Angler Profile

Name: Clark Colman

Tel: 07752 268073

E-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Web: www.edipflyfishing.co.uk

Clark Colman is the Fly Fishing Specialist at Orvis UK’s Harrogate store. He also runs EDIP Fly Fishing – a popular guiding service operating nationwide. 

 

Fishing on your lunch break – sounds brilliant and wouldn’t it be awesome if you could do this every day. Fishtec’s Ceri Thomas simply couldn’t handle missing out on the spring hatches... so he started doing just that.

For a good few years lunch time angling never even crossed my mind, despite the river Usk being just up the road from the Airflo and Fishtec HQ. Evening fishing after work yes - but never at dinner time. I simply couldn’t fit it in – or could I?

Lunch time magic for Tim Hughes use

The problem was in early season you don’t get an evening rise, just a lunch time rise. And on the Usk, it’s brilliant in early spring, with the legendary march browns and the large dark olive hatches.

Lunch time Usk Trout use

As normally happens by the weekend the Welsh rain is back and it’s blown out ... you miss the hatch but it’s frustratingly perfect again by the middle of the week.  I was missing out big time; the weekend just wasn’t enough.

The answer was to try and hit the river at lunch break, just in time for the fly emergence and enjoy casting at rising fish, with the challenge of squeezing this into just 30 minutes or so.

I took some inspiration from my fishing pal and fellow team member Tim Hughes. It turns out Tim had been sneaking down to the river to get his fix! So it was entirely possible, I just had to make the jump and give it a try.

Here’s how I do it: rod is pre-rigged with line, leader and fly ready attached. Fly is pre-ginked, leader already degreased.  Waders and boots are at the ready in the boot. No vest, just a few essentials in the jacket. With fly choice I go with what I think will work, usually dry. No time to switch methods or for many fly changes. It’s basically a one fly, time limited lunch time challenge.

One fly challenge use

My chosen beat is literally down the road at Brecon Town – a 2-minute drive. Sling the waders on, boots over the top. Don’t bother with gravel guards. Then literally RUN like crazy down to the river whilst pushing the two rod sections together, beginning false casting on the way. As I move, the fly is unhooked from the keeper ring and bingo you are fishing, all within 5 minutes.

I time my break with the hatch and hope to hit the best time of the day. Keeping tabs on Facebook and online reports really comes in handy for this. Avoiding a blank is the ultimate goal, with just one fish making it a proper result. Even a blank is fine though; simply being on the river watching a dry drifting for 20 minutes is a great break from the office.

My record is 4 fish, I’ve had a few 3’s, ones or two’s are fairly frequent and so are the blanks. Tim recently had 6 (the record!). Lunch time angling has been great for a bit of product testing - waders for example, prototype fly lines and the new Airflo Airlite V2 fly rods have all been baptised on the river in the past month.

On the dry fly use

It's nice to see the river as a snapshot in that little daily window. Things can change radically from day-to-day; sometimes there is a hatch of fly galore, others times the river remains dead and grey.  Hurricane winds, dog walkers and canoes, high water, snow and rain have all played their part. It’s all good.

So to conclude lunch time fishing can be done! It’s simply great to be out trying to catch a fish. Next time you are on your lunch break, gazing out of the window thinking about trout, do some research on where your nearest bit of water is - you might be surprised at what you can fit in.

Day and season permits for the Breconshire River Usk Fishery association are available from the Fishtec tackle shop in Brecon.

Fishing Brecon town water

 

Word's and Pictures from Fishtec Fly

Veniard - The Harvester

Steve Cullen shares The Harvester, which should be all you need to pick off the better early season trout! 

 

Having done a lot of my river fishing around the start of the season, because this is usually when the ‘muckle troot’ come out to play, there are two flies that dominate – Large Dark Olives and March Browns.

There are a myriad of patterns that can be tried to tempt fish feeding on these flies at the surface, from Spiders, Waterhen Bloa, Partridge and Orange to the good old Greenwell’s Glory. But, and it’s a big but, most flies will have a productive period, a time during the hatch when it mimics whatever it is the naturals are doing.

The Harvester, which is an adaptation and amalgamation of several of my favourite tried and trusted patterns, seems to catch throughout the hatch period and in most flows, too.

It looks like the real deal but, importantly, and this is the key for me, it behaves just like the real deal.

The addition of a dubbing loop of dirty yellow CDC just in behind the wing post seems to really work wonders and triggers something deep in the trout’s feeding psyche.

Another few attributes worth mentioning, and no doubt you can tell from the images, is the use of solely natural materials, materials that move and breathe, yet at the same time have that insecty look of many of our upwing species.

The fly, when it alights on the water, from my perspective anyway, looks exactly like the naturals do as they float in the current, set to take flight when their wings are ready. This dead drift phase can be deadly on the tails of pools, where I often find the larger, less gung-ho trout!

 

Hook: 130BL, size 12 or 14

Thread: Light Cahill

Tail: Coq de Leon

Body: Olive stripped herl

Thorax: Dirty yellow CDC, in dubbing loop

Wing: Five CDC feathers


For Best Results

Flies For All Seasons The Harvesters Veniard April 16

Where

I like nothing better than to sit on the bank and survey a vast swathe of water. The more I have to focus on the better. Long flat glides, at the tail of pools, just as the water shallows up and speeds towards faster flows. 

On this flat, oily water rises are easily picked out, but you must sit on your hands. Let the little ones rise and the big boys will soon follow. For prospecting find fast pocket water. ‘Popply’ water is best because you can get up close and personal with the trout without them fleeing!

 

When

The sensible time to attach this Harvester to the end of your tippet is spring. For me, it was when I started to see the daffodils in bloom, although it must be said that this year I saw some in early February!

March, April and May are bankers for this pattern but, given the size and look of the fly, it does a really good job well into June as the mayflies hatch in numbers. I’ve even had trout take this for the spent late on in the evening, indicating that they were so switched on they would have taken a Coke bottle top if it floated past them!

 

How

Dry-fly fishing is all about fooling that one trout, the individual that you are keyed in on, the fellow that has piqued one’s interest. I’m very patient, only once it rises will I apply fuller’s earth to my tippet. My tippet is usually two feet of 0.12mm tied to the end of a 12ft leader tapering to 5lb. I will add floatant to the end of my fly line. Success is all in the detail. By the time I have done both of these the trout should have risen again. This tells me it’s feeding, not just a random ‘oncer’.

I false cast to get line working through the rings; not much, never more than five metres. I like to get as close as possible and if that means getting on my hands and knees, so be it. I always cast short, gauge the line I need, pull it off the reel and deliver the fly a good metre above the riser.

Takes will be instant, even if it’s not dead in the feeding line. At this time of the year, the trout are on it!

 

Tying The Fly

STEP1 veniard april 16
Place the hook into the vice and wind on the thread. At the end of the body create a bump with several thread wraps. Tie in some Coq de Leon, same length as the body, butt the thread up to the bump to splay the tail

 

STEP2 veniard april 16
Prepare the herl and secure at the rear. Now take some varnish to the body, this makes the herl less fragile, before winding the herl up in touching turns to the thorax area.

 

STEP3 veniard april 16
Take five CDC feathers and take your time and align the tips so that they all sit flush. Try and pick feathers of the same size and density.

 

STEP4 VENIARD APRIL 16 2
Tie in the CDC with tight locking turns, leave some space just behind the eye for use later. Once locked in place, trim the butts and tidy up with thread wraps. 

 

STEP5 VENIARD APRIL 16
Create the dubbing loop at the end of the thorax area and prepare the CDC fibres, add a little wax to the dubbing loop for grip.

 

STEP6 veniard april 16
Slide in the CDC fibres and spin the loop, not overly tight, then wind on as the thorax, stopping at the wing post and trim. Now bring the thread up and under the wing post and use thread wraps to push the post back and upright before tying off.

Ben Bangham takes his marabou lures to Albury Estate Lakes to see if the simple approach to catching trout works as well today as it did when he first started fly fishing.

On a recent fishing trip, I was having a chat to the editor about articles and what we looked for in them when we first started fly fishing to where we are now. What we both agreed was that sometimes we, as writer and editor, might write articles based around fairly advanced techniques and flies, especially the flies.

Most fly anglers are at what I call a happy level of fly tying, ie they can tie flies and love to use and catch fish on them. Most of the flies in the magazines are fairly advanced to tie. For most people, these are hard to do, as well as using a multitude of materials that many might not have at their disposal. Sometimes they use techniques that are fairly tricky.

 

Simple Flies
simple lures tff feb 16
A handful of simple lures coupled with a floating and intermediate line was Ben's choice of attack for the Albury Trout

So as a result of that chat we decided that for this article I would go back in time to when I was fishing solely for fun and really just getting into fly tying. It was back to the old school and a few flies based around the classic Dog Nobbler-type patterns that I used to use religiously in the early years.

This is one of the most simple lures to tie and is very effective. More importantly, it doesn’t use a lot of materials and doesn’t have any advanced tying techniques in its creation. All you need is a hook, a bead, a marabou feather for the tail and body, and a bit of rib to hold it all together.

Ben casting tff feb 16
Fish could be seen close in, so keeping a low profile and casting back from the water's edge was required early on

Colourwise I used to use orange the most but this time I tied up a few more variations just in case. I knew as I was tying them that they would work, the question I had was would they work as well as some of the more modern, more advanced lures that are out there now?



Simple Approach

I decided that fishing in the spirit of things I would only take the bare essentials with me. This consisted of the new Sage Bolt rod in a 9ft 5-wt, which is my go-to rod for all small stillwater situations now. It casts a line beautifully, giving the impression of a fairly stiff casting tool; however, when you play a fish with it the rod almost seems to soften up and give you a really exciting playing tool. I matched it up with a Rio Gold 5-wt floater loaded onto a Sage 4250 reel to get a beautifully balanced outfit.

I also set up a rod with an intermediate line on just as a backup. To be honest I much prefer fishing a floater than an intermediate nowadays.

Leaderwise I didn’t do anything special at all, again looking at how I used to fish. All I used was 10 feet of 8lb fluorocarbon. Obviously, I didn’t have fluorocarbon when I was starting out, but this is what I use on stillwaters now and so on it went. Very simple and very easy.


Albury Awaits

We headed down to Albury Estate Fisheries, a place that I had driven past a few times over the years, but had never wet a line there. I guide with one of the Albury’s fishery managers, Cameron Craigs, from time to time so I thought it was high time to go down and catch a few of his fish!

Ben catches TFF Feb 16
Wth a slight tinge of colour in the water, the Albury fish wanted brighter flies, with the sunburst lure pick of colours.

The fishery essentially consists of four separate fisheries: Powder Mills, Syon Park, Vale End and Weston. On this occasion, I decided to concentrate on the day-ticket waters that make up Weston Fishery.

Weston consists of three lakes: Main Lake, which is the biggest of the three, Lower Millhouse Lake and finally the smallest one, Wood Lodge Pool. I wanted to fish each of the lakes to see if the flies could catch across all three.



Black To Start

I headed up to the furthest of the lakes – Wood Lodge Pool – to start. On the end of the leader was the black and orange bead version of the lure that I had tied, as I have a lot of confidence in black flies. The lakes are normally crystal clear, but today they were carrying a touch of colour. Not so much that you couldn’t see the fish but you had to look hard and work your flies in the areas where you saw movement.

I had managed to spot a few fish cruising a couple of feet under the surface of the lake, but despite covering them all only one or two showed any interest in what I had to offer. I changed retrieves to see if that would make a difference, but it had very little effect at all, if any.

I wondered whether the water carrying that tinge of colour meant that the rainbows might be a bit responsive to a splash of colour being pulled through their watery lair. It was a toss-up between the sunburst with a purple bead and the orange with a black bead. I opted for the sunburst as I just thought that extra brightness might be the key to unlocking these fish.

Ben reeling one in tff feb 16
A swap to the orange lure brought success on Lower Mill House Lake. Changing colour can make a big difference to your catch rate.

It turns out that I made the right choice, as it was only a matter of minutes until the steady slow retrieve resulted in the line tightening and I was playing my very first Albury Estate rainbow. It was a great fight and it was fairly hard fish to get on top of. It went off like a rocket, racing around the lake putting a great bend in the rod. It eventually gave up and came to the net!

 

ben scouting tff feb 16
It pays to watch the water before selecting where to fish. Keep an eye on rising fish, wind direction and other anglers before choosing your peg

 

"Once I had located a few active fish I knew it wouldn't be too long until I had my limit, and I was right"

 

Marginal Success

With the first fish in the net, it was time for a move. While we were taking photos I noticed that on main lake there were a few fish moving in a certain area. I marked the place they were moving and started to pack up my kit ready to move. At the end of Wood Lodge Pool, right in the margin, was another trout about the same size as the one I had just caught. I stopped and slowly sank to my knees using the bankside cover to my advantage while I got my rod ready, keeping my eye on the fish all the time.

It didn’t really need a cast, the fish was that close. I just swung the fly out and let it sink down right in front of the rainbow’s nose. It sank seductively and before it had touched the bottom the trout had snaffled it – game on!

Once again the fight was great and the rainbow gave a very good account of itself but I soon had it in the net.

This time I managed to get onto the Main Lake. I headed straight for the area that I had seen the fish moving in and started to work it methodically, fan casting and varying the retrieve and depth that I was fishing at. I never counted it down too long as it seemed that the fish were mainly working the upper levels of the water column.

It wasn’t too many casts before the little sunburst lure had done its job again and another hard-fighting rainbow was doing its best to strip all the line from my reel. Another cracker about the 3lb mark.

For my final trout on the four-fish ticket, I decided to move to the last lake of the three to give it a whirl. Cameron did say that this lake was having a few issues due to lack of water flow, but it seemed to be not too bad and I could see a few fish moving. I changed up the fly to the orange one as I have a soft spot for it.

I spent 10 minutes walking around the lake just trying to locate the fish and in the process I had my licence checked by an EA bailiff (which was great to see). Once I had located a few active fish I knew it wouldn’t be too long until I had my limit, and I was right. Again this fished punched well above its weight and tested my tackle, but there was only one outcome – a happy angler. That brought an end to my first session on Albury Estate Fisheries, but I can say for sure that the next time I drive past I shall definitely be stopping.



Happy Memories

I wanted to go out and use a fly that everyone can tie. It was my first ‘useful’ fly that I ever tied and caught me most of my early trout. It was such a great thing to go out with this fly again and catch on it.

As I progressed in fly tying this pattern went to the back of the box and eventually out of it all together. So how does it stack up compared to the more modern, more complicated counterparts now, and does it get a place in my box again?

Ben making memories tff feb 16
Happy memories. The buzz of catching on your own creations takes some beating!

 

I would say very well. On the day of the article I can hand on heart say that I caught those fish as quickly as I would have done with my normal lures; I was stunned at just how effective this pattern is. It is great to see that it hasn’t lost its potency over the years and has gone from being a bit of a blast from the past to having a firm place in my everyday box, praise indeed.

So get out the vices and the marabou you have lying around, whip it onto a hook and catch a fish. Get that buzz from catching on your own flies – it’s great.



The Keep It Simple Marabou Lure

Hook: Hanak 260 or similar, size 10
Bead: 3mm tungsten
Thread: Colour to match the body
Tail: Pinch of marabou
Body: Marabou
Rib: Silver or copper wire

 

Step 1:
STEP1 tff feb 16
Slide the bead onto the hook and run a layer of thread down the shank to the bend.

 

Step 2:
STEP2 tff feb 16
Take a pinch of marabou and tie in the tail. Run the thread over the marabou towards the eye to keep an even body ad return to the bend.

 

Step 3:
STEP3 tff feb 16
Tie in the copper wire rib and a marabou body and run the thread to the eye of the hook.

 

Step 4:
STEP4 tff feb 16
Wind the marabou up the body and tie off and then take the wire up in open turns to form the rib and secure.

 

Step 5:
STEP5 tff feb 16
Whip finish and varnish. Using your finger and thumb, nip the marabou tail to the required length. 

 

Factfile:

Venue: Albury Estate Fisheries

Location: Estate Office, Weston Yard, Albury, Guildford, Surrey, GU5 9AF

Albury bailiff: Mob 07976 810737

Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Website: http://alburyestatefisheries.co.uk

Glen Pointon relives the day he caught a huge river brown trout from a city river just a short walk from his front door…

I have always hunted specimen fish. Even as an eight-year-old sat there with my non-fishing dad, watching the bobbing of a hand-painted oversized perch float, I always had the thought “Is it a big ’un?”

The adrenaline kick from the rushing thoughts in my mind was my drug. I couldn’t get enough of that feeling and now, at 40, I feel no different. Is this my downfall or a bonus? I don’t know, but one thing for sure is that fishing has driven me to many lows and massive highs.

Travelling around parts of Europe and the UK I have searched out big fish and had reasonable success, but my 2015 season brought something special… and it was right on my doorstep!

 

Trout In The Trent

 

Stoke-on-Trent is my home soil, a city of five towns and known in past times for its huge pottery industry, which devastated the source of the river, turning it into a lifeless drain.

The industrial revolution took its toll on the Trent and it wasn’t until the 1970’s recession that the river started to become cleaner. This is when it became the river fishing Mecca of the UK, with hundreds of anglers lining its banks.

Times, however, have changed and anglers have moved onto stillwater commercials to get their fix. Over the last 30 years Environment Agency (EA) groups have kept up with modern times and this 184-mile river has now become clean. It was in 2015 that my River Trent trout fishing story began.

When we think of the Trent we usually imagine the massive river of the lower reaches, but here in Stoke it’s small and has some of the looks of a bumbling trout stream like my local River Dove. 

In the last few years I have always looked over bridges after work and watched small shoals of chub and dace, and dreamt of seeing trout. Around four years ago that dream came true as before my eyes I saw a small trout of 8oz flitting around a fast gravel run. I was buzzing and before long had caught my first-ever Trent trout. I felt proud as punch.

Another few years passed and I had been hitting the Dove hard, but now and again I would go and have a look at my little Trent to see if any more trout were about.

 

The Buttercup Warrior

 

It was late October 2013 and the trout were out of season as I walked along to my favourite ‘sighter’ bridge and peered over the edge. What I saw turned my next few years into a total obsession.

Behind a boulder midstream, in three feet of water, was a trout; not your average 10-incher, but a huge wild buttercup warrior that looked as wild as they come.

I froze on the spot. I didn’t move a muscle. My eyes gazed with anticipation as I watched its every move.

It was there for a reason. It came to the surface, inhaled a fly, flashed its heavily marked red spots and buttercup flank and bolted downstream to its home.

For me this had everything I could dream of: a big wild Trent trout that rises to the natural, and within five minutes of my house! I went back home with a smile on my face so big my missus thought I was I was having an affair. I was, and for two years it would be with this big, wild, female buttercup trout!

 

Learning From Nature

 

My first attempt at this fish was a big lesson. So many Dove fish I had targeted I had caught after a few sessions, but as I strolled up to the river I soon realised I was into something that would be near impossible. It would teach me how to fish at another level.

The first few weeks I had been down all rigged up ready to fish and I simply could not get near the trout. It would drift into position and start to feed above and below the surface but any sudden movements by myself would send the fish bolting to its home under a fallen tree. 

This went on for weeks and in the end I found that crawling in from the side got me into a spot where I could be 20 feet away with the fish in full view.

To my right was a bridge where the fallen log and flood debris held, which was home to this fish. It would swim out upstream of the bridge to sit behind a boulder the size of a bucket and move from left to right, focusing upstream on any food sources drifting down or hatching. The boulder would just take enough flow out of the main current for it to be a perfect feeding zone.

The first time I took my rod after all the homework on this fish, however, was my last time for the season…

I was sitting there in position, the trout was in its feeding zone and hard on the feed. This was my big chance. I peeled line off my reel. Behind the trout was a shoal of small chub that saw my rod whip around to the side. They all shot off upstream and the trout instantly sensed danger and bolted.

I was gutted. I now had to deal with shoals of coarse fish above and below this trout that were acting as spies. Rod flashes, coarse fish, movements, and one big, hardy, wised-up trout – I was really up against it. That was about it for my 2014 season hunting down this Trent beauty, as I had become distracted by some River Manifold trout, but in the back of my mind, I felt failure for not carrying on.

 

Time To Return

 

After a decent grayling season 2015 came around and in early March I took a wander around my failure spot.

"So there I was in position, the big hen rising at midday, taking the odd olive and anything that looked like food on the surface."

The season’s floods had changed the riverbed slightly and some kids had rolled a big boulder into the river, not knowing that to me this was a gift from the trout gods!

It’s one of nature’s wonders that year after year, after a hard winter of floods and extreme cold temperatures, trout return to their homes in the same spots. I have now watched the same trout on a Dove tributary for seven years and it’s never moved!

IMG 8525
The Derbyshire rivers were Glen's normal fishing haunts until the Trent trout became an obsession and addiction.

My only worry was that the fish on the Trent would have been old and died, but on March 14th, my birthday and the start of the trout season, I was gifted with a sighting of the big buttercup hen trout I had been targeting.

Just the sighting gave me palpitations, she moved into the flow for at least 30 seconds, and that’s all it took for me to become totally obsessed with holding this beauty. I had a clear mind, it was early season and I began to study this fish like no other.

 

 

Trout On My Terms

 

The first few weeks of the season brings the magic large dark olive hatch. The big girl knew this and from 11.30am until 12.30pm there was a burst of activity when she would swim out of her home and bully all the other fish from the feeding zone. I got to know so much about the behaviour of this trout from hours of watching it.

The boulder that had been thrown in the river was the new spot for the trout; it was some 10 yards further upstream from its last feeding zone and it gave me a chance to get into a decent casting position. 

I have watched trout rise for many years but I had never seen one as wary as this, it was so zoned into being predated itself it would rise to one single olive and bolt to its home downstream and within a minute it would cautiously ghost back to the feed zone. With heavy predation from birds and pike, to survive in these conditions takes some skills.

Everything was set up for me; even the chub were in the deeper water out the way this early in the season!

So there I was in position, the big hen rising at midday, taking the odd olive and anything that looked like food on the surface. It wasn’t locked on to a certain food source – they never are on these neglected rivers, they eat what they can to survive – and I peered into my fly box, with size 19 Blue Winged Olives, Large Dark Olives and F Flies, all tied on thin little quaint hooks.

I knew this fish would take anything but I needed something with a strong hook. I am not an angler with rows of immaculate flies and when I saw a size 14 Bibio from Scottish loch fishing it just screamed out at me.

The famous Bibio is sadly a pattern not associated with rivers but that’s the anglers’ loss – this fly has caught me more big trout than any other. 

I had planned in my head what would happen when I hooked this fish; it would bolt downstream under the bridge in at least two seconds so I had just that amount of time to turn it. If it went under the snags it would be all over very quickly. I opted for some 1.8kg Stroft, something I could hopefully turn the fish with.

 

Two Years Of Waiting

 

I tied the Bibio on with a Palomar knot – one that is a pain to do and rarely used on dries, but the strongest there is – and greased the fly up.

I waited, glaring like a madman, for the fish to rise to a natural and it did, I loaded the rod once and shot my Bibio five feet above the fish.

The fish twitched its head as it confidently sighted my fly. I just knew it was going to take it. I watched in amazement as it approached the fly, this was sheer adrenaline like I had never experienced. There’s a quick flash in my mind thinking “two years, don’t mess it up!”

The trout’s mouth came over the fly. I was shaking and stalled slightly from the total pressure in my mind and struck! I felt nothing and the Bibio flew behind me! The fish bolted home and I had my head in my hands.

I sat there totally deflated, thinking of ways to make me feel better. At least I got it to take the fly but I messed it up big time, my nerves went.

 

Take Two

 

Ten minutes passed; a couple of local homeless lads were drinking Stella on the bridge. I had got to know them as they had seen me spending so much time there and even they looked gutted for me as I told them. 

As they strolled off I glanced into the river and did a double take as the big buttercup hen was on station looking for surface food again.

I went through the whole process again, only this time my line tightened up as I struck the Bibio home. The fish went absolutely berserk and leapt out the water straight up like a salmon three times in the same spot. I had never seen a trout do that.

It then bolted so quickly it took me by surprise and I had to go running into the middle of the river to stop it going into the roots. 

I gave it some serious stick beyond what I was happy with but it worked and it stopped in its tracks with another spectacular jump.

I saw a weakness then in its fight as it started the old trick of staying deep and plodding around the bottom. The fish was tired but not letting go.

The trout made one last dart but it was too late, I had won the battle. I turned the fish and sank the net under it.

20150413 135051
The buttercup warrior, well worth two years of waiting!

The buttercup warrior, well worth two years of waiting!I left the fish in my floating net at the side in the water, threw my rod on the bank and sat in the edge with an overwhelming feeling of satisfaction.

The fish had not yet been out the water and I let her revive before I took a good look at her.

I lifted her out to see the most amazing looking big trout in its glorious colours! I had studied and watched this fish in the water for two years and now I was blessed to see her in a way only a fisherman can.

She was lovelier than I thought, a picture postcard for how a trout should look! I took a quick picture and just let her drift back off – oh the satisfaction of catch and release.

I drove home that night with a smile on my face. A car cut me up and I had to swerve over the road, I remember it well. I even waved to the driver and accepted his apology with a smile! Fishing is good for the soul and mind.

20150715 200524
Safely returned to the clean water of the Trent!

Later in the summer, I walked the banks of this urban Trent with a cocky attitude and often watched the big hen rising. I never once had any intention of casting at her again. I saw lads with spinning outfits off the bridge but she is too wary for them. 

Half a mile downstream I saw a dark shape under an overhanging tree… it turned and showed its flank, a fish so big it made my knees wobble! 

Oh no, it’s starting all over again…

Recent trends in grayling fishing have focused on flies with tags, flash, bling and pink! Wychwood consultant Carl Nixon goes back to black, much to the liking of the ‘lady of the stream’.

 

Is it a forgotten colour? Do we choose black when all else fails or when certain conditions present themselves to us? As anglers we are obsessed with the newest fad in colour, material or fly pattern! When it comes to river patterns, and especially during late autumn and early winter, where we target grayling we become unconsciously obsessed with tags, pink shrimps and the much loved Squirmy, along with the many variants that can be whittled up while sat at the vice during those long winter nights.

When the phenomenon of the Squirmy was brought from the US and cast into the UK waters in 2012, two good friends used it to win a few stillwater bank matches. A few months later, the secret was out. Only a few years ago the red variant was all that was available and was being put to use by river anglers far and wide. Then, as you can imagine, the fly-tying fraternity, and in particular David Hise in the US, started producing all manner of colours – pinks, green, orange and black. These soon arrived in the UK!

I was kindly given two sample colours to try in 2013; candy pink and black. Not thinking much of the black, I put it in the drawer and forgot about it. Obviously the candy pink worked on stillwaters, picking up a few bank wins for me, along with a cracking session on the River Don where I annihilated both trout and grayling.

 

Back To Black

Having a recent rummage through the Squirmy drawer I stumbled upon the black. Not being my first choice material to work with I had a go and tied a few jig patterns. The trick to using Squirmy is to use a multi-strand floss and always lay a bed of thread on the shank first. This stops it spinning as you tie it in.

Taking these flies down to my local stream, I was amazed at how effective they were. Typically only tying three of them, they didn't last very long; it never helps when you stick one in a tree! So returning to the vice, I decided to tie quite a few more up with different weights and coloured beads. Carrying on with the black theme I tied a few more flies – Pheasant Tails, Flashback Nymphs and a few Squirmy variants.

IMG 2168 TFF DEC
Carl's main line of attack for grayling is a 10ft 3-wt; ideal for a range of nymphing techniques

Heading south to the River Calder and contemplating what would greet me as I arrived, the mission, should the fish choose to accept it, was to see if the Yorkshire grayling were as keen on the black flies as much as their northern counterparts. There's no reason why they shouldn't be, but starting off with black flies instead of the usual choice of something bright and flashy may prove to be a big mistake.

 

Tackling Up

IMG 2170 TFF
Using a fine-diameter fluorocarbon with files spaced 40 centimetres apart ensures that you can get your flies down quickly to cover the depths

Setting up the Wychwood River & Stream 10ft, 3-wt along with the new River Nympher super-thin fly fine, the day looked like it was set to be a good. Attached to my line I constructed a tapered leader made up of smoke blue monofilament and lengths of Camo Mode monofilament, ending in a 35 to 40-centimetre length of Two Tone indicator in 0.25mm terminated with a 2mm micro ring. Attached to this I used 3lb Ghost Mode fluorocarbon, with 90 centimetres to the dropper, approximately 40 to my middle dropper and a further 40 to my point fly. Rather than go for anything with a tag or obnoxious and in your face, I stuck to the plan and selected three black patterns. I planned to avoid the temptation of something with colour and intended to stick with these throughout the day

 

The All Blacks

IMG 2355 TFF DEC
The Black Squirmy and Flashback Nymph, two black patterns that the grayling couldn't resist.
IMG 2357 TFF DEC

I attached the black Squirmy on the point, black Flashback Nymph in the middle and a simple black nymph on the point, all tied on size 14 Hanak 450BLs. The water was quite low as I made my way to an obvious pool just upstream of an abandoned bridge. Trying not to scare every fish within 100 yards of me, I crouched down and fished the seam on the inside bank, just in case any fish were lurking nearby. Looking at the pool it was apparent that the conveyor belt of food on the surface was running about two feet off the far bank. My suspicions were confirmed when a grayling broke rank and took something as it floated by. As I worked downstream along the inside bank, I made my way out and across, splitting the water into a grid and covering it methodically. As I reached the tail of the pool I connected with my first fish of the day, helping itself to the Flashback Nymph on the middle dropper. The small but welcome grayling was quickly netted and returned. I concentrated my efforts on the far bank, casting upstream at 45 degrees and tracking the flies downstream. I was soon rewarded with two more grayling.

 

Weight For A Change

Moving upstream trying to cover as much water as possible, I made my way towards a nice dogleg pool with an almost natural weir created by the urban landscaping. Obviously, the pace and depth of this spot was somewhat slower than the previous pool; a change of weight was needed to reach the fish hugging the bottom. I opted for a 3.5mm gold beaded Squirmy, this time for the point fly. I was instantly rewarded with a grayling on the black Squirmy as the flies tracked downstream in front of me. This variant has a collar of Glo-Brite No2 as a trigger point. It’s not strictly an all black pattern but it takes its fair share of ladies from the pool. Working slowly towards the natural weir the water dropped away in front of me. The pace here had quickened and the interest for the next few casts slowed a little so I began working my way back down the pool.

"As I lifted again a grayling kindly took hold and headed for the reeds on the far bank"

As I worked the water in front of me I cast straight into the heart of the pool and let the flies swing directly downstream and across. Here I got a good solid rattle from an inquisitive fish. I've found this method gets some interest on tough days and can account for a bonus fish. It’s a great way of helping you search a pool.

IMG 2177 DPS TFF DEC
After covering the inside line it's time to do the same to the middle and far bank. Doing this methodically should bring more fish to the net.

Knowing that there were still fish in the pool I carefully waded through the deep water back downstream and worked the area, concentrating on the slower-paced water. As the flies tracked past I gently lifted the rod tip trying to induce a response. As I lifted I was met with some resistance and a nice sized brown trout revealed its hiding spot and bravely fought back. I quickly unhooked him in the water because he was out of season and he shot back to his spot in the river.

 

Mission Accomplished

Noticing the weather was about to turn for the worse we quickly headed for a pool that I was given the heads up about. Again I changed the weight of the flies because the pool was a little faster and shallower than before.

Casting the team of three black flies into the riffle I was met with a gentle twitch on the indicator. There was nothing there so I quickly cast back into the pool and allowed the flies to dead drift. As I lifted again a grayling kindly took hold and headed for the reeds on the far bank. This is when it began to rain and it was time for home!

IMG 2331 TFF DEC
Hold fire with the bright flashy patterns and give those black flies a go this Autumn...

I'd be inclined to say the mission was a success, and I'll certainly be keeping stock of the black Squirmy for any further trips! Why not try reaching for the black stuff next time you're out and give the bright tags and shrimps a rest? You may be pleasantly surprised.

 

Black Squirmy:

AJW 2186 TFF DEC SQUIRMY FLY

Hook: Hanak 450BL, size 12-16

Bead: Match your bead with hook size to your river

Thread: Flybox Ultrafloss, black

Tail and body: Black Squirmy worm

Collar:  Glo-Brite No2

 

Purple Flashback:

AJW 2187 TFF DECEMBER PURPLE FLASHBACK

Hook: Hanak 450BL or 470BL Wave Jig, size 12- 14

Bead: 3mm metallic purple

Tail: Medium Pardo Coq de Leon

Body: Hends Spectra shade 46

Flashback: Medium purple holographic tinsel

Rib: Medium black wire

 

Black Jack Nymph:

AJW 2188 TFF DECEMBER BLACK JACK NYMPH

Hook: Hank 450BL or Hends 154, size 14-16

Bead: Plain tungsten 2.5 to 3.5mm to match hook size

Tail: Medium Pardo Coq de Leon

Body: Argentinean hare, black

Collar: Hends Spectra 96

Simon Robinson has fished over 30 times for England in all disciplines. Here he reveals some of his top tips for practising in competitions on still and running water.

 

Most anglers who fish competitions will also practice for the upcoming match. As with any sport, having a solid game plan is often the difference between success and failure. Practice allows the angler to prepare methods and flies in advance of the match and hopefully cut down on any time wasted during the competition looking to find the successful method or locate the fish.

Most matches in England are divided into three categories – loch style from the boat, stillwaters from the bank and rivers. Each discipline is very different and has its own methods, tackle requirements and competition format. To be consistently successful in each discipline it is important to understand the best ways to practice to maximise your chances in the match.

 

 

Loch-Style Boat Matches 

 

8 Whickhope
On the big-water matches location is one of the key factors to being successful. Find the fish and then fine-tune the tactics.



Most loch-style matches are held on the UK’s well-known major fisheries such as Rutland, Chew Valley or the Lake of Menteith. They are normally fished over a single eight-hour period. Anglers fish in pairs, which are drawn randomly, and can fish anywhere on the lake (unless out-of-bounds areas are in place). Most major competitions usually take up the vast majority of the available boats and with most anglers practising the day before, if you intend to practice it is vital to book a boat well in advance!

 

 

Location

It may sound obvious but the key to success in boat matches is almost always fish location. In loch style you are not restricted to pegs or beats, so you will have the whole area of the lake or reservoir to fish. This can, of course, create issues because our larger reservoirs, such as Rutland, are too big to cover in a single practice day. For this reason you may wish to practise for more than one day if time and cost do not become too prohibitive. It is also a good idea to share information with others anglers. If possible, structure your practice by splitting the lake into sections so that you cover the whole venue between you. This is particularly useful in team events.

 

 

Fish Depth

Depth is probably the next critical element of practising for a loch-style event. Because you are likely to be practising with a boat partner, it makes sense to fish different lines at all times. I usually opt to fish a line at least two sink rates either higher or lower than my partner. For example, if my partner is on a floating or intermediate line I will use a Di3. If fish are deeper and my partner is using a Di3 or medium sink I will opt for an ultra-fast-sinking line such as a Di7 or Di8. I feel that is important because there are significant differences in sink rates to cover as much of the water column as possible. Only when we are happy that we have the taking depth should both anglers begin to fish similar lines and experiment with flies and retrieves.

 

 

 

Teams Of Flies

While I do not feel that flies are as important as depth or location, you do need to have a selection that you have confidence in. In most loch-style matches you will be fishing a team of flies. Generally, the fish will show preferences for lures, nymphs or dries. When this is established, I believe that the exact pattern is usually of little importance. If lures are the most successful method it makes sense to fish a bright one such as an Orange Blob or Cat’s Whisker on the dropper and a drab lure in black or olive on the point. If you are drifting over fish and varying the retrieve you should quickly be able to establish the methods that they prefer.

When I am practising for boat matches I like to locate fish and initially spend time working with my partner to establish the best methods to catch them. When you are confident in the methods you can then move around the lake searching for fish with confidence that if you cover some you will get takes.

 

Practice Makes Perfect Flies

Practice makes perfect flies 2

 

Keep Your Eyes Open

When practising it is always a good idea to keep an eye on other boats; they can provide a lot of valuable information. If you are struggling to catch and you notice other anglers catching it is worth taking time to observe their methods, even if they are not in the match. Look for telltale signs such as the colour of fly line. Is it dark or light? What angle is the line entering the water during the retrieve? While you can rarely identify the exact line being used, these observations will allow you to establish if successful anglers are using floating, slow or fast-sinking lines, countdown time and speed of retrieve. It is often worth taking a pair of binoculars to observe other anglers without getting too close!

  

double up Simon
Practising in pairs allows you to try different lines and flies until you find the method that works. As a guide, Simon likes to fish two line densities different from his partner

 

Bank Matches

Bank matches
Bank matches are certainly growing in popularity, especially in the northeast of England on waters such as Chatton Lakes...

Bank matches have been one of the few growth areas in competition fly fishing, particularly in the north of England where there are many, as well as a popular winter series. Increasingly, we are seeing anglers who specialise in this discipline. Small-water bank matches have also given anglers the opportunity to fish during winter when the reservoirs are closed to boat fishing and the smaller stillwaters are often at their best.

 

Pracitce Makes Perfect peg
... and these are the best place to start for anyone fancying getting into the competition scene.

 

Cover The Pegs

One of the key differences between bank and boat matches is that bank matches are almost always pegged. A standard pattern is that you will complete a full lap of the lake and in the process usually fish four pegs in the morning and four in the afternoon. It is also worth noting that competitions are often scored on the number of pegs you catch from, so it is vital that you can catch off as many as possible. Another factor is that catches on each peg are usually limited to five fish in a session, again making it important to catch in as many areas of the lake as possible.

The fact that you are pegged means there is nothing you can do regarding your location. Therefore, it can be argued that there is little point in looking for the best areas because you will not necessarily be fishing there on the day!

There are, however, definite merits to moving around a lake during practice, particularly if it is not uniform in depth and shape. You also need to take the wind into account; the methods that work in the calm water at the top of the wind may not work on the downwind bank and vice versa. To do well in most bank matches you will need to employ a variety of methods to suit different areas of the lake. For example, you may need to fish small nymphs or dries in a shallow area and then change to a sinking-line approach in deeper areas. To prepare for bank events I find that it is best to simulate the competition format when practising. Completing a full lap of the lake will allow you to see and fish all of the different areas and plan your strategy in terms of fish behaviour and successful methods as you go.

 

Practice Makes Perfect Pegs 2
It pays to practice around the lake beforehand because tactics may well be different on the downwind bank to what they are in the flat water.

 

Multiple Rods


Practice Makes Perfect 3 Rods
Three rods are the norm for bank matches. This allows you to change tactics quickly, which is important when you may have only 30 minutes a peg.


In boat matches, you are usually only permitted to have one rod set up at any time. However, in bank matches, you are usually allowed three. Consequently, you need to be able to chop and change methods to suit the peg. This is where practice really counts because most anglers can quickly work out a method to catch the easy fish. It is, however, anglers who can turn to effective methods on their second and third rods and keep catching, particularly on difficult pegs, who will usually come out on top.

"I have lost count of the number of times I have known anglers catch lots of fish in practice (and usually let everyone who will listen know!) only to perform poorly in the match"

 

 

Fly Choice And Setups


Small-water matches usually require a far greater selection of flies than other competitions because it is likely that you will be setting rods up with lure, indicator, nymph or dry-fly tactics. I would advise that you don’t go overboard with too many patterns; stick with tried and trusted flies in each category. One thing that is worth noting is that as small-water fish are usually subject to far higher fishing pressure it is often worth trying nymphs and dries in smaller sizes, as well as finer leaders on difficult pegs.

 

Practice Makes Perfect Flies 3 

 

River Competition Practice

Unfortunately, we do not have the same number of matches on the rivers as we do on the stillwater scene. Nevertheless, we do have several regional qualifiers, a national final and an international event between the home nations. One interesting fact is that we do not fish to the same pegged format used in all World and European championships. River matches are fished within certain boundaries or sections, but all of the anglers competing are free to roam anywhere within the same section. The only restriction is that they must not go within 30 metres of another angler who is fishing.

 

 

Study The Section

The format of most river matches in the UK means that it is important to look for water where you feel you can catch the most fish, as opposed to catching the most fish from a given stretch of water, which is the aim of events with a fixed peg for each angler. To do this it is well worth walking the full competition section and mark down the likely areas. I usually look for an area that is likely to hold a lot of fish combined with the possibility of fishing a variety of methods in a relatively small area. This means that even if there are other anglers in the area you can spend time fishing the same water and hopefully pick up a good number of fish.

If I could pick an ideal stretch of water it would be a nice fish-holding run with fish moving on the tail. This will allow y me to start with the dry fly before changing to a variety of nymph methods.

 

 

Work On Methods To Suit The Water Type

 

In river matches, you are allowed to set up a spare rod. This means you can have two methods ready and it is important to establish the correct ones for the sections of water you intend to fish.

If you are going to target rising fish then dry fly is the obvious choice. When the correct fly is discovered you can be pretty sure that it will work on any other rising fish in the competition sections.

When it comes to practising nymph fishing it is again worth observing the water and working out the weights of nymphs you are likely to need. Obviously weight will vary in different parts of the river depending on depth and pace.

 

 

Time Of Day And Competition Sessions

A very important consideration is time of day, particularly if you are fishing a match early or late in the season when fish will often feed at certain times. I have witnessed anglers practising taking fish on dries in the afternoon then drawing the morning session and struggling because the fish are simply not rising! It is therefore important to prepare for both morning and afternoon sessions, particularly if fish behaviour and hatches are likely to be different in each session.

Practice Makes perfect Picking your practice
The time of day you practice needs to be taken into account. What might work in the morning may not in the afternoon. It pays to have methods for both sessions.

 

Methods To Use After A Section Has Been Fished

Because you may be fishing an afternoon session on water that has been fished in the morning, and also sharing the section with other anglers, it is very likely that at some point you will be fishing water that has already been fished. This means that the easy, active fish will probably have already been caught. You therefore need to look for other ways to catch and this is often what separates the top anglers from the rest of the field.

Various methods can get you a few fish, including fishing finer leaders, smaller flies or adding extra weight and targeting deeper, faster areas where other anglers may not have reached fish holding close to the bottom.

To practise this I will often deliberately target water that I know another angler has fished to simulate a competition situation. Another option is to practise with another angler and alternate or swap sections and compare successful methods after the water has been fished, or simply fish the same small area yourself with different methods.

2 Rods
In river matches you can have two rods set up. Again this allows for two tactics to be employed, such as dries and nymphs

 

 

Summary

That is a basic summary of practising for matches across the disciplines and some of the tips to help you prepare.

 

Summary

There are several other general factors that apply to all competitions for me, the two most important by far are to not overfish the water you plan to fish on the match, so discipline in practice is particularly important. I have lost count of the number of times I have known anglers catch lots of fish in practice (and usually let everyone who will listen know!) only to perform poorly in the match. These big catches in practice are usually by anglers who continue to fish in productive areas with a successful method and then seem confused when the fish are not there to be caught on that method in the competition.

The second is the flies. Despite many rumours of ‘secret’ or ‘magic’ flies, very few actually exist and the majority of competition anglers fish basic, simple patterns available to all. So do not be worried about flies; stick with basic patterns such as those below and concentrate on preparation, presentation and approach when practising! Good luck!

 

Flies PmP

 

 

Clark Colman targets ‘magic lies’ on a small, feature-packed urban tributary in the hope of a back-end personal best.

 

I’ve been trying for a 2lb-plus wild brownie from this little river ever since I discovered it some five years ago. I thought I’d cracked it in 2012, after being led a merry dance by what turned out to be a very nice, but ultimately slightly smaller than expected specimen that seized my nymph in the neck of a pool overshadowed by overhanging tree branches. Things also looked promising a year later, when something rather out of the ordinary took hold while I was demonstrating for a guiding client. However, despite a lengthy and remarkably trout-like scrap along the wall-lined, undercut and rocky bank from which the fish had come, it was a broad-backed, huge-finned, gunmetal-grey male grayling that finally broke the surface.

 

 

Narrowing The Odds

 

It’s not entirely surprising that I’ve struggled to break the 2lb barrier here. For all its urban surroundings, tight confines and varied, man-made riverbed detritus, this is a remarkably clean system that holds impressive numbers of fish. However, I’m not convinced that the available food it offers goes far enough to permit real growth in anything more than a small number of bigger residents. As a result, finding such trout can be something of a war of attrition, particularly if conditions on the day aren’t right. In my experience, the odds of landing a really sizeable wild brownie (particularly on venues like this) are best narrowed by timing your visit appropriately and being a little more savvy where reading the water is concerned. A little touch of ‘magic’ also helps. 

While inevitably tinged with sadness as another season draws to a close, September also carries with it the promise of bigger than average fish that might, just might, be more readily catchable than in previous months. Having survived another year in competitive running-water environments, such quarry will (like their smaller cousins) now be looking to feed as much and as efficiently as possible to see them through the forthcoming rigours of spawning and another cold, lean winter.

As ever, it’s important that trout receive more energy from aquatic and terrestrial morsels than is used up in getting them, and that they also continue to have a care for their other basic needs: oxygen, temperature-stable water, shelter from fast currents and bright sunlight, and protection from predators. Welcome assistance in these respects is rendered by the cooler and generally more hospitable conditions that tend to follow the dog days of August. With water and oxygen levels rising as a result of early autumnal rainfall, and a host of nourishing grub still there for the taking, September fish are now tempted to leave their high-summer hidey-holes and venture forth more readily at meal times – particularly when (as was the case when this feature was shot) periods of higher and more-coloured water embolden trout more and place more dislodged food items at their mercy.

That said, the territoriality with which bigger residents monopolise the most productive parts of a river or stream still often remains. As with any other time of year, therefore, it’s a wise move to seek out specimen wild brownies in areas where as many of their requirements as possible are met in one place – just like the areas where, prior to this feature, my biggest fish from the venue in question had come from.

 

 

Magic Lies

 

In his excellent film ‘The Anatomy Of A Trout Stream’, the well-known American entomologist and flyfisher Rick Hafele refers to these locations as ‘magic lies’. This term has stuck with me since childhood and I love the sense of anticipation and excitement that it conveys. The very appearance of such lies often reinforces this, as many look decidedly ‘mysterious’ and are awkward to cover with a conventional roll, overhead or sidearm cast. Think overhanging trees, bridge stanchions, walls, undercut banks, submerged weed beds, tree trunks or roots (not to mention the host of shelter and protection-providing man-made items that can turn up in our urban trout waters) and you start to get the idea. If there’s a reasonable amount of depth there also, together with an oxygen and food-providing current line or two (such as in the neck of a run or pool), then so much the better.

How To Read Running Water P6
Magic lies aren't alays the easiest places to access! Expect dense vegetation...

 

How To Read Running Water P6 2
... and extreme wading conditions ...

 

How To Read Running Water P6 3
... and when finally there, tricky casting scenarios!

 

The awkwardness of some ‘magic lies’, together with the fact that they often cater for most (and in some cases, all) of a trout’s basic needs, is what makes them so attractive. It’s hardly odd, then, that such areas have long become synonymous with stories of the biggest, oldest and wisest of running-water fish. We’ve all read or heard of trophy trout grown fat on a diet of bigger morsels as well as more run-of-the-mill food items, and which have lived to a great age by taking up residence in attractive but practically inaccessible areas, and by using their wits to avoid capture by scaly, furry, feathered or wader-clad predators. The next time you come across such a tale, pay close attention to its watery setting. I’ll wager you could describe it as a stereotypical ‘magic lie’.

 

 

Tiddlers First?

 

There are one or two caveats to all of this, however. In the first place, not all ‘magic lies’ are as readily identifiable as those around which so many legends (and realities) have gathered. In theory, you could pick out many more commonplace parts of standard riffles, runs, pools and glides (such as necks, current seams, pockets and drop-offs), and term them ‘magic lies’ simply because they’re the most likely fish-holding areas in front of you at that time. Such locations may well need a little more in the way of observation and understanding of running-water anatomy to identify and make the most of them – which is where I hope the previous articles in this series have come in handy.

How To Read Running Water P6 4
Unmanged urban rivers are capable of holiding some quality fish despite the surroundings.

 

What’s more, there’s no guarantee that ‘magic lies’ will always hold the grandaddy of the river or stream. Such lies are just as attractive to smaller fish as the bigger ones that can bully them out, prey on them; or which, over time, have become more substantial after managing to hold on to such prime territory since their youth. So don’t be surprised if the monster you’ve been expecting isn’t among the first few trout to show themselves – especially if, like the little urban river featured here, the density of fish prevents the available food from being enough to create and sustain decent numbers of bigger residents.

Finally, for all the attractiveness of ‘magic lies’, bear in mind that there are certain times when you might not find a trout there at all. Changing weather, water and feeding conditions throughout the season can sometimes cause fish to behave in ways other than how you might expect them to. The very pleasing River Ellen brownie that I wrote about last month would have fitted in perfectly as a mugger of small fish and other bigger morsels from the security of a ‘magic lie’. However, there he was, happily sipping in a procession of tiny emerging midges from the middle of a shallow, clear and sedate glide. Why? Simply because he could take in enough of them to satisfy his appetite, with no real threat to his comfort and safety. In contrast, grabbing hold of something bigger and potentially more animate to eat might well have been more of an effort in those hot, low-water and oxygen-depleted conditions – even when operating from a more covert ‘deliberate ambush’ station. 

 

Think Like Robin Hood

 

More accessible ‘magic lies’ can be effectively targeted with the equipment, fly patterns and presentations appropriate for the situation and fish feeding behaviour. The more difficult ones ask a little more from flyfishers, particularly in terms of casting and line control. Having such ‘get out of jail’ options as the bow-and-arrow or catapult cast in your armoury can be worth its weight in gold. Whenever I think of this or go through it with a client, I always revisit the example of Don Howat – a lovely, good-humoured ex-RAF ground crew technician for whom I had the pleasure to guide some three years ago through Bill Howell’s excellent Fishing for Forces organisation.

How To Read Running Water P6 5
It's not just natural features to look out for. Bridges are often places where those special fish lie.

 

The first ‘magic lie’ that Don confronted that day was a pool with a surface not much bigger than that of an average-sized dinner table, and a depth of little more than two or three feet. The only refuge of any size in an otherwise-shallow, fast-flowing and inhospitable area, the shelter it offers is enhanced by a short current tongue entering at its neck, and by the lower tendrils of large, awkwardly hanging tree branches that almost render it unfishable – but which also provide shade, protection from avian predators and a source of terrestrial food.

It’s difficult to pick out this little ‘cistern’ from the raised bank above, while down below many anglers choose to wade past it in favour of the weir pool a short distance upstream. I knew from past experience, however, that it usually holds a bigger than average fish or two, and thought it might make a nice challenge for Don – who had by now gotten to grips with the short-range, fixed-line duo technique we’d been concentrating on. However, while soon appreciating why a cast or two here might well pay dividends (especially if his Balloon Caddis and Copperhead Hare’s Ear Nymph combo could be placed into the neck of the pool), he couldn’t see a way of getting the flies there without falling foul of the overhanging branches. He’d reckoned, however, without the bow-and-arrow cast!

After kneeling down carefully below the pool’s tail, Don began by adopting a ‘thumb on top’ grip with his rod hand, which provides stability and a means of directing the cast. With the nymph held between the thumb and forefinger of his line hand (hook point carefully exposed to prevent it being driven into these!), and the line below the reel clamped against the rod handle by the first two fingers of his other hand, Don then pointed the rod tip in the direction he wanted the line and flies to travel – in this case upstream towards the narrow ‘window’ between the bottom of the branches and the attractive pool neck. Slowly and steadily, he drew back the fixed length of line and leader to flex the rod tip upwards and back towards him. All Don had to do then was simply let go of the nymph, watch as his duo rig was catapulted forwards over the unloading rod tip, and be ready to keep in touch with the flies as they landed and drifted back towards him.

Newcomers to the bow-and-arrow cast often have to experiment with the angle at which the rod tip is held, and with the amount of ‘draw’ placed on the tip, before they get it right. Too little draw means not enough load, with the result that the line, leader and flies simply collapse in a heap well short of the target. Too much causes everything to straighten quickly before springing back towards the caster as the rod tip counterflexes backwards again. The tip might even smack the water if it’s held too low in the first place.

How To Read Running Water P6 6
The bow-and-arrow cast. Essential to fish those hard to reach areas.

 

After a couple of failed attempts, Don’s third-ever bow-and-arrow cast managed to slot his flies into the right-hand current seam. I’d warned him to be ready for on-the-drop takes in such relatively shallow water, and to Don’s credit he reacted perfectly as the Balloon Caddis almost immediately took a dive upstream, signalling a take to the Copperhead Hare’s Ear beneath it. A flick of his wrist brought a speckled, paddle-finned and rocket-fuelled bar of gold cartwheeling out of the pool neck and charging back downstream towards the faster water below this ‘magic lie’. With Don applying as much pressure as he dared against the 21/2lb tippet, I managed to net the fish before it could get too far. When I eventually held up the 1lb-plus wild brownie I was treated to a sight I’ll never forget – a grown man kneeling in the river and absolutely roaring with laughter. Now that really was magic!

 

How To Read Running Water P6 7
Take extra care when running the 'grandaddy' of the river. These big browns are older fish and will take time to recover from the battle.

 

It’s Magic!

 

Size, of course, is relative. A two-pounder, for example, from a location in which there are a lot of two-pounders is nice enough in itself, if not exactly out of the ordinary. It would most certainly be a specimen, however, on venues where – for reasons such as those given above – the average size of fish is much lower. So persevere on such waters and you might just get lucky, as I did on my very last cast of the day in the neck of a pool that certainly qualified as a ‘magic lie’.

For the record, it was the reliable as ever Copperhead Partridge and Hare’s Ear Jig that did the trick, presented via the excellent, soon to be released 10ft, 3-wt Orvis Recon, a 40ft leader-only setup of 0.30mm monofilament with 20 centimetres of 0.25mm bicolour indicator mono, and four feet of 3lb fluorocarbon tippet attached to the indicator via a 1mm micro ring. It was just… now what was it Paul Daniels used to say?   

 

MOORLAND WANDERER

How To Read Running Water P6 8 

Hook: Orvis 1524 (Traditional Nymph Hook), sizes 14-16 (barb flattened) 

Bead: Copper tungsten, size to suit hook

Thread: Semperfli Nano Silk, 12/0, copper

Tail: Three or four cock pheasant centre-tail fibre tips

Body: Tying thread

Rib one: Red wire, diameter to suit hook size

Rib two: Bronze peacock herl, wound in opposite direction to wire (tying thread visible beneath both ribs)

Thorax: Dark hare's ear, natural  

 

COPPERHEAD HARE'S EAR NYMPH

How To Read Running Water P6 9

Hook: Tiemco TMC 2457, sizes 10-16 (barb flattened)

Bead: Copper tungsten, size to suit hook

Thread: Semperfli Nano Silk, 12/0, copper or olive

Tail: Cree hackle point

Body and thorax: Dark hare's ear, natural or dyed olive

Rib: Copper wire, diameter to suit hook size

 

COPPERHEAD PARTRIDGE AND HARE'S EAR JIG

How To Read Running Water P6 10 

Hook: Partridge Patriot Barbless Jig, sizes 10-18

Bead: Copper tungsten (slotted), size to suit hook

Thread: Semperfli Nano Silk, 12/0, copper or olive

Body: Dark hare's ear, natural

Rib: Copper wire, diameter to suit hook size

Legs: Brown speckled partridge

Collar (optional): Tying thread

 

RETIRER SEDGE

How To Read Running Water P6 11

Hook: Tiemco TMC 103BL, sizes 13-19

Thread: Semperfli Nano Silk, 12/0, grey

Tail: Grey/tan polypropylene yarn

Body: Fine grey/tan dubbing

Underwing: As for tail

Overwing: Yearling elk hair

Thorax: Hare's ear

Page 1 of 14

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