March Browns have appeared on almost every day I have been out lately on Eden. No matter what the farms seem to do to this wonderful river, it survives. How many rivers in England can boast hatches of March Browns? Do you have these ephemerids in your river? I have caught myself, mesmerised, out there in mid-stream, wading the flow, expecting the Large Dark Olives. Waiting, poised to switch from double nymphing upstream, for the first splutter of LDOs before switching to dry fly. And there they are: March Browns, sometimes with the LDOs, and both trout and grayling up at them, mauling the hatch.
Today, while guiding two flyfishers on a private section of Eden, in a vile north-easterly, I had almost given up hope of a hatch. Almost. It came to the early afternoon ‘crunch-time’ and my guests were beginning to despair. One ‘rattle’ in mid-pool does hardly anything to lift hopes. Then they came; a single fly, then a scatter of duns, wings raked back in the blustery wind; big, brown and mottled, the March Browns ventured airspace. And in a blink the trout were on them, rifling through the shallows.
“Be quick, boys,” I told them. “This will be over inside fifty casts.” A quick switch (very quick, because I ripped in their lines and tied on fresh 3 lb points and single F-flies in hare’s mask fur and mottled CDC) and they were casting out across the wind, doing their utmost to set the dries on the fugitive feed and foam lanes. The trout were all over them. I just knew it. So long as the fly hit anywhere near where wild trout lurked, it was engulfed, snatched from the surface by the eager feeders.
This is typical of the spring fishing on northern rivers nowadays. We barely have a spring. It is winter, which can be mild month after month, and wet, and then the wind drives out of an eastern quarter for two months, dulling the senses and plunging us into real winter. The trout, and ‘out of season’ grayling are ravenous and feed at any opportunity. A scatter hatch drives them to pre-occupation and abandon.
I am writing this after a prolonged, lip-numbing, cold spell and at last the weather is more spring like. Yesterday the sun shone, and though the wind was still gusty from the east, it was very comfortable, pleasant even, to be wading slowly upstream, picking pocket water and pool heads for wild trout and grayling in the thin water. While it has been cold there has been very little rain and Eden is now fairly low, and very clear. Ravenous fish lurk in any place where there is shelter, or depth, or surface turbulence that can hide them. And they are never far from the food-lanes.
With no hatch to lift the fish to the surface, I double nymphed with a pair of size 16s; general dark ephemerid imitation on point, weighted but slim, with a hare’s mask and partridge spider on a dropper, a metre up leader from the point. With an overall leader length of three metres, the top metre being tapered, and greased, this rig gives you great searching potential. Where most nowadays fish ‘duo’ style, with an indicator dry fly, I more often turn to this rig, particularly in thin, clear water. It is significantly more subtle, giving far better presentation than duo, and for nymphing fish, rather than dry fly feeders, it is way more effective in searching out wild fish. One thing that is essential, however, is that you grease the tip of the fly line and top of the leader (Mucilin). This gives significantly improved presentation, at all angles (up, across and downstream, with no drowned fly line), and excellent take detection, at least on a smooth surface – glide water. The spider picks up active fish that are ‘looking up’, while the nymph on point can be swum through close to the river bed, taking the deeper lying fish.
In a downstream wind, you will need the punch of a 9′ five-weight to present properly upstream, because turnover is paramount, though in all other wind directions, or in calm weather, a 10′ and lighter line (#3 or #4) is superior for presentation and control. You will be fishing no further than 10 metre range, and the bulk of the presentation will be at six metres, where control can be almost total. In very clear water, you will need to go down to 6X in a quality copolymer (0.13mm), but for water with any colour or turbidity, 5X (0.15mm) is suitable, or even a quality 5X fluorocarbon (3lb), such as World Class. Anything thicker than (at most) 4X (0.19mm) will begin to seriously affect presentation.
You could, of course, forget this and fish the ubiquitous duo style, but let me tell you this: The French team captain, and others I know, absolutely forbids his team-mates to use duo, claiming that there is always a better, more efficient presentation. There is, and the above (with various leader adaptations to suit different conditions) is it!