Fishing on the Frontier – Part 29

Spring on Eden

“You have to be in the right place at the right time” says Jeremy Lucas talking about spring fishing. Timing can be everything with the river system and the fish just getting into gear.

Well I was right in that it is a very late spring, and the water remains high and cold in most of our rivers.  But, the Eden here in Cumbria has been just magnificent.  Ever since the opening of the new trout season (March 15th) there have been short periods of every day than a well placed fly has tempted spectacular fish.  Guests and I have probably enjoyed the very best spring fishing, so far, ever. Firstly we were fishing duo technique with an Oppo (orange polyprop parachute) dry fly, with PTN (typically size 14) about a metre below the dry.  The vast majority of the fish came to the PTN during the first week.  Grayling – and very large grayling – were among them, and we did not feel guilty about catching them during what is now the grayling close season, because they were in absolutely perfect, feeding condition and showing no sign whatsoever of spawning condition.  My friend Lawrence Greasley caught the best of them, an enormous fish which we estimated at comfortably over three pounds.  The fish came from water where I have had three two pound plus fish this year already and I am hoping to catch this monster fish perhaps late this autumn.  After a summer’s feeding it should have gained at least half a pound in weight!

It has been the trout, however, which have really caught my imagination, at least in the last couple of weeks.  Large Dark Olives always hatch, no matter what the weather, from lunch time for anything from 20 minutes to a couple of hours, and then, it seems, every fish in the river is up at them.  It is immensely subtle and satisfying fishing.  Tiny little rise forms materialise into the sort of fish illustrated here, and they are all coming to the single-plume-tip CdC size 17 or 19.  Today we were out on the Sandford water at the top of the Appleby Angling Association water and saw the first March Browns of the year.  These are fantastic insects.  There is no other fly that brings trout up to the same mesmeric extent.  It was just a scatter today, in among the LDOs, and it will build up to reasonable (though rarely heavy hatches on Eden) activity, lasting again up to a couple of hours, over the next few weeks.

You have to be in the right place at the right time.  Too many people knock themselves out by nymphing or duo fishing in the morning, and wreck their prospects for the hatch with very wary fish to cast at during the peak activity of early afternoon.  Every rain-fed river I know is like this, at this time of year.  It is way better, if you must fish, to nymph in areas a little away from the main dry fly water, and then make sure you are ready for when the hatch miraculously (or so it always seems to be) materialises.  Walking along the bank is the wrong place to be to see the rises properly.  Remember they can be very subtle, and if the trout is big it will hardly mark the surface.  The best place to be is at the tail of a pool or glide, wading, low down to the water.  Here you can watch upstream and see the unmistakable wings of the LDOs, and the little sipping rises themselves.  Concentrate on the areas of densest foam – the foam lanes – these are the dynamic runs in the river where the ephemerids hatch and are caught as they dry their wings preparatory to flight, and trout will be sure to be hunting beneath them.

You need to be accurate, because the fish will have no need to move off station.  Big trout, like big grayling, adopt a rigorous position in the flow and waste little energy dashing about the place, as will little trout.  They will just rise quietly at chosen insects drifting to them from upstream.  I believe they pick them up (sight them) perhaps up to two metres upstream, and lock onto them until they are directly overhead, by which time the nebs of their mouths just clip the hapless insects from the film.  You fly needs to be dead drifting all the time.  Drag will only spook the fish.  Only today, I cast at a persistent riser that I though was a half pounder, in perhaps a foot of water.  I rose it once and missed it with a ‘fresh air tighten’.  It was rising again within a couple of minutes.  Next drift over and I set the hook into a magnificent two pounder which jumped and bored with really surprising energy for so early in the season.

There are two fundamental mistakes made by anglers fairly new to the river.  The first is to cast too long a line, when accuracy is compromised and, worse, drag almost immediately sets in with almost no degree of control over leader and fly.  10 metres between you and your target fish should really be considered the maximum range, unless the water is very slow and smooth.  Six metres is about perfect, but anything between six and 10 is fine.  Every single fish I catch on the river, be it with nymph, spider or dry, is within 10 metres. Three quarters of them are caught at six metres.  The second mistake is to fish a fly too large and bulky.  Just take a look at a Large Dark Olive dun.  It is the size of about a size 17 hook (which is about the largest hook I use for dry fly on every river I fish – including for the March Brown, which is getting on for mayfly size).  Olive Uprights are about the same size, whereas Blue Winged Olives (absolutely the single most important fly on all the rain fed rivers I have ever fished; though later in the summer and autumn) are better represented with a size 19.  And they are very slight in form.  They have long, split tails for stability on the water and in flight, beautifully represented by two strands, split, of Coq de Leon; a very slender abdomen, which is best represented by stripped peacock herl over yellow thread, and a single plume tip of CdC tied in upright – and that is it.  This fly is simply never refused by either trout or grayling, unless they have been spooked by poor presentation.  Fish this on a dead drift, on 5X at this time of year, but keep the range down.

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