Rivers all over Britain have been steadily falling this spring. Here on Eden we have had more than six weeks now with no appreciable rain-fall.
Consequently the river looks rather like it looks in most Augusts, though the water temperature remains very low, which is noticeable when wading. Most Mays I’m considering wet wading, but not this one! The fishing, however, has been remarkable, about as good as it gets, in my view. But then, as pointed out by one or two of my most brutally frank fishing friends: I do happen to like it out there with something of a challenge; and this spring has seen plenty of that.
Low, clear water will always be challenging. Both trout and grayling (the latter now out of season) occupy very limited stations in such river conditions, and are very easily spooked, such that they will need at least half an hour after being alarmed before they might return to the feed, and then probably with even more sensitivity to signs of danger.
Time and again over the last six weeks I have found surface feeding fish and have been impressed by the subtlety of their rises, and the precision with which they occupy their chosen positions. It helps to know the water where you expect to see the fish, particularly in foam lines, which are always feed lanes. If you know where fish might be expected to rise, your stare is nearly always rewarded by gentle rise forms. The next issue is choosing a strategy for adopting the right angle and range on the fish – even more so than the particular fly itself (though more on this below). So many British dry fly fishers, even those fairly experienced exponents, seem locked onto the idea that we need to cast upstream. There are even a few fisheries where this is the rule. Now this particular idea is really based on the notion that this is the correct, traditional way to present a fly in a river; but finally that is all this is, a romantic notion.
It is absolutely right, however, that fish face the flow, for reasons of efficient respiration and also because this is the direction in which their food comes from, so we should always attempt, when approaching them, to close in from downstream, where we are less visible to the fish. However, and this is a huge point; it is absolutely counter-productive to cast a dry fly into a wind. The stronger the wind, the worse it becomes, but believe me, anything over a Force 2, and perhaps even a Force 1, and upstream presentation in a downstream wind will be ruined. You have to give the fish a bit of a lead, perhaps touching down the fly a metre or two upstream of the target fish and then allowing it to dead-drift over the fish’s rising point. In a downstream wind, it is extremely difficult to turn a leader and fly over, which easily results in us putting fly line down over the fish, and inevitably spooking it. So don’t fight the wind; use it. Choose your angle on the fish so that you are casting with, or across the wind, not into it, even if this means casting downstream. Just bear in mind that though you can approach very closely a fish from downstream, often within five metres, even in clear water, you will have to stay farther away from it if you are upstream, but still you should never really need to break the 10 metre rule (and this is not a romantic notion, but the hard truth that beyond 10 metres on a river you have absolutely no control over your fly, leader and line). I repeat something I often say: of the hundreds of trout and grayling I catch each year, not a single one is at a greater range than 10 metres.
So, this low, clear wate – conditions more typical of high summer – are exacting, because above all else I have found the need for accuracy. Unless that fly is dead-drifting, precisely, over the feed station, it is unlikely that the fish will move off line to intercept it. This has been particularly noticeable this spring with both midge and olive feeders, though there was roughly a ten day period during the Grannom hatch when the (smaller) trout were dashing all over the river snatching these sedge pupae and adults, even the egg-layers. In this period, however, it was remarkable how the big fish remained firmly on station, ignored the Grannom and fed instead on Olive Uprights!I mentioned the right fly: you really cannot beat sparsely tied CdC patterns. I pointed readers of the last Frontier piece to the May issue of Fly Fishing and Fly Tying magazine, where I describe my number one dry pattern of all time – the Single-Plume-Tip. You will find that this fly is simply devastating – in my view unbeatable – whenever fish are feeding on any olive species at the surface. All you have to do is adapt the size. The most useful sizes are 21 to 17 (on the Tiemco 103BL hook, or equivalent), though when the fish are on midges, which they have been on several occasions this spring and will surely be later in the year, then the same pattern, without the tail and on hooks down to 26 (on say the Varivas Ultra Midge 2300), might be needed.
The World Championships on the San River in Poland are now only a month away. Most teams will be there from the end of this month (May) for the duration. Several teams have already been fishing there – even on the competition sections which remain open to all until the weekend of 15/16 May. The river has dropped after being high and cold for so long and the fishing is already wonderful. Provided there is no vast rainfall between now and the championship the river will remain low and will just get better and better for dry fly. I will be reporting on almost a daily basis on Fish and Fly with developments, team practice, news and, of course, the results.