Fishing on the Frontier – Part 38: The New Frontier

My obsession is for the trout of rivers and lakes, and grayling, of course: always grayling.  I think it is the elegance of this sector of the sport that appeals so much to me, and is certainly what I wish to convey, because what is going on out there, on this particular frontier, is simply so worth the telling.

Readers will have noticed that I have been concentrating on the leader-to-hand (l to h), or minimal fly line, approach in many articles.  This has dominated my own technique for some time now and it has certainly revolutionised the way I fish, particularly on rivers (which in truth is where I fish most of the time nowadays).  As you might recall, I have championed the short range approach, and to this end the l-to-h has been astonishing in achieving sublime presentation and control at this range, and even beyond (which is simply not possible with conventional fly line delivery). I know that ‘take-up’ in Britain will be slow, because we are rather conservative in this country, and probably deeply suspicious of methods that are Europe-led; but as such the contemporary river fly fisher is missing out on this evolutionary process.  You might be wondering, however, why you are not hearing about these advances from the British teams.  One might conclude, in this case, either that they are not conversant or practised with the developments, or that they are keeping very quiet about it for reasons of personal competitiveness.

There have been several breakthroughs in recent seasons which have vastly increased the scope and potential of what we might regard as a very long leader approach, if not the full blown l-to-h.  Recent innovative rods from Loop, Hends and Greys in the 10′ to 11′ #2/3 specifications have been most significant, with the Greys XF2 11′ #3 and XF2+ #3, being right at the top of the developmental ladder.  Fly lines have not been quite so refined, because we are still restricted by old technology and old ideas about tapers and rod loading.  The AFTM system of rod/line matching is completely out of date.  The river sport, with single-handed fly rod, has simply moved on, which is why we are forced to develop the leader and tippet end of the rig.  Having noted this, there are still some good fly lines out there – the best we have ever had – including the outstanding Snowbee Delicate Presentation, the Hardy Marksman and the Scientific Anglers Supra.  In light of the limited amount of fly line out of the rod tip used nowadays by many river fishermen, however, it can be claimed that fly line is becoming more the backing rather than the area of the rig responsible for the presentation.

Where we might have made the greatest advances are with flies suitable for the sub-10 metre range on rivers.  It was not so long ago when bushy dry flies and gold headed ‘nymphs’ overwhelmed the use of sparse spider – and similar – patterns. And now we have come full circle, back to the realisation of the effectiveness of delicacy and finesse, with limited use and selection of materials for our generally imitative patterns.  The slim-line nymphs of today are more in line with the contemporary buzzer pupae imitations for still water use (and, oddly, this is one of a very few areas where still water fly fishing has developed anything like as much as the river sport).  The elegance of the CdC plume tip dry flies, perfect for both upwing, caddis and midge imitations, have in my view reached the stage where I can hardly see how they can be improved.  At the very least, the latter have provided me with the biggest breakthrough of my fishing career.  They changed my views and application of the very long leader, or l-to-h approach, from being an ‘occasional’ presentation method that was very sensitive, for shallow water nymph fishing, to providing the ultimate means of presenting a dry fly.

Collectively, all the above minor breakthroughs, in combination with suitable long leader design (which has been the most difficult aspect of the process), have brought us to what I now consider to be the frontier of our sport.  I suppose this might seem odd, in that we regard a frontier as being a place, rather than a state.  I’m not sure that there are any geographical frontiers out there any more.  Perhaps we have fished most places in the world where fish which will take flies exist.  But as we can go over the old, depleted oil grounds with new technology and find that we can extract yet more, so our sport evolves and we find that we can be surprisingly more effective and efficient, and certainly more elegant.

At the very least this is one of the frontiers in fly fishing, and probably the most elegant state of the sport that exists.  The wild river trout, and the European grayling, demand that we develop in our presentation skills.  The clean, cold waters that have not yet been ruined by agriculture are dwindling.  We increasingly have to ‘make do’ with the artificial, stocked fisheries, but here we find that there is only limited development, and this is, finally, a sad place.  More than anything else, my fishing on European rivers over the last decade has revealed to me just what I value the most in the sport, and in wild places.  The l-to-h, with dry fly, has in this sense literally opened up the frontier for any of us who feel the need to go there.

Jeremy Lucas – Wilderness Fly Fishing
Jeremy Lucas is a member of the Hardy Greys Academy and former England all-round international. He is author of the book Tactical Fly Fishing. He guides mostly on the San River, Poland, and the Eden in Cumbria. These are the two top mixed trout and grayling rivers in Europe. He offers specialised, advanced fly fishing courses only on these rivers. These consist of week-long, small group visits to the San, and short courses on the Eden. Accommodation is arranged (always for the former, if required for the latter).

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