Help Get that Early season Success

These early days of the trout season are some of my favourite times of the entire season, I love the early days the feeling of rebirth after the grey winter months were the rivers and its banks felt so lifeless and stark. The first shoots of regeneration reach skywards and the air fills with the hum of the first bumble bees and skylarks song. Up-wings lifting from the water, as the occasional wild flowers dot the banks with yellows and whites beneath the purple haze cast by the broadleaf trees ripe with buds ready to burst open, flooding the grey world with bright fresh green bathed in the new warmth of spring sunshine. It lifts the soul, putting a skip in your step and a smile on even a grumpy bugger like myselfs’ face. 

For the dry fly fanatic this can be a season of success, plenty and simplicity where I know I can with confidence carry less flies an know with some certainty that it will also produce some of the larger trout that I will see for the year, but it does require patience 

3lb river Deveron brown trout

 

So how do you win during these early days of Spring and April;

·               Timing; Know when and what to fish

Start of the season its all about timing, you could fish from dawn till dusk but you could also beat your head against a brick wall, both have different outcomes but are equally as pointless. I have watched other fishers thrash the water and leave disheartened. You need to fish the window when the hatch is on, this tends to be a rather short 3 or 4 hour period over lunch from around 11am till 3pm, the warmest part of these spring days. So don’t be precious about a sit down meal at 1pm because that’s when the fishing is often getting good. Part of the real joy of the hatch at this time of year is the limited selection of what is likely to be hatching; Up-wings like LDOs (large dark olives), March Browns and occasional Brook duns. Grannom and Alders – members of the caddis family. We also see some stoneflies and midge and this limited number of species means fly selection becomes easier and its quicker to zone in on what the trout are feeding on. During these golden hours, regardless of whether you are fishing dries, nymphs or wets, the fish are far more likely to be switched on. I have seen it where arriving early on the river and not a fish is seen or taken till the hatch begins. Above or below the surface it truly is like a switch being thrown.

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Crippled March brown dun

·               What fly;

What is hatching? As I said before at this time of year certainly in Northern Scotland it is a select group of flies that we tend to see, but you must be aware there is always a regional variation in time of year and the species that will be hatching. In North East Scotland we are several weeks behind the South of England and invariably the magazines and social media chatter begins announcing what is likely to be hatching and people are catching on; “LDOs”, “Grannom have started”, “oh the first Iron blues”. But don’t assume that mean your stretch river 300 or 400 miles North is seeing these species hatching at that time, remember it is vitally important to see what is actually hatching! Don’t presume! It is also important to factor ineather, remember it’s one of our mainstays as conversation in Britain, this year it’s a key point in fact with a mild winter and warm March things are most certainly further on than usual and in some cases by as much as 2 weeks plus. So be prepared, as with everything in nature there is variation so you have to get out there and observe.

Maybe the name LDOs and March Browns are just gobble-d-gook to you or maybe you have heard them before and want to improve your knowledge of the invertebrates we find in our rivers and lochs! Well there is help at hand there are two great wee books, a couple of invaluable websites and a new App that every flyfisher should have to help them with identification of what is hatching and when through out the year and what imitations best suit.

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Particularly Matching the Hatch by Peter Lapsley for those new to flyfishing who need that little bit of help and confidence to choose the right fly to imitate the hatch. Its simple, easy to use and small enough to slip in the fishing vest or wader pocket. Above all use your eyes!  nothing beats getting out there and exploring the entomology of the river. What’s in the water, what’s in and on the surface not forgetting what is also on the bank and in the air above, better known as terrestrials. Turn over some stones in the river and actually see what invertebrate life is there it can sometimes be wonderous what you find.

I carry a small aqautics dip net and a wee Tupperware so I can rootle around under and among the stones of the riverbed. It produces a wealth of information that is incredibly insightful, helping inform my choices and adding to my knowledge of what species are present, every day fishing is a day learning.

 

 

App can be found here at the Riverfly partnership in both android and ios

By taking the time to do these searches I found that I became far choosier in my fly selection, more confident in my choices and I saw a distinct improvement in catches.

Never was a statement truer than “ imitation is the greatest form of flattery” I truly believe imitating naturally what is hatching will produce greater results.


·               Patience;

Take your time its not a race! What is the point in dashing from the car to the rivers edge jumping in and wading waist deep, chucking fluff or tungsten in every directing with the blind hope that a brownie will take? Explore! Walk and explore the stretch of river, too many fishers never fish more than 100 yards of the car park, laziness. Yes you will catch fish if you are lucky, but you may well be missing better fishing else where and half the fun of wild brown trout fishing is that sense of exploration, fishing the spot less fished.

Now breathe and take some time to just look and listen! Watch the water, look for foam lines; trout feed here. Just as the current has funneled and ”trapped” the foam in these lines so will it trap food items, hatching and spent fly life. Watch how the water moves and how it is likely to act upon your fly, leader and line. Above all, watch for rising fishing, thats what we are here for! Quite often a rising fish by its rising reveals whether it’s a tiddler or a bigger fish, maybe even that lunker of a lifetime. It’s not a foolproof clue and the best of us have been disappointed by the tiddler masquerading as a bigger brother, and equally surprised by what we assume is a modest brownie; but on sipping down the fly runs striping you to your backing, with a fight of your life on a 3wt rod and turns out to be a 7lb slab of gold.

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7lb Trout Dwarfing the reel, returned shortly afterward to be caught another day

So we watch the the water, there is a hatch starting and now the occasional trout blipping taking the hatching Up-wing or Grannom….deep breath and lets just wait a moment longer wait till the brownies are taking confidently and regularly, you can watch as the same fish repeatedly rises, taking flies from the surface. When they are feeding consistently and focused on feeding the chance of a good take is now increased. I rarely cast a line till the hatch is properly under way and the fish are rising with confidence, it makes targeting of fish easier and often proves more successful.

I could talk longer still about tackle choices, weight of rod and line and of course, diameter and length of leader and tippet but I try not to bore the reader completely to tears.

In fishing as in life, it is so often all about being in the right place at the right time! but we can shorten these odd with a little preparation;

  • Knowing what is likely to be hatching and when
  • Match the hatch, imitation is rewarded
  • Patience! Wait, watch, listen then cast
  • explore; keep moving
  • mud your leader to reduce its visibility

Quite often you will find a perfuse hatch happening and the accompanying rising trout on an isolated stretch of the river or the hatch restricted to a particular pool yet down or upstream there be no hint at all of a hatch happening so keep moving and you will reap the reward.

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2.5lb River Deveron Brown trout (taken Bridge of Marnoch beat on DHE)

After all we are fly fishers; not course fishers sitting on their backsides for hours on end. This early season really can be a time of plenty and good sized trout and after a long winter, casting a fly to a rising trout is truely magical.

 

On The Hunt for Harris Trout, fell in love with Harris Sea Trout

I never expected this article to be one of the hardest to write, this the fourth rewrite and it has got no easier! The problem is I just don’t feel like I can do the Island of Harris justice, certainly not without sounding gushing and clichéd…it really was that good a trip! To what is truly one of the most beautiful locations Scotland has to offer, look I’ve started with the gushing already! So maybe I should apologize now for the clichés and moments of gushing that are inevitable in trying to describe Harris, the welcome and the fishing.
Its almost 20 years since my last visit to these Islands of Scotland’s western frontier, I was but a chubby school boy with a tent, a good friend and a couple of fly rods. The trip had been great but we were beaten by glorious blue skies, sunshine and the worst sunburn I’ve ever had. The midges rose as the baking August sun set every night, so we turned tail and made for the ferry having only sipped from the over full glass of fine hill lochs and fishing that Harris has to offer, with literally hundreds of lochs most filled with hard fighting wild brown trout and many with sea-trout and the occasional salmon it a fly-fishers paradise.


I had always said that I would return to Harris but had lacked any real commitment ’til last summer when I discovered a tweet by Gail Tunnah who runs Finsbay Fishing’s. What sealed the deal was the January morning that the brochure for the fishing’s and their holiday cottages landed on the door mat, a cold January morning spent leafing through it dreaming of wild brownies, it had me hooked! It was all just a matter of finding the time so when the opportunity arose and ten days became free in my diary at the start of June I began planning an adventure and immediately Harris came to mind. Spending a few day pouring over maps and noting how accessible the lochs and fishing’s were, I had the hair brained notion that this adventure would be on foot. I am happy to admit that having once been a keen mountaineer I have softened with age and wisdom and enjoy the comforts of a nice hotel and clean bed after a day or nights fishing.  But I was feeling bold for this trip. Maybe it was a reniessounce, a reliving of younger days. Exploring on foot just seemed the best way to immerses myself in the plentiful and accessible fishing plus the public transport links on and to Harris really are very good, putting many on the mainland to shame. So I packed the rucksack with a lightweight one man tent, sleeping bag, stove and freeze dried meals, lightweight is ………well a figurative term because once you have packed every thing you need to survive for seven days without visiting a shop it weights alot more than you would imagine, nearly 14kg. The fly-fishing tackle the cherry on top.

With space and weight at a premium I opted to take only 1 rod and reel and a fairly lightweight set up

• Greys/Hardy 9’6 Streanflex Plus 5wt Rod

• Hardy LHR Reel & Spare spool

• Cortland Platinum Precision WTF Floating line

• Cortland Precision WTF 15’ Ghost tip

The 1st of June saw me heading westwards by bus from Aberdeenshire to Uig the ferry port in Northern Skye and the link to Tarbert on Harris. As we drew ever nearer Skye the clouds cleared and from horizon to horizon pale blue sky and warm early summer sunshine, little did I know then that this perfect beach weather was to follow me from the day I arrived on the island till the very hour I climbed on the ferry and sailed south for North Uist seven days later. The weather was almost identical to 20 years earlier, had I stumbled on a well-kept secret about Harris? That from May till September these Isles where bathed in Mediteraining sunshine? Alas apparently that’s not the case and by pure luck Mother Nature was playing a cruel joke on this hapless fisher.

Harris is one of the chain of Islands that make up the Western Isles, and are the first real land fall for the worst that the Northern Atlantic weather systems can throw. Really I shouldn’t complain I should shut up and make the most of the stunning weather but as an A-typical fly-fisher much like the stereotypical farmer; one is never happy with the weather.


I was heading for the Finsbay Fishings (http://finsbaycottages.co.uk) a group of over a 100 lochs divided into 3 areas, Stockinish; the northern group of lochs, Flodabay the middle group of lochs and Finsbay the southern group comprising of nearly 50 lochs. With boats on 20 of the 100 lochs and fantastic sea pools the fishing can be as diverse as you want from classic highland boat drifts to a day exploring hill loch on foot, some not much bigger than a bathtub but still containing wild brownies.  Some of the Finsbay fishings lochs have produced some real lunkers; brownies over 11lb and sea trout over 14lb. So you never know your first or your last cast may produce a beautifully marked hard fighting fish of a lifetime but aside from the monsters there are plenty of free rising hard fighting brownies that inhabit these lochs.

Over every rise and in every hollow there seemed to be a loch, it’s a smorgus board of choice, you could spend a life time exploring these lochs and still not fish them all. I began my adventure on the stockanish lochs. Having got the permits at the crack of dawn, I had my tent pitched by lunch time and was off with rod in hand exploring loch Creebhat and loch Glumradh Mor, managing to produce a couple of fish from shady nooks but I was fast discovery what was to be my nemesis for the duration of the trip. The bright warm sunshine putting paid to anything but morning and late evening fishing, which could be exploited by camping,  able to move from loch to loch and only have a short distance to stumble from sleeping bag to bank or boat. Every night as the sun set an hour or two of a rise would ensued, producing a few fish to the traditional highland wets.

I soon moved south loaded like a pack mule, walking the coast road I soaked in the stunning scenery that was putting on a real show in the beaming June sunshine, I was heading south for Finsbay, a group of 50 lochs and sea pools. Alistair Mackinnon the Ghillie found me slouched, parr boiled by the roadside south of foldaway and took pity on me offering me a lift and a quick tour of some of the lochs and sea pool, local knowledge truly is invaluable especially in trying conditions. Setting up camp in the ruins of an old fishing lodge; 2min walk from the sea pools and 5mins from the hill lochs this was to be home for the next  four days with views eastwards over Skye and the jagged teeth of the Cullin Ridge. I could have stayed there forever, perched on the rocks above Loch Fhionnsabaigh (Gaelic for Finsbay) the pale blue sky above and the shimmering Turquoise waters of the Minch below its hard to describe other than Stunning

Over dinner I sat watching the tide surge into the sea pools creping ever higher from one pool to the next and with it sea trout, topping and showing tantalizing splashes drawing you to the water like the sirens song. I set up a cast with just a single dropper about 6-7ft back from the point fly I opted for a classic sz12 teal and blue on point and a size 12 Claret Bumble on the dropper. As the tide peaked I began sending out casts landing the fly tight to the rocks across the pool, giving them to the count of 8 to sink and then a fairly fast retrieve. It produced instant results Bang! a 1.5lb sea trout takes me on a trip up and down the pool fighting me for every inch of line as I retrieve it to the net and then almost every second cast produces a take providing a very enjoyable hour of sport over the tide turning.

The finnock and sea trout hitting the flies hard and fighting like monsters, the sort of sport that you can often only dream of, double hook ups, loosing as many as you land in a frantic hour of mesmerizing fun. Nothing over 1.5lbs but that didn’t matter as they felt like monsters on the 5wt 9.6ft rod, almost pulling it from your hand and as the sun began kissing the hills to the West the action tailed off and I returned to my tent buzzing. I had landed more sea trout in that frenetic hour than I had seen in the previous four seasons.

I will admit I favour Brown Trout fishing over all other but Harris sea trout had hooked me and three of the next four days I spent on the hunt for Harris Sea Trout. The tides played ball with high tide arriving between 6 and 10 pm and allowing some great sport to while away my evenings producing; finnock, sea trout, slob trout and much to my surprise Pollock. A 1lb seat trout on the point fly and half pound Pollock on the dropper every cast a surprise.

I hadn’t forgotten about the bars of gold I had come in search of, venturing out in the mornings exploring the nearby lochs of Holmasaig, Dempster and Humabhat all of which lie on the same system as the sea pools of my first nights fun. Saturday morning I wasn’t feeling too optimistic, the the warm morning sun seemed already high in the sky as I stumbled over heather and peat hag before 7am making my way round the east bank of Dempster but the sound of fish freely rising around the reeds and margins greets me, a real surprise! The lochs where showing the effects of nearly a months warm and very dry weather and I was worrieed that in these kind of conditions the fish had become stressed with lower water levels and reduced oxygen levels, switching off from feeding and had disappeared into deeper waters. However it appears Harris trout are made of sterner stuff ; oblivious to the bright sunshine even with the clear lightly peated water giving little protection, they were feeding on the surface!

A dry fly fishers dream I opt for a light cast of about 2.4lbs and a single fly to reduce any drag. I throw on a fly I tie at size  16; Quill and elk hair midge on a light Grub hook which sits right in and through the surface film, mimicking the large midge that were occasionally hatching and the main attention of the rising trout. Making a long cast I let the wind drift the fly over the rising fish, a breathless wait willing a take soon rewarded with a strong splashy hit, striking as much out of instinct as a reaction in fright at the sudden splashy. A quick reaction imperative as these wild beauties discard the fly as quickly as they strike. An hour and a half of brilliant surface action, having to replace the fly several time as the vicious takes soon took their toll on the small flies, these the tattered reminants in the fly patch serve a a reminder of some fantastic sport.

I would have loved to fish from dawn till dusk but the glorius weather put paid to that, but when it did allow the sport was spectactular, exciting and varied. I honestly cannot express how much I enjoy my time on the island and the rugged beauty of Harris,  a landscape that can make you feel like the only person alive. The people are warm, friendly and welcoming. And of course the great fishing, Harris has it in bucket fulls! You could write and article about everyday and every loch each would be quite a different story.  I wanted to give you a taste, but the only way to truely experince it is to go!

I was genuinely sad the morning I packed up and headed for Leverburgh and on to North Uist, Harris has a lot more fishing  to offer and I guarantee it will not be another 20 years till I next wet a fly on Harris. I can’t thank Gail Tunnah who runs Finsbay, and Alistair Mackinnon the Ghillie enough for the friendly welcome and all the help, I hope to see you all again soon.

I strongely recommend that you plan a fishing trip soon to Harris the transport links are good, the people are welcoming, the fishing is world class. And I think that the sun is always shining………

Useful Links;

Ferry times and Bookings;  https://www.calmac.co.uk/

Finsbay
Fishings; http://www.finsbaycottages.co.uk/uk/

Buses times and Booking; http://www.citylink.co.uk/

Scotrail; https://www.scotrail.co.uk/

Harris bus timetable; http://www.cne-siar.gov.uk/travel/busservice/current/indexlh.asp