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.

 

Change of Species is as good as a rest!

February drawing to a close and having spent the month exclusively fishing from river to river on the hunt for the elusive Spring Salmon. I now craved a change! I am a shameless trout bum at heart, I adore fly fishing for the whiley and gorgeous Brown Trout, that haunt our rivers and lochs. Unfortunately we have to live with what sometimes feels like a never-ending closed season in the UK. So diversification is key! That means either Grayling on the rivers, which we don’t have in Northern Scotland or Rainbows on the still waters. I can hear the scornful tuts and whispers! I know many scoff at Rainbow Trout fishing and i know why, many flyfishers see them as over fed, over stocked puddings. That have a suicidal drive to throw themselves on the first fly cast in their direction. Producing combat fishing venues! There are people as far as the eye can see, surrounded by duff castors, chucking huge chunks of glittery candy floss on the end of telephone poll like 8wt fly rods, ripping and splashing the line on and off the water, subtlety totally lacking. and there is some truth in these stereotypes. I know have fished venues like that and hated every minute of it.

But do not tar all Stillwaters with the same brush! Hark among the darkness there is light! There are some extremely good still waters around that keep a lower stocking density, don’t feed, and let the fishery grow that little bit wilder and natural not manicured like the 18th at Glen Eagles, with a good head of full finned resident rainbows that are feeding on naturals and coloured up to match the peatier waters we have up North. these gems of fisheries offers us a nice escape when or beloved brownies are on their winter hols! I am very lucky i live in Aberdeenshire a county I adopted as home 11years ago and I have grown to love all that it offers, great salmon rivers, intoxicating trout rivers and lochs, and from my location easy access to plenty more beyond. Living between Huntly and Dufftown. I have the opportunity to fish 1 of these under recognised gems. Only a miles walk from the house. This wee fishery of less than 8 acres, has been around since the late 70s and has gone through a few changes over time but offers everything I’ve mentioned; a more natural feel to the surroundings, a more natural head of trout feeding on the prolific fly, larva, shrimp and fry, this produces natural, more wild behaviour.  Wild trout they may not be, and certainly not native to our fair shores but they can still behave as they would in native US given the right conditions. As a result these Rainbows can prove all to gather quite tricky. A fishery like this offers a haven in the dark wint

View of cabin bay looking north of the Island

View of cabin bay looking North over the Island, Don Mackenzie Having a cast with an old split cain rod

er months! This winter trout haven is Artloch fishery (http://www.artlochfishery.co.uk) Located about 4.5 miles from Huntly just off the Huntly-Dufftown road, bounded on the loch’s north side by the River Deveron, to the east broadleaf and birch woodland and rolling hill farms on all sides produces really quite a charming venue. Owned and run by retired RAF officer Stuart Wright, it is also home to the famous Sharpes of Aberdeen. (http://www.sharpes.net) A wooden Cabin overlooks the loch with a wood burner normally going over the winter months, plenty of tea and coffee flows with the banter and chat. Who says men don’t gossip? Put a group of the local flyfishers that haunt the loch in the hut together, stand back and listen! Everything from what new fly they’ve tied to what the local milkman has been up to with Mrs Smith from down the road. But seriously it can be a treasure trove of information, tips and history on the local and even further afield fishings’. And as I’ve said, listening is as valuable sometimes as practice in learning about this addicting…I mean sport! Some of these guys have two lifetimes of experience and have forgotten more fish than some of us have ever caught.

Looking East thick cloud rolling  in, Strong SW winds, the mornings beautiful blue skys gone!

Looking East thick cloud rolling in, Strong SW winds

So let’s get back to the fishing! as I said, having spent February chasing Springers I needed a change! Arriving at Artloch around 9 am, the sun was gloriously shining, the way it only seems to in the winter in the crystal clear blue sky, unfortunately the wind was not being as kind as the sun with gusts blowing 35 MPH, but if you want to fish in Scotland in the winter, autumn and spring months you learn to fish in the wind! I tackled up in the cabin over a cup of tea and talking to the Sharpes guys mainly about my disastrous River Spey trip and the unavoidable humour mostly at my expense.

Regardless of whether I am fishing river, loch or stillwater I set up several rods. I opt for a Hardy/greys; Streamflex, 9ft, 4wt rod, the Hardy L.R.H lightweight classic reel with a Cortland precision platinum WF4 high float line (http://www.garryevans.co.uk) This rod is for dry-fly with a lighter leader 3 lb because there may always be an opportunity for fish from the surface, a truly enjoyable way to fish one of my real loves and mainstays for trout. to deal with the wind and to allow me to fish heavier flies at range I opt for the Hardy/greys XF2 9.6ft, 7wt, rod. Hardy Princess reel with the Cortland precision platinum WF7 floating line. Many fishers would opt for an intermediate of sinking line, I am not a huge fan of these on a small loch like this, and knowing the loch is at its deepest 12-14ft I would rather opt for a longer leader with a heavier fly like a tungsten beaded nymph or a flight fly of a similar ilk.  I am sure there are Rainbow bashers currently falling of their seats at the suggestion of using a floating line in the windy cold conditions! Please hear me out, I do it for several reasons. FIRSTLY; I have found it always generates more takes for me as I fish over a weedy vegetated loch bed like this one with a jerky, slow retrieve with intermittent dead stops the floating line even with a long leader causing the fly to lift and drop in the water column more naturalistic it also acts as a take indicator for both nymphs and should I change on to buzzers too. SECONDLY; I hate the cumbersome, weighty, tiring sinking lines, if I wanted to give my wrist cramp I can think of a far more pleasurable way. I set up the Streamfex with a nice black hopper it never seems to fail river or loch. On the XF2 I opt for a single tungsten beaded nymph size 12 kamasan B175 hook, with a fluorescent green body with black rabbit fur strip in total about 3cm/inch and a half long fly far bigger than I am used to but it seems to work at this time of year, on a 8 lb Rio leader.

Looking west up the Glen

Looking West up the Strath Deveron

In the sunshine there is a good bit of warmth, but there is still that howling wind which is a southerly blowing from the S / SW and not nearly as bitingly cold as the N/ NE we get blowing in off the North Sea. I choose to fish the more sheltered regions of the loch and of these I choose to fish the spots that aren’t much deeper than 7ft mainly because I’ve often found fish come into these zones for warmth in the sunshine, the shallower water warming quicker. The bay directly in front of the hut offers me all these. There is little movement on the surface so I opt for the heavier rod and nymph set up, to fish at depth, taking the lighter rod with me for quick change to on the surface given the option. I fire a long line out reaching out beyond the bay. Aiming for along the side of a hidden sand Bar below the surface, that extends out from the middle of the bay. I send out  almost all my line, only a single turn remains on the reel before I am in to my backing. Letting the fly sink which doesn’t take long, I give a couple of sort sharp tugs, and stop, then begin a slow figure of 8 retrieve. Instantly I feel pressure and watch my line tip disappear under water and curve away in an ark. YEUP,YEUP, FISH ON!……Damn it! no! fish off! as I Lift the rod tip in to the take and strike, i pull the fly from the fishs mouth. I recover composure and continue the mixed up retrieve slow,stop,jerky, slow fast retrieve. on this first retrieve  I get a couple more knocks before, I lift the fly off the water to cast off again. My 2nd cast streams out to hit the same mark again and within 6ft of line  being retrieved, BANG! FISH ON! And this time, the barbless hook takes hold and I land the 3 lb over wintered beauty. The next 3hours stream past with another 13 fish coming to the net with the best at 6.5 lb  even a Brownie of 1 lb making an appearance. Between landing these fish I have also lost another 10 fish, for reasons I just can’t seem to explain. By 1pm I was in need of replacing the now well and truly tattered fly it had died serving bravely. I needed attention too, sadly excitement and enjoyment can’t sustain me alone, so lunch was called, warm soup and a sandwich.

fish taken earlier in the year at Artloch, fell to a black hopper

fish taken earlier in the year at Artloch, fell to a black hopper

Over lunch the wind intensified and the cloud rolled in, and to be honest the sky looked like it was going to rain or worse sleet. Normally when fishing is as good as had been, its a short lunch but with the changing conditions outside i lingered by the wood burner. I pried myself from fireside and headed for the productive little bay of this morning, but the sun was now gone behind thick cloud and temperature had dropped. Regardless I tried the bay again, on my first cast I land a 2 lber and still getting a few knocks, but the ferocious activity of the morning has dropped off. I move off, fishing around the loch here and there choosing spots where the wind allows. I land another 3 fish, a few more tugs keep me going. Then the activity just seems to stall.  at 3.30pm  after a fruitless hour I decide to call it time! and head for the cabin and warmth, truly satisfied, my craving for trout fishing fulfilled, at a time of year that can produce really tricky fishing, on what can be a very fickle Stillwater. That’s what I love about these wee Gems of fisheries, you quite often have to bring Your A-game, and these venues can quite often favour the wild fish fisher. Mainly because they have a more diverse and subtle skill set. Don’t rule out the Rainbows!