How to catch a wild brown trout – contrast and compare !

I spent a few days in a darkened room recovering after my recent day when fishing on a beautiful stock trout fishery.   A few people made contact to chastise, berate,or abuse me for my attitude to stocked brownies, much was presumptious because they didn’t know me and probably never would.   A brave few tried to explain to me that stock trout were more difficult to catch, and fishing for them was an enigmatic and complex challenge (!) – but overwhelmingly, more people were in agreement with my observations to a lesser or greater extent.

Upon recovery, I ventured out onto the river in between the gales and incessant rain.  I went to a stretch that doesn’t seem as popular with club members, and yet it has yielded some significantly good fish in recent seasons.  The renovation and flow improvement work of recent past couple of seasons has partially matured, and there is half a mile or so of quite variable fishing.  Very deep, unwadeable slow pools, fast shallow riffles over large cobbly stones

whilst on each side there is head high vegetation, thick patches of nettles, genuine thistles, and beautiful greeny purple teasels amongst the variety of other meadow flora up to the waters edge where a metre or more of rushes overtake and provide a serried bariier right along the bankings, growing through soft ground, residual silts and shallow water.  In this picture, you can  just about see the rings,  mid picture, that have been left by a good sized trout, he moved only in a small area, just below the surface, sweeping and mopping up the emerging mayflies,  mostly without hardly breaking the surface, taking them with delicate sips.  The approach was going to be quite difficult, the rushes at the waters edge are rooted deceptively in deep muds dropping quickly into waist deep water.   Getting behind the head height rushes wasn’t the problem, but there is no solid foothold, just the mud and shallow water that would quickly, easily, give out a pressure warning rippling bow wave that would put him down and away.  An upstream twitch wiggling lob of a cast getting surplus line onto the water, and onto the side nearest to me essential, to give five or possibly ten seconds of drag and suspicion free presentation of my emerger.  Before I’d arrived at this point, I’d already lower down the reach, spooked three or four similar  sized trout when making my first cast.  As with those, this was a one cast chance, then I’d have to move up a short distance and begin watching again.

I crab like wriggled and crawled through the undergrowth to the edge of the where the solidity gave way to sloppy wet, this was the difficult bit.  Raising to a raised crouching, casting position took a minute.  I began giggling thinking I must have looked like someone practicing Tai Chi in a bog.  Peering through the rushes, I could just about see him snootily sorting the ones he’d take and those that would be untouched to float downstream and maybe fly.  With a whispering silent prayer I made my cast, instantly looking down to ensure I’d not made a compensatory warning ripple.  Emerger a couple of yards upstream of the trout, then suddenly he switched to his left, and with his nose right under the emerger, gently emitted an air bubble and it disappeared.  I tightened and felt the fast moving weight.  You know when you’ve hooked a good trout.  It goes wherever it wants and you just keep it tight…ish, trying to coax it away from any obstructions and giving an impression of exerting your authority.   As I’d hooked it,  I’d stood fully up, step plunging into the water causing disturbance which I thought would force it upstream into the shallower riffle.  During a short delectable thrill of the fish’s plunges and powerful runs, (not without an underlying  fear of loss)  I don’t think I breathed until I had him coming towards the net.  A couple of last moment plunges and in the net he toppled.

Cheapo camera out of vest pocket, trembling wet slimed fingers, couldn’t remember how to focus it, two pictures with the wrist cord in front of the lens ! – (couldn’t be bothered slipping it on my wrist, concerned about time and returning the fish, thats how I came to drop the last expensive one in the river) and then I was cradling him and feeding my eyes on his immediate camouflage as I submerged him and waited for his break for freedom.  My holding hand could only partially encircle his solid powerful girth.

He didn’t hang about, after five or ten seconds and he robustly lunged away and into the depths.  I guesstimated his weight about three to three and half pounds, (sounds better than 1.5kg) and for his length on the Sturdy Scale this fish should have been much lighter, so the extra weight possibly comes from gorging in the past couple of weeks on Mayflies.

Compared to my previous fishing day, this was a deeply satisfying catch, even if it had been a much smaller fish.  I’d actually had to observe, think, calculate the possibilities, present the appropriate fly, in difficult circumstances to a fish that would have melted away if he’d been momentarily aware of anything in his surroundings being untoward.   Its a fairly safe bet, and I offer my apologies now for the unavoidable characterisation, not one of the chortling chaps who had nonchalantly strolled along the manicured bank of the stocked fishery, waving an expensive rod at the river, occasionally calling to each other, would have caught even the most suicidal of fingerling trout on this river.

Again, to quote one of Bob Wyatts beautiful analogies. (And I hope this doesn’t bring a law suit from his publishers)….. ‘Just to make worthwhile the inevitable indignant comments of elitism and snobbery or differerences of taste, stocked trout fisheries are so badly off plumb, that it isn’t trout fishing at all, it just looks like trout fishing.  Its similar to going out to for a romantic dinner with a woman who you have found to be attractive and interesting, one who you have chatted, wooed and charmed over a period of time before inviting out, against the option of hiring a hooker by the hour.   There may be superficial similarities, and a certain amount of fun may be involved, in one case its a possibility, in the other its an absolute certainty, but the distinction is very important, and its not only a matter of taste.’

Back to the fly tying and crawling through nettles, – I know my place, its the River Wylye, a sinously beautiful but challenging chalk stream populated by some of the most ‘ornery’ and difficult wild trout, some uncatchable, in the South of England.   It isn’t for the faint hearted, nor those with mental image of creels of fat buttery trout, Masochists only need apply.


Stocked Trout Versus Wild Trout. Two very different fishing days.

Not me…an excited angler who I happened upon on along the river bank

On a fishing trip to the US some years ago, a long road journey across Wyoming provided some entertainment by reading the back bumper\window stickers that our American cousins seem to have a penchant for.  Humourous, clever, funny, cynical, aggressive, exhortations of faith, or extolling their particular sports, however, one that caught my eye went something like….’I am not against golf, since I cannot but suspect it keeps armies of the unworthy from discovering trout’….well, I’ve discovered something that could possibly make me want to either take up golf or give up fly fishing.

A well meaning friend who lives overseas last week treated me to a day at a very exclusive Hampshire fly fishing venue.  On my arrival, there were four or five cars on the small grassed lawn, Bentley, Aston Martins, Maserati’s – and a pick up truck.   This is a heart stoppingly beautiful private estate.  There is no better evocation of ‘picture book’ fly fishing than this.  The medieval ‘chocolate box’ manor set amongst  ancient chestnuts and oaks with uninterrupted views across rolling parkland populated only by grazing sheep.   A similarly photogenic river, crystal clear, golden gravel, ranunculus you could almost walk upon, scuttering Coots and Moorhens, (and not a Swan was seen all day) Fly fishing rod and tackle manufacturers should flock here for their advertising photographs.  Unnecessarily cautious I walked up to the banking, keeping behind a huge pollarded willow tree, – there in about three feet of water, less than a rod lengths away there were three or four superb fish, over a couple of pounds each.   I emerged from my hiding place and stood in full sunlight, at the edge of the bank, they didn’t even waft a fin !

The introductory walk along the river by the ‘professional guide’  gave me sight of more large trout than I’d ever seen before anywhwere, and it rained Mayflies !.   There was no escape, I was obliged to fish.   I explained to the ‘professional guide’ that he wasn’t needed, and after a few minutes watching me, he drifted off to put his feet up.  I can’t imagine what his role is other than to tie flies on for those used to assistance with everything, and preventing them from drowning themselves. In the first hour I caught eight large trout, three came in three consecutive casts.  I began ‘snicking’ my fly away from some of the larger and therefore dumber ones, presuming that smaller fish might be wildies.  I changed flies for entertainment….Sedges, Daddy Long Legs, Hawthorn Flies, all took fish !  An hour and a half later I wondered what I was going to do all day.

First fish caught – didn’t bother taking photos after this one.


If this is a corporate fly fishing venue, I would have thought that those who have clawed their way up to dizzy heights on the corporate ladder must surely feel that their obvious intelligence is insulted by this ‘fish in a barrel’ ease.   They’d be better challenged going Deer Stalking.   On the river I came across a Father and Son duo, each expensively clad in high quality tweed, and kitted out with top name tackle, cumulatively their clothing and tackle was more expensive than my car, – I felt like a shabby interloper – if this place has poachers they’d probably be better dressed than me.

Its difficult to explain what this day felt like, was I an accidental  ‘extra’ on a filmset ? ……Walt Disney discovers the Waltons fly fishing ?  – maybe its how you’d feel if you’d been force fed crunchie bars.  The whole thing was unreal – I didn’t even get nettled !  The only similarity to what I normally do was the holding of a rod, I really didn’t mean this posting to be derogatory but I can’t see any benefit from this experience.  I’ve thought what the young lad with his dad might have  learned from this experience;  NOT observation, NOT stalking, NOT presentation, NOT fly selection, – there’s absolutely no merit in anything caught.  Unfortunately, what the young lad may have learned is that immediate gratification is available – at a price.

I recall a pithy quote in Bob Wyatts superb book ‘Trout Hunting…The Pursuit of Happiness’ it goes something like, ‘ casting a fly at a stocked trout is similar to dragging a lure in front of a farmyard animal who’s last meal was served on a shovel..’ he’s not far wrong.

The reason I haven’t posted for a while is because the new waterproof camera proved that it wasn’t really waterproof.   I’m back on an ebay cheapie until I find one at a reasonable price.  I’ll make a balancing wild trout fishing post tomorrow.

One of God’s chosen people

Fishing this week has been an evening only activity, the beautiful bright hot sunny weather during the day has made fishing any earlier a nonsense.  It’s been at least 6:30pm before it was  reasonable to even consider casting a fly upon the water, a couple of times I’ve had to leave it until 7:30pm which means only two and a half hours of fishing before it was too dark. 

Its been quite puzzling.  For some reason there has been very little surface activity, and whilst some Mayflies have been seen – they haven’t been in any signficant numbers.  Correspondingly there hasn’t been a spinner fall, just occasionally you see the odd lone female returning to the water.  I spend quite some time crouched on bankings or stood in the river margins, just watching the river, and I’ve not yet seen the dancing columns of males of previous seasons.   In a casual chat with the Riverkeeper this week he commented that he’d seen Mayfly hatching on the surface but pinging off into the air within a second or two, their wings dried and opened by the warm dry air.  As a result the trout had the sense not to try to pursue them.  

To anyone unacquainted with the river, it would seem that there were no fish in that stretch at all, but,…on a nearby bridge support, hundreds of Baetis are crawling down to lay their eggs, and lurking around the pillar, in about half a metre of water, partially under the bridge, circle several large trout, waiting, like Nile crocodiles for supper to deliver and present itself.  There is one fish of at least a couple of pounds that bosses others away and then returns.  Creeping to forty or fifty feet is as close as you can dare go, and then bounce a nymph or fly off the bridge, even on 7x tippet , this makes them sidle away into the deeper mid stream water for a few minutes. Instantly, smaller and less cautious trout and grayling quickly take their chance at snatching, almost grazing them from the stonework, but they’re soon removed by the return of larger brethren.  Just one or two more casts in a ten minute period, and they’re put down for quite a while.  Instinctively the fish know that the flies will be there much longer than a clumsy scary intruder downstream.  After a few more grayling – a couple of which were good rod benders,  I put the hook in the keeper ring at 9:30 and just sat and watched as night descended. A good evenings fishing. 

I clambered up through the reeds and yellow iris that line the banking to be rewarded with this exquisitely beautiful view as ground mist formed right over the watermeadows that line the river for as far as the eye can see.  

 This river, and this valley never ever disappoints me – to come fishing on this river is always an uplifting experience.  Being a member on this river, an SSSI,  makes me feel like one of Gods chosen people, it gives me access to not just the river, but the meadows, hedgerows, and banks.  So far this season, camouflaged by standing in the reedy margins, I’ve had privileged close up views directly into the lives and behaviour of voles, moorhens, countless warblers, barn owls, sparrowhawks, buzzards, weasels, even a couple of deer coming to drink within forty feet of me.  The highlight this week was a noisy screechy family of Kingfishers which held my attention for twenty minutes as I watched them fishing the shallows near the cattle drinker.  Its all so very far removed from the industrial northern city I grew up in.  As a Junior Mixed Infant, Miss Wilcox, the only adult, used to crocodile thirty of us onto a public bus for an hours ride, in order for us to visit ‘the countryside’ a large country park, Lyme or Tatton, where we’d search for ‘things’ for the classroom nature table.  Dead birds weren’t allowed, nor were squashed frogs and toads, Miss Wilcox placed great emphasis on catkins, leaves and coltsfoot, but there were a few of us that she always kept a sharp eye upon, we always ended up wet, so even at that age, staring at the denizens of streams and ponds held a fascination that developed right into adulthood.   From the sluggish and musty smell of factory polluted rivers and canals where only rats seemed to live, to the fragile crystal chalkstreams of Southern England – some journey. You don’t have to catch fish large or small to have special days on this river.

As Evening Light Falls

We’re having a tough seasons beginning on the chalkstreams.  After the April deluges that extended into early May, things are now getting off to a late start.  Hawthorns in Spring just didn’t have a chance to work, and I’m told that all the chalkstreams currently have an algal bloom brought about by the intense sunlight and high temperatures, possibly aided by phosphate and nitrate wash off.

I saw on Dave Wiltshires blog, ( that where he fishes the Mayfly has almost finished, and the fish have become ‘picky’, whilst on the Wylye, Mayfly hasn’t really yet begun ! 

Because of the recent very hot sunny days,  I’ve not been arriving at the river until after six pm, there’s very little point before the sun has begun to cool and lose the brightness on days like these.  My last visit was cut short because I had a minor accident.  I’d hooked and was playing good fish that was giving me a fair old tussle in the fast current, for a split second the line went slack and I thought I’d lost him, then just as quickly it tightened again enabling my heart to re-start.  In that instant the hook pinged out of the water back towards me and embedded itself in the back of my right hand.   Now, here’s a confession I’m ashamed of, – I had failed to  crush the micro barb down when I was tying, and now I couldn’t extract it from my bleeding hand, the only solution was to snip the tippet, and pack up, very carefully, so as not to catch it on anything that made me yell.  I had to go somewhere, anywhere, to get someone, anyone, to remove it for me.  It was painful.   So on this visit, I began upstream of where I last finished.

Whilst I was fishing  a  nymph through a pool at the head of a small weir, I spotted a single newly hatched duckling desperately paddling and swirling in vain against the powerful current doing its best not to drown.  It was directly above me, so I just passed the rod to my left hand, scooping up the duckling in my right, this was the signal for a trout to snatch the nymph.  I stuffed the duckling in a vest pocket and caught the trout.    

After searching upstream I couldn’t find either a distressed female mallard or a nest, but I did espy this nest and placed the duckling in amongst the eggs, I hope the owner, probably a Moorhen wasn’t too confused on its return.  The duckling would probably have perished if I hadn’t picked it up, and on this small island it just might survive.

Just up from the island as the light slipped away, there was a slight ‘plop’, I looked up in time to see the rapidly dissipating rings in the half light.   This is the point where carriers rejoin the main river, you can see them to the right in the picture, presumably with the higher flows, the carriers brings in numerous nymphs, emergers and spinners to waiting mouths.  Carefully stalking to within casting distance, pausing to carefully watch and consider the complex surface currents – this is a one cast opportunity.

The absence of any obvious surface flies gave me some food for thought, I presumed they were Baetis, so opted for a rather bedraggled medium olive, which I thought might better resemble a spinner just before it lays its eggs and dies, but it was quite difficult to see in the dying light, – I took this picture earlier when the light was much better.   An invented casting style was required, and it was one that I wouldn’t want any of my peers to witness, a kind of high upward dump, upstream and to the left of the incoming ripple, with a final rod tip wiggle as I lowered to the finishing point.  This was to put some snakes in the line and leader and to keep the tippet curves close together sufficiently to give me a few more moments of drag free drift.  Just two seconds and there was the tiniest dimple on the surface where I perceived the fly to be,  I couldn’t be sure, was it a take or just a spinner alighting on the river.  An instinctive lift, and there it was, that rewarding beautiful sense of a subsurface moving weight. I don’t know what it is about trout, I try not to anthropomorphise about them, but I often have the impression that they’re bloody furious at being hooked.  

This is a reasonable fish, what I wanted to show here is the incredible depth of the tail compared to the depth of the body.  An evolutionary development for living in speedy currents with the necessity for rapid propulsion  in order to devour passing food items.    As the light fell rapidly into almost total darkness, there were just a few occasional surface rings, hardly a plop, and not a splash anywhere.  I managed another couple of trout in the last of the twilight before complete darkness fell.   A few minutes later I was left with just the eerie silhouettes of trees, skimming bats and the clucking of moorhens in the reeds for company.  Every fishing day so far this season I’ve seen water voles calmly criss crossing the river, sometimes less than a metre away.  

River Wylye – Stoford Bridge

Stoford Bridge is about mid way on the River Wylye, – it commences up in the Deverills, and meanders through Wiltshire until it joins up with the River Nadder and Avon in Wilton and Salisbury.

Apologies for my absence, I’ve had a bit of a disaster, an enforced short break in Budapest and on my return there were a few days when the weather wasn’t conducive to fishing at all.  I’m also quite cross with myself.   I’d planned an informative and illustrated fishing update. Buoyed by my relative photographic success with my cheap £15 Ebay camera, I decided to invest in another one, but with more complex acronyms and extra fiddly bits, and waterproof – essential to avoid a similar demise to the £15 camera.  Ninety quid and a week later I’m off fishing with it in my vest pocket.

There are a number of reaches downstream of Stoford Bridge right into the village of Wilton, and the one I chose had a good level of water, which I noticed had cleared in comparison with the previous weeks, the level had dropped, and so I was full of confidence.  For the first hour and half I flogged away with LDO and Deer Hair Emergers under the trees  but not a touch.

The river narrowing work has caused a couple of deep pools to scour out, and here I changed to a nymph.  The usual Tungsten bead headed GRHE.  (where would my season be without it).   In the next two hours I took trout of 14″, 12″ and two at 11″ – as well as a myriad of various sized grayling, one a superb fish of 15″, as well as an always welcome number of smaller trout, less than 8″ – ‘fingerlings’. 

 The fast currents caused by the narrowing made them feel much heavier and presented a much higher risk of losing them particularly the grayling once they turned in the current and raised that sail of a dorsal fin.

The riverkeeper has several fly boards in the river, so I turned them over and took some macro pictures of the nymphs in different stages. 

On return home, I excitedly put the camera chip in the computer, made and labelled a folder.   I was overjoyed with the results.   Transferred them to the picture folder on the computer, and then CLEARED THE CHIP ! ! I knew as I pressed the button that I hadn’t checked the new Fujifilm Finepix software that had somehow taken over my picture mangagement – but the folder name was there on the left hand side of the screen  – and guess what, ? – another couple of lessons learned – DO NOT CLEAR THE CAMERA CHIP UNTIL YOU’VE CHECKED YOU’VE PROPERLY SAVED THE PICTURES.  In a right stew with myself, I immediately wiped out the Fujifilm picture viewer software, and in an instant I also erased the fly tying sequence I’d done two days earlier – I’m back using the embedded Microsoft picture management, I’m not risking it with any other branded system. 

All the pictures in this blog are as a result of my revisiting the same reach a couple of days later and trying to replicate the pictures, I couldn’t replicate the catch, and the nymph pictures from the flyboards aren’t as good as the original ones I wiped out.  I will post again later this evening, depending on when I get back from fishing.   I have some postings ready to go so keep checking in.

Oh to be in England, now that Spring is here….!

What is going on? – its early May and I’m wearing neoprene waders and still getting cold.  Is it my age or has the weather pattern gone out of kilter? Its May on an archetypal English stream.  The trees should be a watery pale green as young foliage bursts forth, the river should be an inviting sparkling bright babbling flow that dances and catches the light, whilst Hawthorns and Large Dark Olives hatch to slashing fish that want to feast upon them.  Yesterday the air was full of House Martins and Swifts – (no Swallows yet) hawking for the Hawthorns, but they’ve also been duped into thinking the weather would be more hospitable.  I’ve only travelled a few miles by car, but they’ve put in days and nights of unrelenting wing flapping thousands of miles from the Southern hemisphere, just in time to meet the low temperatures, gusting cold Northerly winds.  And rain.  I know we needed it but that was during the winter.  The rain is rapidly becoming of Biblical dimensions, but it is too late to refresh the underground acquifers for the summer months, so in a way its mocking us, filling to the tops of the bankings, but flowing through too fast to help the fishing for the coming summer, – presuming, of course, that there is one on the way.  

After breaking my rod last week at the beginning lower end of this reach, I decided to return and finish it.  The river is the colour of cold tea, Wrens and Robins huddle in the denser brambles for warmth,  while Gulls are blown like animated stunt kites scudding across the sky.   So, surely for fly choice it has to be something dry and brown…ever the optimist.  An hour later, no fish, so it was back to the nymph, but I only saw one fish rise during the whole four hours.

Following are a few pictures of what I caught, nothing special really but a couple of the Grayling were circa 16″ – one of which had a lesion on the flank – probably from spawning because Grayling are out of season at the moment, but Trout aren’t, difficult not to catch them when nymphing.                                                                                                       

The trout were all under 11″ but thats no matter, yes I’d have liked them larger, but they all went off like little firecrackers, performance exceeding size. Here’s one. 

Wrights Royal – Step by Step

I make no apologies for this fly.  Its my guilty secret.  I came across it in Oregon or Colorado a few years ago, and it would take cut throat trout and brown trout when other flies were proving useless, so on my return, I’d deliberatly kept a couple, using them as models, I tied some up – just to see if they had a place in the UK.  I accept that it might offend many peoples sensibilities of what a chalkstream dry fly should be and represent, but where I do most of my fishing, (River Wylye) it isn’t for the faint hearted, all wild, no stocked fish, and yet this fly has caught me a fair number of wild brown trout, and good grayling.  Its easy and quick to tie and no fly box should be without one.  On those early season cold days, when chilly winds seem to prevent any hatches, the water can look dumb and flat, no surface activity, yet this can drag them up, maybe its out of aggression, who knows, but I do know that at sometime when you’re puzzling over what to do to prevent a blank day, you’ll tie one on and it will catch for you.  I’m not actually sure of its name, Wrights Royal, very similar to Royal Trude, Royal Stewart, Royal Wulff, they’re all similar and have their regional application and minor alterations.  Basically, this fly is just a peacock herl, a red silk cummerbund, and a deer hair wing with a ginger collar hackle.   I can’t think what fly it is supposed to represent, but that is true of many of the flies in our boxes, I suppose you could say its a Sedge but it works when Sedges aren’t around.  This isn’t my best example of tying, but the suns threatening to peep out from behind the black and grey cumulus nimbus, and I’m going fishing, so here are the pics and tying sequence, I’ll tidy them up and do the editing  tomorrow.  Materials first – the tabulation and layoout of the materials list keeps appearing as jumbled up, I’ll try to resolve whats happening and make it look better soon.

Hook: #14-#18

Dry fly thread: Uni 6/0Black/

Abdomen: Peacock/Herl – single strand

Waist: Uni red silk (three strands)

Thorax: Continuation of the Peacock/Herl

Wing: deer hair

Hackle: medium ginger

Wind a thread base to just about level with the hook barb. Tie in a single strand of Peacock herl from below the eye.  Wind the thread forward to be out of the way, then wind herl forward just two or three turns, secure it with a turn of the thread, then let it hang, weight of bobbin holder should hold it firm.

Tie in a 2” – 3”piece of red silk –  it comes in strands that seperate for finer tyings.  Move thread forward again, Wind a small even waist (in this picture it isn’t even but should be) of the red silk, its profile should be lower than the height of the peacock herl.  Secure the end of thread, snip off waste.

Continue with another two or three turns of the Peacock herl, you shouldn’t need any more, remembering that you have to leave enough space for the deer hair wing and hackle.

Small pinch of deer hair, strip out the under fur, level the hair tips in a stacker, present on the top of the hook shank in flat position, with the tips of the hair extending very slightly over the bend of the hook.  Tie down, tightening with three or four turns of thread, try to prevent it flaring too much. Snip off the deer hair butts.

 Tie in a hackle stem ready to wind it on.  Leave it, but wind the Peacock herl forward towards the eye, tie down firmly, and snip off whatever bit remains.

 Now wind the hackle through the peacock herl, using thread to tie it down just a few milimetres before the eye.  Snip off the waste hackle, then form a small neat head, a touch of varnish or Sally Hansen Hard as Nails if you prefer.  Repeat half a dozen times, change hook sizes, change colour of wing and hackle, go fishing, catch trout.

Todays Lesson is ….

I was trudging back from the three meadows Kingsmead reach last week when I heard a Cuckoo, it partially lifted my deteriorating black mood because it was the first one I’d heard in three years, but it was a particularly apt ridiculing fanfare to my fishing that day.  I’d been nymph fishing at the lower end of this very pretty reach, the water was slightly coloured – chalkstreams don’t colour up like other rivers, the wind could have been friendlier, it was driving the rain directly into my face, with such a force that the only fly I could ‘cast’ was a 3mm Tungsten bead nymph which I had to aim outwards toward the fields on the true left bank in order for it to plop into the river !  Why was I even here in these conditions ? I was just getting my fix of being on the river.  I’d been watching what appeared to be quite a hefty dorsal of a trout rising under an overhanging bush to what I think were large dark olives.  I was on the edge of a deep unwadeable pool directly in front of me.  On my immediate left was the stump of a large Ash that had come down during the winter, and been removed by the River Keeper.   The roots were in the river about three feet below me, so I edged gingerly along a reasonably a thick one, balancing precariously, one foot directly in front of the other, left hand clutching the flimsy remnants of last summers bankside weeds!  What part of sensible did this meet?  I was keen to cast a heavy nymph, to a fish, rising to emergers, under a bush that would be a very difficult cast in perfect conditions.  My right arm twitched the longish leader and fly line out of the top ring, I let the current pull it straight until I guessed it was just the right length, and then synchronised and balanced the slight drop in the wind, angle, line tension and target position,  and flipped – (calling it a cast would be misleading)  it to a point about six feet in front of the bush.   I didn’t see the nymph plop in, my immediate focus was on getting my head above water, gasping as the instant cold that ran down my chest past my crutch into my feet.  River water doesn’t taste that bad, my hat had gone, drifting speedily downstream on the current.  Somehow, my boots had slipped off that very slippery underwater root, and that damned flimsy stalk of a weed hadn’t held me firm !   I scrambled up the banking, reeled in the line, and heard an odd clink that made me look up to see that my fly had caught in the top ring, which was hanging vertically down below the rod.  My beautiful Hanak Nymph rod had a broken top section swinging sadly and accusingly in the wind.   So what lesson have I learned ? – screw new studs into my felt soles, thats what I’ve learned !

First Brown Trout of the Season

A strong cold wind gusted and swirled downstream enough to make my eyes water.  In between the heavy but brief rain showers with occasional clattering hail, there were all to brief periods of that beautiful intense  sunlight that highlights the fields and trees in startling vivid spring colour and clarity.

My wife had announced that she was away for the weekend visiting our daughter and grandchildren,  so I was a free man,  Friday to Sunday for fishing –  how good is that ?  Unfortunately it coincided with the BBC’s weather forecaster announcing that this weather pattern was settling in until the end of the month.   Just perfect for my first days fishing I griped.   I didn’t have to go fishing, my wife asked  me to replace the fence around the vegetable garden to keep the rabbits out, – ‘….any time in the next two weeks would be fine…’ she’d called across the yard to me as I loaded my fishing gear in the car.  For a nanosecond I juggled between the two options, fishing won.

I’d have to use a nymph endeavouring to cast a  dry fly on a #5 weight  9’ leader and 3’ of tippet upstream  into this wind is a fools errand, besides,  I had a new Hanak Nymphing 10’ 3# rod I bought in December, from their UK agent, John Emerson of Unique Flies, so come hell or high water, this was going to be its christening.   I chose the three meadows reaches,  very pretty at the end of April early May when wild Irises in yellow and blue peer through the bankside rushes.  The rod was everything I wanted it to be, and despite the wind, I was  able to flick a single nymphs on a long leader quite precisely into specific holes and riffle holes exactly as I wanted, I drew a deep breath and complimented myself.

A satisfying number of small trout under 11” prevented  me from becoming obsessed with the cold water leaking  through my waders and into my crutch.  I moved quickly further along as a number of out of season small grayling found the GRHE particularly attractive.

At one point there were waves coming downstream, which stopped instantly the wind dropped, causing the flat surface to have a  ‘brushed feathering’ effect.  A twitch of the leader and then a momentary steadying, and I lifted into a very lively wild brownie that  made me completely disregard my now cold and sopping wet crutch  inside my waders.

Minutes later, fishing left handed from the TRB to counteract the wind and to prevent disturbing where I wanted to fish,  I had another from the foot of the riffle just over the bright golden gravel.

I brought it gently onto the waters edge bright green vegetation and slipped the nymph out of the scissors, dropping it behind me in the water.

Two clicks with my £15 ebay camera on ‘muppet’ setting,  and then he decided enough was enough,   and with a flick of the tail,   splashed and slipped through the weeds back into the river.  I saw him seemingly sulkily slide into half a metre of water between two rocks and hold his position,  possibly  contemplating what the hell it was he’d just eaten  to cause such an unusual experience, and resolving not to eat one of those kind of nymphs again, I’m quite sure that I saw the words  ‘from now on I’m sticking to Gammarus’,  encapsulated in a bubble of air he emitted before disappearing into deeper water.

Picking the rod up to begin to sorting out the line, I was intending  to move upstream a short distance, but the nymph that casually tossed  behind me only a couple of minutes earlier , had been taken by the current, no more than about15 – 18 feet downstream, just the length of the  leader and a little line extending  from the rod tip.  Possibly, because of  the movement of my boots in the shallows, I’d  disturbed some invertebrates, but as I was passing line between my fingers feeling for the beginning of the leader to examine the nymph, there was a noticeable tightening that became  positive live resistance, and then I was half handlining, trying to get my rod into a manageable position whilst a good fish used the midstream current to slice line away between my fingers.

A sturdy and healthy grayling eventually thrashed and twisted onto the surface.   My chest pack was still wide open, camera precariously balanced on the top, my landing net  had caught in bankside vegetation  retractible retaining cable stretching  at full length,  suddenly released and with some velocity hit me in the back of the head.  Talk about Muldoons Picnic, I grabbed the camera, and took another couple of clicks of the grayling as I pulled it towards me.

If I can, I try to avoid handling fish wherever possible,  however, sometimes , particularly with grayling under 12” this isn’t possible because they continue to flex and contort themselves  right up until the moment you release them.  I removed the hook whilst holding him steady in the current, a few moments recovering and he kicked and slid sideways and forward into the deep pools.

The wet crutch, increasing wind,  and more frequent hail stones made me review my days choices, and I felt that it was quite unreasonable for me to have not put the rabbit fence up.  No complaints, this junkie had had his couple of hours fix and could now temporarily return to civilised society with those not addicted, or  needing to, as John Geirach put it, ‘stand in a river waving a stick’.

Mayfly Emerger Swimming Nymph – Step by Step tying guide.

Hook:                         Daiichi 1770  #12                                                      Thread:                      Uni 6/0 Brown or Tan                                         Tails:                          Pheasant Tail fibres                                             Abdomen:                  Goose Biot                                                                Gills:                           Single Peacock Herl                                           Thorax:                      Hares Mask fibres                                                Wing:                          Two CDC Feathers Folded over. 

Each winter I tie up a few experimental patterns, some fail miserably, others surprisingly effective.  This is one, called The Isla Wren, I tied it up two years ago, and I now count it as one of my most successful flies.  It is obviously to simulate ascending emerging mayflies.  The weight of the hook wants to submerges the fly, but, depending on the water condition, the CDC and the other tying materials have a natural buoyancy and also trap sufficient air to prevent it sinking completely.   I’ve caught many good trout on this last season, rarely did it fail me.  I’ve tied up a couple of dozen for this season, half of which have slight variations, some have dubbed hares mask for the thorax, some have partridge fibres tied under the CDC wing to  to simulate legs.  Experiment mixing materials and colours to suit your own locality; I haven’t changed the abdomen because the wound goose biots have a bright natural translucency.  I’ve tied it in diffferent colours of goose biot and its just as good on waters different to the chalkstream I fish.

Hook in Vice, wind a thread base along its length.  Tie in three pheasant tail fibres to form tails. Once the tails are secured, catch in a peacock herl, and a single goose biot. Wind thread forward over butts to hold firmly in place.

Use hackle pliers rather than fingers to wind the biot as far as the main kink in the hook. Tie it down.                                                                                                                                            Now carefully wind the biot, ensuring it is done with even spacing in order for the goose biot to show clearly through. Secure the end. 

Dub the thread with dubbing.  Here I’ve used Orvis Spectrablend – Tan, Wind it on but only to create a natural division between the abdomen and the beginning of the wing.  

Select two CDC feathers – these are natural.  Lay them on top of the hook, tips towards the bend, have just enough curling towards the bend so that when you curl them forward and secure at the eye, there isn’t very much to cut off as waste. 

I’m not very pleased with this pic,  I’ll replace it with a better one tomorrow.  Dub the thread with more hares mask fur, particularly the spiky guard hairs, and wind over the hook shank towards the eye, stopping about 2mm from the eye.   Curl the CDC feathers over together, over the dubbed hare, and tie down just before the eye, trim, and finish with a small head. 

 Fishing tip:  Grease tippet except final twelve or fifteen inches.  The fly will sink eventually, but I’ve  taken fish both whilst its been on the surface or completely submerged,

What’s the real cost of a seasons fishing ?

There has to be a name for this form of psychological disorder that I’m suffering from, I can’t possibly be the only one,  I obviously need to seek help.  However, at last its here ! – the first day of my trout season.   For the past week I haven’t been able to settle.  Yesterday was awful, I was up very early, but the day just dragged,  I was like a child waiting for Christmas.  I also had a mirror image behaviour pattern of the one I had a day after last season ended, different only that this time I’m in a good humour.   I fiddled with the contents of my fishing bag, checked the end of my fly line for the third time, pondered over the nail knot and wondered whether I ought to redo it – again, checked the laces in my wading boots, randomly opened and closed fly boxes to scan their contents, had minor panic attacks that I’d wasted so many days of the winter, merrymaking with friends and family, which has now resulted in me realising that five or six hundred flies is absolutely inadequate for the 2012 trout season.  I just know that, in some category, I will be short of the subtle pattern\colour\size variations essential for the weather\temperature\light\seasonal vagaries that I am bound to meet in the coming months……. just because I can’t be specific at the moment, doesn’t mean that I’m wrong.   

The next problem I have looming is that my wife is being absolutely unreasonable, she will undoubtedly expect, as in previous years, a holiday during the summer and another one with our children, their partners and grandchildren ! –  well this years going to be different, I’m going to be one of those Northern brooding macho men, moody glowering looks, stubble, demand a meal on the table when I want it, I’m going to be putting my foot down, there’s only one pair of trousers in this house……besides, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with a holiday in October – less crowds and lower cost. 

So today is the first of my 183 day long fishing season, 26 weekends, but bliss, oh bliss, I’ve retired, the days are my own, nearly, so my target is for 100 days minimum fishing ! – I’ve found a local guy who will cut the lawns, the newspaper boy will walk my dog twice a day, I’ve engaged a local DIY guy to clean and paint the gutterings, a local farmer will top my fields for beer tokens, all of these come at what I think is a very reasonable cost which enables me to make maximum beneficial use of my membership.  It is of course, this ancillary planning that racks the costs up, so why can’t she realise that the more days I fish, the daily cost also becomes lower ….mmmm, on reflection, ….that could get difficult, her feminine mental arithmetic skills would instantly come into play, she’d apply one of those peculiarly female conversion rates,  Guerlain, L’Oreal, or her current favourite seems to be Jimmy Choo, whoever he is, I suppose that I’m fortunate really because she is so frugal and careful.  She tells me that everything she manages to buy, is during a ‘sale’, or at ‘half price’ or ‘two for one’ – I’m still astonished she bought that MaxMara Scelta coat with Nectar points !

Hawthorn Fly – Springtimes best fly


Hawthorn Fly –  A step by step tying guide.

Hook:                                      #12 Hanak BL130 or similar dry hook Thread:                                   Black Uni6/0                                           Abdomen\Thorax:                 Orvis Spectrablend Black (or similar)  Wing:                                      Niche Polypropylene Yarn           Legs:                                      Knotted Pheasant Tail Fibres (Black)Hackle:                                   Black

Here I’m using the Hanak #12 dry fly hook  BL130, but others will be just as good.  Personally I don’t like this fly tied on a larger hook, but that could be just a regional thing. 

Run thread to the bend of hook

Dub on a slim noodle of black spectrablend and build abdomen and thorax, thickening as you go.

 Make it look like this.

 Cut 1” of the poly yarn, hold in place on top of the hook, while you secure it with a single wrap.  The weight of the bobbin holder will hold it in place.

Now cut two of the pheasant fibre legs and hold in place on one side, secure them with another wrap over.  Repeat for the other side, before attempting to hold all items in position, while you tighten the wrapping, ONLY TWO WRAPS,  with the dubbing on the thread.

Trim the waste ends off the legs and the yarn, and top wing of yarn.  Now its time to put the hackle in place. Choose the hackle with suitably short barbs, they mustn’t be too long or they create problems in use.  The general rule of thumb is that the barb length shouldn’t be more than one and a half times the gape of the hook. 

Strip the flume off this feather, you can just see in the picture a dart of shading, pointing towards the tip, after this, the barbs are stiffer and have a little more sparkle. Strip the shaded barbs off, and then tie the feather onto the hook, just in front of the poly yarn. 


Wind the hackle no more than three times, prefably just twice around the hook.  Secure tightly the feather before you trim off the butt, – there’s nothing more aggravating than cutting it and watching it spring into unwind mode.

 Whip the head tightly and trim thread, – if you’re a bit paranoid about the thread coming loose at the eye after cutting, either do a couple more half hitch securing knots, and dab it with the tiniest drop of Sally Hansen Hard as Nails, or smear a short length of the tying thread with very small amount of varnish on the end of a dubbing needle or cocktail stick, then finish the whipping and tie off.  

Repeat another eleven times and then go fishing, this is a fly that works early morning as well as during the afternoons. 

 FISHING TIP:  Apply floatant only to the poly yarn, legs, and the top half of the hackle.  Then, consider carefully which way the wind has been\ and is blowing, you might  discover that there are strips of water, along one of the bankings, or by back eddies, where the wind might have blown them in numbers, it is here that the fish will have been picking them off and possibly anticipating others to fall.   

Alternative:   If you struggle tying in the legs, because they’re a bit slippy, do them immediately after the dubbed thorax, once you have them firmly in place, tie in the poly yarn before completing as above, remember to have some dubbing on your thread to complete the very noticeable largish head on the fly.