Saturday, June 04, 2011

Summer evening fishing: of rhythm and balance.

What a difference a few days makes. Last Friday I was standing in frigid, coloured floodwater, under blue-black clouds, wishing I had worn a couple of extra layers. This week I visited the same stretch of river, found it had dropped right back down to summer level and enjoyed a few hours of summer evening bliss beneath a warm cloudless sky, amidst hatching caddis and lazily swarming spinners. The contrast could not have been more marked and although this week's session was similarly productive in terms of fish caught, even the nature of the fishing was subtly different.

With daytime temperatures peaking at 26C and not a cloud to be seen in the sky, I knew that the going early on would likely be slow and although I picked up fish reasonably steadily, that pretty much proved to be the case. A few yellow may duns, pale wateries and even an odd mayfly were in evidence although their duration on the surface as newly emerged duns was understandably brief and the fish paid little mind. I did however get a rare opportunity to watch yellow may nymphs actually swimming up to the surface to hatch. The broad headed heptagenid nymphs could be occasionally seen scooting up to the surface from the river bed immediately in front of me. If I caught them in my net, they would continue emergence from there, taking flight within seconds of being introduced to fresh air.

Interestingly, my observations last night are completely at odds with Oliver Edwards' claims that the YMD emerges from its nymphal shuck on the bed of the river, rising to the surface as an embryonic dun. What I witnessed was definitely a standard 'nymph swims to the surface and dun emerges through the meniscus' regime. The photo below shows one which I scooped up, clearly in mid emergence from its nymphal shuck (click on photo to enlarge).....

....... and the imitation I used to fool a couple of fish:

Anyway, less of the entomological anorakism; what about the fishing? Well the evening progressed in text book fashion - what I have come to think of as the 'rhythm' of a summer's evening river fishing. Sport gradually picked up as the evening cooled and light levels began to slowly wane. Trickles of blue-winged olives began to appear and although the fish refused to embark upon a concentrated feeding frenzy as they had the previous week, every pool seemed to hold a taking fish or two. Then, as dusk approached, the adult spinners returned to bring fish up on the pool tails, and hatching caddis swarmed around me, crawling over my neck and arms. The gradual crescendo of summer evening fishing is a joy to behold and where I once resented the sense of being rushed, the falling of darkness and reluctant return to the car, these days I am more inclined to sit back and admire the procession, absorb the sensation in the knowledge that there is always tomorrow, always another summer.

My best sport seemed to come in shallow, fractured pocket water. The sort of water where you won't spot a feeding fish unless you get in there, creeping about amongst the boulders, often on hands and knees. There, in swirling water only inches deep, you might spot a dorsal fin momentarily cut the surface, followed by the tip of a lazily waving tail fin; a subtle boil, a slight flattening of the water's confused surface. It takes a good deal of concentration to mark feeding fish in these circumstances, especially when faced with a hundred yards or more of boulder-broken water most of which looks too thin to hold even small trout. But the big fish are there and every time I venture into this territory, the results reinforce that fact emphatically.
Last night I crept up behind a fish which was feeding in a roily slot of fast water little more than a foot deep. The rise forms were barely perceptible and had I not become tuned in to small detail over the previous couple of hours, I would probably have passed him by. A very short cast from a kneeling position 5 yards to the rear, resulted in a confident take and a very big cock brown trout exploding angrily from the water in a flurry of spray. The next few minutes saw total mayhem as the fish careened about in the shallow water, diving for tree roots, line pinging off the many large boulders scattered through the pool. But my luck was in and my mouth dry as I slipped the net under more than 3lb of wild Eden trout. For me, the fly fishing experience doesn't get much better than that.

Fish of this sort of size seem to be fairly commonplace on the Eden system these days. True enough, they are not easily caught, but they are there....and the first rule of catching large river trout is to fish somewhere that holds them. Indeed, over the last three seasons it seems to me that the average stamp of fish has increased in size - markedly, and to the extent where the regulation 10-12" Eden brownie seems to have dropped off the radar somewhat. Of the 13 fish I returned last night all but three were over the pound with six being over 1lb 8oz. On the face of it this might seem like great news for the fly fisher, but I have my doubts as to whether it is an indicator of a truly healthy river system. A dearth of small fish would suggest a demographic imbalance and I wonder if predation from sawbill ducks is causing artificial thinning out of the immature fish populous? The growth rate of the resident fish appears to be phenomenal - the 3lb 11oz trout which I encountered in March this year was, upon close examination of photographs, the same fish I returned in April 2010, weighing 2lb 11oz. A weight gain of 1lb in just under a year is incredible and suggests low competition for food in the Eden's biomass rich waters. I am not a fisheries scientist so I can only suppose, but whilst I am very much inclined to make hay while the sun shines, I can't help but worry that all is not quite as it should be.

Pessimism aside, it was impossible not to be buoyed last night by the the beauty of it all - the gentle whisper of the fly line though the air; the scent of bankside yarrow and oxeye daisy, ripening barley and  freshly cut meadow hay; the dance of olive spinners like tiny flames in the sky. The solstice approaches; at no other time of year do I feel as alive as now. I have a few days out with friends planned over the next few weeks. I dearly hope that the river shows its best side for my guests.



umber said...

Lovely pictures and thought provoking words Matt.
Looking forward to the next installment of NCA.

Regular Rod said...

Splendid report and delightful photographs!

Flyfishermanrichard. said...

A wonderful discription of your fishing Matthew. It's interesting were the big fish are found as the light goes. I suspect they would be looking for Bullhead and minnows too.
Some excellent pictures, of some truely impressive fish, well done on a great piece.


Bigerrfish said...

smokin brown!

mike said...

That was a really nice report Matthew, I enjoyed it very much.

Your observations about the fish sizes are interesting. One of my regular rivers is the Tweed. There is a well pronounced dearth of middle sized fish in the upper stretches in particular. There are some enormous fish of 5lb+ which seem to control the bigger pools, with the 10-12" fish being marginalised. Further down river it's a different story, with a more even spread of fish. I've spoked several times with the Tweed fisheries biologists about this and they tell me it is well known, but they don't have a full explanation for it. I've not fished the system for long enough to see what the natural 'cycle' is, but it will be interesting to see over the coming seasons whether this population structure holds up.