Saturday, July 23, 2011

Challenging Times

July, the meadowsweet month, and the once urgent heartbeat of the trout fishing season has decelerated into the lazy, semi-conscious murmur of the dog days. For the bulk of daylight hours, the river resembles an empty house, lived in but currently unoccupied, the residents out for the day; and the wise angler concentrates his fishing effort upon the last couple of hours of daylight when the fish move out from their hiding places amongst boulder and tree root and take station on the feed lanes, the opportunity presenting itself to cast to some of the most challenging fish of the year.

This is unpredicatable fishing - real boom or bust stuff. Sometimes it happens, sometimes for whatever reason, it just doesn't. Quite often, an initially quiet evening continues to rumble on with no sign of activity as the shadows begin to lengthen in earnest, and the angler's resolve is tested to the limit -  a kind of Mexican standoff requiring patience and conviction, especially where a long drive home eventually awaits. For sure it can be tempting to leave when, with maybe less than an hour of light remaining, there are still no signs of a rise.....but it can be worthwhile to stick it out until the death as quite often a hatch of blue-winged olive duns, or a fall of spinners, or a hatch of caddis, can flick the 'trout on' switch, and suddenly it seems that every fish in the river is up and on the fin.

I was reminded of this last night. Whilst the rise was short lived and patchy, it's interesting to note that things only got going at about 9:45pm and for once this mad keen fly fisher - who under normal circumstances will wring every last minute from a visit to the river - was at one point close to throwing in the towel and going for a pint. The air was cool, the river was up and coloured and I feared the worst. A few hours chucking nymphs and streamers around had yielded fish sure enough, but as the sun dipped below the horizon and the temperature fell right away, it felt like time to pack in.

At that point I had returned maybe half a dozen grayling and a couple of trout. It had been hard going and I needed to work quite intensively to find an odd fish in pockets and on the current seams. None were large, a grayling of around the pound being the best of the bunch, but it had kept me occupied; although after so much of the season spent engaged in the presenting of dry flies, it felt a bit strange - and maybe a little unsatisfactory - to be spending more than a few minutes chucking nymphs around. Which in turn got me thinking about a piece I wrote last November extolling the virtues of the sunk fly. Isn't it strange how things work out sometimes?

Still, the challenge of catching fish in less than ideal conditions is a worthy one. With about 8 inches of peat-red floodwater still tailing off I might have been 24 hours too early for comfort, but I find that in these situations, the bold silhouette of a black nymph works a treat (in fact a black nymph works in all conditions, although most anglers prefer to stick with more natural olive and brown shades). The pattern below is one I have used for years and have absolute confidence in. It isn't actually solid black - the seal's fur used in the thorax is a shade of darkest brown ('ant black', dyed by a friend of mine*); and the abdomen is formed by wrapping krystal flash around the shank, which gives off a black-brown 'oil slick' look to the fly. Sometimes, if I can be bothered, I add a pair of jungle cock splits behind the head, but to be honest, I think it is the profile and dark, translucent tones of this fly which makes it so effective. I rate it as at least equal to the PTN and in coloured water, some way better.

Anyway, I digress. So the situation at 9:30pm was fairly grim. At such times, a single rising fish can give a point of focus. And it always serves to remain mindful that a single fish - particularly a big one - can in the blink of an eye transform a mediocre session into a memorable one. With this in mind, I delayed my premature capitulation and sat down amidst the long grasses at the tail of a favourite pool, taking time to change to a tapered leader, degrease tippet etc.............and eventually after chewing my way through a few grass stalks and taking some close up photos of a goat's beard clock; eventually a few b-wo and small dark olive duns began to emerge, followed - reluctantly almost - by a handful of rising fish. My window of opportunity was small and I set to immediately. An appropriately sized cdc dun worked well enough and in the coloured water, I was able to pick off each of the feeding fish in turn without spooking their friends. Most of them turned out to be schoolie grayling, but I did land a much better one of about a pound and a half and finally, a nice trout of a similar size. By 10:30pm it was all over - less than an hour of a job; and to refer to the analogy I used earlier in this post, neither boom nor bust, but something in between. Something neither unsatisfactory, nor entirely satisfactory. Such is the enigmatic nature of the river in July.

* So far as I am aware, 'ant black' seal's fur is not commercially available. If you want to try this pattern, black claret works well too.....or a blend of solid black and darkest brown, which is what I used before the ant black.


Flyfishermanrichard. said...

I find I tend to give up too early as well. But next week (with such low levels in my river) I will start much later, maybe 6pm and fish until the death. It's still 3 good hours fishing time?

Thanks for the reminder Matt.

Dean K Miller said...

Just as I had done last week on an early morning bout on the Big Thompson, the black nymph produced when others failed. The dark green of caddis larva are popular, but even when they fail to excite, I return to the dark recesses of a black stone or other nymph.

Enjoyed the read, and will be back.