Saturday, August 20, 2011


 I am a keen fly fisher. Therefore I am, like most other keen fly fishers, very good at making excuses for failure. I ruminated upon this fact whilst driving home from the river last night following a few hours of decidedly underwhelming sport. The river had under-performed, no mistake. I had my excuses at the ready - reasons why the sport was so damned slow. But then if I am honest enough to admit it, I had under-performed too; and although it was definitely not a night for easy pickings, I was forced to concede that I had been presented with a chance late on to bring proceedings to a satisfactory conclusion and quite frankly I had made a balls of it.

I seem to have spent much of my last few outings complaining about the state of the river. Too many times this summer I have found myself looking forlornly at high and coloured water and wishing I had made the journey 24 hours later. Other times I have found the river starting to rise midway through the session, effectively killing sport dead. Give me a clear and settled stream, I thought, and I will resume the capture of the big wild browns which populate these parts.
Well after a dry week, it looked very much as though I would get my wish last night. Sure enough when I caught my first glimpse of the river I was greeted by a beautiful sight - at just a couple of inches above summer level, the flow was bright and amber tinged, foamy and frothy and looking as trouty as it is possible to look. The atmosphere was warm and humid and a promise of great things was in the air. Over the tail of the nearest pool, an absolutely huge cloud of athripsodes caddis swarmed above the surface. I set to work immediately.

If my initial scout of the water fails to reveal rising fish, my usual default modus operandi  is to kick off with a brace of nymphs pitched upstream into likely looking seams and riffles until I receive signs from the residents that a change is required. So it was last night and the tactic produced a couple of 8 inch grayling, a couple of dropped fish, a very good trout which leapt clear and threw the hook, and a nice brownie of around the pound. I have to say though, that given the water I covered I had expected more. No, they weren't really having it and I consoled myself that the evening rise could start at any moment............

Except - and here comes the excuse part - just as things should have begun to hot up, a horrible, cold wind suddenly blew up out of the south west, bringing blue grey clouds and spots of rain and a drop in temperature of some 6C to single figures on the thermometer (when I examined the charts this morning, they showed that a small low pressure front had crossed the north of England and that winds had increased to around 20mph at nearby Kirkby Stephen). The clouds of spinners I had seen above the bushes earlier sought cover in the vegetation, the swarms of longhorns disappeared and the surface of the river became ruffled by the unwelcome draught. Bugger.

And then, in the half light, came my shot at glory. In spite of the conditions, a large trout was feeding in one of several tongues of current which issue from a rocky pool head. Close examination of the surface revealed that a handful of b-wo duns had chosen to brave the weather and ride the fractured current downstream. My target was responding to them in clusters of three or four rises in quick succession followed by apparent inactivity for a minute or two. By anticipating this pattern, I felt sure that the fish would be mine.

Except I hadn't appreciated how difficult achieving the correct presentation would be. My first few casts (deliberately short of the fish) dragged horribly, so confused where the micro currents either side of the trout's position. Normally, a slack line cast would sort this problem out, but when I took a bit of turnover off the delivery, the wind - blowing across and slightly into me - gripped the fly and blew it out of the narrow corridor of accuracy I needed to elicit a response. Try as I might, a decent presentation proved beyond me; it was time for a re-think. Time to head upstream.

A couple of minutes later, I had crept down to within ten yards of the fish. Fishing the dry fly downstream tends to be a 'one hit wonder' method which either proves immediately successful......or puts the target down. Lengthening line carefully and well to one side of the fish, I adjusted my angles, overshot the delivery, pulled back and dumped the fly a couple of yards above the 'danger zone', rod tip held high, the minimum of line on the water . It was pleasing to see the cdc dun drift untouched by drag for a few feet, and even more pleasing to see a huge snout break the surface to intercept it.

I have written here before about how I wanted this year to get back more to river fishing following a couple of summers spent increasingly afloat on stillwater. Enjoyable though the diversion has proved, I felt last season that when I did make it onto running water, my touch had deserted me - that is to say my modest competence levels were even more limited than usual! As in all such disciplines, practice is the key to improvement and I have been determined this year to 'get my eye back in' and outwit fish which would have got the better of me over the last couple of seasons - to become properly tuned in to the task in hand.
I experienced something of this feeling back in May and June when I enjoyed a purple patch with some large trout in sometimes difficult lies; and as my little dun disappeared into the impressive maw of this latest target, I have to admit to feeling just a tiny bit pleased with myself.

And then at the exact point I was about to lift the rod and set the hook, a gust of wind lifted my leader, billowing off the water and I struck into thin air. Perhaps surprisingly, the trout continued to rise.....until my next cast drifted through the lie untouched and the leader trailing behind spooked the fish altogether.

So a pretty poor performance, I admit; and  viewed alongside my failure a couple of weeks ago when I made a hash of things with that huge grayling, I have to wonder if a confidence-restoring session down the local stock pond might be in order. But then again, surely on this occasion Billy Wind should shoulder some of the responsibility also. After all, what is a fisherman without his excuses?


Dean K Miller said...

It is for choosing whether the disappointment of one's jouney to the river is a stronger pull to right the wrong, then of a satisfactory day of easy fishing.

Either way, a return is called for, and should be made, a satchel full of excuses always ready made and full.

Jeff Hatt said...

A great post about a blank is hard to pull off but you have here! It's strange how knowing exactly which fish is your target makes mistakes, blunders and random acts of wind and weather more likely than not, isn't it?

Alistair - Urbanflyfisher said...

There is nowt wrong with a damn good excuse - in fact is the after fish thinking and writing not the seeking of reasons as to why a session was good and why a session was poor?