After a very benign winter we north west fly fishers have been anticipating a running start to the season. Certainly reports filtering down from the upper Eden system this last week seem to indicate that the trout are already more than willing to feed given favourable conditions. I have heard numerous reports of large numbers of March Browns hatching from the mid river right up to Kirkby Stephen, which is both unusual and extremely welcome (although the consensus seems to be that the fish weren't all that interested in them). And of course the LDOs appear to have been doing their thing as normal, allowing most anglers the opportunity to catch their first trout of 2012 on the dry fly. I hoped to count myself among that number by the end of today's session but in all honesty I made a low key start to the season. The going wasn't easy, but the challenge proved absorbing and I came away from the river having caught a few fish which at this time of year is about as much as I could hope for.
The first hour of the session was spent pitching a brace of nymphs upstream into likely looking spot. I started at 10am so was looking forward to an hour or two of just getting back into the rhythm of fishing whilst keeping a look out for any signs of emerging olives and rising fish. Happily, this tactic brought almost instant results and by the time I had covered 30yds or so of water, I had returned half a dozen fish - five trout and a solitary grayling. They were all in the 10-14" bracket, bar one 16 incher which was so thin and battered it looked like it had spawned yesterday. It was pleasing to note that they all came from relatively shallow streamy water, and were prepared to move up in the water column to take the flies soon after they had landed. It seems the fish have already become accustomed to adopting their spring feeding lines - and given the recent mild weather, probably have for some time now. It felt unusual to be getting takes in water which I wouldn't expect to be occupied for a few weeks yet, rather than the more customary flat, even water and deeper pool tails.
Given all the recent talk about a March Brown resurgence, I had gone with a #14 clinger nymph on the dropper. However, it was the point fly - a sizeable copper head hare's ear - which did the business on this occasion, accounting for every one of the fish I caught. This little chap was one of them:
That's all very well, but nymphing is no way to be spending your first session of the new season and I was very keen to get the tapered leader on and find myself a riser. This proved trickier than I expected. Although a few dark olives began to appear from 11:30am onwards, the warm sun and brisk breeze conspired to get them off the water in a flash. I usually prefer cool, overcast conditions which can delay the drying of the newly emerged duns' wings, leaving them nailed hard to the water's surface. In such circumstances it doesn't take many of the little blighters to bring the trout up to feed off the top. Not today though: for every dun I witnessed riding the currents, I saw a dozen careering off into the neighbouring fields on the back of an ever freshening breeze; and the trout, unimpressed, stayed down. What then, of the March browns? Well I was delighted to count maybe 10 of the big duns which emerged in a flurry at the head of one pool bang on midday. As far as I could tell, all escaped without piscine harassement.
I finally found what I was looking for a while later. Staking out a likely spot, I heard the rises before seeing them, watery kisses at the river's surface. I had been scanning a section of water back from the pool head for nebbing fish, but when I followed my ears and homed in on the source of the fishy sounding disturbance, I was surprised to find that the culprits were quartering the broken water right at the neck end of the pool. In such disturbed water, the rise forms were difficult to spot to say the least and this wasn't helped by the fact that each fish would rise a couple of times in quick succession before taking a break for a minute or two. Eventually after a period of about 20 minutes of watching and waiting, I had ascertained that there were four fish on station, two of which appeared to be of a good size. After deciding on which order to address them, I set to work.
It was difficult to resist the temptation to keep switching targets when things inevitably dropped quiet on whichever fish I was concentrating upon, but perseverance usually pays dividends in such circumstances and, that proved to be the case once more. I dropped the first fish when it jumped clear soon after being hooked - a nice looking brownie of maybe a pound and a half. The second fish turned out to be a 12" grayling (I should have realised when I had to give it a longer than usual 'lead' to elicit the take). The third looked to be a biggie from its porpoising rise forms, but turned out to be a modest specimen of little over the pound. The last fish - unsurprisingly from the lie it had adopted - turned out to be the best of the day. Occupying a crease-line tight between the current bulging over a submerged boulder and an adjacent back eddy, this fish was rising at a rate of twice every 3 minutes or so. It took me a good half hour to get things right, but I hit the jackpot eventually and spent the next five minutes being led a right merry dance by a spanking trout which tipped the scales at 2lb 5oz.
And that was just about that. Soon afterwards the wind picked up prohibitively and I beat a retreat to the car. I was quite pleased with my efforts considering it was my first outing for some time. I would have settled for avoiding the blank when I set out this morning, but although the fishing definitely wasn't easy, seven trout and a couple of accidental grayling were I felt, a pretty decent reward for fishing hard and - unusually for me - maintaining concentration.
One other thing bears recounting here, because it had me stumped for a while: whilst watching the above fish in their feeding routine, I found I couldn't pinpoint what they were taking at all. They were certainly feeding right off the surface, but not on duns and I was pretty certain they weren't taking midge or tiny terrestrials either. Although it probably wouldn't have mattered too much in effecting their capture, I sifted about just sub surface with the insect net below them for a few minutes and found that a few half drowned, crippled LDO duns were present in the surface film. These must have either been swamped by the roily currents in the pool head, or knocked over by the ever strengthening breeze.....or maybe a combination of both. Whichever way, I surmised that these must be what the fish were feeding on, maybe explaining the sporadic nature of the rises, and perhaps understandable given that owing to the atmospheric conditions, the more able bodied duns were able to escape the surface film in a matter of seconds. I can't say for certain if this was the case, but that's the best explanation I can offer. A correspondingly low riding emerger pattern certainly worked well enough.
Anyone else witnessed this sort of feeding behaviour?