Not wanting to sound like a broken record, but this lovely spring weather has been a real hindrance to those of us looking for early season dry fly sport. Fly life may have been reasonably abundant but olives in the air are no good to a trout fisher; they need to be on or in the surface of the water and so far I - and most other anglers I know - just haven't seen that. Of course the weather is to blame. Warm breezy weather facilitates the drying out of the newly emerged dun's wings, meaning that no sooner than they break through the meniscus, they are off and away - safe from piscine attention for the time being. The fish may not have had much opportunity to feed on the duns then, but they have certainly been hawking about after the ascending nymphs and most of us have enjoyed some fine sub-surface sport at appropriate times of the day. It's just not the same though, and - I say this as an avid fisher of the nymph - I have yearned for a proper spell of dry fly sport, with numerous large trout keenly on the feed giving this ring rusty angler the opportunity to get his eye back in with the floating fly.
Happily the cold, overcast conditions of this Good Friday went some way to redressing the balance and a fine day's sport was enjoyed with localised spurts of large dark olives and surprisingly early olive uprights 'sticking' for once and as a result, plenty of fish caught - some good ones too........and the revelation of a new fly pattern which proved to be incredibly effective and versatile.
A midweek lift of a couple of inches had improved the dire situation levels wise, but still hadn't made enough impact for me to be confident fishing the upper river. So I selected a mid-river beat well downstream of the Eamont confluence and resolved to concentrate my efforts there. An early start saw me inevitably nymphing to begin with and pleasingly a brace of patterns (copperhead hare's ear and baetis nymph), pitched upstream on a short line was all that was required to tempt half a dozen fish from the boulders and infant ranuculus beds. If I have bemoaned in the last couple of years, the apparent dearth of 'average sized' Eden fish, I had no cause for complaint yesterday - each of these fine little brownies were in the 10-14" bracket: a trend which would continue until much later on. They were beautiful fish to catch and gave great sport in the fast flowing water on my 10' #3 rod.
It didn't take long before an occasional olive began to appear. Anchored to the surface in the cold damp air, I was able to track their downstream progress for some way and in due course, a trout or two began to rise to them - usually 'oncers' or else very sporadic risers. I didn't feel it was quite time for the dry fly, so I met the situation halfway and nipped off my dropper, replacing it with a dry to give a duo setup. And thus begins a very interesting story........
There was a time a few years ago when I felt the need to carry a waistcoat full of fly boxes to the river with me. I felt exposed if I didn't have a comprehensive array of patterns all in different colours and hook sizes and as a result had individual boxes for olives, caddis, terrestrials, spinners, etc etc. I don't know what happened, but I eventually came to realise that I could count on a couple of hands the number of different fly patterns I actually used during a season. And then I read Bob Wyatt's fine book and realised that what I had subconsciously done, was distill the season's key hatches into a handful of patterns which presented the correct size, profile and trigger points, and discarded all the ancillary crap. What I ended up with, by a process of natural evolution, was a single dry fly box with some key patterns (and a few one-offs for occasional specific conditions). I'm a bit embarrassed to show it to be honest....but here it is:
Perhaps I've gone too far the other way, but these days I belong firmly to the 'presentation over pattern' camp, believing that so long as the approximate GISS (General Impression of Size and Shape) of the fly is thereabouts, then it will be not be refused by the fish, given correct presentation. Consequently, you'll see the above box contains a lot of flies which are a) quick and easy to tie and b) robust. Those are probably my two main criteria these days given that I just don't have time to be tying flies all the time - I knock another few of each pattern up when I've lost a few in the trees.
No, I ceased to get excited about new fly patterns a while ago; experience has taught me that my time is better spent trying to improve my amateurish presentation technique rather than sitting behind the vice trying to create a 'panacea' fly.
Something happened yesterday though that made me take a step back. A Scottish friend of mine had been waxing lyrical about a fly that has been doing the rounds north of the border for a few years now. It originated on the competition scene, proving devastatingly effective early season on rivers such as the Clyde and Tweed. When Davie fished the Eden a few weeks ago, it worked its magic just the same. My ears pricked up. I asked for details.
When I saw the fly, I admit to being disappointed - it looked a bloody mess, and the antithesis of everything my own fly collection represents. It was a messy stack of collar hackle - a traditional dry fly without the finesse. Never a fan of collar hackled dry flies, I had serious doubts, despite the persuasive endorsement. I was assured that it was deadly as a high riding dun, but that by crushing the hackles it would also sit down in the surface film and imitate a crippled/drowned dun, and that it could be fished effectively as a wet fly too. That tipped it for me - I like a bit of versatility. I tied a couple up as best I could and tucked them into a corner of my fly box.
I've shown my version below. I used materials which I had to hand (not necessarily the correct ones), and tried my best to interpret the essence of the pattern. I think it came out looking somewhere near, although apologies to the lads who use this regularly if I've made an utter balls up:
Hook: Hayabusa #14
Thread: 14/0 sheer
Tails: coq de Lyon
Body: Hends body quill
Rib: yellow Pearsalls
Hackle 1: red game cock
Hackle 2: grey partridge
And that's it, the jingler. The thing is, as I found out yesterday, it is astonishingly effective. I just couldn't believe what I was seeing. As soon as I began prospecting with the duo set up, trout came from nowhere to take this fly. Blind searching with the dry fly is not a tactic I have found to work that well on the Eden, but this was just incredible; trout after trout came out of nothing to nail it. On the water, its profile looked amazing: later when I fished it amongst natural duns, I had difficulty picking it out, so correct did it appear. It must have been about right from the fishes point of view too because when the trout began to rise more steadily and I was at last able to target individual fish, it was just not refused - not once. From high riding the riffles at the pool heads, to fishing low in the surface film on the pool tails, the jingler worked utter magic all day....and yes, when I let it sink and tried it fished wet, it did indeed nobble a couple of trout: once when a fish bulged at it in classic upstream wet style, and then again when I let it drift and swing downstream. An amazingly versatile pattern!
Why this should be the case, I've no idea. Really. But what I do know is that I have made a place for the jingler in my fly box and it will be the subject of plenty further investigation.
Back to the fishing. As mid afternoon approached, I assumed that the best of the day was behind me. Olives had emerged in localised spots from mid morning right through until 2pm, but never in numbers enough to call a proper hatch. With 15 trout and a solitary grayling to my name I was more than satisfied with the day's proceedings and about to head back to the car. As I passed a short stand of bankside willows, something made me stop and take a look at the 10yd long pot of deeper water which ran beneath them. I pushed the branches aside and dropped into the tail of the pool..and was greeted by an incredible sight. Like a gatecrasher opening the door onto an unexpected party, I looked upstream to see no fewer than five large trout hoovering up an intense, but very localised hatch of large dark olives as if they hadn't eaten in weeks; every couple of seconds a large back would break the surface as a big wild trout porpoised over another hapless dun.
My mouth was dry and my palms sweaty at the opportunity which had just presented itself. I couldn't get my fly out quick enough....yet somehow I couldn't get my fly out at all. Rooted to the spot, I watched the fish for a good five minutes, hastily formulating some sort of an order of attack in my mind. I drew a blank in this sense - the trout showed no inclination to hold any sort of station, preferring instead to quarter the tiny pool back and forth like things possessed.
In the end I went for a tactic of slowly edging my fly up the pool, trying to anticipate the route that they were taking. In truth the going proved straightforward - a case of letting the fish find the fly rather than the other way around. I managed to net four of the five trout (the last one became very jittery and I ended up putting it down with a cast which looked ok to me, but which proved the final straw). They were beautiful specimens which transformed a good day into a memorable one. The largest was a broad shouldered brute of 2lb 7oz and together, the four fish had a combined weight just shy of 8lb. Very much a case of being in the right place at the right time....at 3:30pm I would normally have been stripping the waders off. It just goes to show that we should never become too encumbered by preconception.