Friday, April 13, 2012

Out of kilter, but busy on Barnsfold.

Is this what it feels like to get old? I don't know what I was thinking when I left the house this morning, but the idea was to pack sufficient tackle to be able to fish either river or stillwater after work, a decision I would postpone until much later. The problem was, I forgot some important things and ended up with a right hotch-potch of gear, leaving me with significant shortfalls in both disciplines.

In the end I opted to fish Barnsfold again. It's too early really for evening sport on our rivers and I knew that the chance of some surface action would be high at my local stillwater. Still I dithered all afternoon, contemplating wind speed and direction, the water level and clarity of our beat on the nearby River Lune, the possibility that a cold northerly wind would put fish down at Barnsfold thus condemning me to a miserable few hours of pulling lures. As it turned out, the decision was made for me by my own absent-mindedness. I had spent an hour of the previous evening spooling on a new #4 DT line, before whipping on a loop connection at the tip. The reel was still sitting in the kitchen at home......and although I did have a #5 line to hand, I didn't fancy overburdening my 3 weight Streamflex by two line sizes.

So to the reservoir. I had the gear I needed with the exception of my fishing bag in which to decant the evening's required bits and bobs (I would need to lug around my huge boat bag instead); and waterproof leggings. Frequent heavy showers promised a soaking at some point - on with the waders then. And I'd forgotten my bloody camera too. And landing net.....Jeez!

Perhaps surprisingly, I managed to pull myself together to enjoy a splendid evening's fishing. Somehow though, remnants of my earlier senility seemed to pervade and towards the end of the evening I found myself fishing a #7 floating line on my 6 weight rod, and a #6 kelly green intermediate on my poker-like 7 weight. How I arrived at that point would take some explaining, but it's to do with aspects of my line collection....and sheer bone idleness. You don't want to know......

Anyhow, I enjoyed a fine three hour session. All evening a weird atmosphere pervaded with the wind alternating between cold north-easterly and absolute flat calm at regular intervals. The air hung heavy with the promise of rain and all the time, dark clouds trailing the slant of heavy showers marched across the distant Fylde plain below. Up on the edge of Beacon Fell, it stayed dry and when the wind dropped back the lake came alive with an immense hatch of midge. The surface was so peppered by the rings of emerging flies that it looked as if it were in fact raining......and of course the trout went into full-on dining mode.

I chopped and changed between methods depending on the indecisive wind. On one rod I set up a washing line rig with a pair of rootbeer crunchers above a small black booby. Over the course of the evening I would twiddle and pull this set-up back on either a fast glass, or kelly green intermediate depending on how high in the water the fish were. On the other rod, I went for a single suspender buzzer on long tapered leader and fine tippet - the same MO which had worked so well on my previous visit. Both caught fish in roughly equal measure: seven rainbows found the crunchers to their liking and a further eight were fooled by the emerger, particularly late on when the the light began to fade and the fish threw all caution to the wind as they mooched around slooping up midge from the surface film. It was super stuff and I was left in no doubt that I had made the right decision in delaying proceedings on running water for another week or two.

My strangely forgetful frame of mind had one last twist in store. I had purchased an evening ticket (one fish, any three hours after 5pm), and had chapped my first fish to give to Dad for his breakfast. There was no sign of it when I got home - I must have left it on the ground outside the car when I packed up. If anyone finds this today under the pines next to the lodge, they are more than welcome to it....but can I have my Wychwood bass bag back please?!

The Critical Inch

I have received a couple of queries recently asking about how to go about catching trout 'off the top' at Barnsfold. It's really not difficult - if I can do it, anybody can. But some anglers there do seem to struggle when the fish are perceived to be taking dries. It's all about the Critical Inch.

Often when we see rainbow trout porpoising through the surface, it's easy to assume they are taking flies right off the surface. With hatching midge, I've found this very rarely to be the case. The fish seem to become preoccupied with the insect hanging below the meniscus at the point of ecclosion. Thus a dry fly, sitting up on top of the surface, is ignored; and attempts to present small buzzer patterns inevitably result in the flies fishing too deep, even if they are only inches down. Hence the Critical Inch - the fly needs to be presented in and immediately below the surface film. Nothing new there I know  - modern river fishers spend 70% of their time fishing emerger patterns. In the stillwater midge fishing context, this usually translates as some sort of shuttlecock or suspender buzzer pattern. I prefer the latter - frankly I can't be arsed with cdc when the fly is going to get mauled by rainbow trout on a very regular basis. My pattern is based on one shown to me by the later Eric Sayers and regular visitors here will have probably have seen it before. The photo at the top of the page shows a few tied up in black, rootbeer and lime green.

I've received a few disparaging comments about these in the past. One time a guy sidled over and asked "what's the magic fly then?" and when I showed him, he followed up with "yeah, tipped with a maggot I bet!"
Several anglers have asked why I leave a tag of foam poking over the hook eye, believing it must spook the fish. No, it doesn't look much I admit, but you have my word that it is the single most deadly fly I have ever used at Barnsfold. And although I tend only to fish the place in spring, my old man uses them all year round
and enjoys equal success -  a hare's ear version serves admirably as an emerging sedge pupa. Fish them either singly, or with one or two small buzzers or diawl bachs above to create a kind of scaled down washing line rig. Either way, prepare for action!

The following photos illustrate why I believe them to be so effective, and why the ungainly looking foam post is not an issue:

The abdomen hangs immediately below the surface. From this angle, the foam tag is not visible due to refraction. What about from directly below?

Still little sign of the foam tag...and against the light background of the sky, I'll bet it's more inconspicuous still.The fly adopts that 'hanging in the meniscus' pose to an absolute tee and the thorax dubbing gives a nice impression of emerging legs and appendages.

Angler's eye view - the foam post guarantees buoyancy and acts as a neat 'sighter' so we can always be sure where our fly is, even at distance.

The suspender buzzer is an established pattern, but I've yet to see another angler use this variation on the theme. Old Eric used to tie them and sell them down the local tackle shop, so some local anglers must still carry a few surely? Certainly anyone who tackles Barnsfold without a few of these - or at least something very similar - in their box, is handicapping themselves unnecessarily. I wholeheartedly recommend them to you.


Mr Spencer said...

This advice helped me a great deal at Barnsfold, although I didn't have foam buzzers in my box a small hopper with foam over the eye worked a treat last Friday evening. As a returner to fly fishing, your blog has really helped me get up to speed and enjoy thinking more carefully about my fishing. A really well written body of work about fishing in these here parts, thankyou!Jonny Spencer

Mr Spencer said...

This advice has really helped me fish Barnsfold recently. Although I don't have any foam suspender buzzers in my box yet, I had a go at the ole critical inch with a small hopper/popper? which had foam leaning over the eye of the hook and it worked a treat when before the fish would just boil over small sedgehogs on the surface and ignore them. As a returner to fly fishing, this blog has really helped me get up to speed a little quicker and make me think a lot more carefully. Really well written and an invaluable body of work about fishing in the north west. Thankyou!
Best regards
Jonny Spencer

gazjacko said...

Alright matt,
I had a great session on barnsfold on sat evening with this pattern you tie, saw it on your blog last year, great suspender pattern,My mate who came with me is new to the sport, he fished them two and had four fish, he was very chuffed, game him a lot of confidence after some blank trips, caught a lot of fish every time I have used it at barnsfold, my most successful one is a pearly body, same black wire rib and peacock sparkle thorax.
Cheers, Gaz.

Anonymous said...

This explains a lot, After a couple of trips to Barnsfold and catching on various dry flies, One evening the fish were rising all over the lake (Beacon) but totally ignoring every dry I tried, I knew they were coming up for something but could not see anything on the water, This might explain what they were feeding on.