Sunday, October 21, 2012
Grayling fishing: 'correct' dry flies, 'incorrect' dry flies and the enigma of the blue-winged olive.
Just what is the correct dry fly to use for grayling in a given situation? It's a question we were forced to ponder after last week's enjoyable outing on the Cumbrian Eden. I remember reading an article by Jeremy Lucas some time ago which asserted that large surface feeding grayling are perhaps the most challenging adversary a river fly fisher can expect to meet; I'd say that's fair comment. Throw into the mix a sustained hatch of blue-winged olive duns and warm, bright conditions and you have potential for memorable - if tricky - back end sport.
We had started early, enjoying the stark brightness of a perfectly still autumn morning. All signs pointed towards a nymphing or wet fly approach being the way forward during the morning, but right from the start, rising fish were in evidence on the flats. I found a pod of sipping fish on a current crease just downstream of a stand of sycamore, and after poking about at water level for a few seconds wasn't surprised to find the surface littered with fat black aphids. Initial casts with a #20 clipped hackle Griffiths Gnat were unsuccessful, until the little fly became waterlogged, fishing just sub surface....and the leader drew away pleasingly. Swapping the Griff for a pair of spiders was the logical progression and for a while I found myself fishing as I had hoped I would have chance to - the short line upstream spider. And for a while, all the ills of the summer just passed were forgotten.
Later on, the blue-wings appeared. Initially a trickle with one or two pale wateries among them; then a steady crescendo of activity with the blue-wings becoming totally dominant - an entomological armada riding the gentle currents amidst casually swirling fish. To the fly fisher, it was a situation which had 'field day' written all over it........except it's not always as easy as that, is it?
B-WO hatches have a reputation for being tricky to deal with and you don't have to look far to find tales of angling frustration whilst the fish go potty all around. I have a theory:
If you've ever had the chance to observe B-WO nymphs in action, you might have noticed that they aren't the best movers in the ephemerid world. Where baetis nymphs scoot about quick style and even the stone-clinging heptagenids are capable of an impressive burst of speed, the seratella nymphs engage in some awkward 'thrutching about' maneouvres to get where they are going. I have watched ripe nymphs in the kick sample tray making a right song and dance just sub surface before twitching out of their shucks to emerge as duns. They reminded me a little of hatching midge - all flex and no direction. And that comparison led me to hypothesise that the fish might just find the ascending and pre-eccloding nymphs so available and vulnerable, that maybe when we perceive fish to be rising to B-WO duns but we fail with the dry fly, perhaps they are in fact locking in on the just sub surface nymphs.....and even more so when air temperatures dictate that the duns are getting airborne fairly quickly. It's a similar case with stillwater midge fishing - nearly every stillwater angler can show you boxes of buzzer patterns and suspenders, but how many actually seek to imitate the adult midge on a regular basis? For me the comparison is too great to ignore, particularly considering that when faced with such a scenario, I've always come nearest to cracking the code by using spiders or a near-enough waterlogged emerger.
So, as the hatch thickened and fish began to 'rise', I persevered with the upstream spiders...and was rewarded with a few fish whenever I could get my reflexes in order and decide whether to watch the tip of the fly line, or the perceived position of the flies a few yards beyond for surface bulges and flashes of sub surface silver-lilac.
Then, in a shady corner where the air temperature was a couple of degrees cooler and duns were clustering on the surface, I was at last faced with a pod of three grayling which were rising to the surface fly proper. And then, my theory went out the window. After edging up behind the fish and satisfying myself that they were definitely eating the duns, I put up a long tapered leader and a small cdc olive. It was refused. As was every other suitable dun imitation in my box. Only when I re-attached that morning's clipped hackle Griffiths Gnat to the tippet, did I elicit a response. So fish visibly feeding on olive duns of about hook size 16, end up fooled only by a size 20 black job - weird.
As the hatch began to fail, I laid siege to the best fish I had covered all day. A good sized grayling was feeding confidently in some faster water off the back of a large submerged boulder. I pestered that fish, approaching from one angle, then another; then putting her down for a few minutes before feeding resumed and I tried again from a different position. Finally I rose her only to lift into nothing. Then another rest and a stroll upstream. Half an hour later and back on station, I got my second and final offer - a cast from just upstream of square tempted the fish up again and I lifted into the weight of a fit grayling in the order of 2lb plus.....only for the hook to pull after a few seconds of charactarisic 'square-on to the current' kiting about behaviour. Bugger.
My guests had mixed fortunes: Dave did rather well after finding a good number of rising grayling in one pool. Alan had struggled; fishing a little way downstream, he hadn't seen a fly, let a lone a hatch of the proportions which had occurred less than a mile upstream. Once again the importance of being in the right place at the right time demonstrated vividly. But after such a horrible run of weather this summer, I think we all agreed that it was great to be out. A little rusty perhaps, but there are few better times of year to be on the river with fly rod in hand. We had caught a few grayling between us (and been pestered by trout), and felt the sun on our faces for the first time in what seemed like weeks. Sometimes small things like that are as much as you need.