Monday, April 01, 2013

Weird Science

So that's it then; officially the coldest March since 1962 and more of the same expected well into April. At least we are not alone - I read in this morning's paper that a German circus lost their entire 300 strong band of performing fleas when they froze to death in transit. Still, it's all pretty depressing and not at all what we wanted after suffering the Chinese water torture of last season's proceedings.

Until today I hadn't had the chance to fish. Nothing to do with the weather - it could have been the mildest March on record and I would have had to look on in frustration as others fished dry fly in shirt sleeves - but it is fair to say that whilst I've done a whole bunch of thinking about fishing, not once have I honestly wished I was actually out there. Correspondence with several talented anglers I know has revealed the early going to be unsurprisingly tough, with much talk of water temperature and the threshold at which trout actually start to become active. A couple of chaps have been lucky and skilled enough to land on a decent hatch of large dark olives allowing a brief spell of dry fly sport; others report seeing good numbers of fly on the water, but a total lack of interest from the trout......and one or two more report seeing nothing at all to indicate there is any life in their river whatsoever.

Taking this into account, I have wondered if it's worth venturing out at all. But as the great Dale Winton famously says, "you've got to be in it to win it", and the holding of that thought along with a modicum of desperation, drove me out onto the Ribble today. What ensued was weird science - a reminder that sometimes, the only predictable thing about fly fishing is its sheer unpredictability. And yet if there is a time of year when river fly fishing can be regimental in its nature, surely this is it. We know what time of day to be on the water almost to the minute. We know what the trout will be feeding on and what patterns to use to fool them.....and we know that by teatime the action will likely be over and we can drive home without fear of missing an evening rise. I have come to love this predictability early season and the comfort which comes with the various elements - reassurance that the river is as healthy as I left it last autumn.

I wasn't expecting to find much comfort today. A bitterly cold easterly wind blew downstream and both air and water temperature hovered around the 4.5C (40F) mark - precisely the aforementioned threshold below which many experts believe trout cease to feed.


  I had a couple of spots in mind which would offer some shelter from the unforgiving breeze and made a beeline for them, as much seeking warmth myself as in the hope of finding a hatch. When I arrived at the first pool after a long walk upstream, various factors seemed to have coalesced to result in pretty much perfect conditions; and this is where the Weird Science begins.........

In the film of the same name - as anyone who grew up in the '80s will fondly recall - our two adolescent protagonists feed a set of 'requirements' into a preposterously unlikely computer set-up in order to create from scratch, a real woman. Breast size, leg length, model looks and so on, are all specified....and when the button is pressed and a sudden blast of dry ice clears from the room, out from the ether walks Kelly LeBrock. Truly the stuff of teenage dreams.

Spring fishing is much like this (bear with me here!), in that we look for a set of favourable variables to coincide in order to make the difference between thrashing the water of an apparently lifeless river, and enjoying a few hours of first class dry fly sport. These are some of the things we know:

1. If trout are going to rise it will most likely be to a hatch of large dark olives. Midge and  - if your river has them - March browns, also factor....but usually we are looking for the LDO.
2. The hatch will take place sometime between 11am and 4pm with noon to 2pm being the optimum window in 'normal' conditions.
3. We need the water temperature to be sufficient to allow invertebrates (and trout) to become active, but cool air temperatures are actually to be embraced. If it is too warm and sunny, the olives get off the water and away far too quickly. Under cold, leaden skies, they remain anchored to the surface and it takes only a relative trickle of them to attract the trouts' interest.
4. Hatches can be extremely localised and it pays to cover ground during the times mentioned above as finding inactivity in one pool can be followed by a bonanza just a few yards away in the next.
5. If it's windy and unpleasant, try to find a few sheltered spots and look for the fish there.

Bearing in mind the above, the odds should have been in my favour when I arrived at that first pool. All the right bits had been plugged into the supercomputer and I expected our Kelly to turn up at any moment...well, a few rising trout anyways. The surface of the pool was littered with so many stricken duns, clustering in the eddies away from the worst of the wind. But not a single fish stirred during the half hour I waited and watched. I poked about in the margins and scum accumulations - always a sure fire way of finding out what is going on insect-wise. As well as the olives, thousands of midge were in evidence, the photo below being an example of maybe 4 inches across.

With so much food on the water, it seemed incredible that the trout would refuse to stir, low temperatures or not. I fruitlessly prospected the pool with spiders before heading off downstream......
and that's where things took a really surprising turn.

Part way back to the car I passed a normally productive pool which today resembled a wind whipped lake, so fresh was the breeze channeled down the valley. As I mooched slowly past, I heard something which sounded suspiciously like the 'sloop' of a feeding fish...then again....and again. Hunched down in the grasses, I watched as it slowly became apparent that the pool was alive with large dark olives! The duns were streaming out in huge numbers and scudding about on the surface, pirouetting and skating along in the ruffles of the surface. The supercomputer should have generated Ann Widdecombe's uglier sister, but amazingly, the further upstream I looked, the more rising fish I marked - they seemed to be quartering around, chasing down the windblown olives at will! Amazing stuff and proof once more that we fly fishers never stop learning new things about the places we fish.

I'd love to say that I set about these early season fish with elegance and grace.....but the truth is I thrashed my way into the wind in an very agricultural manner. Line control was nigh on impossible and the first two fish were both dropped. The next two were missed altogether, and then the penny dropped: I reverted to a square or slightly downstream presentation, keeping low and kneeling on the river bed to avoid being seen through the gin clear water. In this manner I was at least able to introduce some control to proceedings and fish soon followed. A couple of out of season grayling and four nice trout fell to the jingler and olive emerger before I gave up with fingers feeling colder than at any point during the winter. I reckon there were 10-12 fish feeding in that 30yd long section of pool at one point - what a turn up for the books! None were large, nearly all of them being around 12 inches; but the fish below at maybe a shade over the pound, was the best of the day......and given the conditions, I'll settle for that.

To the Eden next and, I suspect, and altogether sterner challenge!


Bradford Fly said...

Great read as usual Matt. It's certainly been a weird start to the season. Had the fly rod out twice so far, once on the Eamont and once one the Wharfe - got my ass handed to me on both occasions. Lots of LDOs hatching on the Wharfe on Friday and nowt coming up. Could do with a fish within the next week, otherwise it's back to uni and I might not get chance to land my first Wharfe trout of the year until mid May... now there's a chilling thought...

Peter said...

Enjoyable usual Matt. As I sit gazing out of the window here in my native North East there's a steady flurry of the white stuff dropping from above and boy is it chilly.I've tied up more flies than Fulling Mill in its entire African operation and I don't know what to do next? Good job there's hardy types like you out there. Keep up the good works on the blog and I look forward to hearing about your adventures on the Eden. tight lines

Dan Price said...

Sounds incredibly similar to the situation down here in Wales Matt, nymphing normally productive runs is very unproductive but for 2 hours in the middle of the day there is good dry fly sport to be had if you look hard enough for it.