Saturday, October 24, 2015

Catching up...and spreading some Sunray love.

It has come around to that miserable time again - that time when suddenly, in a matter of hours, the season turns and leaves us quietly contemplating the highs and lows of our trout fishing recently passed. It happens every autumn, usually toward the rear end of October, and always takes me by surprise even though I can feel it coming a handful of days before. Where a week ago - enjoying the atmosphere of glorious autumnal stillness - I was telling anyone willing to listen what a fabulous part of the year this is, now I find myself cooped up in the house as the rain beats against the conservatory roof and mushy leaf litter builds against the garage wall. I bloody hate this time of year, I complained to my wife this morning.

Grayling fishing awaits of course, and for that I am thankful. There is something comforting about the drawing in of the nights and fishing restricted once more to sociable hours, to afternoon outings brief enough to mitigate against the worst of the cold. Yes I'll look forward to winter proper, but for the time being this inbetweeny stuff is just tedious.

I have a few things to keep me occupied - a couple of writing projects, fly stocks to begin replenishing, a stupidly long tenkara rod to learn how to cast (all fifteen feet of it), and an approaching birthday which really shouldn't be a big deal, but for some reason folks seem to think otherwise. This winter will see me take reluctant steps into the world of fly tying demonstration and I have been 'booked' (can you believe that!), for a couple of events, the first of which is an open day in two weeks time at Stuart and Vicky Hooley's  Fly Only shop in Shelley. Worryingly I'll be in esteemed company and can only hope they will find a quiet corner to tuck me away in so I can tie squirmy wormies undisturbed. If you see a guy trying not to be noticed whilst tying flies in the exact opposite to textbook manner, it will more than likely be me.

Recent fishing has been characterised by inconsistency and a tendency to experiment for the sake of it. I have spent much of the trout season's back end with either tenkara rod in hand, or when fishing 'normal' style, with one of a pair of innovative lines strung through the rings which are both far removed from that which we have become accustomed to. Tom Bell's Sunray products are very interesting indeed and are fast gaining a cult following which threatens to expand into widespread acceptance some time very soon. And with good reason - Tom's lines push the boundaries of what is possible with conventional western rod and line approach and certainly offer something worth exploring for those anglers willing to keep an open mind. I have tried two profiles and I'll describe them both briefly here:

World Championship Nymph

I was sceptical at first. Early in the year I had tried the Rio Comp nymph and equivalent Cortland lines and came away unimpressed - lacking both the subtlety of French Leader method and the 'oomph' to deliver flies in the traditional manner, they represented a compromise and little more. I found it hard to see how Sunray's 'WCN' would perform any better. However it turns out I wasn't really comparing apples with apples - whereas the former have tapers built in and are basically just ultra light fly lines, the WCN is an extremely thin, level running line - so let's straightaway dismiss any notion of being able to cast this line in the conventional sense as there just isn't sufficient mass there to make it a viable option when any sort of distance is required. This is (as the name cunningly suggests), a nymphing line which functions best at short range - Czech and French style ranges - where 'casting' is made possible by the momentum of the weighted flies more than any tangible loading of the rod.

You might then question the need for this line - how can it offer any advantage over a leader only setup? I struggled with this question myself on the first couple of outings, wanting to warm to it but being thwarted by cold logic. Even now several months later, my honest conclusion is that it doesn't really offer a significant advantage at all. But that's not the point - it's a different beast and not designed as a FL substitute. What I will say is that it is an absolute joy to use and when I think now about the number of times I've come away from the river with and ear-to-ear grin on my face after using the WCN, then that for me makes it a worthwhile addition to my armoury. After that first couple of sessions I stopped trying to analyse the line and what it could and couldn't do better than other products, and just gave myself over to enjoying the way it handles and fishes. It has since become one of my favourite bits of kit.

In practice the WCN behaves not all that differently to a French leader and certainly if you are au fait with this branch of fly fishing, then you will quickly get the hang of how this line fishes. However, there are a couple of noticeable differences - ones which I like very much: Firstly, the line is extremely light and supple - much more so than an equivalent mono construction - and this is manifestly obvious when you see how offers register so positively, the tip darting forward so agressively that the take can often be felt under the rod hand fingertips milliseconds after the visual indication - the fish appear to feel so little resistance that they hang on to the nymph confidently.

 A pleasing by product of this - and one which actually becomes a necessity if anything of a wind picks up - is that the line can be 'laid-on' the surface with little fear of compromising presentation; in fact I would argue that this is where the WCN excels: rather than fishing very short and holding the full curve clear of the surface - and let's face it you can do that equally well, or better, with a leader only setup - this line works brilliantly at a slightly greater range with a few feet on the water acting as an anchor point to counteract any breeze. In this sense it offers a kind of bridge between modern Euro nymph tactics (God I hate that term!), and good old fashioned upstream nymphing. The latter was the very first method I ever learned to fish on running water and I have rued the fact many times in recent years that modern methods have rendered it all but obsolete. The fact that Tom's line allows me to make a return - albeit a greatly refined return - to this cornerstone of north country river fishing, makes me a happy man indeed. For that reason alone I have no hesitation in recommending the WCN line to you - it's a smashing bit of kit.

Rob Marsden giving the WCN line a go on the Eden recently.

A couple of points worth noting:
1. The line is expensive - at £60 for what is ostensibly just a fine running line, one might be forgiven for baulking at the price. Take comfort then from the fact that you will be participating in the evolution of something special. Tom is on a drive to continuously improve his products and is keen to listen to angler feedback in hope of bettering what is already out there. I reckon it's worth supporting businesses like this and would sooner splash out some hard-earned to be involved in such a project, than lining the pockets of the folks at Rio et al. And be assured that this is not just the off-cut from the arse-end of a #1 WF floater - there is some magic going on which I'm not yet able to put my finger on.
2. Further to above, and considering the relatively short range you will be fishing this line, it's perfectly feasible to cut it in two or even three pieces and save some for later. Durability does appear to be good (mine is as good as new after about a dozen full sessions), so by boxing clever your initial outlay could see you through a good few seasons.
3. Bear in mind some thought needs to be given to how you set up the business end of the line as it is too fine to work with the braided loop/plastic sleeve method favoured by many, and exposing the core and whipping a loop won't work either. If you want to go with some sort of braid connector (I use a 4 inch length of fluo orange stuff which doubles up as a sighter - see photo above), then it will need to be secured to the tip of the line using thread whipping and varnish - which is a bit more DIY than some anglers are willing to commit to.

Jeremy Lucas Presentation Line

Released a few months ago, this line is a different beast to the WCN. It is very thin - ultra thin I suppose you'd call it - but carries a line rating and WF taper which allows it to be properly cast like a 'normal' fly line. How this is achieved I have no idea and I doubt Tom is going to divulge his secrets anytime soon! In my simple little mind the equation must go like this: decreasing diameter of line, but maintaining just enough mass to load the appropriately rated rod must mean that density of the construction material is increased.....which would tend to make the thing want to sink, would it not? Well I can confirm that it does float, it does cast (not as easily as a conventional line, but perfectly well at regulation river range), and it is exceptionally thin.

The foregoing makes for an interesting line indeed, but  - and I'll qualify this by admitting I have only used it a couple of times so far - to date I'm less convinced of its merits. That's not to say it isn't useful, quite the opposite: it makes a very good nymphing and 'duo' line (although greater mass means it isn't as agile as the WCN or leader only methods), and yes it makes a passable dry fly line too, although I would like a few more tries of it in this application before making my mind up. But it is a compromise - a great option to give a little of the best of all worlds when you expect to be facing a variety of different scenarios in one day and can't be bothered with changing lines to suit, but it woudn't be my first choice for nymphing, and at the moment I'm struggling to see a quantum leap advantage in dry fly scenarios. The line definitely warrants further investigation though and I'll be giving it a fair crack of the whip next season. Jeremy Lucas, who for so long promoted the benefits of the 'leader to hand' method reckons this line has rendered the former obsolete - that is some endorsement and not one to be ignored easily.

The line is finished in understated grey and as with the WCN, some thought needs to go into making the leader connection, owing to the fine diameter of the tip. I arrived at a workable solution by using the smallest size of Moser Minicon, substituting the plastic sleeve with a short thread whip to secure the braid to the fly line.


I mentioned earlier that my late season had been inconsistent, and so it has. That's not to say it was bad as such, just a bit unpredictable. Some superb dry fly sport on the Eden and mysterious arrival of larger than average trout and grayling on our bit of the Ribble, was punctuated by a couple of slow sessions and a general lack of water in my local rivers. My planned trips up to the hilltarns never quite seemed to come off and a last visit to Malham Tarn yielded an 'almost-blank'. Trips out guiding auction lot winners Rob, Gordon and Daran on our Yorkshire Fly Fishers' Club waters, met with brassy sunshine and a river well off its gauge on each occasion - not the ideal scenario when introducing guests to water you've spent the previous weeks hyping up. A day out with Stuart Minnikin saw us struggle against a slowly rising and colouring river following heavy rain at the watershed, and then on a return visit with Paul Procter a couple of weeks later I managed to take a full body dunking when I slipped in off the bank - a demonstration of stealth that left this country's foremost stalker of big trout looking somewhat nonplussed!

I'll sign off with a handful of photos from the recent weeks, and a promise not to leave it so long before the next post. I hope you all had a fine trout season and wish you luck should you go in search of winter grayling.

Stu fishes an overgrown limestone beck

Typical summer trout off the Eden

Griffiths Gnats and Terry's Specks - proper end of season fare!

And preparations for winter grayling - the 'Fruit Salad' nymph

Contemplating the passing of another trout season

All the best,

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