Urgings of a Short Month By Rene’ Harrop

The latest musings from respected American fly fishing author Rene’ Harrop.

The days of deep winter in Henry’s Fork country do not necessarily end with January. But while February can feature equally cold temperatures and even more snowfall, the notion of a coming spring can begin to accelerate with its arrival.

February On The Fork

February On The Fork

With daylight hours noticeably longer and the potential for ice free water an increasing likelihood, the state of progress on winter projects can become a source of discomfort if distractions cause me to fall behind.

For me, few things are more stressful than losing a day of prime fishing to an indoor task that must be completed before spring. This was not a problem during the big winter last year, but 2018 is shaping up to be somewhat different.

Rene’ in action on the fork!

The severely cold temperatures, deep snow, and low winter flows of 2017 have yet to materialize and much of the river is ice free as of this writing. With more water flowing in the Henry’s Fork than I have seen in recent times, I am anticipating some of the best late winter and early spring fishing we have experienced in several years.

In the absence of extreme winter hardship, past experience has shown a healthier and more active trout population and aquatic insect life has displayed similar effect as well. If I am correct and the weather pattern we have seen thus far continues, there is no question that my personal discipline will be severely tested in the weeks that lie ahead.

March looms just beyond a month that carries only twenty eight days of relatively distraction free opportunity to finish restocking depleted fly boxes in advance of a new season and to complete household chores assigned at the beginning of winter. If neglected, some of those chores can carry a penalty administered by a stern enforcer.

While a mild winter and early spring cannot be assured at this point, there are signs that could indicate the arrival of Baetis hatches as early as the end of the month and strong midge action could arrive considerably earlier. But this leaves me with a dilemma.

February Distraction

February Distraction….

It is almost unnatural for a fisherman to hope for weather that would discourage time on the water with a fly rod, but that is what I am facing right now. Reviewing a checklist, I am finding enough unfinished projects to bring urgency into the need for more time.

Being forced to remain indoors by blizzard conditions or subzero temperatures is something I have never particularly enjoyed, but I also know my weakness in resisting a pleasant February day that holds the potential for rising trout. Shirking my responsibilities at home for the sake of fishing is a character-flaw my wife has accepted for more than fifty years. The resumption of real winter weather is probably all that could prevent further testing of her patience, but I am not getting carried away in this regard. I’m ready for spring.

Rene’ Harrop is a big fan of the Airflo Super Dri Elite fly line – his ‘go to’ all purpose taper line for the Henry’s Fork and many other venues. Check them out here.

Women who cast

More and more women are getting into angling, which is great news for the sport. And as they do, ladies are beginning to make an impact in the professional and commercial sides of the sport too. Here’s a run-down of just some of the female angling stars from across the internet.

Marina Gibson

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Marina caught the fishing bug from her mum.

“The fin was a riot of greens, pink-reds and yellows, with distinct lines stretching to a metallic finish on the flanks.” Can you guess what fish Marina Gibson caught when she headed for the headwaters of the Orvis Kimbridge beat during the offseason? Her first Grayling of course. Read all about her experience as she targets the “Lady of the Stream”.

A lady herself, Marina is woman on a mission to change the image of angling and, having given up her career in the City to move to Yorkshire, she now fishes, blogs and guides – ever accompanied by her Romanian rescue dog, Sedge.

To follow Marina, check out her website or Facebook page.

Anne Woodcock

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Fancy a spot of angling ladies? Anne will help you get started.

“I thought my line had got stuck! It was the start of 10 minutes of salmon heaven” writes salmon angler, blogger, business woman and guide, Anne Woodcock, of her fishing adventures on the Dee. If you’re a lady who’d love nothing better than to catch her own tasty salmon, then Anne will help you achieve your goal. The driving force behind Ladiesfishing, she runs not-for-profit fishing days for ladies in both England and Scotland.

A strong voice in women’s angling, Anne is marketing director of Fishpal, the award winning online fishing leads service, and she also contributes to community radio station CVFM’s angling programme, “Gone Fishing”.

To follow Anne, check out her website or Facebook page.

Beverley Clifford

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Here’s one I caught earlier.

Determined to do something about the lack of angling instruction events solely for women, angler Bev Clifford set up the Ladies Carp Academy which runs at Pool Bridge Farm Fishery near York. It’s a great opportunity for women to “meet and learn from one another in a social, fun and relaxed environment”, says Bev.

The daughter of a specimen angler, it’s no surprise that Bev grew up to become one of the UK’s top female anglers. She says she “grew up in a house with fishing magazines, books, pictures, stuffed fish everywhere”. A truly inspirational lady, she’s also a team angler for DNA Baits, a member of the England Ladies carp team and works in advertising and marketing for angling magazine, Carp Talk.

To follow Bev, check out her website, instagram or Facebook page.

Bex Nelson

Bex-Nelson

All I want for Christmas is…

Another female angler on the up, Bex Nelson was introduced to angling several years ago by her boyfriend. She says “I’ve really grown with skill and knowledge in the last year or so. I’ve fished for all manner of species but the carp bug has taken hold.” Her best catch so far, 29lb George – an “old warrior”, as Bex puts it, she was hoping to break the 30lb barrier before the end of 2017 – better hurry Bex! Check out her Facebook page to find out if she managed to beat that PB.

To follow Bex, check out her instagram or Facebook page.

Katie Griffiths

Katie-Griffiths

Katie loves her carp.

A designer at Total Carp Magazine, Katie Griffiths has also achieved the honour of gracing the magazine’s coveted front page spot. Pictured with title boss, Dan, she shows exactly what she thinks of his catch! She says: “You know you love carp fishing when you see someone catch their target.”

When she’s not working at the magazine, Katie loves nothing better than to wet a line – something she’s been doing quite a lot since she was first introduced to the sport two years ago. Check out some of the photos on her instagram account and you’ll see that her hobby has grown to become a passion – she says angling always “makes me smile”.

To follow Katie, check out the Total Carp Magazine blog or her instagram account.

Lucy Bowden

Lucy-Bowden

Why not let Lucy help you realise your dream of learning to fly fish?

Always dreamed of learning the art of fly fishing? What are you waiting for? Whatever your age, race, gender or ability, Lucy Bowden will teach you to fish. Dedicated to encouraging girls and women in particular into the sport, since she set up Fishing for Everyone in 2005, Level 2 UKCC Game Angling Coach Lucy has inspired many women to give the sport a try.

From “learning how to set up your fishing tackle, performing basic casts, retrieval techniques, to hooking, playing and safely landing fish,” Lucy aims to help everyone acquire the skills and confidence they need to get the most from fishing.

To follow Lucy, check out her website or Facebook page.

Casting for recovery

Ladies kicking in wellies

Casting for Recovery offers fly fishing retreats for women who’re suffering, or have suffered from breast cancer.

“It was the first time since my diagnosis that I had time to myself to realise the impact of my illness on me, and also to be greatly inspired by everyone there who has survived and recovered.” This is just one of the comments from women who’ve experienced the joy of learning to cast at Casting for Recovery, the charity that teaches fly fishing to women with breast cancer.

If you’d like to find out more about Casting for Recovery’s all-expenses-paid fly fishing retreats, or if you’d like to lend a hand helping to raise funds, just get in touch using the online contact form. The full list of retreats for 2018 can be found here.

To follow Casting For Recovery, check out their website or Facebook page.

Do you know a female angling fanatic who you’d like us to tell the world about? To let us know, just drop us a line on our Facebook page.

Boat or Float Tube – Fishing on Gludy Lake

Ceri Thomas and Tim Hughes tackle Welsh small water Gludy lake with two different methods afloat. Which one comes out on top?

Afloat on Gludy lake

Afloat on Gludy lake

Gludy lake is a truly magical place. Situated just outside the market town of Brecon, the naturalised stillwater has been on the map for over 150 years. In a wooded hollow, a small earth dam holds back just over 7 acres of rich, fertile water that is full of invertebrate life. Couple this with abundant coarse fish fry and it’s easy to see why the stocked trout rapidly turn into fully finned backing stripping machines.

Managed as a trout fishery for the past 17 years, Gludy has always been run on a purely catch and release basis – so any stocked fish get the chance to mature and grow into fine specimens indeed. The lake holds rainbows, blues, browns and even the odd tiger. Variety is key and Chris Burgess, the fishery manager for the past decade is currently enlarging a holding pool at the top of the lake. The new pond will be lightly stocked for beginners and bank stalking next year. There is also a newly constructed boat house at the top end of the lake, next to the luxurious day lodge that visiting anglers can make full use of.

Setting up by the lodge

Setting up by the lodge

Bank fishing is a little limited on Gludy, due to the reedy, marshy banks and abundant shore line tree cover. Most anglers fish from a boat, with several different sized craft on site supplied complete with electric motors. This gives you complete freedom to fish any area of the lake you wish. Float tubing is also allowed – one of the few venues in South Wales where this special form of fishing can be enjoyed. You can bring your own or make arrangements to use one with the fishery.

Gludy Boat House

Gludy Boat House

Today we are looking to try the two methods side by side – Tim in one of the boats and myself in a tube. There are pro’s and con’s to each way of fishing, so this session should make it clearer as to which one can give you the best results on a water of this size.

Tim decides to fish from a smaller one man boat, armed with his usual stillwater outfit of a 10’ #7 weight Airflo Airlite V2  rod. He starts off with a Super-Dri Elite floater and more imitative patterns, looking for the grown on fish rather than raw stockies.

Tim's flies for Gludy

Tim’s flies for Gludy

I blow up my float tube, don neoprene bootfoot waders, float tube fins and a buoyancy aid fly fishing vest. My rod of choice for the session is an Airflo Delta Classic 10 foot #6/7. When tubing your back cast can be limited, due to your position low down on the surface. So you need to load up your rod quickly, with the minimum of false casts or you can risk clipping the water behind you. The Delta Classic is a perfect tool for today, with its deeper traditional action that loads nicely with a shorter length of line.

Ceri's flies to target fry feeders on Gludy

Ceri’s flies to target fry feeders on Gludy

Due to Gludy having a big head of roach and perch I’m looking to target the resident fry feeders that should be in fine fettle after a long autumn of eating protein. So I attach some lure patterns to start off. Linewise, I rig up with a Sixth Sense Di3 sinker, an early winter favourite that allows a versatile approach for searching through the layers. 8.8lb Sightfree G4 is the tippet, with a white hotty dancer on the point and an epoxy perch fry on the dropper I feel confident of success. As if to confirm this, we see plentiful evidence of coarse fish fry topping and jumping as we look out onto the lake – hopefully the trout won’t be far away.

Where to start?

Gludy is a predominantly shallow lake, with an average depth of 6 to 7 feet. However the Dam end goes down to nearly 15 feet, so in the absence of any obvious activity this is where we both head, with the assumption that fish will be lurking in the deeper water after the recent cold snap. Tim on the electric engine, with me kicking along at a much slower pace.

Naturally I take the opportunity to troll as I travel from A to B. By simply covering water you up your chances, and soon enough the Di3 tightens and the first fish is on. Some may call this cheating, but I call it effective!

A fish on the tube - trolling the flies

A fish on the tube – trolling the flies

As we head down the lake it becomes apparent that there is trout activity at the far end, in the deeper water off the dam. Fry are sporadically jumping clear, and with the odd boil around them it seems the trout are on the fin and interested in chasing them.

To even the odds, Tim has attached a Deeper echo sounder to the side of his boat – it confirms that the area is home to a vast shoal of coarse fish, sitting on top of a submerged weed bed in10 foot of water. He anchors up and starts to fish the area, quickly changing his point fly over to a minky booby, keeping a cruncher on the dropper.

A fish bursts out about 10 yards away, I swivel in the tube and put the flies across the spot. Stripping, the line tightens and another angry Gludy trout is attached. In fact, it is two of them at once but the fish on the dropper comes off during the battle.

A quality Gludy Rainbow trout

A quality Gludy Rainbow trout

A nice rainbow eventually graces the net, typical of the quality you can expect at Gludy. Action continues for me on the lures with a number of fish landed in quick succession. Meanwhile Tim has a number of boils under a floating fry, fished right on the surface. He bumps a couple of fish, and his line finally tightens with a nice rainbow that has taken the cruncher.

Playing a lively fish on the boat

Playing a lively fish on the boat

On a catch and release venue it is remarkable just how quickly fish wise up to lures, and the positive takes we were getting soon start to dry up, turning into just nips and follows. This is where float tubing can be a disadvantage – it is very difficult to change your fly line and leader set up over. Tim is able to adapt his tactics and change his tippet to a finer diameter (5.5lb G4) with ease in the boat – switching to a smaller nymphs, he is rewarded with several fish in quick succession that take the flies fished slowly. Meanwhile I am stuck on the Di3, which is limiting what I can do, although I am still picking up the odd fish.

A Gludy fish on the nymphs

A Gludy fish on the nymphs

We only have a short time on the water today, so have to call it quits after a few hours fishing. However a good number of fish have been caught by both of us making it a decent morning.

The Pro’s and Con’s:

Tube

Float tubes allow complete freedom of movement whatever the wind direction. They also allow you a silent, stealthy approach.

For whatever reason, fish simply do not fear tubes like they do a boat or wading angler. This allows you to get very close to them and fish into shoreline shallows where bank angling would instantly spook fish. Your low position in the water casts a shorter shadow, therefore less likely to alert following fish.

Float tubes allow you to troll your flies allowing you to cover a vast area by simply trailing your flies behind you.

Float tubes allow a stealthy approach

Float tubes allow a stealthy approach

On the downside, it takes some time to move spot using flipper power. You may also find yourself limited method wise, as I found. Changing a fly line over involves a lot of effort and time wasted as you have to go to shore.

I felt at times I could have converted many of the follows and plucks into fish by rapidly increasing the movement of the flies, but I was limited to the speed I could strip the flies back by a lack of elbow room.

Another aspect is comfort – despite wearing neoprene waders, being submerged in the water can give you a chill. I felt quite cold after only a few hours. You also need to be fairly physically fit, so tubing isn’t for everyone.

On the Boat

In a boat you are much higher up than a tube. This allows for a much better visual fishing experience. It is also better for slow nymphing techniques and for quick covering of rising fish. You have no arm room limit so if you want to rip lures back at a breakneck pace you will have no problem.

Speed is another factor – the ability to move spot quickly, with an engine is a big plus. Not forgetting being able to anchor up.

Fishing from a boat is more comfortable if you are fishing for a long day – access to food, drink and toilet facilities is made so much easier.

Boats are comfortable and easier to get around the lake in

Boats are comfortable and easier to get around the lake in

Boat or tube?

We both finished off with exactly the same number of fish – the advantages of one method over another seemed to have eventually evened out today. So ultimately, it might boil down to which mode of fishing you find most enjoyable.

Winter value

Gludy  lake offers fantastic value winter rates, with all day fishing available at £35 per head from 1st November to 28th February. It is possible to block book the fishery and stay overnight in well equipped onsite accommodation. The lodge and facilities are free to use.

For full details visit www.gludy.co.uk or call 07980 711 847

Gludy Fishing Lodge and Chalet

Gludy Fishing Lodge and Chalet

Sandford Pool – Stalking in the Woods

In this day and age it is quite refreshing to hear of a new small Stillwater trout fishery opening its doors, rather than yet another one closing down or turning into a coarse fishing water.

In an exclusive ‘first visit’ Airflo’s Tim Hughes and Ceri Thomas sample a new brand water in Gloucestershire called Sandford Pool.

Fishing on Sandford pool

Fishing on Sandford pool

I first heard of Sandford Pool just a few months ago. The word was, that an established, gin clear water where sight fishing ruled had opened its doors in the picturesque Forest of Dean. Finding a new trout water, let alone a genuine stalking venue is a bit of a rarity these days, so myself and Tim set a date to sample the fishing at the nearest opportunity, with a first ever feature on the fishery in mind.

We were hoping for clear skies, sunshine and calm wind for the feature – the best conditions for visual fishing. Typically, the UK winter weather let us down.  As we headed up the A48 from our Brecon HQ, we were greeted by drizzle and grey cloud, far from ideal for stalking and photography. Nevertheless, we decided to go ahead with the feature and found the fishery fairly easily, just off the main road.

Situated just outside Lydney, in the historic and beautiful Forest of Dean region, Sandford Pool appeared to be something rather special.  Our first glimpse of the lake was down a recently made wood chipped track, into a deep hollow where the pool sat, surrounded by mature trees.

Sandford pool nestles in a deep hollow

Sandford pool nestles in a deep hollow

We were greeted warmly by Sami, the Fishery manageress, who explained that the lake was once completely neglected and forgotten, the surrounding land like a jungle and the pool itself almost fully choked with weed.  We could see that immense time, effort and dedication has gone into making the venue fishable – careful tree cutting, new paths and sturdy, well laid out wooden platforms surrounded the lake. A portaloo toilet, wooden hut, picnic tables and a robust looking otter proof fence completed the picture.  Everything looked tidy and well kept, with nothing to spoil or clash with the original secluded charm of the venue.

A warm welcome awaits anglers at Sandford pool

A warm welcome awaits anglers at Sandford pool

Sandford pool only opened in April 2017 and is stocked regularly with quality rainbows and blues supplied by Exmoor fisheries, ranging from 2lb to 7lb in weight. The pool also holds a head of natural wild brown trout that have been there as long as anyone can remember.

Completely spring fed by groundwater flows, the acre or so pool was indeed crystal clear – and despite the poor light we could see plenty of fish to cast to, as well as tree roots and submerged weed. With depths up to 12 foot, the venue is fishable all year even in hot conditions due to the cold, oxygenated water that you can actually see bubbling up from the lake bed in some areas.

Tackle up for stalking

I favour a lighter approach to this sort of fishing – a 9’ #5 is perfect for accurate short and mid range work, with the added benefit of being great fun when you hook into a fish. Far too often have I seen anglers turn up on small fisheries with 10’ #8 weights – vastly overgunned and much harder to fish with delicacy. I set up with an Airflo Airlite V2, Switch Pro reel and 5 weight Airflo Bandit fly line, a stealth line with the added benefit of offering take detection by watching its brown banded tip.

Tim has set up with an Airflo Streamtec 9’ #4/5 and a WF5 Forge Fly line, which again is nice and subtle for stalking with its olive head section.

Stalking essentials

Stalking essentials…..

One essential that we both need today are yellow tinted Polaroid sunglasses. Yellow is the best colour for low light, which today is very poor indeed. With these on we can pick out a quite a lot of detail in the clear spring fed waters of the pool, allowing us to spot and target fish.

As we rig up Sami offers us a most welcome cup of coffee – complementary for any visitors to the fishery! Bacon rolls are also available on site, for a very reasonable cost.

Where to start

There are about a dozen pegs to choose from, I pick a peg right in front of me, where I can see a submerged weedbed about 20 yards out.  I add a clear 5 foot polyleader and 10 foot of 6lb G3 fluorocarbon tippet to my fly line. The floating Airflo polyleaders have been vastly improved in recent times. Now glass clear, they have no memory with improved welding technology, perfect for improving your presentation and turnover – so important if you are stalking!

Flies

To begin, I opt for a more natural pattern. I tie on a weighted gold bead damsel and make a few exploratory casts. Despite the pegs being surrounded by trees, there are lots of gaps for you to make casts, with side and over the shoulder casts being possible, allowing you to cover the water from all angles. For me the trees added to the challenge, causing me to slow down and think about where to direct my back casts rather than just blast the line out.

Into the action

In front of me I can see the odd dark shape ghosting over the weeds. Almost straight away I feel a bump through the line, and see a broad form materialise behind my fly. The water is so clear that I can see every follow. And believe me; it’s happening almost every cast! It becomes apparent that these fish are inquisitive but also wary. I try fishing slow but that seems to be totally ignored. Speeding up the fly up causes them to chase, but as soon as I stop the retrieve or hang the fly they turn away.

The fish are here, so surely it’s just a case of cracking the code:  fly choice, depth, and retrieve. As I mull over this, the banded tip of my Bandit fly line jags forward and a feisty little wild brownie come to hand. Underneath him, I spot a pair of nice blues that have come to take a look at the commotion – a clue perhaps as to what they want?

Sandford pool wild brown

Sandford pool wild brown

Meanwhile, between camera shots Tim has rigged up with a bung. First with an Apps bloodworm and then with a tiny nymph beneath it.  He gets fish looking but no takes. He also has a dabble with dries, casting CDC’s over cruising fish. But again, they ignore the offerings. These fish are pretty wised up and perhaps need to be induced into taking.

I move to another peg and tie on a lure – a favourite pattern of mine, a black tadpole featuring a 3.8mm tungsten bead. It is a fly that has worked well for me on both rainbows and wild browns. First cast, a fish follows it back to my feet. I start to mix up the retrieve finally the line locks up with a feisty rainbow attached. What has worked is a very jerky, erratic figure of eight that seems to trigger an attacking instinct. The heavy tungsten bead makes the fly jiggle up and down quickly, an action that seems to be irresistible. The weight of the bead is also keeping the fly in the taking zone for longer, about two foot below the surface.

A pretty rainbow trout

A pretty rainbow trout

From there on sport is pretty frantic, with lots of nice blues and rainbows coming to the net. Numerous times I spot fish, cast the lure at them and start the figure of eight immediately to grab their attention. Almost invariably they follow, with a good number charging at the fly then turning away with it in their mouths.

It has to be said that the fish here fight particularly well and are in superb condition, with a noticeable silvery sheen to them.  This must be due to the pure unpolluted spring water, which provides abundant oxygen. I get taken to the backing by a particularly feisty blue – something I haven’t had for a while!

A hard fighting trout from the gin clear waters

A hard fighting trout from the gin clear waters

Tim has also switched to a leadhead mayfly nymph and begins to catch in abundance from his side of the lake. Between us we have captured well over 20 fish, in just a couple of hours angling. Great sport and at £10 for 4 hours catch and release a genuine bargain.

The verdict

Although small, Sandford Pool offers a very enjoyable and engaging experience.  Due to the trees and spring fed water, it has a different feel to it than your typical ‘hole in the ground’ venue and seems a lot bigger than it actually is. The fishery is well run, facilities good, management friendly and the quality fish fight hard. What more could you want from a new fishery?

Tim Hughes with a nice fish

Tim Hughes with a nice fish

Fishing on Sandford Pool

Sandford Road, Alvington, Lydney GL15 6PZ
Open 8am – 6.30pm year round, Tuesday to Sunday
Contact tel: 07931115301

Catch & release:
£15 All day
£10 Four hours

For more information and ticket options visit: www.sandfordpooltroutfishery.co.uk

Fly Fishing For Pike On Canals And Small Waters

From pint-sized rivers and drains to classic narrowboat canals, smaller waters offer some cracking pike fishing on the fly. Canal Fishing author Dom Garnett shares a wealth of tips and tricks to getting the best from these delightful fisheries.

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The biggest waters might steal the headlines, but smaller venues offer cheap and accessible sport for pike.
Image courtesy of Dom Garnett

With so many British anglers living within a few miles of a canal, these waters could very well be described as “bread and butter” fishing. However, I don’t want to do them a disservice because the sport on offer can be truly excellent. Admittedly, most canals contain few really large predators, but they often have good numbers of fit, aggressive pike to provide year round sport, along with the odd surprise.

Canals, in particular, have a special place in my heart. In fact, I may never have got into pike fishing without the local “cut.” Virtually every time I went to catch a netful of small roach and perch, one of these predators would crash the party, stealing a fish on the way in or even attacking the keep net. Inevitably, I eventually decided I wanted to get even and land one.

Although I grew up as a bait or lure fisherman on these waters, it was the fly that was to become my absolute favourite method. On so many levels, it seemed the ideal way to fish the canal. You don’t need silly heavy tackle for one thing; an eight-weight rod suffices. Nor do you need to cast miles – and in fact some of my best fish came from right under the bank.

So where should you start when it comes to canal fishing for pike? Here are some tips  that also apply to fishing for pike on drains, fens and smaller rivers.

Which fly rod is best for pike on smaller waters?

On so many smaller waters, the pike are modest sized and you don’t need a ten or eleven weight rod. Much of the time, I use a nine or eight weight, which is fine provided you don’t use huge flies. In some ways the weight class is just a number – so do go for a rod with some backbone (a pike or saltwater model is ideal and currently I’m using the Airflo Bluetooth 8/9 for my small water fishing which so far seems a pretty decent rod without a silly price tag).

Fly lines, leaders and traces for pike

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A nice fish from the towpath. Typically, canal pike will be in the 1-5lbs stamp, while a “double” should be regarded as an excellent catch.
Image courtesy of Dom Garnett

In terms of fly lines, go for a dedicated pike model if you can afford one. You want quite a meaty taper to turn over the flies. However, if you’re just starting out and only have a trout fly line, you’ll still manage with smaller pike flies. 90% of the time a floating line is all you need for smaller waters; in fact I’ve only ever switched to a fast intermediate on the biggest ship canals that are over ten feet deep.

Leaders must be robust because there’s always the potential for a surprise monster. There’s no advantage at all in using lighter leaders, so go for minimum 20lbs fluorocarbon. I tend to use about seven or so feet of this, attached to a wire trace. My traces are Authanic wire, or another knotable wire, but I don’t use big clips and swivels: a small, neat leader ring connects leader to trace, while a small but tough snaplink connects to the fly.

How long should a wire trace be for pike? Mine are always 18” minimum, because otherwise a good fish could wrap around and find leader to cut. I also find the ends of the trace tend to kink first, so if I start long I can retie once or twice, without ending up with a riskily short trace.

Best pike flies for smaller waters

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I choose smaller than average pike flies for fishing canals. Here are some of my designs.
Image courtesy of Dom Garnett

So many of the pike flies for sale are massive great things. Fine for big waters and ten weight rods, but a pig to cast on lighter gear. So my advice would be to scale down to hook sizes from say 2-1/0 and flies from 3”-5”. Don’t think for a minute you need to use big flies to catch good pike!

I carry a few different sizes and colours. Natural hues are a good starting point, in roach or perch colouration. If the water is a bit dirty though, orange or pink are excellent high-vis colours. Last but not least, I think black is the all time most underrated colour for pike. Few anglers use it but it has saved me a blank several times.

Where to find pike

Canal_Pike_on_Fly_005A

Pike can be anywhere on weedy, feature rich waters. However, the “shelf” on each side of the canal, along with any pieces of cover, are ideal starting points.
Image courtesy of Dom Garnett

Canals can vary quite a lot, but the golden rule to finding pike is to keep moving and searching until you locate them! It’s no use fishing just one or two spots. All kinds of features will attract them, from overhanging bushes to bends, wides and deeper areas.

On rural canals, you might find the fish right by bankside reeds and undergrowth. On just about any water, the “drop off” on each side (i.e. just as the margins fall away to the central “track”) is also a key ambush point. That said, in the dead of winter you may find pike right in the deep centre of the canal too.

Concentrations of prey fish are also worth looking out for, of course, although you may well find the pike a few yards, or even a few swims away, because unless it’s feeding time they will seldom be right in amongst the shoal. But explore everything, because quite often a seemingly featureless spot produces pike too.

Fly retrieves for pike

Perhaps the commonest mistake for beginner pike fly anglers to make is lashing their flies in ultra fast. If the fish are up for it, or you can see prey panicking, this can work. But most of the time, a slower retrieve is called for – and I like my fly to be “busy” and erratic but not too fast. A “picky” figure of eight retrieve is quite often effective.

Do experiment, however, because pike have definite “moods”. Sometimes it’s as if they are excitable and want to chase; other days they are temperamental and need more time to lash out.

Follows, takes and hook ups

Canal_Pike_on_Fly_006

Canal pike tend to be small on average- unless you’re lucky, like The General.
Image courtesy of Dom Garnett

Do pike always follow a fly out of hunger? I don’t think so. A lot of the time, they’re just being curious, territorial or perhaps even irritated. This could explain why quite a few fish will follow but not take. Even so, you can increase the odds by doing two things.

The first is to speed up if you see a pike following. The opposite response seems natural, but you are trying to get a reaction, not invite the pike to study the thing. Another trick is never to rush the end of the retrieve. Count to five before you lift out – and always give a few final twitches and a nice lift. Often this final burst of movement will convince a pike to lash out before dinner gets away.

Some takes will be savage and impossible to miss. Others can be more subtle and need striking. I’ve heard anglers make the case for doing this with the line or the rod. I like to do both! It sounds OTT, but pike have very bony mouths and we’re using heavy tackle so it’s safe to be bold. Pull the line firmly and shift the rod low to one side – striking upwards will often just pull the fly straight out of the mouth, rather than burying it in the “scissors” of the jaw.

Casting in tight spots

Of course, one of the challenges of canals and bushy small waters can be the lack of casting space. You’ll rarely need to cast more than ten to fifteen metres, but even that might be tricky. Side and steeple casts (where you throw the line high above an obstruction behind you) are often important. You can also work diagonally to win more space.

If you’re really struggling though, don’t panic. If there’s cover close-in you can often win a take or two by literally just flicking the fly around the margins, which is a good area. Too many of us are so busy trying to hit the far bank it’s easy to forget this.

Talking of close-in fishing, do approach each swim slowly and carefully. I usually start a step or three back from the bank and my first cast will be right into the near margin. I’ve learned to do this after spooking many pike in the near margin over the years – don’t believe anyone who tells you pike don’t spook!

Notes on pike conservation

As well as these tips on catching pike, I also wanted to include some notes on releasing them safely here. The vast majority of fishing waters will insist on a large landing net and unhooking mat, which you should always carry. It’s inexcusable to risk scratching or dropping a fish on the bank because you couldn’t be bothered to bring a mat!

You’ll also need minimum foot-long pliers or forceps to remove hooks from pike, and I recommend going and learning the ropes with an experienced angler if you’re just starting out.

Pike can fight hard and can be deceptively fragile creatures, so do play the fish quickly rather than exhausting them. The same goes for release; don’t handle or keep them out of water any longer than you need to (my recent guide to fishcare skills is a handy read on this subject).

Fantastic sport!

Dom-Garnett-pike

A well-proportioned fish, from a modest day ticket water.
Image courtesy of Dom Garnett

What can you expect with a typical canal? Well, they vary a great deal. The best canals for pike tend to be weedy, with fairly clear water. Those with lots of prey and cover can be prolific, and a dozen pike in a day is possible. As a general rule, I find overcast days best on clear canals and drains, while the first hour of daylight is the best time of all (lie-in addicts take note!).

Other canals and drains can be more coloured and difficult, but you may still get some joy. Indeed, you’d be surprised how well a pike can find your fly in poor clarity. Where visibility is low, you might want to go a bit bigger and brighter though.

Of course, some canals simply don’t have a huge head of pike and you may have to do some homework to seek out the specific areas they like, or rely on trial and error. Others may be dominated by other predators such as perch, or zander on the muddy, busy canals. These are another challenge altogether – but that’s another story!

A summary of top tips for fly fishing for pike

What tackle and equipment do you need to fish for pike on the fly in canals and smaller waters?

  • You don’t need heavy tackle – and eight or nine-weight rod will suffice (a pike or saltwater model is ideal).
  • In terms of fly lines, go for a dedicated pike model if you can afford one.
  • If you only have a trout fly line, use smaller pike flies.
  • Leaders must be robust – go for minimum 20lbs fluorocarbon. Dom uses about seven feet attached to a wire trace.
  • Don’t use big clips and swivels. On Dom’s set up, a small, neat leader ring connects leader to trace, while a small but tough snaplink connects to the fly.
  • For pike, use a minimum 18” wire trace.
  • You don’t need big flies to catch good pike! Scale down to hook sizes from 2-1/0 and flies from 3”-5”.
  • Use natural coloured flies for clearer water, and try orange or pink in poor visibility. Black is the most underrated fly colour for pike. Try it and see!
  • Be ready with the right equipment for safe catch and release – a large landing net, unhooking mat and foot-long pliers are essential.

What techniques help when fly fishing for pike on a canal?

  • Keep moving to find pike – try underneath overhanging bushes, bends, wides and deeper areas.
  • There’s no need to cast miles – great fish are often found right under the bank.
  • Don’t retrieve too quickly – most of the time, a slower retrieve is called for. Dom likes his fly to be “busy” and erratic but not too fast.
  • A “picky” figure of eight retrieve is often effective.
  • Lots of follows but no takes? Try speeding up to invite an attack response.
  • Don’t rush the end of your retrieve. Count to 5 before you lift out and give a few final twitches before you lift out.
  • Strike low and hard to one side, rather than upwards.
  • Don’t believe anyone who tells you pike don’t spook!

Read more from the author…

Canal_Pike_on_Fly_009_COVERS

Find out more about catching these fish – grab a copy of Flyfishing For Coarse Fish, available in both hardback and digital editions.

If you’re interested in exploring Britain’s fantastic variety of canals, or indeed tackling coarse fish on the fly, Dom’s books represent a wealth of inspiration and advice! Find both Canal Fishing: A Practical Guide and Flyfishing for Coarse Fish available in signed hardback at www.dgfishing.co.uk or as digital editions from Amazon UK. If you live in South West England, Dom also offers guided fly fishing days for pike and other species.

Airflo Fly Dri Rucksack Review

Kieron Jenkins of Fulling Mill needed a portable fishing bag that was tough, reliable and totally waterproof for his fishing gear and camera. Here, he reviews the solution to his problem – the FlyDri back pack from Airflo.

The Fly Dri Rucksack from Airflo

The Fly Dri Rucksack from Airflo.

If you’re like me and fish a myriad of venues from small-waters to rivers with the occasional saltwater trip, you need a back pack which is not only big enough to take the necessities for the day, but tough enough to take anything the elements can throw at it. After much research and trawling the web, the obvious choice was the Airflo Flydri 30lt roll top back pack.

For me, one of the major factors in choosing this particular back pack was the price. The Flydri back pack incorporates features that are on par with other fishing brands, as well as being better than half the price…

100% Waterproof

The weather here in the U.K can be temperamental and getting caught in heavy downpours is a regular thing, and as a regular article contributor for various blogs and magazines I often carry a fair amount of camera equipment, it’s essential that the equipment stays dry. The Flydri back pack features a high frequency weld, boasting a unique seamless construction and a 2-way roll top sealing system which is 100% waterproof. This allows the pack to be submerged for a considerable amount of time without any leaks, perfect for those anglers prone to falling in! The roll top construction also ensures a fully air-tight seal, great for keeping out dust, sand and dirt, but also allowing the bag to float if accidentally dropped overboard.

The Airflo fly Dri back pack in action

The Airflo Fly Dri back pack in action

30lt Capacity with additional storage

The Airflo Flydri back pack has a 30lt capacity, which is more than enough to take a flask, waterproof jacket, a box of spare flies and a sandwich box. The back pack also features three exterior mesh pockets, one zip mesh pocket that features a bungee webbing (perfect for holding a fleece or buff that may be needed quickly). Adding to the functionality, a further interior pocket is ideal for storing car keys, cash or fishing permits.

Comfort, Safety and Support

To make your days on the water more comfortable, the Flydri back pack features padded shoulder straps with lumbar support, giving as much comfort as possible when carrying heavy loads. For extra support the waist and sternum straps are fully adjustable, I find these extremely useful when lugging lots of fishing tackle considerable distances. The back pack also features two reflective strips on the front and both shoulder straps, perfect for safety at night.

Additional features

When fishing from the shore on small-waters or along the coast, I tend to move frequently to new locations. The Flydri bag has multiple D-rings along the top and front panel that are perfect for attaching items such as net magnets, forceps or additional carabiner clips.

For those of you who may be in the market for a new back pack for fishing, I fully recommend taking a serious look at the Airflo Flydri 30lt Back Pack. Compared with other ‘fishing brand’ waterproof back packs that are more than double in price, the Flydri should certainly be top of your considerations.

Airflo Defender Clothing Review By Robbie Winram

Well known independent fly fishing tackle expert and Anglian Water employee Robbie Winram reviews the Defender waterproof clothing from Airflo – a range designed to combat the worst possible weather conditions.

There are three main elements to the new Defender clothing range: a wading jacket, three-quarter jacket and trousers, all at £69.99 each. They are made from a two-layer durable Taslan nylon shell fabric with reinforced ripstop nylon on the high wear areas such as the seat and knees of the trousers and across the shoulders, tops of the arms and the hoods on the jackets.

The fabric also has a DWR finish so water just beads off the outside, and all the garments are windproof, waterproof and breathable. The jackets have a polyester mesh lining except for the sleeves, which are lined with a smooth polyester fabric. The trousers have a polyester mesh lining from the waist to the knees and then the smooth fabric down to the ankles.

Wading jacket

The wading jacket has a single full-length zip with a double stormflap: one has a rain gutter and the other folds over the top and secures with four Velcro closures and a metal popper stud both top and bottom. The zip tucks into a neat fleece-lined chinguard to prevent chafing.

The nice high collar is fleece-lined and the fixed hood can be rolled up and held in place with a large tab and Velcro closure. The hood has a stiffened wired peak and an elasticated cord and toggle lock adjustment around the face and on the back of the head to give a really good fit.

The sleeves have an articulated shape for ease of movement when casting and end in a simple, lightly elasticated cuff with a Velcro closure. There are two pockets on the chest with large stormflaps and Velcro closures. These pockets are elasticated at the top and expand generously to take a good-sized fly box. There is also a fabric tab and D-ring under each stormflap for tool and accessory attachment. On the front of these pockets are small flat accessory pockets with water-resistant zips. Behind each cargo pocket is a handwarmer pocket, lined one side with micro fleece, and there is also a single zipped security pocket.

On the back of the jacket is a full-width zipped cargo pocket with protective stormflap. Additional features include a large D-ring on the back of the neck and an elasticated cord and toggle lock adjuster around the bottom hem.

The three-quarter jacket has the same design features as the
wading version, but is longer and has a different pocket configuration and an extra waist drawcord.

The Defender clothing combo

The Defender clothing combo.

Comfortable trousers

The trousers have a nice high back for extra protection from the elements, and partly-elasticated sections each side of the waist for comfort.

They also have belt loops and an elasticated and adjustable webbing belt with a quick release bayonet fitting. There is a simple zip fly opening with a protective stormflap, and a metal popper stud at the top.

The legs have a slightly articulated cut for good range of movement and expandable gusseted ankle cuffs with side zips and Velcro tabs and fasteners.

Two hip pocket feature a water-resistant zip, while the two thigh pockets have stormflaps and Velcro fasteners.

VERDICT:

The Defender jackets and trousers will keep out the wind and rain, and offer good breathability considering they have that extra polyester mesh lining. This lining also provides a bit of extra warmth on colder days. I liked the well-fitting hood and nice warm fleece collar. Excellent value for money, especially if you take advantage of Airflo’s special offer – buy any jacket and trousers for £119.99 and get the Airflo Defender fleece free.

Originally published in the December 2017 issue of Trout Fisherman Magazine, we have re-produced this review with their kind permission.

You can check out the Airflo Defender range of fly fishing clothing here.

Fishing Snake Flies On Small Stillwater

If you haven’t tried snake flies yet, then you may be missing out on some brilliant sport! In this piece Fishtec blogger Stuart Smitham reveals how he fishes snake flies on small stillwater fisheries to deadly effect. Read on to discover how to fish these controversial lures to their potential.

An Ellerdine salmon captured on a snake fly

An Ellerdine salmon captured on a snake fly.

Ask most people how they fish a snake or leech pattern and they say, on a sinking line??  The reason for this, is because it was considered the norm and adopted by most. I’m fine with that philosophy, but when someone then tells me, it’s the only way to fish them, I’ll prove them wrong. I’m no doubting Thomas, but there are always advantages to be derived from other set ups and different presentations. In this blog post I take a closer look at how to fish snakes effectively on a small stillwater fishery.

For the most part, Leeches or constructed on a single hook, similar to zonkers. Snakes are usually a two hook construction, with the front hook chopped off at the bend. Some good tiers use braid instead of a front hook, which also works well.  If you tie your own, then you’re at a distinct advantage over those who shop buy.  Having tied mine in various guises, I like to think I have my colour combinations down to pat, but I also like to try other colours which can sometimes be fantastic.

For me the following work well. First colour is the rabbit or mink strip then the tail colour. Black/olive, black/pink, black/yellow, black/orange, black/red, black/chartreuse. Then grey/red, grey/green, grey/yellow, grey/chartreuse, grey/orange. Most have tungsten beads at the head so they can be fished on other fly lines. More on that later.

Ready for battle....

Snake flies ready for battle….

The best tip I can give on fly choices is, clear water use light colours like grey or white. Murky water makes dark colours like black stand out like the dogs breakfast. I’ve used this method for some time now and it works. You’ll get lots of follows when you get it wrong, because the fish will still come and investigate the fly, but the proof is in the eating and when you get it just right, the line just hammers away!

Get your tackle right I’ve seen people get into a right state when fishing Leeches and Snakes. Where they’re fishing too light a leader and get smashed big style. It’s all too easy to fish a thin tippet, because it offers up better presentation, but the sacrifice outweighs the reward. Losing a fish is bad enough, but snapping off and leaving a fly in a fish is far worse.  Most fisheries have a tackle stand or a small amount of tackle, where tippet/leader is available. Ellerdine Lakes insist on a minimum breaking strain of 6lb and rightly so, considering their stocking policy.  Ed and Jayne Upton have a great reputation for stocking some of the best fish and rightly deserve their UK No1 Small Stillwater Award.

I use 10ft 7 weight fly rods for fishing snakes. You need a strong and capable rod for firing out long lines, into the wind and to cast big flies with no problem. My reels are the Classic Cassette from Airflo which are cartridge type reel and take some abuse from me, no end. Tippet choice is down to personal preference and I use three types. G3 Fluorocarbon which is a good standard leader. G4 which is a slightly thinner diameter than G3, or G5, which is just outstanding and a premium leader but a little more pricey. Buy cheap leader at your peril. After all, it’s the invisible link between your fly and the fish.

A rainbow that took a white and green snake

A rainbow that took a white and green snake.

Fly line marking Unless you’ve seen it for yourself, you would never believe a fish could inhale your fly and reject without you feeling it?  I’ve seen this and had to find a way to help combat it. Since those early days, I started marking my fly lines. This radically changed my take detection, giving me more time to react to a take. You may not feel the take, but you can see the reaction to a take on your fly line. I use a black permanent marker and start at the line tip with small dots. In groups of five, I gradually increase the size of the bands in each set to the nine foot point. Then at ten foot I put two big marks about eight or nine inches each. These bands offer contrast points that you can concentrate your focus on during the retrieve. The two big bands are focus points at distance and yes you can see these. Having this contrast point you pick up the little tugs and small plucks, you’d otherwise miss. A simple concept and it just works well for me. Try it for yourselves and see what you’ve been missing?

I use floating lines, intermediates and sinkers, but my favourite at the moment is the mini tip. Airflo’s Super Dri mini tips are just outstanding. Because they use Super Dri Technology, they recover back to the surface quickly after sinking. I primarily start out with the 6ft slow sink mini tip and don’t shy too far away from it. Mini tips have all the great characteristics of a floating line but with a sinking section that does two things. It anchors the end of the fly line, to slow its movement, where the water surface is moving quickly with the wind and aids me in fishing my flies at a more controlled depth.  I normally have 12ft of leader and 10ft to my two big markers, which equals 22ft of line on the water plus whatever I’m casting. So you can cover a lot of water with little effort and you don’t realise it either.

Fishing leeches/snakes when I arrive at the waters edge, I drop my fly in and give it a squeeze to absorb water and help it break the water surface when I cast it out. Then once I’m happy I’ll pick up fly and move to my chosen fishing spot. Casting to the left and right margins first, can sometimes pay off, where feeding trout will cruise in for a small morsel.  Because they’re inquisitive they can be provoked into a take. Make short casts and straighten your line out, then slowly retrieve your fly. Little figure of eights with stops work. As does a short pull, wait then make a longer pull. The way this works is, the fish moves in the short pull and in most cases takes the fly, then as you make the long pull, your tightening into the fish. If you get a hit like this, drop your rod sideways and continue the retrieve until it all locks up. I don’t fish droppers with leeches.  It’s hard enough to control one strong fish. Having two on at the same time is scope for disaster. Fish one fly and fish it with confidence.

Use the line banding after you’ve cast out. Let your fly settle and drop through the water column. I don’t countdown for the first few casts, as I sometimes get plucks at the surface or just below. As your retrieving and make stops, you’ll notice the fly line looks limp? Make a short pull, then watch the line.  If the line stops, goes straight or plucks, line strike!  Chop your line hand down hard and drop the rod sideways. If you have a fish on, the rod tip will come to life and you’ll feel the tugging on the fly line. If there’s nothing then you’ve only moved the line a short distance and not pulled out of the taking zones depth. Watching the line banding is the key to success. Let your concentration drop and you’ll miss hits and plucks. Fish hard for 15 minutes then stop and check your fly and leader. This acts as a distraction and helps you break your concentration briefly. If you’ve not had a pluck then consider changing flies?

Sinkers and Intermediate lines When fishing sinkers or Intermediates the visual aspect only comes into play on the hang, unless you have hang markers incorporated into the fly line, like the Sixth Sense range. These have a 10ft, 20ft and rear taper marker or 30ft point marker. These are good for stops on your retrieve because they are highly visible and offer a great contrast point to watch for hits. Sixth Sense lines have superb cores which transmit takes, right down the line length, regardless of the length of line outside the tip ring. Just brilliant

Floating Lines I mentioned using beaded flies. They offer a great advantage with a floating line over fishing an unweighted fly, in that they sink quicker, so they can be dropped into most places with ease. Because they drop through the water quickly, you can concentrate on watching the banding and maintain close contact with the fly, feeling the hits as the fly is pulled away. What you’ll also notice is, when a weighted fly had been taken, the tension you have on the line changes, with a distinct momentary second or two, where the line feels weightless. Striking at this point will pay dividends. Also when the wind changes you can put a mend in the line, to maintain contact with the fly. Watching the line banding is a must to spot the takes though. The floating lines I use are Super Dri Lake Pro, Mend and Bandit. The first two I mark myself, the last one is factory marked and coloured Olive and Brown. When you view Bandit in the surface, it looks like a series of dashes which highlight line movement. Mend is a thicker bodied line used for fishing  bigger lures and is ridged, so the ink from your permanent marker ink tends to last longer as it drops into the grooves between ridges. A neat side effect of Ridge technology and I can’t knock it. Lake Pro is an out and out beast of a line. Great performance and being a mint blue shade is easy to spot on the surface and again ridged.

Here`s an idea on what can happen Ellerdine Lakes on the 13th December was a chilly day. Just three degrees on the temperature and as I drive in, a third of Meadow Lake is frozen. Of the four lakes at the fishery, Marsh is totally frozen over, The other two lakes I’ve not seen yet are fishable but have ice on the surface. Starting on Meadow initially I put on a white and green leech. Making  some casts into the margins on the reeded bank. No plucks or pulls sees me dip into the fly box and pull out a black and pink fly. I search the margins again, then cast at the ice edge.  Straightening the leader and watching the banding, when the line tightens up. The two large bands had been pulled under, meaning the line was tight and I’d got a take. Dropping the rod sideways I could see the line being pulled away. I haven’t seen the fish at all, so have no idea what it is?? All the line that was on the deck was already gone, so I’m watching for a direction change on the fish. It then comes back at me and I realise I’m walking on my line, that I’m now hand balling in quickly.

Salmo Salar taking a liking to snake flies.

Salmo Salar taking a liking to snake flies.

First fish and it’s a salmon! Then a grey ghost appears and it is the first time we’d seen each other. He doesn’t like me and shot off again. After a few minutes and signs of the fish tiring, I manage to scoop it into the net.  Talk about elated. Chuffed to beans Mr Salmon get in!  With a few more plucks and no further interest, a quick chat and brew with Martin Cooper and I’m off to Crannymoor. With small bows plucking the leech, I changed colours to a grey and red leech and make for the middle of Lakemoor and cast near the reed fringes.

As I’m hanging the fly, a brown trout shoots out of nowhere and nails it at the surface.  After a short feisty scrap, a beautiful Brown trout slipped into the net. After some great pics  back he went. What a cracking fish. I move into the corner and make another quick fly change to black and orange, then a short cast to the margin produces a hard hit. I saw the pluck on the banding, but wasn’t prepared for the run. Hard and running up the lake edge right near the weed. A snag here and I’m done for, so as the fish moves toward the weed, I change tack and apply pressure from the opposite direction, which works! This fish goes back down the bank edge it just swam up.

Another victim of a black and orange snake.

Another victim of a black and orange snake.

Several tense moments and concerns about snags are coming to an end, but my problem now is getting it into my net, plus keep control of this beast. A friend named Lorina is on hand and uses her bigger net, to put paid to this run around.  A couple of pics and back it goes. The rainbows are going crazy for black and orange!  I think I finished on seven, but what a session. The bows are coming in and just nailing the leech hard, which is great fun.

Does fishing a snake fly sound like something you want to do? Why not give it a try and see what you can catch.  Remember, above all else enjoy your day. Now get marking those lines!

Reflecting On 2017 By Rene’ Harrop – January, 2018

American based Airflo fly line and tackle consultant Rene Harrop shares his latest field report from the wild west fishing mecca that is Yellowstone country.

For the 64th time in my life, I am looking back on another year of fishing in Yellowstone country.

Adding the experiences of 2017 to an ever extending bank of memories is a reenactment of ritual that occurs at the beginning of each New Year and, as usual, there are highs and lows to be remembered.

2017 Memory

2017 Memory

Last year began on a relatively positive note with a winter that brought vastly improved water conditions to my homeland. While somewhat late in receiving the benefits of abundant snowfall, the lakes and rivers in and near Yellowstone Park experienced a level of stability that had been absent through much of the past three years.

Low point for the Henry’s Fork came in late winter when flows lower than ideal kept the water cold and the insect life in a state of dormancy. The result was a later than usual start to the dry fly fishing that usually begins with midges in February and then intensifies when Baetis begin to appear in early March.

Snow On The Peaks

Snow On The Peaks

By April, however, milder temperatures and a gradual improvement in water levels seemed to kick start a sustained stretch of dry fly fishing that did not end until early December.

Hatches subdued by unfavorable water conditions in recent years seemed almost miraculously revived in 2017, especially through the months of July and August.

While their numbers were noticeably reduced during the drought years, trout in the Henry’s Fork and other regional rivers appeared healthier and with good numbers of young adult fish. Positive winter flows should assure the availability of larger targets along with the hatches needed to keep them looking up.

Calm On Hebgen

Calm On Hebgen

Local still waters, which continue to receive my growing attention, were generally reliable through most of the time they were ice free. On the downside, however, was a troubling occurrence of algae bloom during the warmer period of July through early September.  Although Hebgen lake in Montana was spared from this disruptive nuisance and fished consistently well through the season, just across the border in Idaho, Henry’s and Sheridan Lakes were not as fortunate. However, by October, both had recovered and were again producing the typically impressive fish for which they are known.

Most encouraging looking forward is the current state of lakes and reservoirs in this region. With only minor exception, local still water fisheries average more than eighty percent of capacity. What this indicates is the likelihood of a much greater winter survival rate for trout in the lakes and connected rivers of Yellowstone country.

Henry's Lake Prize

Henry’s Lake Prize

With these positives in mind and a winter forecast that indicates continuation of favorable water conditions, twenty eighteen is looking good for fly fishermen.

REVEALED – The best places in Scotland to chase early season silver!

If you are looking forward to the salmon season starting there is no better place to begin your campaign than Scotland! This guest blog post by Salmon Fishing Holidays Scotland explores the best spring salmon rivers north of the border.

A beautiful River Tay spring salmon

A beautiful River Tay spring salmon

As a salmon angler, the highlight of any season has to be if you are lucky enough to catch an early season spring salmon on the fly.

These magnificent fish are highly prized among the salmon fishing fraternity and rightly so. The salmon caught at this time of year are usually large in size and put up a terrific fight.

As our salmon fishing season in Scotland starts in mid- January, you could probably classify early season spring fishing as being from January through to the end of March.

So, is it all about luck at this time of year, or are there some ways in which you can tilt the odds of catching an early springer in your favour?

As with any salmon fishing, a lot does have to do with luck, but by making some informed decisions, and choosing your fishing locations carefully, you certainly stand a better chance.

It is a bit of a misnomer to refer to salmon fishing in Scotland as “spring fishing” from January through to March. Often, at this time of year, river levels are high, and the water is cold.

As anglers we are regularly dodging bitterly cold winds and snow showers. So, conditions are far from spring like and regularly more akin to winter. In such testing conditions, you want to maximise your chances, as often because of the weather and the limited hours of daylight, you have a short window of opportunity through the course of the day in which to fish.

When you are considering salmon fishing locations so early in the season, you need to take a few factors into account. Firstly, fresh spring salmon can be quite aggressive and can often readily take a fly. So, the difficult part is trying to locate the fish. This is much easier to do on a smaller river. In the Scottish Highlands, many of the rivers are much smaller compared to their central and southern counterparts, and with the season opening early in this region of Scotland, there are some excellent opportunities to bag some early season silver.

The Thurso river opens on the 11th of January. Over the years, the Thurso has consistently produced decent numbers of fish during the early part of the season. Each year is different, and much can depend on water heights and temperature but usually the first fresh fish is caught from the river towards the end January or at the beginning of February. From mid-February onwards, a steady stream of fish are caught and catches build through March. With the Thurso being a relatively small river, it can be easily covered with a fly rod. So as an angler, you can be reasonably confident that if there is a fresh fish in the pool, it will most likely see your fly. This can be such an advantage when the fish are few and far between.

Chasing springers in the Scottish Highlands

Chasing springers in the Scottish Highlands

Another river in the Highlands that has an excellent pedigree for producing early fish is the Helmsdale. The Helmsdale river in recent years has produced fresh fish on a number of occasions in mid-January. The Helmsdale is slightly bigger in size compared to the Thurso but most of the pools are still easily covered with a fly rod. Each year, the Helmsdale River Board offers locals and visitors the chance to fish the river free of charge from opening day onwards for a few days. This is a fantastic opportunity for hardy fishers to wet a line on one of Scotland’s most famous salmon rivers, and also to have a realistic chance of catching an early fresh fish.

The River Morrsiton makes up part of the Ness system. It flows into Loch Ness at Fort Augustus. It is another river in the Scottish Highlands which has a good reputation for producing early season salmon. The river opens its banks to anglers in mid-January and fresh fish can be caught from opening week onwards. The River Morriston is similar in size to the Thurso, making it a perfect location to ambush a springer. Catches on the river improve through February and into March, and given adequate water this is one Highland river well worth considering.

Over the past two seasons, anglers on the River Spey have enjoyed some terrific early season sport. Indeed, last year there were decent numbers of fish caught from the river in February and March. The Spey opens in early February and much depends on the water temperature and height, as to where the best sport is likely to be had. If both the water temperature and height is low, then the beats between Craigellachie and Fochabers are likely to produce the best sport. However, as we move into March and the water gets warmer, the fish tend to run upstream in greater numbers, and anywhere between Grantown and Aberlour can be well worth a cast. The Spey is such a magnificent river, that for most anglers, it does not matter if they are catching fish, as it is such a joy just to wet a line on.

Spring fishing on the River Spey

Spring fishing on the River Spey

For many years, the River Dee has been one of the most prolific early season salmon rivers in Scotland. The river opens in early February and consistently produces fish from opening day onwards. In recent years, the early spring fishing has not been quite as good, but last year there were still some lovely fish caught in February In March. Most of the pools on the river can be quite comfortably covered and some of the water is just made for fly fishing. Just like the Spey the best places to fish on the River Dee are dictated by water temperature. Usually in February, it is the beats below Banchory that seem to perform the most consistently. As we move into March, anywhere from Aboyne Bridge downstream can be well worth a cast. If it has been an especially mild early spring, then even beats further upstream can be quite productive.

Spring on the River Dee

Spring on the River Dee

Finally, we come to the mighty River Tay, which opens on the 15th of January. The Tay produces fresh fish from opening day onwards. Usually, at this time of year the majority of the fish caught are heading for Loch Tay and the headwaters of this vast river system. However, as we move through February and into March, fish destined for the River Tummel (one of the rivers main tributaries) start entering the system. This usually coincides with an increase in catches especially for the beats located on the middle river. As well all know, the River Tay is anything but small, so it can make finding that early spring salmon a little more difficult. However, if the water is at a reasonable height, the Tay can also produce some good numbers of salmon early in the season. In January and February, if the water temperature is low it is often the beats on the lower river which can perform the best. There are a couple of temperature barriers in this area of the river like the famous Linn Pool and Catholes Weir which the fish have to negotiate prior to heading further upstream. As water temperatures rise, the beats on the middle river usually come into their own. At this time of year, the Tay has some excellent salmon fishing opportunities to offer, at a very reasonable cost.

There is no denying the fact that fishing early in the season can be tough, with fresh fish often being few and far between. The Scottish weather can be inclement, and river levels unpredictable. If, however, you carefully consider your options and make informed decisions about where you are going to fish, you can certainly improve your chances of making contact with some early season silver!

About the author: Salmon Fishing Holidays Scotland (SFHS) are a bespoke holiday tour operator offering the most immersive, inspiring fly fishing holidays in Scotland. So if you need a perfect start to your season then get in touch with SFHS here.

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