Pacific Salmon: The Pink Peril

pink salmon

Pink salmon are being caught all over the UK
Image source: Shutterstock

If there’s one thing that’s guaranteed to make most conservation-minded anglers’ blood run cold, it’s the idea of yet another invasive non-native species coming to join the Himalayan balsam, floating pennywort, American signal crayfish, Ponto-Caspian shrimp, and other unwelcome visitors which are already wreaking havoc on our rivers and lakes.

Yet that’s exactly what we’ve been seeing here in the British Isles this summer – with alien Pacific pink (or humpback) salmon showing up in unprecedented numbers in rivers around our coastline.

So why has this happened? And is there anything we do about it?

Far from home

spawning phase

An Alaskan pink salmon in its freshwater spawning phase.
By Bering Land Bridge National Preserve – Pink Salmon, CC BY 2.0

As their name suggests, Pacific pink salmon (Oncorhynchus gorbusca) evolved in the rivers and seas of the northern Pacific rim, from Oregon all the way up to Alaska, and down the coast of Russia to the Korean peninsula.

Like the four other species of Pacific salmon – chum (dog), coho (silver), king (chinook) and sockeye (red) – they’re genetically programmed to thrive in hostile Arctic conditions without the beneficial warmth of the Gulf Stream.

Mature adult fish run into rivers in mid to late summer, spawn quickly, and die almost at once, boosting the rivers’ ecology with all the remaining marine nutrients in their bodies. The fry hatch within 80 days, and migrate to sea at a young age (unlike juvenile Atlantic salmon, which live in their rivers of birth for much longer).

Year classes are strongly defined in two-year cycles, and don’t mix at all – a characteristic which has led to some runs of Pacific salmon being completely obliterated by natural or man-made disasters. Maybe to make up for this, pinks are happy to stray some distance from their own rivers to colonise new water. But like so many other alien invaders, they’ve now moved far beyond their native range as a result of human intervention…

Starting in the 1960s, and continuing for about 40 years, it’s believed that Russian scientists started stocking them into the Barents and White seas with the intention of creating a commercial net fishery and canning industry.

From here, pink salmon started spreading to Finland and Norway (where breeding populations have become established) and then to Iceland, Denmark and Germany. Occasional two- to five-pounders have appeared in Scottish, Irish and English east coast rivers since the earliest years, but it’s the scale of this summer’s invasion which has started to cause concern.

What’s the problem?

crowded pink salmon

Pink salmon crowded in Alaska
Image source: Shutterstock

Hundreds of pink salmon, from around two to five pounds, have been caught in more than 40 rivers around the British Isles in 2017 – from the Helmsdale and Ness to the Tyne, and even the Cong and Galway fisheries on Ireland’s River Corrib.

In England, they’ve turned up in Yorkshire’s Driffield West Beck, too, where David Southall was surprised to catch a hard-fighting 3lb specimen in August on a streamer intended for chalkstream trout.

Native Atlantic salmon are already under serious threat in most British rivers, and many anglers fear that a major influx of Pacific salmon could put them under even more pressure – either from competition, or via the introduction of pathogens and diseases still unknown.

Others argue that the earlier timing of pink salmon runs means that the adults will be long dead by the time our native salmon start trying to spawn, and any remaining redds are likely to be overcut. Juvenile pinks will migrate to sea much sooner, and at a far smaller size, than Atlantic salmon smolts, so it’s not so likely that significant competition will occur at this life stage either. Dying Pacific salmon could even contribute valuable nutrients to oligotrophic Scottish and Scandinavian catchments, making more food for Atlantic salmon parr.

Yet having said all this, if invasion ecology teaches us one thing, it’s that the potential for unintended consequences is almost limitless. So the wisest course is probably the precautionary approach.

More information is certainly needed, and fisheries scientists have already started researching the viability of pink salmon eggs in UK waters, by excavating redds in the River Ness and moving the eggs to incubation chambers for further observation. Empty egg shells were also recovered, suggesting that some alevins might already have hatched.

What else can we do?

In smaller rivers, controlling pink salmon by disturbing their very obvious redds might be an option, but in huge rivers like the Tay, this simply wouldn’t be possible, even in low summer water.

More than anything else, the UK’s fisheries authorities need information about this year’s pink salmon run, so they can prepare to deal with the next one (possibly even more numerous) in two years’ time (2019).

With their prominent hump, male pink salmon are very obvious, but some of the other differences from Atlantic salmon are more subtle. If you catch a small salmon at the back end of this season, and you suspect it might be a pink, here’s what to look out for:

 

Atlantic salmon

 

Pacific pink salmon

 

No spots on tail

 

Large black oval spots on tail

 

Pale mouth and tongue

 

Very dark mouth and tongue

 

Usually larger (up to 110cm in length)

 

Usually much smaller (40 – 60cm in length)

 

One or two spots on the gill cover, plus spots on the back above the lateral line

 

Steel-blue to blue-green back, silver flanks and white belly

 

Thicker base of tail than Pacific salmon

Breeding males have a distinctive humped back

If you think you’ve caught a pink salmon, here’s what to do:

Don’t return it to the water, but dispatch it humanely and report it to the relevant authorities (listed below) to arrange for inspection. If this isn’t possible, please retain some scale samples for further analysis.

England and Wales: Phone the Environment Agency on 0800 80 70 60.

Northern Ireland: Tag the fish and phone the Loughs Agency on +44 (0)28 71342100: replacement tags will be issued.

Scotland: Contact your local district fishery board and fishery trust: information will be collated by Fisheries Management Scotland and Marine Scotland Science.

Ireland: Phone Inland Fisheries Ireland on 1890 347 424.

About the author:
Theo Pike is a freelance environmental, fishing and marketing writer. He’s also Chair of Trustees of the South East, and founding editor of urbantrout.net, a website and eco-brand dedicated to the urban fly fishing and river restoration movements. His first book, Trout in Dirty Places, was published by Merlin Unwin Books in 2012, and his manual on controlling invasive non-native species, The Pocket Guide to Balsam Bashing appeared in 2014.

Who’s the daddy? Fly-fishing crane flies for end-of-season trout

September is always a poignant time of the fly-fishing year. As the days grow noticeably shorter, the trout are the fattest and healthiest you’ll find them all season, but they often seem to be fixated on the very smallest and most technical food forms – like midges and pale wateries, presented totally drag-free, on gossamer-fine tippets.

Author, fisherman and environmentalist, Theo Pike discusses the exception to this rule and the secret weapon that shouldn’t be too far from your fly-box this September. It’s the daddy-long-legs. Here’s 6 top tips for landing yourself an end-of-season specimen.

crane fly

A crane fly, commonly known as the daddy long legs.
Image source: Shutterstock

Also known as crane flies (Tipulidae), these big insects will have spent the year as leatherjacket grubs, burrowing invisibly in the roots of the grasses and meadow flowers along our river banks. Now, as the air cools a little and turns humid after the long hot summer, they start to emerge and search for mates, to start their mostly-hidden life-cycle all over again.

For reasons best known to expert entomologists, some years are more prolific than others. Yet it’s no exaggeration to say that even in a sparse year, this can be the daddy of all seasonal hatches – at least as significant as the grannom or mayfly for the observant fly-fisher.

With cigar-shaped bodies, rambling legs that stick out in all directions, and wings that don’t seem nearly big enough to keep them airborne, daddy-long-legs look like Heath Robinson contraptions that fly badly, when they fly at all. The slightest puff of wind is usually enough to dump a few of them onto the nearest body of water, where they’ll struggle haplessly in the surface film, attracting attention from fish for yards around.

There’s no delicate sipping when these big mouthfuls are splashing down: trout and chub in particular will hit drowning daddies with real intent, sometimes even leaping out of the water, flattening them with a belly-flop, and circling back again to mop up the doomed insects.

If you think this sounds like some of the least technical fishing of the year, you may be right. But there are still a few useful things to remember if you really want to make the most of the early-autumn daddy-long-legs bonanza…

1 – Beef up your tackle

Daddy-feeding fish don’t tend to be too tippet shy, and the takes can be vicious, so this isn’t the time to take your tippet diameter much below 5lbs. Stiffer monofilament will help you avoid corkscrewed tippet when you’re turning over big, air-resistant flies into a headwind, and you may find a slightly heavier rod helpful, too.

2 – Match the hatch

daddy flies

Daddy long legs flies
Image source: Fishtec

Entomologists say there are around 300 species of crane flies in the UK, and while it’s hardly worth lugging around enough flies to match all of these, there are definitely times when the fish will respond better to one pattern than another. Carry a good selection wherever you’re fishing at this time of year, and stay alert for opportunities to try the nearest possible imitation.

3 – Chop and change

box of daddy long legs lures

A selection box of lures for variety
Featured product: Fulling Mill Daddies at Fishtec

Most of us aren’t lucky enough to be able to fish when the weather is perfect, so having a tactical selection of patterns in your box will let you pick the best option for the conditions you’re facing. For example, a fully-hackled fly flutters lightly over a wave, while choosing a low-riding pattern, with hackles clipped off the underside, will help your imitation sit enticingly low in a flat calm.

4 – Give it a twitch

After ditching in the drink, most daddies will fuss and struggle as though they’re trying to signal for help. Follow their lead by adding a little twitch to your presentation now and again, instead of focusing on a perfect dead drift, or just letting the fly float static. If the fish you’re targeting hasn’t been convinced so far, this may help to seal the deal.

5 – Go trophy hunting

The crane fly fall will often get the biggest fish in the river looking up for the first time since the mayfly hatch, so now’s your opportunity to target the really big beasts. Don’t be afraid to use the heft of these flies (and of course your heavier tippet) to fire them into places you’d normally assume are far too tight. After all, this is where the trophy trout, chub and even carp will be lurking.

6 – Don’t strike too soon

As mentioned above, some predators will deliberately swamp a struggling daddy, then come back and take it confidently under the surface. If you don’t feel the fish, try to ignore the impulse to pick up for another cast – just leave your fly in place. It sounds counterintuitive, but it often works.

large trout

September is the ideal time to land a large trophy trout
Image source: Shutterstock

Like Kieron in this article on how to fish daddy-long-legs, I do tie most of my own flies, but I tend to make an exception for daddy-long-legs and mayflies.

These are two hatches when having a flexible choice of different patterns is more important than having a whole row of clones in your fly-box, and it’s fun to let the designers show their paces with all the latest innovations. Grab yourself a generous handful of daddies from your favourite supplier – Fishtec stocks Fulling Mill, Iain Barr and Caledonia – and get out there to make the most of this end-of-season bonanza!

author profile

Theo Pike is a freelance environmental, fishing and marketing writer. He’s also Chair of Trustees of the South East, and founding editor of urbantrout.net, a website and eco-brand dedicated to the urban fly fishing and river restoration movements. His first book, Trout in Dirty Places, was published by Merlin Unwin Books in 2012, and his new Pocket Guide to Balsam Bashing appeared in 2014.

Fly Fishing Shropshire Brooks

Fishtec blogger Stuart Smitham fishes a brook in Shropshire with a new fly line.

My wife phoned me and said, why don’t you come and get the car from me at work and go to the river for a few hours? I don’t get too many chances like that, so having the car means time to tangle with some brook fish. We are quite spoilt in Shropshire as these little waterways are pretty much everywhere, so this afternoon I’m off to my favourite haunt – a small brook deep in the local countryside.

A Shropshire brook

A Shropshire brook.

Tackle and clothing for the day

With zero options on wet wading, because of nettles, I am wearing breathable Airweld waders and boots and a small chest pack, for my fly boxes and other accessories with a Streamtec net on a leash and magnetic clip. As for my rod it’s a 7ft 9in Atomsix Celestial rod and superb little Atomsix fly reel blended with Airflo’s New Forge #3 fly line, ready for it’s first outing.

My approach

I am a dry fly addict on the brooks, so I’ll  usually walk down stream and start at the lower end of the boundary. As with most streams here about, the width of pools vary from just a few feet to around 12 feet. Depth is something different, with some pools about a foot deep then dropping to around waist height.

Most of the bankside foliage is tall nettles and brambles, with reeds and tree branches on pool edges. Where a pool is confined by undergrowth, the tail end can often open out behind the cover offering some great looking spots. Drop-offs on the banks are the norm, so you have to watch your footing and take nothing for granted. I’ve done this a few times now and ended up trying to grasp the vegetation around me to halt my fall, only to find me grabbing nettles and getting stung to hell.

Overgrown banks can be a challenge!

Overgrown banks can be a challenge!

Always watch when entering a pool and make sure you look into the pool first before stepping in. The time when you haven’t checked, is when you’ll see a bow wave heading upstream. Very uncool and probably a fish that could have graced your net. Most of the species you’ll encounter in Shropshire brooks are dace, chub, grayling and native brown trout.

Into the action

As I reach the head of the first pool I can see a long weed waving in the current. Then I spot a fish. A butter yellow brownie about a pound and a half hanging back about 3-4 inches from the weed end. It’s feeding confidently, sticking his head out and taking something with a sipping rise.Then an olive crawls down the weed and just sits there, right on the end. Amazing when you see fly life like this emerging in the sun. It dries it wings and makes a flutter, that’s when the brownie moves in. Talk about ringing the dinner bell.

Moving back into the current I make a short cast and gauge where my fly is and what it looks like. I tie on a quill dun with orange polish quill in the abdomen and a cdc wing with brown hackle. Ginking him up and decreasing the leader I pull off about 15 feet of fly line. Making the initial cast I am way too far right and no where near the brownie. I don’t want to spook it, so taking the time to lengthen the line out my second cast looks like it landed a foot or so right again. I start to gather line and must have moved the fly and my rod tip bounces. I lift and watch this class brownie come at me and go under the weed. Pulling line in like crazy and the fish is gone, leaving me attached to weed. Talk about gutted.

Moving on quietly, I head to another spot that has been productive in the past. With long weed at my feet, I make short casts of around 8-10 feet. The quill dun looks great in the current. I see a flash and just lift into a small grayling, that heads for the far bank and the weed. After a quick fight he is safely in the net. It must be said grayling are truly gorgeous looking fish, I could catch them all day long.

Grayling in the net!

Grayling in the net!

Walking up and skipping a pool due to fallen trees in the water, I peek over the nettles on a bend and spot a rise. I am around 5 feet above the surface and still in deep cover. The olives are gone, but there are still some iron blues coming off. Where the brook runs round the bend, there’s a clump of weed in the run. Deep water on the left and shallower water on the right. This fish is right on the seam between both. Changing flies to a iron blue with a red butt, I gink it up and degrease, ready to cast.

As the fly drifts the current seam, I just catch a glimpse of something moving. More out of instinct than anything else I line strike and lift the little rod up. The rod tip goes over hard, that’s when I see the yellow belly and the unmistakable markings of a very nice trout. With thoughts on how the hell I’m going to land this? I know I cannot reach down and get it into my hand net. Taking up all the slack and getting to the bank edge, I make the leap of faith! As I land, the fish is trying to head upstream, and I still have it on. The little reel is singing and the fly line is tight – it’s a proper adrenaline filled battle alright! I drop the net under and finally draw the fish into it….

The prize - a wild Shropshire trout

The prize – a wild Shropshire trout.

Looking at this fish in the net and what a cracking brownie. Wild as they come and just beautifully marked. Blood red spots haloed by white and black charcoal spots everywhere.

Time to move on to the big boy, that’s been hounding my mind for some eight weeks now. Pricked it’s big mouth twice and cursed my stupidity both times. As I battle through the five foot nettles, I just emerge onto the silver topped pool. A rise ring forms on the bend and I know it’s him? Bold and brass and no doubt waiting for me to fluff it again? Well let’s see eh?

Fishing with the Forge

Well, what did I think of my new 3 weight fly line? The Airflo Forge is a grand fly line for short accurate casts under the trees and though small gaps. There’s a nice compact head on this line for quick loading, plus it has a super small factory welded micro loop at the tip, which is extremely buoyant. With a subtle olive front taper and yellow running line, it sums up what I need for brook fishing. It floats high, with minimal memory, and today I managed to land quite a few nice fish using it.

A lovely little brownie captured with the WF3 Forge line

A lovely little brownie captured with the WF3 Forge line.

For a line that’s under £30 with all the Super-Dri trimmings thrown in, bargain is the word that springs to mind. Above all Airflo’s polyurethane construction means this line will be tough enough to withstand the worst abuse that these overgrown streams can throw at it, season after season.

Huge thanks to Ceri and Gareth at Airflo, for some great words of wisdom on tippet advice, when I was feeling down. Help like that is just encouraging.

Best regards

Stuart

6 Summer River Fly Fishing Tips

At this time of year fly fishing rivers becomes increasingly difficult; with low water conditions and increased daytime temperatures mainly to blame. Throw in high angler pressure throughout the spring months, and you have some truly challenging fishing by mid summer.

With that said, it is still possible to make some decent catches even when the river fishing is rock hard. The following river tips should help you keep on catching all summer…..

Stealth will bring you results....

Stealth will bring you results….

1. Stealth. A common sense tip, but often overlooked. Trout are wary creatures at best and with a river lacking in flow they are even more attuned to the presence of predators. A clumsy slip of the wader boot on a slimy rock will often spook a whole pool. So really take your time when approaching the water and if possible avoid unnecessary wading.

2. Walk the river. It really pays to go looking for fish when the going is tough. Walk the banks quietly and look for signs of fish rather than charge straight it. When river temperatures are warm in summer fish tend to be much more clustered together in refuse areas that offer extra cover. A tell tale rise or splash can give a tightly packed pod of fish away, saving you wasting time fishing empty water.

Walk the river to find fish

Walk the river to find fish – a trout that gave itself away with a splashy rise

3. Fish the faster water. In low summer flows fast water offers fish cover and oxygen, as well as helping mask the sound and vibration emitted by the angler. So It can pay to solely concentrate your efforts in rapids, pocket water and necks of pools when the river is fishing poorly during hot weather. Such areas can be fished effectively with a french leader, a method very much suited to spooky fish.

Look for fast, oxygenated water

Look for fast, oxygenated water when temperatures are high

4. Minimise your false casting. I often see too many anglers making false casts that they simply don’t need to. Less false casts equal less shadows and line flash that will alert spooky low water trout. A short head weight forward fly line such as the Airflo Super Dri Xceed is designed for quick rod loading, and will help reduce false casting. Also try and make your false casts lower down, at a side angle where your cast will intrude less into the cone of the trouts vision.

5. Use a long leader and scale down. The lower the water the longer the leader. Don’t be afraid to fish a 20 foot leader length on a low river. The further away from your fly line the fly is, the better! A clear floating Airflo light trout polyleader combined with a supple, thin diameter co-polymer such as the superb Airflo tactical allows you to achieve great turnover and subtle presentation at range.

6. Make the switch to low light conditions. Early or late can be the answer during heatwave conditions. From Mid Summer onwards trout in warm water tend to switch to surface feeding at last knockings and through into the night, when water temperatures fall and food sources are more abundant. Likewise crack of dawn fishing can produce good fishing, especially on nymphs, where trout remain in the faster shallows briefly before the sun rises.

A fish captured at last knockings...

A fish captured at last knockings…

An Emerger For All Seasons – by Steffan Jones

Large Brook Duns are a big meal and one that any self-respecting trout would reluctantly refuse, as each morsel provides substantial sustenance.

The Large brook dun

The Large brook dun.

As a rule, they do not hatch in the middle of the river and you are more likely to find them in greater numbers closer to the bank or in back eddys. Should you have a current deflection from a stone however, then this will often push the duns out into the stream and towards the trout. The trout will often locate themselves around such deflections, becoming known as likely ambush points and strong feeding lanes. The brook duns will also bring up the wiliest of trout that often hide underneath banks or bankside vegetation, as the trickle of duns may be strongest and most concentrated in such areas; always pay attention for small, unenergetic rises as they are often the largest fish.

The duns often try and scurry across the water’s surface towards the bank after hatching, often climbing up onto rocks after doing so. As such, the adults themselves can be a problematic food source to hone onto for the trout, as they escape before interception. This makes the emergers or cripples a securer meal and a better food source, often favoured as a result.

Signs of Brook dun emergance

Signs of Brook dun emergence.

No need to get complicated with a pattern to cover such eventualities. Indeed, the same pattern dressed in different sizes will cover a myriad of different olives and will see you right throughout most of the season. The important of the pattern to me is that is signals to the trout ‘eat me; I’m not going anywhere’. If they invest energy into intercepting an object they want to be rewarded as a result, so don’t make them question the investment in the first place in order to maximise your chances of interception.

No need to get complicated

No need to get complicated.

For this, I prefer to fish my emergers with the buoyancy placed out the front of the fly; fished over and beyond the eye, rather than up and over the body. This allows more of the fly to be fished in and under the surface, with only part of the thorax and ‘wing’ fished on and over the surface. I understand and appreciate that this does not follow the natural, as the wings to not emerge first nor do they protrude forward. However, outside of this observation I have not found the trout to question this unorthodox style and I believe the benefits outweigh such semantics.

An emerger for all seasons

An emerger for all seasons.

Tying instructions/ingredients

Hook: Partridge K12ST for the large patterns as it’s a longer hook, then Partridge K14A for the smaller patterns

Thread: Veevus olive (C12) in 12/0

Tail: Coq de leon; don’t go crazy, 6-8 fibres will be ample. Take the thread behind the tail once to help prop and elevate it slightly, preventing the tail from getting wrapped and hindered on the hook bend.

Body: Stripped peacock quill; colour to suit. Golden olive here. Or, try the Magic Quills, which are transparent, adjusting the colour of the base thread accordingly. UV resin over to help protect the fragile quill.

Body2: Between the quill and the thorax place two turns of oval mirage tinsel. UV resin over this too, to protect the tinsel from the trout’s teeth. I believe this tinsel provides a little strike point, but also emulates the air pocket created during the emerging sequence of the natural. It is worth, however, dressing a few without this, just in case you find  some particularly picky fish.

Thorax: Fox squirrel; this can be thick to dub. Chop the fibres a couple of times to shorten the fibre length then dub onto the thread after adding some tacky wax to aid the process.

Wing: x3 plumes of natural CDC (adjust amount and plume size according to hook size). Pulled over the thorax and tied shuttlecock style. Make sure to dress a thread base between the eye and the plumes at the head, to help prop and elevate the plumes somewhat, which, in turn, helps counterbalance the fly and force the body subsurface. Also, when drawing the cdc over the thorax do so by drawing from the tips; this will allow a few loose fibres to escape and trail back over the body of the fly.

A victim of the Steffan Jones emerger

A victim of the Steffan Jones emerger.

Steffan has been guiding at home and abroad for well over twenty seasons now. If you would like to arrange a guided trip please visit www.anglingworldwide.com for more details.

CHALK – A Fly Fishing Film Project

The producers of a new fly fishing film “CHALK” have launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund their project. The feature-length documentary will be a hymn to the chalkstreams of southern England, examining how an accident of geography helped to shape not only the landscape, but the sport of fly fishing.

The team behind the project have a strong pedigree, consisting as it does of fishingbreaks.co.uk owner and author of The Life of a Chalkstream, Simon Cooper, young filmmakers Chris Cooper and Leo Cinicolo, collectively known as Chalkstream Fly, and the Video on Demand platform FishingTV. The combination of Simon’s huge knowledge and connections, Chris and Leo’s skill behind the camera and in the editing suite, and FishingTV’s experience of making and marketing high quality fishing programmes should make this the definitive film about the chalkstreams, something that will stand the test of time.

Chris Cooper

Chris Cooper

The project arose from an idea that Ed Burgass, FishingTV’s Commercial director, had been thinking about for some time. “The chalkstreams are talked about all over the world in hushed tones, but very few people actually realise just how special they are, why they are, or the important role that they played in the development of fly fishing,” he said. “I thought it incredible that no one has made a film like this before, really explaining all this about Halford and Skues and the importance of the chalk for the water quality and all that.”

However he also explained that he had always felt that if it were going to be made it needed to be done just so: “It had to be really carefully planned, filmed on the right locations, well-funded. Using a crowdfunding model allows us to have total creative control.” Another appeal, according to Burgass, was the chance to engage with the audience.

Chalk Stream trout

Chalk Stream trout.

“Fly fishing, especially on chalkstreams, has a very elitist image, and we want to try to dispel that myth through this film. We want to reflect that anti-elitist message in the way we make this film, which is why we have some really cool rewards for anyone who chooses to contribute, with the chance to actually be in the film – fishing – or to see early edits and give feedback during the editing process.”

The rewards start from just £3 so anyone can contribute, but for those with deeper pockets there are also some fantastic fishing opportunities up for grabs, including a day of salmon fishing on the Hampshire Avon with FishingTV star Rae Borras, on his private beat, and a day of trout fishing with Orvis Ambassador Marina Gibson. These rewards are limited in number, so anyone keen to take advantage should act quickly.

To find out more about the project, please check out the Kickstarter page.

Wade Safe – Tips for better Wading

With spring rapidly approaching, the new trout and salmon fishing season is just round the corner. Early season river fly fishing naturally involves wading, but before you charge waist deep into the flow you should take a read of our essential river wading tips.

Wade safe - in deep but not in trouble.

Wade safe – in deep but not in trouble.

Think before you get in – Think about how you are going to get in AND out of the water. Visually survey the stretch before you climb into the river. If you have no safe exit point, you could be in for rough time.

Cross in the right way  – When crossing the river angle yourself so you move diagonally down stream, with the current helping you rather than fighting against it. Move slowly side on if possible, so the water force is pushing against a smaller surface area. Remember to slightly lean into the current as you cross. As you go use your arms to help you balance.

Take short steps – Slide and shuffle your way across the river. Don’t stride or lift your feet high as you step or the current could push your balance out. The key is don’t rush – take your time and be safe.

Pack your wading belt – Using a wading belt will help should you end up in the drink.  Flooded waders will make you struggle to get back up and out of the river safely.  Also rather than your fishing day be over instantly, you wont ship as much water and hopefully remain fairly comfortable. Another benefit is they can offer a great lumbar support – for example the Airflo or Simms wading belts.

Check your wading boots – A set of good boots are vital. Over the previous season your wader studs may have worn down so its well worth replacing these at the start. This could save you an early season dunking!

Consider a wading staff – For early season, the rivers are often swollen with rain. A staff is a god-send and well worth the investment, especially if you are not so strong on your feet. A wading staff can also be used to probe the depths and look for ledges and drop offs in coloured up water.

IF you fall in – Turn over onto your back, an get your feet facing downriver as soon as you can. Float downstream and paddle to the nearest bank ASAP.  An inflatable fly fishing vest is a safe option for peace of mind, especially if your river is particularly large or dangerous.

Keep to your limits – If you feel like the current is too much, and the wading is uncomfortable for you simply don’t do it. Why take the risk?

Winter Grayling Fishing – 5 Tips for keeping warm on the river bank

Cold winter weather can herald some of the best river fishing of the year – Grayling time! Grayling feed willingly on the coldest of days, even with thick snow on the ground and ice in the rod rings.

Fishing in these conditions requires you, the angler, to be comfortable and prepared for a full day in the outdoors. Paying close attention to your clothing and layering choices allows you to do this.

Winter grayling fishing in sub-zero conditions

Winter grayling fishing in sub-zero conditions.

These winter grayling fishing tips cover how to keep yourself comfortable, and therefore fishing productively for grayling in even the coldest extremes.

1. Invest in cold weather headgear. Your normal baseball cap simply wont cut it. A beanie or woolen piece of headgear is what you need. Something like the Simms chunky beanie is ideal and worth every penny. The neck is also a much neglected area. A polar buff makes a stylish wind blocker and helps keep the warmth from your torso escaping through your neckline.

2. Use a fleece undersuit. When worn as part of a layering system an undersuit is probably the most important garment you need for grayling fishing. The thermolite body suit by Airflo is a great example of what you need. Remember to wear an undersuit on top of everything else.

3. Eat and drink to keep warm. Yes, calories keep you warm! Hit the greasy spoon before you head out to the river. A good breakfast and coffee definitely allow you to keep grayling fishing for longer. Bring a thermos flask with a hot drink. A warm cup of tea can revive even the coldest angler.

4. Keep your hands warm. Numb cold hands affect a lot of anglers. By learning to fish with gloves you can help avoid this problem. A lot of grayling fishing is short line nymphing, requiring a simple flick of the rod, so fishing with gloves does not hinder you. Another tip is to put your free hand into a hand warmer pocket each time you track your bugs round, and switch hands occasionally.

5. Feet are important. You loose a lot of heat through the feet. A double pair of socks will help, but make sure they are not too tight or blood flow could be restricted; negating the benefit. Nothing compares to adding another layer of neoprene round the foot – the Ron Thompson Neo Tough socks take some beating. But make sure your wading boots have enough room to accommodate them.

The reward - a grayling in the cold.

The reward – a grayling on a freezing cold day.

Fly Fishing for Grayling – Tackle and Tactics

The trout river season is now over, but for fly anglers looking to extend their sport on flowing water then grayling fishing really comes into it’s own at this time of year!

This Fishtec blog article explores the fly fishing tackle and tactics you need to pursue graying on the fly this autumn and winter.

Winter graylingHow grayling behave

Catching grayling can be a fairly straightforward process, provided you fish in the correct way and understand their behavior. Grayling, unlike trout are much less skittish and you can often get quite near to them whilst wading, provided you are fairly stealthy. They also have a tendency to shoal up tightly, especially in colder water temperatures. So if you catch one grayling, keep on fishing in the same spot, there are sure to be more there. Grayling love to hug the bottom tightly, something to consider when presenting your flies.

A Welsh river grayling     A plump Welsh river grayling.

A Welsh river grayling.

Location, location, location..

It pays to look for grayling in riffles, runs, pool heads and tail outs, with a depth of typically 1 to 4 feet. Grayling seem to prefer areas like these. They are seldom found in really deep water, and often in surprising shallow spots that can be easily passed by. Basically look for where water is broken and not that deep – it is in seams and creases you are most likely to find them.

You can sometimes find grayling in deeper pool bodies and slack water, but usually this is much more common in the warmer months and early autumn, where the fish tend to be far more spread out than mid-Winter.

Autumn really is a special time of year to spend a few hours in search of grayling

Autumn really is a special time of year to spend a few hours in search of grayling.

Short Line Nymphing

The principle winter method used for targeting graying is short line nymphing. This method allows heavy nymphs to be presented on or near the river bed, in the graylings preferred taking zone.

When using this method no real fly casting is actually employed – in fact the weight of the flies help the ‘cast’ go out and turnover. The technique is to flick a team of heavily weighted nymphs across and slightly upstream, often not more than a rod length or two away.

A standard fly line can be used, however it wont be as anywhere near effective as using a monofilament French leader, or the purpose designed Airflo SLN euro line. These are both more sensitive and easier to use cast with ultra heavy flies; being much thinner in diameter, drag is reduced and line control improved immensely.

Once a ‘cast’ is made (typically from 2 to 6 meters) the flies are allowed to settle to the river bed and then the drift is tracked through in a nice arc with the rod held high, followed by a lift at the final position almost directly down stream.

The short line nymphing technique in action.

The short line nymphing technique in action.

Line control and a drag free drift are key, so ensure you track through and keep in contact with the flies. Takes can come at any time, but more so on the final lift. The indicator or junction between the tippet material and leader is watched closely for any hesitation or movement.

In the case of the Airflo SLN line the orange tip and non-stretch core really help you spot and connect to hesitant strikes in an instant. You can make an indicator out of a 6 inch piece of coloured mono easily enough for use with a French leader.

A grayling caught short line nymphing

A grayling caught short line nymphing.

Rod choice

To facilitate short line nymphing a long soft actioned fly fishing rod is ideal – for example the 10 foot #3 weight Greys Streamflex GR70, or the Airflo Streamtec 10′ #3/4. Reel choice is not so important, but look to balance the length of your rod in order to reduce arm fatigue  – you may be making hundreds of short flicks each session!

Although not essential, an Airflo castaid is a handy addition when grayling fishing – it not only helps combat arm tiredness and prevents your wrist aching the day after, it also improves accuracy and power of your delivery significantly by stopping your wrist breaking.

Tippet material

For your leader don’t make the mistake of going too light. When fishing heavy weight nymphs in winter it’s better to have abrasion resistance so you don’t loose your flies on the bottom. Our choice is the Airflo G5 fluorcarbon in 5.5lb or G3 in 6lb. Both are supple enough to give your flies natural movement but also have a low diameter and reliable knot strength.

If you are not hooking and bumping the bottom occasionally then you are simply not fishing deep enough; for this reason carry a hook sharpener with you, as a blunted fly is useless.

Grayling flies

In regards to the flies fishing a team of two or three works best – usually a heavier jig pattern with a tungsten bead on the point, and a lighter more imitative pattern on the dropper. We stock some ideal smaller more imitative grayling fly patterns from Fulling mill, which are simply ideal for your droppers.

For real bottom dredging flies, it is often better to tie these yourself, to ensure they have enough weigh to get down in strong flows. The Fulling Mill barbless jig and czech nymph hooks combined with funky fly tying tungsten beads are a great match. Wrap the fly body in glister dubbing and finish with a wire rib and you will have a fly will catch grayling all year long.

Some grayling fly tying essentials

Some grayling fly tying essentials.

Experiment with bead size and colour combinations – generally pink, red and peacock black are the most lethal colours for grayling. Don’t forget to add red tags to some of your bugs, as this can sometimes make all the difference.

A well stocked fly box full of grayling patterns for different flows

An Airflo slim jim fly box with grayling patterns.

Make sure your fly box is well stocked with nymphs with varying bead heads for different flow regimes. In regards to fly weight here’s a tip which many anglers over look – take some coarse fishing split shots with you. You can then quickly adjust your weight, depth, and presentation by simply pinching a shot on your line.

Fishing with strike Indicators

Another grayling nymphing method is using a strike indicator, with your flies suspended beneath. Attach an indicator above your flies, at a position approximately the depth of the water you are fishing. Cast slightly upstream and dead drift down and past you – throwing some slack into the line to avoid drag. You can carry the drift on downstream if necessary with a shake of the rod to let line out.

This method is most effective on deep gutters, long glides, flats and deeper pools. With an indicator we usually fish a two fly rig, with a heavy bug to act as an anchor with a dropper a foot above. Any dip or hesitation on your drift strike!

A bung like the Air-Lok is simply perfect for long line drifting – it’s ease of attachment and adjustment on the leader make it a winner. It’s also ultra buoyant so it will suspend the heaviest of bugs without going under. The Fulling Mill  fish pimp indicator is another one to try.

The video below shows the use of an Airlock Strike indicator, notice how quick and easy it is to attach. In this case it is simply added onto a french leader.

In this second video on a far larger river an indicator was attached to an Airflo SLN line and drifted across and down at range. Some of the takes were coming at over 25 yards downriver, in water to deep to wade.

The Dry Fly and Duo

The third method is the dry fly/duo combination – a great option for searching water, especially with milder weather or with surface insect activity. It’s not usually a first line approach, but it’s well worth taking suitable flies with you a you may come across some brief winter surface activity in the mid-day slot.

Copper johns - an ideal grayling fly for fishing the duo

Copper johns – an ideal grayling fly for fishing the duo.

Simply use a Kilnkhammer special or similar buoyant dry fly with a trailing nymph tied to the hook bend – a copper john is our favourite trailing fly, but any reasonably small nymph will do. Tippet length from hook bend to nymph is typically 18 to 24 inches depending on river depth. For the leader material use a tapered leader and co-polymer, rather than fluorocarbon.

A lovely autumn grayling.

A scale perfect autumn grayling taken on the duo.

Sometimes the grayling can switch onto an upwing fly hatch, so you can snip off the trailing nymph and fish just the dry fly. Surface action doesn’t happen a lot, but when it does, it’s probably the best graying fishing experience out there – nothing beats a grayling nailing a dry fly in the middle of a freezing cold January day.

Fishtec’s Grayling fishing tackle check list:

  • Breathable waders.
  • Thermal underwear suit.
  • Wading boots with felt soles and studs.
  • Warm head and neck wear.
  • Long, Slower action fly rod e.g 10 #3/4
  • Fly reel to balance rod.
  • Line suitable for short line nymphing – e.g French leader, SLN Euro, or shooting head running line.
  • Standard fly line on spare spool for dry fly/duo.
  • Selection of nymphs tied with various tungsten bead heads.
  • Strong enough tippet material for winter flows and snags.
  • Hook sharpener.
  • Set of strike indicators – Airlock or Fish pimps.
  • Split shot.
  • Waterproof phone case.

    Two grayling tackle 'must haves' wader studs and thermal suit.

    Two grayling tackle ‘must haves’ wader studs and thermal suit.

 

Small Stream Trouting (In Two Minutes)

Over the years we have had many superb writers contribute to the Fishtec blog, but few come as close to capturing the excitement and enthusiasm of the moment as Airflo tackle nut Stuart Smitham does. In this write up Stuart shares his latest passion – the charms of small brook fishing!

With an ever growing number taking up small stream fishing, I am one of those that has recently felt the draw of the tumbling Brook. It is a feeling like nothing else for me right now. Casting short but more accurate distances for free rising fish. That pulse of the rod tip as a good fish decides to go for gold and do a Usain Bolt on you. Sheer bliss.

Fishing a small shropshire brook.

Fishing a small Shropshire brook.

Replacing the 10 ft #7 rod with one that is 7ft 9”and a #3 line is something else and is light as a feather in comparison. Matching the rod with an Airflo Xceed reel and Super Dri Xceed fly line, I have a very good outfit that is well up to the job. Since the extension of the Sightfree tippet range to include the Tactical tippet, this has been a fantastic addition to my small stream kit.

Fishing here is Shropshire, we are quite spoiled for choice, as there are numerous small streams to choose from that thread their way through some gorgeous countryside.

When I say small stream I mean small, with brook widths of my rod length or less, but there is always the possibility of catching a really beaut of a trout, from possibly one of the smallest of rise forms. The free risers often feed more avidly just before dark or early morning. Through the day they’ll often sulk away in some way out scrub or bush tangle, that offers comfort in the current and out of the sun. Don’t get me wrong here, these fish ain’t going to ignore the flies coming past them. They’re hiding often in plain sight, right under a bush or branch and often with a bolt hole, should they need it?

A lot can happen in two minutes……

(Start the clock) One such day I was casting a small size 14 Iron Blue Dun variant on what was it’s first trial. This fly is tied with a fluorescent red butt and fluorescent red head to match. Casting and wading between long tangles of weed and casting between reed and nettle fringed banks, the wind picks up and I make a bad delivery with my fly just catching a reed stem.

(10 seconds) Making a small quick anti clockwise spin on the rod tip, the fly plucks clear and lands on a floating frond of weed. I let the stream current draw on the fly line and fly just slips into the current eddie.

(20 seconds) There are small rise forms in the next pool up, so I’m expectant, poised and nervous too, all in the same moment. The fly moves slowly down toward me as the stream current creates drag on the water surface to catch at my fly and leader. Then the fly just stops momentarily in the current with a shadow below it – with the smallest of rises the fly gets sucked down and I don’t see the shadow anymore? I lift my rod up and grip my fly line, to take up the slack line and strike!

(35 seconds) This is the point when a man with more control would sit back and just soak up the moment. I’m not built that way, so start wondering how I’m going to handle this fish, which by the way is now tearing off upstream!

(50 seconds) Bringing the reel into life I realise I have slack line around legs and weed. Tangle the line here and it’s game over. So I reel in the slack and pray the hook maintains it’s hold. This fish is not pleased about being connected to me and for good reason too. It’s a wild Brownie and I’ve just seen it’s head with some lovely looking spots on it’s flanks. It turns downstream and comes straight at me. Holding the rod tip up, this is now a very dangerous moment! Slack line or snag the line and I’m a broken man. .

(1.20) The fish then does an out of the water flip and falls on weed, which it spins on and drags my leader through it , making a bold decision I plunge the rod tip under and the Brownie pops up with it’s tail pounding away. The little fly rod is bouncing away at the rod tip and I know I have to be really careful now. With the fish tiring and starting to come toward me, I have a chance of landing this beast. I undo the French clip on my net and get ready…

(2.00) Pushing the rod tip upward I try to draw to fish toward me. He wants none of it and smashes his tail at the surface water. I make a lot ditch attempt to net this fish and lean down with the rod up and drag the Brownie of the wait net rim

In those brief moments you feel every emotion don’t you? Thrilled, paralysed in space and time. Rushes of adrenaline and your trying to keep calm. Shaking on the thrill ride that you don’t want to come off. Then praying you don’t lose the fish, which you’ve just seen and it makes it worse. Then, as quickly as the thrill starts, it ebbs away as you gaze at what is one of nature’s true marvels. A beautiful brown trout, resplendent in black ash spots with red spots intermingled. The magenta tinges on the gill plates are just sheer gorgeousness (is that a word?)

The reward - as fine a river trout as you will find anywhere...

The reward – as fine a river trout as you will find anywhere…

With the trout in the net, I am truly a happy chap. Thrilled and relieved that I landed it. So a few pics for posterity and release it to fight another day. Then onto the next pool?

Big thanks to Ceri Thomas at Airflo for encouraging me to look into other lies and areas on the stream. It was he who said to me, “there are bigger ones in there”. How right he was!!!