River Fly Fishing for Beginners: 10 Top Tips

river-trout

There are few fish more beautiful than a wild trout.
Image courtesy of Dom Garnett.

Ever fancied fishing your local river for trout? Whether your usual diet is stillwater angling, or you’re a coarse fisher looking to try something new, you’re in for a treat. In fact, contrary to what you might think, there’s a heck of a lot of water available these days. Much of it is also cheap and lightly fished.

So where do you begin? While it’s a different game to stillwater trout fishing, it’s not rocket science to get started on a stream. Here are Dom Garnett’s ten tips on essential tackle and wild trout technique, before you wade in:

1. Where can I find affordable fly fishing near me?

urban-trout-fishing

Urban fly fishing is sometimes free of charge!
Image: Frazer McBain

Don’t assume all river fishing is exclusive or expensive. Chalkstream fishing can cost a bomb; but much of the rest is cheap as chips. Smaller local clubs are one excellent source. Various token and passport schemes are another, including the Westcountry Angling Passport, Wye and Usk Passport and Go Wild in Eden.

If you don’t mind a bit of accidental company, there are also some fantastic urban locations with free fly fishing on your EA license. Fishtec blogger Theo Pike’s book Trout in Dirty Places is well worth a look for ideas.

2. Which fly rods are best for river fishing?

feather-light-fly-fishing-gear

Feather-light kit is a joy to use; but start with simple, affordable gear.
Image courtesy of Dom Garnett.

So let’s cut straight to the basics and look at simple tackle for river fishing. For small to mid sized rivers, I would go for a short (7ft – 8ft) light trout rod with a weight rating of 3 – 4. This length is ideal for small stream with lots of tree cover or slightly cramped conditions.

You needn’t spend a fortune. In fact, the Shakespeare Agility range is awesome for the money, starting at less than £60. Alternatively, Airflo’s River and Stream Starter Kit has all you need for just £69.99.

For larger rivers, a longer rod has advantages. If it’s relatively open, with bigger glides of water and more space, a 10ft rod in a 4oz weight is what I tend to use. It just gives me that little bit extra reach and control.

3. Reels, fly lines and leaders?

Leeda Profil Tapered Leader

Stock up with a few tapered leaders. Costing less than £3, they’ll help your casting and presentation.
Featured: Leeda tapered leaders from Fishtec.

A reel with bling is not terribly important, so I’d suggest you choose something that’s good value for money and functional. Cash you save here should be invested in a decent fly line instead. Go for a floating, weight forward fly line to match your rod. Airflo Velocity Lines are among the most competitive, from only £19.99. If you have a bit more to spend, or you’re looking for ideas to add to your birthday or Christmas wish list, Cortland lines such as the Classic 444 are excellent.

Next, you need some leaders. The “leader” is the length of mono that goes between fly line and fly. Tapered leaders (3-4lbs strength) are best for ease of use – designed to help turn the fly over and make your cast land neatly. These tend to come in 9ft lengths, which is ideal to start with. You can use much longer leaders for shy fish and open water, or indeed a bit shorter for bushy streams, but 9ft is a good start.

You could also get some finer line (say 3lbs or so) to use as “tippet” material. In simple terms, the “tippet” is a couple of feet or so of lighter line that goes between your leader and the fly. Not only is a final section of finer line harder for the trout to spot, it also means that if you get snagged you only lose a little bit of line.

4. Other essentials for river trout fishing

trout scoop net

A trout scoop net has ultra fine mesh to protect delicate fins.
Featured: Airflo’s Streamtec Pan Net (above) is a good choice for just £12.99.

There are a handful of other things I wouldn’t be without for river fishing. One is a pair of waders – a must if you want to reach the best spots. A simple, functional pair will do just fine.

Another must is a pair of polarising sunglasses, which protect your eyes and make fish spotting easier. Again, you don’t need to spend a bomb (I usually spend about £20 because I’m great at losing and breaking them).

I’d also take two simple products to help your lines and flies float or sink: a tub of LedaSink and a tub of Muclin.

Finally, I like to use a wading vest to store odds and ends, because typical fishing bags are a pain when wading and I like to keep my arms as free as possible! You might also grab a portable scoop net to clip to your back.

5. Suss out your river

trout fishing in strong current

Don’t fear the flow: trout love current and oxygen.
Image courtesy of Dom Garnett.

It’s tempting just to find a river and start casting. A better plan is to watch the water for a while and enjoy slowly immersing yourself in the little world that is a trout stream. To start with, smaller rivers and streams are easier than the bigger waters. The fish here can be spooky at close quarters, but it’s much easier to find them and suss out the best places to fish.

See if you can spot rises, fish and anything that’s hatching, along with any features you think might hold fish. Beginners quite often like to fish where the water is slow or even slack, because it’s easier fishing. However, trout prefer the flow. It brings their food to them and provides oxygen rich water. So while they like obstructions like boulders, submerged bushes and other little sheltering spots, they also like to be near the current, where insects that hatch or fall in are carried towards them.

One tip I often share when guiding is to watch bubbles and little bits of debris on the surface of a river. These will take a particular path, like a mini conveyor belt, indicating exactly where the current tends to carry the things trout feed on.

6. Be stealthy

quiet trout fishing

Keep a low profile whenever possible.
Image courtesy of Dom Garnett.

Whether or not your first attempts are successful, river trout will quickly teach you the need for stealth and caution. They tend to be shyer than stocked fish, and the lower and clearer the water the more this is the case. As a rather tall and sometimes clumsy human being, I’ve learned this the hard way!

Always wade slowly and carefully, avoiding sudden movements that send out too many ripples. It’s a balance between getting close enough to catch the fish, but not so close they bolt for it.

Beyond obvious things, like not casting a big shadow or stomping about, try wading and casting upstream. Trout will naturally face into the current (upstream), so if you approach them from behind, or from “downstream”, you’ll get closer to them without spooking them.

7. Make your casts count

You’ve found a nice looking spot and perhaps even seen a fish. Now comes the moment of truth. If there’s space, you might manage a standard, overhead cast. If it’s cramped, a roll or side cast might be needed. Side casts are especially useful to get your fly line under trees and make the most of limited space.

Another golden rule is to make your cast land as gently as possible. If everything splats down on the water, the trout are likely to spook. Aim as if you were casting just above the water.

Perhaps the most common beginner’s mistake is to have too many casts. Rather than thrashing the water, it’s much better to watch carefully and make just one or two careful deliveries at a time. There’s no rush, and one good cast is worth ten poor shots.

8. Get a handle on local hatches

insects to inspire flies

Start to learn what insects hatch on your favourite rivers and streams.
Image courtesy of Dom Garnett.

Identifying fly life is something that can scare or baffle newcomers to fly fishing. Indeed, read some of the more obsessive articles and you might think you need a doctorate in bug life to catch fish. It isn’t true. In fact a lot of the time, you’ll catch on “general fit” fly patterns if you present them naturally.

Of course, it’s always going to be helpful to get a rough idea of what’s hatching. It’s fun too – and you can do it at your own pace, one or two species at a time. Latin names and pedantic amounts of detail don’t matter – but do try and get a rough idea of the size and colour of what hatches. The Pocket Guide to Matching the Hatch (Lapsley and Bennett) is a lovely pocket sized guidebook for under a tenner that will get you off on the right foot.

9. Stock up with some proven river flies

River fly patterns can quickly get confusing, so keep it simple to begin with. If you’re used to stillwater fishing, you’ll find the flies a lot smaller and more realistic (typically sizes 14 to 18 are best to start with). I would take a simple Klinkhammer Emerger in a few colours (an excellent and easy to spot floating fly), along with the F-Fly and perhaps a few little Caddis. As for nymphs, you cannot go far wrong with a beaded Hare’s Ear and a Pheasant Tail Nymph.

10. Simple tactics to catch a fish

a day on a trout stream

Time well spent: little beats a day on the trout stream.
Image courtesy of Dom Garnett.

If you can see fish rising now and again, you could start with a dry fly. Watch carefully and try to see where the fish is coming up from (the rings at the surface or “rise forms” will travel with the flow, so the actual trout could be another few feet away). Do the rises keep occurring in the same place?

Much of the art of successful river fishing is sussing how to make your fly look natural. Hence much of the time, the angler will aim for “dead drift” (i.e. letting the fly moving at the exact same speed as the current, just like a real one that was hatching or had fallen in). To get this just right takes practice. You’ll need to watch the current carefully and keep picking up the slack fly line after you’ve cast, so you don’t have yards of the stuff dancing about on the water.

If nothing is rising, or you are struggling to get the fish to take a dry fly, then a sinking nymph is the best way to catch. The easiest way to do this is to use the so-called “New Zealand dropper”. All this means is taking a buoyant dry fly like a Klinkhammer or Caddis, and using this to suspend a sinking fly. All you do is tie a little light mono (say 40cm or so of 3lbs line) to the bend of the dry fly hook, and then attach your nymph to the other end. When the trout takes the sunk fly, the dry fly will pull under. Time to strike!

Hopefully, that first river trout will be a magical experience to make your rod bend and your heart race. It might be a fish that leads to a slightly lighter wallet and a lot of happily lost hours on running water; but you really can’t put a price on something as delightful as a day on a trout stream.

Tackle up for river fly fishing: quick checklist

Further reading and more from our blogger….

We hope these tips help you to approach your local river with confidence and catch that first wild trout. Obviously there’s a lot to learn, so do take it steady and move at your own pace. Books, articles and lots of practice are sure to help- it’s also well worth keeping an eye on the Fishtec Blog, and the Turrall Flies blog, which Dom also contributes to.

For a real head start in fly fishing on rivers, another excellent step is to book a guide. With a qualified instructor you could learn more in a day than you might in many months on your own. Dom offers guided river trout fly fishing in Devon and Somerset, along with sessions for coarse fish right through the year. Find further details, along with his books, further articles and more at www.dgfishing.co.uk

River Specials – 5 Early Season Fly Patterns For Flowing water

The river trout season is now underway across the majority of the UK! It’s been a tough start, with fluctuating river levels and snow.

However with Easter approaching things are looking much better- but the question is which flies to use? Here we pick our top five proven essential river patterns from Caledonia fly.

Essential early season river flies

Essential early season river flies.

1. Klink and Dink Special -Size 12

The ‘klink & dink’ method is extremely effective in spring. By adding a trailing nymph you can cover the best of both worlds; sub surface nymphing and dry fly. This special Klinkhammer from Caledonia fly has a built in ring for you to easily attach your tippet. It also helps improve hook up rates when fish strike at the dry fly; there is less chance of your line slipping down and masking the point.

2. Gold Bead Hares ear – Size 14

A classic fly pattern that is hard to beat. Imitates almost anything, including cased caddis, upwing fly nymphs and even tiny fish fry. The glint of the gold bead and rib will entice even the most lethargic of trout, while the scruffy hares ear body suggests something ‘buggy’ and edible. In a smaller size it works perfectly with the fly above as the ‘dink’.

3. Hot Spot PTN jig -Size 12

This jig fly is designed to fish point up, bounced hard across the bottom. The red thorax offers a hot spot that can trigger a strike, whilst the peacock herl gives an impression of life. This dark fly stands out well in slightly coloured water, making it perfect for early season when the rivers are on the high side. A heavy fly, It is best fished on a French leader or drifted under a strike indicator.

4. March Brown Upright – Size 12

The March brown and the Brook dun are two important spring upwing fly hatches that you will run into on the river at some point. This imitation from Caladonia fly can be used for both. It sits flush to the surface and is super buoyant. In addition it’s deer hair wing casts a nice silhouette that appeals to dun feeding fish. A real winner that has produced many fish for us.

5. Parachute Large Dark Olive – Size 14

The ‘bread and butter’ spring fly hatch, the large dark olive is a fly pattern you should never be without during the spring months. This parachute version sits nicely in the surface film and inspires confident rises. It is also a brilliant generalisitic ‘searching’ pattern that will bring trout up that are opportunistically looking for a surface meal.

Early season trout

Early season trout – a victim of the hot spot PTN nymph.

How You Can Support The Wild Trout Trust

Monitoring our rivers is a vital part of the Wild Trout Trust’s work Image source

Monitoring our rivers is a vital part of the Wild Trout Trust’s work
Image source: Ceri Thomas

There must have been something in the air (or the water) during the mid-late 1990s. Maybe it was an altruistic reaction to the pure me-first consumerism of the 1980s, or a slow-burn realisation that if we wanted good things to happen, we’d have to get together and do them ourselves, but the last years of the 20th century saw a quiet revolution in many people’s attitude to looking after our rivers.

In Wales, Devon and Cornwall, small groups of locals founded the first rivers trusts: the Wye and Usk Foundation, and the West Country Rivers Trust. In south London, the same thing started happening on the Wandle. And, somewhere in the western chalk streams, a few far-sighted trout fishermen decided they’d form the Wild Trout Society, which soon became the Wild Trout Trust. Theo Pike takes a closer look at the Wild Trout Trust (WTT), explaining what they do and how you can support them.

What is The Wild Trout Trust?

The health of trout in a river is a good indication of the health of the whole river

The health of trout in a river is a good indication of the health of the whole river
Image source: Ceri Thomas

Today, the rivers trust movement covers every river catchment in the country from source to sea, and the Wild Trout Trust is a well-established conservation charity that can’t have escaped the notice of anyone who fishes and cares for trout in the UK and beyond.

Put simply, if you’re interested in the health of a river or natural lake anywhere in Britain or Ireland, the WTT is here for you. The charity’s tight-knit group of 13 full and part-time members of staff (with more than 150 years of river-mending experience between them) delivers practical advice and hands-on habitat projects that may start with trout, but can often stretch way beyond this iconic indicator species to the health of the whole river or lake, and even its wider catchment.

How does The Wild Trout Trust help?

WTT-advisory

A WTT advisory visit highlighted this obstruction. “The prolonged burst swimming speeds required to pass make this structure an issue for fish passage.”
Image source: The Wild Trout Trust Advisory Visit – River Esk (North Yorkshire)

As you might expect, there’s a tried and tested formula for providing advice. First, there’s the advisory visit, when WTT conservation officers walk a stretch of river with all the interested parties, making notes, discussing options, and providing a written report with recommendations and sometimes project costings.

There are more than 600 AV reports available for download from the WTT website, and I’ve always thought that one of the Trust’s greatest gifts is providing ordinary people with knowledge and confidence to speak truth to power.

An advisory visit report, or a more detailed project proposal written up by a WTT officer to support a permit application, will often give you all the ammunition you need to approach the Environment Agency and say, “Look, here’s what we want to do for our river. Can we make it happen, please?

Practical help

river-conservation

Conservation work in progress on the Little Dart River, Devon
Image source: Shutterstock

This may actually be enough to get things going, but if you want to take your project further with the WTT, the next stage is the River Habitat Workshop, when the Trust’s officers will come back with tools and equipment to teach you and the other members of your group the techniques you need to improve your river yourselves.

It’s all about sharing solidly science-based knowledge for everyone’s benefit, and the Trust has published a comprehensive Wild Trout Survival Guide (now on its fourth edition) with detailed supplementary CDs covering chalkstreams, upland rivers and urban river restoration guidelines. There’s also an annual Get-Together, with locations rotating around the UK, and periodic Trout in the Town conclaves, when urban river groups can meet and share their experiences.

How you can help – the Wild Trout Trust’s auction

WTTauction

Place your bids in this year’s auction to help the Wild Trout Trust raise funds
Source: The Wild Trout Trust auction

Last year alone, the WTT delivered 196 advisory visits and 81 practical events, and helped to improve 365km of river with 3,600 volunteers. Some of this was funded as part of other projects with landowners, fishing clubs, rivers trusts and government agencies, especially the Environment Agency in England, and the WTT’s overheads are kept to an absolute minimum – for instance, all staff work from home. But every charity needs to find other sources of income too, and that’s where the Trust’s famous annual auction comes in.

In 2017, the auction raised an amazing £98,000 – by far the WTT’s most important single fundraising event of the year, allowing the charity to unlock as much as £490,000 in match and other project funding on a massive 5:1 ratio, as Kris Kent explains in this article for Eat Sleep Fish. The funds also help to keep the WTT’s team of officers on the road and in the river, paying for tools and equipment like chainsaws and waders for them and the volunteers they’re teaching.

This year, as usual, the benefits of the auction will flow both ways, not just helping the Trust to deliver vastly more than would otherwise be possible – but also providing bidders with rare and exciting opportunities to fish in many different places, sometimes with people they’d never otherwise get to meet, or even to buy rare books and other pieces of memorabilia. (I’m still kicking myself for missing out on that set of flies tied by Emma Watson – who knows what kinds of magic I could have worked with those?)

From years of personal experience, too, I know it’s just as satisfying to donate one or more lots to the auction, showing your water to someone new, and knowing you’re part of a virtuous circle that’s making our rivers better for everyone.

So, whether you’d like to expand your fishing horizons this year, or you’re simply motivated to help one of the UK’s most hands-on charities make even more of a difference to all our rivers, keep an eye out for the Wild Trout Trust charity auction from Friday 9th to Sunday 18th March, and please bid generously. The next wild trout you catch will thank you for it!

10 things you might not know about wild trout

The Wild brown trout is an ancient creature

The wild brown trout is an ancient creature
Image source: Ceri Thomas

  1. Wild brown trout have been present in north-west Europe for more than 700,000 years, throughout several major glaciations. Their natural range extends from Ireland in the west, to the Ural Mountains and the Caspian Sea in the east, and from Iceland in the north to Africa’s Atlas mountains in the south.
  1. Trout need very different kinds of habitat through their life stages – from silt-free gravel as eggs and alevins, to deeper and faster water with lots of marginal cover as older juveniles, to even deeper pools with more habitat diversity as adults.
  1. Brown trout can live as long as 20 years.
  1. The British record rod caught wild brown trout is 31lbs 12oz (14.4kg) caught on Loch Awe by Brian Rutland in 2002.
  1. Evolution means every river holds wild trout that are very slightly different – they’ve become adapted to the special conditions of the habitat where they live.
  1. By contrast, many strains of farmed trout have been kept in captivity for more than 30 generations, becoming adapted to life in artificial tanks and raceways. This makes them much less likely to survive in the wild, but their behaviour may disrupt wild trout in the meantime.
  1. The easiest way to tell a wild trout from a stocked trout is to look at the condition of their fins. Many stocked fish suffer from damage to their pectoral and dorsal fins (often healed, leaving them kinked or rounded). However, wild fish can also suffer from abraded fins and tails after spawning.
  1. Trout often become noticeably spottier as spawning time approaches, due to redistribution of pigmentation. Some of these spots may fade away again, but others stay to ‘fill in’ gaps between previous spots as the fish gets bigger.
  1. Trout and salmon can sometimes interbreed. Studies on the River Tweed have shown that up to 4-5% of juvenile salmonids can actually be trout/salmon hybrids.
  1. Even ‘resident’ brown trout migrate surprising distances within river systems. On the River Deveron, one 55cm female trout swam from the Blackwater to Montcoffer, a distance of 84km, within a month of being caught, tagged and released, before turning around and coming all the way back again!

About the author

Theo Pike is a freelance environmental, fishing and marketing writer. He’s also Chair of Trustees of the South East Rivers Trust, 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.

From April 2018, Theo will be working with the Wild Trout Trust as their Trout in the Town Officer (South) helping to boost the impact of this programme across the south of England and Wales.

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.

Should you need further inspiration, be sure to give them a follow on Facebook, or check out the free SSFS ezine, which is simply jam packed with fantastic salmon fishing imagery, stories and tactical tips.

5 Grayling Fishing Tips

Crisp, cold winter air with frost on the ground can mean only one thing – grayling time! Fishtec’s Ceri Thomas shares 5 top grayling fishing tips for success on the river this winter.

The grayling

The grayling – a winter loving fish.

1. Find the shoal for action. Grayling are a naturally gregarious fish – find one, you will find more. Grayling shoals often live and grow to maturity their whole life in the same pool or run in a river – so if you want a quick start to the action, head to where you found them last winter, they could now be even bigger.

2. Want a specimen? Cover ground and explore. BIG grayling are much more solitary than standard size schoolies and are found in smaller pods of 2 or 3. You won’t often find them mixing with their smaller brethren, so if you are catching lots of hand sized ‘shots’ then don’t linger.

A decent grayling, part of a small pod of big fish.

A decent grayling, part of a small pod of big fish.

3. Be strike happy – Whether you are drifting a strike indicator, watching a french leader, or a dry fly with a nymph suspended under it, if you see ANY stop, twitch or subtle movement then strike! Yes, this could be the bottom or a leaf, but often it is a fish and striking finds out for sure.

If you see the leader stop then STRIKE

If you see the leader stop then STRIKE

4. Keep things sharp – Hook points suffer when grayling nymphing, which usually requires fishing your flies hard on the deck. Checking and then maintaining a sharp hook point can be the difference between success and failure – so invest in a hook sharpener and use it, regularly!

5. Red, purple or pink – catch like stink. Use of flies with bright colours as trigger points can often result in a red letter day, IF the fish are keyed on them, they will often actively and aggressively seek them out. It pays to always have a ‘trigger’ nymph as part of your team of flies, alongside some more naturalistic patterns.

Grayling flies with trigger points can work wonders

Grayling flies with trigger points can work wonders!

For more grayling fishing tips, be sure to check out our comprehensive Grayling fishing guide here.

River Pollution: How Anglers Can Help

There are lots of ways anglers can help, including reporting anything suspicious Image source: Steffan Jones

There are lots of ways anglers can help, including reporting anything suspicious
Image source: Steffan Jones

All anglers understand instinctively that good water quality underpins every aspect of our rivers’ health. That’s why, a couple of weeks ago, renowned international competition fly-fisher (and regular Fishtec customer) Terry Bromwell took matters into his own hands…

He’d heard reports that a sewage works in south Wales was pumping out slugs of raw sewage into the River Rhondda, and he wanted to investigate these rumours for himself.

Arriving at the waterside, he was disgusted to see the river below the treatment works running milky white with toilet paper and other sanitary products. Lack of recent rain meant that the river’s natural level was low, and he filmed the effluent pumping forcefully out of the treatment works for many minutes before the flow finally abated.

According to his sources, this was happening several times every day, with thousands of gallons pouring into the unfortunate little river each time.

At the time of writing, the official response to Terry’s viral video is still uncertain, but watching something like this is horrifying even if you haven’t spent much of your angling life in the shadow of a notorious sewage treatment works (like I have).

UPDATE: Welsh Water finally took notice of Terry’s video and investigated the pollution. They are now working to fix the issue.

Back to the bad old days?

The River Usk

A tributary of The River Usk was badly affected by pollution in 2016.
Image source: Shutterstock

Of course, this begs the question: after years of improvement thanks to privatisation of the water industry and European water quality directives, is the water quality in our rivers actually getting worse again?

Frustratingly, the answer to that question rather depends who you ask, how ‘worse’ is measured, and even which set of statistics you’re looking at. For instance, the recent drop from 29 per cent of England’s rivers enjoying good health in 2014, to just 17 per cent in 2015, and 14 per cent in 2016, can be explained by a new, tighter ‘one out, all out’ measurement regime.

But if you measure water quality in dead fish and bugs, then yes, it seems clear that many rivers are suffering. And it’s also clear that Terry’s home country of Wales has been hit by more than its fair share of aquatic catastrophes in recent months:

  • In March 2016, a pollution incident on the Llynfi Dulas (a tributary of the Usk) killed at least 2,000 fish over 5km of river.
  • In December 2016, a slurry leak near Tregaron led to the deaths of 1,000 fish on the upper Teifi.
  • A few weeks later, another slurry spill was reported from a tributary of the Towy near Carmarthen.
  • In June 2017 it was the Teifi’s turn again, when a slug of liquid waste escaped from an anaerobic digester at Lampeter.

A nationwide problem

The River Eden

The River Eden is a Special Site of Scientific Interest
Image source: ATGImages

Yet this uplift in agricultural pollution isn’t just a Welsh problem: Wye & Usk Foundation Director Simon Evans has told me that he’s deeply worried by high-nutrient runoff from free-range chicken farms in the Lugg and Arrow catchments.

Meanwhile, having been sounding the alarm about intensive dairy units in the Eden valley for years, England fly-fishing team coach Jeremy Lucas recently captured unmistakeable photo evidence of a slurry trailer dragging away from the River Eden after discharging unknown quantities of waste into the waters of this Special Site of Scientific Interest.

And it wasn’t long ago that environmental campaigner George Monbiot discovered, completely by chance, a constant stream of liquid manure running into the little River Culm in Devon.

To be fair, for every farmer or utility company employee who doesn’t care or can’t afford to implement best-practice pollution management, there are probably a dozen who are passionate about protecting the environment.

But this new report from WWF, which reveals that more than half of the sewage overflow sites in England and Wales are discharging into our rivers at least once a month (and 14% once a week!) gives us a real sense of the scale of the problem.

Time for us to act

Foam pollutants

Foam pollutants swirling across a river
Image source: Shutterstock

Now, at a time when the impacts of the Brexit referendum make wide-ranging deregulation look likely, it’s time for all anglers to follow the example of the watchful fishermen I’ve mentioned above, and become even more vigilant in our role as guardians of our rivers.

We’re out there in all weathers, we know when something’s not quite right, and as Terry has recently shown us, we’ve got all the power of social media right here at our fingertips if the proper authorities don’t seem to be taking problems seriously enough.

Recent evidence suggests that the courts are now prepared to fine offenders much more heavily – for example, Thames Water was recently handed a record £20 million penalty for repeatedly polluting the Thames.

Better still, recent changes mean that compensation money can now be channelled into repairing environmental damage, via enforcement undertakings, instead of sending it straight to the coffers of the Treasury. And even when long court cases aren’t successful, public pressure can force polluters to invest in improvements like Welsh Water’s new sewage treatment improvements at Llyn Padarn.

How can we help?

Sewage works polluting river

Effluent from sewage works flowing into a UK river
Image source: Silent Corners

So how can we all get personally involved in spotting – and stopping – pollution problems? Here’s a list of ideas I’ve been developing…

Support angling passport schemes

It’s obvious once you know about it, but one of the reasons for setting up these schemes was to incentivise farmers to look after the vital headwaters of many major rivers. If landowners see how much we value these small streams, they’ll look after them better, which benefits everybody in the long term… and of course we can help them to spot potential problems too.

Go fishing in the rain

River restoration professionals always jump at the chance to explore their catchments in the most horrible conditions – taking so-called ‘wet weather walks’ to see where the water really goes when it falls out of the sky, and what it looks like when it reaches the river. With runoff from roads, farmyards, badly-ploughed fields and more, this can sometimes be a real eye-opener.

Follow your nose

If something doesn’t smell right, it’s probably wrong, and you’ll often sniff out pollution before you see it. Another sign of water quality problems is ‘sewage fungus’ – a grey, gelatinous or feathery mass of bacteria which grows in the presence of very high nutrient levels like those provided by slurry or sewage.

Look out for misconnections

On streams and rivers everywhere, many insidious pollution problems are caused by toilets, sinks and washing machines being wrongly plumbed into rainwater pipes instead of foul sewers. If there’s a nasty smell, or if you can see milky discharges, toilet paper or sanitary products in your river, chances are there’s a misconnection somewhere nearby. But on the upside, the local water company should be keen to get it fixed (and it’s illegal for homeowners to refuse).

Get trained as a riverfly monitor

Once a month, a 3-minute kick sample can tell you almost everything you need to know about the health of your local river. Different species of aquatic invertebrates are differently sensitive to pollution, and repeated sampling can locate the source and even provide evidence for a prosecution. Find out more from the Riverfly Partnership website.

Join a local pollution monitoring programme

As well as riverfly monitoring, more and more rivers trusts are setting up networks of local volunteers to spot pollution and help to deal with incidents. Some water companies are recognising the benefits of citizen science too: for example, Thames Water is working in partnership with the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) to run ‘outfall safaris’ and identify problem areas for their surface outfall remediation programme. They’ve also launched a rapid response unit which aims to get to the site of any reported pollutions within an hour.

Make that call!

Wherever you live and fish, keep one or both of these pollution hotline numbers in your phone, and don’t think twice about calling if you spot a pollution problem:

England, Scotland and Northern Ireland: 0800 80 70 60

Wales: 0300 065 3000

It’s far better to be safe than sorry, and every report helps to build up a picture of what’s going on. Your vigilance really can make a difference.

And if all else fails… be like Terry, and put the power of social media to work for you too.

About the author

Theo Pike is a freelance environmental, fishing and marketing writer. He’s also Chair of Trustees of the South East Rivers Trust, 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.

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 Rivers Trust, 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 Rivers Trust, 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