After one of the longest, hottest summers in living memory, fly fishers all over Britain are breathing a sigh of relief as more autumnal weather arrives. Theo Pike reveals his thoughts about how to make the most of what’s left of this year’s trout season…
As I wrote this time last year, September can be a month of mixed emotions for fly fishers – especially those of us who love stalking wild trout with dry flies.
Suddenly the best of the season seems to have been compressed into four precious weeks, and there’s hardly time to fit in last-minute trips to venues we’ve prevaricated over when midsummer conditions have been less than ideal.
So how do we make the most of this end-of-season bonanza? Here’s my own mental checklist for making the back-end of trout time a little less frantic and a lot more fulfilling…
1. Dry fly forever
Even if hurricane season on the other side of the Atlantic brings significant weather fronts barrelling over into British and Irish airspace, average river levels are likely to remain relatively low. This brings bottom-hugging fish closer to the surface in relative terms, making it easier for them to focus on prey that’s floating or trapped in the meniscus.
Better still, as the days turn shorter, cooler and wetter, mayflies and other aquatic insects will start cycling back to daytime schedules that are much more family-friendly than the pre-dawn hatches and late-night spinner falls of high summer.
It’s a perfect storm of circumstances if you’re a dedicated dry fly fisher. At this time of year, you could almost go as far as leaving your nymph box at home (or at least in the very deepest recesses of your backpack), secure in the knowledge that you’re sure to find rising fish somewhere on the stretch of water you’re fishing.
2. Behind the mask
Often it’s not the most visible flies that end-of-season fish are feeding on. Just like mayfly time, when you’re quite likely to find trout ignoring the masking hatch of big juicy Danicas while mopping up hordes of small stuff that’s virtually invisible to the human eye, September trout may be focused on less-than-obvious fare.
You’ll sometimes see big, aggressive slashes at the last of the summer caddis so juicy mouthfuls like green sedges and Welshmen’s Buttons are always worth a cast. But inconspicuous trickles of tiny pale wateries, blue-winged olives, or even the autumn’s first LDO’s, are much more likely to be the reason for regular, sipping rises.
3. Go large…
Big daddies blundering over the water are rightly famous for getting some of the season’s heaviest trout looking to the surface for an easy meal – on rivers and stillwaters alike.
You may need to beef up your tackle to fish craneflies successfully, but if the rules of your water allow, you can save time by carrying two rods – one rigged with a heavier line and leader to propel a wind-resistant daddy-long-legs without helicoptering a super-fine tippet, and the other dedicated to the minutiae at the other end of the seasonal spectrum.
4. …or very, very tiny
After a long, hot, rainless summer, many trees may start to shed their leaves early. When they do, you’ll find them depositing huge numbers of aphids on the surface. Trout can become absolutely fixated on them, a phenomenon I’d never twigged until the legendary Stuart Crofts let me into this secret with his customised miniature bug-sampling net on his beloved River Don.
At times like these, I’ve found very small palmered Griffiths Gnats and bibio-style patterns exceptionally useful for splitting the difference between clusters of aphids, river midges and even (I think) tiny willow flies.
5. Get your sneak on
Fishing the smallest flies is easiest with the lightest rods and lines you can handle. For me, this means scaling right down to an ultralight 10-foot 2-weight setup, minimising the impact of the line as it lands on the water, and creeping as close as possible to cut drag to a minimum.
According to Jeremy Lucas, most successfully-landed river trout are risen and hooked within 20 feet of your casting hand, and while there are occasions when this clearly can’t work, I’ve been surprised how often it does pay off.
Wear dark or neutral-coloured clothing, and invest in a pair of military-spec knee and shin pads to make crawling around in the rocks and mud less painful for your joints as well as your waders!
Stay low, avoid repeated false casting if you can, and resist the temptation to recast if your first delivery isn’t right on target. Trout will often roam around pools in low water, so fish out your drift, and you may be surprised by how many fish will actually swim over to eat a very slowly moving floating fly…
6. Slow is smooth
Speaking of military options, the US special forces have a motto: ‘Slow is smooth, and smooth is fast’. Low water levels mean taking your time to scan the water for fish hiding in plain sight, before planning a smoothly glacially-paced approach.
If you can, try to stay out of the water. When levels are low, even the stealthiest stalk can send alarming pressure waves radiating out around you, rippling the mirrored surface and warning even the doziest fish in the pool that something’s not quite right.
7. And finally… don’t despair!
Even when trout season feels like it’s rushing to its end, you can still look forward to targeting grayling, when most of the tactics I’ve mentioned will continue to pay dividends as late as November or even December.
And don’t miss out on flyfishing for coarse fish, either. On some town and city rivers, or where sewage treatment works raise the ambient temperature of the water and keep the food web active, you can continue catching chub and dace on midge patterns all the way into the New Year – a very valid excuse for keeping your favourite dry fly rod strung up well past the end of trout season!