This cusp of seasons is so exciting for the river angler. It opens up many more opportunities to get out fly fishing after your itended quarry. The end of the grayling season on the Eden was a little quiet, although there were some outstanding specimens caught. This is typical year-round now actually, with low numbers of grayling (and trout), but much larger than average fish turning up. My records show that the average for grayling through 2011 was 35cm, and oddly enough that for trout was only just short of this. Interestingly, I have caught grayling up to just under 50cm (18”) and trout to 56cm (22”), through the year, and this trend of few, but large fish is persisting in the new trout season. I have heard from friends on many other rain fed rivers throughout Britain that this is fairly typical, though the situation appears to be rather marked on the Eden.
Many anglers are quite happy with such a situation, but I am not. The lack of small fish is a sure sign of either excessive predation (mostly by goosanders and cormorants) or farm pollution (mostly by run-off from compacted and ploughed land). Nonetheless, the fishing is tremendous. For the last month the large dark olive hatches have been steadily building. They are currently lasting for about two hours and fish rise continuously for this period, particularly trout. During the last week or so we have also seen better March brown hatches than I have seen on Eden for many years, so this at least bodes well.
I have fished a size 19 cdc plume tip; usually a yellow quill version. A pattern has emerged. Until the hatch gets underway, one is most tempted to fish with nymph, or spider, in the deeper, slower sections. This has not been particularly productive. I have concentrated more on very shallow, riffle water, even when there is no evidence of fish. Invariably, the trout have been there, rising freely to the plume tip, while my experience in these circumstances with a size 18 (on a TMC 2499 SPBL) partridge and hare spider has been, frankly, thrilling. I think that spidering is a much under-rated approach, as is ‘free-style’ upstream nymphing (without indicator). It is probably the lack of apparent contact with the spiders or nymphs that put people off; this sort of fishing is rather demanding on concentration, but this is a shame and probably the fault of excessive reliance on duo (nymph under dry) that is the reason for this.
Of course, the easiest technique of all is the single dry fly, and this has been incredible lately on those Eden riffles. It astonishes me, even now, how big trout can hide in such thin water, or even hold there for so long. I don’t think they remain there when there is no food, but it is probably most surprising that there is indeed food in these areas for much of the day, and certainly from very early spring until deep into autumn. The mild weather we are currently having also entices the fish out of the deeper water. Control is not quite so demanding or important as on the more evenly flowing, smoother glides and drift lanes. Even big trout will decide in a flash to take a fly, so if it is about right – like the plume tip or small spider – it will usually be snatched away. The trick is not to wade in too far, if at all. I have already this last month caught quite a few big fish within a couple of metres of the bank, just by free-drifting the fly with the minimum of disturbance (for which l-to-h is brilliant). Another point: keep the fly small, smaller even than the hatching flies. Dry or spider between 20 and 18 will usually be taken preferentially to a bigger fly. A 19 plume tip is about the right size for a large dark olive, but it is dwarfed by a March brown. In the summer when the danicas or olive uprights are hatching, I never use a plume tip bigger than a 17, and trout pick it out among the comparatively giant natural duns drifting past. As a general rule of thumb, if a fly is rejected, change down at least one size.
Right now, with large darks and March browns coming off, and the trout lean and ferociously hungry after the colder months of winter, British rivers are approaching their best, much sooner than most European rivers, or Scandinavia. It is so worth the fly fisher taking a few days away from the opening reservoirs around the country to fish wild waters and get to the roots of the sport. Mind you, take care, because once you’ve fished a spring olive hatch on a shallow rain fed river with a good population of trout, stocked rainbows in still waters never quite hit the mark! Judging by the ever increasing number of anglers we see out on the rivers nowadays, it is clear that there is an avalanche of interest in this special branch of our sport; and long may this continue, because without the anglers, our rivers would be no more than agricultural sewers.
Out today on the Appleby town water and saw a cock grayling well in excess of three pounds (I momentarily thought it was a salmon kelt!) and then noticed clusters of grayling upstream of this giant. They were spawning, in water not even a foot deep, on an expanse of clean gravel: this is actually a month earlier than least year, which just reveals how mild the late winter and early spring have been. I left this visual marvel and moved off well upstream to the thin water of the weir, where again the 19 plume tip was taken by half a dozen eagerly feeding wild brownies. I noticed that for the first time in a month, since the start of the significant large dark olive hatches, there were actually more March browns in evidence. These are at least as big as an olive upright, and relentlessly hunted by trout. Hatching off very shallow water – sometimes mere inches – this ephemerid seems rarely to make it down onto the deeper, glide water. If they do not lift off very quickly, marauding trout are certain to find them. Many of us feel that the historical reverence of danica mayfly feeding, which is so often a disappointment, should really be assigned to the March brown.
By the way, those of you who are comparatively new to the river, might like to consider that the quality of the modern fly fishing rods is such that the line rating standard has dropped to a #3, while we increasingly see #2 weights. What this means is that we can explore ever-finer technique, with spider, nymph and particularly dry fly, than was ever possible with the heavier tools commonly used even five years ago. My own personal favourite is the Greys Streamflex XF2 10′ #2, which, with a leader-to-hand rig, is simply the most delicate outfit I have ever had the joy to use. It has further opened up the potential of particularly challenging conditions for me, such as low, clear water, and trout or grayling feeding selectively on micro dry flies. Finally, such fine fishing tackle allows the minimum of disturbance, which invariably equates to significantly improved results on the river.