Progress – Fly Fishing in the high country

Rene Harrop Fishtec Airflo

Beginning with winter solstice, the journey to spring in my part of the world is measured in pitifully small increments of advancement in temperature and daylight. While the improvements can seem barely noticeable through December and January, hope begins to appear with the arrival of February when average daily highs hover around the freezing mark and more than an hour of fishing light has begun since the shortest day of the year.

A fishing day for me is anytime I am not fighting ice encrusted guides or the risk of frostbitten fingers. And while winter conditions remain a constant throughout the month, a reduction of subzero nights and a northerly migrating sun bring a progressive increase to the number of hours I am willing to spend pursuing trout on the Henry’s Fork when winter’s worst lies in the rearview mirror.

Rene Harrop Airflo

 

Although the arrival of February brings a fairly significant increase in opportunity for casting to rising midge feeders, most who fish above the 5,000 foot level will spend more time probing the depths of deeper runs and pools for the larger residents who will remain disinterested in the exertion of surface feeding until emerging insects are larger and the water warms to above 40ᵒ F.

Whether fishing nymphs or streamers; deep and slow are the bywords for fishing water only a few degrees above freezing. And unlike juvenile trout which will occupy the shallow edges, adults are prone to the comfort and security of depth in their selection of winter habitat. With metabolism slowed by cold temperature, big trout do not seem to require a high volume of food nor are they often willing to expend energy or fat stores in pursuit of fast moving prey or food drifting outside a distinct comfort zone.

Rene Harrop Airflo

In cold water, mature trout seem inclined to hug the stream bottom where the water is generally warmer and most food sources are concentrated. Upward or lateral movement of more than a foot or two is the exception rather than the rule for winterized fish which feed opportunistically on organisms drifting close by rather than chasing down a meal.

Aside from midge larvae, which are about the only aquatic insects to be truly active in mid-winter, trout will not generally see a consistent food image during times when cold water dormancy limits the activity and availability of aquatic organisms. Therefore, acute selective feeding behavior associated with trout isolating their attention on a single insect species or other source of nutrition is seldom a problem through most of the winter months.

Since the opportunity to feed during this period is usually based on a random selection of nymphs, larvae, and other fish, I do not usually concern myself with precise imitation when selecting a fly pattern. A typical nymphing rig might include a heavy, black or brown stonefly pattern in size 6 or 8 and a smaller Pheasant Tail or Hare’s Ear nymph in size 14 or 16. The flies are tied to move naturally with the current by utilizing thin rubber legs or soft, flexible materials like marabou and Partridge hackle.

My winter streamers in size 6 and 8 are relatively small in comparison to what I would normally tie on in other seasons, but they seem to work just fine and represent much less work when fishing with chilled hands and a lighter fly rod. And like the nymphs, I want my streamers to display action without excessive manipulation with the rod or line. At times, I will also fish a nymph and streamer in tandem.

A 9 foot 6 weight rod allows me to switch back and forth between nymphs, streamers, and dries with relative ease, which is particularly helpful when changing rods can mean a considerable hike through knee deep snow.

My line is a double taper floater, which allows me to manage the drift with mending techniques that keep the fly moving slowly and close to the bottom. And I try to maintain a dead drift whether fishing nymphs or streamers when temperatures are at their lowest.

Rene Harrop Airflo elite-lichen

A 10 to 12 foot leader allows the fly to sink quickly to the proper depth, and I will add a small split shot or two in deeper or quicker currents. In the interest of controlling fly drift and detecting the always subtle take, I try to limit my cast to 30 feet or less.

In the high country, the rewards of winter fishing are not always defined by the size or number of the catch, especially on those welcome days in February when calm winds and a climbing sun can mask the reality that true spring weather can lay two or more months into the future. And at times like this when progress finally becomes noticeable, simply being outdoors and fishing can be reward enough.

Airflo Streamtec Nantec Rod 10ft 4/5#

As I write this snowed under my uni work, nothing is more desirable than summer evenings fishing the local rivers of South Wales. Good weather and free time allowed quite a few of these pleasant short trips last season. However despite the wistful tone, one such trip does not provoke such fond memories. Anyone who fishes or has fished the rivers of South Wales can empathise with anglers who have to overcome the myriad of obstacles that hinder the approach to the river. During one session on my local River Taff, a stumble down a steep embankment resulted in a small but unwelcome tear near the knee of my chest waders. Despite this, the urge to fish persisted. After around one hour of fishing however a slip, on what seemed to be a section of AstroTurf in the river resulted in yet another comedic fall and the dreaded “snap” that anglers immediately recognise as the sound of a broken fly rod.

The next day saw the rather mournful drive to Fishtec’s Brecon outlet and the search for a new fishing rod. After contemplating the choices that were available, I eventually settled on the purchase of an Airflo Streamtec Nantec 10ft AFTM 4/5 rod.  The low price of Airflo’s Streamtec range seemed to provide a neat “quick fix” solution to the absence of a 10ft rod in my river armoury. Being a self-confessed “tackle tart” I can admit to being somewhat sceptical at the capabilities of the Streamtec at such a low price (£109.99); how wrong I was. At this price, the Streamtec Nantec is an absolute steal, compared to other fly rods of the same specification from the likes of Greys, Guideline, G Loomis and Hanak, which while requiring substantially more investment that the Streamtec, yet in my experience, offer minimal advantages in performance.

Airflo Streamtec Nantec Fly Rod

The ideal all round river rod!

For the river angler, the Streamtec offers superb versatility being equally adept to handling various European nymphing techniques, the popular New Zealand-style method and presenting dry flies. It is often the case that during a session on the river, I will carry two rods each set up differently in order to minimise time alternating methods. As a result the 10ft Streamtec has primarily been used as a nymphing rod, particularly “French nymphing”. For this, the Streamtec has excelled, as it has in other methods such as light weight nymphs in the “Spanish style” and for using heavier bugs and nymphs in the Czech fashion targeting grayling hugging the bottom; as has recently been the case through the winter and the rather adverse weather conditions.  When playing trout and grayling the Streamtec offers a fine hook hold and is capable of managing even the most savage of takes of a trout in fast runs and the slow monotonous lunges of a grayling in the deeper runs of the river.

The Nano technology that Airflo incorporates into their range of fly fishing rods allows the weight of the rod to be kept at a minimum, while not compromising strength. This weight reduction certainly helps alleviate the strains of fishing at a full arm’s length in order keep control over the indicator.

The alignment spots that the Streamtec has on each of its sections are a particular feature that is worth drawing attention to. This is a seemingly small and for some perhaps an insignificant addition, yet any change that helps minimise time spent tackling up in favour of even the smallest increase of time on the water is one to be appreciated. Since its purchase the rod has survived the stress of many river sessions. Not only has it remained a rather attractive piece of kit despite the treks through brambles and woodland encountered on the approach to many rivers in the area, but the cork handle and the finish of the blank have survived quite a few more Charlie Chaplin like falls in and out of the water.

The one feature that does seem missing however is the lack of a fighting butt. This is a feature that I usually look for in many of the rods over 9ft that I use on both rivers and lakes in order to make the use of a rod, and playing a fish more comfortable.

That said however, there is very little to dislike about the 10ft Streamtec. At £109.99 it can be considered a bargain for what it offers and a significant advantage over many other rods of the same type.  Most importantly is the fact that the Streamtec is capable of handling the vast majority of situations that a river angler is likely to encounter throughout the year.

With Airflo offering three other lengths and line ratings of the Streamtec Nantec, there will certainly be more additions to my collection of river rods ready for the opening the trout season while my 10ft 4/5 Streamtec Nantec remains my preferred choice of rod for my river fishing.

See the range of Airflo Streamtec Nantec Rods here

A day on the River Ebbw

After nearly a week off work due to sickness, I couldn’t wait to get out of the house! There is only so many spaces in a fly box you can fill when you’re housebound! The dog looked on in anticipation, while I was at the vice, waiting to be taken for a walk Friday evening. So away with the scissors, and on with the harness, Jess and I went for a walk down the Taff  trail from Abercynon towards Cilfynydd. The trail runs more or less parallel along the river for nearly a mile or so and at every opportunity we would go to the edge of the river to jump in… Well, the dog would. I’d be there trying to spot rising fish before any disturbance would seep across the pools!

Watching a few untouched glides, it was obvious throughout the day there must have been a good hatch of fly; Blue winged olives, brook duns, and sedge. The wind had calmed, the air temperature was warm and the spinners descended. That magical hour before dark the spinners were in abundance, the margins filled and the trout rising freely… If only I had a rod, not a lead! On the way back to the house, I had a text saying ‘ Where we going tomorrow?’ from my good friend Bish. My reply was ‘Fishing’ of course.

8:30 the following morning, Bish was outside, so in with the fishing rods, and off to pick Terry up. We decided in the morning we would fish the River Ebbw down near Bassaleg, Newport.The river Ebbw is much the same as the upper stretches of the Taff, small, fast with a few nice glides thrown in and an abundance of wild Trout. As there was three of us, we decided that we would go fish for fish. We set a few rules, the person who is fishing must fish all the water, not miss any part of a pool out to get to the best part. Each angler has 20 minutes fishing unless a fish is hook, lost, or caught. So they wouldn’t be waiting around for me all day!

We tackled up on the bottom of a slow glide, it was pretty early, and there wasn’t much in the way of fly life to be seen, just the odd sedge in the margins and a trout that rose once in the middle of the run. We took three rods, one set up with a dry fly, Duo and a french leader to hopefully cover all the possible situations.

The first run we came to looked perfect. A fast run through the middle, two creases and slack water ether side, with the odd bush for cover. Bish had the french leader rod,  we decided he could catch the first fish as he had not been out for a while, so 3 very well placed casts left me 6 flies down within the first 5 minutes! ‘Those trees have an eye for something shiny’ he said!

Moving swiftly upstream, out of the way of any foliage what so ever we tried again. 20 minutes passed without Bish getting a take, so it was to Terry to prove it wasn’t going to be a long day ahead! Another 20 mins passed, no fish! What was going on?? Where are the fish, we wondered. I look over, I had two Jigs on the french leader, we was approaching a fairly deep run, with a nice flow, within the first few casts I was into a fish, which managed to come off as it jumped to free the hook. The rod was passed back to Jonathan, and within 5 minutes another trout was to hand! The fishing started to pick up steadily through the day with each person taking fish within a few minutes of starting their 20 minutes. We worked our way upstream covering good water taking many fish out of the runs.

It was probably around 1pm we’d entered a pool which looked pretty tranquil and inviting. A few olives started to pop about and the sun was breaking through the dark clouds which seemed to linger from the beginning of the day. This was probably one of the best pools I’d fished on the Ebbw, plenty of fish, and the best seat in the house – Fishing in comfort.

My french leader consists of a 9meter tapered camoufil leader, with a piece of Airflo braid as my indicator. The camoufil leaders are available in a few different lengths – 350cm 450cm and 900cm, I prefer the longer one as it allows me to cover more water with ease. Its presentation skills are brilliant at range, giving good turn over soft landing, catching you more fish in the slow runs.

As we moved upstream, the olives started hatching in good numbers and the fish started to pop. It was my turn again, after the boys had a few fish and Terry spotted a nice fish over 1 and a half pounds rising very confidently the pool we were in. A cast upstream to judge the distance, and then another to get the fly to drift properly and it was on. A few good head shakes, and it was obvious it was a better fish. The fight lasted nearly 5 minutes, but in that time Terry had just got his camera out to video the landing.

 

After the fish was released, we headed to the top of the run and into the eddies being caused by the obstructions. Bish’s first cast into the eddy, the indicator was holding there static, but then darted off to the left, he stuck and another good fish came out of the water and ran downstream. Both Terry and I turned our cameras on and was ready and waiting for the fish to be landed. Again another fish of around 1 – 1/4 -1/2 lb.

The River Ebbw is probably one of the most prolific trout rivers in the UK. The amount of fish the river holds is amazing, but the average size is even better! It’s very common to come away from the river catching and returning well into double figures of trout on a variety of methods. Average size of the rivers fish is probably just over half a pound, with many fish being captured up to 16-18 inches long.

Written by Kieron Jenkins