Photograph by Steve Barnett

Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Happy in Hampshire

Friends are wonderful things to have and be...  This weekend, one of my closest friends, the trumpeter John Barker, and I visited friends in Hampshire.  John worked on Saturday in Salisbury and on Sunday we were delighted guests on a chalkstream tributary of the Test.  Our host was Howard Bennett who, as well as arranging for us to be his guests for a day on the river, very kindly fed us with barbecued steak, sausages to his own recipe and all sorts of other goodies.  Howard is a respected guide in Hampshire.  In 2008 he gained first place for the Leading Guide Award in the River Test One Fly competition.  He came second in 2009, which to me means it wasn't just a flash in the pan...  We were going to be in good hands.
On Saturday afternoon, the lady in the local fly fishing shop advised us that we'd be better off not fishing until 8 o'clock in the evening.  She had a point in the heatwave conditions, but we ignored her advice and fished through the whole day, in the blazing sunshine!

Not John's first fish of the day, this fish was one of his later captures
John caught the first fish of the day with his first cast on his newly acquired rod - a priceless, unused (until this Sunday), "88" by Sharps of Aberdeen built of impregnated cane in the 1960's.

Here he is casting up to a rising fish with his "88".

The fishing, for your faithful correspondent, was slow to start with but, as the day wore on the true mayflies, the Drake, came on and on and on...  At this time of the season the trout were still wary of these big flies and made their attacks with what seemed like a little bit of fear and circumspection.  Occasionally a fly was taken with easy confidence.  Those were the fish I decided to target.  The trick was to have picked the right fly to watch just prior to it being taken to work out what fake mayfly would be likely to work best. 

Eventually it became clear that the comfortable trout were eating the Spent Gnat, the mayfly spinners.  These were mingled in amongst the freshly hatched and hatching Drake and I'm sure they were from the day before.  So...  The Poly Prop Spent Gnat (PPSG) was put on and, bit-by-bit, the Sport became better and better.

After feeding us at luchtime our host and guide, Howard, told me how far up the beats went and whetted my appetite when he mentioned that the top beat was rather wild and that nobody went there very often.  I resolved to work my way up there and after fishing it a little to come back down and join the rest of the group for the evening.

We split up and went in different directions.  David, a pal of Howard's opted to fish around the fishing house as that was where he had his new partner, Riley, lightly and longly chained up in the shade with plenty of water.  Riley is 8 weeks old and already a charming character.

Here's Riley with Fred, Howard's Brother-in-Law on the left, John holding Riley in the middle and Howard our friend, host and guide, on the right of the picture.

Fishing intermittently as I walked and worked my way upstream it became clear that the Drake were getting very busy indeed.  The duns were coming off at great speed.  The hot sun had their wings dried instantly and they were only on the surface for two or three seconds each at most.  The spinners were returning in greater numbers and there were more trout happy to eat them.  Certainly there were duns being eaten but the majority of flies being eaten were the dead and dying spinners, the "Spent Gnat".

The fish came rather easily and after catching and snapping a few before returning them I thought I'd call on the cell 'phone and check on how John was doing.


He sounded a bit too quiet, subdued even.

"How are you doing?"

"I've had nowt since lunchtime..."

"Are they not rising down there?"

"Aye but they're not taking my fly."

"What have you got on?"

"That white bodied mayfly with the yellow hackle."

"They're on't Spent Gnat!  Get a Spent Gnat on and come up here.  I'll leave these and go on.  Just walk up river until you come to a right hand bend and electricity cables high over the river.  And get a Spent Gnat on!"

"How long will it take to get up there?"

"Ten minutes at most!  Get thissen up 'ere!"

Quick march, past all the fish rising nicely to the Spent Gnat, through a couple of gates and I was at the bottom of the top beat.  It is quite a small river up here and there are more trees and bushes overhanging the water's edge.  The whole of this river has very little cover to hide behind so it is necessary to crawl into position and use what tufts and tussocks you can find to lurk from.  Up here it was the same but there was more cover for the fish and it made for some interesting casting.

Here's an example of the cover for the angler...  Those thistles on the right will do nicely but the head has to be kept down low.  If necessary to sit back from the water's edge and cast overland a little bit.

As the sun lowered it became more and more important to keep the head down...

Here's a cracking spot.  The rising trout was on the other side of the hanging fronds of willow calling for a crooked cast and some courage in the face of the potential for losing the fly.  It was almost like being at home in Derbyshire!

Here's the fish.  I think it might be a wild bred fish...  Scale adhesion is excellent, the fins are a little bigger than those of the others and the white leading edges to the pelvic and anal fins make me think it really is a wild fish.  Either way it was worth the effort.  Click on the picture and judge for yourself.

On the way home, we had set off shortly before 11 o'clock in the evening, I found myself drifting off to sleep while John did the driving.  In my dreams I saw my fly being taken again and again.  At one point I awoke with a start and realised I'd been striking at the fish in my sleep.  Poor John must have wondered what on Earth I was up to...

All in all we had a splendid time in the Hampshire sunshine.  What a generous treat we had.  Thank you Howard, you certainly know how to look after us.  We hope to do the same for you in future.

Regular Rod

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

"Useless" Flies!

Of course nothing in Nature is "useless".  So these flies are not really useless.  However, the fly tier could waste a lot of time and materials imitating them exactly with a view to using them for Dry Fly Fishing.

Here are a few snaps of flies that can lure the angler into a blind alley.  They were all photographed in my garden...

Large Dark Olive Male Spinner

Copy his wife by all means but this fellow is rarely seen on the water.  You are more likely to find his corpse, first thing in the morning, in a spider's web on a gate to the river.

Caenis Dun
Of course you could tie a tiny dry fly on a size 22 hook and cast it to the fish during a rise to these little flies, in the faint hope that they might choose your attempt at a fake in preference to the thousands of real Caenis littering the surface...  But you'd be better off adopting the strategy we looked at with the Double Badger!

Iron Blue Dun Male Spinner "The Jenny Spinner"

I've been told these do come back to the water but have never witnessed this myself.  They are beautiful but another candidate for the spider's web on the field gate rather than a dry fly "must have"!  The Sport with the Iron Blue Dun is to be had when the flies are duns and have put in one of their "bad weather" appearances that you must take advantage of immediately you see them, for their appearances are fleeting as well as furious.

Large Brook Dun Male Dun
What a whopper!  The sight of these splendid flies is enough to get any of us reaching for the fly tying kit, but hold on a moment!  To eclode from their nymphal shucks these creatures climb up the stalks of plants, or up the sides of emerging stones and then come out as flies, very rarely ever touching the water as duns, the sub-imago stage.  It's a different story when they are female adults, at the imago stage.  They DO come back to the water as the "Large Red Spinner" and lay their eggs by dipping down to the surface and scraping off little batches of eggs until they are gone.  They are big and a welcome meal to the trout when they are spent.  So make your patterns bright orangey red spinners with spent wings to lie flat on the surface and eschew the duns as the trout are unlikely to be seeing them.  A size 12 hook or even a 10 will be about right for the spinners.

Regular Rod

Monday, 21 May 2012

That Black Fly - Oh and that Black Dog again...

This evening I had company once more...

 He wasn't too bad but he upsets me because he whines pitifully when I release the fish.  He is convinced we are both going to starve to death if I don't soon learn how to hang on to these river prey so we can both eat them!

Warren tells me he knew a chap who took his dog fishing as it taught the dog to be patient.  It is not working very well in our case.

The fish came to me via Charles Cotton's Black Fly.

Charles Cotton really did create a versatile fly when he made his Black Fly. The Hawthorn Flies have nearly finished hereabouts but their memory lingers on. As a result the trout still eat biggish black flies with such ferocity they hardly need striking to set the hook. Basically they hook themselves. Terrestrial flies in general can be subjected to this ferocious style of attack from the trout. My pet theory is that the potential meal is a substantial one that has been known to escape suddenly, so the trout don't mess around with them. Bam!

The water was very bright facing into the west this evening and it was best to continue with the Black Fly even though the fish were clearly eating olives.  "How can this be?" you may well ask, "Surely 'Matching the Hatch' is the best ploy?"

Yes it is, usually.  This evening, however, it was important that I could see the fly.  It was better to risk some fish ignoring this wrong fly and hoping for others that were still keen on black flies.  Me being able to see the fly was more important than a fly that perfectly matched the olives that the fish were eating.  You can perhaps make out the fly in the stripper ring?  I'd just caught a fine wild rainbow trout here and thought a snap would nicely illustrate the type of water I'm trying to describe here.

Have you tried this trick of using a dark fly on a bright water when the sun is low and leaving the 'Match the Hatch' policy behind for that evening?

Of course it is not always a good idea.  If the fish are preoccupied on a particular natural fly then it is certainly best to maintain the normal rule of 'Matching the Hatch' as best you can.

Regular Rod

Wednesday, 16 May 2012


Today was all about rewards.  Being selfish I decided to reward myself with an afternoon off to go-a-fishing.  Henry deserved a reward for being Henry so he came too.  The flies rewarded me by appearing in their multitudes for an hour or two.  The fish rewarded me for...

Applying those three principles that you know I keep going on and on about...

Reconnaissance suggested where the fish are so I went there...

and sat down to be stealthy and to observe.  Up there, by that angled dead stalk, in the middle, right at the water's edge... 

there was a rise by way of a reward for sitting low...

Then there was another!  I was being rewarded even more.

So a cast was made and the third reward came in the form of the first fish of the day.  The snap will come in handy in remembering this fish when it has grown a little bit bigger. 

Those "one, two, three, space, four, five, big space, six" spots behind the left gill are distinctive enough to recognise if they are ever seen again.

So it went on for a good two hours or so.  Henry wasn't bored because we kept moving on.  He still wants to retrieve the fish and is still amazed when I let them go, but he, like me, was happy to be out by the river and that was the biggest reward and good enough for the both of us.

Regular Rod

Sunday, 13 May 2012

The Big Little Things...

Individually King Cups are little things.  For bringing joy to the beholder they are anything but "little" in their significance.
  I thought you might like to see this very seasonal sight that we delight in hereabouts.

Another BIG little thing is the Iron Blue Dun that I've banged on about before... 
The cold weather this week has had them out and about again.  I hope you don't mind me indulging in yet another snap of this other little thing that brings us, the trout and the birds a good deal of enjoyment.

I hope you enjoy them too.

Click the pictures if you would like a closer look.

Regular Rod

Monday, 7 May 2012

Trout Heaven?

Or is it Trout Hell?

The chance to "walk" a brook in the company of a young professional scientist with a particular expertise in river habitats was too good to miss.  At the same time it might cast a light onto why a tiny brook in Derbyshire has nothing like the population of wild native brown trout that it really ought to have..  I fished this brook many times as a younger man and enjoyed it even though the catches were never counted in dozens.  It was near to home in those days and the owner of the stretch I fished let me fish for nowt as he knew even then I didn't kill wild trout, believing they were too precious to be only caught once.

This "walk" (more like an assault course for weeding out recruits that were not fit enough for the SAS) was going to start much higher upstream from where I used to fish and then work down to my old haunts.  The mission was for my leader to begin the careful process of assessing what was going wrong for the trout.  Why were they simply not succeeding where, to all intents and purposes, they should be.

Arrived at the headwaters we could see that the brook was a delight here.  Forgive the rough bits to the joined up image here but it shows you what we could see, click it for a bigger view.

The brook looked perfect up here.  Lots of gravel of the right sizes to spawn in, woody debris in the watercourse to provide habitat for all age groups of brown trout, it had to be right for them...

There were branches and trailing roots that caused the current to clean the gravel whilst waiting with their protecting structures to guard millions of tiny spaces for young trout to hide in - had they been there.  It was like looking at lots of perfectly appointed and furnished houses in an abandoned village!

There were classic pool and riffle sequences that trout of all sizes use to their advantage (when they are there)...

Food is here.  We saw midges and olives aplenty and, in despite of the cooler weather that England is famous for every public holiday weekend, there were Hawthorn flies.

Surely this had to be trout heaven.  But it is not, so the question was "Why?"

The first alarm bells were rung as we worked our way downstream.  We kept coming across little weirs.  Some made of stone, some concrete and some of cord wood like this one.  My leader, although still with plenty of work to do yet, started to wonder, "These weirs are not good.  They stop gravel from grading itself and they are barriers to easy fish passage..."

Then we came upon a slower stretch, it was clear there was some form of impoundment downstream of us.  We scrambled our way down, circumnavigating barbed wire, electric fences, holly, brambles, briars and much else. 

There it was!  This tiny brook has a massive weir across it and with the lip on the very top being raised up about four inches it was clearly impassable by any trout.  Even if a trout had forced its way to the top of the weir as it lifted to try and get over the lip, the current would simply scoop under its belly and wash it straight down to the bottom again. 

These structures make me angry as, believe it or not, weirs are, or were illegal, in England.  Paragraph 33 of the Magna Carta states, "Henceforth all the weirs in the Thames and Medway, and throughout all England, except on the sea-coast, shall be done away with entirely."

There is much else wrong lower down the brook but the presence of this weir goes a long way to explaining why the upper reaches of this otherwise ideal little brook has so few native brown trout living in it.  They can't get up there.  What a mess we have made of our water courses...

Regular Rod

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Saint Mark's Fly...

...we are past the Feast of Saint Mark, which was on the 25th April, but now, on the Derbyshire rivers, the Feast gets underway in earnest.  Charles Cotton knew what he was doing when he made his Black Fly and recommended it for this time of the year, the time of the Hawthorn Fly, Bibio Marcii.

 I can't believe how lucky I was with this snap to capture one of the little beauties in flight this morning with my little pocket Olympus.  The trailing legs have inspired many modern flytiers to dress their creations with knotted black herls to represent this distinguishing feature and very effective they can be.  My version of the fly?  I don't have one.  An old stick-in-the-mud like me is perfectly happy with the legless creation of Charles Cotton...

Now if only I'd kept my word and lugged my big Olympus along when Henry and I were on reconnaissance this morning...

Regular Rod