Saturday, July 29, 2006

A dry net and wet polaroids...

Despite making three trips to the river over the course of the weekend, I failed to show my net to a single trout. And on Friday night I managed to lose my polaroids in the river...

On the whole I practise catch and release, so I don't mind leaving empty handed, but to come away with less tackle than I started with is hardly worthy of congratulation. The weren't exactly expensive glasses (OK, I got them free when I bought the Comfort Zone waders and boots from Airflo - don't start, I know, I know...) but they did the trick. And now since starting to find out a little more about the decent brands available, I've started to spend an indecent amount of time typing the phrases 'Maui Jim' and 'Bolle Boomslangs' into Google. Still, in this hot spell, it's probably more worthwhile then standing in a river holding a fishing rod.

Photo of a difficult spot

'Ha ha', said the trout. 'Look at the difficult lie I'm in. Just try and get a cast in here!... Oh look, he's going to try a bow and arrow cast... this'll be good...'

But a trip without fish is rarely a trip without reward. On Friday I saw a kingfisher on the river, briefly landing on a branch before darting off again. And on Saturday there was entertainment watching an energetic trout busily rising to a hatch of something or other in a completely unfishable spot. Under a canopy of bushes, even a side cast was out of the question. I tried a bow and arrow cast a few times, but soon gave up. It was a real pleasure just watching a small trout go about his business, largely unhindered by a blundering angler (without glasses). And then on Sunday a trout lunged at the fly as it landed in an unlikely pocket of tumbling water. He was on for a second but had detached himself before I knew much about it.

Photo of a difficult spot

The flora on the upper Cam - useful if you need to lose flies and break fine tippets...

They say that it will be cooler soon, but I'm getting married next weekend, and somehow I think I'll have trouble getting an extension on my fishing visa. I haven't quite worked out how the catching (or the attempt to catch) small trout contributes towards the wedding preparations... yet.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Some tips for the small river fly angler...

Here are the steps that I go through when flyfishing for trout. They are born out of long experience, so you might want to take notes.

1. Arrive full of confidence and expectation, the disappointment of the last trip now long forgotten. Set up your rod, thread the flyline through the rod rings and then attach the leader. Notice how you’ve missed at least one of the rod rings and rebuke yourself for wasting valuable fishing time as you start again.

Photo of flowing Cam

When the fish aren't playing ball, you'll be glad you put extra Glenfiddich in your coffee.

2. With the equipment set up, quietly approach the river, taking care not to frighten any trout holding in the open water. Observe how the good-sized trout is put down by the unnoticed smaller fish which shot upstream when you waved your rod around.

3. Spend time considering fly selection. Are the fish feeding on the surface, or taking nymphs from below? Look for signs of a hatch. Are there any terrestrials around? Having ‘read the water’ and considered one hundred different variables, tie on the same dry fly you used last time. That’ll do nicely.

4. See that brown trout sipping spinners from the bottom of the riffle? Stalk him, moving carefully among the dense bankside vegetation until you are in a position to cast. It is common to snag your landing net a few times as you do so. Once in position, alight your fly on water, observing how it floats beautifully in the surface film. With the delicate fly rod now flicking the line back and forth, remove the loose line from beneath your left foot until you have sufficient line in the air.

Photo of flowing Cam

Nothing doing? Become distracted by artistic river shots.

5. With the rod loaded, make your final backcast up into the nearest tree, catching the fly around a selection of branches. Feel the sudden strain on the rod as the delicate tippet is overstretched. This can be stretched further with a few quick tugs, each one more vigorous than the last.

6. Five minutes later, broken tippet mended and another fly (preferably the same pattern as before) selected from the fly box, you’re ready to start fishing in earnest. If the rising trout has decided to have his dinner in more peaceful surroundings, seek out another specimen. It is usual to start wading at this point, your left hand finding the stinging nettles as you gently lower yourself into the current. As you begin moving upstream, feel the cool water rush against your legs. Express your surprise that the marginal weeds could shelter such good-sized trout as you watch them swim panic-stricken into the run you plan to fish next.

Photo of damselfly

Damselfly on a reed

7. Having spent an hour or two trying to fool a fish into believing that the feather and fur tied to your hook is an appetizing meal, it is worth pausing to take in your surroundings. There may be no fish in the basket as yet but there were a couple of near misses, and, anyway, see how beautifully the fly sits in the surface film. Consider the landscape around you and reflect that fishing in such a place is a pleasure in itself; catching something is a bonus. If you have a camera with you, become absorbed trying to photograph a damsel fly, or perhaps some ranunculus flowers. And as you stroll back to your car, lift your spirits: you will be back again next week, when the river won’t be so out of sorts. And the gold-plated, limited edition thermometer which you ordered from the fishing mail order company will have arrived by then. Next time you’ll surely be filling your creel to the brim.

Where the punts can't go

I do most of my flyfishing on the upper reaches of the river Cam. But this isn’t the stretch of the Cam where Cambridge undergraduates punt past the historic colleges. This is Essex, where the punts can’t go. Here the river is narrower, shallower and usually faster flowing. And in the water there are trout, most of them stocked but some of the wild.

I used to be a season ticket at Grafham, the reservoir owned by Anglian Water. Grafham couldn’t be more different: it’s a massive expanse of water that takes three hours to walk around. You need heavy duty gear: a 9 and a half foot rod and a seven weight line. And from the bank you often need to wade out, sometimes a long way. You need chest waders. On the upper Cam I use an eight and a half foot rod and a four weight line.

There’s another difference too – at Grafham you can fish all day, catch nothing and not know whether your distance casting covered a single fish. On the river, hours pass and you may still blank. But at least you can see that the fish are in there.

Monday, July 03, 2006

When it's too hot to fish...

Mid-summer, half the season gone, and it’s too hot to fish. I went down to the river yesterday at 11am, and fished through the hottest part of the day before going home at the point when it probably started to become worthwhile. But then I can’t just sling a fly line out of my bedroom window like some lucky anglers. I live in Ely, north of Cambridge, and have to travel over half an hour, and over the border into Essex, to get to my bit of river. So I have to fish when the opportunities arise, and yesterday that meant fishing when most self-respecting trout clung to the bottom, refusing all offerings. One heat crazed trout grabbed hold of a black klinkerhammer, but otherwise there was nothing doing.

They say the next best thing after fishing is talking about it. And near to that must be writing about it. So while the trout are riding out the heat wave, I’ve decided to start my flyfishing blog. I'll tell you about my bit of river another day - right now I need to lie down with a cold flannel...