A fall of aphids can equal any mayfly hatch, and what they lack in size they more than make up for in consistency, says Paul Procter, who has all the flies and tactics
BURSTING into life in spring, trees encourage an invasion that lasts until their leavesturn golden in autumn. As soon as their greenery appears, tiny aphids begin to multiply. Aphids are a small twowinged terrestrial, with the cursed ‘greenfly’ probably the best known of aphids that are easily recognised by their striking green hue. Yet, interestingly aphids are not confined to this shade alone. You’ll find them in an array of colours including black, tan, almost transparent and a curious purple/blue shade that seems most apparent around conifer plantation or heather. And while their overall size is small they are best imitated on hooks sized 18-26. Amazingly, despite their overwhelming numbers many anglers simply chose to ignore aphids, particularly on river systems. Their diminutive size is probably a contributing factor here, but they are a useful weapon in a trout angler’s armoury. They occur nearly everywhere and because they’re a terrestrial there’s no complex hatch code to break. Although aphids are present throughout summer months we can expect heightened activity during two key periods. Early May sees aphids colonise almost all available greenery but probably more significant is the autumn brood that reaches fever pitch as leaves begin to tumble. All manner of trees, shrubs and plants play host to aphids though sycamores seem a particular favourite. Thankfully such deciduous trees are very abundant along the banks of my home waters of Cumbria and throughout June populations of greenfly can be found in their hundreds on the underside of every waxy leaf.
HEAD FOR THE TREES
DESPITE spending a huge amount of time on foliage, sooner or later aphids will end up on water. A farmer working the land or cattle grazing a field are sufficient to disturb these little flies that are then at the mercy of any breeze. Subjected to stronger winds aphids are easily shifted and large numbers of them meet a watery death. Indeed, in such unsettled conditions, be it river or lake, it’s worth seeking out a stand of trees. Under a dense canopy on rivers, I have often come across trout feeding hard on aphids all day, even during a heat wave. Although trout can exhibit preoccupied feeding traits, ever the opportunists, fish sipping aphids will often welcome a hearty mouthful like a beetle or cranefly. Many stomach samples point to this for, alongside the tiny green dots, there’ll be gnats, ants and much more besides. Perhaps then it’s not always a matter of matching the hatch, as a larger fly may break the spell. That said, when big falls of aphid occur, and they don’t come any more impressive than the autumnal cycle, then trout and grayling have eyes for little else. I well remember a late August day on Esthwaite Water. A strong southerly blew right up the lake, and we found shelter in Weather Bay. Protected by the Strickland promontory, a huge area of quieter water (a couple of hundred yards) was calm enough for terrestrials to accumulate. Blowing over the headland came tumbling leaves and thistledown and hidden amongst the debris were insects. The odd daddy longlegs and large beetle were obvious, yet trout sipped down flies with delicate kissing rises. Closer inspection saw greenflies, hundreds of them stuck fast in the surface scum. A change down to a size 22 Klinkhamer was just the ticket.
TRUST IN SMALL HOOKS
WHEN it comes to trout flies there are many triggers that can work: hotspots, movement, disturbance and size of fly. For imitating small natural insects thrown at us by nature, I firmly believe that fly size is an overriding trigger. Addressing this issue alone is often enough to unlock the door to success. Elsewhere, both in Europe and America, anglers have long cast off the shackles regarding small fly patterns. Yet, we still seem bound by certain anxieties. Hook breakage or straightening, hooking capabilities and even hook hold are common fears. However, nothing is further from the truth. First off, smaller hooks are less prone to leverage. These tiny irons tend to embed themselves right to the bend, subjecting them to little in the way of pressure. An added bonus of being buried to the knuckle as it were also renders them very secure. As for the initial hooking properties it is true that smaller hook sizes possess little in the way of a gape. Choosing straight-eyed models or those with a negligible eye angle can make all the difference (see diagram above). One
final trick is to off-set the hook point in relation to the shank by about 10 or so degrees (see diagram above). Try popping this modified hook between forefinger and thumb then pulling it out- the hook point bites instantly! Really, all this is academic if by far the worst fear is not overcome - that of fish not being able to detect small imitations. Please, don’t underestimate the fish’s vision - their survival depends on it – and fish are more than capable of identifying and selecting microscopic food particles. Finally, comes the dread of not being able to locate your drifting dry fly amongst the waves or riffles. I was taught early on about the importance of keeping track of a fly’s progress, not that difficult in flat calms or on smooth river glides. However, in the more
broken water, spotting a pin head fly is far from easy. A simple answer is to position a more conspicuous dry fly some 18-24 inches up the leader from your point fly using the New Zealand dropper method. This larger fly will also take the brunt of any casting energy allowing a tiny imitation to flutter down, surrounded by ample slack line. Any rise form close to the big dry should be addressed with a confident lift. You’ll be amazed at the number of times the rod kicks into life.
HOLDS THE KEY
FISHING tiny patterns is best done on light line outfits. A 6-weight rod will do though one rated for a number five line is far better. If conditions allow, a 4-weight rod will give you the edge on stillwaters and it’s worth dropping to a number three for rivers. As ever, a degree of emphasis should be placed on leader set-up. In particular tippet sections warrant thought. With regard to breaking strain, I tend to fish as heavy as conditions allow. Micro patterns, however, require finer tippets and not because the fish are less likely to detect them, it’s more to do with fly behaviour. Tethered to a heavy, stout tippet, small, delicate
patterns act unnaturally. Aim for 4X (5lb) to begin with, though dropping to 5X (4lb) and even 6X (3lb) might be required on occasions. Although a 5-weight is my standard outfit, my preference is for a 3-weight when in the realms of 6X-7X tippets. We all have a favourite brand of monofilaments, and copolymers, which are fine and limp with a degree of stretch, have served me well. As to overall length of leader this is very much a personal thing. I’m a slave to long leaders, upwards of 14 foot (see Diagram 3 below) breeze permitting. However, I know many dry fly specialists at the other end of the spectrum who enjoy tremendous success using leaders no longer than a rod’s length (approx. nine foot) under normal conditions. Whatever length leader you choose, in my mind it’s vital to use a longer than normal tippet section, as much as four foot (see Diagram 3 Below). This then often collapses on the delivery, alighting in a series of wiggles that affords the fly freedom of movement. Correct presentation is essential as micro patterns are prone to drag on both still and running water. Coupled with the long tippet section some form of slack line cast is advisableGiven light winds and open spaces the parachute (pile) cast takes some beating. Having performed the forward cast, a sharp drop of the rod tip to the water collapses the line on the surface in a series of gentle curves, especially at the leader where it’s most critical. Of course, anything like a stiff breeze is going to blow the line off target. Where accuracy is required and for pitching under trees, a normal overhead/side cast can be executed with a tight loop. When the forward loop has formed and almost turned over, check the rod tip back slightly then drop it to the water. This manoeuvre is more subtle than it sounds, jolting the tip back too abruptly will merely result in the fly line springing back towards your position.
TARGET RISING FISH
BEING so small, natural aphids rarely sink far beneath the wave, so top of the water sport can be expected. Be warned though, they can appear anytime during the day, from dawn until dusk. Many times I’ve arrived for a morning stint to find aphids about and fish on the go. With such small imitations a single fly policy offers the best presentation. Spotting delicate dimpling rises under normal conditions can be tough. If I’m confident that trout are hard on aphids then I refrain from continual casting. Instead have rod and line at the ready and wait until a rise presents itself. In a big blow and heavy wave, surface insects (including aphids) will become swamped, drifting inert just inches beneath the wave. Tied in corresponding sizes and colours, Spiders have a vital role now, especially in the more squally conditions or when poor light makes spotting tiny dry flies almost impossible. Presented across the wave, it’s a case of simply watching a lightly tensioned fly line for takes. While three flies can be fished in more typical spider fashion, my preference is to offer two flies some four feet apart. As hook weight is negligible they will loiter in the film for most of a drift, often proving irresistible to cruising trout.
BONANZA IN THE FALL
GENERALLY speaking, look to heavily tree-lined rivers for aphids that offer some of the finest dry fly sport. Brave words I know, but a fall of greenfly is a marvel that equals any mayfly hatch. Just because the naturals you’re imitating happen to be a mere fraction the size of mayflies shouldn’t make them any less important. Apart from their sheer numbers what the aphids have that upwinged flies don’t is consistency. They’ve already hatched, so there’s no waiting around for emerging insects. That they are going to end up on the water is a foregone conclusion, for the wind has to blow. While gusty conditions bring down many leaves it’s often the first frosts of autumn that bring promise of some memorable days. They knock leaves back like no wind can and then the slightest breath of an early morning
breeze tumbles sacks full of leaves. There amongst the leaf litter will be hordes of greenfly which trout and grayling are only too aware of. Uninterrupted feeding is a requirement for the fish when harvesting minute morsels like aphids, so look for smooth, shallow water with a moderate pace. Naturally holding close to the riverbed, it makes sense for grayling to keep their frequent trips to the surface short without constantly battling strong currents. Trout prefer to lie close to the surface, on the fin they simply tilt up to intercept their chosen meal. Often rising several times in as many seconds before resting, just watch their feeding pattern and strike in that window of activity.
As many insect species become available now, May is rightly considered “the month” for fishing. There are mayflies, some early sedges, olives, caenis and not to mention terrestrials. I could wax lyrical about the much celebrated mayfly hatch that occurs, but there are a couple of more widespread upwinged flies which, due to their prolonged hatch season, are of significant importance to us stillwater flyfishers.
Collectively known as “olives” the Lake Olive Cloeon simile and Pond Olive Cloeon dipertum, peak in May when we can expect top drawer dry fly and nymph fishing.
According to reference the Pond Olive Cloeon dipertum is more likely to be found in ponds, tarns and shallow areas of larger waters. As you’d expect, the Lake Olive Cloeon simile is more at home on larger lakes and reservoirs where it is said to prefer deeper water. As both species are similar in appearance and habits it seems sensible to encompass them both under the “olive” heading.
Mostly olive brown in colour mature olive nymphs are 10-12mm long and slender. Geographic location and habitat might have a bearing here. Both species of nymph have three heavily fringed tails, which contributes to their impressive turn of speed. And because of their swimming prowess they are commonly known as agile darters. Though following a short burst the nymphs need to rest.
Studying nymphs in an aquarium, during the resting period they splay out their legs and tails. Is this to create a greater surface area, in a bid to stop them sinking too far on an upward journey? Whatever the reason, keep in mind these swift bursts and pauses when imitating such nymphs.
THE WET WEATHER FLY
Olives are seen as a “foul weather fly” with wet, windy conditions seeing the densest hatches. Wave action, creating a weaker surface film, and windy conditions help the newly hatched adults (duns) take flight sooner. But, in more wet, colder weather the duns may stay on the water’s surface longer, providing easy pickings for trout.
SIGNS OF A HATCH
Faced with normal conditions nymphs will begin to ascend and emerge from late morning. During initial hatches, trout can seem slow off the mark. Thankfully, olives are often quite reliant and several consecutive days of activity will see a routine develop. Once olives are on the menu, it can be worth fishing nymphs at anytime as trout fully expect to see them. If you’re on a large sheet of water, look for signs that might point to any activity. Martins, swallows and even gulls hawking over the water are sure indicators that something’s happening. Even on smaller reservoirs, always keep an eye open for birds working a given area.
HOW TO FISH
Crosswinds impart a more natural drift to the flies. I’ll start with two nymphs positioned some 5ft apart on a 14ft leader. Having cast out, allow the flies time to settle then using the figure-of-eight retrieve, give a little burst to the flies, followed by a longish pause to mimic the nymph’s progress and resting mode. Remain focussed at all times and respond to the slightest movement/hesitation of the fly line. Naturally, the line tightens if the flies are intercepted when in motion. But takes often come during the pause or when the retrieve recommences, so pay special attention at such times. As three flies plummet further than two, if no takes are forthcoming and there’s little surface activity, then a third fly might be included.
This is a great way to search the water in front of you.
CHANGE TO A DRY
Once the hatch starts, consider changing to a dry fly. But, I’ve known occasions when, despite duns littering the surface, trout have ignored them in preference of nymphs. In fact, it’s not unusual to fish right through the hatch using only nymphs. Granted, they might have been presented on a partially greased leader but never underestimate their effectiveness. However, as dry fly fishing is the very pinnacle of our sport, I’m always eager to change and it frequently works out for the best.
I act on what my eyes see, it only takes one or two rises for me to switch over. But, if 30 minutes elapse without action, either move or, if you encountered fish on nymphs beforehand, try them again.
STUDY THE RISE FORMS
With an increasing number of rising trout, it’s worth stopping to study the rise form. Trout bulging beneath the surface, or a flattening of the wave, mean fish intercepting nymphs just subsurface. At such times, try two lightweight nymphs presented on a shorter leader (approx 9-11ft) made of copolymer.
If this fails then try attaching an emerger/dry pattern to the point or even top dropper, this will help hold the nymphs in the upper layers. When the back of a trout shows, followed by a wave of the tail, it’s odds on they’re nailing emergers.
Offer two emerger patterns or Spiders spaced 5-6ft apart. Clearly visible, there’s no mistake when trout pick duns off the surface. Usually the unfortunate fly is engulfed by a dark “neb” protruding through the film. In a healthy wave this might not be so obvious and because the duns get airborne sooner now, trout need to move quicker, walloping duns with a splashy rise. Such times make it difficult to decipher whether trout are targeting emergers or duns. Giving the best of both worlds, I fish one of each. The dry is placed on the dropper with an emerger on the point. Often the emerger becomes swamped and sink. But the fly is still fishing for you. Remember, many naturals don’t make it and, spent-like, get washed along subsurface. Takes to partially drowned emergers register as either a confident draw or the dry fly skating sideways and even disappearing completely.
Olives begin to appear from May, with heightened activity into early June. They remain throughout summer when sparser hatches usually consist of smaller, lighter coloured naturals. Autumn then sees olives having one last fling before winter. Although we look to spring for the cream of our sport, the back end hatches are significant and end the season on a high note.
Don’t discount Spider patterns, a team left to flutter in a rolling wave can be deadly. My preference is two scantily clad Spiders positioned below a palmered bob fly. In fact, such is the versatility of Spider patterns they can be used with wets, dries, nymphs and emergers. So, be sure to have a few Greenwell Spiders and Waterhen Bloas.
COLD WIND/MINI HEATWAVE
If spring throws a cruel Arctic blast then olive hatches can suffer. Then wait until lunchtime before venturing out. At times, it’s been 2pm before the first dun showed.
These hatches are sparse and short lived, so act fast. Conversely, a mini heatwave dominating late May and early June can suppress hatches to unsociable hours. If you arrive at the water for a midday hatch that doesn’t materialise, revise your game plan. I got on to this by pure chance. May 27th, fully expecting buzzer to be present, I arrived at the reservoir just after 6am. A high pressure system made it possible for short sleeve attire.
Walking to a known hotspot, a single newly-emerged dun rested in the margins. Obviously with its wings in that typical upright position and still possessing stunted, not yet fully formed tails. Within minutes, more duns appeared on the surface and then came the trout. Humping rises at first, signalling that nymphs were their prey. Still calm, those nymphs struggled to pierce the heavy surface film. In undisturbed water, nymphs easily become trapped beneath the film where, tired and weak, they are fed on by trout.
A nymph fished 5ft behind an emerger, provided a good hour’s sport. By 8am it was all over. Since then I’ve witnessed many hatches at first light during hot weather. Equally, don’t rule out an early evening hatch.
Safely emerged, the duns (sub imago) head for bankside shelter, to change into the sexually mature spinner stage (imago). Dependant on conditions this usually takes place within 36 hours. As spinners begin to accumulate from earlier hatches mating soon takes place.
Then, female olive spinners return to lay their eggs at the surface. In the case of the Pond Olive Cloeon dipertum, the eggs uniquely hatch inside the female, and tiny larvae are released at the surface.
1 Nymph swims towards the surface
2 Then emerges through the surface film
3 Newly emerged adults begin flight
4 Females return to lay eggs at the surface
NYMPH Developing in weedy parts, olive nymphs make several moults through winter before maturing and swimming to the surface to emerge.
DUN (SUB IMAGO) This is the juvenile winged adult stage. Dusky opaque in appearance it’s not yet ready for mating.
SPINNER (IMAGO) Now sexually mature they seek a mate. They have clear wings, longer tails and more brilliant livery. After mating they perish, lying spent on the water’s surface.
EVENING SPINNER SPORT
Early evening spinner falls often continue into darkness and if calm conditions persist until dawn there might be enough spent spinners to promote a dawn rise. A little hit and miss at best, spinner falls are difficult to predict. Unlike the dun where you might see significant numbers on consecutive days, spinners cen be present one evening and absent the next. Weather conditions will have the final say.
Those warmer, still evenings hold a chance of finding trout confidently slurping down spinners.
SINGLE FLY TIME
This is single fly territory and it can be worth stepping down a line size for improved presentation. Rather than randomly covering the water, go in search of rising trout. The spinners may have chosen a quiet corner or sheltered bay to deposit their eggs, so activity can be extremely localised. Use a tapered leader of 12-14ft with a sparsely dressed spinner pattern. Lightly smear grease along the leader, in case the spinner slips sub-surface.
During flat calms this treatment not only helps suspend the swamped fly but acts as a sort of refined indicator. Trout taking spent spinners know that their meal isn’t about to flutter off, giving them a more languid feeding manner. I’m happy with a greased leader, so long as the line remains still - as it should be when fishing spinner patterns.
LOCH-STYLE IN A BREEZE
Given any appreciable breeze, traditional loch-style methods from either bank or boat really do take some beating. It’s worth using the stiffer characteristics of standard monofilament here that helps in maintaining tangle-free droppers.
As to dropper knots, a 2-3 turn water knot is as reliable as any. These days, I find that a 2-turn knot useful. The top dropper/bob fly benefits from being heavily hackled to create disturbance. Favourites include the bumble family and palmered dabblers.
RETRIEVES & THE HANG
During really blustery conditions, use three such patterns though I’m happiest with a slim Dabbler on the middle dropper with a nymph bringing up the rear. As to retrieval rates, mix these up until you find what the trout want. Sometimes flies quietly tripped through a wave work best and, on other occasions, it’s a fastish retrieve that gets a response. Don’t forget to hang them at the end of each retrieve. A surprising number of trout succumb to flies that are left loitering here for a few moments. Although this is a known tactic from the boat, it can produce just as well from the bank and should become second nature when fishing wets.
HANGING WETS BOAT AND BANK
With a heavily palmered bushy dry fly on the top dropper, lift the rod at the end of the retrieve and “dibble” the pattern on the surface to create an attractive wake. Fish will either nail this fly r the wets close behind. Many following trout are caught by hanging the flies.
Spring signals the start of terrestrial insect falls proper. Arriving swallows, swifts and martins cash in on this abundant food source. Under the genus Bibio, insects include hawthorn flies, heather flies and black gnats.
Classed as terrestrials these insects emerge on land and as such they’re referred to as a ‘fall’- as opposed to a hatch - when alighting on the water.
Throughout winter, tucked-up underground safe from frost, their larvae develop. From spring onwards, winged adults emerge and crawl upwards through the soil to take flight at the surface. Seeking a companion, huge numbers swarm low over ground. Mating follows and often occurs on the wing. Egg bound females then search for suitable areas to lay their eggs. These eggs quickly hatch and the larvae bury themselves, continuing the life cycle.
Black gnats often mate in nearby trees and willows seem a particular favourite. Here gusty winds dislodge a gnat’s precarious foothold, whisking them away to a watery end. A tractor working the land, a farmer moving his cattle – all disturb flies, which again are quickly whipped onto the water in a strong wind. Be it river or lake, when I see this disturbance, I approach the water, fully expecting rising fish.
My experience suggests that warm spring days with light to moderate breezes produce the best action. The warmth encourages naturals to travel further and, while mating, light winds often carry unsuspecting flies out over water.
The water can be cooler than the surrounding land temperature and this possibly immobilizes insects. This is best illustrated on large reservoirs, where water temperatures can remain low well into early summer.
THESE are found almost everywhere, from heather clad headwaters and Lakeland hill tarns, down to lowland reservoirs, and even along the coast.
They may also turn up in parks and our own gardens. I frequently use the garden to predict potential insect falls. It’s in sheltered areas that these flies usually first appear. I’ve noticed black gnats in my own garden form April 12, yet the earliest I’ve recorded them on our northern waters is April 19.
In more exposed areas, prevailing winds are capable of shifting winged insects over incredible distances. So adults located on a sandy beach may have originated from land many miles away. However, black gnats seem to be more widespread in untouched upland regions possibly due to the undisturbed surroundings. While fertile pastureland attracts these insects, ploughing and other activities might expose the larvae to predators? But you can’t rule out a sighting of black gnats anywhere, so be prepared. There are several species of black gnats whose sizes vary widely.
Mostly they are between 5-7mm long. Don’t try to identify individual species, just know that the various emerging periods often overlap, which puts black gnats on the menu from mid-April to early-October.
The males have a long slender abdomen with a pronounced thorax, and trailing hind legs, which are quite noticeable but not as obvious as on hawthorns. Females have a fatter, more cylindrical shaped body with a small head.
Given sunlight, black gnats begin to show about 11am. However, cloud cover or cold winds might delay this until 2pm. Following a hard day finding a mate, insect flight usually begins to wane around 4pm and it’s all over by 5 o’clock. But, on calmer days, dead and dying insects remain trapped in the surface and trout feast on these into the evening.
The first spring falls of black gnats can be likened to ‘duffer’s fortnight’, when trout avidly feed like no tomorrow. As activity heightens into May, trout often adopt a more casual feeding pattern. Gone are the splashed rises and we have to look closer for a fin breaking the surface and a flattening of the water, as trout discover that naturals are far easier to harvest when washed sub-surface.
Summer gnat falls usually ebb away with a hot spell, often bringing about an quick end to big falls.
Sure, there will be some flies about, usually on cooler, comfortable days. In fact, Saturday July 30, 2005 saw a heavy fall of fly and despite the uncomfortably warm conditions, trout were quick to respond. The return of cooler temperatures in late August often encourages gnats to gather again in numbers. Continuing throughout September and early October I have experienced some of the season’s finest sport during autumn.
HAWTHORN & HEATHER FLIES
TRADITIONALLY, hawthorn flies begin appearing around St. Marks Day on April 25. In Cumbria it’s generally the first week of May but do consider geographic location, as southern regions may be a few weeks ahead of northern climes.
Far larger than black gnats, adult hawthorn flies are up to 12mm long. Their flight period lasts between 2-3 weeks and they tend to congregate around shrubs and bushes with the hawthorn tree a favourite. The trailing hind legs are a give away, and more noticeably in the males.
Heather flies are very similar in appearance and size to hawthorn flies, one major difference being the distinctive reddish-orange markings of their legs. They’re most at home on heather moorland and upland areas. They generally appear from July through to early September.
An upland water, Stocks Reservoir in Lancashire, is a known venue for heather fly falls. August is the month to expect them here.
Ungainly fliers, both these species are readily blown onto the water. Being that much larger than gnats, in their bid for freedom they can create quite a disturbance. It’s worth considering this when tying and presenting imitations. Flies with rubber legs or larger hackles that are tweaked back often get takes.
Tackle choice is a personal thing, here’s what works for me. For out and out dry fly fishing an Orvis T3 9ft 6-weight is my favourite, even from the boat. I find them sweet and responsive when constantly targeting rising fish. Hit a good fall of terrestrials and there’s plenty of moving trout. That said, a longer rod may provide an edge in a good wave when working a team of wets or spiders from a drifting boat.
Despite being an advocate of the weight-forward fly line, I often revert to a double taper (DT) during terrestrial falls. Simply because a DT allows me to pick up a substantial length of line, change direction quickly and cover my intended target. With all this directional casting, a single fly is wise, otherwise you end up with a tangle.
Dry flies produce some exciting and hectic fishing especially when the naturals first appear. During the early stages of a terrestrial fall, the sheltered bank is the first port of call as this is where any flies initially touch down. Given a light breeze these insects won’t drift far, often holding the trout in this productive area. Begin by targeting rising fish with a single dry on a tapered leader of 12-14ft. Extremely supple, copolymer leaders are perfect for presenting flies on and close to the surface. Given a sparse fall, consider two dries positioned 5ft apart and search the water by fan casting.
Sometimes, you can achieve a short natural drift of the dry fly. Trout will be familiar with the direction of drifting naturals so it pays to present your flies in such a manner. From the bank, always attempt to fish your flies back with the wind.
If positioned, with a crosswind blowing, rather than cast across and downwind, pitch the flies 45 degrees upwind to produce a more natural presentation. When fishing the sheltered bank with a backwind, introduce slack line into the forward cast. Achieved this by either throwing an upward forward loop and, as this unfolds, lower the rod quickly thus collapsing the cast so that the line lands in a series of wiggles (Slack line diagram). Or, administer your usual forward cast and when the unfolded loop starts dropping to the water, check back slightly with the rod tip to produce a shockwave creating a series of ‘S’ formations in the line (Bounce cast diagram). Take care not to jolt the rod back as the line will come hurtling back towards you, landing in a tangled mess. I can’t stress enough how subtle this movement is. These presentational casts are best practised over short distances at first and executed correctly will gives the flies freedom to drift naturally until the fly line straightens completely. On difficult days this can make a real difference.
With a breeze, land borne flies soon accumulate on the downwind shore. Here, amidst the rolling waves, lifeless insects quickly drown and get tossed about. Trout are usually found very close in here, so keep well back and fish the margins. Accustomed to gorging on easy pickings beneath the waves these fish cruise parallel to the shore.
A couple of wet Hoppers/Spider patterns often produce. Space a trio of these 3ft (if using two flies then increase to 5ft) apart and fish them as you would a team of buzzers, remembering to watch the bowing line for takes. With an increased surface area, a Hopper or Bibio on the top dropper helps hold a duo of spider patterns close to the surface.
If you witness a blanket fall of terrestrials your fly seems hopeless amongst the many naturals. Now consider “breaking the code”. Don’t match the natural by exact size and colour, instead look to change either one or both of these. I remember a fall of hawthorns that became really intense. Stepping up a hook size made my fly stand out.
Finally, keep an open mind and change tactics frequently. Here’s how easily gnats can be overlooked. On the middle River Eden, August 28 last year I found rising fish beneath some shady boughs. With plenty of aphids present, on went a size 24 Greenfly pattern. Low water meant a cautious approach. By the time I’d managed two trout, unbeknown to me black gnats had started to fall. Concentrating on the rising trout, it wasn’t until a had few refusals that I bothered to stop and observe. The gnats weren’t on the water but in it. Almost sunk and barely perceptible, the only give away was their thoraxic backs making an indentation in the surface. The trout’s rise form also altered, but so preoccupied was I with aphids that I hadn’t noticed this subtle change.
Buzzers need no introduction to the seasoned fly angler, yet the newcomer initially finds the fascinating world of insects bewildering to say the least. Hopefully, armed with a little understanding the beginner should be able to approach the water with confidence. Collectively referred to as “buzzers” by fishermen, the chironomid or non-biting midge consists of over 400 species and buzzers are the most important insect group to stillwater trout and fly fishermen.
It’s easy to see why, as hatches of one chironomid species or another are capable of occurring on any given day of the year. In fact, years ago, while doing a little winter repair work on an upland fishery, I recorded both hatching and adult midge in December. Amazing, considering only a small section on the tarn was ice-free. Anglers don’t have to identify individual species. What matters most is buzzer size, colour and behaviour.
STAGE 1 THE EGG
THE egg stage is really of little relevance to us. Once they hatch at the surface, tiny larvae descend to the safety of aquatic vegetation and silt. Depending on species and development this worm-like larvae stage may vary in length from fractions of an inch to maybe an inch or more. Although the best known colour of the natural is red, hence the name bloodworm, they also occur in other colours with pale olive, brown, yellow and almost transparent the most common.
Some species prefer to develop among weed and although weak swimmers, I guess they can be classed as “free-swimming”. Others seek a nice silty bottom to shelter in tube-like burrows. Consequently I often wonder about the availability of bloodworms to trout? Fish foraging around will undoubtedly chance upon many larvae in weedy areas but I’m certain the larvae tucked up in burrows are far safer - or are they?
Hook: Size 10-12 Kamasan B-100/110
Thread: Red 8/0
Tail: Red marabou
Body: Red glass beads
It’s questionable if they get disturbed by rough weather conditions especially at any appreciable depth. However, I’ve come across trout with stomachs full of muddy sediment and there, on closer inspection, have been copious amounts of bloodworms. This occurrence has been witnessed many times, suggesting that trout will grub around for midge larvae.
Although larvae are a valuable food source for trout the year round, for me, winter and early spring remain key times to use suitable imitations. Because the natural moves at such a slow pace a floating line and long leader are a great way to present your flies. The actual leader length needs to be tailored to each situation. In shallow water a shorter setup can be used. Deep water may need a 20ft leader when prevailing conditions permit; unfolding such a leader in to the teeth of a gale isn’t easy.
While a single fly on a long leader works, hedge your bets by using two nymphs. Positioning a dropper 3-5ft up from the point not only helps with turnover, it gets both flies fishing deep, quickly.
Where possible, look for a crosswind, which affords the nymphs a more natural drift. Cast out and let the whole lot sink. Any wave action will now “bow” the line and, rather than retrieve, just take up the slack, keeping in touch with the flies. Like all nymphing, takes may vary from the slightest of twitches to the line sliding away in textbook fashion. Remain vigilant and react quickly to any movement of the line. Sight indicators are ultra sensitive for this kind of fishing and can put you in touch with takes that may have otherwise gone unnoticed. Sweeping the rod sideways, in an upwind direction, rather than striking vertically helps make a faster contact with the fish. The upward lift usually involves taking up slack line before connecting, allowing trout enough time to “spit” the fly (see diagram below). There is also scope here to fish a Hi-D line with buoyant type nymphs (Booby style). If you adopt this approach, keep in constant contact with the flies and respond to any takes instantly.
STAGE 2 THE PUPAE
MOST fishermen will relate best to this stage. Having undergone the transformation from larva to pupa, the pupa undertake a perilous journey from the lakebed to the surface. At the mercy of drift currents these thrashing pupae are easy pickings for fish.
The pupae are intercepted by trout at all levels within the water column but they are arguably most vulnerable at the surface when trying to emerge.
The size and colour of imitations often depends on species present and geographic location. Generally speaking, “up North” our chironomids tend to be smaller than those of say Rutland, where I hear that sometimes a size 8 dressing is needed to resemble the naturals. In my neck of the woods, I’ve recorded dark brown buzzers of 19mm in length and we are lucky enough to experience the “grey boy” hatches that are best copied on a size 12 hook. However, a glance in my fly box indicates that size 12-16 is the dominant sizes.
Hatch periods may also change with the seasons. During spring expect the bulk of any activity to heighten from late morning and into the afternoon. In my experience the warmer weather of summer sees buzzers coming off throughout the evening, late into the night and again at dawn. I well remember a particularly hot spell a few years ago when the evening rise kicked off at 10pm and continued into the small hours when you could hear that magical “buzz” of adults all around. Dawn activity has the added bonus of being undisturbed when the fishing can be as good as it gets. Autumn follows a similar pattern to spring when daytime hatches are best. As winter takes hold, don’t despair. Look for emerging buzzers from 1-3pm. although hatches are never quite as intense or long lasting.
Many patterns have been developed to represent the buzzer pupa and mine tend to be based on Gordon Fraser’s flies. His book “Mastering the Nymph” and past articles in Trout Fishermen greatly influenced my approach to imitative fishing. Whichever pattern you choose the emphasis should always be on presentation. Although we are often aware of what’s happening on the surface, in deep water, fish may well be harvesting buzzer pupae.
Fishing a couple of representation at depth will put you in touch with fish long before any buzzers are due to appear. These ought to be slim, compact dressings of the Superglue and epoxy type.
Coupled with long fluorocarbon leaders with the flies positioned closer together, it’s surprising how deep such nymphs will go (see diagram).
To assist turnover a tapered section should be attached to the fly line. The Airflo 5ft poly leaders are ideal for such circumstances and different densities allow a lot more versatility when it comes to plumbing the depths. To this I build a leader of some 6- 8lb depending on location and size of fish expected.
BUZZER SET-UPS FOR EVERY SITUATION
Apart from being a good all-round pattern the Diawl Bach can be deadly when trout single out buzzer pupae and I’ve known times when this has outfished a more exact copy.
Generally the Shuttlecock and Suspender Buzzer share the same water space and I fish both when buzzer pupae are in the surface film. But landing light, the Shuttlecock can often give you the edge.
In a variety of colours, this pattern is arguably the number one fish taker on stillwater. Cover with epoxy to fish deep (see page 56) or dress light to fish the surface.
Paul's buzzer rigs
Rig 1 - Two nymphs on droppers with Suspender Buzzer/dry fly on point (copolymer leader)
Rig 2 - Single nymph on greased leader (copolymer leader)
Rig 3 - Dry on top dropper with two nymphs below (copolymer leader)
Rig 4 - Two nymphs only (copolymer/fluorocarbon leader)
Rig 5 - Three nymph set-up (fluorocarbon leader) sometimes with Airflo sinking leader
Rig 6 - Three nymph set-up with flies closer together (fluorocarbon leader) and Airflo sinking leader
PRESENTING BUZZERS IN MIDWATER
For midwater nymphing the flies may be positioned further apart and we can look to using lighter dropper patterns with maybe a slightly heavier point fly. In a bid to give the nymphs as much freedom as possible, I choose copolymer leader, which is quite limp for its diameter (left). To exploit the top 2ft of water lightweight pupa patterns are a must. These should be tied with dubbed or herl bodies and as ever, slender is the byword when dressing all buzzer imitations. I base a lot of my flies around Gordon Fraser’s early BP Buzzer for fishing this upper water column. Remember too that some of the naturals take on a brilliant silvery appearance now. This I understand is down to them generating oxygen within the shuck and I’ve seen many pupae exhibit this trait in the stomach contents of trout.
STAGE 3 NEWLY EMERGED WINGED ADULT
THIS is the natural’s critical stage as it’s extremely vulnerable. Waves make it easier for buzzers to break through the surface film, but in a flat calm surface tension can delay or even prevent pupae from hatching. Tired and weak these insects are easy pickings for trout.
So, it’s important to keep the nymphs near the surface for longer. Try two pupa patterns on droppers with a Suspender Buzzer on the point to hold the flies up. Bulging rises often mean trout taking nymphs just sub-surface. Then, I’d use three lightweight imitations 5ft apart. Be mindful that the flies may drop through the feeding area quite quickly. If you get no takes, try two flies, before attaching a Suspender Buzzer on the point. Sometimes, you may have to use a single buzzer. Trout may be so focussed on pupae just subsurface that Suspender Buzzers and even Shuttlecocks have failed to tempt them. Changing to a single pupa with a greased leader that literally holds the nymph in position is the answer. Present static as any attempt to move the leader creates a nasty ‘V’ wake emanating from any knots.
It’s time to think of dry fly. Along with the Shipman’s, Shuttlecock and Canning’s Haystack, I include the Suspender Buzzer. In smaller sizes, use Hoppers and Bob’s Bits, as they’re deadly when trout move at the surface. If there’s enough ripple, use a two-fly cast, as constantly targeting risers means changing direction when casting and three flies are more prone to tangles. Calm conditions mean a single dry on a tapered copolymer leader.
Successfully hatched pupa soon mate and the females return over water to lay eggs. During dawn and dusk, when a light breeze ensues, the egg-laying females litter the surface and trout take advantage. I use a small spent midge pattern or small Bob’s Bits or Shipman’s Buzzer.
With no hatch in progress use suggestive flies like Diawl Bachs, Hare’s Ear and Crunchers. Their general nymphy profile appeals to buzzer feeding fish while also covering a wide range of insect types. So whatever the fish are feeding on, success is likely. Once the trout’s diet has been established by spooning, it pays to copy the size and colour of certain buzzers.
MORE BUZZER TECHNIQUES
Apart from the winged adult, all stages of the chironomids are slow moving. So, one famous suggestion is “sometimes the best retrieve is no retrieve at all” and this is true when copying the behaviour of buzzers. Ideally, look for water movement like cross and headwinds, these drifts can be used to present the flies naturally. Having cast out, gently take up any slack and simply stay in touch with the flies.
Even when the flies are apparently static, waves and underwater currents will affect their action. The figure-of-eight retrieve (below) is mandatory. If you can’t master this, literally inch the flies back with plenty of pauses.
Mostly, you’ll see rather than feel takes. Don’t watch the end of the fly line, this causes eyestrain, and is only worthwhile in flat calms.
Train your vision on the fly line mid-section, or where it enters the water, off the rod tip. Any bowing in the line, caused by a crosswind, will straighten when a take occurs. At the rod tip, line lifting like a coarse angler’s swing tip (below) signals a taking trout. Occasionally, a heaviness or slight pluck on the line will be felt, especially when practicing the “static nymph”.
Other indications are irregular wave patterns and the flash of trout, subsurface. Meet all with a confident lift or sideways sweep of the rod
SEDGES belong to the group known as Trichoptera and at rest their wings are folded to form a roof, or tent, shape. It’s easy for beginners to sometimes confuse them with moths but the sedge’s wings have a covering of tiny hairs, whereas moth wings are coated with scales which tend to rub when held in the hand.
Also assuming a similar profile to sedge, it’s easy to mistake the adult alder fly as a resting caddis. Apart from being present far earlier in the season than most sedges, a quick glance at the alder fly will reveal unmistakable heavily-veined wings. We commonly refer to the order Trichoptera as “sedges” or “caddis” and I’m happy with either of these terms. After hatching from the egg, caddis have three stages within their life cycle that warrant our attention as fishermen. The larval stage, pupal stage and finally the winged adult and, whilst the upwinged flies undergo a final transformation on land from dun (sub imago) to spinner (imago), the returning egg laying sedge is still of importance
THROUGHOUT winter and spring sedge larvae (cased caddis) are busy developing in purpose-built protective shelters. Their cases are formed from pebbles, small sticks, reed stems and other vegetation. As the larvae grow they either extend their tube-like homes or look for a case which has been vacated by a larger grub. Only too aware of these protein packed goodies, trout can often be found predating heavily on them during early season. Although our focus this month will be the sedge pupa or winged adult, it’s worth a brief look at the tactics for spring trout.
The fact that these grubs build houses out of stones, leaves and all manner of things then crawl slowly, instead of swimming, means they’re not the easiest of things to imitate. Having said that, some patterns fished just off the bottom or even midwater have proved successful.
With strong paddling legs, sedge pupae are active swimmers. So the rise forms of pupa-feeding trout are often splashy. They come in three main colours - amber, pale green and a dirty white, but mostly amber or green. At the water’s surface, the thorax splits so the adult can emerge.
Mostly various shades of brown in colour, the adults vary in size from 5mm to one inch - the largest UK species! Adult sedge rarely sit still but skitter across the surface - their wake often attracting fish. So, imitations must be twitched or allowed to drag to mimic this movement.
THE ‘MOBILE HOME’ STAGE
Clambering about the lakebed, carrying a home on their back, cased caddis really don’t appear that exciting, so imitating might seem difficult. Oddly, once trout get tuned into them they will often take items of a similar profile that are not always found at depth. Many times I’ve spooned trout that have been feeding on cased caddis and there, alongside the many caddis larvae, have been things like twigs, reeds and alder catkins which aren’t known for their sinking properties. Taking confidence from this we can feel a little happier that our flies don’t have to exactly mimic the natural’s behaviour. Though we should always strive to be near the mark.
I do best fishing a floating line and long leader with two cased caddis representations positioned all of 3ft apart. Using sinking tapered leaders or even a sinktip will also help to attain depth. Giving the best of both worlds during early season there’s merit in fishing a caddis pattern beneath a couple of buzzer pupae. That said, tying up a more buoyant fly to be presented Booby-style on a short leader and fast sinking line also has merit. This is a good tactical ploy during windy weather when long leaders prove difficult to control or when extremely cold conditions prevail.
As the season progresses, caddis larvae mature to eventually pupate within their case. In contrast, armed with hair-fringed paddles, sedge pupae are much more animated, making for the surface with an impressive turn of speed. As many of the species emerge in open water, this journey obviously exposes them to trout and for my money provides us with the cream of sedge fishing. Although we look to summer evenings for the best of our sport, once caddis hatches get underway, there are times when emergence can take place from late afternoon onwards. Coming off in dribs and have the intensity of a full blown evening hatch, they are often of significance to keep trout interested.
The great red sedge is the largest species of sedge in Britain.
TACTICS FOR THE PUPAE
If you arrive early and things are in full swing, all well and good as we can look to offering the trout our surface flies. More often the water will look dead, especially during a prevailing heatwave. This can restrict any decent action to last knockings, though, if you are confident that sedges have been coming off for a few days now (a quick check in nearby spider’s webs should hold a few clues) it’s worth fishing a couple of pupa patterns at depth. Where conditions allow (not too breezy), aim to fish as long a leader as you can manage. I start with one of 18ft and place two weighted nymphs 3- 4ft apart, though this will be quickly revised given a nasty, swirling wind. Look for a crosswind blowing left-toright (right-handed caster). Not only aiding casting, it ensures the nymphs are worked back on a sweeping path as our floating line forms a seductive curve in the appreciable wave.
MEND LINE FOR EXTRA DEPTH
To achieve a little extra depth try to execute a line mend into the direction of a coming breeze. This can prove difficult with longer leaders when using a weight forward taper as the thin running line struggles to transfer sufficient energy along a lengthy line. I’ve found that an aerial mend is much more effective which takes place following the “tap” of the forward cast. Having stopped the rod at our usual position, gently sweep the rod a little way to the side in the direction of your required mend and then bring it back to its original plane. This all takes place as our line unfolds over the water and before the flies alight. Firstly, don’t panic, the action is more relaxed than you think and, secondly, try to keep the movement smooth and gentle. Most first timers yank the rod over too abruptly which generally results in pulling the whole line back to land in a tangled heap. Best to practice this on grass first, with a short length of line, however, if you want to perfect this then it’s best to book a lesson with a registered A.A.P.G.A.I. member.
Having cast out with or without a mend, allow time for the nymphs to descend. Sometimes taking a couple of minutes and with a bowing line, a steady draw on the line makes everything taught before our retrieve starts properly. Remember that continually pulling the line is going to lift our flies from their desired path. If you prefer to draw the line back then allow plenty of pauses between pulls, almost fishing the flies sink-and-draw at depth. For me it’s a figure-of-eight retrieve and after a short burst of say 4-6 turns of the hand, rest to let the flies settle. Although not your classic sedge fishing, often bagging you a trout or two, this little ploy instills confidence before the anticipated main event.
As the evening wears on it shouldn’t be long before adult sedge can be seen fluttering about and hopefully the lake begins to erupt with healthy rise forms. It’s easy to think that these fish are targeting adult sedges though at this early stage they’re more likely to be homing in on ascending pupae. As trout do this at speed, having intercepted an unfortunate pupa, they continue along their path of motion, frequently breaking surface or causing a commotion in spectacular fashion. Signalling the start of some electric sedge fishing I’m often a fumbling wreck as I prepare for this next stage!
With sedge fluttering all around and the odd one even colliding with you, it’s time to shorten up that leader now to some 10ft. Unweighted flies, presented high in the water are our objective, so select flies that are scruffy and busy looking. Apart from possessing appeal their greater surface area helps hold them in the zone for longer. With explosive rise forms and fish bulging beneath the surface it’s as well to hold the rod tip a little clear of the water to offer some form of tippet protection against savage takes. The confusion of rises can make targeting an individual trout difficult, so place a cast in the general area. Giving you the best of both worlds, attach pupa patterns off droppers with a larger, buoyant dry on the point to help suspend them (see below). Though, if using a retrieve, apply sinkant along the leader to prevent any nasty leader wake.
Trout feeding on caddis pupae usually pounce on them quickly. Many times I’ve seen fish come hurtling out of the water just as the flies have alighted, so be prepared.
Start the retrieve almost instantly and again it’s a short figure-of-eight burst, interspersed with plenty of pauses. Unlike the trickle hatches that can last from late afternoon and into the evening the action tends to be intense and short lived. In Cumbria you’re looking at a window of maybe an hour with anything more considered a bonus. With this, it’s worth carrying a spare rod in case of tangles or, at the very least, carry a couple of pre-tied leaders.
In a bid to make cover, winged adults buzz across the surface and the trout aren’t far behind. Hackled dry flies treated with floatant that are slowly worked through the surface can be deadly now. And, just for back-up, I attach a pupae pattern, trailing some 3-4ft behind this (see diagram below).
If fishing a more static dry sedge, I tend to use smaller, slimmer flies to imitate naturals. Sedges are quite delicate flies and in my area the dominant species are grousewings, brown silverhorns along with a few cinnamon sedges. The first two can be copied on size 14 hooks with a size 12 perfectly matching the slightly larger cinnamon sedge. However, sometimes it’s vital to impart disturbance into our flies and this is best done by increasing the size, especially during breezy conditions. As a rule the harder the blow the larger the fly, remember too that fish tend to be braver under darkness when, on occasions, I’ve found success using size 8 palmered sedges. That said: weather patterns usually see the wind drop at evening time, resulting in calmer water.
Trout quickly turn their attentions to stillborn or feeble adult sedges now, which is when dry flies really come into their own. Fish mopping up stillborns and the like generally do so in a subtle manner. Smaller, delicate flies work best now, a favourite being the Elk Hair Caddis (without a hackle). Staring into the gloom, it can be difficult to locate a rise, try crouching low and looking across the surface rather than on to it. Hopefully, you’ll soon begin to pick out those telltale signs as the surface film rocks every so often. This is single fly territory and rather than fish it static, introduce the slowest of retrieves. Keeping in touch with the fly we can now rely on touch rather than sight for takes.
Summer mornings can also produce excellent sport to sedges. If conditions have remained still overnight then there’s a good chance that casualties or egg-laying females will still be trapped in an oily looking surface from the previous evening’s action. On many occasions I’ve come across fish confidently sipping down these flies at first light. Again, faced with a light breeze, females have been known to venture out and deposit their eggs at such times.
Undisturbed, trout can be found right in the margins now, so tread carefully. For targeting these risers a single fly is my choice with either a stillborn or olive/pale yellow Shipman’s being particular favourites.
Crouching low, it’s surprising how close these fish can be approached. As such, short casts are the key. Remember to check the reel drag before starting, as trout hooked in shallow water often use speed as their primary defence. Following the struggle other fish may stop feeding for a short while, but as long as you remain still they usually return. Good luck with your sedge sport!
Blessed with two sets of wings, adult damselflies possess an aerial deftness allowing them to capture other flying insects with ease. As nice as it is to watch winged damselfly, by far the more relevant stage for fly anglers is the aquatic nymph and long before the first electric blue male breaks free from the confines of his nymphal shuck, damselflies are constantly preyed upon by trout.
From the egg stage, tiny nymphs hatch and grow throughout winter months developing into what is without question the most important stage to both trout and angler. At first the nymphs are almost transparent yet as they undergo each instar (molt) so their colour alters from straw/pale yellow to light olive before finally turning to a darker olive/brown hue when they easily attain over an inch in length. Almost alien like in their appearance, mature damsel nymphs are impressive in size with carnivorous tendencies. Indeed, armed with a set of pinchers, they prey on other grubs and nymphs that venture too close and are more than capable of grabbing the occasional stickleback or minnow!
1. Nymphs undergo several molts before turning darker in colour.
2. Nymphs crawl out of water to shed their nymphal shuck and enter adulthood.
3. The male (blue) and female can mate on the wing but most attach to plants.
4. Females choose a sheltered bay to deposit their eggs in the water.
WHEN THE TROUT TAKE NOTICE
It’s at the start of the New Year that I’ve noticed trout feeding on the immature damsel nymphs. Although miniatures of the summer nymph, these small damsels are found in staggering numbers around decaying weedbeds and if these are in a sheltered bay then so much the better. Given our current run of milder conditions throughout winter, it’s still possible to find weed close to the surface on some fisheries. With this, I’ve experienced trout cruising in the upper layers as they flush out and feast on defenceless damsel nymphs.
I became aware of this by chance. In late December 1985, a day was organized on Bigland Hall Trout fishery. My diary shows that shortly after lunch, fish were feeding in a bay. The rise form pointed to buzzer feeders and there was the odd black buzzer about. I threw all manner of pupa imitations at those trout and then by chance, tied on a small PTN nymph. Thankfully, a trout eventually took hold. Spooning that fish was a revelation. It was crammed full of one wriggling mass of small, straw coloured damsel nymphs. Having not seen the like of this before, my nearest imitation was a washed out PTN. Fishing a single fly through the weedy jungle I ended that session with eight trout.
At home, on closer inspection, a stack of suitable imitations was promptly tied up. Nowadays, I always have a few lightly coloured nymphs, especially through the winter months. I’d encourage everyone to carry a few sample pots or something similar with them when fishing. Not only does this help decipher trout’s stomach contents, any findings can be taken home for closer study that is never time wasted when it comes to dressing flies.
ON THE CRAWL
As we’ve discovered, damsel nymphs are worth fishing from late winter and throughout spring. However, the cream of our sport is in the summer hatch period.
Damselflies do not hatch at the water’s surface. Instead the nymphs migrate shoreward where, on reaching bankside safety, crawl up reed stems, boulders, fence post and the like to hatch into winged adults. These nymphs aren’t fussy at this stage and so long as it is clear of water, they’ll use any convenient item to undertake the critical transformation. I’ve found them on my fishing bag. Take a quick look around next time you’re out and the dried remnants of a damsel nymphal husk should be found on many features close to water.
Some mature nymphs will creep along the lakebed when heading for the shoreline; however, many of them actually swim. In fact, they can be seen making for land just beneath the water’s surface. This makes them extremely vulnerable and trout are quick to take advantage. Try to study the behaviour of a natural here and watch how it swims. That long, slender abdomen wriggles from side-to-side as it moves. Following a short swimming burst, just like the olive nymphs, damsels need to rest. They appear to spread their limbs and tails which I’m sure is to create a greater surface area to prevent them from sinking too deep.
These very actions are what we strive to simulate when fishing our imitations. Obviously, it’s more difficult for us to realise that side-to-side motion (see diagram above) but we can easily achieve a sink-and-draw action to the fly which is sure to increase its attractiveness. This is best done by incorporating mobile materials like marabou and rabbit fur into our flies and adding a little ballast close to the hook eye.
It’s easy to slip into autopilot and yank back a fly on one foot long pulls. Having cast out, begin the retrieve with an erratic figure-ofeight, followed by a longish pause. Now, if your rod tip is pointing down slightly to your right, try sweeping across your front to the left and, although drawing the fly a little closer, it also changes its path. Pause for a few moments then kick-in with a short figure-of-eight retrieve again. Pause once more and switch the rod tip back to the right.
Continuing like this really does allow our fly to behave more lifelike and erratic.
Because of all this I am personally happiest fishing a single fly and concentrating on getting the presentation absolutely right.
In relative terms, as damsel nymphs show a fair turn of speed, trout often intercept them with haste. A taught line then between fly and angler could result in breakages, especially if you’re retrieving when a trout hits. To cushion violent takes, provide some slack into our system. Try holding the rod tip some 18 inches to two foot clear of the water surface. From the rod tip the resulting bowing line creates enough loose line to act as a buffer against savage takes.
Like many insects damselflies thrive off warmth so expect the best of any activity to take place from mid morning onwards.
Those flies that do make it to adulthood now seek a mate. This often takes place on the wing and female damsels can even be seen egg laying whilst the male is still attached! Sheltered parts of a water are the favoured places for this, where females can be found dipping their abdomen tips along reedy margins, quiet bays or amongst water lilies. They may also crawl down reeds beneath the water line to deposit their eggs. Although fishing dry damsel patterns in open water is not a tactic that can be relied upon, it’s always worth carrying a few adult/dry fly damsel patterns for those unique circumstances. I’ve come across one or two specialist trout that have taken up station along a stand of reeds. Here they wait for female, egg laying damselfly and greedily snap them up when they alight. On more than one occasion I’ve tasted success by casting a large dry fly into the disturbed area.
Given calm conditions, a mirror like water surface improves the trout’s vision. Then, I’ve seen trout bow waving along, following an adult damsel flying along some 1-2ft above the surface. These trout then leap out, capturing the damselfly mid air, in spectacular fashion. Although we can’t actually copy this, a large wet fly cast in front of a feeding trout or even cast blind and pulled back has produced in these unusually circumstances.
Trout will always pig out on those unassuming scavengers, hog-lice and freshwater shrimps. It’s time we got our noses in the trough too, says PAUL PROCTER
It’s easy to get excited about emerging insects. Nothing beats a hatch of buzzers, sedges or upwinged flies for sheer spectacle, and when trout are first on Mayfly they seem quite suicidal. But while these creatures make up a large part of the trout’s diet, their activities are seasonal. You wouldn’t fish a Mayfly pattern in October, would you?
Thankfully, other small denizens are available as a more consistent food source. Lets consider crustaceans, which in this context means the freshwater shrimp and freshwater hog-louse. Totally aquatic, and therefore available to trout 365 days a year, their artificials are fished in similar ways, but the bugs themselves demand an individual look.
There are several species of freshwater shrimp (Gammarus) in the UK. To be honest, I’ve never tried to identify the different types, and I’m sure the trout don’t care one jot when they’re busy munching on them. Summer or winter, rain or shine, shrimps will be going about their daily routine. So why do we tend to ignore this unassuming crustacean? Possibly because we rarely see them, so they seldom spring to mind during a day’s fishing. Emerging insects are much more in our faces (sometimes literally), and few things excite us more than arriving at the water to see olives or sedges hatching off.
Even if trout are not rising we attach an appropriate imitation and, pushing all reason aside, proceed to fish. Our faith in upwinged flies is reflected in the number of available patterns, whereas shrimp imitations are far less common. That said, a few standard patterns seem to find their way into most fly boxes.
Equally at home on river and lake, shrimps can be found inching about the bottom. They tolerate a wide range of water chemistry but thrive best in calcareous rivers, so it goes without saying that chalk and limestone-based waters support huge populations. The calcium content and consequent high pH factor allows shrimps to produce a strong, protective shell. That’s not to say that small, seemingly barren streams have little shrimp. Running off apparently infertile ground, many Lakeland hill streams hold surprisingly healthy stocks.
Favoured haunts for shrimp include weed beds, areas of loose stony substrate and some silty regions. Here the crustaceans find both food and shelter. Scuttling about on their sides, negotiating all kinds of obstacles, they graze on vegetation and micro-organisms. Not averse to scavenging, they rarely pass up the opportunity of an easy meal, and dead fish or any other decaying animal matter will attract hordes of shrimp.
They are not the most nimble looking of beasties, so you could be forgiven for thinking shrimps are slow, cumbersome and lethargic. Disturbing them tells a different story. Over short distances they have an incredible turn of speed, darting into nearby crevices or weed beds at a lightning fast pace which is achieved with extended body and frantic leg movements. This brings us to that much debated issue of whether shrimp imitations should be tied on straight or curved hooks. I have watched trout, grayling – and chub for that matter – swim into shallow water, actively flushing out Gammarus. What the pursuing trout must see is a fleeing shrimp, swimming with an elongated body. Reason enough to tie your fly on a straight shank hook.
But, shrimps which are washed out on a windward bank during stormy conditions are quite vulnerable. Finding it difficult to negotiate the rough and tumble of relentless waves, they assume the protective foetal position until quiet water is reached. This curled-up posture is best copied using a curved hook, and my feet tend to fall into the curved hook camp. Nearly all my shrimp patterns possess that characteristic hump of the natural. Also, flies tied on curved hooks tend to fish point uppermost, so are less likely to catch on snags. Ultimately, it’s down to what works for you – straight or curved hook. Confidence is key.
When still, it's easy to see why shrimp patterns are tied on curved hooks.
The shrimps’ colour can vary from water to water, and even pool to pool on a river system. On the whole, they tend to be a grey olive or pale watery brown. During mating time, some take on a slight pinky-orange tinge. Then there are those that have a conspicuous orange spot about their midsection, caused by the parasite Schistocephalus solidus. The tiny parasitic worm preys on shrimps, making them behave in an unusual manner. In this way they become easy pickings for trout, which is the intended destination of this nasty little creature. Over the years several flies sporting some form of hotspot have been devised, and one of the most killing shrimp patterns, by John Roberts, incorporates an orange Firefly bead.
Related to our common woodlouse, the hog-louse Asellus is in effect an aquatic version of this creepy-crawly. Also referred to as the Water Slater, like shrimps they frequent weedy areas. Most, though, move that bit slower when ambling about. A squat, flattened appearance with a segmented body helps distinguish them from shrimps. As scavengers they feed on animal and vegetable matter.
To achieve that squat look in imitations, it’s worth incorporating lead either side of the hook shank. That said, I’ve fooled many stillwater trout grazing on hog-lice with deep-fished Hare’s Ear patterns intended for shrimp feeders.
Situated in South Cumbria, Wych Elm is a relatively shallow fishery with modest weed growth. The annual autumn side-back sees all kinds of bugs gathering around the decaying matter. Such areas are a natural draw to fishermen, and a couple of years back we experienced some first-rate nymphing when the trout acquired a taste for hog-lice. As ever, it was more by accident than design. Fishing Whisper Nymphs slowly around the weed beds, many of the trout we caught had been feeding on hog-lice, mainly immature specimens no more than 5mm long. Obviously, the Hare’s Ear Whisper Nymph matched the naturals perfectly. I’m happy to present a buggy looking Hare’s Ear to imitate both shrimp and hog-lice.
Because both these crustaceans tend to loiter close to the lake bed it makes sense to present our flies there. In water up to 10ft deep, where weed growth is prolific, a floating line is fine. Using a sinking density tapered leader helps get the flies down quickly, especially in a breeze. I usually start with a leader of about 16ft and two flies positioned some 2ft apart (see diagram below). Being this close together, there’s more impetus that hopefully improves their sink rate. It’s then a case of casting out, taking up any slack and keeping in touch with the flies. Literally inch them back, watching the line for any untoward movement, which should be met with a confident lift.
To combat really gusty weather a switch to an intermediate line can be a shrewd move, but speed up the retrieve a fraction because you’ll now be relying on touch to detect takes. Still keep one eye on where the line enters the water off the rod tip. Sometimes this will lift before any heaviness is felt, giving you enough warning to tighten.
Often, I’ll fish shrimp/hog-lice patterns in conjunction with other nymphs. In early spring, when the days are cold and hostile, a heavy cased Caddis pattern can be used to present smaller shrimp-like flies on the droppers. Equally, at depths beyond 4-6ft, a weighted shrimp is a safe bet on the anchor, with Buzzers attached to droppers.
Summer heatwave conditions can suppress insect hatches. With little happening at the surface, a couple of crustacean patterns trickled across the bottom can often secure a trout or two before the late evening rise. If restricted to daytime fishing, try shrimp/hog-lice patterns over deep water. There’s scope here to use fast sinking lines with buoyant flies, Booby style (see diagram below), although I prefer a floater.
If there’s one time when fishing crustaceans comes into its own, it’s late autumn. The first frosts will see receding weed beds open up new hunting grounds, and with the best of any hatches long gone, tiny crustaceans become easy pickings for foraging trout. A team of three nymphs fished through these areas will form the cornerstone of my winter trouting. The point fly and first dropper will be positioned close together with a third nymph some way up the leader acting as a sweeper (see diagram below). While the two bottom flies might imitate shrimp/hog-lice, the top dropper will certainly be a Buzzer pattern.
As ever, wind direction will dictate potential fishing areas. Ideally, a breeze will impart natural drift to the flies. Obviously, we’re talking head or crosswinds here. Having cast out, allow to sink before taking up any slack. Now under slight tension, swing the nymphs round on a breeze, watching the line for takes.
Trout might turn to crustaceans at any time of day during winter. The productive spell is 11am to 3pm, but fish often have several short feeding bursts outside of this. Obviously, with them feeding sub-surface, you can’t know when a feeding spree begins or ends. I fish short spells with breaks. These stop you from going stale, because each mini session offers a new challenge.
Belonging to the Corixidae family, the corixa, or lesser water boatman, are not dissimilar in appearance to beetles. Almost entirely aquatic in behaviour, a quick look at their anatomy reveals that they do, in fact, have wings, which are protected by an outer shell (wingcase).
Capable fliers, from time to time they migrate between waters to colonise and breed. However, one of their most striking features is a pair of paddlelike legs (hence the term boatman) that help them shift about at speed. Indeed, when wading the margins, many of these little bugs will be seen darting for cover.
Lacking in gills means they need to make repeated journeys to the water’s surface for oxygen. This oxygen capsule, held on the underside of their body, appears almost like a tiny air bubble. Diving back to the lakebed where they spend their lives, somewhat more buoyant now, they grapple with weed stems and any other vegetation to prevent themselves floating back to the surface. As their oxygen supply depletes, once more they have to undertake a perilous trip for a refill. With this in mind, it’s understandable why these little bugs seek out a living in relatively shallow water.
NATURAL SIZES AND COLOUR
Not to be confused with the water boatman proper that can be four times larger, corixa range from 6-12mm in length. Actually, the water boatman is quite different in its behaviour as it spends long periods of time attached to the underside of the surface film, where it hunts the margins. Examining samples in my area, corixa average about 8mm, which equates to a size 14-16 hook depending on model. Although geographic location always has a bearing on coloration, corixa generally have an olive-brown back with black barring and a pale yellow underside. However, once loaded with an air capsule, they often take on a brilliant silvery hue.
When it comes to fishing corixa patterns, I feel we fishermen often neglect them because, unlike many other aquatic insects, they don’t actually hatch at the surface as such. But let’s not forget that corixa are an available food to trout the year round at any time of day.
Corixa are not to be confused with the predatory and much larger backswimmers
HOTSPOTS AND TACTICS
Recalling that they prefer shallow water, fishing marginal regions should be our first port of call. Though do consider that if there’s been human/angler activity along a stretch of bank you intend fishing, the trout may have been pushed some way out. Given the luxury of an undisturbed bank, concentrate by casting almost parallel to the shore. Use a floating line and leader length that you’re comfortable with. Mine is usual around the 14ft mark.
My initial approach is a two-fly rig with a sacrificial pattern on a dropper. Tethered some 2-3ft behind this is a more buoyant fly. The idea is that the heavily-weighted fly has just enough ballast to momentarily sink the ethafoam fly when retrieved. Cast along the margins and let the flies settle before imparting a jerky retrieve with plenty of pauses and short draws. Such is the ballast of the dropper fly that it physically submerges the buoyant fly, giving it a nice reverse sink-and-draw path.
The idea being to either suggest an up-and-down motion of corixa or that of a fleeing bug. Naturally, such a weighted fly is in danger of hooking snags, especially in rocky or weedy areas. If this is the case then look to attaching a spilt shot or two on the leader. Yes, it goes against convention, but it is a deadly method on its day.
IN THE WEED
As corixa frequent weedy areas it can often be worth pitching a fly in and around the leafy fronds. Most people shy away from weed, especially if the growth is heavy. Such places harbour plenty of invertebrates and provide cover for fish. With both food and shelter, trout feed more readily and often accept a fly with confidence. Though this isn’t the territory for a threefly cast, as the trailing fly/flies are certain to snag, resulting in lost fish. It’s worth revising the leader breaking strain too, with 7lb being more acceptable and this might be stepped up if larger trout are expected. In extreme cases of menacing weed growth it is more a case of literally pitching a fly into a likely gap, then gently drawing it out with a raised rod tip. Depending on the size of the opening, sometimes the fly will only move a foot or two before catching weed, though there will be occasions when it’s instantly snapped up, making all that weed removal from the hook point worthwhile.
CORIXA MIGRATION TIME
Although corixa can be expected on the wing throughout a season there’s an increase in activity around August and September. Moving from water to water I’ve seen them in huge numbers. There’ll be a little “plop” nearby as a bug touches down. In any appreciable wave, corixa can penetrate a weakened surface film and dive for cover. In calm conditions, I’ve seen them scuttling across the water in a bid to break through the greasy surface. Such a commotion is easily noticed and trout home in.
Some of the corixa don’t even make it through the surface film under these conditions. Tired and weak during such times there’s often a high percentage of casualties, as dead and dying insects litter the water. At the mercy of the wind now, trout find easy pickings with a more leisurely rising form.
This is when a buoyant dressing really comes into its own. Two of these cast out and left to drift can be devastating. If sport is slow, or there are too many naturals about that your offering becomes lost in the crowd, give the fly an occasional tweak. Imitating a kicking natural often attracts the trout’s attention, drawing them to your fly. Alternatively, I’ll hang a spider pattern off a dropper approx 4-5ft from the point fly (diagram below left), and even when trout can be seen taking off the top it’s amazing how many of them succumb to a fly presented maybe an inch or two below the surface.
As discussed earlier corixa are constantly available to trout and, ever the opportunist, I’m sure fish seize the darting bugs whenever they chance upon them. That said, trout will sometimes give corixa their full attention. This usually occurs early and late in the day when trout feel safer in low light levels. Undisturbed they will happily forage for corixa along the margins. I’ve spent many a happy hour creeping along the bankside at first light, as fish can be seen bowing in water no more than inches deep. Spooning some of these trout did reveal hordes of corixa along with stickleback and minnows, no doubt a welcome addition to the trout’s diet.
CRANE-FLIES belong to the major group of Diptera that also includes such insects as houseflies, midges, hawthorn flies and even bees. The daddy longlegs is probably the best known of the Tipula (crane-fly) family. However, there are several other species of varying size that fall under the same heading. They are instantly recognisable by their six rather gangly legs, short, clear wings and slender abdomens. Overall body length varies from as short as 10mm to an impressive 30mm, the largest ones I’ve recorded measured 27mm.
The larvae of crane-fly, known to those with green fingers as the pest “leatherjackets”, are found among soil, with undisturbed pastureland a hotbed. Some species are actually aquatic in their larval stage. While daddy longlegs and other craneflies can be seen on the wing as early as April they tend to be more prevalent as the season progresses, with August and September a highpoint. Fairly weak fliers they are quickly blown onto water in even the lightest of breezes. While I have never come across a “fall” of daddies, there are definitely times when trout give this ungainly terrestrial their full attention.
Fisheries that are surrounded by meadows and the like are obvious haunts for crane-flies. Nestling in such grasslands, Stocks reservoir in Lancashire is a known venue for many types of terrestrial insects, including crane-flies. Barren upland waters too are more than capable of producing excellent sport to these large flies. Warm thermal updrafts easily carry winged insects vast distances up the fells only to deposit them on water.
Naturally, it’s often thought that extremely windy conditions offer the best prospects for daddy fishing. However, lacking in aerial deftness, I suspect crane-flies never stray too far from cover in breezy weather. Those softer days, intermittent with the light winds, have always seen the best of any daddy action for me.
That said, some of them do get dislodged and many times I’ve seen large daddies tumbling across the waves in a decent blow only to disappear in a splashy commotion.
TAPERED LEADERS AID TURNOVER
Before discussing various tactics, it’s worth touching on tackle setup with an emphasis on leaders. Generally quite large crane-fly imitations are fairly wind resistant and do require some “turning over”, especially when fishing a team. Tapered leaders help transfer that all-important energy down the leader to assist in delivering these flies. Even when drifting from a boat with an assisting backwind I still like some form of tapered section to aid presentation as there’ll be times when casts will be placed across the wind to target moving trout.
Fine tippets and large flies really don’t mix, so look to step up the tippet strength/diameter as this helps prevent twisting and ultimately snarled leaders.
Taking this a step further, I generally subscribe to “the windier the weather the stronger the tippet” theory. Again this is to avoid tangles and works extremely well if fishing a team of flies loch style. Slightly stiffer, a standard monofilament is as good as any for this as it’s usually easier to unknot in the event of tangles.
If you have concerns over whether trout spook due to the increased thickness remember that fish are far more tolerant during rough conditions and they’re hardly going to notice an increase in leader diameter. Also, it’s all about balanced tackle - larger flies behave perfectly well on stouter tippets.
It’s as well to present your dry flies as naturally as possible and when fishing from the bank this often means casting into a wind. Where crosswinds are encountered, aim to pitch the flies at a slight angle into the wind thus affording your flies some natural drift. When afloat it’s usually a case of casting the dry flies out and literally taking up slack as the boat drifts. In both instances, I aim to cover as much water as possible by fan casting and only leaving the flies on the water for 12-15 seconds (see diagrams below) and it goes without saying, any rise you see or suspect should be immediately addressed.
Fan casting from a boat
Casting across a wind
Rather than fish two dry daddies together, it’s worth trying a dry/ wet combo. Attach the dry fly to a dropper with a drowned or wet pattern trailing 4-5ft behind as a point fly. The advantage is sometimes trout will be drawn to a large dry fly, yet may refuse this at the last minute, and turning away they chance upon a sunken fly that is more readily accepted. This ploy works with static flies or those tripped through a wave.
For the latter, I prefer a large, buoyant dry fly that is capable of moving plenty of water, especially in a healthy blow. Finding the retrieval speed is the key and this tends to be slower than anticipated. I’ve found a steady figure-of-eight pace the best, just so the fly bubbles along in the surface.
DRIES IN THE SURFACE FILM
For dry fly fishing proper, low riding patterns that are semi submerged seem best. Although patterns with clipped hackles and those incorporating foam are all the rage these days, I well remember my first encounter of fishing dry daddies.
It was a sunny day in August 1980. Nothing much was happening until after lunch when suddenly daddy long legs were being blown onto the surface. There weren’t many of them, just enough to get a few trout going. Scuttling out over the water like small bundles of tumbleweed, it wasn’t long before they’d vanish in a flurry of spray. Throwing a fully hackled dry fly at them resulted in some impressive rises that came to nothing. Looking back one of two things might have been responsible for this.
Heavily dressed and possessing a full hackle my fly sat pertly on the wave tops and while bobbing about nicely (or so I thought), just maybe the trout were initially trying to drown it first time round. Remember that daddies aren’t designed for water and they soon become waterlogged.
That said, I’ve seen times when fish avidly take naturals just as they’ve touched down. Such flies are high riding, which brings me to the second point of presentation. Assuming that the fish weren’t trying to submerge my fly, with the wind on my back and literally casting nice, straight lines, my fly wasn’t afforded any natural drift. Despite this a few trout couldn’t resist coming for a look. They sensed something wasn’t quite right or perhaps they weren’t totally committed to taking.
These days I make sure that my dry flies are sitting in, rather than on, the surface film and always look to offer the flies with some natural drift, however short this may be.
DEALING WITH DROWNED DADDIES
Much of the talk has centered around apparent healthy rise forms when trout intercept crane-flies. Conversely there are situations when trout take the naturals in a more delicate manner. Drowned daddies drift inert-like, and working upwind, trout can sip them in almost undetected.
The only giveaway is a slight flattening of a wave or the occasional porpoise action of a trout. A large dry fly can pull the odd fish now but chances are you’ll find better sport with a couple of drowned flies. A Drowned Daddy and H&H positioned five feetapart on a 12ft leader is my usual approach.
Having thoroughly degreased the leader, look for a crosswind, cast out and take up any slack then let a bow form in the fly line, allowing the flies to quietly slip round on the breeze (see diagram below left). Don’t hurry the retrieve, just keep in touch and watch your fly line for any untoward movement that might suggest a taking fish, in which case, confidently tighten by sweeping the rod into the direction on the wind. Although not as visually pleasing as dry fly fishing, this tactic regularly produces spectacular results.
Drifting a drowned daddy
Dapping is a time-honoured method that can produce amazing results during daddy time. Although longer dapping rods afford precision control over the business end of things you can just about get away with a lengthy reservoir rod.
I’ve managed limited success with an 11.5ft rod, but the important thing is to use a floss dapping line. When paid out this gossamer-like line is carried on the lightest of breezes allowing a large fly to be danced across the surface in an extremely natural fashion.
Those drifting from boats have a distinct advantage here though given any appreciable breeze it can be executed from the bank. Dave Nixon, Brian Pickthall, Ray McGuire and myself spent an afternoon flying floss lines on a brisk wind, off the dam wall of an upland water. Dave fished a 17ft dapping rod that illustrated the need for length, as he experienced the most success!
Far from being an authority on dapping, I can tell you it’s a relaxing way to spend an afternoon that is deadly effective and I’d encourage everybody to try it at some time.
Paul Procter turns his attention to fry and baitfish, a prolific and important food source for stillwater trout...
Be it a lowland reservoir, natural lake or small stillwater, most of our fisheries contain lesser prey fish of one kind or another. Many large reservoirs are home to a thriving population of coarse fish, the offspring of which provide a proteinpacked diet for trout. Where the more obvious coarse fish species are absent, minnows and sticklebacks are often found, especially in remote, upland waters. Many of the natural fisheries in my native Cumbria are no different. Even on the apparently barren hill waters, some minnows will congregate in the margins – in other words, baitfish or fry are available to trout for most of the year, although fry-feeding activity does appear to heighten at the back end of our season on the reservoirs. The little fish provide sustenance for overwintering trout.
Following spawning in spring, the young of coarse fish begin to appear throughout summer. Almost transparent, their pronounced eyes usually give them away. Any structure providing shelter is a natural draw to these small fish we know as “pin fry”. Places like dam walls, valve towers, weed beds, reed beds, sunken trees and walls are all potential hotspots. The day-to-day struggle for life may even occur right under your feet on the boat jetty!
On my waters, weed beds seem the most likely place to find pin fry, and the closer this vegetation grows close to the banks, the better. In calm conditions these tiny fry may be seen dimpling at the surface. Usually, though, a ruffled surface will mask their whereabouts, but trout are never far away. Because of the explosive strike of trout, many fry-feeding situations are exciting to watch, to say the least, yet there are times when trout feed on fry in a more discreet manner.
Fry explode from the surface in an attempt to escape the attentions of marauding trout
Perched on a high bank, more than once I’ve witnessed a small group of trout harvesting pin fry in this way. Had it not been for my elevated vantage point I would have missed the spectacle. I remember watching three trout in particular. With nervous fry hugging the shoreline, two trout acting as flankers approached the fry shoal (one at either end) to drive them out into the path of a third, waiting trout. Unaware of the presence of this third predator, the fry were deftly pounced upon in slightly deeper water. Clinically efficient, there was little or no surface disturbance to betray this attack (see diagram 1). On the other hand, a single trout hunting a fry shoal stands its best chance in shallower water, where the fry have fewer escape routes. Such trout try to round up the shoal before charging in, and this results in a dramatic commotion as small fish attempt evasive leaps with their pursuer close on their tails.
Don’t underestimate a trout’s ability to tackle more substantial prey. I once extracted a seveninch trout from the throat of a 13-inch wild brownie, so imagine what a 3lb reservoir trout would be capable of. Fish up to seven inches long regularly feature in the diet of resident trout. As the season progresses, the surviving and growing coarse fish are more than aware of marauding trout, which now use speed and strength to secure a meal. They hurtle at full throttle into a ball of baitfish, hoping to stun some of the shoal. Soon after this initial attack the trout return and quietly pick off injured or dazed fish. Such “frybashing” is what we fishermen look for, and nothing else gets the pulse racing so fast.
Tactics can differ day by day. Sometimes the trout respond best to a lure pitched into the fracas. On other occasions it’s a static Floating Fry or semi-submerged pattern that is more likely to be accepted. When trout are in a chasing mood I’ve had my best results casting to the edge of any disturbance, rather than into the thick of it. Retrieval rates are not written in stone, and the quickest way to succeed is to keep an open mind. Sometimes you can’t move your fly quickly enough. On other days it’s a case of trundling back a highly mobile fly quite sedately. Whatever the speed, I try to keep it erratic and, where possible, change the direction of the fly to try and mimic an injured or escaping fish. Gently twitching the rod tip up and down during the retrieve imparts a lot of movement into our imitations, (see diagram 2)as does moving the tip from side to side (see diagram 3). This last ploy is especially effective at close quarters, when the angle of change tends to be most pronounced and most likely to trigger a following trout into an attack.
Exciting as it is to experience that heart-stopping wrench from a chasing fish, for me the cream of the sport is presenting Floating Fry patterns to trout. Anglers like Nigel Savage and Dave Doherty have influenced me hugely in this respect, and I agree with them that nothing compares to the magic of watching a huge trout sidle up and engulf a fry pattern. We talk about ‘Floating Fry’, but often the trout respond best to a partially submerged pattern. To achieve this, simply squeeze a Floating Fry in the water just before you fish it. Both deer hair or ethafoam flies can be persuaded to adopt neutral buoyancy, but I reckon the deer hair patterns have the edge. It can also be worth adopting the everpopular NZ style dropper or “duo” with Floating Fry tactics. This gives you the best of both worlds. Use 8lb mono minimum and attach a large nymph or small fry pattern to the hook bend of a buoyant fly (see diagram 4).
Whatever method you adopt, be sure to use an appropriate leader. As ever, it’s all about balanced tackle, and flies with a lot of wind resistance are best offered on 7-8 weight outfits with stout leaders. Even when fishing diminutive fry patterns I’m reluctant to drop below 8lb breaking strain. That said, I always try to make my flies behave as naturally as possible, and I have found the Lefty’s Loop very useful in this respect, especially when presenting static fry patterns. (see Lefty's loop sequence below). This imparts unhindered movement to the fly, but many people shy away from this open loop knot because, in effect, two strands of nylon protrude from the eye of the hook. All I can say is that it works for me, and I now use it in many nymphing situations. Whenever you go afloat, be aware of wind direction and any gulls working the water. Sometimes a prevailing wind will concentrate fry shoals in specific areas or bays. Loch-style drifting is often the most successful method, but anchoring a boat just off an area of activity can also bring blistering sport. Floating and intermediate lines have brought me more success than sinkers.
Cutting my teeth on small hill tarns, I didn’t really get an opportunity to experience fullblown fry-feeding, but the humble minnow provided me with many interesting hours of fishing. Minnows spawn throughout the spring, when they can be found en masse along the more gravelly margins of our fisheries. Preoccupied with finding a mate, they advertise their intentions to passing trout, which make frequent sorties into the tightly packed shoals. Back in those days brown trout were my quarry, and trout of only 12oz would take a minnow just as readily as their larger kin.
Early and late in the day proved the key times to target trout feasting on minnows, or any other baitfish for that matter. Locating a shoal of breeding minnows or noticing frequent disturbances, I’d position myself to one side 15-20 yards away. With line stripped from the reel I could make a quick cast when the action began. In more breezy conditions, it’s worth just prospecting along a bank as dusk approaches. In low light, rogue trout often move in to patrol the shore, picking off any careless fry. For this approach a lightweight pattern prevents you hooking the bottom too soon. Even better, a semi-buoyant pattern that can be cast and momentarily left until the time is right to begin a retrieve.
Dawn and dusk will see many trout venture into the margins to feed on invertebrates such as corixa. When they do this in shallow water they often create a ‘bow wave’ disturbance as they home in. I’ve mistaken these trout for fry-feeders in the past, but it doesn’t seem to matter. Ever the opportunists, if these trout chance upon the occasional small fish then it will quickly be snapped up. I’m more than happy to explore the shallows with a small to medium sized lure at such times.
Trout hunt primarily by sight and small fish are constantly on the move, reflecting light off their flanks, so it’s as well to address this in our imitations. Dress your patterns with mobile materials with plenty of flash. Marabou is an obvious choice, although rabbit hair and Arctic fox tend to be more durable. Following close on the heels of the Zonker, the Minkie revolutionised my approach to stillwater fishing, especially in the suspender style.
Large, bulky flies and tandem lures dressed with materials that shed water when lifted off are by far the easiest to cast. Although a tad stiff, bucktail takes some beating here. Sometimes, flies that create disturbance can give you an edge, so carry some patterns incorporating spun deer hair, ethafoam or large cock hackles. The standard Woolly Bugger, for example, has caught me countless trout.
Finally, it’s easy to get carried away when fishing fry patterns. Impressive tandem lures are needed to match the size of some coarse fry, but dressings on size 12-14 hooks can have just as much impact. Biggest is not always best.
Lefty's loop sequence
Make an overhand knot in the leader and thread the leader through the eye of the hook.
Pass the end of the leader back through the overhand knot.
Twist the line around itself two or three times and pass the end back through the overhand knot. Moisten before pulling at positions 1&2.
Tighten the knot to finish and trim the end, leaving the fly free to move on the loop.