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.