Thursday, May 10, 2018

April in Eden

We had a wet start to April and our rivers were out for most of the first week. They were dropping back and fishable by the 7th. The water temperature was still pretty low; it was down at 6°C but that didn't stop the Large Dark Olives from hatching in force. A few fish were drawn to the surface and I managed to catch my best fish of the season so far. It was picking off the emerging Olives and was tempted with a suitable imitation.

An LDO emerger fooled this 3lb 1oz beauty

Water temperatures were beginning to rise by the 10th - they were up to 9°C. Large Dark Olives continued to hatch in decent numbers and a few March Browns were starting to make an appearance. We still weren't see large numbers of rising fish - despite good hatches - but some very good fish were on the feed at times.

Another nice fish taken during a Large Dark Olive hatch

March Browns were hatching with more regularity

We were seeing trickles of March Browns on most days from the 10th of the month and a few fish were on them when Chris joined me for his first taste of fly fishing. The fish weren't feeding hard, but there was enough activity for Chris to tempt his first trout on the fly.

Chris is into his first fly-caught fish

The middle of the month brought strong Easterly winds and challenging fishing for Mike. The wind seemed to deter the fly from hatching in force, but ringing the changes between spiders and dries - when we did spot the occasional riser - produced some action.

Mike nets his first Eden trout of 2018

Tim tempted a fish to his spiders

The easterlies had abated by the 18th, the sun came out and we saw our first trickle of Grannom. It lifts my spirits when the Grannom appear - I always think that the massive hatches of our daytime sedge are the first big feed of the year for our trout and it often kick-starts our season. The Grannom made an appearance on most days following the 18th, but not in the numbers expected - we had to wait until the 28th for the first proper hatch.

Mike is into another fish

David plays a fish on a challenging day

Colin joined me on the 28th and fish were rising as soon as we hit the river - the Grannom were hatching in massive numbers and fish were on them! Targeting rising fish with dries and emergers produced an exciting few hours with fish risen, caught and missed....

An excellent hatch of Grannom

Colin with a fish during a Grannom hatch

Colin is into a fish on his day in the lakes

We hit the lakes at the end of the month and Colin joined me for a day on Ullswater. The lake - like our rivers - is still very cold for the time of year. But we persevered, hit many of my favourite drifts, and got some action! Colin moved, missed and caught a few fish and even managed a double, when two fish came to his top and middle dropper.

Two fish at once for Colin

So, the cold and slow start to the season continued into April. But I don't want to sound too negative as we had fish on all outings - they just weren't feeding as hard as we'd expect for April. The hatches of Large Dark Olive and March Brown have been excellent at times. The Grannom have started and a few Olive Uprights and Iron Blue Duns have began to appear. 
The optimist in me says all is looking positive for May and I'll finish April's blog in a similar fashion to the way I finished March's. The Grannom have been slightly late and there should be more to come in May. A few Large Dark Olives should continue to trickle off into the early part of the new month. We can expect hatches of Olive Uprights, Iron Blue Duns and Large Brook Duns. Depending on the weather, we should see our first Medium Olive and Yellow May Dun of the year and, if we're lucky, we may see a fall of Black Gnats. Oh, and the Mayfly should be making an appearance. So there's plenty to look forward to! 

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

The Beast from the East

The 'Beast from the East' has certainly taken it's toll in the first two weeks of the new trout season. Apparently this weather system with it's ominous nickname was driven in by winds from Siberia, bringing bitterly cold weather and snow to much of the country.

Most of the snow at lower levels had disappeared for the new season, but it remained at higher levels and the subsequent bouts of snow-melt have kept our water temperatures down. Water temperatures recorded so far on my local rivers and lakes have ranged between 4°C and 6.5°C.

But it's not all bad news; we've had some very good hatches of Large Dark Olives with the occasional showing from the March Browns and some very good fish have been caught - they just haven't been feeding very hard in the low water temperatures.

We've had good hatches of Large Dark Olives on occasions

The first time I read anything about the effect of water temperatures on the fish and their diet was in a book borrowed from a friend many years ago (probably about 35 years ago). That book was 'A Trout and Salmon fisherman for Seventy-five years' (1948) by Edward Ringwood Hewitt.
From what I remember; Hewitt was talking about fishing Yellowstone Park and the effect of extreme high and low temperatures on the fish. Temperature levels that we rarely - if ever - experience over here, and how the fishes digestive system would shut down at these temperatures and they would cease to feed.

Even after reading Hewitt's book, I still don't really remember thinking much about water temperatures and their effect on the fish and fishing. In those days - when we had proper winters - the fishing was always tough in the opening weeks of the season, the fish were usually thin and in poor condition. I guess that I just accepted that that was the way it was - we just went fishing, and you had good days and you had bad days. That changed when I acquired little paperback called  'The Trout' by Frost and Brown.

There is a section in the book that talks about the Maintenance requirements of the fish. Their explanation of these requirements fits with what we are experiencing at the moment. There's too much information to cover here, but basically: the lower the temperature, the less energy the fish extends, therefore the less food it requires to maintain it's existence; the higher the temperature - within reason - the more active it is, so it uses more energy and requires more food. Based on their the research, the greatest increase in maintenance requirement - and the one that will be of greatest interest to us fisherman - is between 8°C and 15°C.
So with our rivers and lakes ranging in temperature from 4°C to 6.5°C during the first two weeks of the season: I guess it's understandable that the fish may have been be a bit lethargic, as their maintenance requirement is going to be relatively low. And it may explain why most of the fish that have been encountered by the few stalwarts that have braved the elements have been good fish. As Frost and Brown say 'the larger the animal, the larger will be its total maintenance requirement'.

An early lake trout

The early days of the season are when I like to get out to recce different areas, to see if there's any changes after the winter. After a couple of river outings I decided to brave the elements and risk a day in the lakes. Conditions were perfect for lake fishing, but with the water temperature down at 4°C there was a good chance that it was going to be a bit of a dour affair - and so it proved. There was a time when I would never have ventured onto the lake in March and this year's cold start reminded me of those days. But it wasn't fruitless and - despite many unproductive drifts - my efforts were rewarded....

Thorsten's first fish fell to a 'March Brown Emerger'

Conditions improved slightly for 1°C Thorsten's visit. It showed that it doesn't take much; on two of his days we had a  lift in water temperatures (to 6.5°C) and fish responded to the surface fly. They didn't feed hard, but it was great to see fish at the surface and a few responded to Thorsten's offerings. On day one a hatch of Large Dark Olives brought them up and although they couldn't be tempted with the dries, they did respond to a well presented Spider. On day two we had a mixed hatch of Large Dark Olives and March Browns, and fish were tempted with dry/emerger imitations of each species.

Tempted by a 'Large Dark Olive Emerger'

On the penultimate day of the month the water temperature dropped by 
1°C and fishing slowed again. I only saw two rising fish - despite an excellent hatch of Large Dark Olive - and only one rose regularly enough to tempt with an Olive emerger.

April is here now though, so the weather should start to improve, water temperatures should increase and we have some excellent hatches to look forward to. With the best of the March Browns still to come and Grannom, Iron Blue Dun and Olive Uprights to look forward to, April can be a great month for dry fly sport. So there is a lot to be optimistic about.....

Sunday, December 24, 2017

In like a lamb and out like a lion!

November started dry and relatively mild. Most outings during the first ten days saw hatches of midge, trickles of Large Dark Olive and short periods of rising fish. It was nice to have the opportunity to do some spider fishing, instead of what tends to be the customary winter task of plumbing the depths with heavy sub-surface offerings.

A Graying to the spiders in early November

We didn't get much opportunity to target or learn much about our local grayling when I was younger. We'd pick the occasional one up whilst trout fishing. Usually only one or two per season. Certainly not enough to justify chasing them when our trout season closed. But I did try on occasions. I think the inspiration came from Reg Rhygini's book 'Grayling' - one of many good fishing books in our local library at that time - and from seeing a video of him fishing for grayling on the River Eamont. 
Many blanks soon put me off...and it was the late 90's before I had the incentive to try chasing Eden grayling again. They began to return to the Eden and it's main tributary, the Eamont, in reasonable numbers around 1998. By 2000 the grayling population had increased massively and we were catching large numbers throughout the year.

It was great when they returned to Eden and we had good fishing on our doorstep. 
Prior to that time, the only grayling fishing we did was the occasional winter trip into the Scottish borders, down to the Yorkshire dales and onto the Derbyshire Wye. Rather than the occasional trip, our post -'98' grayling fishing on Eden meant that we could spend many more days on the water and learn more about ' The lady of the stream'. Their habits, what they did and didn't like, their susceptibility to changing conditions and their liking for the surface fly.

Another November grayling to a 'North country spider'

The grayling's mouth is shaped perfectly for foraging on the river bed. Understandable - I guess - when you think of the barren winter months when surface food of any kind is at a premium. I guess that it's also understandable - during the winter - why the fish will sometimes be up like a shot to take advantage of any sort of a hatch. One thing I have learnt over the last 19 years on Eden is that grayling - despite their reputation for being bottom feeders - are pretty free-rising, and that was the case in early November.

You could hardly call what we got 'a hatch' - a handful of olives and a smattering of midge, but that's all it takes sometimes. Most sessions, depending on starting time, started on the nymph before a couple of splashy rises and the occasional natural were noted. A quick change to a couple of spiders and a light nymph resulted in decent numbers of fish at times and then, if all went quiet, a return to the nymph to end the day.
I'm often preaching to clients about the importance of taking note of what is happening around you. And how ringing the changes to suit changing conditions can often pay dividends. One session on a relatively warm mid-November day was a prime example. The day started on the nymph, then a little surface activity prompted a change and spiders did the trick. A few fish were midging the flats and they were tempted with a change to size 18 dries. When surface activity ceased it was back to the nymphs....No messing about with leader changes. The turnover and presentation wasn't perfect, but it was sufficient to cope with quick changes to take advantage of these short windows of opportunity. These sort of things don't happen often. But I love it when they do. This is what makes our great sport so interesting for me. I'm not interested in going to the river and switching to 'automatic pilot'. 

A Salmon on the nymph!

It wasn't only grayling and a few out-of-season trout that took an interest in my spider rig. On one drift an out-of-season salmon took an  interest in my point fly; a size 14 beadhead nymph! It's surprising what will tempt these 'silver-tourists', or in this case: not-so-silver. I and one or two of my clients have had quite a few come to nymphs and the occasional spider over the years.

Peter into his first river fish

The guiding and tuition game can be relatively quiet over the winter, but a few hardy souls manage to brave the elements. It was bitterly cold for Peter and Dylan's first experience of river fishing. Wading a cold Eden in November was a bit different to their usual stillwater fishing from the bankside. But a few Olives hatched, fish looked to the surface and both managed some action on their river debuts - and both said that they'd be back for more!

A fish for Dylan on his Eden debut

The middle of the month saw a return to colder conditions. Phil wanted to hone his Czech nymphing skills and the conditions were ideal for it: nothing on the surface and the fish were keeping their heads down.

The Czech nymph worked for Phil

Rain on the 14th brought a slight lift (50mm) in levels on the 15th. It wasn't enough to stop the fishing, but the slight drop in water temperature seemed to slow things. I was back to plumbing the depths....

A fish whilst plumbing the depths

We were back to rain and fluctuating river levels for the final ten days of November. A spell of wet weather through the early hours of the 20th brought the rivers up the following day. They began to drop on the 21st and then we were hit with a deluge on the 22nd. I read somewhere that we had over 100mm of rain in 12 hours. Roads were flooded all over our region and our rivers were rising fast. The Eden rose over 3 metres and flooded the fields on the 23rd.

Eden was in the fields on 23rd November

It's surprising how quickly the river drops. It was fishable - just - by the 26th, and a short session produced a couple of fish, then it rose again on the 27th and that was my November fishing over....

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Chasing October grayling

Well, here we go again! 'Another unsettled month in Eden'. Chasing October grayling wasn't a complete washout, but it was another very wet month. Our rivers were high, and often unfishable for most of it. Now they - the weathermen - are forecasting the coldest winter for years, with temperatures predicted to plummet over the coming months. Based on their record for accurate forecasting for our area: 'don't hold your breath' for that, I know I certainly won't! But at least, if they're right, we will hopefully get a spell of cold and dry weather with the rivers at a decent and fishable level for a while.

Peter with his first grayling on a spider

The rivers were still high on the first of the month, but they were falling after a big rise on the final day of September. Eden was just fishable for Peter and Sven's first taste of chasing grayling. Much of the day was spent on the nymph. Although, we did get a trickle of Large Dark Olives in the afternoon and a couple of fish were spotted at the surface. The dry fly would probably have tempted them, but as the boys wanted to sample a bit of ' North country spider' fishing....I went through leader set-up, appropriate flies, presentation and bite detection etc. with Peter and then we had a trial run before moving onto the fish. All went well and Peter was soon covering 'the zone'. When it came, the take was really subtle, which I expected in the softer flow where the fish were showing. It was never going to be the arm-wrenching pull that you often get in faster water. The line gently slid away, the hanging line from rod tip to water slowly lifted, I said 'strike' and Peter was into his first spider-caught grayling! It was text-book. All went exactly as planned. Apart from: the commotion from the hooked fish put down the other rising fish. We waited for a while, but there wasn't enough fly on the water to tempt the fish back to the surface - so we eventually moved on.

Sven is into a Rainbow

We had more overnight and early morning rain for Peter and Sven's final day with me. Eden was rising fast, so, rather than waste the day, we decided to hit one of our local stillwaters to chase a few Rainbow trout. The weather remained miserable with squally showers at times, but both managed some action....

My first grayling of October

River levels were up and down - more up than down! - during the first two weeks. It was the 16th when I eventually managed my first session of the grayling season. I know that the official start of the grayling season is the 16th June, but I always think of my season as 1st October to 14th March. This is the time when it's closed season for trout and I concentrate solely on the grayling. The river was still a touch on the large side on the 16th. But with the remnants of Hurricane Ophelia heading over the Atlantic and due to hit us that evening, I decided to go for it. Fish appeared to be hugging bottom. Going deep with a combination of my favourite winter bugs produced my first grayling of 'the season'. Ophelia swept over the region in the evening and overnight, hitting us with a strong winds and rain. The rivers rose slightly on the 17th.

A few winter favourites

River levels continued to fluctuate over the third week and guided days had to be cancelled. I managed to sneak out, but the conditions were far from ideal. Okay for me, but too big and iffy for clients; the safety and enjoyment of my clients is paramount.... Concentrating on the few holes that I knew that would fish helped me to eke out a few short stints on a big river. A session on the 24th was cut short by a rising river. Early morning readings on the Environment Agency gauges for Eden suggested all was well. It was when I arrived and a couple of early fish lifted my spirits. But the river began to rise at lunchtime. It was up eight inches and rising by early afternoon - and that was the end of my fishing for that week!

 Fish were caught during a few short stints on a big river

We had our first frost of the winter on the final day of the month. I don't usually like the 'first frost'. But I'd already planned to go out and, despite my misgivings, I had a good session. It just shows that you can 'never say never'. I guess the saving grace was that the weather and water temperatures had been pretty low leading up to it. So, even though all was white with frost on the morning of the 30th; we didn't get the severe change in conditions that can often be the fisherman's anathema.

A good session following the first frost of the winter

Water temperatures are down now so my thermals have come out of hibernation. Breathable waders are normally put away and neoprene's are brought into play to see me through to March. But I've given up on them. I don't know what it is with today's gear! My old neoprene waders were bulletproof and would last years, but my last few pairs have developed seam leaks in no time. So now I just layer-up under the breathable's. Today's lightweight waders aren't much better...but I guess the less said about modern waders - and their repairers - the better....

If you're going to be like me and plan to brave the elements in search of 'The lady of the stream' over the coming months; I hope that your waders stay leak-free and don't forget your thermals!