Thursday, 22 May 2008

Trout bum

"A friend once asked, 'How come a guy who dresses in rags and drives a smoky old pick-up can afford such snazzy tackle?'

"... It should be obvious."

John Gierach

Tuesday, 20 May 2008

Hei kona ra

I work for a London based firm, from a satelite office in NI. During my round of office goodbye's, at the end of a trip earlier this year, a colleague announced that she was leaving the firm to return to NZ. In passing, I mentioned that NZ was one of the top trout destinations on my wish-list, unaware of our shared passion for FF and trout.

We have kept in touch on this issue, and I hope one day to take advantage of the kind offer of NZ hospitality. The following extract is Lynne's take on fishing her home waters:

So trout fishing in New Zealand. I can rave about doubt the fishing magazines do. The landscape is gorgeous. There is lots of good water and, generally, not many fishers. The fish are large! The browns are as wily as ever.

I live in Wellington (bottom of the North Island), where there is some nice trout fishing on the Hutt River and its tributaries. I've not fished that water though.

I have fished around Lake Taupo (middle of the North Island) simply because that is where I used to go for holidays. My favourite rivers there are:

-the Tongariro; big water and big trout (rainbows) also lots of fishers.
Zane Grey country.
-the Tauranga Taupo; lovely quiet water, nice fish with a splendid sense of being by yourself. In the upper reaches (read hiking access only) lively native forest and beautiful pools.
I'm certain the other smaller rivers that flow into Lake Taupo would be as equally delightful; I've never fished them.

If you're after browns you'll need to look further than Taupo. I'm told the Mataura River in Southland (bottom of the South Island) is the place for big browns. Having done some hiking around that part of the South Island, I think you'd be spoilt for choice: there are so many beautiful rivers and streams there.

If you're short of time, I think that it might be worth investigating using a guide to start with simply to get access to local knowledge and to learn about the rivers. I suspect many of the good fishing spots might need a 4 wheel drive and the blessing of the local landowner to get access.

Monday, 19 May 2008

Bigger fish

I've said elsewhere, that the '08 - '09 season has had a slow start. Heavy rain through March and much of April left waters high and coloured. High water's not a problem, there's good high-sticking sport to be had, but coloured water pretty much kills the game.

So I have taken full advantage of the warm spell and low, clear waters on local streams and burns. But things are different this season.

I spent a lot of time studying over the Winter months; Ed Engle and Vincent Marinaro texts especially, and tying small flies. Ed Engle talks at length about keeping things simple, putting as little as possible between you and the trout. Marinaro is the mad scientist of fly fishing; theory and observation intertwined with oracle-like truth. I've taken this stuff to heart. Fishing has become a more intuitive pursuit.

I spent a couple of hours on Saturday, refining the #20 klinkhammers, that have proved so effective this month. The body is a little leaner, the wing post finer but a little taller and the ribbing more uniform. The trout don't give a damn; the more each fly catches, so the scruffier the fly becomes and the more appealing to fish (this is evidenced by the increasing strike-rate over time I've observed on every session this year). And yet each refinement, tweak and subtle modification translates in to sharper focus on the water, a stronger sense of there being less between the trout and me.

I got an hour on the water yesterday. After half a dozen smaller fish, a stunning wild brown trout was taken in 10" of water, at the head of a narrow channel. It's dorsal fin was visible as it snatched surface flies from the accelerating current, lost a little ground in the flow and then resumed position. Only a couple of feet downstream, in calmer water, there were numerous smaller trout ranging between 8" - 10", easier to pick off from a wider feeding area. To reach the head of the channel required a cast directly between two banks of weed, among rocks and boulders, before the current caught the fly and carried it overhead. I didn't attempt this immediately, preferring to get in to the swing of things with a few fish.

It took three casts to induce a strike, the first two just edging up the channel towards the largest fish in the pod. The strike was sensed before it came, more intuition.

This is a large trout for the waters I fish, maybe not the largest out there, but this is a GOOD fish at just short of 14".
(If you have a 17" screen, click on the image to see an actual size image. This is a beautiful, wild fish...)

It was also the first wild brown trout our youngest son had ever seen, and he hasn't stopped talking about it.

Saturday, 17 May 2008

The opportunist

How to spend your lunch-break...?

It's widely recognised that wild trout are opportunist feeders. Where food is plentiful (and water quality good, the two are intrinsically linked), they flourish in numbers, so increasing competitive pressure for food resources. Where food is scarce, numbers are more limited. In either case, trout exhibit an opportunist approach to feeding - a basic survival mechanism. Fly fishing for trout is all the more productive for this fishy instinct, more so on lightly fished waters.

I spend significantly more time thinking and dreaming about fishing, reading about fishing and tying flies than actually fishing. That's life. Maybe once or twice in a season, I will spend a whole day on the water; setting off at sunrise and walking, fishing, lunching and absorbing the landscape all day, returning home at dusk to relax with a large, often very large malt.

The norm is to catch a couple of hours here and there, maybe 3 or 4 on a good day. In order to max out my time on the water, I too have become an opportunist. Last Thursday, it was a very warm, late Spring morning as I worked at the home office, getting on with business. It has been a couple of weeks since the last heavy rainfall, local waters are ideal, a little low and clear. It was easy to become distracted, imagining medium olives, swarms of gnats and the odd hawthorn fly bringing fish up.

I'd been working since before 08:00, eating fruit and some nuts as I went and could skip lunch, go fishing for an hour (or so) and fill-up on more fruit mid-afternoon. This was highly measured opportunism, it was one of those days when you know the fishing will be memorable, if short-lived. It became impossible to concentrate on business...

There is amazing, lightly fished water within a couple of miles of home. On arrival, I sat below the bridge pictured to tackle-up. All around, upstream and downstream were trout rising, sipping at the occasional medium olive and vast swarms of gnats. At times there were multiple rises at once, the entire surface of water disturbed by feeding trout.

The road sign has been submerged since last Christmas, during roadworks in the village. I think it lasted about two nights before being tossed in the river. There are also wheelbarrows, shopping trolleys (predictably...), cable drums and a few bike frames.

I've often considered clearing the river of this debris, maybe even getting some of the local kids engaged in caring for the river. Age has made me cynical, any demonstration of care for the river would likely increase it's abuse, so I keep a low profile and only fish when the kids are at school or zoned out on PS2 at home in the evening. And so I never fish the river on a Friday night, when the adjacent park fills up with teenagers and cheap lager.

The fishing was simply fantastic. In such still conditions, it was possible to place the DT2F line with pin-point accuracy over individual fish, just upstream of the rise and watch as the fly was snatched from the surface.

Sure, I missed a few, always do but fish after fish was brought to hand, most unhooked in the water and released within seconds. I even stopped fishing for some 10-15 minutes and observed as the water around me filled with trout, ranging from 4" to, I estimate nearly 14". Standing motionless, they would swim between my legs, oblivious to my living presence. As I moved to fish one last run, the water exploded in to chaos, trout darting in all directions.

The last 20 minutes was thrilling fishing. Dropping a fly in to the head of the central run pictured above, produced a strike to every second cast, resulting in 6 fish, each one 10 - 12". They must have been lined up in numbers, picking off insect life as the current hustled through the submerged gravel channel. Keeping the rod low and applying side pressure swiftly drew hooked fish away from the feeding shoal and kept the strikes coming.

I think I was away for about 90 minutes, it was easy to get back to business.

Tuesday, 13 May 2008

Small stream tactics by Roy Christie

Roy Christie has been fishing since the age of 5, and has caught trout across the globe. He is also a fisher of small streams and an innovator of fly design. As early as 1968, he was tying his reversed parachute emerger, a unique design in that the leader is submerged for impeccable presentation. Some of his designs and a short biography can be viewed by following the link below:

The following piece was written by Roy some years ago, and captures brilliantly his approach to successful small stream tactics. I have followed this valuable advice, and caught trout because of it.

When fishing a small stream, I'd be using a tapered leader of about six - seven feet with a foot or two of tippet, if there's room for that - minimum about seven feet. Tippet as fine as the fish require, 3 pound should do; it's pretty safe unless there are big fish in there. At the same time, if they are not shy, fish as heavy as you can, thus you will spend more time fishing and less time retrieving your flies or tying on new ones.

Forget overhead casting - rolling and sidecasting is the order of the day. As you are coming at them from their blind spot, you should be able to watch them closely.

Be prepared to go down to 22's or 24's in low flows and degrease the tippet for a foot back from the fly on dries.

When you are wading make sure that you do not push any water forward at the fish from off your waders, that means you are going upstream at a slower pace than the flow coming down.

Stealth is the answer.

If the stream consists of pools and rapids, I'd fish every pool from the neck of the lower pool - that lets you avoid pushing water and keeps your profile low.

Play the fish by watching its head and if it wants line, give it some leeway- then the minute it turns sideways haul it in on a really low rod so that it is discouraged from leaping, that way you should be able to take fish without scaring its pals. Every time you catch a fish, rest the pool until you see three more rises. Then they have their false sense of security restored.

Avoid false casting - even with a side cast - in any position where the line or leader may cross over any fish. Take out the fish at the rear of any pool before trying for the fish further up, that way you won't spook the pod. Release the fish into the pool behind you, you will see him come back up a couple of minutes later. He will re-enter the pool naturally, rather than rush in. Play them really softly so they don't run, just wait for them to turn, then 'encourage' them to your hand/net very firmly.

When you hook up, play the fish with your rod down to your side. You should be fishing at three rod lengths or so, so overline the rod by one or two weights. Don't move your body, just your arms. Be a very slow robot. Anything under a pound is a doddle. Bigger fish are worth spooking the pool for. When casting, try to do so when the fish is looking the other way.

For your first couple of trips try to see how close you can get to your target, if they spook, stay really still until they resume feeding. Watch and wait; you should get a fish every other cast.. i.e. one every two or three minutes in a good hatch.

Unless it is wooded, you need to camouflage to appear like a piece of sky. Light grey/blue should still work and let you get really close... It works for herons.

Thanks for permission to post this, Roy.

Monday, 12 May 2008

The art of stalking

(see also Suburban Knight, Transmat Records, 1996)

It's often said that big trout didn't get that way by being easy to fool with an artificial fly. That's true, but even small trout, say 4-6" have likely kept safe for a couple of years just to reach that size.

Part of the draw to small rivers and tiny streams is the art of stalking. I'm not referring to stalking large, stocked fish in a managed fishery in crystal clear water, but the pursuit of wild trout in their natural habitat.

Before you even first cast a line on to the water, the anticipation and excitement builds. First you have to locate your quarry, or at least identify a likely looking spot. Maybe this is made obvious, a splashy rise or a visible silhouette, but often you have little to work with but for experience and instinct, honed and hopefully sharp.

The approach is key; slow, low and deliberate movements as you approach the waters edge and always downstream of your quarry. Never rush the approach, and take in every sight and smell as you go. These marsh marigolds provided colourful cover, why rush with all this going on around you?

On a still day, the sound of water weaving lightly though the landscape can hypnotize, clearing the mind of day-to-day junk. In my experience, a days fishing in this environment is almost the equivalent of a weeks annual leave doing other stuff... If you can only grab a couple of hours fishing in the evening, think of the cumulative benefit as if you had taken a long weekend.

Take the time to plan your first cast, get it wrong and it may be your last on that section so again, there's no need to hurry.

Tackle up well away from the waters edge, still thinking through every step of your approach.

Fish on... fish off, and chances are, that's your lot for the evening. Fishing tiny streams can be as harsh as that, such is the fragility of small, quiet water and it's wild trout.

Over an hour of careful preparation, approach and total focus, followed by mere seconds of contact before the line relaxes and the fish is lost. There is no disappointment, just the slow ebb of spent adrenalin and the last, luckless cast of the session.

Another magical evening on the burn.

Saturday, 10 May 2008

Small stream mantra...

"... let me introduce an idea - just something to kick around: Maybe your stature as a fly fisherman isn't determined by how big a trout you can catch, but by how small a trout you can catch without being disappointed, and, of course, without losing the faith that there's a bigger one in there." -

John Gierach, in Fly Fishing Small Streams.

First trout of the season

Finally got a few quiet hours to get the season underway last night. The weather has kept water levels high and very coloured for almost two months and the few sessions to date have been more an opportunity for Cal (our 11yr old son) to fish.

This wee burn is only three miles from home, and it's fantastic condition has a lot to do with the hard work of a young Roy Christie, some years ago.

Started off fishing a #20 klinkhammer with a trailing nymph. This was a disaster. There are long channels of weed and getting a snag-free drift with two flies was near impossible, so nipped off the nymph to focus on the dry.

For the next hour, moving slowly upsteam there was a constant stream of lightning fast strikes, none of which I connected with. This burn must be full of fish, there were strikes in every section.

Finally connected with a 9" trout as the sun set, along the undercut bank in the picture below, always thrilling on light lines. I was fishing alone and keen to get a picture, and the fish was safely returned.

First trout of many from this burn for sure, and the first with a home-tied klinkhammer. There are also 3 or 4 wraps of the milar ribbing at the bend of the hook to act as an additional trigger.

Leader was also home-made: butt comprising 2' of 10lb, 18" of 8lb and 12" of 6lb with 8" and 6" of 5lb and 4 lb respectively and 2' 7x tippet.

Horses for courses, but this is my fishing nirvana. Small flies, short rods and ultra-light lines on tiny streams in pursuit of wild trout.

Big thanks to Roy for taking the time to talk fish, flies and streams over the last few weeks. Have a couple of (now) proven #20 klinkhammers for you to pick up in the summer.

Late spring fly patterns

May is under way, there was limited fishing during March and April with high and coloured waters. At this time of year, and on these very lightly fished waters, a well presented fly will produce a take. The following are general patterns that have proved effective.

#16 Kamasan B100
2mm gold-bead head Pheasant tail body, ribbed with #16 pearl mylar Light hare's ear dubbed thorax and green tinsel wing case

Sawyer's Killer Bug
The old classic tied to #16 Kamasan B100 rather than a straight hook. Chadwick's yarn picked up at a local haberdashers for a few pence...

#19 and #21 TMC102Y
Furnace hackle tip tail, stripped peacock quill body, light olive dubbed thorax.
Pink poly yarn wing-post and grizzly cape hackle.

#20 Partridge Klinkhammer Extreme
Wapsi super-fine dubbed body, banded cream, through tan and olive, #16 pearl mylar ribbing. Peacock glister thorax.
Pink poly yarn wing-post and grizzly cape hackle.

Coming soon...

Scotland and Northern Ireland.
a brook or rivulet.

Fly fishing for the wild brown trout on small rivers and tiny streams, with reports and tactics using short rods, ultra-light lines and small flies.