Thursday, 5 June 2008

What we did on our holidays

(see also Fairport Convention's second album released 1969 on A&M Records)

April 2008, and the five of us head to Lagrasse in S. France for our first family holiday abroad together. Leaving home at 04:00 to catch a bus from Belfast to Dublin, we stop via Newry and stare at the Newry Canal. In recent years, this waterway has attracted a new breed of fly fishers - those after pike on the fly. Traditional streamers and lures are known pike catchers, increasingly they are taken on the dry fly. Whatever the method, this sounds like thrilling sport. Lean, predatory and athletic, I can only try to imagine the buzz of taking a pike on the fly.

The main objective of the holiday is to relax, eat and drink well and get out and about a bit together. But also to fish a little.

I had the opportunity, well the pleasure to meet up with Marc "La Mouche"Fauvet, a local fly fisher, fly tyer and casting guru. He'll blush when he reads this, but hey, I was impressed.

The day started with some coffee at the house, well, we were in France. There was croissants too... We then headed out of town towards the mountains, parking up and heading to the waterside. This was a welcome sight, small water and brushy. I was keen to pass Marc my 7' 2wt rod to see what it could do in experienced hands. I had always assumed such ultra-light gear was limited in terms of casting. Marc was in the water, behind him a narrow slither between branches and brush as he expertly aerialised 30' of line with fast and tight loops. No snagging going on here, just total line control and the ability to alight a dry fly on to the water's surface with complete finesse.
Dude on the stream...

Yeah, I was real impressed....

No wonder then that Marc completed and passed the FFFCCI exam in Germany a couple of weeks later.

We saw a few trout, I spooked them and didn't catch any. Strangely, the day was more about fishing, the landscape and the company than fish, if you get my drift. The conversation was amusing and intelligent, the company warm and thoroughly enjoyable.

Next time, we'll get serious about the fish. Marc knows this water well and would make a first class guide if you find yourself in the Aude/Lagrasse/Carcassonne area in need of some fly fishing or casting tuition. Untill then, I'll keep playing my Fairport Convention album and remember what we did on our holidays...

Marc's details are:

Marc Fauvet

Federation of Fly Fishers-Certified Casting Instructor
Comision National de Lanzado (Spain) -Master de Lanzado

Based in the French Pyrenees, south of Carcassonne, I offer casting courses for beginners, intermediate and advanced fly fishers in English or French.
Guiding services on local waters are possible as well.

marcfauvet at yahoo dot com
phone- (33) 468 69 62 83

Back In Ireland

from "The Longest Silence - a life in fishing"
Thomas McGuane

'The fish I caught were all around two pounds apiece. I don't remember ever catching stronger, wilder, more violent or wanton fighters than these fish. They were vividly leopard-marked with short, hard bodies. They wore me out with their valour.'

Monday, 2 June 2008

Scale down

Waters remain low. Unless there is rain in the next week or so, levels will be very low and the nature of the fishing will change dramatically. Fish will retreat to wherever there is sufficient depth, gloomy pools and undercut banks. Such habitat is usually patrolled by larger trout, but more fish are likely to take refuge as conditions change.

I welcome whatever conditions I find. Things are getting more challenging though, and the bumper month of May is now over, so the season moves in to a different phase; time to get technical.

This is what ultra-light fishing is all about. Where a couple of weeks ago, trout were lining up to strike at modest size, flashy flies, now a more technical approach is required. And by technical, I mean smaller flies, presented on lighter tippet with greater finesse.

Sunday evening and a couple of hours on the water. It had been a hot day, with occasional, gusty breezes. As evening approached, temperatures dropped a couple of degrees and there is cloud cover. There is limited insect life on the water, and the flows are weaker with low, clear water. For almost an hour, searching pockets, runs and riffles with the flies that had brought so much sport the week before, there is little action. Half a dozen strikes, and these are not as determined or committed as before. And yet there are trout in the usual places.

I understand hard conditions. Learning to fish the canals of the English Midlands in the early eighties has served me well. These waters had suffered industry for decades, and fish populations, mainly roach, gudgeon, dace and the odd skimmer, were small. Matches were won and lost by the dram and total catches were often measured in ounces rather than pounds. Such conditions demand a light approach to tackle, feeding and presentation. This has always been my comfort zone, and also my sweet spot - where my fishing is executed most naturally and intuitively.

I'd promised to be home "in less than a couple of hours", and so it was time to tune in to the conditions and fish properly. After an hour of flogging the water, a rethink would also rest the stream. It was time to scale down.

First up, the existing 6x tippet was clipped at 6" and 30" of 7x tippet added to give an overall leader length of nearly 10', longer than practical on most of the brushy streams and burns I fish, but in low water, things have opened up and I can back-cast maybe 25-30 feet.

Next I added a #22 quill bodied klinkhammer. The key here is the hook, a TMC 200R, which is closer to a standard size 22 hook, unlike the greatly oversized Patridge Klinkhammer Extreme range of hooks.

Conventional Klinkhammer theory relies on this oversized fly to shock trout in to opportunistic feeding, providing an obvious differential to natural food prey. The TMC hooks enable the all-important scale-down, even with emergent, parachute style dressings. Similarly, the flash of mylar ribbed, tri-banded dubbing is replaced with a quill bodied dressing to convincingly represent a natural, segmented body. It's not that these fish are particularly spooky, more they are feeding less voraciously and with added caution in low water. The 7x tippet is degreased, the new fly ginked, scale-down complete...

Success in fishing relies as much on one's confidence in approach as any other variable, and making the first cast post scale-down just feels so right.

The first cast in to a jostling riffle, between rocks and weed brings a trout up. He misses, as the fly accelerates away in the current. Next cast, slightly further upstream and a positive strike leads to a hook-up and a 9" wild brown trout.

And I stop fishing right there, as if to make a point.