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South Esk River proves tough, yet enjoyable

by Peter Blakeley

The South Esk River is one of many contrasts, offering many challenges to the angler. Normally by this time of year I have made numerous visits to the river. This season, however, has been an exception due to the varying weather conditions.

My first visit this season was in March, the start of Autumn. At this time the fly life starts to slow down, and the trout take most things in sight, in readiness for winter and breeding.

Insects that one can expect to see on the river this time of year are the Snowflake Caddis (Asmicridea Edvardsi), Small Black Spinner (Atolonella Delicatula), Pale Wateries, Olive Dun, Iron Blue Dun, (Baetis Frater). Caenids in general, very small Mayflies, and of course a fly that is greatly overlooked by fly fishers, the Caddis Fly, (Trichoptera).

Grasshoppers are usually in good numbers along the South Esk, this year due to unseasonal rains and cooler weather the hoppers are not in great numbers, although occasionally we did come across "pockets"of hoppers along sections of the river. Added to this list, are various Beetles.

My choice of lies for this particular trip were as follows: - 14# Snowflake Caddis, 16# -14# Olive Dun, 12# - 14# Hopper patterns (yellow/green), 14# Caddis Fly, these flies gave me plenty of scope, all is dependant on the weather, and of course the time of year.

Saturday 2nd March
On arrival at the river we found a good level of water, normally the river in this area is quite a bit lower, and this can make fishing a little more difficult. Weather was overcast and quite cool. My fishing mate Gerald and I selected a section of river on a gentle bend. Out reasons for this choice were twofold. There were high banks into the river on the other. A bend in the river will influence the current, which condenses the food on the outside of the bend and creates a good lie for trout and the sloping gravel into the river offers a resting place for trout in the quieter water. An ideal place to drift a Nymph.

Insect life on the river was very quiet, the odd small dun, and when the breeze dropped, Snowflake Caddis would appear from the braches of overhanging shrubs and trees, but no trout showing.

Itried on a 14# Coch-y-Bondhu and vast the fly to the outside of the bend in the river, several casts were made, but to no avail. Gerald was fishing further upstream with a small dun pattern, working the fly from the quiet water over towards the outside of the bend, but as with me, no trout.

We fished various sections of water during the course of the day, observing the odd oncer, changing flies often to suit the water, and to try and entice a trout. Grasshoppers on this area of the river were practically nonexistent, like the trout.

No fish this trip, probably due to the coolness of the day and very little sunlight. We headed back to camp, with thoughts of "maybe tomorrow'.

Sunday 3rd March
An early start at 8:00 am on a new beat. The weather had improved high cloud with plenty of breaks between them, and not a breath of wind. Snowflake Caddis were already drifting from under the over hanging bush and trees on the riverbank, down to the river surface. The day looked promising!

Moving downstream Gerald selected a good looking run with sedges and grass up to the waters edge and a deep pool at the head of the run. I moved further downstream and selected a wide bend, with a moderate bank on the outside of the bend. A few small duns were on the water but no signs of rises. Fishing a small 16# Olive Dun, I worked the water for half an hour without success before changing to a small weighted Nymph (caddis) pattern. Working the fly with the aid of the current, I kept the fly down, close to the bank. The tip of the rod gave a sharp tug, one second the line was tight, the next slack. I'd missed my first take.

Sticking with the Nymph I missed another take. I continued on for another hour, after which I decided to walk back upstream. I caught up with Gerald who was working a slow run with a dry fly, he retrieved his line and emptied the contents of his bag. One trout of approximately 3 Ibs, and old fish with a large head, and smallish body, in its prime it may have tipped the scales at 5 Ibs. This trout had put up once, and he covered it with a dry, coming up again to take the fly, then went down to the depths of the pool at the head of the run. Gerald eventually won the day with this trout.

After a break I headed upstream, selecting a beat where the river split into two. Taking the side run I worked a small dun along the bank and immediately hooked into a good trout, which proceeded straight for the weedy depths, and a submerged tree. Turning the tip of the rod I steered him to a clear section of water, eventually landing a fish, in top nick of approximately 2 Ib. I removed the fly and released him.

Moving further upstream I found a good trout working along a half submerged tree on the far bank, taking just under the surface. After studying the water for some time I noticed some small duns emerging just up from his beat. Changing my fly to a small emerging nymph I cast well ahead of him, allowing the Nymph to sink just under the water. After several casts he took my offering. The water boiled as I set the hook, he headed straight for the centre of the river and the stronger current, after two or three good runs, I was able to start working him back into the shoreline.

A superb trout of approximately 3 Ib. was now within a rod's length. He hugged the bottom of the shallows and as I retrieved the slack line he took another run into clear water. Normally this would be fine, except for the loop of line around my fingers. The line come to a sudden stop, the tip of rod bent and the tippet come back at me minus the fly. A bow wave headed across the river.

One caught and one decorated, still "all in a days fishing", I thought. By the end of our second day's fishing I had caught and released three and raised two others. Gerald had caught one. One thing we both noticed on this trip was the apparent lack of insect activity, even the Snowflake Caddis was down in numbers, where normally, two or three years ago, there was a good number of them on most reaches of the river.

Grasshoppers we found in pockets, the majority of which has probably been thinned out during the cooler part of late summer, cold winds and rain. There was some Black Spinner activity, even the odd Red Spinner was noticed, but again down on numbers, and most prolific insects noticed were the very small duns, (Pale Wateries). Again, in pockets.

I hope the lack of insect life was due to the changeable weather conditions, and not due to farming practices. We enjoyed our trip, but I was disappointed with the results of such a river.

Maybe, just maybe, our rivers will return some of the former angling days that I have enjoyed on the rivers. We followed up with another trip to this river, again the angling was slow, not a lot of insect life showing, with the odd rise. The weather was warm and overcast, the tally for two rods over the weekend, seven caught, four returned, missed two and raised two.