Presented from Issue 115, April 2015
Well this season is passing before my eyes. Maybe I’ve been working too conscientiously, but for some reason I have fished less this last season than in recent years. There are still some golden Autumn fishing to be had, if I can make it out there, but even here on the mainland, where the rivers are open until early June, the dry fly action slows right down by the end of April. With that in mind, I’m already thinking of what I might do differently next season.
I’m sure that hardly sounds surprising, but it would be the lucky few that would fish as much as they would like. I have known a couple of real trout bums, that on the surface, we all envy. The other side of that is that this sort of lifestyle can leave you without enough money to put petrol in the car to go fishing, which takes some of the gloss off of “living the dream”. We all have responsibilities that put pressure on our time, but losing some good friends over the year brings home the truth that we only live once, so when the opportunity for a day, or even half a day out presents itself, especially if I can share it with a friend, next season I’ll want a pretty good reason to decline.
In these days, with detailed weather forecasts at the touch of a finger on a smart phone, it’s easy to pass up a day on the water because the conditions “won’t be right”. That’s fine, it can help you choose your days off wisely, but I’m in two minds about this. You may never get that day back, and in the old days, when you just went, because you’d missed the forecast on the news, or forgot to buy the paper, you had a great day out anyway, and maybe for a short window, the weather backed off and gave you memorable fishing. And if it was truly lousy, it gave you even more incentive to get out there as soon as weather settled. It’s a bit like golf. Play a great round, and you want to get out there again. Play a terrible round, and you need to get out there again to have a better one!
Bear with me on this. I’m primarily a stream angler. I love catching fish of all shapes and sizes. I certainly don’t hate big fish, but I love walking up a small stream, fishing the bubble lines to eager, small stream fish, especially fishing run for run, or fish for fish, with a friend. None of my friends, or I, are fish “counters” as such, but when the fish are plentiful, it’s easy to get carried away, and already be looking for the next one as you skate the one on your line across the surface to land it. I know I’ve been guilty of this in the past, and seen it in my friends too. It can reach the point of “how much is enough”, and some days where a lot of fish have been caught have been fun, but somehow a bit of a blur.
In recent times, I’ve started to slow down, and been happy to walk the stream and just fish to rising or visible fish, or sit on a pool and watch for a while, rather than feel like I need to catch every fish in the river. I did manage to get out on my own the other day, and after a lot of walking, and a bit of (unsuccessful) fishing, managed to land a really nice 23 inch brown in a small stream. I looked at my watch. It was only 2:30 in the afternoon, and I could have fished on for hours. But I just wound up, and walked back to the car. I saw some smaller fish on the way back, leaping to black spinners. I stopped and watched them for a bit, but left them to it. I know that Mike Stevens and Peter Hayes do this sort of thing at the end of the season. If they catch a fish on their last trip of the season, they wind up and call it a day. It’s a nice thought, and a nice memory, to end the season on that note I think.
I’m going to take that sort of sentiment into next season. It’s not really about not catching fish, but more about maximising the enjoyment out of the fish I target and catch than maximising the number of fish caught. This leads into the next point too…
Leave my Rod at Home
This might sound crazy too, but it follows on from the previous idea. How can you fish without a rod? By sharing one! I’m usually with a friend when I fish, but we usually fish one at a time. On small, flowing streams, we fish in turn to share the fun, often having more fun as the spectator than the participant. And on slower lowland waters, which are more pool and polaroiding based, it is far more effective to have one angler down on the water, with another up high somewhere doing the spotting.
Sure, you can each take a rod, but you can also share one, as you’re only fishing one at a time anyway. For me, the biggest advantage to sharing a rod is when it comes to photography. I have pretty serious camera gear, and usually make the effort to take it with me, but when I have a rod in the other hand, it’s often a nuisance to get the damn thing out and use it! Of course, you can drop your rod somewhere and pick it up later, but often that’s easier said than done. There’s been more than one occasion when I’ve spent some time scratching my head looking for where on earth I left that rod back along the river… I’ve had some really good days when I’ve left the rod at home, and decided to focus (pardon the pun) on the camera, when fishing with a friend or two! You can really pour yourself into improving your photography this way. And if you’re nice enough to your friends, you can use their rod and end up fishing as much as you would have anyway.
This goes back to the last point about catching less fish, and slowing down, rather than racing up the river in some sort of military mission. When you already have the camera out at the ready, you can take a better and more creative photos when a fish is being hooked, played and landed, instead of frantically getting your camera out, only to find that your mate has already let the fish go and is casting again! So I’m going to make the commitment to leave the rod at home for a few trips at least and concentrate on photography (our esteemed editor will probably only believe it when he sees it).
Empty my Fly Box
This is something that has been bugging me for a while. The flies I carry are split into two broad categories. The first are imitative patterns, tied to look like specific species of insects, and (hopefully) fool selective trout. Most of these are based on particular mayflies, but also include termites, and other insects. I’m happy with these, or at least the philosophy behind them.
The second class are “general” or “attractor” flies that look buggy, and hopefully edible to a hungry opportunistic trout. These are the patterns that have started to bug me (pardon the pun again). The majority of these flies have come our way from books and magazines, mostly from overseas – flies like Royal Wulffs, Stimulators – that sort of thing. Sure, they work. Trout are trout, and if they’re feeding opportunistically they have a go at sticks, leaves and cigarette butts. But over time, I’ve felt a sense of detachment from the river and its environment when using these types of flies. Even my “go to” small stream fly, a little mottled deer hair caddis doesn’t feel right. Sure, fish eat it, but I’ve never seen a natural caddis that size and colour be eaten by a trout on the streams I fish. I really don’t know what the fish that eat my fly take it for – it maybe looks like a small mayfly dun - and maybe it doesn’t matter, but I’m tipping all my general patterns out and starting from scratch.
The direction I’m taking is based on my friend and mentor, Ray Brown’s approach. Ray is one of the best read anglers I know, and has been tying flies commercially for decades. His own patterns include ones that you would call “general”, but his mind set is focused on making those flies relevant to local insects. This may not necessarily result in more opportunistic fish taking the fly, but to me, the process and generates a deeper interest in the entomology and wider ecology of your local streams, and connects you more with your fishery. A subtle benefit of “localising” these general patterns to me, is when you come across a more selective fish than normal. It might reject the “off the shelf” general pattern, but take the one with imitative elements to it. I like the idea of that, anyway!
I’m not saying there is anything wrong at all with fishing a Royal Wulff or whatever you like, and there is something nice about the thought of travelling the world, only using a Red Tag. But for me, when fishing my local streams, I’m looking forward to using my empty fly box to generate some closer observations of what is living there, and making my general flies more relevant. I’m starting with my Deer Hair Caddis. I’m giving it a tail, and changing the wing a little to make it more closely resemble a mayfly dun.
So next season, I’m hoping to fish more, catch less, leave my rod at home, and empty my fly box. And I’m really looking forward to it.