My best friend from my University days gave me Fifty Places to Fly Fish Before You Die by Chris Santella for Christmas. An inspiring read it is, detailing fantastic fly fishing from around the globe.
Few of us can live the dream of being fly fishing professionals, able to travel the world sampling the very best fishing locations and we have instead to aspire to things closer to home. This should’t and doesn’t mean we are condemned to mediocre fishing far from it. I have been reasonably lucky to have fished in places as far flung as Egypt and Canada and I am happy to say the most fun I have had with rod in hand have been within these shores (and for a mere fraction of the cost of many of the exotic venues in Mr Santella’s book!)
So what is on the cards for this year? Well, I have to admit my season has barely started as I tend to earn my many fishing trips later in the year with keen attention to domestic matters during the less pleasant months of January to March. I did, however, finally start my salmon season in March with a long overdue visit to the Earn at Kinkell Bridge under the fine stewardship of Sandy McIntosh. I caught nowt as befitted my skill but I nevertheless had a great day and look forward to another visit soon – who knows what might just throw itself at my badly presented fly?
I will, no doubt, find myself on the banks of Frandy Reservoir at some point soon. As I have noted in my articles before, Frandy is a lovely wild upper-moorland venue and whilst it can be wind-swept and weather-beaten it is a delightful place to fish even at the very start of the season. These last six years have seen me catch plenty of its finned residents using small black buzzers early season so here’s hoping for this year also.
My most recent highlight was a visit to Cambridge in April to tackle Grafham, Pitsford and the River Wissey on my annual Spring visit South. The weather was distinctly wintery for the three days, but this did not stop us having a great time and catching some superb, hard fighting rainbows. Not my first love, but a hard-fighting overwintered rainbow of over 2.5lbs certainly tests your knots, so I am certainly not adverse to chasing them once in a while.
Our day on Grafham started in bright sunshine and no wind how things were to change! This pleasant, benign start was short lived as the north wind picked up and the rest of the day was spent in all the warm gear that I had taken down with me. Each year I have been amazed at the size and number of the buzzers hatching on Grafham these are an absolute feast for the trout and the black-headed gulls. The first year I came across these behemoth southern insects, I simply didn’t have buzzers big enough in my fly box with which to imitate them my wee Scottish black buzzers in size 14-12 simply weren’t meaty enough to interest the fish and I found myself in the embarrassing position of having to buy buzzers in size 10 and 8s from the lodge (only embarrassing if you only like to fish flies you have tied yourself and buzzers are as simple a fly to tie as you will ever get). No such problems these days as I have plenty of flies tied specifically for my southern sojourn. We ended the day with 17 rainbows and one, fine over-wintered brown trout so Sean and I were happy men. Seeing as it was Friday 13th April, I found it a little disconcerting that 13 of the bows were mine although sadly not the large brownie. Happy to have outfished the local I looked forward to the next day at Pitsford to see if its fish also found my technique to their liking.
As we tackled up on the banks of Pitsford, it became clear that the cold north wind was to be much stronger than on the previous day and so there would be no opportunity to fish in just a shirt top bitter it was, but this did not seem to affect Sean who comprehensively bettered me on the day 10 fish to 7. The numbers only tell a fraction of the story as his buzzers (allegedly the same size 12’s and fished the same way as mine slow to dead slow) attracted a succession of splendid 3lb plus fish, many over-wintered, whilst my flies/technique seemed only to attract the more modest Pitsford fish. Despite the feat of endurance of fishing in a reservoir that at times resembled the North Sea, we ended on the highlight of a double hook-up to finish the day. All very satisfactory.
In an attempt to avoid the worsening conditions, the last day of the trip saw us on the banks of the River Wissey. The Wissey is a very small chalk stream (rare in East Anglia) which, in part, runs through the STANTA military training area. This military connection allows Sean to fish the Wissey and to bring along the odd guest from north of the border once in a while. It is commando-style fishing at its best and I love it. Seldom do you have to cast very far as you sight-fish for its brown trout. More often than not, you have to improvise casts in order to get your dry fly or nymph in front of its very skittish residents. The ability to watch the reaction of your targeted fish to your fly is transfixing and you learn more about a trout’s way with a fly in a few moments on this water than you can learn in years with trout you cannot observe if you ever get the chance to fish like this, grab it and you will be hooked.
With my trip south being a fortnight or so earlier than usual this year, the Wissey had not yet been stocked and so we knew we would have to work hard for our fish, with the natural and over-wintered stock fish of previous seasons being even more dispersed and wary. Sean, always the gentleman, was most kind in letting me have first cast for most of our sighted fish and this allowed me to extract a fine brace from this enchanting stream, both to a leaded caddis nymph. The first, a wonderful fish of circa 3lbs, fell to a standard upstream cast having been sighted from up a tree, holding station at the edge of one of the many enticing pools. The second, smaller fish succumbed to my nymph presented by a catapult-cast in a very tricky lie that took me many attempts to cover. This was only possible due to a stealthy approach which necessitated crawling through nettles and other bank-side vegetation there’s nothing like old fashioned fieldcraft to winkle out a wary trout. Sadly not everything went our way on this last day. Sean dropped his only fish of the day having worked hard at putting his leaded nymph through a wonderful weir pool and I lost an absolute cracker which would easily have been my best fish from the Wissey (and I’ve taken them to 4lbs from here). The fish was on for some time and we even had the confidence and time to take photos as I played it. Our confidence was however, sadly misplaced as my leviathan finally made it under a blanket of heavy weed and was gone to fight another day. Such is fishing. I can assure you that I was not quite so philosophical at the time
What next? My angling plans for the rest of the season are pretty much already mapped out in the diary. Assynt will, once again, feature highly. I have several trips planned to walk-in and camp and explore the many remote lochs in this vast trout-fisher’s paradise. Hopefully I will have more tales to tell from these.
I have also a soon-to-be-had trip to a small moorland north Perthshire loch on a lads and dads trip which will certainly feature in my 2012 highlights I am sure. This year is definitely the year in which I want my son, Fraser, to master fly casting and to land trout consistently by himself. He has certainly started well on a brief evening session last weekend he took a cracking wild brown of circa 1lb from a wee lochan and so I hope this is the start of a great season for him. If you are a regular to my articles, you will know my thoughts on getting youngsters into fishing.
With all my other trips filling the diary, it seems as if my renewed ferox odyssey will have to be delayed yet again which I suppose at least gives me even longer to fix my boat trailer! I will undoubtedly return to these fine fish as their natural history and place in our Highland eco-system is unique and wonderful but for now they remain safe from my pursuit although, to be fair they have been pretty safe even when I have been pursuing them!!
August will see me fish with Richard Bath and Jon Gibb as guests of the Uigg Lodge which I am certainly looking forward to. And lastly, October has already been penned into the diary for some serious assaults on the fine back-end salmon that return to the Earn and so I can only hope that my season ends on a high note by connecting with one (or more?) of its silver visitors.
Here’s hoping for a great 2012 and I wish you all well with your own fishing exploits. If you do one thing however, please take a youngster fishing it could be the start of a wonderful obsession like mine.