Friday, 6 April 2012

My first Wharfe trout session of 2012: Massive fluke saves the day!

The Wharfe in spring - it's the bridge that's wonky, not the photo!

So, after a long wait, finally I was back on the good old Wharfe yesterday for my first crack of the season! I was unsure what to expect really with the weather having been up and down to the extent that it has, and when I arrived at around 1 o’clock (look, I slept in okay? We student-types don’t have the best of body clocks) to bright conditions and a very low river despite recent rain, I suspected things could be rather tricky.

I elected to fish a much heavier than usual #7 outfit and use streamer patterns. It’s something I’ve grown quite fond of doing over the last couple of seasons both in the early weeks when pickings are slim, and later on in the year if the water is high or everything seems a tad lifeless. It can be a very exciting way to fish. Given the right day, trout of all sizes swirl and snap at your fly as you jerk it back across the current – when you see a decent sized wild brownie flash and boil sometimes only a rod length away from you, it certainly focuses the mind. The takes themselves when they come are heart stoppers - violent, explosive, often followed by line being torn from the reel. In short, streamer fishing stirs things up.

A simple streamer pattern. Scruffy but effective.

My recipe for fishing a streamer is a simple one (probably not the right one, but simple!). Roll out a nice long line out just ahead of any likely looking ambush spot you might see – dark holes, eddies, overhanging trees etc. Throw in a mend or mends as required and allow the fly to drift down into the desired area, then jerkily twitch the fly back towards you and hold on tight. Recast and repeat the process, moving along covering any likely areas. Like I have said, it can be a very effective and exciting method of catching trout, but it can also become a trifle repetitive after a while. Cast, mend, drift, strip. Cast, mend, drift, strip. Cast, mend... well you get the idea. In fact given an hour or two without any success, it can become downright tiresome! Yesterday it was just that. I covered the water thoroughly, but it seemed that I was faced with a total lack of interest on the part of the fish. I did have one good pull from a fish which judging by the flash it made under the surface was around the pound mark, along with another little jag in an area of slow, dark water. Other than this though, the most intense things got was when I managed to lose a fly in a bush after casting just a tad too tight to the opposite bank.

Searching for a trout between the rocks.

Plenty of 'tree-trout' to be had on the far bank, as I found out..

I soldiered on, but it has to be said that after a time I started to lose faith – and interest. It’s the same with the slow start to every season. You start to second guess yourself – do I even remember how to catch a fish? Can I recreate the magic? I was never very good at it anyway, maybe I imagined all those days last May... These thoughts never stop nagging at me until that first little miracle lies in the net, and it wasn’t giving itself up easily!

I was startled by the amount of flies, particularly Grannom, which were hatching all over the river. Last year they didn’t show up for at least another week or two, but I suppose the hot weather at the back end of march brought everything forward a bit. Not a great deal of fish were being drawn to the surface, but the number steadily increased up to the point when by the evening it would have probably been worth fishing the dry fly, and I began to curse myself for my choice of gear. I did have a small selection of dries, but presenting them to these spooky fish in slow water with a #7 line wasn’t much good.

Spot the Bullhead...

Eventually I began messing around with nymphs to no avail, and soon resigned myself to the thought that my first of the season would have to wait until another day. Then, as I trudged my way up the path back upstream, I noticed a rise almost below my feet, tight to the margin at the bottom of a steep bank. What followed was perhaps one of the most outrageous strokes of luck I’ve had in my entire fly fishing life. I couldn’t see the fish from my vantage point but I was confident that I hadn’t spooked it since I hadn’t seen a swirl or anything else to suggest it had made a swift exit, so with only my leader and braided loop out of the tip ring, I carefully swung my fly into the water below me. Sure enough, a shadow loomed into view and the fly vanished. Immediately I realised that it was a reasonable fish, and also that I was now in a rather awkward predicament – stood atop a steep bank about 8 feet up from the water with a serious scrap on my hands! Quickly I decided that direct action was the only option, and I half fell, half skidded on my arse down the bank to the water’s edge whilst somehow managing to keep in touch with the trout as it tore around angrily. Once in position I soon began to gain a semblance of control over proceedings, and thanks to my stepped up streamer outfit, the fish was shepherded away from the danger of a jungle of sunken roots and towards me. A beautiful brownie of 1lb 14oz – not a fish to be sniffed at! So, with very little skill and a generous amount of jammy-as-hell, the first fish of the year is in the bag... not sure if a purist would count it, but I’m too young for all that!

Today, success is brown and spotty.

Sunset on the Wharfe. Who'd be anywhere else, eh.

A last note, before I sign off - specifically for the attention of any staunch C&R fanatics (I'm sure one or two may stumble across this post and recoil in horror at the above photo of my catch). Yes, that trout is dead. Gone. Shuffled of this mortal coil. Off to join the choir bleedin' invisible. It was a naturalised stock fish. Judging by the looks of it it had been at liberty for a year or two and a lovely fish but not a wildie. As such I had no qualms about taking it for the pot.
Happiness and harmony!

Tight lines,

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