Thursday, 9 August 2012

Hitting it Wrong: Fishing a Flooded River Wharfe.

There's been a serious lack of fly fishing in my life of late, in fact I think the last time I picked up the fluffing gear (until last week) was some time in mid-June... that's a long stint for me to go without my fix. But since summer has been refusing to show its face other than in occasional fleeting glimpses and river levels have remained high, I've had no option other than to content myself with occasional forays after coarse fish in my club lake - a beautiful, clear, lily fringed sheet of water abounding with sparkling roach, bristling perch and the occasional imperious carp cruising between the weed beds. Such sport is an interesting diversion of course, but it's just not the same as the kick one gets when hooking into a good fish on the fly - a mere cannabis to fly fishing's infinitely more potent heroin.

Perch on a pretty, lily covered pool: nice, yes, but it ain't no fly fishing!

So, on Saturday evening having crossed the Wharfe on the way to visit the girlfriend I decided that something needed to change. The river looked in reasonable fettle for the first time in quite a while, and as such I decided to launch an attack the following morning. Thunderstorms were forecast, but weren't due to hit Ilkley until around lunchtime, so there was still a window of opportunity for some early sport - what could be better? Well, as it turned out a number of things (white water rafting in particular springs to mind). I arrived early to find the river having taken on the colour of a strong cup of cocoa and as high as I've seen it all year - a wormer's water, and me decked out in my thigh waders and armed with a poxy 8' fly rod, suddenly felt somewhat daunted by the task of having to find fish in such conditions.
Swollen river... dry fly anyone?..

I walked the banks in search of some reasonable water out of the main thundering torrent, eventually coming to some borderline passable slack water tight to the near bank. Here I set up with a heavy nymph and set to the task of working my way carefully through every inch of calm water and every possible eddy and lie where fish could be seeking refuge from the main current. I must have spent at least two hours moving from place to place doing this, but in my head I knew that my efforts were futile. It wasn't so much the height of the water that was the problem, but the colour which was just too much. When stood in about two feet of water I had to squint very hard just to see the outline of my feet on the bottom - goodness knows what it was like for the fish living down there, suffice to say I would have had to bang them on the nose with my fly to provoke any sort of response. Certainly it was more of a day to be using something that the fish could sniff out, as proved by another angler fishing maggot feeder who was picking off a steady stream of small brownies.
Heavy nymphs seemed like the only option..
After a time I was on the verge of calling it quits, completely clueless as to what to do to change my luck, and with my mood severely darkened by dropping my pack of cigarettes in the water. I stripped a bright streamer for a while without putting much thought or effort into it, then found myself wandering aimlessly back along the bank feeling resigned to defeat until I came to a small side-stream running off from the main river. It was at that point that a light seemed to immediately flick on in my head. I had passed by this little water many times before, but never had it crossed my mind to fish it. Normally it was a mere leak, home only to darting masses of minnows and sticklebacks, but today it had filled up and was poppling along rather nicely. Perhaps a few fish had moved into this temporary sanctuary to feed in peace - it was worth a shot at any rate, and so I removed the heavy setup and tied on a smaller lighter nymph, then began to fight my way upstream on my hands and knees through the jungle of willow, brambles and balsam. The tight, overgrown nature of the stream meant that when I reached my first likely looking riffle the only way I could deliver the fly to the desired spot was with the help of a nifty 'bow and arrow' cast. The line pinged upstream and the fly pitched nicely at the head of the pool maybe a couple of rod lengths above me. As I followed the nymph back towards me the indicator stuttered, I lifted and was briefly connected to a small splashy trout before the line went slack. Damn. Out went the nymph again in the same spot, and after a couple of runs through the indicator dipped once more and a lively brownie came cartwheeling and thrashing into my waiting net. I admired it briefly then slipped it back and took a moment to sit down on the bank, revelling in the relief of not having been 'watterlicked'.

Creeping up the overgrown little sidestream.

The most welcome fish in the world - a hard earned brownie to a Mary Copperhead nymph.

As I moved further into the interior, I could hear rumbles of thunder in the distance and ominous black clouds were looming ever closer behind me, but for now I ignored them as the immediate weather remained warm and virtually windless. I came to an area where the stream ran very deep and slow, the bottom an impossible entanglement of sunken tree roots. I found a place to perch and waited. Sure enough, within a few minutes I had seen several rises, one of which had the slow, confident air of a very hefty fish. I removed my nymph and added a section of fine .11mm tippet to the end of my leader, tied on a tan klinkhamer pattern and degreased everything thoroughly. The cast was flicked onto the water and I didn't have to wait long before I got a solid take. Unfortunately it was far from the goliath swirl of a big trout that I'd been hoping for. Instead what I got was the fast, sudden sip of a six incher which skittered around the pool briefly before I brought it to hand. A diminutive but beautifully marked specimen - better than nothing I suppose, and a brace of fish somehow always feels infinitely better than catching just the one. Still, I couldn't help but feel that the greedy wee blighter had cheated me out of a shot at something far more dramatic!

A wee fly-snatcher!

After a few stern, scalding words, micro-trout was popped back to grow to a more respectable size. No sooner had he darted off back into his hidey-hole than the first spots of rain began to fall hard on the water in front of me, bringing with them flashes of lightning and the roar of thunder overhead. Suddenly I began to feel very concious of the fact that I was now holding 8 feet of perfect electrical conductor in my hand. I tackled down hastily as the storm intensified and hot footed it back to the footbridge on the main river, where I sought shelter and watched the river rise before my eyes until the worst had passed. Then I squelched my way back to the train station like a drowned rat to go home and hopefully dry off. Unfortunately the weather in Bradford had been even worse than in Ilkley, and I arrived home to find a great deal of my fishing tackle along with the freezer floating around in 4 feet of water in the cellar. So my afternoon was perhaps even wetter, spent rescuing rods from the murk and bailing out with buckets. All this despite living on top of a hill near no waterways - unbelievable! The British summertime, 'character building' and defying logic since time immemorial.

Coming home to a flooded cellar - not what I had in mind! The video below shows just how heavily it was raining at the river, too!

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