Spring Fever

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With thoughts of winter grayling left behind, the spring heralds the new river trout season. With thoughts of winter grayling left behind, the spring heralds the new river trout season.

Jeremy Lucas takes a look at the delights ahead as we kick-off a new trout fly fishing season in the UK.

Fly fishing at this time of year always feels speculative, raw, exciting.  We wonder if the fish will be in those places we left them last autumn, or if winter floods have changed everything.  What has happened to our river over the winter months?  Our fishing skills, unless there has been a lot of grayling fishing through the cold months - and there wasn't very much for any of us this winter -  are also bound to be a bit under par.

It is a good idea to start preparations with a tackle inspection, and I always start with the single most important item; the fly line.  If the tip is showing significant cracking, then treat yourself to a new one, though minor cracks and nicks can be repaired successfully with a very slight touch of Superglue.  Check, particularly, the joint between fly line and leader butt piece, whatever you use here.  This is a weak point that takes a lot of hinging and is susceptible to failure.  Something that very quickly ruins fly lines is a damaged rod guide, so check these next and replace if necessary.  They are so good nowadays that they don't wear anything like as rapidly as hitherto, but they do snap easily.

Rod grips wear and are easily damaged, so give these a bit off attention.  They usually need no more than a bit of cork filler and a rub down.  Modern reels are fantastic but sand and grit can horribly affect their mechanics and ruin their looks too.  Wash them out with water using a soft bristled paint b rush and then oil moving parts (not the disc brake) with a light oil.  They should require no more attention for the rest of the season, provided you don't rest them at any time on ground that is any more abrasive than grass!  It always amazes me when guests turn up on Eden and lay their reels on the ground when they thread up the line.  A reel can cost more than a rod, and yet is abused in such an avoidable way.

Lastly in this quick check list of fundamental tackle – make sure your waders are up to the task.  In the cold waters of spring you really do not want you day ruined by leaky waders.

If you're heading out to the still waters, then be thinking buzzers. These invertebrates will be forming the basis of the trout's diet for the next three months and it is usually hardly necessary to fish anything else.  This will be imitations of the pupae, unless you are lucky enough to find a reasonable hatch, when you will be able to catch on dries.  When fish are inactive, or even when they are feeding on the buzzers, lure fishing works very well with both the new stock and the hungry over-wintered residents.  Black and green, and white and green marabou variants (such as the Viva or Cat's whiskers) are sure-fire lures for this time of year.  If you're struggling with buzzers, give them a go.  Fish thick diameter fluorocarbon (6lb would be a minimum b.s.), because put and take fisheries stock with very large fish nowadays, to try to minimise cormorant predation.

On the rivers, the trout are already rematerialising, even in what have been apparently barren rivers through the winter months friends and I have been catching trout and big grayling this last week, but almost all of them are coming to the nymph.  The water is bound to be a little coloured with the snow melt and spring rain, so fish 4lb fluorocarbon and nymphs like the outstanding Pheasant Tail, or perhaps a bead-headed hare's fur nymph.  The former is all you need to imitate the nymphs of ephemerides, while the latter is a great caddis larva pattern, both of which are fed upon by river trout throughout the year.  Try to slow everything down.  Trout will not chase very far in cold water.  Aim for a 'dead drift' and fish through quiet, slow water.  Fish will not come up onto rapids until the weather warms up and oxygen demands are high.

You can expect to see scatter hatches of Large Dark Olives, and though there have been few trout showing on the surface so far, this will change very soon.  Rising fish will often refuse a nymph, so fish dry at these times, with 4lb copolymer, and you could do no better than fish a polypropylene winged paradun in the right colour (dark olive) or, better, a CdC upwing.  If you are really lucky, you might find a hatch of March Browns.  This is an incredible insect in the effect it has on trout.  Sadly, they are becoming progressively rarer in England because of agricultural pollution.  Where they occur, however, a hatch is absolutely certain to bring trout to a feeding frenzy and it is a great experience for a river fly fisher.  Some dry fly fishers I know make special expeditions to the Tweed each spring to savour the March Brown hatch.

So, my top tips for the early spring fishing:-

Still water: fish buzzer pupae, slow and deep (with a long leader on a floating line with a Cove style PTN on point).  If the wind is strong and surface drift too fast, then fish an intermediate line to avoid too fast a tow.  Ideally, on the bank, look for gentle side-winds and fish slowly across the wind.  If fish start topping, put a dry fly on the top dropper and fish two light-weight buzzer pupae beneath, or just fish with a pair of dries.

River: Fish 'duo rig' if no fish are showing.  Use something like a Muller, Klinkhammer, paradun or other buoyant dry fly with a nymph set about two to three feet below this on point.  Only bother with a floating line and fish upstream so that you can have a few metres of drag free drift as the rig drops back towards you.  Watch for signs of a take with the dry fly dipping under.  Don't be tempted to fish a nymph too large and heavy.  My standard pattern is a size 16 PTN with a 2.0 copper tungsten bead.  As soon as fish start taking duns or midges off the surface (or grannoms at this time of year) then switch to single dry fly, again fished upstream so that you can have a drag free drift, which is crucial.

Last top tip and probably the most important on rivers: shorten your range (distance to the target fish).  Absolutely the most common mistake made by people new to river fishing, and many who have river fished for years, is to fish too long a line.  Think of it like this; on flowing water you have absolutely no control over a dry fly or nymph at ranges greater than 10 metres.  The ideal range is six metres.  Honestly, 75 per cent of my trout and grayling are caught at six metre range; all the rest within 10 metres!  If a fish rises more than 10 metres away from you, walk or wade towards it.



Most of 2010 is already booked on the San, but members of Fish and Fly, can still come on the special group, hosted by me, from July 4th to 11th.

There are still three places available (maximum six), at the special discounted rate (for members only) of £695 per person, all inclusive other than flights, which is outstanding value for the best trout and grayling fishing available in Europe.

See details on www.wilderness-flyfishing.co.uk , or contact me directly on jjbrlucas@btopenworld.com.  Other than this, there are only a few places for individuals at other times of the season, at the full rate of £895 plus flight. 

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