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Go with the flow

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by Roger Beck

In my previous article, we considered casting skills that are useful on small and medium sized rivers. Now, I would like to think about finding the fish to cast for

During the 2002 season, I worked with a number of anglers whose only experience of fly-fishing had been on still waters. They had decided to try fishing rivers and were seeking help. One of the main issues was that of the different approaches required to locate fish in running water rather than still water. If you are starting your river-fishing career next season, here are a few thoughts.

Finding fish requires an understanding of their requirements. I suggest the following are important considerations:

• Oxygen
• Food
• Cover/protection
• Energy conservation

Bearing that in mind, let us look at how water flow can help us locate fish.

On looking at our river, we need to decide which of the needs will be a priority. If water temperature is high, oxygen is likely to be top of the list. The warmer the water, the less oxygen will be dissolved in it. The fish need that oxygen to produce the energy they require to move around and feed. Even if food is abundant, it cannot be utilised for energy production without oxygen. So, under these conditions, we look for places where the water is mixed with oxygen in the air. This occurs when water runs over stones, or a weir (large or small) is suddenly forced into a smaller space or changes direction. In all cases, the result is the same, air bubbles form and we see "white water". Many people have been surprised at my suggestion that they cast a fly into very fast, turbulent water. Think about it though, and it's not so strange in hot conditions.

In rivers, food goes with the flow, literally. So, food will be trickling steadily through areas of flow. If that flowing water is also well oxygenated, that is a second reason to attract the fish because the current is bringing two essentials to them. So do not be afraid to cast your fly into fast and turbulent water.

There is another reason why fishing in the faster water often brings success. Watch trout or grayling in streamy water. You will notice them moving back and forth across the river, intercepting tasty morsels delivered to their door. In moderate to fast flow, they do not have much time to decide whether to eat a passing shape or not. Survival being the name of the game, they grab first and then make a decision. If it does not seem "right", then they eject it. If that passing shape is your fly, you might just get lucky, but you'll have to be quick! You will, however, have a better chance in the faster push than in sluggish sections of river.

There is a road bridge over my local river, the Rye. Below it is a classic fast streamy run usually well inhabited with both brownies and grayling. I often take my clients there when teaching river skills. From the bridge, with care, I can persuade even the crafty grayling to enthusiastically engulf bits of rolled up tissue paper. (I think they mistake them for a killer bug!). They usually eject it within seconds, but they do suck the paper in. Above the bridge, the stream is slower but still holds fish at certain times of the day. Here, the scaly blighters have longer to study potential food before it is swept away. The tissue paper sometimes fools one of the little fellows: - the older and wiser relations can be seen swimming alongside my dodgy offering, before returning to their lie with a disdainful flick of their tail.

I know a very slow moving pool on the upper Wharfe where I have watched big resident brownies lazily mopping up hatching olives as the sun sinks. Due to the resistance of a couple of large rocks, there is just a slight increase in flow for about two yards, tight under one bank. In the slow section of the pool, I have never risen a single fish to any artificial on the finest of tippets. On the last evening of the 2000 season I caught four good fish in about twenty minutes from the flow under the bank.

It is logical to find fish in the sections of river that have appreciable flow. Food will be moving through those sections, and will not need chasing or seeking out. The faster the flow, the shorter time your quarry has to inspect your fly and decide whether to eat it. There certainly will not be time to count the number of legs on your nymph pattern or check the colour of the thread you used to finish the head of your spider.

In most sections of rivers, the flow is not even; the current will be confined to a part of the stream. You will see floating bubbles travelling faster on certain areas of the surface. Look for the junction between fast and slower moving water, you will frequently see what can be described as a "crease" or "seam". To conserve energy, fish can conveniently lie in the slower water, yet easily intercept food by making forays into the main current. A fly presented on the faster side of the demarcation can be most effective.

Finally, expect to find fish where flowing water suddenly deepens and slows to form a pool. Here, the neck of the pool, is where fish can lie and mop up, at leisure, the tit-bits, which are suddenly slowed down by decreasing water speed. They expend less energy in holding position and they can retreat into the deeper water if threatened. The downside is, of course, that they now have more time to scrutinise your offering and reject any artificials with a hackle length more or less than 1.43 times that of the hook gape.

Roger Beck - a nationally qualified fly-fishing instructor, holding the Salmon & Trout Association National Instructor's Certificate (STANIC) - runs the Beckfisher fly-fishing school from his base in Yorkshire. www.beckfisher.co.uk

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