THE BIGGER FISH TAKE UP THE BEST LIES, THE AREAS THAT OFFER THE BEST CHANCE OF FOOD, A PLACE TO ESCAPE AND PLENTY OF OXYGEN!
I mentioned in part one the importance of oxygen to fish in our rivers during warm weather conditions through the late summer, so I shan’t go into detail. However, I will say that it’s pretty obvious where the most oxygen will be found … it’s in those big, scary, white water rapids that you see thundering in at the head of a long pool. But, don’t be scared of deep water too. Anything up to 8ft, and the trout will be there.
White, churning water where you can’t get in or stand comfortably because it’s too deep or too fast should always be targeted from the edges, don’t take chances! The trout will be in the vicinity, have no fear of that, either deep down, where the current is less ferocious or likely just off to the side of the main flow, making it easier for us to present a fly to. In this ‘edge of the current’ softer water, they can nip in and out of the strong flow to pick off food items without expending too much energy.
Aside from just how productive this water is, it can yield some surprisingly big fish! It is, after all, premium water, and the biggest trout are often found here. They take up a position in the most advantageous feeding lies!
I remember last year, late August, pitching my nymphs into the head of the fastest, most aggressive piece of the river on my particular part of the Derbyshire Derwent. My flies stopped after travelling no more than two feet as if snagged, but I knew there was no chance of that in water travelling at that speed. So I swept my rod tip up and to the side. The fly line, rigid despite the current, suddenly came alive as a huge brownie, turned in the river and, using the power of the water, shot off downstream, making my drag ‘zingggg’ loudly and my heart race. When I laid eyes on the fish 10 minutes later, I was pretty gobsmacked, to say the least. It dwarfed every other wild trout I’d caught from that river up until then. He was easy on the north side of 3lb! The bigger fish, as always, take up the best lies, the areas that offer the best chance of food, a place to escape and plenty of oxygen!
For the heavier water as mentioned above, I look to the 10ft 3-wt rods. This is because I can get far closer to the fish than in less aggressive water. I’d rather be in close contact as quickly as possible, and the shorter rod allows me to do that. It’s also a huge benefit to playing fish – more importantly, getting them under control in heavy flows. It also lessens the ‘connection distance’ between you and your target, resulting in far more positive hook-ups in heavy flows.
Vision Nymph Hero 10ft #3 would be the ideal choice as it lets me control my flies more effectively under short distances. The 10-footer also has some guts down the bottom end of the rod so that I can garner the upper hand regarding the fight. You can’t afford to give the fish the upper hand in this type of water. They’d be a hundred yards downstream in a few seconds if you let them. Far better to gain some semblance of order as soon as you can. Team your rod with a reel that suits its needs to balance the outfit. Too light, and you’ll feel it on your shoulder. Too heavy, you’ll overcompensate to stop the rod tip from travelling up. Make sure it’s got a drag that can cope, too. Fast water and a big, lively trout will make things interesting; be sure your gear can cope.
My typical leader isn’t anything fancy, 6 meters of 0.30mm mono, a two-foot section of Nymphmaniac Indicator Tippet, 0.23mm and a strong tippet, 0.16mm to 0.14mm. The fish don’t tend to be wary of tippet in water of this calibre.
I often use a trio of fly patterns, 50-cm apart, as I’m covering a greater depth, and the trout or grayling can be pretty much anywhere in the water column, 1ft to 2ft below the raging current at the surface or right on the riverbed. My choice of point fly is always a ‘jig back, caddis type affair, as it sinks hook facing up, and unlike conventional bomb style flies, it catches plenty of fish too.
My middle dropper will be a size 14 Perdigon – a solid little thing which sinks, similar to the caddis, quickly, cutting through the flow and getting to the fish. I tie these usually with a black or copper bead, 3.5mm up to 4.5mm, with a black thread body. The fly will also feature a coloured butt. I like red or pink. It’s there to grab the trout or grayling’s attention.
The top dropper is often a basic pattern, nymphy looking, a size 16, usually a PTN variant, but with a black bead – 3mm – and a collar of CDC. I love CDC in my flies. I only have it on my top dropper, though as CDC traps air bubbles, which slows the sink rate, not much but enough. It also gives a perfect silhouette to anything looking up.
Because of the pace and depth of the river, I much prefer to cast directly upstream as this allows me far more control of my flies while take detection is pretty much instant. Also, your flies are never likely to touch bottom in this water, and any tension that’s felt can only be a fish taking your fly.
Rather than sweeping the rod tip up – to track back – as you would when fishing shallower water, retrieve the line with figure-of-eight wraps to maintain contact. This sounds tricky but trust me, it’s far easier than you’d think. Once you’ve mastered it, you can also manipulate the speed at which your flies are fishing. One point to note is never to retrieve direct into the retrieving hand. Instead, the index finger of the rod hand should always have the leader travelling through it. This means you can lock the line against the handle immediately to gain control!
Hooking and playing fish in this type of water is fun but challenging due to the power of the flow. As soon as they are hooked, get them downstream of you and pull them toward your bank and softer water, with steady pressure applied. If you are right in the flow, use your body to break up the speed of the current and play it out in the slacker water created by your body until it’s ready to be netted. Don’t go trying to chase a fish downstream in heavy water; you’re just asking for trouble.
Although our game fish species are pretty tough, during the hot summer months, we need to be sure to take extra special care when we are practicing C&R. Please remember it is our responsibility to ensure that we’ve done all that we can to get that fish on its way back home safe & sound.
In the final part of this series, we’ll look at Pocket Water. It’s challenging and physically demanding, but the rewards make the extra effort all worthwhile!