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THE WITCHING HOUR

by Guide Blog

IF I HAD TO PICK A FAVOURITE TIME TO TARGET BIG WILD RIVER TROUT ON THE DRY FLY IT WOULD BE EVENING SESSIONS FROM MID-MAY INTO JUNE 

Spring is a special time for targeting real specimens, they’re keen to feed after the rigors of spawning and winter. If you’re lucky enough to be on the river when a March Brown or Large Dark Olive hatch kicks off, usually during the warmest part of the day, then spectacular sport can be enjoyed.  

However, it can be fickle, short-lived, and often frustrating. Cold, dry springs with bitter north or easterly winds have been more common than we’d like in recent years, and this time around has been no different. Low river levels and water temperatures combined with a lack of moisture in the air don’t tend to result in good hatches. The dry fly fishing, as a result, has been hit or miss. 

Once we get into May, especially on southern Scotland’s lowland rivers where I do most of my river fishing, the air and water temperature have usually increased adequately, hatches of fly can be more sustained and as a result, the trout start to feed hard. This is usually the time when the better-sized trout switch to the evening rise and when that most enthralling of river flies, the olive upright, can take center stage.

If you’re fortunate to be on the river during a good hatch of OUs at that magical time when the light starts to fade then chances are there will be large trout locking in and enjoying the feast. Perhaps the combination of a plentiful food supply and waning light encourages them to feed with such confidence but, whatever the reasons, there’s nothing quite like seeing those large nebs coming up again and again. 

This is as good a chance as you’re likely to get at landing a special trout over the season, certainly on the dry fly, so it’s as well to be ready. 

Tackle 

For rods and reels, the same advice as offered in Early Season River Fishing Part 3 applies here. Generally a 9 to 10’ for 4 to 5 weight line for bigger, more open rivers and 7 to 8’ for 3 or 4 weight line for smaller, tree-lined rivers or streams.

It’s worth noting however that a 10’ rod can afford more line control to help reduce drag on wider streams, and the extra length can also help subdue a large, angry river trout, which is after all the name of the game.

My go to rod is the NEW Sage R8 Core, it’s perfect for technical dry fly situations, the action provides lazer accuracy with capability to cushion light tippets and keep control of specimen fish 

Reels need to have a strong and smooth, easily adjustable drag and a large arbor with fast line retrieval is also, as ever, an advantage.  A good quality floating line to perfectly match your rod of choice is vital and for dry fly on the river, it’s hard to see past the RIO Technical Trout.

A knotless, tapered leader is the next key item. For my dry fly set up, I nail knot, my tapered leaders, onto the fly line for a better turnover but a loop-to-loop connection is likely just as good and allows for an easier change if required. A thick-butted tapered leader like the RIO Powerflex Plus is ideal and for the better stamp of trout being targeted here a 12ft of leader, tippet ring, and then several feet of tippet, or more if required, works well. 

With fading light, you can use a slightly thicker tippet than during the day and if you hook into a 4lb plus wild river trout the strongest tippet you can get away with is advisable. I tend to start with 5x RIO Suppleflex and then go finer if necessary.  

Degreasing the tippet for the final few feet up to the fly is vital and applying floatant to the end of the fly line and thicker part of the leader will prevent the fly from being drowned.

Approach  

As always, time spent by the water is invaluable. It may sound counterintuitive, or hard to put into practice when you’re just itching to get to the water and start fishing, but sitting quietly on the bank, below the skyline, or behind the cover of bankside growth, and just watching the river, is worth its weight in gold.  

Wading straight in or starting to fish before quietly watching the water can drastically reduce the chance of landing a special fish, or any fish for that matter. This is a waiting game.

In early season I spend most of my fishing time walking the river during the warmest part of the day looking for a pool with fly coming off and/or a feeding fish. I’ll sometimes head home without even having made a cast. If the hatch doesn’t happen in the time I’m there, so be it. But often it does and you’ll quickly build up a picture of the likelier areas where good hatches occur and where the better fish station themselves when feeding. 

It is to these same areas we want to return as the evening rise comes into its own. If there’s a stretch known to hold good trout, or where good hatches of olives and feeding fish have been observed, target that same location for an evening foray; even better, two or three similar pools in reasonably close proximity. Often the mother of all hatches can be taking place in one area while pools above and below are producing little. 

Try and time your visit to get in position and primed a good half hour or more before the light starts to fade. Then just sit and watch. 

A classic OU hatch can often start gradually and then just build and build in intensity. This is what really gets the trout going  . . . and why it’s worth waiting for. Big fish can get into position, lock into the hatch and start rising steadily – the dream scenario. This is when the fun can really begin, and when nerves of steel are required. Only now, when a targeted trout is feeding regularly, should the first cast be made.

You can get surprisingly close by approaching quietly, from downstream, or by staying below the skyline, especially when fish are feeding hard.  It’s worth taking as long as necessary to get into the ideal position to cover a big fish. If it’s possible to do so from the bank, don’t wade. If wading’s necessary go as slowly and steadily as required. Stay low and don’t make sudden movements.  

The angle of the cast is key. Getting quite square can often help in presentation, though what the current is doing in any given area will dictate the best line of approach and aerial mends may well be necessary. Show the fish the fly first whenever possible.

Larger trout can often be found feeding in the extreme tails of pools, right in the Vs either side and directly above broken water. Food channels through these flows while faster, broken, and often deeper water will be close by for safety. Such spots are harder to cover without drag on the fly – no surprises that big trout like them then! An approach from more directly downstream, or even upstream, may be required here.

Generally, be as economical as possible with casts, and if the fish doesn’t take after being covered the first time, wait to make sure it’s still rising before trying again. If the fish has been covered effectively two or three times but refused, and hasn’t been spooked, a change of fly or finer tippet may be needed.

Establishing whether the trout are taking duns on top of the water, emerging olives in the surface film, or just below will be key. After the main hatch, there may well be a big spinner fall which the trout will also gorge on. This is when big trout will just sip spinners down, creating that tell-tale whirlpool-like vortex. Huge fish can make surprisingly small dimples when supping spinners down in this manner, though often there is a reassuringly solid ‘thump sound to give the game away.

Fly choice

When the fish are locked onto the Olive Upright duns then it has to be the Olive Jingler, size 12 or 14, a proven killer. I like to tie them sparse but they still have a big footprint and ride high so are easy to see. In broken water, they excel but are just as effective in steadier glides, or any water for that matter where trout are rising to the adult fly.

Another go-to fly for me at this time of the year is the humpy back or Deershucker Olive. For trout taking olives in the surface film, or just under, it’s deadly. It can fish just as effectively wet, as can the jingler for that matter. Simply drown it so it fishes just under the surface to imitate the ascending nymph.  

Finally, a spinner pattern for when all those thousands of uprights fall spent on the water after mating and drift lifelessly down the stream, easy pickings for those big wild trout to sip down as dessert.

Whether the trout are feeding on the emergers, duns, or spinners, or indeed any combination of these, this is an amazing time to be on the river and a chance to get up close and personal with a seriously good stamp of fish. Be warned though, it is highly addictive and only likely to further fuel this obsession of ours. 

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