September 2019 was not the easiest of fishing months for anybody, consisting firstly of three hot and dry weeks, a continuation of the August drought, during which the rivers and streams suffered from lack of flow. Salmon anglers were desperate for fresh water, while trout and grayling men found their fishing difficult to put it mildly. Then a change occurred to low pressure weather with black clouds and showers chasing across us from the western ocean. The rivers rose into a proper flood for once and only the barbel fishermen using heavy gear were able to find any sport during the final week. At the end of it all we were left twiddling our thumbs still unable to fish while flood warnings were in place across many parts of the country. The knowledge that our rivers were getting a good flush through was some kind of consolation.

The Wye at Builth
The Usk in flood - TJ from Bromsgrove

Let’s look at the reports, which do reflect a few successful days. However, that continuing subject of wild stream maintenance came up a number of times. “I used to love this stream and fish it regularly,” wrote AT of Kington about the Escley No 3 beat on 1st September. This time he reported it as being neglected so badly as impossible to fish, and so he went home. I haven’t got round to fishing Escley 3 this year, but I did so last summer and it was fairly overgrown by tree branches reaching to the surface then. Now maintenance of the wild streams is a subject we return to regularly, and I don’t doubt we will be discussing it again in detail this winter (which is generally the best time to get the work done). However, while volunteers deserve the thanks of every angler who benefits from their work, there is not much point in adopting a stream and then failing to carry out at least a minimal amount of annual maintenance. If it turns out you don’t have the time – well, somebody else may have, provided the WUF are told about it. I would suggest an annual trimming visit is usually the minimum required and in any case the best policy. Annual trimming makes the work much less onerous than trying to have a “blitz” every two or three years. On the other hand, nobody expects weekly mowing visits. More on the subject of wild stream maintenance later in this letter.

News came during September of suspected crayfish plague affecting white claws on an upper Monnow tributary. This may have been caused by contamination from a stream with signal crayfish carried by a dog, otter or mink, a bird … or possibly an angler. The WUF responded by closing down ticket sales on most of the upper Monnow system including the Escley beats, so I am afraid fishing is probably over there for the season (Olchon Brook and Honddu remain open). Still on the subject of crayfish, we now have a similarly difficult situation with the Forest of Dean streams. Cannop Brook, which joins the Severn estuary at Lydney, has been invaded by signal crayfish which might carry the plague. On the other hand the neighbouring Bideford, Soudley and Blackpool Brook system which joins the Severn a few miles upstream at Awre still has its population of native white claws and is presumed disease-free. It would be easy for an angler fishing both systems in a day to transfer both the eggs of the species and the disease, so the advice is to fish Bideford or Blackpool first and then Cannop, but not the other way round. After fishing, dry out waders and tackle for at least a day or treat it chemically. Full details are on the WUF fishing notes and are also being put on some signs around Forest lake fisheries. I am afraid I have my doubts that we will be able to avoid this threated transfer of species, given the constant swimming of dogs in Forest streams and lakes.       

Back to the reports: BP of Pembridge was out on 1st September and he had a dozen trout from Llyn Bugeilyn in a stiff breeze. IG from Pontypridd with a friend fished the Usk at Penpont where, despite a holiday-makers commotion in the river near the house, they took a remarkable 28 trout to 2 pounds. AP from Worcester also had a 2 pounder in a bag of 4 taken on French nymphs from Abercynrig on the 6th. DW from Ammanford had 13 at Llyn Bugeilyn on the 7th, mainly on a Haul a Gwynt fly. The delightfully named “Sun and Wind” is about as Welsh a lake pattern as you will find, and perfectly named too as it will do best on a bright day with a good wave, particularly when fished on the top dropper. It’s the only one I can think of which uses the black tipped feather from a cock pheasant’s neck as a hackle. Unfortunately DW encountered a locked gate on the road in to this remote lake. There are several gates along this road, but they should all be capable of opening. I seem to remember a previous angler once found himself locked in at the end of the day, so that the gate had to be lifted off its hinges. I hope the WUF can somehow resolve this misunderstanding with local herdsmen, because it’s a long walk without the car…and not really a place where you want to spend the night!

Crayfish measures
Bugeilyn in the rain - BP from Pembridge
The road to Llyn Bugeilyn
Haul y Gwynt - the Sun and Wind fly

Dave Collins from West Herefordshire fished the Wye at Abernant on the 8th. He had to work hard for his fish, but ended up with 22 grayling to 14 inches and 5 trout to an impressive 19 inches. Pale wateries were the natural flies most in evidence as normal during the autumn and he imitated these successfully with a small Duck’s Dun on a size 18. NC from Worcestershire fished with a small Griffiths Gnat at Ty Newydd and accounted for 2 trout and 6 grayling. The following day he had 8 trout and 4 chub. JA from Leominster had a big one in a bag of 9 trout from the Edw at Hundred House and on the 13th MN from Bristol had a good day at Cefnllysgwynne, taking 8 trout and 13 grayling by various methods. SB from London had 9 trout and 7 grayling from Ty Newydd using flies with a “splash of pink” about them. On the 14th KD from Swansea had a slow day of trout fishing on Cefn Rhosan Fawr, but counted no less than 11 cormorants and 4 goosanders. Such news is always depressing, because there is little cover for fish in the open sandstone pools of the upper Usk. Don’t start me off on cormorants again!

Abernant trout - DC from Herefordshire
Tiny Duck's Dun - DC from Herefordshire

Also on the 14th, MP from Brampton Bryan had some jungle bashing to do at the bottom end of Middlemoor on the Lugg, but found time to catch a brace of trout. AS of Newent fished the new Irfon beat at Cildu and accounted for 9 grayling between 12 and 16 inches. Note that there are also some very large trout in that part of the upper Irfon near Llanwrtydd Wells. Meanwhile TB from Cornwall fished at Craig Llyn for 8 trout and 2 grayling. On the 16th KG from Bath made his last trip of the season to Llyn Bugeilyn and accounted for 10 trout. On the 17th Dave Collins from West Herefordshire fished the upper Wye below Llanwrthyl for 5 trout from 12-14 inches and 10 grayling 13-15 inches, using a variety of methods. He was on Ty Newydd the following day and reported 7 trout and 9 grayling to 12 inches and a distinct lack of rising fish. NH of Bristol had a salmon ticket for Craig Llyn, but used it to take 4 trout and 6 grayling. DC from Colchester reported a large grayling in a bag of 7 fish from Dayhouse on the Lugg. And on the 19th OS from Lyon had moved on to North Wales, reporting 5 trout and 8 grayling from the River Dee at Llangollen Maelor. JE from New Malden with a friend used dries to fish the Rocks on the upper Wye and accounted for 6 trout and 6 grayling, both to a creditable 16 inches. A day later MN from Bristol found Feni Fach on the Usk very low but managed 10 trout to 14 inches.

Middlemoor trout - MP from Brampton Bryan
Irfon falls
Top of the Irfon

Middlemoor was visited again by JA from Leominster on the 21st and he complained about the usual summer problem with balsam, nettles and good old British brambles in the woods at the bottom end. He described the beat as needing attention and “unloved,” which brings us back to the perennial subject of wild stream maintenance. I should engage in some management of expectations here and state that Middlemoor is not so much unloved as lightly trafficked. We cannot reasonably expect even adopted beats to be visited continually through the summer to mow down fast growing balsam, nettles, vines etc. Such plants grow at tremendous speed in May and June, but will be burned down by the first hard frost of the autumn. Most of our winter work involves cutting back overhanging tree branches from the stream and trying to ensure that stiles and fences are negotiable. Middlemoor was pruned by volunteers on 30th January and I doubt that it will be done again until the coming winter. In fact if we could arrange for every wild stream beat to be visited annually by volunteers we would be very happy. Meanwhile during the summer growing season, I would advise anglers to adopt my policy of taking along a wading stick, whether or not you need it in the stream, simply to help in whacking aside the jungle. Feel free to pull up any balsam in your way. And of course more volunteers for winter trimming are always welcome - please contact Chris Gurney at the Foundation. Work parties this year are beginning from October. The good news is that JA found some good grayling in the pools and got 9 of them up to 16 inches.

Middlemoor grayling - JA from Leominster

By now the complaints about difficult fishing in low water were becoming almost universal. Three weeks of high pressure with very little rain had left the rivers in a very poor state with beds covered in slime. AS of Newent described 21st September at Doldowlod as a “day to forget,” although I would have thought the single specimen grayling of 2.5 pounds which he caught might be one to remember. On the 22nd BS from Pontyclun fished a shrunken Wye at Abernant, for 7 trout and 5 grayling to 11 inches. And then came the rains at last, beginning slowly on 24th September with the thirsty ground soaking up the water, but continuing in successive waves of showers until by the 25th all rivers in our area were in flood. On the 26th MH from Orpington with a friend were booked at Penpont, on the upper Usk. The Foundation switched them as far upstream as possible, to Pantyscallog above Sennybridge, where they managed to get 9 trout from the Crai tributary. On the 29th my local commercial fishery at Woolaston Court was attended by quite a few visitors to the area, including WUF customers, who had been washed off the rivers. I was there too, for exactly the same reason.


I had quite a lesson in humility recently. I had opted to fish a friend’s section of the Monnow and found it rather low and sluggish with no natural rises. Up I waded from the bottom end casting a small Duck’s Dun in likely spots until I rose a small fish which took the fly as it bounced down the fast run-in at the head of a pool. I duly tightened – and missed. Never mind, on I went and proceeded to miss two more which took the fly and ejected it while I was looking  around at the scenery and generally wool-gathering. This wouldn’t do. I took myself in hand and tried to concentrate, but managed to miss three more which came up in slow water! Was I nervous and striking too quickly now? Nothing wrong with the hook point and believe me I checked. The seventh fish I did see rising: just a little sip on the far side of a fast flow into a large pool which has produced some big trout in the past. It wasn’t an easy cast, but eventually I got it right and the trout over there had it without any fuss. I tightened and for a few seconds felt the lunges of a really heavy fish and got some glimpses too of a broad golden flank. That trout would be a real prize, I was thinking to myself. And then the hook pulled out. Muttering now to myself I pushed on to the head of the water where finally a 10 inch trout which must have felt sorry for me did consent to be caught, unhooked and returned. Some days, perhaps, are best forgotten, but the matter of striking is an important one.    

             

In fact I have never really liked the word “striking” as used in British fly fishing for the action which is supposed to fix the hook securely in a fish’s jaw before playing and capture. It implies a sort of violent wrenching movement which is not really required in most cases, at least not in trout fishing. Americans talk about “setting the hook,” which seems to me more equivalent to what is supposed to happen. We all know that it’s easy enough to miss fish on the strike sometimes, and the common question is: “What am I doing wrong? Am I reacting too quickly or too slowly?” Often that can be a difficult question to answer unless with “it all depends.” There are times when I have thought that efficient striking can hardly be taught; instead it is a skill which has to be acquired over time until it becomes almost instinctive. Oliver Kite, famously effective both with the nymph and the dry fly, used to write about “feeling for the fish” being an early part of the process before he lifted into the full strike. Kite also admitted that, as primarily a chalk stream fisher, his tightening movement turned out to be a little slow on occasions for some of the fast-biting and fast-ejecting fish of western rivers. I would guess that Kite was a slow striker by the standards of most of us, if only because he used floppy glass fibre rods. It isn’t a simple subject with a single obvious answer, but there are some generalisations which can be made.

 

It has been stated many times that trout anglers, initially at least, make bad salmon anglers. This is because trout and grayling anglers of any experience tend to instinctively react to an offer by striking. Salmon, once they take a fly, are inclined to hold on to it longer than trout and given a little slack will turn back down toward their lie with it. So the traditional advice was that the best thing to do on the angler’s part, whatever instinct might prompt, was nothing, at least for the first few seconds. Of course this doesn’t account for the salmon which takes on a tight line “on the dangle” below the angler, or when the line is being stripped back towards the angler ready for a new cast. With the use of shooting heads, this happens more and more these days. Sea trout are different – they are, after all, trout – and usually need to be struck, although this can be very difficult at times. But let’s leave migratory fish on one side for now.

 

In the case of brown trout and grayling, the obvious case when a strike is almost always essential is when fishing a dry fly. The fish comes up and plucks our fly from the surface and goes down, there is probably plenty of slack line, and if we don’t take the opportunity to tighten up and set the hook, the fish will probably feel that the artificial fly is not what it was expecting and eject it, and usually sooner rather than later. Let me say something now about people learning to fly-fish. As an instructor, I have learned to my cost that you should make it very clear in advance to a beginner exactly what can be expected, what he/she needs to do and the reason for it. Given that your pupil has just learned to cast that morning, dealing with line handling, coping with the current and reacting to a fish taking the fly is quite a multi-tasking challenge! The first few fish are likely to be missed and there is no shame in that. But to go into more specific detail, I have learned that a surprising number of people, even with corrective eye-wear, can’t really follow a small dry fly among the blobs of foam and other bits of debris floating on the surface. Moreover, if the rises are not happening that regularly, for example if we are fishing the water on a slow day and there are 15 or 20 minutes between takes, it is very easy for the attention and the gaze to wander. I usually advise that if you take your eye off the fly and can’t pick it up again, any slight disturbance in the general surface area should be taken as an offer to your fly (it almost always is) and responded to with a lift of the rod. If you are not quite certain, doing nothing in response will certainly guarantee failure. Also, the instructor should make it quite clear to the beginner how he should react when the fly is taken. All this is obvious enough to any angler who has caught even a couple of fish, but not so to a beginner. I remember the gentleman who, when I asked why he didn’t strike after a dry fly he had cast upstream disappeared, said only: “I didn’t feel any pull.” It turned out his one previous fishing experience had been casting wet flies from a boat drifting on a Scottish loch and that experience had been largely tactile. Logically enough he expected to feel a pull before he struck and he and I should have sorted out the difference before we started.

 

I have quite good long range sight when wearing glasses, but these days suffer from problems focussing at close range – not so good for fly dressing or reading. I tend to forget that with some people it’s the other way round. There have been times when I have stood at a client’s elbow, watched the fly disappear and cried out successively in a state of rising agitation: “Strike! Look, he’s got it! Now! Oh my God! Wait no longer because this is the moment of truth!” And so on. Meanwhile my client, instead of striking, has looked round at me in bemusement, wondering why on earth I am jumping up and down and so excited. But then I had neglected to explain in advance what he was expected to do. Hopefully we can both laugh about it at the end of the day. Another problem beginners often have when fishing dry flies up and across is that they work with too long a line and rather than stripping in with their free hand to keep pace with the current as the fly comes towards them, they allow a large loop to develop on the surface below their position. You can’t set the hook if there is too much loose line between the rod tip and the fly to be tightened. As a nice contrast, and to make a rest between periods working with the dry fly, it’s not a bad idea to give a beginner a few casts across and down using a second rod with a team of wet flies. This makes a good confidence builder and in the right conditions a few fish will hook themselves.

 

 

So much for learning to fish the dry fly. But everybody understands eventually that different tightening methods are needed for different sorts of fish and different sorts of rises on different sorts of waters. We can try to draw up some general rules for varying situations. For example, when we were kids we used to have fun fishing tiny Black Gnats for dace in fast runs of shallow water. Dace are very quick and you had to strike like lightning. On the other hand, because quite fine tippets were used and there was always the chance of a chub in the area, strikes had to be prompt but not violent – a quick lift of the rod. Grayling are not as quick as dace, but quick enough to eject at times. So with grayling the response should also be prompt, but again not violent. Some grayling are big, but you cannot always tell a big one from the nature of the rise. Even a big grayling can sometimes make just a little dimple when rising, so however the rise seemed, be prepared for the eventuality of lifting into a very solid resistance. For trout, generally speaking, I would advise that you can take a little more time, and that if you know you have a big trout to deal with, you can take a lot more time. That’s another rule which generally holds true: the smaller the fish, the faster the strike; the bigger the fish, the slower the strike. I think it is also true that a larger fly calls for a more deliberate response when it is taken. So we could add yet another rule: the larger the fly, the slower the strike.

 

Going to the very slow end of the spectrum, there are some circumstances on lakes where a considerable delay is called for. I have never used the traditional dapping method from a drifting boat, but according to descriptions sometimes the delay should be as long as three, four or even five seconds while you watch the whole leader disappearing below the surface and try to restrain yourself. “God Save the Queen,” you are supposed to recite slowly before taking any action. Except for when fishing in Ireland of course, where the immortal and appropriate words “…about bloody time too” could be substituted. Most small brown trout on the margins of lakes hit the fly hard and fast, but rainbows can sometimes behave in an interesting way, particularly if large dry flies are involved. Take autumn days when we might be fishing long-legged imitations of crane flies on size 10 hooks floating out in the ripple. At times a rainbow can hit a daddy like an express train, but usually there is a more circumspect approach before the fly is very gently pulled under without the fish even showing itself. If you miss a few which do this, it’s quite possible that the slightly suspicious fish are using those dangling legs to tweak and drown your imitation beneath the surface without actually taking it properly into their mouths. They may even slap it with their tail. Then the trout makes a circle and comes back for another closer look, maybe happier to take it under water this time round. In these circumstances I try to make myself do nothing as the fly goes under, but watch the leader very closely. With luck, four or five seconds later, the leader slowly starts to draw forward and I can lift into the fish.

 

If you fail to hook fish or you do no more than prick them constantly on striking, give some thought to the hooks you are using. This may be something to do with the mood of the fish. If the ones you do catch have the fly lodged well back in the roof of the mouth, it is certainly an indication of confidence. If all the fish seem be just barely lip-hooked, as is the case with grayling on some days, you might give some thought to your tactics, your fly patterns, or the design of the hooks they are tied on. We can’t assume, although many anglers do, that big hooks necessarily give a safer hold. Big hooks take more of a strike to send the point home, particularly if they have a deep-cut barb. Small hooks with micro-barbs or no barb take much less effort to set. In fact a size 18, once buried in gristle to the bend, gives a very secure hold indeed.  Long shanks and narrow gapes should be avoided. It’s difficult to set a hook properly unless the gape is wide enough to allow the point to dig in. An over-short shank, however, will not pull the point in line and will also lose fish. Personally I think a round-bend design like Partridge’s old Captain Hamilton is ideal for the dry fly. The Kamasan B400 is a good example of this type. A curved grub-type hook such as the Kamasan B100 is also very effective at catching hold. If there is to be a barb, I like a micro-barb like the tiny ones on the Varivas 2100 range – another good dry fly hook. If there is to be no barb, I like a dry fly hook with a long, sharp, slightly incurved point – the Tiemco BL103 is very good indeed. For dry flies of course you need a hook made from fine wire which will not sink the pattern, but it is a matter of judgment how fine the wire can be, particularly if combined with a wide gape. The quoted Varivas 2100 for example, good as it is, can be opened up by a good grayling in a powerful current if you are too forceful when playing it, or even when you shake the fish off, holding the hook in your fingers. Remember the principles of tackle balance and don’t combine a weak hook with a powerful rod. Conversely, don’t try to set a big hook with a baby rod. When I’m fishing for rainbow trout at close range, I take great pleasure in using a little 9 foot 5 weight rod, provided the hook sizes used are in the 18-12 range, or maybe at a pinch up to size 10. For lures tied on size 8 or larger hooks and fished at range or with a sinking line, I change to a 10 foot 6 weight and many would use a 7 weight. In theory, each different size of any hook pattern should be made with a different thickness of wire to achieve the same resilience and strength. In practice they are not, so the resistance to the gape opening up can vary with size. A Kamasan B100 in size 16 or 14 is quite resistant to pressure when playing a powerful fish, but the same hook design in size 10 is much less so. In the case of a hook which does not have a particularly good gape, try increasing the odds in your own favour by taking a pair of pliers and offsetting the point sideways from parallel by about 15 degrees. One bending action won’t weaken the tempering too much.

  

Then there are the different kinds of rises to consider. A smash and grab attack at the fly on the surface doesn’t usually cause much bother, unless you over-react by striking too hard and breaking the tippet. Such a charging rise usually indicates that the fish thinks that it is attacking a food item which may well try to escape. In this case you usually find the hook has gone well back into the mouth. A gentle sipping rise, I find, indicates confidence but is best hit reasonably promptly. A lot of people find they have trouble with the porpoise-like rise in which the fish comes up out of the water and pounces down onto the fly so that you get a good view of the whole back and dorsal fin for a moment. Grayling often do this. Somebody tried to tell me the other day that you should hit these quickly because in fact the fish takes the fly on the way up and already has it when you see the dorsal…but I am convinced this is wrong and that the fish takes the fly on the way back down. Whatever the truth of the matter, I do better by giving such rises plenty of time. Something you won’t see with grayling, although you often do with trout, is the fish which fools around right on the surface, taking food virtually at eye level and with his mouth open for long periods. This one is easier than you might think, because you get a really good view of what he is doing. Hit him as soon as his mouth closes on the fly. Obviously if you are dealing with a smutting fish and using a size 22 fly fished on 8X tippet, you may well strike promptly but the movement won’t be much more than a languid wave of the rod. It doesn’t take much to set a size 22 hook or to break off very fine nylon in a solid fish. If the fly is too small to see, watch the tippet on the surface for movement. As the hatches of traditional angling flies continue to decline, I suspect that in future we might spend more time fishing with tiny midge patterns in rivers as well as in lakes. That has been the experience in the United States. See Ed Koch’s classic Fishing the Midge for advice on working with very small hooks and fine tippets.

 

Let’s look at striking offers to wet flies and nymphs fished below the surface. Generally there are less choices to be made here. If you are fishing spiders upstream, or up and across, make a downstream wave of the rod tip to set the hook immediately you see either the leader check in its downstream travel or a rise form to one of the flies. Do the same when fishing a single nymph upstream – in this case I usually grease the leader butt to make a more visible indicator. There is no reason to delay striking when upstream fishing with wet flies or nymphs. When the leader stops the fish has the fly in his mouth (unless the fly has hitched on a rock), the fish is definitely facing upstream and away from you, so go right ahead and set the hook in the angle of the jaw. If you are fishing wet flies directly across the stream, when a fish picks up one of the flies the loop of line depending from the rod tip will start to lift gradually and you will feel a growing “heaviness” as the current starts to push on the dragging line, now anchored to a fish at distance across the river. In this case it is a natural and almost instinctive reaction to tighten until you feel the fish which is usually by then securely hooked (this is a little like salmon fishing). However, when the wet flies have swung round to a down and across position, say at an angle of about 45 degrees, it all becomes more difficult. Some judicious line mending may help (also as with salmon fishing), but the line is now becoming taut in the current, so that any offer to the fly will immediately be felt as a sharp bump and, unless the fish is enthusiastic enough to hook itself, it may well be pricked or lost. Holding the rod high to introduce a loop of slack may help, as will avoiding fishing too long a length of line beyond the rod tip. I would regard 30 feet of fly line out as a maximum with this method and I much prefer to have just a couple of yards lying on the surface if I can manage it. In any event, strike as soon as you can. In case you were wondering, if I’m fishing New Zealand-style with a nymph tethered below an indicating dry fly, I strike immediately the dry fly ducks under.

  

In the case of fishing a team of heavy nymphs East European-style below the rod-tip, the conventional advice is to strike downstream fairly vigorously immediately the leader or the indicator checks in its movement. Of course 19 times out of 20 this will happen because one of the nymphs has momentarily hitched on the bottom, but on the twentieth occasion you will feel the live kicking of a hooked fish down there. If the fish are in a particularly vigorous mood, you will actually see the leader duck under and go forward. You should also automatically strike the flies out when they have reached just below you to the bottom of their travel and as you go into your new water-hauled roll cast forward, just in case a fish has, undetected, picked up one of the flies as they lift. This rather simple approach works for me, at least when the fish are biting boldly in a good flow. However, I’m aware that people who are better at nymph fishing than I am are capable of tickling the flies along in a slow current, feeling with a sensitive rod tip for bites and striking only when they are reasonably sure that a fish is there. This is a skill to be learned, but however you approach this problem, make your strikes parallel with the surface and downstream. A vertical strike and consequent rebound in the air with a team of weighted nymphs makes an awful tangle of the leader.

 

Fishing wet flies or nymphs with a floating line on lakes usually requires a quick, responsive strike. Stroking a team of traditional wets in front of a drifting boat is a mainly tactile method in which you actually pull into the fish as it takes. The exception might be attacks on the top dropper as it dibbles on the surface. I often grease the top dropper so that it effectively becomes a dry fly. Be aware that the fish which makes a pass at the top dropper but fails to take it, may well take one of the other two flies as it goes back down past them. Be ready for this. If fishing from the shore, you may well find yourself fishing the same team of three on a floating line which the wind is pushing round in a pronounced curve. In this case (and personally I’m more of a figure of eighter than a puller) I would keep a slow retrieve going to keep the line taut and any touch on the flies should telegraph itself instantly. Respond by sweeping the rod tip upwind so that the force of the strike is transmitted round the curve. In the case of rainbow trout in heavily fished catch and release waters, you may find yourself confronted with some quite visible but very shy fish which have already been caught several times and have seen a lot of artificial flies. The usual result of casting at shell-shocked survivors like these is lightning takes and ejections, registering as mere twitches on the leader and almost impossible to hit. Try different fly patterns – each new one usually provokes a momentary interest at least. Try some very small fly patterns down to size 18 or even 20, and reduce the fluorocarbon tippet diameter as much as you dare. Finally I would suggest trying some small dry flies such as CDC Hare’s Ears. This is simply because visitors to commercial fisheries generally don’t use dry flies that much, so you might just get ahead of the game in this way. Needless to say, don’t hang about when striking after your dry fly is taken!

 

If you are fishing for rainbows with a sinking or intermediate line, maybe with a lure or fry pattern, detecting the take is once more going to be a tactile matter. You may find that lifting the rod in a conventional strike is ineffective because it fails to transmit enough force to move and set the hook – the sinking line is sagging rather than straight and just drags in the water. In this case try a strip-strike, pulling down hard with your retrieving hand while keeping the rod pointing down the line. If you are troubled with tail-tweakers, quite common in the case of fry-feeding rainbows, try responding to the first bump by stopping the retrieve and letting go of the line. If a hard or even gentle draw follows a few seconds later, grab the line and pull into it with a strip-strike as above. I was out with a client the other day who had got into the habit of strip-striking during tropical salt water trips and he used the method even when fishing a dry fly at close range on a Herefordshire brook – it worked quite well!

    

Finally, remember that the range at which you are fishing and the flexibility of your tackle – rod, line, leader – all affect the speed at which a strike which you initiate from the thick end of the rod finally reaches the hook point. This is a little like those thinking and braking time figures so often quoted for the driving test. There is a rather nice story about two anglers, both very experienced and successful on the same water, who were interviewed by an angling journalist. They were each asked about their tactics and particularly what was their policy on striking? The first replied that he struck immediately a fish showed to the fly and was convinced that this rapid reaction gave him the best results. The second angler stated that he waited for about a second, counted “one thousand” in fact under his breath, and then lifted the rod. They both achieved a very high hook-up rate. The critical point of the story is that the first angler was using vintage tackle, a slow action split cane rod and a silk line, while the second angler had a fast-action carbon rod and a modern line. Of course they were both achieving the same result in different ways, the first having a striking delay automatically built in by the flexibility and slow action of the tackle he was using, while the second had achieved the delay by his own volition.


So much for September, a month which I usually devote mainly to grayling, but this year I somehow became distracted into other angling directions and I will write about that at a later date. Trout fishing is finished now (except for Severn tributaries such as the Teme and Forest of Dean streams where the season extends until 7th October). Salmon and sea trout fishing will continue until 17th October, and 25th October on some parts of the upper Wye system.  Grayling fishing, of course, goes on through the winter. Let’s hope that when the floods recede October gives us the sort of river fishing which, for the most part, was missing during the last weeks. The Grayling Society have their annual symposium at Llandrindod Wells at the end of the month and their members will certainly be trying. Tight lines!      

Oliver Burch

http://wyevalleyflyfishing.com

Season's end