Presentation – Success in low and clear rivers
This was an account of a week when I had been guiding Kelvin. He has been out with me a number of times and I have to say his fly fishing has improved so much in a year that he is now a very decent fly fisher and able to catch a good few trout & grayling on the rivers. With the river levels being so low and clear and very little hatching during the day I suggested he may wish to re-arrange however all credit to him, he wanted to use this as an opportunity to really develop his skills and tactics to handle such situations. Great... although for a Guide this provides some trepidation as we like to make sure our clients have a great day and with that ...catch a few fish. When it’s going to be tough it does make the job more difficult however, this needs to be viewed in context. One fish on a difficult day will often require a lot more application, effort and skill than 20 fish on an easy day...and perhaps therefore, a greater reward?.
I have a fishing mantra that is simple (the best things usually are?) and needs to be considered in sequence....
3. Fly selection
Following a chat with Kelvin we both agreed that this day was going to concentrate on Location & Presentation and use a wide range of tactics and techniques to help us manage the conditions and ensure we fish in the right location and with the right presentation(s).
Trout & Grayling need Oxygen food and safety to simply survive and water of course!! Rivers and lakes have varying degrees of each and the best locations (prime lies) are those that have all of them in abundance. In low clear water and bright sunshine all of these areas change so therefore we have to think like a fish. Which areas can provide the 3 essential items of habitat?
Faster runs and pocket water provide the much needed oxygen in low water as well as good cover for the fish. Surprisingly fish will hold in what seems on the surface as really fast white water because under the surface there are areas of quiet water cushioned from the flow which provides a good environment for trout. Often a good number of trout are in such locations due to the conditions dictating nowhere else suitable.
Faster water and pockets require a different approach with duo/trio or double nymphing tactics being the preferred options. The trick is to avoid surface drag pulling your flies out of the deeper holes by the fast surface currents and therefore a French leader or zero fly line approach will be preferable and enable you to have greater control and presentation. In both techniques the weighted nymph(s) need to sink into the deeper parts of the flow and often the lift is the key to takes. Fish it quickly with a tuck cast to get the nymphs in and down then lift out again repeatedly. It’s amazing how many fish come just as you lift out !!. The more effective you are with repeat presentations into the various currents and pockets will increase your percentage chances of success. The Big dry can often pull up a few fish in this type of water too.
I don't get too worried about the flies !!!!...a large dry that floats high (not semi submerged) will do the trick Sedge patterns Stimulators, Klinkhammers etc are all successful but make sure it floats high and can be seen. The addition of some colour to the wing can assist in being able to track the fly.
Nymphs....what would we do without pheasant tail or hares ear nymphs ??.. Fitted with tungsten beads in sizes and various colours and with hot spots provide a simple but effective range of nymphs that will cover most situations. The addition of CdC or soft hackles creates intrinsic movement in the nymph that can be deadly. In the summer caddis pupa are often on the menu and so a green or tan caddis representation can be very effective , especially in the fast water.
Don’t forget that jigs and jig back nymphs are extremely dense ( i.e. heavy compared to size) and are proven to be very effective. In reality there are thousands of flies that will work very well and confidence is key. Try to keep it simple and use the mantra: Size (and of course density), Shape and Colour in that order to build up a selection that covers the majority of situations.
We had a relatively successful day with a good number of trout and grayling coming to the methods outlined but in particular it was finding the right water that held fish and not spending too much time on water that didn’t !!. Always be prepared to change and adapt to the changing environment. In the late afternoon we also found a shaded run containing rising fish. A change over to dries in sizes #18/20/22 and a fine tippet proved the downfall for most of them in the foam line. Size of fly and tippet was critical and an F Fly in hares ear or black usually does the trick when fish are on what we technically call black sh!te !!!!
Just remember I’m just at the end of the telephone or an email if you need help or advice and of course a session on the water is always the best way to learn and develop your watercraft and techniques. I can’t wait for my next session with Kelvin just to see how well his river skills continue to develop.
Professional UK Guide and Owner of The Durham Fly Fishing Company