I am not a big follower of fashion, my experience of trout is that they don’t care too much for fashion either happily uncaring wearing the same speckled birthday suit for generations. Anglers do follow fashion driven, I guess, by the massive growth in trout fisheries, the introduction of rainbow trout and ease of international travel. Tackle, flies, methods have evolved more in the last 3/4 decades than in the previous history of angling although the general principle of a stick, line, hook and a bit of bait prevails. The question is do these methods, flies and tackle catch any more fish than traditional methods?
I am happy to concede that the modern ‘stuff’ has resulted in some prodigious results with hatchery bred fish. That said looking at my old fishing magazines and angling books I see pictures of exceptional catches of wild brown trout taken using good old fashioned methods which seem to have been consigned to history. What was good 50 or a 100 years ago is as good today, confirmed by the enthusiasm of the conservatively dressed troot for traditional wet flies.
Fishing the traditional wet fly for wild brown trout feels right. Until an old rugby injury to my right wrist made using a cane rod more pain than pleasure I used my old 10 foot Edgar Seally split cane rod. My concession to fashion was to buy a retro Bruce and Walker 10 foot Hexagraph when they came out about 20 odd years ago. Some years later at a diner in the Seafield Arms Hotel in Grantown on Spey when I told Ken Walker I had a ‘Hex’ he described them as ‘s**t rods’, anyway I still use it. My ‘Hex’ looks like a cane rod, is light, can hammer out a long line and handles a 10lb salmon just fine. I use it for traditional wet fly fishing. With my old Marquis reel (circa 1973) and either a floating or intermediate line I am ready for the off. So what about tactics and flies?
You might guess I like to keep things simple. I recommend 20 flies classed either as Naturals or Attractors. I have also provided some tips on methods and details you should take into account when setting out to fish the traditional wet fly on rivers and lochs.
The naturals represent the key natural species of ephemeroptera, chironomids and caddis in variations of olive, brown and black:
Black Pennell, Bibio, March Brown, Greenwells Glory, Greenwell Spider, Kate McLaren, Light and Medium Olive,
Black Spider, Blae and Black, Blue Dun, Grouse and Claret, Hoppers, Invicta, Iron Blue Dun, Wickhams Fancy
Much simpler, Alexandra, Dunkeld, Peter Ross and Silver and Bloody Butcher
Position is everything when it comes to where to fish each pattern on a 3 fly cast.
The naturals are always fished on the bob, sometimes on the second dropper if the Peter Ross is having an off day. As for the attractors the Peter Ross, if used, is always fished on the second dropper while the others are fished on the tail. For some reason the Peter Ross only works on the second dropper (for me). I have tried to vary it and the whole combo fails when the Peter Ross (if used) is out of position.
I carry 14s, 12s, 10s and 8s the smaller sizes are usually the naturals while the attractors are always 10s and 8s. One tip for highland lochs is to use the bigger sizes. One of the most successful flies I had was a size 8 Greenwells Glory that took fish until it was all but stripped to a bare hook.
Method: On a river
I fish the fly speculatively downstream, cast and step one cast straight across the flow, one at 45 degrees. Look for lies off course; eddies, runs, submerged features, weed beds and work them, cover any rising fish. It is worth remembering that on a river trout take up lies and are very territorial with the bigger fish defending their favoured spot for it’s safety and the food supply the current brings. I always work the fly gently ‘nodding the rod tip’ while doing a figure of eight retrieve. Through practise you learn when to vary the retrieve or even give some line or when to make mends up or drown stream to vary the speed and depth the fly is working. I tend to fish a medium length line 15 to 20 yards preferring to wade closer to the fish.
Method: On a loch much of the following applies equally to rivers) the first thing I do is to ‘read’ the land. The terrain indicates what you can expect to find within the water. A little bit of geology helps to pick out limestone, chalk or igneous rock which dictates ph. Solid rock, rocky, pebble, sandy shores or muddy shores indicate what fly life will be present. For example muddy sandy shores might indicate chironomids (buzzers) and in alkaline water Mayflies. Lime stone or chalk will mean that shrimp and snails will be present. Stony shores are favoured by many prolific species of caddis. The height of the terrain indicates the depth of the water off shore and to some extent how safe it is to wade. Watch out on highland lochs, rubble has tumbled into lochs over millennia often creating a shallow shelf with a sudden sharp drop off into deep water.
Vegetation is another indicator for the type of fly life. Trees offer a range of windblown terrestrials including such morsels as caterpillars and bugs. Heather shores will have moths while grassy shores will offer hoppers and daddies at various time of year. Bushy shores with broom, gorse, hawthorn will, when flowering, provide a massive range of flies especially Hawthorns.
Vegetation, both terrestrial and aquatic, is also a good indicator of the ph of the water. Heather and mixed conifer and deciduous trees indicate more acidic water. Wild meadows will be generally neutral to alkaline while farm land may be the same but the addition of fertiliser or lime used by farmers leeching into the water can have a significant effect on the fertility of the water which works right though the food chain.
Weed beds and rushes provide microhabitats for food species and refuge for fry. Trout will always loiter near weeds for food and for their own safety, it’s not just angler who want to eat them.
Inflow streams are always worth exploring especially if there is s bit of a spate as food will be washed into the loch. In warm weather the cooler, better oxygenated stream water is also attractive to the trout.
Look for features: fallen trees, fencing in the water, large rocks, gravel banks, sand banks, bays and inlets. Trout like to cruise around features where the extra nooks and crannies provide shelter and food.
I assess the wind, it is easier to cast with the wind behind you but it is only beneficial if there is terrestrial fly life being blown onto the water. Make life a bit more difficult for yourself, work a bank where the wind is coming at an angle across your shoulder or use promontories to cast across the wind into the shore. Fish will gather where the food is, look for wind drifts on the water, fish will search them for food.
Finally water temperature must be taken into account, it indicates the depth at which the fish will be feeding. In warmer water the fish will be near the surface and in the shallows, in hot weather the fish will go deep where the water is cooler and the water gives protection from bright sunshine. In cold weather fish will be down deep, off course since shallow water can heat up quite quickly in sunshine fish may move inshore to feed. I get bored fishing slow and deep so I am always on the hunt for areas where fish might be approached more actively.
There is a lot to take in even before you make your first cast but with experience just a few minutes scanning the terrain, weather, geology and ecology will indicate where and how you should start to fish.
Unless otherwise indicated by feeding fish and natural flies I will put a Greenwell on the bob, Peter Ross on the dropper and a Bloody Butcher on the tail and take it from there ringing the changes as I move about and observe how the day develops.
Many anglers do their fishing on man made reservoirs and fisheries where they tend to find a spot and hammer it. While trout on a loch are less territorial than in a river they do have a patrol area which means that if you stay in one spot fish may come to you. This is not advised on a natural loch, fish through locations, cast and step, look for rising fish and cover them as soon as possible. Hunting will always improve your chances and it is a lot more interesting. Feeding fish will often cruise in a circular pattern, sometimes in a straight line. The shape of the rise can indicate the direction in which the fish is moving, as a rule I cast 3 feet past the rise in the direction I think the fish has gone. In my youth I could fish along miles of bank hunting all the time. I tend to wade out about thigh deep, making one cast straight out, one at 45 cast at degrees to the bank and one in toward the bank. Pay attention to the shallows, you may be surprised how close in trout will come in to the bank in the evening.
I love wild fishing, you never know what a day will offer. Some days the fish will be suicidal sometimes dour. Some lochs are full of 6 to 8 ounce fish some have fewer but bigger fish but one thing is for sure, you cannot predict what will hit, three tiddlers at once or one prize specimen. It’s all down to a stick, line, hook, ‘bait’, a bit of skill and Lady Luck.