Sunday, 31 July 2016

Top water tactics for roach & rudd

Top water action 
pursuing roach and rudd has been one of the highlights of my angling year so far. I can think of no finer a way of chasing them than with the fly, and with a bit of lateral thinking I have found that the tenkara approach can be modified into a really fun and effective method for taking roach and especially rudd off the top when the conditions are right. 

I first tried this simple method for perch and wrote about it in an earlier post 'summer days and razor blades'. It's a duo rig with a buoyant foam beetle pattern as an indicator with a point fly at the business end. Instead of tying on the indicator fly it's merely threaded on the line and secure with two float stops. This allows the fly to be slid up or down the line then locked in place to adjust the depth the point fly fishes at. Casting line is from level 12lb mono 2 ft shorter than the rod with a 4.5lb 4 ft tippet.

This is a still water presentation and for perch I am happy to let the rig hang or drift for several minutes before recasting as I'm searching the water looking for takes. 

But with roach and rudd feeding in the top of the water this is a more active tactic. Casts to sighted fish feeding on a rising midge pupa hatch are made almost constantly and the fly is left for maybe twenty seconds or less before being recast. I'm looking to take fish in the top few feet of water and don't waste time once the fly has sunk deeper. Constantly recasting to keep the fly on the drop, only in the top of the water column, seems to have an added bonus. I'm sure the pecking order of the rudd shoal means that the bigger fish dominate the uppermost part of the water column. Perhaps because as a surface feeding fish this gives the biggest in the pod first refusal of midge pupa at it's most vulnerable - when it struggles to emerge near the surface. It also gives the biggest fish first choice of any food items that fall onto the water from above.  

Yesterday I took this tactic to an ancient monastic stock pond with a good head of roach and rudd. Casting room is very limited here but I was only fishing the margins and a catapult cast was all that was needed to flick the duo a dozen feet out. The catapult cast also has two other huge advantages - it's a very light stealthy delivery and there is no rod waving about to spook surface feeders. It's also very energy efficient - important because of the high number of casts I'm making. Casting and recasting with the catapult cast soon develops a fluid rythm punctuated by slashing takes and an elevated pulse as the line tightens and the foam beetle slides away.

Fly choice was for something that would sink slowly and I first tried my 'super shrimp' pattern. This sinks very slowly but in the coloured water the versions I had with me were too difficult to see. Although it took a few nice fish a change to a claret midge pupa pattern instantly got more attention and then the action really started to hot up! Takes were quite aggressive and all within the top couple of feet of water. 

Tuesday, 26 July 2016

Stealth, fly philosophy and the Copenhagen interpretation

Don't ask me why,
(I think it all started with Schrodinger's cat) but I was reading earlier about the Copenhagen interpretation and it got me to thinking how it seems to apply to fishing.  
Quantum physicists may disagree with my simple interpretation but there again I doubt if many of them are reading this blog. Well anyway, I believe the gist is partly that the very observation of a system at sub atomic level can influence its state in time and space.  

Or for an analogy on a human scale, imagine a situation or set of circumstances that does not involve you because you are not present. It would be impossible for you to fully understand what this given situation would be like without you there because you have to be there to observe it. And because by observing it you influence its state and its outcome you are no longer separate from the situation, in fact you have become part of it. 

And so it is, I believe, with most fishing. Particularly fly fishing. And specifically tenkara - at least how I am fishing tenkara right now..

Let me explain. Western bait fishers joyfully and deliberately seek to manipulate their environment or at least the fishes behaviour by introducing a mostly unnatural food source. But as fly fishers we are often trying to outwit our quarry with naturalistic or at least suggestive fly patterns, presented more or less naturally, matching the hatch, dead drift and so on and so forth..  and we often try to employ a stealthy approach and style as we try to meld into our surroundings to avoid arousing suspicion.  

In tenkara with it's up close and personal style the philosophy can go deeper still. The unhurried meditative approach, the goal to become as one with nature and in tune with one's surroundings. Each cast is unique and never to be replicated, and connecting with a fish is just one of many possible outcomes. A beautiful philosophy and one that many, including I, find deeply appealing. 

Through this many of us are led to a desire to understand better our fishes natural lives,  behaviour and ecology so that we may become better anglers and enjoy more success. I love observing the aquatic environment of my local chalkstream. It is absolutely gin clear and abundant with life and I am excited to watch the resident native fish (chub, barbel, roach, dace, perch) going about their lives. I love to observe what they are feeding on and trying to 'crack the code' and catch a few. 

And it was on one of these visits recently with my waders and tenkara rod that I realised how subtly the Copenhagen interpretation may manifest itself. 

I enjoy the challenge of sight fishing. Many of the waters I fish are small and overgrown and my rod of choice is my 8ft eso which is great for getting into these tight spots. But it does mean that I am  never more than about 16ft or so from my target fish. Tenkara as we all know was born on the mountain streams of Japan. Here gradients changes create much energy and movement in the water and this goes a long way to concealing the presence and actions of the angler. But for lowland fishers it can be a different story and on my stream and the water is mostly placid and clear. Wade fishing is the only practical option so I have had to sharpen up my stealth tactics to have any chance at all.  

chub rise

So I have learned to enter the water slowly and quietly, to avoid 'skylining' myself where there are gaps in the bankside vegetation. I also learned that a catapult cast scares less fish than a conventional cast and that my approach can be masked by the music of the riffle. I take my time and I watch more than I fish. I have learned, I hope, patience, and all of these little things have added up to a little more success. I have taken fish with dry fly within a few feet of my boots on a sunny day and have had the privilege of standing within a pod of chub and watching them compete as they feed on freshwater shrimps around me.  

barbel nursery
I had naively allowed myself to believe that my 'super stealth' tactics had outwitted the fish because increasingly, as my skills have developed they seem less and less concerned at my presence or are even oblivious to it. 

And despite all of this, the other day, when I had managed to get right amongst a pod of busily feeding fish, try as I might I just couldn't get any interest at all in any fly I showed to them. Then I remembered the Copenhagen interpretation. I had made the mistake of thinking that I was outside of the system looking in and that the system (my pod) was functioning without my influence. But as I watched  I became more and more aware of the tiny tell tale signs that the fish were on red alert, tolerating my presence rather than move off of a rewarding feeding station. It now seems to me as if the fish are thinking "Ok this is an unusual situation, but we will tolerate this stranger because we are  in no real danger as long as we stick to what we are doing and don't accept his fly!"        

It didn't matter that my flies were good suggestions of the natural food items present. And I started to wonder whether actually all takes that we get are really 'induced' takes rather than a deception based on clever imitation. With its many subtle manipulations this is perhaps the heart of kebari, and no matter how lightly we travel we are always agents of change, however small.



Friday, 15 July 2016

a tale of two rivers

The stars have aligned in my favour. A journey across country to a family wedding has given me the opportunity to  fish two very different trouts streams, both in the same weekend. 

The Fowey and the Valency. Two contrasting rivers both with their own characteristics and challenges. I will be taking my new esoteric zoom. At 8' to 6' 9" it's certainly a specialist little rod, and this is just the sort of water that Daniel Hall of Esoteric Tackle designed it for. I am keen to test it out, and I'm hoping for a trout from each river.. 

The Valency in Cornwall is a true freestone stream, lively, clear and bright and narrow enough to jump across in places. This is a stream of plunge pools, riffles and pocket water, all in exquisite miniature.

Another Cornish river, the Fowey, though still a small stream in its upper reaches, is by contrast heavier, faster  and more powerful, with deeper pools and glides. Here it runs through shady woodland with a dense canopy, its banks are mossy and green and its water has the color tinge of old rust.  

So, a few days at work then it's a 230 mile trip out west to Cornwall, destination the upper River Fowey. It's hard to believe that this lively little river tumbling down off Bodmin Moor soon becomes an estuary big enough for container ships to hold up in.

I'm on my own this time, no local knowledge from here on in. I don't think I could have chosen a location less like my last destination, the Wandle, where often the only obstacle to a back cast may be a passerby. Here it is the trees that seem to jostle and  crowd you in. There is a mystical atmosphere to this place. The deep, cool silence of the woodland soaks up the white noise of the rushing water. It's easy to imagine as you fish that you are the subject of watchful eyes.. 

This water has the kind of braided currents that the tenkara approach is ideally suited to. As I am not wading though the overhanging branches make it difficult to fish an upstream fly. Here the option to shorten the zoom to just 6' 9" is invaluable and lets me fish under the canopy in places denied to a longer rod. Even so I can only flick out a fly and track it with my rod for short a distance so I resort to letting my fly swing wet fly style at the end of the drift.  

I am trying my version of a terrestrial pattern - the hawthorn fly which swarms around hedgerows and river banks in May. Liftin the rod induces some taps from the tiny resident trout and in the low light I find that the red lilian is useful in highlighting the most subtle takes as the rod tip twitches round. I get some more taps. But time is very short and I manage only to hook up briefly with a couple of fish before it's time to leave for our hotel.

My final destination is the smaller of the two rivers - the Valency, bright and airy, a beautiful little freestone trout stream in perfect miniature.

I have a few brief visits planned in and around the wedding preparations, and so time is of the essence if I am to catch a Valency trout! I find those mischievous Cornish pixies have other ideas though..

The bankside offers little cover save the odd alder and the water is gin clear so I don't want to risk spooking the trout here. My plan is to keep low and sneak upstream along the tiny shoreline to each little pool and get within casting distance. There are few casting restrictions so I am using 6 1/2 ft of titanium leader plus a purpose matched french style indicator, then 8ft of 6X tippet. I first used the titanium leader on the Wandle when 40mph gusts had been forecast and I was impressed with its wind beating performance. It is virtually invisible though and the indicator is essential. The whole shooting match turns over nicely and is very easy to cast. With the rod extended to 8ft I have a reach of about 17ft when I hold the level line off of the water. These seems a good compromise between manageability and being able to fish 'far and fine'

I try a little brass head PTN at the first pool I come to, and from a sitting position I can  make a cast to the tail of the pool. Nothing, but on the second cast I get a solid pluck before the line goes limp again. I know this pool is blown now for a while but suitably encouraged I fish on up the river. It is a hot sunny day and clouds of small pale colored midges gather over the water. There is distant rumble that sounds like thunder, then another louder one, and then a definite thunderclap over head tells me I am not welcome here today. I have been fishing for perhaps only twenty minutes.

After getting skunked on the Fowey I am keen to salvage some honour and catch something from this river, so I sneak back again early the next morning and retrace my steps. Again I flick out a PTN in that first pool and this time it gets hit straight away. The fish stays on long enough to tell me it is above average size for this river where 6 inchers are the norm. But once again the line goes limp so I move on to the next pool. Here at last my luck changes. A lovely and lively little brownie takes my fly with gusto. It skitters and jumps around the pool before I hand line it to the net. Such a beautiful fish, but just as I am getting my camera ready it leaps clear out of my net and is gone. Those pesky pixies..  time to go but I have one last chance to fish the Valency again, early tomorrow.   
It is the morning of the wedding and I have risen at 5am to sneak out of the hotel room, trying very hard not to wake the rest of my family as I leave. I wouldn't normally hit the water this early as I prefer to let the day warm up and the trout wake up. This is my only remaining chance though so here I am back at that pool. The trout in these pocket waters are very territorial so I am expecting the oversize trout to be home and waiting for my one last try. Today I will do it properly, with a small pale colored sakasa kebari I have tied, a good suggestion of those pale midges I saw here earlier. I am in position, sitting comfortably on a flat rock, just in range of the head of the pool where the water slides in from a tiny fall. I cast, letting the fly fall lightly onto the water where it swirl and sinks. Although the surface boils, underneath the current is surprisingly slack and my fly just leisurely wafts around. My mind drifts too, and all I can hear is the music of birdsong and of water. I'm not actually sure how long I have sat here when the indicator slides across and the line tightens. I lift into a weight that instantly transforms into the wildest of trout. I am sure this is that same fish I have hooked twice before. Quicker than thought it streaks upstream to the head of the pool away from me. I am rising from my seat as it rockets up through the spray like a tiny salmon and leaps the fall. I catch just the briefest of glimpses as it leaps clear of the water shaking its head. It is indeed a big fish but the hook falls free and it is gone.  

It is the most emphatic of denials, but I feel honored to have touched the wild heart of nature, if only for a few seconds. It's time to go now but as I leave I reflect that this most memorable moment of my whole expedition occurred when I was the most relaxed, unhurried and trying the least. Perhaps there is a lesson here.