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Martin James award-winning fisherman consultant,broadcaster,writer


Itís been a Slow Start for Dry Fly

Since the start of the brown trout season which started on 15th March, the weather hasn't really been good for dry fly fishing with the cold weather and strong wind and the odd fly hatches have been very sparse. I can't say I enjoy upstream nymphing or the down and across method with a team of wet flies or spider patterns. Ever since I could cast a fly, fishing the dry fly patterns has always been my first love. I suppose it all the visual action. Another thing in its favour are the fish show where they are by rising to the surface to take floating and emerging insect, This of course shows us what the fish are feeding on. Providing we choose the correct pattern make a god cast so the fly lands like thistle down then we have a good chance of fooling a fish with an artificial insect. Its not rocket science, its all about understanding the quarry, knowing water craft and the habits of the fish and its food source. Though the weather hasn't been good for consistent fly fishing, I have had lots of conservation and habitat work to do.

Over the past few years I've done a lot of improvement work on my two mile fishery on the River Ribble, endless hours have been spent moving rocks to create small riffles to move away silt, Some years ago I purchased a load of small plastic mesh boxes, after adding a bunch of water crowfoot, I cover it with fine gravel. Now comes the hard part, digging a hole in the bed of the river, which isn't as easy as it sounds. Many times I have to take a deep breath then get under the water so I can scrape a deeper hole. Having set the box in the hole, I cover it with more fine gravel then larger stones. Then with the aid of a crowbar I move some large boulders to create a small breakwater. In areas of fast water I hammer a steel rod through the centre of the box which helps stop weed being swept away in a spate. With the aid of a crowbar I move some large boulders just upstream of each box to create a small breakwater. Water crowfoot is the finest aquatic plant that you can put in flowing water. Without plants, mosses, algae, submerged tree trunks and fly boards there would be little insect life. Without any insects, its just skinny fish, in some case no fish.

The next big job on my water will be pulling out the Himalayan Balsam which does so much damage to the banks of our rivers and streams. What you mustn't do is cut this invasive plant; you need to pull it up with its roots. I have also waged war on mink operating 10 traps; itís easy to trap mink. But you must make sure you inspect the traps every 24 hours. I also have a licence to cull cormorants. Hopefully before long these birds will be on the general licence along with crows etc. Another pest creature is the grey squirrel which I trap and shoot. Thankfully being a fly fishery I don't have a problem with rats which really are plague proportions on many coarse fisheries. Much of this is down to anglers leaving bait and food on the river bank.

A Last a Good Hatch

Yesterday Friday 4th May I arrived on the river to find a cold northerly wind blowing, not conditions I like when fly fishing and certainly not the weather we expect in May. Though itís nice having all the rain, long may it continue? Itís helped on my river with several good spring run salmon being caught along with a few sea trout. The best salmon to date was 37 inches estimated to weigh around 18lbs caught by my mate Dave Jones. After walking the beat checking traps, chatting to syndicate members I made my way upstream through the wood to the cabin for a brew and put together some tackle. The 200 yard stretch of river sheltered by the wood was flat calm, the air temperature a few degrees warmer. As I walked slowly upstream I noticed the occasional fish rising, several hawthorn flies a land based and not an aquatic fly were dropping on the water where they were quickly eaten. Back in the cabin I put the kettle on then made up a 5 weight 9 foot rod with a floating line, most fly fishers tie on a 9 foot tapered leader and make do. In my book that's a big mistake, when fishing dry flies or emerges I fish a minimum of 12 foot leader which includes two feet of fluorocarbon, often I extend my leader to 15 feet especially in gin clear water.

After getting kited out I locked the cabin then made my way downstream, sitting on a grass tussock I watched the water, the occasional trout was rising, Suddenly what looked like a sailing regatta dozen of medium olives were coming downstream in the scum line flowing down stream tight to my bank. Suddenly fish were rising up and downstream. It was time to fish. I chose a size 16 Greenwell' glory which I reckon was a good imitation. Walking well downstream I entered the river then waded out to the middle of the river, I could then cast upstream without disturbing the feeding fish. First cast I dropped the fly three feet from the bank under neat the over hanging branches. It travelled all of three feet before it was eaten. Son fish number one was netted a nice brown about 14 inches neatly hooked in the scissors, it was easy to slip out the tiny 16 hook without touching the fish. Too many anglers when they catch a fish immediately hold the fish squeezing the stomach which immediately causes damage to the internal organs. Trout are very delicate as are most fish.

Having returned the fish I dried off the fly then made another cast, the fly landing like thistle down which was soon snapped up. After a brief struggle another fish was netted about 12 inches and quickly returned. Moved upstream some three paces I made another cast, the fly dropped into the scum line as it flowed downstream, looking upstream I could see several duckling dashing to and fro grabbing the flies trapped in the scum. Soon the sand martin discovered the insects and joined in the feast, taking the flies as they hatched off the water. I quickly had several more fish, then from no where the wind ruffled the water surface and the fish quickly went down stairs as the flies stopped hatching.

I waded back downstream then onto the bank resuming my position on the grass tussock. I shivered slightly as the wind increased, the temperature dropped. It was nice hearing the call of the oyster catchers, watching a pair of Dippers, the occasional Pied wagtail flew up and downstream with its undulating flight. Suddenly as quick as the wind appeared so it stopped; the sun appeared giving off some warmth. The occasional fish could be seen rising, I couldn't see any insect life either on the water or airborne. Picking up my binoculars I scanned the water, spotting the odd dead olive trapped in the scum. I reckon fifteen minutes had passed when flies started hatching off many dropping on the water to get eaten by trout and ducklings, a Pied wagtail joined in the feast as were the Sand martins.

A Big Fish Hooked

Time to move downstream then enter the icy cold water, I moved upstream a few feet before making a long cast dropping the fly close to the bank where I had seen a fish head and tail. The fly travelled several feet downstream then in a swirl of water it was taken. As I set the hook a fish powered off downstream taking some line, this doesn't often happen. I reckon several minutes passed before I had my first glimpse of the fish, a good brown no a big brown. Seeing daylight it powered down into the water taking line off the reel. For about five minutes it was give and take, with a 3lb tippet I had to be careful in case the fish took the line across a rock. Suddenly I was gaining line as the fish moved upstream; soon I had the fishing coming towards me. A minute later I had the fish in the net. Looking down I could see I had a brown that I estimated at about 4lbs. certainly a fish that had over wintered for several years. A worthy quarry. I slipped out the barbless fly then lowered the net in the water waiting until the fish tried to fight its way out of the net, lowering the net further into the water, I tipped it over then watched the fish swim off strongly.

I caught a few more 12 -14 inch trout then suddenly the fish stopped rising, Sand martins had gone as a cool breeze started blowing. I thought time for lunch. Making my way upstream I looked back on the past couple of hours thinking that's the best session this season. Back in the cabin I enjoyed a salad lunch with two mugs of Yorkshire Gold.

Martin James Fishing