Low wa­ter suc­cess

Steve Cullen shows you how to catch river trout in low wa­ter con­di­tions

Trout Fisherman (UK) - - Contents -

DUR­ING sum­mer and of­ten into au­tumn, warm tem­per­a­tures and low wa­ter make f ish­ing diff icult, but on a river, it’s a war of at­tri­tion! Just now, the evenings tend to be pro­duc­tive for catch­ing trout on f ly. In fact, many an­glers won’t f ish the river un­til then. I agree, day time f ish­ing can be ver y diff icult but catch­ing trout in low wa­ter can be ul­tra-re­ward­ing and with a hand­ful of tac­tics and f lies, low wa­ter can some­times be ver y pro­duc­tive.

Lose the bag­gage

Be pre­pared to cover a lot of ground dur­ing the day in search of f ish­able stretches. A low, late-sum­mer river is a tough mistress but by fo­cus­ing on cer­tain wa­ter, you mas­sively in­crease your chances. Travel light, I use a good qualit y chest pack – not too heav y and not over­full, keep it min­i­mal. My rods are light, noth­ing over a 3w t, you want min­i­mum dis­tur­bance in low f lows. I like my Drift XL, it goes from 9ft 6in, ideal for small dries, to 10ft 2in, mak­ing the ac­tion softer so that it’s spot-on for nymph­ing. It also al­lows me to do what I want with­out chang­ing rods. A few f ly boxes and a spare spool with a sink­ing line (I’ll ex­plain later), light­weight tippet (di­am­e­ters from 0.14mm down to 0.008mm), a ta­pered leader or two plus some floatant, sinkant and you’re good to go. Po­larised glasses are a must, not only do they allow you to spot f ish but there’s al­ways the safet y as­pect.

Lo­ca­tion is key

Trout need three things – oxy­gen, food and safety. Con­sider this when you look at a stretch of wa­ter. I’ll tr y a well-oxy­genated run, which f lows down into a deep pool. These can be great holding ar­eas in most river con­di­tions but in low wa­ter it’s a god­send. Trout move into the faster wa­ter (oxy­gen) to feed (food) and then drop back again to the deeper wa­ter and their bolt hole (safet y).

On the dries

Star t at the pool tail, a place that’s oc­cu­pied by trout in ever y thing apart from the bright­est and harsh­est of con­di­tions. Be­gin with a sin­gle dr y f ly, as it’s a pool tail it’s of ten fairly shal­low, so I go with a small f ly. I like small Olive pat­terns in size 19 and 21. Trust me, f ish will hold in wa­ter that barely cov­ers their backs, and you won’t see them un­til they come up to your dr y.

“Trout need three things to sur­vive – oxy­gen, food and safety.”

To f ish dries blind prop­erly, keep casts rel­a­tively short, you don’t want to be ‘lin­ing’ f ish left, right and cen­tre. Grid the wa­ter, start­ing close to your bank and work­ing across. Once you’re over to the far side, take a few steps up­stream and re­peat com­ing back to the bank that you started on. Keep move­ments slow and pre­cise, you’ll cover the wa­ter ef­fec­tively.

Double team­ing

Once into the pool proper – wa­ter that’s over your knees – and with some sem­blance of pace, and ONLY if I’ve seen no ris­ers, I’ll switch to the ‘duo’ method. The duo is a nymph suspended un­der­neath a dr y f ly, a kind of two-forone deal. It can be good for smaller f ish but it rarely dupes the big­ger, wiser ones. For this method I use a nine-foot ta­pered leader, but cut it back to six feet. To this I at­tach three feet of 0.14mm tippet and a size 12 dr y f ly, us­ally a small Klinkhamer, and I’ll stick 24 inches of 0.10mm tippet to the bend of the Klink hook. On the point goes a size 16 or 18 nymph. De­pend­ing on the depth of wa­ter I keep a bit of dis­tance be­tween the dr y and nymph, usu­ally two feet as this al­lows the nymph to sink and f ish closer to the river bed. In shal­lower wa­ter, when f ish­ing around weeds and rocks, I re­duce the drop­per length to around 10 to 12-inches.

Fish both flies

It’s im­por­tant that your dr y f ly isn’t just an in­di­ca­tor or f loat for the nymph, your choice should be based on a pat­tern suited to the river – one that you’d nor­mally f ish on its own. This dr y f ly will also lead to in­creased takes through­out the day, if trout start feed­ing on the sur­face. Re­mem­ber you’re fish­ing two meth­ods at once – the dr y and nymph. Al­ways plan your route up the run or river­bank, never just walk into it. Read the wa­ter and form a plan as to how you’re go­ing to ap­proach and f ish all of the river, not just the good bits! Pin­point where you think the food is com­ing down­stream, bub­ble lines in­di­cate where trout will po­si­tion them­selves in the river as this is where the food is. It’s also a good idea to have an area picked out down­stream of where you’re f ish­ing so that you can play and land your trout, min­imis­ing sur­face splash­ing, which spooks other fish.

French nymph­ing

One of my favourite meth­ods for shy, sum­mer fish is French nymph­ing – it’s good for fast, riff led wa­ter and ob­sta­clestrewn runs in clear, low wa­ter! Ei­ther fish­ing with one or two nymphs French nymph­ing is of­ten dev­as­tat­ing. No f ly-line is used and this means there’s ver y lit­tle drag, as there’s no fat f ly-line to be pulled by the cur­rent. I use ver y long, ta­pered lead­ers, up to and over six me­tres. The ta­per al­lows the f lies to turn over bet­ter, the weight of your f ly/f lies loads the rod with­out the need for f ly-line – use a soft ac­tioned rod. At­tached to this ta­pered leader are some brightly-coloured mono sec­tions for take de­tec­tion. I ap­ply some lu­mi­nous grease to this sec­tion too. On the busi­ness end, I then at­tach a ver y fine tippet of 0.12 to 0.08mm, de­pend­ing on wa­ter depth and clarit y (clearer the wa­ter, thin­ner the di­am­e­ter). Tippet length is also de­ter­mined by the depth of wa­ter. I usu­ally have one me­tre of tippet to the first nymph and 40cen­time­tres to the sec­ond. Small tung­sten-beaded nymphs, usu­ally Hare’s Ear or Pheas­ant Tail vari­ants, are best, tied on 14 , 16 and 18 hooks. Drag-free line con­trol and take de­tec­tion are the most im­por­tant as­pects to this method and again stealth, which ever y an­gler should prac­tice in all con­di­tions. Po­si­tion your­self down­stream of where you think trout are holding and, in your head, di­vide your tar­get area into sec­tions. For ex­am­ple, make your f irst cast at 10 o’clock, then 11 and so on till

2 o’clock, re­peat­ing sev­eral times, and var y the speed at which it f ishes, dead drift to pulling faster than the cur­rent, be­fore mov­ing on. Con­cen­trate on your in­di­ca­tor, which sits on the sur­face or above if you choose to ‘high stick’, for any in­ter­rup­tion in its down­stream move­ment. Lead the f lies by holding the rod down­stream of the in­di­ca­tor, pulling the f lies slightly faster than the cur­rent at times, but al­ways main­tain­ing com­plete con­tact with them. A lways per­form a strik­ing ac­tion be­fore mak­ing your next cast; a fish may have taken on the lift.

Play­ing fish

If a trout has taken a dr y, then from the in­stant I lift the rod tip, the tip stays high. When trout come to take a dry f ly then they nor­mally come up ver­ti­cal and go down ver­ti­cal. To keep the hook where you want it, up­wards pres­sure al­ways scores best. Just be sure that you have enough give in your drag, just in case of any lunges. When nymph­ing, as the in­di­ca­tor t witches I’ll strike. I’ll move my wrist back, which has the ef­fect of mov­ing the rod tip about a me­tre, more than enough to set the hook. Once I feel the f ish on I im­me­di­ately tr y and pull the f ish down­stream with side strain. Get the fish away from the other trout, the ones still up­stream that I’ve yet to cover. Keep the rod low with the tip to the wa­ter all the way through the fight. Even when the trout jumps or thrashes, keep the tip low to the wa­ter. The leader I use has enough stretch, so with that and a fully bent rod, I can get away with it. With any method, I al­ways get down­stream of the f ish to net it. It just makes ever y thing eas­ier. When I get its head out of the wa­ter, the f ish tracks down­stream in the cur­rent and into my net. I’m not PULLING it over my net against the f low. I’ve seen boys bounce f ish over fast wa­ter to the net, if that trout takes a dive in the fast wa­ter it’s nor­mally game over. Take your time, play the f ish out and get down­stream of it be­fore you net it.

Be care­ful

If you do hook that spe­cial f ish and it heads down­stream into wa­ter that you don’t like the look of, DON’T ap­ply strain! Let it run. You’ve more chance of land­ing it by fol­low ing the f ish, get­ting wet, climb­ing over rocks and ob­sta­cles than you have tr ying to put the brakes on a run­ning f ish, trust me! I lost a char a while ago in Ice­land. I’d played it for 20 min­utes on a 3w t rod and at the end of the f ight it f in­ally headed to the slack pool tail – sadly, there was some se­ri­ous fast wa­ter be­low it. I tried to stop the char, think­ing that it was tired… it wasn’t. The re­sult, was me los­ing pos­si­bly the big­gest char ever caught in Ice­land with a f ly rod. The guide es­ti­mated the f ish at around 20lb!

Death on a stick - Streamers

Peo­ple say that pike are the ul­ti­mate preda­tors, but I think it’s trout. Trout get ter­ri­to­rial in low wa­ter and so I f ish a small – in­ter­na­tional rules – Streamer when I’ve ex­hausted all other meth­ods. Trout can’t help them­selves when it comes to streamers. For this style of f ish­ing, choose the ‘dead’ wa­ter, long slow pools with lots of tree cover – the kind of wa­ter you’d of­ten over­look. I f ished such a sec­tion not so long ago, 300 yards of NOTH­ING wa­ter, switch­ing from dry f ly to duo all the way up. I did well, land­ing three f ish and los­ing one. Once at the ver y top where the depth was such that I couldn’t go any fur­ther for fear of go­ing over my waders, I changed tac­tics. Off came the floater and on went the slow sink line, ta­pered leader (six feet) and a three-foot sec­tion of 6lb flu­oro car­bon and my small black and red streamer. I fished the ex­act same wa­ter all the way down to the bot­tom of the beat where I’d started. The re­sults were star­tling. Wa­ter that you’d swear was pretty de­void of life pro­duced nine ‘proper brown­ies’, wild fish be­tween a half pound and 2lb! I cast the f ly hard into the op­po­site bank, in un­der trees or up against the bank. My streamers fea­ture a 3.5mm tung­sten bead so that when they hit the wa­ter they make a heav y plop, which gets the trout’s in­ter­est! Be ready for a hit straight away on your f irst strip, they can hit it so fast. Retrieves are sim­ple, one foot strips are best and re­trieve right back to your feet. If you do get a hit but no hook-ups on your re­trieve, take a minute be­fore you cast again. Get the f ly in the ex­act same spot, but this time tuck the rod un­der your arm and use a roly-poly re­trieve. That same fish will come back again and this time it’ll of ten hook it­self ! Whichever one of these meth­ods you em­ploy, choose the cor­rect wa­ter for the method and you won’t go far wrong. The pho­to­graphs for this fea­ture were shot on the River Risca in Wales, the week be­fore the in­ter­na­tional, so you can imag­ine it had been bat­tered by some of the UK’s best an­glers. But by em­ploy­ing some of the above tac­tics, the f ish­ing was worth it!

“The re­sult was me los­ing pos­si­bly the big­gest char ever caught in Ice­land with a fly rod. The guide es­ti­mated the fish at around 20lb!”

Words & pic­tures: Steve Cullen

Steve nets a good brown trout on a low River Ebbw in Wales.

Steve’s leader ma­te­rial of choice. Al­ways use bal­anced gear. Es­sen­tial items for the busi­ness end. The River Ebbw wild browns are easy on the eye. TACKLE YOU NEED

Weir pools pro­vide much-needed oxy­gen in low wa­ter con­di­tions.

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