Sinking to their level
Drew Dickson tries his Hotspot Buzzers to tempt trout feeding just subsurface at Watch Reservoir
ONE of the great advertising masterstrokes occurred in 1962 . Routinely second-best to Hertz in the car rental market, Avis turned to its advertising agency, which brilliantly transformed this negative into a positive. ‘When you’re only No.2, you try harder. Or else’ became the
company’s new slogan. Within 12 months, Avis was reporting its f irst prof itable year in more than a decade. In three years, the market-share gap between the two firms shrank by more than 50 per cent, and dismayed Hertz executives took cold comfort from the possibility that the slogan might soon have to be ditched, as being no longer applicable…
Sat out in the middle of Watch Reservoir, I sense a similar marketing pitch coming on as Drew Dickson breaks ranks on the extensive adulation enjoyed by Scotland’s Lake of Menteith. “Over-priced, over-fished and overrated ,” he reflects, as he waits for one of the Watch rainbows circling our boat to take his Hawthorn fly. Pressed to enlarge on this controversial assertion by his wide-eyed boat partner, it turns out his beef is not so much with the Lake’s fishing, as with the ambience that has grown up around Scotland’s principal match venue. “I used to love it but with all the comps they have, it’s too heavily fished and it seems a place more for catchers than fishers, these days ,” he explains .“Last time I was there, I caught a fish and the next thing I knew, I had five boats pulling up behind me. There’s no fun in it now…” Were I employed to market alternative Scottish still waters, along A vis lines, the ad would almost write itself… “We can’ t offer you anything the Lake does. No comps, no pressure, no keeping count. Just relaxation, peace and quiet, and all the time you need. Beats us why so many people keep comingback...” With the place to ourselves today, Watch is undoubtedly living up to this ‘niche’ potential. Now run jointly by Kelso and St Boswell sand New town Districts Angling Associations, its sole accompaniment is the haunting birdsong that swirls around this shallow basin in the Border hills, heightening the enjoyable sense of detachment as we bob in the breeze. Drew has started off with a single dry fly, which he perseveres with for an hour. He likes his dry fly fishing( one day I might meet an angler who loathes them and much prefers all that lovely deep-water action with six-inch lures, but somehow I doubt it) but he confines himself to one at a time, concerned that any more can put fish off should the flies drift too close together. His restraint appears justified. He’s quickly into a fish that wriggles free and there is no shortage of subsequent offers but something isn’t quite clicking and Drew starts to wonder if he’s up against the dreaded ‘coming short’ scenario. There ca n be several explanations for fish not quite committing to a fly, ranging from last-second suspicion of a poorly-presented pattern, to an excess of material between the base of the hook and the trout’s mouth, or simply disorientation caused by the mirror effect at the water ’s surface. Given our location today, however, the theory put forward in Stan Headley’s The Loch Fisher’ s Bible also bears repeating.
Headley attributes coming short not to hesitation or confusion on the part of the trout but to a lack of ‘give’ in the leader. As the trout attempts to suck water and f ly
into its mouth before consuming the latter, the fly stays where it is–the leader taut behind it - and the trout’s jaws close with the fly still on the outside. For all that anglers like to talk about‘ staying in touch’ with their f lies, an inch or two of slack towards the end of the tippet may prevent this near miss, as well as cushioning the harder takes common during summer months. On this occasion, however, Drew believes that these are fish reluctant to stick their snouts above the surface, so he eventually swaps the dry fly for alone CDC emerger, which he fish es static, like the dry. Take sofa motionless fly are usually slow, confident and rarely missed by the competent angler, whereas a moving target can prompt missteps by the fish and even a certain reluctance. As two-time World Champion Brian Leadbetter wrote of emergers in this magazine 24 years ago, “The problem is caused by the leader rising to the surface when you retrieve, which causes the fly to rise, so the fish has to move faster than the fly to take it, and this means it has to take in more air when it snap sat the fly than it would if the fly were stationary. Fish don’ t seem to like this and I believe this is the reason we get so many false takes when we move surface flies with floating lines.” Again, there is an early hook-up on Drew’ se merger, only for the fish to break free within a few seconds, and there follows another maddening spell of half-hearted, short-lived connections, which ultimately persuade him that for all that we’re seeing numerous fins above the water, this is one of those days when the actual feeding is going on exclusively beneath it.
For all that trout can be ‘impressionistic’ in outlook, happy to take a f ly that gives the vague impression of being nutrition without replicating any particular insect, they can at other times be most pernickety in their demands. If they want a f ly on the surface, for example, any thing partially
“As the trout attempts to suck water and fly into its mouth...the fly stays where it is...and the trout’s jaws close with the fly still on the outside.”
embedded in the surface is routinely snubbed. So rigorous can these requirements be that expert anglers don’t waste much time tr ying to coax a change of heart. As a rule of thumb, you can dismiss one aborted rise to your f ly as an aberration, but if you get a second, it’s time to change something. If you’re happy that your presentation first time around was f lawless, you might not even want to wait that long before changing f ly size or pattern. As an American guide once put it – “He didn’t like that f ly the f irst time, on a good cast. What makes you think he’s going to change his mind?” So Drew goes wholly sub-surface now; two hotspot Buzzers, one black and one tan, placed three feet apart on a no- nonsense leader of 8.5lb. If all those f inning f ish lapping our boat initially sent out a false signal, they do at least provide a useful parameter for Drew’s presentation, which he keeps between him and the fish. Slap the water with your line as you cast beyond them, and you might get away with it if the circling f ish are stockies, but not if they are any thing bigger and wiser. So Drew goes a little shorter, lands the ny mphs softly within the f ishes’ f ield of v ision, pauses, and then begins a ver y slow f ig ure-of-eight retrieve. It is the turning point. A series of much more emphatic takes follows, resulting in a nice combination of rainbows and blue trout coming aboard.
“As an American guide once put it - ‘He didn’t like the fly the first time, on a good cast. What makes you think he’s going to change his mind?’”
Focused on feeding just under the surface, it took Buzzers to switch the fish on in earnest.
Drew Dickson works the Watch shallows for a brief spell.
No oar slippage when they’re bolted in place. A boon for rowers.
We didn’t need lures in the end, but they were briefly considered.
Some nice blues complement the rainbows at Watch.