Sink­ing to their level

Drew Dick­son tries his Hotspot Buzzers to tempt trout feed­ing just sub­sur­face at Watch Reser­voir

Trout Fisherman (UK) - - Contents -

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…

Dis­sent­ing voice

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?’”

Drew Dick­son works the Watch shal­lows for a brief spell.

No oar slip­page when they’re bolted in place. A boon for row­ers.

Fo­cused on feed­ing just un­der the sur­face, it took Buzzers to switch the fish on in earnest.

We didn’t need lures in the end, but they were briefly con­sid­ered.

Some nice blues com­ple­ment the rain­bows at Watch.

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