Dry of the storm
Storm so big it gets its own name? Perfect time for dry flies then. We watch logic go out of the window at Springwater Fishery...
Jeff Prest meets up with two Scottish anglers who fish dries in adverse conditions
THEY make them tough in the west of Scotland. When you’ve planned a day’s f ishing in Ayrshire, got your food and f lies sorted and topped up the petrol tank, you’re not going to let a little thing like Storm Ophelia stop you. Craig McCabe can’t recall the merest hint of a re-think, once he and Mark Hotchkiss settled on a day at Spring water Fisher y, less than a hundred miles from where last autumn’s great storm was doing its worst across Ireland. Despite Scotland’s south-west corner being forecast to collect a measure of collateral damage from the fringe of the maelstrom, the pair pointed their car in the direction of Ayrshire and hoped for the best. “We f ish in all weathers,” Craig recalls, with a degree of understatement. “So no second thoughts on the day.”
To a fishing writer heading to Spring water from a southerly location, the pair are a Godsend. My own day at Spring water was booked several weeks earlier, when Ophelia was just a twinkle in Nature’s eye, somewhere out in the eastern Atlantic. As the wind began nudging my car on the Cumbrian M6, however, I was mentally writing the day off, the more pressing concern my chances of getting all my gear dr y ahead of the next day’s appointment. To arrive at Spring water, then, and be greeted by sunshine and no rain, is an escape so great, that the relief alone adds several degrees to the temperature. The only freakish part of the equation is the colour of the sk y. It turns out that the sands of the Sahara have not been immune to Ophelia’s northward migration from the A zores, and countless grains sucked up into the storm are lending skies across the British Isles a reddish hue more reminiscent of dusk than late morning. Conscious of how fish don’t take kindly to sudden dramatic shifts in the weather, Craig and Mark have begun their day with lures, hoping to provoke a take deep below the surface. Plan B was a switch to Buzzers, but matters don’t get that far. In the course of their f irst few explorator y casts, Craig makes the day’s second-least expected sighting, after the sun. As if oblivious to the turmoil going on above them, f ish are f inning the surface across the loch. By the time he’s seen enough to realise that this isn’t so much an aberration as a trend, Craig is contemplating the unimaginable. “Even as we were pulling lures, I could see an aw ful lot of f ish rising, so I told Mark I was going to put a dr y on, just to see,” he explained later. “As soon as I did, they started going for it. I said, ‘Mark, get a dr y on, mate…’” The dr y in question is a Sedge Muddler variant, slowed down considerably from the Muddler’s customar y role as a wake f ly, when it’s dragged at speed over the surface to represent natural sedges in late season, as they skitter over the water. Craig’s Ginked-up version is f ished as a dr y, with just a slow f ig ure-of-eight retrieve.
The Spring water trout, however, are as oblivious to this change of role as they are to the change in the weather. Several of them take it with gusto, and Mark has similar success when he fishes an Adams. Craig will stick with the Muddler dr y for the rest of the day, f ishing just one f ly at a time, in deference to the gusty conditions and the mess they would make of a dropper. Once he’s had time for this unexpectedly winning approach to sink in, he ref lects that maybe we shouldn’t be too surprised that trout are happily taking dr y f lies like it’s a balmy evening in June. “I’ve often thought it’s weather like this that gets the bigger f ish moving,” he tells me, and he’s not alone in this view.
Gar y LaFontaine named the storm front as one of his six favoured scenarios for targeting big trout, in an article he wrote for Field & Stream nearly 40 years ago. With graphite rods in their relative infancy back then, LaFontaine’s blasé approach to fishing amid thunder and lightning can no longer be endorsed by anyone not harbouring a death wish,
but the rest of his obser vations still hold good. Thick cloud blocks sunlight and prov ides insulation that results in relatively warmer water and more active f ish, while wind and rain churn the water’s surface, saturating it with ox ygen and creating a turbulence that can spook fr y out into open water. The prospect of food, coupled with the sense of cover provided by the ruff led water’s surface, is often enough to lower the guard of even the more experienced fish.
Ideally, you want the storm’s cloud cover to appear the night before you’re due to f ish, to give the water temperature suff icient time to rise. The low light that accompanies stormy weather may also have the effect of deceiving trout into thinking that the evening is approaching, persuading them to feed. This is especially so with brown trout. For all that the sun is out today, maybe that sandy sky seemed like the ‘red sk y of night’ to the f ine brownie that takes fisher y co-manager Martin Graham’s Fluffcat lure, close to where Craig and Mark are f ishing. It’s not the f irst time I’ve made the point that the only hard-and-fast rule in f ly-f ishing seems to be that you hold the rod at the thick end. Ever y thing else, no matter how seemingly set in stone, appears to have its exceptions. That fish need time to adapt to sudden marked changes in weather before they’re ready to think about feeding again, is a theor y which I’m sure is borne out in many cases, but not today. Today, the ‘time’ in question was measured in minutes rather than hours, and Craig McCabe is still shaking his head about it when I ‘phone him three months later to go over events. “You know, that was one of our best days!” he ref lects. “We talk about it even now. I rang Mark last night to say you’d been in touch and he was laughing just thinking back to it...”
“You know, that was one of our best days! We talk about it even now...”
CRAIG’SSPRINGWATERSET-UP To a floating line Apply Fuller’s Earth on bottom 6in of fly line to sink it beneath surface 10ft of 8lb fluorocarbon Muddler dry Big plans: Airdrie club founder Craig McCabe. A Fluffcat accounted for this fine brownie.
Craig and Mark combine to bring home another Springwater trout.
“Despite Scotland’s southwest corner being forecast to collect collateral damage... the pair pointed their car in the direction of Ayrshire and hoped for the best.”