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...

Trout Fisherman (UK) - - Contents -

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.

Cloud cover

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.”

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