The Black Curse of high summer
Trout feeding on reed smuts are notoriously difficult to catch, says Tony J Carmody, but these tiny flies can provide superb sport
IMAGINE THIS: YOU are standing midstream in a handsome little trout river somewhere in Ireland. It’s a fine, late-july afternoon and small white clouds drift overhead on an inconsistent breeze. Green overpowers the senses: alder, ash and the odd oak are in full flourish and the banks are clogged with lush stands of reed. Robins and blackbirds can be heard singing in the distance, but mostly it is silent. Maybe, close by, a pretty limestone bridge of two high arches spans this river of our imagination. Gone are all the heavy hatches of the earlier season. Only dusk will provide good sport, usually involving the local sedge species. But you persevere with a general emerger pattern, a Klinkhamer Special perhaps, offered blindly but with hope, into likely spots. Then, out of the corner of your eye, in the smooth glide just above the broken flow in which you stand, you see not one, but three fish nosing through the surface. This drags you back from your reverie and you begin to ponder the opportunity of a hatch of Simulium, AKA blackfly or the reed smut. Now, in my experience the trout fly-fishing community is split on the potential bounty of this manifestation. There is a small proportion who will not know a reed smut from a Tweed suit: the novice or the dozy perhaps. But the two main factions disagree on the “fishability” of this tiny creature. In the red corner are those who refer to Simulium in withering tones as the Black Curse; as much for its ability to frustrate as an artificial, as for its propensity to bite as a reality (only the females bite, by the way; the males are nectar eaters). This group will studiously ignore the insect and persist with the Klinkhamer, Tony J Carmody has fished the rivers of western Ireland for salmon and trout for more than 45 years. He has a particular interest in spreading the word on the beauty and importance of our riverine insect life. with a stoicism that I suspect grows with age. In the blue corner, however, are my ilk who recognise that even though it is small and unremarkable, the reed smut is much prized by trout who will happily graze on the hatching insects all day long and diligently snub all other, more meaty proposals. But in truth, all three of our aforementioned nosing trout can be taken in just a few minutes with a very humble offering coupled to a simple but sensible approach. The reed smut is an insect of fast-flowing rivers and streams, found all over Britain and Ireland. It is of the scientific order diptera, which also includes such well-known characters as the hawthorn fly, the daddy longlegs and the buzzer midge. At all stages of its life this invertebrate is a significant source of food for trout. The larvae can be found in their millions on the submerged stems of waterside vegetation in the summertime. Here they are held in place with silk allowing them to wave in the flow with their feathery antennae extended to collect tiny food morsels. The transforming pupae, housed in tiny cone-shaped cases, are also to be seen here in their multitudes. These larvae are cropped from their immobile positions by feeding trout, and sometimes the larvae, up to 10 mm long, enter the drift on a silk thread attached to their starting locations. They do this to find better environments or to escape other predacious invertebrates. This is undoubtedly why a small, dark, cone-shaped nymph, (sometimes with a brass or silver bead head) is such a constant in many experienced anglers’ fly-boxes. Don’t be without several, in various dark tones, weighted and unweighted, in sizes 14 to 18.