Hog­gin' the rain­bows

Stan Headley tack­les bad be­hav­iour and pin-fry feed­ers on Pits­ford Wa­ter

Trout & Salmon (UK) - - CONTENTS -

Stan Headley tack­les bad be­hav­iour and pin-fry feed­ers on Pits­ford Wa­ter

I’D NEVER BEEN TO Pits ford be­fore, but on the haul from the lodge to the dam-wall, I fell in love with her. She looked to me like Rut­land’s lit­tle sis­ter – charm­ing, gen­tle and very pretty. I have never val­ued stocked fish­eries over wild wa­ters, but they most cer­tainly have their place in the grand scheme of an­gling things. The qual­ity of fish, es­pe­cially at Pits­ford, is amaz­ing when I con­sider what we were asked to ac­cept even a decade ago. Mind you, in those days I was fish­ing com­pet­i­tively, and num­bers were the tar­get. Now I can be se­lec­tive and head for ar­eas known to hold ac­cli­ma­tised fish. I have long be­lieved that rain­bow trout are more se­lec­tive about pat­tern, depth and pre­sen­ta­tion than their brown cousins. There are so many things one has to get right for ’bows. If I wanted to catch quan­tity in­stead of qual­ity, I would plump first for the wash­ing line be­fore ex­per­i­ment­ing

with other tac­tics. That method is ap­peal­ing to fish and fish­er­man. Mod­ern-day rain­bows are highly sus­cep­ti­ble to static or slowly fished flies at a pre­cise height in the wa­ter col­umn, and the wash­ing line gives us that in spades. How­ever, these days I like to see my fish take, and the slowly build­ing pres­sure of an un­seen take just doesn’t do it for me. So, I pre­fer dry-flies or pulled wet-flies on a “high” line. The great ad­van­tage of fish­ing high is that you can as­sess the re­ac­tion of the fish to your flies. For ex­am­ple, if you see a fish swirl at a fly with­out a touch, you are do­ing some­thing wrong with your pre­sen­ta­tion. How many fish come to a sunk fly and turn away at the last mo­ment with­out giv­ing the an­gler any in­di­ca­tion what­so­ever? A good fish­er­man can work out how to make pos­i­tive changes if he is pro­vided with vis­ual ev­i­dence. We – Peter Gathercole, Mark Hirst and I – had plenty to work on as we drifted from the Pic­nic Bank to the Pines. Mark is an out-and-out wild-fish man, widely recog­nised for his abil­ity to catch ferox on fly (he de­vised the Stone Goat pri­mar­ily for this pur­pose), but hasn’t a great knowl­edge of mod­ern rain­bow-trout tac­tics. My knowl­edge has waned over the years as I am no longer in­volved in com­pe­ti­tion fish­ing. With plenty of wild op­por­tu­ni­ties on my doorstep I have ne­glected rain­bow fish­eries – if I can’t fish with dry-flies I am no longer in­ter­ested. Peter was our pho­tog­ra­pher and es­sen­tial guide. It was a bit like Malta tak­ing on Brazil in the World Cup. But where skill was per­haps lack­ing, en­thu­si­asm was abun­dant. We had a de­cent rip­ple, bro­ken cloud cover and, as I said pre­vi­ously, Mark and I were much taken by the venue. The Pits­ford staff were very help­ful, point­ing us in the right di­rec­tion and, with hope in our hearts, we slipped un­der the cause­way and into the main body of wa­ter. We had been ad­vised to stick to the west­ern end of the south shore and just short of the dam wall we pulled in and started a drift to­wards the Pines. I had set up a short midge-tip, a Claret Sedge­hog on the top, and two wee wet-flies fur­ther down. I won’t bother to de­scribe the wet-flies be­cause they did sod all, but the whole idea was to pull the greased Hog so that it dipped and bobbed in an en­tic­ing man­ner. If a fish was at­tracted to the div­ing Hog, but wasn’t con­vinced, he might just take a fol­low­ing wet-fly. That was the start­ing the­ory. It didn’t quite work out that way. Cov­ered fish were show­ing in­ter­est in the Hog but not to the wet-flies. It was ob­vi­ous from the start that these great big, roil­ing boils were the prod­uct of pin-fry feed­ers – no­to­ri­ously hard tar­gets. Noth­ing is harder for the fly-fish­er­man to at­tempt to catch. We have them on Loch Leven in the early months of the sea­son and they’ll have you tear­ing your hair out. But that’s wild browns on stick­le­back fry. On the reser­voirs it is mostly rain­bows on coarse-fish fry and they are not im­pos­si­ble. I have had moderate suc­cess with claret dryflies, so here on Pits­ford I was de­ter­mined to give a pulled, greased Sedge­hog a thor­ough out­ing. Af­ter all, these are very ag­gres­sively feed­ing fish. Surely a “dry fly” with movement and a tempt­ing pop­ping ac­tion would stim­u­late some re­sponse? I had a size 12 Hog on the top drop­per, as I said, and it was get­ting all the at­ten­tion, so I de­cided to shorten my cast. Elim­i­nate the mid­dle drop­per and stick a size 10 Claret Sedge­hog on the point. Two Hogs on at once, some­thing I rarely do. Im­me­di­ate re­sponse. I got into a cov­ered fish that gave me a right see­ing-to be­fore com­ing to the net. It would have weighed be­tween 3½lb-4lb and was in prime con­di­tion. It took the point fly, which had a lighter “wing” than the top drop­per Hog. For wild fish I pre­fer the dark deer hair from the spinal ridge of the an­i­mal, but stocked fish seem to have a predilec­tion for the lighter flank roedeer hair. That is a the­ory that needs to be con­firmed, but what­ever the shade of hair, the dub­bing needed to be claret. I tried fiery-brown and hare’s ear, to no avail. The seem­ingly un­equiv­o­cal sus­cep­ti­bil­ity to claret in­her­ent in pin-fry feed­ers is be­wil­der­ing. But again, let’s not waste time ar­gu­ing with fish. Let’s just give them what they want, un­der­stand­able or not. There was a prob­lem with us­ing these Sedge­hogs on fry-feed­ers, in that it was very dif­fi­cult in the roil­ing mess of sur­face ac­tiv­ity when a fish homed in, to iden­tify the take. It was tempt­ing to tighten at the first movement, but this in­vari­ably meant a missed take. And to leave every­thing alone un­til the line went tight, and shot away, re­sulted in fish fall­ing off. I was try­ing to for­mu­late a proper re­sponse on a num­ber of drifts off the shore­line when, as we ap­proached the

“Surely… a tempt­ing pop­ping ac­tion would stim­u­late some re­sponse?”

shal­low wa­ter un­der the pines, I felt a slight tight­en­ing of the line with no sur­face in­di­ca­tion of a fish. In ret­ro­spect that’s when I should have tight­ened into him but, when the boil con­firmed a take, I lifted the rod and a crack­ing brown of around 3lb shot clear of the wa­ter and spat the hook. I have been caught out this way a num­ber of times on fish­eries con­tain­ing browns and ’bows. You have just for­mu­lated a re­sponse to the more nu­mer­ous rain­bows when a brown comes along and catches you on the hop. This is more likely to oc­cur when pulling flies than static tac­tics be­cause of one fac­tor. Rain­bow trout tend to take in a more or less hor­i­zon­tal man­ner, en­gulf­ing the fly at the same level in which they are trav­el­ling. Browns, stocked or wild, pre­fer a ver­ti­cal movement, tak­ing the fly in an up­ward tra­jec­tory, and be­ing hooked as they turn down. This is why I believe that static dry-fly tac­tics are the more re­li­able tech­niques for mixed fish­eries, if the fish will play ball. Pulling a greased-up Hog does com­pli­cate the is­sue, but both species can get sui­ci­dally in­ter­ested in it when con­di­tions are right. When we first ar­rived in the south-west cor­ner, fish were feed­ing from the boils to the shore­line. As pres­sure in­creased with the ar­rival of more boats, the fish aban­doned the shal­lows and the num­ber of ac­tive fish re­duced dra­mat­i­cally. But we con­sis­tently found fish in the stretch be­tween the mouth of Pits­ford Creek down to Ta­ble Bay. Mark took a nicely con­di­tioned fish in this area on his Claret Dry, quickly fol­lowed by an­other crack­ing 3lb-plus fish from un­der the Pines. Note to the guys who think an out­board mo­tor has only two speeds – flat-out and stop. If you re­ally want to im­prove your fish­ing re­turns, don’t roar back up the drift you want to re­peat – take an el­lip­ti­cal route at a moderate speed back to the head of the drift. There is a dog-in-the-manger at­ti­tude among many boat an­glers. The mere thought that some­one may get to their drift be­fore them makes many apoplec­tic, and they’d rather ruin their own fish­ing than hand their drift over to an­other boat. I can just about live with that, but what re­ally boils my urine is when one or more boats see you get­ting ac­tion in an area and believe it is good prac­tice to an­chor slap-bang in the cen­tre of your drift. An­gling eti­quette is an en­dan­gered species on the reser­voirs and lakes. Our con­tin­ual in­ter­est in this area did at­tract at­ten­tion. A cou­ple of boats an­chored, an­noy­ingly in­ter­fer­ing with our drifts, and there was a rud­der “op­er­a­tor” who started on the boils but, as the day pro­gressed, moved closer to the shore. That’s life, I sup­pose. At my age, I can re­mem­ber bet­ter

be­hav­iour. Mark had com­mit­ments in the evening so, if we were to in­ves­ti­gate pas­tures new, here was the mo­ti­va­tion to get on with it. At first we crossed in front of the dam wall to the north shore and drifted down to­wards Sail­ing Club Bay. There was a lot of sur­face ac­tiv­ity in this area, but it was rad­i­cally dif­fer­ent to that of the pin-fry feed­ers – here were gen­tle moves and sneaky sips. There wasn’t any­thing im­itable on the sur­face, only minute midge, but the quan­tity of ac­tive fish ne­ces­si­tated an at­tempt on them. I changed from Hogs to del­i­cate dry-flies. Mark stuck with his Claret Dry. We got en­quiries but no solid takes. In ret­ro­spect, I sus­pect nymphs or buzzers, fished high in the wa­ter, would have done bet­ter. Hey-ho! On we go. We all knew the weather fore­cast. Storm Hec­tor was fast ap­proach­ing, rais­ing doubts about the mor­row. But our Pits­ford day wasn’t quite fin­ished, al­though the per­nick­ety be­hav­iour of the fish in­di­cated they had also been watch­ing the fore­casts. With a strength­en­ing breeze we crossed to the south shore look­ing for a likely last drift. We found it in North Farm Bay, to­wards open wa­ter. The in­creased rip­ple en­cour­aged me to go back on the Hogs, and I com­pleted our day with a crack­ing 3lb-plus rain­bow that tested my gear to the limit. The qual­ity of the fish we caught had been stu­pen­dous, ri­valling any­thing other Mid­lands reser­voirs could de­liver. All in all, it was a won­der­ful day. It re­minded me of olden times when we would go out with float­ing lines and mod­i­fied tra­di­tional wet-flies, pull like good uns and catch fish af­ter fish. Those days are largely gone, but the unique be­hav­iour of a Sedge­hog, greased and pulled on a high line, gave me a brief glimpse of those ex­cit­ing, vis­i­bly thrilling days of the past.

PHO­TOG­RA­PHY: PETER GATHERCOLE

LEFT Solv­ing the pin-fry puz­zle. Claret­bod­ied flies are a good start­ing point.

Stan fights a reel­strip­per. Soon his suc­cess would at­tract un­wanted at­ten­tion. RIGHT

STAN HEADLEY has been fish­ing for trout since he was a boy and is au­thor of Trout & Sal­mon Flies of Scot­land and The Loch Fisher’s Bi­ble.

ABOVE A qui­eter drift into the shore. Eyes glued on CDC and deer hair.

Rays in the tail. Mark with an­other Pits­ford trout in prime con­di­tion.

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