Andy Buckley offers his key advice on how to make the most of your river fishing this spring - for him it’s the best wild trout fishing of the year!
I'm always amazed by the number of river anglers who don't start their fly fishing of trout season until 'Duffer's Fortnight' as for me the very cream of wild trout fishing in running water is in March and April. With rivers flowing a little higher than in summer the hungry trout take no time at all in locking onto the early season hatches and feed voraciously on the bugs that absent anglers never even see. That's not to say that early season river angling is easy; it can be far from it, but if I were to pick a time of year to attempt to hunt a large wild brownie it would be at the start of the season before lower water and increased angling pressure have taken their toll.
If you're thinking of wetting a line in the early season then there a few variables you'll need to consider: weather, river conditions, times of day, angling styles and hatches will all be different to those you'll have experienced in high summer.
So, read on for my advice on how to make the most of your time on the bank this spring.
The weather in spring is as unpredictable as it gets in the UK, and as such it’s quite possible that you may experience all four seasons in one day. From bitter experience I can tell you that overdressed is underrated! It's far easier to lower your core temperature by shedding layers than it is to raise it by adding them when you're already cold. Wear a good base layer, a few fleece midlayers and something very waterproof over the top. Merino socks inside your waders and a good fleece hat will take care of your extremities.
Keep Your Energy High
I know we're not talking about a hike across the Andes here but standing or wading in cold water really saps your energy reserves and when that happens it's easy to lose concentration and miss the fish of your season. Take plenty of high energy snacks - chocolate, flapjacks and the like. When I'm guiding I use my Kelly Kettle to break the day up and to keep energy and morale high - a warm drink and a ten-minute time out does wonders for cold hands!
The first item on my kit list is my polarising fishing sunglasses. My Costas in Sunrise 580p are the perfect lens for early season low light levels, I'd be lost without them. Whatever brand you use remember those brown or grey lenses are going to be too dark for the dull conditions of early spring so some yellow light enhancing lenses could be a game changer.
If the last time you trout fished was September then you're going to have to ring some changes and probably re-stock your bag or waistcoat. Check your fly boxes, tippet spools, tapered leaders and floatant - being without any of these at the crucial moment could cost you an early season trophy. Was the tip of your fly line sinking at the end of the season? If so maybe fit some new leader loops or consider an upgrade for this year. Check the studs in your wading boots are all in place and replace the missing ones.
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Take a Casting Lesson
This is a huge point for me, and something that I do at the start of every season. Take a casting MOT with a qualified instructor, remembering to tell them that you fish rivers and need to brush up on all the curves, mends and slack line casts that you'll be using when you get to the water. There's no point being prepared with all the best kit and then fluffing your lines because your casting arm got rusty!
Have a Dry Fly Rod Rigged at all Times
Early season hatches can be over in minutes, so being able to take advantage of them involves predicting them and being prepared. Assume that most of your day’s fishing won't be with a dry (maybe spiders or a French leader) but have a dry fly rod rigged and close to hand. If you see a fish rise keep an eye on the area, if it rises again grab that rod and make a cast; it's amazing how often a third rise never comes! Most of your early hatches will be around midday when the sun is at its highest as the light levels stir the bugs in to action. Try to find a nice pool below a shallow gravel flat for an hour either side of noon.
Learn to use a French Leader
A huge number of my clients come to me because they want to learn to use a French leader, and for good reason! This deadly method of fishing leader to hand with no fly line makes dead drifting nymphs at short / medium range so simple and so effective, but it does take a little cracking and the correct kit. Rods of 10' plus rated 1-4 are the tools of choice here.
Spiders: Oldies but Goodies
As a northern guy, spider fishing has always been close to my heart and the early season hatches are the best time of year to swing some spiders - the Olive species at this time of year are the largest. If you find yourself in a March Brown or Large Dark Olive hatch but can't find any rising fish then swing some spiders through the bubble lines - it may be that those wily trout are taking the bugs just under the water rather than on it. Also if rising fish are picky then try treating the tips of a spider hackle with floatant and fishing it as a dry - the results can be surprising!
My Deadly Dozen
I couldn't compile this advice without tendering my favourite early season flies. If you're out in March and April then I would strongly advise that your fly box has plenty of:
- Grannom Emergers
- KJ Olive Emergers
- Deer Hair Emergers
- Parachute Adams.
- Hare's Ear F-Fly
- Snipe and Purple Spider
- Partridge & Orange Spider
- Peeping Caddis Jig
- Rubber Grub Nymph
- Flash Back Pheasant Tail
- Holy Grail Natural
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Take a Friend Fishing!
With weather conditions likely to be tough having a buddy with you creates a little camaraderie and a few laughs in the day can make the trip even more enjoyable. Plus, when you catch that 20" wild brownie before April you're going to want some good photos to show the rest of the guys in the club you've been having a blast while they've been waiting for the sun to come out!