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Pin-fry frustrations

Is there a solution to the maddening and exasperating natural phenomenon of trout feeding on billions of pin-fry?

Mike Duxbury
Mike Duxbury

I was at Rutland’s fishing lodge a couple of years ago in June. One of the Ranger’s walkie-talkies crackled with a message.

Some walkers had seen an angler behaving bizarrely and erratically in a boat. We had a quick discussion as to the possible reasons for this. Madness, drunkenness, or maybe a mate had just phoned to report that the angler’s wife had been caught having an affair? However, we all agreed the most likely explanation was a mass of trout were feeding on pin fry right in front of him, and that his Pearl-thoraxed Pheasant Tail Nymph obviously was not doing the business.

Who amongst us hasn’t been repeatedly driven to despair by pin-fry feeders?
You arrive at the water in June a day or two after having had some of the best fishing of the season (the last of the buzzers) and you are keen to repeat it. Once out on the water, the omens are good. Overcast, a light ripple and fish are rising, literally everywhere. Many fishless hours later, you’ve been through all your tried-and-trusted patterns and you have less hair than when you started the day. It is apparent that, within a day, the trout have switched to obsessively feeding on pin fry - the tiny, defenceless shoals of coarse fish progeny that hang in dark clouds in their millions just under the surface. What torture, rise after rise and not a glimmer of interest. You may be lucky enough to hook one. But does that really prove anything? The American “trout bum" John Gierach observed that he doesn’t feel the catching of a solitary fish is much of a confirmation of angling expertise as it may just have been an “idiot” fish.

Bankside gossip recently indicated that a well-known Rutland Water expert had commented, at the close of a day after pin-fry feeders: "I only got two and I’m supposed to be really good”.

So has anyone ever really cracked it? I’ve scoured books by the reservoir greats (Church, Cove, Fraser, Clarke, etc, etc) plus magazines from the 70’s onwards. There is an ominous silence and glaring omission when it comes to pin fry.

Why should it be so hard to catch pin-fry feeders (PPFs)? Yes, they are present in huge numbers. But then so are daphnia. On goes a Blob or a brightly coloured orange fly, and you are in business. Arthur Cove discovered that fish locked onto floating snails were susceptible to an Orange Nymph stripped back at speed. So why does this not work on pin-fry feeders?

In part two I shall report on some promising breakthroughs I’ve made in targeting PPFs. There is no way I would announce that I have finally cracked it, but I feel I have improved my chances more than in previous seasons.

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