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Summer bankers

Despite the unpredictable weather there’s still stillwater dry fly sport to be had - providing you add the secret ingredient

Analysing a trout's stomach contents is so revealing... and you can smoke the fish afterwards.. and make delicious pate
Analysing a trout's stomach contents is so revealing... and you can smoke the fish afterwards.. and make delicious pate

I write this on the 31st, after a typical climate-affected trip.
Yesterday my middle brother, a canon of the Church of England and vicar of four villages in the Yorkshire Dales National Park, retired, so it was only proper that, amongst the congregation of I would think around 400 (Clapham Church was packed), the family would be together including my youngest brother (also a parson), our mother, ‘she-who-must-be-obeyed’, and me to celebrate the event. It so happens that I have access to some pretty reasonable fishing in streams in that area, so instead of driving back the 60 miles home, ‘she-who-must-be-obeyed’ and I booked into a B&B and that evening slaked our thirsts and satisfied our appetites in Clapham’s New Inn.
Between the Inn and our B&B is Clapham Beck, that flows into the Wenning, a Lune tributary, and as we crossed the bridge both ways that evening the beck seemed in perfect nick, despite a few showers, which promised well for the morrow. I slept well, aided by half a bottle of Chardonnay and a couple of pints of Timothy Taylor’s Landlord, until 2.05am when all hell seemed to be happening outside our open bedroom window. I staggered to the window and closed it, reducing the din inside. Then, when I surfaced at 8 o’clock and looked outside the front door at the beck before enjoying a hearty breakfast, I knew that fishing for the day was out. Rain had tippled down in vast quantities during the night and the stream was now a dark brown roaring flood. As I watched a dipper flew upstream but, instead of flying under the bridge as it usually did, it avoided the spray by flying over the bridge.
We headed homewards, with the odd detour to look at a river, ‘just in case’. The Wenning and Ribble were high and brown-black and I watched one soaking wet, bedraggled angler walking along the Ribble back to his car, the only one on the club’s car park.
What a year it has been, weatherwise!

Because of my arthritis I am fishing my pal Frank’s Barnsfold Water more and more for rainbow trout using a ‘washing line’ of dry flies and emergers. It is not cast-cast-cast, for I plop the flies out and wait either for an offer or the flies to drift round to the bank when I must make another cast. No quick cast-and-retrieve. The more I fish our stillwaters this way the more I think that reservoir fly fishers fail to appreciate the importance of land-bred insects in the diet of the stillwater trout. If they realised just how much landbred stuff the fish can consume then their fishing would be that bit easier, for when taking landbreds trout are often not at all selective other than insisting that the artificial fly must be on or in the surface film.
I put often in italics, because sometimes they are selective. Steve Cooper told me of an instance recently on his local reservoir. It was a hot, sunny day and the air was alive with flying ants and birds (swallows, swifts, martins, black-headed gulls) eating them. Vast numbers of ants ended up on the water, and the trout gorged on them. But these trout wouldn’t take any old surface fly. It had to match the real thing. They can be selective to falls of famous trouty landbreds, such as hawthorn flies at the end of April or daddy-long-legs from late spring to the autumn (I will be saying something about the daddy-long-legs in our magazine). But let me give you an instance of when they are not being selective.
It was a warm, sunny afternoon with a strong south-westerly wind giving a nice ripple across most of the two lakes, save for the north-west corner, sheltered by a bank of trees, where it was flat calm. In the rippled area surface drift was in a windward, north-easterly direction, but in the calm area, especially close to the ripple, the drift was very slow in a south-westerly direction, returning water pushed out by the wind. There was no sign of a hatch, but fish occasionally took something, especially in the ripple close to the calm area.
I fished two flies that session. A dry Daddy-long-legs on the point, and a black Polyfoam Beetle on the dropper. These two are my ‘banker’ flies on days like this for, as I will explain in my forthcoming magazine article, the Daddy is a must for all occasions, but the Beetle does look like a large black beetle and sometimes they prefer to take that.
In 2½ hours I had seven offers, every one to the Beetle, but I managed to land only two and after the second had to stop fishing. Both trout had a few tiny beetles in their stomachs, one of which I identified as a 2mm long medium brown mite whose larvae feed on the tissues of bracket fungi growing on birch trees. Note that my artificial was 10mm long and all black, so that the fish must simply have been looking for anything insecty that had been blown on the water by the wind. Note too that the Daddy usually does not fail to score on such days; today it did.
One thing - I have occasionally taken a pal to fish at Barnsfold who, though fishing the same flies as me, blanks. I have sometimes given others the same fly on which they have seen me just catch a trout; I catch more but they fail to catch. Yet they all cast their flies onto the water and it seems that the trout prefer my flies to theirs even though I tied all the flies. How come?
Having thought about this much over the years, and talked to good fly-fishers whose opinions I respect, I think it is down to the ability to concentrate on the flies on the water, as they drift with the surface current. Offers to landbreds are often not hefty splashes, but slight swirls that are easily missed. Also, I have watched many fishing a team of surface flies and, after casting them out onto the water, they may look to see what their neighbour is doing, or that curlew flying overhead calling ‘curlee...curlee, curlee’. “Was that an offer?” they ask, too late. The flies must be right, the cast must be right... and the concentration must be complete.
On the afternoon in question I cast out and decided I needed to be wearing my polarising sunglasses. So I reached in my fishing bag, took my sunglasses out of their case and slipped my ordinary specs into the case and that back into my bag. It took only a few seconds. I looked up. The rings of a swirl were spreading out and by flies had been sunk. I had missed an offer, first cast.

Please note that, to find out what the trout we have caught have been eating, we must kill them by tapping them on the head with a priest and then, using a special spoon, extract and examine their stomach contents. I rarely see this being carried out, even when trout have been killed to be enjoyed at home. Some never kill a trout (I don’t kill wild river trout or grayling, but do kill reservoir rainbows) so they never have the chance to see what their quarry are eating and what fly best matches that food. This is a pity, for it completes the traditional fly fishing sequence: see a trout rise, identify what it is eating, match that real fly with an artificial that is a better match than your first fly, catch a trout on that fly.
But you will learn so much by looking into the stomachs of some trout that you catch.
“We don’t like trout to eat!”
Get your trout smoked (easy if you buy a smoker). Put the smoked trout meat into a food processor with a dollop of crème fraiche or single cream and the grated zest and juice of a lemon. Blitz. Now taste. Smoked trout pate is delicious.

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