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The key to stealth and presentation

How hip-waders can help to catch you bigger fish


Back to basics did the trick.
Back to basics did the trick.
An hour of stealthy creeping led to this pool... inhabited by a picnicking coach party on the opposite bank.
An hour of stealthy creeping led to this pool... inhabited by a picnicking coach party on the opposite bank.
One fly, one fish, as weed damaged most of the flies.
One fly, one fish, as weed damaged most of the flies.
The Klinkhamer Fish Magnet.
The Klinkhamer Fish Magnet.

Waiting for the 2017 season, I finally got around to reading What Trout Want, by Bob Wyatt, and became very excited. According to the book, presentation is everything and, as long as the fish aren’t spooked, trout will take any artificial fly that fits their “prey image”. Thus, he argues, the Deer Hair Emerger (DHE) in the correct size is the only fly you will ever need.

Obviously, I set about tying as many as I could; filling entire fly boxes, and they have yet to claim a fish. I had been caught by the caveat – which is always a painful experience.

The DHE may well be the only fly you will ever need, but only if it is perfectly presented.

So, back to What Trout Want. Any trout can be caught with a DHE regardless of what the fish are feeding on – but only if every other aspect of fly fishing has been mastered first. Until then, I will have to rely on more naturalistic offerings in the hope that will distract the trout from my other shortcomings.

However, the book – along with the arrival of a pair of old-school rubber hip-waders (more about that in a moment) – made me think more about the way I fish and, in particular, the importance of stealth. 

I had become fed up with the sheer palaver of pulling on chest waders and fastening the straps and then the lacing up boots. But while hip waders speeded things up in one way, they slowed things down in another. Wearing chest waders, I have a tendency to march purposefully into the river (I know I am not alone in this) and once there, to pursue rising fish up and down and across and back – as I wade closer, they move further away, and on it goes. In hip waders, each step is considered and hesitant; nothing slows a chap down quite like the fear of getting his wallet wet.

The upshot of this is that in contrast to last year, when I finally arrive mid-stream, with slow, tentative steps, the big fish – the wary ones – are still there. The catches so far this season have borne this out and though they have ignored my DHEs, the trout have seized upon Iron Blues, destroying them one after another. The mortality rate was shocking (near enough one for one); with water levels low right across the north-east, every hooked fish seemed to dive for the weeds – those flies that were not bent out or chewed to pieces were so wrapped in sodden vegetation they were beyond saving.

But as the iron blue hatches petered out towards the end of May, the Klinkhamer Special took over, particularly during sedge hatches.

Between big fish, there have been some hot, difficult days, but several have been redeemed during the return leg to the car by drifting Spider patterns through rough water along the way. A size 14 Brown Owl has had the most success, taking a couple of good fish this past week when few insects were hatching and no trout were rising.

As well as difficult days, there have been some truly lamentable ones; far too many descending into pointless, childish duels with small fish: “I won’t stop casting. Not until he stops rising. Why should I be the one to give in? Tell him, not me. He started it.”

And then there was the hour-long hike through wilderness forest in search of my own private Montana, finally arriving at a secluded spot on the Wear only to be met by a coach party having a picnic on the opposite bank. They waved. I waved back… and continued upriver.

A mile or so further on, as I moved carefully through the undergrowth, an enormous fish rose only a couple of feet away. A minute later, he came up again. Protected by a seemingly impregnable fortress, he was rising in a small pool surrounded by rocks overhung by a tangle of bushes and tree branches. Added to that, the undergrowth is not an ideal position from which to cast in the first place. It seemed that all I could do was watch. Welcome to fly fishing hell.

With only the top section of the fly rod protruding from the bankside vegetation, bit by bit, I fed line up the rod, flicking it out over the water in front of me. If the rod moved more than a couple of inches in any direction, the line and fly would be in the bushes. Once there was enough line on the water, I performed the casting equivalent of Bruce Lee’s famous one-inch punch to transfer sufficient energy into the line to lift it from the river’s surface, change its direction upstream and then roll the fly over the rocks at the edge of the pool. This would be achieved in one, savage snap of the wrist. Somewhere along the way, there was a breakdown in communication; the rod completely failing to understand what it was I was trying to do. Despite the sudden violence in the bushes, the line barely moved, continuing its slow progress downriver on the current.

Another angler was watching from the opposite bank. Until then, he had remained motionless, only now stepping forward to reveal himself and turn private failure into public humiliation. Where I was carrying more gear than the average Victorian explorer, he had only his rod and reel and whatever was in his pockets. Second cast he had a fish. “Only a small one,” he said.

I asked what fly he was using. “A small Olive,” he replied – an answer I thought a little light on detail. As I moved back downriver, he headed for ‘the pool’ and the rising fish. From his side of the river, the pool didn’t look quite so impregnable. We’ll never know for sure, because I didn’t look back.

In such situations – where another angler is at the end of his tether and about to attempt something ridiculous – it would be polite and, dare I say it, kind, just to let him know you are there. There’s no need to make a fuss of it. A gentle clearing of throat will do. Nothing loud enough to scare the fish...

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