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A view from the chalkstreams

By Gordon Mackie

Gordon Mackie says that a mid-summer evening rise can be frustrating, unless you can get your presentation tactics spot-on for spurwings, pale evening duns, blue-winged olives and pale wateries.

Varied menu
The evening rise presents a relatively straightforward challenge before midsummer, yet thereafter the common complaint “they won’t look at anything” becomes increasingly familiar. The normal response is to offer an assortment of floating patterns, sometimes from the darker recesses of our box, but is there a case for sticking with trusted favourites – merely fishing them in a different manner? After all, small spurwings and pale evening duns are still on the menu, as are blue winged olives towards nightfall, so why do trout suddenly seem more pernickety? I believe this is because two other ephemerids have now entered the equation. These are very similar in appearance, yet display particular behavioural characteristics. The dressings employed hitherto are therefore likely to prove acceptable; only our method of presentation needs to change.

First, small dark olives are on the increase through late June and July. We may notice clouds of spinners gathering at early evening above in-river features such as hurdles, walls and footbridges, down which they crawl to lay eggs underwater before bobbing back to the surface on completion. In most cases they fail to penetrate the film, instead drifting a fraction of an inch beneath, so clearly our preferred spent should be fished at this level. Pale wateries also hatch in greater numbers now, but these quickly become airborne, which results in fish taking emergent insects rather than waste energy pursuing the agile duns. Again, our standard dressing, delivered ‘damp’ with minimal false casting will commonly succeed when the dry fly is ignored.

These are just two examples in which, though a faithful representation is desirable, the real key is to ‘know your naturals’. While the physical composition of river flies has been studied in detail, their uniquely varied survival strategies, manner of eclosion and breeding habits are of equal importance to the enquiring angler.

A tense encounter
Imagine you’ve hooked a fresh run Avon salmon while standing on the hatches, on an 8 1/2ft trout rod, and the fish decides to plunge down the nearer of two open gates into the roaring pool below. Here it dashes about, jumps twice, and neatly wraps your line around a thick weedbed before leaping 6ft back up into the mill head via the second open gate. Line tension prevents the salmon running far upriver; instead it thrashes at the surface, eventually settling in its original lie with the tail fanning the central hatch support. What to do next, that was my predicament.

First I must persuade the fish to return down the far race, so poked at it with my net, at which he ducked under it and shot through the rear gate for the second time! Now the line completely encircled the hatches, stuck solid, while the fish lay tethered in the fiercest torrent. But in the car was a spare rod and line. I covered that 100yd in something approaching world record time, in waders. Inching along the sloping spillway I was just able to finger the taut line without toppling to my doom, then draw it slowly towards me. I had abandoned rod No 1, but with rod No 2 now set up I cut line No 1 with nail clippers and – still teetering on the brink – managed to knot the two together.

At last I could take control, and move to the lip of the pool where the exhausted salmon was burying its head into weed as a broad tail waved invitingly clear of the water. One mighty heave: 34 1⁄4in long, weight 13 1/2Ib, 60 minutes exactly. The hairiest thrill of an angling lifetime.

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