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Fly-life after a flood

After a winter of high waters, Mark Bowler finds his river's normal fly life is yet to put in an appearance

Over 100 tiny black midge pupae, each one about 3-5mm.
Over 100 tiny black midge pupae, each one about 3-5mm.

I’ve seen very little fly life on the river so far this year, so even the prospect of another a chilly last weekend wasn't going to put me off any longer. Well, it's been a long close season.

Long, and very wet. The river has been huge for most of the winter, and my first wade down the pools was like walking on ball-bearings. The whole bed of this part of the river is like a freshly ploughed field – all loose, friable stones and gravel with no hint of compaction. It made me wonder about the river's insect life, which at this time of year is made up of weed-dwelling large dark olives and stoneclinging March browns. In those massive, high velocity, erosive floods, how would either species cling on?

On the Saturday lunchtime session, my usual, reliable cast of Greenwell's, Black Spider and Olive Nymph or Cased Caddis drifted down enticingly… but not enticingly enough. Three very gentle, half-hearted takes. And no sign of any insect life either.

I moved onto another, less accessible pool. Another fish on, and then off. Still no sign of a hatch. Ok, I thought, maybe tomorrow. March browns like his sort of inclement weather.

It only took a few Sunday lunchtime casts before my line tightened and a three-quarter pounder was battling its way to the bank. It had taken the Black Spider. I decided to keep it for supper and an autopsy. Lucky I did. No other fish showed any interest. Again. No insects either. Again.

Back at home I performed my usual, Silent Witness-style, autopsy, slicing open the oesophagus and stomach and emptying the contents into a white dish and adding a touch of water. There was my evidence. Over 100 tiny black midge pupae, each one about 3-5mm, like a mass of typed commas and apostrophes in the dish. No wonder my flies were not convincing – they were far too large, the wrong shape and only the Spider was the correct colour. There was one, tiny immature shuck of a stonefly nymph, two free-living caddis, two small caddis cases and one large gravel caddis case also in my autopsy, but not a single nymph of an olive or March brown. I'd normally expect such a fish to be stuffed with them.

So, has the river-bed been scoured of insects? Too early to say, but on this evidence it's likely that number of stoneclingers and olives may have been swept away. Is this stomach sample an example of the early colonisers of a freshly scoured river-bed? Seems like it to me. I'll be fishing tiny, dark wets and spiders with maybe a Caseless Caddis from now on until I start to see some semblance of a hatch. I'm quite looking forward to imitating those tiny pupae.

That's the great thing about fly fishing. Sometimes, even the most predictable of hatches can sell you down the river.

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