Spring river fishing - for the love of the dry!
Ceri Thomas, online marking manager of Fishtec and Airflo, shares his love of early season river fishing – especially the dry fly!
It's was a long miserable winter, to be fair. Precipitation records have been broken time and time again. In the rare breaks in the weather it had been high water 'chuck and duck' tactics with 5mm tungsten bugs for grayling much of the time – and nothing else. So, to be honest, I was a bit tired of it by the time spring came around and was itching to fish in a different style.
At the start of the season it looked like early spring trouting was off the cards, with a continuation of the endless rain. As it happens, this spring has been pretty kind for river anglers so far and the rain has held off recently.
I have certainly been taking advantage of the dry spring on the River Taff almost every weekend in the Merthyr Tydfil area. The river has been low – gin clear in fact, and we have had occasional snowfall on the hills just to make things a bit tougher. Still, I mustn't complain. After the abomination of a winter we've had it's nice to be able to fish despite the challenging low water levels, especially when these conditions favour more engaging methods than heavy nymphing.
For me this spring it's been all about finding and stalking individual fish on dry flies – it's such an engaging method that I would rather catch fish by this tactic than any other. I know I could probably catch more by simply fishing nymphs blind on a French leader in fast water, but what fun is that compared with a take off the top?
On the upper Taff we have been getting decent hatches of olives, with the odd March brown thrown into the mix. The trout like to eat both species with gusto. Whereas olives trickle off steadily, March browns hatch out in rapid flurries; perhaps a defensive mechanism against predation? This year it's the LDO hatch that has been most consistent, and in my opinion the trout actually prefer them as a food source.
The Taff trout were initially slow to respond to the insects, but with the warmer weather now picking up, on the right day you can have a few hours of decent sport, with fish taking flies from the surface. Like most UK rivers the fly hatch starts at about 12.30pm and tails off around 2.30pm.
I like to turn up at about midday and walk the banks looking for fish during the 'magic window'. To resist the temptation of going straight in with the nymph, I have taken to turning up with my Airflo Streamtec rod already pre-rigged and ready to fish with a dry.
The early afternoon slot of a few hours is just enough for a weekend fishing fix and doesn't take too much of your day up. This is perfect for keeping the wife and family happy; you can get away with fishing on both of your weekend days if it's only a few hours! Fishing outside this time slot can be a little slow anyway. Mornings are still cold and the fish take a while to wake up, so it makes sense to concentrate your efforts purely at this time.
You may have seen on social media that the river dry fly of the moment is The Jingler, but I must confess that I don't really do trends and stick with what works for me. The old-fashioned hi-viz Parachute Adams in various sizes is my go-to pattern for this time of year, usually a size 12 or 14. It's a timeless classic upwing fly imitation that will catch fish all year round.
The current low water conditions are making fish stalking a bit easier than normal, with the downside being far spookier fish. When targeting trout in low water spring conditions the most important things are stealth and casting accuracy. I always use an ultra-long leader in the region of 18 feet, which helps avoid drag as well as keep the fly line well away from the trout. Have your fly degreaser handy and make each cast count.
Make your wading careful and quiet, getting close enough for a decent shot is half the battle. Be prepared to walk a lot of river; certain key pools may hold decent numbers of fish, where many others can be pretty much empty at this time of year. I believe that trout overwinter in key pools and it takes a month or two for them to spread out to their summer haunts.
It's strange how river trout populations go through cycles. Several years ago this stretch of the Taff was full of small 8in to 11in fish, with a pounder being something to write home about. This year the average size of the fish in the upper Taff has been high. Curiously, the smaller trout seem to be absent. Average size has been between 14 and 16 inches so far, with the odd one hitting 20 inches plus, which for wild river trout is phenomenal.
Fish density seems fairly low this year. There is always a relationship between average size and stock density, the so-called 'big fish syndrome'. Less fish equals more food equals bigger fish. This is one of the reasons why I have taken to actively hunting rising fish on this part of the river, because a lot of the stretch is almost empty.
The low water conditions have made locating the biggest resident trout an easier task. However, these fish are not stupid and just a single clumsy cast or foot slip will see them vanish! I have marked down several slabs for return visits and have bumped and lost a good few specimens to date. I even got one in the net, which had eluded me on a previous visit.
At the moment I must say I'm properly addicted to the gulp of a wild fish sipping down a dry and simply can’t get enough of it! It’s all about the take, and then the strike... The harder you work for a fish, the better the buzz. Fish size is irrelevant when one sips down your offering, but a lump is always nice!
The midday fly hatches don't last forever folks, so my advice is to get out on the river as much as you can this spring, before the wet stuff returns. Happy hunting.