Are you ready for the river? Chris Ogborne welcomes the new trout fishing season with some solid tips and advice on how to get the best out of those special first days out.
Good Riddance Winter!
Is it just me or has this winter been one of the most dismal in recent years? Over-long and definitely overly wet, I honestly can’t remember another that has dragged like this one. Country walking has been more like a mud bath and without those usual crisp frosty evenings it seems that even the pigeon shooting has been mediocre.
But at last, these past few days we have some warming sunshine. I walked my favourite river beats yesterday and the water looked near perfect. Good flow, clean water over freshly washed gravel beds and the kind of levels that you’d relish if there were any sea trout in the system.
I even saw some early fly life, just a tentative hatch in the chilly breeze, but a hatch nevertheless. It was the kind of day that made you itch for a fly rod in the hand and I allowed myself an inner smile with the thought that the new season is now just a matter of weeks away.
Tackle tips for Early Season Fly Fishing
The river walk prompted me to go through my gear and I had a very pleasant hour dragging it all out of the log cabin and having a good sort out. As usual I don’t practice what I preach and I’m ashamed to say that the rod was on the rack, still with the the last nymph from last September tied to the leader! So I cleaned everything down, re-packed it all neatly into the tackle bag and now I’m pretty much ready.
Fly boxes need a bit closer attention though, and it’s a good idea to get them sorted now. It’s almost inevitable that flies get mixed up through a season and in my case last May’s neat and orderly lines had been reduced to a confused mess. Countless fly changes had lead to nymphs and dries sitting in amongst weighted flies and bugs. So now I’ve re-organised them into some semblance of order and it’s back to clean rows that will save me searching for flies in the box when I should be fishing with them!
I’d suggest you have a check for rusty barbs as well. In spite of best efforts and good quality hooks, it’s almost inevitable that you’ll find an odd spot of rust and it’s better to weed these out now and replace them.
I’ve also replaced all the old spools of leader material, that vital final link between you and the fish. In the overall scheme of our fishing the leader really isn’t expensive and I love the extra confidence you get from using fresh new spools. I especially like the Airflo Sight Free fluorocarbon which I’ve been using for the last two seasons now. It’s perfect on the rivers with less shine, neutral colour and great suppleness.
Checking you have decent eyewear is another priority for the new season, and a conundrum many anglers ponder is which colour polarising glasses are best for fishing? I’ll share another tip with you. In the last few seasons I’ve been experimenting with different colour lenses in polarising sunglasses. It goes without saying that if you’re a serious fly fisher then you’ll be using good quality glasses, but it’s not so well known that you should look at different colour lenses for different fishing situations. Out on the sand bars in bright sun fishing for bass then it a grey lens, but up on the river I’m increasingly finding that amber works better. In tree canopy situations when there’s reduced light, the higher contrast you get is invaluable. As one of my guests said last year when I loaned him a pair, ‘it’s like switching on the lights’ and it really can make a difference.
Early Season Trout Fly Patterns
To get back to fly choice, it’s sensible to make up a ‘shortlist fly box’ ahead of the seasons start. I know that so many fishermen aren’t happy unless they take their entire fly collection with them, but in truth it makes a lot more sense to keep to a shortlist. I keep these in a small shirt pocket box in line with my long-held philosophy of travelling light and it serves to focus the mind as well as saving a lot of wasted minutes peering hopefully into a massive fly box, looking for inspiration that rarely comes!
My shortlist for the first few weeks of the new season will focus on the darker colours, especially if I’m up on the moors in search of wild brownies. Even if you’re on more lowland rivers I’ll bet that 70% of your early hatches will be dark if not black. Within my barbless selection in the Turrall range, I just KNOW that the Skinny Black Gnat will be a real favourite, as will the Hi Vis Gnat in the fast water. If there’s no surface activity then I’ll almost certainly be using the Shellback nymph, skinny Pheasant tail or the Camel Nymph. Indeed, these are some of the best flies for March and April.
The great thing about my Turrall barbless fly selection is that it does all the thinking for you, as in essence it’s a shortlist. With just these patterns in your box you’ll be covered for 90% of fishing situations, confident that you can get close enough to anything that’s hatching or living in the water.
Of all the flies in the barbless collection, I think the Skinny Black Gnat is my all-time top fly. It works in any kind of dark fly hatch and is a good suggestion of so many insects. I even use it when the Hawthorns are about as well and the fish don’t seem to mind that it hasn’t got the legs that distinguish that particular natural.
Wherever you spend your first days out, I’ll wish you good luck for the new season. Let’s hope the weather is kinder to us than it has been in the past year!
Chris’s Barbless River Fly selection (dries pictured above), is available from fly stockists this spring. You can also catch Chris in action on the rivers in his Youtube Film, featuring fly fishing tips on the River Camel, Cornwall.
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