Creasy's Column for Reel Life January 2019
By Hugh Creasy
It was a sky of deep grey, sulky and close to tears. The air was still, thick with scents of grass and pollen. The approach to the river was a blue carpet of pennyroyal that refreshed with minted scents and a riverside bog was edged with lemon balm where hover flies trembled and darted over muddy water that later in the day would release clouds of mosquitoes.
Blackberry formed a barrier, but a pause to pick the ripest fruit upon which only a few tiny insects scurried, quenched a building thirst. Succulent and delicious. Thorns were skirted and the river came into view through a curtain of willow.
The river ran glassy, grey-green, with not enough light to show fish holding deep, but the chances were they had moved to white water. The long reach revealed only reflection, pretty enough but sterile.
In the humid heat only a few birds crossed the river and a hawk soared the updraughts over the willows, lazily turning in its endless search for prey.
It was a long walk to the head of the pool, and the boulders were slippery with half-dried algae that did not speak well for the health of the river. It has been a hot summer and great swathes of algae lined the water in the reach. Only at the head of this deep pool, where white water bubbled and frothed did the river seem to come alive.
The only way to fish this aerated water would be to use a long leader and a weighted fly, to cast into the bubble line and let the fly drift with back and side currents that would, with luck, attract a strike.
There was nothing natural about the drift. As the fly swirled in the current, I gave the rod tip an occasional lift, just in case a fish had latched on to it.
The rod tip jerked downward and the line tightened, I struck and embedded the fly in a branch of willow that washed to the surface and rolled, a weighty tangle of line and leader enclosing it. I dragged it to the shore. Any fish in the water at the foot of the rapid would be well and truly alert to my presence, and I had probably ruined my best opportunity to take a fish. After 10 minutes or so spent disentangling line and leader, I was ready once more to resume the hunt. The white water rapid upstream looked inviting with large boulders and pocket water, and riffles over gravel, that kept the water aerated. I turned over a few stones in the shallows and there were hard-cased caddis attached, as well as net-builders and a few very small mayfly larvae.
My 4-metre leader was far too long for such tight water, and I changed it to a couple of metres and a half metre tippet. This time I used a lightly weighted nymph that looked something like a hatching caddis.
I suppose the conditions were ideal for Czech nymphing, a method I have read a lot about but have never practised. In any case my 5-weight rod was too short to effectively cover the water with such a method, so I stuck with the conventional.
Wading was treacherous, over slippery boulders, covered with slime, and I spent an awful lot of effort clutching my wading stick and trying to stay upright.
A few years ago I watched competition anglers fishing such rapids, and they did so at such high speed and with such confident footing that I could not hope to match. My progress is tortoise-like, and careful, but still I trip and slip and there’s usually blood coming from some part of me that made connection with sharp stone.
It took a dozen casts before my fly was taken, and that by a trout of diminutive size that zipped about the rapids at high speed before I could release it. It must have suffered considerable bruising when banging into boulders, but it swam away fast and disappeared, now educated on what not to eat.
Wading fast water is tiring and dangerous, and you have to cast so often to cover holding water that fatigue, both mental and physical sets in. The grassy bank looked inviting and I tottered from the water, glad to obtain some relief. It was humid and windless. I leaned back in the long grass, a stretch to ease aching muscles, and my back touched an electric wire, hidden by the grass. The shock wasn’t great but its effect was. I damned the river, the weather, fish, or their lack, and the farmer who left his fence on when there were no stock in sight and hadn’t been for days.
Home, then, and lunch and a snooze till sundown. In the cool of the evening the fish would move. In the light of the moon I would hear their rises, and see the splash.
Night fishing would be my saviour.
With it would come challenge enough to test the patience of Job.
Maybe I should stick to golf.