Creasy's Column for Reel Life November 2018
By Hugh Creasy
There’s an odour in the air, of hot stone, of increasing algae, exposed to the sun as the river falls, of animal ordure, of dusty lupin coming into flower, of fresh, fallen grass as fields suffer their first cut for haymaking.
There’s a noise of bleating sheep and lowing cows, separated from their young who are fated to die in the next few weeks, unwanted stock of the wrong sex.
Summer is coming, the sun is strong and winds blow. In the early morning, amid a racket of blackbirds calling, a buzzing insect falls to the water in a nearby pond. It floats and flounders in aimless circles for an hour or two before drowning. It is a herald of foliage vandals, a blitz of insects hatched from Stygian darkness to wreak havoc on riverside foliage. Brown beetles are in flight.
To trout they are fat little parcels of protein, delicious and rich. Anglers find them simple to imitate – just a twist of bristly fur with a covering of brown stuff to imitate a wing case. Just plop it on the water in the evening or early morning and a feasting trout will succumb to temptation.
There is a downside. You have to get up early in the morning, before dawn if possible, for brown beetles are night fliers and land on the water in darkness. Trout will take a fly later in the day - there must be some residual memory of shape and size after the sun comes up, because the beetles have long since stopped flying - but trout are at their carelessly greediest in near-darkness.
I like to fish that period of first light when I can see a fly taken. I can also see whether my beetle imitation has landed where I want it. Anabatic breezes may soon become gales later in the day, so it pays to get an early start.
It is a good time of year for beetle imitations of any sort, for many of them land on the water, but sometimes you can be caught out.
A few seasons ago I was fishing the Motueka River, just a few metres from some windblown pines. The trees had been brought down years before when a massive windstorm swept through the valley. Mature trees were toppled like matchsticks and were left strewn across hillsides. Now, three years later, they were at a most desirably moist rottenness that had attracted huhu beetles, and in the warm spring weather, the adults had taken flight. They hurtled through the air like badly flown miniature aircraft, and many of them hit the water with a sizeable splash. It took the trout an hour or so to get over their natural timidity, but they were soon feasting and a kilometre stretch of river was alive with rising fish.
My little brown beetle imitation was ignored. I had to go back to my car and find a suitable alternative. An old muddler minnow looked as if it would do the job, so I tied it on and rushed back to the river to try it out. The huhu hatch was largely over by the time I cast the big fly, and the sun was rising. The muddler was set afloat with hope and a prayer, and half a dozen casts later a greedy, fat fish took it.
It was years since I had last used a muddler. It was on Lake Waikaremoana where, in a high wind I could skid the lure from wave top to wave top while casting from the shore. The Urewera winds blow hard, with blasts coming down from the heights of Panekire, across the flats to the lake and powerful enough to lift a fly off the water. With a bit of practice you could get a fly to imitate the dipping action of the huge dragonflies that hatch in late spring. The rod and line I used on the lake was a lot heavier than the 5-weight gear I took to the Motueka, and getting a big lure like a muddler onto the river in the right place was hard work. The takes were hard and heavy, with trout leaving the water when the wind blew the fly off the surface. It needed a minimum 2-kilo breaking strain line.
Over the next few months there will be a plethora of flying insects landing on our waterways, all of them able to be imitated, and with them lies the opportunity for anglers to experience the pleasures of dry fly fishing.