Fly Fish Your Local River
Firstly I consider myself “an angler” rather than a “fly-fisherman.” As such, I enjoy all types of fishing and firmly believe that you can learn a lot from trying new disciplines of our sport, whilst still challenging and enjoying yourself.
The Summer Lull.
It’s no surprise that during the summer months fly-fishing on our reservoirs and still waters is extremely difficult. The higher water temperatures and lower dissolved oxygen content means that the trout often just switch off. Blank days, or just a fish or two, are to be expected. It can also get very expensive once the day ticket and boat prices are factored in.
For such a large outlay of time, money and effort I was often left feeling disappointed. I questioned if I should have a break for a month during the height of the summer to try something different. Gardening perhaps? However, after just 6 days I was feeling frustrated. I’ve never not fished for longer than a week and I was craving my fly-fishing fix.
A Different Approach.
So, I decided on a different approach—something cheaper that I could do as an when I wanted. Why not fly fish the local rivers? I needn’t devote a whole day, just a couple of hours. For the last 15 years they have been deserted. Seemingly every carp fisherman now only fishes the commercial carp waters. The fish won’t be pressured and should be easy enough.
I don’t claim to be a competent river angler. My skills and experiences were forged on the large midlands reservoirs, so subtle and fishing ultra light are not really my forte. This was undoubtedly going to be a learning process!
You should fly fish your local river when other options are out of season. If nothing else, the views won’t disappoint!
I initially I decided to get myself a cheap ultra light 7ft 6” #2 rod and floating line from a well know internet auction site. I then tied approximately a dozen flies—6 weighted nymphs and 6 dries in sizes 14 to 18. For less than the price of a day’s trout fishing I was ready for my first day on the river.
Despite my extremely limited skills I caught fish. Quite a lot of them, in fact. 20 or more chub and dace in the 2 to 4oz class. Hardly big fish but it was still both exciting and rewarding to watch them take my dry, which is a method that I don’t fish much on the large reservoirs.
The more I fished the river, the more I enjoyed it and the more I learned. I now feel I possess a reasonable idea of what I’m doing and consistently catch much larger fish. My best was a chub of approximately 4.5lbs, which on 2lb tippet and a #2 weight rod is a serious challenge.
What I learned.
I thought I’d share with you my findings and experiences. Firstly, fishing the river gives you valuable insight into wild fish and how they behave. You learn that casts must be kept to a minimum, accurate and drag free. You also learn that you must be stealthy, quiet and keep a low profile. Large fish are easily scared by clumsy anglers who are used to casting a long line on a reservoir as I soon found out. Small fish—up to 8oz—seemingly weren’t bothered by this.
Fishing for numbers.
Small dries are essential. Sizes 16 and 18 are the best, especially if you want to catch high numbers of fish. Dace, Chub and Bleak will usually come from nowhere to take your fly. It’s an ideal way to get started and build your confidence. On my local river, the Nene, I can usually expect to catch 20 small fish in a couple of hours quite easily on the small dries. My preference is for parachute style patterns, such as Kinkhammers or Adams in black or brown.
Fishing for size.
I’ve found that larger fish definitely respond better to larger flies. Size 12 or 14 dries are best for Chub over 12oz. A size 12 black hopper or beetle or black klinkhammer is unbeatable for these larger fish. In truth, it’s really the only dry you will need. It’s also important to note that the larger, Chub 2lb or more, are much more wary. We only catch them at last light or when there has been a significant amount of rainfall and the river has a touch of colour in it. You also need good presentation and ensure that the fish can’t see you.
The last year or my son Albert and I have devoted a lot of time to fishing the rivers for species that 3 or 4 years ago we would have ignored. Chub and Perch are undoubtedly our favorite quarry on light fly tackle.
We now have upgraded our tackle and equipment as it’s no longer a passing fad. We possess a 2 seater Kayak, and while only 1 of us can fish at a time, the other controls the boat. This allows us access to water that isn’t fishable to the bank angler.
All rivers have different features. The smaller fish love the fast water, however the larger Chub and Perch live elsewhere. Features such as overhanging trees or undercut banks are essential for big chub. Your first cast, if presented correctly (drag free), will usually provoke a response. After the initial cast, though, your chances of success deteriorate rapidly.
We now often fish “New Zealand Style” especially in the Autumn months when the fish are no so free rising. This is with a small nymph—size 18 or 20— suspended beneath the larger dry. The nymph is usually about 18” to 2ft subsurface, with a prince nymph or hare’s ear as our “go-to” patterns.
With regards the Perch, we’ve found that they’re definitely not as easily scared as other species. They prefer deep holes, locks or weirs. As such, the stealthy approach isn’t really needed. A “squirmy worm” dropped and jigged is an essential pattern. It’s quite possible to catch 4 to 6 perch from a single area despite repeatedly drifting over it in the kayak.
The Magic of a River.
Having fished still waters and reservoirs all my life, I feel there is something magical about a river. The way it moves and flows—it’s almost as if the water is alive. It’s unquestionably more relaxing and quieter and you hardly ever see another soul. No sailing boats, cyclists, runners and day trippers like we do on resevoirs.
We are still learning, and are far from accomplished but it’s probably the most rewarding angling I’ve experienced in years. Our journey is far from over, but for the cost of a boat and day ticket on a Stillwater I advise you to purchase a cheap outfit and a handful of flies. You should definitely fly fish your local river. You may be pleasantly surprised.
In addition to learning about his local streams, Rob’s an expert on stillwater tactics. Head over to his profile where he shares his advice!