Paul Procter; Ready for the New Season on Stillwaters

Getting it together...
Despite some fisheries providing us with sport throughout the winter months, March still heralds the start of the trout fishing season proper. Obviously, our native brown trout comes into season on the glorious 15th March, when those stillwaters that did shut up shop tend to open their doors about now to welcome back eager fishermen. What with lengthening days bringing a little warmth, it’s time to dust off the rod and get back out there.A good early season rainbow (Photo: Rod Calbrade)

Prior to the big day, check over last season’s kit, just to be certain that nothing has deteriorated and everything is in good working order. Give the rod a wipe down, pay particular attention to the rings where accumulated dirt and grime hinder the line’s progress through these guides. An old toothbrush removes any stubborn grit from such areas. A drop of oil won’t go amiss on the reel’s working parts and while stretching the fly line, inspect it for signs of cracking. If it’s OK then soak in a weak solution of washing up liquid and lukewarm water for 20 minutes, before running it through a damp cloth.

The right gear
As conditions have a nasty habit of quickly changing, it’s worth considering carrying two outfits on early season forays. Look to rods rated for 6 or7 weight lines, of between 9ft and 10ft (with one of 9’6” arguable being ideal), as sufficient length affords excellent line control when working the flies close to bank or from a boat, yet it still possess enough authority to cope with annoying headwinds. Perhaps the most versatile of lines, a weight forward (WF) intermediate is my first choice, to which I attach a small lure. And, just in case the trout are looking up the second rod is loaded with a floating line and team of nymphs.

Remember to wrap up warm, with several thin layers of clothing providing far better protection than one heavy, thick pullover. The added bonus here is that if (and it’s a big if) temperatures do improve throughout the day, layers can be discarded accordingly. The outer layer really ought to be wind/waterproof. To stay warm, a hat of sorts is mandatory and often overlooked-fingerless gloves will more than prove their worth. Cold hands not only fail to function, many of those subtle taps and knocks from early season trout will go unnoticed, so it’s vital to retain dexterity for both retrieving and take detection.

When wind, rain, sleet and even snow do their utmost in delaying hatches, March can be a cruel month to be out on the water. I’ve even known lying snow on the ground in early April. Conversely, there’s been Opening Days blessed with spring like weather when the trout were up in the water for long periods. Given this, there’s a real chance of seeing a few small, dark chironomids (buzzers). Then, we can rely on pupae imitations inched back on a floating line. Mainly though we’ll look to lures or larger nymphs for the bulk of any sport. Flies like the Cat’s Whisker, Viva and Orange Blob, are seasoned favourites, equally a small black or olive Tadpole has served me well. Bear in mind that slow retrieval rates with plenty of pauses imparts great movement to the mobile materials used in many of today’s flies.

My records show that dependant on cloud cover, there’s sufficient light to begin fishing from 5.45-6am in mid March. It is well worth the effort to experience an Opening Day dawn, though this might mean an alarm call as early as 4am. I’ve been known to arrive shortly after 5am, allowing me a good 30 minutes to tackle up by torchlight and double check all knot connections.A rainbow nears the net (Photo: Rod Calbrade)

If you’re keen, you may have walked round the water a few days earlier, looking for any fish movement that might indicate where trout are currently holding. Making straight for these places on that magical morning, I usually start with an intermediate line and cast a single fly into the gloom. Freezing conditions often feature at dawn, so be mindful of the rod rings icing over, especially on more exposed waters. To free this up prior to the retrieve, simply dip your rod in the water. You usually get a couple of casts in before the ice takes a grasp once more. Use the countdown method to systematically explore the water column. Once the fly alights, count to 5 then retrieve. If no takes are forth coming, on the next cast count 10 and so on. Sooner or later, hopefully you’ll locate a few fish. If not, give it 30 minutes before trying elsewhere. All too often those new to the sport root themselves in one spot. One of the beauties of fly fishing is being able to travel light, so keep on the go.

As far as wild trout are concerned, the cream of any sport will generally be from late morning onwards. Having had my fill of chasing rainbow trout at day break, I’ll head off in search of an Opening Day brown trout. Aim to arrive about 11am, a quick cuppa and bite to eat sets you up for the next few hours (there’s no point in breaking for lunch during the perceived prime time). Referring to the above, if ever there’s a situation that requires a mobile approach, it’s fishing for Spring wild brown trout, as their extremely territorial creatures. Cast, retrieve then take a few steps before casting again-retrieve, step, cast, retrieve and so on. This method of constantly moving and covering fresh water is by far the best approach. Remaining fixed to one place and you’ll soon be left fishing a stale section of water.

How to fish a large stillwater
Clapping eyes on a large natural water for the first time can be daunting to say the least. Even more experienced anglers might initially feel a little intimidated. Where to begin? All is not lost, these native fish instinctively head for the most productive food source. Good news for the bank angler, the prime feeding area for brown trout is the shoreline (littoral zone). Here, greater concentrations of food are available and this is where to focus your efforts. I fish from both bank and boat on the vast Cumbrian Lakes. Although the boat usually offers better prospects because of the ability to cover greater areas of water, bank fishing should never be neglected. At times the bank angler can out-fish those afloat, with many trout being taken only yards from the shore.

Time honoured patterns like the Bibio, Zulu and Bumbles are an obvious choice to start with. Positioned 3ft apart, my preference is for a large bushy pattern on the top dropper with a slim, winged wet on the middle dropper and a weighted nymph acting as an “anchor”. Stout monofilaments help stand the droppers clear from the main leader line thus reducing tangles. Although it doesn’t reflect in the size of our quarry, 8.5lb (3 X) Orvis Super Strong is a good starting point, even stepping up to 11.5lb (2 X) in the teeth of a gale. Traditionally, floating lines are the order of the day for loch-style fishing. However, during the opening weeks, presenting a team of flies on a sinking density line has proved deadly. Evenings can be good (Photo: Rod Calbrade)

In contrast to stocked waters where we frequently encounter introduced fish of 2lb and upwards, wild trout average 12-14 ounces. Small they may be, but, perfectly formed with huge crimson spots and razor sharp fins they have the heart of a lion and fight all the way to a waiting net. If you’re to get the best from them then think of scaling down to a 5-weight outfit. Don’t agonize about casting far, as we’ve already mentioned, so long as you progress with caution, on many occasions the fish will literally be found at your feet!
Finally, despite the cold, enough daylight remains to grab a couple of hours after work. Even with a lack of rising fish, there’s always a chance as the light fades. A couple of nymphs or a lure worked slowly along the margins might well generate a response and nothing compares with hooking the first trout of a new season.

Paul Procter

Paul Procter
AAPGAI and Orvis-Endorsed Guide

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