High summer trout
High summer may not be prime time for dry fly fishing in the UK, says Paul Procter, but, thanks to the diminutive blue-winged olive, late evenings can herald memorable sport.
July generally heralds the dawn of summer proper and, given normal conditions, a threat of stiflingly hot weather. Great news then for farmers awaiting their crops to turn golden or country folk who enjoy a spot of pigeon decoying, as clouds of birds flock to fields of ripening barely. Ask any serious trout fisher what they think of a heatwave and you're bound to receive a stern glare! Beach weather might well suit holidaymakers, but sweltering heat quickly puts the kibosh on our beloved hatches of upwinged flies. Thankfully though, one of their kind tends to buck this trend – Serratella ignita, which is better known to you and I as the blue-winged olive (B-WO).
Instantly recognisable by their smoky-blue forewings and three banded tails, B-WOs are principally regarded as a chalkstream species. Granted, they thrive in these calcium-rich flows yet, surprisingly, this plucky little ephemerid is much more widespread than first thought. Tolerant of various water types, it is found as far north as Aberdeenshire in the headwaters of chortling spate rivers whose peaty tannin suggests a more barren environment. Chances are then, a stream not too far from your front door is home to a population of B-WOs.
Measuring a puny eight millimetres in body length, B-WOs might not match that grandeur of our impressive mayfly Ephemera danica, but what they lack in size they more than make up for in sheer numbers. Best of all though, is their emergence time, which takes place on sultry summer evenings, allowing those restricted by office hours a real chance of top drawer dry fly sport. And if you're one who relishes a brace of pan-fried trout for breakfast then they don't come any fresher than from the evening before.
Tradition has it that B-WO hatches are notoriously difficult to come to terms with. Some claim it's the diminutive size of naturals which present a problem, others whinge about the often blizzard like hatches that means your fly can easily go unnoticed when trout are literally choking on hapless duns. As far as I'm concerned, we really ought to embrace B-WO activity. After all, we know what the fish are feeding on and they're giving themselves away by constantly rising. What more could we ask for, especially when time is precious?
With sport often restricted to the last couple of hours of daylight there's no need to drag along the kitchen sink. My game plan now is to select a favourite beat, one that has form, or produced trout on my last outing. In the interest of travelling light, neglecting my trusty waistcoat, a box of flies that fits into a shirt pocket will do nicely. Spare tippet material, snips, floatant etc. are arranged on one of those newfangled fishing necklaces that's thrown round your neck. One key item is a small head torch which helps no end for changing flies at dusk. To that end, if you're really serious, a spare outfit might be rigged up too. Nothing is worse that experiencing a bird's nest of a tangle in the dark. And rushing now only hampers your progress. It's more convenient and far less stressful to simply pick up a replacement outfit, especially when the activity reaches fever pitch.
Generally speaking, hatches tend to peak around 9pm, though to be on the safe side arrive in plenty of time. With little happening there's an overwhelming temptation to run a nymph through likely water. You'd do well to hang fire, as any trout which have nipped out for an early supper can easily be spooked, which in turn may upset the whole pool. Hopefully, it won't be too long before the surface erupts into life with trout hell-bent on mopping up as many flies as possible. Preoccupied with food, these fish are easily approached now, allowing you to slip into the water undetected.
As mentioned, our tiny imitation might seem hopeless when duns carpet the surface. However, trout constantly rising gives us an opportunity to target individual fish using repeated casts. My advice is to remain calm and with careful presentation, cast at the same fish until some kind of response is forthcoming. Pretty much like bagging a high bird, it's all a matter of getting your eye in. Chopping and changing to other rise forms often means you never quite settle, which in turn affects accuracy. It might well be you throw 30-40 casts at a given trout before he eats, so never get disheartened. Well worth remembering is that so long as any trout continues to rise then he can still be tempted!
During the initial stages of a hatch, with few duns lifting off, trout seem willing to move a fair distance to seize a meal. Although short-lived, this period usually allows you to get a trout or two under your belt, restoring confidence for the main event. Once fly numbers build, fish quickly fall into rank, picking off insects that are filtered down certain current lanes. They're reluctant to move far now so your accuracy will be tested. Strangely enough, a single fly improves your odds as one fly at the surface is less prone to drag, and besides, your investment now sits in this lone imitation which helps keep you focused!
As the night wears on, chances are female B-WO spinners will return to deposit their precious cargo of eggs at the surface. Piercing the film and lying almost flush, these are notoriously difficult to see. Glancing along bank sides before dark will betray dancing spinners, a sure sign that things are afoot. This ritual usually stretches well into darkness which, at the height of summer, means the wee small hours. To avoid bleary eyes the following morning, common sense tells you it's time to leave. In truth, it takes a stronger willed person than I to turn your back on such events, especially when a day's activity is condensed into a couple of hours.
When it comes to flies, I'm a huge fan of low riding patterns that hunker down in the surface film. Not only are these less likely to drag, they're much easier for trout to intercept too. Patterns like an olive comparadun, F fly or parachute style dressed on #16 hooks are most fit for purpose here. Faced with a spinner fall, the aforementioned paradun with a chestnut or mahogany body imitates a spent spinner to the letter. If you dress your own flies then remember to include a bright yellow wing post here, which tends to be more conspicuous in poor light and therefore easier to pick out.
Mistakenly, many believe large trout never really bother coming to the surface for tiny flies. Instead, they claim such leviathans survive on a high protein diet of minnows, sticklebacks and smolts. Yet, dense fly hatches are more than capable of tempting sinister shapes out from their lairs, especially in poor light. Specimen trout seem happiest and more confident under the cover of darkness, which ties in perfectly with B-WO spinner falls. What's more, often solitary beasts, these trout are content to feed alongside each other. Indeed, it's not uncommon to stumble across a pod of giants positioned shoulder to shoulder. Where natural competition exists, obviously the chances of connecting with a trophy are weighted in your favour. Unfortunately, commotion from the ensuing battle often deters other trout feeding nearby. However, all things being well, you'll end the night cradling a fish of a lifetime.
B-WO Compara Dun
Hook: Partridge Patriot fine dry #16
Thread: Primrose 14/0 Sheer
Tail: Dyed dun cock hackle fibres
Abdomen: Fly-Rite #10 B-WO extra fine dubbing
Thorax: Hare's fur
Wing: Natural CdC
Hook: Partridge Patriot fine dry #16
Thread: Orange 14/0 Sheer
Tail: Dyed dun cock hackle fibres
Abdomen & Thorax: Fly-Rite #5 Rust extra fine dubbing
Wing: TMC aero wing (fl yellow)
Hackle: Light dun wound parachute style then trimmed fore and aft leaving perpendicular hackle fibres to suggest the splayed wings of a spent spinner