The Trout That Time Forgot: Part 2

Written by: Clark Colman

Orvis Harrogate’s fly fishing specialist Clark Colman revisits a little-known river only a stone’s throw from where he grew up, and reflects on how a bit of creativity in fly selection proved that good wild brownies can still be found there…

To read part 1, click here

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Presentation for Predators

By wading carefully and using all available cover, I soon found that I could enjoy the greater accuracy, line control and presentation benefits of fixed-line fishing in most areas. Where overhead casting proved impossible, a sidearm, roll or bow-and-arrow cast usually placed the fly where the fish wanted it most – up towards the neck of the many charming riffles, runs and pools here, or into the hidey-holes provided by overhanging trees, undercut banks and boulders.

In the pacier areas, the current itself was enough to work the pattern successfully. My technique here was much the same as for duo or double-nymph fishing – landing everything upstream in a straight line from rod tip to fly, keeping as much line as possible off the water (to minimise drag and avoid spooking trout), and then simply tracking the tip back downstream at the same speed as the current. This allowed the Makeshift Minnow to tumble along in the manner of a wounded, stricken natural. The lack of slack line in the system, plus the gusto with which opportunist fish seized the fly, made for easy take detection – generally via a confident upstream ‘stab’ of the line.

Slower parts of the river entailed bringing the minnow to life a little more. Here, takes usually came as it was twitched back with either short, six-inch pulls or (if fishing a fixed line) flicks of the rod tip. There was no mistaking the solid tug on the line as yet another trout was fooled – especially when I found myself attached to something a bit more special at the head of a long, sluggish corner pool.

It took only a couple of angry head shakes to convince me that this was no ten-incher, before the fish aimed itself towards me and hurtled off for the Solway Firth. As more and more of my olive, weight-forward fly line disappeared downstream, I soon realised that a well-flexed rod, reliable reel drag and 5lbs fluorocarbon tippet weren’t going to be enough this time. Hot pursuit was in order!

I’ll spare you the hopping, skipping and jumping antics that followed. Suffice it to say that, if lady luck hadn’t come to my aid, I’m not sure the battle would have been mine in the end. For once, I was thankful that a tangle of fence wire lay submerged a short way downstream, on which the leader became snagged. The tippet held as the fish twisted and turned in an effort to free itself, and I soon scooped up a fourteen-inch cock brown of around 1.5lbs, whose dark colours and condition pointed to long-term residence here.

Atmosphere, Lessons and Memories

I can still feel the sense of atmosphere and anticipation that came when, a little further upstream from where this epic battle occurred, I found the old railway bridge. A shallower pool lay beneath its towering arch, and at the head of this was a tiny, very old and much-overgrown footbridge of grey, lichen-blotched and weather-beaten stone.

A trout swirled below it as I watched, and I suspected from his behaviour that he too was intent on a minnow lunch. By kneeling in the cool water, and casting as long a line as the tunnel and cattle-guard gates behind would allow, I managed to hook him. Only another nine or ten-incher, but it was the challenge of the situation that really counted, and on this little success I called it a day.

I’d learned a good few lessons during those carefree waterside hours among green fields and fresh woods on the edge of the Solway Plains. Principally, I’d discovered that, despite being long-forgotten by anglers, there were still wild brown trout to be had there. The density of fish hadn’t appeared particularly high, and I suspected that a lack of variety in food items might be responsible for this. Some had, however, reached impressive sizes, while others were well on the way towards this – clearly by feasting on the river’s resident minnow population. I was grateful to my first fish of the day for pointing me in the right direction of how to tempt them, and particularly pleased with the old warrior that I’d locked horns with towards the end of my session.

It is, however, the sheer solitude and mystery of the river that form my most rewarding memories of that first visit. I remember wondering, as I slowly ambled back to the car, when fish had last been caught there – and whether, with so much more water still to explore, I’d find even bigger denizens lurking therein. In all the wild and lonely places to which I take my fly rods, it is not just the sights, smells and other sensations that make them so memorable for me. It is that sense of trailblazing, of exploration and discovery, and the feeling of being the first for many years to tread and fish there. Whether or not I truly am is hardly the point.

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