When I first came to the South West over 35 years ago, the general wisdom was that fly fishing for brown trout on our rivers was at its best between start of the season and early June, and then became so difficult that it was hardly worth fishing for the rest of the season. I had a vivid reminder of this state of affairs when recently looking at some records of the old Devon River Authority, which stocked the upper Teign over a period of four years in the late 1960s. Each year the Authority carefully analysed the catches and in 1968, when 25 per cent of the stocked trout were caught, 89 per cent had been taken by the end of April, with seven per cent in May and less than one per cent in the remaining months of the season. With even stocked trout tough to catch after the end of spring, what chance did anglers have with the wild fish once summer had arrived?
How things have changed. Today, advances in tackle and techniques have made it possible to cast a fly right throughout the summer with every chance of success, even through the middle of the day in low clear water.
With the arrival of high summer you could, of course, await the arrival of evening to improve your chances and there is no doubt that fishing the evening rise in a big hatch of insects can be very exciting. The problem is that evening hatches are far less dependable than we would like to think and all fly fishers can recall far too many evenings when little or nothing has happened and hardly a trout has broken the surface. And there is also the fact that time runs out all too quickly and we find ourselves frantically making the most of the dying light.
My own preference has always been for a leisurely session during the day, quietly wading up a stream and casting a fly into every likely spot or to any trout that rises.
And trout are not the only quarry on those long summer days. On suitable stretches of the Exe and Tamar systems the grayling fishing can be at its best in high summer, and any river with a run of sea trout can give you a spectacular surprise from time to time. However, the fish can be ultra spooky in high summer and your tackle, approach and technique have to be up to the challenge.
Taking advantage of advances in tackle is key to success, and developments in rods, lines, leaders and flies have all contributed to making it possible to go out with every expectation of success on a bright summer day. Terminal tackle took a great leap forward with the introduction of ultra-fine nylon for the point of your leader, light-weight rods with real power have become the norm as a result of carbon fibre, tiny nymphs sink quickly thanks to bead heads, and breathable waders make it possible to fish though the day without succumbing to heat stroke.
So here is my tackle selection for a session on the river in the noonday sun of summer. An AFTM 4 line in double or forward taper is about right and the rod to propel it can be 7 ft or 7 ft 6 in for the confined spaces of the small overgrown streams, or 8 ft 6 in on a big river like the Exe. For many years my choice of leader has been 5 ft of braided butt, attached to about 1 ft 6 in of 5X (.006 in) nylon, followed by 3 ft of 6X (.005 in) or 7X (.004 in) for the point. For really tough conditions it can help to go to a point of 8X.
Hatches of flies from the stream on a hot summer day are likely to be sparse but a variety of land insects will be falling on the water, and a Klinkhamer with its trailing body suggesting a waterlogged insect works well. Many fish, especially grayling and sea trout, will often be lying in deeper water and then a small goldhead or copperhead nymph will get down to the action area. You can hedge your bets, as I often do, by using the so-called New Zealand rig – tie on a bushy Klinkhamer, attach 2 ft of fine nylon to the bend of the hook with a tucked half-blood knot, and then tie a small goldhead Hare’s Ear Nymph to the other end.
Deep wading with body waders is essential on most rivers in the South West and that throws up the problem of spooking the fish with wading ripples. Such ripples can never be totally eliminated on the smoother stretches of river but a wading staff makes a huge difference in wading slowly and stealthily.
So, if you want to put your fly fishing skills to a real test, try a day on the stream in July or August and, providing the chosen river has not been devastated by extreme drought, you may get a very pleasant surprise – and a real feeling of earning your fish.