Between the embers of summer and the close of the season, there occasionally appears a window of exquisite blue-sky clarity. Some seasons it doesn’t happen, a cause for some sadness. In other years it’s missed due to work commitments, a tragedy. But sometimes, ah yes sometimes, these crystal bright days line up like a jewel necklace. Still, bright and clear days. Illuminated days, like childhood memories of summers past.
The early morning fog glides through the hollows, a ghost river tracing a memory of its ancient course, over the season’s first fields of silver dew. The willows and poplars that line the riverbank have changed their livery, heralding the shortening of the days and the imminent arrival of winter. All of these are signs and portents, that remind those who take time to study them, that its olive time.
Expectation starts to build when the air and water temperature have dropped, signalling that the larger Mayfly and Caddis hatches are mostly over. When the swashbuckling exuberance of Summer Hopper fishing has become a fond memory……
But all is not lost; the season still has a few cards left up its sleeve for students of its patterns and moods.
The bright, still and clear days of low clear water set the stage for what some consider to be the highlight of the season. With the addition of the last key ingredient, diminutive duns, you have a recipe for what is euphemistically referred too as “technical fishing”. Translated that means exasperating, challenging and totally absorbing. Those who “know” it, savour it, like fine wine or good single malt, its flavour lingering in memory down through the years. These memories, of great days and exceptional hatches, are afforded the status of holy relics, recalled from the vault on those occasions when acolytes gather to compare notes, beseech the weather gods, and make plans.
Bit players throughout most of the season (often masked by more showy Caddis hatches) these exquisite little duns come into their own as they take centre stage in this autumn drama. It’s a performance appreciated by the dedicated and the obsessed with spooky fish and long fine leaders. The tiny flies, coupled with the need for precise presentation mean far more refusals than takes. Just tying the little duns, 18’s through to 24’s, requires a dedication and determination bordering on obsessive.
The fine wire hooks demand very fine tippets. No bullying tactics here, too much pressure or an over exuberant strike (an embarrassing personal affliction) and the day becomes one of what might have been. It’s a dilemma, caught between the needs of finesse and utility. But if, like me, you’d rather loose a fish than kill it, you fish as heavy as you possibly can and accept defeat as a consequence of fair play. Such fish that “assist” in their own release, become the stuff of myth, legend and the basis of most good fishing yarns.
This time of year has its own rhythm; a stately and dignified economy of movement seems to pervade everything, including the river currents. Being able to tune in and adapt to this gentle rhythm can make all the difference between joy and exasperation.
The fish hang in the seams and glides, drifting languidly, feeding apparently at random. But hold still and watch; slowly a routine begins to emerge. I have no doubt that the phrase “learn to be still” was coined with this sort of fishing in mind.
The rise forms are subtle, gentle dimples as the fish dine in a steady and refined manner. In this sort of fishing the fly must not only be in the right place, but must arrive at the right time. Too early and the fish isn’t looking, too late and the fish has already selected another target. Patience, persistence and precision are all required in abundance and the reserves of all are tested. It isn’t called “technical fishing” by virtue of being easy.
Perhaps because of these trials, success, when it comes, is doubly sweet and belies measurement in mere numbers. It belongs to that class of mysterious intangibles, instinctively understood by all dedicated practitioners of the art, yet unintelligible to all those outside of it. It is a simple, childlike joy that defies any rational explanation.
The fish at olive time have begun to take on the hues of spawning. Rich burnt gold flanks and arteriole red spots, with butter and cream fins. It’s a dress code in keeping with the gentle, muted tones of this time of year. These are the colours of “the” brown trout that swims down through the seasons of memory, a part of the magic of this time of year that seeps into your bones.