Unless we've been given a super-duper new trout rod for Christmas it's likely most of us will be using a tackle set up similar to previous years. There's something almost comforting about handling that familiar rod and line again, it's rather like meeting up with old friends from whom you have been separated and are now rejoined. However there is one area where we can introduce the new and that's in fly selection. The adage `what worked last year will more than likely work this one' is for the unadventurous, it's much more exciting to plan the perfect fly choice for all occasions. What we need is a box of tricks capable of meeting all fishy challenges head on and no messing!
All of us harbour dreams of confidently reaching into the fly box and whipping out the perfect fly to catch stubborn trout no matter what the conditions are doing. To try and make these thoughts a reality (remember you are dealing with a wild creature here!) a methodical approach is what is required. The first thing you must remember is that a wild trout will take a fly either because it looks vaguely like something already in his diet OR because it's an annoyance in his territory. He will almost certainly NOT take the fly if it looks in any way threatening.
These are the three cardinal rules for choosing to use a particular pattern to attract a trout. You can try and match the hatch, try to stimulate aggression but most important of all, you must not scare the fish away!
These points might sound elementary but you would be surprised how many of us go to the trouble of bug hunting to work out the exact imitation, tie it on with appropriate reverence and then go and make a pigs ear of it all by clumsy presentation, thereby frightening off everything in sight. Either that or we are just plain lazy and continue to fish with exactly the same pattern(s) which worked in the completely different conditions of yesterday. OK sometimes this works but more often, refusing to adapt to a new days weather produces an embarrassing blank.
In wild trout angling, equilibrium is required and this applies as much to fly selection as it does in casting technique. We recognise we need balance in the art of executing a neat cast but how many of us pay attention to balancing the contents of the fly box? To create a little order in the serried ranks, it's important to think seasonal. Let's take this by order of events:
EARLY SEASON (March to end April)
Brown trout are generally lethargic after over-wintering, especially if its been cold and harsh. Though they will have spawned back in October/November and had around 3 months to recondition, their food is less plentiful and the need to conserve energy is at its greatest. Thus matching the hatch has only limited results at the start of the season; you could try a Caddis, Shrimp, Snail, Stonefly or Olive Nymph imitation because that is the likely bottom fodder of this time of year.
You can also go more for a general imitative approach with say, a Black Pennel, Black & Peacock Spider, Coch Y Bonddu, Hares Ear or a Soldier Palmer (all these traditional patterns have vague connotations of invertebrates found on or near the base of the loch or lake).
Or you might, like me, try to take trout during the brief feeding windows of early season. That means fishing in the warmest part of the day with perhaps a weighted nymph on the point and maybe a Silver Invicta, Butcher or Cinnamon & Gold on the dropper. The heavy point fly means you fish at depth while the other brighter fly hopefully attracts attention and prompts an aggressive response. By mid/late April (depending on your locale) the first hefty black midge hatches get underway and trout become more active on the surface even taking a small dry CDC or Black Gnat if it's warm enough.
MID SEASON (May to early August)
From May things hot up in all manners of speaking. All invertebrates are generally more abundant. According to what is moving on the surface you can use any of the aforementioned flies but also pay attention to the seasonal emergence of, amongst others, the Cow Dung flies, Olives, Sedges, Mayflies and so on. When these natural flies reach their zenith, trout get busy gobbling down as much as possible.
I don't honestly think it's necessary for an exact imitation when trout are feeding so well, instead I find general wet `attractor' patterns like the Greenwells, Golden Olive Bumble, Zulu, Invicta, Kate McLaren, Wickhams Fancy, Hares Ear and Bibio in size 10 - 14 work well enough.
For taxing conditions like bright sunshine and/or flat calm you should have at the ready some smaller versions of dry flies. The Greenwell Spider is supremely effective as is the Grey Wulf, dry March Brown and dry Wickhams, normally size 14 to 18 works best when the weather is at its most cussed.
BACK END (mid August to end September)
It's normally assumed the fishing goes off for a while around mid August especially if it's hot and humid. This is true but there are some important events in the trout menu now, including the emergence of billions of new born sticklebacks in the shallows during early August. Silver Invicta, Butcher and Dunkeld are therefore very effective in waters where these tiny fish are abundant.
Terrestrial insects like Daddy Long Legs now feature heavily and an exact imitation of these is very effective fished dry and static. Heather Fly are also prevalent and the Irish tied Bibio fished as it lands, dry or wet, is a great standby when these poor fliers struggle in the surface film.
The September rains help stir things up, washing in a lot of mixed trout food and as trout are becoming eager to feed up for approaching spawning, most general patterns will suffice.
No fly selection is cut and dried but that is just how it should be. Be flexible, be seasonal and bear in mind that 'It ain't what you fish but how you fish it'.