Talking to many fly anglers on the bank, both novices and experienced alike, one topic of conversation that crops up time and again is progressing from Stillwater fly fishing to fly fishing on rivers.So what is involved for the stillwater angler when they want to step up to river fishing?
I was lucky in my childhood as I grew up amongst some of the finest free stone game rivers in the Southwest and probably fished those more as I was learning the art of fly rather than the usual Stillwater training grounds. My heart still lies with the river these days and I find nothing more satisfying than fooling an educated wild fish rather than a reared stocked fish. Although your average wild trout may not live up to the size of your average stocked fish, I find the satisfaction comes from matching the hatch correctly then casting the fly into a tight spot with good presentation to fool the fish. All of these skills are not always necessary to catch your Stillwater fish so if river fishing is new to you then it can be like learning to fish all over again when you switch to a river.
The one thing that really appealed to me about the river was the solitude, no lines of anglers on the bank here all trying to bag the ‘hot spots’, just my own company and getting up close and personal with the surrounding wild life.
When it came to the fishing, one thing I found was that in the summer months when Stillwater fishing became difficult due to high water temperatures and the fish went off the feed, the river water temperature in comparison remained much more comfortable for the fish and they would readily take your fly in pockets of oxygenated water.
Stealth is the name of the game on rivers, you need to spot the fish before they spot you, so travel light and make sure you keep a low profile. You will need to fish the river by being in it, so a pair of waders is an essential part of kit, again this gives you a low profile. The only exception to this are some of the chalk streams which only permit fishing from the bank, but these are usually the stocked waters with manicured banks, a bit like fishing a stillwater with flow! Having said that there are still some chalk streams around that are more natural and offer more in the way of ‘wild’ fishing, these are always my preference.
A vest is another piece of essential kit for all your bits and bobs so that everything is to hand when wading and finally a small net then can be attached to your person or vest but easily to hand when needed, although when wading most fish caught can be glided across the surface of the water to hand rather than using a net. This method of landing fish is much more beneficial to the fish’s welfare when practicing catch and release but make sure your hand is wet before handling the fish and always return them to the water as soon as possible. Hold the fish against the flow to get plenty of oxygenated water across their gills to aid recovery…..wait for the fish to kick in your hand then release it. Only use your landing net for large fish and when necessary.
When it comes to the kit everything should be scaled down. Rods, reels, lines, leaders and flies should all reflect the size of water you are fishing and the size of fish you are looking to catch. Always remember to flatten the barb on flies as you should always look to return wild fish as they are a precious resource, if you want some fish to stock the freezer head to you stillwater where they are there for you to take.
Access to river fishing can sometimes be a little difficult to find with many prime rivers being privately owned or run by syndicates but look hard and do some research and you will turn up some cracking day ticket stretches or reasonably priced club waters. It pays sometimes to think outside the box and don’t always look for trout rivers as all species of fish can be caught on fly, so have a go at something different, maybe Chub or Roach, Pike in the winter and many coarse rivers hold Grayling.
So next season in the summer heat when the Stillwater fishing becomes hard, why not try stepping up to river fishing?