It’s around half past six in the evening as I’m writing this and it’s already dark. Properly dark. The slide towards winter is underway, and although there is much to look forward to – the cream of the year’s chub and barbel fishing, shoals of grayling, frosty mornings chasing pike – as the daylight dwindles my mood darkens with it. Autumn may be a time full of delightful sights and smells in an ever changing landscape, but when you boil it down, it is an end. A death. The swifts and swallows flee to warmer climes, the mice prepare for their long slumber, and the pioneering salmon that have battled the ever mounting odds to reach their natal streams succumb to exhaustion. The trout angler does not care for ends. He lives for beginnings – for the tender days of spring, full of hope and new life, and though the world can be a beautiful place in October, soon the trees will shed their riot of red, and all he can do is look longingly back at the season past as the colour drains from his world. Don’t worry. I’ll get over it.
My season, truth be told, was something of a non-starter. A mixture of limited time and a re-ignition of my love for coarse fishing meant I rarely took advantage of good conditions when they arose, and when I did find time to fish, my local rivers were invariably either bank high or on their bones. My usual ‘banker’ upstream nymphing methods failed me, the fish weren’t where they were supposed to be, and I struggled to catch on the dry fly (something I’m normally rather good at).
The only real progress I could claim to have made this season was discovering the usefulness of the swung wet fly. As a technique dismissed by most modern bug-wafting aficionados as clumsy and inefficient, I had been put off in the past, but presenting small spiders downstream probably accounted for the bulk of my fish this year. I began experimenting with it on the Wharfe in the cold days of late March, my usual approaches having proven fruitless. Quickly I found it not only to be a very satisfying way to catch trout (and grayling aplenty later in the year) – rolling out long lines and feeling takes at the hand – but also that it was the perfect method when working with limited time, not being overly technical, and allowing vast swathes of water to be covered in short order. Okay, so it won’t catch the bigger fish as consistently as a well thought out cast with a dry fly, but it provides entertainment in spades. And that was bloody welcome.
While much did not go to plan this year, or just didn’t happen full-stop, there was of course much to be thankful for: the super brace of fish I tempted from a little upland gorge on a spring morning; a weekend spent in the company of the wild loch trout of Wester Ross; spinning for finnock in the endless June twilight on Skye; nailing acrobatic late summer brownies with an upstream mepps in a bustling Yorkshire beck. These are the memories that will remain bright in years to come, when the grim evenings of refusals and missed rises, when I considered breaking my rods up for kindling, have all but faded from memory. The odd irritant may persist – I doubt I’ll ever shake the thought of the trout on the upper Doe that I stalked for half an hour, only to leave my fly in its mouth on the strike – but they act only to highlight the victories. Besides, I’m sure I’ll laugh about that fish one day (yeah, right).
At this point in the year, it feels like an impossibly long time until I will be stringing up a fly rod in anger once again, feeling a warm breeze upon my face as my eyes search eagerly for a nose or a fin. But Christmas will come and go, the days will gradually lengthen and before you know it, trout anglers across the country might dare to turn from their memories and begin looking forward again.