5 May – Mayfly

I was excited, looking forward to a day chasing rainbows and mayfly. The mayfly first appeared at the lakes in late April, the earliest I can remember. I left the house at 11:00am, there was no point in rushing to the water as the main hatch wouldn’t start until lunchtime. How civilised.

It was a bright sunny morning with little cloud cover and the drive south seemed to take longer than usual. I hadn’t fished the main lakes for ages and was impatient to see the glorious landscape of the south downs from the high ground at Stag Park. The uniform matt olive colour of the fields, the neatly trimmed headlands and the lambs, numbered with spray paint, looked a bit too tidy. The cover crops had been ploughed in and the tops of the hedges flayed into perfectly shaped squares. Vintage Britains’ model farm tractors, cows and calves completed the picture. Unreal

The lakes looked beautiful, trout were rising and the water was transparent. I walked slowly around the lower lake turning over the low hanging leaves of the oaks and limes, looking for evidence of mayfly. Nothing. Alder flies filled the air and a bewildering selection of terrestrial beetles decorated the marginal rushes. My circuit of the lake was interrupted by a solitary mayfly dun popping up out of the lake margin and zooming high into a tree, there were no birds to intercept it. The hatch was underway.

I had a cup of tea and chatted for too long. Southwell Two, ‘The Chew Valley’ seemed to suit the situation. Carbon fibre would have been out of place in the vintage time warp. I chose my long serving Hardy Marquis and Rio WF #4 which matched the rod perfectly. I loaded my pockets with fly boxes and started at the top of the lake. A pod of fish were cruising around under the low hanging alder branches, actively seeking out nymphs about a foot under the surface. A long shank pheasant tail nymph with a partridge hackle was seized second cast and battle commenced. I held the old rod low and prepared the long handled landing net to avoid any strain on the tip section. I bullied the fish and it came off ! A very amateurish start to proceedings. Most of the trout had fled into the corner of the lake on my left.

Bob Southwell, The Chew Valley circa 1960

I waited until a feeding fish cruised past and dropped a small dry mayfly in exactly the right position. The trout rose confidently and gulped in the fly. I made no mistakes and a few minutes later, released the fish from the landing net. I retired to the hut and brewed a cup of tea. There was no rush, I wanted to prolong the experience, my self imposed four fish limit looked like a formality.

Ephemera danica, male spinner

Tea and biscuits enabled the hatch to develop and soon the trout were slashing at the emerging duns and zooming around sub-surface mopping up the nymphs as they wiggled towards daylight. The Southwell gave me an edge. The slow action stopped me from casting frantically at passing fish and the compound taper gave the fly line a bit of a kick as the cast unfurled gaining a couple of extra yards. It was a joy to use.

From the corner of the lake, beneath the oak tree, I flicked a dry mayfly towards a trout which didn’t hesitate. It was a good fish and took most of my fly line into the centre of the lake. I nursed it in the landing net for five minutes and watched it dash away. Several other fish inspected my mayfly but were unconvinced. I swapped to a pattern made with a feather stalk and a badger hackle which was immediately grabbed.

With three in the net I went for a walk with the camera, planning to add another fish to my tally in the early evening. I concentrated on a column of spinners, rising and falling above the open ground between the two lakes. I found a couple of suitable subjects and took their portraits by which time the hatch had petered out.

I shall return in a few days.