Sunday, 7 September 2014

The Magic Hour

There are many things that can influence the outcome of a fishing trip – perhaps not all equally important, but when combined they can be the difference between success and failure. Fly fishermen are a suspicious breed and as such we tend to be tuned in to the everyday natural rhythms that beat continuously around us, attaching great importance to things such as light levels, temperature, and cloud cover.
With the arrival of September comes a time of subtle change. The nights are slowly starting to draw in and there is a perceivable chill in the air at the end each day spent fishing. When compared to yesterday or the day before these changes are indistinguishable, but when you think back to just over a month ago, the transition is more pronounced.  It has been a dry hot summer this year and with low water levels in the river, much of my fishing earlier in the summer was spent at a favourite lake in the heart of the Northumberland moors. The temperatures were high and the hours of daylight were long and for a time the countryside stagnated beneath a mass of listless air.

One evening, when I arrived at the lake, the sun was still riding high in the sky as it made its daily journey towards the western horizon. After tying a fly onto the end of a favourite fly rod, I sat next to the water beneath an ancient beech tree and waited for the sun to go down. Other than the slightest of warm breezes ruffling the surface of the water, nothing seemed to be stirring. The birds had retreated to the shaded relief of the tree canopy and sat silent waiting for the first sign of coolness to wake them from their lethargy. Occasionally in the margins a damsel fly would effortlessly glide slowly along the bank, seemingly on a constant quest to seek out the most sun drenched of spots on which to perch. The water in the margins of the lake was the temperature of a warm bath and had a clarity that reminded me of a tropical aquarium. The only sign of life within the lake was within the deeper water towards the far bank where a dimple on the surface betrayed the presence of trout lazily sipping at a fly from beneath. This place was breathing, easing towards the end of the day at the pace of a relaxed stupor rather than a panted sprint to the finish line.

I sat beneath the tree for another hour or so, and with the sun starting to dip towards the horizon behind me, the air had started to cool slightly. This had not gone unnoticed by a pair of swallows, who were now skimming low along the length of the lake, scooping up flies trapped in the surface film. The air now hung still, and the surface of the water had become perfectly still. With the light levels now starting to fade, I stared at the glass like surface of the water which offered an almost mirror perfect reflection of the sky in return. For the briefest of moments it was almost impossible to discern where the sky ended and the water began.

The illusion was soon shattered however, as a trout that had come into the margins to feed, broke the surface of the water. Accepting this invitation, I cast my fly and slowly retrieved it across the glassy surface of the lake. I could make out in the half light that the trout were now rising all over the lake, seemingly stirred into action by the cooling air temperatures. A trout rose to the right of me and I aimed my next cast in its general direction. The fly was taken aggressively and I could feel a surge of power shake though the rod as it lunged its way towards the deeper water directly in front of me. The light was fading fast as I lifted the fish onto the bankside, and a flash of blue was revealed from the folds of the net – my first ever blue trout.  A similar sized rainbow trout followed within a couple of casts, after which I was forced to call it a day due to the darkness that was starting to envelope the lake. As I walked up to the car, the silence of the night was interrupted by an occasional crash of a trout breaking the surface of the lake behind me, as the nocturnal feeding spell continued. As I listened to the weather report on the radio as I drove home, it appeared that there was to be no imminent change to the predicted spell of hot weather, and I knew that the natural ongoing cycle at the lake would not be changing soon.