Spring is the time to put the winter lure boxes to one side and fetch out the buzzers. For me, buzzer fishing is what small stillwater fishing is all about something I twigged at a very early age. Growing up on a fishery – my father’s Marton Heath Trout Pools in Cheshire it was clear to see that once April kicked in buzzers totally dominated the catch-return book. But there is another springtime nymph that is often ignored by the small-stillwater angler the Alder Nymph. As a teenager I remember one of our regulars catching big numbers of trout on this pattern, especially in March and April when it was really deadly, although seemingly useless after that short time span. After several years of me pestering this angler he finally gave in and let me have one of these nymphs, and it is now my automatic selection once spring arrives.
The Alder Larva the timing needs to be right to fish with this pattern, and you need to know a little about the natural’s life cycle and typical habitat if you are to get maximum success from the artificial. Many will be familiar with the adult alder fly as this is the insect that crawls on your skin when fishing in the spring. It is often confused with adult sedges as the roof-shaped, winged adult alder fly is quite similar in appearance. The alder fly is darker in colour (a dark brown) and its wings are relatively hard in comparison. The trout never seem to want the adult fly – who knows why not, but one theory is that they dislike the taste. I have watched the adults, that have climbed up the back of my neck and ended up doing the backstroke on the pool I’m fishing after flicking them away, being totally ignored by the resident trout, despite causing an enticing ripple as they kick about on the surface.
It’s the larval stage that interests the trout more and, in turn, the imitative angler. The alder larva can be nearly three centimetres in size and can spend up to two years in the water. It is usually chestnut brown on top and a creamy yellow underneath. Its main characteristics are seven pairs of upturned tracheal gills on its abdomen. The nymph is a fierce carnivore and can be found in the decaying leaf matter at the bottom of stillwaters, where it preys on other invertebrates such as hoglice and shrimps. The adult lays its eggs in clusters on marginal aquatic vegetation. There may be up to 2,000 tiny cigar-shaped eggs in these clusters. Keep a lookout for these brown clusters on the leaves of bankside rushes and sedges in May/June. Once these eggs hatch the young drop off into the water and here their life as larvae begins. In early spring the larvae become more active as they prepare to crawl back to the bankside vegetation to pupate in the mud, it’s at this point when the Alder Nymph can be deadly – and they finally emerge three weeks later as the adult fly.
I’m a lecturer in countryside management at Stafford College, and on river surveys with my students in early February I noticed that we were starting to collect big numbers of alder larvae in our dip nets – it was time to get the Alder Nymphs out and give them a bash.
I have three great patterns:
The first is tied on a size 10 long-shank hook and has many turns of lead wire around the shank. This is my top pattern. The blend of seal’s fur works well and the long-shank hook enables me to copy a second-year larva to perfection.
The second is my marabou backed Alder Nymph, which again is another heavyweight tied on size 10 hook. The cream seal’s fur body gives me a good close copy of the natural.
The third is a goldhead pattern, which has a short brown marabou tail for some movement when fished with a jerky retrieve. This is ideal when the nymphs start to move back to the bankside to pupate.
I fish these standard nymphs on a floating line with a long, 15ft leader, and usually I have the flies very close together – two to three feet apart. My aim is to get them down to the bottom where the naturals are, as quickly as possible, and for them to stay there as long as possible. These flies need to be fished slowly and a standard slow figure-of-eight retrieve or slow, steady draws work well.
This is a fly for the margins. Don’t cast out into the middle of the lake; target the bankside and fish them close in along the lake’s edge. Look for where there is likely to be some decaying leaf matter on the bottom – obviously under bankside trees is the best bet.
The setting for my first Alder Nymph session of the season was Shropshire’s Ellerdine Lakes, which recently returned to the management of Ed and Jayne Upton after three years in the good hands of Garry Edwards. Ellerdine opened in September 2000 and has four trout lakes on site, offering a variety of water for the visiting angler to try.
There have been a few changes since Ed and Jayne returned, noticeably a reduction in the day-ticket prices and a change in stocking policy, which has got to be good in the current economic climate. Their slogan is ‘Designed for anglers, priced for reality’ and this seems to be spot-on. These look like exciting times for those anglers who fish Ellerdine, as Ed and Jayne have recently introduced a good head of rainbows, many of which are close to double figures. They have also stocked some tiger trout and plan to introduce a few more before the spring is out. Ed also talks about a few lumps going in pushing the magical 20lb mark. This certainly has to be the water to try this springand one I think I will be frequenting. And don’t forget it’s got a pretty decent tackle shop and a cracking café where tea and coffee are on tap and a bacon and sausage sandwich can be ordered for breakfast or lunch.
I tackled up with my usual 9ft 6-wt rods – my Greys GS and Hardy Uniqua. These are my standard rods for nymph fishing on small stillwaters. A short, soft-actioned light rod makes for comfortable fishing – a must for those long, slow, retrieves. The softer action in these rods means I don’t bump too many fish off and once hooked I can feel every part of the fight. My leader is 15 feet of 5.5lb fluorocarbon with two droppers tied in. My middle dropper is just two feet away from the point, and the top dropper a further three feet from that, so all three flies are in the last five feet of leader.
For this time of year and this type of fishing it works well for me. I want all three flies close to or near the bottom where the naturals live. On the point and middle dropper went big Alder Nymphs and on the top dropper a pearly Hare’s Ear. On the other rod I set up a single App’s Bloodworm on a 15ft leader, as recommended by Ed. I started on the smaller Lakemoor pool with the App’s and after half an hour and a couple of changes I had yet to have a take. Time for a change, and out came the Alder Nymph rod.
My first cast was short and into open water. Nothing. So I casted and tried fishing closer to the bank with each one. Fourth cast with the flies close in, the line tightened as I retrieved. Rainbow number one had hold of the Alder Nymph on the point. After a cracking battle – I always think that rainbows in small waters scrap better in cold water – a nice fish of around 2lb slid into my net. The Alder Nymph dropped out in the net so the trout was easily returned unharmed.
After the commotion of the fight I decided to move and try some fresh water, which I feel is very important when margin fishing. Often any disturbance will put the trout off feeding near the bank and it may take some time for them to return, so try moving. I decided to try Meadow pool – the largest on the complex – to give the Alders another bash. I went to the point at the far end of the water and fished into the south side bay and it wasn’t long before a second trout succumbed to the big Alder Nymph, again as it was fished close in. After unhooking the trout, again around 2lb, I turned around so that I could fish the north bay from the point. Within 15 minutes I was playing another. Even in the coloured water the trout were homing in on the Alder Nymph. It was a really good one too, a lovely rainbow of around 4lb or 5lb – what a cracking fish to end the morning session!
After stopping for a spot of lunch and then heading back to Lakemoor, I noticed that the day had warmed slightly. I opted to change my point fly to the gold-head version. I felt that something with a little more movement might work better with the change in temperature. In fact, the change to the gold-headed nymph made an impact more or less straight away! Within five minutes of starting, and halfway through a very jerky retrieve that gave the fly an enticing up-and-down movement in the water, the line locked up tight, and at the same instant I glimpsed a silver flash deep down in the crystal-clear water! I was in, and what a fish it was too! It went off like a rocket, taking line several times before I was able to gain some semblance of control. Finally, after what seemed an age, I slid it over the rim of my waiting net. It was another big rainbow, again around the 4lb or 5lb mark – the Alder nymphs were doing the business big time! Another move further down the bank on Lakemoor resulted in rainbow number five, a heavily spotted beauty around 2lb.
So was the Alder Nymph the key to my success? In a word, yes! I switched back to the App’s Worm… nothing. Then I tried a Cat’s Whisker… nope, and finally two Hare’s Ears – still no takers. On my second cast after switching back to the Alder Nymph fish number six came to the net, conclusive proof in my eyes.
A quick root around in the margins with my dip net resulted in several large alder nymphs crawling through the leaf debris, trying to make their way back to the water. The margins were alive with the things.
Think before you switch into buzzer mode this spring, and try an Alder Nymph first. It’s not a bad alternative and at times can be far more effective