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There’s one fly that will bring the trout up in their hundreds no matter how bad the weather gets, claims Ben Bangham – the robust Pond Olive.

England is lucky enough to be blessed with the real hard man of entomology, the olive. I have caught fish on Olives in all sorts of conditions, and I am sure that there isn’t a day in the year that you couldn’t put on some form of olive imitation and catch a good bag of trout. They hatch in some of the most horrendous conditions we will encounter – most of us aren’t daft enough to venture out when they’re hatching… silly really. For me, the most memorable hatch of olives happened when I was nymphing on the river early last year and catching a few grayling in gale-force winds and driving snow (God only knows why I was fishing). Unbelievably, blue-winged olives started to hatch, and the fish responded by starting to feed at the water’s surface. So, in the middle of some pretty severe snow flurries I was standing in the middle of a stupidly cold river with flies hatching in their thousands and fish rising all around. That day I caught a great many grayling on a dry fly in the snow – magic!

The two olives that we come across most of the time in England are the blue-winged olive for the rivers and the pond olive in the stillwaters. There are others out there – so many species I couldn’t name them all here – and our fish do feed on them, but most of our olive patterns will cover all of the species that we find in the UK. When the weather’s horrid and they do hatch they seem to do so fairly consistently Throughout the day, but will have spurts of heavier hatches generally, when there is some sort of atmospheric change. The main spurt seems to occur with a rise in temperature. Any slight rise really seems to spur them on, although I have also seen them hatch a little more if there is a drop in the strength in the wind as well.

When the olives decide that it’s time to hatch the nymphs get more active and make a concerted move towards the surface. When they reach the surface they start to hatch into the adult form; this is when they are known as an emerger, and at this stage they are at their most vulnerable to the trout. They get stuck in the surface tension as they struggle to break through their nymphal shucks, at the mercy of the current and wind until they emerge and their wings dry, when they are a functional adult and can take flight. Due to the fact that there are such large hatches the trout can really gorge themselves on the emergers and become totally preoccupied, and therefore hard to catch on the majority of fly patterns.

For us, the problem comes when there are both large amounts of adults and emergers around at the same time. The trout can sometimes get zoned in on one stage or the other. This can be amazingly frustrating if there are fish moving all around you and you can’t seem to even get a touch. The way that we can help ourselves in this war of attrition is by using our eyes. Watch the way in which the trout are rising, and if the rise is splashy and pronounced then the fish are probably concentrating on the fully emerged adult. If the rise is more of a bulge in the water, with very little if any of the trout showing, then they are probably feeding more on the emerger. The reason that the rises are so different is due to how the ‘food item’ is sitting in the water. When the adult insect is fully formed they are so light the insects are able to land on the surface, and they generally do this to lay their eggs.

From a fish’s point of view they see little dimples where the insects’ legs are touching the water, which is why we use hackled, high- floating dry flies. As they are on the surface of the water this means that the mouth of the trout has to come out of the water to engulf the insect; hence you can normally see the head or the back of the fish break the surface.

The emerger is mostly sub-surface, so when a trout comes to eat it you’ll see a bulge in the water with very little, if any, of the fish actually breaking the surface. With a bit of practice and a good set of eyes it won’t take you long to have a very good idea of what the fish are feeding on, just by looking at the rise form.

Bushyleaze Trout Fishery

The day we picked to do the feature was absolutely perfect – in others words, the weather was awful! The wind was up and gusting, the temperature was low and the rain was persistent. Not the type of day associated with catching fish off the top, but a sure-fire day for some great olive nymph action. As a result, when I drove to the fishery I was already planning a line of attack employing nymph tactics using Olive Crunchers to tempt the big rainbows that Bushyleaze is known for. However, there were telltale rises in the middle of the lake – would the nymphs work or should I try dries?

After watching the water for a while and having a quick chat to some other fishermen who were catching on nymphs I decided to stick with the plan. The reasoning behind this was because although there were adult pond olives around and the trout were feeding on them, there wasn’t a huge amount of surface activity. This suggested to me that the nymphs were active down deep and were getting ready to hatch. These nymphs would be getting picked off by the trout before they could get up to the surface.

Tackle Choice

I was fishing a 10ft 7-wt rod with a floating line. I needed the longer, powerful rod because the fish here can push out into the middle of the lake. You need to be able to cast a fair distance to reach them, and in the prevailing conditions this wasn’t possible with lighter kit. I initially tackled up with a 20ft leader finishing in 6lb tippet. Fly-wise I had a size 12 Olive Cruncher on the dropper and a size 10 version on the point. I had a 9ft tapered leader on to aid turnover, five feet of tippet to the first fly and then a further six feet of tippet to the point fly. I cast out and immediately started to retrieve to keep them up high in the water. It was obvious that the trout were very much in the upper layers so I didn’t want to be fishing the flies underneath them. If I feel that I am fishing the flies too deep, but don’t want to increase the speed of the retrieve to lift the flies in the water, then I would replace the point fly with something like a Cruncher Booby.

Trout spend most of their time looking up for both food and predators, so I am of the opinion that fishing slightly too shallow is better than fishing slightly too deep. Trout are often more willing to move up to feed than down. I was soon into my first fish, a lovely rainbow of around 2lb. The trout actually took the flies within a second or two of them hitting the water. This made me think that perhaps I’d been fishing a foot or so too deep; it seemed that my flies needed to be very high in the water, possibly even in or on the surface?

I went for a walk, and as I did I saw that the trout seemed to be moving on the surface and I was seeing more and more adult olives on the surface. Although I was pretty sure that the fish were mainly concentrating on the adult insects I decided to have a go with the emerger pattern first. I just find it a very satisfying thing to catch a trout on the nymph early in the day then on the emerger and finally on the adult insect. I’m matching the hatch all the way through. When I fish dries or emergers I normally use a single ß y but will sometimes fish two. Fishing two can be deadly at times, especially if you fish an emerger and a dry on the same cast, where you’ve got the best of both worlds.

Due to the conditions I dropped the leader length down to 15 feet to aid presentation. I used a little Olive Emerger – fished on its own – that I have had a great deal of success on in the past and got it out into the area where some decent fish were moving. The water was absolutely crystal clear so I could see the trout as they moved near my fly. Quite a few showed interest and several kept coming to have a look but they’d shy away at the last minute and swim off. I knew that the fly was representing the emerging olives well and my presentation was pretty good, but there was something about my setup that the trout were not keen on. Being a really impatient fisherman on went an adult imitation, a proper dry fly. I found a quiet corner, nearly out of the wind, where a few fish were feeding on the adults, and sat down.

Watching the water for a bit I could see that the olives were hatching and trying to fly off, but with the wind and rain they were finding it very hard to get fully airborne and were really struggling on the surface. This meant that the trout were just moving around mopping them up.

Time for action!

Once again, the fly went out. It didn’t take long, the fly was on the water for about 10 seconds when a trout swam up, looked at it, and then sucked it down. I struck and it took off, shooting out into the middle of the lake, taking my fly line through the tip ring as it did. It was a great fight and the trout really tested my tackle to its limit, which is always nerve-racking. It was a beautiful rainbow, probably the best part of 4lb and in good condition. I had another three fish here, all taking the same ß y, roll cast out from the bank into the relatively calm water, and all of them about the same size as the first.

To be honest the weather got the better of me, so rather than enjoy the bounty – there were fish moving all over the place taking olives from the surface – I decided to head for home. With five cracking trout in the bag I was a happy man.

When the olives are up and about, make sure you’ve the right flies to take full advantage – you’d be devastated if you missed out!