I once worked with a guy who used to be in the boy scouts. He told me that his troop had to go on some long trek that involved camping and all that. In preparation the scout masters gathered all the scouts together. First up, the scouts were instructed to empty the contents of their rucksacks onto the floor. Then they were told that they needed to leave half the stuff out and to repack again. Once this had happened they were told to to the same thing again – empty the rucksack, take take half the stuff out and re-pack again. In the end they had only the very minimum needed and were not carrying an ounce more. No doubt the scout masters thought that they were imparting meaningful life lessons with all this palaver, but I don’t know if this is true. I suspect that when these boy scouts grew up they might never have got very far in terms of career progression. I can picture them turning up to job interviews wearing only their underpants.

The idea of trimming things back like the boy scouts do is actually a pretty good way of thinking for a fly fisherman on my river. After all he (or she) will need to do a fair amount of walking and scrambling and wading. If you are on your pins for a few hours, it really does pay to travel light and unencumbered. But the idea of cutting things right back seems to apply usefully, not so much to what you carry, but to how you move. If you come across a stretch of promising water it pays to slow right down. Halve your speed and maybe halve it again.

Yesterday, for the first time in many weeks, the rules restricting peoples´ movements in my neck of the woods were relaxed enough to allow me to fish my local stretch of river. Needless to say I lost no time in chucking my waders and fly rod in the back of the car and trying my luck. Unfortunately the river was high and dirty. I figured I could see about six inches into the water and so it was likely to be a day when even a single fish would be quite a result. There were few signs of fish. A barbel of two or three pounds can disappear in water that is knee-deep and the most likely sign that a fish is present is when they tilt to feed and disturb the surface with the tops of their tails. You could stalk the river for an hour and see this maybe once or twice, very often tight up against the near bank. Sometimes you may see nothing at all.

Things were not looking too positive. There is a broad muddy pool which can usually be relied on to reveal a fish or two but the water was higher than normal and uniformly brown. The uneven contours of the river bed that channel the flows to create creases and holding spots were ineffective now in sculpting the heavier flows and the water glided down like a featureless moving sheet.

After stalking a fair stretch of river I came across some slack water at the edge of the main flow. It looked good for a fish or two. I was wading in the river margins then and every step produced billowing clouds of sediment. I could have waded through this stretch no more than a few minutes but my boy scout thinking kicked in and I just watched for a few moments. The back of a fish emerged. Its head was touching some emerging plants. I covered it with a cast and the nymph caught the weeds and the fish bolted. Simultaneously half a dozen unseen fish swirled.

It looked then as if I might have blown the only half-decent shot I was going to get. A lesser angler might just trudged on after issuing a string of expletives. This is certainly the kind of thing my brother Sean would have done. But not me! I was being a boy scout and boy scouts never swear. Instead, I just hankered down in the hope that I had not spooked the fish too badly, or that the fish that had swum off would return. For ages I just didn´t move. The scout masters would have been proud of me. They might even have considered awarding me some kind of badge. Instead my reward took the form of a blurry olive smudge that drifted in front of me less than a rod length away. I lowered the nymph without casting and gave it a second or two before tightening and when I lifted the rod the smudge had become a barbel.

Scout´s honour!

From blur to barbel!
I landed the fish on the opposite bank and turned around to see where the fish was hooked. It had been in among the submerged plants in the shallows. Thankfully it ran out into the main river flow and allowed me to have the upper hand.
After landing “the smudge” I walked on upstream until I found some clear water at the confluence of the Ríos Grande and Guadlahorce. I was fortunate enough able to pick up another three fish there.
Happy days!