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Blowin’ in the wind

By George Barron

George Barron calls on his experience of Brenig, Conn, Chew Valley and Loch Harray to choose the three flies he'd depend on for a red-letter day in fair wind and a rolling wave.



  • The Joey

    The Joey

    Hook: Size 12.
    Tag: Red floss.
    Rib: Gold wire.
    Body: 3 or 4 strands peacock herl.
    Head hackles: Back – long black hen; front – shorter Greenwell or furnace hen.

    The dressing for The Joey is from memory, as I no longer have a copy of the original pattern which was local to mid-Wales and not universally known. It contained all the standard components of a hill loch terrestrial, beetle type of pattern which included red, black and gold.

  • Coch Zulu

    Coch Zulu

    Hook: Size 12.
    Tail: Red wool or floss.
    Rib: Flat gold.
    Body: Black tying silk.
    Body hackle: Palmered coch or furnace hen.
    Head hackle: Longer coch or furnace hen.

  • Green Peter Muddler

    Green Peter Muddler

    Hook: Size 12 or 14.
    Tail: Folded slip of hen pheasant secondary.
    Rib: Gold wire.Body: Dirty apple green seal’s fur.
    Wing: Hen pheasant secondary wing-slips.
    Head: Natural deer hair or elk.


For the sedentary angler a combination of big wind and fishing might not seem the ideal recipe for a day in a boat, but over the years it has provided me with some of my most memorable days afloat and some of my most memorable fish. What could be better than a lovely, rolling wave coming down the loch and enough wind blown or hatching fly life to hold the trout feeding on top? Such conditions would instantly neutralise the need for delicate presentation and long casting as the only serious requirement would be to simply keep stroking the surface with a team of bushy traditional flies to ensure some highly visual sport. This would be total heaven for some, but as fishing styles have changed dramatically over the last 20 years or so, the mere thought of a decent blow would prove the ultimate nightmare scenario for many present day anglers who would be happier fiddling in the shelter of the lee shore with nymphs and buzzers. The Celtic countries must have been first in the queue when wind was being handed out, and consequently various styles of fishing and fishing flies were devised in these regions to simply catch fish. We must assume that many techniques may have been tried but in the end, what we now call ‘loch style’ must have been the most successful method when the quarry was wild brown trout.

Free and reckless
So the question is, do fish react to strong wind and big waves in a more free and reckless manner than they do under more ‘normal’ conditions? My own observations over the years would indicate that this could certainly be the case with wild brown trout at certain times of the season. One of the wilderness lochs that I regularly fish in the Welsh mountains is not always the easiest of places to extract a decent basket of trout from; two or three fish around the half pound mark being the norm, but a visit to the same water when the wind picks up can often be akin to fishing in an aquarium.

The fishing technique for these wild mountain lochs would be traditional step and cast, moving steadily along the bank on the downwind shore casting across the water with a floating line and three wet flies. This can produce fantastic, all-action sport, as happened one summer evening a couple of years ago when I caught over 50 trout in about two-and-a-half hours while fishing there in a real ‘hoolie’. The waves smashed onto the downwind shore and the hood of my fishing coat battered a constant rhythm on the side of my head as the wind drove in from Cardigan Bay, but the trout relished these conditions as they almost stood on their heads as they launched themselves at the flies. Nine of the trout caught that night were between 11/4lb and 13/4lb and they were far larger than the standard fish normally taken from that loch. I have never known such sport or seen such large, yellow bellied trout in similar numbers taken before from this loch, especially in the evening, as the most productive fishing time would normally be during the day to windblown terrestrials.

As the conditions continued to prevail the following day I decided to go back up to the loch to try and make some sense of what had happened the previous evening. If anything, the wind was slightly stronger now, but the results were exactly the same. Fish after fish were throwing themselves at the flies, with even the occasional double hook-up and this from trout which under normal circumstances could be very choosy and selective when it came to taking the artificial.

So we have similar numbers of fish caught over two nights on various flies with no sign of fly-life on the water or for that matter no visible sign of rising fish and on a night when no sane adult should be up in the hills.

The implication is that to justify the credibility of catches like these we are also expected to explain why they happen. So what could have provoked this behaviour in these normally very reserved and fly-shy trout? Is it possible that in certain winds the water becomes over oxidised and affects the fish in such a way it creates a ‘silly season’, making the fish less cautious, or is it just simply the fact that the angler, lines and movement from the shore are much more camouflaged while these conditions prevail? Whatever the reason or chain of events that created this ‘freakish’ reaction from these wild mountain brown trout it certainly left me lasting memories and some very memorable fish.

While very few anglers would enjoy fighting the elements and Force Five or six winds tramping the banks of a mountain loch, even less would be prepared to go afloat under similar conditions, but such a breed is the true loch-style fisherman. Big waves are not for the reckless and safety should always be the main concern, but all things considered these conditions can often produce the experience of a lifetime.

A regular fishing partner, Tony Bevan, often relates how he once took a trout on Lough Conn during a particularly wild International day when the fish actually took his fly coming across a wave in front of the boat and was higher than his head when he hooked it. I’ve never had them that high, but I have seen and taken fish which were definitely at the same level as the boat in those lovely, long, rolling waves that don’t seem to happen these days.

Changing weather patterns seem to provide a different type of big wind these days. ‘Modern’ wind seems to come in hard and flat, taking the tops of the wave as it weaves its way across the water. This produces a textured effect on the surface which some older Welsh anglers used to refer to as “chicken wire” as it scurried across the water, constantly changing direction and refused to blow true. This style of wind has never produced great fishing days and those same anglers also reckoned it a severe challenge to devise patterns that would consistently catch fish while this type of wind prevailed.

The exception
One exception was a fly much used by John Rosser, an old, fly-tying mentor of mine; this was a pattern called The Joey which consistently caught him good baskets of trout on the mountain lochs in mid Wales in wild conditions. This same gentleman, fisherman and professional fly dresser also tied up the original Green Peter Muddler to work under similar conditions. A pattern which travelled north with him when he fished an International fishing match on Loch Harray in the Orkneys in the late 1970s where it quickly established a reputation as a taker of good baskets of fish on windy days. Another of his creations was the Coch Zulu, which he religiously fished on that troublesome middle dropper position through most of the summer months when bugs and beetles are prolific. These patterns may not be so universally popular nowadays, but they are still great favourites around mid and north Wales where they still account for many wild trout. These three patterns were normally tied on size 12 hooks and were less bushy than we would traditionally expect from ‘big wind’ flies but they were definitely the answer when it came to thinning out brown trout.

My personal fishing war-cry has always been that brown trout are far more predictable when feeding than rainbow trout, eg; if they are not feeding there’s not a lot the angler can do to bring them on, but if they are feeding they can be far easier to catch than the ‘finicky’ rainbow. There is no doubt that there must be something different within the genetic make-up of a brown trout that makes it a far more aggressive feeder when the wind is up.

Centre stage
Back in the 1980s Chew Valley reigned supreme as the best top-of-the-water fishery in the UK and their high quality rainbow trout would make up the greatest percentage of any bag on a normal day. But on a mucky, wet stormy day there would be a complete turnaround as the normally very reticent brown trout would take centre stage crashing through the waves after Wormflies and Gold Muddlers stripped across the surface and seeming totally at ease with the elements while the more numerous rainbows went doggo.

Rainbow trout, on the other hand, seem far more comfortable taking a stationary fly in a big wave. Watch them feeding steadily in a flat calm or on the edge of a ripple until the wind begins to rise then they seem to disappear. Fresher rainbow trout are certainly quite happy to give chase to pulled flies or lures but often still need to be induced to take, whereas longer established more resident rainbows will begin to adopt a feeding culture very similar to the resident or indigenous brown trout. This is quite noticeable on waters such as Llyn Brenig where towards the end of the season when a lot of fully mended, big-tailed rainbows make up a large percentage of the bag at a time when small dry flies are the order of the day.

As we all get older it’s understandable that the attraction of being bounced around in a fishing boat in the middle of a maelstrom will be about as appealing as being stuck in a lift with a guy who had eggs for breakfast and Eccles cakes for lunch, but don’t give in too easily. If we constantly waited for ‘ideal’ weather conditions we would hardly ever go fishing at all. Great and memorable days don’t happen to order, they have a habit of turning up when least expected so if a wet bum and a weather-beaten face is the small price to pay for a day to remember, then send in the wind! It must be safer than sky diving.

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