Of Minkies & Minnows: Ribble Trout Speak the Same Language as My Locals

I grew up on Mr Crabtree and the Hamlyn “Young Angler’s Handbook” – those books have got a lot to answer for…

First Trout Trip of 2024

The opening of the Derbyshire season is a few days earlier than where I live in Yorkshire. This year I couldn’t resist sneaking south across the border to embark on 2024’s trout adventures. There is a small stream I know that would be an ideal meeting up point for myself and a friend who was on business in Birmingham the day before.  It was drizzling on and off, though not bitingly cold. We even saw a few olives hatch.

Sunk flies were the order of the day though. Both of us finding fish with nymphs initially. Luke with his tried and trusted duo setup for small streams and me fooling around with a hybrid between a French leader and some Japanese inspired flies and presentation tactics.

The fish were very obviously well into their season since we found them happily feeding in the faster currents you’d normally associate with warmer weather that often arrives later on in April. The slower water wasn’t producing anything for either of us – which is unusual for mid March.

Trout often mooch around in those slower, deeper pools in the cold, early season as they make their way out of their winter hideouts.

Instead of picking up fish in the pools, it was slim, weighted nymphs dropped into areas of broken water that began to produce results.

Luke with a Derbyshire small stream wild trout to open 2024
Small but perfectly formed wild trout. You can just about see the silver bead head fly in its jaw.
While we had both caught some lovely wild, small-stream fish (this river has never been stocked), I wondered if some of the larger residents might still be biding their time in the deeper glides. The hatch and associated nymph activity might not have reached a level that would be of interest to those bigger “kings of the pool”.

The biologist in me also recognises that, as well as the first Large Dark Olive hatches of the season, now is the time of year for trout fry to be emerging from the gravels. Fishing up behind Luke and targeting water that wasn’t productive for his nymphing methods allowed me to test a theory. I wondered if, rather than remaining completely dormant, the larger fish might be hanging out next to the kind of structure that would allow them to ambush any naïve passing fry.

That way, they could afford to be lazy and not fight the current – only stirring to pounce on high-calorie prey packaged in large mouthful size portions. Of course, there was no guarantee this would be happening but it was definitely something I was keen to test.
Rigging up my French leader with a single “minkie” streamer with prominent imitation eyes and an orange bead head (which is a good “match the hatch” trigger relating to yolk sacs of the natural prey fish) allowed me to dead drift and twitch this fly through likely looking spots. The big advantage of a French leader is being able to hold it off the water and have direct contact with your fly. That is a big advantage for both drift/presentation control and also strike indication. It also helps a lot with hook-setting. First drift down past some tree roots and I see a large flank flash as the fish rolls on the streamer. I set the hook and am briefly attached, but the fish comes off before I can bring it to the net.

Next drift through virtually the same spot (and on this tiny stream you can pretty much spit across!) and I lock up again on a good fish. Though no giant, it is much bigger than the fish we’ve been catching on nymphs – and it came from water that nymphs produced zero results from so far.

In fact, in this first short spell of experimentation, five fish are quickly contacted within a surprisingly short distance of each other with three of them coming to the net.
Another of the larger stamp of fish tempted by the streamer
A trout’s effectiveness as a predator of bait fish can be surprising to many fly fishers and, while it is very far from a guaranteed silver bullet, it is another “hatch” that it pays to be able to imitate when the time is right. With that said, trying to distract a specimen trout rising to a good hatch of upwing duns using a baitfish imitation is more likely to spook that fish than to catch it. The same can be said for the exact reverse situation of presenting a size 20 Griffith’s gnat to a fry bashing trout.
Horses for courses and all that jazz…
In recent years I’ve found a different take on the fly rod and streamer approach to targeting trout in full predator mode. It’s something that works on all wild trout rivers at the right time – including the Ribble system (it can even extend your season into targeting chub and perch too – just like Mr Crabtree, moving with the seasons and targeting what’s good at that time).

Minkies to Minnows

Partly seduced by exquisite, hand-carved and painted Japanese balsa “minnow” style lures – and partly addicted to the tricky casting skills with tiny, ultralight multiplier (“baitcaster”) reels – I became interested in the fishing style known as “Bait Finesse System” (BFS).
As well as an impressive dedication to fish welfare and catch and release (which can be unusual in many forms of Japanese angling), the casting skills and refined equipment make for an extremely absorbing fishing method – every bit as subtle and skilful as fly fishing. I like to think I’m a competent fly caster and anyone who thinks that BFS casting is easier will be in for a rude awakening.
It is about as far as you can get from the stereotypical image of a cheap Woolworth’s rod with a Mepps carrying “butcher’s hook” sized barbed trebles at one end – and a poacher at the other!
Two inch long handmade balsa "minnows" from a Japanese craftsman
Here is a throwback to summer fishing where am enjoying targeting wild trout on another small stream – this time with BFS and using a custom-built S-Glass rod along with a restored and modified 1977 Abu Ambassadeur reel:
Because it was developed for delicate species of trout and char in the Japanese mountain streams, the refinement for catch and release is very apparent. Barbless single hooks are used to replace treble hooks and, as you can see in the video, are easily slipped out of the trout’s jaw.
Wild trout and a 38-mm long minnow lure, barbless hook
Figure 38-mm lure size 12 barbless hooks and ultralight, shallow spool
If you’re interested in learning more about the skills and practice of BFS (and you’re reading this in time); the RFCA are very kindly hosting me to give a day’s “have a go” coaching session – with refreshments provided.
It’s on the 21st April 2024 and starts from 9:30am – running up to 4:30pm on the River Darwen.
More details for this event (and potential future events) are available from me via email on paulgaskellflyfishing@gmail.com

Dr. Paul Gaskell
Wild Trout Trust & Fishing Discoveries