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A strange spring indeed

A bright, blustery, stormy and buzzer-less month, but it still does not rule out enjoying a good day's fishing ... and its associated great stories

What a funny spring!

March and April dominated by dank weather, 8/8 cloud with cold winds and icy rain or snow. Then came May with a long heatwave accompanied by, especially for those of you living in the south and Midlands, thunderstorms. Certainly there has been little in the way of ‘normal’ spring trout fishing.

For instance, this spring I have made just two visits to my pal Frank Cassons’s Barnsfold Water fishery just north of Preston; in May it’s normally great buzzer hatches make for great fly fishing. Both times I chatted with Frank and his son Richard, and both times I fished for barely 30 minutes. On the first visit there was a bitter easterly wind... and I never saw a trout rise. On my second visit the sun shone from a blue sky, it was swelteringly hot... and I never saw a trout rise. Of course, go back 30 or 40 years and I would have persevered and tried more than the ‘washing line’ leader carrying three Buzzers, or three dries, or two Buzzers and a dry. I would probably have used a very fast sinking fly line and might even have resorted to a big lure. But I am no longer 32 or 42 years old; I am 72 with an arthritic right forelimb, so that very light tackle is what I must use.

The thing is that I am no longer desperate to catch lots of trout or huge trout, and I think that – with some exceptions – as we get older, those of us who have been lucky enough to fly fish for donkey’s years, both home and abroad, and caught lots and lots of trout, grayling, salmon (and maybe some nice exotic species in fresh and salt) no longer feel the need to catch lots in our dotage.

One of the last conversations that I had with the great Fred J Taylor typifies this. I think it was at a party at Cragg Cottage, not long after Hugh Falkus had died and it was a party for his widow, Kathy. Fred was, as usual, chef, expertly cooking a variety of goodies over an open fire. Said I to him, “Well Fred, do you still fish hard?”

“No,” he replied. “I no longer want to fish hard to make big bags, whether it’s bream or tench or trout. I enjoy pottering down to the river and, if I catch a nice half pound perch, I may take it home for my lunch. Enjoying a day by the river and the plants and animals that I share it with is far more important than catching loads of fish.”

That was some years ago, but only yesterday I had a similar conversation with Karl Humphries who has twisted my arm into doing a ‘River Walk’ for Prince Albert Open Day on the Ribble near Ribchester (June 10, if you are in the area and non-members are welcome). ‘River Walk’. That takes me back to the great Chatsworth Angling Fairs where Oliver Edwards and I used to entertain folk by catching lots of biddies in the Derwent and teach them how to identify things like caseless caddis larvae. I cannot believe that it is over ten years since Chatsworth stopped. Memories, eh!

Karl had asked about the fishing and I told him of a week last Sunday and of the weekend get-together of the Wild Trout Trust. On the Sunday it was a day’s fishing and, because the get-together was held at Gargrave, in the headwaters of the Aire and close to many beats of other rivers that Geoff Haslam and I had fished for decades, the Trust kindly obtained guest tickets for the two of us on Manchester AA’s beat of the Ribble headwater. But we were in the middle of a heatwave, there had been no rain, and the river was as low as I have seen it. But because this was so prestigious a piece of river, where great fly-fishers of the past, like TE Pritt, fished and we might never get the chance to cast a fly there ever again, we went fishing.

Other than one stupid trout, about 12 inches long, that had a go at my dry fly, that was it. We would have been better fishing into the dark, but neither of us is a spring lamb and we went home in the light of day. However, the hours we spent were not wasted, and I described to Karl how we watched common sandpipers displaying, dippers feeding their young, a great mass of orange-tip butterflies, and so on.

And Karl came back by agreeing wholeheartedly: there’s more to fishing than catching fish, and the wildlife should be a major part of it. His description of a day on the Eden, when an otter took a large grayling that he was playing out, took the grayling to the far bank and there ate it, leaving bits of gut, skin and bone still attached to the fly that Karl retrieved, was a cracker. That would be far more memorable than if the otter had not appeared, and Karl netted out the grayling!

It’s funny, but that conversation with Karl has triggered an idea in my cranium. My diaries go back to when I was a boy and from them I could work out the total number of river and wild lake trout I have caught, and I could tell you of the biggest. I won’t do this because it would be boringly tedious. But instead I’ll dig out some ‘what happened’ events. But let me leave you with a nice Fred J Taylor story.

Fred was staying with the Falkuses at Cragg Cottage in the Cumberland Esk valley, and he was out having a night sea trouting. He landed a nice three-pounder, tapped it on the head, and – he was fishing beneath a six-foot high clay bank – he reached up and placed the dead sea trout on top of the bank with its tail sticking out so that he could spot it as he waded back upstream after fishing out the pool.

Half-an-hour later Fred slowly made his way back upstream under the high bank. Reaching the silvery glint of his sea trout’s tail he stretched up and tried to pull the fish from the top of the bank, but something yanked it back and the silver glinting tail disappeared. A few yards upstream and Fred was able to clamber up and from there spotted, in the glimmer of the light of half moon, a badger that was coming to the end of its supper, delicious sides of fresh sea trout. All it had left Fred were the skin, bones and gut.

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