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Are our springs getting cooler?

20 days of April were cool with a bitter wind meaning hatches and fishing were slow to get going

On April 29, I was in our garden club’s big sales and advice hut (I am chairman of Newton-le-Willows Gardeners’ Association, perhaps the biggest gardening club in north-west England!) when a member who is also a keen fly-fisherman came and said, “How much trout fishing have you done this season?”

“One session,” I replied, “and that was for barely an hour. I took Frank [Casson, owner of Barnsfold Water trout fishery and a member of the above NlWGA] some sprout and leek plants and lawn sand. The wind was biting and I saw not one trout move. So I packed up.”

“I’ve not wet a line,” said my gardening-fishing pal.

As readers of my blog over the past couple of years will know, 2016 and 2017 were cool springs, but there were enough reasonable days to get out and catch a few trout. This spring? My diary records 20 of the 30 April days as being dank, grey and cold, with a bitter wind from the northern half of the compass (NW through north to east). Ten days had some warmth, or were very warm. But of them four were days when our rivers were in spate and dirty, three were taken up by my late mother’s funeral – no mourning, she was almost 96 years old - and its aftermath, and three were booked by prior engagements. I went to Barnsfold on one of the dank days. Years ago, when I was in my 20s, 30s and 40s, I would have ventured out far more. But I am now in my 70s, with arthritic limbs, and I have built up so much experience that I know when not to fish and I have caught enough fish not to be desperate to catch another, no matter the conditions. Warm weather and dry fly is what I enjoy now.

Indeed, I remember the great Hugh Falkus. Through my 40s and his 70s we were great pals and I used to stay up with him and Kathy or a short distance up the valley with Bill and Marie Arnold to fish the Cumberland Esk, which still had a goodish run of sea trout and salmon. Falk never fished the river whilst I was there, though he did join Bill for Monday’s salmon fishing on the Cumberland Derwent. Occasionally I joined them; a wonderful experience.

I would stay at Bill’s and he would drive to Falk’s and I would knock on Cragg Cottage’s door while he turned the Range Rover round. Falk would open the door and, if the weather was going to be sunny, he would be well lathered with white sun cream. Usually his opening words would be: “I’m out of whisky! We’ll have to stop at the garage.”

The garage on the main road heading north to Whitehaven also had an off-licence. We always stopped there for refreshment.

Hugh Falkus to the girl behind the counter: “I want three bottles of High Commissioner whisky.....no make it six. And we need a bottle of dry sherry for lunch. And three bottles of that cheap brandy and three of port. And the Sun and Daily Telegraph.” When we eventually got back, Hugh would retire to bed with his port and brandy and cheap Scotch to drink and watch TV.

To the river. Bill would put up an awning from the back of the Range Rover, Falk would sit down in a deckchair, Bill would put a glass of Scotch and water on the wee table in front of him and he would spend the morning looking at the topless girls’ chests before reading the newspaper. We went fishing.

Lunchtime: Bill always brought a nice buffet. Falk would start with a sherry or two and would insist that we had a glass (mine went into the grass when he wasn’t looking), and then out would come a bottle of Berry & Rudd’s Good Ordinary Claret. Bill and I would take a sip; Falk would quaff the rest of the bottle. Then, before Bill and I waded back into the river, Falk would take his rod, wade out about three yards, make half a dozen casts, and return to his seat.

At six o’clock we would gather at the car and examine our catch before heading south towards Eskdale, Falk refreshing himself on the journey with a tumbler of High Commissioner and water. But we needed dinner so on the way back we stopped at the pub in Egremont for, often, fried whitebait and chips. Lovely! But first three pints of beer were ordered and we sat on high stools to drink them. Falk always found it difficult to get onto the stool, so a waitress would try to give him a hand. H.F: “If only I were twenty years younger!”

And then home.

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You may recall that on 24 January I sent MP and Government Minister Michael Gove a letter pointing out that factory dairy farmers are polluting our rivers and streams with slurry, and that the rivers of England and Wales are becoming increasingly polluted and we are losing clean water insects (such as blue-winged olives). I also asked, with the much heralded new regulations on slurry disposal brought in this month, April 2018, which farmers will OFTEN ignore, how DEFRA or the EA will monitor disposal and prosecute those who break the rules. I received no reply, so I resent the original letter on 20 March, together with a copy of a press release about Afonydd Cymru complaining to the EU court on the mega-problem of slurry pollution in the Principality, asking for his response.
I have heard nothing from Mr Gove or any of his bureaucratic underlings.

All we can assume is that DEFRA, backed up by the EA, is deliberately turning a blind-eye to this problem, and that they are wary of upsetting factory dairy farmers who are forced by supermarkets to produce vast quantities of cheap milk for a public that expects milk to cost next to nothing.
Since then a pal has sent me a photograph of a farmer who had reversed his slurry spreader into a North Country salmon and trout river and was washing the tank out.

That is what this government is condoning. Gross pollution.

Please will you all write to your MP and bring it to their attention.

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My fly boxes are all full. My reels and lines and leaders and tippet materials checked and double-checked. Warm weather is on the way!

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