Malcolm Greenhalgh reflects on his season's fishing, and asks why has fishing become an 'old folks' pastime?
Here in north-west England the trout season ends on September 30, and the salmon season on October 31. Because of my ageing body I no longer fish for salmon (I have caught enough, in any case, to satisfy any lifetime!) but on the 31st I was driven, in style, to our Derwent beat and I strolled its near three-mile bank as my three pals and a few other members tried to catch odd Salar. And a couple were caught, by our chairman, Brian and by Mark. Just as the sun went down and darkness descended, Keith and I walked back along the lower half of the beat and, from the salmon we saw moving, the river was fairly well stocked (I counted nine). The same seems to be the case on the Ribble, for my son Pete, who now lives five minutes from one of the best beats on the river, tells me that the pools are full of stale and a few not-so-stale salmon and he caught over the last few days of the season. However, what is certain is that salmon anglers here in the north-west are so despondent that many of them won’t go fishing for salmon. So we now have a spiralling downward slide: "I hear that there are no salmon in the river...So I won’t go fishing as it is a waste of time”
"I’ve told Fred and John and Jane, and they aren’t fishing either”.
So almost everyone abandons the river (on the 31st I saw not one rod out on our opposite bank of the Derwent, and Pete tells me that he has more or less had our Ribble beats to himself). Should there suddenly be a big run, no one notices, because no one is fishing for them.
Incidentally, on the 31st there was a big and very early redd in one of our Derwent pool tails. Looking at the redd, I think that there were three cuttings in the one redd, suggesting a very big hen salmon.
I have been going through my diaries to write up my 2016 fishing returns. 2016 has certainly been the hardest trout fishing season I have ever enjoyed. And, chatting to folk from around Britain at the Grayling Society weekend at Winchester (October 28-30), it seems that it has been the same throughout our island. Spring was generally very cold and wet (on the warmest day that I was out in April, the great grannom hatch resulted in a catch of eleven Ribble trout including the 21” fish I told you about in my April blog, which Ross Gardiner confirmed was eight years old and fully wild from scale-reading). Such a day was the exception this year.
It was also a year when, with the exception of the grannom, hatches throughout Britain were poor. For example, in March and April we usually have good hatches of large dark olives. Not this year. That species also has a (usually) smaller autumn hatch and in 2016 the largest LDO hatch that I saw was on my 31st October day walking the Derwent. I saw loads of trout rising to take them but, alas, Trutta was out of season.
But I chose my days, and had only the odd blank (such as when Roger and I found the Hodder in spate and instead of fishing went fine-dining at the Three Fishes...don’t tell our wives).
On our lower Aire beat I averaged eight trout per visit, all of them on CdC Olives, Kite’s Imperial or Hare’s Ear, and caught by casting to fish that rose to take a real fly first. The Aire here, not far below Malham, is tiny, shallow and usually crystal clear. It is never stocked, and yet has some big wild trout as well as plenty of smaller ones; my biggest this year was 18” long and would probably have weighed nearer to three than two pounds.
We have three Hodder beats and this year the river, a major tributary of the Ribble, has again had a great sea trout run. On five days I made the special effort to visit all three in the day, and I started at the top beat and fished just one big pool there, then went to the middle beat and fished one streamy run and pool, and then ended up on the bottom beat where I fished two pools. This fishing was through the day and I fished two methods. In the streamier water I fished a Snake Fly on a 3’ leader on a 9’ rod taking a #6 floater, and when I saw fish move at the surface my usual dry flies on a 14’ leader on a 9’ rod taking a #5 line. On every one of those five days I had sea trout from two of the beats and brown trout from all three, and a total of 20 grayling. My sea trout total from those five days was 23 and the biggest was just over 3lb. Dear old Hugh Falkus, who passed away 20 years ago, just could not believe that we could catch sea trout by day in low water, and that we could catch them with dry flies. On those five days I had all three beats to myself.
It seems that, with few exceptions, fly-fishing is increasingly becoming an old folks’ pastime and that as we grow more geriatric we are fishing fewer days in the season and fewer hours in the day. I suppose that one of the main factors putting off the youth (i.e. anyone under the age of 30) from taking up country pursuits like fly-fishing is the lack of mobile phone signals (there are none if you are fishing the Hodder and Derwent beats unless you climb the nearest hill). It’s the same with natural history: I see no young birdwatchers out in the dales and on the ornithologically outstanding coastline of north-west England, where I have been birding for almost 60 years. To get stuck into fly-fishing and serious birding one must begin young. My parents let me roam the Lancashire countryside around home with my pal, Alan, and a cheap pair of binoculars and float-rod when I was nine years old. And my work with birds and my fly-fishing evolved from that. A few days ago, politician Michael Gove was criticised for leaving his 11-year old son alone (!) in a hotel and ninnies argued that you should not let a boy under 15 out by himself. Sad.
New Year’s Resolution for you all: “In 2017, I will take my young relations fishing!”