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A cold wet season

Malcolm Greenhalgh says that 2017 was a season dominated by the cold

Cold days and cold winds were an ever present feature of the 2017 season.
Cold days and cold winds were an ever present feature of the 2017 season.

I keep a detailed page-a-day diary and every day begin my entry with recording the weather, wherever I am, and this year as I have travelled little it means my home patch of northwest England.
As someone who now is restricted to casting a dry fly to a rising fish, my fishing requires flies to be hatching and weather conditions that encourage hatches and rises. This year has been the worst for hatches, the worst for days that have been dominated by cold winds that have at least some north in their origin (north-west via north to north-east) and amongst the wettest (I record in my diary the monthly rainfall totals at Manchester weather centre) that I have enjoyed in four decades. The figures are as follows:

March: 13 days with cold winds; rainfall total 4.12”
April: 27 days with cold winds; rainfall total 1.25”
May: 17 days with cold winds; rainfall total 1.91”
June: 9 days with cold winds; rainfall total 4.81”
July: 6 days with cold winds; rainfall total 4.11”
August: 8 days with cold winds; rainfall total 2.41”
September: 11 days with cold winds; rainfall total 4.98”
October: 21 days with cold winds; rainfall total 3.8”

In the 245 days of those eight months, 112 (46%) were dominated by a cold wind which, here, generally means a downstream wind that, said the great dry-fly fisherman and my mentor Jack Norris, “is the death of dry fly fishing”. By the end of October, rainfall at Manchester weather centre totalled 38.26”, which is over six inches more than the long term mean of 32” per annum. I haven’t received the November total (I write this on 30th November), but November has been a very wet month (the 22nd made national news headlines, with Lancaster University met. station recording its highest 24-hour total, 1.92”, since it began recording in 1965).

At the Grayling Society weekend at Wrexham (where the usual Sunday fishing had to be abandoned with a bitter gale blowing and after torrential rain brought the Dee into flood) I spoke with several fly-fishers from around Britain. “The worst season I have ever known!” exclaimed one of the greatest Wiltshire chalk stream men.

So please, please, will you all get your prayer mats out and beseech the Lord to give us, in 2018, the sort of spring and summer we used to enjoy in the 1970s and 1980s and 1990s, where the fields by the river were parched dry, where we could fish for rising trout in shirt sleeves until late evening, but in the evening a light pullover and thin jacket was all that was needed in the still-warm air. In those years, the real rain stopped falling in March and waited until September before it started again when salmon ran, and ran, and ran, but with spells of dry weather, when the river cleared, pale watery duns hatched in vast numbers, and up came the grayling.

Although I can no longer fish for salmon because of arthritis, I am concerned about the state of salmon fishing and the mental attitude of many 21st century salmon anglers here in Britain. I have nearly completed a fuller account of the reasons for my concern for FF&FT, but may I summarise what I see to be the problem.

Fly-fishers in general are growing older, with fewer young folk – and by young I mean people under the age of 30, maybe even 40 – taking up the sport. Come to British Fly Fair in February and count the number of people who do not have white hair. As we age we are less able to fish hard for long periods. My pals and I used to fish from dawn to dusk in September and October, with very short breaks for coffee and lunch. Even then, we would not average a salmon per day; far from it. But we persevered and, on occasion, we caught a fish at last light having made the first cast at sunrise. We cannot do that today, and certainly not day after day. And there are not the gang of younger anglers taking the place of us Oldies, putting in the hours and catching the fish.

In those days we did not have all this tweeting, and googling, and other modern messing with a funny phone stuck in the ear-hole. So someone twitters on about not catching a salmon in River X so everyone says, “There are no salmon in River X so we won’t go there!” Yet River X may have salmon, waiting to be caught.

I find it sad that fly-fishers report nipping down to a great salmon river in October to catch a few grayling and finding not one salmon fishing there. Or of salmon rivers having overgrown footpaths. I have found it sad, in the last three Octobers, strolling along a salmon river as I search for wild fruits such as crab apples and sloes, I see great beats with no one fishing them. Or I see Oldies like me, heading homewards at lunchtime, saying, “We’ve fished since nine o’clock and not even seen a salmon!”

December is upon us. Get that tackle sorted for the next season and get the fly-boxes filled. The days will start lengthening shortly. In the meantime, Happy Christmas.

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