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Cane and carbon

Malcolm Greenhalgh searches for the first olive hatch armed with two very different rods

The Hodder in spring.
The Hodder in spring.

As those of you who read my witterings here every month will know, this year I have had to change clubs so, when fishing “at home” I will be fishing the beats of Lancashire Fly Fishing Association and not Bowland Game-Fishing Association. Last month, I explained that I had one major task to carry out, namely to catch a grayling before the end of the grayling season (March 14), on LFFA’s Hodder beats, using a rod given to me that belonged to the great Dr Ron Broughton, whose photograph using that rod on those beats appears in Ron’s book Grayling: the fourth game fish.

Yvonne and I went to investigate the (for me) new beats on the upper Hodder, above the village of Dunsop Bridge. Here the river is quite different from the lower Hodder beats I had fished for over 35 years. The lower Hodder, from Whitewell, with its great fishing inn, downstream, flows through a deep gorge that opens out as the river reaches its confluence with the Ribble. Here there are some great pools, like Black Wheel, Papermill and Sandalholme, that hold lots of grayling, as well as sea trout and salmon, but between the pools the river tends to fall rapidly in altitude, with lots of white water rapids flowing over shallow limestone bedrock or boulders. In contrast, above Whitewell, and especially Dunsop Bridge where a couple of major tributaries swell the stream, the river flows more gently with proportionally fewer shallow rapids.

We arrived at one of the bridges over the stream in the early afternoon, a fairly warm afternoon (though with a slightly chill breeze typical of early March). I parked the car and gazed upstream. How placid the river looked here, with an even gentle flow despite there being a couple of inches on. I watched a pair of dippers: "54 years since my first article was published, on the dippers living here,", I reminded myself in a maudlin moment. Then I saw a movement at the water surface. Then another. A few large dark olives were hatching at the water surface and fish were taking them.

I set up Ron’s Sharpe’s 88 with a #6 Cortland plastic line... plastic, with a cane rod? There was already a 12’ tapered cast (not gut!) linked to the end of the fly-line. To the tip of the leader I knotted a size 14 Kite’s Imperial (what else!?) and I moved into position, opposite and slightly below where I had seen the fish take. The first took second cast, the second took first cast, and the third and fourth rose, but I missed them (or they missed me). They were grayling, and they were fine big grayling, though they were lighter than they ought to have been, for their soft bellies indicated that they had recently spawned.

In the last few years a group of us have celebrated the opening day of the brown trout season, March 15, by having a few casts and then enjoying a late lunch. This year four – Alan, Geoff, Keith and Mark – plus I made it; others excused themselves on the grounds that they had to go to work (eg Chris) or they had to go abroad (Alan R). The four fished familiar BGFA waters, Mark the lower Hodder, Geoff, Alan and Keith the Ribble above Paythorne Bridge. I chose to fish a new stretch, the LFFA’s beat downstream of Paythorne Bridge. We would all meet for lunch at the Buck Inn, in Paythorne village, at 2pm.

It was 11am as I set off downstream carrying my modern, carbon-fibre rod, plus Ron’s cane rod, in their bags because the first section of river-bank seemed a bit rough. Plus there was a very cold westerly breeze blowing upstream, which suggested that dry fly fishing might be short-lived if it came to life at all. The run downstream of the bridge looked interesting. I had watched trout rising there in the past. But for me, a right-handed caster who is hopeless with his left hand, casting from the left bank with its steep slope and trees was impossible. But I worked out that it could easily be waded, but not today, as I was wearing only a pair of wellies. I promised to renew my acquaintance with this stretch one warm, late spring evening.

Then the river flowed into a large U-shaped pool, with a high, well-wooded bank on the far side, with all sorts of ‘features’ so beloved by trout: boulders in the river and boulders forming a natural groyne out from the far bank, overhanging trees, a little clay cliff indicating that here the river was cutting into the bank and lots and lots of creases, lines separating different flows. The sun shone down and it was suddenly warm, for the far, huge wooded bank prevented the wind hitting me or the river here. I took off my two fleeces, pulled up my sleeves, and sat back in the sun and watched. At 11.45 the first olive appeared and by 11.55 they were coming off in big numbers. Trout number 1 took a few flies close to that little clay cliff; it took my CdC Olive, fished on the modern rod. I set up Ron’s cane rod. Trout number 2 took close to the line of boulder that made a natural groyne: it also took a CdC Olive, fished on the carbon rod (too far, and too complex a cast for the heavy cane). Trout number 3 took quite close to where I was standing, by a crease formed by a large submerged boulder: it took an Imperial, fished on Ron’s cane 88. Then I missed a nice rise, on the carbon rod.
‘Time to move and look upstream’, said I. So I slowly made my way back up to the bridge, and as I left the pool the chill wind hit. I saw not one other olive, nor a rising fish.

Back at the Buck Inn we bought pints of good Yorkshire bitter and the finest homemade steak and kidney pudding with chips – no wives here - and mushy peas. Those fishing the river above the bridge had seen very, very few olives (Alan said he saw five), and they turned to nymphs and caught some fine grayling (including a fish of a good 2lb by Keith). In contrast, Mark reported that the Hodder where he fished was sheltered and warm, olives hatched and he caught some rising grayling.

As for Ron’s Sharpe’s 88, it is leaning against a book case in my study as I write, in its brown cloth bag, and it has retired. And looking down from the great grayling stream above, Ron will be smiling, happy that his old rod still works on the rivers he fished.

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