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My 2020 fly fisher’s bucket list

Looking forward to next season, and reflecting on his fly-fishing past, Malcolm Greenhalgh compiles his fly-fisher's 'bucket list'


The South Uist machair lochs are one of six venues that Malcolm lists as 'must visit' in 2020.
The South Uist machair lochs are one of six venues that Malcolm lists as 'must visit' in 2020.

I have been a very fortunate fly fisher who, through the late 1970s, 1980s, 1990s and 2000s fished 100-plus days every year, not only in my favourite local rivers in north-west England, but in rivers, lakes and the sea throughout the British Isles, most of mainland Europe, parts of North and South America and the West Indies. In the last few years I have fished less because of arthritis in my right hand and arm; too much fly fishing = repetitive strain injury! But this year of 2019 has been the nadir.
In February, I found myself feeling dizzy if I suddenly rushed about and was quickly diagnosed with a wonky aortic valve, which controls blood flow from the heart, into the aorta and to the rest of the body. So, since then, I have had to take things easily and avoid stress. Consequently I have not been able to drive on the grossly overcrowded M6 motorway to favourite fishing spots, wading in rivers is definitely out, and I have fished just five times, and then only for a couple of hours, being driven by two good pals to Frank and Richard Casson’s Barnsfold Water.
However, on September 27, open-heart surgery will replace the wonky valve for a good one, and I am told that, by Christmas, I will be as fit as I was 15 years ago! That was in 2005, when I fished Norway and Sweden, Iceland, the great streams of Derbyshire, and the loughs of Ireland and the lochs of the Outer Hebrides. So, bearing this new lease of life in mind, I have made an in initial ‘bucket list’ of the places I would like to visit in 2020.

1. The Derbyshire Wye upstream of Rowsley every month: this is now an outstanding wild trout and grayling river with great fly-hatches lending itself to dry fly fishing. This is my favourite form of fly-fishing and, if done properly, does not aggravate my arthritis: waiting for a fish to rise before putting the fly over its nose. On a good day, a dozen casts can result in a dozen trout or grayling, and who could ask for anything more?

2. The upper Wharfe on a summer’s evening: in recent years the upper-middle reaches of the ‘great’ rivers of north-west England have been so badly polluted by farm slurry and fertilisers spread on the dairy silage fields (we no longer have pasture and meadow, or fields with herds of black-and-white dairy cattle, for they are now kept in factories) and high nutrient levels from sewage outfalls that we have seen the collapse of some of the great hatches (eg. blue-winged olives, pale wateries, autumn duns). A brief visit to the upper Wharfe indicated that this has not suffered so much.

3. The South Uist lochs in late spring and late summer: these are my favourite brown trout and sea trout/salmon lochs and I used to enjoy weeks on them with my old pal Jo Ripper, gillied by the wonderful and skilful Ian Kennedy. I will not be able to fish continuously for spells of eight hours, but I could take the oars and let the boatman have a cast or three. If I averaged one machair trout per day in May and caught one salmon and a brace of sea trout in an August week I would be more than satisfied.

4. Lough Erne at Mayfly time: I used to stay in a lodge by this great lough for two or three weeks when the Mayfly was ‘on’. Not big catches in numerical terms, but some large wild brown trout would come to my dry flies. It was here that I came up with my Emerger Mayfly and on my last two visits caught more on that than on more conventional dry Mayflies. It also scored during both dun hatches and spinner falls. Again, I wouldn’t cast, cast, cast but await the hatch and rise of the trout (about 60% of the trout I caught here had risen to take a real fly before they took mine).

5. Lough Melvin: Melvin has three genetically separate forms of Salmo trutta, the ferox that feeds on lesser fish, the gillaroo that feeds on proper flies in the very shallows (I used to hook a fish or two close to the ends of fences that extended into the lough to prevent sheep and cattle escaping by wading), and the sonaghan, or black-finned trout, that feeds in small groups in the surface of the deeper water. I first caught them here in 1988 when artist Rod Sutterby and I were gathering data for our book The Wild Trout, published 30 years ago in 1989. It seems like only yesterday!

6. The urban streams that flow into the Irwell: these are my nearest trout (and grayling) streams. Once filthy, they are now clean and supporting great populations of things like blue-winged olives. I want to catch a trout as close to the centre of Manchester as I can!

More to come? Certainly. I can’t wait.

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