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Sleet, iron blues and frilly salads

Cold, blustery weather triggers a hatch of a rare fly


Remember grayling are now out of season, so should not be targeted deliberately until June 16.
Remember grayling are now out of season, so should not be targeted deliberately until June 16.

For the first time since 1965 I have bought a brown trout and coarse fish England & Wales rod licence instead of a salmon and migratory trout licence. The reason is that I can no longer spend hours cast-cast-casting because of arthritis in my right forelimb. A few years ago, when the arthritis began to hinder my fishing, I went to the medics who sent me for some X-rays. Then I was summoned to the clinic at Wrightington where a specialist in the condition told me, as he perused the X-rays, “As bad a case of RSI as one can come across! What repetitive job have you done that has caused such damage to all these joints?”

“I do a lot of fly-fishing,” I replied.

“I don’t know much about that. Exactly what do you do when you are fly-fishing?”

I nipped out to the car and returned with the rod that is permanently there, just in case, and I took him through every stage of a single-hand trout cast. As I did so, he pointed out, on the X-rays, the damage done to the ball-and-socket joint of my right shoulder, to the hinge joint of my elbow, and to the several joints in my carpals, metacarpals and phalanges of my wrist and hand. I found the experience fascinating, but was not surprised when the man said, “There’s not much we can do for you other than advise you to do less fly-fishing and offer you painkillers.”

So the heavy double-handed salmon rods were abandoned first; then I ceased travelling to the wilder parts of Scotland and Ireland for the loch/lough fishing and making hundreds of casts every day for up to three weeks solid; and gradually I have restricted myself just to dry fly/emerger fishing, casting to trout (and grayling) that are rising to a hatch. [I did only 20 minutes tenkara with Chris Hosker, caught some grayling, but then had to pack in because my arm was gone.] That doesn’t bother me greatly because I have been fortunate enough to have travelled widely with my fly-rods and caught enough fish to satisfy anybody, plus some biggish ones, like a 37lb salmon from the Tana, a ferox brown trout that was over 15lb that had temporarily left its Swedish lake for the outflowing river, and a zonking ‘lake trout’ that is really a char from a Canadian lake. And I have my diaries that recorded all these happy events.

On the 25th of this month I reached the age of 71 years and cannot believe that the 1970s and 1980s, which seem just a few years ago, were three and four decades ago, and that the 1960s are half a century in the past, or 1/21 of the time since the Battle of Hastings! Only this morning I was chatting with our editor Mark Bowler about dear old Hugh Falkus and his sea trouting. I knew Falkus well through the last eleven years of his life (he died aged 78) and I never saw him fishing, other than perhaps having the odd cast. Towards the end of his life I asked that great angler and lovely man, Fred J Taylor, how much fishing he did: “Well, Malcolm,” he said, “I sometimes pop down to the river in a morning, trot a worm, and if I catch a half pound perch I take it home for lunch! I’ve given up trying to make big bags.”

So even though I am not fishing anywhere near as hard as I did a decade and more ago, I am still fishing.

This month has been dominated by winds from north-west round to north-east, and they have been cold. On the aforementioned 25th snow fell on a lane at 500’ above sea level and sleet at sea level, here in north-west England. So dry fly fishing has been very difficult.

In recent years the Ribble and lower reaches of the Hodder have seen fabulous hatches of grannom. On one visit to the Ribble at Gisburn I found a corner sheltered from the wind, watched a lovely lot of grannom egg-laying and had three nice brown trout, one at 16”. On a second I could find nowhere out of the icy breeze, saw a few grannom when the wind dropped, but saw only two trout rising and managed to catch one. My fly: Elk Hair Caddis minus body hackle; it’s dead easy to tie...a body of dubbed brown fur and a wing of bleached elk tied low over the body.

I also visited LFFA’s water on the upper Hodder, after Andy Ralph sent me an enthusiastic email extolling the virtues of its fly hatches. It was so cold that I saw not one other idiot on the entire beat. There, large dark olives were the chief fly hatching, but again in very tiny flurries. But most interesting was a trickle of iron blue duns. Donkey’s years ago I used to see good hatches of IBDs on the Aire, Ribble as far downstream as Mitton, middle Lune and Eden. I have seen fewer in recent years. On the chalkstreams IBDs were the fly they all raged about when there was a cold wind blowing in spring, and here it was on a cold spring day. I saw some grayling rising in one lovely pool (I try not to catch them when they are out of season as they don’t ‘count’ and it is illegal to cast to a grayling deliberately when they are out of season). Then I saw two fish rising that I thought were not grayling: one was, a lovely fish in the order of 13-14” length, and the other was a brown trout of about 10”. They took a size 16 dry Iron Blue Dun that is one of about a dozen I tied probably 20 years ago and that have been in the box since then, neglected.

One evening I was booked to give a talk to Catterall Gardeners’ Association on growing great salads (like Oliver Edwards, I grow lots of fruit and vegetables). Getting there for 7pm would have involved the M6 motorway around Preston at rush hour. Instead I drove in the early afternoon to Barnsfold Water, which is only a short country lane drive to Catterall village. Bright sunshine and a chilly easterly did not bode well, but I fished my dry buzzers and emergers hard for a couple of hours until the old arm told me to stop. So I de-tackled, sat in the sun and ate a banana and an orange. As I did so, the wind dropped, the temperature rose, buzzers hatched and two other fly-fishers had two and three nice rainbow trout in about 15 minutes. Then the wind returned, the hatch ceased, the trout went down, and I headed off to talk about a huge range of salad crops that you can grow easily, including a leaf mix called Hertie Gerty’s Frilly Mix.

Tight lines!

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