A patchy start, but a best-ever Ribble brownie. And why do we stock fish?
I promised that this blog would be a review of the 2016 trout fishing season here in north-west England. So here goes ...but before I start, I need to explain something. I can no longer go a cast-cast-casting, and I cannot hold up my right arm with the rod held firmly for more than a few seconds because of arthritis in hand, elbow and shoulder joints. So ‘fishing the water’, nymph fishing and tenkara are out. I now look for rising fish and cast a dry fly or a soft-hackled wet fly to them.
Our wild brown trout season starts on March 15. It was a Tuesday this year and my diary begins, as ever, with the weather: "Dry, some sun but cool in E. wind. Very few spring olives hatched, I had one small brownie from the Hodder, and we headed off to a late lunch at The Three Fishes, where I enjoyed sumptuous, slowly braised, ox cheek and tongue. And thus did March continue: 24th, “Grey and gloomy; light rain and drizzle most of day to 6pm; cold wind.” Go back to the 1970s and 1980s and, from 1pm to 4pm, there would have been a stream of large dark olives hatching and fish taking them (the first fish I caught for a TV camera were grayling that were pigging on the olive hatch and caught just before the start of the trout season on an Imperial...it was dead easy!). This year the olive hatch in March was pathetic, and I cast to few rising trout.
April and the rain arrived. On the 5th both the Ribble and Hodder were in unexpectedly in spate, but it was “warm out of light chill breeze”, and then back to nine days of icy winds. The 20th was the month’s and perhaps year’s highlight. “A lovely warm (19°C), calm, sunny day. Geoff and I headed to the middle Ribble to find the grannom out in tremendous numbers. Second cast: a 10” brown trout on a size 16 Hare’s Ear. Third cast: missed one. Sixth cast: a 21” brown trout on a size 16 Hare’s Ear. This is my personal best from the Ribble, and Ross Gardiner scale read it for me: a wild, eight-year old. Seventh cast: an 8” brown trout. Twelfth cast: hooked one but it came off (long distance catch-and-release). That was from one long, narrow pool perhaps 20 yards long. I headed upstream to the next pool and there had three brownies (biggest 12” on an Imperial) and then moved to our lowest pool on the beat where I had three small brownies. It was now 2pm and the fish were getting satiated, so I zoomed back to the upper pool of this short beat and caught another two 8-10” trout on an Imperial".
And then …from the 22nd, we were back to “bitter” and “chilly” and “cold NE breeze” to the month’s end with “Snow/hail 2" deep first thing. Then heavy showers. Cold.” The late Roy Graham, one of Ireland’s leading boatmen and fly- fishers used to argue that trout fishing ought to be carried out in rolled up shirt sleeves.
May was like April, dominated by a cold N to NNE wind. On the 4th Geoff and I went back to the beat where I had my best April day. Grannom, a few large dark olives, and the odd brook dun and late March brown were on the water and I was pleased to see lots of large stoneflies on waterside boulders. But ...not one trout did I see rise or catch, for the five fish that did rise and which I caught were all out-of-season grayling. Presumably, the trout were still satiated from eating too many grannom? On the 10th I decided that I would visit Barnsfold Water, the best rainbow trout fishery in the region when it comes to dry fly. “Cold & strong NE wind” didn’t help, and the fact that I saw only two swallows demonstrated that few flies were about. But I caught three rainbows on my dry flies and kept one. Not one fly in its stomach, just a few tiny buzzers, two freshwater shrimps, a pea mussel and three tiny lake olive nymphs. If one could escape the wind: on 23rd I found a pool on the Hodder that was sheltered from the cold northerly wind. There was a nice hatch of Mayflies, yellow Mays, yellow sallies, and a few olives and I had five brownies all 8-9” length.
June decided to be flaming, or at least some days were. A dawn visit to our Paythorne beat on the Ribble showed that the dawn hatch of Caenis, which I found for the first time over 30 years ago, was still a great trout event there. In three hours I had five brown trout (biggest 16” and 18”) on my size 18 Paythorne Caenis. On another day (the 8th), Geoff and I drove to the Aire on what was a warm dry day at home. The river was in flood (thunderstorm in the hills) so we headed to the Ribble, which had not a drop of water on, and I caught two trout on the hackleless Elk Hair Caddis, the biggest 13” in length. I also had an interesting session on Barnsfold. I was getting offers but not hooking them on my size 14 dry flies and the offers seemed strange. I put on a size 22 fly and found out why. The rising fish were rudd and on my titchy flies I had six, two estimated in excess of the 2lb mark.
July, August and September demand, for me, a different approach, for these months are sea trout as well as brown trout months and the sea trout run on the Hodder in 2016 has again been excellent. It started on the 4th, when I fished the pools at the top of our top beat. I had one sea trout of about 4lb on a Snake Fly and then, on the dry fly, four small brownies and two grayling. What I try to do is fish the big Snake Fly though the big pool (about 30 casts) before the arthritis tells me to stop, and then go back to casting to rising fish.
One July day, the Snake Fly failed, but on the dry I had four sea trout (three herling and one stale two-pounder), two brownies (one at 12”) and five grayling. Old Hugh Falkus found it incredible that we can catch sea trout on dry fly in the Hodder (and Lune and Cumbrian Derwent). In the latter last year I had a nice sea trout on a dry Imperial. I dried the fly and cast it to another rising trout. My dry Imperial sank and was immediately grabbed by a second sea trout. So I had sea trout in consecutive casts on a dry and then wet Imperial!
In a previous blog I commented on the pessimism of fly fishers. Some have moaned that, because we no longer stock with idiotic farmed trout, there are few trout to catch. This, as I hope I have shown here, is absolute rubbish. It is true that, for a couple of weeks after stocking, there are lots of trout that will grab anything, but who wants to catch naive fish? Without stocking, all the evidence shows that the wild brown trout and grayling stocks grow. We don’t need stockies.
Others have been led to believe that there are no salmon or no sea trout so they argue that there is no point fishing for them. We have three Hodder beats and I have fished two or all three in one day, caught fish (brown trout and/or sea trout and/or grayling) in those I have fished, and not one other rod has been on the water. On the last day of the salmon season (October 31) I visited our Cumbrian Derwent beat. I don’t fish for salmon, so I walked the beat and picked lots of sloes to make lots of sloe gin. A few of our members fished and between them caught three salmon. That last day of the season, not one other rod did I see on the opposite bank.
“There are no salmon, so it’s pointless going fishing for them.”
What I did see, at the light faded on that last day, were lots of salmon, slowly making their way upstream. As I write this, they may be spawning.