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A very chilly 70th!

Malcolm Greenhalgh celebrates a milestone birthday in less than warm weather, and to celebrate is giving away a copy of his book 'The Mayfly and the Trout'

Malcolm enjoyed two good days on the Ribble near the market town of Gisburn.
Malcolm enjoyed two good days on the Ribble near the market town of Gisburn.

I must apologise to those of you who followed by monthly blogs last spring and early summer, for you will recall that I bored everyone, including me, by going on and on and on about the unseasonably cold weather. Well, here we are again. I am writing this on the 28th April, a couple of days before the month end, which coincides with a Bank Holiday. I have just gone through my diary and I have recorded the weather on 24 of those days as cold, very cold or with a cold or bitter northerly (or some variation on the theme, such as north-easterly) wind. At dawn on the last three mornings we have had a temperature below zero Celsius; at 6pm on the 26th we had a hail storm that put almost half an inch of ice down, and this morning, as it was getting light, we had half an hour of wet snow falling from a leaden sky. And the climatologists are saying that this is likely to be the coldest April in the UK since 1917. Global warming?

Four days were warm and sunny.

One was the 5th when Roger Craig and I headed to the Hodder, expecting the river to be a perfect height and with a great hatch of large dark olives with perhaps a few early grannom. It was not to be. As we drove down the road to Higher Hodder Bridge I put away my key to the gate of our car park, for we could see that an unexpected rain storm in the Bowland fells had brought the river into a high brown flood. So Roger turned the Land Rover back up the road, turned right and we pulled in to the car park of the Three Fishes, a fine food hostelry. And there I enjoyed perfectly cooked cod loin with a white wine and cream cockle sauce, with roasted cockles scattered over. Plus a pint of Pendle ale. Roger had the slowly braised ox cheek and tongue that I had enjoyed on our previous visit on Opening Day, 15 March.

Roy Graham, the great gillie on Ireland’s Lough Earn, used to say, “The best trout fishing is carried out in shirt sleeves!” And Jack Norris, who taught me so much about tying and fishing the dry fly (you may have met him in my book The Floating Fly), pointed out that, “A cold downstream wind is the kiss of death to dry fly fishing!”

Both were correct.

I tried Barnsfold Water, one of the great northern rainbow trout stillwaters, on what seemed, from 30 miles away at home, a warm sunny day. I can no longer do the cast-cast-casting with a lure or team of fancy wet flies with an appropriate density of sinking fly line on lakes because of arthritis, so now it is a floating fly-line and either dry flies, emergers or subsurface buzzers. That needs trout that are moving at or just below the surface and when I got to the waterside I found that the wind was horribly cold. I lasted 50 minutes and never saw a fish move (or any of the other anglers catch anything).

But then I did have two better days, both on the Ribble near the market town of Gisburn.

On the first (3rd) there was an afternoon hatch of large dark olives, but no grannom, and I saw three trout rising and caught two and pricked the other.  The second of the warm days (the 20th) when I fished was a cracker. The grannom hatch was huge, with every trout in the river taking advantage and feeding like pigs that had been on a prolonged diet. In three hours I had ten trout and a grayling. All the trout were wild brownies, for no one now stocks hatchery trout in the middle-upper Ribble. Eight were ‘small’ at 8” give or take a bit, but when it comes to assessing wild trout here in the north, one must remember that years ago, before the craze for chucking in hundreds of 10”+ thick trout, the minimum legal kill limit was 8” as such trout had probably spawned once. One trout was about 12” long. And one was a zonker. It was rising in barely a foot of water, in the neck of a pool, a yard away from the main flow. Its rises were almost violent, slashing rises. And it took my fly first cast. It was 21” long (measured against the ruler engraved on Geoff Haslam’s landing net handle), its body was deep, it was a cock that had spawned last backend, and it is now the biggest Ribble wild brown trout that I have ever caught in over 50 years fishing the Ribble. When I slipped the barbless hook from its upper jaw it zoomed off powerfully.

The flies? In both the olive hatch and the grannom hatch I fished two flies, chosen at random from two compartments in my dry fly box or, on the second day, my tweed hat. One was Kite’s Imperial, the other the Hare’s Ear with brown (natural red) cock hackle. They have long been my general purpose flies, and I tried them first because I didn’t want to get the pristine CDC dries I would use otherwise wet and slimy.

Back to stocking rivers with trout. You all ought to be members of the Wild Trout Trust, and if you are you will have read a great article on the effects of not stocking on the upper Ribble. Within two years of not stocking the wild trout population had grown, and the grayling population had gone ballistic! The work done there, and elsewhere, illustrates well the foolishness of stocking wild rivers with farmed trout. The farmed trout devour tiny wild trout and trout and grayling fry (which tend to emerge from the gravel around the time, in spring, that the tame fish are chucked in). Stocked trout are there for a few weeks before they disappear, leaving very few wild trout and grayling for later in the year. Remember, as Ross Gardiner once put it to me, the preferred food of a large trout is a smaller trout (and grayling, and salmon fry or parr, or minnow, or any fish it can swallow).

The only argument for stocking is that those fishing the river are so incompetent that they cannot catch the wild trout.

One final point to make you think. April 25th was my 70th birthday, but on the day before (24th) I was 69 years and 365 days old. How come? Answer correctly and you could win a copy of my book The Mayfly and the Trout (details of how to enter below).

To win a copy of Malcolm's book in his special 70th Birthday-themed teaser, comment below, or comment on the original blog post on our Facebook or Twitter page. One correct answer will be chosen at random. Good luck!

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