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Christmas and New Year Blog

Malcolm Greenhalgh looks back on the thirty years since he gave up work to pursue fishing, writing and freelance work full time.

Malcolm wrote for Issue #1 of FF&FT, and still writes for the magazine today.
Malcolm wrote for Issue #1 of FF&FT, and still writes for the magazine today.

As readers of this blog will recall, I headed to Fuerteventura in November in the hope of running over a houbara bustard or two and selling their feathers for a vast sum to Steve Cooper of Cookshill, so that he could then sell them for an even vaster sum to the tyers of classic salmon flies. Alas, I arrived home a couple of days ago bustardless. The big birds were there, alongside other desert species like cream-coloured coursers and black-bellied sandgrouse, but none of them would run onto the sandy tracks that I sped down in the hired VW Polo. It was, however, a great experience watching the bustards displaying and admiring their plumage at long range. It was not a great experience arriving home to torrential rain and rivers into fields and, in some cases, the centres of some villages and towns here in northwest England. For such rainfall, and its effects on our rivers, gets us worried: Will the trout and salmon redds be washed out? Will the insect life of the river beds be destroyed? Ten and twelve feet above summer level is a lot of water. Winter grayling fishing is out, even if you can get to the river.

But there are glimmers of hope. In a few days time we will reach the winter solstice, and then, slowly at first, the days will lengthen. Why? If we get a mild late winter – it could be in the first fortnight in February and that is only seven weeks away...49 days!....that’s all!....the first “spring” olives may hatch and the grayling rise and we will be back in heaven! Even though Sturdy’s Fancy, with its red wool tag, body of peacock herl and off white cock hackle, looks nothing like an olive dun, the grayling fall for it every time. And it is so visible on the water compared with a dry fly that imitates an olive dun. I have just checked my fly boxes, and I need to tie up some sizes 14 and 16 Sturdy’s Fancies.

2016 is a special year for me in that in April I reach the famous age of three score years plus ten and it was thirty years ago that I gave up being a salary slave and became a full time freelance writer.

Looking back I recall all the shows I took part in, alongside the greatest British fly-tyers like dear old Oliver Edwards, John Goddard, Taff Price, Terry Ruane, Davy Wootton, together with guests from abroad, like Marc Petitjean, Hans van Klinken, Darrel Martin and Roman Moser. Through these shows I got to know and fish with great fly-fishers like Ed Jaworowski and Left Kreh. Alas, shows like dear old Chatsworth (and its spin-offs at Broadlands and Woburn) and even the CLA Game Fair are now extinct or merely shadows of their former selves. Thank the Lord that we still have Fly Fair at Stafford in February: Don’t miss it! Use it or lose it! And then most of those thirty years have been shared with our magazine Fly-Fishing & Fly-Tying and its editor Mark. Thirty years! Back then the French Leader would have suggested some form of perversion and we knew nothing of Tenkara yet we did know how Izaak Walton and Charles Cotton fished their flies and they didn’t call it that! I could not have imagined how much some aspects of fly-fishing would change in thirty years ...in fact, we had no Goldheads thirty years ago! I first saw Goldheads in Holland in 1991 and wrote the first article about them late that year. Now we have tungsten beads, Czech nymph, the French and duo leader methods. We have emergers and CDC and, what was considered a bit prissy way back then, the now widely used parachute hackle. As for leaders...when was the last time you knotted bits of nylon together to make a trout leader? Now we have fabulous tapered leaders. Hooks...why barbless?...you will only lose fish! Now we are increasingly buying barbless hooks and I am proud to say that my own club, Bowland GFA, was the first in our region to insist on barbless for salmon and sea trout, as well as brown trout and grayling. If you are going to put a fish back alive, you owe it to that fish to be barbless.

And that is another thing. Thirty years ago and more, we went out to catch our bag limits. We still have bag limits. But do you know that – and again I am proud to use Bowland GFA , as an instance – the number of salmon, of sea trout, of wild brown trout and of grayling that members kill is tiny or, in the case of salmon, nil. I don’t think that any member ever takes their ‘bag limit’, and I know this to be the case throughout much of Britain.

Looking back, my chief concern is the lack of younger people taking up fly-fishing. For if we cannot get young people into fly-fishing for wild trout and salmon, in one or two generations time, there will be no voice like we have today for the conservation of these lovely wild fish and their rivers and lakes.

May I wish you all a very Happy Christmas and a very fishing New Year.

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