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If only blackbirds could read…

It's the golden period before the banks are littered with disposable barbeques and empty cans and the Damp Angler watches his favourite fishing spot come to life...

Splendid isolation: It is worth joining a club to get away from the crowds.
Splendid isolation: It is worth joining a club to get away from the crowds.

Watching the riverbanks come back to life with the onset of May is one of the highlights of the year. Near one of my favourite spots on the Tees, a blackbird has laid five sky blue eggs in a perfect nest – perfect that is, except for its location. Built into the bank only a couple of feet above the waterline, the next proper rain will wash it away. The spot is also popular with picnickers – there is a direct correlation between a rise in temperatures and the number of empty cider cans and used barbecue sets littering the waterside. It is a cruel irony that the better the weather is for fishing, the more people there are around and the worse the fishing becomes. I had half an idea about posting regular pictures of the blackbird's nest so that everyone could follow the progress of the chicks, but decided against it.

Almost perfect: The blackbird’s nest on the banks of the Tees.

With so many people in such close proximity, theirs is a story unlikely to have a happy ending. But for the moment, the nest is at least safe from the river. The Tees is running very low, with few fish rising no matter how many insects are hatching. During a chilly late evening at Croft there were sedges everywhere – my waders were bristling with them – but the fish showed no interest at all.

Attack of the sedges: Grannom making their way from the water on a chilly evening at Croft.

On the Swale, rising fish have also been a rare sight and when they have bothered to show themselves they have barely disturbed the surface. A nice little trout swirling near the far bank took a size 16 Kite’s Imperial with the tiniest of sips. It was as if the fly had sunk under its own weight and I wondered if fish feeding at their leisure on emerging insects beneath the surface get into a sort of behavioural habit and take the occasional mature insect that crosses their path in the same lazy way.

A fellow angler was largely responsible for this small triumph on an otherwise frustrating day. He was staying at a nearby campsite a few miles above Richmond and seemed to know his way around. He advised me to try a small olive pattern – he had been catching on a Klinkhamer. I told him the only insects I had seen were very small sedges.

“They're olives,” he countered rather sternly.

Back you go: Elvis has left the building.

Just because it was an olive imitation that drew the take, this should not be taken as conclusive proof in the matter. I was casting the Kite’s Imperial for nearly an hour before the trout went for it, so one way or another the fish had seen an awful lot of olives regardless of what was actually hatching. Whatever the truth of it, without the stranger's intervention I would probably have persisted with sedge patterns and in all likelihood gone home empty-handed, so he deserves my appreciation.

But while the fishing on the Swale is difficult at the moment, the environment is as stunning as ever; its miles of deserted riverbanks and rugged scenery making the annual fishing club membership fee cheap at half the price. Above Richmond there are few picnickers and no piles of empty cider cans and used barbecue kits. If only blackbirds could read...

Small brownie: This little chap took a size 16 Kite’s Imperial.

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