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Leap Days and Early Spring

Malcolm Greenhalgh welcomes in the new season and tells us about his first-day-of-Spring-fly that (indirectly) caused him to be banned from a well known Stillwater!

A bustling BFFI; (inset) the Kite's Imperial.
A bustling BFFI; (inset) the Kite's Imperial.

As I write this, the day after tomorrow (which is 29 February...Leap Year’s Day when I once caught a pristine silver spring salmon on the Nith near Dumfries....once....many years ago!) is, climatologically, the first day of spring, the 1st March. Hurrah and thank Goodness! This winter has been long and wet, and has left our rivers in northwest England in a dreadful state. As I write, the dry, coldish weather of the last week or so is meant to turn wet once more, but hopefully we won’t have the deluges of the past three months (though the rivers of Galloway are under threat from later in the coming week). Usually I have had a few days after grayling, but how can one catch anything when the river is six feet above summer level?

Yvonne and I fled to Lanzarote towards the end of January and returned on the 10th February. On the 11th and 12th I felt a tickle in my throat and coughed a little. And true enough, the wonderfully crap air conditioning of the plane coming back did ensure that the common cold viruses being coughed about by a few heathens (definition of heathen: someone who does not believe in handkerchiefs!) were shared equally amongst us. Thus it was when Geoff drove me down to Fly-Fair (BFFI) at Stafford Show Ground, where I lasted only five hours.

But I greatly enjoyed those five hours, for the Fair was the best it has ever been, with loads of great stalls, a plethora of great fly-dressers from around the planet, and a vibrant mass of people all enthusiastic about their sport. It was wonderful wandering around just talking to people, some I had never chatted to before. Thank you all for coming and see you next year! Alas, as some of you will have noted, and if you didn’t Karl Humphreys did bellow it around, I lost my voice, couldn’t do the Izaak Walton charity auction, and was driven home (I slept on the way) by Geoff. Over two weeks later and the virus is still with me. Buy it is slowly going...

So on 15 March I will be on the river catching some wild trout and marking the start of yet another trout season. I should have already started one season, for Stocks Reservoir had its official opening on 20 February and Pete and I had booked our boat yonks ago. The virus said that I couldn’t go, and the weather for that day was forecast atrocious, so we cancelled. Sitting in a boat, in a near gale and heavy rain, on a reservoir high in the Bowland fells, with a foul cold, would have been silly!

But I am ready for the 15th. I have enough 12’ tapered leaders and I have cleaned by fly-lines and reels. I bought some Rio tippet material at Fly-Fair and my boxes have enough size 14 Kite’s Imperials to satisfy a dozen trout. That is the fly I always use on Opening Day for tradition as much as any other reason. If you were to look in my diaries from four decades ago, you will find that nearly all the trout I caught in the first two or three weeks of the season came to that fly. Why? Because the trout think that one floating, without drag, down a river is a large dark olive, and the l.d.o. is our first real fly of the year (if you ignore the damned midges).

The tying is dead easy: purple thread, tail and hackle of ginger or blue dun cock (originally honey dun, but when Kite couldn’t get honey dun he used both ginger and blue dun), and a body of grey heron herl ribbed fine gold wire. It is a traditionally tied fly, the sort of dry fly that gets some experts’ knickers in a twist because, “It does not match the real fly properly, with its hackle wound behind the eye!” To our eyes perhaps, but trout are silly fish and are easily fooled.

Tradition? Well Oliver Kite was a hero of mine when I was younger and it was his fly; in fact, for a few years he fished that fly and that fly alone when trout were rising. And thirty years ago I caught my first fish for a TV camera (three grayling from the Ribble on a lovely February afternoon) on that pattern, and then five years later (the day after John Major won a General election against W.W. Neil Kinnock) a brown trout from the Cumbrian Derwent for an ITV sports programme. What I said after catching that fish got me banned from a well-known Stillwater; ask me about that the next time we meet! So I do have a soft spot for the Imperial.

In fact, I did some videos with Sporting Scene, and one incident on the Derbyshire Wye illustrated the virtue of the fly. I found a fish rising to an olive hatch and covered it with a ‘proper’ fly that is a ‘better’ match of a real olive than the Imperial. The imbecilic trout ignored that perfection in fly design. So I knotted an Imperial to the leader and cast it over the stupid fish. And blow me down...the mutt rose and took it!

So it is always worth having a few old, well-proven flies in the box and the Imperial is such a fly.

I hope the season begins well for you all. Watch this space in a month’s time!

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