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Rain on…rain off

Malcolm Greenhalgh enjoys a good month of fishing in June, albeit both a very wet one... and a very dry one too!


Go fly-fishing. Tomorrow. But avoid the M6!
Go fly-fishing. Tomorrow. But avoid the M6!

June 2016 started with some hot days and ended with lots of torrential rain that had the North Country spate streams hopping up and down. But often the heavy showers were localised. For instance...

On the 8th Geoff and I headed off to the Aire at Gargrave for an evening session. I set off driving in lovely warm but cloudy conditions and then, whilst driving on the motorway past Burnley, had to slow down to 20mph because of rain so heavy that the windscreen wipers could not cope. Then, after fifteen minutes, we emerged into lovely dry conditions. I parked by the river and, just as I was about to open the door, the heavens opened and we sat there watching the rain bounce off the road and river. After 20 minutes the rain still fell and the black clouds seemed not to be moving, so we decided to head west to the Ribble. As we passed the watershed between Aire and Ribble headwaters the rain stopped and I drove on dry roads the few miles to one of our beats near Gisburn. As we tackled up the farmer’s wife drove past. “You’re fishing? The river’s very low!”

And it was. There had clearly been no rain in the Ribble valley for some time and the river was as low as it gets, with lots of blanketweed (Cladophora), the alga that thrives on nutrient rich water and forms dense beds in the shallows. We fished for just two hours and I concentrated on the top two pools. There were lots of small land-bred insects, blown from the overhanging trees upstream, drifting down and a few fish rose to them. The result: three brown trout, the biggest a cracking 13” wild one (no stocking in the upper Ribble) and five grayling (biggest about 12”). All took my Elk hair Caddis, save one that took a Hare’s Ear. The crucial thing about the Elk Hair is that it has no hackle. It’s just a body of soft fur (rabbit or synthetic in brown, grey or olive) and the wing is a bunch of bleached elk. So the thing sits IN and not ON the surface film, as do land-bred insects that fall onto the water.

Several years ago I visited the Ribble at Paythorne at dawn and found a species of Caenis that hatches in the early morning. Being an idle bloke (which is why I love brown trout, for they feed happily from LATE morning so I can have a leisurely breakfast) I forced myself to be driving as dawn broke. Reaching the Ribble 40 minutes later, I spotted a few fish feeding and, by 8am, I had five brownies on my size 22 imitation (try a Grey Duster!). The biggest was 18” long, would have weighed well over 2lbs had I done so (I never take fish from the water if I am going to put them back) and was well hooked on my small, barbless hook. Since we stopped chucking in stupid farmed trout, we seem to be catching ever more big wild ones!

With the rain, sea trout are in as well as a few grilse. I no longer fish through the night, as there is no need to do so. In one 3½ hour session on the Hodder, with a few inches on, I had three belting sea trout, new in from the sea, on a 3” Snake Fly.

I ended my month’s fishing with Geoff and host Steve Skuce on the fabulous River Wylye. Although technically not a ‘pure chalk stream’ I think that it is near chalk stream perfection when it comes to its fly life, its beauty and its trout and grayling stocks. Geoff had never fished a chalk stream where one can see the fish and then cast to the fish and see them respond to the fly, which is why Steve so kindly invited us down.

Day One was wonderful, and while Steve looked after Geoff, I fished two lovely beats. In the morning, few flies were on the water. My first trout, that was tucked away under an alder, took a pale watery dun before getting hooked on my size 16 Kite’s Imperial (Oliver Kite fished here!) Then I found a small pod of grayling and caught three; two on a Grey Shrimp that I had tied over 20 years ago for a visit to this very river, and one on a Killer Bug using a piece of Chadwick’s wool once owned by the great Frank Sawyer. [As I grow older, I find tradition increasingly important. It’s our fly-fishing heritage.]

That afternoon, in light drizzle, I fished a beat with some much deeper water and a nice hatch of mayfly duns. That gave me some easy fishing. But the most effective fly was not tied on a big hook as are most mayfly patterns. It was an emerger tied on a smaller (size 14, but ¾” long shank) curved grub hook , with grey fur abdomen, peacock herl thorax, white Antron posted wing ad a blue dun cock hackle wound around the wing base in Klinkhamer style. The reason why I turned from the usual big mayfly patterns was that I missed a few grayling on the big hooks. The smaller hook took them and I ended that afternoon with three browns and eleven grayling. And I watched two water voles.

The following day, torrential rain. I fished for an hour for three grayling on my emerger and Geoff, guided by Steve, fished for over two and caught more on a bug. Then we headed back home to Lancashire. The drive was lovely until we reached the end of the M6 Toll Road in Staffordshire. For the last fifty miles it was Hell, with traffic jams, stop-start and lane closures due to accidents caused by the weather and bad driving.

I wish I could fly!

Go fly-fishing. Tomorrow. But avoid the M6.

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