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The Opening of the 2016 Trout Season

Malcolm Greenhalgh looks at two opening days in Yorkshire. One from this year, where he put his Kite’s Imperial to the test, the other his most memorable opening day, back in 1981.

35 years ago, back in 1981, Malcolm fished a beat on the Ribble (pictured) that was just
35 years ago, back in 1981, Malcolm fished a beat on the Ribble (pictured) that was just "bonkers".

Those of you who, like me, are nearing our 70th birthdays, will recall the time when there was not just one EA rod licence for England and Wales. For me, living here in northwest England, the purchase of a North West licence was essential, and it allowed me to fish all Cumberland, Westmoreland and Lancashire (I still hate Heath’s administrative counties), including the headwaters of the Ribble, Hodder, Lune and Wenning that are in the West Riding of Yorkshire. Indeed I recall Yorkshire Tyke Mike Mee bringing Hans van Klinken to fish with me on the upper Ribble and protesting that he, a White Rose man, should have to buy a day’s Red Rose licence to fish a river in Yorkshire!

But I have often travelled to fish further afield. So when I popped to Wales to seek sea trout in the Dovey, Dwyfor and Dwyfach, I had to buy a Welsh licence, for the chalkstreams I had to get – if I recall right – separate licences to fish Test and the Wiltshire streams, a trip to the Tyne required a Northumberland licence and worst of all, because my club have two fabulous trout beats on the Upper Aire, I had to get an annual Yorkshire licence. Then, different regions often had different opening days for the trout season. For instance, if I wanted to visit one of our Aire beats I had to wait until 22 March, if I remember rightly, and for the Test I had to wait until 3 April, yet here at home we started on 15 March.

This is much too early!

I have fished every 15th March bar four since 1980 and had only one outstanding Opening Day, outstanding as far as catching trout is concerned. That was 1981, 35 years ago. The weather was very warm, with hardly a breath of wind, and we didn’t need our thick fleeces wand windproof jackets. The hatch of large dark olives began, as expected, at lunchtime and continued to past three o’clock, and the trout on the Ribble beat we fished went bonkers! There were three of us: Geoff, with whom I still fish, and the late Jack Norris, then the most accomplished dry fly fisherman I had ever met and who taught Geoff and me all he knew. As a tyer of dry flies he had no equal, partly because he used as tying thread a strand of 16 denier lady’s stocking silk (long before dear Oliver Edwards came across Spider Web!). Those of you who have my little book The Floating Fly will recall Jack’s other virtues.

Anyway, that Opening Day was magic. Since then most Opening Days have been in the dank and cool category and this one was no exception.

Mark drove Roger and me to our lower Hodder beat and, shortly after we arrived at 11am, a few olives hatched. But there was a cold breeze blowing up the river and it fell only when the sun peeped through the clouds for a minute or so. I started at the top of the beat, Roger headed down a mile to the lower two pools, and Mark patrolled the middle of the beat. I found a couple of fish taking the occasional fly close to the bank on which I was standing and I caught them both: grayling in the first day of their close season. At this point: please, barbless hooks. Barbed hooks damage fish and if you are putting them back, minimal damage = barbless. My club insists on barbless for all fishing, salmon, sea trout, brown trout and grayling, and I now buy barbless hooks.

An hour later a fish rose close to the far bank, under overhanging trees. That too took my dry fly (Kite’s Imperial...see last blog!) and it turned out to be a nice small wild brownie. It had to be, for we no longer stock our rivers with idiotic farmed trout. I saw one other fish rise, a trout in an impossible position.

After that, job done and time for a late lunch. We three headed to the Three Fishes as is now our tradition on Opening day. There the food is outstanding. We shared a bread board with dips and relishes. I followed that up with a great dish of slowly braised and thus succulently tender ox cheek and tongue, with carrots and creamy mash. Roger was the only one of us to stoop to have a pudding (he ought to weigh heavier than he does, and it did make Mark and I feel very virtuous). And we washed that down with proper real ale, in my case, a pint of Pendle.

Since then the weather has been anything but trout season like, with chilling rain and a cold breeze. I nipped out to the Ribble and had forty minutes with fish rising (two brown trout, and two grayling that don’t count) in a three hour sojourn. And yesterday, the last day of March, I visited my friend Frank Casson’s great stillwater fishery of Barnsfold, we talked for over an hour in his wife’s kitchen over a cup of tea, and I had a few casts (wearing two thick fleeces) until the bitter wind sent me home. And as I write now, the icy blast is stirring the branches of our oak trees and the light is a gloomy grey. It can only get better.

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