Sunday, November 09, 2014


A friend of mine died at the end of this summer. I hadn't known Gary Hyde for even a year, yet such was the nature of the man that we had quickly become friends and when he finally lost his long battle against illness, I felt the loss greatly. Fellow anglers who had known Gary for a lot longer than I, were universally devastated; at once, I was reminded of the sense of community there exists within flyfishing circles as social networking sites became crowded with tributes to the man and condolences to his family.

I had a small tribute of my own in mind and finally saw it through last month. I visited one of Gary's favourite rivers and spent a few hours in quiet reflection, wading the pools I know he loved to fish, and to which he so generously introduced me at the start of the year. Those familiar with these pages might recall the circumstances in which we met during late December 2013 and how, unprompted, Gary invited me over to fish with him on some of the urban rivers of his native West Yorkshire. One polite enquiry as to where might be a good place to start on the Ryburn and Halifax AS waters of the River Calder, and shortly after at Gary's absolute insistence, I found myself in the passenger seat of his car, receiving a comprehensive tour of the area's flyfishing potential. A few days later we were back again, this time actually fishing. Gary eagerly pressed example after example of his beautifully tied grayling flies into my hand at every opportunity, patterns which went on to have a profound effect upon my hitherto conservative tying style. The fishing itself was a revelation and I made a number of return visits to the area before the trout season opened and I turned my attention to more familiar ground elsewhere.

When at last the opportunity arose, I returned in October to find the river in an entirely unfamiliar state: running clear and low enough to reveal a mouthwatering sequence of riffles and pools. Of course I had forgotten; back in the early days of my acquaintance I came each time to the river in various states of spate and thus came to know it only as a mucky torrent from which grayling could be plucked from slack water eddies and boil holes. But here was a bright, clean proposition entirely unlike that which my limited experience had revealed, its gritstone bones so dark that only stonebound accumulations of autumn leaves on the riverbed betrayed what would otherwise have appeared unfathomable depths. Slowly, I worked my way up the pools with a brace of nymphs, a short line and a heavy heart.

The fishing was stupendously good - it always is on Gary's river. There are many more such examples up and down the country. That such vigorous veins of life can thrive in the face of such pressure is nothing short of a miracle and a credit to all involved in urban river restoration. These streams exist on a perpetual knife edge, the ever-present threat of complete wipeout at the hand of industrial pollution incidents looming with a sense of inevitability that is heartbreaking. It would be easy to feel pessimistic about the future, more so when weighed down by thoughts of mortality....yet by the time I climbed from the river, a good mile or so upstream, I couldn't fail to be buoyed by the absolute magnificence of the sport. In a little over three hours I had returned exactly 80 fish, mostly grayling but despite best endeavors to avoid them, a good number of ravenous trout among them. I don't deserve any credit for that impressive tally - the fishing was easy and a rank novice would have filled his boots similarly. It is the river which deserves the credit, along with all the people and organisations involved in its improvement.

There is another story to be told here - one for another time. It concerns the flies I used that day: patterns of my own devising both, but as you might have guessed, patterns very much in the style of my late friend. The two flies remained in their respective positions on the cast for the whole session and would you believe me if I said that all but a couple of trout took the point fly (a small gold-headed jig nymph), whilst nearly every single grayling ate the dropper? One day I'll tell you about that dropper fly I promise......

I felt blessed as I made the drive home. This last year has changed my outlook as an angler, for a number of reasons, all of them positive; and whilst it would be wrong to credit a single individual with that, there is little doubt that one particular 'phone conversation back in the dying embers of 2013 proved to be the catalyst for some wholesale changes to my outlook on certain aspects of river fishing and fly tying.

Gary Hyde was a fine man; one of the most generous, kind-hearted blokes I've ever had the pleasure to meet. No trouble was too great if it meant helping a fellow angler, experienced or novice - something that I witnessed at first hand on a number of occasions and which instilled in me a deep respect for the man, and a desire to become a better person myself as a result. It was standing room only at his funeral as fellow anglers packed in to pay their respects, some of whom traveled out to the river afterwards for a few reflective casts. I wasn't able to make it that day; I hope that these few paragraphs go some way to making amends.

Thanks for everything Gary. We all miss you fella.

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Curtain Drawn.

That's it then: the 2014 trout season has passed and I return to this blog a full two months after last posting - what a sad state of affairs! It's not been from a lack of trying, I can tell you - all sorts of other stuff has got in the way, such as fishing (hurrah!), and when I have had some keyboard time, a few bits of writing published elsewhere. I guess that makes me a little unfaithful to these pages, and yes I do feel bad. The great thing about keeping a blog is that you write purely for fun and on your own terms. Someone once said that if you haven't got anything interesting to say, don't say it; that's a maxim that the blogger can steadfastly live by - certainly I find myself more and more these days with just nothing interesting to say. Then one day you might be in the mood to have a waffle and off you go.....out comes a blog post. Whether anyone reads it or finds it interesting or worthwhile is a secondary consideration - the main thing is that you enjoyed doing it in the first place.

Commissioned writing is a different beast altogether. Take a subject you love and love to write about and it should be easy to knock an article out to order yes? Well no, not for me anyway; bung a deadline in front of something and it instantly becomes A Task. Over the last eight or so years, my motivation for writing has been purely internal and I've become accustomed to brief blasts at the keyboard when the mood takes - a stream of consciousness which either turns out acceptably, or gets consigned to the virtual trashcan, with no great drama either way. Recently however I've had to pore over every word, tie and then re-tie sample flies, self edit down to a more concise wordcount, process and re-size photos and then start again when I realised I hadn't removed a sensor speck from the top right hand corner....that sort of thing. Suddenly, what would have been a half hour exercise in freestyling, has absorbed hours of your already busy life! Yes, my poor little blog has suffered. The least I can do is make amends with an obligatory end of season round-up.

Where to begin though? I've been uncommonly lucky this time around and done more than my fair share of fishing on waters both running and still. The Eden has been kind once more and after a period of averaging high numbers of sub-2lb fish per session, I at last managed to get my timing right and rock up when a few bigger fish were on the go. Visits from early August onwards threw up a few 3-4lb trout although I needed to fish well into darkness to find them feeding off the surface to blue-winged olive duns and emerging caddis.

I had a play with the G16's auto-timer in an attempt to get a few 'selfies'. There is some way to go before I can match the efforts of Paul Procter and Jeff Hatt admittedly!

Then later in the season I had a few trips out to my favourite wild stillwater where luckily a boat partner was generally on hand to obtain something like a decent photo:

Ironically though, after a season which has proved to be consistently productive, my most memorable outing of the back end was an occasion when I fell flat on my be-wadered arse and failed miserably to catch much more than a handful of skezwees. It was a day when I was required to catch to order - the first time in my life such a bizarre circumstance has arisen. I had my photographer friend Peter with me and the brief was simple - catch a couple of good fish for some action shots and a couple of nice shallow-depth-of-field trout portraits. So I took him to my 'banker stretch', a bit of river that I know well, where I am always confident of catching plenty of decent trout. It might not be the place to go for the very biggest fish, but I was pretty sure I could extract at least one 2lb-er for the camera. The day was fine, the river refreshed slightly by an all too rare thunderstorm a couple of days earlier, and with each pool hereabouts typically producing at least a brace of decent fish all summer, all I had to do was turn up and fish right? Nope, 'fraid not.

By the time I had fished through three pools with only a couple of parr to show, I was becoming concerned. I mucked about with my nymph patterns and plugged away, safe in the knowledge that the fish hadn't gone anywhere and that I would connect eventually.......except I never did. Just as writing for oneself comes easily at times, but a whole lot harder when working to a brief, so the angling side had proved to be uncompromising when all I bloody well needed needed was one decent (and by decent, I would have settled for pound class), fish.....trout, grayling or bugger it, even a chub! I could sense Peter's resolve draining by the minute; the increasingly bright conditions making even the routine capturing of 'fishless angler going through the motions' shots, a far from straightforward affair. Eventually I returned a couple of 8 inch grayling and then dropped a somewhat better fish down the side of a pool head rapid. It was, truth be told, some way off being a satisfactory performance. Yet it was truly a memorable outing.......mainly because I haven't been allowed to forget it!

The last roll of the dice came a few weeks later when I met up with my good friend Dave Smith for a day on the Eden, in glorious late September weather of warm air and soft sunlight. Fishing with Dave is always an absolute pleasure: a relaxing, contemplative occasion where fish tend to come as a happy byproduct rather than the result of any concerted effort. We chewed the fat, made plans for next season, fished dry in the pool tails (Dave), fished wet in the pool heads (me), relaxed with a picnic of some quality and bottles of pale ale, then resumed fishing into the autumnal gloaming with spirits high for the moment, but hearts heavy at the passing of another season. 
No big trout showed themselves that evening, but the hours that preceded had yielded a good many fish with Dave expertly picking off risers (and non-risers) to small black patterns, and yours truly occasionally chipping in with small Leon-style nymphs in the very thinnest of the drought-shrunken riffles.The river is in rude health and Dave returned a good number of fish of this calibre, which bodes well for the coming couple of seasons.

Plenty of grayling continued to show too, which is encouraging as they seem to have been a little scarce on the Eden of late. Dozens of 8-10 inch fish tell a story of successful spawning in spring 2013 and as the season closed it seemed that every pool held a pocket of them. If we get a proper hard winter this time and they are encouraged to shoal, it might herald a return to those days when eventual location could lead to a return of 20 or more or more fish without moving your feet.
I have heard complaints this year. I can understand why: those who prefer to fish dry fly have had a hard time of it through no fault of their own. What is indisputable though, is that the head of fish is there - one or two fellow anglers I know have enjoyed something approaching their best ever season on the river. Local expert Geoff Johnston's latest blog post pretty much sums things up for me - it feels like the end of the season has come too soon!

Dave continued to fish with trademark elegance into the last knockings while I pootled about with my camera. Never one to pass up the opportunity for a cliche, I stood mid-river and took a series of shots of the sun dipping slowly behind the bankside trees, drawing the curtain on another trout season. What a privilege to have fished in the places I have fished, with the people I have fished with!

Wednesday, August 06, 2014


That there is more to flyfishing than flyfishing alone is a fact I was reminded of in spades last week. I fished on three separate occasions, each one a completely different experience to the one before, each one memorable in its own unique way.

Friday night found me on familiar territory and reveling in the comforts of a piece of river I know like the back of the proverbial. The week had been another blisteringly hot one and the river was desperately low, a full five inches below summer zero. Just how long a river can survive in the face of such a drought I've no idea - probably a lot longer than might seem possible - but at the time (the weather has since broken and we've seen some rain at last), the situation seemed dire and the shrunken pools, barely worth fishing.

I pinned my hopes on an evening rise and spent the hours between 6 and 9pm fishing a single tiny nymph into the foreshortened lively water at the pool heads. Using a long French leader with only a short length of fluo yellow Stren as an indicator, I crept about keeping as low a profile as possible whilst delivering the nymph into any pocket with enough depth to contain a fish. I didn't expect much response, but was pleasantly surprised to return a string of trout and grayling from spots which you would have thought too shallow to be worth fishing. There were some decent specimens among them - nothing huge, but a handful of trout around the pound mark such as the golden beauty at the top of this post. It was absorbing stuff; the kind of fishing the French leader was designed for, and I later wondered if I would have had the same rate of success a few years ago while plugging away with a conventional upstream nymph approach. A Tenkara angler would no doubt have been very much in his element......but that is a deviation too far for me.

Another thing which came as a surprise was the number of grayling I caught - seven bright little fish, all in the 10-12 inch bracket. Where have they been hiding for the last few months when the river seemed entirely devoid of them I wonder (I contacted ten of them again when I was out last night, outnumbered by trout only marginally).

The evening did have some dry fly sport in store although I had to wait until nearly 10pm. A mixed fall of BWO spinners and hatch of caddis resulted in a few fish nudging the surface in one broken glide, including the somewhat better specimen below. Then, once the light had gone altogether, I reverted to the downstream skated sedge - a contemporary version of the traditional Eden Bustard method I suppose, and one which results in explosive takes which seem incongruous in the low, quiet conditions of the drought stricken river. This tactic nobbled a last couple of trout before I started to get the night time heebie-geebies and headed back to the car with only bats for company. I'm some way off having the minerals for sea trout fishing, admittedly.



It's strange how our concept of time alters as we get older. My lad has finished school for the summer holidays and with several long weeks of freedom stretching out ahead of him it must feel, as it did for me when I was his age, like endless possibilities await. I can still vividly recall that same sense that the summer - real summer - had only just begun when I threw my school clothes in the wash for the last time. And yet when I walked the banks of the river last night, it felt like summer was as good as over, even the Ragwort coming to the end of its flowering, and the balsam pods ripe to burst. The songbirds are quiet and ducklings are no longer ducklings, but near full grown birds which career off noisily up through the pool I am about to fish, leaving me cursing their anatidine stupidity.

To George however, the world is all summertime exploration and adventure and time is not a concept worthy of consideration. I took him with me last weekend, to the Secret Forest Stream, and for a couple of hours my world weary resignation to the decay of all things living was forgotten in a riot of wide-eyed excitement.

I didn't have any waders for him, so it was just the welly-bobs and an unspoken understanding that he was going to get wet. In any case the weather was hot and even under the woodland canopy, the air was muggy and warm. We started at the first of many tiny pools (just scoops really, erosion pockets under tangled banks), and I showed him how to flick a single nymph into the deeper water and twitch it back enticingly. Trout soon followed and although the process of casting in tight spaces and then hooking the quick little buggers proved a task too far for the boy, he was content enough to reel in the ones I hooked and then slip them back into the tiny refuges they call home.

George soon got a handle on which type of water held the fish and went on upstream, scrambling about in the undergrowth and then returning to tell Daddy that there was a good looking pool just around the corner, with spots of foam and tree roots just like I'd said. He doesn't know it yet, but he has already begun the process of learning the 'read the river'.

We had a smashing couple of hours together. The fishing didn't amount to much, with maybe half a dozen little trout falling to the little pink-tailed nymph we showed them; but in many ways the fishing wasn't the important thing. Catching trout isn't really a serious least I don't think it should be. It's just that sometimes it becomes more serious to us grown-ups through obsession and the need to escape from the rigours of modern living. To George all the excitement of adventure awaits and each fish caught is greeted like some wondrous accident has occurred. It's a mindset I intend to try and rekindle for myself over the next few fishing trips.


If scrambling about on a tiny woodland stream constituted a great expedition to my little lad, then a day spent up on Cow Green Reservoir a few days later was mine - an enterprise of an altogether different kind, being a long and somewhat remote hike around the perimeter of one of England's most dauntingly wild stillwaters. It's a place I've written of before, a stunningly remote spot high up in the north Peninnes at the head of Teesdale; a place which might be considered as close to wilderness as this over-populated country can offer. I've fished it alone a handful of times in the past and the experience has always been atmospheric, eerie even - a communion with the wild. For whatever reason, it's been a few years since I last made the long drive. I was so excited the night before, I barely slept. 

This time I had the pleasure of company. Stuart Minnikin and I had planned the trip and set the date some weeks before. Like me, Stuart is no stranger to 'The Big Cow', his most recent foray being an overnight camp on the remote south west bank, some four miles from the car park (which in turn is a further three miles from the nearest meaningful civilisation at Langdon Beck). With a perimeter of some seven miles and the going underfoot ranging from loose boulders, to boggy peat hags, to tussocky moorland riven with drainage grips and potholes, this is a place to exercise great care and one for the hardcore flyfisher only. Stuart is about as dedicated as it gets when it comes to fishing wild places - I couldn't think of better company for the day.

We decided to fish the more remote south west bank. Perhaps this was always inevitable as the lure of a shoreline which barely sees a rod from one year to the next will always appeal to fishers like us. A check on wind direction at the car park sealed the deal though - a square westerly of maybe 20mph meant that the 'point and bay' topography of the far side would give a far better chance of comfortable angling. We set off around the dam wall with high hopes and a long day ahead.

In the end, we hiked the full perimeter. There came a point whilst leapfrogging each other westwards, where it was as easy to just keep going than retrace our steps. It would be a hell of a task for two anglers to actually fish the full water in a day, but we managed maybe 40% - from the dam end to the inlet of the infant River Tees which we arrived at gone 6:30pm and realised we had better be heading  back if we wanted to arrive home at a decent hour. 

The six hours preceding had provided cracking sport with Cow Green's trademark small, dark trout. Not silly numbers, but enough action to keep us both occupied. We returned about two dozen between us, with a ratio of maybe three missed offers to every one converted, so quick are these wild little fish. Most of the action came in the calmer, sheltered lee of points where a dark dry fly would be assaulted within seconds of touching the water. Strangely, the usual banker tactic of pulling a team of wet flies through bigger wave (which we had ample opportunity to do when rounding a point into the teeth of the wind), failed to produce more than an odd fish......apart from a brief spell in mid afternoon where the trout went potty for half an hour or so and wanted the flies twiddled back briskly through the ripple.

Fishing Cow Green Reservoir is so much more than just catching numerous little trout though. It's a different experience altogether and one which only a minority of mad keen anglers will ever understand. As much as the fishing itself, is the sense of location and of being lost amidst the bleak wildness of nature. Years ago I sought this feeling of isolation through hill walking alone, itself a rewarding undertaking. But by fishing in such places too, well that seems to add a new dimension of absorption into the environment which elevates the whole thing to something approaching a religious experience. The landscape is hardly untouched by man; after all, this is a reservoir which only came into existence with the completion of the dam wall as recently as 1971. It certainly doesn't feel that way; it's some paradox that a day on a man made lake can offer a feeling of detachment so complete, you might as well be angling on The Moon.

And so ended a week of great variety: wild trout caught from mere ounces up to well over 3lb, from water as diverse as the tiniest forest brook up to hundreds of acres of windswept reservoir, and with mood ranging from childlike adventure to comfortable familiarity, to awestruck respect. What a superb spectrum of experiences this wonderful sport is capable of providing. As happens more and more these days, I count myself a lucky man to have so much on his doorstep, and great friends with which to share it.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Struggling to find the words.

This blog has presented me with a problem of late. I desperately want to write something worthwhile, but somehow cannot find the words. A few things might be to blame for this, such as spending more time actually fishing than thinking and writing about it (A Good Thing); but perhaps the nature of my fishing has had the greatest effect. I've been lucky enough to get out very regularly and to a variety of different venues from stocked stillwater small and large, through upland wild tarn, to running water ranging from tiniest brook to large spate river. It's been a rare owd time for sure, but to keep updating this blog each time I return home would quickly read like a succession of soulless catch reports.

Better perhaps to post up a few photos which together sum up the last few weeks for me. Every image has its own story, each worthwhile in its own way, but I have neither the time nor the disposition to do justice to them here.

Stocks Reservoir: making good our embarkation in the Rob Denson Birthday Invitational Competition.

NCA Junior into his first fly caught fish - a special moment.

Small stream, big trout!

Small stream, tiny trout!

Grellin back in season

Flies for the High Place....

Stuart at the High Place.

Tony in deepest Ribblesdale.

A favourite bit of river back from the brink.

Saviour of the dog days - French leader and (my interpretation of) Leon style nymphs.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Fishing the water

What a peculiar course my trout fishing season has taken so far. With the cream of the year's sport supposedly now upon us I would have expected to be spending nearly all my time stalking individual rising trout, preferably large ones. Yet, as I write, midway through glorious June, I can count on a few digits the number of fish I've been able to approach in such a manner; and although I've caught good numbers of trout on each of my last few visits, the overwhelming majority have been on nymphs and a general MO of just 'fishing the water'.

Why this should be so is a question I've pondered to death recently. Unsurprisingly, the results of my ponderings have been inconclusive and as it stands, I've still no real idea what's going on. However the facts are stark and irrefutable: over the course of half a dozen sessions on various rivers in the last month or so I've returned somewhere in the region of 100 trout...and only a dozen or so have been to the dry fly. Of those dozen, maybe half came from blind prospecting, leaving a very modest number of actively rising fish successfully targeted and landed.

Whether I've just been unlucky and hit on a bad run of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, or whether it's just turning out to be a very slow season surface sport wise, I don't know. A friend of mine has witnessed somewhat better dry fly sport in the upper reaches of a river I regularly fish (although a noticeable dearth of large trout); and one or two others who fish in different parts of the country have had superb dry fly sport from opening day. Yet whilst I cannot begin to describe my seasons so far as being poor, it has certainly been a whole lot different to how things normally pan out. I've been forced to reassess my expectations, focusing very heavily on the full range of nymphing methods to catch fish in good number....but all the while wondering what the hell happened to the rising fish.

"Whit's that in its mooth?"

So, fishing the water then. I have to admit that there have been times in recent years when that whole concept felt a bit unsatisfactory to me. I long since lost the urge to hare around trying to catch as many fish as I could on any given day. There was a time when I felt it imperative that I catch consistently for as much of the session as possible and set about learning all the different river techniques required in order to achieve that goal. Admittedly there is something satisfying about constantly adapting and tweaking one's approach in order to keep in touch with the river's signals. Inevitably though, I just got older - and maybe a touch lazier - and started to accept the fact that there are times when trout and grayling just don't respond....those periods when the driving force to their feeding - invertebrate availability - is just lacking and the result is a river sleeping. During such times you'll have been more likely to find me taking a kip in the grass while I wait for some decent fish to show.

These last few sessions have reversed that trend and I've forced myself to adopt a more proactive approach and the thorough searching of water I once found so compelling. It's been an interesting and rewarding exercise which has further added to the sense that this is a season which I hope to remember for its variety and experimentation. I've been lucky enough to get out quite a bit and fish with a number of different friends on many different waters. The net product of that might be that I've lost a bit of touch with my regular haunts, not been quite so 'in tune' with them as normal....but the trade-off has been worthwhile, not least because I've been able to get my eye back in to methods such as upstream nymphing, French leader, and the 'trio'.

After a couple of weeks away from the river, I made a trip over the Pennines to meet up with a friend of mine, Danny Gill. We fished the headwaters of his local spate stream and enjoyed a challenging but rewarding session which summed up a lot of what my season has been about. The river positively bristles with small trout and in the right conditions a proper cricket score can be achieved. Danny knows this and has tuned his approach to take maximum advantage by closely following the gauge station readings each week and selecting the best beat to fish. When it works out, some truly phenomenal numbers are on the cards; when it doesn't, well the fishing is still absorbing as we found out the other night.

It never ceases to amaze me how a river's moods can change so drastically. We fished a section where the week before, Danny had returned something like 125 trout during an afternoon session. Now, with the river over 4 inches lower and crystal clear, it was hard in places to imagine where fish might be hiding, such was the lack of depth and cover. We toiled away for an odd fish or two but it was difficult to progress without spooking small ones rising in the pool tails, which in turn seemed to put the entire pool down as they bolted off upstream (at one point I crept into the back end of one pool to tackle the three or four fish which were rising steadily in the eddy above, only for them all to go down the instant I extended a line!). A better bet proved to be bypassing the slower sections altogether and quietly drop in to the broken water at the head, where fish would come to small bead headed nymphs right enough.

I was reminded of the days of our north country forefathers where large baskets of trout were frequently described by the likes of Pritt and Walbran, generally achieved by fishing spider patterns in the 'fining down' water following a spate. Danny's neglected little river seems to me to exhibit such traits still, where most of our more famous northern spate streams have suffered terribly at the hands of predation land management and no longer hold such impressive numbers of game fish.

As the evening progressed the odds slowly began to tip in our favour. Lengthening shadows and the discovery of some deeper sections upstream, led to a steady increase in catch rate and fishing the water with either nymphs or dries brought regular interest from superb wild little trout up to about 10" in length. It was a lovely evening - the first such I've enjoyed this summer - warm and still and the air heavy with the scent of elderflower and freshly cut meadowgrass. At this time of year, there is nowhere in the world I would rather be.


Finally, I'm pleased to report that the July 2014 edition of Total Flyfisher magazine contains an article of mine. Pennies From Heaven is a discussion on the tactics and flies required to negotiate the Blue-Winged Olive spinner fall, which should be providing us with some electric evening dry fly sport any time around now. I hope it proves interesting to anyone who regularly buys the mag.

Friday, May 23, 2014

An accumulation of small gains

What's a man to do when overnight rain blows his local rivers and puts the mockers on a planned evening session? It's a question I gave some serious thought in my dinner hour at work a couple of weeks ago. Back in 2012 - you may recall that hideously wet summer - it was a question I seemed to spend half my life cogitating over. River up, river dropping wait, river up again! It felt at times that year as if a higher power was having a laugh at my expense, week after week, after miserable week.

Not that I expect this summer to turn out to be the same. How could it be? Nevertheless, that memory pricked me again last week as I studied the hydrographs of my local rivers and found them to be rising at exactly the time I was able to escape and go fishing. Hopeful phone calls to the north, east and south each confirmed my fears: high and muddy rivers, no sport here my lad, better go stockie bashing. And that is probably what I would have done, had I not recalled a conversation from just a week earlier with my boat partner as we yawed about on the squallbeaten expanse of Malham Tarn.

Phil has become a dedicated small stream man over the last few years. You know the sort of thing; five foot rod rated for a #2 line, scrambling about in the undergrowth, harassing little wild trout, an acolyte of the Jon Beer School of Fly Fishing. I never meant to be dismissive, but it's just not something that ever appealed to me. My thoughts could be pretty well summed up by this entry, written back in 2011:

Secret Stream

You might detect at the end of that post, that I was mellowing slightly to the small stream fishing concept, and although I haven't since made a habit out of visiting the really little headwaters, recent times have seen occasionally interesting returns to some of the North's smaller tributaries. Let's just say I'm a touch more receptive to the idea these days. So when Phil bent my ear about an unfished little brook he knows which holds a load of small brown trout (and a few much bigger ones), it got stored in the memory bank as one for a rainy day.

Of course that rainy day came just a few days later. With my neck of the woods given a good soaking, only the smallest of branches remained an earlier than expected opportunity presented itself to test my friend's hypothesis (the hypothesis being that once I got into it, the small stream fly fishing scene would have me addicted in no time). So the evening found me standing shin deep in the slightly turbid water of a delightful, but tiny, wooded brook, 7 footer in hand and gnats droning around my head.

The next hour or so proved very 'enlightening' indeed. A couple of casts in, I had my brace of nymphs stuck in a tree. Soon afterwards the same happened again and I reverted to a single fly set-up and shortened my leader from 9' to 7'. Then I lost two bugs in quick succession on sunken alder roots. Then I slipped on my arse down a mucky bank and ended up nearly over my waders in a sludgy back eddy of leaf litter and silt. It was a trying passage of events and given that the tiny pools into which I so incompetently attempted to deliver my flies were only a matter of two to three casts long, I was seriously wondering if I could be bothered to continue.

The turning point came when I dug out an old furled leader given to me a friend a few years ago. I'd never got on with it in the past, finding the turnover too aggressive and direct on the wide open pools of larger spate rivers, but in this application it felt like it should fit the on it went, and suddenly the world looked a better place. I was able to flick and pitch my flies - both nymph and dry - into the tightest of spots under branches and tree roots, thus squeezing out a couple of extra casts from each little holding spot. Trout soon followed; small dark things with red tails and adipose, and a white leading edge to the anal fin. They averaged about 8 inches long, so I suppose I'm at this point obliged to point out they were small but perfectly formed ......but you know what? They were!

When I was a young lad, my parents gave me a copy of the old Observer's Book of Freshwater Fishes. which I pored over for hours, wondering if one day I might be lucky enough to catch some of the many different species of the fish rendered in rudimentary watercolour therein. I always remember the section on trout because it depicted several variants of the Salmo trutta all of which could be caught in the British Isles. I was fascinated by this, and in many ways still am to this day. One which always stuck in my head was a plate showing a particularly dark, green fish with red spots. The title was 'Trout from forest stream', and it was that peculiar looking beast which for some reason ended up lodged in my brain as what a brown trout should look like.

Of course, 30 years on, not one of the trout I have ever caught looked even superficially like that weirdly painted example. Until Friday. Although all the fish I caught - some two dozen of them - were undoubtedly very different looking creatures from what I am used to, a couple that I noodled out of particularly shady overgrown corners were the darkest, greenest, bonniest little trout I have ever seen. They were the 'Trout from forest stream' and they swept me back to my childhood in an unexpected instant; I could almost smell the pages of my old Observer's book. Those two little trout alone made the outing worthwhile and gave me a timely reminder that the true joy of our sport so often lies not in the red letter days, or the hero captures, but in the small things.

The fishing continued to be entertaining that evening and I ended up hitting on a method of actively tweaking a single nymph back through the pools. These wild little fish seemed to appreciate a bit of 'darty' movement and set about savaging the nymph whenever it passed by. Sure enough a few were taken on dries when I found odd fish rising to black gnats, but the majority came rushing out of tree roots in pursuit of my WHM nymph. By the end of the evening, the sorry state of the successful pattern told a story of bushwacking and piscine harassment - a satisfactory conclusion all round.

So, a small stream convert then? Well not quite; but then again I did find myself peering over the parapet of a bridge overlooking another tiny brook last night, wondering if it would be worth exploration with a short rod and sense of adventure.......
In the couple of weeks since, things have been a little quiet for me on the fishing front. A fine day spent on the Eden being the only recent outing I can report. On that occasion, plenty of trout were returned to both nymphs and small, black dries and when I left the river at 8pm, I did so only because I was dog tired and ready for a rest, more than any perceptible slowing of the sport. The next few weeks usually provide the highlights of my fishing year, and with a number of outings planned, I hope that proves to be the case once more.

Most of my remaining spare time has been spent tying flies. Inspired by the thoughtful and practical tying of a friend, I set about putting together a set of nymphs on jig hooks. Very much the fashion these days, are jig nymphs; but I confess that they are not something I've used a lot of in the past. They do have a nice profile though, and fishing as they supposedly do, upside-down (I have a suspicion that claim me be overstated), prove less susceptible to snagging. I decided to add in another very fashionable material of the moment - stripped peacock quill - and ended up with a set of patterns which I felt looked quite useful. My next batch will be tied more in the manner of Stuart's originals - a little more understated, using Hends body quill for a nice translucent abdomen.

A nod must go at this point, to a chap called Joel Barrow and his excellent online shop Tungsten Beads Plus who is fast becoming recognised as one of the very best UK fly tying suppliers around. The jig hooks and beads used in the above patterns came from Joel, as has much of my tying gear recently. The quality and value of his product is superb, and his service, the best I have received. It's worth noting that the white beads and tungsten jig backs used in a couple of very successful recent patterns (WHM nymph and Craigie's Killer), are both available from Joel. I can recommend both fly pattern and supplier.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Ure reunion


It's strange how things work out sometimes. Dave and I had been trying to arrange a fishing day together for much of 2013, but as they so often do, other things conspired to deny us the opportunity; and so the year passed without us crossing paths, which was a shame.

So when Dave mentioned he and friend Morgan would be heading north this April, for a three day northern spate river tour, I was delighted to be able to tag along on day two of the jaunt, which would be spent on the Upper Ure at Bainbridge. That's how we found ourselves fishing the same bit of water together that we had when we last met up, almost exactly two years to the day previously.

Wensleydale is a strange one for me. Geographically, this most aesthetic of Dales lies within a fifty mile radius of home and as such should feature on my list of regular haunts, especially considering how good the fishing on the Ure can be. Unfortunately the reality is a complete pain in the arse. Attempts to strike something resembling a direct route into the valley prove impossible and a long winded drive-in results whether approaching from the top of the dale, or the bottom. That fifty mile 'as the crow flies' distance becomes more like eighty and the best part of a four hour round trip. As a result  - and despite the fact that I have access to a decent private beat on the middle river - I don't make the drive nearly as often as I should.

That truism weighed heavy on me all day, for Wensleydale is a magical place; and the river which drains its moors, a very fine trout stream. As the day brightened, the stonewalled pastures and new willow and beech foliage shone in a green so fresh that the break for food and beer later in the afternoon, provided a welcome opportunity to recline and take stock of our surroundings, where previously the serious business of catching brown trout had been our primary focus. Sitting there in the warm sun with fishing friends, a bottle of pale ale in hand, and chewing on a perfectly barbecued steak sandwich......well I don't think it gets much better than that.

Of course, it's easy to appreciate the pastoral splendour of our surroundings when the fishing has been good. I remember something Laurence Catlow once wrote: words to the effect of "the world is a beautiful place with a brace of fine trout in the creel, but after a poor day's fishing it is hardly noticed". I know what he means. Our day's fishing, whilst not hitting red letter day heights, had been amply rewarding, and I held that thought as I relaxed later on, faced turned up into the warm spring sunshine.

Dave and Morgan would probably tell you that they planned their tour perfectly. A 'numbers' day on West Yorkshire's little River Ryburn was followed up two days later by a few hours spent stalking elusive large fish on the upper Eden. In between, we had the pleasure of the Ure and the splendid but challenging fishing it offers for wild brown trout ranging in size from 'skezwee' up to respectable near two-pounders. I'm always impressed by the quality of these wild Dales fish and as on out last visit, pleasing numbers of them obliged - not a cricket score by any means, but enough to keep three fishers occupied for a few hours.

Long term followers of this humble blog might remember our last visit, bang on two years previous. I had a bit of a nightmare that day, although my lasting memory of the session was to be rendered positive by the fact that Dave kept up his side of the bargain and brought a number of good fish to hand where I was unable to make the buggers stick. It had been a good day, but I hoped that this time I would at least fish a little better.....

As it happened, I got off to a decent start. A brace of nymphs offered on a French leader set up brought a couple of dropped fish (not again thinks I!), thankfully followed by three landed, the best of which was a bonny looking trout of maybe pound and a half. The session continued pretty much in that vein with occasional enough interest from fish around the 12 inch mark falling to mainly the 'white head melanist', fast becoming a favourite nymph of mine.

Meanwhile Dave, fishing his favoured 'duo', and Morgan persevering with the dry fly, both found sport. Dave - like me - found fish willing to intercept the nymph in particularly thin water in pockets and pool heads (perhaps a touch unusual so early in the season?), including a couple of particularly nice specimens approaching the 2lb mark. Morgan staked out a likely pool and capitalised on a trickle hatch by unfurling long casts across a tricky current to tempt some nice fish on a cdc emerger.

Sport inevitably slowed as the sun burned through mid afternoon, but by that point the steak had been scoffed and the beer quaffed......... and frankly, we couldn't care less.

It's a sad fact that spring fishing days pass all too quickly. In fact, most of my fishing days seem to pass too quickly these days. The effect is even more noticeable when fishing with friends; so much catching up to do, so many conversations to be had. Sometimes it's possible to spend the time hardly doing any serious fishing at all, yet still it ends up lodged in the memory as a day to treasure. I've been lucky to have a few of those lately, but Saturday on the Ure is right up there with the best of them. It had something of the feel of a reunion, yet also that of a ritual in the making. I get the impression that will not be the last time the three of us convene at the Rose and Crown in late April.


Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Phototropism in action

An unusually late Easter break this year, coincided with a spell of gloriously sunny weather. Great for those participating in the annual Wacky Races caravan haul up the motorway, but for the flyfishers amongst us, somewhat less welcome you'll agree? Well yes and no.....for now is Grannom season in the north of England and a brief discussion on phototropism is merited.

Phototropism? Response to sunlight to you and me. And as the holidaying hoards displayed phototropic behaviour this weekend by driving to beauty spot lay-bys and then getting out the tartan blankets and deckchairs, so too did Brachycentrus subnubilis react in a positive way to the golden orb, by bursting out of the clear pools of the Cumbrian Eden in trout-exciting numbers.

Not that all invertebrates react to sunshine in such a significant way, in fact it's probably true to say that most positively shun brightness and come into their own from an angler's perspective when conditions are dull and cloudy. So far as I'm aware, we don't really understand why this does or doesn't happen, and precisely which orders/groups/species are sensitive. What we can say beyond reasonable doubt though, is that Grannom caddis pupae are very much phototropic - they are compelled to emerge in sometimes huge numbers when the sun shines.

Although I'd always had this vague sense that something along these lines was going on, it came into sharper focus for me about three years ago when I arrived at the river one late April morning to find an absolute blizzard of Grannom in the air as early as 9am. Closer inspection revealed that the hatch as such was all but over: I didn't see a single fly in the process of emerging, or on the water's surface, or being eaten by a fish. Sub surface tactics failed to interest a single fish, be it on nymphs or spiders or a combination of both. The only conclusion I could draw was that the adult flies I observed in such numbers, had popped out of the river at some point earlier on.The following day I was back - at dawn - in an attempt to preempt the little blighters. Unfortunately that particular enterprise proved a let-down and not a single Grannom was to be seen all morning. It was only later that I asked myself if the heavy mist I had arrived to, might have had some influence on the negative outcome. Nonetheless, the annual flight period was all but over by then and I ended up parking the theory; and to be honest, I didn't give it much of a thought for a good while afterwards.

Then last spring I had a conversation with Oliver Edwards which brought the whole phototropism thing right back into very sharp focus. Oliver and Stuart Crofts it turned out, are both convinced that something is happening with Grannom where sunlight is concerned. How many times Oliver asked, have you fished on a late April day of broken cloud, and found that the Grannom hatch in short pulses every time the sun peeps out for a few minutes? Good point says I, and heads off to the river to pay a bit closer attention to what I'm doing! Sure enough, once I started to open my bloody eyes a bit, it was glaringly obvious. A day on the Eamont proved particularly conclusive: a slow trickle of in evidence during the morning until a break in the clouds, and then BANG! Caddis explosion! A few minutes later when the sky darkened once more, there remained of course a blizzard of airborne adults......but a close look revealed that the actual emergence had ceased. Just like that. It was fascinating to see, and my thanks are due to Messrs Edwards and Crofts for the steer.......evidence once more that there is no such thing as being too observant; and the reason why such enterprising anglers remain at the cutting edge of our glorious sport.

Good conditions for a pulse of Grannom........

This weekend I was prepared. With the forecast set for wall-to-wall sunshine and the river low and clear, I dusted off my box of deerhair emergers (DHEs), and set forth with some hope of sport. What resulted wasn't exactly as I had envisaged, but who can complain when nudging a line forward into a gloriously warm and serene spring day?

Early exploration was made with a brace of nymphs on the French leader set up. I hoped that the shaggy brown hare's ear and cdc concoction on the dropper would attract interest, as it was placed to imitate any caddis pupae which might be making moves skyward. So when the first pool yielded two nice browns to that very fly, things were looking good. Sure enough, about 11:30am the first of the Grannom began to appear, popping out through the surface and bumbling away almost in one continuous motion......and as the hatch gathered momentum, I came upon my first properly rising trout of the new season; and it was a big 'un! On went the tapered leader and DHE and out went the cast. Up came the fish, and.........knocked it off! Bugger.
Luckily I found a couple more and successfully converted the resulting offers into fish landed. They were modest fish by Eden standards, the better of the two weighing a pound and three quarters (seen illuminated by spring sunshine at the top of the post); nevertheless, they were very welcome.

Unfortunately, that was it from a surface action point of view. An hour had passed and the air was filled with brown specks heading steadily off upstream.....but no more flies popped out of the water for the rest of the afternoon until I packed in at five o'clock, despite the sun continuing to blaze down unabated. Even Grannom need a siesta it would appear.

I can't complain though, because after returning to nymphs  - this time fished on a trio rig - I enjoyed intermittent sport through the rest of the session, with decent sized trout coming to either a jig back killer, or the 'white head melanist' PTN, regularly enough to keep me occupied. Trout are handsome creatures and I could never tire of catching them. I love the variation that they show, each one a distinct fingerprint, never to be repeated. The photos below are monochrome homages to such wild beauty. I dearly hope many more such encounters await me this season.

Monday, April 07, 2014

Early Season Update

Considering the mildness of the winter past, and the slightly early springing of spring this year, it's been a slow start to the trout season for me. There isn't really much of interest to note from any of the three days I have spent on the river recently, although all have been enjoyable in their own way.

After failing to catch on the 15th I tried again on the 28th, tackling a swollen but clear middle Eden with friend Stuart Minnikin. It can feel like a big river down there, below where the Eamont discharges the spring Lakeland runoff from Ullswater; and on this occasion overnight rain which just clipped to top end of the catchment (putting the Ure away in full flood in the process, just the other side of the watershed), lifted the parent river slightly too, to the tune of an extra 6 inches or so. That might not sound very much, but with the gauge showing 1' 4" and slowly rising, an already substantial river felt really quite big...and wading was restricted to near margins and quiet pool tails.

Still, the decent clarity gave cause for hope and we set to with teams of spiders, prospecting the inside current seams in anticipation of a later hatch of Large Dark Olives and March Browns. This tactic proved worthwhile and we were both able to attract interest. Stuart had a couple of fish up to around 1lb, with a few tweaks and dropped offers. I had similar amount of action, but only small fish obliged; so my first trout of the new season turned out to be a skerrit of about 8oz.

As the morning progressed, conditions began to feel 'right' for a hatch and sure enough, after a long walk downstream Stuart spotted a single fish rising steadily on a pool tail, directly in front of a submerged boulder. Initially we assumed it would be taking LDOs, but closer inspection revealed that the little upwings were nowhere to be seen and this trout was sipping down midge. Stuart stepped in and did the honours......a fine fish of 1lb 10oz (see photo at top of post) taking second drift past. Well angled that man!

Things seemed all set to take off at that point. The air was mild, the wind had dropped and the light felt spot on; all we needed was the invertebrate activity to trigger a spell of feeding. Strangely, from that point onwards it just didn't happen for us. A few flies started to trickle off and we both rose a fish or two to dry olive patterns, but sport was slow to say the least.....possibly due to the rising river, who knows? Later on we took a walk upstream and saw dozens of LDO duns clustering in back eddies, with mallards working amongst them eating their fill. Still no rising trout to be seen. In all, a day which promised much but which failed to deliver - but at least we had caught a few!

A week or so later saw me tackle the Eamont on two 'same but different' days. Inappropriate conditions on the main river jockeyed me up onto the tributary in the hope of maybe securing a large fish or two. I knew the going would likely be slow, but hey I like a challenge! As it turned out I wasn't wrong - although conditions on the two days were pretty much opposites, the result was more or less the same on both occasions: sparse insect activity, not a single rising fish observed, and a handful of middling sized trout returned to nymph tactics. If this was understandable on the first of the two days (river crystal clear, weather sunny with a strong, chilly south easterly), then it was slightly harder to take second time around. I arrived at the river around lunchtime to find it maybe two inches higher than previously, and carrying a slight but welcome tinge of colour. The air was mild and still, and grey cloud hung heavy overhead. It felt as perfect as I could have wished for.......on the timber fence nearby, a couple of unusually early adult female Perlodes stoneflies lay resting. Surely I would catch?

Not so. Well not in the manner I had hoped. After three hours of staking out various likely spots on the lookout for a big Eamont brownie-snout breaking surface, I switched to an upstream nymph set-up in an attempt to actually catch something. This worked ok, and a few fit - and very welcome - trout were brought to hand. I couldn't help feeling though, that somehow I had wasted an opportunity; that somewhere there must have been a shot at a big early season fish. That said, reports since from other anglers on the Eden system suggest that such opportunities have been few and far between; so maybe it's not just me!

A brace of typical Eamont trout, noodled out on upstream nymph tactics.

And our early season invertebrate buddies, the March Brown and Large Dark Olive. We could do with seeing a few more of them in the next week or two!