A wild, wet, windy afternoon in Lancashire; but with temperatures nudging double figures and the end of the grayling season rapidly approaching, I braved the conditions to sneak a couple of hours on the river in the hope that I might break the trend of recent blank sessions.
Sure enough it was encouraging to see the first signs of spring in the Ribble Valley today: the first flowering of the yellow celandines, bright green shoots of wild garlic pushing through on the woodland floor, and lapwing, curlew and oystercatcher congregating noisily in the fields.
And down in the pool heads and riffles, a substantial hatch of large dark olives was underway.
The Ribble hereabouts has appeared almost devoid of life recently, so it was good to see clusters of the duns jostling down the current seams and accumulating in some numbers in the quieter eddies of the river. The overcast conditions meant that their wings were taking an age to dry and as a result they just weren't getting off the water (I saw only two airborne duns all afternoon). In situations like this, you would expect the fish to have a field day.....but nothing rose and a prospect around with lightly weighted baetis imitations yielded nothing, suggesting that it may be a week or two longer yet before the fish move into the shallower spring feeding stations.
I did finally find a couple of feeding fish when I moved upstream into the wood and found some shelter from the strengthening westerly. A cdc dun cast over a sporadically rising grayling brought an offer which I connected with but failed to land; and then a snipe bloa cast over another riser just a rod length away from me resulted in a fish at last - a typical Ribble grayling of around 12oz. Hardly scintillating action, but a welcome relief from dredging the bottom with ironmongery!
I got rained off soon after that and the hatch had started to fail, so I walked back down to the car, taking a couple of kick samples on my way. You may recall a recent post where I bemoaned the lack of baetid nymphs whilst sampling this section of the Ribble (although, to be fair I was sampling the margins of a river 2' above normal level). Well lower levels today allowed me to get right in amongst the riffles with my little net, and I can confirm that the baetis are there in healthy numbers, from immature samples right through to ones with blackened wing pads which looked so ripe they will probably hatch tomorrow.
When I took a couple of samples right in the margins, I found an absence of baetids, but plenty of heptagenids. This reinforced what I found last time out and encourages me to conclue that nymphs of the stoneclinger type may be more inclined to migrate in and out of the margins with fluctuating water levels, whereas the agile darters were only found in any numbers beyond what I would consider to be the normal summer level water line - suggesting they like to stay put.
Interestingly, both today's samples and those of a couple of weeks previous, showed a complete absence of Seratella (blue-winged olive) nymphs.