It seems like far too long since I last made the trip north to fish my beloved River Eden, but I got the chance to spend a few hours after work on a beat near Appleby tonight. I was expecting a low, clear river after a couple of weeks without rain.....but what I didn't expect was to have to deal with more unpleasant conditions than one would expect at times during the winter.
The British climate is nothing if not unpredictable. And fly fishing in general is so unpredictable, that a marriage of the two is bound to throw up a few anomalies. Take last week on Malham for example, when numerous fish were caught from a notoriously dour water - despite conditions being as far from perfect as is possible. This afternoon saw a week of warm, settled weather break in a matter of hours as a cold air stream sprinting in from the east brought weather more akin to February than early June. Driving up the M6, the temperature dropped from an acceptable 12c in Blackburn, right down to 4c as I reached Shap village; and as I crested the bluff to begin my descent into the wonderful Eden valley, I could see a light covering of snow on the peaks of the Pennines to the east! My expectation level suddenly began to drop.
Down at water level, it was slightly warmer. My thermometer reading at 5pm was 6.5c air temp and 13.6c water temp. With such an inverse divergence between the two, it would likely sound the death knell for any surface sport. Which was disappointing because as I walked downstream from the car to my chosen start point, it seemed like every sand martin and swallow in the vicinity was hawking the Eden's surface for some as yet unseen insect. I could see a good length of water in either direction and every square yard was being quartered by the birds as they feasted on something which was obviously present in some quantity.
A close look in the nearest pool quickly revealed the culprits; dozens of pale wateries and a good smattering of yellow may duns were sailing downstream, apparently nailed to the surface as the cold breeze prevented their newly unfurled wings from drying. I didn't see a single dun in the air, they just couldn't get off the surface......but a walk along a 300yd section of the river, revealed not a single rising trout - detered from looking upwards by the cold air and breeze no doubt.
A quick play with nymphs brough a couple of 12" fish to hand - and would probably have proved fruitful had I stayed with that tactic all evening - but with so many duns on the water, I just couldn't believe that there wouldn't be an opportunity to fish the dry fly somewhere along the beat. So I put up a tapered leader and headed off in search of shelter. Sure enough, I eventually found a pair of feeding fish tight in below tree cover. Interestingly they were both shunning pale wateries in favour of the yellow mays, so I tied on a yellow klink and set to work. The rear fish, I put down straight away, but the second one took confidently - a nice fish of 1.25lb.
It took me a long time to find rising fish after that. Having slipped on a stone and taken a dunking, I was wet and cold and ready for home and was fishing so badly, I was glad that no-one was around to witness my tired thrashing of the water.
By now the pale wateries had subsided and a hatch of blue-winged olives was gaining momentum by the minute. Before long I was witnessing the most intense hatch of these summer olives I have ever seen - literally thousands of the duns were emerging.....and most were untroubled by trout.
However, I did finally find success when the breeze died at dusk. In the head section of a long pool, several trout were feeding casually on the duns. So delicately were they sipping down the stranded flies, that you would be forgiven for thinking they were parr. I had a feeling to the contrary though and set about covering the first fish with a small olive emerger on a short line and long, fine leader to combat the fractured currents created by mid-stream boulders. The fish took first pass and the surface erupted as a good wild trout careered off downstream. It turned out to be well over the pound and displayed typical markings of an Eden fish.
As it happened, I managed a further three fish - all over the pound - from that pool. They were taken from a living room-sized piece of water, but were feeding so assuredly that by quickly diverting hooked fish away it was possible to pick off each one in turn before the very head of the pool was reached. Terrific fishing which made the previous couple of hours' hard slog worthwhile and left me undeservedly rewarded, despite having fished like an idiot for most of the evening.
I'll sign off with this photo of a male pale watery spinner. He was the only one I saw, but is such a bonny fly I can't resist. My abiding memory of the evening though, will be the intense and sustained emergence of baetis fuscatus and serratella ignita which proves that even in these times of decreased aquatic diversity and abundance, the Cumbrian Eden remains a healthy river indeed.