Friday, July 16, 2010

Haweswater trout: pick any long as it's black!

It's funny how things turn out sometimes. The last place I expected to find myself this week was Haweswater, but after turning to stillwater when my original plans were scuppered by rain, I ended up enjoying a terrific evening's fishing with wild, hard fighting little brown trout.....and a therapeutic slab of solitude amid the eastern Lake District fells.

All week my intention had been to fish the upper Eden and with some heavy thundery showers freshening things up a bit around these parts, I was confident of a bit of decent sport from a stream newly enlivened. I was soon having to reassess my plans.

My journey northward is marked by the crossing of several spate rivers: the Ribble at Preston is followed soon after by the upper Wyre near Scorton. At Lancaster, the lower reaches of the Lune tend not to reveal too much, but by the time Tebay is reached and the river is again crossed, I usually have a pretty good impression of what is going on in the catchments. Strangely, on this occasion, whilst the Ribble looked in good ply, the Wyre was carrying a lot of brown water....and when I crossed the Lune, it quickly became apparent that Cumbria had seen a lot more rain than Lancashire - the river was big and brown and full of debris!
I wrote off the Eden at that point as it would almost certainly be in a similar state - and I couldn't afford the time to go and take a look.
My last hope was the Eamont which rises more slowly and with less colour (owing to the regulating effect of Ullswater at its head), but no - a quick look as I exited the Penrith junction sliproad revealed a similarly unfavourable situation.

And that is how I ended up on Haweswater. A quick mental check of the kit I had in the boot confirmed that I would be ok. My boat bag contains all the flies and lines that I'd need and my walking boots live in there permanently. The only slight problem would be the rod; I usually favour a 10' #6 for this kind of fishing. On this occasion my general purpose river tool, the 9' #5 XP would have to suffice.....

So after over 2 hours and 100 miles in the car, I rolled up at Mardale Head - always a beautiful place to visit, but on this occasion I was still a bit peeved by my enforced change of plan and not altogether hopeful of any sport. I have fished the Mardale high tarns on a number of occasions, but only dabbled briefly in the reservoir itself. It has always struck me as a rather barren, infertile place and I've never before been sufficiently inspired to give it some proper attention. Sometimes it takes a strange set of circumstances to change such an opinion and as I tackled up I resolved to make the best of a bad job, forget the mental image of 2lb Eden trout sipping down spinners, and concentrate on extracting a few wild as the wind brownies from the windswept waters below.

I had to improvise a bit with the set up. A 15 foot leader of Stroft 0.14mm went onto the 5 weight, along with a #6 slow sink intermediate line which I hoped would anchor the flies just below the surface. A team of three went on - cruncher on the point, black & peacock spider on the middle and bibio hopper on the top - and off I went along the north west shore towards The Rigg, casting my flies into the wind parallel to the bank in front of me on a line no longer than 8-10 yds, moving a few feet every cast.

I do enjoy this type of fishing. Once a nice 'cast and move' rhythm is established it is possible to quickly become totally immersed in the grandeur of the surroundings and leave behind all thoughts of everyday life, concentrating on nothing more than the movement of the flies in the water. It may not be the most challenging way to fish, nor the most rewarding in terms of size and number of fish caught - but it is one of the most cathartic and relaxing, and I quickly began to feel like I had made absolutely the right decision in devoting my evening to wild Haweswater.

Needless to say, the reservoir is very low at the moment. The rains of the previous 24 hours had put the feeder becks away in much needed flood and they gushed down the fellsides in angry white ribbons. I could tell that the water level had risen about 12 inches, but even so, I'd reckon the reservoir was a good 30 foot down on its winter level and there was still plenty of ghostly evidence of the previous landscape around the drowned community of Mardale Green. I fished around old stone walls, long-ruined dwellings, and the exposed roots of felled trees which littered the north shore of The Rigg like huge dead spiders.

I was delighted to find that the XP didn't mind being over-lined one bit - and the #6 SSI was fishing perfectly; a steady figure of eight twiddle brought the flies back to me at a depth of no more than 10 inches before a lift and hold of the top dropper bibio preceded an leisurely roll cast out and repeat. It didn't take too long to attract interest - a couple of quick nips were missed before this handsome little fellow latched on:

I continued to get interest in an enticing looking 'slick' which had conveniently formed close to the bank for a full 400 yds up to the point of The Rigg. Whether fishing for stocked rainbows, or wild brown trout, such a foam lane is a real food trap on any stillwater and demands to be exploited as far as possible. The photo is better viewed (like all the images I post here) by clicking to enlarge:

Later on I worked my way around the point and into Riggindale, home of England's only golden eagle. I didn't see him today, but I did continue to catch lovely little wild trout. They were stunning fish which fought incredibly well in the clear water. The biggest was 12 inches (probably weighed about 11oz), and I was convinced I had a pound plus trout on before it surfaced.
Along the shore towards Speaking Crag, there are a few old stone walls which disappear into the depths. These proved to be dead certs for a pull when the flies were cast alongside or across the sunken structure....

Successful flies were all black. I did tinker a bit from time to time, but by far the most productive pattern was the small b&p spider which I had started with on the middle dropper. I would have been happy fishing a team of three of them. To be honest, I was prepared for this because every other Haweswater angler I've ever spoken to has recommended small black flies as the start point, be it a black gnat, William's fancy or whatever. In these comparatively infertile waters, it is likely the fish look to land bred insects for much of their food, with a few small black midge thrown in for good measure......

I had hoped that if the breeze died sufficiently, a few buzzer feeding fish would come up to play and give the chance of some dry fly sport, but unfortunately if anything it strengthened slightly and the ripple never stayed off even the sheltered spots for long enough to entice would be surface feeders up. Still, I couldn't complain - I'd had a beautifully relaxing evening and as I joined the Riggindale footpath back over to the car park I reflected that although the session had been hastily improvised, on this occasion, maybe it had worked out for the best.

Wild Riggindale......

....and an interesting boulder on the shore.


Flycaster. said...

Looks a nice place Matthew, but very wild!!

How did you get the white arrow on your picture, was this done before inserting on the blog?

Matthew Eastham said...


The arrow was added prior to uploading (a bit of photoshopping).

Like the new blog - link added!


Hillend Dabbler said...

Great wild stuff, all the better with the dramatic scenery

Polly said...

I do love your blog very much. It's never far away from the landscape in which you fish. Wonderful stuff, nicely written.


jeffrey Prest said...

Fished Haweswater at dusk and dawn in late May and this article brought back some good memories. So that's what Haweswater trout look like...

I think the water's even lower now than it was in May.

Proffessor said...

Glorious stuff Matt. Must be murder living up there. All I've got down here is the comparatively bland ressies, not proper scenery like that.

Matthew Eastham said...


Is that you Mr Ferguson?! When are you coming up to visit so I can show you how to fish a pie imitation?


calhighet said...

A fantastic water. Fished the first and second bays at Mardale end on Tuesday 17th. A fantastic evening of sport. Fish were rising to sedges both cinnamon and black. Shuttlecock buzzers also worked well. using a 16-20ft leader aided a stealthy presentation.

Great report