Sunday, September 05, 2010
Lazonby Estates: Dad's 60th - search for a salmon - low water and hot sun - the troutiest hundred yards in the north - entomological observations.
If I was a man of money, I might have opted for Alaska or Vancouver Island. But I'm not, so a more modest venue would have to be selected if I wasn't to subject my wife and children to 10 years of living off Aldi beans in a cockroach infested bedsit......
When my Dad turned 60 back in January, I thought that seeing as he is a keen salmon angler, but owing to the type of water he fishes, rarely gets the opportunity to dust down the fly rod, it might be nice to treat him to a day's salmon fly fishing with angling guide friend Patrick Arnold. I had a word with Sis about chipping in and following lengthy discussions with Patrick, the date was set. Of course, it is impossible to predict the weather or conditions from the distance of a frigid January evening, but it seemed that Friday 3rd September looked a decent bet - late enough for there to be some fish about (certainly if recent wet summers are anything to go by), but no so late that the river would be full of leaves and gravid spawners. A good idea on paper, but as we all know, the British weather rarely plays ball and when the day finally arrived, we were faced with a shrunken, clear river and a day of hazy, but unforgivingly hot sunshine.
The venue was Lazonby Estates upper beat on the middle Eden - a venue I have fished before and Patrick knows like the back of his hand. From a salmon fisher's perspective, it was to be a day of odging about with small flies and light leaders, more in vague hope of a fish than expectation. There were definitely a few fish in the beat as we saw an odd one show in almost every major pool, so there was always going to be a chance - however slim - of nobbling a grilse if the session was fished out until dusk and every bit of likely water was given a good covering.
Dad set up his #8 single hander and small silver stoat on 8lb tippet, and went to work under the respectful guidance of Patrick whose knowledge of the beat meant that every likely lie was going to be adequately covered whether there was a taking fish in residence or not.
Meanwhile, I buggered off downstream with my trout rod to fish what has over the years become one of my favourite stretches of river anywhere. Between the tail end of Meadows pool and the head of Top Hole Corner, the Eden tumbles down a steeply graded race of boulders, slippery rocks and ankle breaking pots. It looks too thin to hold many fish. It's horrible to wade. The vast majority of anglers never give it a second look. Yet here is a hundred yards of water, maybe a bit less, which holds as dense a population of trout as I have ever encountered. A staggering number of fish, many of them large, hold station in the scoops and hollows formed by the clustered boulders. When the river is at summer level - as it was on Friday - the majority of the wading is knee deep, with an occasional step into an unexpected pot bringing twice that depth. If you try fishing this run with 6-12" of extra water running off, be warned - it's borderline dangerous.
My first pass through on this occasion wasn't as productive as in the past, but a brace of nymphs offered upstream on a very short line still brought plenty of offers. Only half a dozen fish were successfully brought to hand however - in such shallow, fast flowing water, the trout tend to go completely bonkers, throwing themselves all over the place, and it is inevitable that a few fish will be dropped...and if you hook a big 'un (there are 2lb+ fish here), then your work is cut out to get them in the net before they get downstream of you and with the strong flow, exert massive pressure on the hook hold.
Nevertheless, a few nice fish were landed with the best spell bringing in successive casts, a 12" fish, then a fish around the pound dropped at the net, then a fish of 1lb 4oz successfully landed - all from an apparently insignificant run between two large boulders. I've been at this river trouting lark for a few years now and it never fails to amaze me where sizeable fish will lie.
After that I ambled off downstream, festering in the Indian summer sun. An odd fish rose, but rarely with any pattern or regularity, so I concentrated my efforts on nymphing the fast pocket water whilst hoping for an evening rise and the chance to fish dry late on. Sport proved slow on the whole with only a handful of fish falling in the shadier sections of the beat, although bucking this trend, a fine grayling did succumb to a dry caddis.
Later on, I caught up with Patrick and the old man and discovered that predictably, no salmon had been caught. Dad had fished diligently and thoroughly through the likely spots but to no avail. So it goes; we paid our money and took our chance and with the British climate having thrown up every anomoly in the book over the last 12 months, it would be foolish to complain too much about the weather on the day. At least it was a pleasant day to be out....and I think Dad enjoyed himself which is the important thing.
Finally, a few interesting entomolgical observations (well interesting to a saddo like me anyway):
Although there were plenty of caddis and a few needle flies in evidence above the water, precious few upwings hatched. I saw a handful of pale wateries, an odd yellow May dun, a single blue-winged olive and a couple of the second genera late season large dark olives. Nothing much to interest the fish (indeed a spell spent watching the water's surface closely revealed that little was on the surface other than a few tiny terrestrials - smut, aphids and the like).
However, one particularly handsome specimen caught my eye - the autumn dun (e. dispar) photographed below. I've never seen them hatch in sufficient numbers to excite the trout, but it's a few years since I last saw one so it was pleasing all the same.
A little while later, I found something that had me stumped initially; several mossy boulders at the edge of Hut Stream pool were dotted with the shucks of some recently emerged insect. I couldn't for the life of me work out what they were at first, but after a discussion with Patrick, we both came to the conclusion that the culprits were likely to be the small stoneflies I had seen about. Don't ask me for the species, as I could write my knowledge of plecoptera on the back of a postage stamp, but I'll hazard a guess that they are likely to be one of the leuctra. The size of the shucks certainly matched the body length of the adult seen below - about 8mm. Either way, that is something I'd never seen before - it just goes to show that if you keep your eyes peeled, there's always something interesting to see on the river, no matter how slow the fishing is.
There was still a bit of excitement left in the day. As dusk approached, we waited and waited for an evening rise which looked like it would never materialise. However, shortly before 9pm and in virtual darkness, I found a pod of fish feeding hard in the glassy, accelerating water at the tail end of Meadows pool. There were definitely no b-wo spinners in the air so I fancied they were on the emerging sedge and put up a small balloon caddis hoping for some last gasp sport. As I crept into position in the broken water immediately below the tail, I couldn't help but notice that a nearby half submerged boulder was crowded with adult caddis. I'm not entirely sure what species; there actually appeared to be more than one. But the majority looked to me like r. dorsalis which would also go some way to explaining why of my brace of nymphs offered earlier, most fish had chosen a green pupa type pattern over the smaller bead headed PTN.
Exactly what they were doing on that rock, I'm not sure - possibly using it to crawl underwater to oviposit? Whichever way I had a number of feeding fish in front of me, so it was down to business while I could still just about see my fly on the water.
Anyone who fishes rivers regularly will appreciate that fish feeding in the tail of a pool offer an unusual challenge. The apparently glassy surface belies the fact that drag free presentation is a nightmare to achieve due to the water speeding up over the lip of the pool into the next riffle. Unless the dry fly is offered from upstream, any fly line on the water between fly and angler will immediately be gripped by accelerating current causing the artificial to drag horrendously. I usually deal with this by a) getting as close to my target fish as possible, thereby keeping as much unnecessary - and ideally all - fly line off the water as possible, or b) the method which I employed on this occasion - offering a pile cast where following the forward delivery, the rod tip is suddenly lowered causing the cast to collapse in a heap of slack line which often affords the fly that critical couple of seconds of unfettered drift. It looks untidy. In fact it looks like you are the crappest caster around...but in near darkness and with a ton of feeding trout before you, who cares?!
It certainly worked for me - another half dozen trout up to around the pound made for a satisfying end to a challenging day's fishing.......although in hindsight, it had been a good deal less challenging for me than it had for my father!
A big thanks to angling guide Patrick Arnold for having us, and particularly for the unfailing attention he gave to my Dad in his unlikely quest for a low water salmon. Patrick has rods on Lazonby upper beat on Fridays and the lower beat every Wednesday and can be contacted by email here