Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Predictability and instability on the Ribble.

It's reassuring to know that from one year to the next, some things stay largely the same. We anglers in particular can look to numerous reference points through our season, the exact timings of which might vary yearly, but which occur right enough, leaving us safe in the knowledge that all is as it should be; the arrival of sandmartins, the first trout of the season, beech springing into leaf, blue-winged olive spinners: these are some of the examples which define my season. You will no doubt have your own.

On the Ribble last night, all was pretty much in order and as I expected to find it, right down to the sandpiper's nest in the above photo. I disturbed the sitting bird whilst creeping along a section of steep banking - in almost exactly the same place as I have found them for the last two years. I wonder if it is the same pair? Otherwise, I had expected to find the river low and slimy and lacking much in the way of fishy activity - and it was. I expected to get pestered by parr - and I did. And I wondered if a few stock fish from downstream might have made their way onto our beat despite the low water conditions - the capture of a couple of ragged finned suicide pilots confirmed that they had indeed.

So nothing new then. In truth I couldn't expect much from this brief evening session. So starved of water are our rain fed northern rivers that in the upper reaches of some, they are barely worth fishing. Don't get me wrong, I've never been the sort of angler who sits it out at home until that brief moment when following a spate, the river drops to precisely 8.75 inches on the gauge and clears to the exact shade of amber of Black Sheep bitter. No, I don't mind a bit of low water odging at all........but this has become something else altogether and quite frankly I'm fed up with it.

If the main river was pretty much as I expected, then my impromptu excursion up the beck which adjoins partway up our beat provided quite a shock. As tiny feeder streams go, this one seems to push a lot of gravel around during winter, meandering across a wide cobble strewn bed, eroding sand banks on the outside of bends and causing large scale land slips as it goes. But just how much it had changed since last time I visited, was difficult to comprehend. As I walked upstream with my new seven footer, I had in mind a handful of pools I had fished in the past where a resident half pounder could almost be guaranteed. It came as a big surprise to find that for the most part, those pools simply didn't exist anymore. In one case what had last season been a nice deep pool against a classically undercut bank, was now just a mucky stagnant pool with the beck's main flow occupying a new channel some thirty yards away! A similar story prevailed further upstream, and in some places the stream's flow was so diminished, and spread across so wide a bed of cobbles, that it looked to have all but disappeared. I studied the dynamics of river geomorphology at university and am well versed in the processes and timescales involved when a highly active drainage system is at work within its channel. Still, the magnitude of this instability surprised me.

This mucky hole was a fish holding pool last season.

A bit of rain required!

To determine exactly why this little feeder beck should exert such a marked influence would require further research. No doubt modern land drainage and agricultural practices will be contributory factors. No matter; with my fly fisher's cap firmly on, my immediate priority was to see if I could catch a few fish from this denuded brook......a task which on the night proved beyond me.

Back to the main river then for a last few casts and a large emergence of an extremely small (smaller than usual even), species of caenis brought a handful of fish up to the surface. One of them was the most strikingly marked, aggressive looking little brownie I have seen in a long time. My photo of him is terrible, but I include below to give you some idea - most unlike the majority of Ribble fish I have caught.


discodazz said...

Wow that fish is simply stunning.

e.m.b. said...

It is very reassuring...seasonal changes...cairns...signs that we have been here before. We are not lost.

Wow, that brownie is gorgeous!

Compact Tractors said...

I fish a chalkstream, current flow levels are very worrying, we pray for heavy rain - now, in May ! better qualified than I are constantly on the case about abstraction. I visit friends in other areas of the UK, we walk the dogs and sometimes fish, low flow and exposed banking are the norm.
Weather patterns? Land Drainage Systems ? Abstraction ? - whatever, the environemental impact is ominous, and fly fishermen should be bellowing it to media, politicians, academics, for further examination.