Monday, June 20, 2011
The preceding days had been spent thinking about it, looking forward to it, making plans, more plans and backup plans about it. I had spent a number of sessions scrambling amidst the mossy boulders of the middle Eden, visualising scenarios and marking fish, trying to answer objectively the question of how appealing this tumbling, lingy spate stream might look to unaffected eyes. I worried and fretted about it, grew even more obsessed with weather and pressure charts than usual, and in snatched spells late at night, frantically and ham-fistedly tied up some flies which I desperately hoped wouldn't look too laughable in the cold light of day. I monitored gauge station outputs, scrutinised webcams, crossed my fingers and contemplated the fact that I was about to share my little piece of paradise - and therefore, it felt, the inner workings of my soul - with two people I had barely met before. I confess that I felt a little nervous.
And then the day arrived and I drove northward to at last meet up with Dave Smith of the Monnow Rivers Association and author of the excellent 'A Flyfisherlady's Life', Polly Putnam. Dave's commendable work with the MRA was the common thread that brought us together and we had made plans to meet up this year as long ago as last December. I was confident we would get on famously, but dearly hoped that from an angling point of view their long trip would be worthwhile.
Such is the constant concern of the spate river fisher; with wild trout as our currency and myriad weather, water and creepy crawly related variables to contend with, our success is far from guaranteed. We quickly forget the slow days and grueling sessions in favour of the memorable moments when everything comes together.......and from such thread are our memories woven so that we come to believe our bit of fishing to be the best in the world. Which is why we always seem surprised when our river fails to deliver sufficiently in the presence of our guests.
With hindsight, I needn't have worried. Dave and Polly, like all wild trout fishers, were well aware of the aforementioned pitfalls and although the Eden didn't give of its best on this occasion (and the weather was a bit grim - a Chinese water torture species of light rain), they were either just very polite, or did genuinely enjoy themselves.
An evening session on the upper river was followed the next morning by a few hours on the Eamont, before a return to the Eden late on, and whilst my recent trips out have been all about the solitude and peaceful beauty of the valley and the fine fish of its parent river, this visit was for me all about the top class company and the delight of watching two good anglers at work. Dave is most at home on his beloved River Monnow; Polly, a girl of chalk stream breeding; both quite different environments to this sometimes ill mannered northern stream. And yet it was totally absorbing to watch them both at work - both employing similar methods, but subtly different execution to my own; both catching fish of some quality.
It's true that the fishing was generally slow in as much as there was little insect activity and subsequently few fish rising with any conviction. However my guests managed to find interest quite steadily all day, with Dave having a notable couple of hours on the Eamont when he laid siege to a pod of fish rising on the flats of a slow, deep pool. These picky trout required a long, square cast to reach and it is to Dave's great credit that he managed to winkle out half a dozen of them topped by a cracking 16" fish. He continued to attract offers later on the Eden by employing the duo method through the foam lanes; an angler clearly settled into a comfortable rhythm, a real pleasure to watch.
Flyfisherlady meanwhile went upstream in search of an Eden beast and was duly rewarded after a long, considered approach to a solitary rising fish in a favourite spot of mine. A change of fly did the trick this time and a cracking cock grayling of 2lb 2oz soon graced the net - just reward for patient, intelligent fishing.
For me though, it was all about the company. I did very little fishing, couldn't have cared less about doing any fishing to be honest. Dave made the valid point that our fly fishing lives become defined by certain specific memories that for some reason linger more vividly than others. Two such moments will stay with me for a long time:
Towards the end of the evening, with the river beginning to colour up and rise, I heard a shout from Dave, about 50 yards downstream. Rod low, applying sidestrain, he was obviously into a good fish and as I gathered the camera and began wading through the fast water towards him, the trout jumped clear, yellow flanks saturate in the fading light. By the time I had reached him, the dogged fight was all but over and the majestic beast at the top of this post was brought into the net to the obvious delight of my guest. It was a proper Eden fish - all black spots and spade-like fins. It was the fish Dave had come for and the smile on his face was the highlight of the day.
The previous evening, I had watched as Polly tackled an equally impressive trout in conditions about as far from her comfort zone as you could imagine. Shallow, fractured water, boulder-pocked and roily, with a casual - lazy almost - dorsal fin cutting the surface periodically 5 yards ahead. The sort of situation which would expose the limitations of some anglers.......but then on reflection, running water is running water; line control is line control; and wild trout remain wild wherever they live. I didn't even see the rise. Polly lifted gently into the fish with a grace so effortless it was spellbinding. I was downstream. She couldn't have seen me. I was doing a jig of delight. My favourite bit of river - my pride and joy - may not have disclosed its full potential, but my two guests were going home happy. And that was about as much as I could have asked for.