Tuesday saw Rob Denson and I afloat once more on the enigmatic Malham Tarn. It's been a queer old season up there this time and the demographic of the resident trout population seems to have shifted significantly in a direction we never foresaw. Perhaps we have been lucky enough to witness a 'golden age' of sorts over the last three or four seasons where the fishing has been typically challenging, but the rewards occasionally too spectacular for words. For a long time I couldn't believe what I was seeing and to be frank, I kept shtum about the number and size of the fish we were catching in the possibly mistaken belief that the place might receive excessive angling pressure. But this year has seen an apparent backing off of the quality of sport, and an increased number of small fish which until recently were all but unheard of.
Not that this is necessarily a bad thing and I know I have touched upon this sort of thing before when discussing the impressive numbers of large River Eden trout versus dearth of younger brethren. I do find the whole subject fascinating; but this is not the place to speculate as to what is happening on the Tarn, what has caused it, whether it is positive and what we can expect in the coming years. The place has always been something of an enigma, a fishery which fails to conform to accepted norms in every sense. A handful of dedicated anglers know this and will continue to accept its challenges over the coming years, attempting to unravel some more of its many secrets.
Rob and I will certainly be amongst them, although Tuesday's outing did little to dispel the feeling that this has been a tough season. It was a nice day to be in a boat, but that's about it. We caught half a dozen fish between us, four of them skerrits. The sun beat down upon an almost flat calm in the morning rendering the exercise all but pointless. And later in the day, when a steady breeze got going, we were able to fish with more purpose......although we both agreed that it was with little hope. Sometimes, it just doesn't feel right. Whether it's the quality of light, the atmosphere, or some other intangible variable, sometimes that's how it is. As we humped our gear back up the hill from the boathouse, we both agreed that next May would be early enough to return to this special place.
I did have a booked boat for Thursday, the penultimate day of the season. But on Wednesday morning I phoned the Field Centre and cancelled, my mind turning once more to running water and a last shot at the wild trout of the Eden valley. It was a set of circumstances I hadn't expected to arise. So busy have I been at work that when I last cast a line on the river, it was still August and I had all but abandoned the hope of fishing another warm, still evening until sometime in 2012. But with the weather proving ridiculously warm for the time of year, and the Eden running relatively low and clear for the first time in ages, I couldn't believe my luck as I set out for a full day mooching about my favourite bits of river.
There was a time a few years ago when I would, with a full day at my disposal, have spent the whole time intensively fishing every inch of available water until such a time that I either ran out of daylight, or ran out of steam altogether and had to resort to a hit of lucozade and jaffa cakes to summon enough energy to peel my waders off. But I reckon I must be getting old and knackered (or maybe old and sensible), because yesterday, with the sun beating down and lifting the temperature into the mid twenties, I didn't feel particularly disposed to do anything much at all. For most of the day I ambled around contentedly and without anything even resembling a plan, excepting that come the lengthening shadows around 5pm, I knew exactly where I wanted to be.
In the meantime I took some invertebrate samples, sat under a tree for a while, flicked a team of nymphs here and there occasionally, and tried to take some interesting landscape photos (a task which ultimately proved beyond me). I even contemplated retiring to the Shepherd's Inn at Langwathby for a lunchtime pint and read of the paper. In the end, I settled on a cup of coffee and a twenty minute snooze in the car. I can't pinpoint the exact time in my life when I became satisfied with such small pleasures.
Later on and with a dry fly leader attached to my 4 weight, I set about catching a last trout of the season. Things were set up nicely for an evening rise: warm air which promised to remain so into darkness, a sparkling amber river, long shafts of fading sunlight through the branches of bankside beech and alder, a good number of late season stoneflies in the air, and trapped in the water's surface, thousands of tiny reed smut and beetles. I felt sure that once the light was off the water, a few fish would show interest. So I tied on a size 20 Griffiths Gnat and waited.
As it turned out, only a handful of fish chose to feast upon this soup of terrestrial minutae . Perhaps unsurprisingly they were grayling for the most part and I enjoyed some nice sport with fish ranging from half pound schoolies, up to a couple of brutes the bigger of which weight 2 1/4lb. Interestingly enough, they completely refused my initial offerings based on the maxim 'small and black' and after going through maybe a dozen patterns, I finally struck gold with a size 18 cdc dun tied using a pearlescent material for the abdomen called MOP rootbeer. With nothing on the surface big enough to be easily seen by the naked eye, and certainly no small olive duns around, it was an odd choice; but they wanted it and that was good enough for me.
What then, of my end of season trout? Well for long periods it seemed like I would have to wait until March for my next encounter with an Eden spotty; until at last knockings I finally found one rising on the crease of a back eddy. It took a good few attempts to get the drift line right, but when I did, the fish took confidently and then steamed off across and upstream so deliberately, I was powerless to stop it. With line emptying from my reel, I began to wonder if this was the fish of the season, until when I finally regained some semblance of control a good five minutes later, the fish at last surfaced and I was able to guide it towards the net. Unfortunately instead of the snout of a 5lb brownie, I was greeted by the lazily waving tail of an exhausted pounder - hooked in the bloody jacket! The hook must have slipped as the fish turned down with the fly, lodging firmly, just above the anal fin.
And that, as far as my trout fishing season is concerned, is pretty much that. Maybe in the coming weeks I'll come over all reflective and write a post of the season's highlights and learnings. In the meantime, I'll sign off with a few images of these last two outings.
At the helm of the good ship Hope; yours truly on the tiller
Wheatstraw bales in the Eden valley
A nice Eden grayling
The successful fly pattern - a small cdc dun
Finally, the little trout that had me shaking like a flat-pack wardrobe!
I hope you all had a great season!
All the best,