Tuesday, October 11, 2011
Everybody has a secret stream don't they? Well it always seems that way to me when discussions with angling friends inevitably turn to the matter of mysterious virgin waters and rods barely longer than your leg. There exists a strong spirit of exploration in fly fishing circles; a spirit which drives many of us on in search of some overgrown nirvana like schoolchildren exploring the woods in the summer holidays. I guess we all like the idea of stumbling upon something hidden, of finding trout in the unlikeliest of places. Casting a line in places most people wouldn't even bother to look, the master of your own piscatorial Lilliput.
Except that I have never really been captivated by all that fishing small streams business; the 2 weight rods, reels the size of a chocolate penny, giving a sporting chance to fish which would fit into a sunglasses case. I accept it is popular with many anglers, but it's just not my scene. When I stumble upon a John Beer article in Trout & Salmon, I invariably flick past it, admiring the lovely photos of tiny 'wild as the wind' brownies on the way. And when I delve deep for the reason, I am forced to admit that I am drawn to the unknown aspect of fishing fully grown rivers - the possibility that the next fish I cover might be three, four or even five pounds.......and not that little sprot I can see holding station in the middle of the biggest 'pool' for miles. I'm not solely a big trout hunter by any means and the delight of catching a trout of any size will never diminish as long as I can cast a line. It's just that all that farting about under trees and amongst the undergrowth to catch the 12 inch alpha male of the pool seems like a bit of a fool's errand to me when there are 'proper' fish to be had elsewhere. I feel a bit guilty about this I admit.
Shortly before the end of the season, something happened which went some way to changing my opinion on the matter. It wasn't a Road to Damascus moment by any means, but my visit to an almost unfished tributary stream proved unexpectedly absorbing and reflecting upon the experience a few days later, I was forced to admit that somehow, that tiny Beck had got under my skin a little.
I fished it more out of idle boredom than anything else. Actually, that's not entirely true because I didn't really fish it at all, not properly. I had followed the field boundary down to the edge of a meadow of completely ungrazed scrub land, and squeezing through an ancient wooden gate, entered into a barely passable jungle of chest-high nettles knitted fast together by impenetrable tangles of gosling's crotch. Just how long this copse had remained untouched by man was unclear; the skeletons of long abandoned and ancient farm machinery suggesting quite a long time indeed. Consulting my map, I found that even the mature trees hereabouts were named.
I remember once hiking to the far end of Cow Green reservoir, to fish the inlet of the infant River Tees. Anyone who has made that lonely excursion up into the sub alpine pastures of the high Pennines will testify that it is about as close to proper wilderness as is left in this country. Strangely enough, as I entered this untended tangle, I felt a similar level of isolation, despite being only a few hundred yards away from civilisation. It was strange, but in a good way and I hacked on through the undergrowth to catch a first glimpse of the secret stream.
What I found was delightful - a fully formed river in miniature, with deep, reed-fringed pools (deep enough not to see the bottom), undercut banks, overhanging trees, and cobbly glides of marl and silt. It looked very trouty indeed; and what's more, it looked like it could conceivably be home to one or two serious fish. My interest was piqued and I set about finding somewhere I could actually get within casting distance of the water.
It would be nice to say I found a few fish rising and then fooled them with a suitably scaled down outfit and a tiny dry fly. What actually happened was that I found a pair of trout rising in a tight spot beneath some alder branches and using my normal 8'6" 4-weight outfit and a size 18 Griffiths Gnat, managed to poke a horribly unorthodox cast into the shadows, only to prick the larger of the two fish and send the other one bolting for cover. I did however, manage to successfully fool the smaller fish after it resumed feeding half an hour later. It was barely eight inches long and was one of the bonniest little trout I have ever caught.
And with that, it had happened: I had sub-consciously slipped into the world of the small stream fly fisher. I had devoted far too much time and thought into catching a fish which would be too small to make a breakfast. I had marvelled at its pale, iridescent beauty, and was moved to take a photo which I include below, but which should really be accompanied by the title 'wild as the wind' or 'small but perfectly formed' or something.
As I sweatily thrutched my way back to the car, through the nettles and midges, I was forced to admit that there might be something to this small stream fishing after all. And sitting here now, wondering what the place will be like in early spring, and how big its residents grow in that fertile water, and whether I should invest in a rod that is shorter than I am; somehow, by osmosis, that little beck has embedded itself in my consciousness.
Now where's that John Beer article?