In keeping with the trend of the last couple of years March has turned out to be exceptionally dry around these parts, and more recently, very warm and sunny. Our rivers may be perilously low but the fish don't seem concerned and have taken advantage of the early spring to go on the feed most days - albeit in a more measured and languorous fashion than the usual concentrated bursts of frenzied feeding that we would expect at this time of year.
Of course this regime has largely been dictated by the pattern of invertebrate activity we have witnessed so far. Rather than a compressed hatch period between the hours of 11:30 and 13:30, we have seen large dark olives trickling off in smaller numbers from as early as 9:30, right through until late afternoon; and the warm sunny conditions have allowed them to make a very quick break for the sky leaving some anglers perplexed by the apparent lack of rising fish. They may not be betraying the fact at the surface, but I have found that the fish are on the fin and in feeding mode. Most of my offers have come to the sunk fly - of the two dozen or so that I have caught thus far, only five have come to dry fly with the rest falling to either upstream nymph or spiders; it seems they have been busy sub-surface, quartering the currents for the ascending nymphs. Any dry fly sport seems to have been restricted to odd individuals mopping up drowned duns in the busy water at the pool heads - a complete contrast to the usual scenario of fish sitting lower back on the more sedate sections of pools and mopping up duns at their leisure.
No matter, I've fished the Eden three times so far and enjoyed some sport in glorious - if a bit windy - spring conditions. Apart from the 2lb plus fish from Monday's outing, nothing has been bigger than about a pound and a half, but fish have come quite readily which is a relief following a winter in which the only eventful thing to happen to my fishing gear is that my #5 line seems to have developed a disturbing number of cracks. This fit looking trout was about the best of the rest:
We have reason to be optimistic about the coming season. Hatches so far may not have been up to much, but they certainly included a good number of Rithrogena germanica, the true march brown. These big flies seem to have emerged in short spurts of good numbers - a few dozen popping up in isolated 10 minute spells. As I have written here before, although once considered common on the Eden system, in recent years they have become extremely scarce and any similar looking fly has invariably turned out on closer inspection to be a large brook dun (Ecdyonurus torrentis). The easiest identification between the two is that the former has small dark blotches on its femurs (upper leg section) - a characteristic of Rithrogena species, the olive upright (R. semicolorata) has them too. From as high up as Kirkby Stephen to down below Watersmeet, there have been encouraging numbers reported which is a very good thing indeed.
At Edenhall on Friday, Bob and I witnessed good numbers. Bob in particular sat back and watched a short lived but intense flurry of the brown duns which failed to interest the fish, although a rip snorter of a downstream wind was whisking them off the surface in a jiffy. A short way downstream, necessity dictated that I turn my back on the wind and fish a team of spiders amongst the mix of march browns and large dark olives. Three brownies fell to this tactic and it was interesting to note that all took the MB spider on the middle dropper in preference to either the waterhen bloa on top or the small olive copperhead anchoring the point.
Overall though the pickings were fairly slim. We would rather have targeted individual rising trout but despite time spent searching, they just didn't materialise.The earlier part of the day however, had already given us ample reason to be cheerful about the coming months.
We carried out the first of the season's invertebrate monitoring on our Eden and Eamont kick sample sites and found the numbers present to be extremely healthy. Across all five sites there were very good numbers of baetid and heptagenid nymphs in particular. The Eamont samples showed up plenty of large stoneflies and caseless caddis (Rhyacophila, Hydropsyche) were abundant across the board. The littoral stones of both rivers are peppered with the tiny particle igloos of the agapetus caddis; and of course the march brown clinger nymphs were instantly recognisable by the darkened ripeness of their wing cases (on one occasion a pair of duns hatched right there in the sample tray as we watched). The abundance of invertebrates was very encouraging and as healthy as I have seen since I started on the Angler's Monitoring Initiative (AMI) two years ago. The photo below should give you some indication - a close up of some olive nymphs clustered into a corner of the sample tray - an area approximately 3 inches square:
One interesting find in the final sample we took (Eden below Appleby), was a brook lamprey. This primitive looking creature superficially resembles a tiny eel, but has a line of holes for gills and a weird circular sucker job for mouthparts. I have never seen one before and I'm in no hurry to again - it gave me the bloody creeps!
At the weekend I snatched little under two hours on my local River Ribble and found still further reason to be cheerful. Details on that little excursion will follow in part 2..........