As I drove home yesterday, I mulled over the day's events and tried to decide to what degree the session had been a success. It had been interesting alright, and challenging certainly. I had caught fish, but left with an unshakeable sense of disappointment. It occurred to me that I could probably write two completely different accounts of the day. Success or failure? I'll leave it up to you to decide.
The Eamont hasn't been kind to me over the years, although that isn't so much a fault of the river as of the angler, I admit. It's a tricky river and one which requires time and effort to crack; but the rewards are most definitely there - particularly in the form of exceptionally large trout - as one or two fellow anglers I know can testify. My own experience however is less than impressive, mainly due to the fact that I have never given the Eamont the respect it demands. I have fished it in fits and starts, for short spells, and at inappropriate times; my meagre returns have reflected this fact, and so my poor perception of the river has become a self-fulfilling prophesy - a desire to be elsewhere when the best fishing of the season is to be had.
I've always known this to be a flawed outlook and every year I vow to put things right, but never quite muster the resolve. Like so many things in life - like getting fit or kicking the drink - it sometimes take a glimpse of the other side to kick start an onerous task. I think I might have caught just a whiff of that greener grass today, a sneak preview of the potential the Eamont holds.
I fished the lower river - delightful water and surely one of the country's more picturesque streams. The Eamont is a joy to behold at this time of year, as it dances over clean gravels and stones and between waving beds of ranunculus. There is something of the chalkstream about it, but without the sanitised banks and stock fish. Clouds of black gnats quartered the surface and the day promised much. I started out with a duo rig and began to search the riffles and creases for opportunistic trout. Almost immediately a couple of 10" fish came to hand, one to the nymph and one to the deerhair emerger dry fly.
And so it continued as the morning wore on. Takes came reasonably regularly to either end of the leader and over the next couple of hours I returned a good number of fit little trout up to about 12" in length. Nothing ground breaking, but steady sport all the same; and I was learning all the time about potential holding spots, particularly for a few hundred yards where I had never wet a line before. I was beginning to feel a bit better about the Eamont and the prospect of a few summer evenings exploration just around the corner.
In due course I came to a tiny pool where currents from two different directions clashed to form a trouty looking crease-line along a scoop of slightly deeper water. Such spots are usually dead certs for a fish and I flipped the flies into the top of the 5yd long run, fully expecting action at any minute. What happened next was expected, but entirely unexpected: I watched as a huge trout ghosted up from the ranunculus bed below and engulfed the dry fly calmly as you like. My mouth probably dropped open as I lifted the rod to set the hook. I might have cursed. Nodding around aggressively in the confines of this tiny pool was my captive audience, a cock brown trout of somewhere between three and four pounds. I watched him through the crystal clear water as he quartered the current, gills flared in irritation. There was nowhere for the fish to go; steady pressure and patience would be all that was required to land what would likely turn out to be my fish of the season. So I stood my ground and waited.
I don't know whether the loss of that trout affected me for the rest of the day. The big old bugger certainly haunted me as I moved up through the pools. With all seemingly under control, the fish had made an all too predictable bolt downstream into the rapid tongue of current which issued from the little pot he called home. I was after him like a shot, stumbling over the cobbles in an attempt to regain the upper hand, and had seemingly done enough to restore parity when he rose to the surface, shook his kyped head and ejected the hook, just like that.
Disappointing for sure and I had spent a few long seconds staring up into the sky, mentally replaying the events just passed; but nevertheless here was an almost instant shot at redemption as I stood at the tail of the next pool up and watched a hatch of medium olives (baetis vernus) developing nicely. The wind was awful, coming at me from upstream in scudding gusts. I had got away with it whilst fishing the duo, as the weighted nymph on the point had aided turnover no end. But now, with four rising fish in front of me and a single dry fly being the order of the day, an altogether sterner challenge awaited.
I put up a short, steeply tapered leader and one of the stackwing duns I tied recently and prepared to give it best. Fortunately the wind seemed to be knocking the newly emerged duns about a bit and the fish seemed forgiving of a less than perfect presentation. Certainly, the rearmost trout took first pass and although it would have weighed little more than the pound, it gave a great scrap in the fast water of the pool tail....before the hook popped out - long distance release.
The next fish up duly obliged...and then fell off. So did the next, on its way to the net. Hmmmmm.
Two pools up and the hatch was still on. I could count another four fish on the feed along the edge of the main current. Although my hook appeared fine, I changed patterns just to be on the safe side, and set to work. Three hooked - and lost - fish later and I was beginning to get paranoid. Was I being watched? I hoped not!
During the early weeks of the season, I can confidently state that my conversion rate of fish risen to fish landed was high - up around 90%. I was pleased with this given that chances can be at a premium early in the year. However, this debacle coupled with my disastrous showing on the Ure recently (when I didn't even manage to hook the bloody things!), and a couple of nice fish dropped on the Ribble last Tuesday, mean that over the last three outings this conversion rate has dropped to something like 60%. Pathetic, frankly.
There will most likely be some underlying reason, but I'm goosed if I can figure out what it is. I remember a spell a few years ago when for some reason every good fish I latched on to, I ended up losing. They just wouldn't stay hooked. It took until mid July before I successfully landed a 2lb+ trout - and an accidental sea trout at that. Bad luck or operator error? Who knows.
Finally I managed to land one, willing it over the rim of the net with every last drop of my resolve. It was a 12" fish and with hindsight it probably wasn't appropriate to punch the air in victory. A few casts later and the best fish of the day succumbed and some sort of equilibrium was restored. I had landed just over a dozen trout, a return I suppose I should be happy with. But how can I call that success when I lost seven good fish including one which would have made the season?
One good reason to be cheerful though: the Eamont appeared to be in fine fettle and I suppose it's better to have had the chances and spurned them, than to have never had the chances at all. And I could talk about the medium olives and iron blues and large brook duns - all of which point towards a healthy river system. Another time perhaps.....I'm off to sharpen my hooks and practise some Tai Chi.