23 April – Tuesday Club

I don’t do crowds. I want the lake or river to myself. All day. Telephone turned off, no dog walkers, just the occasional Trout to interrupt my retreat from the real world.

Bank Holiday Monday was definitely not a fishing day. Lycramaniacs clogged the country lanes, leaving plastic bottles in the gutter and shouting at each other. They raised my blood pressure. I relaxed by washing the Defender. The hot sun on the aluminium instantly evaporated the Wash and Wax. After pulling a muscle in my back I switched to relaxing with a beer.

The Tuesday Club had reached cult status. It’s not exclusive but you have to take your own beer and sausages. Or grill a fresh Trout if the fishing is good. I arrived at 11:00pm, too early for a beer. I brewed a cup of tea and chatted with several members. I kept an eye on the shallows at Little Springs as I usually manage to catch a Trout from under the trees.

IMG_4025smallbw

I took some pain killers for my back, wandered away from the fishing hut and sat on the wet grass well back from the water. I flicked a nymph under the trees, then a buzzer. I had a couple of twitches on the tippet but it was only Roach.

Lunch was excellent. Rare Aberdeen Angus steak, soft bread rolls and a bottle of San Miquel. The conversation revealed that it was St George’s Day so I celebrated with another beer. We chatted about fishing, cars, holidays and other stuff. Lunch lasted for three hours. I played with a new Orvis fly line, guaranteed to cure all your castings ills for £120. It was a very nice line.

IMG_4022small

A Guest caught three fish on the dam with a Daddy just under the surface. I started fishing again about 3:30pm on the east side of Little Springs. I tried a variety of flies, including a French Partridge Mayfly which I thought might bring a Trout to the surface, but had no takes.

Everyone departed, leaving me to explore the dam from behind a bed of rushes. A fish swirled at the nymph on the first cast, just as I was lifting off to recast. I had a few tugs and nips and eventually hooked a fish which became airborne and shook the hook. I switched to a red hackled black spider. A fly the fish would not have seen before. It would be visible in the coloured water. The fly was taken on the drop while I was not paying attention, the rod pulled round and I failed to connect. I had several takes but the shoal moved away and I packed up. The hot sun, beer and pain killers had not been a good combination.

The river had been stocked that morning. After a couple of days for the Trout to settle down, the fishing should be good. Particularly as the Mayfly hatch is due.

trout

 

20 April – Easter

It was hot, 75 degrees, courtesy of the warm wind from North Africa. I left at 3:30pm to make the most of the evening rise. The bright hazy sky became a deeper blue as the South Downs came into view. In the shade of the valley at Little Bognor the sun was retreating from the eastern side of the lake leaving ideal fishing conditions.

The bracts from the overhanging Beech trees covered the surface of the lower lake. A raft of the tiny bright orange leaves had been washed into one corner by the gentle breeze. I wanted to see the river before deciding where to fish although several rising trout nudged me towards returning to Little Bognor. I had bought a new landing net, the old one had several extra large holes from ‘landing’ barbed wire and branches. I couldn’t go home without christening the new net.

IMG_4011smallbw

The river looked in great condition, the level was higher than I expected and the water had a pale bottle green tint. Shoots of streamer weed were just starting to show along the edge of the river and the current generated small eddies and seams. I stood on the bridge and watched the river, there were no signs of fish. Not even a Dace. There were no insects. The stage was set but the actors had not turned up.

The bluebell woods were spectacular. The smell of wild garlic couldn’t overpower the scent of the bluebells. It was quiet. The muddy path to the river was imprinted with deer tracks and the bluebells were flattened along the badger’s regular route through the trees.

IMG_3996small

I was hoping to see a sign that would encourage me to return to the Defender for my rod but a kingfisher whizzing upstream at low level was the only river dweller I saw.  Little Bognor beckoned. When I returned I was pleased to see that the entire valley was in shade and that I had the lake to myself. Trout were rising everywhere, encouraged to the surface by the leaf debris.

IMG_4013small

I sat under the trees and decided to start with a GRHE nymph but after twenty minutes without a take from the Trout swirling all around me, I switched to a dry fly. I flicked it out just past the edge of the floating leaf debris and watched the tippet. Eventually a fish took the fly but I had been distracted by a dog walker on the footpath and only saw the swirl of the departing Trout.

I remembered my last trip to Luffs and switched to a size 14 black buzzer. A couple of casts later the tippet moved away from me and I was into my first fish. I managed to get the fish into the new net despite tangling both the rod and net in the trees. A couple of walkers in bright white shirts clumped along the stone path and stood next to me.  I politely asked them to retrace their steps, which they did. The Trout also departed.

Dinner at The Angel in Petworth was excellent and I finished the evening at home with a glass of limited edition Scotch from the distillery in Cumbria. Happy Easter.

trout

17 April – Lakes

It felt strange watching the lake for signs of feeding Trout. I’d spent a week watching the swiftly flowing River Derwent. Watching still water took a dimension away. I stood in the sun with a cup of tea expecting a fish to rise and reveal it’s position. The shoals of Roach flipped about on the surface but the rainbows were deep. I strolled down the stony track to Lower Figgs, chatting to a couple of members on the way. The water was very clear, the sprigs of weed and freshwater mussel shells were clearly visible on the bottom of the lake in four feet of water.

There were lots of flies fluttering around, hovering over the bracken on the open ground surrounding the lake. I recognized an Alder Fly, of which there are 66 species, and saw an Olive, presumably from Upper Figgs, dipping onto the water to lay eggs. Hundreds of metallic blue Alder Leaf beetles (Agelastica alni) flew around me and buzzers were emerging from the lake surface. There was no shortage of food for the Trout. It was no surprise to see fish rising all over the lake. I sat on the grass, selected a fly and wondered how many Trout I would catch.

IMG_3944

I chose to start with a weighed Hare’s Ear nymph, it had been a reliable pattern on the Derwent and was a good imitation of an Olive nymph. After half an hour I decided the fly was too heavy and as the fish were feeding close to the surface, an unweighted pattern would improve matters. It didn’t. I tried a wide selection of patterns then moved to the opposite side of the lake where I could explore the edge of a submerged weed bed. I had a tentative take but didn’t connect.

IMG_3952smallbw

 

I had a satisfying lunch at Luffs and watched a member catch a three pounder. Fish were swirling close to the bank, chasing the shoals of roach fry. I fished from the south side of the lake for about ninety minutes during which time I had a tweak on a tatty Amber Nymph.

As I drove home I came to the conclusion that I had been fishing in ‘Derwent’ mode. I should have been fishing with a lighter tippet and using buzzer patterns. I’ll remember that for next time.

trout

River Derwent, Cumbria

Every five years I have a memorable holiday. I don’t fly. I stopped flying twenty years ago, Ryanair was the last straw. I didn’t bother to renew my passport and was happy not to clock up any more air miles.

I’d never been north of Manchester. I’d worked there for six months, it was a war zone. Gangs of feral girls roamed the streets of Wythenshawe trashing off-licences. A colleagues new car was firebombed the first day he drove it to work. I had a short walk from the fortified compound that used to be a multi storey car park, to the Forward Operating Base that was the TSB office. I felt vulnerable in a suit. A gang stealing cars to order worked from my hotel lounge bar. When I finished my tour of duty I resolved not to return. I gave Manchester a wide berth on the journey up north.

IMG_3519bwsmall

In November I’d booked the Armathwaite Beat on the River Derwent downstream from Ouse Bridge at the northern end of Bassenthwaite Lake. The Keeper recommended a farm house beside the river so I booked that as well. Job done. I looked forward to five days on a Cumbrian river early in the trout season, what could go wrong?

I went for a ‘drive’ around the area on Google Earth and searched YouTube for videos of the river. In 2009 the flood water was up to the door handles of the farm house and a black BMW had drowned by the front door. I knew I would be out of my depth on a strange spate river but hopefully not to that extent.

The journey north was long and boring. The eurobox hire car had remained with Enterprise. At the pick up they had revealed hidden extras and my booking was more than double the original quote. Bastards. My BMW ground away at the motorway miles, minor electrical issues, a leaky exhaust and the noise from a suspect wheel bearing were ignored. Brexit and London-Europe were left 350 miles behind.

IMG_E3534small

Wordsworth didn’t like tourists. In his ‘Guide Through the District of the Lakes’ published in 1810, he wrote of “the tedious tasks of supplying the Tourist with directions“. He didn’t like Larch trees either. Or railways. He liked daffodils.

On Sunday evening I crossed the field infront of the farm house and walked the top part of the Beat. I saw a small fish rise but there was no hatch, the wind was too cold. The river was much wider, deeper and faster than I had imagined. It reminded me of the Wye but with bigger scenery. The top of Skiddaw was covered with snow and dominated the area.

IMG_3538bwsmall
Monday – early in the morning I was given a guided tour of the Beat from the South side of the river. I was advised to fish around noon and in the evening. I was impatient to get on the water and started well before 12:00. A few insects fluttered around the river, under the trees, but nothing I could identify. I started behind the island in a tangle of undergrowth below the mature Oaks. The river sped past, over boulders and between overhanging bushes. Casting was an issue but I persevered, flicking the nymph across the river and quickly mending the line. I saw a small trout jump, something had a nip at the nymph and then, after a few casts, I connected with a fish. It was a beautiful wild fish with very little colour, a Sea Trout smolt. It took a Pheasant Tail nymph heavily ribbed with copper wire.

I worked down the run catching three brownies. They slammed into the fly and fought well above their weight. I rescued a newly born lamb separated from its mother and twin by stock fencing. I lost a couple of fish and returned to the house for a late lunch. The downstream wind had made presentation tricky and I planned to return in the evening after the wind had dropped.

IMG_3541small

At 6:00pm I walked across the field to the top of the island and after a couple of casts, had a take from a small brownie. Then I cast into a tree and lost the tippet that I had so carefully crafted in the sitting room. I moved down to the end of the island and had two fish in midstream on a size 14 heavily weighted Hare’s Ear. I lost a couple of fish and landed a couple, including a Sea Trout smolt with a chewed tail. I had caught four fish in the morning and four fish in the evening, including a Sea Trout smolt in each session. Spooky. The first day had been a success, I’d avoided a blank and learnt a little about the river.

IMG_3601small

Tuesday – the day started bright and sunny with a strong wind. The clouds rolled over the top of Skiddaw like the cloth on a mini Table Mountain. I had planned a change of scene, a different stretch of river. I had more than a mile to explore. I walked down the North bank trying different flies and varying the hook size. I tried Black Spiders with a dropper but quickly tired of the tangles. I experimented with my plastic nymphs after covering the water with other flies. No takes. The temperature rose to 18 degrees.

IMG_3664small

I moved down to the big pool with the green fishing hut and caught a 1lb 8oz brownie on a big black fly fished deep. It shot out of the deep water and took the fly as I was lifting off to cast. I walked back upstream and caught a fish about 1lb and lost a couple of others. I caught a Chub about 1lb in the bridge pool, near the bank in the deep water. I ended the day with four trout and a chub. I didn’t fish in the evening, we went to The Pheasant for a meal with friends.

IMG_3669bwsmall

I concluded that a small fly meant small trout. A big fly produced fewer takes but bigger fish. I had cautiously started wading in wellies, being careful not to scuff the stones or fall over. I had also started to notice fish moving, making subtle disturbances in the riffles. If I found a fish rising, I was confident that I could cover the rise and get a take. There were many distractions. I saw a Kingfisher, heard Oyster Catchers piping and spent too long watching the lambs misbehaving; larking about and headbutting each other.

IMG_3712bwsmall

Wednesday – at dawn there was a mist on the river and frost on the car roof. The plan was to fish until lunch, visit the distillery, have a siesta and awake for the evening rise. I thought that I would use my old Hardy #5 rod to help combat the wind. I started on the South bank behind the island where I had fished on Monday. I had one nip in the middle of the run under the Ash tree then nothing until I reached the middle of the big pool below the island. There were fish dimpling the surface. I caught a little brownie on a Black Spider then switched to a copper ribbed Hare’s Ear nymph. I had lots of takes but missed all of them. I eventually caught a Sea Trout smolt and realised that there was a shoal of the migrating fish nipping at my flies.

I moved down past the wood and fished the deep water on the outside of the bend near my bank.  The scenery was spectacular but the sun was high and the water crystal clear. It was 16 degrees. The old Hardy rod felt dead, it was a handicap. I visited the distillery, just across the field from the farm house and after a tasting, bought a couple of bottles of Scotch. My siesta lasted longer than I had planned.

IMG_3717bwsmall

In the evening there were clouds of midges along the river and everything looked promising. I used a 5lb bs fluorocarbon tippet to help sink the fly and started in the pool below the island. I carefully covered the channels between the weed and caught a small brownie on a Hare’s Ear. Another fish took in mid river, ran very fast upstream, then across the pool. It fought like a two pound fish but shrunk in the landing net to about one pound. I had three more fish from the long shallow stretch down to the bend. The fish were active for about an hour until the light faded. I’d switched back to my normal rod, the fast action Hardy Sintrix #4 was perfect. I’d covered some runs between the weed beds down the far side of the big pool, which were about 25 yards away. The length of the rod had also helped me mend the line in the fast water.

IMG_3745bwsmall

Thursday – the morning was cloudy and warm, the wind was very light, perfect conditions for fishing. I decided to explore the long stretch in the middle of the Beat which was only accessible from North bank. Mature Oak trees lined the steep bank opposite and the water on that side was too deep and fast for wading. I started at the pool below the island, nothing moved but in the fast water around the bend I hooked and lost a good fish.

As I was covering a wide riffle I saw an Osprey glide overhead, searching the river for lunch. Osprey Number 14 had arrived from Africa a few days earlier. It flew low overhead, it was used to seeing fishermen in the river. I caught two more small Trout and lost another good fish. A Eurofighter screamed overhead, banked in a tight turn to the right and roared away up the valley. A minute later another pilot repeated the manoeuvre. I recalled the jets that buzzed me at Luffs and wondered if they had followed me to Cumbria.

In the evening I caught a fish on the second cast and then lost four small fish. I searched all the runs down to the big pool. I knelt on the dry grass, half-sitting on the heel of my right welly. The sole split away from the upper. Later, while paddling, my boot slowly filled with water. I caught a second small fish on the way back at to the farm house. It had been an excellent day, ending with a glass of scotch. I binned the wellies.

IMG_3803small

 

Friday – the last day on which I would fish, was very sunny. The river level was down a bit and the water was crystal clear. Not ideal. I walked down across the fields towards the South bank having left the car beside the road. I fished hard. Trashing my wellies turned out to be a good thing. I wore my lightweight waders which gave me confidence to edge further out along the shingle spits. The fish were not rising but a few upwing flies hatched, they looked like Olives. I fished to the very end of the Beat, wading in midstream and running nymphs under the trees along the far bank. The fast jets put on another show, it was great to see and hear them. It was a long fishless walk back to the house for lunch. I hoped there would be an evening rise for my last session of the holiday.

IMG_3813small
The evening was very quiet, the wind had dropped and I felt confident that I would catch a few fish. My waders gave me access to a tree lined run, just below the first bend, that I had not fished before. I caught three fish all from the channel down the centre of the river. One Trout threw up a bow wave as it chased the fly. I missed several takes before a very cold North wind sprang up and drove me back to the warmth of the farm house. It was a relaxing evening and I was pleased to finish the week on a high.

IMG_0753asmall

The river had little aquatic life, there was nothing under the stones. It’s a harsh environment for the Trout. There are lots of predators; cormorants, gooseanders, otters, ospreys and anglers. The spates are extreme, it’s a miracle anything survives. The average weight of the Trout was low but the beauty of the wild fish and their strength more than compensated for their small size. The fishing was demanding, it was hard to read the continually changing riffles and threads of water.

My traditional approach was probably not the most productive but it was satisfying. Fly selection was critical. A natural pattern imitating a small nymph was important. A size 14 copper ribbed Hare’s Ear took the majority of my fish. A weighted nymph was essential, the fly had to sink quickly. Mending the line as soon as the cast landed avoided skating the fly across the surface. It was indeed a memorable holiday, the highlight was seeing Osprey ‘Number 14’.

trout

 

 

3 April – River Opening Day

The river was a perfect level and colour on Monday, with a green tint and only slightly cloudy. As I went to bed the level had risen 0.001m and it held steady overnight despite the showers. I woke at 6:30am, an uncivilized hour at which to go fishing. The dawn mist was burning off by the time I fired up the Defender and had completely disappeared by 10:00am when I arrived at Coultershaw Bridge.

I started at Rotherbridge and walked upstream to the New Riffle. The gravel had been scoured during the winter and streaks of sand had been deposited down the centre channel. It looked good. I tied on a heavily weighted Black Spider and carefully explored the top of the pool. I was confident that I would get a take, the Trout hadn’t seen a fly since October. I shuffled down the pool casting down and across. The grass was untrodden and there were no muddy footprints, I was the first to fish there. I tried the deep pool by the landing stage and all the usual the fish holding places on the way back to the bridge. The river gave nothing, it was lifeless. A shower of rain presented an opportunity to move Beats and I drove to Keepers Bridge.

IMG_3496bwsmall

I sheltered under a tree as a snow shower passed over. I watched the river for ten minutes, nothing moved. There were no flies hatching or birds in the trees. The river valley was quiet except for the gas guns protecting the newly planted crops. I walked downstream hoping to find a hungry overwintered Trout. It was not to be. I reached the Tree Tunnel and decided to retrace my steps. The conditions were perfect and it was good to be beside the river for a few hours, I was not disappointed to leave without catching a Trout.

trout