From my experience at the waterside over the past few weeks, I feel we will get off to a good start this coming season especially if the weather is mild. Since January there has been a lot of fly life with water temperatures as high as 50 degrees F.
Having seen the occasional out of season trout caught by bait anglers, I must say they have certainly been in good condition. All the rain we had through the autumn and winter, especially late January and early February, will have done a lot of good for our rivers. When you visit your favourite river or stream you will see the gravel beds shining bright like diamonds. Gone is all that horrid clodorpha weed and other rubbish. Sadly many of our river and streamside trees and bushes have a large amount of plastic draped in their branches. Why not spend some of your time removing some of this rubbish, making sure you wear a good pair of rubber gloves. You won't regret giving up some fishing time to improve the countryside. With all the water rushing down our rivers and streams, some of the redds might have been washed out, but nature has an excellent habit of looking after itself. Far better than we humans do.
During my chub fishing sessions over the past couple of months I have seen a large amount of waterborne insects coming off, trout and grayling have often been feeding avidly. Fishing a four weight outfit, floating line and a Paythorn Olive one afternoon, I had some interesting sport with the grayling. I also had two fish using a small black gnat tied up on a size twenty hook. I don't usually use flies this small but to get the fish to take I had to use these tiny imitations. Many of the flies hatching have been what we can best describe as micro buzzers.
Some very good out of season brown trout have been caught on bread crust during my many trips after chub on the northern and midland rivers. In all cases the fish have been of a good size averaging around a pound in weight and in excellent condition. I have always found bread crust to be very attractive to brown trout. As far back as the early 1950's we used to get some big brown trout from the rivers Len and Kentish Stour on bread crust when fishing for roach.
One thing you will notice when you go back to your favourite river will be the changes. Those deep quiet pools could now be fast shallow glides. Those nice long shallow glides might now have been broken into smaller glides and pools. New pools will have been created, some of these caused by bank side trees that have crashed into the river or been bought down by flood water. Beware of undercut banks caused by the high water. My advice is to wear a buoyancy aid and take a wading staff. You know it makes sense.
To arrive at one's favourite stretch of river during springtime with warm sunshine and a light wind is a delight indeed. Strolling along the river bank you will find hawthorns in their new cloaks of green, catkins and pussy willow, marsh marigolds and primroses and daffodils in abundance, adding a beautiful splash of colour to the drab countryside. If you're lucky you might just see some cowslips and the last of the snow drops. Sadly all this beauty will be taken away by the riverside trees, bushes and fences being draped in black and white plastic sheeting and fertiliser bags in various colours. It's about time farmers had to pay a deposit of 20 pound sterling on fertiliser bags. A group of anglers from the Bradford City AA collected 40 bin liners of rubbish in just one day in late 2000 - that was their last rubbish collecting day due to the foot and mouth virus during 2001 as they couldn't get on the water. It's been noticeable in early 2002 how much less rubbish is strewn in the riverside bushes and trees.
Dippers will be going about their nest building. Blackbirds and thrushes along with plover and field-fare should be about in numbers. As you sit at the waterside looking for a feeding trout, you will no doubt be joined by a robin looking for a free handout of food in the form of bread crumbs. At this time of the year I take some sunflower hearts which I spread around the river bank. Often I will call in at my local butcher to collect a hunk of fat which I tie to a branch of a riverside tree. The birds love it.
It's been well documented that in early spring we should arrive on the river just before 11-0 am then leave just after lunch say around 2-0pm, Usually this is quite good advice as the rise of insects is often of a brief duration at this time of the year. But this year it could be different story. If it's mild you might have insects rising and trout feeding from around 10 O'clock through to 3 or 4 O'clock. As previously mentioned, I have seen insects coming off the water with fish feeding throughout the day.
If we have a normal start to the season, then it will probably be cold, with an easterly wind. If that should happen, fishing will probably be between 11-30 am and 2pm. But make sure you have some dry flies and nymphs in your fly box so you can cover all possibilities. I am keeping my fingers crossed for a very mild spring. Having said that, early January was icy cold with a north easterly wind but still I could see the odd trout and grayling rising to what looked like a very small black gnats. All this action was taking place around 2 O'clock in the afternoon. On February 9th not only did the rain lash down with rivers were bank high, but in some areas of Lancashire there was a thick covering of hailstones - the weather can be so changeable!
When To Wade?
When to wade is a vexed question, if you can cast to feeding fish from the bankside you should do so. Wading can quickly spook fish unless you wade slowly and quietly without making a bow wave, all you will do is push the fish further up or downstream and make them very spooky. Two or three seasons past on the river Ribble Alan Roe and myself experienced the most obnoxious behaviour we have ever seen at the waterside from a very bad mannered person. I refuse to call him an angler. As Alan and I sat at the waterside observing some rising fish, this oaf, clad in all the best clothing with the latest in chest high waders and carrying the most expensive fishing tackle, drew level with us. Without asking if it would be OK to fish the stretch of river or giving any other explanation he plunged into the river like a bull elephant saying "I'm going to fish the Czech nymphing style today" This idiot then commenced to walk upstream. As Alan said at the time, "What an idiot, there he is, flashing his rod around like the sword of Zorro". Alan and I were speechless. We looked at each other in disbelief at this oaf's behaviour. After he had moved upstream few yards, the fish again started to rise behind our idiot. I said to Alan "Tie on a Paythorn olive and show him how to catch those fish". Alan did as I suggested. Moving slowly and quietly using the available bankside cover he followed our idiot upstream. With some very accurate casting and dropping the fly like thistle down, Alan caught half a dozen nice brown trout. It was a great demonstration of dry fly fishing. All the time our idiot in his costly clothing with expensive tackle failed to catch a single fish. After a while he came out of the water and said "I'm going upstream to the big pool, there's some big trout there" We let him go. Then looking at each other I said "What's happened to the etiquette in angling these days?" It's interesting to note that Alan was fishing with a six foot rod costing about forty pounds sterling.
I have waded many rivers when it's been necessary to do so, such as when fish are rising under the far bank on a big river, that's when wading will give you the best chance of catching fish. Remember to wear that buoyancy aid and carry that wading staff when wading. I cannot impress upon you enough to double check the water before you start to wade. The river bed can change quite dramatically during the autumn and winter floods. Before entering the river or stream, ask yourself "Is it possible to cast a fly to a rising fish from my position on the bank?" If the answer is, "Yes" then don't wade.
Nymph fishing is one method which often demands getting into the water to fish an upstream nymph between those inviting gaps in the weed beds. Also check with your fellow anglers if its OK to wade. Never go into the water downstream of an angler who is wading down a pool Always go in above. The etiquette of fishing a pool is fish the cast out, then take a step downstream repeating the process after each cast. Never hog the pool its bad manners.
Over the past couple of years I have changed my approach to river trouting, gone are the 6 weight rods, being exchanged for three and four weight outfits. I have never looked back since. When one thinks of the average size of brown trout from our rivers is probably 12 to 14 inches, it makes sense to use a four weight, even a three weight is OK. Some of my more experienced trout fishing friends are using six foot, two and three weight outfits with great success on the smaller rivers and streams. My four weight has handled trout to three pounds. At no time did I feel under gunned.
Improve the habitat for better fishing
I have always felt that if we anglers worked harder at improving the bank side and aquatic habitat our fishing would improve greatly. Many game anglers will say to me during the winter months. "I will be glad when the trout season starts again". It's a long winter without any trout fishing. There is a lot you can do to improve the habitat on your stretch of river. What about all that rubbish in the riverside trees and bushes? It all needs to be removed. I feel proud to be associated with Bradford City AA who certainly do a tremendous amount of habitat work on their river fisheries. Last year I gave the association one thousand pounds so they can improve the habitat even more, making sure that tomorrow's children will have an angling future. Two other clubs with an excellent record for habitat work are Bowland Game Anglers, based in Lancashire. Their work on the rivers Aire and Ribble has certainly improved the fishing tremendously. Also the Prince Albert AS based in Cheshire, with members and waters all over the north of England Wales and Midlands. All these anglers who give up their time must be congratulated on their efforts. Another organisation doing some tremendous habitat work are the Ribble Catchment And Conservation Trust, they are doing a lot of habitat work on the river Ribble, Hodder and several feeder streams.
What about that old bit of fencing in the river that collects more and more rubbish each week? Get it removed now. With the permission of the riparian owner, why not spend some time and money putting up some fencing to stop sheep and cattle from grazing close to the waters edge. You will notice an immediate improvement in the insect life along these stretches of river that have been fenced off.
Many of today's rivers banks are devoid of willows and alder trees. Why not plant trees and bushes, they will offer sanctuary and over head cover to fish and insect life. Birds will certainly be attracted, especially long tailed tits in search of insects. Plant a bush or two over a nice looking pool where minnows congregate so the kingfisher will have a place to perch as he surveys his dinner table.
Now is the time to take out all those rubber tyres, plastic sheeting, supermarket trolleys, fertiliser bags and other general rubbish that has collected at various places along the river. If you don't do the job, no one else will and your stretch of river will end up like a rubbish tip with the fish disappearing. We all owe the sport something and the best way we can help it prosper is looking after the habitat so the fish can concentrate on looking after themselves.
Last month on the river Bain I found banana skins, a luncheon meat tin, another luncheon meat tin lid (no doubt the can ended up in the river) some plastic and a used tea bag. I just wish that slob would get out of this wonderful sport, we don't need him. I would, given the chance, have stopped the slob from all leisure time activities and made him clear up our streets for a few months! There is no excuse for this rubbish. As there is no excuse for other anglers leaving plastic bags, ground bait bags, luncheon meat and sweet corn cans and nylon line at the waterside.
Learn to fly fish - Bradford City Angling Association have a beginners day where members and non members can learn to fly fish. It will take place on the last Saturday in April - for further details Telephone Arthur Padget, fly fishing section secretary on 01274-617419