Spring & early summer fly fishing days with Martin James MBE

A Quintessential Brown Trout From Clear Running Water

‘Once more we moved several yards upstream, to a spot where the river was shadowed by trees and bushes. Two large beeches, some willows, alders, and hawthorns created a tunnel like appearance. Branches of a beech tree trailed in the water creating a scum line, and as always good fish rolled on the surface.’

The coarse fishing season ended on March 14th, a new trout season commenced the next day in Lancashire, while over the border in the White Rose county of Yorkshire, the season started on the 25th March.  Other areas of the country the season for brown trout angling on rivers can start on April 1st, and in others it could be as late as the 1st of May.

Early Olives

What pleased me during February in Lancashire were small hatches of olives, also chironomids often known as midges or buzzers. I was also catching out of season brown trout when grayling fishing. These trout were bright and plump and in excellent condition. I was very happy to see these over wintered fish. Under most river conditions at the start of the season I will usually spend an hour or two on the river Ribble.

If I’m lucky I might catch the odd brown trout, perhaps several, I just enjoy the experience of being there. I often share the first day with an old friend Brian Watts who is like me an all-round angler. Sea, coarse and game angling. We both enjoy the art of Wallis casting when fishing the float. We have enjoyed each other’s company on rivers all over the country. It’s rare for me not to have a session most days of the week. I do get some old age pensioners say ‘I wish I wasn’t retired.’ I don’t, I can fish five days a week, many times its seven days.

The early spring weather was dry and quite chilly; the rivers were low and gin clear. I felt we were sitting on an ecological time bomb when we have these conditions. Just a small pollution incident could cause a major fish kill. Often between one and two in the afternoon in a sheltered area of the river I would often see a hatch of flies. The odd trout could be seen dimpling the surface. Though fishing was extremely hard, I worked throughout the day until dusk, often ending with a trout or two. Unlike other anglers on the river who often fish with a team of spider patterns down and across. I much prefer to fish upstream with nymph or dry fly with a fine tippet. I well remember one first day; March 15th I arrived on the river with excellent conditions prevailing an over cast sky, light south westerly wind and very mild conditions. Flies were hatching with trout rising.

A Well Travelled Kettle

As I sat on a riverside bench with a freshly brewed mug of tea I watched trout taking olives as they drifted down the stream in profusion, a bit like a miniature yachting gala. I had chosen nine foot 4 weight rods and floating lines with long tapered leader. Suddenly this huge ignorant person dressed in the latest fashion, carrying a new rod with its plastic covering on the handle, announced ‘It was a Czech nymphing day’. He then plunged into the water. Making his way upstream casting a nymph, waving the rod about like the sword of Zorro. I suppose he had gone a few yards upstream when I noticed the trout were still taking flies downstream of this oaf. Picking up my rod, then tying on a size 16 olive I quietly moved into position. With an upstream cast I delicately dropped the fly a few feet ahead of a rising trout. As it drifted downstream the fly was eaten. I followed the idiot upstream catching and releasing fish, no doubt they were freshly released stockies. An hour later this oaf announced the trout didn’t want to feed. What an idiot. After those first couple of weeks, the season opened on various waters in the Pennines. It was time to move eastwards.

Dry Flies and Three Weight Rods

In late March Kent Sherrington and I were repairing some stiles on the river Hodder. I said ‘Are you up for a day’s trout fishing next week?’ Kent replied ‘Of course.’ We decided on a small Pennine river, the word stream would be more appropriate. We agreed to leave just after his daughter had gone off to school. At Kent’s house we had a brew, then loaded the tackle, waders and lunch along with the obligatory kettle and gas stove into Kent’s vehicle. We then headed off to enjoy a day’s brown trout fishing. An hour or so later we parked up in our usual spot surrounded by some delightful countryside.

Before assembling my tackle, I put the Kettle on for a fresh brew, pulled my waders on finishing off with a pair of wading boots. When I first fished this water I used a four weight rod, today I was using a three weight seven foot model matched with a double taper floating line to which I’d attached a nine foot Frog Hair leader, with a two pound tippet choosing to start off with a size 16 Grey Duster which I’d found to be a very successful pattern on this water.

After another mug of tea, we picked up our rods then made our way across the field towards the water. Before you see this delightful river, you hear it bubbling and gurgling as it tumbles its way downstream. Pushing through some riverside willows and hawthorns I caught a glimpse of this tiny river, although I prefer to call it a stream. It looked beautiful in the sunlight. Fifteen yards upstream it disappeared as it made a right turn between the riverside trees and bushes.

First Trout of the Day 

I could see some late primroses and marsh marigolds. Blackbirds were in profusion, a song thrush was singing its heart out in a nearby beech tree. And the beautiful dipper zipped passed me downstream. An area of water was ruffled by a light wind and close to an overhanging horse chestnut tree a good fish swirled on the surface. It’s a spot where we always see a fish. Kent cast a size 14 Olive the fly drifted about six inches there was a slight dimple, the fly disappeared. The strike connected with a small brown trout which was quickly unhooked in the water. Seconds later another fish dimpled on the surface, the artificial olive pattern was again quickly cast upstream; as it drifted over where we had seen the fish rise it was quickly taken by another small hungry trout.

A few yards further upstream we arrived at one of our favourite pools. Kent said ‘Your turn Martin.’ I made a cast up towards a moss covered rock. The Grey Duster dropped on the water like thistle down then drifted downstream about ten feet before disappearing. The strike connected with a nice fish after a brief struggle I was able to draw a foot long trout to hand where I could bend down and slip out the barbless hook.

We moved a few yards upstream to another nice looking stretch where the river flowed quite fast from right to left then over some rocks before flowing slowly over silt and gravel. I made a long cast upstream, the Grey Duster settled on the water, then drifted downstream, a small dimple.

I tightened into a good fish which put a nice curve in my three weight. An eight inch fish was unhooked in the water. It was a fin, tail and scale perfect unlike most of the stocked fish in our still waters. As always I feel Walt Disney could have painted these trout. 

Walking quietly upstream we came to another good looking pool, at the tail there was an overhanging willow, a couple of yards before the pool on the left hand bank was a large hawthorn which was always waiting to snag a badly cast fly. I made a parallel cast upstream and missed a fish on the first drift.

It was Kent’s turn he didn’t make a mistake as a Paythorn Olive drifted downstream Kent retrieved the slack line. Fifteen feet into the drift a fish sucked down his Olive. The strike connected with a good trout and a few minutes later a fifteen inch trout was unhooked in the shallow water.

It Looked The Perfect Place 

Once more we moved several yards upstream, to a spot where the river was shadowed by trees and bushes. Two large beeches, some willows, alders, and hawthorns created a tunnel like appearance. Branches of a beech tree trailed in the water creating a scum line, and as always good fish rolled on the surface. Two warblers with their black cap and white necklace where chasing Olives as they hatched off in the warm sunshine. Some Kingcups or marsh marigolds looked beautiful in the sunshine. More Dark Olives were coming off. Life was wonderful. In fact it couldn’t get better. We were having a millionaire’s lifestyle without being millionaires. Kent and I both caught a nice trout apiece before they were spooked.

We moved on upstream making a left turn we came to a beautiful looking stretch of water, with no bushes or trees to impede our casting it was a fly fishers dream and a place which had often given us a good fish or two in the past. Fish were rising freely to Olives as they floated downstream looking like miniature yachts. I cast the Grey Duster upstream and as it dropped onto the water it was immediately taken, I broke on the strike.

Martin Brings A Fine Trout Towards The Net

I moved back from the water’s edge, it was Kent’s turn; the fly drifted downstream ten feet before being eaten. A trout was hooked the rod tip was pulled down by a good fish, Kent was forced to give some line. This one needed a landing net to make sure it wouldn’t be lost. It was unhooked and released, as we often do we discussed the beauty of the fish. In the next couple of hours we fished some delightful water with lots of character. After a couple of refusals, I changed my Grey Duster to an Iron Blue dun. In the next thirty minutes I had brace of fish then after a fifteen twenty minute session without any sign of rising fish I decided it was time for a change.

Nymphing Tactics

With only the odd fly drifting down the stream, and no rising fish it was time to go downstairs. Changing from a dry fly to a size 16 Pheasant Tail nymph. I carried on fishing upstream. I would cast up the stream, letting the nymph free drift its way down towards me retrieving the slack line in my left hand.

On my second cast, I spotted a tiny movement to the fly line. I tightened into a nice fish which went off upstream forcing me to give a few feet of line. Retrieving the lost line and a few extra feet, I let this fish work its energy off under the rod tip, then having drawn the fish into the shallow water I was able to bend down and slip out the barbless Pheasant tail nymph from the scissors of a beautiful brown trout of perhaps twelve inches. I then watched with immense pleasure as the fish dashed off to the deep water. Upstream a Dipper emerged from the river with a mouthful of what looked like caddis. Give me a brace of these fish any day rather than a brace of six pounder rainbows from a stocked water. It was time for a well earnt fresh brew and a sandwich.

During the rest of the day we caught a few more trout, I also had three fish on a small imitation Chironomid or Midge larva. I don’t feel we use Chironomid larva enough in flowing water. Everyone knows how successful they are on still waters. I have learnt a tremendous amount of knowledge on fishing the Chironomid, Midge or Buzzer from the book Midge Magic by Don Holbrook and Ed Koch published by Stackpole Books ISBN 0-8117-0996-5 a book I thoroughly recommend.  As we sat enjoying a fresh brew we agreed it had been a good day’s fishing on a small Pennine stream.

The Deadly Silent Enemy A Footnote

Sadly all the life and beauty of this Pennine stream and others like it could be lost by some silent enemy escaping into a water course, such as chemicals, fertilisers, pesticides or silage. Perhaps the releasing of a deadly poison from a riverside factory, garage or farm. It doesn’t of course have to be a riverside factory. That small foot wide stream near your home eventually flows into a river.

We need to make sure all these tiny veins of the countryside are kept clean and healthy. As we build more homes, factories, schools and hospitals, we must make sure we build the sewage treatment plants to cope with all the sewage and chemical effluent before we go ahead with any new buildings.

I recommend the following reading The Pursuit of Wild Trout Mike Weaver Merlin Unwin books. ISBN 1-873674-00-7 Environmental Poisoning and The Law ISBN 0 9516073 1 6 The Silent Spring by Rachel Carson published by Hamish Hamilton 1963 Of course we should all be members of the Angling Trust, Let’s be honest we cannot trust the EA which as we know is a Government quango.

Writing & Images Martin James MBE February 2022