Friday, 4 May 2012

A Tale Of Two Rivers


A wild trout from the River Eden
A wild trout from the River Eden
In the space of three days I have fished two different rivers. And when I say different, I mean completely different; opposite ends of the scale. Last Wednesday I fished the pristine River Eden in Cumbria. A delightful river with clear, clean water, and fantastic views of the Pennines and North Country rural farmland. Today, Friday, I fished Colne Water, on the outskirts of Colne in Lancashire. A small river, once polluted by cotton mills and engineering works, but now restored and clean because of EC legislation. Colne Water is a different world to the Eden; distant views are replaced by sewage works and mills; the motorway stands high above the banks with cars and lorries hurtling by; and the bank-side trees and bushes are decorated with all manner of bags and household waste. These rivers may be completely different in character, but they do have one thing in common that many other rivers and their fishing clubs should take note of…




A Large Brook Dun on the Eden

The Eden in Cumbria is one of England’s best known rivers for all game species, but the upper reaches are justly famous for wild brown trout. Last Wednesday was a difficult day to fish because of an awkward wind. Not a particularly strong wind, it was gusty, sneaking round corners and bouncing off the bank. It was easy enough to cast into but trying to place your fly accurately was nigh on impossible. The line went where you intended but the leader and fly wherever the wind took them. I gave up on several rising fish when repeated attempts just failed to present the fly either in the right place or without drag.
A swarm of black gnats on the River Eden
A swarm of black gnats on the River Eden

A combination of wind and current actually helped in one pool where a tributary entered the main river. The tributary was the source of lots of Large Brook Duns (LBD), but as they flowed into the Eden the wind from the opposite direction sandwiched them and as ever the trout were quick to realise this and were knocking them off greedily. This was the source of my biggest trout of the day. A swift move by car downstream found more rising fish, but they wouldn’t take my March Brown Paradun (used as a LBD imitation). A closer inspection revealed why…black gnats. A procession of them lined up down the foam lines and current lanes. The trout were almost oblivious to your presence because they were so keyed onto the black gnats. The river was alive with trout and the odd grayling, and you could easily get to within a rod’s length of them without spooking them. It was a great day’s fishing in one of the country’s most scenic places all for £15 on a day ticket.

Colne Water, Lancashire - definitely a "Dirty Place"
Colne Water, Lancashire - definitely a "Dirty Place"

And so two days later I arrive in Barrowford to fish Colne water with my mate Dave Heeley. He’d already bought the day tickets for the extortionate sum of £4 each! It’s a small stream so I decided to use my new Hardy Lightweight 7’ #3 rod for the first time, and looking back that was a good decision. It takes a while when fishing a new river to get a feel for where the fish are, but after a few fish were netted we’d learnt that the resident trout seemed to have a distinct preference for concrete! Anywhere that had a bit of depth and concrete sides had a fish every time. We fished from Barrowford to the outskirts of Colne and were very happy with the numbers of fish we’d fooled on nymphs. I’d fished a single nymph upstream and Dave fished 'the Duo', leapfrogging each other. As we turned back downstream a hatch of Large Dark Olives (LDO) started. Odd ones at first, then a constant hatch that was still going strong as we left for home. The trout started to rise in some of the deeper glides and so we took more fish on CDC Duns on our downstream journey.
Colne Water "average" trout
Colne Water is featured in the new book by Theo Pike “Trout in Dirty Places” and it says that the trout average 8-10 inches, which seems about right from what we caught. It also says that there are trout to 3lb in there! The LDO hatch brought to the surface what seemed slightly bigger fish but nothing near 3lb. You do feel though that in some of the deeper holes there could be a monster trout lurking. And a day on an urban stream wouldn’t be complete without one thing…a shopping trolley. It took a while but with Colne’s Asda store in sight we did come across one of their trolleys!

Yours truly playing a trout on Colne Water
Yours truly playing a trout on Colne Water
So what do these two rivers have in common? Well they’re not stocked. They are at opposite ends of the fishing appeal scale but they both contain a healthy population of completely wild, self sustaining, brown trout. Two days have cost me all of £19 in total; I’ve caught trout to over 2lb; seen hatches of fly and rising fish that would satisfy anyone; caught enough fish to keep most people happy without fishing ‘hard’ and best of all I’ve thoroughly enjoyed myself. And that’s what other angling clubs should take note of; instead of persisting in stocking rivers with trout.

Fishing below the M65
Fishing below the M65
In my opinion there is only one reason why clubs stock – to make the fishing easier (artificial) for their members. And to me that’s just not a good enough reason. The cost of my two day tickets would only cover about half the cost of a day ticket on some stocked stretches of river in the Yorkshire Dales. Could there be a link there!? It is clearly very expensive to buy good quality trout for stocking into rivers and that cost has to be covered by members and day tickets. Why not invest that money into the river by undertaking habitat improvement and reap the rewards for years to come with a self sustaining population of trout and grayling.

Urban flyfishing - Dave on Colne Water
Stocking rivers with trout is counterproductive and can cause deeper problems. If you go and tip hundreds of hungry stock fish into a river you are upsetting the balance. There isn’t enough food (nymphs, larvae, duns, etc) to go round and satisfy their hunger. The answer: they feed on something else and that will include young wild trout and grayling. So next season the members complain there’s no fish in the river, because the inferior stock fish didn’t survive the winter after eating most of the wild trout and grayling’s progeny. So what happens? More trout are stocked. You can see the cycle that’s been started and the only answer is to phase out stocking over a number of years, or stop stocking completely. This will mean a few barren years as the wild fish recover but that is something that has got to be worth it if my fishing this week is anything to go by. The Wild Trout Trust are doing a superb job, and I would encourage any trout angler to join them, but it seems the message is just not getting across quick enough.