Monday, 18 June 2012

An Ironic Stroke of Luck

A few months ago my good friend Paul got in touch after reading an article in Trout and Salmon about fishing on the River Derwent, County Durham. He liked the sound of it and proposed we had a trip north to fish this little known river later in the year. Not being one to turn down an overnight fishing trip, especially one involving 2 days fishing, good food, plenty of real ale, quality wine and catching up with a good friend, I quickly accepted. The trip was entered in the diary and the day finally came around last week.

River Derwent, Co Durham
River Derwent, Co Durham

The River Derwent flows out of Derwent Reservoir in NE England and flows in a generally NE direction to the River Tyne, which it joins not far from Gateshead. The fishing in the upper reaches is controlled by Derwent Angling Association, who have 15 miles of brown trout and grayling fishing available to members and day tickets.

It's funny how things pan out at times. As the trip got closer I have to admit to having reservations about spending 2 days on the River Derwent and we made plans to fish elsewhere on the second day. The closer the trip got, the more I just didn't fancy fishing the Derwent at all and so we opted to fish the River Eden for 2 days instead, a river we both know can produce fantastic sport. Eden it was on the first day, but it was a bit of a grueller to say the least, in what was quite a low river with few signs of feeding fish. The highlight for me was a pounder from the very bottom pool of a tributary stream.

At the pub that night we saw the weather forecast for the north of the country, which was predicting a wind speed of 15mph with gusts to 34mph - not good on a very exposed river such as the Eden. So we needed a Plan B for the second day and the Upper Tees, Cow Green Reservoir, River Lowther and River Eamont were thrown into the alternative venue equation. We continued to talk about our alternatives over breakfast when I had a brainwave...what about the River Derwent I said? It looked sheltered in the magazine photos, couldn't be that far from the NW to the NE (actually it was close on 2 hours drive!) and it was where we'd originally planned to fish. Paul liked the idea so it was decision made. How ironic then that due to the weather we were forced to fish the river we had originally set out to fish all those months previously, and, as it turned out, what a stroke of luck it was.

15 miles is a lot of river to go at and with no knowledge whatsoever about where to fish it was a case of closing your eyes and sticking a pin in the map. The pin found a place called Allensford, just downstream of the A68 road bridge. Looking upstream the bridge pool looked very inviting and there were fish rising as well. Paul quickly bagged that for himself so I headed off upstream above the bridge.

Immediately above the bridge there was a long section of pocket water, which I searched with a CDC Sedge, Hackled F Fly and finally a Generic CDC before I started to hook fish. Plenty of trout came to this fly, mostly small, but I lost something much bigger. I don't think the hook actually penetrated the fish's mouth; it was more of a heavy pricking of the fish, but I made enough contact to feel that it was a weighty fish. On wading through the water where this brief hook-up took place I spooked a fish around 2lb in weight - more than likely the fish with which I'd had a brief encounter.

A newly hatched Mayfly on the rod
A newly hatched Mayfly on the rod
Upstream I could see a long pool below a small weir, with foam lanes, good flow and more importantly, rising fish. This was even more inviting than the bridge pool that Paul had elected to fish. I'd seen a few upwing duns about, the odd Large Brook Dun sat resting on protruding rocks and 2 Mayflies take flight. The tail end of this year's sparse Mayfly hatch I thought and so the trout wouldn't be taking them. As I moved towards the tail of the weir pool I realised there were fish rising throughout the pool. They were splashy, slashing rises, but I couldn't yet see what they were taking. Halfway up the pool I saw a trout take a skittering Mayfly and then another. The fish was sat close to the bank, just above a forked branch which was pointing down into the river and it took every Mayfly that came his way. I'd like to tell you that I tied on my Mayfly imitation, cast to the fish, hooked and landed it, but I didn't! There was a problem; believe it or not, I don't carry a Mayfly imitation. I just don't see enough of them on the rivers I fish to justify it. There simply isn't enough to get the fish going. The only answer would be my largest dun imitation - my size 12 March Brown Paradun. In reality it's not a bad imitation of a Mayfly; similar in size and colouration, with the all important dun profile.

Derwent trout are heavily spotted beauties
Derwent trout are
heavily spotted beauties
I covered the Mayfly rising fish a number of times but it never came to the surface again. Other trout were rising though and I slowly realised they were all on Mayflies as the hatch intensified. The air was now filled with newly hatched duns and fish were chasing them throughout the pool. The March Brown Paradun did the trick and I took every rising fish in the pool with it before moving on upstream. This was the pattern for the rest of the day. Fortune had brought us to the River Derwent on this day in search of shelter from the wind. I never expected that I'd walk into the biggest Mayfly hatch I've ever seen with every trout in the river eagerly taking them. There were so many flies hatching and fish rising that in 4 hours fishing I only covered about 300 meres of river, but took 40+ trout all on the same fly. Every pool had large numbers of Mayfly hatching and fish chasing them. The fish were all on the small side, but beautifully marked with brilliant spots. I know it's a cliche, but they made up what they lacked in size by the way they fought.

So why such large numbers of Mayfly in a rocky, rainred, river? I'd expect them in very small numbers but nothing like we experienced. This was no freak though. I have since looked through the club's website and it turns out the Derwent is known for its Mayfly hatch (and Large Brook Duns). In my humble opinion the answer lies in the large accumulations of silt on the river bed, which the Mayfly Nymph needs. This may have something to do with the calming effect of Derwent Reservoir, i.e. reduced flooding, which would normally scour the silt from the bottom.

Paul had experienced the same downstream of the bridge and so we headed for home surprised but happy chaps. We'd only fished a very small section of the club's 15 miles and we'd been extremely lucky with the conditions, but I'm sure the quality of fishing is similar throughout. We will be back later in the season, chasing grayling, which evaded us on this occasion.

Day tickets are available for a very reasonable £6 from various outlets - details on the club's website here: