It feels like a reconstruction, a metamorphosis. Certainly a relief; another chance. To have come through this winter, which has been horrid for a number of reasons, to the dawn of another trout season. Yes, a relief. I was out several times on Eden, and caught a few beautiful grayling on the nymph, but my heart is not really in this anymore. Not on Eden anyway, so abused by those who care only for what the landscape can yield them, at any cost. There is nothing, meaningful or effective, to stop them. I fear it is the end of any worthwhile times on Eden and I just cannot find the strength to be in denial, or fight against the inevitable, any longer. This is what we have had all winter; the aftermath of an entire slurry silo release into a tiny feeder beck. The black stain of slurry ran all the way down the Hoff beck to its confluence with the Eden. The spring might change that to an extent, as it usually does, because as the sun, and a new greenness, bathes the valley and surrounding fells, all seems so much better. The pollutions are swept away by spring time rain and the greening of the banks. So, it is difficult to let go of something one has loved for so long.
As always, we are all so excited for the new season, anticipating those first hatches of dark olives and, if the gross slurry pollution (like here in another poisoned feeder stream – notice the grey stream bed) in the system has not finally wiped them out, the famous March Browns. I have a few pals who like to spider the riffles at this time of year, and some of the deeper glides. I prefer to duo with an Oppo and a PTN, searching all depths up to about three feet. Best of all, to me, the Oppo always gives indication as to the readiness of the trout to rise to the surface (more so than the droppers on a spider rig). And if I have a few splashy rises to the dry fly (actually, usually one will do) I usually switch immediately to the plume tip. True to say though, that the trout are focused on the surface at this time of year only when there is a hatch. Otherwise, they seem steadfastly to remain deeper, feeding on sub-aquatic food forms, waiting.
Waiting, like us now. Not so long to go, especially on the French streams, already looking more vital, and at least lacking the farm ravages of the Eden. Clear waters and vestige growth of starwort and crowfoot, banks entangled by alder, willow and hazel, so that there are windows where we can glimpse into the waters, spying its secrets. A lot more bankside this year: the AAPPMA has given access to a stunning parcours on la Ternoise which is strictly fly only and no-kill. This river is a great success story for French fly fishing and habitat restoration. It was overgrazed (not, you understand to anything like the extent that occurs in England) and becoming badly silted. Gravel insertion, substantial cattle fencing and bank protection (mostly by leaving the trees in situ) has had a profound effect, over just a few years. You don’t see many trout. There aren’t many trout, but the wild fish are returning with, now, their biggest threat being cormorants (which remain in ridiculously high numbers, mostly because of the easy pickings from carp lakes and pools in the region), and to a lesser extent the catch and kill angler, of which there are many, though in declining numbers. A sign of the times. I hardly mind that the trout population is, therefore, low. The stream supports what it naturally can. So long as there enough that spawning can be successful. With fish ladders replacing the defunct mills of all these chalk streams, and notably on la Ternoise, salmon and sea-trout are returning in greater numbers, climbing upstream to the restored spawning gravels.
It is alright, isn’t it, to hope again? To find a new hope in landscape. An ecosystem that is still worth something. I find it here on Ternoise, and on Aa and Lys, and all these magical streams of les Sept Vallées in the massive chalk plateau of the southern part of Pas de Calais. Eden, in Cumbria has become a lost hope, a great river system once cherished by many, but now a shadow, and it is certainly not going to recover once the tumour of Brexit results in a loss of the European legislation that has offered at least a little protection from the gathered selfishness that cannot see the value or the beauty that was the Eden valley.