And what a spring it has been. Sometimes I wonder if it is just me; but the river has been staggeringly beautiful this year,and the fishing at least as good as I can ever remember it. I’m talking about the Eden and its tributaries, particularly the Lowther. Here is a section of the lower reaches of the river last week, in late May: In spite of generally poor weather, for the season, the hatches have been steadily growing and as I write this it is actually difficult to keep track of all the species that might be simultaneously on the surface. Yesterday, for example, up on the Appleby AA Sandford stretch, I counted seven different species of upwing, including danica mayfly. I did not see a single mayfly taken, however, and I have barely seen any taken this year. For some reason(s), so long as there is another species of upwing active at the time, the trout, and grayling, seem to ignore the danica. I wonder if they take the nymph, but they certainly don’t bother with the adult, not, at least, when there are medium olives or iron blues about, even pale wateries – and these species are all currently active on Eden. I’m spending more time on the Lowther than almost any year so far, completely enthralled by the huge fish we are regularly catching. This one came to a 19 plume tip, using a 6’6″ S-glass rod from Polish Rods. Excuse the ‘grinning idiot holding fish shot’, which I generally hate because they are only usually manifestations of our egos; but Lawrence was on hand to snap a few photos as I dealt with it and the fish was in the air for less than 10 seconds, returned completely unharmed. This ‘Lowther leopard’ was a fat 55cm and we reckon somewhere around 4lbs. It is not exceptional by any means on the Eden system. I am grinning because I am just so happy that these magnificent wild fish still exist in England, and it did take some catching!Not that the Eden has been dull; in fact, for big trout, it has been similarly outstanding, at least on the parts of the river I fish most. There is the worry about a comparative lack of juvenile fish, of both species, as well as salmon parr, on the middle and upper river. This does not seem to apply to the Lowther, however, which seems to have good populations throughout the age range (though, oddly, no or few grayling on this river). I haven’t nymph fished since the early spring. It has been exclusively dry fly, which has meant the plume tip, nearly always in a 19, though increasingly now (which will continue into the autumn) with the 21. This fly is simply never rejected. Only if I spook the fish by a careless approach do I fail to rise it to this fly. A great tip though is that if you do notice rejections then simply changing to a smaller size, say from the 19 to a 21, nearly always solves that particular problem. Black gnats can also catch us out – they did me, anyway, a couple of weeks ago. The tell-tale here is rising fish to flies you cannot see. Right about this time of year black gnats swarm and drop as wind falls (even on a calm day!) on the river’s surface. I think they are just about the only insect, one of the few anyway, that can shake fish off their pre-occupation with upwings.
It is fascinating watching the feeding behaviour at the moment, particularly how both trout and grayling tend to focus, sometimes exclusively, on one of the smaller upwing species, even when the comparatively huge olive uprights or danicas are in abundance. But a comparison between the trout and the grayling is most fascinating of all. The latter usually make the gentlest rises, almost imperceptible unless you are looking in the right place, and most especially the larger specimens. Big trout, too, have seemed to have learnt not to waste energy, although trout are never as subtle, even enigmatic, as the big grayling. I think for me that the big, wild brown trout is and always will be my favourite target fish, though I admire grayling more. Right now, though, we’re only thinking about the large trout that are turning up, feeding subtly or not, almost everywhere we visit on the system. This (at somewhere around 45cm and 2lbs in weight) was one of a catch of a dozen similar fish from a four hundred metre stretch of river. On the 19 plume tip, of course. Odd, in a way, how these big trout have been so active through the generally windy and cool weather this spring, but they have also lulled us into a sense of promise for the future of this river system. With the lack of juveniles, in many areas, at least the existence of large numbers of spawning stock must surely give us hope.
One more week on Eden before I’m back to France for most of the summer. I will not miss it, but neither will I forget the magnificent fishing we have had this spring. I shall be fishing the chalk streams of northern France, with a little sojourn in the Massif Central with Lawrence, Neil and Paul, and this will be completely absorbing. I shall report on it all, here and elsewhere.