Malcolm Greenhalgh's May Blog

Malcolm Greenhalgh is a WTT Vice President and contributes the occasional blog post. Here are his thoughts from the end of May. 

At the Wild Trout Trust’s weekend in Derbyshire, of which more anon, everyone from the four corners of our island agreed that this was the coldest spring, and worst spring, for trout fishing that they could recall. Up to the last fortnight May, like the end of March and April, the weather was dominated by strong winds from a direction veering from north-west to east-north-east. As my old friend and mentor that late Jack Norris used to say, The flies won’t hatch in numbers and the trout won’t rise properly in a wind like this. A cold downstream wind is the kiss of death for dry fly fishing!” (see my little book The Floating Fly for more of dear old Jack). So I saved petrol instead of wasting it by not driving miles to the rivers other than a couple of visits when the weather was not too bad, including an afternoon on the Hodder during the summery heat wave that brought spring, and May, to an end.

The good news is that reports indicate that our rivers have good heads of wild brown trout and grayling. Mick Addison for instance, told me of a visit to the Eden where trout were feeding everywhere on the minutest little black things” but that he couldn’t catch them even on a size 22 dry fly. Similarly Chris Hosker and Keith Owen visited a lovely beat of the Wharfe on the cold 6th May and found fish everywhere, some of them nice and large, and they caught a few on their nymphs. It was the same on the middle Ribble and upper Hodder.

Incidentally, Chris and Keith stopped off on their way to the Wharfe at Gargrave to support Bradford City AA’s fund raising event for the Wild Trout Trust, who have done some magnificent habitat work on the Aire following the Environmental Agency’s idiotic habitat mismanagement.

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I am now going to speak to the converted, for nitwits don’t read anything, it seems.

I don’t kill wild brown trout, despite the fact that I like to eat trout. Instead I eat top quality rainbow trout, usually by hot smoking them over cherry and hickory and making a pâté by whizzing their lovely meat with lemon juice and crème fraiche in the blender. My favourite haunt is Frank Casson’s Barnsfold Water, for the two lakes making up the fishery have great buzzer hatches and the trout raised by Frank and his son Richard are as good to eat as any.

I arrived on the 25th and, having said Hello!’, went to a favourite spot where food accumulates and the trout rise to eat it. Three others were fishing further along the bank and six others scattered elsewhere on the bank of this lake. As I tackled up I noticed that trout were rising.

The leader I use here is 16-feet in length and has two droppers so that I can fish a washing line’ of three flies, each of which matches one of three common foods. Because there was a nice south-westerly breeze, which might bring lots of landbred insects onto the water, I tied my Foam Beetle (size 14) to the top dropper. A fortnight earlier all the trout came to that, and when I came to clean the brace I took home an autopsy revealed lots of tiny black beetles in their stomachs. Middle dropper was a black Suspender Buzzer (14), one of the greatest inventions of the late John Goddard that matches a midge pupa hanging down from the surface film prior to the adult stage emerging . And on the point I knotted a size 16 black Cul de Canard Midge.

First cast a trout took the CDC Midge, a lovely fat trout with perfect fins and weighing about three pounds. That went in the bag. I cut off the soggy successful fly and knotted on a fresh CDC Midge. I made the second cast of the day and a trout took immediately, again a lovely fish not quite as large as the first. It too went into my bag. The next cast also caught a fish (three in three casts!) as did another about ten minutes later. With finger, wrist and elbow joints giving me pain it was time to stop: playing Frank’s trout really does hurt!

One of the trio fishing further along the bank came over as I discombooberated my tackle.

What did you get them on?”

A size 16 CDC dry fly.”

Never heard of it.” I showed him the four that were drying in my tweed hat. 

You never caught them on them little flies!” I took the two trout from my bag and spooned them, revealing stomachs nearly packed with tiny black flies and beetles.

I didn’t think big trout would eat such little things. We thought they would like big things like this.” He showed me a box of reservoir lures’.

I fish a washing line of three small flies…”

He interrupted: A what?”

I write magazine articles and have written a few books on flies and fly fishing. Why don’t people read them? Of course, they use the internet. Google Buzzer’ and see the confusing mass of patterns, ideas, rigs’ on offer. But it’s simple: in all real fly fishing you just match what the fish are eating where, in the water, the fish are feeding.

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A special plea. I am primarily a fly fisherman for wild trout and grayling and there are two organisations whose drive is for the protection of these two beautiful species, the Wild Trout Trust and the Grayling Society. I feel privileged to be a vice president of the first and trustee of the second. In spring the WTT has its conference weekend and in autumn the Grayling Soc has theirs. Both are wonderful events, with the Sundays giving members opportunity to fish some of the greatest rivers in Britain. On the Saturdays the presentations are always fascinating and I learn much from them.

But not enough folk who also enjoy fishing for wild trout and grayling are members. They…you (if you are not)…ought to be members, for the rivers and lakes, and the wild trout and grayling that they.…you (if you are not)…enjoy, they need your support.