The season for brown trout fishing on rivers in the UK typically ends this month or, in certain cases, some time in October. This year has flown by and I only managed to get out twice, both trips taking place on consecutive weekends back at the start of the season in April.
I got off to a flyer on the first trip, but then was brought back down to Earth with a bump on the second. But hey, that’s what’s great about fishing – just when you think you’ve got it mastered, nature twists and turns and puts you back in your place. There’s always more to learn.
Just like the grayling season, I chose to open this year’s trout fishing on my beloved River Wharfe at Addingham. Having bought my day ticket at the village shop, I was pleased to see no other cars in the layby at Farfield Hall. Climbing the gate and descending across the fields to the river, I expected to have the beat to myself in perfect early-season conditions.
It was cloudy, breezy and mild. A bit of extra water in the river after rain earlier in the week had probably put off the other anglers, but I didn’t mind. Despite the river being ‘up’ a bit, the water was still clear and my confidence was high.
Starting as usual at the bottom of the beat at a favourite series of streams and riffles, I was surprised that after the first hour I hadn’t had a touch on either weighted nymphs or soft hackle wets. As had been the case when I last visited the stretch back in November there was plenty of fly life about with a good number of large dark olives and stoneflies hatching. However, in that first hour I hadn’t seen any rising fish taking advantage of these early season morsels.
That was to change as I crossed the first stile and approached the long ‘sand pit’ pool. A good fish gave away its position with a splashy rise. It was lying midstream in the smooth water at the tail of the pool. A change of approach was needed. I replaced my team of wet flies with a single dry fly – a size 14 F-Fly in a dark olive colour – a generic pattern that could represent any number of early season insects.
The river was really pushing through with the extra water, and the fish was a decent way out in the fast current. I waded as far as felt comfortable and made my first cast at the fish. The cast was helped by an upstream wind which ensured the 10-foot leader turned over nicely. Only the fly itself and none of the bulky fly line or nylon tippet drifted over the target. However, the perfectly presented fly was ignored.
I cast several times with the same result. No take and the fish didn’t rise again to any naturals either. Normally, several casts over a fish would have ‘put it down’. The fish would have seen the artificial fly and would be on notice that something untoward was afoot. A spooked fish will not feed again, it will skulk in its lie or even move elsewhere. However, given the blustery wind ruffling the pool and the extra water, I felt like I had good camouflage and perhaps could get away with a few more casts at the target.
And so it proved to be. On probably the tenth drift my dry fly disappeared in a slashing rise and a well-timed strike hooked the fish. A good hook hold was essential in the fast water. The sizeable trout put up a great fight, twisting and turning amongst the rocks and using the powerful flow to its full advantage (see video below).
Thankfully the fish stayed on long enough to be drawn over the net and I was off the mark for the 2018 trout season – a well-earnt fish, comfortably over a pound. After a couple of snaps it was safely released and shot off none the worse for the tussle.
I decided to persist with the dry fly and press upstream searching for further rising fish. The next fish I saw rise was again at the tail of a pool. Lying beneath a steep nearside bank, a careful approach was needed. I shimmied down the bank downstream of the fish’s lie, where a short cast would allow me to cover its position. The first cast was again delivered well and I clearly saw a long shape ghost under the fly – it looked like a very good sized brownie. It had certainly been interested in my offering, but something must have made it think twice and turn away, a flash of the hook or glint of the nylon leader perhaps. However, a second cast fooled it.
In this more sheltered spot the rise was gentler than the first fish, but the fight no less energetic – it was indeed another good one. The battle was at close range and I got a clear glimpse of what was not in fact a brownie, but a large grayling. I’d been chasing this fish all winter and hadn’t managed one of more than 10 inches, but this one was approaching two pounds! I was worried about the hook pulling out when the fish raised its large dorsal in the accelerating flow at the very end of the pool and I had to give line and let the fish descend into the next pool. Here I knew there was a large back eddie out of the powerful flow where I could land the fish with less pressure on the line. It was 17 inches – my biggest grayling from the river and certainly the best part of two pounds – a true specimen for a Yorkshire river. Grayling are out of season at this time of year and it was quickly returned to resume its spawning duties. Unlike trout that spawn over the winter months, grayling spawn between March and June. When spawning the grayling lose their usual iridescent silver colour and take on a more olive tint – what a fish it would be to connect with next winter when it will be in peak condition …
I continued upstream reaching a favourite bend where the fish were rising in short sharp bursts in time with the sporadic hatches of olives and stoneflies. As I waited and observed, another angler arrived from upstream. He also was having a good day having taken several fish on a dry Adams. We had a good chat and extolled the virtues of this lovely stretch of river. Having both arrived at the bend at the same time, initially I was expecting a stand-off over who would get to fish it, but after our friendly conversation he graciously allowed me to go and he left to explore downstream. As ever this spot didn’t disappoint and a patient approach, wading into position and waiting for the next burst of activity, saw another two good fish fall to my dry fly.
Around 3 o-clock the temperature dropped noticeably, and the activity stopped. It was time to call it a day – a great opening day – and drive a few miles upstream to enjoy a celebratory pint at the Craven Arms at Appletreewick.
I returned the next weekend, fully expecting a repeat performance. However, the mild upstream wind of the previous week had been replaced with a cold wind blowing down the valley, the weather couldn’t make up its mind – warm spring sun one minute and a cold winter shower the next – the fish didn’t like it and nothing stirred. Knowing that it would be my last outing for several months due to travel and work I packed up somewhat disheartened but took solace from my great memories of the previous week. That’s the beauty of fishing, the memories of the great days and knowledge that they will come again help you through the lean times.