How do you prepare for the beginning of a new season? We may count the ways because there are always things to be done. Routinely I will sort through my fishing bags and boxes, re-arranging flies into a semblance of order in a variety of boxes; I will clean reels, add a drop of oil to them if necessary, make up some casts and so on. This winter, in addition to tying up some new flies I rescued a trio of old cane rods from the garage where they had languished since I bought them as part of a job-lot some years ago at a fishing tackle auction. They were in pretty poor state, the glue had given up and the cane had split at several places. There was nothing for it but to re-build them. Two of the rods were without names and I felt comfortable about stripping them down to their naked elements – sans rings, sans varnish, sans cork, sans everything. I find that YouTube is a great thing and I watched several ‘masters of the art’ as they made beautiful bamboo rods – it is really artful to watch. Anyway, without great hopes of coming even close to the peerless quality seen on YouTube I slowly cleaned each rod by removing old varnish, re-glued them, wrapped tightly in heavy thread and hung them up till the glue had set. It was then a case of removing the thread, cleaning up the bamboo and setting to with varnish –coat after coat. I was indulged by being allowed to take over a part of the kitchen table for the next step: I put a home made cradle-rest onto a temporary work surface and fitted new reel seats and cork before beginning the wrapping of the rings. This is fiddly work and I would only give myself a 2:2 for merit (it was always known as a sportsman’s degree!) but over time my technique, such as it is, got better. When that was done it was time for final varnishing. My wife kindly made me new rod bags and I had some plastic tubes in the garage so each rod is now complete. Indeed, I took the larger rod to West Lilling Lake a few weeks ago to give a try out – 9 feet long, it cast a 6 weight line with ease and (surprise, surprise) it managed a 2lb rainbow to the net without splitting or snapping! The second rod is less than 7ft long and of very light build: it will be ideal for fishing at the river and I’ll be going after some small over-wintering fish on Ness Beat 2 at the earliest opportunity.
I am fortunate in being to do a lot of fishing on loughs in the west of Ireland. I’ve fished Corrib, Mask, Conn and Arrow but my local preference is for Lough O’Flynn, a limestone lake of about 580 acres, and only about 5 minutes from our house. I have a 19 ft lough boat bought second hand a decade or so ago from David Gray of Ballindoon (see his website: Arrowboats.com) who, as it happens, originally made the boat (based on a traditional design formed by Tommy Philbon of Clonbur). Well, the boat spends the winter months laid up on its trailer behind the house and I decided the time had come to give it a spruce up. I’ve been to Breanamore twice this year and on each occasion was prepared to do some work, sanding down the existing paint work and wooden transom, as the basis for fresh paint and varnish. Unfortunately I have been bested by the weather – last week it was storm Doris. Indeed I was woken at 4 in the morning by the sound of the boat’s canvas cover flapping furiously in the gale. So that is work still be done before I get out and on to the water. The season begins on 1 March on O’Flynn but it is unusual to see a boat before Patrick’s Day so there is still a little time…
As a club we arrange for a series of work party days in February and March. The first this year was held on Saturday 18 February. The weather was kind and there were a number of important jobs to be done. We are fortunate that a small number of enthusiastic members are able to help: Rex Parry worked on his lonesome at the Nunnington club hut and has layered the hedge that had grown almost out of control. He has down a great job and he may even have a second (or third) career ahead of him as a woodsman! Down stream there were a couple of trees to be removed from the river and it was of enormous help that Rupert Drury was willing to bring along his steroid–enhanced Land Rover fully equipped with a powerful winch. Bob Milne (aka Bob Trout) took some photographs which can now be seen on the club web site (go to Gallery and then Work Party Feb 2017). Tony Teasdale and David Owston are experts in the use of chain saws and a winter’s supply of logs were loaded to a trailer. At the end of the day we were able to burn off much of the smaller material resulting from our activities and also cleared an extensive area of last year’s fallen branches: there is nothing like a good bonfire at the end of the day!
The club committee met in early February and you will be pleased to learn that finances continue to be healthy as is membership. By now you will have received fresh membership tags for 2017 (thanks to Terry Nicholson/Secretary and Michael Colyer/Treasurer) for their work in this regard. We have made arrangements for stocking fish on the same basis as in previous years and will also be putting 150 rainbows into Lilling Lake. Following the presentation by Jonny Grey of the Wild Trout Trust at last year’s AGM the committee has decided to consult members about the possibility of conducting a trial/experiment by concentrating our future stocking activity on Nunnington Lower and Ness Beats thereby allowing the Nunnington Top Water to become a wild trout fishery. This will not happen without approval of members and we hope to hold a debate and determine a result at the next AGM. Linked to this proposal is a suggestion that we unify the categories of club membership: in other words that all members are full members with the right to fish anywhere on club water. In order to make this financially viable for the club we would introduce a flat-rate fee of approximately £300. Again, this is something we want to consult members about and discuss fully at the next AGM before any decision is made. Have a think about these proposals and have a chat with any member of the Committee.
That’s about it for now – I hope your pre-season’s preparations are going well.
The season has started slowly after what seemed to be such a long winter with low temperatures and a lot of rain. Opportunities to walk the river bank in the early part of the year confirmed that more trees had been lost and that the shape of the river had been altered at key points. We, the land owners and Environment Agency, will have to think about the implications of losing so many trees for the structure and stability of the river banks: careful management of dying alders by taking off the major part of both trunk and crown but leaving the root system is one response; judicious coppicing of some trees to stimulate fresh growth is another; but in the long term we may have to think about planting new trees. Trees are essential for a healthy river, giving a nurturing environment for fly life and birds, giving structure to river banks and helping to minimize ‘run-off’ and silting from surrounding fields.
The work party and stocking days are always enjoyable and the club is very fortunate in having a dedicated core of members who manage to come along to nearly all such activities. We did minimum pruning of trees this year concentrating instead on repairing and replacing ladders and other access points to the river; these will be maintained throughout the season. Supported by Jonny Grey of the Wild Trout Trust we also did some innovative work at The Kelds, weaving willow branches into natural barriers to improve water flow and thereby enhance the environment for young fish. We will be monitoring progress and will report back.
As you know we put 500 trout (11 – 13 inch and now legally required to be ‘triploid’ – ie infertile) into the river and will be stocking again with a further 500 trout later this week. The fish are distributed evenly over our beats (excepting Ness Beat 3) and as part of the next stocking – we will be including 6 ‘trophy’ fish, one for each beat and tagged for easy identification. Any member who catches one of these fish and can provide evidence (witness statement, photograph or tag) will be awarded a bottle of whisky at the AGM!
It is good to see that West Lilling Lake has been used and valued by members throughout the winter and spring. Although we have now put 450 trout (rainbows and blue trout – real beauties) into the lake the returns have been modest. It just goes to show that even though the lake is small and well stocked the fishing is challenging. I had a couple of hours at the lake on Sunday and I have to say that in the warm weather I thought the lake was ‘boiling’; there were trout everywhere though I can’t say what they were taking. I fished with a dry fly and was broken twice at the point of contact. I’ve come to the conclusion that 5X tippet is not strong enough for the bruisers of West Lilling – or it could be that my knots were not up to snuff! Just a little reminder – could members please book-on to fish before casting a line and not, if they remember, when they leave.
I fished Nunnington Top Water (Beat 1) yesterday afternoon. Warm but with a little breeze it was good to see (and for the first time this year) that fly life was returning to the river. I am told that a few mayflies were seen on Sunday but I certainly can’t say that ‘the hatch’ has started. I saw steady number of fish rising throughout the beat, nothing prolific but enough to give encouragement, and I did manage to get three to the net; two stockies and one a small wild trout. Joe Scott and Dave Owston were at the river on a ‘strimming’ rather than fishing afternoon: well done!
I received Salmon & Trout Conservation UK’s Annual Report the other day and found that it contained some fascinating articles. I was particularly interested in their reports about the quality of the country’s rivers – the overall picture is worrying. Kick sampling to record the range and numbers of invertebrates in the river, together with water quality samples, suggest that although the eU’s Water Directive is a force for the good there are major challenges facing the environment. We are lucky that the River Rye is in satisfactory to good order and we are especially fortunate in the one of our members, John Tharratt, conducts a regular kick sample, the results of which are to be found on the club website. The early returns for this year and not as good as at the same time last year but ‘point to point’ comparisons can be misleading. I encourage everyone to keep an eye on the data reports from John as they become available.
I am very fortunate in being to split my time between Yorkshire and the West of Ireland. There are early reports that the ‘mayfly is up’ on some of the Connaught lakes. I will be out on my boat next week, certainly on Lough O’Flynn being closest to home, but also (possibly) on one or other of Loughs Arrow, Carra and Corrib. I have never caught any of the really big fish you can read about in the classic histories of fishing in the west or, indeed, in the reports still carried in the Trout & Salmon magazine but there is still great fun in casting a hand-tied mayfly to a decent in trout in beautiful countryside. When I get back I’m sure that the mayfly season will be well advanced on the Rye. Bring it on… and tight lines to you all.