It kind of crept up on me, the realisation that I could possibly go fishing this week. I had become so inured to floods and gales that the opening of the trout season had come and gone without really registering in my mind. This week though saw a change in the weather with cold, bright mornings and a merciful lack of precipitation. On Tuesday it occurred to me that there might be the chance of an hour or two on the river bank if this good weather held.
Wednesday had been largely given over to rummaging for lost tackle and repairing my broken wading staff. Rod and reel were easy to locate but fly boxes and tippet materials had snuck off into all sorts of odd corners and it took me a while to corral the various small items and repopulate my waistcoat pockets. That small boy’s excitement of an anticipated fishing trip grew stronger throughout the day, thoughts of bent rods and fish sliding into the net filled any quiet moments. I found myself smiling as thoughts of the pleasures of a few hours on the riverbank sunk in.
Thursday came around at last. I hardly dare peek out of the window this morning when the alarm went off, would the day be fine? Yep, frosty but dry was the answer with some high thin cloud to boot. A fishing day of sorts! Some chores had to be completed quickly before the last odds and ends could be tossed unceremoniously into the back of the car and I was off down the road. The last couple of dry days had tempted me to try my luck on the River Robe.
Pulling up at a parking spot after a short detour because I had taken a wrong turning, I stepped out of the warmth of the car into a cool wind. Layers of clothing were hastily applied but it was much colder than I had anticipated and this was not going to improve my chances of success. Numb fingers took ages to knot on the flies but undaunted and dressed like Nanook of the North, I hopped the five bar gate and strode purposefully across the rough pasture. The drain at the edge of the field was chock-a-block with frog spawn, a sure sign that spring is on its way.
I had it in my head to try a short section of the river I had never fished before. It lay upstream of where I was parked but access immediately became a major issue. I huge drain, filled to the brim with stagnant water and mud barred any further approach. In something which would not have looked out of place in Passchendaele the far bank of the drain was topped with a high fence of vicious looking barbed wire. I worked my way along the drain for a while but it became obvious there was no easy way across. In the end I gave up and returned to the river. There must be a way across that drain and I will return to try again soon. I suspect any trout lying above that obstacle have not seen an anglers fly for many a long year.
I began by flicking weighted nymphs into the roiling current and eventually persuaded one trout to nip, unconvincingly at the Hare’s Ear on the tail. He didn’t stick. I could only fish a short stretch as the river was too high for this section and below me looking like a raging torrent. Out of nowhere, a kingfisher sped downstream a couple of feet above the water, that glorious flash of azure lighting up an otherwise dull vista. Time for a move.
I drove down river to a favourite piece of the river where there are a selection of pools to try. I changed the rig and switched on to wet flies for swinging in the current. On went a Pheasant tail goldhead on the tail, a Plover and Hare’s Ear in the middle and an ever reliable Partridge and Orange on the top dropper. By now the sun was breaking through the clouds but it was still cold. Gaining the river I started casting as tight to the far bank as I could. An olive floated by on the wind.
The water is still very cold and the strong current pushed hard through each of the pools (do you sense some excuses?). I methodically worked my way downstream, casting into any likely looking spots but try as I might there was no response from the trout. The fields, normally so well-tended around this part of the river were in terrible condition, badly rutted and pock-marked with deep hoof prints and showing signs of agricultural run off. Some pools I completely bypassed as they were far too fast for trout to be feeding in them. Near the tail of one pool, just where the pace slowed slightly a trout rose. I covered it carefully a few times and sure enough up he came and took the fly with a confident swirl. I struck but he dropped off almost immediately. Damn! I knew I was not going to get too many chances today so losing that one was a blow. Next fishable pool down I had another knock but it too did not stick around. Ah well, at least I was getting some fresh air.
I skipped the fast section of water below the weir. It fishes well on summer evenings when the fish lie there to get some oxygen across their gills and feast on the flies which gather there. But in a flood the waters rage through the rapids making them unfishable.
Down towards the bottom of this part of the river there are a couple of good pools. At the first one it was obvious the top of the pool was too fast but near the tail it looked a bit more likely. I worked my way down, one step per cast, planting the flies as close to the far bank as I could then mending two or three times as the cast fished out. Sure enough, a solid pull soon had me in business and a small trout came to hand, my first fish of the new season. A quick snap and then he was released, all 8 inches of him! It turned out to be the last offer I would get. He had taken the P&O.
I fished on but lost the full cast of flies when an over ambitious cast tangled on a bush on the far bank. Setting up again I fished my way back upstream to the car.
Early season trouting is always a precarious affair. Conditions can vary so much and fly life is sparse to non-existent. In a few weeks there will be more flies around and the water will be both lower and warmer. By April I would expect much better fishing but for today a single small trout was the meagre return for my efforts. That is fine with me, today was more about just getting out to blow away the cobwebs and to get a feel for the river again. The trout was a bonus.