Reproduced from Trout and Salmon April 2006
Where wild trout fishing is concerned, it is the upper reaches of a river that appeal to me most. I love the wild surroundings and the (albeit often erroneous) feeling that I am fishing almost virgin water. The more remote areas provide a real sense of adventure. Here, too, reading the water is a bit more straightforward than farther downstream. Numbers of fish may not compare to those in the middle and lower reaches, as both sheltering and feeding lies are very much at a premium. Equally, the thin, clear water makes the trout more flighty and difficult to approach, but the fishing is challenging and the scenery incomparable. Last year a fleeting March visit to the Eden at Kirkby Stephen reminded me how much I enjoy fishing these upper reaches. Arriving just after 3 pm (not the best of calls early in the season) I wasn't too hopeful so decided to use this initial visit as a reconnaissance exercise. To save time, I parked as close to the river as I could and strode off upstream.
In the head of the first pool that I came across, two fish rose. Fumbling together a leader, I noticed a good number of large dark duns accumulated in an eddy and dwarfed by the occasional large brook dun. And there, making the most of them, were at least three trout. Fearful that this was the tail-end of a hatch, I put on the first half decent imitation that came to hand - a Loopwing Olive. After more waiting than casting, I eventually managed to drop a fly immediately in front of a rise and soon 12 inches of sprightly wild trout came thrashing to hand. Two more trout wetted my net that day, including a tenacious 14-incher. Thus encouraged, I planned to return later in the season.
Kirkby Stephen & DAA control 12 miles of fishing on the Eden's upper reaches, including plenty of double-bank water. A stone's throw downstream of Warcop, its lower limit seemed as good a place as any to start exploring this length properly. The smooth glides and chuckling runs contained a surprising number of invertebrates, given our location. The margins, too, harboured large numbers of shoaling fry and sticklebacks that undoubtedly provide marauding trout with sustenance. Dry-flies fished blind can be a profitable ploy in headwaters as the trout are usually grateful for any food. Yet this water seemed perfect for nymph-fishing and, as it was still early in the day, I knew there would be plenty of time to try a dry-fly later.
Thinner than a tapered leader, a straight-through length of monofilament would, I thought, allow the nymphs to sink more quickly and, so long as your nymphs aren't so heavy as to create "bingeing", they will turn over satisfactorily. At the business end, I put two nymphs 2 ft apart on my 9 ft leader. As I waded quietly up the shallow runs, my line kicked forward as the flies caught on mossy boulders, weed and other unseen obstructions. In these circumstances it's best to react to these stoppages with a confident lift and, while this often resulted in annoying weed fragments being picked up, every now and then my rod kicked into life.
Feeling pleased with my efforts, I glanced back downstream and spotted the remnants of a rise then another and another. Trout were rising in the stretch immediately below where I'd begun, suggesting that careful wading does pay even on water you might not initially intend targeting. I changed my leader to a tapered one with a 31b tippet and put on a small parachute Black Gnat. A ten-incher took second cast, but his antics put the other fish down so I decided to move.
Shortly after lunch, and well upstream of Warcop, black gnats began to find their way on to the water. Under leafy boughs, and tight under the far bank, every so often a dimpling rise could be seen. Along this loitering glide three trout were positioned far enough apart that each could be attacked individually. Shortening my leader for improved accuracy, I put on a small black Klinkhamer whose white wing could easily be tracked in the shady glide. My first cast found its mark upstream of the first rise. But then, just as the fly reached its destination, drag set in. Rather than making repeated casts, I waited for the trout to take a few more naturals. Confidence restored, sure enough feeding resumed. With menacing branches everywhere, tight loops are best for directing a fly beneath the draping foliage. Unfortunately, such casts leave little room for generating any drag-avoiding slack line. So, in an effort to prevent drag taking hold, I placed my fly closer to the rise - and it worked. Racing off, the trout was right on course with one of the other risers, which immediately went down. He then leapt and got off. At least the third fish remained on station, however, and he was still rising steadily. Following a similar drill, eventually a fat 1'/2-pounder was prized from his lair. I was more than pleased, and decided it was time to find some animated runs where a dry-fly flicked into the ribbons of foam would provide a welcome change from my awkward crouching position in that shady glide.
Broken water provides shelter, and trout are more than happy to position themselves beneath this ruffled curtain. Today, I fancied fishing a sizable dry-fly in the conflicting currents and for good measure I attached a small beaded nymph, New Zealand style. For this approach two of my favourite dry-flies are the Klinkhamer and parachute Adams, although lately a heavily hackled Royal Wulff has featured on my leader, and it's surprising the number of trout that such flies will bring up when fishing blind. When fish show an overwhelming preference for the dry-fly, I tend to dispense with the trailing nymph, as there have been times when a high percentage of taking fish have failed to connect with the dry-fly. Whether they feel the monofilament, I don't know.
It would have been easy to continue in this vein until last knockings but I went in search of an early-evening rise. Warm conditions held promise as spinners began to venture out on their mating flight. An hour later, two small grayling had taken my blue-winged olive imitation when the air temperature took a dive. This change had a profound effect, sending spinners into bankside vegetation, taking with them any hope of a rise. Scratching around, I took one more trout on a Deer Hair Sedge, but with a cooling breeze and lengthening shadows, I decided call it a day. Reflecting on the day’s events, I would say the challenge and rewarding fishing on offer here is worth £15 of anyone's money.