Contributed by Stuart Minnikin (22.03.2012)
Well it's March 22nd and that means only 3 days to go until the start of the Yorkshire brown trout season...but I can't wait any longer - I've got to get my fix!
Just over the border, in Cumbria, the season's already a week old and I've been hearing reports of good hatches and a few decent brownies being captured on dries from the River Eden. These hatches have included good numbers of March Browns, a fly I have rarely encountered in the dales, so what else could I do but jump the gun and head north west for the market town of Kirkby Stephen?
I've only fished the Eden around Kirkby Stephen a few times before, usually from Musgrave Bridge upstream, so I felt I needed to see what else my day ticket offered and headed for a lovely old stone bridge over the river near Warcop. Work commitments prevented me making an earlier start, but I was stood on the bridge ready to go by 11.30am - normally about right at this time of year. Already there were good numbers of Large Dark Olives (LDO's) in the air and lifting from the water; there was a small trout knocking them off in the Bridge Pool. I thought about having a cast for him but decided to head off upstream instead, hoping for something much bigger.
It was never going to be an easy day with a low river, bright sun and stiff but manageable south easterly wind; good hatches would be needed to get the fish going. I had decided only to cast at rising fish, unless things got dire when I'd resort to nymphs, and so I progressed upstream slowly, scanning for rising fish in every likely (and unlikely) looking spot. The hatch of LDO's had by now intensified and then I noticed much bigger upwings on the water. They were distinctly brown, and their wings were sloping backwards, more so than a LDO, yes, I was witnessing a March Brown hatch and it was quite intense. I was quite excited at the prospect of fishing the hatch, but there was nothing rising so I moved upstream quickly, the hatch could be over in minutes and I needed to make it count. I came across a lovely looking pool, but I think I made my biggest mistake of the day: I walked past it too quickly looking for risers. I should have got in and waited, for sure there must have been rising fish there if I'd just been patient. Excitement got the better of me!
I eventually found a rising trout which I put down, though I didn't think I had done anything to put him down. I also saw grayling on the feed but gave them a wide berth due to them now being out of season. The hatch of MB's had by now ceased and the numbers of hatching LDO's were dropping when I stopped for a sandwich overlooking a very nice looking pool. I'd no sooner poured a brew when I saw it - the first decent feeding fish of the day and it looked big. I saw it twice subsurface move to nymphs, then nothing for a while. Then it came on the feed again and it was going well. Sometimes taking surface flies but also taking nymphs in the water column. I could clearly see it from my lunchtime vantage point, it looked very dark in the sunlight, and big! I put it at 2-3lb. I entered the water well downstream and cast up and across. The first cast was taken by the strengthening wind across the river and way off target. Second cast was right on the button I thought and I eagerly expected a rise to my CDC Upwing, heart beating ever fast - it's not often I get to cast to such big fish - but nothing. Third cast again right on the button, but a little further upstream this time - still nothing? Fourth cast same line again but still further upstream and he took it. I struck and I was into him, my first trout of the season (even if I had to travel out of Yorkshire) and on a dry. He fought quite hard but I soon realised that he was no specimen, a good fish but not the 2-3lb I estimated. He took the weigh net down to all of 1¼lb, so I was out with my estimate, but he was a stunning, well marked fish, and I hadn't blanked!
And that was pretty much it for the day. I tried nymphing briefly to no avail and cast at the odd half hearted rise, but by 3pm the river was going to sleep so I walked back to Warcop and tackled down on the bridge. Even the trout below had stopped rising. I do feel given the warm, sunny conditions that my 11.30am start was perhaps an hour too late.
So only a single fish for my efforts but a very enjoyable day all the same and I'll certainly be back.