Sunday, 22 October 2017

Back on the Grayling - Fly Fishing

After a tough year chasing trout and scouting new rivers due to a polluted Irwell it has been a tough year despite some very good fish caught. I do love a big trout but in all honesty i would happily catch small trout forever on a healthy river than one big trout on a river barely hanging on.

But with the trout season over and without a rod in my hand for 3 weeks, Graeme decided to treat me with a trip out to see some lady friends. That's right, Grayling! So off we went early doors as i had to be home before 5 as the Mrs was going out in the evening and we was lucky enough to have good weather. The river level was up but dark and clear and look immaculate on arrival. Bar the 2.4 million leaves it should of been a good day!

In fairness it was a good day, being a private water it was well kept and we was pulling plenty of fish out along the whole stretch, despite being behind 3 other anglers! With a mixture of banter and fish to go with it was a much needed rise in morale for the long cold winter ahead. We would likely come here again when all the leaves had fallen as they were becoming a problem as the wind picked up during the day.

On another day we could have easily hit triple figures but being behind 3 other anglers made it tough but we still managed 60 between us, around a dozen out of season trout making an appearance. Nothing big showing unfortunately but fun none the less!

Sunday, 1 October 2017

The Last Trout of the Year - Fly Fishing

24th September

It was a bright Sunday morning and with a cancelled trip with Mike due to work commitments i had bounced around with several rivers in mind to fish. It was a toss up between something potentially big and possibly blank or lots of little fish which should hold big fish but i hadn't fished enough there.

Reaching the river there wasn't much signs of life so i set up with a searching pattern with my nymphs under a klinkhammer, this especially helps as the bottom is 100% snag city. After running it through the first 15 metres and signs of nothing i popped on a streamer and had 4 chases but only one touch. Continuing on i switched back to the klinkhammer set up, using my slate colored nymph, and was greeted by the wake of a rise. I sat and watched for a short while to see if it was a rise of a leaf and sure enough another rise came up. As i crept up almost on my knees i could see 2 trout looking towards and inlet. The rising fish had been in the top of the main pool and i know a big fish lives here. Based on the size of fish i have had on this river i would say it was easily 4 as it dwarfed the 3lbers.
My slate colored nymph
I flicked the nymph using a bow and arrow cast to cause minimal rod flash and let it drift downstream, the klinkhammer slipped under and i struck into it. It was a nice fish. I fought hard to keep the fish in the pool, i know there are multiple snags everywhere so you have to keep the fish in a neutral position. They don't get this big without knowing all the escape routes. After a couple of minutes i eventually got it to netting distance only for my net to snag on the bottom. Thankfully it was a quick snag and i quickly netted it on the second attempt. It was a very fat trout, the fattest i have had all year, i struggled to support it on my hand in my signature pose before it slipped off and into the river it went. Luckily i managed a quick picture.

Moving on up i stalked 2 large chub in a couple of inches of water under a branch. A perfect bow and arrow flick under the branch and i saw the first chub open its mouth for the nymph, i struck just as the second went for the klinkhammer and i missed them both! That would of been a very interesting double hook up! With fish rising i checked the water to see what they were eating, these big sedge like flies, easily an inch in size. I could see a couple of rises and i cast upstream towards them, a large trout came up off the bottom and sipped the fly, i struck but it had already rejected it!

Removing the nymph from underneath incase that was the reason it rejected it, a large trout swam downstream next to me. It was easily a couple of pound and it sat under my rod tip, the white of its mouth opening as it ate nymphs. i stood still for 15 minutes watching it, trying not to spook it, it even took a dry off the top right next to my rod tip before eventually swimming back upstream. I tested my knots as i prepared to cast and on the first cast it took it. It shot off like a steam train and the 5# rod was no match, it bent right over and flattened out putting the full strain on the line. 11 seconds on the camera it took for it to snap me off. 11 seconds of adrenaline. 11 seconds of pain.

The fish went quiet after that, there had been alot of commotion in the water and with visibility near perfect they were very aware of my presence now. So i headed upstream. Things went very quiet for a while, maybe an hour or 2 before i spotted a fish. Nothing showing on both nymphs and streamers in between. This was another decent fish, i had seen a small swirl and crept up on it, keeping as close to the centre line behind it to avoid it seeing me in the corner of its eye i still lowered my profile right down and bow and arrow cast it, probably 15 feet. It took it straight away and it launched itself a couple of feet out of the water, this was another good fish and it was trying all the tricks in the book. One thing i didn't account for was the new snag in the river, a large piece of cling film like material about 20 foot long lay on the river bed. It snagged up in there and i waded up on it. The fish was still full of fight and was only restricted by the snag. Stupidly i thought that giving the fish a chance to fight would feel better to me especially being the last day of the season, so i untangled it from the snag rather than netting it. It slipped the hook and buggered off. It took me a minute or so to really realise what had happened as i was still to busy removing the snag. I felt a little stupid.

3 more fish were caught in similar fashion, smaller than the previous ones but beautiful fish none the less. It felt good that despite being 6ft 8 i had proven all day how stealthy i could be, i'm like a hairy heron! It was a good day to finish the season, though i could of had bigger fish, it was still a fun and well earned day.

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Friday, 15 September 2017

The mystery fish - Fly Fishing

14th September

With a planned trip for Wednesday postponed a day due to high water, me and Arthur headed out to scout some rivers i had been dying to fish yet didn't have the opportunity to get to. The weather had been giving patchy showers which, if they remained brief, wouldn't have affected the water levels.

After setting up and Arthur having some issues with missing a couple of eyes on his rod, i had a couple of misses under a over hanging tree which should of held more fish but i persevered and only had 1 more knock. Arthur was fishing with the klink & dink method and wasn't having as much luck. However as we moved upstream into super fishy water, long deep channels on the outside of bends, over hanging trees and roots with a flow running into them, nothing. Clarity was good too, it was just over a foot visibility and a lovely tea brown.

We fished alot of pools with no sign of fish, it was frustrating somewhat as these pools should of held plenty of fish. However it was a river i had never fished before so fish density was unknown. But after fishing through a narrow weir channel and not receiving a single take i popped on a streamer and walked across the top of the weir. I was jigging it as i walked across, primarily aiming to cross to the other side when my arm yanked back. A fish had hammered it in the white water. It had hooked itself so i was unsure of how well hooked it was so i took it easy, heading back across the weir top to the calmer water to allow easier netting and was greeted by not the longest fish i have caught by no means but a very fat & healthy fish. It was a positive sign, a skinny fish would of indicated a lack of food hence the lack of fish but continuing on it seemed streamer would be the order of the day.

In fairness it wasn't my greatest day on streamer for hook rate, with the water being unscouted i would often leave myself with very little striking room with the amount of fallen and over hanging trees that littered the river, perfect for providing habitat. The river ran through some cracking deep pools pushing up against natural rock but most fish would hit the streamer from deep below, banging the tail end rather than the hooked body section. The water was still high so pulling it downstream would often be too quick and any takes were fishing chasing after it and grabbing the tail as it went past. One of the bigger trout i hooked and lost after a minute or so chased the streamer like a torpedo for a couple of metres, i flipped the streamer round to face upstream as i had reach the end of my reach and it must of grabbed it then, it mustn't have been hooked very well as it managed to fight it's way off.

We fished alot of water with the fish only hitting the streamer, i did swap back to nymphs but only had 1 fish take it which soon dropped off. But eventually we came to a large deep pool with a tree half submerged leaning across, i spotted a rise. Arthur was now on the dry, slightly frustrated from a few tangles he had had consecutively. I knew this would be Arthur's fish. It rose steadily as he cast to it, using an Adams, he covered it over and over but nothing, it just continued to rise steadily. I told Arthur to try one of my dries and as he rerigged i watched the rise. It was a very soft rise and seemed to be in a pattern, left, middle then right. As if it was one fish swimming around the pool. I also noticed it was knocking leaves which i found unusual as if it was looking for bugs on the leaves. I told Arthur i think it was a big one with the feeding habits it exhibited.

Ready to go Arthur cast to it, a little close to the tree and began to work his way up, i told him to cast a little more central and it rose right where i pointed. He cast to it with precision, the back of the trout touched the surface behind it as it came up to have a look. He cast again, a little shorter, as i said it was a nice cast it took it. However, it fooled Arthur, as it had been swimming downstream when it took it it continued on its path towards him as he stripped line back. Arthur thought it was a tiddler, one of them small trout you strike into and drag half the distance on the strike. Though as Arthur recovered his line and it headed towards shallower water, it turned. Still no sign of it, it headed upstream taking line as it went, not very fast but with strength, hugging the bottom which was around waist height (on myself) It slowly swam diagonally across to the right, where it was a little shallower and would of been easier to net when tired, however it swam there for one reason, to lose the hook in the undercut bank. After realising where it was going i shouted to Arthur to catch up to it quick before it slipped the hook. But after pulling a matted mess of roots out from the under cut Arthur pulled his fly out with no fish attached. It had escaped capture and we had never even seen it once.

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Tuesday, 5 September 2017

Fly Fishing above the Irwell Pollution

30th August

After some tough trips out on the Medlock and the Irwell it was now time to go above the pollution source on the Irwell, do a kick sample a few yards above the source and then find the fish, because in theory the fish should be there.

We went to Rossendale Treatment works where the pollution sourced 'through'. Heading just upstream of it towards the bridge we did our kick sample and we wasn't surprised to see a huge amount of life. From your olives to your cased and caseless caddis to the chironomids there were all in abundance. This is what we expected.

We headed back to get our fly gear and starting to head upstream, fishing our way up. We had to target pools as the river here was very flat and clear and only ankle deep but after fishing a few deep pools and seeing no fish activity we was starting to question our theory. There was plenty of food so where was the fish? As we headed up further upstream it soon became clear that alot of machine activity had taken place. A huge bank collapse near the railway line had been fixed with huge boulders which, in my opinion, won't last the winter. It would of been a massive feat of engineering positioning the boulders of this size here especially on the river bank so we put off fishing below this point by presuming the fish would be above it.

It was maybe 50 or so yards upstream when we saw a slight ripple in the water, was it a leaf? Or was it something swirling under the surface. I watched and waited. It did it again. We had found the fish. This spot was very difficult to fish with trees overhanging on all sides a cast was nigh on impossible but we persevered. They never rose for the dry fly, we tried to head upstream further but my foot slipped beneath me, taking me well above where my waist waders would be, however i had my chest waders on as they were still drying from falling in a couple of days prior. We had stumbled on to a clay shelf. Arthur tested the depth of the clay and his wading stick sunk almost a meter into it, without a sign of the bottom.  Retreating back we carefully we headed back onto the bank and worked our way upstream.

Finding the end of the clay shelf we hopped back in and i switched to my weightless nymph under the klinkhammer. The fish may have not been rising for the dries but taking the emergers just below the surface. The first pool we fished had a riffle running into it, not finding anything at the back of it i knew the faster water would only cause drag with the weightless nymph as it would fail to sink. Not wanting to tie my weighted fly back on knowing i would be switching back to weightless just after it i stuck a small shot on the line equal to a 2.4mm tungsten bead. Now i've never pretended to be a purist so that would disgust many purists but i'm hardly fishing chalk streams now am i.

The third or fourth cast into this faster water and i was into a fish. It was a small trout but i was happy, i had an Irwell trout after so long. It was good being back on the Irwell. the next couple of sections held very little water and we walked past alot of it. Perfectly clear, centimetres deep and no real pools for the fish to feed happily we walked on upstream. The first deep section we came to however had a dog playing very happily in it so we hopped out the stream and gave the dog a wide berth as we knew it had swum up and down the stretch.

We found a small weir and it looked remarkably fishy, Arthur told me it was a dog hot spot and sure enough there were dog walkers around but a narrow stretch looked dark and deep as the river pushed against the wall, it was wire caged too so i knew it would provide good cover. Totally weightless again and much further up this small pool than i first expected. I got a take just as the nymph dropped out of the faster water. It was a lovely little fish which gave me a nice little fight too. Just above that a tiny mini pool rewarded me with one of this years trout, probably no more than 6 inches, perfection in miniature.

Above the weir was a long slow deep stretch which was strangely cloudy, unlike the rest of the river which was perfectly clear well over 3 feet. There was plenty of fish rising so i allowed Arthur to target them. He had yet to catch and here seemed his best chance. The casts weren't easy though, despite the width of the river, low over hanging trees and being on a bend the target to aim for and the back cast were very awkward but Arthur persevered. He would get the perfect cast and the rise had move up another foot or two, and we did this until he landed about 2 feet below the rise. As i was saying you was just behind it, a trout sipped it under, it was so delicate you'd almost not notice it but Arthur struck and it had already spat it out. It could of been a tiddler or one of the wise big ones we would never know.

After targeting several trout which seemed very ignorant Arthur handed the baton over to me. With the weightless nymph i could see if they were feeding just below the surface hence the lack of takes on the dry and to be fair there wasn't many flies on the water itself. I used the water haul cast in a way to help me fish as casting over my left shoulder was very tight and this allowed me to be more accurate, casting downstream to flick it upstream using the weight of the water. It didn't take long for the weightless nymph to come up trumps again. It was a beautiful little trout again and it didn't fight for very long as it tried to hide in the knotweed next to me it swam right to my feet.

It was time to call it a day and we headed back to the car with a smile on our faces, I had equaled my yearly total thus far for fish on the Irwell in one day, which shows you how dire it has been. On the way back to the car i spotted some line in a tree glimmering, doing my good deed for the day i jumped back into the river and with the help of Arthur and his stick managed to pull about 40 yards worth of 20+ line and a huge hooked lure out of the tree. It was a monstrosity to say the least but it was gone and the tree was now free of harming any wildlife.

Tuesday, 29 August 2017

The Medlock Mystery - Fly Fishing

28th August 2017

With my visit to the Irwell to check on any changes it would be the Medlock in my sights next alongside Graeme Barber. We have scouted a lot of rivers this season after fishing the Irwell less for obvious reasons and this turn it was the Medlock. As a City fan it is something of a sweet dream to catch a trout in the shadow of the stadium but it would turn out to be a tough day. On paper the Medlock has a lot of good water, despite the culverted section there is plenty of habitat and after recent habitat improvement works removing bricks from the Red River, though after a few pollution incidents it would also be interesting to see how much it had recovered.

First impressions were good, a small trout was spotted swimming downstream and several more were soon spotted in a 75 yard stretch. I went in to look for inverts but soon found myself sat waist deep in river, the red bricks had claimed there first victim. It was amazing how slick they were despite them being clean, Graeme was having a good laugh at my expense and i too found it hilarious. There was plenty of olives and cased caddis, all of a good size, the odd hoglouse was found too. This trend would continue throughout the day as i checked every now and then.

Our fishing however fared differently, despite the sightings of fish in the poor light i missed a take and it would be our only take for a long time. After a very long stretch of inch deep shallow red brick, which justified why there was fish all stuck in one stretch, it would be a risk for a fish to swim this far not knowing there was a safe place for them upstream. It seemed to go on forever. Eventually we reached a tunnel heading into Clayton Vale were the habitat work had been done. It looked lovely but as you got closer you realised it was inches deep. The odd pool we cast into which technically should of held fish lay silent but minnows were present in good numbers. Graeme managed to catch a minnow as we hit a deep pool which was such perfect habitat for trout but it lay silent of anything 'big'.

Moving on upstream as the river blended back into it's natural shape the pools deepened and the tree roots and fallen trees provided perfect hidey holes for trout. Initially it was good, i spotted a rise, i was fishing dry, and i covered it twice. Nothing. I handed over to Graeme on the nymph and it hit it first time, literally a second after it hit the water. Unfortunately he missed it, after a few hours of nothing we had gone a little rusty. It would be another hour till we spotted the next rise, all the pools no matter how fishy them seemed lay silent. I cast to it and it slapped it off the surface, i missed it as well. A little upstream Graeme caught a small chub which gave us a bit more optimism.

Not much further upstream though we soon sensed something wasn't right. The foam line seemed a little less natural, the bubbles seemed more bubbly and the water seemed a milky blue. As we rounded a deep bend it soon became obvious what was happened. A pollution event. A fallen tree lay across the river, it's branches filtering the bubbles through to hide the pollution. A lack of fast flowing water in this river prevented the bubbles reappearing downstream and helped mask the cause of the pollution. It didn't take us long to find the cause. A huge outlet was pumping out into the river, upstream of it the river was crystal clear, a large patch of bubbles lay at the foot of it, perfectly white and the smell of detergent hung in the air. I google mapped our location, we was directly next to Failsworth Water Treatment works, we initially expected to find a car wash located nearby. The EA were notified immediately. Moving upstream we didn't fare better, we spotted our first trout however so were a little more optimistic, but after a deep pool the water there was very pedestrianised.

The pool we had to pass was a tricky one, it was deep on both sides with the shallower side being built by a bank of silt. A fallen tree forced you into the river and we was both balls deep as we passed it. As we edged past the tree the silt bank collapsed beneath my feet and the branch i held snapped and i fell down into the river, the cold water enveloped my lower body as i sunk down. The cold took my breath away but i continued to put my feet down, the bottom ever more collapsing as i tried to gain traction, after a few second i managed to fix my feet down and get my breath back. Pulling my phone straight out my pocket to ensure it wasn't wet. I turned to Graeme as we both laughed, my waist waders full of water, my clothes soaked and we turned back to find an alternate route. After a quick pee break as the cold water had given me the urge, i checked my important gear and we climbed around the tree.

We found a way back to the river which had a small drop to get down. Well, i thought it was quite small, forgetting my prescription polaroids make things seem closer, the simple hop down i explained to Graeme almost winded me as it was a good few feet. It had been a tough days fishing but at least i was keeping Graeme thoroughly entertained. We didn't fish long after that, with dogs in the water and people all around and no sight of fish. We had time to remove some snagged line and hooks from a tree to do our bit for the environment. It was a soggy walk back to the car and it left us again with more questions than answers. The river still needs time to recover, both of its habitat improvements and the pollution, but with pollution still ongoing hidden from prying eyes, who knows just how bad this river has had it. When the minnows disappear and the insects are all void from the river then we will know an event has gone by unnoticed.

Thursday, 24 August 2017

4 Months on - River Irwell Pollution

23rd August 2017

As we near the end of August and slip into the final month of the trout season i had made it a goal of mine to head back to where i first spotted the pollution incident.  Luckily Arthur Hamer insisted we both go, Arthur being a qualified kick sampler it definitely made my observations more accurate.  It would be a 2 part test, checking for insects and also checking for any fish. With 3 rods set up between us, Dry Fly, Nymph and Streamer we could target fish with every method.

Initially reaching the river there was 'positive' signs, take note that when i say positive back when we did the news report there was literally nothing alive, in the air or in the water insect wise. So a positive sign of seeing tiny midges flying around and the odd single Baetis flying around. Nothing much seemed to be on the surface of the water and it was perfectly clear except in the deep pools where it faded into the usual green hue.  We scooted around the edges of the river and found minnows (after netting to confirm) of sizes from a couple of centimetres to a couple of inches. There was plenty of them, in shoals ranging from 12 to a 100. Not the black masses of thousands that we would of seen a couple of years ago, but a positive sign none the less. Why? Because for them to survive there must be a food source as trout can easily switch onto minnows to cover their hunger even the smaller trout with them being so small.

Now it came to looking for insects. We had a good look around for anything of reasonable size and found maybe 2 Mayfly Naiads but as our eyes adjusted on our rock turn tests we found thousands of tiny moving 'worms' maybe 3mm in length at a push. These all clung into the weedy sections of the rock or brick we was observing. There would be literally hundreds of them. With the slimy egg sacs on the same rocks i can confidently say they were Chironomids. Now despite their tiny size it is impossible to age these so they may grow bigger. However it still offers a food supply to the minnows and possibly trout. I do not understand enough of trout feeding behaviour to know if they eat these larva at this stage.

We found a small unnamed brook leading into the Irwell, barely 3 feet wide but i insisted we test it for life and even despite the smoothness of the rocks here, found several cased caddis, olives and a lone Heptageniid. We was also almost taken out by a kingfisher as it raced out of the brook before it halted in midflight and turned back upstream. So it does show that the small inlets, however close the Irwell itself do provide and sustain the bigger insects that we would so often see before the pollution.

The invertebrate life cycle is a complicated one with time scales and all that so come next April it will be interesting to see what changes have happened.

Onto the fishing, well we did about 2 hours of fishing, targeting the main pools and runs where you would guarantee yourself catching a fish. Nothing, on all 3 methods, no sign of trout anywhere. So where are the fish? They aren't dead so where have they traveled? Possibilities are they have moved into or closer to the tributaries which, unaffected by the pollution, would provide a food source. Comparing that to my observations on 'the drain' where trout quite happily sit in the current of an inlet feeding in, it shows that trout would quite happily do this
if it provided a steady rate of food. But you then think, would you rather wait outside the store to get food or go in and get some, meaning some trout will have most definitely pushed up into the tributaries.

Again questioning that, not all fish can move into tributaries, well, at least if you think how many obstructions we have on the Irwell then you would likely find fish trapped between weirs. Trout can go downstream however, regardless of the height of the weir so ultimately they could find somewhere to supply them with a food source. A way i could test this is to fish at as many confluences at possible, maybe 50 to a 100 yards either side of it and also up tributary.

A lot of this information is theoretical and would take much more testing for it to be proven, it also creates just as many questions as answers but one thing it has shown is that there is now some life in the Irwell, but it still isn't the same as we left it before April.

Monday, 21 August 2017

The August Curse - Fly Fishing

August. How can i describe this month simply. Slow. Strange. It has definitely been thought provoking to say the least. From May to July i had been pulling fish out maybe not in their numbers, but definitely in their size. I was missing plenty of fish and getting takes here there and everywhere. Streamers, nymphs and a PB caught on dries, but come August, that all changed

Initially i went out for the day fishing, blanked. Streamered and nymph. Never saw a rise. Found a guy with a hook in his ear however. At least i unhooked something that day. It was 3 days after the rain so the river had washed off nicely but all was quiet. Only thing i saw jump was a minnow. Nothing there took a streamer.

Next it was time to take my daughter out, a small stretch of the Ogden i know where we can catch fish in a short stretch without Emily being at risk. There was plenty of fish about and easily visible. It was 11 days since the last true rise in water level. Shallow and clear the fish were surprisingly not spooked. I streamered in the deep pools where i saw trout. Nothing so switching to nymph i was finally into a fish. A roach! I do like roach, ask Graeme, and it broke the duck for the day so it gave my daughter something to smile about at least. She refused to hold it 'case it bites' and then asked for a picture with it after i let it go...

It was Emilys turn now and she missed a couple of takes before foul hooking a chub, it was a bloody big thing but it soon came off leaving a 5p size scale on the barbless nymph. She then caught a smaller one of the trio sat in the shallows but after a short fight it shook itself off and Emily was determined for another. Siting a shoal of roach i told her to cast towards the reeds, roach are bloody ignorant fish at times and then, focused on the roach looking at the nymph, a fish fired out of the reeds and hit the nymph. We both sort of jumped and i soon realised it was a pike that had took the nymph. Whether its initial intention was a roach i wouldn't know as it was hooked in the top lip like a normal take would be.

Emily held her fish well, i never the mentioned teeth, she was fond of it's bright blue cheek and she happily released it too. Unfortunately in her celebration she grabbed a bramble tightly so that it made her hand bleed. After a couple of tears and a little word about plants, again. She was back happily fishing. We didn't stay too long after that, we had to get the bus home and we had accomplished our goal for the day.

A week later, 2 days after a rise in river levels, I met up with Graeme to fish an urban stream spotted on google maps. Within half hour we had 4 trout and a minnow between us, well i had one trout, i won't steal Graemes glory. It is a tactic we use fishing new water and at the start of the day. One sets up on nymph the other on streamer. Graeme scouts the pool with a nymph then i follow with a streamer. Catching a trout on each method in the same pool proves that it doesn't put off the fish chasing streamers if they don't want the nymph.

Unfortunately this stretch wasn't too long due to accessibility so we headed to another river we had fished once or twice before. After missing an attempt of 2 trout who were too busy chasing each other, it went quiet for a very long time, we spooked one decent fish but there was no life showing. Surprisingly it was the lowest i have seen this river despite the rain and the fact i had fished this river before in the hottest times of summer. It was like it was leaking out somewhere! I missed a take which we was unsure of being a trout until it hammered something on the surface 5 minutes later but the fishing proved difficult and we was left wondering what the problem was. Plant life made casting difficult and though we didn't lose flies we had to rerig alot of times because of snags. Graeme did manage one himself, a lovely little fish that will be a cracker when it's older.

In the end we were left a little perplexed about the way the day ended, luckily fishing as a pair we made the most of it and had a good laugh but a few more fish lost never mind caught would of rounded the day off nicely.

With a new urban river to fish before the season closes i can only hope for a change in fortune or need i look at myself and look what i'm doing wrong.