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.