Friday, 16 October 2020

2020 - The year a virus affected fly fishing

 2020. Just that simple number is enough for us to roll our eyes, in future years someone will say 'Remember 2020? What a year that was." The thing is now, it will probably roll into 2021. One of the strangest decisions im 2020 regarding fishing was the fact we was banned from fishing. Starting the 24th March and ending the 12th of May we wasn't allowed to fish because of social distancing measures? I mean have they ever been stood in the middle of the Irwell, fly fishing is something i do to become socially distanced, pandemic or not.

I think i have fished three times not on my own this year, which was odd but a necessity none the less. Oddly though despite the shortened season i still managed to get out 16 times in total, equaling last year. Nowhere near as much as i'd like to but each time was a total mental refresh especially due to my working environment. Though i only managed twice on the Irwell itself. Why? Well after the lockdown was initially relaxed and i bumped into the hundreds of people who were unemployed or furlough i ended up traipsing through densely wooded (brambles & hogweed included) areas to find sections of river off the beaten path. If you follow my youtube channel you've probably seen the video of me battling a forest of hogweed.

I usually do the yearly summary at the end of the actual year not the trout season but with restrictions to travel and the Irwell not fully established with grayling yet (even though i have caught 1 of them now) traveling to more grayling filled waters is something that is unlikely to happen till this pandemic relaxes its grip on society. So in terms of catch rates, i had my best year averaging 14.6 fish per session (which did include a blank, more on that later) my previous high was 10.3 fish per session so a massive increase. The cause of this is well known. Thankfully there has been an influx in small trout showing spawning went well last close season and after seeing none of either last season, minnows and stickleback are back in the catch count. I could easily sit in one spot for 10 minutes and catch a fish a minute (and in fact i did at some points) with many more bouncing off the hook or missing it with their small mouths. Elsewhere i was losing big fish to snags in trees, sunken logs and underwater drainpipes. Sometimes the only bonus to landing a fish is you get a picture of it to show everyone but sometimes its the crazy fights you have with the bigger and braver fish that throw themselves into survive mode and pull off some crazy escapes that give you the best memories, which makes fishing for me not even about the catching sometimes. One fish i almost had which was always in a pair in this pool. Once i had hooked it it swam into a pipe in a wall twice, easily a 3lb fish, i managed to pull it out both times and it managed to simply flick the hook out in normal water as it twisted itself. I went back for it 6 weeks later and a huge tree had uprooted right in the pool and it was still happily swimming in its pool, protected by a bundle of branches. A rough winter will hopefully sort that tree out for me so i can try for him again next season.

Alot of my time spent out was fishing more polluted waters, which is when i had my blank. Fishing up the Croal towards a spot a reported a broken sewerage pipe 12 and 6 months prior. I blanked and have no doubt in the reason why. The pipe was still leaking raw sewerage into the river, the pipe isn't fixed properly, in fact i am planning on doing my own repair work on it when i get the chance (and material) it isn't a bloody hard fix. An old pipe only a couple of feet above a river has rusted on its underside creating dozens of holes probably not much bigger than a £2 coin. But these were too hard to fix apparantly (for a company that has just announced it was going to spend billions upgrading the sewerage network) Apparantly some rubber strapped to it will suffice (even though it had already started slipping).

One of the things i did change was the way i make my videos, i am trying to be more 'involved' in them by talking to the camera and also i have slowed down my fishing, just to enjoy where i am more. I try to add this sense of freedom in the introduction of the video. Any suggestions for my videos are welcome, whether people want fly tutorials or how i set up my line, even if someone wants me to fish a specific location i will try my best to satisfy peoples ideas. As i don't drive alot of my fishing spots are found on google earth not far from a road with public transport and i show in one of my videos the transition from going under a underpass to being in the middle of a forest. The wild isn't far from our doorsteps which is both beneficial and detrimental. It obviously benefits us, as we get to enjoy it and be a part of it but the detrimental side to it is again, us. Fly tipping is absurd and is only getting worse by all cultures. Lazy businesses disposing of their waste, especially garages, scrapyards and builders.

Next season i am hoping to meet a new face which should be a great experience for  both parties involved and i am hoping to be able to get out more and generally enjoy my time on the water. I'm sure i'll have a run in with United Utilities over this bloody pipe again and i will say it now as an early prediction, that i will beat my PB this year. Only time will tell but i hope you guys will continue to read the blog, watch the videos and please give me more feedback. I will leave you guys with some pictures of the season and the graphs compared to previous years fishing.

Saturday, 20 June 2020

Fishing after lockdown - 1 month on

It is a month since the lockdown was lifted enough to allow us to go fishing again and it was so satisfying to be back out on the river. The peace of stepping a few hundred metres off the main path and into a calm of natural sounds. Even sat in my garden on my days off work the sound around were unnatural though mixed with the nature i have brought to my second haven. It influenced me to stop and take 10 second stills of different areas of river which you may have seen the video of. Its a very simple video but is influentual in how it takes me straight back to the river whenever i hear it.

My first outting was local and i had 21 small trout across a trib and then a small section of the Irwell. It was a good day regardless of the fish size, though i was frustrated at a total void of rises despite the amount of fly life around. Though in the heat wave we was having the flies were probably hatching at strange times. The week after, however wouldn't be as pleasureable, in total i traveled 12 miles of the irwell and probably fished for an hour of that. Every single accessible section was full of people, rubbish and bbqs strewn everywhere, people wading through hogweed in shorts and t-shirt to get to even the most elusive spots in the hope of finding themselves a free gravel bank. The beaches we saw on the news were also across the Irwell. i lost 2 decent sized fish after fishing the difficult 100% bedrock sections which were slime covered and desolate of invertabrate, these were after minnows and did strike at the streamer though missing the hookset. In the end i blanked as with the weather continueing to be hot, i avoided going fishing for well over a week.

After a week passed i couldn't bare it any more and cast my net to a John Tyzack i knew who could take me somewhere away from the Irwell beaches. It was another hot day but the fishing was good, nothing huge but again that didn't matter. JT helped with pointing out some things he had observed and have his advice how to correct them, especially in helping maintaining tension and casting over the left shoulder in a tight space. It was the trip i needed in more ways than one and with morale high i was ready for my next session.

Across the next 2 weeks i fished a small brook in yorkshire and landed every fish i hooked bar 4 which snapped me off. One monster of a fish subtly took a nymph 12 feet from me before running my line 100 feet upstream before rounding a bend and snapping me off in a matter of seconds. Another saw the net, dived down to a wall and with my arm growing tired my finger applied pressure on the line causing it to snap. The same issue occured in a deep pool as i tried to lift the fish off the bottom, at the time i didn't realise this but only on my head cam footage later did i get to review it and finally the last fish i lost my leader caught on a metal pipe and snapped while fighting a fish.

Other than them losses i still managed to land 30 fish easily averaging 1 1/2lbs and topping at just over 3lb. All on nymph and dries, the best of which i had to bow and arrow cast a dry after patiently wading close enough due to the narrow tree lined brook i was fishing. Though it wasn't just the size of the fish that was satisfying it was being out again, fishing confidently. The ethos outside of where i live is very different and the rivers are quieter. I was happily jumping head first into nettles to net a fish despite knowing i'd have 3 days of red itchy arms. But now, the rivers are getting the water they need and i look forward to trying to make the most of what is left of the season.

Thursday, 26 March 2020

Fly Fishing - Before the lockdown

March the 15th, the season has just opened and i'm trapped in work. Coronavirus is going round the world, i'm in work, a key worker, watching hoards of people panic buying toilet roll. Begging for soap and hand wash, bleach and anti-bac spray. You know when you say 'you wouldn't want to see their houses'. Well it made me think how little people were cleaning in the first place that they all had to start buying some. I fish urban rivers, i carry hand sanitiser when i go, for obvious reasons. Maybe it's easier for me to not touch my face and maul about because of that thought of polluted water courses still lies within me. Now because of the stupidity of people, all standing close to one another to get inside a shop? The only time i've really stood in a large crowd of people as an adult is at football games and the City parade. I like my space, i don't trust people like pick pockets and all that and i don't like the odor of most of them, so why don't people give more space regardless of a pandemic? And now it's affected the place were i have the most space, the middle of the river. I cannot seek my mental refuge anymore. I have to put up with the sheep of society as a key worker. And with 2 weeks of Easter booked off work, i will spend it indoors with my outdoor loving daughter because of everybody else.

Come the 17th though i was up and out with Krystian, the weather had been in our favor considering the previous weeks so we did expect a decent day. Though things started off slowly, usual places that held fish seemed barren and telltale signs of poaching over winter became obvious, the broken lines attached to trees attached to almost sea lures. I missed a fish in deeper water, wasn't too aware of it's size but it did bring me some hope but again, the waters fell quiet and we continued up river. It was there we found our prey, they were rising, which made it alot easier to figure out where they were. Now in this situation you'd normally pop a dry on, but there was no real hatch, the trout were rising steadily in this 10 metre section but there was no readily supply of flies on the surface. So we opted for very light streamers and cast at them. Krystian had the first fish, the streamer had barely touched the water when it took it, it fought hard but he managed to keep it downstream of the other rising fish, it teased my at the net a couple of times before i took the lunge and netted it. It weighed in at 2 1/2lb.

I was next, with the aid of my polaroids i was able to watch the trout chase the streamer, which can almost make you strike to early, but i waited till it turned after it took it before striking to get a good hookset. It wasn't as big as Krystians but we was still aware that one fish was still rising despite all this commotion.

This was Krystians moment, the trout followed it some 20metres so it was almost upon us and i watched it swallow the fly and stop, i shouted to Krystian that it had took it, but he didn't react, the lack of pull i believe was fooling him but then he struck and it bolted upstream for some concrete blocks. I warned him of this and then as he pulled on the brakes the line went slack. We had lost it. But then as he reeled in the line went taught, it had steamrolled straight back at us and Krystian was now chasing the slack. It then milled around in the pool in front of us trying to use it's body weight and occasionally go towards some snags slightly downstream of us but we waited patiently and i netted it again. It weighed a cracking 4 1/2lb.

The rising had stopped now, we gave it a couple more runs but then continued upstream, i reached a small narrow bend and came across a chicken hanging around with some ducks, which was quite amusing. Regardless of this i was adament i had seen a black line follow my streamer just at the foot of my rod tip, so i ran it through twice more before i hooked into a fish, i pulled it down into the slower water and just had to avoid all the obstacles in the water before i could net it. My trout weighed 2 1/2lb.

At this point we was on top of the world, we could have easily have gone home at this point but we was only a couple of hours in and the rest would be exploratory. More signs of poaching as we headed up river and 1 decent trout spooked as we made our way up river. It was about another hour before Krystian hit into the next fish, fighting hard in the deep colored water it tried to go into the plants against the wall of the river but i pushed upstream of Krystian to net it and rounded of his catch total to 10lb with a 3lb trout. The thickness on all these fish was promising that food was plentiful, but the lack of signs of fish and the amount of poaching signs were possibly the reason there was so much food. I managed another small trout in the next hour but there was only signs of one other fish that rose once.

The day before lockdown which we could all sense was coming i took my chance to take my daughter out to show what social distancing really means. Heading down to a safe section of river it allowed Emily to try out her new waders and develop her water legs which she fully enjoyed, not having to be carried across a river. The fishing again was tough though for her, her casting had some how improved over winter and almost every cast she made deserved a fish, only snagging a tree once which i crossed over to get for her. She eventually caught a trout which really didn't full reward her efforts of the day and it's sometimes hard to explain to a child of 5 that sometimes no matter how good you do something it isn't always rewarded. The trout itself was a nice little fish, probably of a pound or so as i didn't weigh it.

We fished our way up river, skimmed stones after each pool and headed back up to a place i reported last year for leaking sewerage. Well, it hadn't been resolved, which after 6 months would explain the lack of fish downstream of it. The constant phone calls between UU and the EA ensued over the next couple of days for them to conclude, they knew about it and it needs a permanent fix. 6 months not long enough?

So now we are in lockdown, i am still in work for the rest of the week, walking past people having garden parties, BBQs and meeting on the park. So it's guarenteed that the lockdown will be extended and how we have to suffer both mentally and physically. As technically i could have 12 weeks self isolation due to my asthma, but i could not stay indoors for 12 weeks. I just have to survive this epidemic.



Monday, 30 December 2019

2019 - Pollution, Mental Health and Trout

Pollution, Mental Health and Trout

2019 draws to an end today and with it a whole year of experiences both on the river and off it. With the world becoming more aware of pollution by the visibility of it on our screens, in our media and on our doorstep there has been plenty of talk and even action surrounding it. But the problem only seems to get worse, regardless of what any numbers a statistician can throw at me the problem has continued to rise. Recycling numbers may be up but that is because there is more and more garbage out there to be processed. The number of fly tips and pollution incidents continues to rise and despite all the awareness surrounding pollution people continue to turn a blind eye to it. Now the majority of my readers will share a similar mindset to myself so will know this is a problem but how do we connect, how do we really wake up the people who see the problem, recognise the problem then do nothing. And the culprits, when will someone step forward and take responsibility to prosecute them or change a law so that fly tipping regardless if it is council or private land is an offence regardless who pursues the prosecution.

I personally monitor a few of my local rivers and have featured in the local news for my reports on it and the lack of action both the EA and the councils make regarding it. I clear a catch grid constantly due to a lack of access the EA have due to the council not monitoring its double yellow lines (ie cars park in front of the EA access gate) and the amount of household rubbish, weed growing kits and other fly tipped items that are dumped into that very small section of river is shocking, it can make the river rise 5 feet above its usual depth from pure rubbish build up, the woody debris obviously builds up then behind the black bags and linoleum. It is hard dirty work but to maintain the health of the river it is work that must be done, the passage of fish is blocked which affects spawning, the increase in the depth of the water from its usual 2 or 3 feet depth to 7 or 8 feet puts them at risk of diving birds especially when they move off the frozen still waters.

The end of 2019 has been a tough time as well. Fishing is a wonderful aspect in helping people maintain a healthy mind yet when the close season comes and your opportunities have been non existent since the 23rd of September you do, or at least i do, find ourselves slipping into a murky corner of our thoughts. On top of that i faced disciplinary procedures at work which, without going into too much detail, were about actions i did to protect my staff from danger, that dragged on for several weeks before i was given a first & final warning. During that time my Dad was diagnosed with cancer and has still, even now, not received any treatment, just scan after scan while the decide how to deal with it due to its position and, i guess, rarity due to the solidity of the mass. With my time being split between work and home and i'd say more of the former i struggled with my mental health. Remember mental health isn't depression, anxiety or anything else, mental health is your emotional and psychological well being. I wasn't sleeping well, i lacked motivation, i worried about the affect of losing my job would have on my family. I worried about my Dad and what was happening or the lack of. And with that, i had no escape, no place to go, nothing to take my mind away from it all. Just slipping into a dark corner in my mind feeling a hate towards myself, a doubt in myself and my actions. Questioning myself constantly if i was right or wrong. Being there in a river, feeling the cold water press against your legs, the nip in the air as a breeze blew downstream, the trees rustling gently as they swayed. The sound of birds singing and their wings beating as they flew by curiously. The whispers the rivers spoke as it flowed smoothly by and the shouts they made as they battered boulders. The popping noise of a fish taking a fly from the surface and the splashing sound of a fish as it fought when it reached the net.

I had none of that, i had everybodies christmas to deal with, the repetitive comments about my height, the same colours of concrete and tarmac, the hustle and bustle of people and traffic. The constant shouting at inquisitive children just wanting that one small toy to make them happy but yet left them in tears instead. The walking in the rain to work at 6.30am dodging puddles while dry drivers ignored you as you waited to cross. The drunks, the druggies and the threats. I've isolated myself, not spoken to many people when we'd normally talk rubbish for hours whether in person or on social media. And all this hidden behind a wry smile so everyone thought you was ok, so that no one would ask the question. Are you ok?

Before then however, there was fishing, not as much as i would have hoped but you know, enough. And though i didn't get any monsters i did get to fish with my daughter alot more, which is amazing, to anyone who questions it its much more about the fishing, the questions she asks and how much she learns and matures after each trip is profound and i can see why my dad took me as a child. We had big rainbows and some decent trout but all of them stories are in the blogs i have already written. What you get here are the statistics behind my trips and then some pictures. So how did my year compare to the previous seasons?

I had 16 days out, yes only 16 which is the least of any year since i started in 2015, 4 of them on the Irwell itself again the least time i'd been on there.. I averaged 9.6 fish a trip totalling 154 fish, 19 of them on the Irwell averaging 4.8 fish a trip. So how does this compare?

Overall out of 5 years it was 3rd in the catch rate per trip but was at the higher end showing good progression especially but then again i hadn't fished the Irwell as much and the 2017 numbers were severely hit by the pollution that year. So looking at the Irwell in 2016 i averaged 10.2 fish per session dropping down in 2017 when i averaged 2.4 fish a session and furthermore in 2018 a mere 0.6 a session. Thankfully improvements have shown with 4.8 fish per session which is a stark rise compared to the 2 previous years.

Diversity has dropped however, with no roach or perch for 2 years now compared to 108 in the first 3 years. Another year without a minnow totally 2 minnows in 3 years compared to 38 in the first 2 years. The first drop in chub totals from the average of 3 to now just 1, which is a reason i don't target them on my rivers over winter.

So overall, fish catch rates seem to average at 9.9 per session, anything less has only been in my first season where i was learning and in 2017 where the pollution incident happened. Diversity has dropped, showing trout are the hardiest of the species given we say pollution is a cause in their decline and not mention the black death till next year. And Irwell catch rates have risen dramatically possibly showing it is finally back on the road to recovery.

Don't forget to check my youtube channel: Irwell Fishing
and i hope to see you all again in 2020.