Tuesday, 22 June 2010

The Millstream Churnet

I consider myself incredibly lucky to live in the heart of the Staffordshire Moorlands. Leek is truly the gateway to the Peak District. The Pennines rise here and within that rugged landscape, our beautiful rivers are born. The rivers Goyt, Dove, Manifold and Churnet all rise within a few miles of Leek, all born out of an area of absolute outstanding beauty that rivals any other in the British Isles.

The nearest river to my home is the Churnet. My hometown of Leek stands on it's banks, and it was here, after the industrial revolution, that mills started to be built, harnessing the power of the river to drive their machinery. James Brindley built his famous water mill here, and had is offices in Leek and come the days of the Arts and Crafts movement, Sugden and William Morris had offices here in Leek, such an important place was Leek to the British textile industry. Long ago, the dye works of Leek were the textile manufacturers in the world that had the ability to dye cloth black, from here, cloth for the clergy was dyed and shipped out all over the world...and it's all down to the little river Churnet.

Of course, it was this heavy industry that eventually ensured that for a long time, the Churnet was regarded as one of the most polluted rivers in Europe and absolutely devoid of life, let alone Salmon, Brown and Sea Trout.

I've been lucky enough to gain permission to fish the Churnet just minutes from my home and it is a beautiful place to spend an hour or two. The wildlife in and around the river was severely damaged a couple of years ago when a pollution incident caused a massive fish kill. As well as the hundreds of trout, chub, perch and pike that could be seen dead on the banks, other wildlife was affected too. The heron, kingfisher, dippers and many other birds that could once be seen along the banks disappeared too. At long last, these have returned, along with the fish.

Apparently, the Environment Agency has restocked the river, and I've certainly seen a few fish but I wouldn't have said they were stockies. Most are a hand length, and I may be wrong but I would have thought stockies would be bigger. I would say that all the fish that I have seen rising freely along the stretch are wild. There have also been reports of large silver fish being seen a little down stream at the weir of the Brindley Mill. Not possible some people would say, there are too many obstacles for the fish to negotiate further downstream. Well, the same people said that it would be impossible to see these fish in the upper Dove, and I know that they are the because I've caught them, and a week or so, I saw two caught in the Derwent too. The thought that Sea Trout and Salmon could possibly be trying to spawn so high up in our river catchments amazes me.

I've been lucky enough to catch a few of the small brownies, most have come to a very small olive or a cdc Klinkhammer. I've missed a massive amount of takes purely because the rises are so frantic and come from completely out of the blue, but when they are on, they give a right scrap considering the size of the fish. I'm looking forward to coming across a larger fish maybe in one of the two or three deep pools further upstream from where I've been catching.

Being able to walk out of my door and onto this lovely little trout stream is a privilege and I'm looking forward to spending the occassional evening there, with my kelly kettle, 6ft glass rod and a small selection of flies.


Sunday, 20 June 2010

A Narrowly Avoided Blank In Tough Conditions at Dovedale

I managed to get out and up to Dovedale for a couple of hours last night. I've never seen the Dove so low and clear and I was amazed at how few rises there were and how few fish I saw...I guess in the low conditions, most fish are seeking deep pools for cover and safety and most are resting after gorging on mayfly.

It's always a privilege to be at Dovedale, whether the fishing is tough or not and I did manage to avoid a blank by, landing this lovely wild brownie of about 1 1/2 lbs. Blimey..it gave me a right scrap too...

Let's hope the fishing improves over the next week or so..a few good downpours are desperately needed to liven things up on our rivers.


Wednesday, 16 June 2010

Mr Kelting's Exceedingly Good Bakewell Puddings, Derwent Brown Trout, and Lashings and Lashings of Luke Warm Ginger Beer

No angling and dramming post goes more than a couple of paragraphs without the mention of a large breakfast, a pie, or at least a bag of chips in this one, of course, is no exception for was to meet up with my good pal Chris Kelting for a sunny afternoon on Darley Dale Fly Fishers stretch of the Derbyshire Derwent at Rowsley, and I was charged with the catering arrangements.

I'd made my way, upon Chris' strict instruction, to the Bakewell Pudding Shop where I bagged up on sandwiches and cakes of all description....and a large bottle of ginger beer to wash it all down with. Chris attended a posh school near Oakham. It appears that if one didn't care too much for sport, one could opt for Fly Fishing as part of the curriculum, and so, Chris studied the subject with a passion at the schools nearest venue, none other than Rutland Water. It was to be a fun day then, not least because we spend quite a bit of the time, taking the michael out of each other for the way we speak.....

Chris was amongst the first to offer me a little help when I took up fly fishing, and each time we are on the river, he tries to teach me a new technique. Today was to be the upstream nymphing technique, and after the results I had during the day, I'm very much looking forward to employing it on my own rivers....It was incredibly effective.

The river was a couple of inches up with a fair amount of colour and Chris reminded me to make sure that I use my wading stick to feel my way as there are some really deep holes knocking about...

We parked the car by the river and, having set up with a two nymph rig, a mayfly nymph on a dropper and a PTN on the point, Chris showed me how it works and I started to get takes immediately. The fish, which were all wild and in lovely condition, were mainly taking the PTN just below the surface. What was noticeable early on was that there was a distinct lack of mayfly....for the moment.

I decided to have a walk downstream and got into the river at a spot where I've landed a nice fish or two in the past. I left Chris in a favourite pool of his, he was clearly content as he was managing quite a few fish including a surprise Sea Trout.

I fish this pool for about ten minutes, taking a couple of fish from under the overhanging trees. A few minutes later, I saw a very sorry looking figure walking down the bank towards me, a very sodden angler indeed. Chris had broken his golden rule and stepped in front of his wading stick whilst up to his waist in water. He then slipped down a gravel bank right into a 8 foot deep hole and was completely immersed. His wading belt had prevented his waders filling with water and he had floated down the river, he'd used his wading stick to feel for the bottom and eventually he scrambled out. He sat for an hour on the bank in the sun, all but naked with his clothes drying on the grass in the sun.....it wasn't long before he was fishing again.

We made our way upstream for the last hour or so and spotted a pod of fish rising quite frequently. These we took to be stockies as they were not spooked easily when we got into the river. We took it in turns to cast wee dries at the fish and hooked into one or two of them....all of a sudden at around 6pm, loads of mayfly started to appear and the fish went mental. I stuck on a mayfly and started to catch some lovely fish. This frantic action continued for about 5 or ten minutes max, and all of as sudden, the mayfly disappeared along with the rises...that was it...all over...

It was a cracking afternoon's fishing and between us we had managed about 25 or so fish in challenging conditions. My first, although very short, experience of how exciting mayfly hatches can be.


Monday, 7 June 2010

Islay: Two Weeks of Angling and Dramming

What a fortnight. I'm just back from my longest visit to the Hebridean Isle of Islay. Over two weeks in Angling and Dramming heaven, and already I'm looking forward to returning to this amazing island. My journey started on Thursday 20th May. I hosted a Diageo Flavour Map tasting on the way in Kendal, and at about 10.30pm, I sped off in the van and had a couple of hours kip in the Wine Shop van down a quiet lane near to the small port of Kennacraig. In the morning, Calmac pointed the Hebridean Isles towards Islay, and we were off......

My first evening was spent at The Port Charlotte with Mark and Helga Unsworth and John Mac Lellan of Kilchoman Distillery. Mark and Helga kindly put me up for the night and on Saturday morning, I made the last of my whisky deliveries and started to think about the fishing competition that was to start at 1pm on Islay's largest freshwater loch, Gorm.

The weather was not great for fishing, very bright and very hot. On the plus side, there was a good breeze which kept the midges away and a good ripple on the water. The competition started at dead on 1pm. I knew many of the boys were finding it tough but I managed to find a rare weed bed and landed 4 nice wild brownies from it in the first hour or so. At least half of the 25 anglers blanked on the day so I was quite pleased with my result and I finished somewhere around 5th I think, in what was a really tough competition. The winner was Kevin Morrison with 14 fish...well done Kevin!

After the competition, I made my way to Bunnahabhain Distillery where, for the next two weeks, along with many guests, Number 2, Shore Road, would be my home. I unloaded the van, which was a big job, given the amount of fishing gear and luggage there was in it. to top it all, Leonie had packed just shy of 100 bottles of wine in preparation for our party (it was my 40th) and it all would need to be removed from the van for fear of heat damage. I felt like drinking most of it but made do with a dram and beer or two with Adrian and Jane who arrived on the late ferry.

The weather changed from one day to the next but was consistently dry and bright. What did change was the wind direction and speed. At the beginning of the week, I could not fail on a team of three flies, two red tailed muddler variants on droppers and an LTD on the point. Interestingly, the muddlers took the most fish but the LTD took the bigger ones.

These three brownies all came to the red tailed muddler but later in the week, as the wind increased, I was getting more results with a muddler on the dropper followed by a green tailed Katie Maclaren and a Black Pennel on the point. I was fishing 3 or 4 hour sessions and managing 10 to 15 fish each time, which I was really pleased with. I think I got to about 100 fish for the week.

On a couple of evenings, I was lucky enough to accompany David Morris who is undoubtedly one of Islay's top fly fisherman. We tried different patterns in preparation for the next competition which would be held at Finlaggan. On one evening, we fished around the whole of Loch Finlaggan, trying to find the fish and it was interesting that, in some places, David would have a fish on every cast and me nothing, and sometimes, I would be catching all the time and him nothing...with similar flies. I put this down to localised hatches that were often really tight to the bank, indeed my best fish of just over a pound was caught in the fading light not more than 6 feet from the bank in less that a foot of water, and by the way it fought, I was convinced that it would be 3lb or more!

The competition was again tough. I managed 6 fish, which was my worst catch at Finlaggan all week, but that's just how it goes sometimes. The fishing had been spectacular and I loved every minute of it. I'm looking forward to returning in September to have another stab....anyone wishing to join me for a few days should contact me now!

Of all the places that I am lucky enough to fish, Islay is by far the best. It is proper, wild, remote, challenging fishing in real wild country. I'm not talking about a few wild brownies that we catch up Dovedale whilst a few hundred walkers look on and half a dozen dogs and kids jump in our swims every five minutes, and where we all wear our posh fishing tackle like the tackle tarts that we are...I mean wild in terms of the environment.

Fishing a remote place like Islay is almost a different sport, it doesn't just test the angler it terms of tricking the fish, it requires much mental and physical stamina, it requires him to walk for miles and to cover vast areas of fish free areas before he finds a few fish. The lads I've fished with on Islay live and breath fishing, they've done it since age five. They don't have to make a sudden decision at the age of 30 as to whether take up golf or fly fishing, it doesn't go on the CV, it isn't an aspirational sport.

I was talking to an Islay angler about the recent decision of one of our local fishing clubs about it's decision to revoke a fellow members licence as it's committee had unanimously voted him out for allegedly targeting out of season grayling. "Why? did he kill one" was the shocked response from the angler and for me, he hit the nail on the head.

It's not as of he'd been filmed fishing for Grayling, a day after the Grayling season ended and broadcast on BBC's Countryfile for the whole nation to see, he'd simply accidentally caught grayling out of season as most trout fishermen, unavoidably do....and when they do, they certainly wouldn't take them if they were out of season.

The truth is that the angler in question is a square peg in a round whole. He hasn't the Queen's English like the trout angler ought to. He doesn't wash his car on a Sunday morning. He doesn't have 2.5 kids nor does he impress on any other that they might consider doing the same.This is the sort of committee generated nonsense that makes my Islay fishing all the more enjoyable....no politics, no snobs, noone judging me, just a good, challenging day's fishing at one with the environment in the company of decent men, Golden Eagle, Hen Harrier, Sea Eagle and wild Brown Trout. And long may the attitudes that I long feared may exist within the English fly fishing fraternity stay well south of the border.

It was suggested that the angler in question was solely out to catch fish. He was indeed out to catch fish, as he always is, and he does it very well, which is porbably the real reason that he has been ousted. He is one of the best anglers I know.

Having said that though, I've seen a different side to him that, especially on a trip to Islay last year. He had never visited the Highlands of Scotland, never set foot on a boat, never set foot on a Hebridean island and he was blown away. The questions he asked about the place, the interest he showed in all that was around him was similar to those posed by a young lad, excited and eager to get amongst it all.

His respect for the fish he landed from the lochs was huge.Although the angler is encouraged to do otherwise, he returned most of the fish and inspected each one carefully, commenting on the difference between each one. He is one of those rare fishermen where "angling" refers to the sum of the parts of the whole experience, from his first plans for the day during the first fag and coffee of the day, to the should have's and would have's in the debrief at the end of the day. Islay in September youth?

During the week, I hosted three Queen of the Moorlands Rare Cask Whisky tastings in Bowmore and we were joined by many enthusiasts from all over the world. It was great to meet up with so many people who I'd met on Facebook and to share a dram with them. I'm looking forward to our tasting events at The Islay Festival of Malt and Music 2011 as I'm sure even more people will attend our events...I'm sure we will be holding more than the three...

I also got a chance to visit one of our casks at Bruichladdich. It was only 5 years old but the spirit was filled into a first fill sherry hogshead and already it is tasting amazing...it will be fantastic at 10 or 15 years of age...watch this space!

On Sunday 30th May, I was joined by Leonie, the kids, and a few friends from home and from Islay, and we promptly turned Shore Road, Bunnahabhain in to a scene more in common with a village green in Surrey that a remote beauty spot in the Hebrides. After a few pints of real ale, we acquired the kid's cricket set and promptly started a match which proved to be great fun. The marquee we'd borrowed from Mark and Helga quickly changed it's name from "The Red Lion" to "The Pavilion".

John Mac Lellan was caught at silly mid off by a very serious Chad Lesley, he was out for a golden duck and goes into the record books as the first ever ex-Bunnahabhain Distillery Manager, to have done so during such an event at that venue.

Whisky finds during the week?? I didn't go for all the festival bottlings because, to be honest, I think some of the distillers are treating it as a huge commercial opportunity and I'm not sure I agree with the encouragement of enthusiasts to queue up through the small hours in order for them to purchase a bottle but I did get a Caol Islay Feis Ile 2010 bottlings, a Bunnahabhain Pedro Ximenez Feis Ile Bottling and a Kilchoman Festival Bottling.

I also picked up (and I would urge the enthusiast to do the same) an incredible offering that has recently been bottled by a group of enthusiasts under the name Port Sgioba, and 8 year old Port Charlotte from a sherry hogshead...incredible.

Adrian and Jane kindly presented me with the oddest bottle of the week, for my birthday, which was a bottle that proudly boasts the name of "Shyte Whisky". The description on the bottle simply states "An unuasual blended Scotch Whisky of no great distinction". Class.

Last mention must go to the Aberdeenshire farmer who proudly gave folk a dram from a shady hipflask that he had about himself at one of the distillery open days. He showed us a copy of the label and I noticed that it had the words "Farm Matured" on it...and "Matured in a Harveys Bristol Cream Cask".

"What is it?" I enquired, "Totally illegal" he replied. "Distilled in an ex-central heating system", he was please to say.......brilliant. What did it taste like.....chicken.

Here's a video by Mark Unsworth of Islay Studios showing some of the highlights of Feis Ile 2010. It's a good job it's not in 3D given the size of my beer belly.