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Monday, 8 August 2016

Wild trout; the third way. Part two.

The Upper Eden valley.
Like the river, our ideas for another day on the same stretch of water have dried up. We might just get a fish or two by pure luck, but it's no fun to be mechanically thrashing the water all day. You lose confidence in your own skills and judgement and end up worn out.

By chucking-out time at the pub we have hatched a cunning plan. We will try another river that might have more water in it. A river that has a catchment to the west of the Pennine watershed might do better than our eastern one. Who knows?

The river we choose is the Eden that rises near the Moorcock Inn and the Garsdale Head station on the Settle to Carlisle line. It and flows down through Appleby, Penrith and Carlisle to the Solway Firth. It's not much more than a beck until well below Kirby Stephen where it reputedly holds grayling and the odd salmon, as well as trout.

Warcop bridge.
Result: one salmon par and a minnow.
Our campsite is shrouded in cloud and it is raining almost continuously but, as soon as we leave Yorkshire, the sun comes out. That happens a lot. In that respect Yorkshire is like Wales. (The similarity ends there: definitely.)

A female peregrine falcon darts across the road in pursuit of a kestrel. I follow her in tight focus with the Howgill Fells a bluish blur in the background.

We soon drop into Kirby Stephen to get our first glimpse of the river. It is a disappointment. The drought is just as bad over here in the west and the water is even more clear than yesterday. You could wade most of it in wellies. Doubtful about the possibilities, we decide not to buy a ticket until we have had a good look at our options.

Driving downstream, we stop at every bridge, hoping to see a bit more water and maybe some rising fish. The most promising spot seems to be at the bottom of the Association's water at Warcop, where there is a bridge and a deep pool, so we drive back to Kirby and pay our £15.

Red squirrel at Warcop.
Below Warcop bridge we get a few takes and I catch a minnow. Alex catches a salmon parr so I figure he is ahead. At least our nymphs are working, so we carry on steadily upstream through shrunken pools and rapids. The rock is a rusty brown colour here, producing long, flat glides with few stones. That's not good for flylife, but I'm hoping for a grayling anyway.

The banks are very steep, the footpath being 10 or 12 feet above the river. There are tufts of grass and other flotsam lodged in the trees, well above my head, evidence that the last flood level must have been 18 to 20 feet above the current level. At that height the road and most of the bridge would have been under water. It's hard to imagine that now.

The high banks make casting tricky and I keep snagging my fly up on knapweeds and thistles. In frustration I give my rod a sharp tug and it snaps. I have a couple of spare rods with me, but this is my favourite; an old split cane rod that was a gift from a friend. It has snapped just above the brass ferule that attaches the tip piece. It will be easy to repair, but the rod will lose two inches. Meanwhile I have a long walk back to our car.

A red squirrel is running along the parapet of the bridge. It glows orange in the sunlight and its bushy tail looks almost white. I always have my camera along but, by the time I have it ready, the squirrel is up a tree looking down at me. I have a photo, but my mind will always remember the sight of him bounding across the bridge, haloed in bright sunlight.

By the time I rejoin my brother I am ready to call it a day but, in true Yorkshire style, he says that we have paid for a day's fishing and, by Gum, we are not done yet. We agree to brew up, take a break and then drive back through Kirby Stephen, ignoring the river until we break out on to the moors above Nateby.

The top beat.
There is a spot where the shrunken river runs close to the road but then bends away; a perfect place to park up and go exploring. We set off upstream but the valley is funneling a strong wind against us. My tiny American brook rod simply doesn't have the power to turn the line over and make a gentle presentation upwind and I send the first fish we see off in a panic. At the head of the run, he turns in the shallows, revealing a long back and a spade of a tail. That fish must weigh nearly two pounds. The metric system isn't yet in use up here; we drink pints - not litres, and we measure our fish in inches and pounds. But however you measure it, that's a big trout for a moorland beck.

We press on, in the hope that the wind will decrease when we get into the wooded gorge ahead of us. Sure enough, we escape the wind, but the gorge becomes very tight and we have to ignore some spots because we can't access them. I settle into the role of ghillie and photographer, following my brother's progress from the bracken slopes above while he works all the likely spots. There really isn't room for two anglers on the same stretch unless you take turns.

The broad landscape is made up of majestic, sweeping fells, cut across by a valley that was created by glaciers. Alex says that he thinks the last glacier went up the valley, not down it. He points to a mound that is shaped like a tadpole with it's head facing down the valley, "That's called a dragon's tail. It shows which way the ice was travelling." The big scene is overlaid with all sorts of glacial features such as drumlins, eskers and erratics. Where the thin topsoil has eroded away on steep slopes, road cuttings and the river bank, rather than bedrock we see masses of small rocks, slabs and scree material. It's all glacial debris and it's still on the move. All those stones that line the river
edge are made by glaciers and transported by rivers. They end up in the form of drystone walls, barns, chapels, churches, family homes and manor houses. Many of them arrive at the coast where they form pebbles and grains of sand on the shore.

Stalking trout in a puddle at the bottom of a gorge.
The little river Eden has cut itself through the piles of glacial rubble, right down to the solid rock beneath. It has worked on the exposed limestone beds creating quite a spectacular gorge, with waterfalls and strangely sculptured blocks. Where the water flows over flat slabs there are fist sized hollows where a stone has rolled around until it wore itself away. Then another stone has fallen in the hole and it too has spun like a coffee bean in a grinder. Stone after stone has done its job in creating these kettle holes.

When I was a student I used to spend hours sketching places like this. Turner would have loved it but I have no idea what he would have made of one feature that we saw.

At first I thought it was a large concrete pipe running down the centre of the river. Perhaps it was part of a hydro electric scheme? It went on, dead straight, for maybe a hundred yards before disappearing under the bank when the river took a curve. Again it was Alex who recognised it for what it undoubtedly was.

Imagine a bacon baguette with the filling sticking out beyond the bread. Now imagine it's made of rock and the vacon is a layer that is tougher than the ones on either side. Normally these layers are lie horizontally but this baguette has turned on its side with the bacon in the vertical position. Our little river is following a route that was made long before the glaciers. It's a fault line caused by volcanic action or a huge earthquake, all the result of the Pennines being pushed up when they were formed.

Wild trout: a good size for a mall water.
While I am photographing rocks and flowers, my brother is wearing himself out in the search for a trout.

"Here, you have a go with my rod."

There is flat, shallow pool ahead of me with a couple of dog-sized boulders in it that create a sort of gateway. I cast between them and retrieve line as it drifts back towards me, except it stops, then starts to move the other way. I almost forget to strike but instinct takes over and I raise the rod. The resistance is immediate and violent too. Alex shouts at me to keep up the tension as the hook has no barb. He wades into the water to net the fish, but it takes three attempts before we have it safe. It's no monster, but it seems huge in this tiny pool.

Catching that trout was a team effort, but what were we doing differently? We were still using method one; being stealthy and casting at any fish we saw. We also used method two, which was to cast at any bit of water that might hold a fish.  But we also used the third way, which is to say, we used a worm.

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