All our fears about the floods having an impact on fish populations in the Eden were, mercifully, groundless. Right from the opening of the last trout season, in March, our anglers reported excellent catches, with numerous fish caught in the 2lb – 3lb class, and apparently stronger numbers of juvenile fish than recent years. The banks were ravaged by the repeated floods, particularly in those areas which have lost their tree cover, and the amount of rubbish washed into the river, and caught up where there are still trees was horrific. Most of this, including vast amounts of farm plastic, would have been washed away to the sea. The pollution impact from this beggars belief. The AAA committee, and Eden Rivers Trust, organised several clean up days and this resulted in extraordinary amounts of rubbish being taken away to landfill.
When spring came and the remaining bank-side foliage covered the scars, it was like being on the Eden of old, again, and the fishing was superb. Several of us noted particularly strong hatches of March Browns and Iron Blues, both species of which are nationally rare. On some days one could count up to six up-wing species active simultaneously, and this is a very rare event in modern agricultural England. All in all, we felt the floods had been good for the river, scouring away a lot of the silt which had built up in recent years. The trout fed relentlessly on the glut of up-wings. I fished nothing other than CDC plume tips (a fly highly suggestive of the natural up-wing emergers and duns) and catches throughout the Eden system were superb.
The grayling seemed to disappear, though this is often, curiously, the case during their spawning season, and they certainly came back in the summer, while catches of small trout continued, with the odd larger fish among them. It is some years since we have found such large numbers of juvenile fish in our waters, so this was encouraging, particularly when autumn revealed that there were also a lot of yearling grayling present. Perhaps the floods are to be thanked for this, scouring and cleaning the spawning gravels.
Dry fly action continued deep into the autumn, largely because the hatches persisted, culminating in the late-season specialists of pale watery species and the wonderful Blue Winged Olive. I caught my last fish of the year, shortly before Christmas day, on a plume tip. Since then, the river has been generally very low, for winter conditions, because it has mostly been dry. Unfortunately, slurry and silt pollution have been serious, while cormorant numbers have been worrying. I write this in the wake of two consecutive blank trips to the Appleby waters during which I did not see a single fish, which is unusual, even in winter, and particularly as I noticed a reasonable number of large dark olives on the drift lanes.
All of this is particularly disturbing following a friend of mine telling me about a slurry pollution on the Hoff Beck below Rutter Falls (this beck issues into the Eden at Colby Laithes). He described the river as running black and stinking for the entire period that he and a shooting party were present. I walked the beck a couple of days later and found the feeder drain where the slurry had entered. It was still black and foaming, completely dead. My friend reckoned that a whole slurry silo had been discharged and remarked: ‘The fish just don’t stand a chance.’ A double blow, really, because this particular stretch had been improving in recent years. It just takes one selfish, illegal act and years of natures repair is undone in moments. I reported the pollution to the EA, of course, but I know what the outcome will be. All members are encouraged, however, to report pollution incidents they observe by calling the EA hotline: 0800 807060.
Posted in River Eden