Malcolm Greenhalgh's September Blog


I am writing this blog on the 28th, and in the 28 days thus far we here in northwest England have had rain on 25 of them, thus ensuring that the year’s trout season has been the worst I have known over the past 45 years.

It started well on the 1st, when Mick Addison took me to the Dee near Corwen as his guest. It was a beat I had never fished before, on the outside of a huge meander bend. Thus the deeper water was directly under our bank so that there was little need to wade and the chief use of my chest waders was to prevent my bum from getting wet! The day was quite pleasant weatherwise, other than for a downstream breeze that occasionally strengthened to a strong wind, and in the afternoon it was quite balmy. There was a nice little hatch of pale wateries, with a few BWOs and large dark olives, and a very good hatch (in the marginal vegetation) of needle flies. Unfortunately the river was up a couple of inches and had a tinge of peat, otherwise there would have been more fish rising. As it was I had some nice grayling to 14”, most on Sturdy’s Fancy, and cracking brown trout on a grey-bodied Klinkhamer.

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Some while ago I curated the freshwater specimens in the Manchester Museum’s (part of the University of Manchester) entomology  collection, and still keep in contact with the staff there. They asked if I would give a hand to a group of fly-fishers who were looking at the streams in the Mersey/Irwell system.

Up to the 1980s this major river network was as badly polluted as any – Rhine, Douglas, name it! But the Mersey Basin Trust moved to change that with massive lobbying to get the foul streams made clean. So it was in 1990, when I was asked by a now defunct magazine Environment Now to cover the stocking of Salford Quays, and thus the Mersey/Ship Canal with coarse fish (mainly bream, roach and carp) by Prime Minister Thatcher’s Environment Minister, David Trippier. I also interviewed the leaders of the MBT who said that their aim was to get the river clean enough to attract salmon back running and spawning there by the new millennium.

“Some chance!” I thought.

I was wrong to think thus. By 2000 the EA had recorded salmon and sea trout ascending the weir at Warrington, and on 2nd April 2015, when I had to waste time in Warrington while my car was being serviced, I even saw two silver salmon, moving upstream under the A49 road bridge. I was also hearing of tales of brown trout spreading downstream through both Mersey and Irwell as the two rivers became cleaner, mirroring the spread of dippers into streams like the Croal, which runs through the town centre of Bolton.

[The same has happened on the River Douglas, a once foul waterway that passes through the centre of Wigan before emptying into the Ribble estuary. Brown trout are moving down the river from the clean sources in the west Pennine Moors and sea trout are running the Yarrow, a major tributary. The Douglas is culverted through the town centre and this year dippers nested just downstream of the culvert.]

So on the 17th eight of us met at the education centre in Philips Park between Prestwich and Whitefield, and sampled a small, once polluted stream called Bradley Brook. There Baetis (olive) nymphs and Silulium (blackfly) larvae were abundant, and we also obtained some caseless caddis larvae and one stonefly species. We also looked at some samples I had collected from the upper Lune and Aire, which had, as expected, a much greater range of clean water species. The experiences of those who came of the streams they had been examining together with the discussion we had led us to consider a hefty survey of all the Mersey/Irwell system. This could provide a new base line on the state of cleanliness of this once badly polluted system.

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It is now six years since an Environment Agency bailiff asked to see my England & Wales rod licence. Go back forty years and if you went fishing the upper Lune it was a rare day that the bailiff would appear and examine your licence, and go back fifteen years and bailiff Andy would appear by the Hodder one visit in four.

That a warranted bailiff was likely to appear to examine your credentials as an angler on that beat of that river meant that daytime poaching was rarely carried out. But more importantly, when a bailiff was regularly patrolling the river potential (and actual) pollution incidents would be spotted quickly and action taken. Some bailiffs (and Mr Staveley, the upper Lune bailiff I have mentioned was a great instance) even helped maintain the fishery by trapping mink and monitoring the number of salmon and sea trout caught; go back 40 years ago and many anglers did not declare all their catches.

Because the EA cannot afford to pay bailiffs (though they have famously wasted large funds recently ruining excellent cover for brown trout on some rivers) we anglers must take on the role. We must walk the river with an eye open to potential and actual problems. ‘Potential?’ A couple of years ago two of us found a spillage of creosote that was dribbling towards a tiny stream leading down to the river. A phone call and the EA pollution department were informed and dealt with it. ‘Actual?’ More recently, my son Pete found a poacher’s net in the river that had already trapped a brown trout and couple of chub. A quick phone call and the EA responded.

All fly-fishers in England & Wales should carry their rod licences with them, and on the back is the relevant number. From the back of my licence: “Report incidents on 0800 807060”.

We owe it to our rivers and the fish.