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Over the years I have written many times of the trout fly-fisher’s year here in northern England and stressed the importance of the large dark olive (Baetis rhodani) for spring fishing.  This lovely fly hatches usually from about 1pm to 4pm and brings up the trout. However in the last four years things have changed.  On 8 April 2005 my son Pete and I strolled down the the Ribble near Gisburn at 11am to discover the air full of tiny flies.  Said Pete (who is no angler-entomologist), ‘That’s a big olive hatch!’  Said I (who does know a little on the subject), ‘Them’s not olives; they is grannom!’
I phoned Oliver Edwards, who wrote in Fly-Fishing & Fly-Tying of the appearance of huge numbers of grannom on the Wharfe about ten years ago, and he explained how the day goes with a grannom hatch and later egg-laying.  And sure enough, the same was true of the Ribble hatch that year.

Now to this year. I encountered the first enormous hatch on 5 April on the Ribble at Paythorne and the last big hatch on 17 April.  I also fished on 8th, 12th, 14th and 15th, and discovered that the length of river affected had increased dramatically since 2005.  In 2009 the grannom occurred in myriads from the Ribble’s confluence with the Hodder upstream to Long Preston, a distance of around 25 miles and it had penetrated four miles up the Hodder; in 2005 I found the hatches along only six miles of river.

The flies started to hatch between 8 and 9am and the trout responded immediately.  I fished a size 16 brown CDC Sedge (rather like the F Fly, but with Marc Petitjean’s CDC body); provided the fly passed accurately over the fish without any drag, takes were powerful. Furthermore, grayling that had just spawned started to take the grannom by the 14th; people were worried last winter that grayling stocks had collapsed on the Ribble/Hodder system.  The grannom proved this wrong (I had one fish well over the 2-lbs mark).  The hatch continued past lunchtime and later females returned to the river to lay their eggs.  However somewhere between 11.15am and 12.30pm the fish were satiated and they stopped feeding.  You would see an occasional rise but it would be quite half-hearted and either the fish would ignore the artificial, or it would come up and reject it.  So those who arrived on the river for the afternoon olive hatch would miss out, simply because the trout had full bellies and couldn’t take any more.

I also had two trips down to Leek Fly-Fishers’ waters on the Dove, and again grannom dominated the scene.  On the 18th the trout took grannom keenly and I had 11 fish, but when Geoff and I returned on the 23rd the fishing was very difficult.  We had only seven trout between us that long day and it was clear that they were fed up with eating grannom. Happily, that very day saw the first of the big mayflies hatching so that tomorrow, when we return to the Dove, we might even have trout rising to the mayfly, even though we are still in April!

As to the large dark olive. It did hatch but very few fish rose to eat it.

Because I haven’t a contract from a publisher to write yet another book (hurrah!), this year will be a fishing year with a wodge of gardening to break it up (we are currently pigging on a great asparagus harvest!).  Besides the grannom, I have been re-investigating buzzer (midge) hatches on my local put-and-take rainbow trout fisheries.  Those who fish solely for wild trout sometimes speak of stocked rainbow trout as being naive, stupid fish that are so easy to catch.  They can be like that but when they are feeding keenly on buzzers they can be as difficult as the most intelligent chalkstream fish (!!?!??).  I will be writing a piece for the magazine when I have completed my investigations but from four days on such waters this month, it is interesting how on one day the trout wanted the artificial buzzer presented differently to the way it had to be presented the next day.  A tip: if you are fishing a buzzer water, don’t change fly is the fish refuse to take; change tactics.

May beckons.  I have mentioned mayfly.  Its wonderful but fairly short season is nearly with us. And in three weeks I will be on the machair lochs of South Uist.  The year is going too quickly.  Slow down!

Malcolm Greenhalgh