Chris McCully

Fishing Diary

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St. Mark's fly

Tuesday, 11 May 2021 at 20:22

Hawthorns The alternative name for the hawthorn fly, when it's not Bibio marci, is 'St. Mark's fly', named after the saint because the insects are held to emerge around St. Mark's Day, 25th April. Last year I saw the first hawthorns (males, smaller than their female mates) around April 13th; this year I saw the first numbers of hawthorns just today, which tells us something (as if we needed telling) about how cold it's been.

Hawthorns can be important to trout fishers. They're a large insect, a good mouthful for a hungry trout, and where they blow onto the water surface trout can become fond of them. There are plenty of good representations available. I've never found it necessary to imitate the prominent legs and chunky abdomen of the natural flies precisely and generally press a Black Klink or Black Gnat pattern into service (size range 12-14).

Hawthorn flies are important pollinators and are as their name suggests found around hawthorn bushes when these are in flower.

A bigger plastic worm

Tuesday, 11 May 2021 at 20:17

Baited spinner In occasional gaps between work I've tried to get to the estuary for an hour. These sessions are little more than walks with a fishing rod. There have been few mullet in evidence so far this year but today I saw some splashy swirls which must have been made by little bass. I put the baited spinner over them - of course I did - but the incoming tide was pushing up thick mud. Given the turbid water I doubt any fish had the chance to see the spinner, which I'd baited with a fake fluorescent worm. The thick-lipped mullet won't take that but the thin-lips just might....though I'll need a bigger head of fish, clearer water and a slice of luck. And maybe a longer worm.

Listening for nightingales

Saturday, 8 May 2021 at 10:59

Nightingale Nightingales still seem to me to be exotic creatures. I can't remember ever hearing one when I lived in the north of England. Here in Essex. however, the nightingales arrive in later April and it's fairly common in some woodland and scrubland areas to hear the birds singing against the rim of night (and often into the early part of the night). We went out two evenings ago and heard several individuals singing - such dizzy, coloratura songs, quite unlike the mellow loveliness of the blackbird. It's a mercy that the birds still seem to be surviving in numbers to make it back across Continental Europe to these shores.

There's been little fishing of late. Work keeps getting in the way.

Image licensed under Creative Commons: Carlos Delgado - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

Brook and River Trouting

Thursday, 22 April 2021 at 08:36

Lee's grave ...was written by Harfield Edmonds and Norman Nellist Lee and was published in 1916. It's justifiably regarded as a classic: not only do the illustrations to the work show (for the first time, I believe) the feathers used in the construction of North country flies but almost every sentence of the text is filled with practical advice. The description of fishing the upstream wet-fly is particularly detailed and is still useful.

Edmonds and Lee fished all over the Dales but the Wharfe at Burnsall and above was a particular favourite. Norman Lee loved the Skirfare so much - the Skirfare runs into the Wharfe below Kettlewell - that he chose to be buried in Arncliffe, close to the stream he loved. He lies with his wife in a peaceful spot in Arncliffe churchyard, with the village bridge just upstream and the river running hard by.

Low and clear

Sunday, 18 April 2021 at 17:16

Near Hubberholme Spring hasn't quite come to the Dales. There's been little rain for three weeks or so, the air's been cool and the trees are still relatively bare of leaves and blossoms. The blossoms are there, right enough, and there are cowslips, late daffodils and celandines showing in the limestone uplands, but the season's not as advanced as it is down south. In many ways this reminds me of the springs we used to have when I was younger: ash trees were rarely if ever in leaf before the beginning of May and if you looked out over any dale in the third week of April then despite the presence of the lambs, and a keen sense of appeal in the air, the land would still seem a bit brown and lifeless.

All the streams at present are low and very clear. There's been a glitter of sunshine and on our walks it's been possible to peer into some of the pools and runs. There hasn't been a trout to be seen and there's been hardly any fly. We need a flood, we need wind. We need the Atlantic to wake up.

A wasted opportunity

Thursday, 8 April 2021 at 20:27

Release It's true I released four or five trout - but Andrew released thirteen, fishing straight-lined buzzers. Early on he was finding fish eleven feet down; my own experiments with a weighted damsel in a different bay proved almost useless bar a brace of inexplicable rainbows. At 1100 a decent hatch of buzzers began in a calmer area of the lake. I imagined the fish were taking pupae stuck in the surface film so I faffed and fiddled about with dry flies (Crippled Midges, various parachute buzzers in smaller sizes....). I'd have done better to have stuck with straight-lining: the only two fish I caught came to a small pupa which I'd attached to a short dropper and was fishing just sub-surface. All in all, it was something of a wasted opportunity. Did I enjoy it? Of course I did - but I'd have enjoyed it better if my angling brain had been slightly more engaged, meaning engaged enough to work out both what the fish were taking (colour of pupae? size?) and where they were taking it (on, in or just under the surface?).

Watching and waiting for mullet

Monday, 5 April 2021 at 15:33

Estuary image The mullet - both thick-lips and thin-lips - generally appear in April, with the thin-lips often seeming to arrive slightly earlier than their cousins. (Last year I saw the first mullet during the second week of the month, though I saw no sign of the fish today.) The bass are tardier, coming from late April and May onwards. Through the summer the estuaries slowly fill: mullet, bass, returning flounders. You'll often see the mullet circling on calm, warm days, pushing their way into the estuaries on the early tide. This year, having determined that there are indeed some thin-lipped mullet in the estuaries, I've rigged some baited spinners and will try to catch one or two as and when conditions allow. I may well be on a fool's errand but I usually enjoy changes of fish species and angling method and I usually learn something even when experimentation doesn't quite pay off.

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