James and the giant 3lb 2oz Tees trout
THE trout season on the Tees is back in full swing, with anglers taking advantage of good conditions to put behind them the frustration of missing the first few weeks of the campaign because of lockdown.
The first day – May 13 – was cold and grey, but like many others I was out there with the enthusiasm of a teenager.
But nobody will have been happier than 11-year-old James McCrindle, a young member of Barnard Castle Angling Club.
James, from Stainton Grove, one of several new junior members of the club, caught a stunning brown trout of 3lb 2oz.
The superb fish, 20 inches long, took a worm fished in the gents’ pool (named decades ago when that pool was for gentlemen, with the ladies having their own pool further downstream), on the upper part of the club’s beat.
Occasionally big trout are stocked in parts of the Tees, though James’ catch is understood to be a wild fish.
The bad news for James is that in terms of size, this may well be the biggest trout he will ever catch from the Tees, but if he sticks at it, he will have many memorable days on the river, and already has a fish he will never forget.
In 50 years of fishing our wonderful river, I have never caught a trout that big, my personal best being 2lb 10oz, which took a Black Gnat.
Opening day, despite the weather, was a top day. I had 20 trout and a grayling, but a week or so later spoke to a fellow Barnard Castle Fly Fishing Club member, who had caught 40 trout from a stretch he fishes near Snow Hall, at Gainford.
Days like that are rare, but show how many fish the river holds, and are occasions to look back on when the fish won’t feed and you can fish for hours on end and believe there is hardly anything in the river.
Of course, the number of fish, or their size, is not what matters most – though youngsters like James might disagree.
Many older anglers love catching fish on different fly patterns.
When I was young my favourite patterns were Partridge and Red, and Black Spider, especially in May and June.
If I was fishing three flies at a time, and Partridge and Red was catching fish, I would add another fly the same, to try and boost my catch rate. Nowadays I never fish two identical patterns at the same time.
If one fly is catching, I will leave that one on my cast, but chop and change the other two, to see what else fish are prepared to take.
Sometimes during a session, the fish will switch from favouring one pattern, to focusing on another, even if there are no similar natural flies on the water.
Trying to understand the complex behaviour of fish becomes more of a challenge than trying to catch as many as you can.
No two sessions are the same, and that is one of the things that keeps us interested over the years.
That said, what is also appealing, is that the Tees barely changes at all.
In half a century of fishing the same stretches of the Tees I can find fish behind the same rock under the same trees, that were there all those years ago. That is so reassuring in these troubled times, where aspects of life are new, uncertain and at time frightening.
However a few waterside things change.
Mink are relative newcomers, and it was interesting to read about mink spotted at Gainford recently, although the fact that they will eat young goosanders won’t upset anglers too much, for goosanders take a lot of small fish.
At Cotherstone this month I spotted one of the biggest mink I have ever seen.
But it is understood that otters will drive them away, and as otters are returning to the Tees, mink numbers may be kept under control.
As long as our native wildlife survives and prospers, we will have to put up with the likes of American invaders like mink and signal crayfish.
And as the early part of the season shows, the trout are in fine fettle.