There is only one trout stream in Northamptonshire. I am happy to share its history which, Secretary, Mike Palmer suffixes his emails with –
“The Willow Brook starts life in the industrial estates of Corby, Northamptonshire, and runs for about 15 miles until it enters the River Nene at Elton. Historically there has been heavy metal pollution from steel production until Corby steelworks closed in 1980. The steelworks took water from Eyebrook Reservoir for cooling and conveniently discharged it into the Willow Brook.
The first record of stocking with trout was in 1954 when Peter Tombleson, Editor of the Angling Times, stocked a short length near to his home at Woodnewton. Four years later The Willow Brook Flyfishers was formed and 3 ½ miles of river was stocked annually. This continued for the next 46 years until 2004 when an Advisory Visit from the Wild Trout Trust started changes in management which are ongoing. We have introduced a hatchery box, installed flow deflectors, cleaned gravel beds and ceased stocking in half of the water.”
Whilst the Willow Brook Flyfishers is a small club of just 30 members,
their generosity stretches to offering a two rod visit to their water in the WTT Annual Auction, and having missed out in 2010, I was determined not to, this year, and thanks to the wizardry of e-sniper, did not!
[Forgive me for recommending the IT way of winning bids via on-line auctions, for as I see it, whilst bids may rise higher than some would consider reasonable, there will always be two winners, which is rare....and by the way, the WTT is making a big difference in my view]
Mike ‘hosted’ my visit thoughtfully, suggesting that we walked parts of the beats in the late afternoon, prior to an evening fish, and after supper in The White Swan…and a good pint of local ale! But first things first.
A short drive to the most beautiful village of Fotheringhay, in the grounds of which Abbey, Mary, Queen of Scots was executed in 1587 on the orders of Queen Elizabeth 1…and my first sighting of this pretty brook. Clear, limestone, narrow, waving weeds, overhanging trees…the odd dart of a disturbed juvenile, spied between high nettles and dying cow parsley and grasses on the set aside of a farmer with whom the club has a symbiotic relationship!
And Chub…some of the biggest I have seen were cruising quietly, while around them, busy dace were sipping off the surface. We walked three parts of the water, and Mike shared his knowledge of his water and I sipped on this as busily as the dace I was not interested in!
I picked up a ridiculously obvious tip from him…look in the spider webs to see what is hatching…how long have I been fishing? My sense is that Mike defaults to nature and rejects the current nonsense that fly pattern is unimportant, and secondary to precise presentation of whatever takes your fancy! He is mainly, like me, a dry fly fisher.
So supper with Mike and Ian Canadine, was followed by an evening fish, which for me, wading upstream from the bridge below Martins Farm produced five uninvited dace onto my carefully presented elk hair caddis, and a growing sense of frustration when I never thought any of the rises I cast to, were to the spotties I sought, that produced these slippery, silvered, delicately rouged finned, little ‘coarse’ devils. And a quick drenching rain shower improved nothing, nor did the winds nor the fading light in which I had to rework my leader, spoiled by too long back casts into the enticing grasses behind and beside me,
nor did the returning Ian, who had a 3lb chub AND a 10” wild brown on a black klinkhammer…maybe Northamptonshire was not ready for me?
The highlight of my evening was an excited Mike, who, seeing fish moving in riffles somewhere below the Farm bridge, with spent olives afloat, caught a ‘small’ brown…..and then….the largest brown he has taken in all his years on his water. He was justifiably excited. A fish of more than 18”, weighing in, at close on 3lbs, and taken on a Sherry Spinner. He was beside himself…who would not have been? And a celebratory pint at the White Swan (albeit rather late) seemed reasonable, as I considered ’tomorrow’!
It was dry, sunny and only a little windy, and in those conditions, Mike had suggested that I worked the bottom of the water on the Nassington Road stretch, where for the right handed caster, the trees offered some protection from the westerly winds. A walk some quarter of a mile and I was into the water and hopeful. I saw some lovely chub, and some frisky shoals of dace, and at least two small trout which saw me long before my first cast to them.
Wading varied from 6” over gravel, to waist deep on the edge of bends where fallen trees had scoured out silt edged deeps, and care was essential. Bravery was important because the options were limited, and even within a six foot breadth, it was either a nettle attack escape, or a watery, over the top of the waders soaking….all fishers know what I mean. But in such small waters, this is always a surprise, and in particular, when seconds before you were treading on wet ranunculus, and wondering where the fish were!?
Any way…I caught nor rose a single brown. But added to my catch of the now, dreaded, dace! And saw more Chub (there were some serious specimens below the bridge here), and began to wonder if it was not to be!
So I drove back to Woodnewton, and began to cast into the interesting runs and deeps there, and it started to rain…hard…and even hiding under leafy fronds could not stop me from a right soaking. But when, eventually the clouds passed (for twice I ventured, prematurely, from my hideaway, and twice more a soaking!) I walked down to where, on the previous evening’s tutorial, Mike showed me where his team had manhandled one hundred tons of gravel to create new flows and breeding grounds. These were not pebbles, but stones and the work effort that must have been needed to create this stretch was massive. Wading to it, I noted the swirl of a fish in shallows at the top of the bar, that did not look chub-like! Tail fin out of the water, was it raising caddis from the stones, perhaps? To the outside of the gravelly mound, revealed by low water, in the faster run under the left bank, two fish scattered upstream when they saw me. And there’s was not chub like flight. But there was movement and some feeding no more than a decent 15 foot cast away…probably not the frightened, and my second cast, with a yellow klinkhammer at the serious end produced a ferocious take, and an excited prospector, knowing he was in danger of achieving what he came to achieve, netted a 14” Northamptonshire fish, when the same prospector thought that a ‘blank’ was most likely.
The rain was followed by bright sunlight, and this must have had the awakening effect on the river that a shower can…31 now!
I am immensely grateful to Mike, who as a result of our fishy conversations, and who, in admiring my lovely Moreno rod, must have realised my interest in such aspects, thought to write to me with information on where to buy the silk lines and furled leaders he uses, which I now will do. Will these help me catch more fish…probably! And even if I don’t, my pleasure in using materials which our forebears used, will connect me with our influences.
Thank you, Mike
…thank you Willow Brook Flyfishers, and cheers to the WTT.
And….a thank you to Judy and Rod, for a very comfortable overnighter at the lovely Bridge Cottage