NATURE NOTES: Recalling first day of brown trout season

While sitting at my PC the other day in our home office I was day dreaming, as you do, and I got to thinking about the date, March 22.I had just been watching one of our local barn owls quartering the rough field behind us, and I knew the date rang a bell.

Barn Owl.
Barn Owl.

Forty odd years ago, before I left school, March 22 was one of my highlights of the year.

It is the first day of the brown trout fishing season on our rivers.

For weeks before, I would be gathering bits of cheap tackle from Woolworths and our local tackle shop, McDermott’s.

Mallard duck at play.

Size 14, 12 and 10 hooks, line, shot, small drilled bullets, perch bobber floats etc for bait fishing on the stretch of free water on the River Wansbeck in Morpeth.

Some years I would even try a wet fly on the syndicate water down stream of the town, using a team of March Brown on point with Snipe and Purple, and Partridge and Orange on the droppers.

There wasn’t a great deal of finesse.

The day came like Christmas, I couldn’t wait for it.

The weather would be variable from sunny spring like days with the hum of bumblebees on catkins and if mild enough, an early small tortoiseshell would brighten the bare twigs.

Some seasons would begin with deep snow covering bank sides or there would be brown, milky tea coloured, spate.

If a flood was running off, I’d stand a good chance of a fish by rolling a worm along with the current right into the bank sides.

If there was low, clear water the flies might be better.

The river wildlife was a great accompaniment to quiet days on the bank.

The sound of a dipper singing below the weir as the female gathered nesting material, the pink fingers of butterbur flowers just beginning to pop up in the sandy gravel banks and overly excited male mallards in gangs causing a commotion all come flooding back.

In those days water voles were commonplace on the Wansbeck in Morpeth “plopping” into the water from the bank or swimming quickly right across the river in to cover on the far side.

The day was never about big catches, I’d be lucky to have any success at all, but it did mean winter was over regardless of the weather.

To see a nice bright bar of gold, a brown trout, decked with black and red spots along its flanks and white fin edgings was amazing.

They are really the most lovely creature when in good condition.

Back to the present, daily sightings of the barn owls from our house in recent weeks have been a great thing during lockdown.

The colour of the birds in some ways resembles the trout of those years ago being a golden buff, spangled black, white and grey above and bright white below.

I’ve not fished a river now for years.

Woolworths is no more and bank sides are grown with willows or tidied up.

Those years have gone in all but memory, but it is nice to think back as the owl drifts by on broad silent wings outside.

They were happy times.