Angling can lead to eccentricity. It isn’t unusual for a veteran of sea-trout angling (who has spent far too many long nights wading hip-deep in cold water) to talk about his favourite river as if it had a distinctive personality. High and fast. She’s nasty tonight, a bit quarrelsome too.
Giving a river a personality probably means the angler is close to a break-down. But there is a case for a river having character. The varying pace, width and depth, quality of the water, bottom features, size of the fish and surrounding countryside all contribute to its unique ‘flavour’.
The Wenning, a tributary of the Lune (’the big W) is a river with intimate character. Compared with the Lune, it is for Bill Pennington the more enjoyable water to fish – mainly because it is small and densely populated with sea trout.
You have to look hard to find the Wenning – only 15 or so miles long and located in north Lancashire, roughly Detween High Bentham and Hornby. The narrow flow runs east to west, virtually unnoticed through the Lancastrian hills and hidden in many places by a thick, double-bank canopy of trees. It’s a humble river which doesn’t scream me, me, me at you when you look at it.
Best months to fish
With a two-fly set-up, the dropper about 4ft (1.2m) from the point fly, Bill enters the head of a run sited off the A683 near Hornby (the river’s lower stretches) and begins fishing, casting across and down. The flies swing downstream and fish just under the surface of the water. Nothing complex-just slow, pleasurable fishing.
The best time to fish, he says, is from the end of May to the beginning of August. But if the water is low in the system, the sea trout are reluctant to enter the river on their journey to spawn.
Early on, the first fish to run up the Lune and into the Wenning are usually the biggest ones. You do get some big fish com- ingupriver towards the back end of the season, but not as many. They bolt right through the lower stretches of the river. From June onwards you get a lot of little school fish-from 1-1% lb (0.45-0.8kg).
Alive with fish
Bill stresses that it’s important to learn where the ‘live’ and ‘dead’ areas of the river are. Pools, runs and riffles are live areas. Fast water means oxygenated water, plenty of cover and light diffusion. Depth offers security. As a general guideline, sea trout hold up in deep water – pools and runs – during the day and sometimes move to faster, shallower water at night.
The bigger fish may remain in the pools all night. If many fish populate one pool, the smaller sea trout are pushed into the less desirable positions – the shallow fast water.
Low to normal water level conditions are best suited to fly fishing. You can fish the fly under high water conditions as Bill did, but a technique which is more effective, if the water is also slightly coloured, is to fish a Mepps upstream and retrieve it steadily just faster than the current.
Don’t disturb the dead
The slow-moving sections of the river (along the entire length) are the dead areas. Fishing shallow, slow stretches is the unforgivable error. Avoid these places, unless you want to practise casting, because sea trout seldom hold here. The oxygen content is poor.
A common belief is that you shouldn’t venture into the river and begin fishing until it is completely dark. On the River Wenning, however, some of the banks along the middle and upper reaches (as it follows the B6480 from just outside Wray to Low Bentham) are heavily covered in mature deciduous trees – the broad leaves block out a great deal of sunlight. Under normal and high flows it’s possible to fish these areas before total darkness sets in with little risk of putting the fish off – if you are careful when you are wading.
Pools, runs and deep glides along the 36480 in open terrain under low-water con-litions are dead if your patience wears out md you fish them before dark.
Suss it out
Most big rivers have named pools with well-groomed trails along the banks. Day-ticket holders may ask the bailiff or an experienced angler for information on which pool is fishing best.
The Wenning isn’t like that. It needs to be explored. The heavily covered banks need to be tamed. You have to blaze your own trail and do your work before you fish. While you’re waiting for darkness or the evening in the tree-tunnel areas, do some daylight water craft and reconnaissance.
The key to good sea trout habitat is finding medium-to fast-paced water mixed with depth and shallow water nearby. Sea trout holding in a likely pool may be there one day and gone the next. Bill stresses that restricting yourself to one pool or stretch isn’t the best route to success. You need a back-up area (or two) just in case the first section is unproductive.
After you’ve chosen a couple of likely looking sections, study both banks – all the way from the top of the fast water and all the way down to the end of the pool or beginning of a glide, for example. You’ll want to fish all the way down it twice and then move on to the back-up stretch.
As you are studying the area, decide which bank is better to fish from. Take a look into the clear water along the bank as inconspicuously as possible to try to determine the depth.
Can you wade it safely? What’s the bottom like? Sand? Gravel? Boulders? Wading along boulder-strewn banks in daylight is bad enough, but at night it’s dangerous. Use a wading staff and move slowly and thoughtfully, not hastily.
Boulders along the bottom offer sea trout respite from the current. In high water con ditions, the fish stick close to the bank -they don’t like to compete with very strong currents.
Cover the front, sides and back of all boul ders with your flies. Cast as close to thi bank as possible.
If you can’t wade one side safely, go to < dead, shallow stretch and cross the river Would the opposite bank be better to fish’ Most of the pools and runs located in swif water have a shallow bank that is possibL to wade on one side and a steep-sided, dee] one on the other. Obviously, you want ti wade in the shallow side and cast toward: the deep one.
Make a note of how you can cast. Trei branches extending above the river at cast ing height are a nuisance. How far is thi opposite bank? Are there any potentia snags – flooded bushes or fallen trees? Car you perform an overhead cast? Can you con trol the line and turn over the leader effec tively? The more you can remember, the easier time you’ll have at night when yoi won’t be able to distinguish one featun from another.
At a glance
Keep a look-out for deep runs and channel; strewn with boulders, medium-paced pooh and fast-water riffles. The Wenning is ; narrow river, which makes the sea trou group together in fairly confined areas When you’ve found one fish, the chances an you ‘ve probably found a shoal.
If you like to explore, this underfishec river deserves some attention – but taki along a good wading staff, chest wader; and a reliable torch.