Visiting the Isle of Man for the Manx Grand Prix motorcycle races, my fly fishing gear was a priority addition to the holiday packing, this hilly principality jutting from the Irish Sea, able to provide excellent sport to the angler prepared to search out the deeper pools of the rivers flowing out of it’s many wooded glens.
The ferry had left the English mainland in bright sunshine, but as the Island came into view, it was shrouded in dark clouds and on docking in Douglas at 6 pm, headlights were needed to light the way along the narrow rain drenched roads to Peel. The following day dawned bright and clear, but a walk to the nearby river Neb, showed that it was in spate, full of dark brown peat water, washed down from the hillsides high above Glen Helen. There would be no fishing today, or the next, but two dry days saw the river back to a steady pace and according to a Manxman met on the bank, it was full of sea trout and salmon, fresh run from the sea.
I’d only come equipped with my trout gear, expecting to catch small brown trout on my 7 ft rod, but the chance of a sea trout got me to the bank, just as the sun was setting. Sea trout will usually lay dormant in deep water during daylight, dropping back into shallower runs, as the light fades, the early ours of darkness, or just before dawn, being the most active.
Making up a leader with an 8 lb point, I searched through my trout flies for a suitable candidate, initially settling on a traditional sea trout fly, a silver and blue Peter Ross, but it looked insignificant against a modern reservoir standby, a Blue Flash Damsel, with it’s gold head, flashy blue tinsel and long tail.
The BFD was tied on, but the weighty head made for a looping cast on the short rod and I battled with a gusting upstream wind, blowing from the Irish Sea only two miles away. Plenty of small trout were rising, some jumping clear of the water and was tempted to try an upstream dry Sedge, before the sun disappeared behind the trees, but persevered, casting down and across, getting the occasional pluck, as these small fish pecked at the tail. A swirl and a solid pull got my heart racing for a moment, lifting the rod into a high flying brown of about six ounces, that cartwheeled across the surface, before fighting hard with the flow of the river.
Not my target fish, but as it would turn out, the biggest brown of my visit. Fishing with worms and spinners are legal trout fishing methods in the Isle of Man and I would think the preferred method of many locals for migratory fish, these banned on most mainland rivers, while fishing any fly downstream is also not permitted on the chalk streams of the South of England, a Blue Flash Damsel also a definite no no.
It would have been easy to pack my waders, but had only packed wellies, mainly in case of a rainy visit, which restricted access to many of the pools, tending to fish in gaps between trees and gorse bushes. The light was going fast and I’d had a few near misses among the branches, but skill, or luck kept me clear of the greenery.
A large fish had jumped 30 yards downstream and I was on edge, ready for a take, when one came, but again a hard fighting brownie was the result, good sport on light tackle, this plump fish was returned with the minimum of fuss, due to the pinched down barb of the lure.
Under the trees it was now getting difficult to judge my casts and walked back down to the large open pool, where I’d begun the evening. Here the light was better and a safe backcast allowed me to explore a deep run below the trees along the opposite bank, swinging the lure across into shallower water. The river was alive with the movement of fish, sea trout were disturbing the resident browns, causing them to leap clear, while there were constant swirls and splashes from these larger fish. A hump raised up behind my lure, as I retrieved it upstream, not taking, but swirling away, when I lifted off. My anticipation was on full alert, following a series of fierce plucks and recast to cover the same area, when it all went solid. Milliseconds later, the surface erupted with a head shaking boil and a tail slapping jump, as the bar of silver zoomed across to the deeper water, swimming at full tilt upstream, line spilling from my reel, as it went by, my tiny rod bent double in response. I followed it upstream for ten yards, laying the rod over to avoid overhanging branches, the sea trout easing off the pressure, but still pulling hard against the flow of the river. It turned and came back down, with me stripping line, desperate to stay in contact, aware of the barbless hook, shorter straight line runs, giving way to head shaking. I got back in the river, the shallows engulfing my boots, as I guided the streamlined fish towards my net, lifting it out in triumph, only for the lightweight net to collapse, when one of it’s arms pulled out, dumping the fish unceremoniously onto the bank.
Not the best picture in the world, but the best of a bad bunch in the low light conditions. At 16 inches long, this would have made a fine meal, but these fish do not come my way very often and I was happy to return it to the river. I just hope it made it to the spawning grounds, avoiding the worms and spinners of the locals.