I am by my own admission a bit of a fly fishing book collector. Anything from before I was born seems to be what attracts me. Evidence perhaps of a bit of a romantic notion about the gentle art. Certainly, I am a self-confessed fan of dry fly fishing, I will often persevere with the dry when a nymph would do the job more effectively. Don’t get me wrong I do fish the nymph I even indulged in some time with a guide a few years back to improve my skills, the time with him was excellent. He even suggested that my Casting could benefit from some professional input. I think he wanted to say Crap but respectfulness of who was the paying client stopped him short. Anyway it did inspire me to have a few hours with a casting instructor and it worked wonders.
Anyway, I digress. One book amongst my collection of several hundred is a copy of the Compleat Angler it isn’t a valuable copy, but it does have a special interest for me, namely a previous owner has embellished the copy with various addenda. Such as various lithographs and a clipping from the Times in 1920 about the refurbishment of Walton’s cottage. There are also many other additions, notes and references in the text that as, yet I have been unable to decode. However, I have often considered. That I should myself add to the story.
This year my birthday has fallen on the day before good Friday and had suggested just after Christmas that instead of my dear long suffering wife having to “surprise “me with a non-fishing present that I don’t really need. That we might disappear of to the Yorkshire dales for a few days at Easter, she could do a bit of shopping and I could visit the swale or the Ure. So, a suitable hotel booking was made. Anyway, a couple of weeks after that we received an invite to my Godsons children’s christening which meant a change of plans was in order. The Christening was to be on Easter Sunday near Derby. So, she was tasked with looking through Booking. Com the Izaac Walton was mentioned, that looks nice what do you think says she? A quick scan revealed it had fishing rights on the Dove in Dovedale, looks lovely Darling get it booked…
As Easter approached the weather was brass monkey weather, which is a little unusual because living in a tourist town has taught me that the weeks before bank holidays the weather is typically warm and sunny, changing dramatically when the bank holiday arrives. To the usual English Bank Holiday weather of a bracing north easterly and heavy showers. However, that lovely Scottish weather lady kept talking of a mini heatwave approaching, something that I had definite misgivings about. I had been warned by several angling acquaintances about the popularity of Dovedale on Bank Holidays and the impact on my fishing opportunities. The last thing I wanted was thousands of tourists.
On Good Friday I had negotiated the continuous traffic jams on the way in to Dovedale and was a little taken aback by the sheer volume of parked cars at the bottom of Dovedale when we threaded our way through the traffic we arrived at the hotel. I was dispatched out of the way by my wife whilst she unpacked. I was to say the least more than a little dismayed by what greeted me as I walked up Dovedale I appeared to have visited during some sort of huge protest march. Both banks lined by a continuous procession of families indulging in walking, talking, dog walking and swimming accompanied by lots of noise. The temperature was 22 degrees. I was to say the least going to struggle up there. Now I am not one to give up easily and would not give up the opportunity to fish without a struggle so I decided to investigate the bottom end of the river I had noticed that the hotel fishing extended downstream to the confluence with the River Manifold. So, the Plan was Easter Saturday morning a visit to Bakewell to do some shopping. Then I would head of down the river and try and avoid the crowds for a few hours. I may even catch a few fish.
In Bakewell I thought I would risk a visit to the Bakewell fly fishing shop. Now to those younger fly anglers who have grown up on a diet of large American owned tackle outlets and to the internet based giants that shop is a delight , small and gloriously unorthodox manned by a gentleman who despite his slight innocent appearance is legendary for spotting that oh so obvious gap in your fly fishing tackle armoury and promptly filling it . A few years ago he spotted that in my case it was the obvious lack of a Tenkara rod . After a short indoctrination session on the busy pavement I left clutching my new rod. That’s nice said my wife later it’s a pretty colour where does the reel go? You know, I still haven’t fathomed that out. This year I escaped with just buying another spare line clipper. Mid purchase some new customers walked in “I’ll just be a few moments this Gentleman is from Yorkshire and completing the sale is a tricky manoeuvre” was his welcoming comment. I left reflecting that those unwary new customers were much like customers in Arkwright’s corner shop. About to be educated. Joking apart his shop is a jewel no visit to Derbyshire would be complete without a visit.
After returning to the hotel I decided I would risk the river so clad in the full chest waders and chest pack I strode proudly alongside the standing traffic ignoring the stares and the pointing children hanging out of the queuing cars, climbing over the gate into the bottom field heading down to where the Dove discharges into the Manifold. Standing and looking at the junction I felt sure that Walton himself must have stood looking at the same view.
At this end of the fishing the river fishing is pretty reminiscent of one of my Yorkshire Streams. Interesting pools and runs with plenty of deeper holding areas. it looks like fine Grayling water but respect for the Grayling close season stopped me running a heavy bug through some of the more fishy looking areas. I fished a dry black paradun, one of my favourite prospecting flies. The first fish came with my fourth or fifth cast. A pristine small stream brownie with a tail like a shovel compared to the size of the fish.
For those readers who are still hoping for a serious fishing story the tackle set up was an 8ft 8” Scott 4wt, with an aging loop reel and WF 4 floating line. 12ft tapered leader leader with a couple of feet of 3lb tippet added. The fly was a size 16. There was no apparent rise but there was the occasional olive and I was sure I had spotted an early hawthorn as I walked down to the river. I was sure that given the clear water a few fish would be looking up.
I fished steadily up stream crossing the road by wading under the bridge the narrow stream at that point coming within a whisker of the tops of my waders. I was determined that I was going to remain oblivious to the line of bank holiday traffic standing on the bridge above my head and from the bank, as I moved up stream and despite the buzz of bank holiday standing traffic being just a few feet away I was going to concentrate on the river in front of me. I continued to pick up fish and frightened a few more. I fished for about three hours until the Dovedale car park just got to close. The sound of car doors and noisy children became too apparent to ignore. I finished with six fish great fun on light tackle in the fast water. all fish came to a little black paradun in the fast water between 18 inches and two feet deep. Interestingly the best fish came at a point where cars were only a couple of metres away.
So, I had followed in Walton’s footsteps and the river had demonstrated that given less bright sunshine and fewer tourists the fishing would be even better, I fancy an Autumn rematch to find some Dove Grayling.
As for the Compleat Angler I will be appending my fishing ticket and perhaps a modern photograph of one of the numerous local landmarks that are still visible and comparable to the book’s lithographs. A few margin notes to baffle future owners. Next year a I am planning another trip to the Derbyshire Dove I fancy a look at that temple. Its hard work this book research.
Very nice too and a lovely story. It's an area we plan to visit and your post has moved the enthusiasm up a few more notches. Thankyou. Kind regards, John
Love it... and my favourite stretch
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