February 2014, Andy Hurst, Chairman of the Lune & Wyre Fisheries Association and Trustee of the Lune Rivers Trust
I was just 8 years old when I began fishing the Lune and my earliest memories are of fishing down the edges of the Lansil beat between the Army Camp and Aqueduct Bridge whenever the river was in flood. The bigger the flood, the better it was with the ‘hot’ spot being between two trees just upstream of where the Canal overflow enters the river. I would fish for trout by throwing a worm out between the trees and trotting it down the edge using an old brass centre pin reel on a split cane rod, with a small stick float to give an indication of when a fish took. To this day I can clearly remember the first fish I caught using this method – it was a roach of about a pound and, boy, was I pleased when I caught it! In those days (the mid-sixties) the lower Lune was full of coarse fish, mainly roach and dace but with a good number of heavy bream to 10lb mixed in. As I remember, I caught mostly small trout and coarse fish – all below a pound in weight, but I do recall a rather large fish, probably a sea trout, grabbing my worms and dashing off into the middle of the river on one occasion. The only problem with worming though was the eels. There were hundreds of them! If you lost concentration for a second and allowed the bait to stop, the float would tremor – as opposed to dive under – and if you were slow to strike, you had one on. If you were unfortunate to hook one, swift action was essential as if you didn’t get the eel out and off quickly, it was round the line within seconds and the minutes that followed were often spent untangling a horrible, slimy mess. What would we give to have the stocks of eels we had then and haven’t our attitudes towards them changed in recent years?
This method served me well as we (my dad, brothers and I) fished around the tributaries. We regularly fished the Keer at Capernwray; the Conder at Quernmore; the Wenning below Bentham and Hornby; the Greta at Burton-in Lonsdale; Artle Beck below Captain Gaisford’s Weir and the same beck below Littledale. It appeared they were all stuffed full with beautifully coloured, plump brown trout which took freely in the spring. On top of this, in the summer months, all these little rivers and becks had good runs of hard fighting sea trout.
Occasionally though, especially in the early spring and late autumn months, my dad would go off on his own to fish the Luneside Engineering beat at Halton, often returning with a salmon or two. The Lune had two distinct runs of salmon in those days. A spring run which often began in spectacular style on February 1st, opening day of the salmon fishing season, and an autumn run, which lasted through until the last day of the season on October 31st. The Lune wasn’t particularly well known for its run of summer salmon back then but it wasn’t uncommon to hear or read of multiple catches of salmon in the spring. Not long ago I read an old copy of Trout and Salmon Magazine dating from the early sixties, which contained a report from the Lower Lune of two anglers fishing the ‘Shards’ below Skerton Weir. Between them they caught four salmon on fly on the opening day of the season and the fish had an average weight of 18lb! The late Arthur Oglesby, who also fished the Lune around the same period, wrote in his book on Salmon Fishing that in one season he alone caught 99 salmon to his own rod from the short beat at Newton below Kirkby Lonsdale. What would we give to have runs like those now!
Back then, Lune Spring salmon were well accepted to be amongst the finest specimens of the species in the British Isles and their culinary value was highly regarded. They were also highly prized by the angling community and angling effort in the spring months was much higher than it is now. In my early twenties, I was also one of those anglers who fished hard in the spring months and I recall catching my best Lune ‘Springer’ on April 6th 1986. I remember that fish clearly, too. It took a tiny size 12 black stoats tail fly fished on a 15ft split cane rod I had just built and was using for the first time. The fish weighed just over 18lb and was landed by John Gardner, a well-known Bailiff on the Lower Lune in those years. I was over the moon at the time only thinking I had the first fish off the Lune that year but about a week later was brought down to earth when I found out that a relative novice had beaten me to it and caught one a few days earlier. That novice later became a good friend and has since contributed far more to the Lune than me – his name – John Cizdyn.
My passion for sea trout fishing began in the late nineteen sixties, when I was lucky enough to be allowed to go night fishing with my dad on the Luneside beat at Halton. Sea trout are wary creatures at best and I was soon taught the value of the stealthy approach needed if you were going to have success. One of my favourite night fishing spots was just above the lower Halton Weir at Denny Beck. The weir was broken at the time – a large flood a couple of years earlier had washed away the centre section and the island below it. I regularly fished in the run immediately above the broken weir and can vividly remember one night, whilst I was still only about 16 years old, reprimanding a clumsy angler for stomping about on the other side. That clumsy angler wasn’t amused at being told to be quiet by a young lad and told me so. But a few years later we also developed a good friendship and were able to laugh quite openly about what happened that night. That good friend was Malcolm Hall who later along with Chris Littlefield and Mick Jackson formed the Lune Habitat Group – later to become the Lune Rivers Trust. In later years, Malcolm gave me many a lecture on the riverbank about the benefits of habitat restoration and what needed to be done and where. If only Malcolm and Chris were both alive now to see what they and others started – they would be immensely proud of it all.
Ever since those early days at Halton, I have always considered night fishing for sea trout to be the cream of angling and I have enjoyed success on many beats of the river from Skerton to Tebay. You have to be a strange creature to get pleasure from standing alone, up to your waist in the river in the dead of the night, so I am often told, but the encounters I have had with the wildlife of the Lune valley in those hours of darkness and at the breaking light of dawn have often made it more than worth my while. As well as catching my share of large sea trout, there have been regular encounters with kingfishers, dippers, deer, foxes, badgers, bats and owls and in more recent years I have often been accompanied by otters making their way through the pools in the darkness. No too long ago, whilst fishing through Halton Park, I even had one turn on its back and play with my outstretched fly line whilst I was fishing! The Lune valley at dawn in the middle of June is just about the most pleasant and peaceful place it is possible to be and I count myself to be one of the luckiest people alive to have witnessed the sights and sounds of it so often.
Although I consider myself to be primarily a sea trout fisher, I do try my luck with the salmon now and again, but I have to concede there are many others on the river far more knowledgeable and better at catching them than I. There are some who have been gifted the ability to catch a salmon in a puddle and I count our chairman Mick Jackson, Trust member Dr John Qualtrough and a very competent Mick Hall amongst them. As well as these ‘masters’ it would appear most Lune beats have their own resident genii’s who can pop out just when the waters right, cast over their favourite spots and hook into a fish almost instantly. There are certainly several anglers on the Lune who fit this description perfectly and I’ve always been envious of them as they make it look so easy whereas I often have to fish hard for the fish I catch.
We are privileged on the Lune to have not just some of the countries finest anglers, but also to have some of the finest Angling clubs and riparian owners and we do owe them all a debt of gratitude for all the hard work they put in to maintain the river, its fish and its habitats in the many years of the not too distant past. I must make special mention though of the exceptional contribution made by Tebay Anglers at the top of the river. They control much of the fishing in the headwaters where most of the Lune salmon and sea trout migrate to spawn. Every year they have introduced more and more conservation measures to protect both the spawning stocks and their habitats often in the knowledge they may be reducing the numbers of fish they may catch and the available areas they can fish in. Their’s has been a most admirable stance and something they do deserve special thanks for.
As many seasoned anglers will often declare, there’s far more to salmon and sea trout fishing than just catching fish – its about being out and enjoying the wildlife and the surroundings; being in the company of fellow anglers often putting the world to right and more latterly reminiscing about days gone bye. I’ve met some absolute gentlemen (and ladies) in my many years on the river who care passionately about the Lune and its tributaries and who want nothing more than to see it, the wildlife it supports and the environment through which it flows continue to flourish. Some time ago an old bailiff on the river told me ‘ Andrew, we are only temporary guardians of the river and if we abuse it we deserve to have it taken from us. Our driving ambition must be to pass it over to the next generation in a better state than we inherited it.’ Wise words indeed!