Urban fly-fishing report: River Aa, Ouve-Wirquin

Urbantrout Aa 1Thanks to our good friend Jeremy Lucas, the Urbantrout team has been out on the road again… this time exploring some of the chalkstreams of northern France.

One of these was the River Aa: a ruisseau craie that rises at Bourges on the high chalk plateau of the Artois region, and flows broadly north east to meet the English Channel between Calais and Dunquerque. Within just 40 km, it falls from a height of 122m above sea level to 11m at the point where it meets the Blequin at Lumbres, and is canalised and navigable from St Omer downstream to the sea.

Steep chalkstream headwaters with constant year-round flow can only mean one thing… historic harnessing for hydropower. Which also means that the valley of the upper Aa offers more than a few opportunities for the kind of post-industrial edgeland exploration we love best (and which other, less epicurean fly-fishers, may pass by on the other side!)

At Ouvre-Wirquin, for instance, now a sleepy rural town of less than 600 inhabitants, the Aa flows past (and under, and through) an industrial complex which was once a paper mill, then became a welding factory, and was finally abandoned for decades before being converted into a motor museum showcasing the pride and joy of les Brigades de l’Aa – a meeting of motoring and industrial heritage in a place that nature was already rewilding for itself.

According to local newspaper reports, repurposing the old mill apparently took more than 6,700 hours of voluntary work to strip out 109 lorry loads of waste and replace 197m of pipework and guttering… but the former factory’s back is still firmly turned on the Aa.

Generations of rusty, evil-looking pipes are topped off with a single massive concrete retort that looms over the river, while a flock of pigeons flutters in and out of holes in the walls, oblivious to one of their confreres that’s floating, freshly dead but still quite dry, in the margins.

Still, the clear waters and billowing ranunculus beds below are swarming with caseless caddis and blue-winged olive nymphs, and a rare riseform shows where a trout has snatched something off the surface, tucked so far under the Japanese knotweed that no number of daring casts will actually tempt him out into the daylight. It’s already clear that these ruisseaux craie do get a lot of fishing pressure, so chances are good that he’s seen my kind of CDC Plume Tip before – maybe all the more because this stretch of the river has been designated as fly-only and ‘No Kill’ (controlled under the local association’s carte de peche).

Tomorrow, under blistering sun and the keen scrutiny of the local deputy garde, this same pattern will finally earn a triumphant permanent place in my fly box – crowning a long, drag-free drift with a wonderful trout from translucent currents beside the all-weather sports pitch in Wavrans.

But here and now, waist-deep in the big mill pool, I switch back to a pink-beaded tungsten nymph that’s served me well on high-gradient limestone streams back home in the UK, and flip it into the roiling currents along the opposite concrete bank. On the third cast, a sharp tug straightens the subtle grey fly line, and a little silver truitelle goes wildly airborne.

There’s a nasty moment when I think we’re tangled in an all-too-familiar skein of fallen metalwork, but the hook holds, and the glistening beauty of my first French fish for far too many years finally slides into the net under the shadows of that brutalist concrete gantry.

Bonjour, les truites de la France industrielle…

Urbantrout Aa 2

Urbantrout Aa 3

Urbantrout Aa 4

Urbantrout Aa 5

Urbantrout Aa 6

Urbantrout Aa 7

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Urbantrout sidecasts: Monday 15 June

10lb Irwell trout - Salford Friendly Anglers

(Photo: Stewart Carson / Salford Friendly Anglers)

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Pic of the day: Urban paradise

Wandle trout - Theo Pike

What do we mean by posting a second (gasp) successive pic of the day from the Wandle?

We say: well, y’know, it’s Urbantrout’s home water, and when a once-dead city stream is kicking out wild trout of this stamp, we’d be rude not to celebrate our epic good fortune just a little bit.

(Maybe most of all when the backdrop to this perfect fish still included hose pipes, armchairs, bubble wrap, builders’ waste and something essentially car-shaped* that we couldn’t identify for sure… but made a solid rest for the 2-weight rig while we tried not to drop the camera in the river!)

* Disclaimer: it may have been some time since the regular Wandle cleanups visited this secluded spot. We’ll be back.

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Pocket Guide to Balsam Bashing: £5.00 special offer for environmental groups

Pocket Guide to Balsam Bashing 2

Invasive non-native species (INNS) tend to thrive most vigorously in places where human impacts are greatest. And that, of course, often means city river corridors and other edgelands where urban river restorationists and fly-fishers like to ply our trade.

Now balsam (and floating pennywort, rhododendron, mink, signal crayfish etc…) bashing season is here again, Merlin Unwin Books have come up with this great offer to help local environmental groups including Rivers Trusts, Wildlife Trusts, Trout in the Town cells and other conservation volunteers keep spreading the word about the battle against INNS.

When you buy 10 or more copies, you’ll pay just £5.00 per book – saving a full £2.99 off the usual RRP of £7.99.

The Pocket Guide to Balsam Bashing was written in close consultation with Defra’s Non-Native Species Secretariat, so it’s still the single most comprehensive guide to local action on INNS that’s available to anyone who’s not actually employed by Defra, Natural England, the Environment Agency, or their equivalents in Scotland and Ireland.

To take advantage of this awesome offer, and help spread the knowledge about INNS around your local environmental group, just call Merlin Unwin Books on 01584 877 456.

(Alternatively, if you’d prefer a single signed and dedicated copy, plenty of those are also available from the Urbantrout online shop).

Thanks for your support, and let’s carry on spreading the word and getting out there after those INNS this summer!

Balsam Bashing A5 leaflet 10x 2015

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Pic of the day: Dry fly, upper Wandle

Wandle trout - Jez Mallinson

So it begins… our good pal Jez Mallinson (otherwise quoted as the ultimate urban fly-tying authority on Huddersfield’s River Holme in Trout in Dirty Places) gets his 2015 season off to a flyer with a perfect wild trout from the upper Wandle.

(And check out all that river restoration work from last year… already greening up nicely in the background!)

(Photo: Jez Mallinson / Wandle Valley Fly Dressers)

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Urbantrout hyperstealth fishing hoodies are here!

Urbantrout hyperstealth hoodie detail

New for the 2015 season we’re super excited to launch this new version of our classic olive fishing hoodie – now with hyperstealthy dark green logos for maximum blend-into-the-background on your favourite urban river.

Just like our popular spring green, guide orange and classic olive hoodies, this new dark-green-on-olive colourway is durably screen printed with Urbantrout logos on the right sleeve and left breast, and finished with our signature looped tag on the left cuff.

They’re ethically produced with WRAP certification. And best of all, 10% of profits will go directly to fund urban river restoration projects.

Click here to visit our online store and grab your new Urbantrout olive hyperstealth hoodie today (with FREE shipping to UK addresses).

Fish where you live, rock your urban fly-fishing… and wear Urbantrout gear to show your support for the urban river restoration movement!

Urbantrout hoodies 2015

Urbantrout show stand

UT ESF hoodie 4 - Pete Tyjas


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Urban river restoration: River Anton, Andover

Woody debris channel narrowing 1 - Aquamaintain

Fresh from helping to deliver several projects on the middle and upper Wandle, river restoration consultancy Aquamaintain recently moved its focus to another urban chalkstream – this time the little River Anton in Andover.

In the words of Test Valley Borough Council’s River Anton Enhancement Strategy, these headwaters of the globally-famous River Test have lost much of their natural sparkle.

To them as knows, it’s still a surprisingly great little trout and grayling stream. But to the experienced urban river restorationist, all-too-familiar signs of habitat degradation include dredged channels, concrete and corrugated iron revetments, fish-blocking weirs forming straight, silty impoundments, and over-widened dog-swimming areas with muddy banks leaching silt into the river’s gravels.

Over the course of several weeks in March this year, in partnership with Test Valley Borough Council, Aquamaintain’s wet work focused on 600 metres of channel between Sainsbury Close and Redbridge Drive which was suffering from the effects of dredging and other historic modifications. Most of these enhancements involved channel narrowing and bank stabilisation with large woody debris sourced by tree work on adjacent, over-shaded banks. For the benefit of local fly-fishers dog-walkers a brace of log-faced access points were also constructed.

Check out the photos below from Aquamaintain’s Facebook page, and stay tuned for plenty more news from the Anton and our other urban rivers…

Chestnut posts arriving at Watermills Park - Aquamaintain

Channel narrowing 2 at Watermills Park - Aquamaintain

Pleached trees on Anton - Aquamaintain

Brushwood mattresses on Anton - Aquamaintain

Mobile HQ - Aquamaintain

New dog access at Watermills Park - Aquamaintain

(Photos: Aquamaintain)

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Urbantrout sidecasts: Monday 20 April

Colne trout - Paul Shorrock

(Photo: Paul Shorrock)

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Pic of the day: Easter Monday

Easter Monday

Arc-welder sun in sheet-steel sky.

Daffodil banks, LDOs tumbling downwind.

And somewhere, under slag-heaps and shopping trolleys… the hope that a fish will rise…

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Film night: Saving huchen from hydropower

Protecting the River Mur‘s rare population of huchen (Europe’s very own relict taimen or landlocked salmon) from the threat of hydropower in the heart of Graz, Austria’s second biggest city?

Our only question is this… Why wouldn’t you?

As you’d expect, the Fish Where You Live idea of local people valuing and protecting their urban river is one that’s very close to our hearts here at Urbantrout, so you can be sure it’s a subject we’d like to revisit in the near future.

In the meantime, tonight’s full 40 minutes of filmic goodness, plus this link to Hatch Magazine, this one at Forelle und Aesche, and finally Rettet die Mur’s campaigning site itself, will tell you much more…

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