Sixteen miles upriver from central Manchester, between the cricket ground and the carpet factory in Ramsbottom, the early-season Irwell surges with smooth, deceptive power.
Raindrops splash into eddies along the banks, and a hatch of dark olives tacks across the leaden surface. Under those little grey sailboats, the trout I’ve just hooked on a dead-drifted spider runs heavily upstream, dragging my rod-tip down into a deep, alarming curve. Suddenly, nothing’s moving… just a horrible sawing, thrumming sensation that tells me the line’s wrapped around a snag of rusty rebar at the head of the pool.
Already chest-deep, I glance across to my fishing-partner Adrian for inspiration. He shrugs, squints intently for a moment, then clambers down the loose riprap bank and edges into the chute of white water.
The fish spooks and miraculously comes loose. Reinvigorated by its snag break, there’s hell to pay in all four corners of the pool. At the critical moment, my foothold on the steep concrete rubble gives way, and I crash sideways, landing heavily on my rod hand.
But Adrian has his net out too, and he’s gone for the finish. If I look slightly shaken in the trophy shots, it’s because I am: pumped with adrenaline, nursing bloodied knuckles and a quickly-swelling knee, hardly believing this trout I’d doubted ever being able to land from a post-industrial river with a reputation like the Irwell’s…
The current May issue of Fly Fishing & Fly Tying magazine reveals 10 of my favourite urban rivers across the UK – including the Irwell, Kelvin, Lowman and Wandle amongst many other city streams which have been brought back to life by hard-working local charities and angling clubs.
For the full feature, pick up a copy from your local news stand… or get a sneak preview of those rivers on my personal blog!