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Now wash your hands

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by Jon Beer

Well, thank God that's over.

May and June, I mean: the cream of the season, the golden days, the purple patch. It is more like the wet patch, in my experience: and I do not mean the rain.

The trouble is that received wisdom has it that May and June are the best months for trout fishing in Britain. So we wait for May and June with keen anticipation and unrealistic dreams of glory. Occasionally May and June live up to our dreams but it would have to be a pretty spectacular May and June to live up to the sort of dreams I can conjure up after a long closed season. All too often Something is Not Quite Right: it is too wet or too dry or too cold or too hot or too windy or for some other reason the fly is not about. In other words, it is a normal day in May and June and not the orgy of hatch and catch that my fevered fancy had painted it. And I slink from the river, sullen and dejected, with disappointment deep in my bones. There is a tendency to start muttering about Things not Being as They Were in the Good Old Days.

And then I go fishing in July and August. I always have a good time in July and August. Received wisdom has it that July and August are the worst months for trout fishing in Britain so I expect nothing. And sometimes nothing is just what I get. That doesn't matter: it is what I was expecting. But when I do get something then it is an unexpected bonus: it is manna from Heaven. And there is more. When I get a good day in July and August, I get a warm conviction that it is because, despite enormous odds and the arid, troutless days of summer, I am just a cunning old trout-hound who could winkle the fleas out off a hedgehog. Contrariwise, a poor session in the duffers' days of May and June leaves me feeling a total trouting dullard.

So let us rejoice in July and August because, contrary to Received Wisdom, some of the best trouting is to be had now. Some time ago I was fossicking through the glens of Scotland and fetched up in Glen Lyon. The River Lyon is a stunning tributary of the Tay. I called in at the teashop at Bridge of Balgie (all there is at Bridge of Balgie) where one can buy a ticket to fish for trout. They had just instituted a cunning system of day-tickets with which I can find no flaw. The ticket cost £5 but £2 was refunded when the fishing return, recording the number of fish caught, was handed in. So simple - and I bet the teashop got a good bit of extra trade from tired fishermen. For the first time they had a fullish record of what was caught and when. I would have wagered quite a sum on the best months being May and June, the worst being August. And perhaps sometimes it is thus. But the returns that year showed that the most and the biggest trout were caught in early August.

I had my best day's grayling fishing on a broiling day in late July. It was on the river Irfon. We had gone there just because we wanted to go somewhere where we could stand up to our bits in cool water and pretend to fish. Which is what we did. The sun beat down on the clear water and the grayling rose, steadily and with purpose all day long. The rose like they had been waiting along time for that day and they were not about to miss a second of it. Father and I had been fishing either end of the beat and we met in the middle, above the viaduct that carries the railway line to Swansea. The river here runs down a rocky channel that widens as it reaches the bridge buttresses. We sat in the shaded margin and chatted bout the marvellous fishing. "This is silly," I said and, without moving, I flopped a dry fly back-handed onto the water to demonstrate. A large grayling swooped up to grab it - which meant I had to get up and land the thing. And so it went on.

Don't get me wrong: I am not suggesting that the trout fishing in July and August is better than May and June. It isn't. I general, May and June are still the best: July and August are probably the worst. We all know this. If I needed confirmation I got it last week when I went to Devon for two days. Philip and I took his son for a jaunt at the end of the school term. We caught one fish for half a day on Fernworthy reservoir, and two very small trout and a salmon parr for a day on the West Dart. That is not the point. We knew it would be something like that. Still, we had a great time wandering up a wonderful river in bright sunshine, wading waist high through fields of wild flowers and finding fresh otter prints on a sandbank beside the water. We did not expect wonderful fishing, we didn't get wonderful fishing - but we might have: it can happen and when it does it is doubly wonderful. Contrariwise, if I had fished Fernworthy and the Dart for two days with the same result in May and June - and that can happen too - I would have been in a serious gloom by now.

In July and August the pressure is off. So let's get out there and enjoy it.

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