The Secret Valley
The Isle of Man is only a small place but there are many fishing opportunities. Very little water is privately owned so we're pretty free to wander wherever we like. The government gives us the following advice:
"Access to watercourses is at the discretion of the landowner and anglers are responsible for ensuring that they do not commit trespass. Please respect ‘No Fishing’ and ‘Private Fishing’ signs."
That's important information because the farmers can be quite belligerent about people on their land and using their private roads without permission. Who can blame them with motocross bikes and mountain bikes going wherever they like? There is a valley I've had my eye on for a few seasons but the way to it is barred by a gate and "Private Road - Trespassers will be prosecuted." sign. I backed off the first time I got to the gate. This time I was a man on a mission.
I'd established there were a couple of houses the other side of the gate and so on I went and called at the first house to see about getting permission to fish the river. The elderly gentle man I spoke to was cautious at first and he told me he was only the gate keeper. It didn't take long for him to warm up and start telling me about his fishing, as a boy, on this bit of the river. He also told me who I needed to speak to about getting access.
He was concerned that all the fish had been washed out of the river at it was up 8ft in the recent floods. He was very worried that he was going to be flooded out. Fortunately there was a bit of an embankment which turned the river to go round his property.
There are two farms nearby and I needed permission from both of them. One owned the private road the other owned the land either side of the river. I thanked him and off I went to see the farmers. Anyone who has had to deal with Manx farmers knows they can be suspicious of random strangers turning up on their yards. Wearing my Esoteric Tackle fishing shirt, and looking smart and responsible was all part of the game plan. My car is pretty battered, so I wasn't overly posh looking. Anyone who knows me knows I'm pretty down to earth and not above getting dirty on a muddy river bank.
My first stop was to try to gain access to the private road. I was about to give up, unable to find the farmer, when a car pulls into the yard. A man and his wife get out and he fixes me with a steely gaze and comes towards me meaning business. Introducing myself and shaking his hand warmly I tell him why I was there. There was some reluctance. He told me that there had been trouble recently with fly tipping and showed me an old engine and four car tyres he's pulled out of the river with his tractor only the other week.
The horrified look on my face I think tipped the balance my way. The Isle of Man is a stunning place and there's no tolerance from me for anyone who would spoil the natural beauty. The farmer agreed to allow me to use his private road, provided I gave him a ring before I came up. I agreed and told him that I would keep an eye open for any disturbance to the natural beauty of the valley, and I meant it. The farmer also gave me permission to fish the river where it cuts through his fields lower down. A bonus I wasn't expecting.
Next up the land around the river itself. I missed the farm turning the first pass. Did a quick turn around in a small car park while the officer in a parked Police car looked bemused. Up at the farm the door was opened quickly and I stated who I was and asked for permission to fish the river on their land. "Crack on yessir!" That was it. Less than 30 seconds and I had permission. I was a little shocked by the instant acceptance of my proposal. Game on!
Back to the river.
I stopped again at the house and told the gate keeper who I had spoken to and the permissions I now had. He thought I was a "very lucky fella. Not many get permission to come up here and I can't think of any that have come about the fishing."
Very lucky, was exactly how I was feeling.
Now onto the fishing. What a stunning piece of water for Tenkara fishing! Google maps made it look good, but on the ground it was really beautiful. Places were a little overgrown, but as I climbed up the water course the trees thinned out. In the gaps were revealed some stunning water courses with deep pools.
We haven't had much by way of rain recently and the water was very low. Not ideal conditions for these upland waters. The fish get very spooky and selective. I disturbed a few fish with my approach, even on hands and knees. Missed a couple of tugs on the line but was rewarded.
As expected it was a black beauty. Quite fat and well finned. The pools and glides of this 1km stretch of private access water have huge potential. I was working up it quickly, getting a feel for how the land lies. Although I was fishing with my little Zoom rod I am sure that I would have had no problem with my Strooan where the trees thinned. It still took me 3 hours to fish it to the top. That was only having only a quick cast into each of the multitude of pools.
Once at the top of the private stretch you are into Crown Common Property, which means it is open to everyone to enjoy. There is at least another 2km of river to go at which looks fishable on Google Maps satellite. Getting to this part of the river without access to the private road, good luck! You'll need some serious walking boots. It's certainly not easy, even if you know where I am. There are no trees up there, so a longer rod would definitely be the order of the day. If you do work out where I am, please don't be tempted to come down into the private property unless you do have permission.
On top of all this water, there are a few tributaries that have some sizeable pools on them. That's another 1km of water to explore. Permission is required for those as well.
With the size of tail on this little chap you'd have thought he was twice as big for the way he fought.
It was getting late and I'd reached the end of the private stretch. On the way back down the track I was challenged my a man with his two dogs, aggressively demanding to know what I was doing because this was private property. I told him who I was, what I was doing and who I had spoken to obtaining the required permissions. "Oh, that must have been my dad. If he said it was okay then that's okay." I was left under no illusion that trespassers would indeed be prosecuted.
We chatted some more about the valley, the Island, mountain bikes and motocross. Apparently some of the motocross lads had ripped the posts out of the ground on the top gate to get access to the private road. Not cool. We talked about our shared interest in the beauty of the natural environment and how lucky we are on the Island. In the end he was smiling and happy for me to come and fish again. He even said I could prune back a few branches that where dangling in the pools and clear any obstructions to the waterway that would cause an issue come the next floods.
Stopping again at the gate house on my way out I showed the gate keeper the pictures of the water and the fish I had caught while I admired his collection of cannons in the garden. Blacksmithing and black powder were his passions. A very interesting chap to chat with. He told me that my enthusiasm for the river was making him want to go and fish it again. I joked with him "Don't you dare! I don't want any competition for the fish here!" He laughed. I told him I was keeping it a secret and he told me to make sure I did.
I've deliberately not said where this water is, named the farms or the farmers because I have been asked to keep it secret. They do not want people thinking they can come and fish the water any time they like or use the access road. They are talking about putting a lock on the gate at the bottom to make it harder for anyone to get in, or out if they came trespassing from above.
It is a privileged to have access to this water and I will be spending quite a lot of time on it this season investigating all it has to offer. All I need now is a little more rain. The next visit I'll take some loppers and bow saw to tidy up some of the denser forestry that's obstructing the pools. Lopping some of the branches trailing in the water.
I know a few more places like this on the Island that would benefit from a bit of bank side maintenance. Places that haven't been fished because it's almost impossible to get a line in. Not to mention they run through private property and we have to be careful not to be trespassing. I'll have to go knocking on a few more farm doors.
Until then I have plenty to be working on with this secret valley.
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