Tuesday, 8 August 2017

Spot the Lie

One of the most common novice errors is fishing at the wrong target - where you think the fish are, rather than where they're actually located - which inevitably leads to missed opportunities and disappointment.

Tomatin House Pool
Here's an example.  Many novices confronted with this view would assume the salmon are lying behind the obvious rock in the centre, and fish at its very visible 'tail'.  Quite apart from the challenges of presenting a fly realistically in that area, the bigger problem is that there aren't any fish there. "Why not?" they would say, "it looks perfect."  Actually it isn't.  If you look closely at the 'tail' behind the rock it's narrow and much longer than you'd expect given the modest pace of the water.  The reason for that length is turbulence, which makes it unfavourable for salmon, for reasons I'll go on to explain.  By the way, the two best lies in the photo are  one at 7 o'clock and 10 feet from the obvious rock; and the other is in front of you in the bottom right corner!

To help us identify good lies we need to understand 2 things: first, what the salmon needs; and second, how moving water behaves in the river's environment (but you don't require a master's degree in fluid dynamics).

What the Salmon Needs

Back in November 2012 I wrote a post titled "Where are They", which described the survival imperative that drives a salmon's behaviour.  The greatest threat to its fulfilment of its life mission to reproduce is exhaustion.  However, there are very few rivers in the UK that pose much sustained energy challenge to a salmon during its migration.  The fish to the left was caught a very long way from the North Sea in August 2011, and it certainly doesn't look even remotely depleted by the journey.

When it's swimming the salmon is extremely efficient and powerful.  The reserves of fat and protein layered in its muscles during the time at sea are huge in relation to the demands of its journey.  The energy challenge starts in earnest with the creation of eggs or milt; continues during the long periods waiting for spawning; and ends with the act of spawning.  If it is to survive this epic, the salmon cannot afford to waste energy holding its position in a lie.  Ideally it wants to be as close to motionless as possible, and it can only achieve this objective in a lie with a smooth low-speed flow of water of consistent density.  To that end the salmon will avoid turbulence - which demands effort to maintain stability and position - and excessive aeration - which changes density, causing unpredictable vertical shifts.  Turbulence and aeration are exactly what you often get in the 'tail' behind obvious 'lies', which explains the absence of salmon.  They also prefer to have a reasonable amount of water above them when they're static in daylight as protection against avian predators like ospreys.  I generally reckon around 30"/70 cm is a respectable assumption.  Salmon will tolerate shallow water and adverse conditions for short periods whilst running, but may not hang around long enough for you to catch them.

Here's an example of a good lie from a salmon's eye view 4 feet down.  The pale area ahead and right in Window 1 is aeration and turbulence - you will note the adjacent ragged edge to Window 2 indicating larger waves.  In the foreground the ridge of boulders is diverting the flow upwards into the wave forms at the top of the picture.  Down at salmon level, things are pleasantly smooth but well oxygenated in the pocket of slack water behind the ridge.

You don't always need rocks and ridges.  One of the best salmon lies I ever knew was no more than a depression in a bed of small pebbles and gravel about 4 inches deep, with a few medium-sized stones, perhaps 6 inches high, upstream.  It helps to remember that even a very big salmon is only 8-9 inches deep.  A salmon could hold its position in the lie by the simply expedient of rotating its pectoral fins to a shallow dive angle, which placed the main part of its body in almost slack water adjacent to the bottom.  As a result they were almost completely motionless and correspondingly hard to spot.  It was an educational treat to watch them through polaroids with the sun over your shoulder.  Sadly it won't be there when I return to Tomatin next month, owing to the immense volumes of stone and gravel shifted by storms FRANK and BERTHA in the years since 2013.  Nevertheless there will be others elsewhere in the beat for me to discover.

The other point to grasp is that apart from late season, testosterone-dosed territorial cock fish, salmon are very comfortable in close company.  Mostly they don't mind sharing a good lie.  One day I noted a large fish showing below the tail of Dalnahoyn pool near the Wade's Road Bailey bridge and resolved to catch it.  I found a place between the bushes to get down the bank and was about to descend into some slack water behind a large rock adjacent to the side, when I saw that I was about to put my foot into the midst of a group of perhaps 8-10 mature salmon in an area no more than 3 feet by 4, taking a pause before ascending the fast water.  In fascination I spent the next 10 minutes observing them from no more than 6-8 feet distant, by which time my target was long gone.  I didn't mind. But if a lie's good and you catch a fish from it, unless there's another angler coming down the pool, fish it again, quickly!

How Water Behaves

Dalnahoyn Pool, Tomatin
Running at +36"
If it looks something like this on the surface, with lots of 'standing waves' - the ones that stay in the same place - then you know that there's something on the bottom forcing the water upwards.  It helps, however, to understand what's going on down below.  By the way, the best lie shown here is the one at the far left of the photo.  The others are far too turbulent at this high water level.

Remember that the water near the surface is travelling much faster than that near the bottom.  The slower water piles up against the obstacle, forming a static wedge of water upstream and above (I've exaggerated the dimensions/proportions for illustration purposes).  The faster water above can't push it downwards or sideways and is thus forced upwards, appearing as a wave form at the surface.  If the current isn't too fast there may also be a quiet volume at the back, but this breaks down rapidly with increasing flow speed or reducing depth, especially if the obstacle is isolated or blunt-faced (a too-abrupt upward movement generates unwelcome turbulence).  You also need to think in plan view, with the near bottom flow being deflected outwards by the wedge.  In many cases the fish will lie in the front envelope; between the boulders; or by the sides.

Saeter Pool
GFF Water, River Gaula
So far so good - the fish are upstream of the standing wave - but it's essential to develop an appreciation of what this looks like in practice.  Here's a nice standing wave on the left side of the picture, but can you see the rock creating it?  On the far bank there are 2 small rectangular white stones at the water's edge: come straight down at 6 o'clock to a light streak, which a flat boulder about 4 feet long, in about 4-5 feet of medium-paced water.  The standing wave is almost 7 feet behind the boulder.  So if you cast to the wave you'd miss the fish just ahead and on the far side of the boulder by about 12 feet.  Ideally you want your fly to be above and ahead of the salmon at about 45 degrees elevation, which means it needs to be at least 15 feet upstream of the wave.  That's a long way.

The clue as to why the fish is lying on the far side of the boulder is in the photo - my shadow in the foreground.  Given an option, salmon will generally favour the shadier side.

Sverre Run
GFF Water, River Gaula
Here's another example, this time in shallow very fast water. Indeed, wading calf-deep I was having trouble keeping my footing whilst taking the photo. You can see the wave easily enough, but where's the origin?  No, it's not the swirl at the right side, but about 5 o'clock from the little bush, about 8-10 feet upstream.  The shallowness and speed of the water make the wave formation more violent.  If there are any fish in the picture they would probably be between the upstream swirl, caused by a small boulder, and the larger rock generating the wave, at about 4 o'clock from the bush.

Saeter Pool
GFF Water, River Gaula
 Running +4' 6"
It's also important to remember that turbulence can be very persistent in fast water.  Not only does it get carried quickly downstream, the motion can also maintain or even increase its effect.  The photo, taken at 0100 hrs on a dark rainy night in Norway on a longer exposure, emphasises the light scattered by turbulent water and air bubbles.  Its extent is about 25-30 feet.  There may well be quiet areas underneath the turbulence that will hold fish.  Your problem is getting your fly down through it, behaving sensibly and into the salmon's taking zone.  In this case the water is about 6 feet deep and flowing strongly, so I wouldn't bet on achieving all 3 steps without a lot of weight in the leader and fly in such an extreme case.

For interest, here are the same rocks in 2016 with 5 feet less water.

Practical Examples

Upper Netherdale beat
Deveron 2014
Nearer to home on the Deveron, here's an example of the lateral spread of turbulence from a relatively small boulder in medium paced water.  Because the water is deep relative to the speed of flow, there's insufficient force to generate a standing wave.  In this case the salmon can easily lie near the bottom under the swirl, but it's difficult to fish your fly well in that space.  The better option is to concentrate on the sides of the vee-shape and the fish on the outer edges, casting from well upstream to achieve a nice narrow angle.

Upper Kirk pool
Waterside & Ferrar beat River Dee

In this photo, taken on the Dee in lower water, there are lots of lies similar to the one above.  The best is immediately to the right of the red tape on my rod.  Again, it's best to fish ahead of the rock and down the sides.  Casting into or fishing through the swirl will lead to poor presentation of your fly.  In this case another angler hooked and lost a large fish on the edge of the swirl about 6-8 feet back on the near side (but lost it).  You can see the relatively narrow angle from which I am fishing the lie.  From here I could use small upstream mends to hold the fly close to the lie for much longer than a conventional 45 degree cast and swing would ever achieve.

Between the Caulds pool
Rutherford beat
running at +16" March 2017

Here's a nice choice of standing wave lies on the main flow-line on the Tweed.  The flow is strong, so the lies are well upstream from the waves.  When you're faced with a view like this, don't just progress mechanically down the pool, casting at a fixed angle.  Think ahead and work out how best to address each lie before its's in range.  If you're casting 25-30 yards - the case in this example - then you need to be looking 50 yards ahead.  A shallower angle and consequently slower fly is essential to give the fish more time, especially when the water is cold, fast or both (as it was here).

Garden Pool, Tomatin
River Findhorn
running at +24" September 2011
Sometimes I practice what I preach!  The lie was about 2 o'clock from my right hand, between the two small standing waves on the flow line.  I cast quite square to give the conehead and polyleader time to get down in the fast water, then put in an upstream mend to slow it down.  That week I caught 3 fish from the same lie, but this was the only one hooked with someone available to take the picture.

The advantage of height
Flesh Dub Thoresby beat
running at +18"

Often you have to look really hard, but it's well worth the effort.  Disregard the foreground here, because the water's too shallow. The clues won't always shout at you, so look from the elevation of the bank before you get into the water. Don't rush,take your time, scan and think first.  In this case you may have spotted these three: the first about 20 feet straight out from the tree on the opposite bank.  The next is about 15 yards downstream, just over the centreline.  And the third is on your side, about 40 yards downstream

Anne's Bank, Rutherford beat
River Tweed at +12", May 2016
And sometimes there are no clues whatsoever, so you just get on, cover the water methodically, and fish. Dull perhaps, but never, ever, be surprised by salmon.  Just after I took this photo I hooked and lost 2 fish in quick succession from the same lie.  It was probably no more than a slight depression in the gravel in less than 3 feet of water.


  • Scan the pool from the height of the bank to spot possible lies
  • Make an outline mental plan of how to fish them
  • Think ahead by 50 yards as you go down the pool
  • Remember how far the lie may be upstream from the standing wave
  • Don't be snared by the downstream swirl!
  • Fish the edges of lies from a narrower angle to keep your fly in play
  • If you catch a fish, cover the lie again as soon as possible

Sunday, 30 July 2017

Gaula 2017 - Far too much of a good thing

You may recall that last year's trip to the Gaula was blighted by an abject lack of water.  A warm spring and early thaw was followed by unprecedented drought and high temperatures.  As a result we had little chance of catching in a pool looking like this.

Flaekken 2016
(@ MSL -1 metre)

Now come forward 12 months.

Flaekken 2017
(on our last afternoon, @MSL +0.85 having fallen 1 metre from peak)

Tuesday 18th July 2017
The critical factor on the Gaula is the ability of salmon to pass up the Gaulfossen rapids, which comprise a 450 metre long torrent.  Directly below my feet the channel is no more than 6 metres wide.  The accepted thresholds for the salmon are <180 cum/sec and >8C.  This photo, taken during our week, shows them flowing at 140 cum/sec at 10C.  Make no mistake, the water is flowing extremely quickly.  I won't hazard a guess, but elsewhere that week I measured a flow with a stopwatch at 9.7kph.  Furthermore, apart from the far end, the sides and bottom are quite smooth, making it hard for a fish to pick a quiet way.  So even when the flow does fall below 180, not all fish will immediately choose to run the gauntlet.  It's not a simple 'on/off' switch and the salmon's behaviour doesn't appear wholly predictable.  Or put another way, you know when they won't run; and when they can; but not when they will.

iPhone screen shot
1200 19 July

This graph shows an overview of the flow rate for the first half of our week (we started on the 15th).  Understandably we arrived in high spirits with the river falling nicely towards a perfect fishing height.  Of course the effect wouldn't be immediate because the bottom of our fishing at Rognes is 25 km above the Gaulfossen, and the top at Singsas is 45 km.  In ideal conditions the lag is perhaps 36-48 hours, so hoped fish might start arriving with us in numbers on the Monday afternoon.

First evening
We started right at the top of the beats in big water at 9.0 C, which scored 11 on the MCX System and called for a Sink 3 head with a very fast sinking polyleader and big tube fly.  We didn't see any fish on the Saturday and formed the view that there probably weren't many about.


Next morning the 6-hour beat rotation took us to the bottom where the river was falling quite quickly.  We were probably still ahead of the fish at this stage although we did see a couple of grilse show during our session.  Jaerdaholen is a very long pool that changes character and depth half way down, which requires either re-rigging or a change of rod.  In any event I was very glad of the rest in obedience to doctor's and wife's instructions.

Stadion top half
Sunday afternoon

At lunchtime we moved up into Stadion, a very good pool, with a strong flow in the top half and a massive deep back eddy below.  At this height I could cover the upper section with the 13' MAG, very fast polyleader and a weighted tube.  We still weren't seeing any fish.  We could see from the Laksborsen on-line catch return system that our fellow anglers were catching the occasional grilse, but otherwise all was quiet.  And then the rain came: it poured down. So at the end of 12 hours' almost non-stop fishing with 2 uninspiring pools in prospect, we called it a day.

Monday afternoon
During the night the river rose back above the 180 cum/sec threshold, cutting off the supply of fish.  The next morning it started to fall and the conditions looked promising.  We started on Flekken (the photo at the top of the post) before moving at lunchtime to Sverre.  This is an immensely long sweeping run - mostly shallow - which has suffered a lot of flood induced infill.  Although shallow, the force of the water flow was such that wading above calf depth was extremely tiring.  Although we weren't seeing any fish, Jonas the roving ghillie announced that a German angler in our team of 22 had taken fish of 27.5 and 23 lbs that morning in Stadion, about 4-5 miles downstream (lucky chap).  Again, after 12 hours' casting sinking lines and large flies we took the evening off and opted for an early bed.

Tuesday 0300
Pouring rain
Reveille was at 0145 to fish the lovely Saeter pool until 0600.  Unfortunately the rain had started again during the night and we deployed in a downpour with a rapidly rising river.  The recipe was unchanged: Sink 3 head on the Cult for the top and a Sink 1 on the MAG for the tail, both with fast polyleaders and tubes.  To be brutally frank, I hate fishing with the hood up.  Apart from being an interfering nuisance, it closes your world and diminishes your situational awareness.

We went back for a quick breakfast and shave, before going out to Bridge in the pouring rain at 6C.  There's no photo of this very productive pool (last year an angler lost a 40 at the net here) because the conditions were so ghastly that the thought of photography never crossed my mind.  Survival was uppermost.  Fishing left hand up into deep water and in a gusty wind I dropped my hood to check on my casting anchor.  This was essential because on Bridge the lies are down the 30 yard line and beyond.  Your cast has to work well, but anchor 'stick' can be a real pain when you're fishing with a heavy front end and trying too hard on account of the distance required.  When 3 casts later I put it up again, the accumulated rain went straight down my neck and back: utter misery, and there's no hut on this pool either for coffee.   Just before noon my morale bombed and I cracked.  My kit's superb: I was dry and warm (apart from the hood incident).  But 5 hours of the relentless cycle of rolling the line up to the surface, Snap-T and mend, repeated every 45 seconds in vile conditions, finally got to me.  Fishing should be enjoyable and you can't see much of beautiful Norway when the rain's hitting your polaroids like birdshot.  

Jonas the ghillie advised that in the conditions our next pool wasn't worth fishing, so we went in for lunch.  At Norwegian prices (£6.75) it may have been the most expensive packet of tomato soup outside the Ritz, but it was worth every kronor.  I took the afternoon off to visit a party of Irish anglers from Cork who were fishing on one of the beats below the Gaulfossen.  We met as they came off the river from their morning session having caught 6 of the salmon held up below the rapids, and correspondingly keen to get back amongst them.  After a bit of banter and a welcome coffee I let them at their sport.  I did, however, take 10 minutes to look over their fishery, which is wider and shallower than upstream, and set in much more open country.

Tuesday 2000
By supper time the rain had eased so we set out for Main at the top of the water at Singsas.  The river was rising rapidly - the shingle bank in the foreground disappeared whilst we were fishing - before peaking around 10 pm.  This is another very long pool with a very fast head and an immense holding area in front of the red and white house on the far bank.  Unfortunately the run-in line nearer the far bank was completely unreachable in these conditions.


The challenges of fishing the head of Main are illustrated in this video clip.  The full weight of the Gaula is compressed into an entry less than 10 metres wide and then falls over small lip that imparts further acceleration.  We were so impressed by the speed of the water that we resolved to measure it accurately.  I set out a distance of 100 feet; Patrick stood at the other end with the stop watch on his phone at the ready; and we were ready for Turbo Pooh-Sticks.  The answer came out at a remarkable 6.8 mph, which translates as 10 kph.  Getting a fly down and steady in this maelstrom was impossible.  We didn't get a salmon's opinion as, alas, we didn't see any to ask.

Anyway, we determinedly fished the remainder, in hope but not great expectation.  Our evening was interrupted but lightened by the arrival of a man, accompanied by a young lady dressed as a pirate complete with tricorn hat, coming down the rapids in a child's beach inflatable boat.  The hurtled past us, completely out of control, with only one small paddle and nary a lifejacket between them.  I doubt that the salmon - if any were present - noticed their passing.  Unfortunately we were both so taken aback and agog at the spectacle that we failed to photograph the event.  This must be a very Norwegian way of going out to a fancy dress party!

It wasn't worth fishing Creek, the next pool up (photo above) in such high water at midnight. The risk assessment of slipping on the wet rocks featured highly in our decision: at this water height it was one slip and you're a gonner.  With The Bend, a premier pool, allocated after 0600 we headed in for supper and early bed in preparation for a more moderate 0530 reveille and breakfast, before sallying forth.

The Bend
Wednesday 0700
We arrived onto Bend to view and immense expanse of fast-moving water.  To put this in context, last year I elicited a rise from a salmon with a hitched Sunray, just in front of the left hand bush by the railway wall.  I was using a single handed 10' #7 at a range of barely 15 metres.  This year I was using the Cult #9, sinking head and full whack.  After 5 hours of full-on effort we'd had enough, picked up lunch and drove the 8 miles down to Jaerdaholen to re-start the cycle.

Wednesday 1200

High water

We reached Jaerdaholen slightly early, but just in time to witness Michael the German (one of the most exquisite Spey casters I've ever witnessed) catching a silver grilse in the last 5 minutes of his allocation, in the shallow water to the left (it was to be his only fish of the week).  If you compare this photo to the one above of our first visit on Sunday, you may gain some impression of the volume of water in this huge pool: all of the pebbles have disappeared and I'm wading knee deep.  We did, however, see a couple of fish in addition to a repetitive mechanical grilse at the head.  

Undeterred, we fished with our customary intensity and differing styles - Patrick frequently changing flies and rigs, and MCX just doggedly sticking to something broadly sensible.  As neither of us had so much as a touch, neither strategy worked, but I'm unaware of a third option.  After 6 hours of full-distance casting interspersed with closer range work down towards the tail we were ready for a break and the move up to Stadion at 6pm.

Stadion (head)
Wednesday evening
Stadion had just peaked but was still running hard and heavy.  The entry was twice the width it had been the previous Sunday.  Everything looked fabulous and promising: better still, the sun came out and the clouds lifted.  It really is an intensely 'fishy' pool and good for one's motivation.  Jonas duly turned up and advised us on how to fish the massive back eddy - "leave it to the fish to do the work".  I'd never previously experienced working a line describing a 270 degree arc with its tip probably 15-20 feet deep - bizarre and sadly unsuccessful.

Gaulfossen flow
(iPhone screen shot)
On Wednesday night we reckoned that the two lifts in the river since our arrival had limited and fragmented the run.  We were seeing indications of the occasional passage of pods of small grilse (tiny compared to their Yorkshire cousins), but unless you fluked putting a fly on their nose, catching seemed very unlikely.  Our sightings of bigger fish were few and far between: in these conditions they'd be either running slowly; or hunkered down waiting for a respite.  Either way, we weren't seeing or catching them.  However, the forecast predicted clear warm weather for the rest of the week, which sustained our hopes.

Rognes Bridge Pool
Thursday 1100
Note the water clarity
Having completed another 12 hours day we had a leisurely start on the Thursday, rising in brilliant sunshine.  We paid a brief visit to Rognes Bridge - massively deep on the far side and very difficult to fish well - before moving up to Flaekken at midday.  There we encountered 3 problems: the water had dropped like a stone; it was as clear as gin; and the searing sunshine was coming straight down the pool.  We rated our chances as close to zero; fished the deeper sections twice and went home to prepare to entertain two Norwegian friends to supper.

In retrospect I regret the failure to photograph my efforts as a chef - Poule Brettonne  with 3 vegetables prepared on the apartment's hob with just 2 saucepans.  Certainly it was much more successful than my fishing had been to that point.  Our guests were charmingly diverse in every respect: one was due to fish the Orkla the next day, whereas the other was incapacitated, having ricked his back reaching down too suddenly to unhook a lively 20 pounder.  They were in turns optimistic and realistic in their assessment of our chances with just 36 hours' fishing remaining.

in the rising sun
Friday 0630
We headed out to Saeter after an early breakfast.  It looked absolutely perfect: the water had fallen about a metre from the peak and was still going down; and the sunshine was oblique.  At this level and with the water at 11.5C we were using floating heads, slow sinking tips and conventional doubles.  Yet despite the combination of perception and our unrelenting efforts, we didn't touch a fish.  Indeed, we didn't even see one.  We were becoming increasingly desperate.

Friday 1215
Note the water clarity
The jackpot lies are about 15 metres above the bridge tight against
the far side, and 10 metres below the bridge in the middle
Lunchtime took us back to Bridge in bright sunshine, rising temperatures and falling water. Fishing in a polo shirt and waders was a far cry from the 3-layer solution at the start of the week, with the temperature now some 16C higher.  Surely the fish would start to arrive after their passage of the Gaulfossen?  Around 1pm a small pod of grilse splashed its way up the pool, wholly untroubled by my attentions, while a couple of 10 pounders announced their arrival below the bridge.  Keep trying, stay alert and cast smoothly. Change the fly from green to grey to allow for the light - nothing.  Change again to grey and gold - nothing.  There are fish moving: keep going and you'll get one, that's what my father always told me, and generally it worked.  The 300th cast: "please, I've earned one", no joy.  After almost 11 hours relentless casting and fishing I hit the wall.  I was out of Coca Cola, dehydrated and worn out: I'd had enough and slumped down onto a most uncomfortable rock to rest.  Whatever my memories of my heroic fitness of younger years, I have to accept that there is now a very finite limit to my endurance, even without a duff back and a gut full of ameliorating drugs.  All I wanted was sugar and plenty of it: a couple of big cans of very cold Tuborg from the apartment fridge would be perfect.  Patrick came up the bank in exactly the same state of mind.  The fish were starting to come but were completely uninterested in taking a fly.

Last day 0400
Note the re-appeared pebble bank to the right
After enjoying the perfect beers and a monster supper we took and early bed in preparation for hitting Main some time after 0200.  The formula was easy: fast sink tips and bigger darker flies in the head and, slow and smaller in the tail.  At about 0400 salmon of all sizes started to run through in Main in large numbers.  Lots of strong 2SW fish showed in that typical 'dolphin' move as they ploughed determinedly upstream.  There were grilse everywhere.  From where the photo was taken the running width is only 20 metres, so as the fish approach the head they became increasingly concentrated.  I tried every trick in the book to ambush a fish, something at which I've previously thought myself pretty good.  Twice I put a fly within a foot of the noses of good fish to no avail, not even a flicker, let alone a touch.  A grilse jumped and landed on my line.  It could only have been worse if in unison they'd stuck their heads out and jeered.  But as far as I could tell, after 10 days' interruption of their already overdue running schedule, these Gaula salmon had only one thing on their mind, and it certainly wasn't us or our flies.

I fished on until the second hand came up to precisely 0600.  It was over.  Yet again, after a year's anticipation and a week's relentless fishing, I'd blanked.  I was dejected beyond description and physically exhausted.  In my desperation to catch I'd crossed the threshold into the zone where it was no longer pleasurable.  This was self-inflicted wounding born of a burning desire to have a successful week, exacerbated by the discipline of the 6-hourly rotation.  Yet the beautiful Gaula is a capricious mistress, who promises much, gives little and breaks you thereby.  Occasionally she makes glorious silver concessions to her favoured lovers, but clearly I am not one.

That night I slept for 11 hours - not easily done at my age.  Since then the fatigue has washed out of my system and I've spent a little time reflecting on the week.  Reflection is a wonderful gift of age: if you are unable to do, reflect, it's much less tiring.  I'm no longer up to or up for flat out relentless combat fishing.  Catching salmon is exhilarating, but there's much more to life than catching.  Patrick was a wonderful, calm, tolerant and easy companion throughout a disagreement-free week, but we together fell into the same trap of our determination.  It has to be balanced, and that balance is most easily secured in an environment where fishing is not the sole focus.  The diversity and diversions of wives and families, friends, social interactions, convivial dinners, dogs and alternative activities is where the real pleasures of a week's salmon fishing are found.

We're going back to Tomatin House in September, where this blog began, for Just One Week.  I can hardly wait, and furthermore, I won't care if I don't catch (really?).

Wednesday, 12 July 2017

Raring to go - slowly and carefully

Dreams of the Gaula

Three weeks ago I was lying in an MRI scanner feeling very sorry for myself whilst the radiologists had a good look at my lower spine.  I could neither stand nor walk, and the medical opinion was that going to the Gaula this year was completely out of the question.  My morale could not have been lower.  Losing the best of the trout season was bad enough, but the prospect of losing all of this year's salmon fishing was devastating.  But amidst my misery I was grimly determined to get better.

I don't know how it happened.  The day after my last post I spent a very pleasant afternoon on the Rye, catching 5 nice brown trout including this thumping fish of 4 3/4 lbs.  As the afternoon progressed I experienced increasing pain in my right leg and difficulty walking.  Over the next 3 weeks it got ever worse despite the concentrated attentions of a physiotherapist, until it was blindingly obvious that there was something seriously wrong.

The MRI scan confirmed that notion: I had 2 prolapsed discs in my lower spine pressing on the femoral and sciatic nerves; and a displaced and damaged vertebra lower down.  Any one of those 3 would stop you in your tracks: all 3 at once had the back specialist sucking his teeth.  He estimated that it would take me 3-4 months to get back on my feet; reckoned that my salmon season was a lost cause; and warned that the shooting season might go the same way.

I spent many hours lying on the floor with a kilo of Captain Birds Eye's finest peas for company; took handfuls of very big pills; and slept whenever my leg allowed.  I made all sorts of unmanly whimpering noises and garnered lots of sympathy.  It was very unpleasant.  Meanwhile outside it poured with rain: we had double the June average, which generated some good spates in the Ure and allowed my friends to start catching Yorkshire salmon.

And a miracle happened.  Within week of the MRI scan I stood up without support; a week later I walked 1/2 mile; and at the end of the third week back specialist expressed amazement and the GP gave me the green light for the Gaula.  He said that I wouldn't be able to cast as far or as frequently as normal.  While I might hurt myself, I would do no permanent damage, which explains the suffix to the title of this post - slowly and carefully indeed.

So today I prepared and packed my kit.  Laying it all out like this helps me to avoid forgetting anything by checking against last year's photo. I'm taking 3 rods: the 13' 8" Cult; the 13' MAG; and a new addition, a Vision Tool 11' 6" #8 close quarter rod (I'll write about it in due course: it's the perfect size for the smaller sections of the Ure).  The 3 reels are the Vision Rulla, Lamson Guru and Danielsson L5W (a perfect balance on the short Tool), all loaded with Rio Scandi floating heads.  The 5 extra heads are Guideline medium and slow sinkers; a 550 gn Skagit; a 50' Mid-Spey; and a spare Scandi #8, which can be used on any of the rods.  Three spools of Seaguar - 40, 30 & 23.5 lbs; two sets of polyleaders; my standard fly boxes, with one of Norway specials; and all the usual tools, glues, bits and bobs.

The clothing will be totally different this year.  Last year we had blazing sun, temperatures in the high 20s and no water.  This year we have plenty of water (it's raining), clouds and temperatures of 12-14 by day and as low as 5-6 at night, which calls for the Ninja pyjamas.

Gaulfossen flow rate July 2017
There's loads of water as you can see from this shot taken tonight from the flow recorder on the Gaulfossen rapids.  Above 180 m3/sec the salmon cannot run into our beat above the rapids, but by Saturday the river will be back into its normal range.  I'll have no excuses and no grounds for complaint.  I've been truly blessed with an extraordinary recovery and now with perfect water on a beautiful river.  If I have used up all my luck and blank, so be it, because I've been lucky beyond belief.

Patrick and MCX are on their way: bring it on trolls!

Monday, 29 May 2017

Not Gone Yet


It's been 6 months since I last wrote and posted anything, by far the longest gap ever on this blog.  Perhaps some of you thought I'd given up, gone absent or died (yes, I do go on about my age a bit).  Some might even have missed J1W.  I'm sorry, but I had nothing worthwhile to say.  I'm not one of those 'stream of consciousness' folk who inhabit the world of Twitter or the 'blogosphere' who consider their thoughts on breakfast important.  Nor do I like repeating myself: I've written before on my spring routine, preparing for the new season and so forth.  Rehashing the content of those articles doesn't appear very useful for either you the reader or me the author, so I rely on you using the index if you wish to find something out.  I try to be original and interesting, on the assumption that if it doesn't stimulate me, it will surely bore the pants off you.


Vale of York Rainfall - Spring 2017
Average - Blue  Observed - Red
Cumulative total lines showing shortfall of 60%
Over the life of this blog I've beaten the weather to death, with endless rants about the lack of rain, the reasons for it, and the consequent absence of fish. There's a finite limit to what you can write on the subject, unless of course you are a professional meteorologist.  It suffices to say that up until now, the 6 months' weather from the end of last season on 31st October has been so contrary to the needs of salmon fishing in most of the UK as to stretch credibility.  In Yorkshire we have had the driest winter since 1994-95, followed by the driest spring since 2003.  There were 27 rain-free days in March and less than half average rainfall; and 28 in April resulting in a meagre 22%.  My garden is as dry as a bone down to a depth of 12"/30cm, and I had used the entire contents of my rainwater butt before the end of April. Needless to say, the Ure and most other salmon rivers are all below their mean summer low levels, when in normal times we should be at the peak of the spring run, with happy smolts surfing off to sea on a brown spate.  Meanwhile Norway is up to its neck in snow that has only just started to melt and the Russian rivers are still ice-bound.  It's been a very strange year.  On the other hand it's the average of all sorts of years' weather that adds up to the average called climate.

I have fished only once in the past 6 months: a very kind friend took me as his guest to Rutherford on the Tweed, where I blanked.  But I've written 3 times before about the beauty of Rutherford on a blank day, and saw little merit in repeating myself.  Blanking is boring; writing about it is painful; and there are no useful lessons to be had from failure.  Without water there has been no point visiting the Ure.  The trout in the Rye have remained untroubled by my attentions because the harbinger of the dry spring - a cold north easterly air flow - has offered the prospect of discomfort and meagre results. 

Muscat suburbs
viewed from the Sultan Qaboos Knowledge Oasis

Without the joys of fishing and fish, or at least the imminent prospect of both, it's incredibly difficult to write.  I'm not a journalist and I don't get paid for this, so there's no imperative. Believe me I'd love to have something to write about, but just now, I don't.  I've recently returned from working in the Gulf - the photo was taken at 44C - and although I've previously written some good blogs from hotel rooms in the Gulf, on this trip I couldn't have been further from a salmon river geographically, climatically or psychologically.


Gaula at 2am
But there's lots of excitement ahead.  In July I return to the Gaula, with my optimism refreshed by the news of the volume of snow in the mountains and of a delayed thaw.  Things are looking much better than they did at this time last year, when there was less snow and the thaw started early.  It's too good a river not to be excited by the prospect of fishing its crystal water and the hope of connecting to one of its magnificent fish.

Tomatin House
Then in September, Just One Week returns to its alma mater, Tomatin House, where this blog began.  We've been invited by the younger generation to join their house party together with some other convival oldies.  Of course even the young aren't as young as they used to be: they've got children now, so with any luck their late night, sleep-disturbing partying may have faded into the past......to be replaced by early morning hunger squalls, which won't bother me on jot as I'll be on the river.

House Pool looking upstream to Colonel's
I'm told that the great flood caused by Storm Frank had a major impact on Tomatin's water, changing the nature of the pools and shifting huge volumes of rock and gravel.  Having to re-learn the river and find the best spots will add extra spice and give me endless happy hours of analysis.  Although it's critically dependent on water (as are most rivers that I fish), Tomatin House is a wonderful place redolent with the happiest of memories.  It's not just about fishing: the company of friends in beautiful surroundings is the real gold.

Then in October it's Yorkshire and the Ure for the annual father and son bonding trip with HMCX.  Last year he caught a fish within 15 minutes of starting, which was the most marvellous morale booster after 2 blank years.  We have 2 days on the river and a night at the Bolton Arms in Redmire, a classic Dales village pub with good food, great beer, nice rooms and a super atmosphere.  We enjoy the beer, share a bottle of Australian Shiraz with our steaks and treasure the time.  HMCX married last spring and no doubt he'll soon have a family of his own, so we're determined to make the most of this special time while we may.  He fell under the spell of salmon at Tomatin in his late teens, and once he'd caught his first large salmon he was well and truly hooked.  He's also excellent company on the river bank.


I have to admit that something other than salmon fishing has been taking up a lot of my time of late, indeed, since last summer.  On the other hand, it's all about salmon - "what else?" my wife would say.

I'm a member and supporter of the Ure Salmon Group, a subordinate charity of the Yorkshire Dales Rivers Trust.  Its aim is to assist the natural return of salmon to the Dales through low-level projects that open up spawning areas, protect the fry and parr nurseries, and reduce pollution risks.  The strength of the USG lies in the leverage of 'matched funding': each £1 that they put in will be more than matched by funding from the Environment Agencies, non-public bodies and private sector benefactors, often achieving £5-10 worth of effect.  You can find out more about the USG on its website.  A good example of its work last year was the re-opening of the River Burn, a tributary that enters the Ure just below Masham, which had been closed to fish movement since 1910 by a weir.  The removal of the weir last summer allowed salmon the run up the Burn to spawn in December and January, which they did in significant numbers.  All being well, and applying the usual survival rates, this work should deliver an additional 60-100 adult salmon back into the river in 5 years' time.

The Burn experience underlines the point that, contrary to folklore, salmon don't unfailingly return to the point of their birth.  If that was true, salmon would have been wiped out in the Ice Ages.  Instead they stray as a survival strategy, going wherever the water conditions encourage them.  Opening up spawning areas is a very productive approach.  If more salmon enter the river but the spawning area remains constant, the higher density of fry and parr will diminish the food available to each juvenile, reduce smolt strength and condition, increase stress and disease risk, and cause the population to reach a premature plateau.  Nature is ruthlessly self-regulating.   Increasing the spawning area raises survival rates at each life stage and sends stronger, fitter smolts away to sea.

Cold Spring Training
Goretex & Lycra at 4C
So what am I doing to help?  Last year I decided to cycle the 100 miles from the Humber Bridge, under which all Ure salmon pass, along the line of their migration up the river to the natural barrier of Aysgarth Falls.  Actually it's 109 miles, but 100 is a nice clean number.  I started training last spring, but unfortunately events, weather and time prevented me from completing the challenge.  Over the course of the winter I did 2-3 hard sessions per week on the turbo-trainer, whilst making a plan for the fundraising.  This work meant that I was fit and ready for spring training as soon as the weather allowed me out onto the roads.

Cannondale Synapse Carbon 105

I now have two very demanding mistresses: the British Cycling training plan for long distance endurance races; and a Cannondale Synapse carbon road bike, with which I spend 12-16 hours every week fulfilling the former.  No matter what the adverts say, 100 miles on a bike isn't comfortable, even with the benefit of detailed fitting.  The tyres are at 100 psi and there's no suspension.  The Synapse is one of the best long distance designs on the market and very easy riding, but there's no alternative to training yourself to cope with discomfort.  It's all good character building stuff, especially when you're facing an 18 mph headwind for 25 miles.

When riding into the wind with my hands on the drops and my head down, I get a close-up view of the cap on top of the handlebar stem thoughtfully provided by my elder (non-fishing) son as a motivational device.  The computer (actually an app on my iPhone) goes on the clip above, showing my speed, distance travelled, heart rate and cadence (pedal rpm).  Heart rate is a key determinant in the British Cycling plan to maximise its effectiveness: burst at 175 bpm for aerobic fitness; 145-160 bpm for extended climbs; and 125-135 bpm for churning out the miles.  It's all very scientific, but it certainly works: I can now do 50+ miles with ease and am confident that I can complete the ride in good order.  There are some ugly hills in the last 20 miles, so I'll need a stock of grit and determination in store at the 6 hour point.

The fundraising is going really well via my Just Giving page,  and naturally I should be most grateful if you were to join in and make a donation.

I've got the best imaginable sponsor in Theakston's Brewery.  The insignia is of a medieval office holder known as the 'Peculier of Masham', who gives his name to their Old Peculier strong ale.  Both Simon Theakston and most of my friends consider my madness in undertaking this ride distinctly peculiar, and they're probably right.  Perhaps I'm just guilty of trying to defy the years on a basis of fading memories of exceptional fitness.  But whatever the motivation, it's a great cause.

And I'm looking forward to the pint of Theakston's XB on the finish line.