Monday, 19 May 2014

The Joys of Spring

Spring in the Dales - West Wood 2, Bolton Hall Beat, River Ure, 15th May 2014
It has been my extraordinary good fortune to spend much of the first half of May in warm sunny places with my art historian wife whilst the rain at home lifted the rivers and pulled spring fish up from the Humber.  This really was the best of both worlds.

The view from dinner
By day I was educated in the beauties of the Grecian civilisation in Sicily in the 5th Century BC and then the Moors in Spanish Andalucia in the 10th Century AD.  Come the evening and over the most welcome beer (a truly international concept) my phone would tell me how the river was rising and who was catching what and where.  But with views like this even I was not going to be studying the Environment Agency's App at dinner!

The Alhambra

By the end of the week in Andalucia it was clear that the Ure had been up high enough and long enough to bring the first flight of springers all the way up to Thoresby, which is 73 miles from the salt as the river flows.  Facebook and personal e-mails told me all - one rod was averaging a fish per day, and another at Swinithwaite had taken a silver 20 pounder.  It was time to fold the culture, head home and get into the water.

By sheer chance I had already booked a beat on the 15th to take a novice friend onto the Ure. After 2 sessions of instruction with Alan Maughan it was time to let Gordon have a fly on the end and put it into the water for the first time.  In the event this was the 4th day after the river had peaked at + 1.5m at the end of a week of high water, so there were good grounds for optimism.  Yes, the water was slightly lower than the optimum, but any fish in the pools would have arrived in the previous 4-5 days and would be respectably alert.  The odds are always against you in the spring, but this would be as good as it might be,

West Wood 1 looking upstream
We were on the Bolton Hall beat, which comprises 3 miles of double bank fishing, at this time of year allocated for 2 rods.  There are about a dozen pools, of which 6 are full-sized classics. It's not as open as Thoresby, directly above, on which I've posted at length before, but it's a much better option for a novice as there are substantial areas where the fish are within 10 yards of the wading line.  The picture shows an example: 80% of the fish in this pool are close to the left bank (right in the photo).  Although it's better fished technically from the other side with a 25 yard cast, a novice on the left is in with an excellent chance with just 10-15 yards.

The conditions may not have been perfect for salmon but they were fabulous in any other context.  The water was  at +8", clear and a comfortable 10C.  Above water we had sunshine and light cloud, a gentle westerly breeze and a temperature around 18C.  On the MCX Scale this scored around 6, so this was a time for smaller flies and plain leaders.  I began with a #12 Blue Charm, my favourite clear water fly, but immediately encountered two significant problems. First, the previous week's high water had deprived the resident trout of their ration of hatching olives, so at the first sign of a hatch they were up for anything that even remotely resembled a nymph.  We fished through 2 lovely hatches of March Brown and Medium Dark, during which any salmon wouldn't have got a look at the fly amidst the melee of brown trout.  The second problem was a pleasurable extension of the first, in that the resident browns had been joined by plenty of sea trout in every size from 8 ounces to 8 pounds.  At one point I did weaken and fish directly to a large sea trout lying just off the prominent oak tree on the left of the photo at the top of the post: he took and I missed (well, my excuse is that no strike is quick at 28 yards).  The only way to stop being bothered to death was to go up a couple of sizes to #8, which reduced the takes by 80% or so.

Having fished the morning on the top of the beat in the sheltered pools at West Wood, we moved down to the smart new hut at Lord's Bridge for lunch.  It's not quite finished so we sat on the bank to enjoy lunch, the surroundings and the sunshine.  Anyone watching from the far bank would have seen two elderly gentlemen sharing a picnic whilst swigging wine directly from the bottle (Gordon had forgotten the glasses).  Despite the absence of civilisation it still tasted very good.  That said, we didn't over indulge, which deprives me of an excuse for missing a good take on the first cast after lunch.

Above Lord's Bridge
The bottom of the beat is open and sweeping, with a series of long pools from the end of West Wood down to the bridge marking the boundary.  This one is fishable for most of the 300 yards from the neck down to the bridge, with good depth and lies across much of its width.  The running line is almost central, but the entire pool proclaims 'fish'.  With +12" on the gauge in September and October this could be great fun.


The next pool up is best fished from the right bank, not least because the wading on the left is deep and awkward in places.  However, in any sort of water wading across the neck is not a good option, so you have to walk down, over the bridge and back up.  Nevertheless a novice has viable fishing for the top third from the left and over half from the right.  A 25 yard cast covers 90% of the fish.  This photo is taken from where I missed the after lunch take, about half way round to the dangle, with no more than 20 yards of line out.

Although we failed to land a fish we had a great day out.  Gordon has his first day's salmon fishing whilst I thoroughly enjoyed guiding him and exploring a new beat.  There are no certainties in spring fishing but on such a day the pleasures are immense.  Now I shall have to wait for some more water to bring up the next flight of runners, but in between there are plenty of trout to amuse me on the Rye.

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