Thursday, 5 June 2014

Rutherford - Pearl of the Tweed

Following 'Casting in the Park' I packed up and left Bolton Hall shortly after 4 pm without slipping a disc whilst removing my waders.  Even after 7 years' wear the grippy bits around the ankles still exert a firm hold that is hard to release when you're becoming less good at bending and standing on one foot whilst wrestling with the other.  Thank goodness the weather had driven off the Dales tourists: I have an abiding fear of my wader disrobing antics appearing on YouTube. I'm convinced that nice Nigerian with the smart camera on Deeside snapped me lying on my back by the road with my legs in the air waiting for Patrick to assist.  All manner of boot-pullers are advertised in the country sports magazines, but true fame awaits the inventor of the device that overcomes the resistance of neoprene feet.

My original plan had been to stop off for a casting lesson with Alan Maughan on my way past Wylam, but sadly the rain had lifted the Tyne to a level unsafe for teaching.  As a result I would have to face the width of the Tweed with a Single Spey cast that at best can be described as 'work in progress'.  I'd got by for the past decade with a bodged but functional 'lift and dip' imitation sufficient for the Findhorn and Ure, but recently formed the determination to become 'modern', smooth, level and efficient (energy saving is an issue here).  Unfortunately, despite Alan's patient persistence, my first session in early March didn't go very well.  The back was playing up with only 45 degrees of right traverse; and the 40C temperature differential between Riyadh and Bywell required Michelin-man dressing (all 3 layers of Simms' Ninja gear and a Schoffel fleece).  I could barely move and 4 hours in the Tyne at 6C finished the job.  By the end of the lesson I knew what I had to do but was physically incapable of doing it.  Anyway, that's my excuse.  It is, however, one of life's ironies that the simplest-named Spey cast, with the fewest movements and a single coherent flow, is quite the hardest to do well.  Furthermore, it's the most fault intolerant with the smallest margin of error.  Perhaps it's those challenges that make me so determined to master the beast, even if I risk becoming a mite phobic.  Anyway, I digress.

After a pleasant overnight stay with friends near Corbridge I left bright and early for Rutherford on deserted roads.  As you cross Carter Bar into Scotland there is a remarkable transition from the cloud-streaked blasted moorlands of Otterburn artillery range into the sunlit rolling hills and manicured agricultural estates of the Tweed valley.  It really lifts the spirits and puts you in a positive frame of mind for good fishing.  Well, this year anyway: last March I faced 4" of unploughed snow and the descent  between the crash barriers into Jedburgh on motorway tyres was the Borders' version of the Cresta run.  Then there was the east wind, sleet and sub-zero temperatures.  But despite all that I came away smitten with Rutherford - it's simply lovely - and was absolutely delighted when Tony invited back in more temperate May, to a beat that has been performing well and is clearly above its 5-year average this spring.

There's a strong sense of traditional due process here that starts as the redoubtable Michael Farr greets you on arrival.  Indeed, Michael is tradition personified: his father was ghillie of Rutherford before him; and his son follows as described in a recent Trout & Salmon tribute to the family.  You feel the ghosts of a century's tweed-clad great and good as your rod is removed and rigged; your leader material tested (I didn't play the pike wire jape and the 15 lbs Seaguar passed); and a 'flee' selected from your box.  After Michael's consultation with my host I was assigned to the Slap run below the weir and offered a lift to cover the 400 metre distance, which I politely declined in the interests of post-drive loosening up, before marching briskly through the fat spring lambs (my historic Reiver element noting the benefits of an English tup on Scottish ewes along the way).

Rutherford Weir
The river was running at +5".  Rain during the night had added some mud and colour but not changed the level.  Michael's selection was a #8 Cascade to a plain leader.  Cascades comprise about a third of my 'Low' box, so he didn't have much to choose from, whilst looking askance at the floating Bombers that await the fulfillment of my New Year resolution.  I had been advised to start at the top of the white water, so got to work immediately.  Furthermore, as this was the unfamiliar right bank (95% of my fishing is left) I was keen to get my left handed casting warmed up before Michael's eagle eye fell upon me.

The Slap Run
The tendency of the line to dive deep in the back-eddy on the near side of the weir made rolling up and out essential.  Further down I could adopt a conventional left-handed Circle/C/T Spey.  The run is something over 40 yards wide at this height, so there was no point investing vain effort towards the far side.  Just keep it tidy and conserve energy because there was at least an hour's casting ahead.  Michael duly appeared to check all was well, told me where to expect fish (one showed on cue, so I remarked that he would need to wind it up again over lunch).  Are ghillies the only people who find my weak jokes funny and my casting acceptable?  Anyway, he considered my left-handed 30+ yards with a 13' 6" rod satisfactory.  Certainly they were enough to cover his clockwork fish, but its spring was obviously run down because it failed to respond to both my first and second iterations.  With Slap fished twice to its shallows and Robo-Salmon on strike it was time to move on.

Ann's Bank
Michael transported me by quad up to Ann's Bank with firm instruction to present my 'flee' within a yard or two of the far side.  This involved wading a long way across in shallow water: where I took the photo it was less than knee-deep.  As the sun was coming out I changed the 'flee' for a fly in the form of a #12 Cascade and set to work.  By the sixth cast the fly landed level with the first poplar in the copse and swung round gently in the oblique flow.  As it approached the dangle in shallow water the rod tip jagged: a good silver fish of about 10 lbs came up onto the surface where it thrashed about vigorously but aimlessly (never a good sign in my experience).  I leaned into it and then gave some slack in the hope of encouraging it to turn away, but instead it came upstream into shallow water whilst trying to dig its head into the gravel along the way.  Eventually it turned away and we parted company.  It's often the case with fish hooked at the dangle that you get a poor hook hold near the front of the jaw that fails early in the fight (see Crash! Bang! Pluck! for a fuller explanation).

My motivation was now sky-high and I pressed on with renewed enthusiasm.  Four or five casts later, bang! bang!, again at the dangle, followed by exactly the same fight character and loss.  I couldn't tell whether the fish were following the fly round or lying in a scour on the edge of the shallows.  Not that it mattered, as there wasn't anything sensible I could do other than carry on fishing in the knowledge that things were happening and my luck might turn.  At that stage Michael re-appeared and waded out to join me.  This clearly put him within radio range of some more of his robo-salmon, which immediately responded to his signal by showing under the far bank.  If I was going to catch a Tweed springer, this was surely the moment, or at least the next 20-30 minutes.  Failing that, I would settle for the large sea trout slashing at hatching olives off the point of the light-coloured croy in the centre of the picture.  Sadly Tweed traditions intervened at this moment in the form of leisurely lunch and resting the river.  Reluctantly I left the water to join Tony at the picnic table adjacent to the hut and enjoy the spread he had assembled that morning in Kelso.  The haggis crisps seem to be part of the Tweed tradition, although I'd be pressed to identify the flavour in a blindfold test.

One of the other rods had taken a good fish in the bottom section of the beat, and Tony had caught a nice sea trout.  I'd seen and touched more fish than anyone else, but was not at all down-hearted with the prospect of the afternoon ahead tempered only by the knowledge of how quickly it would pass.  There are times in your life when you wish to slow the clocks: this was one of them.  Lunch was convivial and pleasant.  Aided by Tony's view of what comprises a glass of red wine (chemical engineers think in wholesale quantities) I felt suitably relaxed, but there was no way I was going to snooze on the banks of the Tweed.

Between the Caulds
The tradition-appointed hour arrived and we dispersed to our afternoon allocations.  Through the generosity of my host I was in pole position 'Between the Caulds', directly below the Slap.  This stretch is one of Rutherford's most productive, with particular concentration around the large ash tree on the right bank.  Tony kindly rowed me across to the left bank (another advantage of a Cambridge education), gave me my instructions and sent me off to the head of the run.

The Caulds is slightly narrower than the Slap - about 30 yards from the wading line - so right handed from the left bank I could cover it fully with the on-trial Vision Cult 13' 8".  As the water was deeper and faster than before, I contemplated a Conehead, but increasing clarity and sunlight led me to revert to the #8 Cascade that Michael had selected in the morning.  Tony had told me that most fish would be on or beyond the main flow line, but there was ample depth for runners across the whole width.  Indeed, two of the fish I saw showed within a couple of yards of my bank.  My anticipation and morale were high, so I fished energetically but methodically down this wonderful pool.  It's quite hard to maintain your concentration in such surroundings: behind you is mature woodland echoing with the songs of innumerable birds; around you ducks, oyster catchers, plovers and waders deputise for the Master Michael in observing your casting;  opposite you is the magisterial presence of Rutherford Lodge surveying its domain; and beyond is the neat perfection of Rutherford Mains Farm and woods self-evidently optimised for showing pheasants.  Of course the reputation of the river inflates your perceptions, but in view of their pleasures, why fight the sensations?  To be fishing for spring salmon on this water in such surroundings on a gentle May day rates as one of life's great privileges.  It's so good that you can't mind not catching.  I didn't, but ended the day with a broad smile.

Sadly tea time and tradition intruded all too soon.  Sixty years on the little boy inside me bothering trout with worms is still alive and well, pleading with his father for just one more cast before tea.  Tony allowed me several before rowing back.  Yes, in Yorkshire at this time of year we view 6.30 as the third taking peak, but our traditions are rather different, and for this beautiful day I was happy to go with the flow of the Tweed.

I am most grateful to Tony for his most generous hospitality and to Michael Farr for his company, guidance and for laughing at my jokes.  Unusually I draw no lessons from this day, only pleasant memories.

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