Tuesday, 11 November 2014


I haven't posted anything recently for the simple reason that I've not had much to say that's original or interesting.  In the absence of water and hence time on the water, writing about fishing in the abstract isn't everyone's preferred reading.  However, I am pulling together some material drawn from the days I've spent leading novices to the river, which I'll publish very soon after this philosophical post.

No matter how much I try to rationalise the extreme patterns of this year's weather, there's no escaping the fact that the salmon fishing has been almost universally dire from south west Ireland to north east Scotland, and in most places in between.  From that perspective, not being on Tomatin this September spared us a week that would have been deeply reminiscent of 2002, 2003 and 2005.  On the other hand, I really missed the fun of the large house party of friends and their various offspring.  So did the dog: she was completely dippy for most of September.

Only now in November is it starting to rain seriously.  The 30mm we got for the whole of October was helpful but not exactly normal.  You need a sustained lift to bring fish up the Ure from the Humber, or indeed up any river system.  That thinking led me into the serious error of expressing my disappointment to my long-suffering wife when delivering the morning mug of tea, which led to the firm riposte that I was worse than the farmers, always complaining and ungrateful for wider mercies.  I admit that she's right: as a lamentable salmon season drew to a close, I was so desperate for some possibility of even one day's decent fishing that I'd lost sensible balance. Perhaps the introduction of an EU single fish payment like the farmers' SFP might redress the imbalance.  That said, even the 'single' fish I caught mid-month was nice,  but confirmed that I'd be cheap for DEFRA to keep.

The fact that this mental imbalance is common to most salmon fishermen doesn't make me innocent (or you either).  After all, in law there's a clear difference between a plea of not guilty and a plea in mitigation of sentence.  The truth is we're all as bad as each other and can't claim a normal statistical distribution, as we're strongly skewed towards the fanatical. On the other hand, we're not as bad as some other groups.  In my comparative youth, the late great Bill Shankly, who managed Liverpool FC to umpteen trophies, was asked whether he regarded football as important as a matter of life and death.  He replied, "No, it's much more serious than that."  I don't know any salmon anglers so extreme, but there again, I don't live in Scotland, where the locals take the sport exceptionally seriously. Yorkshire frowns on excessive displays of enthusiasm unless there's a collective agreement to waive the rules - as we did the Grand Depart of the Tour de France, when the whole county went completely daft.  The proof of that unanimity and madness was in the broadcast aerial views of Wensleydale: I didn't spot a single angler on almost 30 miles of the Ure, Nidd, Swale and Wharfe as the peloton passed.

The Ure - bone dry 2nd October 2014
In the absence of water there weren't any there for the next 3 months.  However, at the beginning of October I spent 3 days on the Ure with HMCX, our youngest.  I'd booked the days back in April as soon as the Bolton Estate website opened for the new season, in the confidence that the Ure in autumn was as good a bet as anywhere in the UK for both water and salmon.  Of course, back in April not even the meteorologists had the least clue what was to come in May, let alone the rest of 2014.  As the date approached, morale went down and desperation for some rain went up in equal and opposite measure. We arrived on the Park beats of Bolton Hall on the Thursday in blazing sunshine with our expectations firmly calibrated at zero. The first challenge was to find some water deep enough to hold any sort of fish - about 30"/75cm is the the normal minimum for resident salmon - that was realistically fishable.  I'd never seen the Ure that low: indeed, I didn't know there was a 22cm point on the gauge at Kilgram: the previous low was 26cm.  We failed to find any water, so unfolded the directors' chairs and settled down to enjoy an extended picnic with a bottle of Ure-chilled white wine.

Spending time with your adult children is a rare pleasure that occurs all too infrequently. Once they emerge from the long dark tunnel of the teenage years (it's a neat saying but in truth all 3 of ours were very easy), they're off to university and away to the world of work in a flash.  For the fishing 2 of our three, work means London:  CCX does restaurants and food (she's keen to graduate from trout to salmon but finds the notion of catching and releasing such superb ingredients an anathema) and HMCX is in corporate insurance.  For them, time on a river is a rare privilege.  ECX in the middle goes wherever the Army sends him. Fishing doesn't really fit with his demanding schedule and extreme sporting tendencies that have displaced his childhood trout enthusiasm. In what seems the twinkling of an eye you find yourself the parent of mature conversational adults who are excellent company and share several of your interests.  Or more properly, is it the case that by good fortune I share some of theirs?  With that transformation come the realisations that you have to make the most of your time together before their own families arrive, expand and mature, and the cycle begins all over again in their turn; and that it's far more important than salmon fishing.

After a lazy afternoon and a short period of trying to catch small sea trout on microscopic Blue Charms we repaired to our accommodation at the Bolton Arms in Redmire, a cooling pint of Theakstons and more conversation.  Across England country pubs are going out of business at a frightening rate, but the Bolton Arms is thriving, largely as a result of doing the simple things outstandingly well.  There's no gastro-pretensions here, just excellent pub food, great beer, friendly service and value for money (and the most heroic breakfasts).  The evidence was plain: on Friday night the bar and dining area were packed with locals from 6 until closing time.

Friday dawned a mite cooler, but remained so dry that we could drive the car onto the river bank at Thorseby.  Here we had two pools of fishable depth - Frodle and Flesh Dub - and of castable width, albeit not with full sized rods.  HMCX opted for the 12' #7 two-hander and I settled for the 10' #7 single hander that provides the means for my challenge of trying to catch Yorkshire salmon on a dry fly.  There were a few salmon showing - mostly out of boredom I suspect - but bearing in mind that they'd probably been in the river since the sustained spate in May, they looked in surprisingly good colour and condition.  Sea trout of all sizes were hungrily scooping up the periodic hatches of both olives and sedges, including a tantalising pair in Frodle that were well into double figures.

Green sludge
We got 3 good sea trout up to 4lbs in quick succession in the late morning before everything went quiet.  Just as the turning leaves were beginning to fall, so all the green stuff that has grown profusely underwater in the long sunny summer decided to stage its autumnal bid for freedom.  We were wasting so much time taking weed off our hooks that it wasn't worth continuing the unequal struggle, and so decided that a leisurely pub lunch was in order.  In such circumstances a pint of Theakstons is capable of dissolving even my formidable resolve.  We returned to fish out the day - the weed release stopped once the sun was off the water - without success but free from the pressure and dissatisfaction that the possibility of success engenders.  I apologised frequently and profusely to HMCX for the lack of salmon: his response, which I do not reproduce here for fear of accusations of maudling sentimentality, swept away all disappointment.  

It's great when they grow up, but it's a shame that the pace of their lives so often deprives us of the pleasure of their company.  Times like this are pure gold.

The underwater photo monopod
does selfie duty

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