Saturday, 4 April 2015

Chilled Tweed Pearl - A Return to Rutherford

As I noted in my last post, my very kind friend Tony invited me once again to join him for a day at Rutherford at the end of March.  Sadly his mother in law's death and funeral prevented Tony from fishing, but most generously he gave me the opportunity to take a guest to fill his place.  John  enthusiastically accepted my offer, so we set off on the Sunday evening to drive from Yorkshire to Kelso, an easy 150 miles with no traffic whatsoever beyond Newcastle.

We stayed at the Ednam House Hotel in Kelso, the archetypal Edwardian salmon fisher's resting place, which faces directly onto the Junction pool.  It's the sort of place where my grandfather would have stayed: indeed, I half expected to meet his tweed clad ghost during my stay.  There have been some changes since my last visit: the stone flagged hall in which triumphant anglers would lay out their broad shouldered Tweed salmon for all to admire, is now neatly carpeted.  Perhaps it's a sign of more modest times.  The Edwardians were great ones for shooting a line, to an even greater extent than the City yuppies of the eighties and oughties.  They loved flaunting their achievements and revelled in records and statistics in ways we'd find distasteful.   However, in a time of austerity, modesty and fewer rods on the river, the Ednam has to appeal to a wider client base.  Its recent purchase by a company that operates a chain of boutique hotels across Scotland and Northumberland suggests that even greater changes may be on the way (and probably higher prices too - this stay was good value at a B&B price for a room with a view over the river).  The morning temperature made a big breakfast essential.  I don't think breakfast gets better than a full English (or Scottish as we were on the north bank) whilst surveying the Junction Pool.

The conditions on the river reinforced the wisdom of our breakfast choice.  Air and water were evenly matched at 5C, whilst a raw westerly blew straight downstream at around 20 knots.  The river stood at a perfect +1' 4" and was clearing nicely.  Michael Farr recommended a sinking line and a medium sized fly before despatching us to the bottom quarter of the beat at Lover's Leap to fish until lunch.

Lover's Leap
looking downstream from the head
If the photograph looks a little hazy it's the shake caused by wind and cold.  The rest of me was comfortably warm with 3 layers of Simms 'ninja pyjamas' (as my friends call them), Vision Ikon Goretex waders and my ancient Snowbee jacket.  But as soon as I removed my gloves to rig up the wind cut in and my fingers developed the shaky fumbles.  That condition and the wind didn't make for a steady hand on the camera, so I've failed to do a very pretty stretch of water justice here.  It's also very 'fishy': it looks right, feels right and gives you confidence that something might just happen, all the more so as there were fish present.

Although we were more sheltered from the wind than the upper water, keeping the casting neat and tidy was still quite a challenge.  The Guideline Scandi S2/3 head cut through the turbulence without difficulty - no problem there.  The issue was with forming and preserving the D-loop in the Double Spey whilst keeping the running line under control.  Not only was there wind pressure on the rod in the 'round and up' phase, but also, as you came 'up', the D-loop staged a bid for downstream freedom despite the sustained anchor.  Achieving the perfect 180 degrees was out of the question, especially during the gusts.  In such conditions you have to fish within your limits and above all, don't try to fight the wind with physical force, because you'll just wear yourself out and cover less water.  That said, it's not easy to relax and calm down when everything seems on the edge of disarray.  But every time I did, the line flew far further and far better: if you stop worrying about perfection, then fishing in challenging conditions becomes much more enjoyable.  

I also had a pleasant surprise: last year on the Dee I had a real problem digging the Guideline head out at the end of the swing (as recorded in Sinking Feeling) and ended the day frustrated and rather angry  All is now forgiven: I retract my previous criticism because the Guideline head behaved perfectly all day, extracting smoothly and consistently.  Of course it takes effort, but this year it certainly didn't feel immovable.  The only change was the rod: last year I was using the Loop Cross S1 14 footer; and this year the much softer Vision Cult 13' 8".  I haven't a clue whether that made any difference.

On that note, this was my first outing with the Cult since the replacement of the horrid reel seat with an ALPS down-locker, and of the old Koma with the new Rulla.  The combination provides perfect balance, which makes for a very easy fishing experience.  In this circumstances you just don't have to think about the rod or change the position of your right hand between fishing and casting.  My only complaint is that the Rulla is so shiny it's massively over-exposed in the photo.  The Cult remains a most satisfying rod.  Despite its 'slow' action and 13' 8" length it covered all the water I needed all day, without fatigue.  In contrast John, fishing a 15 footer, was still stiff 3 days later.

Wading gingerly past the spot where I took a swim in February 2013 (just short of the small point on the right), I fished on down.  Everything looked and felt so right that I remained focused throughout.  This really is beautiful fishing water, with a realistically reachable running line.  The odds are never as good in the spring as they are later in the year, but to date Rutherford has been having a very good spring run, with catches significantly above the 5 year average for March.

As always lunch came too quickly and we repaired to the hut with its warming stove.  In Tony's absence there were no haggis crisps this year, although 'Anglesey Sea Salt' flavour maintained the international tendency.  One of the rods fishing the upper water had caught a couple of kelts and several fresh fish had shown during the morning, so optimism remained the order of the day, even if the forecast warned of rain in the afternoon.

looking down towards Anne's Bank
With lunch complete and the river properly rested, I headed upstream to the Island, which comprises a long straight run influenced by croys  on both sides.  It's yet another Rutherford stretch that reeks of fish.  That said, optimism was the best available defence against the worsening weather as the Island is wide open.  Putting up the hood on my jacket helped, but for all its extra warmth I dislike the loss of situational awareness it brings.  I prefer to be in touch with everything around me, and so tend to put up the hood only when forced by the conditions.  In contrast, under the water things had improved by a couple of points on the MCX scale, so I put on a smaller fly - a No 6 Cascade double -  in place of the morning's 1" tube.

I fished steadily down the Island, very happy in the otherwise dour conditions.  There's an old Army saying - "any fool can be uncomfortable".  Nowadays, with all the superb bad weather clothing on the market, misery is an entirely avoidable condition.  As ever, it's worth spending a little more to get quality and durability; and don't skimp on the base layers.

After 90 minutes Michael Farr reappeared to take me up to the top of the beat to fish from the boat, whilst John carried on down from where I'd finished.  I can't say that I much enjoy casting from a boat, but on the other hand Michael's company more than compensated.  That said, he's a man with economy of language.  About half way through the session, as he hadn't said anything about it, I asked whether I was placing the fly correctly in relation to the current and boat, to which he responded "if you weren't I'd tell you soon enough".  Well, it's nice to know you're doing it right, even if indirectly.  But however well I did it, the salmon remained unstimulated.

So it was another blank day, but I'd thoroughly enjoyed myself despite the lack of a fish and the weather.  It was glorious to be out at Rutherford again; to have a fly in the water after a long dreary winter; and to make a start to the new season.  

Next week I'm back on the Dee on the Waterside and Ferrar beat of Glen Tanar.  Judging by the Fish Pal reports there are fish up there this year, whereas last year they seemed to stop at Ballogie, about 4 miles downstream from us.  But even with that hopeful news the odds remain very firmly against us, so my expectations are very low.  On the other hand its a very pretty piece of water in lovely surroundings and it's great to get away with friends for a couple of days.  It's not just about catching fish - a phrase that became all too familiar in 2014 - although in truth I'd love to catch a beautiful silver springer to get the year off to a great start.

Here's to a new season and tight lines to you all.

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