Friday, 8 April 2016

Unusually Slow

Joy and Sorrow

It's been an unusually slow start to my fishing year.  Followers of this blog will be familiar with the enthusiasm that bubbles out of me as the new season approaches.  However, some may have noticed an absence of written output in recent months and perhaps worried that I've lost my spark.  Fear not, I haven't, but I have been distracted by two rather important things, like life and death: yes, really.  I'm very keen on fishing, but I can't equal the level of fanatical devotion achieved by the late great Bill Shankly, who managed Liverpool FC 1959-74.  When asked whether football was a matter of life and death for him, he replied "No, it's much more important than that".

Life is full of delight.  Our first grandchild arrived at the end of December, fractionally short of the 11 lbs of a full 2 MSW  salmon.  He's a lovely chap, albeit pink rather than silver in colour, and although fathered by my non-fishing son, I very much hope to be allowed to introduce him to the joys of angling as soon as he's ready.  Hopefully I shall have 2 students in the  2021 season as my sometime trout-nymphing daughter is due to produce her first child in early May.  And in between the salmon-catching HMCX gets married in late April.  So the positive side of the equation is unbounded joy all round, even if it has managed to diminish my thinking about fishing.

Death is always a shock, even if it has been long anticipated.  My step father in law had suffered progressively worsening health over the past 3 years, and by February it was evident that he was entering the final phase.  He was admitted to hospital and died peacefully just after Easter at the age of 85 with his family at the bedside.  Now there is much to do and organise, leaving even less time to think about fishing.  Amidst the sadness we have to accept that death is as much a part of life as birth, so faced with its inevitability, let us smile, strive to be happy and enjoy our fishing as much and for as long as possible.

Despite those worthy sentiments I cannot avoid maudlin thoughts of the family's fishermen who have gone before me: my grandfather who suffered a stroke whilst spring fishing on the Exe at 83, but fell backwards onto the bank, denying him the death in the river he would have chosen; my father who introduced me to the sport that would captivate me and taught me to live every day to the maximum as he had since D-Day; my original father in law whose dedication to the River Rye and the pursuit of its trout made Bill Shankly seem half-hearted; and his eldest son, my brother in law, forever 26, whose ashes blended with his father's in the Rye.  They all contributed to my life and fishing in many different ways, and their enjoyment of the sport, enthusiasm, wisdom and good company makes it easy for me to remember them with grateful smiles.

Getting Ready

Sorting the Kit

The Great Fishing Chest 
Despite all the distractions and the lack of the impetus of a spring trip to the Dee this year, I spent a happy half hour last week poking about in the GFC to work out my annual John Norris order.  As usual the major components were fluorocarbon tippet (15 & 19 lbs) and sinking polyleaders.  It may grieve a Yorkshire heart, but throwing away last season's tippet materials is an essential discipline.  Fluorocarbon is expensive, but losing a first class fish is beyond price.  Some people question the reliability of fluorocarbon, but it's never let me down, and last season 15 lbs Seaguar withstood the power of a 32 pounder for 40 minutes.  Yes, Maxima is much cheaper and may arguably be more reliable, but it doesn't sink well and it hasn't got Seaguar's near invisibility in water.  If you don't believe the invisibility point, have a look at the photos in the Blinded by the Light post for some solid evidence.

MCX Dark V2
Size 8

The main fly order will be for MCX Shrimps, which bore the brunt of last season's fishing.  The progression from the original sparsely dressed Darragh Digney prototype, through the fluffy Version 1, and thence to the conservative V2 shown here, has produced a fly in which I have solid confidence.  The difference between Light and Dark is the substitution of grey for black throughout the dressing.  I used the MCX on every day that I fished the Ure last season, and on each occasion that there was sensibly fishable water, it caught fish. On the other hand, I didn't use it on either the Dee or the Tweed because the ghillies insisted on other patterns: I caught nothing (which of course proves nowt, but I couldn't resist making the point).

Here's some well chewed proof, looking distinctly the worse for wear after 40 minutes in the jaw of the Beast of Wensleydale and extraction with pliers.  Despite its dishevelled appearance I suspect that it would still be capable of hooking fish, even if the far hook-point might not hold anything substantial.  I need a full re-stock of MCXs owing to the consequences of fishing in low water - catching rocks - leading to bent hooks or lost flies.  My order will go off to Martyn Roberts shortly.  Sadly Martyn had to shut his business, All Water Fly Fishing of Harrogate in early March,  another expert tackle dealer subdued by the might of the internet.

State of the Rivers

We had a very wet winter and to round it off almost 100mm of rain in March, which was about 30% above average.  As a result Yorkshire's rivers are in fine fettle.  The winter storms flushed them through, clearing away the sludge left by 3 years' low flows, and leaving them bright and clear.  The invertebrate counts in the Rye are at record levels and my friends who fish the Wharfe and Nidd have a spring in their step.  The prospects for the trout and sea trout are excellent.

With the wet winter salmon have been running into the Ouse system since before Christmas, and in growing numbers over the past month.  More than 400 passed through the Tanfield counter over Easter.  Everywhere the land is very damp, which sustains the flow; causes levels to fall very slowly in the dry weeks; and extends the periods in which the salmon can run, bringing them further upstream.

Whereas for the last 3 cold very dry springs it was hardly worth wetting a line, this year I am as optimistic as ever and can't wait to get out.  Amidst life and death my enthusiasm for my 61st season shines as strongly as ever, with the added excitement this year of spending Just One Week in Norway on the Gaula in July.  

Hopefully I shall have something substantial to write about before long.  If you're out on the water, tight lines, and remember in cold water to fish the fly more slowly and a foot or so deeper than later in the year.


  1. Great looking fly, be nice to see it in the flesh so to say.
    Hope to see you again on the Ure some time

  2. Hi MCX, As ever your articles are the best. I read your point about "maudlin thoughts of the family's fishermen" with great interest. My grandfather was a huge influence on me and he also died recently. He took me fishing with him for the first time when I was only 6 years old. We had great adventures which are burned into my memory for ever.
    I think of him every day and I try to take a piece of his tackle with me on every trip. I guess its my way of still taking him along to the river.

    Kindest regards - Gavin.

    1. Gavin, many thanks for your kind remarks. My grandfather died 42 years ago, so all I have left of his tackle that's usable are his Wye leads and spinners (real 1960 Tobys and various Devons). Nevertheless his salmon fly boxes are still in the GFC, alongside various items of my father's.