Wednesday, 12 July 2017

Raring to go - slowly and carefully

Dreams of the Gaula


Three weeks ago I was lying in an MRI scanner feeling very sorry for myself whilst the radiologists had a good look at my lower spine.  I could neither stand nor walk, and the medical opinion was that going to the Gaula this year was completely out of the question.  My morale could not have been lower.  Losing the best of the trout season was bad enough, but the prospect of losing all of this year's salmon fishing was devastating.  But amidst my misery I was grimly determined to get better.



I don't know how it happened.  The day after my last post I spent a very pleasant afternoon on the Rye, catching 5 nice brown trout including this thumping fish of 4 3/4 lbs.  As the afternoon progressed I experienced increasing pain in my right leg and difficulty walking.  Over the next 3 weeks it got ever worse despite the concentrated attentions of a physiotherapist, until it was blindingly obvious that there was something seriously wrong.

The MRI scan confirmed that notion: I had 2 prolapsed discs in my lower spine pressing on the femoral and sciatic nerves; and a displaced and damaged vertebra lower down.  Any one of those 3 would stop you in your tracks: all 3 at once had the back specialist sucking his teeth.  He estimated that it would take me 3-4 months to get back on my feet; reckoned that my salmon season was a lost cause; and warned that the shooting season might go the same way.


I spent many hours lying on the floor with a kilo of Captain Birds Eye's finest peas for company; took handfuls of very big pills; and slept whenever my leg allowed.  I made all sorts of unmanly whimpering noises and garnered lots of sympathy.  It was very unpleasant.  Meanwhile outside it poured with rain: we had double the June average, which generated some good spates in the Ure and allowed my friends to start catching Yorkshire salmon.

And a miracle happened.  Within week of the MRI scan I stood up without support; a week later I walked 1/2 mile; and at the end of the third week back specialist expressed amazement and the GP gave me the green light for the Gaula.  He said that I wouldn't be able to cast as far or as frequently as normal.  While I might hurt myself, I would do no permanent damage, which explains the suffix to the title of this post - slowly and carefully indeed.


So today I prepared and packed my kit.  Laying it all out like this helps me to avoid forgetting anything by checking against last year's photo. I'm taking 3 rods: the 13' 8" Cult; the 13' MAG; and a new addition, a Vision Tool 11' 6" #8 close quarter rod (I'll write about it in due course: it's the perfect size for the smaller sections of the Ure).  The 3 reels are the Vision Rulla, Lamson Guru and Danielsson L5W (a perfect balance on the short Tool), all loaded with Rio Scandi floating heads.  The 5 extra heads are Guideline medium and slow sinkers; a 550 gn Skagit; a 50' Mid-Spey; and a spare Scandi #8, which can be used on any of the rods.  Three spools of Seaguar - 40, 30 & 23.5 lbs; two sets of polyleaders; my standard fly boxes, with one of Norway specials; and all the usual tools, glues, bits and bobs.







The clothing will be totally different this year.  Last year we had blazing sun, temperatures in the high 20s and no water.  This year we have plenty of water (it's raining), clouds and temperatures of 12-14 by day and as low as 5-6 at night, which calls for the Ninja pyjamas.


Gaulfossen flow rate July 2017
There's loads of water as you can see from this shot taken tonight from the flow recorder on the Gaulfossen rapids.  Above 180 m3/sec the salmon cannot run into our beat above the rapids, but by Saturday the river will be back into its normal range.  I'll have no excuses and no grounds for complaint.  I've been truly blessed with an extraordinary recovery and now with perfect water on a beautiful river.  If I have used up all my luck and blank, so be it, because I've been lucky beyond belief.





Patrick and MCX are on their way: bring it on trolls!


Monday, 29 May 2017

Not Gone Yet

AN APOLOGY

It's been 6 months since I last wrote and posted anything, by far the longest gap ever on this blog.  Perhaps some of you thought I'd given up, gone absent or died (yes, I do go on about my age a bit).  Some might even have missed J1W.  I'm sorry, but I had nothing worthwhile to say.  I'm not one of those 'stream of consciousness' folk who inhabit the world of Twitter or the 'blogosphere' who consider their thoughts on breakfast important.  Nor do I like repeating myself: I've written before on my spring routine, preparing for the new season and so forth.  Rehashing the content of those articles doesn't appear very useful for either you the reader or me the author, so I rely on you using the index if you wish to find something out.  I try to be original and interesting, on the assumption that if it doesn't stimulate me, it will surely bore the pants off you.

IT'S THE WEATHER - AGAIN



Vale of York Rainfall - Spring 2017
Average - Blue  Observed - Red
Cumulative total lines showing shortfall of 60%
Over the life of this blog I've beaten the weather to death, with endless rants about the lack of rain, the reasons for it, and the consequent absence of fish. There's a finite limit to what you can write on the subject, unless of course you are a professional meteorologist.  It suffices to say that up until now, the 6 months' weather from the end of last season on 31st October has been so contrary to the needs of salmon fishing in most of the UK as to stretch credibility.  In Yorkshire we have had the driest winter since 1994-95, followed by the driest spring since 2003.  There were 27 rain-free days in March and less than half average rainfall; and 28 in April resulting in a meagre 22%.  My garden is as dry as a bone down to a depth of 12"/30cm, and I had used the entire contents of my rainwater butt before the end of April. Needless to say, the Ure and most other salmon rivers are all below their mean summer low levels, when in normal times we should be at the peak of the spring run, with happy smolts surfing off to sea on a brown spate.  Meanwhile Norway is up to its neck in snow that has only just started to melt and the Russian rivers are still ice-bound.  It's been a very strange year.  On the other hand it's the average of all sorts of years' weather that adds up to the average called climate.

I have fished only once in the past 6 months: a very kind friend took me as his guest to Rutherford on the Tweed, where I blanked.  But I've written 3 times before about the beauty of Rutherford on a blank day, and saw little merit in repeating myself.  Blanking is boring; writing about it is painful; and there are no useful lessons to be had from failure.  Without water there has been no point visiting the Ure.  The trout in the Rye have remained untroubled by my attentions because the harbinger of the dry spring - a cold north easterly air flow - has offered the prospect of discomfort and meagre results. 





Muscat suburbs
viewed from the Sultan Qaboos Knowledge Oasis

Without the joys of fishing and fish, or at least the imminent prospect of both, it's incredibly difficult to write.  I'm not a journalist and I don't get paid for this, so there's no imperative. Believe me I'd love to have something to write about, but just now, I don't.  I've recently returned from working in the Gulf - the photo was taken at 44C - and although I've previously written some good blogs from hotel rooms in the Gulf, on this trip I couldn't have been further from a salmon river geographically, climatically or psychologically.


LOOKING AHEAD


Gaula at 2am
But there's lots of excitement ahead.  In July I return to the Gaula, with my optimism refreshed by the news of the volume of snow in the mountains and of a delayed thaw.  Things are looking much better than they did at this time last year, when there was less snow and the thaw started early.  It's too good a river not to be excited by the prospect of fishing its crystal water and the hope of connecting to one of its magnificent fish.






Tomatin House
Then in September, Just One Week returns to its alma mater, Tomatin House, where this blog began.  We've been invited by the younger generation to join their house party together with some other convival oldies.  Of course even the young aren't as young as they used to be: they've got children now, so with any luck their late night, sleep-disturbing partying may have faded into the past......to be replaced by early morning hunger squalls, which won't bother me on jot as I'll be on the river.







Tomatin
House Pool looking upstream to Colonel's
I'm told that the great flood caused by Storm Frank had a major impact on Tomatin's water, changing the nature of the pools and shifting huge volumes of rock and gravel.  Having to re-learn the river and find the best spots will add extra spice and give me endless happy hours of analysis.  Although it's critically dependent on water (as are most rivers that I fish), Tomatin House is a wonderful place redolent with the happiest of memories.  It's not just about fishing: the company of friends in beautiful surroundings is the real gold.





Then in October it's Yorkshire and the Ure for the annual father and son bonding trip with HMCX.  Last year he caught a fish within 15 minutes of starting, which was the most marvellous morale booster after 2 blank years.  We have 2 days on the river and a night at the Bolton Arms in Redmire, a classic Dales village pub with good food, great beer, nice rooms and a super atmosphere.  We enjoy the beer, share a bottle of Australian Shiraz with our steaks and treasure the time.  HMCX married last spring and no doubt he'll soon have a family of his own, so we're determined to make the most of this special time while we may.  He fell under the spell of salmon at Tomatin in his late teens, and once he'd caught his first large salmon he was well and truly hooked.  He's also excellent company on the river bank.









THE URE SALMON RUN CHALLENGE



I have to admit that something other than salmon fishing has been taking up a lot of my time of late, indeed, since last summer.  On the other hand, it's all about salmon - "what else?" my wife would say.


I'm a member and supporter of the Ure Salmon Group, a subordinate charity of the Yorkshire Dales Rivers Trust.  Its aim is to assist the natural return of salmon to the Dales through low-level projects that open up spawning areas, protect the fry and parr nurseries, and reduce pollution risks.  The strength of the USG lies in the leverage of 'matched funding': each £1 that they put in will be more than matched by funding from the Environment Agencies, non-public bodies and private sector benefactors, often achieving £5-10 worth of effect.  You can find out more about the USG on its website.  A good example of its work last year was the re-opening of the River Burn, a tributary that enters the Ure just below Masham, which had been closed to fish movement since 1910 by a weir.  The removal of the weir last summer allowed salmon the run up the Burn to spawn in December and January, which they did in significant numbers.  All being well, and applying the usual survival rates, this work should deliver an additional 60-100 adult salmon back into the river in 5 years' time.


The Burn experience underlines the point that, contrary to folklore, salmon don't unfailingly return to the point of their birth.  If that was true, salmon would have been wiped out in the Ice Ages.  Instead they stray as a survival strategy, going wherever the water conditions encourage them.  Opening up spawning areas is a very productive approach.  If more salmon enter the river but the spawning area remains constant, the higher density of fry and parr will diminish the food available to each juvenile, reduce smolt strength and condition, increase stress and disease risk, and cause the population to reach a premature plateau.  Nature is ruthlessly self-regulating.   Increasing the spawning area raises survival rates at each life stage and sends stronger, fitter smolts away to sea.



Cold Spring Training
Goretex & Lycra at 4C
So what am I doing to help?  Last year I decided to cycle the 100 miles from the Humber Bridge, under which all Ure salmon pass, along the line of their migration up the river to the natural barrier of Aysgarth Falls.  Actually it's 109 miles, but 100 is a nice clean number.  I started training last spring, but unfortunately events, weather and time prevented me from completing the challenge.  Over the course of the winter I did 2-3 hard sessions per week on the turbo-trainer, whilst making a plan for the fundraising.  This work meant that I was fit and ready for spring training as soon as the weather allowed me out onto the roads.
















Cannondale Synapse Carbon 105

I now have two very demanding mistresses: the British Cycling training plan for long distance endurance races; and a Cannondale Synapse carbon road bike, with which I spend 12-16 hours every week fulfilling the former.  No matter what the adverts say, 100 miles on a bike isn't comfortable, even with the benefit of detailed fitting.  The tyres are at 100 psi and there's no suspension.  The Synapse is one of the best long distance designs on the market and very easy riding, but there's no alternative to training yourself to cope with discomfort.  It's all good character building stuff, especially when you're facing an 18 mph headwind for 25 miles.






When riding into the wind with my hands on the drops and my head down, I get a close-up view of the cap on top of the handlebar stem thoughtfully provided by my elder (non-fishing) son as a motivational device.  The computer (actually an app on my iPhone) goes on the clip above, showing my speed, distance travelled, heart rate and cadence (pedal rpm).  Heart rate is a key determinant in the British Cycling plan to maximise its effectiveness: burst at 175 bpm for aerobic fitness; 145-160 bpm for extended climbs; and 125-135 bpm for churning out the miles.  It's all very scientific, but it certainly works: I can now do 50+ miles with ease and am confident that I can complete the ride in good order.  There are some ugly hills in the last 20 miles, so I'll need a stock of grit and determination in store at the 6 hour point.






The fundraising is going really well via my Just Giving page,  and naturally I should be most grateful if you were to join in and make a donation.

I've got the best imaginable sponsor in Theakston's Brewery.  The insignia is of a medieval office holder known as the 'Peculier of Masham', who gives his name to their Old Peculier strong ale.  Both Simon Theakston and most of my friends consider my madness in undertaking this ride distinctly peculiar, and they're probably right.  Perhaps I'm just guilty of trying to defy the years on a basis of fading memories of exceptional fitness.  But whatever the motivation, it's a great cause.

And I'm looking forward to the pint of Theakston's XB on the finish line.