Thursday 18 April 2024

Rain, Beautiful Rain

I haven’t written anything since Christmas because, as is so often the case in winter, I didn’t have anything useful to say.  Now it’s April: the salmon season is open in Yorkshire; the rivers are full of water; and the first salmon have been caught on the Ure, the earliest catches in a decade.  That’s quite enough to perk me up to write, even if the content could be a mite thin.

It's been an extraordinarily wet winter, certainly the wettest since 2012, and probably since the1990s.  It started in October with 2 ½ times average rainfall, and above average or much more in every month since.  The land is waterlogged and will seep for weeks.  Any fresh rain runs straight off causing sharp rises, while the seepage slows the falls.  The Ure has been running at a consistent +1.0 - 1.3m for weeks, no wonder the salmon are running.

This is a far cry fro the previous decade (2014-2023), in which 9/10 springs in Yorkshire were dry, with the same proportion of years having below average rainfall.  In one year, I recall it was 2015, we were in a technical drought before we even reached the spring.  Not only do such low flows discourage running, in the worst case, especially as temperatures rise, there is a serious risk of an ‘oxygen block’ forming in the lower reaches of the Ouse between Goole and Selby owing to sewage and other forms of contamination.  If the oxygen content in water falls below 5 ppm, salmon won’t even attempt to enter the river.  

This was the major factor in the 1950s extinction of salmon in the Ouse.  Within limits salmon don’t mind mud in the water, but oxygen-depleting biomass is another matter altogether, it’s a total showstopper.  If you look at the graph above you will see that in the two hot dry years of 1995 & 1996, the oxygen count in the lower Ouse stayed below the critical 5 ppm threshold, whereas in the run of wet summers 2004-10 it was consistently above.

However, fortified by this deluge-induced onset of optimism and hope (no matter how ill-founded Murphy’s Laws may prove it to be), I’m feeling even more salmon-perky than usual.  If I can get on top of the massive rain-induced backlog of gardening, I’ll try to get out at Sleningford or Bolton.  In any event the very kind TTMN has invited me for a day later this month at the stunningly pretty Rutherford on the Tweed, which is always a huge pleasure, and sometimes pleasingly productive.  Thereafter I’m looking forward to the Orkla in Norway in late June: my wife told me to go while I still can on the grounds of my advancing age. Then a kind friend of 55 years’ standing has invited me to join his party of the Middle Findhorn in July.  This year’s Just One Week expedition is to the Inver and Kirkaig in the extreme northwest at the end of August.  Other than the Helmsdale I’ve not fished in the extreme north and I’m looking forward to the new learning experience.  My season will close traditionally with a succession of days on the Ure at Thoresby, which allow me to indulge in father and son bonding with HMCX, repay my friends’ hospitality and possibly catch some salmon.  It’s a lovely prospect, and certainly the most varied season I’ve had since 2011 (I can only pray that it’s as productive as that magic year).

All of those wonderful opportunities bring different challenges and requirements, which I discuss below.  In the near term I got on with my traditional spring routine of cleaning and polishing lines (not much fun at 6C temperature!), checking reel function (rather superfluous with a stable of Danielssons, but an embedded habit), culling damaged flies and preparing disciplined shopping lists.

The Orkla

The first question I have to address is why, having warned readers in my previous Norway posts about the high costs of catered accommodation, am I going to a lodge this year?  First, John and Patrick’s enthusiasm for going to a lodge was a clear indication that they’d had enough of my cooking and were happy to pay to avoid it but were too polite to say so.  Second, while havering over the cost I received a stern common-sense lecture from my wife on age-related risk: “at your age there’s no guarantee that if you delay you will still be fit enough to enjoy fishing in Norway next year, so get on and do it”.  That green light trumped my customary Yorkshire parsimony and clinched the booking.

Grindal is beautiful stretch of river with some exceptional pools. It is quite well up the river, so in the third week of June, we hopefully will be at the leading edge of the run of larger salmon (storlaks).  There won’t be many fish, but there’s a realistic chance of a good one.  This requires strong leaders to cope with the combination of big fish, heavy water and highly abrasive rocks.  Typically, this comprises a 40 lbs header and 30 lbs mid-section, and a short ‘fail safe’ length of 23-25 lbs.  Without this final element, if you hook a large rock, you are at risk of breaking your running line and losing the head.  As my existing stock of 40 and 30 lbs fluorocarbon dated from my last Norway adventure in 2017 and was thus well beyond its safe life, it went into the bin.  Given the price this was tough but essential.  There’s no point spending a lot of money to hook a large Norwegian salmon, only to lose it for want of the price of a couple of (expensive) spools of Seaguar.

The water will be full, cold (ca 6.5C) and flowing strongly.  My primary rod will be the 14’ 7” Hero balanced with the Control #8/13, with the 13’ 6” XO as the back-up.  I therefore need to take my full suite of #9 Guideline 3D sinking heads, which get very few outings in the UK.  In view of the weight of water I supplemented those with a serious depth charge option, the new Rio Gamechanger S3 sinking body, with matched S5 and S7 Versitips.  The overall head length with the tip is around 34 feet.  This line has replaced the old Scandi 3D sinker, which Rio phased out at the end of last season.  Their strategy makes eminent sense when you bear in mind that by far the largest market for such very fast sinking lines and tips is in the Pacific Northwest, where shorter headed lines predominate.  If I do need to deploy this option, it will be interesting to see how it casts and I’ll report on it in a future post.  I’ll also take the 65’ head full Spey line as an insurance option for the unlikely event of low water.

If required, the XO will deliver the traditional floating Scandi body with the S5/6 Versitip supplemented with a super-fast sinking polyleader.  This combination won’t fish as deep or slowly as the Gamechanger but should suffice in many of the likely fishing scenarios at Grindal.

I have a small stock of Frodin-style lower water flies from my previous trips, but nothing at the larger end of the range.  However, I’m not planning on buying Norway-specific flies before I leave UK.  Grindal Lodge is operated by people who are expert anglers and operate a small shop on site, so I shall put myself in the hands of their judgement for flies.  As you might expect, I will undoubtedly see whether the MCX Dark also works on the Orkla!

The Middle Findhorn

(Photo - Relugas Estate)
In contrast to the big, cold and heavy challenges of the Orkla in June, the Middle Findhorn (Darnaway, Relugas, Altyre) will be at the opposite end of the spectrum.  A lot of the water will require short rods, fine leaders and small flies and hitches.  My 9’ 6” single hander and 11’ 6” Tool will have leading parts, although the lower more open beats may demand more.  I’ve got all the gear, including flies – the tiny MCX Light may get its first outing here, especially in the evenings. The only items for the shopping list will be some light Maxima for surface presentation and 15 lbs Seaguar for sub-surface.

Inver and Kirkaig

The Kirkaig (Photo - Ossian Adventures)

These far north rivers are entirely new to me, so I shall need to garner lots of local knowledge and advice on techniques and tactics.  I’m assuming that low clear water is most likely, which means more of the light and fine tactics used on the Findhorn.  In any event I love the new challenges, experiences and learning opportunities that enrich and broaden my angling experience.  And of course, they give me new and different things to talk about on this blog.

Amidst the stunning terrain and challenging fishing, there’s one aspect of the northern rivers to which I am certainly not looking forward – the Scottish midge!  I’ve faced some ghastly insects in inhospitable places around the world, but none of them equalled the horror of this tiny grey flesh-eating monster, which operates in countless millions.  After experience of high summer on the Carron, I had sworn never to fish while dressed as a bee keeper.  Breaching that oath is inevitable, and I’ve already invested in easily packable head nets from Go Outdoors and a stock of military-grade insect repellent.  While those solutions may suffice for me, I’m deeply concerned with how to protect my fair-skinned bug-magnet wife who suffers dreadfully.

The Inver (Photo - Ossian)

It's a great consolation that in the gathering twilight of my salmon fishing career, that I have such a wonderful season in prospect.

Wednesday 24 January 2024

Directory of Posts 1-125


Salmon Behaviour

Taking a fly

Feeding impulses

Fast Food & Broad Beans

The Dynamics of the Take

Crash! Bang! Pluck

Hen fish taking times

Good Morning Ladies

Survival - running & choice of


Where are they?

Taking radius

Deep Thinking

Cock fish & hormones

Morning Glory


The Annual Miracle

Salmon Characteristics


Windows on the World

Imaging - how and what salmon


Here’s Looking at You

Sensor systems: hearing,

vibration & smell


Sense of Smell

The Importance of Smell

Underwater glare

Blinded by the Light

Sound & Vibration

Speaking Salmon

Flies underwater

Eye of the Beholder

Light in Water

Sparkling Water

Fishing Craft

Reading & fishing a pool

Reading Railway Maps

Reading a pool – the MCX

scoring system

Walking to the Water Part 1

Reading a pool - examples

Walking to the Water Part 2

Choosing fly Size

Hot & cold Running Water

Trying too Hard


Forgetting the Fly


Depth & sink tips

Deep Thinking

Using Google Earth to read


Rod, Reel, Flies & Satellite

My flies

Inside the Box

Error! Filename not specified.

Fishing in cold water

Brass Monkeys & Tubes

Fishing tricky pools

Walking to the Water Part 3

Fishing in low water

Calm Reflections

Ambush Tactics & Running Fish

Ambush tactics – Close personal and a little dirty

Spot the Lie

Don’t cast too far

Forget the far bank

Avoiding surprise


Thinking & Analysis


4 Lessons from 2017

Lessons from 2014

Lessons from 2014

Estimating the weight of salmon


Fishing Reports


The Week at Tomatin 2013

The Week

Looking Back – the 2013 Season

Looking Back

Autumn Glory – October Ure

Autumn Glory

Ure Spring 2014

Joys of Spring

Spring on the Dee

Spring on the Dee

Review of 2017

Rutherford (Tweed)

Pearl of the Tweed

Tomatin 2017

Bonny Dee

Hope Expectation and Reality

Walking in the Park (Ure)

Walking & Casting in the Park

Deveron 2015

Top of the Water

Upper Bolton Hall

The Beast of Wensleydale

Swinton Park (Ure)

Helmsdale April 2018

North Tyne Chipchase 2018

Conon 2019

Looking back at 2019

2020 – Covid & Lockdown

2021 – Glad to see you go!

2022 – One week on the Spey

River Ure – Abbey Beat Guide

2024 – One Week on the Tay

2023 – An Extraordinary Year


Norway 2016-17

The Preparations

Just One Week on the Gaula

You Want to Go to Norway?

Too Much of a Good Thing


Rod choice

Springtime – Swallows, Primroses & New Salmon Rods


Half the System – Thinking about Lines

Understanding lines, tips & leaders

Casting in Fog

Rio Grip Running Line

Running Lines & Dog Days

Choosing a Budget Reel

Reel Value

Rod costs

Where the Money Goes

Lamson Guru vs Loop Evotec

Vision Tool 11’ 6” #8

Sage 1 15’ #9/10

The Hero & The Emperor

Vision Hero 13’ 7” #8/9

The Hero & The Emperor

Vision Onki 13’ #8

User review

Vision Tool 13’ #8

User review

Vision XO 13’ 6” #8

Sage Igniter 12’ 6” #7

Vision Hero 13’ 7” #8

Maxcatch Classic #9/10 reel

Maxcatch SkyTouch Spey 15’ #10

Vision MAG 13’

Balancing Rod & Reel

How to find the correct reel weight for your rod

Vision Rulla Reel

The Koma is Dead – Long Live the Rulla

Organisation & Preparation 1

It’s here - the new season

Organisation & Preparation 2

Loading Up

Line Maintenance

D-14 Countdown

Packing & Shopping

D-7 Divine Madness

D-14 Countdown Reprise 10 years later

Wading Jackets 1

The Great Jacket Hunt Chapter 1

Wading Jackets 2

The Great Jacket Hunt Chapter 2

Wading Jackets 3

The Great Jacket Hunt Chapter 3

Budget Wading Jackets


The MCX Shrimp V3

General Posts




How long can this go on?

Water Flow

The Vital (Missing) Ingredient

Water Flow 2

Look Back in Sadness – 2015 Season

Unusually Slow

Amidst Great Joy