Monday 11 September 2023

The Week on the Tay

Stanley Fishings
Panorama from Summerhill
Pitlochrie centre and left, Benchil downstream to the right

The Tay is unlike the other Scottish salmon rivers I've described on this blog:

  • It's huge: the average width in the panorama above is around 140 metres (a long roe stalking shot or a full 7-iron).  In contrast, Commonty, the biggest pool on the Spey, is only 70-80 metres.  Salmon can run into and through the Tay at virtually all water heights.  One's judgements based on experience on spate rivers are irrelevant.
  • Its size generates unfamiliar activities involving boats, spinning and harling.  I've fished from boats on the Tweed, but I hadn't cast a spinner since 1967, and harling was an entirely new experience.  When casting a fly it is just a tiny speck in the vast volume of the Tay, so you cannot just rely on chance.
  • The beats on much of the lower and middle river are lined with truly magnificent trees.  The Murthly Castle arboretum is majestically beautiful.  The rivers from the Findhorn northwards to the Helmsdale are mostly treeless.  On the Tay you feel that you are somewhere else, amidst fertile farmland and prosperous estates: it feels different, softer and less edgy than the Highlands.  But whatever the differences, the Tay is beautiful and delivers the same soothing potion to the soul.

Soul food at Murthly - The Tronach looking upstream

The Challenges

Beyond the unfamiliarity of the river and its enormous scale, we faced three major challenges:
  • First and most important, there weren't many salmon about.  During our week the major beats reporting on FishPal were catching a total in the range 12-15 fish daily, which amounted to 10-20% of what used to be expected.  Taymount was consistently above the average, but with a larger number of rods.  Bearing in mid that a proportion of that 12-15 figure were taken by harling and spinning, fly anglers were having a very thin time.  Indeed, on Pitlochrie I caught the only fish taken in the week.  There was an awful lot of gloom around and some very subdued ghillies.
  • Second, a lot of these beats fish best in lower water, which concentrates the salmon into clearly defined running lines and holding areas.  We arrived to find the Tay at +2' 8".  While this would have been a cause for celebration at Tomatin, it created additional challenges for us on the Tay.  The small numbers of salmon present were dispersed across huge acreages of water: they could run and rest wherever they chose, and it was only on the last two days as the level fell towards +1' 4" that the features became more defined.
  • Third, on some beats the higher water made it difficult to wade to a position from where you could hope to reach the target areas.  I spent a demanding morning wading waist-deep on Stenton with a big rod and full Spey line, just touching the near edge of the running line without so much as a nudge.
As a result we depended heavily on the ghillies' knowledge and advice.  Tony Black on the Murthly water and Davie Seaton and Jimmy Chin at Stanley were tireless in their efforts to put us into contact with salmon, but even they were sorely tested.  The watchwords were persistence, determination and patience, and we certainly gave it our best shots.  Nevertheless, if the house party had not been such fun there would have been a crisis of morale, which proves yet again the essential value of balance.


We fished two of the Murthly beats, Stenton and Top Water, on alternate days with three rods, two from the bank and one in the boat with Tony Black.  They are both exceptionally pretty with an intimate private atmosphere and delightful quietude.

Stenton - upper wade
Monday morning
Showing near edge of target area

Stenton presented three options for casting a fly from the bank.  I fished the two below the hut on the Monday morning, which proved to be hard work with the river running at +2' 8".  Although the wading underfoot was easy, the combination of the sheer weight of water; the need to wade deep to reach the near edge of the target area; and right bank casting in a sharp downstream breeze, made it hard work.  I don't much enjoy right handed Double Spey at the best of times, but 3 hours' putting out a full Spey line with a fast poly leader and weighted tube while up to my waist in cold water wasn't much fun.

Stenton - Island run
Monday afternoon

The Island was a totally different proposition, with a deep fast run close to the right bank.  Indeed, at the head you only needed 5-6 metres of line out.  As you fished down the 130 metre length the target area got further away but always remained with easy casting distance with a 13' 6" rod.  This was very fishy water and I approached all three runs down with the greatest (unfulfilled) optimism.  It did, however, present a tricky conundrum: any fresh fish at the short halt would be amenable to a fly presented quite shallow, but the residents would need the fly on their noses, demanding a heavy dose of T-14 to get something metallic down to them.  Having been deposited and marooned like Robinson Crusoe, with my boxes back at the hut, the latter option wasn't available.

Murthly - harling
The third option at Murthly was harling, something I had never previously encountered.  For the uninitiated, this involves towing a variety of lures behind a boat from a battery of rods.  It involves no skill on the part of the angler, and relies entirely on the ghillie's knowledge of where fish may lie.  You sit there making conversation with the ghillie until a fish takes, at which point he hands you the rod to finish the job.  It was similar to the mackerel fishing of my childhood, but with the excitement removed.  I felt like lobotomised boat ballast.  Thankfully Tony Black was great company, a real Tay legend of 34 years' experience on Murthly.

The product

It's with some trepidation that I display the product of my harling, a stale cock fish of around 6lbs.  With a substantial Hardy glass fibre spinning rod and an Abu multiplier, it took me little time to bring him to the net.  Of all the salmon I've caught, this must surely have yielded the least pride.

I understand why the estates do it - the economic pressures of the capitalised value of salmon are inescapable - but it's just not enjoyable.  All six rods in the party expressed the same distaste.

The tail of Tronach
Tuesday morning
Murthly Top Water is a stunning beat that offers two long stretches of left bank fishing.  You fish the top of the Tronach, shown above, from the grass, because the water at your feet is deep and the wading underfoot Tyne-ghastly.

Sadly this wonderful stretch of salmon nirvana only yielded a single touch, despite the intense enthusiasm I applied.  You can't catch what isn't there.

Stanley Fishings

Stanley Mills
Pitlochrie Beat

We fished two of the Stanley beats - Pitlochrie and Benchil - on alternate days.

Thursday morning
Pitlochrie offers a long 400+ metre sweep of left bank fishing with ample space for two rods, with the third casting from the boat.  Although this stretch is dauntingly wide, it is soon apparent that the most interesting water is in the nearest third and within easy casting reach without the need for deep wading.  You'll find a detailed analysis later in this post.

I really enjoyed fishing this stretch on a beautiful morning, and in view of the thoroughness with which I covered the best bits, I was surprised not to encounter a salmon.

looking up to Summerhill
In the event the fish came during my afternoon session casting from the boat in the pool directly below Summerhill, at the head of the fast water above Benchil.

Casting from a boat is infinitely preferable to harling.  Yes, you depend on the ghillie to position the boat but thereafter it's up to you to present the fly to the best of your ability.  Its other advantage is that you can use a lighter smaller rod than you need on the bank, a real bonus at my age.

Pitlochrie fish

This chunky 11 pounder was fresh but not bright silver, having been in the river for 7-10 days.  It was a runner, smack on the line that Davie indicated, and took a #8 MCX Dark fished 10-12" deep.

The space available gave it ample scope for running about without encountering any hazards, which made for an entertaining if uneventful fight.  I was absolutely delighted to have caught a decent fish on the fly.

I also missed a grilse take about 10 minutes later, followed by another when a fish took the fly and came straight at me, causing the line to slacken.  Despite an extravagant strike I failed to connect.


Benchil, directly downstream from Pitlochrie, is primarily fished from two boats, with a 350 metre stretch of right bank wading below the hut within reach of the nearer of two running lines into the lower pool.  While Benchil may appear bland - certainly the other rods in the party thought it rather dull - as the river fell you could see the running lines and short halts increasingly clearly.  To assuage their feelings I reduced the rods on Benchil to two, and took two compensating extra slots on Murthly Top Water on the Thursday and Saturday.

Benchil - Saturday

I was fishing Benchil on Thursday when a succession of pods of salmon and grilse came through, with several dozen fish showing either side of lunchtime following high water 
downstream at 1030.  We didn't connect with any of them, but interestingly they must have come to rest around Cargill later in the day, when the rods up there enjoyed an unexpectedly brisk afternoon.
Unfortunately Saturday's high tide didn't occasion a similar run.

The Takeaways

By any standard we had a very quiet week, with only 7 fish to the party.  However, we were not alone, and finished about average amongst the other beats on the Tay.  Clearly there was a dearth of fish, and you can't catch what isn't there, or if it was there, expect much of hunting dispersed needles in a giant watery haystack.

As ever, I try to learn from the experience.  In this case I have framed the lessons within some of the advice given by the retired Yorkshire Tay ghillie.

Pitlochrie defile - a 16 metre river
from the mid-point of the old croy

 1.  Look for the rivers within the river.

On Pitlochrie the Tay is a daunting 135 metres wide.  However, at this point, the croy on the near bank and the gravel shallows that occupy most of the far side force the great majority of running fish into a channel about 16 metres across within easy reach of a 13' rod.  If you don't look closely and just mechanically cast and step, you would miss the opportunity altogether.

Line of main lies in red
Secondary lies in yellow

2.  Concentrate on what you can reach.

With the river at +2' 8" the main lies on the Tronach, indicated by the succession of boils along the red line are at full casting distance with a big rod and a full line.  With a square cast it's about 30 metres and at 60 degrees oblique, nearer 35.  In either case, with the enhanced flow in higher water your fly only spends a short time amongst them.

In your enthusiasm to reach the red line, don't neglect the good lies right in front of you, which should be a central part of your plan, not an afterthought.  I missed a good take in the third one down from the top.

Balance and happiness
The Brigadier gets a fish!

3.  Balance.
  The fishing is the core of the week, but it's not everything.  I shared the week with a delightful group of close friends, and their good humour, banter and company more than compensated for the dull and largely unproductive fishing.  The surroundings were stunning and the lodge wonderful.  In any event, in the current state of salmon fishing across most of Scotland, you have to be both philosophical and balanced.

Sparkling water
Benchil - Saturday

Tay standards - a dishwasher in the Murthly Top Water hut!

Looking Ahead

Now the autumn is approaching and I am looking forward to the delights of fishing the Ure.  My unheard prayers for less water on the Tay should now be cancelled!

Tuesday 15 August 2023

D - 14 - Countdown Reprise

First exposure to fishing
Grandson on the Rye
August 2023

I haven't written anything in a long time, simply because I had nothing original to say.  Back in April I starting drafting a post titled "Delightfully Average", describing the wonderfully average spring we were experiencing in Yorkshire, a marked contrast to the predominantly very dry and cool seasons that have been a feature of the last decade.  After re-reading the draft I decided that it was awfully dull, not least because it contained nothing much about fishing, and deleted it. 

My spring was dull in salmon terms.  Our scheduled week at Orton on the Spey coincided with Easter, and as the whole team are grandparents, we collectively decided that families were more important than fish and chose to forego the week.  In the event we enjoyed a lovely family Easter, which confirmed the wisdom of the decision.  As a result of the 'delightfully average' weather the Ure rose nicely over the weekend, so I started to get a little excited by the prospect of popping out for an early excursion to Sleningford after the season opened on 6th April (why the season opens on that day in Yorkshire I haven't clue, and nor seemingly does anyone else).  However, by the time the last of the family had departed the water had gone, so reluctantly I stayed at home.  

Flesh Dub on the Ure at +24"
27th July 2023
The last time I fished this early was in 2012

While the Ure maintained a nice flow during April there just weren't the lifts to stimulate the salmon to run.  Then in May it started to dry up - just as it should - and the river remained firmly at MSL until a very wet July arrived, most of which we avoided by spending a couple of weeks in Italy, roasting gently at 35C.  However, on returning in late July, an 8' spate, followed by a succession of smaller lifts in the 3-5 foot range, created ideal conditions for a punt at Thoresby for a summer salmon.  Everything looked perfect, until burst of rain hit Wensleydale the night before, putting the river up a further 12" and filling it with mud.  But it was wonderful to be out with a rod, blow the cobwebs out of my casting and appreciate the lovely surroundings.

Stanley Fishings
View from Summerhill

So what has spurred me to write?  Following the loss of the Spey week, the team directed me to find a late summer alternative.  Ably assisted by the excellent Mungo Ingleby, I looked at all sorts of options, some with good fishing and inadequate lodges; others with good lodges and inadequate fishing; and one with a good lodge and acceptable fishing but an awful price gouging tendency (an incredible extra £90 per night to take your wife!), we finally found a solution.  At the end of August we're going to the Tay, which I've never fished before, which makes it a bit of an adventure.  As a result, the old anticipation of Just One Week has bubbled to the surface, inspiring me to put my fingers to the keyboard, while also intruding upon my sleep.

Coincidentally it's also the 10th anniversary of my post "D-14 The Countdown", which I wrote before our trip to Tomatin in 2013, which explains the title of this post.  How the years have flown!  I miss Tomatin and its wonderful atmosphere, but relish the fabulously happy memories that it gave me.  The team is largely the same old friends.  My enthusiasm remains undimmed and this year's Tay adventure has rekindled many of the feelings I expressed in that post in 2013.  Despite the passing of the years, the excitement is still there.

Yes, I've cleaned and conditioned my lines in accordance with the established discipline. I do it every year, which probably explains why my lines last so long.

I no longer have to wrestle with the challenges of the flying Koma circlip.  The Koma died and its Danielsson successor requires no maintenance whatsoever.  While on one hand I'm deprived of the satisfaction of keeping something going, on the other, I'm spared what was becoming an uphill struggle.  And my wife is delighted by the removal of the risk to her baking.

So what has changed over those past 10 years?  Of course I'm older and slower, now well into my 70s, less energetic and more reflective.  But beyond that, the big changes I observe have been:

Tomatin House Pool 2021
Wading in trainers

In retrospect the evidence suggests that 2013 was a climatic watershed that undoubtedly had an impact on salmon.  The previous decade from 2004 comprised 5 years that were wetter than average, 3 average and 2 drier (2005, 2009).  Those included the bumper fishing years of 2004, 2007, 2008, 2010 & 2011.  I well remember getting up before dawn at Tomatin on the first morning in 2011 and catching 3 salmon before breakfast.  Indeed, in 2011 I never had a blank day on any of the rivers I fished.  The decade since has been an entirely different story, almost like the Almighty had flicked a switch to stop the rain.  In the 10 seasons since 2013 we have had only one wet year (2017 when I caught plenty of salmon), one average,  5 dry and 3 droughts, including the two hottest and driest years on record in UK.  There may well be an overall decline in salmon numbers, but it's impossible to form a clear view if you have no viable fishing water.  Rod catches aren't a good analogue for population, especially in low water when salmon rapidly switch off, go into limbo and become uncatchable.

Spring on the Dee
a beautiful place to blank

addition to climate shift we are living through a period of flux.  On the big rivers I have fished over the past decade, things have become unpredictable: historic generalisations and ghillies' wisdom on salmon behaviour have become less certain.  The seasonality and timing of runs appear to be changing on several rivers.  The Dee appears to be moving from spring to summer; the Tweed may be going in the opposite direction from autumn to spring; and apart from the July grilse it's hard to discern what is happening on the Spey, apart from the observation that when the salmon do run they do so very quickly.  However, the sages and scientists on the Tweed Board note that historically - their records of net takes go back to the late 17th century - such flux causes a reduction in catches.  Unfortunately I'm unlikely to be around to see whether they are correct.

For those reasons and perhaps others unknown to me, I am no longer catching the same numbers of fish in Scotland or on the Ure, and my 'catch per unit effort' or salmon per day has halved between the two decades.  It's now very difficult to calibrate what is 'good'.  Is there a new normal, or should I continue to gauge  catches against what I knew to be 'good' in historic terms?  Those are difficult questions to answer with certainty, and no amount of speculation generates solid evidence.  Nevertheless it's been true that whenever there has been water, I've caught salmon.  In the bigger picture, just when I'm forming a view, something happens - like 2017 - to contradict it.  Perhaps it's confirmation bias, because as an optimist I don't want the truth to be really bad news: every glimmer of light perhaps stops me from seeing the dark clouds.  But just like the ghillies, I'm much less certain about things than I was 10 years ago, and that's a very big change.

Vision XO 13' 6" #8 - Yar in Excelsis
Danielsson L5W #8/12

While my catch rate has halved, perversely and contrary to my Yorkshire roots, my collection of salmon tackle has more than doubled.  Moreover, its value has increased dramatically: the Koma has been replaced with several Danielssons;  I have a couple of fabulous
Vision XOs; and a switch rod, a concept that didn't even exist when I started out in 2001 (but it makes me smile).  I can't explain when, why and where my previous parsimony went absent.  However, it's evident that the trend accelerated as I approached retirement.  It's not logical, in that I can't cast twice as far, and in any event, judging by the distances at which I caught salmon last year, that would be unnecessary.  Perhaps its an emotional thing: after more than 50 years' work my inner self said, "why not treat yourself to a few things that give real aesthetic pleasure, work well and feel great in the hand?"  So I did.  I love what I now have in my armoury and know that it will see me out while providing great satisfaction along the way.  If you don't know the length of the journey, strive to enjoy it through all means possible.

Fishing the Tay

Let's turn away from gloom to the present and my mounting excitement about fishing the Tay a fortnight hence.  We've secured two pairs of two beats that alternate daily.  

Stanley Fishing
Benchil & Pitlochrie

Benchil and Pitlochrie are on the lower section of the river adjacent to Stanley.  The lodge we have taken looks down Benchil from the top of the bluff on the west side the big bend.

This is big wide water, bigger than anything I've fished before, including the Gaula.  A friend, who is a former Tay ghillie who returned to his native Yorkshire, gave me some sound advice on how to approach this challenge:
      • Don't be daunted and strive to fish the whole of the water in front of you, because you can't.
      • Focus on what's under the surface, not the scale of what's on top.
      • Search for the rivers within the large river, and identify the channels, runs and lies.
      • Fish to the lies that are within range and forget the rest.
      • Good presentation of the fly will always trump distance, even on a river this big

Murthly Fishings
Top Water & Stenton
(Map (c) Ordnance Survey 2023)

The Murthly Fishings comprise Murthly 2 Top Water and Stenton, which are about 6 miles north of Stanley 
by road on the far side of the big loop of the Tay marked by Meiklour and Islamouth.  The are in the middle section of the river.  Perversely, the Stenton beat is on the opposite side to its parent, as is Top Water.

This is still big water but superb for fly fishing in all but the highest levels.  Murthly 2 was one of Hugh Falkus' favourite beats, and it also features in the old Michael Evans Spey casting instructional video.  The links above open YouTube videos of the beats.

I'm excited by the prospect of a week with old and close friends, fishing new water and the challenges involved.  We may catch some salmon: the Tay has been quite slow this year, but who knows?  At least it's not as water critical as the Findhorn.  The Tay is so big that any salmon that wishes to run can do so even in quite low water, so fresh fish are a possibility.  The size of the river will require the big Hero and a fully Spey line, and consequently a brush-up session with Brian Towers at Bolton Hall before I depart.

One thing that hasn't changed in the past decade is my approach to organisation.  The check of my kit tells me that all I need to purchase is a new spool of Maxima 15 lbs.  I normally use Seaguar fluorocarbon, but will compromise if a ghillie is especially insistent (like Donnie was on the Helmsdale until I brought him round) or if I need to present the fly on the surface by riffling.  The Maxima is therefore a contingency item.  I doubt that I use more than 20 yards of it in a whole season, but as a matter of habit I always replace the spool every year.  Nevertheless, I'll still stop at John Norris on the way in order to avoid offending the fishing gods, who undoubtedly are Norris shareholders.  However, my unvarying use of the MCX fly spares me all the bother and expenditure of buying other patterns, much to Norris' chagrin.

Let's hope for some more water, but not too much.  As I write the Ure is rising nicely into a 2 metre spate.  The pattern of rise and fall almost exactly mirrors 2011, which raises my expectations for September and boosts my morale.  If you're fishing this month, tight lines.

Wednesday 2 November 2022

MCX's Christmas Stocking 2022

It's that time of year again when I try to give readers of this blog some ideas to plant with Father/Mrs/Mr Christmas.  When I started this near-annual post a decade ago it was easy to find good things very cheaply, but time, inflation and compound interest have taken their toll and pushed the upper boundary further up the scale.  Nevertheless, you will still find the perennial stocking fillers as well as some really good useful items that I have personally tested.
What I found interesting while compiling this year's Stocking was that despite an accelerating economic downturn and the impact of the energy-induced cost of living crisis, there is no significant discounting visible on the tackle trade's major web outlets beyond the disposal of surplus and slow-moving stock (and it's usually one or the other for a good reason - no one wants it).  I searched all of the main dealers' sites for a big bargain for the "Father Christmas Goes Bonkers" item without success, so there isn't one this year.  It may well be that come the New Year, if you visit their shop or phone you might be able to negotiate a good deal on a big ticket item: good luck.  As a result this year's stocking is smaller than in previous editions, which is a sad reflection of these dull and uncertain times.

Guideline Firskin Gloves

These are my champion "must have" item of 2022.  I bought a pair at Bruar on my way up to the Spey in early April, which proved to be the amongst best £37.99 I've ever spent.  Nothing before has kept my hands so warm.  The first day at Orton was sub-zero with snow, wind and line freezing in the rings (see Chasing Unicorns for evidence), yet even at my advanced age I fished the whole day in comfort.  Make sure you get the lined GX version and not the thinner, cheaper unlined model.  They're currently available from Sportfish at £39.99 but you'll probably save a couple of pounds elsewhere.

HJ Socks

Socks for Christmas may be a hardy perennial joke, but there's no substitute for good socks when spring fishing, and 20 years' experience have convinced me that this British-made products are the best and most durable available.

HJ make socks for every occasion and will have something to suit everybody.  I use the HJ7 work model, which you can buy direct from the factory at £7.50 per pair.

Being a mixture of wool and wicking synthetic they will keep your feet warm even if your waders leak!

Brasher Lined Trousers

I found these in the sale at Go Outdoors last year when looking for a back-up pair to my expensive Simms insulated trousers.  After using them on the Spey and Helmsdale in April and the Ure in October, I can report that they're excellent: extremely well designed and cut; comfortable in fit and temperature; and fitted with ample pockets (albeit it takes a while to remember and differentiate between the zipped and unzipped apertures).  They're excellent value at £44 (and you currently get an extra 15% off if you're spend exceeds £100) at Go Outdoors.

Digital IR Thermometer

The IR sensor water thermometer I've previously recommended isn't currently available from LabFacility, which is a great shame as it's by far the best I've ever found.  I suspect that this is connected to the supply chain problems caused by the Chinese policy of managing Covid by total lockdown of entire provinces and cities.  This is a cheap alternative, which is available from your local branch of Screwfix for £23.99.

I've not tried it but the user reviews are favourable.  At that price it's still cheaper than the analogue thermometers sold by the tackle dealers (and way cheaper than their digital offerings) and far more convenient as you don't have to hold it in the water: just point and read.

Small Tube Fly Box

There seems to be an unfortunate trend towards bigger, more complicated and even more expensive fly boxes.  You just don't need that many tube flies in your pocket.  I loved the tiny Snowbee pocket box, but its peg springs expired and it's no longer in production.  To replace it about 6 or 7 years ago I bought this C&F model (at 3 times the price), which was about the only one that was suitably compact and works well.  The clear flap over the tubes is held down with a little magnetic catch, which stops them falling out when you're selecting your hook from the lid.  It's a good piece of all-round design.  However, it's becoming quite difficult to find, but it's available from Angling Active in Stirling at £29.99.

In the same vein, the inexpensive Richard Wheatley CompLite fly boxes appear to have been withdrawn.  I regret that I haven't found an acceptable alternative at a sensible price.

Mitten Clamps (i.e. unhooking pliers)

I find mitten clamps a much better and quicker solution to unhooking salmon than forceps: with a good grip on the tool, the fly locked in the jaws, and once good movement it's job done.  There are lots of very tough places in and around a salmon's mouth that can require considerable force to extract a fly, and in those cases I like to work as quickly as possible.

Sadly it appears that William Joseph has ceased making my old favourites.  In the last Stocking I recommended the Loon (which are very good).  This year the Vision mitten clamp, which is an identical design, is on offer £2 cheaper at GAC at £21.99.  It also offer a scissor blade adjacent to the pivot, a useful feature.

McNett Quick GoreTex Repair

I've previously recommended this neat little kit, which contains two adhesive-backed GoreTex patches.  It provides a quick (adhesion is instant) and very convenient repair capability for surface damage to the outer skin of your waders that's too big to fix with UV curing glue solutions like Snowbee Suncure or Loon UV Wader Repair, which are the best answers to simple hook holes.  You just cut a patch to size, peel off the back, press it into place, and the job's done.

In September at Arndilly I was able to confirm its utility.  One of the rods in the party has stored her waders unprotected from mouse attack, leaving three substantial holes of around 20mm diameter.  The patches provided an immediate solution, which I later backed up with Aquasure repairs on the inner surface.

Of course there's no substitute for Aquasure for the proper repair of a large hole or tear so it's a hardy perennial in my Xmas stocking list.  However, how much solid Aquasure do you throw away?  Lots over the past 20 years. If you put it in the freezer to keep it after opening, do you remember to take it out before you go away?  I didn't before going to Arndilly and wound up having to punch a hole into the mostly solid (unopened) tube in my toolkit.  In any event, how much do you use each year?  Not a lot.

So perhaps a better option is buying smaller tubes.  Of course it's more expensive per gram, but it is more convenient and less wasteful.  The Simms branded pack of two baby 7 gram tubes is available from Sportfish at £8.99.

Budget Nippers

My ranting about the price of nippers marketed by the like of Abel and Simms is as perennial as the Christmas Stocking.  After a further two years of surveying the market I still haven't found anything to beat the Sportfish De Luxe model at £6.99, and they're still nice and sharp.  When I was making up a grass leader back in August they happily cut 44 and 50 lbs Seaguar without a moment's hesitation.  Why pay more?

Leader Rings

I'm now an enthusiastic convert to using leader rings for making the join between a poly leader and the tippet, and in some cases for the last 2-3' of the leader.  In the latter it certainly speeds up replacing the end section if it's been abraded by the salmon's teeth or on rocks.  Having to tie a surgeon's knot in that scenario on the last day of the season reminded me of the convenience of leader rings: now £2.39 for 10 from John Norris.

One quick tip: don't keep them in the packet.  Thread them onto a safety pin, where you can tie the first knot easily without fumbling with a little ring with cold wet fingers.  Once it's attached to the leader, the second knot's easy.

Airflo Polyleaders

A fisherman's stocking isn't a stocking without polyleaders.  My wife agrees!  her Christmas purchases carry me through each season.

Although they have gone up in price (now £7.99 reduced to £6.39 at John Norris) the quality and finish has improved markedly.  I still think they're the best around at the money and you don't gain much by paying double or more for a premium brand.

Rio Cranky Kit

It says "Quick & Convenient" on the packet and for once Rio are absolutely precise in their use of words describing the virtues of this device.  Three seasons' use has confirmed that view.  The normal 'electricians coil' method is fine for quick changes of shooting heads on the riverbank, but it does induce a curl.  When you have a moment, straightening the head, winding it onto the split spool and then removing it for stowage ensures that your shooting heads remain curl-free.  Mine lives in the car box and is used almost daily when I'm fishing: strongly recommended at £9.99 from John Norris.

Line Lubricant

Get one of these in your stocking and give your lines an Easter present before the start of the season.  Some people baulk at the price of good line lubricants, but this small bottle will clean a full stock of shooting heads and lines many times over.  My last bottle lasted 6 seasons, so on that basis it represented 0.015% of the value of my lines each year, while improving their performance and extending their life.  Both the lubricant and the process of cleaning and polishing your lines (my spring ritual described here) deliver really high value.

Happy Christmas

I close by wishing everyone a very happy and enjoyable Christmas, in the hope that it will be truly free of Covid and lockdowns.  I also take this opportunity to thank all my readers for their continuing support and encouragement.  Just One Week passed the major milestone of 250,000 page reads in October, shortly after its 10th birthday.  When I started I never had any thought or ambition for such scale and worldwide breadth of readership, so I'm most grateful to you all, thank you.