Thursday, 13 May 2021

Vision Salmon Hero

Moving Targets

 Looking back over the past decade or so of Just One Week, it always seems to be the case that no sooner have I tested and reviewed a Vision rod than it becomes obsolete and is withdrawn from sale.  I've got used to it now and it hasn't put me off trying new rods and writing about them.  In the 2021 product cycle there are some real surprises.  Over the past year Vision has completely changed its range of double-handed rods:

  • The premium XO has been succeeded by the XO Graphene, with the same name, style, finish and performance
  • The long-serving Tool has finally been retired
  • The entry level Onki range has been reduced to single-handed only, pending stock run-down
  • The six-piece Sisu Siks remains, but will probably end shortly
The price-point positioning and range below the XO has been shifted and dramatically focused:
  • The Custom series, pitched at £700 - £850, comprises 4 general purpose salmon rods at 13, 14, 15 and 16 feet; and two specialist Skagit rods of around 13' 6".  The Custom range hasn't yet arrived in UK, but is scheduled for delivery in late May.  In that respect it's worth noting that Vision are not alone in having supply timing issues - presumably owed to the effects of Covid on supply chains - as Sage's new entry level double handers won't be available until after the season has ended.
  • The Hero is now their entry-level range, comprising just two rods, an 11' 2" #7 switch at £399, and a 13' 7" #8 general purpose at £449.  Both are now available in UK, and as soon as I could I got hold of a 13' 7" to try out.
After last week's left-handed session at Sleningford I was keen to blow the cobwebs out of my right handed casting, so I booked a lesson with Brian Towers and the rest of the day on Thoresby, which would allow me to achieve the double purpose of practice and trying the Hero.

Hero - First Impressions

Continuing Vision's long established tradition of eccentric presentation, the Hero comes in a cheerful primrose yellow tube with internal sub-dividers.  You're not likely to leave it behind!  Nevertheless, the cheerful colour is entirely in keeping with the Hero's happy demeanour and what it does for the user's morale.

The down-locking reel seat is a value engineered version of the design found on the XO.  The main nut is easy to screw down tightly on the coated thread, and the locking nut does its job simply and efficiently.  The combination provides a bullet proof hold on the reel: there wasn't even a hint of movement at the end of a day's casting.
The coated thread is silent and smooth in operation.  Altogether it amounts to an outstanding reel seat that approaches the Alps in quality and function.
The cork is at the standard you would expect at this price point - neat, well finished and with a moderate amount of filler.

The appearance is understated in every respect. The blank is semi-translucent black, and like the XO, has an un-machined surface.  The effect at distance is gloss black.  The whippings are neat and well finished with epoxy.  There are two stripper rings and the remainder are chrome snakes.
The rod balances nicely with a reel in the range 230-260 grams: during the day I used a variety - Lamson Guru 4, Vision Rulla and Danielsson L5W #8/12 - all of which were in the ideal weight span.

it's interesting to bear in mind that 13' 7" has a long pedigree as a Vision idiosyncracy, featuring in the Nite and Cult predecessors.  The profile of the Hero's blank bears a close resemblance to the Cult 13' 7".  Certainly the ferrules match (I had my Cult in the car).  However, the blank walls are substantially thinner, at least 10-15% and possibly more, which shows how there has been progressive trickle-down of the new resins from the premium ranges.  As a result the Hero is much lighter in the hand than the Cult, and feels correspondingly more lively.

On the Water

I tried a wide variety of lines with roll, single Spey, Snap T, Snake Roll and Double Spey casts, albeit I encountered some serious problems with my injured left shoulder in the Double Spey:
  • Scandi.  The rod has a wide weight window of 30 - 38 grams.  In the event the middle figure of 34 grams proved absolutely delightful, loading the rod fully and responding nicely with every cast, from short range rolls to full distance Single Spey.  I was able to cover the entire fishing width of the tail section of Frodle Dub without any wading.  Performance with a 38 gram line was competent but dull in comparison with the joys of the 34 gram.
  • Skagit.  The Hero was in its element with the Skagit, loading down to its boots before sending 10 feet of T11 and a brass tube the full width of Frodle Dub with minimal effort.  It also performed very well in extracting the sunken head from a slack back-eddy.  I didn't have the specified 580 grain line, but it was equally competent with both 550 and 600 grain lines.
  • Sinking Head.  Alan Maughan always held that extracting a sinking head was one of the most searching tests of a rod, in which strongly tip-raised actions were often found wanting.  The test line was an over-weight #9/10 Guideline 3D S3 with a 2" copper conehead tube.  The Hero rolled it up neatly before despatching a good single Spey.  I suspect that the Hero could have done a direct extract and cast with an on-weight #8 line. 
  • 55' Spey.  As I had a Unispey in the box I thought I'd give it a go.  However, its #9/10 weight seriously overmatched the Hero (and my ability).  I suspect that it would be happy with a #7/8, but there again, I only fish a full line once in a blue moon, and it's so much fun with a Scandi, why bother?


In total I spent nearly 5 hours casting and fishing with this rod.  Unfortunately, unlike my test of the Onki and Tool, I failed to catch a salmon.  Nevertheless, I ended a long day with a broad smile on my face.  Quite simply, the Hero is an absolutely delightful rod, which combines forgiveness for novices and inexpert casters with entertainment for the more skilled.  I don't like bling on rods, so the Hero's modest appearance appeals strongly to me.  The icing on the cake is the superb reel seat, which is as good as anything on the market.

The through action is exceptionally well-judged for an entry-level rod.  It clearly communicates everything that's going on in the cast.  The sensation under load during the delivery stroke is amongst the best I've encountered, and certainly far superior to many other rods at this price point that I've tested.  Its performance with a 34g Scandi is pure joy.  The action design also makes the Hero a superb Skagit rod: I would happily have spent longer fooling around dredging the deep head of Frodle with all manner of ironmongery on super-fast tips, but there were other lines to try for the purposes of this article.  I was similarly impressed by its ability to roll up and deliver the over-weight Guideline 3D sinking head, a task that regularly defeated my old Cross S1.

If I didn't already own the utterly divine 'Yar' 13' 6" XO (double the money), I would certainly buy the Hero.  Indeed, of all the rods I've tried in this length range over the past 5 years, the XO is the only one that I like better than the Hero.  That is praise indeed.

Saturday, 8 May 2021

At Long Last

Sleningford Falls

Finally, after many months of drear lockdown, I've got something to write about and the inspiration to do so.  After one of the driest and coldest early springs on record - February, March and April yielded less than 20mm of rainfall in total - I'm now happily looking at a window streaked with raindrops and listening to the water running through the downpipes off the roof. 

 The North Atlantic Oscillation, for so long locked the wrong way round has finally turned normal.  We may even have the ingredients for a late spring run in the Ure.  Amazingly, a small number of beautiful fresh salmon were caught in April, but their progress up to Masham probably involved clambering over bare dry rocks by virtue of the river being at MSL for 9 weeks.  Nature's determination is extraordinary.

I must confess that in most part lockdown has been far easier for me than for my children and grandchildren.  We live in a village with a Post Office and shop, a pub that does take-aways and even an off licence.  We're surrounded by lovely countryside laced with innumerable walks, and have a substantial garden to keep us occupied.  In contrast CCX and her husband live in a flat in London with two small boys, fortunately with a small garden.  It's been a very challenging year for them, so it was a huge delight that with the ending of restrictions they could take an Air BnB nearby to give themselves unrestricted fresh air and exercise for a long weekend, and an equal delight for us to see them again.

The biggest drag of the final stage of lockdown has been injury.  On Christmas Day my wife slipped on ice and broke her wrist - a complex 3 bone fracture that took 3 attempts to set and required 12 weeks in a cast.  I followed her example 10 days later on black ice, went flying and came down very hard on my left shoulder.  Fortunately I didn't break my arm, but the recovery from what I thought would be just a matter of severe bruising proved much longer and more challenging.  It's a salutary warning of the effects of age: 4 months on and I still don't have full mobility and have lost plenty of muscle, which demands twice weekly visits to a gym for rehabilitation training.  

The combination of injury, the lockdown loss of a week on the Helmsdale as a guest of Tony the Master Netsman (I'd been looking forward to that for a whole year) and Yorkshire drought restrained my usual spring enthusiasm, but at the first sniff of rain I launched into my outloading routine of transferring all my gear from the Great Fishing Chest into the car boxes ready for use.  It's amazing what a morale-boosting transformation a little water can achieve.  My habit of ordered organisation continues unchanged: indeed with the advancing of the years it's becoming ever more important as a means of avoiding forgetfulness.  I haven't forgotten anything yet - it's only a matter of time - but for now it's the gnawing uncertainty that occasionally causes me to stop the car, get out and check that I really did put everything in.  Of course I had, but my confidence in such matters is not as cast-iron as before.

Kilgram Gauge
(Data (c) EA)

In the event the rain at the beginning of the week was not as heavy or sustained as I had hoped, but the 1-metre lift was enough to trigger the desire to fish.  I should have preferred to get out on the Wednesday or Thursday, but work commitments forced a postponement to Friday.  However, MSL +8" wasn't impossibly low and still created a chance of success, even if it increased the risk of losing flies to the rocks.

I opted to go to Sleningford for three reasons.  First, it's astride the limit of exploitation for fresh fishing coming up off the tide at Naburn, a distance of about 50 miles or about 2-3 nights' running in good conditions before the level drops off.  Given more water the pathfinders, and especially the big springers, will go further over the following days, with some reaching Thoresby before dropping anchor.  The second reason was that Sleningford is right bank, left handed casting, and therefore offered an opportunity for pleasurable rehabilitation exercise of my shoulder.  I knew that with the double handicap of close-season rust and injury my casting would be horrid, but it was a worthwhile sacrifice to tolerate for longer-term benefit.  And third, the people who run the Mill and caravan site are so irrepressibly cheerful, charming and helpful that it lifts your spirits before you've even put a fly in the water.  You check availability by phone or email, turn up, pay your £20 at the reception desk and start fishing.  I knew that at only MSL +8" there wouldn't be a full day's ration of fishable water, but the prospect of getting out was so cheering that it didn't bother me.

Tail of Falls Pool

With low clear water, albeit at barely 9C, and a bright sky I started with a slow sinking polyleader and a #8 MCX double.  Having parked in the middle of the beat I clambered up to just below the falls before working my way downstream over the rocks.  After about 10 minutes I'd reached this point.  As my fly came round towards the dangle a couple of feet out from the rocks and just above the lip of the pool, I had a really good take, turn away and strong kicks from a powerful fish.  Unfortunately after three kicks it was gone, unseen, a typical running fish experience.  Inevitably with a head-on contact the odds are stacked against you, especially with a soft-mouthed fresh fish.

In the next pool I was making my way down the side of the head run against the willows, fishing a very short line -  no more than a couple of feet outside the top ring - until I could work the whole width below the white water.  As the line came round to the dangle, bang, wallop and 18" of bright silver headed skywards.  Unhindered by any weight of line in the water and a fast current in support, a 2lbs sea trout did a full repertoire of its aerobatic tricks before being swallowed by my net.  Unfortunately it had taken the fly right down, so the sensible choice was a quick rap with the priest and a fresh solution to our supper menu.

The pool below the white water is challenging to fish at low levels.  There's a ridge down the centre-line, largely comprised of rectangular rocks.  The rounded egg-shaped stones we have further upstream usually allow the smooth passage of a line or leader with the flow, but these chunky blocks are rapacious fly-catchers.  By the end of the day I'd lost 3 MCXs and bent the hooks of a fourth into uselessness.  At this level it's better to resist the temptations of the very fishy-looking water in the other half and concentrate on the narrow channel of deep water just in front of your feet, bounded by a limestone ledge on the near side.  Unfortunately there's also a sunken branch in the channel (it's been there at least 2 years) which restricts your fishing angles at this low water height.  Indeed, with another 6-8" the good water would extend all the way down to the point on the right and even beyond.  As I got down to the beach I had another good take, turn away and kicks, but yet again it didn't stick.  This was, however, a much smaller fish than the first.  While I was naturally very disappointed to have missed two salmon, in balance I'd been fishing for 90 minutes and was two takes and a sea trout to the good.

Bottom run
lowering sky and cold showers
 I fished on down to the bottom, changing to a conehead tube for the very fast water.  The tail of both the long pool above and of this run (down under the big tree) both raised my expectations, but without fulfilment.  Again, both of these would fish much better with another 8-10" of water.  Having reached the bottom boundary I cut back through the trees into the empty lower section of the caravan park and walked back to the car for lunch.

Enjoying my lunch in the comfort of a folding chair overlooking the water, I pondered the effect of the sun angle as the day progressed.  When I'd started around 10am the sun had been coming straight up the beat, but by 2pm it was coming round towards right angled on the salmon's left side.  Moreover, the light level was changing abruptly from bright sunlight between the showers to deep grey dullness in the rain and hail.  Salmon generally don't much like abrupt changes in light level because they lack a quick-acting iris within their eyes, although one some occasions it can stimulate movement in ways that are positive for fishing.  On that basis I reasoned that the afternoon session would be less productive, and so it proved.

There was, however, one unusual highlight.  Having started again at the falls and fished down to the large pool, as I came to the point marking the end of the better water I had a solid take and a couple of kicks.  The fish then moved off across the pool but not at any great speed.  My first reaction was 'kelt', but there was none of the usual head shaking and surface thrashing associated with emigrating kelts.  There was also the odd flash of silver in the water.  Although the fish was clearly quite weighty it wasn't at all energetic, and pretty soon its head came up, which presented me with a view of a mouth like a two-gallon bucket.  It was a humble chub, but a truly enormous member of the breed, by far the largest I've ever seen, so I did it the honour of using the net.  From nose to fork it measured a shade under 25", and the weigh net scale said 3kg/61/2 lbs.  Bearing in mind that the British record chub is 9lbs 5oz, for any coarse fisherman this would be the chub of a lifetime.  So, if in addition to salmon you also are interested in chub, you know where to find this trophy hefalump.

With that achievement I decided to call it a day.  It had been wonderful to be back out on a river with a rod, and even though my left-handed casting had been pretty rubbish, it hadn't got me down.  The shoulder had benefited enormously from the movement and exercise, although the upwards and backwards movement of my left hand into a good launch position was still constrained.  I had re-learned some old lessons - primarily not chasing the attractions of the far bank because there's probably better water right in front. of you - and revised my knowledge of the beat.  Sleningford is a very useful spring-fish venue, but you do need at least 12-15" above MSL (70-80cm on the Kilgram gauge) for it to fish well.  You're also well advised to start early to get at least 4 hours' fishing before the sun comes round.  In any event at £20 for a day with a realistic prospect of a springer, it's outstanding value.

Next on the agenda is a trip to Bolton Hall for a brush-up casting lesson with Brian Towers, which will be followed by a day on the beautiful Rutherford beat on the Tweed at the end of May.  By then the best of the trout season on the Rye will be in full swing, unless of course we have another summer like 2007 or 2012, which might keep the focus on salmon.  I also need to obtain and test the two new Vision salmon rods - the up-market Custom and the entry level Hero - from my local friendly dealer before the season is too far gone.  With all that and the next step out of lockdown only a week away there's plenty of morale boosting activity in prospect.  Tight lines.

Tuesday, 3 November 2020

Pocket Rocket - Sage Igniter 12' 6" #7


In the final days of this peculiar season, courtesy of Guide Fly Fishing, I managed to get my hands on a Sage Igniter 12' 6" #7 demonstrator, matched with a Spectrum C reel (described at the end of this report) and Rio Scandi VersiTip #7 line.  The intrusions of work - the first since February - weather and a fortnight's compulsory isolation as a result of contact with a Covid case left me only a single day on the Ure's Bolton Hall beat to gain my impressions of this rod.  I had made a special effort to get hold of it in the belief that its size and rating could put it close to the ideal for fishing most of the upper Ure, and as a result I was excited by the prospect of trying it, even if only for one day.

First Impressions

The Igniter's utilitarian appearance belies its £1249 price tag.  There's not a hint of bling: indeed, the presentation and finish verges on the austere.  I took the message that this is a rod designed for serious fishing in the hands of those who have no time for trivia.

That impression is reinforced by the minimalist reel seat, which provides rock-solid placement and locking.

And also the rings and whippings.  The upper rings are simple chrome snakes, rather than the variations on the titanium recoil designs that are common at this price point.

I was, however, unimpressed by the cork.  Clearly this rod had received some hard use in the hands of an array of testers, but beyond that consideration it didn't match my expectations.  I don't wish to sound carping, but at £1249 it's quite legitimate to have expectations, including some alignment marks, which were notable absentees.

On the River

The Lord's Pool
+18", brown but falling and clearing

I had no choice over the day and had to cope with whatever conditions prevailed.  In the event a small spate the day before had raised the river to a very good fishing height, although it was still carrying plenty of brown colour and particulate clay.  Given that the outfit came with just an intermediate tip the situation required a fast sinking poly leader and a conehead tube to achieve the right presentation.  

With a selection of left bank pools, the big issue was a blustery 20-25 mph wind straight down the beat, which blew all day and included occasional gusts towards 30 mph.  This severely restricted the opportunities for right-handed casts, especially Single Spey.  At full width the Lord's Pool provides a useful representation of average Ure fishing distances, albeit at this level I spent most of the day wading 4-5 paces out to waist deep to keep my Double Spey and Snake Roll D loops out of the Bankside weeds.  In sum, the combination of left handed casting, weighted front end and waist deep wading provided a stern test of the Igniter's user friendliness.  By any standards this was a less than ideal day for testing a rod and hopefully exploring the detail of its best features.

One of the Igniter's major advantages in these conditions arose from its combination of short length and slim blanks, which made it much easier to move and control the rod's movement through the wind.  The last time I'd fished this pool in similar conditions was with a 14 footer, which presented significant challenges in the upstream sweeps, and the difference here was really marked.

Despite the limitations imposed by deep wading, the little Igniter covered the Lord's Pool with ease, sending the fly exactly where I wanted it to go.  On the treed section I had to throttle right back to avoid the overhanging branches.  That economy of effort can be hard to achieve when all the components of the environment - wind, wading and distance - are triggering your subconscious to try harder: if it feels tough you tend to respond with toughness, when quite the reverse delivers the best results.  This was exactly the case with the Igniter: with minimum effort, a progressive acceleration and a very short delivery stroke, it delivered a delightful result over the water.  But if your subconscious escaped, and either the top hand intruded or the early stage of delivery was rushed, the result was messy.  Knowing that it is tip-biased, quick and unforgiving you need to combine relaxation and discipline to get the results from this exceptional casting weapon.

Ash Tree Pool

After an extended session of cold deep wading in the Lord's Pool I took a warming march upstream to Ash Tree to assess the Igniter's behaviour in close quarter fishing at shorter ranges, when the rod is rarely anywhere near fully loaded.

In the two seasons since I last fished Ash Tree a series of spates have changed its shape and bottom profile considerably.  It's now significantly deeper across its breadth and length, which has created more fishable extent upstream of the tree, and especially downstream of the beck.  As a result it feels even more fishy, which made the poor underwater visibility doubly disappointing.

To be frank neither the Igniter or I as its user enjoyed this section of the test.  It certainly needs the entire SVT head to load, so it would have taken at least a #8 and possibly as much as a #9 to get the required behaviour in short range roll and ad hoc casting.  As soon as we approached the beck and returned to full-length delivery, the Igniter reverted to what it does best, laying out. a long straight line.  After 40 minutes' experimentation I didn't need any persuading to return to Lord's Pool, despite the cold in prospect.


Salmon rod preferences are intensely personal.  There are lots of 'good' rods in the market, but only a very few are optimal for any individual.  Despite its evident capabilities and power to size ratio, the Igniter was not the rod for me.  The reason is simple: despite almost 6 hours in my hands it was utterly devoid of 'feel'.  It just didn't communicate.  Indeed, it was almost as if my hands had been anaesthetised.  As a result, unless I watched every element of the Igniter's cast like a hawk, I didn't have a clue what was going on.  With my other rods I don't have to look, they tell me.  Some of them shout, others speak and one or two sing beautifully with Yar stitched in every note.  But the igniter remained mute throughout and as a result we never formed a relationship, which was hugely disappointing in view of my expectations.

No doubt others will love it.  Perhaps they're more attuned to Sage and their more youthful and expert hands can interpret its language.  But my experience once again underscores the great truism - Try Before You Buy.

Sage Spectrum C

The Spectrum C is Sage's entry level salmon reel.  it is a solidly built die cast product with minimal machining, retailing at an RRP around £175.  This puts it in head-on competition with the Loop Multi and the Lamson Remix, both of which have higher specifications.

There are no frills or embellishments, just pure functionality. This demonstrator displayed a lot of gravel rash, which raises questions over the durability of the black finish.

In addition to the Rio SVT #7 and running line, the demonstrator was loaded with a heroic volume of backing, which suggested that it would cope with a #9 head with ease.

 Its greatest feature is the drag that it shares with its more expensive siblings in the Sage range.  This is a serious bit of braking power, adjusted by a chunky easily grasped knob requiring only a single rotation to cover the full range of settings.  However, I found that most of the useful range was 4-6: figures above 6 possibly represented braking force in tons.

The drag is sealed, but the volume of grease present seemed to imply a certain lack of confidence in that department.

In use the Spectrum was competently utilitarian.  Unfortunately I missed all 3 salmon that took during the morning, so I failed to secure and opportunity to test its fish fighting capabilities.  In the absence of empirical testing I was confident that it would do the business.

In sum this is another competent badge-engineered die cast reel with an excellent brake.  It's nothing special at £175 and doesn't stand out against the competition.  The Multi is better finished and presented; the slightly more expensive Lamson Remix is more elegant and aesthetically pleasing; and the Lamson Liquid does the same job for much less money.  And for £45 more you can have a Danielsson L5W to endow your children and grandchildren.

Thursday, 24 September 2020

Whatever next?

 I've now become inured to uncertainty.  Nearly 7 months of isolation and lockdown have converged my life's boundaries and underlined the validity of Parkinson's Law that 'commitments expand to fill the available time".  In parallel those commitments have become ever more trivial: I love gardening, but it's not intellectually stimulating.  Those 7 months have so blunted my expectations that I seem to have lost my capacities for amazement and originality.  As each pleasant but plodding day succeeds the last I can feel the light but inexorable weight of a duvet of dullness upon me.  Focusing serious thought - including writing this post - requires an extraordinary effort.  It would be easy not to write.  In 1637 the philosopher Descartes (yes, he's been mentioned here before) defined the reality of his existence through his capacity for thought - "cogito ergo sum", loosely translated as "I think therefore I am".  So this post is a visceral self-indulgent act of defiance and resistance to the anaesthetic of lockdown.  The fact that I started writing this while on a business trip to the ghost town called London underlines my rebellion.  My only fear is that in the absence of salmon this post may be as dull as the times through which we are living.

In my last post 'Frustration' I recorded the emotional impact of dashed hopes on an otherwise perfect day for which I had yearned for 4 long months.  The upper Ure was full of fresh fish, but they couldn't see a fly owing to the intrusion of tiny particles of grey clay.  Being defeated by the might of the weather is one thing, but being frustrated by inanimate particles of soil released by vandalistic forestry practices is far, far worse.

Fortunately good conditions recurred in late August, which allowed me to invite a guest down from Northumberland.  He caught this lovely plump 13 pounder, still with the sheen of summer on its flanks, his first Yorkshire salmon.  This one had entered the river in July and you will note that its kype development has barely started.  The other notable feature was its build: it had clearly had a couple of wonderful years at sea gorging on prawn and capelin pies.  In poor feeding years some 2SW salmon may be as small as 7-8 lbs, whereas in good years they might attain as much as 14 lbs.

For my part, despite a number of takes, I just could get a fish to stick.  However, I was so delighted for Roger that I felt none of the frustration that had soured the day in July.

The Coquet

My guest returned the favour by inviting me up to his beat on the Coquet the following week.  I'd never fished this river before but had been keen to do so for some years ever since he first raised the possibility.  It also has a historic familial connection, a sense of place for me, because my distant forebears had farmed beside the Coquet for 5 centuries before moving to Yorkshire.

The bright sunlight was less than ideal for salmon fishing, but did allow me to appreciate fully the beauty of this little green gem of a river.  The beat we fished was enclosed in steep sided valley - almost a gorge - just west of the A1.  Its peaceful tranquility and visual pleasures provided me with a magical day.  The birds and their songs were wonderful: I saw 3 kingfishers at close quarters, something that always lifts my spirits. Going down to the river and into the water was like entering a different world from the one through which I had just driven, with the urgency and pressure of the great North Road.

My reverie was disturbed only twice: first by sporadic shots from the nearby Bywell shooting ground (it's nowhere near the Bywell beat on the Tyne); and second, by a group of young wild swimmers downstream of the lower limit of the beat. With a water temperature of 12.5C they emerged frequently to warm in the sunshine, except for the blonde girl most sensibly clad in a wetsuit.  I took this photo after their departure when I had just missed a pretty violent sea trout take on the edge of the fast water.

Roger was the most assiduous host, always placing me in the best pools and entirely forgoing his own chances.  This was a case in point in the afternoon: this stretch positively screamed 'salmon', whereas Roger took short commons upstream.  I was surprised not to take a fish from here, but I fished it with the most eager anticipation.

When the salmon did come about 20 minutes before the end of the day, it almost took me by surprise in the bland water under the far bank beyond the small croy.  The fight, however, was anything but bland, with the ring bounded by the Croy above, rocks below, overhanging bushes and trees on the far side and a gravel ridge nearest me. Trying to control a feisty 8 pounder in a channel barely 15 feet wide with an 11' 6" switch rod was an interesting challenge, reminiscent of my Devonian youth.  On the other hand the little Tool takes prisoners gladly!

This is a close up of the ring.  The fish took under the large angled tree on the opposite bank. The  gravel ridge in the foreground is clearly visible: at least it precluded the fish getting between my legs in the closing stages.

My first Coquet fish was in perfect condition with a lovely silver sheen.  Naturally I was delighted, which overcame all the earlier disappointments on the Ure.  Although Roger had recommended a local pattern, this one fell for the trusty MCX Dark #10.  Light heartedly one might speculate that its novelty to Coquet fish did the trick.  It crowned an absolutely beautiful day in a parallel universe far removed from thoughts of disease, lockdowns and the pressures of life.  And if you are fishing on a bright sunny day, persistence is a virtue: just keep going.

Back to Tomatin

We'd been alerted in February to the possibility of a week being available in September at Tomatin.  Needless to say I was excited.  As I've said many times before, it's not the fishing but the delights of a week in a beautiful place in the company of our closest friends, with the highly variable fishing as an extra.  Once the lockdown came into force I looked forward to the week with a mixture of anxiety - would it be allowed? - and anticipation.  Indeed, it became an overpowering focus that offered the prospect of an escape from confinement, a change from the boundary walls of home and garden, and an expression of freedom.  With the shortage of more substantial things to occupy my mind I've never thought so much about a week's fishing for so long.  At first it was the ebb and flow of alternating optimism and pessimism of likelihood.  Then as summer approached and fishing became my primary form of escape from the boredom of lockdown, so the intensity of my hopes for Tomatin grew.  I was acutely aware of the risks of 'anticipointment' - the more desperately I wanted the week to be a success the more likely it was to fail through any of many factors - weather, water, fish and of course legal prohibition.  

The Findhorn had been without a spate since June and was bouncing on its bones for the whole summer.  Come late August it desperately needed a full 6 footer to flush out all the gunge and pull through the fish locked in the middle river.  The approach of Storm FRANCES offered great hope, which was cruelly dashed when it stalled over Perth, inflicting 24 hours of thunderstorms, torrential rain and flooding on the surrounding district.  Meanwhile the normally gloomy Monadliath mountains experienced cheerful sunshine and the Findhorn dropped lower still.

Rocky Bank at MSL
Upstream nymphing

We drove north in beautiful weather: my wife, being charming and ever-tactful, passed no remark.  Fully aware of the effects of excessive expectation I was already resigned, but the euphoria of escape trumped any possible feeling of disappointment.  We arrived to find a river that was more rock than water.  There was no point using conventional tactics: those had yielded just 2 fish to the preceding party.  Freed from any pressure to perform I experimented with every option in the book, some that weren't, as well as all the methods that had caught Tomatin fish in low water.  This photo was taken during  bit of upstream nymphing with an MCX Snaelda.  For good measure I also tried Finnish indicator, Czech dibbing with a tungsten bomb and even a sideways French with an ultra-short leader.  After that I scraped the bottom of the deeper pools with weighted tubes on T11 tips.  I don't know what the salmon thought of all this, if anything, as they remained steadfastly asleep.

Garden at first light

In accordance with Tomatin tradition I rose before dawn to strip an MCX Sunray across the heads of the pools  in the hope of irritating an over-sexed cock fish, but clearly their testosterone level was as low as the water.

Looking downstream from Garden at dawn
The sunrises were as unfailingly beautiful as the fish were disobliging.  This photo was taken in ankle deep water from the point where in 2017 I had caught belt-fed grilse every morning.  I had no doubt that there were fish in Garden pool - big, strong spring runners - but the lack of any surface show didn't prove their absence.

This forecast gave grounds for optimism - the Findhorn's catchment is under 'Augustus' - but this was severely tempered by my long experience of the 'Vanishing Rain of Inverness'.  Like a mirage it always stays out of reach, never materialising.  Theoretically that volume and duration of rain would normally put the river up by 4 feet.  What we got was 8 inches, with the certainty that it would run off quickly.  At least it was better than nothing and even if it wouldn't suffice to pull any fish up the river it might wake up the dozing residents.

A senior Tomatin resident
And so it proved.  This was one of two senior residents who woke up enough to get caught on the Wednesday.  This one, 37" from fork to natural jaw line, probably came up to Tomatin in June at close to 20 lbs in weight, but was now around 16 lbs.  The other, almost identical and also caught in Garden pool but not the same fish, was caught after lunch.

From the Thursday the weather fragmented into sunny spells interspersed with sharp cold showers, with strong gusty winds most of the time.  Fed from the catchment at much higher altitudes the water temperature plunged from 13C on the Monday to 7.8C on Friday.  Depending on the weight of the showers we received a series of very small lifts in the range 3-5".

Head of Churan looking upstream in a squall

Colonel's looking downstream into the teeth of the wind

Fishing Down Churan, next squall coming in

Casting into this sort of weather was tough but satisfying in a rather masochistic way: you could take pride in delivering a sensible line, even if there weren't many fish to take any notice of your virtuosity.  However, by Friday afternoon pods of grilse started to run through the beat, occasionally announcing their passing with some joyful splashing or a sharp knock on the fly.  Wading calf-deep down Churan with the sun over my shoulder between the squalls I observed a series of bright flashes around my legs as grilse turned abruptly away while running hard in less than 12" of water.  Further into the stream was the odd larger fish, head down and firmly intent on running, unwilling to take the least notice of a fly.  If there had been more of them I would have gone directly to one of my favourite ambush spots and fished it hard, but the odds looked so poor that I didn't bother.

By Saturday morning the prospects of catching a fish and my motivation coincided at zero.  Despite being allocated the delightful Garden pool, I spent a very happy hour making sandcastles beside it with my 2 year old granddaughter.  Dropping stones into the water and splashing about - seriously forbidden in more promising times - became her and my entire delight.  There are some things - a very few perhaps - that are more valuable than salmon.  We enjoyed biscuits and juice together on the bank while HMCX's Jack Russell and Cocker ran themselves ragged, before I eventually sallied forth with a rod to catch a fish on cue for her enjoyment.

MCX with a resident of Garden pool

I'm not impressed
My dog summed the week up neatly one early morning.  This was my first blank at Tomatin since the disaster of 2009, when there was even less water and fewer fish in the river.  I tried every innovative technique known to man, but without a proper spate we were always on a hiding to nothing.  All three of the 'experts' - John, Patrick and I - blanked.  The three fish, 2 lumps and a stale grilse, were all caught by novices, underlining the random nature of fishing in such conditions.

Unusually, I have not a single useful lesson to offer from the experience, other than just keep doing something sensible and don't get downhearted: it's much better than being locked down.

For my own part I loved the escape, the freedom, the air, the wind, the surroundings, being in one of my favourite places in all the world with close friends and family, and making lovely memories.

Next week I start my autumn assault on the Ure, which has also been a bit short of water, although I know there are salmon.  When it's over I'll write again.  But in the interim I have an apple harvest to complete.

Saturday, 25 July 2020


We truly are living in extraordinary times.  When I wrote my last post on 4th March from a hotel room in Abu Dhabi, we still had freedom of movement and association.  We could go where we wanted, when we wanted, and associate with whomsoever we wanted.  It was normal and we took it for granted.  Then the world changed and our perceptions of normality evaporated within days.  I flew back into Manchester in mid-March through a succession of deserted airports that echoed the slamming of doors all over the world.  With no idea of how long the pandemic might persist, the situation brought to mind Lord Grey's comment as Foreign Secretary August 1914 that "the lamps are going out all over Europe and we shall not see them re-lit in our lifetime".  Let us hope the second clause is as incorrect now as it was then.

The joys of the garden
Rose Felicite Perpetue
Since then we've lived through lockdown and its partial relaxation.  I must confess that lockdown was much easier for me than most others.  The wags might say that social distancing comes easy to a Yorkshireman: perhaps they're right on that score.  Living in a village with a shop and Post Office surrounded by beautiful countryside laced with delightful walks and deserted lanes for cycling is a rare privilege and advantage.  So is having a large garden, which is now repaying the 3 months' effort expended in lockdown.  And at my advanced age I'm not in a tearing hurry to get out to do things, except insofar that I'm increasingly aware of the diminishing number of fishing seasons that may be left to me.  Like everyone else I've missed my family and friends most of all.  Now I'm finding reunions with our children and grandchildren very emotional, especially when they have to go home.

Rye Trout

The reopening came too late to save a friend's invitation to the Tweed and the better part of the Mayfly period on the Rye.  I did, nevertheless enjoy some success, albeit without ever coinciding with either a Mayfly hatch or an evening spinner fall.

5lbs 3oz - Pheasant Tail Nymph
3lbs 9oz - BWO Spinner

The larger fish presented real challenges with fighting under an overhanging tree, which precluded having the rod upright, and keeping it out of the bushes on the opposite bank only 12-14 feet away.  It gave me some really nervous moments, culminating in its inability to fit into my little landing net, which is why you see it some way up the bank!  The smaller fish - itself no dwarf - actually gave me much more satisfaction.  First, I love the thrill of the one-to-one combat of close quarter dry fly fishing for wary wild trout: nymphing doesn't compare unless you can see a fish taking rising nymphs near the surface.  And second, for my birthday my wife gave me an utterly wonderful little Vision Sisu 8' #3 brook rod, a tiny delicate little wand weighing less than 2 ounces, and this was its baptism as darkness fell on an evening rise.  This fish was tucked under the bank of one of the few open pools on the Rye in an awkward current seam, which required a slow and careful stalk to get into the best position for ideal fly presentation.  The size of the pool gave the trout ample opportunity to show off its strength and aerobatic urges.  Fighting a wild trout of this size on a tiny rod is one of the greatest rushes that fishing can give.  It was a truly perfect evening.

Ure Salmon

Amidst all this I wasn't too concerned on the salmon front because after 3 months of near-drought with barely 8% of average rainfall between March and May there certainly wasn't any kind of spring run in the Ure.  I hadn't missed anything and could look forward to when the rain arrived, which it did in excess in June, triggering a summer surge of salmon from the North Sea into the Ure.  My hopes of intercepting them at Sleningford came to naught owing to Covid precautions at the caravan site, so I had to wait a little longer for the best possible conditions up at Thoresby.

Everything aligned perfectly in early July, with the river falling from +1.3m at Kilgram and clearing nicely.  I was doubly excited because this was the first July opportunity on the Ure since the (non) summer of 2012.  Arriving on the water at 9.30 it looked absolutely perfect and my anticipation and morale were both sky high: who wouldn't be inspired by a view like this, especially after 4 months' lockdown?

The Perfect Summer View
Frodle Dub tail 10th July 2020

I put the Brigadier on Frodle Dub and went upstream to fish the Hut pool and the junction with Bishopdale Beck.  It needs plenty of water to fish well and the height couldn't be bettered even if it was running slightly brown.  Applying the 'Walking to the Water' formula a 1" MCX Conehead tube and a slow sinking polyleader would give the right presentation.

Hut Pool
Bishopdale Beck joins on the right

It's essential in this pool not to wade too far out from the bank - 3-4 yards is plenty.  It doesn't give you any advantage and certainly isn't necessary for casting distance as you can cover the water with only a partial D-loop.  More importantly, some of the best lies are on the near side, including one within 6-8 yards downstream of where you enter the water, so the old adages apply: clear the water nearest you before extending to casting distance; and fish the dangle positively.

After a couple of minutes removing some cobwebs from my casting I set off down the pool.  About 10 yards below the point at which I took the photo I had a good strong take - probably a grilse - close in to the bank.  It didn't stay on; nor did the one 3 casts later.  Missing fish is sad, but getting a couple of good takes within 10 minutes of starting is definitely good for morale.  As my fly was fishing about level with the end of the fallen tree on the left, between there and the well known lie in the middle, I had another much more forceful take and turn, which took my rod right over.  Without being too firm I leaned back to set the hook - and failed.  I was frustrated but unworried: there were clearly plenty of fish present and active.

Flesh Dub
After finishing off in Hut I progressed through Frodle and on to Flesh Dub, which was looking lovely and very fishy in the sporadic sunshine.  In the circumstances I was 
surprised not to get a take in the large lie at the head of the pool, usually one of the most reliable spots in the whole river.  However, as I progressed I became aware that the river was rising quite quickly and changing colour.  This was unexpected as the main rain front had passed through the previous night, and up until then the river had been falling quickly and clearing.

I wasn't too worried about the lift as there was no reason for it to be large or sustained, but the discolouration was a greater cause for concern owing to the effects of back-scatter of the sunlight underwater, which becomes much more pronounced in bright conditions and when the sun is high in the sky.  There's a fuller description of back-scatter (and other phenomena of light behaviour underwater) in 'Sparkling Water'.  There was a serious risk that my fly would shortly become invisible to the salmon, no matter where or how it was presented.

The effects of clay and
bright sunlight in water

If you're uncertain what is really happening under the water in terms of visibility and light level, the simple solution is to put your waterproof fishing camera to use and have a look.  This was the result.  In the space of 10 minutes the river had gone from falling and clearing nicely to total obscuration.  Even a salmon would be unable to detect a fly in the murk, even if you fished it closer to the surface.  The colour is the give-away: this was particulate grey clay, which because it is so fine would hang in the water for as long as this flush persisted, probably at least 12 hours, possibly longer.  At a stroke my perfect day (and my ambition to put the Brigadier into a fresh silver salmon) had come to naught.

My frustration was exacerbated by knowing whence the clay had come.  This was not a new occurrence.  Some years ago a large block of forestry on the flank of the hills beyond Hawes had been clear-felled.  The ridge ploughing to prepare the ground for new trees had breached the surface layer, exposing and disrupting an extensive layer of pale grey clay, which runs off into the adjacent beck.  If the rain is heavy enough it will displace sufficient clay to affect the main river, and the effects can persist for days.  In this case it brought the streak of July catches on the Ure to a shuddering halt, disappointing and frustrating many others with equally high hopes.

I fished on to the end of the day in hope but without expectation.  Lunch with the Brigadier was as pleasant as ever - we've been friends for 50 years and are totally relaxed in each other's company.  The disappointment would have been far, far worse if I'd been fishing alone.

Learning Points

So amidst my frustration, what learning points did I gather from the day?

  • Grilse are less tied to specific lies than larger fish.  They range all over the width of the river and can take anywhere, including the most unlikely places and in shallow water.  Don't be surprised when it happens.
  • Grilse are much less powerful and efficient swimmers than larger salmon, and when the river is up will usually run in the easier water close to the banks.  Don't wade unnecessarily deep.  Expect takes at the dangle and fish it positively.  Most of the hookings will be near the front of their soft mouths, so resign yourself to losing lots of them, but don't despair.
  • There are as many fish on your side of the river as the other.
  • Don't rush.  Always clear the water closest to you with a short line before extending to full casting distance and heading off down the pool.
  • Buy a waterproof camera and put it to good use to help you understand the conditions.  They're not unduly expensive and spare you all the worries of dropping your phone or smart camera in the water.

Looking Ahead

Given the clear evidence of plenty of salmon in the Ure we can only hope for a bit of rain and water in August (but not too much - no more clay please).  In 2011 and 2012 I caught some wonderful fish in August, large and in prime condition, so it would be lovely to repeat the achievement.  In September, lockdown permitting, we're back to Tomatin for Just One Week, somewhat earlier than in the past, but it will be a wonderful week with friends to savour.  HMCX is also coming up for a couple of days with his family to share my rod, which will be an added treat.  Let's hope for some water there too!

Unless I get some fishing on the Ure in August I won't have anything useful to write about until October.  For those of you lucky enough to be fishing, tight lines.