Thursday 24 October 2013

Autumn Glory - October on the Ure

Flesh Dub, River Ure
17th October 2013
October is often one of the most beautiful months of the year in North Yorkshire.  Of course we get the full variety of English weather across the span from crystal blue skies to snow and everything in between, but that's part of the beauty.  But views like this will always lift your spirits, especially when you know that the pool in front of you is filling up with fish running up from the estuary, and the water conditions are becoming absolutely perfect for fishing.

Flesh Dub
10th October 2013
It's been an unusual year, with the longest dry spell that I can remember since 1976 or before.  We had a good lift in the Ure in mid-May - sadly not big or sustained enough to pull many spring fish all the way up to Thoresby - and then nothing significant for almost 5 months.  By early October I was becoming truly desperate - writing is a poor substitute for fishing - so even a very small lift of 6" was enough to prompt an escape from the office.  In good fishing conditions the rocks in the foreground are completely submerged, but you can't always have the optimum in anything.

Dick Dub
10th October 2013
Undeterred we drove up into Wensleydale and opted to start on Dick Dub at the bottom of the Thoresby beat.  This is a first class holding pool but tricky to fish for several reasons.  First, wading is impossible for much of its length owing to the depth under the near bank.  Second, that depth extends right across the upper half of the pool, which often requires weighted tips and flies to overcome.  Most fish lie between 2/3 and 3/4 of the way across.  Third, the big back-eddy evidenced by the scum-line presents all manner of line management challenges whilst also gathering all the autumn leaves for you to collect with your back-cast.  With vegetation behind you and a swirling wind, Dick Dub is a test of your casting adaptability and invention. 

John with resident hen fish
John opted to start half way down with a conventional floating line set-up and hooked this hen fish shortly after I took the photo above.  Her behaviour and colour indicated that she had been in the river since the summer, so we went for an early netting to get her away as soon as possible.  John fished on into the run below, where he lost another after a brief connection.  Having done my net and photo duties I went up to the top of the pool to work the deep water with a weighted Ally Conehead and sink tip.

Cheerful MCX with Mr Grumpy
It wasn't long before this cock fish took a swipe at the fly before setting off down the pool.  After a brisk fight and some aerobatics in the comparatively rock-free middle I led him down to the beach at the bottom where John was waiting to return the honours.  Many novices are surprised by the distance you can lead an active fish.  Provided you maintain a firm and consistent tension in the line and modest rate of movement down the bank, the fish will come along with you.  This chap came nearly 60 yards to give a much better place for landing, unhooking and releasing than anywhere available on a steep bank with boulders at its foot.  As a result he staged an ill-tempered and speedy departure.

We then made our way up to the top of the beat for a bite of lunch in preparation for fishing Frodle, Flesh and Willow in the afternoon.

It was clearly John's day: he took 2 more fish, including a thumping 22 pounder, whilst all I could manage were a couple of misses.  Sadly I was not in range with the camera for the big one, and remained a distant spectator of his antics on the ledge between the 2 oak trees at the bottom of Frodle Dub.  As I've previously noted, Murphy's Law says that when fighting a fish you will always be on the wrong side of a tree, so John was really tempting fate by working between 2 trees.

A week later we were back on a pre-booked expedition, with part of the team staying overnight at the Bolton Arms at Redmire, and others coming and going between the Thursday and Friday.  The Bolton is an outstandingly good pub, with nice rooms, great food (a truly heroic breakfast), real beer and genuine atmosphere.  Its 5 star rating on Trip Advisor and means that lots of people agree with us.  I joined John and Patrick for breakfast on Thursday morning before heading out full of food and optimism.

Flesh Dub at +24"
1015 am 17th October 2013
The river was well up but falling and clearing nicely.  You can see the difference between this photo of Flesh Dub and the one above.  Applying the MCXFisher Quick Calculator outlined last May, this rated a score of almost 12, so it was on with a sink tip and a 1.5" Copper Conehead Cascade, and then into the water with extreme caution.  The reason for the extra care is simple.  After months of low water, sunshine and high temperatures, every rock in the river is coated with slippery green stuff that will remain in place to the end of the season and beyond.

Hen fish - Flesh Dub
17th October 2013

After a dozen casts came that delirious sensation of the strong turn away of a good fish aided by heavy water.  On completing the turn she delivered a marvellous sea trout imitation with a perfect vertical take off completely clear of the water before going down and across the flow at top speed.  As you can see from her steel-grey colour and shine, she was straight up from the estuary in perfect condition and fighting fit.  As a guide my wading boot is 13" long and positioned to stop everything slipping back down the steep bank after a solo netting (there was no better option).  The hook was lodged in the back of the scissors of her right jaw (opposite to my fishing bank) and would not have yielded to anything short of dynamite.

Willow Bush Run

I fished on down to Willow, which was running at high speed (no, that's a leaf, not the take that I missed shortly after putting the camera away).  This run fishes better with the water somewhat lower and slower, which allows good oblique presentation of the fly across the tail and entrance.  This run is a classic example of the pointlessness of chasing the far bank.  The flow there is much slower and in seconds you have a giant belly in the line and a fly travelling at warp speed.

I trudged back up to Frodle to have lunch, taking in the delightful view in the opening picture of this post.  Patrick had caught a fish there earlier, but we agreed that we should be doing better in such conditions.  In retrospect I reckon that we were perhaps being a mite hard on ourselves because the river needed to shed another foot before attaining perfection. 

Spurred on to try even harder, despite the digestive demands of a truly enormous Scotch egg, I dully went back to Flesh Dub.  By now the water had dropped and cleared, the low October sun was quite strong and moving towards shining straight down the pool.  There was pronounced scattering of light in the water and a high level of sub-surface brightness.  Taken together these factors were causing a significant loss of horizontal underwater visibility.  These were not easy conditions for salmon, who lacking an iris in the eye to adjust to awkward light, rely on a slower-acting pigment that works like a form of biological dark glasses (there's a fuller explanation in 'Here's Looking at You').   Although the water level and speed (and the MCX Calculator) still suggested using a well-sunk tube, the unusual light conditions led me to select a lighter tip and a #8 Cascade in order to give the fish the best chance of seeing the fly in the clearer regions of Windows 2 and 3.  Of course this was taking a risk that the fly might be too far above them and moving too fast, but it was worth a try.  As an aside, the coloured bits of a Cascade are irrelevant in these conditions and presentation.  The dark body gives a clear-cut silhouette against the bright surface: everything else is just supporting extras.

About a third of the way down I missed a light take about half way round the swing.  It might have been a leaf, but nothing ventured, I repeated the cast on the same length and line.  At exactly the same point, bang, thump and fish on.  After 10 minutes of non-stop aggression, Mr Angry, resplendent in his fighting pyjamas and a growing kype, came into the net.  He was clearly a long-term resident, so at 35 inches on the tape measure, minus a couple for his kype and a hefty discount for dieting, I scored him at 11 lbs and sent him on his way (he's almost upright in the poor photo - I try not to waste time on positioning the pose).  Was he the fish that took and missed?  We'll never know, but it's possible.

Duly elated I chopped off the last 6" of tippet (a life-long habit); checked the hook points and re-tied the battered but serviceable cascade; glued the knot; and carried on down the pool to no effect whatsoever.  By the time I reached the bottom the light was starting to fade (as were my companions - fishing with the angling equivalent of an elderly Duracell Rabbit can be very tiring).  I made my way up to Frodle for a chat, essential chocolate and some coffee, while we agreed the plan for the last half hour. 

Frodle Dub Tail
17th October 2013
I drew the bottom part of Frodle; Patrick the top; and John took Flesh.  By now the water and light levels were significantly lower than when I took the photo that morning.  The shallower water in Frodle's tail meant that I didn't need to change my existing rig of short sink tip, 9' leader and #8 Dishevelled Cascade.

As I got right to the bottom hope was fading.  At this point you are casting a long line at 45 degrees towards the round tree in the centre of the photo: tips, AFS and about 30-40 feet of runner to get a broad but slow coverage of a series of quite shallow lies in which fish hold having ascended the shallow haul from Flesh.  About a quarter of the way round, bang!  A fish was on and heading determinedly back to the Humber.  Faced with the imminent risk of it getting into the fast water below, losing control and probably a good salmon,  I got out onto the bank as fast as possible, detached my wading stick, and set of in pursuit as fast as the multitude of leg-breaking rabbit holes allowed.  By now it was 60 yards away and still intent on going south, so it was time to gain the initiative.  After due application of drag and left palm the fish turned, before deciding to explore the alternative of a trip up to Hawes via Aysgarth.  As it passed I could see that it wasn't huge - about a yard long - but beautifully proportioned and fighting fit.  After another 10 minutes it got its first sight of Patrick's net, which prompted a combination of high speed run and aerobatics.  About 3 minutes later I got her head up for the first time and drew 15lbs of shiny steel grey, deep-bodied hen fish towards the net.  In dark water and failing light this was tricky.  Up on the bank looking down I had a good view.  Down at water level Patrick could barely see the leader and nothing below the opaque surface.  In the final moment something went disastrously wrong in the net: the fish somersaulted in a shower of spray; in the melee it seems that the loop between tip and leader caught on something; and the 15lbs leader snapped just below the loop.  It was a beautifully proportioned fish in prime condition, a great fight and a sad loss.  Even if she couldn't go in my book she was a valid score for the estate's records.  You can't expect to win them all, and you've got to take the hits.  As John drives a 4x4 I didn't have to walk all the way back to the car at High Thoresby Farm with the added burden of disappointment.  And there's still next week to come.

We are indeed most lucky people to fish in a beautiful place for wonderful fish.  The Ure's late runners are large, strong and in lovely condition.  You couldn't ask for more.


A view of heaven
Frodle Rapids upstream with Bishopdale Beck Junction
17th October 2013

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