Tuesday 3 June 2014

Walking and Casting in the Park

Wild Rye brown trout 6lbs 8 oz - 26 May 2014
With due apology to the lyricists of 'Eliza Doolittle' and geographic pedants, whilst I was away "in Spain the rain fell mainly upon the plain" of York.  However, since my return it has scarcely stopped falling: by the end of May the rain gauge told me that we'd accumulated a remarkable 3"/78mm of the stuff.  The average is 2"/54mm falling on 14 days of the month.  This year's effort has exceeded both scores by 50%, which has had two consequences.  First, the length of the grass in my garden is up 150%; and second, my prime-time trout fishing is down 75%.   I've only been out on the stunningly beautiful  River Rye twice in the whole month, which is a personal worst record.  On the other hand I managed to catch some very big trout, including this fat monster.  With all the salmon fishing I'm a bit out of practice in the subtleties of casting back-handed round a willow tree to reach a lie overhung by cow parsley and dock leaves, but they don't call it 'Duffers' Fortnight' for nothing.

Bolton Hall in good Yorkshire May weather
8.5C drizzle and mist
With all the rain and cold; the Ure running at a good level; and reports of people taking springers on the beats above and below, I just couldn't resist another foray to the Bolton Hall beat to follow the day I described in The Joys of Spring.  The forecast said it would rain hard the night before and it did.  It was still trying to rain the next morning when I arrived in the Park: drear was a suitable adjective. Wading would be a blessed relief as the water was at least 3C warmer than the air, and with GoreTex top and bottom only my nose might feel the cold.

The Lord's Pool
+16" and rising, water 11.5C
Despite the temptations of seeking shelter in the West Wood upper half of the beat, I was determined to explore the pools and runs adjacent to the Park.  The river was well up, heavily coloured and carrying some mud.  Fortunately at this time of year the length of the grass in the pastures and density of the barley crop both hold the soil and slow the run-off.  Whilst from above it didn't look great, a quick check of the underwater visibility with the camera gave grounds for greater optimism.  Nevertheless the conditions rated a full 11 on the MCX Scoring System so the obvious choice was a Cascade Conehead tube.  However, as the beat is generally quite shallow I forebore adding a sink tip.

Lord's Bridge
Suitably eccentric
To burn off some of my excess enthusiasm before taking the lengthy walk to the top of the section, I decided to fish the pool opposite the Hall, with Tom's new hut overlooking.  At this level it comprises almost 400 metres of fishable water.  The photo above was taken from the head towards the Lord's bridge in the distance. Three casts later I had a strong take as the fly passed through the centre-line, but after a few seconds the fish was gone (the story of my week in a single phrase!).  I also discovered that the margins were full of ravenous trout, so it was essential to re-cast before the line reached the full dangle, or else waste time unhooking them.

With enthusiasm duly suppressed I took the arty photo of the eccentric Lord's Bridge and set off upstream.  As I did so the reason for the bridge's slope became apparent.  Throughout this section the right bank is formed by a post-glacial moraine, whereas the left bank is artificially created and reinforced along much of its length by embedded limestone walling.  The bridge was built in 1733, but at some point in the 20th Century someone had got loose with a drag bucket digger (a smaller version of those crane-like machines used to mine open-cast coal) and re-shaped the river, taking out the untidy bends and building up the left bank to protect the Park pastures from flooding. This sort of thing was all the rage after the Great War when maximizing agricultural production was a national mission.  Of course it's in the nature of agricultural policies that they go through a cycle of implementation followed by reversal.  In the 1960s the Ministry of Agriculture paid farmers to rip out hedges: now they're paying them to replant.  Perhaps they could now be persuaded to give Lord Bolton a subsidy for making the river untidy again, ideally by dropping some large rocks into the flow to create some more salmon lies.  Here's hoping.

Top of the Park section looking upstream to
West Wood
The man made embankment offered good going until I reached the point where I could no longer resist the urge to fish, even if this meant foregoing the joys of the run down from West Wood.

Looking downstream
And here's the reason why a stopped.  I'd just walked past 300 metres of river that literally screamed 'salmon!' at the top of its voice.  The challenge lay in the fact that at +18" it could potentially hold fish across its entire breadth.  The features that might attract, hold and concentrate running fish (and they would be moving at this height) were not easy to spot, possibly because the drag bucket operator had done a good job of smoothing the bottom and pulling out the boulders.  Covering the full width from the bank was a lesser challenge provided that I didn't try to cast too square.  Wading was not on.

Further down
The further down you went, the better it got, bending progressively to the left under a series of large ash trees.  On the way down I took and released two respectable sea trout before encountering a knowledgeable local who told me that last week someone had caught a substantial fish from where I was casting.  They're always here last week, which makes we wonder where they'll be next week, when this week has in its turn become last week.........if you get my meaning.

And round the corner - Ash Tree

The corner pool was an obvious fish holder of semi-magnetic attraction, which reaches fever pitch by the large rock set in the bank below the biggest tree.  Unfortunately the combined effects of my photography and the gloomy day prevent these pictures doing justice to the sublime prettiness of the surroundings.  This really is a wonderful place to fish, even if you aren't catching.

You enter the water about half way down to fish out the stretch to the tail.

Down to the tail
Note the beck on the right

The last 150-200 metres is nice easy wading and fishing until the flow runs out of steam and depth.  The running line and lies are towards the far bank.  In addition, any fish running up this stretch will rapidly detect the smell of the beck tumbling in from the right and pause to resolve the information.  A salmon can detect smells in water at parts per billion or more - that equates to one pub measure of whisky in 25 tons of water - and a large part of its brain is devoted to processing smell data.  It survives by being cautious, so even small changes in the smell environment will create a brief halt and a potentially catchable fish.

By now I had been fishing this stretch for almost 2 hours and was in serious need of a break.  Furthermore the water was starting to clear, so a change of fly was in order.  Even after 3 days on the Dee before Easter I am still a long way from 'casting fit' at this early stage of the season, and at my age there are distinct limits to what I can demand of a very battered and unreliable  back.  Nevertheless the Crunchie bar offered the fastest sugar hit outside Jamaica and had me up on my feet again inside 10 minutes to repeat the fishing of this stretch.

Upper Park
The next pool below comprises two long pools separated by a large willow bush, around which wading would be foolhardy in all but the lowest water.  The near side is deep and the boulders plentiful, round, smooth and slippery, so at around +15" I was unwilling to chance a swim (even at +6" the wading is awkward).  Sometimes you just have to accept that you cannot cover all the water in front of you.  Although this pool would fish well from the right bank, there's nowhere to cross at this height; you can't get it by car; and the walk down, over and back from the Lord's Bridge is about a mile.

By now the clock was running down towards 4pm when I needed to be on the road North to Kelso and the Tweed to fish the beautiful Rutherford beat in the morning (which will be the subject of the next post).  This gave me just enough time to fish part of the Lower Park pool before going into the Houdini routine of removing my waders.  The sun was trying to come out; the water was clearing; and hope sprang as eternal as ever (it always does with me!), but on this occasion without fulfillment.  Nonetheless it had been a marvelous day spent exploring a new and exciting bit of water, which I eagerly anticipate fishing later in the season.

So, apart from the beauty of the surroundings, what did I take from the day?

  • When trying for sparse spring fish you have to be realistic about your prospects.  On the Ure, at best the odds are about 10% of those prevailing in September and October, and probably lower still when the water allows them to run as freely as it did on this day.
  • When you're casting off the bank don't be too ambitious.  If you go too square, you'll catch the grass.  If you try too hard for oblique distance the over-rotation of your body will cause your D-loop to catch the cow parsley.  Take it easy and concentrate on fishing most of the water really well, which is far more productive than covering all of it badly.
  • A fast action tip-biased rod isn't a good choice for this sort of fishing because you just can't load it properly in a partial roll cast.  I was trying out a 13' 8" Vision Cult, which most unusually is described as "slow, through action".  While such terms might be a turn-off for more macho anglers, I found the Cult ideal for this sort of work, albeit it's a mite longer than this water really demands.  It's a nice rod - very confidence building and suitable for a beginner because you can feel everything happening - but it has the most ridiculous and bizarre reel seat I've ever encountered, and what's worse, it's up-locking and has no secondary lock nut! Forget the natty wood and give me a plain, simple down-locking Alps with a Teflon thread and a locking washer.
  • A smaller river like this limits your casting room and style because there's no point wading nearly half way across to make room for the D-loop.  After all, it's the forward cast that catches the fish, not the backward.  To overcome the effects of a constrained D-loop use a short headed line (mine was a Rio Scandi) and go up one line weight (or even two) in order to get a fuller and more efficient loading of the rod. 

The next post describing the glories of the Tweed will follow shortly provided the weather doesn't improve dramatically to get me out on the Rye.  In the interim I wish you tight lines on both salmon and trout.

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