Sunday 24 May 2015

Top of the Water - Upper Bolton Hall

It's been a while since I last wrote.  When I returned from the Dee in early April, Yorkshire went into a cool, windy and exceptionally dry spring - 14mm of rain when you're meant to get an April average of 60mm is unhelpful for salmon and anglers alike.  There were plenty of fish stacked up in the Ouse around York waiting to run up the system, but without rain they were going nowhere very slowly.  We needed a good two weeks' rain to generate a 2 metre spate and then keep the river well up for at least 10 days.  In early May my prayers were answered, at precisely the time I had to go to Qatar on business.  As my wife says, "it's never right for you and fishing", but there again she's not a student of Murphy's Laws.  If she was, multi-tasking would be right off the agenda.  By the time I'd got home, adjusted to the 40 degree temperature change, spent 2 days in London and sorted myself out, the Ure at Kilgram had fallen to +55cm, viable but certainly not optimal for spring fishing.  That note of pessimism merits explanation.  Springers are rare at the best of times, and to have a chance of connecting you need them to be alert and mobile: your best chance of catching them is at at short halts between moving.  Once they 'drop anchor', go deep and switch off they become extremely hard to catch except during a few short periods of activity during the day and early evening.  Nevertheless my waders had been dry for far too long: I was desperate to put a fly onto the water and the 20 mph wind meant that bothering trout would be pretty miserable, so it was time to load up the salmon boxes and head off to Wensleydale.

The latest improvement at Bolton Hall is a smart new hut facing onto the Lord's Pool, complete with an enclosure to protect your wing mirrors and paint from amorous cattle with an itch to scratch.  It's warm, dry and a most welcome addition.  It was a real boon when changing with the temperature gauge showing 8.5C and a 20 mph wind: this is Yorkshire, where summer remains an elusive concept.

In the event the level of the Lord's Pool was too low, so I went upstream to work some of my favourite spots.  The ash tree on the right is a hardy perennial marker where I hooked and lost a springer last season.  With the air at 9C and water at 11C; a moderate flow; medium clarity and dull conditions this was a solid 6 on the MCX scale.  As this stretch isn't deep there was no need for sink tips, just a medium sized Cascade double on 12 feet of fluorocarbon.

The lack of water was more apparent at the bend below: another 12-15 cm would have been much better.  In this pool the fish hold just upstream from the large rock in the centre of the picture on the far bank, but it's not much more than a 20 yard cast to cover the lies.  Sadly there was nothing happening that morning, so I fished down to the head of Park before breaking for lunch, which I'd obtained at the West Witton village stores.  They have a good selection of locally baked pies and pasties, and excellent scotch eggs, which are all ideal high-energy foods that fit easily into the back pocket of the wading jacket.  Just don't panic about the cardiac issues - you'll only worry yourself into an early grave!

After lunch I set out for the top of the Bolton Hall water.  Until now my ability to explore the full length had been constrained by my conventional estate car and unreadiness to march long distances through the bushes.  To the amazement of many I could get it to places few others ventured - even down to the river at Thoresby on one occasion - but on Bolton Hall the end of West Wood was my limit.  With the onset of partial retirement I've changed to something with 4 wheel drive and 9" of ground clearance - there's no point having leisure time and limited mobility.  It's not a serious mud-plugger in the Land Rover mode, but it certainly crosses fields and banks much better than a Mercedes estate.

Top of the beat looking upstream
Reaching the top of the Bolton Water just below Redmine was a revelation, a joy to behold.  It evoked happy memories of the Alness and the upper Carron with more trees added: characterful, lively and full of interesting runs, deep pots and holding pools.  There are several faults in the limestone that produce falls or channels, depending on which way the river is flowing.

This is shorter rod territory: at this level 12' was ample; or 13' when the river's up and you need a heavier front end.

And downstream
It's stunningly pretty at this time of year.  Sadly the photographs taken in very dull light don't do the scenes justice.  The greens are spectacular. The only drawback was that the pool shown was heaving with small sea trout: you could barely get a salmon fly into the water without an all-out assault.  The first cast yielded a very pretty fresh peal of around a pound with a beautiful blue sheen.  By the time I reached the bottom I'd landed 2 and missed about half a dozen. it will be interesting to return for an evening in July with a single handed rod to meet their elder brothers.

200 metres of heaven
The runs and pools follow in steady procession, with views to excite any angler.  This isn't big water, but you have to be flexible and inventive with your casting to fish it well.  There's a full 2 metres depth of water on the centre-line here, and enough flow in the water to work the fly all the way down to the neck at the bottom.  There were fewer sea trout in this pool, but one solid brownie of over 2 pounds decided that a #8 Cascade comprised a late lunch.

This picture will spark happy thoughts in anyone who's fished the Alness.  The difference here is that it leads into...

...a proper pool.  Come September I wish to be on this spot, grinning from ear to ear.  The old Lord Bolton remarked in his fishing diary that he'd never caught a fish in this pool, but judged that  "it could hold every fish in the river".  I concur with his judgement but aspire to doing better.

Around the right angle bend the limestone fault runs parallel to the flow and thus drives the river into a narrow defile with a series of deep pots and runs (like the Carron beside Amat House, but with more water).  There are so many possible lies that you have to fish every inch to be sure that you've exploited all your chances.  Some of it is at point-blank range with only a few metres of line outside the tip; in other places you're standing back 15-20 metres to fish at the narrowest possible angle in order to keep the fly in play as long as possible.

It then opens out into the long Neild's Dub, where your wading line down the right side is on a continuous flat limestone ledge.  You have to be wary of stepping off the drop into deep water, whilst also being aware that fish could be lying within a metre of your toes.

West Wood 1
After by-passing the small runs above Batt Island I reached the familiar West Wood 1.  Sadly it was too low for good fishing, so after a brief session with some different set-ups I called it a day, finishing almost 2 hours early without touching a salmon.  But I wasn't in the least disappointed.  Fishing this beautiful stretch of water was uplifting and stimulating.  The odds of catching a springer in most places are poor, but I felt they were as good here as anywhere, which kept me completely focused for a whole afternoon.  At £40 for the day ticket this is the best value delight around.  Bring on the water!