Monday 29 June 2015

The Vital (Missing) Ingredient

Picture perfect
a fat 2 lbs Rye wild brown trout
June 2015
It's an unusual year when I don't have at least one rant at the weather.  Sometimes I wrap the rant in a bit of science (see How Long Can This Go On?), but more often it's just a straightforward rant born of frustration at not being able to fish.  Of course it's June, so I don't normally expect to be out on the Ure after salmon, but rather on the Rye bothering the trout.  Yes, it's summer, but for most of the past two months it's been hard to detect.  We've been locked in a cool northerly airstream that's endured from the early spring.  But whatever the upper levels of the atmosphere have been doing, down here on Planet Yorkshire it's been cold, windy and very dry.

Rainfall in the Vale of York 2015
As you can see from the graph, it's been exceptionally dry.  Only May was anywhere near the long term average, but this amount of water wasn't enough to bring many fish up into Wensleydale.  The head of this year's cohort of springers appears to have got just beyond Ripon. Perhaps the efflux from Theakston's Brewery in Masham proved an irresistible attraction.  It makes sense: Theakstons support the Ure Salmon Trust; and in return the salmon endorse my opinion that Theakston's XB is one of the finest ales on the planet.

Environment Agency gauge at Kilgram

The effect is obvious.  This is what salmon fishing depression looks like - a straight and level line telling me that the Ure, in common with all the rivers in North East England is down on its bones.  It's been like that for a month and looks set to stay that way.  All we can hope for is an earlier onset of rain than last year, when the river didn't rise until 17th October.

River Findhorn at Tomatin
3rd week September, 2002-2011
Average height and variation
For all salmon anglers water is the vital ingredient.  The graph showing our experience over a decade at Tomatin underlines the simple point: if there's no water, you're pressed; if there is, then you can catch plenty of salmon.  The stellar years of 2004, 10 and 11 are highlighted. The party took around 40 fish in 2004, compared to 4-5 in the drought years of 2002, 3 and 9.  In contrast, 2006 and didn't quite make the level or the grade, whereas 2007 came good, but only with a rise later in the week.  In the case of Tomatin, the data shows that pleasure starts at +12".

All that said, we have to accept the variability of the natural world.  In childhood my father impressed upon me that there was no point worrying about the things you can't change. However, for all the compensations of the trout and the garden (it's really beautiful this year) I miss the odd day out after salmon.  I had a dream recently, almost certainly prompted by booking a week's fishing in Norway in 2016, in which I could actually sense the flexing of the butt of the Vision MAG in a perfect Single Spey cast on a crystal river.  That must be the definition of salmon fixation, but perhaps that's what you expect from me.  In any event the only perfect Single Spey I ever achieve is in my dreams!

But in all things there are reasons for optimism.  Throughout history, from Nostrodamus via Malthus to the Club of Rome ("all the world's oil will run out on 17th February 1984") and today's gloomsters, the pessimists have all and always been wrong.  It's easy to paint a rich and convincing picture of disaster and gloom, which through its vivid colour gains credibility and convinces people of its likelihood.  The trouble is that the human fear of the downside far exceeds the attraction of the upside, so except when hysteria takes over - like in economic bubbles involving black tulips, South Sea spices, Victorian railway shares and post 1970 residential property - we tend to believe the prophets of doom.  But for my part, I'm an optimist: it's hard to be a salmon fisherman without optimism.


  1. Another excellent article. I don't know if you get much feedback but I really appreciate your posts. Always well written, excellent use of photographs and engaging in terms of subject matter. You do a great job. Thank you.

  2. Michael's articles, and personal help when asked, is second to none, and provides a wonderful change from the readable, but ever-the-same, ramblings of the like of Paul Procter in T&S.

    They really should track you down!