Saturday 5 November 2016

2016 - Amidst Great Joy, A Season of Anticipointment

I'm always despondent when the season ends, which is probably common to all fishermen, but this year has been worse than most.  I'd much prefer to be writing a bright, cheerful and positive post, but in 2016 I just can't do that in the context of fishing.  It's been awfully disappointing.  No doubt the effects of 4 consecutive dry years have been cumulative.  In contrast the family arena is an entirely different matter because 2016 has been a wonderful year, blessed with the arrival of two grandsons and HMCX's wedding, superimposed on its other continuing joys too numerous to list without boring you stupid.  I couldn't be happier with 99.99% of my life.  Such is my good fortune that a I frequently pinch myself to confirm its reality.

So why do I let the 0.01% niggle and get me down?  After all, I'm an irrepressible optimist who journeys in happy expectation of pleasant surprises while seeking joy in everything around me.  The latter point is pretty easy if you live amidst the beauties of rural North Yorkshire. It's even easier if like me you're privileged to meet good people who lift your esteem of the human condition.  I spent an hour with one such a few weeks ago, a charity worker in mental health, whose dedication, determination and love of her work left me in admiring awe.  As I sat in the dilapidated terraced house that serves as her office and contemplated the challenges of her work and her outstanding service to the desperately vulnerable, I inwardly chided myself for the lack of real perspective that highly privileged 0.01% represents.  I stand humbly self-admonished.

Nevertheless this is a salmon fishing not a philosophy blog, still less a personal confessional.  At the end of each season, no matter how bad, I strive to draw some lessons that might just be useful, so here we go.

1.  Anticipointment

I first heard the word 'anticipointment' on Radio 4 earlier this year.  It encapsulates the thought that the greater your anticipation of something, so much greater is the disappointment when it comes to naught.  This is what underlies the 0.01% niggle.  Salmon anglers live on anticipation: at 11/10 for months before the annual trip of just one week; 10/10 for the single day on a premium beat; and at least 8/10 for the odd days off.  Yet no one is more vulnerable to Shakespeare's 'outrageous slings and arrows of fortune' than the salmon angler, who lives at the mercy of weather, rainfall, water flows, perverse fish and even humble leaves.

275 yards of unremitting boredom
Backing loaded on
Vision Rulla #9/11

Airflo Ridge Extreme runner
Rio Scandi 38g head
The more you hope, the worse the fall.  The ultimate example of anticipointment was my trip to the Gaula.  Everything in a year's planning, booking, preparing and going raises your hopes to fever pitch.  Here's a simple example.  The locals advise you to load a positively heroic amount of backing onto your reels.  For good reason: one friend finally beached his Gaula 37 pounder nearly half a mile downstream and 75 minutes from the point of hooking.  Actually, the heroic activity is putting the stuff onto the reel: a 300 yard spool of spun gel backing is enormous; it takes ages to wind on; and by the end your wrist is knackered and your fingers shredded.  During this stultifyingly boring activity your mind inevitably wanders towards its practical application to a 40 pound silver fish in fast crystal water, and behold, your anticipation racks up another couple of notches.  Then you blank.  It's not like blanking on the Dee in spring where the odds are worse than the Lottery; it's far, far worse, and downright humiliating if you're daft enough to admit your failure in print.

The lesson is that if we wish to catch salmon we have to learn to live with anticipointment.  The anticipation is all part of the joy and how we stretch the pleasure of a week to fill much of a year.  But the enhanced disappointment, no matter how bitter, is no reason to give up the endeavour.

2.  Past Failures aren't a Reliable Guide to Future Success

We've all seen that sort of health warning inversely attached to investment products.  It's even more true with salmon.  The fact that 2016 was the 4th bad year in a row doesn't in any way increase the likelihood that the 2017 season will be better.  It can easily be at least as bad, and possibly even worse.  At least 2016 was marginally better than 2014 & 2015, in that we had a great spring run and did see just a little bit of water with some un-stale fish before the season closed.  But this gives no indication as to what 2017 will be like.  In any event I'll be writing a detailed review of 2016's weather and its impact on fishing in a subsequent post.

150 years of the North Atlantic Oscillation
There are lots of reasons for this, and weather is not a zero sum game.  In 'How Long Can This Go On'  I explained the phenomenon of the North Atlantic Oscillation and the mis-placement of high pressure between Gibraltar and Iceland.  Unfortunately these weather phenomena don't follow regular patterns.  I certainly can't see any pattern in the historical plot of the NAO, beyond noting that some of the periods of good as well as bad can be quite protracted.  Looking back, following the relatively dry years 2000-2003, we then had a run of predominantly wetter late summers and autumns in the period 2004-2012 (the exceptions were 2005 and 2009, with 2006 about average).  This spell included 3 of the best years' salmon fishing in recent history - 2004, 2010 and 2011.

Then in 2013 El Nino started to affect things; the jet stream went funny; and the summer Russian continental high pressure grew in strength as a result of rising temperatures in the northern desert belt.  It's all fearsomely large and complex, which is why the Met Office needs the biggest computers in the UK to model the impacts of things happening on the other side of the world on next week's weather in Yorkshire.  However, amidst this fog of complexity I take some heart from the fact that El Nino, having collided with Peru in 2015, appears to be moving back into the Pacific.  Cheer up: it may make things better next year; or maybe not.

3.  Celebrate Delight


Very low water
Tail of Frodle Dub
Early October 2016
I'd booked 3 days in September on the Ure at Thoresby to repay the hospitality of friends, but in the absence of water had to cancel all of them.  As my annual early October father and son salmon-bonding exercise with HMCX approached I was far from optimistic in the face of a near total absence of water.  It was, however, better than 2014 and 2015 when the river was unfishable.  In any event I was looking forward to a couple of days with my now-married youngest, staying in the Bolton Arms in Redmire and enjoying their excellent beer.

You can imagine my delight (and his) when within 15 minutes of starting, HMCX hooked and landed a salmon.  It was pretty well pickled and potted having been in the river since the spring run, but it was certainly most welcome on every score.  He'd blanked in 2014 and lost a big fish in 2015, so this was a real morale booster.  Even when your children are grown up, tower over you and give you a hug before sending you off to bed early, there's a huge pride in their achievements.

If there's a choice I won't normally pursue stale fish, but when you've only got 2 days in a year, booked 8 months ahead, you can't be puritanically fastidious.

The smile says it all.

And we duly celebrated our delight: chilled white for me; very appropriately, London Pride for him.

My fish was much uglier.  At 36 inches long he'd probably entered the river in March-April as a chunky 14 pounder.  He was now very slim, so I booked him at 11lbs.

With stale cock fish at this time of year you have to be very conservative in estimating their weight from their length.  From the outset remember that all the estimating scales - Sturdy etc - are based on fresh spring fish at maximal weight: it's all downhill from June.  The growth of the kype adds a couple of inches in length, which leads to inherent over-estimation, while all their ridiculous alpha male behaviour burns off loads of fat and protein.  So the best approach is to take 2-3 inches off the length (34"); make an estimate on that reduced figure (14lbs); and then take off another 15-20% (11lbs net).

You may rest assured that when we reached the Bolton Arms that evening, the first couple of pints were fabulous.  Better still, HMCX caught another the next day, before returning to London with a grin from ear to ear.  I was indeed delighted.

4.  If the Water's Slack You Have to Work the Fly


If the flow is weak or slow your fly will hang down without wiggling.  To the salmon it's just another bit of drifting debris to be disregarded.  If you want to catch fish in slack water you must work the fly,  All three that we caught took small flies that were being actively retrieved at above normal speeds.

Purple fish at last light in Dick Dub
(the flash photo makes the fish look much darker)
MCX Dark #8 stripped along edge of slack water

This is a scenario in which the use of a short shooting head confers a real advantage.  If you've got 20 or 30 feet of running line to retrieve, then your fly can be worked through a much bigger area of water than would be the case with a conventional line that would only be effective in the narrow main flow.  This is especially useful when fish are lying outside the main flow line in slower but well oxygenated water.

5.  The MCX Dark Shrimp Works


MCX Dark Shrimp V3 #8
It's not a statistically significant sample, but 5 days' fishing on Thorseby with the MCX Dark yielded 8 salmon, 3 sea trout and 3 salmon hooked and lost.  I was pleased with that result in what were extremely difficult conditions.  On those 5 days it caught more fish than any other pattern in use on the Ure.  As a result i'm very happy with it and see no need to modify V3 before next year.

If anyone wishes to buy this fly, please contact Peter Nightingale.


 6.  Not all Good Water is Great Water



Flesh Dub at +10"
October 2016

Here's a view to lift the spirits.  Normally I would fish this pool at this height in October with immense confidence.  In 2011 I caught a salmon here on every day that I fished, and on one occasion, 3 in an hour, the third a shining 23 pounder.  But this year was different because the preconditions for good fishing had been entirely absent.  You need some good big sustained spates to clear the summer's gunge out of the river, boost the oxygen levels and send a clear call to the salmon waiting in the Humber to start their autumn run.  None of that had happened: this was just the falling phase of a small 4' spate, which would only bump up the small run of fish that had entered the river in September

but some were moving......


Willow Bush Pool at +10"
October 2016
 This is my favourite spot on the whole Ure.  It's been incredibly productive over the years, and at its best when fish are running.  They come up the fast water under the overhanging trees on the far bank, bear right (left in the photo), and then pause in short halt lies in the mid stream in the lower half of the pool.  As I fished down towards them I was having a lovely daydream of recollection of the many bang-bang takes I've had here, when my reverie was broken by the magic bang-bang and the hard turn away of a good fish in fast water.

As anticipated, this wasn't a long term resident but rather one from the early September lift that had been in the river about 5-6 weeks. The photo doesn't do justice to the lovely purple sheen on her back: a very pretty fish, 34" long and in perfect condition for the time of year.  Aided by the fast water she gave a very good fight, and after unhooking went away like a torpedo.

The next time down I took this lovely shiny grilse from the same lie.  The mud rather spoilt his pristine appearance.

 7.  A Short Rod Year


 As a result of the very low water levels I haven't needed or used my 14 footers on the Ure at all this year.  Indeed, there hasn't been enough water to call for a sinking tip or a tube fly.  Even in Norway I did most of my fishing with the 13' MAG, reserving the 13' 8" Cult for those pools where I had to fish left hand up (an easier action is a real boon left handed).  During the summer I sold my spare 14 footer, the Hardy Marksman 2T, with which I'd only fished 3 days in the previous 2 seasons.  I was sorry to see it go, but I couldn't justify its retention.  It's gone to a good home and the new owner loves it and the perfectly balancing Loop Evotec G4 reel.

The simple fact is that the Vision MAG 13' is an extraordinary rod.  Even with the limitations in my casting I can cover all the water I need to catch fish on my usual rivers.  It loads and casts beautifully with both the Rio Scandi 33g and Vision Ace 31g heads, and requires minimum effort to use for hours on end.  No doubt some people will say that the Loomis NRX and the old model Loop Cross S1 13 footers are 'better', but the MAG's half their prices, which makes it very easy for a Yorkshireman to love it.

 For even lower water I have a fabulous little 12' #7 with a very easy action.  I've had it for years.  It has one disadvantage: HMCX and all my friends love it too.  The picture shows him bending it to good effect on a nice 7 pounder to round off our 2 days' bonding.  It was the perfect way to end our shared break.

 8.  The Advantages of Fluorocarbon


Fishing on the Gaula demanded the use of very strong leaders,up to 40 lbs breaking strain,  in order to withstand the risk of abrasion on the granite rocks.  The reasoning is simple: a 0.1 mm nick in the 15 lbs Seaguar I normally use on the Ure reduces its breaking strain to around 6-8 lbs.  Similar damage to 30 lbs Seaguar still leaves you with 23 lbs in hand.

One of the common criticisms of fluorocarbon is that "it doesn't take abrasion as well as conventional nylon".  Actually, this isn't anything to do with the abrasion-resisting properties of either material.  Rather it merely reflects the fact that at the same breaking strain, nylon is much thicker, so a 0.1 mm nick is less significant.  The extension of this flawed argument underpins the claims that fluorocarbon is "less reliable" because it can break without warning, which in reality is a consequence of undetected abrasion.

 However, if you look at common diameter the argument is reversed.  As you can see here, at 0.37 mm diameter Seaguar is almost 50% stronger than Maxima, and retains that advantage when the same level of abrasion is applied to both.

Spot the leader?
Fluorocarbon in bright summer sunlight
Worst case, directly into the sun in mid-August

If you then add fluorocarbon's lower visibility in water and its greater density, then you may agree that there are good reasons for using it in preference to standard nylon.  Yes, it's much more expensive, but in the overall scheme of salmon fishing costs the differential is insiginificant.

I've always been a believer in fluorocarbon and have used 15 lbs Seaguar for years.  The change is that in future my standard tip material for spring and autumn on UK rivers will be 3-4 feet of 23.5 lbs applied to a 8-9 feet 30 lbs butt section.

So that's the retrospective.  Coming next will be an analysis of why the 2016's fishing on the Ure was dire; and we're in November, which means it will soon be time for the MCX Christmas Stocking recommendations.


  1. Great appraisal of the year...and a common theme I would imagine

    1. Dave, thank you for your kind words. The common theme is related to the detailed weather analysis that will follow in the next post.

  2. Very good Michael. A year to quietly forget for water in any of my nearest rivers and flooded off in Ayrshire..such is our sport.

    Have a good shooting season and a hearty Christmas!!


    1. Paul, many thanks for your kind words. Here's to a better season next year with some cracking shooting in between, best wishes and tight lines, Michael