Sunday 12 August 2018

Costa del Chipchase

Chipchase Castle on the North Tyne
July 2018

My intention was to write this post some time ago, but like all good intentions it was obstructed by a host of other things.  Despite it being the holiday season I have been exceptionally busy for the past 6 weeks.  A week's work in Africa provided welcome relief from the tropical heat of Yorkshire: it was 18 degrees cooler on the equator than in Easingwold and I was glad to have a jumper handy.  Now that England is cooling down I'm in Arabia for a week, warming back up to 40C, with clammy humidity added.  Outside it's a bit like standing in the efflux of a tumble dryer, whilst inside it's arctic because no one's interested in conserving energy.  In between the work commitments there have been a christening, a funeral, two memorial services and various other duties to complete.  The whole cycle of human life featured in July.

The Ure Salmon Run

Cycle was a major feature of July and August, because I finally managed to complete the Ure Salmon Run challenge, riding from the Humber Bridge to Aysgarth Falls following the line of migration of salmon up the rivers, which I described in 'Not Gone Yet' last year.  The next post 'Raring to Go' explained how my efforts came to a sad end and why I was unable to complete the ride in 2017.  Over the winter I worked hard but steadily on the turbo trainer to rebuild my strength and fitness - about 4-5 hours per week on average - and as soon as the weather allowed I headed out onto the roads.  Having a delightful cross country route to work through the Howardian Hills is a great help and the 10 miles was easily extended to 18 for training purposes.  From the highest point on the route on a clear day you can see the hill above the High Thoresby beat on the Ure, 50 miles away. The return home was variously 20-40 miles depending on the training plan.  By late July I was ready and the weather forecast for 1st August was promising.

With lots of support and encouragement from friends positioned along the way, after 114 miles and 7 hours and 57 minutes of pedalling, I arrived at Aysgarth Falls to enjoy the pint of Theakston's XB I had promised myself.  It tasted marvelous and certainly a great deal better than the pink protein recovery drink in the bottle to my left.

The first 50 miles to York was completely flat, but the serious climbing started after Ripon with 2,000 feet of ascents and 3 substantial hills, two of them in the last 8 miles.  Wensley Bank up to Preston under Scar was made even more unpleasant by a stiff westerly headwind.  However, by the time I hit Thoresby Bank climbing up from Redmire to Carperby I had the smell of XB in my nose and extra power in my legs.  In total the ride raised £4210 for the Ure Salmon Group's work and I'm hugely grateful to the many generous donors and sponsors who contributed.

Back to the Fishing

This is of course a fishing not a cycling blog, and fishing is what you wish to read about.  At the beginning of July a friend kindly invited me to spend a day on the North Tyne at Chipchase Castle.  Despite the drought, blazing sunshine and tropical heat I leapt at the chance because it's a beautiful stretch of water (see photo at top).  Furthermore, after a succession of releases from Kielder Reservoir there was a reasonable water level and temperature, so the day wouldn't be complete folly.  Drought notwithstanding the Northumberland countryside looked absolutely stunning on a perfect summer's day, which made the later stages of the drive a real pleasure.  After a solid breakfast at the cottage we deployed to the hut facing towards the Castle to meet up with Steve the ghillie.

Catherine's Pool
Looking upstream at 11am
I started at the lower end of Catherine's Pool, a broad stretch with lots of lies visible by virtue of their standing waves and surface turbulence (see 'Spot the Lie' for an explanation).  The photo was taken about 20 minutes after I started: the prominent lie at the left side was my first mark.

The river was running at about +10" and a perfect 16C.  I selected the 13' 8" Cult to cover the width, and with a score around 7 set up a floating head, plain fluorocarbon leader and a #8 MCX Dark.

Catherine's Pool
Looking downstream at 11am
Location of takes marked in order of occurrence
The next cast after taking these photos the action started in earnest.  Fish 1 took firmly, shook its head vigorously for 4-5 seconds and came off.  Three casts later Fish 2 initially took quite gently but as I set the hook came up onto the surface - which I always mistrust - and amidst all manner of splashing came off after about 10 seconds.  Fish 3 took near the dangle: as I was starting to strip the fly in the line went slowly the other way for about 3-4 feet.  As I raised the rod into the fish the fly came out.  I was beginning to think I was fated this morning.  Fish 4 took quite firmly and after I set the hook turned away downstream at some speed.

Tyne Silver
Thankfully it didn't come off.  After 6-8 minutes of energetic action this lovely silver fish came to Steve with the net.  It tipped the Maclean weigh net at 8 1/2 lbs.  In Steve's opinion it had been in the river less than a week: certainly it was in perfect condition.

It appeared that I had fortunately intercepted a group of moving fish holding in short halt lies at the bottom of the run.  Sometimes I do get lucky.

Looking downstream at 1230pm
After fishing down towards the end of Catherine's I went round the corner to the Tail Pool.  The photo shows the brilliant sunlight and mirror smooth water.  Steve's advice was to work the lies along the edge of the rumpled water where fish would pause after running up the rapids below; but not to put the fly into the rough for fear of snagging.  In view of the very clear conditions I moved up to the start along the edge of the trees keeping a dark background behind me and well away from the water's edge.  Given the bright conditions and shallow water I also reduced the fly size to #10.

Fish 5 took where expected just above the fast  water before moving off to my right - presumably back to where it had started to follow the fly - but unfortunately shed the hook as I tightened by raising the rod.  Fish 6 was a complete surprise at the dangle of the next cast after I took the photo.  On approach I'd noticed that the water off the steeply shelving small gravel point was quite deep, so when it came in range I allowed the fly to come right round to where I thought a fish might take the easy route up the edge.  Sadly my execution wasn't as good as my thinking.  The take came in the transition between ending stripping and preparing to cast and thus caught me ill-prepared to react.  In any event I find that more of these dangle-take fish get off than any other type: it's very hard to get a good hook-hold right at the front of the jaw.  Despite missing these two I repaired to the hut for lunch with very high morale after an excellent and exciting morning.  As neither of the other rods had a single take the MCX fly was a subject of close interest.

After lunch I departed upstream to fish down through the sequence of Comogan, Crow and Causeway.  By now the sky was completely clear, the sun fierce and the air temperature heading into the mid-20s.  Although the water was holding steady around 16C the conditions were much more difficult than in the morning.

Bottom of Comogan, looking into Crow, on to Causeway
As I approached the lower section of Crow I had a savage take at 7 near the dangle close to the bank.  It was so violent that I could still feel some pain in my wrist 24 hours later.  This was so untypically salmon that it was almost certainly a large sea trout.  In most cases salmon approach the fly relatively slowly - certainly nowhere near the speed at which they strike prey in the sea - and what we feel is the turn away and kick when they are restrained by the hook and tension in the line.  In contrast sea trout can and do come at a fly very fast indeed.  Moreover, I'd seen a good sea trout show about 15-20 yards downstream a few minutes before, so this seems a reasonable assumption.

Causeway at 6pm
The last look at a lovely beat
Nursing my wrist I fished on down to Causeway, paying special attention to potential short-halt lies between the many rocks.  Sadly nothing was interested.

At about 630pm I made my way back to the hut and then to the cottage where the resident rods were preparing for supper.  I should have loved to have stayed on to fish into the evening when the chances would have risen markedly.  Sadly the responsibility of work prevailed: I no longer have the youth and energy to fish until 1030, spend 2 hours driving home and be up with the lark to prepare for a business trip to Africa.

Nevertheless I'd had a brilliant day on a lovely beat in stunning countryside in the middle of a season that has elsewhere been rendered disastrous by the extreme weather.  I drove home down the A19 a happy man; delighted my wife with a fish in the freezer; and enjoyed a generous reflective Glenfarclas before bedtime in celebration.

What did that Glenfarclas tell me?

  • Salmon are gregarious: they go to sea together; hunt and grow together; and return together.  If there's one, there's usually more.  So if you miss a take, stay at it and work the immediate area thoroughly.
  • Fresh fish are easier to hook but often harder to retain.  Don't let it get you down, because sooner or later one will stay on.
  • In clear still conditions apply good field and water-craft.  Always be aware of your background and at all costs avoid being sky-lined.  If there's deep water directly to your front, if possible stay out of the water and well back from the edge, because the fish may be closer than you expect.
  • In difficult conditions there's no perfect solution.  Do something sensible and keep on doing it.  The 'Walking to the Water' calculator is as good a route to sensible as any.
  • We are privileged to pursue a beautiful fish surrounded by the full panoply of nature's glories: savour every moment, they're too good to waste.

It looks like the weather's starting to break after a summer that's been brilliant for the whole population apart from salmon anglers.  So be it.  Sadly there's no Tomatin week this year, but I've got a couple of days on the Tweed in early September (another generous friend) followed by a sequence of days on the Ure with friends as guests and the annual bonding with HMCX.  Hopefully I shall have something to write about.  

I wish you good water, nice average conditions and tight lines.

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