Friday 5 April 2019

Full of the Joys of Spring

Abu Dhabi at the best time of the year

But it doesn't beat Yorkshire when it's like this
I returned home from a fortnight's work in the Gulf to the glories of early spring in England, with crystal blue skies and real warmth in the sunshine.  As a result the grass had grown mightily in my absence, but once I'd completed the mowing chore, my mind turned immediately to salmon.  Full of the joys of spring I launched into my pre-season routine.

The first stage was the outloading of the Great Fishing Chest (GFC) at the top of the stairs into the car boxes and my wading jacket.  This allowed me to check the inventory and confirm what I needed to order from John Norris: two spools of Seaguar fluorocarbon tippet and 4 replacement Airflo polyleaders.  At my age I no longer trust my memory and rely on physical checks to avoid over-ordering.

The GFC provides an ideal storage medium - warm but not hot, dry and totally dark.  If you want things like fly lines, leaders and tippets to last then it's essential to protect them from destructive UV light and excessive temperatures during the off-season.

The salmon kit is in the middle layer of the GFC's sliding storage trays, with the trout stuff above and large items like the travelling toolbox below.  Each year it emerges in order into the pockets of the wading jacket and the car box.  Both stay packed until the end of the season.  That way I can be sure that if the jacket and boxes are in the car, I have everything I need to fish.  This habit is the result of half a lifetime of disciplined military conditioning in a world where losing a bit of kit could put your life at risk, and more importantly, your friends' as well.

When travelling the jacket is folded into this box.  The wading boots, waders and stick go into the other box.

There are only four fly boxes: two for doubles, simply marked "High' and 'Low' with their contents matched to the water states; and two for tubes, one a small pocket box and the other the storage bank that stays in the car.  I find it possible to carry only a small selection of doubles, but the range of rivers and conditions that I may fish require a more comprehensive collection of tubes, albeit a full third of them are variations on the basic MCX design.

The new 'Low' box
Bottom half
This year I am christening a new Low box, the Wheatley Comp Lite I recommended in my Christmas Stocking post after its ultra-cheap predecessor disintegrated at its hinges and latches after 20 years' service.

MCX Dark and Light to the left; Cascades and Ally Shrimps down to #14 to the right.

And in the lid:

Very small MCX Light

Various Stoats' Tails

Hairy Marys

Blue Charms

Small Red Francis

For all the display the simple truth is that for the past 3 years for double flies I have used MCXs exclusively (Norway excepted).  This has been an experiment to test the hypothesis that if I stuck with just one pattern, varying only the size for different conditions, I might catch the same number of fish as everyone else, including those who change their fly frequently.  To date I'm ahead of my friends.  That may of course be a random result, wholly consistent with the nature of salmon fishing, which comprises a succession of random flukes. But on the other hand I'm not well behind, which is mildly reassuring.

The kit then goes into the garage.  Again a simple check applies: if the wall is bare, everything is in the car.  With the amount of stuff in my garage - fishing tackle, bikes, woodworking tools and much more - there's no choice but to be organised.  It's a telling witness to car size inflation over the past 22 years.  Originally it was sized and built to take the large Volvo V70 Estate I owned to transport 3 growing children.  When they grew up and left home I down-sized to a smaller estate car, which was a tight fit.  Four years ago I down-sized a step further to an X1, which is also a tight fit.  The one compensation of ever-expanding cars is that it stops me buying any more bikes: two's the limit.  The one in the picture is the trusty Cannondale I used for the Ure Salmon Run in 2018.

The final stage of the spring activities is line easing and servicing.  I'm not a believer in stretching fly lines, because nowadays most have cores made of materials that barely extend under load.  I prefer just simply unspooling the heads and running lines and leaving them out on the lawn in the warm sunshine to ease.  On this occasion there was no curling at all in any of my salmon lines, and just a small amount in the #7 sea trout line as a result of the much smaller reel diameter.

Once they've eased for an hour or so it's time for the wash in gently warm - not hot -  water with a few drops of detergent added.  I pass the line through the sponge one way, then the other, maintaining enough pressure the ensure the whole circumference of the line is in contact with the sponge.

With the fingers of the other hand I check for any damage or surface degradation of the line.

After drying in the sunshine and wipe down with a towel it's on to polishing.

Some anglers consider the price of proprietary line treatments exorbitant.  I disagree: this £8.50 bottle of Loon Line Speed will last me 4-5 years.  Each year I will treat and polish 7 salmon, 1 sea trout and 3 trout lines, each worth £60 or more.  If by doing so I extend the life of those lines by 10%, I've gained £60 for a cost of £8.50, which strikes me as a good deal.

The trick is not to use too much: more is not better.  A small blob about the size of a middle-sized pea on a bit of kitchen roll suffices for a head and running line.  If you over-dose the excess comes off when you polish the line with a cloth after it's dried in the sunshine.
Finally I wind the line back onto the reel through a soft cloth.

By the end of the process you have also checked the free running of all your reels and the operation of their drags.  If there's anything wrong you will detect it now, which is infinitely preferable to failure while playing a large salmon when stood waist deep in the river.

The final pre-season check is the waders, which requires another sunny day.  It's a simple business of turning them inside out, filling them with water up to crutch level, and then seeing whether there are any leaks.  I find that this method allows you to locate the leaks more accurately than the alternative of sitting in the bath in waders, an exercise which succeeds only in convincing my wife that I have gone truly bonkers and that posting the video on Instagram is a great idea.

Now all we need is some water.  We've had a dry winter, following a very dry summer and autumn.  In the past 6 months only 2 of them have yielded full average rainfall.  Storm Gareth in early March and its attendant spates will have brought some early fish into the Ouse system, but by now those will be pretty comatose.  We've got some rain and snow forecast for this week, but I fear that it will merely nudge the water levels.  That's a pity, because the Yorkshire season opens in 3 days and full of the joys of spring I'm keen to catch an April springer on the Ure.  To date my earliest Yorkshire salmon was in May, so an April fish would be a notable first.

Coming Next

My beloved Vision MAG 13 is no longer in production, so my post from 2015 recording the process through which I decided upon it is now obsolete.  I have therefore persuaded the local Vision dealer to loan me a 13' Vision Tool and the more recent lower-priced 13' Onki to test and record my impressions.  Hopefully I'll get a chance to do the testing and write it up in the next 6 weeks.  Why is it all Vision?  Because the dealer does Vision and Sage, and the latter, however lovely, is well above my self-imposed budget limit of £500.

My enthusiasm to catch an early Ure springer will require fishing much further down the river than is my normal habit.  In most years they only get to around Tanfield before the water runs out.  As a result I shall fish some beats around Ripon I've not seen before, which I shall duly record and report.  Let's hope that we get both water and fish: a silver springer from a beat just 20 minutes off the M1 that charges a mere £20 for a day ticket would be a coup to warm the heart of any Yorkshireman.

I haven't got a spring expedition this year - hoping for another a guest week on the Helmsdale would be grossly presumptuous.  But at the end of August our regular team is off to the Conon to replace the Tomatin week now occupied by John's elder son and his friends.  I've never fished it before and so am looking forward to the discovery.

In between I wish you the very tightest of tight lines.


  1. Enjoyable read. I must clean my lines too - but have never used a specialist additive afterwards. Looking forward to how you get on with a spring fish from the Ure! Thank you

  2. Another excellent blog. For some reason I've stopped getting the email alert whenever you make a new post. I thought I'd check manually as I hadnt heard anything from your really enjoyable blog for some time.

    Regarding spring fishing I wondered if you have ever tried Cargill on the river Tay? There always appears to be a yorkshire man fishing there whenever I visit. I think it represents good value versus fish caught. If you search for "Tay Salmon Fishing" on Facebook the ghillie appears to post most days.

    Hope this is useful...