Saturday 25 July 2020


We truly are living in extraordinary times.  When I wrote my last post on 4th March from a hotel room in Abu Dhabi, we still had freedom of movement and association.  We could go where we wanted, when we wanted, and associate with whomsoever we wanted.  It was normal and we took it for granted.  Then the world changed and our perceptions of normality evaporated within days.  I flew back into Manchester in mid-March through a succession of deserted airports that echoed the slamming of doors all over the world.  With no idea of how long the pandemic might persist, the situation brought to mind Lord Grey's comment as Foreign Secretary August 1914 that "the lamps are going out all over Europe and we shall not see them re-lit in our lifetime".  Let us hope the second clause is as incorrect now as it was then.

The joys of the garden
Rose Felicite Perpetue
Since then we've lived through lockdown and its partial relaxation.  I must confess that lockdown was much easier for me than most others.  The wags might say that social distancing comes easy to a Yorkshireman: perhaps they're right on that score.  Living in a village with a shop and Post Office surrounded by beautiful countryside laced with delightful walks and deserted lanes for cycling is a rare privilege and advantage.  So is having a large garden, which is now repaying the 3 months' effort expended in lockdown.  And at my advanced age I'm not in a tearing hurry to get out to do things, except insofar that I'm increasingly aware of the diminishing number of fishing seasons that may be left to me.  Like everyone else I've missed my family and friends most of all.  Now I'm finding reunions with our children and grandchildren very emotional, especially when they have to go home.

Rye Trout

The reopening came too late to save a friend's invitation to the Tweed and the better part of the Mayfly period on the Rye.  I did, nevertheless enjoy some success, albeit without ever coinciding with either a Mayfly hatch or an evening spinner fall.

5lbs 3oz - Pheasant Tail Nymph
3lbs 9oz - BWO Spinner

The larger fish presented real challenges with fighting under an overhanging tree, which precluded having the rod upright, and keeping it out of the bushes on the opposite bank only 12-14 feet away.  It gave me some really nervous moments, culminating in its inability to fit into my little landing net, which is why you see it some way up the bank!  The smaller fish - itself no dwarf - actually gave me much more satisfaction.  First, I love the thrill of the one-to-one combat of close quarter dry fly fishing for wary wild trout: nymphing doesn't compare unless you can see a fish taking rising nymphs near the surface.  And second, for my birthday my wife gave me an utterly wonderful little Vision Sisu 8' #3 brook rod, a tiny delicate little wand weighing less than 2 ounces, and this was its baptism as darkness fell on an evening rise.  This fish was tucked under the bank of one of the few open pools on the Rye in an awkward current seam, which required a slow and careful stalk to get into the best position for ideal fly presentation.  The size of the pool gave the trout ample opportunity to show off its strength and aerobatic urges.  Fighting a wild trout of this size on a tiny rod is one of the greatest rushes that fishing can give.  It was a truly perfect evening.

Ure Salmon

Amidst all this I wasn't too concerned on the salmon front because after 3 months of near-drought with barely 8% of average rainfall between March and May there certainly wasn't any kind of spring run in the Ure.  I hadn't missed anything and could look forward to when the rain arrived, which it did in excess in June, triggering a summer surge of salmon from the North Sea into the Ure.  My hopes of intercepting them at Sleningford came to naught owing to Covid precautions at the caravan site, so I had to wait a little longer for the best possible conditions up at Thoresby.

Everything aligned perfectly in early July, with the river falling from +1.3m at Kilgram and clearing nicely.  I was doubly excited because this was the first July opportunity on the Ure since the (non) summer of 2012.  Arriving on the water at 9.30 it looked absolutely perfect and my anticipation and morale were both sky high: who wouldn't be inspired by a view like this, especially after 4 months' lockdown?

The Perfect Summer View
Frodle Dub tail 10th July 2020

I put the Brigadier on Frodle Dub and went upstream to fish the Hut pool and the junction with Bishopdale Beck.  It needs plenty of water to fish well and the height couldn't be bettered even if it was running slightly brown.  Applying the 'Walking to the Water' formula a 1" MCX Conehead tube and a slow sinking polyleader would give the right presentation.

Hut Pool
Bishopdale Beck joins on the right

It's essential in this pool not to wade too far out from the bank - 3-4 yards is plenty.  It doesn't give you any advantage and certainly isn't necessary for casting distance as you can cover the water with only a partial D-loop.  More importantly, some of the best lies are on the near side, including one within 6-8 yards downstream of where you enter the water, so the old adages apply: clear the water nearest you before extending to casting distance; and fish the dangle positively.

After a couple of minutes removing some cobwebs from my casting I set off down the pool.  About 10 yards below the point at which I took the photo I had a good strong take - probably a grilse - close in to the bank.  It didn't stay on; nor did the one 3 casts later.  Missing fish is sad, but getting a couple of good takes within 10 minutes of starting is definitely good for morale.  As my fly was fishing about level with the end of the fallen tree on the left, between there and the well known lie in the middle, I had another much more forceful take and turn, which took my rod right over.  Without being too firm I leaned back to set the hook - and failed.  I was frustrated but unworried: there were clearly plenty of fish present and active.

Flesh Dub
After finishing off in Hut I progressed through Frodle and on to Flesh Dub, which was looking lovely and very fishy in the sporadic sunshine.  In the circumstances I was 
surprised not to get a take in the large lie at the head of the pool, usually one of the most reliable spots in the whole river.  However, as I progressed I became aware that the river was rising quite quickly and changing colour.  This was unexpected as the main rain front had passed through the previous night, and up until then the river had been falling quickly and clearing.

I wasn't too worried about the lift as there was no reason for it to be large or sustained, but the discolouration was a greater cause for concern owing to the effects of back-scatter of the sunlight underwater, which becomes much more pronounced in bright conditions and when the sun is high in the sky.  There's a fuller description of back-scatter (and other phenomena of light behaviour underwater) in 'Sparkling Water'.  There was a serious risk that my fly would shortly become invisible to the salmon, no matter where or how it was presented.

The effects of clay and
bright sunlight in water

If you're uncertain what is really happening under the water in terms of visibility and light level, the simple solution is to put your waterproof fishing camera to use and have a look.  This was the result.  In the space of 10 minutes the river had gone from falling and clearing nicely to total obscuration.  Even a salmon would be unable to detect a fly in the murk, even if you fished it closer to the surface.  The colour is the give-away: this was particulate grey clay, which because it is so fine would hang in the water for as long as this flush persisted, probably at least 12 hours, possibly longer.  At a stroke my perfect day (and my ambition to put the Brigadier into a fresh silver salmon) had come to naught.

My frustration was exacerbated by knowing whence the clay had come.  This was not a new occurrence.  Some years ago a large block of forestry on the flank of the hills beyond Hawes had been clear-felled.  The ridge ploughing to prepare the ground for new trees had breached the surface layer, exposing and disrupting an extensive layer of pale grey clay, which runs off into the adjacent beck.  If the rain is heavy enough it will displace sufficient clay to affect the main river, and the effects can persist for days.  In this case it brought the streak of July catches on the Ure to a shuddering halt, disappointing and frustrating many others with equally high hopes.

I fished on to the end of the day in hope but without expectation.  Lunch with the Brigadier was as pleasant as ever - we've been friends for 50 years and are totally relaxed in each other's company.  The disappointment would have been far, far worse if I'd been fishing alone.

Learning Points

So amidst my frustration, what learning points did I gather from the day?

  • Grilse are less tied to specific lies than larger fish.  They range all over the width of the river and can take anywhere, including the most unlikely places and in shallow water.  Don't be surprised when it happens.
  • Grilse are much less powerful and efficient swimmers than larger salmon, and when the river is up will usually run in the easier water close to the banks.  Don't wade unnecessarily deep.  Expect takes at the dangle and fish it positively.  Most of the hookings will be near the front of their soft mouths, so resign yourself to losing lots of them, but don't despair.
  • There are as many fish on your side of the river as the other.
  • Don't rush.  Always clear the water closest to you with a short line before extending to full casting distance and heading off down the pool.
  • Buy a waterproof camera and put it to good use to help you understand the conditions.  They're not unduly expensive and spare you all the worries of dropping your phone or smart camera in the water.

Looking Ahead

Given the clear evidence of plenty of salmon in the Ure we can only hope for a bit of rain and water in August (but not too much - no more clay please).  In 2011 and 2012 I caught some wonderful fish in August, large and in prime condition, so it would be lovely to repeat the achievement.  In September, lockdown permitting, we're back to Tomatin for Just One Week, somewhat earlier than in the past, but it will be a wonderful week with friends to savour.  HMCX is also coming up for a couple of days with his family to share my rod, which will be an added treat.  Let's hope for some water there too!

Unless I get some fishing on the Ure in August I won't have anything useful to write about until October.  For those of you lucky enough to be fishing, tight lines.