Sunday 19 December 2021

2021 - Goodbye, I'm glad to see you go

I'm not someone given to complaining, being a life-long optimist who travels (and fishes) hopefully.  But I trust that you will forgive the title of this chapter, because by any standard,  it's been a bad year, for which the Covid-induced dullness of 2020 was a very poor preparation, and it got off to a very nasty start.  On Christmas Day, returning from church - virtue is apparently no insurance -  my wife slipped on ice and broke her wrist very badly.  We spent the rest of the day in A&E while three muscular registrars and a specialist heaved and pulled to achieve a decent setting.  Deprived of our children and grandchildren it wasn't a good Christmas.

A week later, I was caught out by black ice, went a purler, landed very heavily on my left shoulder and had to drive myself to A&E, where I was the 49th fall injury to arrive.  A very robust physiotherapist jerked my arm around, and presumably based on the volume of my screams, determined that I hadn't broken my arm.  I took that as a blessing and blithely assumed that a couple of weeks stiffness while the bruising came out, interspersed with nice hot baths, would see me back to full strength.  My optimism was completely unfounded and the pain most unpleasant: 6 weeks later my left arm still wasn't working.  I referred myself to the GP who instructed me to stop being brave and take Cocodamol, and referred me to the Practice Physio Team.  After 6 weeks' experience in 2017 (see Raring to Go) I hate Cocodamol's side effects, but at least it allowed me to sleep.  A physio called Kev called, a former corporal of the Yorkshire Light Infantry, with a wonderfully direct manner of telling people what to do.  He was explicit: "I'll send you a raft of YouTube links of enthusiastic and muscular ladies showing you the exercises  you must do at home.  As soon as you can move the arm, join a gym, get a trainer and start rebuilding your shoulders.  And, because you're old, build up your overall strength to help you through your older age, just. in case you reach it."  With the advice administered, Kev signed me off.  The ladies were scary but the exercises worked.  I joined a gym and hired a pleasant young man called Stuart with a master's degree in Physiology to sort me out, and  by July all was well again.  With Kev's words ringing in my ears I have, nevertheless, retained my gym membership.

Helmsdale 2018

The next injury was inflicted on me by wee Nicola Sturgeon, who decided to maintain an iron grip on Covid well after England had started to relax.  As a result, a week's fishing on the Helmsdale in May as the guest of Tony the Master Netsman went down the drain.  Helpful friends and acquaintances suggested all manner of wizard wheezes for bypassing the regulations, but based on my previous experience of the Helmsdale's climate I didn't much fancy wild camping in the snow at my age.  Needless to say, I was massively disappointed: such generous offers don't arrive frequently.

While Nicola was being hard in Scotland, the weather in Yorkshire was harder still.  April was the coldest I can ever remember, with many more mornings below 0C than January, bitter winds and almost no rain.  Everything in the garden stopped in its tracks for 3 weeks and the Ure dropped to MSL.  May remained cold,  but it just poured with rain: by its end we'd received more than double the average rainfall.  I couldn't get near a salmon or trout river for cold air and brown water, apart from one day early in the month on the Ure at Sleningford Mill, when I missed two salmon and caught a nice supper-sized sea trout and an (inedible) giant chub.  My one attempt at trout yielded hypothermia within 30 minutes and an early retreat.

By the time we got into June, the Rye and Ure and my garden were running about 3 weeks behind schedule.  The torrential rain of May stopped abruptly and we moved straight into drought.  For want of anything else to do I completed a long-overdue reconnaissance and review of the Jervaulx Abbey beat, but had no real expectation of catching.  With the Mayfly almost non-existent my morale followed the Ure down to MSL.  A year of Covid-induced dullness was really getting to me before two brief flashes of light pierced the gloom.

Tweed silver
27th May 2021
First, TTMN, feeling sorry for me, took me to Rutherford on the Tweed for a day as his guest.  I love Rutherford, and all the more since I broke my duck and started catching fish there.  The day was almost perfect, a mite bright but the water was an attractive +12".  Fishing Lovers' Leap just before lunch I hooked this sparkling 7lbs fish from the lie off the point on the near side.  Michael, who is always on hand 10 minutes before lunch, opined that it had reached Rutherford from Berwick, 37 miles as Tweed flows, in little more than 24 hours.  Having landed the fish, I took 3 paces upstream and covered the lie again: BANG! a similar fish came out of the water at 45 degrees with the small MCX Conehead in its mouth.  Sadly it came off shortly thereafter. Undeterred, I went back up 3 paces, and covered the lie for a third time.  A swirl 3 feet inshore from the lie told me that a fish had followed the fly and duly took.  Sadly that one too came off.  But three takes in three casts was a real lift.  The losses underlined the point that very fresh fish have soft mouths, so early in the season your loss rate may be higher.  The three takes reinforced the fact that salmon are schooling fish that run in company.  If you get one, cover the lie again straight away.  And the MCX was the only fly to catch that day!

Brae Water 4
looking down towards the hut
9th July 2021

Second, in late June a friend called to ask whether I would like to take his slot for 3 days on the Spey at Gordon Castle in prime time in early July.  There was only one question: "Do I have to walk barefoot or can I take the car?"  And so it was that I found myself fishing in the Premier League on the Brae Water.  Needless to say, with me, the man who blanked on the Gaula - twice - being on top class water at the peak time doesn't guarantee salmon.  And so it proved.  The water was low, but not so low as to preclude running, and a steady 10.5C.  Indeed, the bottom of Brae is within line of sight of the sea.  

The problem was that the fish were running too quickly.  It was a lottery: if you were lucky enough to be on a pool where a pod of salmon paused, you were in luck.  One member of our party had exactly that experience, arriving at a pool to find it boiling with fish, and directly caught a 14 pounder.  When the next rod turned up 15 minutes later, they were gone.  I don't recall covering so much superbly attractive 'fishy' water with such expectation and not getting a touch.

Piling at the top of Brae 3
When the touch came I blew the chance with a stupid careless error.  Iain the Head Ghillie instructed me to cast at a shallow angle and allow the line to come right in close to the rocks in the centre of the photo, and then with each cast extend the line to wrap around the corner.  The most likely take would be straight off or slightly behind the point, and so it proved.  After covering the first part of the rocks from where I took the photo, I advanced down to the bend in the piling for the next part.  Instead of tidying up the excess running line onto the reel I kept it loose.  On cue a good fish took at the exact spot.  Following the Spey dictum I gave it the two feet of slack under my hand, after which everything stopped.  To my horror I found that a loop of running line was fast around the handle of the reel, and in accordance with Murphy's Laws, the loose end was on the inside.  What followed was a couple of seconds of agony and cursing as I frantically tried to regain the slack needed to free the line, followed by more cursing when the salmon failed to cooperate and departed. I was mortified that I, the paragon of organisation and discipline, had been so careless.  There you have it, a full confession of crass incompetence.

Flesh Dub on the Ure
October 2021
beautiful but devoid of fish

Apart from a couple of grilse nibbles that was it, but the trip had been a wonderful elixir, an uplift from the pervasive gloom.  The downside was that it made me more keenly aware that we didn't have a Tomatin week this year, and as the summer progressed I became increasingly and irrationally low, totally contrary to my nature.  I was pining for salmon fishing and good company.  The state of the Ure didn't help.  The drought was just like 2014, except that the gauges went even lower.  The one at Bainbridge went off line because it hadn't been programmed to produced negative numbers.  All I could do was wait and pray for the weather to break, and hope for some decent fishing in October.  Meanwhile, all the fish that had run in March and May were hunkered down in whatever deep water they could find between York and Tanfield.  A barbel-fishing acquaintance remarked that the deep gravelly runs around Boroughbridge were full of comatose salmon.  I was aware that presented a serious problem, because once salmon hunker down, switch their systems to almost zero and go comatose, only the most serious and sustained spate will wake them from their slumber.  If we didn't get 6-8 feet of water for the better part of a week, the disaster of 2014 would truly repeat itself.  Despite my prayers, the serious rain never came, probably because in Yorkshire there are far more farmers than salmon fishermen.  It closed as one of my worst seasons ever.

Standing on fish & ruining a pool

I only drew one lesson from the Ure this year, which is clearly shown in this photo, of the gentleman - a charming chap - fishing below me.  For whatever reason he was desperate to cast to my bank, without looking at the water in front of him.  You can see quite clearly the lie through which he has just waded, one of the most productive on the whole of the river, and in this pool the running line comes up the right side.  If there are very few fish about, it helps not to stand on them.  On average there are as many fish on your side of the river as the other, and most salmon are hooked within 15 yards range.

Amber & Purdy
Then, to. complete my happiness, Murphy's 2nd law struck again: when you think it can't get worse, it will.  After my last day's fishing I went to stay with my friend the Brigadier who had invited me to shoot partridges the next day.  After arrival and a cup of tea I needed to switch fishing and shooting kit between my wife's car and my own.  As I was going about it, there was a multi-dog riot with my new Pup Amber getting hugely over-excited.  In the darkness and confusion as I was lifting the dog box out of my wife's car, bent at the waist, a dog hit me at full speed, knocking me sideways.  My back immediately told me this was not good news.  Over the next 3 weeks the pain caused by the trapping of the femoral nerve between two degraded vertebrae - which is in the right leg, not the back itself - got progressively worse,  until by the end of the month it was 2017 all over again, unable to walk properly, lying face down on the floor with a bag of frozen peas for company, in an opiate haze of Cocodamol.  Only shooting was capable of persuading me into an upright position, although narcotics and marksmanship don't coincide.   Fortunately, by early December the pain had eased, so I set about weaning myself off the painkillers with all the joys of withdrawal symptoms of nausea, giddiness and a few unmentionable side effects.  One that I didn't anticipate was a runny nose, which I dismissed as a light cold.  My wife, who is unfailingly right in such things, said: "You never, ever get a cold.  Take a lateral flow test."  It was positive, so. was the PCR.  Murphy had struck again, and somewhere, somehow, I had caught Covid.  Now I am serving the penitence of domestic self-isolation at the top of the house, due to emerge the night before Christmas Eve and hoping fervently that after a dreadful year Murphy will give me a break.  The trouble is, he doesn't, and there's no sunset clause in his 2nd Law.

As you might imagine, I'm not feeling especially cheerful.  The whole family is due for Christmas, which would be wonderful after 2 years, but with all the talk of 'circuit breakers' and 'mini-lockdowns' I'm fearful that it won't happen.  Moreover, it's challenging to write cheerfully about salmon fishing if at the end of a season you have only one salmon to show for your efforts.  It's not exactly the hallmark of an expert, and the impact on my self-esteem and the credibility of this blog as  a source of information defies description.  In fact there is a good case for abandoning this blog altogether, because since I started writing at the end of the 2012 season only one year has offered halfway decent fishing.  Over the past decade we've had one wet season (2017), one about average (2013) and eight droughts with rivers on their bones for months on end.  Indeed, when I embarked on this literary journey I pondered whether such hubris risked creating an inevitable nemesis.  Perhaps I was even more correct than I feared.  However, if I turned the tables on Murphy and surprised him by stopping writing, might the weather and my catches of salmon return to some kind of normality?

It would be very easy to give up.  I did much of my best writing while filling the spare time on business trips to the Gulf, but as a result of Covid there haven't been any of those for almost 2 years, and there's no prospect of any before late 2022.  It's much harder to find the time and focus when you're at home.  There's always something else that needs doing, endless distractions and a wifely disbelief that writing is anything other than a frivolous pleasure.  And it's doubly difficult if you've had a rubbish season, you've got nothing useful or original to say and it's been ages since you last wrote.  I apologise to everyone who may have missed the end of season round-up and MCX's Christmas Stocking, which failed to appear for those reasons.  To be honest, I've written this not as a result of any inspiration but rather as an act of defiance in the face of the urge not to bother amidst the dullness, gloom and darkness of the Covid suppressed world.

I'm still here, and a quarter of a million page views of Just One Week tell me to keep going.  Thank you for your support and encouragement, and have the best possible Christmas in the circumstances.  Let us hope and pray for a return to normality of life and salmon fishing.  I don't wish to be importunate, but at my age it's getting a bit urgent, so Happy New Year.

Having got all that misery and self-pity off my chest I feel much better.  Rest assured I will be back, fishing and writing in 2022!

Tuesday 1 June 2021

ABBEY BEAT - River Ure


The ruins of Jervaulx Abbey
The spiritual home of Wensleydale cheese

The Abbey Beat comprises almost 2 miles of single bank fishing within the boundaries of the Jervaulx estate on the south side of the River Ure.  It is bookable through FishPal.  If you wish to have a ghillie, please contact Brian Towers directly on 07850727132.  He is also an AAPGAI double-handed casting instructor, which allows you to combine fishing and learning.  Some may find that especially useful, as the beat is right bank with a downstream prevailing wind, which places a lot on emphasis on your skill with left hand uppermost.

The main part of the beat is easily accessible by vehicle, including 2WD with good ground clearance: 4WD is only essential when the conditions are wet.  You enter the park at the gate opposite the Tea Room car park and continue along the estate road until you reach the first track to the left, which leads to the entrance gate to the fishery.  The track from there to the river bank across the meadow is clearly visible.

Note that the Jervaulx Fly Fishers have the trout and primary rights on this beat.  Their members will be most active in the summer and at lower water levels.  On a cool and windy May Day I saw no one else during the afternoon I fished.

The surroundings are delightful, with the Abbey and park full of mature trees providing a beautiful backdrop for your sport.

Harker Beck

The top of the beat is at the junction of the Ure and Harker Beck.  This little stream has a special significance for Ure salmon fishing, because it was here in the 1990s that a very large dead spent cock salmon was found, weighing 36lbs post-spawning.  The length and girth suggested that its clean weight in the spring might have been close to 50lbs.  It was the first hard evidence of the rebirth of the Ure as a salmon river.

Abbey Beat
Pool and run numbering cross-reference to photos & paragraphs below
(c) Ordnance Survey 2021

All the photos in this guide were taken at a water height of 80cm at Kilgram, falling following a 2 metre spate, which usually offers ideal fishing conditions on most beats between Thoresby and Ripon.  With 3 limited exceptions the wading is the easiest I've ever encountered on the Ure, with long stretches of gravel.

At this height the water is easy to cover: I was using a 12' 6" #7 which did everything I needed.  On most of the runs you are fishing directly beneath your feet, and the longest cast you need on the pools is about 25-28 yards.  With a higher river and using sink tips and a heavier fly you might need a 13' or 13' 6".

1 - Top

1 Is a straight run over a rough bottom that starts at the very top of the beat, and extends for about 150 metres down to the head of. Pool 2.  At the far end it's too shallow to be productive (see photo 3).

The main running line is directly adjacent to the near bank, and the rough bottom provides an ample supply of. short-halt resting lies for running fish.  There's no need to wade: indeed, it would be downright daft to try.

1 - Middle

1 - Tail and entry to Pool 2

2 - Head

2 is a long right-hand sweep with deep water and the main flow on the far side against the wooden piling.  It's a delightful pool to fish and later in the season will undoubtedly hold good numbers of fish.  The running line exits on the far side before shifting across to the near side for the journey up Run 1.  The wading is very easy, but it's best to keep as far back as possible: covering the water isn't difficult and there's no point scaring fish in quiet water that clearly transmits the crunch of your footsteps.

2 - Middle

2 - Tail

Run 3 - start

3 comprises a series of runs under the near bank of a long sweeping left-hand curve.  Again, there's no need to wade and quite a lot of its length has a rough bottom.

Run 3 - middle

4 - Head

4 is a medium-sized pool at the bottom of Run 3 that bends right into a straight quiet stretch.

4 - Exit

5 comprises a long section of runs split by gravel bars, with some very interesting pots and holding areas.  it has a very 'fishy' feel and could well be productive when there are more fish in the river.

5 - Lower end
Fishing from 8 feet above the water
Keep back and kneel down to avoid sky lining

5 - Lower, looking back upstream

6 - Head

6 is a pleasant pool formed on a right-hand bend with plenty of holding capacity and a good flow.

6 - Middle & Tail

7 - Middle

7 is a large pool formed on a right-hand bend which looks like a good holding area.  It's easy to cover, and although the wading is somewhat stony near the head there's no point going out more than you need for a good D-loop.

8 - Head
8 is a deep channel created by the intrusion of a large bank of gravel on the near bank.  I felt that I had a significant chance of a fish here, so fished it thoroughly.  In the event that yielded 2 large brown trout, but I would fancy my chances here come September.  

8 - Looking down from middle to tail

Below 8 - the end of the easy fishing
Once you reach the end of 8 the banks become heavily treed with overhanging willows.  A quick scan of Google Earth shows that there are only a few open spaces between here and the bottom of the beat at Kilgram Bridge.  In any even going beyond here probably involves driving back to the estate road in the park as I couldn't see a gateway through the hedge-line that runs from the right side of this view.

Thursday 13 May 2021

Vision Salmon Hero

Moving Targets

 Looking back over the past decade or so of Just One Week, it always seems to be the case that no sooner have I tested and reviewed a Vision rod than it becomes obsolete and is withdrawn from sale.  I've got used to it now and it hasn't put me off trying new rods and writing about them.  In the 2021 product cycle there are some real surprises.  Over the past year Vision has completely changed its range of double-handed rods:

  • The premium XO has been succeeded by the XO Graphene, with the same name, style, finish and performance
  • The long-serving Tool has finally been retired
  • The entry level Onki range has been reduced to single-handed only, pending stock run-down
  • The six-piece Sisu Siks remains, but will probably end shortly
The price-point positioning and range below the XO has been shifted and dramatically focused:
  • The Custom series, pitched at £700 - £850, comprises 4 general purpose salmon rods at 13, 14, 15 and 16 feet; and two specialist Skagit rods of around 13' 6".  The Custom range hasn't yet arrived in UK, but is scheduled for delivery in late May.  In that respect it's worth noting that Vision are not alone in having supply timing issues - presumably owed to the effects of Covid on supply chains - as Sage's new entry level double handers won't be available until after the season has ended.
  • The Hero is now their entry-level range, comprising just two rods, an 11' 2" #7 switch at £399, and a 13' 7" #8 general purpose at £449.  Both are now available in UK, and as soon as I could I got hold of a 13' 7" to try out.
After last week's left-handed session at Sleningford I was keen to blow the cobwebs out of my right handed casting, so I booked a lesson with Brian Towers and the rest of the day on Thoresby, which would allow me to achieve the double purpose of practice and trying the Hero.

Hero - First Impressions

Continuing Vision's long established tradition of eccentric presentation, the Hero comes in a cheerful primrose yellow tube with internal sub-dividers.  You're not likely to leave it behind!  Nevertheless, the cheerful colour is entirely in keeping with the Hero's happy demeanour and what it does for the user's morale.

The down-locking reel seat is a value engineered version of the design found on the XO.  The main nut is easy to screw down tightly on the coated thread, and the locking nut does its job simply and efficiently.  The combination provides a bullet proof hold on the reel: there wasn't even a hint of movement at the end of a day's casting.
The coated thread is silent and smooth in operation.  Altogether it amounts to an outstanding reel seat that approaches the Alps in quality and function.
The cork is at the standard you would expect at this price point - neat, well finished and with a moderate amount of filler.

The appearance is understated in every respect. The blank is semi-translucent black, and like the XO, has an un-machined surface.  The effect at distance is gloss black.  The whippings are neat and well finished with epoxy.  There are two stripper rings and the remainder are chrome snakes.
The rod balances nicely with a reel in the range 230-260 grams: during the day I used a variety - Lamson Guru 4, Vision Rulla and Danielsson L5W #8/12 - all of which were in the ideal weight span.

it's interesting to bear in mind that 13' 7" has a long pedigree as a Vision idiosyncracy, featuring in the Nite and Cult predecessors.  The profile of the Hero's blank bears a close resemblance to the Cult 13' 7".  Certainly the ferrules match (I had my Cult in the car).  However, the blank walls are substantially thinner, at least 10-15% and possibly more, which shows how there has been progressive trickle-down of the new resins from the premium ranges.  As a result the Hero is much lighter in the hand than the Cult, and feels correspondingly more lively.

On the Water

I tried a wide variety of lines with roll, single Spey, Snap T, Snake Roll and Double Spey casts, albeit I encountered some serious problems with my injured left shoulder in the Double Spey:
  • Scandi.  The rod has a wide weight window of 30 - 38 grams.  In the event the middle figure of 34 grams proved absolutely delightful, loading the rod fully and responding nicely with every cast, from short range rolls to full distance Single Spey.  I was able to cover the entire fishing width of the tail section of Frodle Dub without any wading.  Performance with a 38 gram line was competent but dull in comparison with the joys of the 34 gram.
  • Skagit.  The Hero was in its element with the Skagit, loading down to its boots before sending 10 feet of T11 and a brass tube the full width of Frodle Dub with minimal effort.  It also performed very well in extracting the sunken head from a slack back-eddy.  I didn't have the specified 580 grain line, but it was equally competent with both 550 and 600 grain lines.
  • Sinking Head.  Alan Maughan always held that extracting a sinking head was one of the most searching tests of a rod, in which strongly tip-raised actions were often found wanting.  The test line was an over-weight #9/10 Guideline 3D S3 with a 2" copper conehead tube.  The Hero rolled it up neatly before despatching a good single Spey.  I suspect that the Hero could have done a direct extract and cast with an on-weight #8 line. 
  • 55' Spey.  As I had a Unispey in the box I thought I'd give it a go.  However, its #9/10 weight seriously overmatched the Hero (and my ability).  I suspect that it would be happy with a #7/8, but there again, I only fish a full line once in a blue moon, and it's so much fun with a Scandi, why bother?


In total I spent nearly 5 hours casting and fishing with this rod.  Unfortunately, unlike my test of the Onki and Tool, I failed to catch a salmon.  Nevertheless, I ended a long day with a broad smile on my face.  Quite simply, the Hero is an absolutely delightful rod, which combines forgiveness for novices and inexpert casters with entertainment for the more skilled.  I don't like bling on rods, so the Hero's modest appearance appeals strongly to me.  The icing on the cake is the superb reel seat, which is as good as anything on the market.

The through action is exceptionally well-judged for an entry-level rod.  It clearly communicates everything that's going on in the cast.  The sensation under load during the delivery stroke is amongst the best I've encountered, and certainly far superior to many other rods at this price point that I've tested.  Its performance with a 34g Scandi is pure joy.  The action design also makes the Hero a superb Skagit rod: I would happily have spent longer fooling around dredging the deep head of Frodle with all manner of ironmongery on super-fast tips, but there were other lines to try for the purposes of this article.  I was similarly impressed by its ability to roll up and deliver the over-weight Guideline 3D sinking head, a task that regularly defeated my old Cross S1.

If I didn't already own the utterly divine 'Yar' 13' 6" XO (double the money), I would certainly buy the Hero.  Indeed, of all the rods I've tried in this length range over the past 5 years, the XO is the only one that I like better than the Hero.  That is praise indeed.

Saturday 8 May 2021

At Long Last

Sleningford Falls

Finally, after many months of drear lockdown, I've got something to write about and the inspiration to do so.  After one of the driest and coldest early springs on record - February, March and April yielded less than 20mm of rainfall in total - I'm now happily looking at a window streaked with raindrops and listening to the water running through the downpipes off the roof. 

 The North Atlantic Oscillation, for so long locked the wrong way round has finally turned normal.  We may even have the ingredients for a late spring run in the Ure.  Amazingly, a small number of beautiful fresh salmon were caught in April, but their progress up to Masham probably involved clambering over bare dry rocks by virtue of the river being at MSL for 9 weeks.  Nature's determination is extraordinary.

I must confess that in most part lockdown has been far easier for me than for my children and grandchildren.  We live in a village with a Post Office and shop, a pub that does take-aways and even an off licence.  We're surrounded by lovely countryside laced with innumerable walks, and have a substantial garden to keep us occupied.  In contrast CCX and her husband live in a flat in London with two small boys, fortunately with a small garden.  It's been a very challenging year for them, so it was a huge delight that with the ending of restrictions they could take an Air BnB nearby to give themselves unrestricted fresh air and exercise for a long weekend, and an equal delight for us to see them again.

The biggest drag of the final stage of lockdown has been injury.  On Christmas Day my wife slipped on ice and broke her wrist - a complex 3 bone fracture that took 3 attempts to set and required 12 weeks in a cast.  I followed her example 10 days later on black ice, went flying and came down very hard on my left shoulder.  Fortunately I didn't break my arm, but the recovery from what I thought would be just a matter of severe bruising proved much longer and more challenging.  It's a salutary warning of the effects of age: 4 months on and I still don't have full mobility and have lost plenty of muscle, which demands twice weekly visits to a gym for rehabilitation training.  

The combination of injury, the lockdown loss of a week on the Helmsdale as a guest of Tony the Master Netsman (I'd been looking forward to that for a whole year) and Yorkshire drought restrained my usual spring enthusiasm, but at the first sniff of rain I launched into my outloading routine of transferring all my gear from the Great Fishing Chest into the car boxes ready for use.  It's amazing what a morale-boosting transformation a little water can achieve.  My habit of ordered organisation continues unchanged: indeed with the advancing of the years it's becoming ever more important as a means of avoiding forgetfulness.  I haven't forgotten anything yet - it's only a matter of time - but for now it's the gnawing uncertainty that occasionally causes me to stop the car, get out and check that I really did put everything in.  Of course I had, but my confidence in such matters is not as cast-iron as before.

Kilgram Gauge
(Data (c) EA)

In the event the rain at the beginning of the week was not as heavy or sustained as I had hoped, but the 1-metre lift was enough to trigger the desire to fish.  I should have preferred to get out on the Wednesday or Thursday, but work commitments forced a postponement to Friday.  However, MSL +8" wasn't impossibly low and still created a chance of success, even if it increased the risk of losing flies to the rocks.

I opted to go to Sleningford for three reasons.  First, it's astride the limit of exploitation for fresh fishing coming up off the tide at Naburn, a distance of about 50 miles or about 2-3 nights' running in good conditions before the level drops off.  Given more water the pathfinders, and especially the big springers, will go further over the following days, with some reaching Thoresby before dropping anchor.  The second reason was that Sleningford is right bank, left handed casting, and therefore offered an opportunity for pleasurable rehabilitation exercise of my shoulder.  I knew that with the double handicap of close-season rust and injury my casting would be horrid, but it was a worthwhile sacrifice to tolerate for longer-term benefit.  And third, the people who run the Mill and caravan site are so irrepressibly cheerful, charming and helpful that it lifts your spirits before you've even put a fly in the water.  You check availability by phone or email, turn up, pay your £20 at the reception desk and start fishing.  I knew that at only MSL +8" there wouldn't be a full day's ration of fishable water, but the prospect of getting out was so cheering that it didn't bother me.

Tail of Falls Pool

With low clear water, albeit at barely 9C, and a bright sky I started with a slow sinking polyleader and a #8 MCX double.  Having parked in the middle of the beat I clambered up to just below the falls before working my way downstream over the rocks.  After about 10 minutes I'd reached this point.  As my fly came round towards the dangle a couple of feet out from the rocks and just above the lip of the pool, I had a really good take, turn away and strong kicks from a powerful fish.  Unfortunately after three kicks it was gone, unseen, a typical running fish experience.  Inevitably with a head-on contact the odds are stacked against you, especially with a soft-mouthed fresh fish.

In the next pool I was making my way down the side of the head run against the willows, fishing a very short line -  no more than a couple of feet outside the top ring - until I could work the whole width below the white water.  As the line came round to the dangle, bang, wallop and 18" of bright silver headed skywards.  Unhindered by any weight of line in the water and a fast current in support, a 2lbs sea trout did a full repertoire of its aerobatic tricks before being swallowed by my net.  Unfortunately it had taken the fly right down, so the sensible choice was a quick rap with the priest and a fresh solution to our supper menu.

The pool below the white water is challenging to fish at low levels.  There's a ridge down the centre-line, largely comprised of rectangular rocks.  The rounded egg-shaped stones we have further upstream usually allow the smooth passage of a line or leader with the flow, but these chunky blocks are rapacious fly-catchers.  By the end of the day I'd lost 3 MCXs and bent the hooks of a fourth into uselessness.  At this level it's better to resist the temptations of the very fishy-looking water in the other half and concentrate on the narrow channel of deep water just in front of your feet, bounded by a limestone ledge on the near side.  Unfortunately there's also a sunken branch in the channel (it's been there at least 2 years) which restricts your fishing angles at this low water height.  Indeed, with another 6-8" the good water would extend all the way down to the point on the right and even beyond.  As I got down to the beach I had another good take, turn away and kicks, but yet again it didn't stick.  This was, however, a much smaller fish than the first.  While I was naturally very disappointed to have missed two salmon, in balance I'd been fishing for 90 minutes and was two takes and a sea trout to the good.

Bottom run
lowering sky and cold showers
 I fished on down to the bottom, changing to a conehead tube for the very fast water.  The tail of both the long pool above and of this run (down under the big tree) both raised my expectations, but without fulfilment.  Again, both of these would fish much better with another 8-10" of water.  Having reached the bottom boundary I cut back through the trees into the empty lower section of the caravan park and walked back to the car for lunch.

Enjoying my lunch in the comfort of a folding chair overlooking the water, I pondered the effect of the sun angle as the day progressed.  When I'd started around 10am the sun had been coming straight up the beat, but by 2pm it was coming round towards right angled on the salmon's left side.  Moreover, the light level was changing abruptly from bright sunlight between the showers to deep grey dullness in the rain and hail.  Salmon generally don't much like abrupt changes in light level because they lack a quick-acting iris within their eyes, although one some occasions it can stimulate movement in ways that are positive for fishing.  On that basis I reasoned that the afternoon session would be less productive, and so it proved.

There was, however, one unusual highlight.  Having started again at the falls and fished down to the large pool, as I came to the point marking the end of the better water I had a solid take and a couple of kicks.  The fish then moved off across the pool but not at any great speed.  My first reaction was 'kelt', but there was none of the usual head shaking and surface thrashing associated with emigrating kelts.  There was also the odd flash of silver in the water.  Although the fish was clearly quite weighty it wasn't at all energetic, and pretty soon its head came up, which presented me with a view of a mouth like a two-gallon bucket.  It was a humble chub, but a truly enormous member of the breed, by far the largest I've ever seen, so I did it the honour of using the net.  From nose to fork it measured a shade under 25", and the weigh net scale said 3kg/61/2 lbs.  Bearing in mind that the British record chub is 9lbs 5oz, for any coarse fisherman this would be the chub of a lifetime.  So, if in addition to salmon you also are interested in chub, you know where to find this trophy hefalump.

With that achievement I decided to call it a day.  It had been wonderful to be back out on a river with a rod, and even though my left-handed casting had been pretty rubbish, it hadn't got me down.  The shoulder had benefited enormously from the movement and exercise, although the upwards and backwards movement of my left hand into a good launch position was still constrained.  I had re-learned some old lessons - primarily not chasing the attractions of the far bank because there's probably better water right in front. of you - and revised my knowledge of the beat.  Sleningford is a very useful spring-fish venue, but you do need at least 12-15" above MSL (70-80cm on the Kilgram gauge) for it to fish well.  You're also well advised to start early to get at least 4 hours' fishing before the sun comes round.  In any event at £20 for a day with a realistic prospect of a springer, it's outstanding value.

Next on the agenda is a trip to Bolton Hall for a brush-up casting lesson with Brian Towers, which will be followed by a day on the beautiful Rutherford beat on the Tweed at the end of May.  By then the best of the trout season on the Rye will be in full swing, unless of course we have another summer like 2007 or 2012, which might keep the focus on salmon.  I also need to obtain and test the two new Vision salmon rods - the up-market Custom and the entry level Hero - from my local friendly dealer before the season is too far gone.  With all that and the next step out of lockdown only a week away there's plenty of morale boosting activity in prospect.  Tight lines.