|The 2022 record drought
River Rye at Helmsley
Surface temperature 30C
2022 was the driest and hottest spring and summer in my lifetime, worse even than 1976 and 2003. The rain stopped in February and didn't restart until September. This is a stretch of the the River Rye, normally well populated with brown trout, grayling and crayfish, on which I fish for trout in truly beautiful surroundings: you can see it in more normal conditions on this website. The extended drought caused the level of the subterranean aquifers to fall so low that there was no longer any back-pressure to prevent the river disappearing into the cracks in the rock. In late May the flow started to dwindle alarmingly, and by August a mile of the river had disappeared entirely. I stopped fishing in mid-June.
The worst feature of the situation pictured above wasn't the loss of water - we've seen that with increasing frequency in the past decade - but the temperature. In previous events there has been enough cool moisture under the stones for the invertebrates to survive. But in 2022 the surface temperature was intolerable and everything dried to dust. The mature trout, grayling and crayfish will have been able to migrate, but the invertebrates, fry and small species were less fortunate. Provided that these conditions don't repeat, we may see a full recovery in about five years. The Rye is an extremely resilient river: in the 45 years I've fished there, we've had a enormous flash flood that caused the release of over a million rainbow trout, droughts and pollution events. On every occasion the recovery was quicker than we ever imagined, so that underlying optimism underpins my 5 year estimate above. Of course, at my age, I can only hope that I'm right because it doesn't leave much slack!
Needless to say, the conditions on the Ure were equally bad and wholly prohibitive of salmon fishing. Aysgarth Falls stopped flowing and the water temperatures reached alarming figures. The EA's gauge at Bainbridge, now reprogrammed to cope with negative numbers, remained below MSL for more than 200 days. With no water to prompt or sustain spring or summer run, it was unlikely that any salmon got further than West Tanfield (Mickley Weir is impassable in low water). The very high temperatures of the mid-summer would have caused oxygen levels in the sluggish lower Ouse between York and Goole to decline to the point at which the water became impassable to salmon, in an echo of the extinction of the 1960s and 70s. But somehow, possibly by remaining in the Humber, the salmon survived. The rain brought the first proper spate on 1st October, and two weeks later I witnessed hundreds of salmon running into the pools at Thoresby. A species that has survived a couple of ice ages and everything nature and man have thrown at it in the intervening millennia isn't that easily stopped.
Despite the climatic horrors of 2022 and catching very few fish, I'm in a far better and happier place than I was at the end of 2021. I approach the task of writing a round-up of the year with a smile and many happy memories: with any luck I'll also publish a Christmas Stocking post this year.
Early April at Orton
|Orton - Willows run peering upstream into the snow
Lots of water - +2' 6"
As I reported on our first week at our new home at Orton at some length I won't rehearse the details here. We didn't catch any salmon: what we needed was low, cold water but what we got was very cold very high water (peaking at +5 feet). While that was very disappointing, we had a lovely week with old friends in an outstandingly comfortable lodge, and the beat is beautiful fishing water. Despite failing to catch I really enjoyed the week and finished feeling rejuvenated: after the problems of 2021 it was wonderful to be back on a salmon river. We look forward to returning.
Late April on the Helmsdale
Tony the Master Netsman (TTMN) kindly invited me to join his party on the Helmsdale for four days in the week spanning the end of April. The arrangements on the Helmsdale are unusual and certainly confusing to the uninitiated. The estates that own the length of the river share the fishing equally, which is subdivided into 12 beats, rotating at lunchtime and evening. You share a rod and fish half time. Altogether there's about 14 miles of water, divided by the falls above Kildonan. This offers a huge variety, from the open stretches like that shown here,
|Super-fresh 9lbs Helmsdale salmon
So fresh it looks white
And best of all, we enjoyed a fun, happy and very diverse party - including a chemical engineer, a specialist eyelid surgeon and retired chief constable - all bonded by a love of salmon fishing and the beauty of the place.
|Evening view from Suisgill Lodge
Early September at Arndilly
The exercise allowed me to try two very different rods: the Sage X 15' - the 'Emperor' - which was indeed imperial in both performance and price; and the Vision 14' 7" Hero, which was delightful and far better value at level than half the price. Indeed, I liked the Hero so much I bought the brand new demonstrator. The full reviews are in the Arndilly post.
Autumn on the Ure
|HMCX wading in chocolate
|Looking up Flesh Dub
13th October 2022
|Frodle Dub in the autumn sunshine
|A yard of very fit Ure hen on her way back
Tony suggested that I fish on while he sorted himself out. Three casts later I was into a very good fish that stayed deep throughout the ten minute fight, during which it managed to wrap me around a couple of rocks. The 23lbs Seaguar leader withstood the challenge, albeit the abrasion subsequently required its replacement. It was another very fit hen, which in the Maclean weighed 8kg or 171/2lbs to the nearest whole number.
With apologies for the lack of focus
Learning points from 2022
- The fish are always nearer than you expect. In ascending order the ranges at which I hooked fish this season were 7, 9, 18 & 20 yards. Of course many Helmsdale fish will be close to you, but the closest was on the Ure at a point where many people strive to cast 25+ yards. In two sessions on the Spey, in only two pools did I need to cast over 30 yards, and in most 15-25 sufficed. Even on Cairnty, the biggest pool on the whole river, the running line was well within 25 yards. The moral of the story is to work out the underwater profile of the river and tailor your casting to it, not the width you see on the surface.
- Faced with a big pool and a difficult wind we always try too hard because the elements prompt our instincts to do so. Yet exactly the reverse yields the best results. In bad conditions, relax, slow down and concentrate on achieving a good stop.
- In high water running fish will often hug the banks, especially smaller grilse, so be extra alert towards the dangle. I wasn't and missed a catchable fish on Cairnty in April.
- Later in the season seeing a lot of fish splashing about isn't a reliable indicator of the prospects of catching. However, those that briefly expose their backs while swimming slowly forward may be another matter entirely.
- Always check you leader for abrasion after you have fought a fish: you may not have felt the interaction with underwater rocks.
- Sometimes it all comes together in a perfect day: treasure the moment and the memories.
- The happiest bit is the people with whom you fish: your family and friends are your greatest source of happiness. The salmon are the extras.