The dullness of this season's salmon fishing is clearly evidenced by how few posts I've written since the last Christmas Stocking. Indeed, my autumn on the Ure was so quiet that it didn't merit a separate post: 5 days for two fish and three unusual complete blanks. Just as I had experienced on the Tay, there just weren't many, if any, fish around. The decade of decline since 2014 has been marked this week with the announcement that the UK's Atlantic Salmon are now graded as 'Endangered'. Although rod catches are a very poor analogue for population, the long-run evidence of shrinking catches does suggest that something is seriously awry, and it's affecting almost everyone around the Atlantic. We have been witnessing a slow onset tragedy, which, like all disasters, starts slowly and then accelerates horribly.
Autumn on the Ure
At the end of September it started to rain and it hasn't stopped since. During October we had 2.5 times average rainfall and in November more than double. As I write, we have reached 1.5 times the monthly average by the middle of December. There is water everywhere.
This is the left side of my orchard, taken 3 days after the water peaked at a depth of 12". The full extent is something over 25 yards. The key point is that this is on top of a ridge, not some low-lying area.
|Hut Pool at +2' 6"
High water accompanied by strong winds were the main features of my autumn fishing. Getting a good line out on Hut pool with the 20 mph wind coming obliquely downstream and into your face was a serious test of technique, patience and sense of humour. A particular feature of that morning was catching an extremely large grayling, by far the biggest I've ever seen and probably over 3 1/2 lbs, on a conehead tube at the dangle.
|19lbs Ure salmon
Frodle Dub, Thoresby Beat
1st October 2023
I turned the fight into an experiment to see how quickly I could land a large fish. Generally you reckon about a minute per pound. In this case, with a hefty drag setting, the full help of the Danielsson Control, and keeping the rod low, I had the job done in well under 10 minutes. The splitting of the jaw sinew suggested that I'd pushed my luck with a small double hook, but it did mean that the fish needed no encouragement to depart very quickly after release.
I caught a further unremarkable small cock fish of about 6-7 lbs at the end of the month. It was less coloured and its kype less developed than I might have expected, but the late-season slimming is clearly visible.
The Christmas Stocking
While not a precisely annual feature, for most of the past 10 years I've tried to find a range of items that work well, offer good value and are generally small enough to go into a capacious stocking. Normally this is an amusing and pleasurable exercise. However, I must confess that this year it has been downright hard work, because the tackle dealers are reflecting the wider malaise afflicting salmon fishing. Across the board the breadth and depth of stock inventories have been reduced, in some cases quite dramatically. Some well known brands have become hard to find. For example, I looked across the whole market to see whether there was a deal available on a Lamson Guru 4 reel: I couldn't find the reel, let alone a discount offer. John Norris is only carrying one mainline Sage double hander, two Hardys and nothing much else beyond Guideline. Where discounts are available, they're mostly on reels that I consider over priced in relation to their specification. If a reel is over £300 there's a simple litmus question: "is this thing close to or better than a Danielsson?" and inevitably the answer will be "No".
Anyway, I'm suggesting a smaller than normal range of hardy perennials and some suggestions to send you off to your local outdoor stores. I bought some more base and mid-layer kit at Go Outdoors this autumn: the advances in materials and performance over recent years have been eye-opening. Comfort, warmth and value happily coexist. I've always been a strong advocate of not wearing cotton, anywhere, while wading. The comfort of modern outdoor clothing now makes this a matter of choice rather than precaution. Moreover, if you're on an extended trip, you can hand-wash it and it dries overnight.
After another year's service I remain convinced that Brasher's lined trousers are absolutely perfect under waders in the early and later parts of the season. They're well cut and shaped, robust and pleasantly warm, especially when used over a good base layer.
They're currently on offer at £35 against an RRP of £75 at Go Outdoors, albeit against a very limited range of sizes. I anticipate that the full range will be back in stock soon at £45.
A purchase this autumn was a Berghaus mid-weight fleece made from the latest Polartec material. It's lighter than my current Simms and Berghaus heavyweight cold weather wading fleeces and ideal for autumn use. The full length zip is extremely handy and allows you to be comfortable in a wide range of temperatures. It's on offer at GO at £40 against an RRP of £75, in a full range of sizes.
And while you're in GO, have a look at some modern base layer outfits.
My Guideline Firskin mittens have given another year's outstanding service. They're warmer than mid-density neoprene and much less bulky.
If you've got very big hands, John Norris has the XL size discounted by £12 to £27.99. Otherwise most other dealers have them at £37.99. Even at full price they are excellent value given their very high performance. But do make sure to get the model with the orange lining.
As further illustrations of stock contraction, my hardy perennial mitten clamps are really difficult to find this year. The small C&F tube fly box I've recommended for the past 5 years is no longer available: its successor is more complicated and I'm reluctant to recommend it until I've had a chance to see one and work out how it functions.
The Rio Cranky Kit remains really worthwhile buy and at under £10 it must be the cheapest item that Rio sells. However, it too is no longer widely available, apart from Angling Active.
I find it invaluable. It lives in the car box and provides the quickest and easiest solution for keeping your shooting heads in good order.
Polyleaders remain the ultimate stocking filler. Airflo are as good as any and have served me well from the time they first appeared on the market. John Norris have them currently marked down to £6.39.
The degree to which polyleaders have become an integral part of my Christmas was illustrated by my wife chiding me this week for not providing a link for her to buy some for my stocking! (Yes, still, even after 45 years).
Angling Active are the winners of this year's budget nipper stakes at £6.99. I remain utterly bemused at the ludicrous prices some brands charge for what is no more than two hardened steel edges. As a result I derive wry amusement from seeking out the cheapest, which is what I use myself.
Father Christmas Goes Bonkers
With the Swedish Kronor showing the same submarine tendencies as the Pound, Danielsson reels offer phenomenal value for money. This is the F3W 7/10, which is absolutely ideal for your switch or grilse rod with a #7 line. Indeed, I imported one for a friend this year for precisely that purpose, and he's utterly delighted. It's lighter than the F5 series and well suited to smaller rods.
At today's exchange rate it's £150 ex VAT and import taxes. All up it should cost around £195 delivered, for a premium grade fully machined reel. In comparison, the die cast Sage Spectrum C is £185. Actually, there's no comparison.
Beyond wishing you a very Happy Christmas and thanking you for your continuing readership and support (J1W is heading for 300,000 page reads), I'm looking forward to 2024, which will bring some highlights.
First, we'll be going to New Zealand to visit our elder son and his family who are there on a 2-year posting on North Island. Although he isn't a fisherman I suspect that he'll show me the legendary trout rivers around Taupo.
Second, the 3 grumpy old Yorkshiremen - John, Patrick and MCX - are going back to Norway in June to fish the Orkla. We've decided that we're too old for self-catering (i.e. my cooking) and living rough, so we're going to a lodge. Yes, it's expensive, but we reasoned that we'd best do it before we get too old: postponement and procrastination is a poor strategy at our age. And if the stock of salmon continues to decline, we'd best go somewhere in an optimum week where we might actually catch one.
Third, Just One Week 2024 will be a trip into the wild blue yonder of North West Scotland and its beautiful rugged country to fish the Inver and Kirkaig. If there aren't any fish at least the walking and photography will be fantastic.
And fourth, whatever the odds, I'll be back on the Ure whenever the water conditions permit. Hope springs eternal, because I witnessed the recovery of its salmon population from near zero to fishable stock (28 fish in a season) in barely 10 years. Nature is incredible and resilient.
Have a wonderful 2024.