Thursday 18 April 2024

Rain, Beautiful Rain

I haven’t written anything since Christmas because, as is so often the case in winter, I didn’t have anything useful to say.  Now it’s April: the salmon season is open in Yorkshire; the rivers are full of water; and the first salmon have been caught on the Ure, the earliest catches in a decade.  That’s quite enough to perk me up to write, even if the content could be a mite thin.

It's been an extraordinarily wet winter, certainly the wettest since 2012, and probably since the1990s.  It started in October with 2 ½ times average rainfall, and above average or much more in every month since.  The land is waterlogged and will seep for weeks.  Any fresh rain runs straight off causing sharp rises, while the seepage slows the falls.  The Ure has been running at a consistent +1.0 - 1.3m for weeks, no wonder the salmon are running.

This is a far cry fro the previous decade (2014-2023), in which 9/10 springs in Yorkshire were dry, with the same proportion of years having below average rainfall.  In one year, I recall it was 2015, we were in a technical drought before we even reached the spring.  Not only do such low flows discourage running, in the worst case, especially as temperatures rise, there is a serious risk of an ‘oxygen block’ forming in the lower reaches of the Ouse between Goole and Selby owing to sewage and other forms of contamination.  If the oxygen content in water falls below 5 ppm, salmon won’t even attempt to enter the river.  

This was the major factor in the 1950s extinction of salmon in the Ouse.  Within limits salmon don’t mind mud in the water, but oxygen-depleting biomass is another matter altogether, it’s a total showstopper.  If you look at the graph above you will see that in the two hot dry years of 1995 & 1996, the oxygen count in the lower Ouse stayed below the critical 5 ppm threshold, whereas in the run of wet summers 2004-10 it was consistently above.

However, fortified by this deluge-induced onset of optimism and hope (no matter how ill-founded Murphy’s Laws may prove it to be), I’m feeling even more salmon-perky than usual.  If I can get on top of the massive rain-induced backlog of gardening, I’ll try to get out at Sleningford or Bolton.  In any event the very kind TTMN has invited me for a day later this month at the stunningly pretty Rutherford on the Tweed, which is always a huge pleasure, and sometimes pleasingly productive.  Thereafter I’m looking forward to the Orkla in Norway in late June: my wife told me to go while I still can on the grounds of my advancing age. Then a kind friend of 55 years’ standing has invited me to join his party of the Middle Findhorn in July.  This year’s Just One Week expedition is to the Inver and Kirkaig in the extreme northwest at the end of August.  Other than the Helmsdale I’ve not fished in the extreme north and I’m looking forward to the new learning experience.  My season will close traditionally with a succession of days on the Ure at Thoresby, which allow me to indulge in father and son bonding with HMCX, repay my friends’ hospitality and possibly catch some salmon.  It’s a lovely prospect, and certainly the most varied season I’ve had since 2011 (I can only pray that it’s as productive as that magic year).

All of those wonderful opportunities bring different challenges and requirements, which I discuss below.  In the near term I got on with my traditional spring routine of cleaning and polishing lines (not much fun at 6C temperature!), checking reel function (rather superfluous with a stable of Danielssons, but an embedded habit), culling damaged flies and preparing disciplined shopping lists.

The Orkla

The first question I have to address is why, having warned readers in my previous Norway posts about the high costs of catered accommodation, am I going to a lodge this year?  First, John and Patrick’s enthusiasm for going to a lodge was a clear indication that they’d had enough of my cooking and were happy to pay to avoid it but were too polite to say so.  Second, while havering over the cost I received a stern common-sense lecture from my wife on age-related risk: “at your age there’s no guarantee that if you delay you will still be fit enough to enjoy fishing in Norway next year, so get on and do it”.  That green light trumped my customary Yorkshire parsimony and clinched the booking.

Grindal is beautiful stretch of river with some exceptional pools. It is quite well up the river, so in the third week of June, we hopefully will be at the leading edge of the run of larger salmon (storlaks).  There won’t be many fish, but there’s a realistic chance of a good one.  This requires strong leaders to cope with the combination of big fish, heavy water and highly abrasive rocks.  Typically, this comprises a 40 lbs header and 30 lbs mid-section, and a short ‘fail safe’ length of 23-25 lbs.  Without this final element, if you hook a large rock, you are at risk of breaking your running line and losing the head.  As my existing stock of 40 and 30 lbs fluorocarbon dated from my last Norway adventure in 2017 and was thus well beyond its safe life, it went into the bin.  Given the price this was tough but essential.  There’s no point spending a lot of money to hook a large Norwegian salmon, only to lose it for want of the price of a couple of (expensive) spools of Seaguar.

The water will be full, cold (ca 6.5C) and flowing strongly.  My primary rod will be the 14’ 7” Hero balanced with the Control #8/13, with the 13’ 6” XO as the back-up.  I therefore need to take my full suite of #9 Guideline 3D sinking heads, which get very few outings in the UK.  In view of the weight of water I supplemented those with a serious depth charge option, the new Rio Gamechanger S3 sinking body, with matched S5 and S7 Versitips.  The overall head length with the tip is around 34 feet.  This line has replaced the old Scandi 3D sinker, which Rio phased out at the end of last season.  Their strategy makes eminent sense when you bear in mind that by far the largest market for such very fast sinking lines and tips is in the Pacific Northwest, where shorter headed lines predominate.  If I do need to deploy this option, it will be interesting to see how it casts and I’ll report on it in a future post.  I’ll also take the 65’ head full Spey line as an insurance option for the unlikely event of low water.

If required, the XO will deliver the traditional floating Scandi body with the S5/6 Versitip supplemented with a super-fast sinking polyleader.  This combination won’t fish as deep or slowly as the Gamechanger but should suffice in many of the likely fishing scenarios at Grindal.

I have a small stock of Frodin-style lower water flies from my previous trips, but nothing at the larger end of the range.  However, I’m not planning on buying Norway-specific flies before I leave UK.  Grindal Lodge is operated by people who are expert anglers and operate a small shop on site, so I shall put myself in the hands of their judgement for flies.  As you might expect, I will undoubtedly see whether the MCX Dark also works on the Orkla!

The Middle Findhorn

(Photo - Relugas Estate)
In contrast to the big, cold and heavy challenges of the Orkla in June, the Middle Findhorn (Darnaway, Relugas, Altyre) will be at the opposite end of the spectrum.  A lot of the water will require short rods, fine leaders and small flies and hitches.  My 9’ 6” single hander and 11’ 6” Tool will have leading parts, although the lower more open beats may demand more.  I’ve got all the gear, including flies – the tiny MCX Light may get its first outing here, especially in the evenings. The only items for the shopping list will be some light Maxima for surface presentation and 15 lbs Seaguar for sub-surface.

Inver and Kirkaig

The Kirkaig (Photo - Ossian Adventures)

These far north rivers are entirely new to me, so I shall need to garner lots of local knowledge and advice on techniques and tactics.  I’m assuming that low clear water is most likely, which means more of the light and fine tactics used on the Findhorn.  In any event I love the new challenges, experiences and learning opportunities that enrich and broaden my angling experience.  And of course, they give me new and different things to talk about on this blog.

Amidst the stunning terrain and challenging fishing, there’s one aspect of the northern rivers to which I am certainly not looking forward – the Scottish midge!  I’ve faced some ghastly insects in inhospitable places around the world, but none of them equalled the horror of this tiny grey flesh-eating monster, which operates in countless millions.  After experience of high summer on the Carron, I had sworn never to fish while dressed as a bee keeper.  Breaching that oath is inevitable, and I’ve already invested in easily packable head nets from Go Outdoors and a stock of military-grade insect repellent.  While those solutions may suffice for me, I’m deeply concerned with how to protect my fair-skinned bug-magnet wife who suffers dreadfully.

The Inver (Photo - Ossian)

It's a great consolation that in the gathering twilight of my salmon fishing career, that I have such a wonderful season in prospect.


  1. A tonic reading this - better days ahead after a bland period. May I ask, which section of the Ure provided this years first fish ? And are there previous records of catching fish at Bolton this early ? Thank you.

    1. Usually the very earliest fish are caught by anglers spinning down at the head of the tide at Naburn (10-15 years ago a dentist from Scarborough used to catch 15-20 fish per season down there), including people fishing for (silver) pike in February. Other locations where spinning permitted, such as the Newby Hall stretch and Westwick usually produce early fish. The earliest fish I've caught on Bolton and Thoresby have been in May. My first Ure salmon was a 16 lbs springer on Thoresby on 31st May 2011.

    2. Thank you - fascinating to see how far the early Ure salmon will run. With no one single, specific reason why the salmon runs have recently collapsed, I am hoping they will reappear again like magic - with no specific explanation why. Wishful thinking in the extreme ! I have (also) just started cleaning my lines in soapy water and checking leaders, in the hope this will cause the weather to finally improve !

  2. Thanks for posting - middle Findhorn is spectacular late spring setting. I’m hoping bigger water & more snowmelt than we’ve had in a while might stave off the disease outbreaks that have been problematic last couple of years. Had the pleasure of staying with local legend Cathel Macleod ( author trout lochs of assynt) many years ago - who had encyclopaedic intel on the above and also the lies of the Inver. I recommend latex gloves to go with the midge net - just in case. Enjoy. Z

    1. Yes, it's lovely and I'm really looking forward to fishing it with a really nice party. Many thanks for the gloves tip for the Inver.

  3. Charles Mylchreest19 April 2024 at 10:31

    Looks a great season ahead Michael - I wish you every succcess, and will be particularly interested in your fishing on the Inver/Kirkaig and Middle Findhorn, both rivers/systems I have 'eyed up' recently, if ever the Thurso fails to perform!

    Enjoy, as I'm sure you will.

    1. Charles, many thanks. You may rest assured that I'll write posts on my experiences on the two rivers.

  4. Superb Michael, wishing you a fruitful year. I shall be on the lower findhorn at the start of August to coincide with the high tides...hopefully bring the grilse in.

  5. Many thanks for your kind words. If you get some rain with the high tides you could do very well indeed. Tight lines.