Saturday, 26 May 2012

A Yorkshire Scorcher (In which Eric embraces the traditional North Country style... and wishes he'd brought a drink).

Wednesday was hot. Bloody hot. In fact, pottering around the house, unpacking various bits and bats from university, I was convinced I’d have been far more comfortable in a Turkish prison cell. I mean, Christ! What was the weather doing? Only a week ago it had felt more like February than May, and now all of a sudden Bradford had decided to become its own scorched little enclave of the Middle East. So far since my return from Cumbria I had managed to avoid doing very much at all, sheltering from the sun like a hermit. But evidently this heatwave wasn’t going away any time soon... and there’s only so many episodes of Loose Women you can sit through, pondering why men are (apparently) such bastards on so many levels before you realise you really ought to get some fresh air to cleanse yourself of gender-based guilt. Time to dig the gear out.

Thursday was, if anything, hotter than Wednesday, and by the time I was stood on the banks of the Wharfe at Ilkley at 8 in the morning, the temperature must have already been pushing well into the dreaded 20s. Not a cloud was in sight, no wind, and the river was very low indeed – not ideal! But hey, at least I wasn’t gawking at Jeremy Kyle for the fourth day in a row. I wandered for a while and tried to decide what could be done to produce some sport in these conditions. Very few fish were rising and there was little sign of fly activity – even if there had been, dry fly fishing on days like this is frustrating at best. Fish deep with heavy nymphs then? Well, that would probably have been a prudent move, but in all honesty it’s a technique I’ve grown rather weary of, having been my ‘go to’ tactic for rivers for a couple of years now, and it certainly wasn’t something I wanted to spend a whole day doing. Something else then, but what? I flicked through my fly box in search of inspiration, and my eyes were drawn towards a row of wisps of inconsequence in one corner – ah, spiders.

I’ve never had much confidence in spiders. Of the few I do own, only the black spider has taken trips out of the box with any level of frequency, and even then only to be fished upstream as an emerger style pattern, and never used in the ‘traditional’ way. The few times that I had done the whole North Country thing properly, the results had been poor and left me unconvinced. Nothing about it grabbed me in any way, and I would invariably find myself caving in and reverting to more familiar techniques in an all too short space of time – I suppose it never worked because I never gave it the time, and of course I never gave it the time because it never worked... something of a vicious cycle, and such things are hard to break. But today was different; today I would buck the trend of my rigid angling ways and embrace this as a new way of fishing. Somehow, it seemed the right thing to do... or perhaps I had a touch of sunstroke.

So, having tied up a two fly leader (three’s a little excessive don’t you think?... Okay so maybe I just get tangled every five casts and can’t be arsed) with a snipe and purple in point position and a partridge and orange on the dropper, I stepped into the river, sending frisky minnows skittering away in every direction. The wading was diabolical, with all the rocks being coated in a layer of green slime in these low conditions, but I just about managed to stay on my feet and make it to a reasonable position to make a start from, working my way slowly through areas of fast water and the dark, shaded areas beneath far bank trees where I felt the fish might be sheltering. After about ten minutes of this, a rather over ambitious cast towards a tight spot resulted in me losing my point fly to a low hanging branch. A sign, surely! No, thought I – plod on, give it time. And that’s exactly what I did. On went a new fly, a black pattern with a small wing this time, and I continued my slow journey downstream. Things began to happen – first a sharp pluck, then next cast a firmer pull which resulted in a small, lively fish throwing itself clear of the water before throwing the hook. Maybe there was something to this after all. A little further downstream came another pull. No mistake on my part this time, and the first pretty little brownie of the day came to hand, having confidently seized the partridge and orange on my dropper. Only around 5 inches in length, but it gave me confidence, and I slipped him back safe in the knowledge that I now had a new weapon to add to my armoury of piscatorial warfare.

A few more small fish followed (along with a brief, ill-fated altercation with a better trout) before I reached a point where the river slows down to an almost total standstill. Here I alighted from the river to walk downstream to the next suitable area. God, it was hot! When I’d been absorbed in fishing, and more importantly catching, I hadn’t noticed it as much, but now I was out on dry land I could feel my neck and arms frying and my clothes sticking to me. Ugh, and in my rush to leave the house that morning I hadn’t even thought to pack a drink. Great. The river bank was also starting to get rather busy with people enjoying the weather now – Wharfedale seems to turn into a scaled down version of Blackpool at the first hint of sunshine, so I decided another hour or so would be worthwhile, then I would make my escape before the crowds of ‘had owt mate?’ folk, well meaning as many of them are, made a safe backcast impossible.

I found an enticing looking vein of dark, swift water overshadowed by ash trees and began to work my way gradually through it on a short line. Suddenly this method was becoming rather appealing. It had a relaxed, leisurely air about it, but it was not dull. It was somehow focused, yet not rushed. And sharp rapping tug of the takes was electrifying. Speaking of which, halfway down this deep channel my line slammed tight and I lifted a bucking, thumping rod into a fish which I immediately and very happily realised was not one of the eager five inchers I’d been catching all morning. In such fast water, a stiffly contested scrap followed, in which I was sure the hook would pull at any given moment. Thankfully it did not, and soon I was holding up a lovely trout of around twelve inches, much to the appreciation of a rather tipsy looking bloke perched clutching a can of lager on the bank behind me. I slipped him back and was rather chuffed – having the faith to persevere with a new method had brought me sport on a day that had started with my hopes at rock bottom. And with that I packed up and headed for the station, spurred on by the prospect of a cold can of coke and a glorious air conditioned train ride. Hey, maybe I’d even be home in time for Jeremy Kyle...
A golden reward on a scorching Yorkshire day.