In a year when fishing has flourished, teaching newcomers has been hugely rewarding, writes Yorkshire guide Marina Gibson.
THE BACK-END OF THE SEASON CAN be a bit touch-and-go with high winds, relentless rain and the dreaded leaf soup. Thankfully, this year we only experienced a couple of bad days when one or more of the above tried to spoil the fun. Compared with 2019, the colour change of the leaves was slower than usual and we didn’t have a proper frost before the season ended, something that usually brings the leaves down, but which can have a positive impact on the salmon fishing. A small lift in the water level helps, too, encouraging the fish to move about and get competitive over spawning grounds. As a result, you’ll often find cock and hen fish in the same pool at the back-end.
It’s been a good year for Ure salmon, full of anticipation, and an uplifting time at The Northern Fishing School, too. The need to be outdoors has encouraged scores to take up or return to fishing. We’ve taught 155 people in just over four months. We’ve also had many enquiries about a beginners’ course, which we’ll launch next year.
To refine this course we tested it over four days with Nick and Alex Brown. Never having fly-fished before, they were perfect candidates, although Nick had a background in coarse fishing, which helps. They wanted to learn everything necessary for them to go out without a guide and feel confident. On the first day we spent time in the shop learning about equipment, covering rods, reels, fly-lines, leaders and flies, finishing with a session about knots. An understanding of knots is vital for a beginner. They need to know how to connect a fly-line to a tapered leader with a perfection loop, how to connect a tapered leader to tippet using a surgeon’s knot, and how to tie a fly to tippet using a blood knot. We started each day with a bit of knot knowledge and soon Nick and Alex were racing each other to see who’d tie their flies on the quickest.
Once they were able to assemble their rods, we headed to the grass in front of the Swinton Hotel where I led a casting clinic. I think casting on grass is the most important stage for a beginner because there are no distractions (fish) or obstacles (trees) to worry about. We spent time looking at footwork, ways to grip the rod, roll-casting and each stage of the overhead, starting with the pick up and lay down (P-U-L-D). This was followed by casting at targets, working on distance and ways to fight a fish. It didn’t take them long to grasp the basics and soon they were at Tanfield Lake, putting new skills into practice and catching lovely brown and rainbow trout. During these four days we covered stillwater trout fishing, followed by salmon and sea-trout fishing with double-handed rods and then grayling
fishing using delicate slow-action rods. They caught numerous species, not least Alex landing a special sea-trout. I was proud of what they’d achieved and felt sure they’d be hooking trout on their next outing at Manningford Fishery in Wiltshire.
I also had the pleasure of meeting Paul and Jenny Dawson, who were on a mission to catch their first Yorkshire salmon. It was a typical (or not-so-typical) autumn day when we climbed from the top of the High Mains beat to its middle section. By its end Paul had been blessed with a 13lb cock fish caught on a Percy Special tied by his friend, Ian Scruton. It was the very same fly with which Ian had caught an 18-pounder while fishing with me last year.
After a busy, unusual, season we’ve now closed for the year and will reopen in April. Exciting additions are planned, including an on-site lake and Fishing-Plus courses, which include cookery, clay shooting and yoga. I’m sure I’ll see some of you on the water next year. Meanwhile, tight lines to those continuing through the winter.
A GOOD YEAR
This year, I became ever-so-slightly addicted to our River Ure page on the Fishpal website (Swinton Estate), specifically the recording of migratory fish in comparison to past seasons. The data shows that in 2016 some 50 salmon were caught, with 20 landed in October. In 2017, the figures were 36 salmon, with 15 in October. In 2018, we had only nine fish, with five landed in October; and in 2019 there were 14, 11 of which came in October. As you can see, most of our salmon are caught during the last month of the season. This year, 44 salmon were reported and one sea-trout. Again, over half the fish were caught in October — a fantastic season that I hope we can build upon next year.