Marina Gibson describes a year on the banks of the Ure in Yorkshire. As winter is left behind, a bright season begins...
IT’S ALWAYS A DELIGHT TO SEE THE first snowdrops breaking through frosty blades of grass. After a few days of fishing in the wind, rain and chill, I welcome those first flowers on the riverbank. A sign that spring is starting to bloom.
Fishing through winter can be rewarding if you persevere, and often that reward is a beautiful grayling, once an underrated fish and now regarded as a prized catch. One of my most memorable days was with Beni Albertini, a guide at the Northern Fishing School on the Swinton Estate. We had an exciting time in one of our favourite spots on the River Burn where the grayling were sipping minuscule midges off the top. Lady Luck and persistence provided me with one memorable, shimmering fish to a size 20 CDC Micro Midge. My winter mantra: short intermittent sessions, a flask of something warming and a long lunch in the pub next to a blazing fire.
I was fortunate to escape the long dark nights and incessant rain of our winter when I travelled to Argentina with my mother Joanna at the end of January. We stayed at Kau Tapen Lodge on the Rio Grande and were astonished by the scale and beauty of the sea-trout. A British man, John Goodall, introduced trout eggs to Tierra Del Fuego in the 1930s and the fish soon adapted to this extreme wilderness. The wind is unlike anything I have experienced in North Yorkshire but, like the trout, I soon came to terms with the conditions. Unexpectedly, after the first day, even the gusts became my closest ally. Once you learn to keep your casting stroke low, tilt the trajectory of your casting arc backwards with a low back cast and a higher forward cast, the tail wind will take your fly-line much further than you ever imagined, with little effort. The important thing to remember, wherever you are, is never fight the wind — use it to your advantage.
During my South American adventure, I received a message from River Ure manager Dave Bamford to say the river was rising quicker than he’d ever seen. It broke the height record, 3.92m at Bainbridge, on Sunday, February 9 and reached more than 3m the following Saturday. The consequences are yet to be understood, but I watched that second torrent raging through Masham, my local village. The fields turned into lakes and the roads into rivers, even the one outside my house. It caused havoc in the community, with closed roads, flooded houses and things being moved or ending up where they shouldn’t.
On a brighter note, I’m preparing for the start of the season. Brown trout fishing on the Ure begins on March 30 and salmon fishing on April 6. I don’t live far from water and when I return from my travels, I love to observe changes on the banks.
There are signs of life. The Swinton Nutwith beat is teeming with heavily pregnant ewes waddling along and enjoying their last moments of peace. The blue flash of a kingfisher caught my eye last week in Madge’s pool. The location of his or her nest is yet to be discovered but the correlation of the birth of the lambs and the kingfisher’s chicks is an uplifting sight. I’m looking forward to the arrival of the sand martins next and perhaps I’ll see an otter or two with cubs, pottering down to the edge of the river looking for an easy meal. Best of all, there may be a hatch of early upwing flies: the March browns and olives.
My next walk will be with a rod in hand...
SURVIVING THE FLOOD The monstrous floods on the River Ure in January and February were badly timed for the salmon eggs laid in redds and for the alevins that might be starting to move up through the gravels. A big flood can wash them away and even strand them on surrounding fields. They become food for seagulls. Floods are not good news for fry and parr, either, because when cobble and gravel are moved, they grind up anything soft in their way. Many parr take refuge at the edges, but some get stranded. Others get displaced downstream into unsuitable habitat such as deep, slow water. The effects of a great flood on salmon will often only be noticed five years later when the adult survivors return to their birth river.