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Fishing: the most exquisite torture

A very dry period in the north-east means the Damp Angler has to resort to low water tactics and lightweight gear


Now the Swale has had a refill, trout are everywhere.
Now the Swale has had a refill, trout are everywhere.
Beautifully wild: The River Swale above Richmond.
Beautifully wild: The River Swale above Richmond.

Despite officially being one of the wettest Junes on record, it was very dry in the North-East and left both the Tees and Swale so low they were virtually unfishable. With the water clearer than glass and deathly still, there was no cover for me or the fly line that now seemed to be crashing down into the river, scattering the few rising fish – which were very small and extremely difficult to hook anyway.

A fellow angler fishing a run-off on the Tees near Darlington missed half a dozen splashy takes. Looking up and seeing me watching, he smiled. Fishing can be the most exquisite torture sometimes.

Switching to a three-weight outfit and slimming down the flies dramatically increased the number of takes, but the conversion rate was atrocious; if there is an effective technique for striking into a fish on a lightweight rod with a soft action, then I would be keen to hear about it. The overwhelming majority – grayling, trout, dace and chub – managed to throw the hook before reaching the landing net. However, it is noteworthy that stripped-down dry flies, such as olive quills and lightly-hackled ribless Greenwells, were the patterns drawing takes in such difficult conditions (perhaps keeping a lie simple makes it more plausible).

Rain in the last week of June made a huge difference and even though the downpours were at times torrential, the rivers were not in flood by any means and between showers there were plenty of hatches. With the replenished waters now carrying a little colour, I returned to my familiar seven-weight outfit and, from then on, hooked fish stayed hooked. Last Saturday on the Swale above Richmond half a dozen trout took a dry size 16 BWO. None of these fish would have had Hemingway reaching for his typewriter, but each managed to put me in a spot of bother – one leaping clear of the water and swimming straight towards me, taking the fly line around my legs. Another took the fly and then immediately dived behind a rock and became firmly wedged, forcing me to wade in, roll up my sleeves and fetch him out, nearly losing my watch in the process.

Fish finding: Trout were rising in front of this row of rocks – and then diving behind them once hooked.

During the afternoon the weather grew wilder, with a gusting wind forcing shoulder-wrenching adjustments mid-cast to avoid becoming line-wrapped, while the river’s surface became increasingly turbulent; where it broke over rocks, the wind was whipping the water into spray. My cap blowing off finally brought the day’s activities to a close.

So a splash of rain was all it took to breathe new life into the North-East’s rivers and transform the fishing. A few weeks of warm July sunshine might do the same for the rest of us. Here’s hoping…

Freshly minted: Another nice wild brownie from the Swale.

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