Wad­ing af­ter gen­er­a­tions

Trout & Salmon (UK) - - Favourite Spring Pools - by Ge­orge Percy ■ Earl Ge­orge Percy is pres­i­dent of the At­lantic Salmon Trust. He caught his first salmon at the age of eight and spent much of his youth on the North Tyne and Co­quet.

SPRING FISH­ING for me con­jures up mem­o­ries of stand­ing in freez­ing wa­ter with a bit­ing north-east wind numb­ing my fin­ger­tips as I strug­gle to force the line un­sat­is­fac­to­rily through frozen rings to land my fly over a lie that I sus­pect is de­void of fish. That said, writes Ge­orge Percy, there is one place that I look for­ward to more than any other to cast that first fly of the sea­son: the Hut pool at Count­ess Park on the North Tyne. Al­though tra­di­tion­ally not a spring beat, in re­cent years the early runs have been im­prov­ing, and even if the fish haven’t ar­rived, there is some­thing mag­i­cal about the place in April and May. The blue­bells cover the bank, adding the only colour to a densely wooded val­ley. The wa­ter is the colour of tea in a pot that’s been stew­ing for hours, and the area feels so iso­lated and un­known that it has an air of mys­ti­cism. There are no signs of life ex­cept the 19th cen­tury wooden hut that sits at the head of the pool re­mind­ing any­one who fishes there that 150 years of fishermen have tried their luck in these wa­ters. A few grainy black-and-white pho­tos on the walls of mon­ster salmon from years gone by add en­cour­age­ment on a cold spring morn­ing. The pool is stereo­typ­i­cal. Wide rapids grad­u­ally nar­row and slow into a gen­tle rip­ple as the pool deep­ens into a quiet glide. At its mid-point, 80 yards from your first cast, the far bank juts out to form a nar­rower chan­nel that feels like the per­fect tak­ing spot. The wa­ter is bro­ken at in­ter­vals by large boul­ders that, al­though they make wad­ing treach­er­ous, you just know hide salmon. Start­ing with a short cast at the neck and grad­u­ally length­en­ing line, the first lie is about three quar­ters of the way across, just as the line catches the cur­rent and starts to pull the fly out of the faster wa­ter. It can be pro­lific when the fish are run­ning. From then on, it’s a de­cent cast with a 13 ft-14 ft rod to land the fly a few yards from the over­hang­ing trees that cover the far bank and just let the fly swing round. There’s no mend: af­ter watch­ing my fa­ther catch count­less fish be­hind me in this pool, I’ve started copy­ing him by slowly fig­ure-of-eight­ing the fly. Al­though the fly doesn’t need work­ing, for some rea­son it def­i­nitely helps. As you reach the mid­dle of the pool, where the river nar­rows, there’s a flat rock on the far side known as the Duke’s Stone and a great lie just off it. When­ever I reach this point, as the wa­ter slows to a very gen­tle deep glide, I think of all the huge salmon caught here over the years and I start to take my time. Ev­ery­thing about the river here feels fishy. As the fly lands you can imag­ine it sink­ing for a few sec­onds be­fore the line be­gins to drag it slowly across the pool. Wait five sec­onds and you know you’re cov­er­ing fish. The cur­rent is slow, so you can see as well as feel any tight­en­ing of line that more of­ten than not is the fly catch­ing a rock be­fore re­leas­ing it­self, but for a split sec­ond you think it might be some­thing more. The fish take slowly with no dra­mat­ics; just a slow tight­en­ing that pro­longs that mo­ment when your heart skips a beat. The sort of take that I never know when is the right time to lift the rod. I has­ten to add that I’ve never ac­tu­ally caught a fish there in spring, but that’s al­most ir­rel­e­vant. The set­ting, the beauty of the wa­ter, the king­fish­ers skit­ting across the far bank un­der droop­ing branches, and the an­tic­i­pa­tion that comes with ev­ery cast on this iconic pool; there’s al­most nowhere else I’d rather be.

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