Wading after generations
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.