The highs of sum­mer

Lau­rence Cat­low tells sto­ries of beauty and won­der in the Welsh hills and York­shire dales

Trout & Salmon (UK) - - Contents - PHO­TOG­RA­PHY: ROD CALBRADE

Lau­rence Cat­low’s sto­ries of the Welsh hills and York­shire Dales

AT THE BE­GIN­NING of last Au­gust I asked my­self whether I was, as I have oc­ca­sion­ally heard it said, fishe­d­out: not of course per­ma­nently, which would be a fate too dread­ful to con­tem­plate (es­pe­cially as it was a fate that for some­thing like three sea­sons I thought had ac­tu­ally be­fallen me): not per­ma­nently to be sure but just for a week or two or per­haps for no more than a few days. And if, just for the time be­ing, I had lost my hunger for trout, then in search of the rea­son for this very se­ri­ous but al­most cer­tainly tem­po­rary dis­or­der I needed to look back no fur­ther than July. For in turn­ing the pages of my fish­ing di­ary I found that the month be­fore Au­gust had given me, it is true, only seven days on the Wharfe, which was two or three days too few, but in ad­di­tion to those in­ad­e­quate seven days on my favourite river there were three days on the Tees, four days on the East York­shire chalk streams, an evening on the Teme, two long days on the Rea Brook and six whole days in Wales, which all added up to 23 fish­ing days, with only eight days in the month when I had never cast a fly. Most of those fish­ing days, more­over, had put at least a few trout in my net, some of them had man­aged dou­ble fig­ures and among all these fish there had been some large and mem­o­rable ones. There had even been a grayling. And so, when, at the be­gin­ning of last Au­gust, I con­sulted my di­ary for July, I no longer felt sur­prised that, for the time be­ing at least, I felt dis­in­clined to climb into the Land Rover and head off in search of more trout. It was then that I thought of the Eden and how shame­fully I had ne­glected her since the ear­li­est days of the sea­son; im­me­di­ately I vowed that I should spend as much of Au­gust as pos­si­ble mak­ing amends. In fact, as soon as I thought of the Eden I was ea­ger to be fish­ing again. I had to re­strain my­self; I had to re­mind my­self that in Au­gust my chief con­cern was look­ing af­ter pheas­ant poults in prepa­ra­tion for win­ter sport through those dark months when my fish­ing rods would have gone up to roost on their hooks in the spare bed­room. In think­ing of the Eden and in think­ing of my young pheas­ants I found that I was torn by con­flict­ing du­ties and de­sires. There was my duty to a great trout stream, telling me to fish her with de­vo­tion and dili­gence, to catch some of her won­der­ful wild trout and then to re­ward her with pi­ous thanks­giv­ing and praise. This was a duty that would be more eas­ily ful­filled if Au­gust gave me some rain, whereas my du­ties as a keeper of young pheas­ants told me to pray for long hot days, for whole weeks with­out a drop of wet­ness so that my poults would be less prone to dis­ease and would soak up the sun, grow­ing healthy and happy and strong. I man­aged to solve this dilemma by leav­ing the weather to the weather gods and telling my­self that I – and my poults and the trout of the Eden – would have to put up with what­ever came

our way. I shall tell you what came our way very soon, but first I am go­ing to take a lib­erty by telling you just a lit­tle about Wales. Wales, of course, be­longed prop­erly to July but I know that Au­gust will be happy to sur­ren­der a cou­ple of para­graphs to the prin­ci­pal­ity; I can­not leave my week in Wales un­men­tioned. We spent two days fish­ing the up­per Ir­fon above Llan­wr­tyd Wells, fish­ing within walk­ing dis­tance of our cot­tage at Cwm Ir­fon Lodge. I have rarely fished in a val­ley so filled with the spirit of place. All over the coun­try the weather was stink­ing hot, but down there by the river, be­tween those steep­sided hills dot­ted with the shapes of an­cient oaks, down there by the wind­ing water it seemed that the heat and the swel­ter were an ex­ha­la­tion from these hills alone and from this river and this val­ley, it seemed that the high blue sky and the sun­shine on the water and on those shim­mer­ing green slopes be­longed only to the deep cleft where the Ir­fon flowed and to the air above it; and the cir­cling kites and the mew­ing buz­zards and the harsh croak­ing of the ravens some­how sealed the en­chant­ment, for I fan­cied they were warn­ing away any alien or in­tru­sive pres­ence, any in­flu­ence that was not of the val­ley’s mak­ing. I was al­most sur­prised that I had been let in and could only as­sume that it was be­cause I was a fisher. And, although I was in my hol­i­day frame of mind and was not too both­ered about catch­ing sack­fuls of fish, Dry Si­mon seemed to have learned the lan­guage of Welsh trout and to be telling them that he was good to eat. He even per­suaded that since an­other fisher had felt the urge to climb up there with a rod in his hand. The wag­tails and the wheatears, at any rate, to­gether with the ravens and the kites, all seemed sur­prised to see me. I caught seven trout from this tiny stream; one of them was a whole 10 in long and gave me as much plea­sure as a two-pounder from my home rivers. It must have been some prop­erty of the Welsh air, or some power seep­ing out of the Welsh earth or drift­ing up from the Welsh water, but for six days I was happy with small trout and thrilled with 12-ounc­ers. I was even happy with catch-and-re­lease and my sin­gle grayling was a very deep delight. My week in Wales was won­der­ful and, God will­ing, I shall re­turn to the val­ley of the Ir­fon next year. Back in Au­gust I was, as you know, de­ter­mined to fish the Eden, but as things turned out it never hap­pened. The thought of the Eden had made a tem­po­rar­ily jaded fisher ea­ger to be out on the water again, and I did go

fish­ing just as of­ten as pheas­ant care al­lowed, which meant about twice a week. The trou­ble was that the river where I kept find­ing my­self was never the Eden, although I kept in­sist­ing, as I climbed into the Land Rover at the be­gin­ning of a fish­ing day, that I was Eden­bound, but only to find an hour or two later that I was on the Wharfe. I kept telling my­self that it was ridicu­lous to ig­nore a won­der­ful river flow­ing less than ten min­utes from my front door and I kept ig­nor­ing my own ad­vice and driv­ing more than 30 miles over the hills. Af­ter this had hap­pened four or five times I stopped try­ing to per­suade my­self to fish the Eden, ac­knowl­edg­ing that my in­abil­ity to keep away from the Wharfe had grown out of ill­ness and sub­se­quent re­cov­ery; for when de­pres­sion kept me from my rivers for the best part of three years it was sep­a­ra­tion from the Wharfe that hurt most deeply, feel­ing al­most like a be­reave­ment; and when the light be­gan to find its way back into my life it was on the banks of the Wharfe that I be­came a fisher again; it was there that I found my way back to hap­pi­ness, and this, I think, was the rea­son why the Wharfe came to ex­er­cise an ir­re­sistible sway over my fisher’s heart; it was as though piety de­manded that, ex­cept when on hol­i­day, I should de­vote my­self to the river that had brought me hope and heal­ing. Last sum­mer I was not yet ready for the Eden. By the time you read these words I shall surely be prop­erly back on the river where I once spent al­most half my fish­ing days. My vir­tual ab­sence from the Eden has, by the way, had noth­ing to do with the river it­self. Go there your­self, go to Kirkby Stephen and fish a very beau­ti­ful river with good hatches of fly and a healthy stock of wild trout, many of them big. Mean­while you will have to fish the Wharfe with me; I am go­ing to take you right to the top of the river, where the river and its sur­round­ings are at their loveli­est and where, late last sum­mer, I spent a day of the sort that comes to us all from time to time: a day when flow­ing water and the trout that swim in them hold us most hap­pily spell­bound and most grate­fully be­witched, the thank­ful and con­tented thralls of rivers and fish. It was the last week of Au­gust and I was at Deep­dale, no more than half a mile from the union of the two becks that make the Wharfe. The river was up and run­ning; it was also very beau­ti­ful and the sun was on the water and the breeze was drift­ing warmly up­stream. It was a per­fect day for a fisher and there I was, stand­ing by the river as it flowed on its shin­ing way be­tween those steep-sided fields, stand­ing there and won­der­ing whether I was in the right place. The

water was un­doubt­edly a good fly-water, but there was still rather less of it than I had been ex­pect­ing and, see­ing this, part of me wanted to be fur­ther down the val­ley on ei­ther side of Spout Dub. Half an hour later, when Sim­ple Si­mon and my hackle Coach­man had both failed to stir a fin, al­most all of me was yearn­ing for the pool that of all pools I most love. The hare­bells and the scabi­ous, those lovely em­blems of late sum­mer, were no com­fort to me; the in­fi­nite va­ri­ety of light in the water of­fered no con­so­la­tion to a fisher with­out any fish. Sit­ting there sur­rounded by beauty on every side I re­fused to ac­knowl­edge it, telling my­self that, if no trout came along in the next half hour, I would get in the Land Rover and head down­stream to Spout Dub. And then I tied on Dry Si­mon. There were no fish ris­ing but, while rid­ing a lively run be­neath a lit­tle cliff, Dry Si­mon dis­ap­peared and soon I had net­ted and killed a fish just un­der the pound. It was a fish that opened my eyes to the beauty of the late sum­mer light and the love­li­ness of those late sum­mer flowers. There were no fish ris­ing but five min­utes later, from a smooth glide be­neath a wil­low with just yel­low­ing leaves, Dry Si­mon was sud­denly no longer to be seen. This time the trout was an in­dis­putable pounder and made the brace and the brace, of course, meant ful­fil­ment; I laid both my trout in the grass and drank in the sight of them, for they were both shin­ing up at me with the in­com­pa­ra­ble beauty of wild trout. There were no fish ris­ing but within a cast or two Dry Si­mon had caught me a third very beau­ti­ful trout and, as soon as this fish had been re­turned, it was time for lunch and two slow glasses of red wine, while I sat on the grass by the side of the river, sit­ting at a spot where I could mar­vel how the river gushed and foamed over a smooth and deeply chan­nelled shelf of white lime­stone, at the same time fill­ing my now re­cep­tive ears with the won­der­ful mu­sic of flow­ing water. There was no long­ing for Spout Dub; Deep­dale had brought per­fect con­tent­ment and my wine, by the way, tasted like the favourite tip­ple of the an­gels in Heaven. The af­ter­noon was like the morn­ing, at least it was like the morn­ing’s sec­ond half. Never a rise broke the sur­face, ex­cept when a nose stuck it­self out of the water as the mouth be­neath it ab­sorbed Dry Si­mon. I told my­self that I was in dan­ger of turn­ing into a one-fly fisher, a con­di­tion that misses half the point of fish­ing with ar­ti­fi­cial flies, but just for the time be­ing I scarcely cared. For the river was flow­ing full and the sun was bright on the water and the breeze was warm and there was a slow drift of lovely white clouds. There were no fish ris­ing but Dry Si­mon kept work­ing his magic by some­how charm­ing an­other trout on to the hook. All the fish of the af­ter­noon were re­turned; there were nine of them and there were 12-ounc­ers and pounders among them and they all shone with the glo­ri­ous, redspot­ted beauty of wild trout. It was one of those days when I could scarcely bring my­self to stop fish­ing, when it seemed that all I wanted to do for the rest of my life was to catch trout from flow­ing water. But it could not be. I came to the first pool of the river and caught a small fish there; think­ing of my dogs at home, I some­how forced my­self to reel in and turn around. Then, as I walked back to the Land Rover and fought off the temp­ta­tion to start fish­ing again, I re­mem­bered my early Au­gust feel­ing that I had fished too much and needed a rest. And here I was, barely able to tear my­self away from the river and filled with re­gret that the next few days would be­long to pheas­ants rather than to the River Wharfe. And so it was that I drove home al­most un­will­ingly over the hills, loving my favourite river more than ever, im­pa­tient to be back on her banks and know­ing beyond doubt that to be a fisher is one of the best bless­ings in this im­per­fect but very beau­ti­ful old world.

“Deep­dale had brought per­fect con­tent­ment and my wine, by the way, tasted like the favourite tip­ple of the an­gels in Heaven”

should he fish or pre­pare pheas­ant poults for win­ter?

A fa­mil­iar pres­ence above our roads, kites look more fit­ting in a wild val­ley. ABOVE

flowers on the Wharfe. Lau­rence at Deep­dale on the Wharfe. The low water and lack of ris­ing fish made him doubt­ful, but there was still a chance.

One of the lovely red-spot­ted pounders that rose to the Dry Si­mon on that splen­did af­ter­noon, re­vi­tal­is­ing Lau­rence’s fish­ing.

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