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It’s grey, drizzly and miserable. I’m stood in the River Swale which races through the tiny village of Grinton in the heart of the Yorkshire Dales. The stained, peaty water is powerful as rain has been falling for some time. I’m mindful that I’m stood knee-deep in one of the fastest rising rivers in the country. I’ve picked a marker on the bank and at the first sign of rising water, I will exit hastily.
Facing upstream towards the old stone bridge, I can just see the slate grey rocks of Fremington Edge poking through the murk. The tree-lined banks on either side look sodden, and branches heave under the weight of droplets clinging to the leaves, like crystals from a chandelier.
The river bed is a mix of gravel, stones and boulders, all rounded and smooth from years of pounding current. Everything looks perfect for fly fishing. I’ve observed the river for a few minutes, and not seen a rise, but I know they will be there, energized from the injection of freshwater off the moors.
I’ve chosen one of my favourite areas to fish; the racing riffle, as it runs into the pool. These areas always hold fish, and I have two of my favourite flies ready to cast, olive nymph on the point and a skinny pheasant tail on the dropper. A quick prod with my wading stick and I shuffle my feet into the gravel, securing my body against the tide, ready for my first cast.
Facing upstream, I start to cover the turbulent water with my nymphs. I love this kind of fishing, prospecting the likely lies, reading the complex current streams as the water tumbles through the rocks. As I am casting, I am thinking like the fish, imagining where I would be stationed in the river If I were sub-surface. All the while, I am watching the greased leader loop gliding down the stream. If the loop stops or slows, I will strike. After all these years it’s an automatic response that requires no thought.
Stoneflies are hatching, and one temporarily lands on the lens of my glasses as I navigate around the boulders, wading stick in one hand and rod in the other. The artificial nymph lands at the head of the riffle, and the line stops, the first wild brown trout is hooked. It feels a good fish on light tackle, and with nowhere to run it turns, and shoots off below me into the fast water. A smart move, as I can’t play both the fish and the torrent beneath me. I am forced to show my hand and bully him to the net, he wins this battle, throwing the hook only feet away. Fair play to the fish.
After a brief check of the flies, my nymphs are out again, probing down the winding riffle. The intensity of the rain has increased, but my trusty tweed cap can deal with even the heaviest of showers. The water wicks down the fabric and drips off the end of the peak, just clearing my face. The high moorland edges above the village have all but disappeared into the gloom, and I edge further upstream towards the Bridge Inn Pub, where a pint of Cumberland awaits. Pint’s, however, must be earned and I am casting quickly in the fast water, the racing current forcing me to lift the rod tip high, stopping the line from dragging the flies unnaturally.
The line jabs under again. The strike sends a jolt through rod and arm, as another connection is made. This fish doesn’t feel as big but makes an excellent account of himself, and this time makes it to the net. I took five brownies out of this rifle alone, and a further two fish from the bridge pool before the rain got too much, and I rewarded myself with that pint of Cumberland.
Just occasionally, the weather, fish, and tactics all come together.