I spent the last week of August back in Teesdale, this time in the company of Mrs Retiarius. She wished to paint and I, well, what do you think?
Unlike my previous trip (see previous post) conditions were perfect. The weather was fine without being overly bright and this time of year is always the best for fishing the upper Tees, traditionally, with a team of spiders.
After three glorious, trout filled, days fishing the pocket water below Widdybank fell and Falcon Clints I was ready for a new challenge. I decided to chance my arm a few miles to the north in Weardale. I purchased a day ticket at the Post Office in St John's Chapel and went off to explore the river.
The Wear here is not big and the level seemed low. No fish were showing but there was a healthy rise of iron blue duns. I walked upstream trying likely spots with an imitation of the iron blues and, in the deeper pools, with various nymphs, but there was nothing doing. The same was true in Wearhead, the next village upstream, and I came eventually to the upper limit of the beat at Cowshill.
I walked across the handsome old road bridge and, naturally, crept up to the parapet and peeped over. There were trout; tiny trout admittedly, but they served to re-kindle my petering enthusiasm. Twenty yards below the bridge was the waterfall that marked the boundary of the water available to me. I made my way downstream, paused to admire the spectacular falls and their attendant grey wagtails, and walked out of the trees and up on to a high, clear ridge that flattened out maybe 50ft above the river. Immediately below there was a shallow pool, and in it were seven large fish. My first, astonished, thought was "flippin' 'eck, what are barbel doing up here?".
I checked this silliness and crawled down the bank to a vantage point behind a convenient oak. I was now only 20ft from the pool and still 15ft or so above it. Holding my breath, I peered cautiously around the trunk. They were trout. I had speculated, during the descent, that they must be salmon, but they were definately trout - among the spottiest of spotty herberts I've seen, and definately not silver tourists. And they were big. The photo does not do it justice (they never do, do they?) but I estimated the big one at the rear to be a double. They had to be sea trout. Excitingly - was I imagining it? - every so often they opened their mouths and with subtle, but definite, movement, appeared to be snaffling nymph-age from close to the bottom.
Reader, I covered them. It was madness, I know, but what was I to do? All I had was a 3wt 7ft rod and a handful of 6x leaders, but was it so wrong to try? I examined the pool closely. Its tail, I could see from my vantage point, was a mere trickle - perhaps an inch deep - and the inlet wasn't much deeper. These fish were trapped. Furthermore the entire pool was snag free. In my madness I reasoned that, having hooked one (!) patience, and a large dollop of luck, would be all that was required.
I fell back to a position downstream to plan my attack. I removed enough from the front of a 12ft leader to leave me what I reckoned was a tippet of about 6lb BS. My fly options were limited and, after much troubled musing, I chose a small hare's ear. I crept up the trickle below the pool and, amazingly, managed to cast it 6 inches of the front of the big one's nose without lining him. I waited with baited breath. Of course, he didn't fall for it. After about 30 seconds - there was no discernible flow - I gave it the merest of twitches and immediately the entire pool erupted as first the big one, followed by the other 6, tore off in panic to the various extremities of their watery cell. But I'd had to try. I went back to the oak and, when they had calmed down again, took their picture.
Later that evening, as Mrs Retiarius and I were celebrating her birthday over dinner at the Rose and Crown, I was unforgivably distracted by the thought of those trout. I am ashamed to admit that at one point I weighed up the likely consequence of asking her to drive me back there, tonight, under cover of darkness, this time armed with sturdier gear and some lobworms, but even the saintly Mrs R has limits.
Back at the cottage I utilised Google Earth. That pool is 1200ft above sea level and 36 miles as the crow flies from the mouth of the Wear; you've got to hand it to them.
Apologies are due to Charlotte Bronte and the only slightly less luminary Chris Yates for the flagrant plagiarism in this piece.