Top: Typical Cronkley brownie
Middle: The Tees snakes between Widdybank Fell (right) and Cronkley Scar (Left)
Bottom: The view from the fireside chair
After a shockingly poor season attempting to tempt the wily residents of my local West Country rivers and streams I was looking forward to a week on the upper Tees.
In my defence the weather hasn't helped. But then neither has my relative lack of experience plying a dry fly on the intimate beats of the Coln, Dickler and Leach. I welcomed the opportunity to get back to the Tees and fish a team of spiders across and down.
I may not yet have mastered the nuanced approach necessary for successful southern small stream dry fly fishing, where getting to within casting distance of a rising fish without putting it down constitutes, more often than not, three quarters of the job; but I'm not bad at dealing with the most pernicious, and capricious, challenge of Upper Teesdale fishing - the wind.
It is always windy here, up on the roof of northern England, and the only option is to make the best of it. Some might be tempted to fish with heavier tackle than is necessary. In my opinion, though, a lightweight outfit is essential to get the most enjoyment form the small, feisty brownies that abound here. A half-pounder is a big one and a 3wt setup - 4 if it's really blowing - is all that's required for exciting sport.
The key is not to over-reach yourself when the wind is bowling up - or down - the valley, either circumstance invariably being the case. The ability to cast with either hand is invaluable because of this. Although it is obviously the case that more water is covered the further a cast is made across the river, there are plenty of fish to be caught close to the bank. When confronted with a gale, just make more, shorter, casts and make sure the obvious lies - in front of and behind the many boulders for instance, are covered. In very windy conditions over-zealous attempts at distance will merely result in a loss of control of the leader and the resulting tangles will lead to frustration and a waste of valuable fishing time.
Don't just let the flies drift down and retrieve without putting any thought into it. Often, imparting movement to the team will increase the chances of a take. Use the rod tip to bring the flies up in the water and then drop the tip sharply to let them sink back down as they swing across the flow. When the line has reached the extent of the downstream drift use some imagination when retrieving to make the flies appear as if they're nymphs swimming jerkily upstream. It is surprising how many takes occur this way.
I reckon the Tees at Cronkley is at its best at the end of August when any combination of North Country Spiders seems to work. On the day these pictures were taken I took fish with Snipe and Yellow, Black Spider, Hare's Lug and Plover and Snipe and Purple, the last always my best fly here. Earlier in the season the fish are more selective and you may need to ring the changes to find what works.
If you're lucky and the wind drops sufficiently (or if you're a far more competent caster than me) the trout here will respond to the dry fly almost as well. There are modest hatches of small olives and iron blues as well as a type of long thin mid brown caddis that I've not noted elsewhere. A small Cinnamon Sedge will catch when these are coming off. When nothing obvious presents itself something huge and bushy like a Grey Wulff or a Goddard's Elk Hair Caddis in the larger sizes can be surprisingly productive.
After a successful day at Cronkley there's nothing better than tooling down to the Langdon Beck for a foaming ale or two on my way back to the cottage and a fire.
Day tickets are £12 from the Raby Estate office in Middleton-in-Teesdale or the visitor's shop at High Force. This gives you the North Bank from Middleton all the way to Cauldron Snout.