Pass my hammer, it is getting cold

It’s mid-November and the year is showing its age. Leaves clog the drains around the house now and the heating boiler had to be coaxed into life again with some deft hammer blows to the pump housing and a liberal stream of expletives. We were blessed with an unusually calm period of high pressure during October but now the wind has veered westerly and the rain has started to fall in earnest. Just like people, years grow cantankerous as they age.

It’s the same every year, we moan about the terrible weather like it is some great surprise. I regard this is as more evidence of our disconnect with nature as western society leans ever more heavily on technology and less on grounding with the earth. Here in Ireland we live in a blessed corner of the planet where extremes of weather, significant geological events and the effects of global change are just items on the news. We pay more attention to what the female weather forecasters wear than the complexities of the weather they report. Our ancestors could read the patterns of weather and planned their lives around the changes. The cycles of crop planting, growth, harvesting and storage could decide if you had food to eat or you and your family went hungry. The migration of fish and animals and the climatic triggers for these annual movements were necessary skills for hunters. We modern humans have largely lost these skills which took countless years to learn.

The strong winds (by Irish standards) have stripped the dying foliage from the trees, giving the land a stark, lonely appearance. Fields are waterlogged and the drains which were dry only last week are now filled with running water. The rivers foam and froth as the brown surge heads seawards. Our future hopes are now pinned on the salmon who have made it to the spawning beds. High water is good in terms of allowing the fish to travel upstream more easily but continued high water can wash out new redds, destroying the eggs inside.

The Dee at Cairnton

The Dee at Cairnton

I have read with interest the final river reports for 2015 from the major Scottish rivers. In general it made for pretty depressing reading with the beautiful River Dee having suffered an especially awful year (catches were roughly 75% below the 5 year average). Every beat complained about the lack of fish. None were seen, let alone caught, so the presumption was there would be very little spawning activity. However, before the water rose, making redd counting impossible, there seemed to be a healthy number of spawning stock in the headwaters. It is hard to reconcile this difference but let’s hope the river can stage a recovery.

The Tay had a good enough season but the same cannot be said for the Tweed. Although it is still open, the numbers of fish landed is well below expected levels and the excuse of low water which blighted the 2015 season is only a small factor. The huge, deep pools of the lower Tweed can hold a big stock of salmon if they are there but the lower beats did not reap the reward you would expect in low water.

Catholes 1

The Tay at Catholes

On a more positive note, the River Spey had a wonderful year. That boisterous, challenging and technically difficult river produced the best season for some years. It just goes to show that salmon will forever confound us mere humans.

The rain is lashing down outside again. Nessie looks up at me in a clear attempt to persuade me to take her for a walk but she knows we will both have to wait for a gap in the showers before venturing out. There is a cycle to most things, and walking the dog is no different. For now, I am going to spend an hour at the vice making some trout flies for the next season.


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