Caught by the River

Nick's Pics

Nick Small | 8th November 2011

A British Summer, Part Two. Words & pictures by Nick Small.

That was it then. Gone. Flounced out in a veil of drizzle. Well, so long then, British Summer, I can’t in all honesty add “and thanks for all the fish” because, aside from a few small brook trout from Hebden Water, there weren’t any.
I’m left with lingering frustration as I had some real plans this year, a summer at home and the opportunity to fish a particular stretch of water: the River Skirfare at Arncliffe in the Yorkshire Dales.

The Skirfare is a small river which carves its way from the slopes of Pen-y-Ghent, insinuating itself into and under a limestone river bed, often disappearing completely, whilst negotiating the short, but stunning Littondale to meet up with the River Wharfe.

Catch the water levels right and there is one spot, just outside the village of Litton, where you can swim in a pool which is filled by a cascade on the upstream side with only a dry river bed downstream, the water stealthily exiting via a scree-filled pot hole in the bottom of the pool.

Most of the holidays of my youth were spent messing about in the Skirfare. It’s where I collected the cadis grubs that snagged me my first good dace back up on the River Teesside. It’s where I learned that the yellow coloured wagtail was grey, where I first heard the mocking laugh of a willow warbler and where I tickled my first trout. The steep hill that rises up behind the village of Hawkswick was where I first discovered my love of fell running and nearby Dowky Bottom was the first pot hole that I tentatively (and furtively) explored.

It is this little stretch of nascent river though which so tantalised me this summer. I used to watch the wild brownies here, peering over the wall to see them dart from the shade for a passing fly, then dart back under the bank.

I could never afford a day ticket back then and in any case, had only a short spinning rod to my name. This is a fly only stretch. I resolved to come back as an adult and have some long delayed gratification.

I had phoned ahead to the Falcon Inn which is where day tickets are bought. The Falcon is a pub from another era. Your ale is still poured from a jug on the bar, a bar which once had a lengthy acting career, propping up Amos Brearley and Mr Wilkes in Emmerdale (for which Arncliffe was the village setting). Sadly, the ever helpful landlady Elspeth advised that water levels were low and the fishing best waited for….until the rains arrived.

I turned up anyway, armed with a camera but not a fly rod. Not to worry, I thought, I’ll pop back in September and make use of the waning season. It was a fine plan until I found myself watching the season pass by whilst I sat in Glasgow, editing a television programme about morbidly obese patients. Now, I don’t mind being frustrated by fish all day long but the frustration of not even making it to the river is one which will now nag me all winter long.

Grayling on the Calder anyone?

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