Salmon fishing returns to the North East’s rivers on 1 February, and experienced fishermen and amateur enthusiasts alike are buzzing to get their rod out and drop a line in the water. There’s something about fishing that has an almost indescribable allure. Maybe it’s the atmosphere of calm that pervades; just you and the water’s inexorable flow, a stillness punctuated only by the occasional buzz of an insect and the soothing arc of a cast. There’s a sense of tranquility and calm on the river, whether it’s languid summer days spent searching for salmon in deep pools beneath overhanging trees, or early rises in the cold of the dawn with just the glistening dew and the murmur of the river for company.
David Carrick knows all about such experiences, having fished the rivers of the region throughout his lifetime. ‘I started fishing on the Tyne at about 12 years old,’ he tells me. ‘I was very much self-taught and learned it all from watching other people. It was in the Seventies when I started fishing seriously for salmon. I’ve had some wonderful times and some excellent days. You’re at one with nature. The countryside in this region is second to none. Catching fish is great fun, but it’s not everything. Some of the things you see with regards to nature are unbelievable at times. I’ve seen deer coming down to drink at the water’s edge, I’ve seen otters in the pools; it’s good to see them but they tend to affect the fishing at times! It’s great to unwind. When I was teaching full-time it was a wonderful thing to alleviate stress. I like to wander about and fish at different pools, I’m a roving angler really.’
The region’s rivers appear to be on the decline in terms of the number of salmon, and, if the past two years are anything to go by, anglers hoping for the ultimate sport when it comes to landing a big fish could be disappointed in the early months of the season, particularly when it comes to the River Tees. The Tyne’s run of salmon and sea trout last year was 43,184; in contrast the Tees’ was just 336.
‘The runs are definitely declining throughout Britain,’ David tells me. ‘Rivers like the Tyne are holding up. One of the major reasons for that is Kielder Salmon Centre, it has a big say in runs of fish. There are fish released every year from the hatchery into the Tyne system, everything’s stacked against wild salmon these days. So they’re put in at a sensible size, in the wild you might get just 5 percent [surviving]. Because of Kielder you’ll get 85 or 90 percent. Statistically the Tyne is the best salmon river in England and Wales, and as far as spring fishing is concerned it’s the best of the bunch. Spring fishing is rather lean though, it’s hard work. Summer fishing is a lot better. The prime months are August, September and October, you can get some very decent sport.’
February can be a harsh month for fishing, with anglers often facing cold winds, biting frosts and diminished chances of success as few salmon have made their way up-stream. David however, like any true angler, tells me that a day out at the start of the season is always worth a punt. ‘Even if you only go for part of a day it’s still worth going out. You never know when you’re going to catch a fish. More often than not you’re fishing blind because spring salmon don’t show very much. We have a very good reputation in Northumberland. What I want to see is that that reputation is not eroded over time because of a lack of stocks of fish.’
Five top salmon spots in the North East:
- Hesleyside, near Bellingham
- Bywell, near Hexham
- Tillmouth, near Berwick
- Areas around Chester-le-Street, County Durham
- Areas around Rothbury