A friend has just asked me: "What is the level on the EA river level website which you think is the benchmark, above which it’s not worth setting off to go fishing the River Wharfe at Bolton Abbey?" Another opportunity for a blog post then...
It’s difficult to say exactly, but I work on a normal level at Addingham of 30cm. It should fish up to about 50cm, possibly 60cm, but this depends on a number of factors. Obviously one factor would be whether it’s rising or falling. If falling it should be good at 60cm and don’t forget the morning reading is usually taken about 5am so plenty of time for things to change before we get fishing (unless you’re an early riser). If rising it will depend how much it’s likely to rise. I use my head to estimate, taking into account how much rain we’ve had, though this can be completely different in the headwater hills. I also use the upstream readings from Kettlewell and Grassington stations as a gauge to what is going to happen down at Bolton Abbey. This will give a good indication of what to expect.
|Note the river just starting to rise at 4am|
As an example, last September I was meeting a Swiss client in Burnsall to take him to Bolton Abbey. We’d had some heavy rain the evening before, not for a very long period, but heavy for a couple of hours or so and I was worried it might spoil things. When I got up and checked on-line the river was unchanged at Addingham and Grassington, but on the Kettlewell graph you could just detect the river starting to rise where the graph ended (see image opposite for a similar situation today). As I drove into Burnsall the river was normal. We had a cup of tea and chatted in his cottage and then drove over Burnsall Bridge heading downstream to Bolton Abbey. The river had come up in that time and I estimated we would get 2 hours fishing before the river came up downstream at Bolton Abbey. It did indeed come up and I was pretty accurate with my 2 hours. It wasn’t a big rise and the river remained fishable, though the fishing was crap as a result! There’s nothing worse than a rising river to turn the fish off.
The other consideration is colour. If we’ve not had a flood in a while even a small lift will colour the river badly and it will be carrying all sorts of crap. If the river is up and down all the time (like now) it can stay pretty clear even when quite high. The Wharfe does clear very quickly.
I once fished a competition at Bolton Abbey in the biggest flood I have ever seen there. You’d normally have just gone home, but we had to fish with it being a comp. I had 5 fish as the river rose very quickly in the first session and none in the second session as the level peaked. 5 was the highest session catch of the day but I finished 3rd because 2 others caught 1 in both sessions, but it just shows that you can catch fish if you really have to. After the lunch break I was controlling and the river remained in a poor state, though it had started to fall. In the last session, despite still being high, it cleared considerably and I’d have fancied my chances! The point there is that you’d go home if pleasure fishing but the fish are still there to be caught if you persist.
You also need to bear in mind that although the river may be fishable, i.e. possible to catch a fish, this may mean having to resort to Czech Nymphing, or similar techniques, to do so. You'll be looking for slack water off the main flow, where fish will be sheltering from the flood water. So you might 'save the day' but it won't be the most enjoyable day's fishing using delicate dry flies and such like.