In 1979 the talented singer & musician Bruce Springsteen wrote a hauntingly beautiful song called The River. At that time my 9 year old self would’ve been knee deep in the local river in Robin Hoods bay digging for old bottles, oblivious of the wildlife surrounding me. Forty one years later my 50 year old self is still down at the river most days but with a healthy respect for it’s environment and the many residents accompanying me on my adventures.
The River Esk, or the Yorkshire Esk as some call it, has been my mainstay throughout every season. I’ve watched as the early morning mist rises from the surface like steam. I’ve seen it surge menacingly, bursting it’s banks and encroaching across the land. I’ve enjoyed it’s placid meandering during the spring & summer months. The river ebbs and flows, it’s ever-changing moods often matching my own.
I’ve walked it, swam in it, paddled in it, fallen off my bike in it, crossed it on horseback. I’ve taken it home in the bottom of my wellies, I’ve towel-dried it off dogs & grandchildren. I’ve even sailed a homegrown chilli plant across it in a washing up bowl (lockdown makes you creative!). But, like my late father before me, my favourite pastime on the river is to fish.
Whilst fishing I get to stand & observe the comings & goings of the river’s residents. Their sagas unfold like a soap opera, all the time with the background cacophony of bird song. Trilling Dippers dart back & forth past my rod, pausing on rocks downstream to survey their territory. Diving beneath the sparkling current for their own catch of the day. The elusive iridescent kingfisher putting in a rare appearance, often unaware of my presence as it settles on a branch in search of it’s supper. I see moorhen mothers, their fluffy black chicks trailing behind them like absentminded schoolchildren, dawdling behind stressed out mums. I’ve had fleeting visits from comical weasels, announcing their approach whilst rustling through the undergrowth. They emerge on the river bank & recoil, incredulous, clearly offended by my unexpected presence in their domain. I can’t look at them without being reminded of the famous line in Blackadder..”I’ve got a plan so cunning, you could put a tail on it and call it a weasel”!
Cunning is an excellent description of the evasive fish I’m trying to catch. These elusive residents seem to circumvent the end of my line with almost contempt. I have even considered that some of the larger fish actually have a sense of humour. I can stand in one place casting flies for hours and catch nothing. But during these hours I’ve had fish jumping so high and so close that they’ve splashed my face. They rise to grab the real flies adjacent to my artificial ones, even though I try my best to ‘match the hatch’ & present the right fly in the right way to arouse their curiosity. I’ve stood freezing for ages, casting into deep pools with not a bite, only to watch a fellow angler arrive, use an almost identical fly to mine, cast once & immediately pull out a huge, struggling fish. It’s like they know I’m a novice & no self-respecting fish wants to be caught by such an inexperienced angler. The few very small fish I’ve managed to catch are clearly as inexperienced as their captor to have fallen for my hook. As I catch & release, apologising profusely under my breath, I extract the hook gently & marvel at the beauty of this denizen of the deep.
I often reflect whilst walking the Esk, The beauty & majesty of the river is humbling. The river’s inhabitants often invisible until you really apply your gaze. Others wheeling & splashing, loudly making their presence known. I love to watch as swifts skim the dazzling diamond-like surface for insects. Huge heron disturb the air as they launch suddenly from their own fishing spot on the river bank. Fish gently rise & suck in the occasional drowning insect. The feeding frenzy of hoards of spent Mayflies, soon to arrive on the river & attract fish and anglers in their droves. I will be one of those anglers, trying her best to land something larger than my hand, but equally happy to just watch the myriad of dramas unfold. It is such a privilege to live here in North Yorkshire & share this special place with all it’s inhabitants. I wish my inept 9 year old self had been more aware of natures riches that surrounded her instead of intent on discovering the inanimate objects under foot.