My wife Sally likes to tell our friends that fish in the rivers and lochs are safe when I approach with a fishing rod. But each time I dig out the tackle, I’m determined to get those ‘tight lines’.
In the north-east, we are blessed with a number of fine rivers and lakes for salmon, sea trout and trout, and also some of the most wonderful surroundings within which to fish – and that can so often soothe the pain of an uneventful day on the bank-side.
Taking to the water
When we set off, the weather had been seasonably typical, so the waterproofs were resurrected – but as it turned out, we were shone upon from a great height as we arrived at Sweethope Loughs.
Sweethope has a history as a prime trout location in the north-east and now, after a recent regeneration, it has reopened and been thoroughly re-stocked, too. I’ve fished there many times, but only from the bank. This alone can present many challenges to a wheelchair user such as me – not least in landing any quarry.
But today, a wheelchair-accessible boat was to extend my casting reach as I was able to venture to any part of the water. However, unlike at many fishing locations around the country, I first had to be assisted down the bank and steps to the pontoon. I’m told by the management that waterside access is being addressed for next season.
Chris, the fishery manager, provided an eco-friendly electric outboard motor (watch out for battery levels or your rowing skills could be tested!) and we were ready to set off. The stern of the boat cleverly collapses to form a ramp, allowing wheelchair users easier access. After a boat and fishing tackle check, it was power on and out to the 140-acre loch.
Once fishing, we soon realised that effective wheelchair brakes are a must, even on a calm loch, as the slightest rolling action can affect anything you’re doing. My attempts to thread flies on to lines proved very tricky – better doing that on dry land before you start. It’s also advisable to have a buddy with you in the boat, to assist you should there be a sudden bite on the line. Once locked off into one position in the wheelchair, spinning round to follow the run of a fish can prove to be a challenge – this is where Sally’s adroit helming skills were at a premium.
The water and bank-side trees had lain still from the breeze for a couple of minutes. It was a blue trout I swear that pierced the still water and grasped what was probably one of this year’s last surviving daddy-longlegs from around two foot in the air.
So with a wish and a prayer, my cast spiralled out through the rings, and passing the line over the spot a couple of times, it lowered into the water.
Then the thrill of a catch charged my entire body. I struck and the rod bent to that beautiful bow shape and with the boat reversing a little, the ratchet of the reel sung out in the still air. Then... ping – my hook came away with some really fine weed from the lower waters – but hey ho... I guess Sweethope’s fish remain safe again.
THE WHEELYBOAT TRUST
The Wheelyboat Trust has been giving disabled people the opportunity to enjoy waters all over the UK for more than 30 years. Today, it has wheelchair accessible craft in more than 100 locations in the UK and Ireland – excellent for top game fishing.
HOW TO GET THERE
Sweethope can be found off the A68, 17 miles north of Hexham. Look out for the brown road signs directing to the small tarmac access road, by the unmissable wind turbines. There is a sign at the gate on the right and the drive takes you through woodland to the car park. Heavy snowfall and ice can make the narrow road impassable during winter months, so contacting the office is recommended.
Corbridge, Northumberland NE45 5QB
This fine pub, set on the junction of the A68 and the B6318, is perfect for lunch or dinner after a day on the Loch.
The Angel Inn
Main Street, Corbridge,
Northumberland NE45 5LA
01434 632 119
Enjoy fresh, local food (they even have their own flock of sheep), roaring fires and a selection of ales at this welcoming inn.
If you have come for a few days fishing, take time out to explore the Roman history of Northumberland along the route of Hadrian’s Wall.