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Salmon fishing River Ure – The Rise of a Forgotten Giant

Published: 15th November 2018 | Author: Philip Ellis


The River Ure is 74 miles long and combined with the Ouse becomes 129 miles long.

It is the longest river in the UK to flow consecutively in one County.

It is the only of the Dales rivers not to be named after its Dale, (Swale – Swaledale  / Wharfe – Wharfedale / Nidd – Nidderdale / Ure – Wensleydale). By rights it should be called the river Wensley or the valley should be called Uredale? You decide.

The River as a whole used to support 91 netting stations catching around 30 tonnes of Salmon annually.

Salmon of over 50lbs were regularly caught even up to the 1950’s before the fishery collapsed – they were so big they used to drag and even clear the nets such was their size and power.

Lord Bolton in 1927 caught a ton and a quarter of Salmon to his own rod in one season!

Take yourself back, – the year is 1927. The country has pulled itself together after World War 1 and we are unknowingly 12 years away from the second World War. Things are looking better and our leisure time is increasing. Industry is as busy as ever and we are developing as a nation. Let’s now focus on fishing…

Lord Bolton is enjoying his best ever season with one and a quarter tons of Salmon coming to the bank for one rod! Yes, you read that correctly.

The Herring Fleets are busy in the North Sea and the Salmon are being caught in the tens of tons! Even Bluefin Tuna or Tunny as they were known are being caught in the North Sea. My late Grandfather lived in Whitby and could recall both the herring fleets and the Tuna strung up on the Dockside. He could also recall the huge runs of Salmon and Sea Trout running the Esk.

Bizarrely not many people can remember that the Yorkshire Ouse System. It was up there as one of the finest salmon fisheries in the UK taking 30 to 40 tons annually. From the 1950s the fishery collapsed, and it became a forgotten giant.

As with most fisheries there was not a thought for the future and the looming disaster – the collapse of the herring stocks and the total demise of the Salmon due to over fishing and pollution. With the development of heavy industry and the creation of jobs between and after the wars came the demise of the fishery, something we still fight with today. Oxygen saturation below Drax power station was zero at times and thus totally impassable to migratory fish.

The River Ure was always known as the main Salmon River on the Humber System with the Wharfe, Swale and Derwent taking their fair share. Apparently, the Parr were so plentiful that they were netted and used as fertiliser. This is only 90 years ago, which is but a blip in the history of time.

So, what happened?

We Did.

As the Second World War came and went, heavy industry developed further on the Humber Rivers with major cities such as York, Leeds, Bradford, Goole and Hull pouring effluent into water. The oxygen saturation levels reached lows never before encountered by the Salmon and they just couldn’t get into their respective rivers until high flows allowed. With this the nets were pulled off and leisure fishing for Salmon stopped altogether. This was the end……. Or was it?

From 1945 to 2005 nothing was reported with occasional rumours of salmon being seen and caught. However, as the rivers cleaned up their act and the EA tightened up on water quality, Salmon started to return. In the mid-2000s, the EA conducted a study near Jervaulx and found a higher density of salmon Parr than on the Cumbrian Eden which is renowned as a good English Salmon River. Oxygen saturation in the lower Ouse was also reported to be over 90 percent.

With this in mind, a group of local volunteers and land owners started the “Ure Salmon Trust”, now running as the Ure Salmon Group to help, investigate and restore the fishery. With the employment of ex EA river scientist David Bamford, they applied for a restocking program, which was granted and has now been running for 6 years. Much time and effort has been devoted to habitat restoration, weir removal or improvement, stock fencing and mitigation of loss of spawning habitat such as the River Burn coming down from Leighton Reservoir. With all this work the salmon seem to be year on year returning in greater numbers. In 2012, for example, with the use of our counter we estimated a run of potentially over 18,000 fish. The average run now being in the region of 8 to 12,000, with a view to assisting with around 70,000 smolts a year. Opening up new habitat will also create natural recovery.

The Ure was also well known as a big fish river, and I netted a fish of 35lbs at Jervaulx a few years back. David Bamford was the captor and that year he also landed a 44lb fish at Kilgram. Every year somebody hooks or lands a 30lber and I did hear of a rumour last year a 47lb fish coming off the river. Fish of that size certainly do pass through the counter as they are filmed in due process. This in part is due to unique genetics as our salmon have to negotiate large weirs, Hack Falls and upon arrival at their chosen spawning grounds, have to move large cobbles to make their redds. There is also the fact that the Humber used to flow into the North Sea, which at one point during the last Ice Age was part of a huge river system shared with the rivers of Norway. Again, if you look at the likes of the Alta and the Gaula the fish sizes there are impressive indeed.

Since 2012, I have started on a long journey of promoting and taking people on the river. It has been a great pleasure to net fish for people, and not only are many of them first Salmon but quite often their first Yorkshire Salmon. As a Yorkshireman, this is quite special and a moment that I always cherish. To be part of a recovery when there is so much doom and gloom surrounding salmon stocks is really quite something.

As I touched on earlier the River Ure is heading in the right direction and my guiding business is growing annually. I have started writing in Trout and Salmon magazine placing river reports each month. I have also been working with my MP, Rishi Sunak, to get the Salmon season pulled forwards from the 6th April to 31st October, to 1st Feb to 31st October. It is looking very positive and after many years of trying, we are very close.

The Ure is and always was a predominately spring river and the fish run from January to June. From then on the back end run is comprised mainly of the Spring fish working their way up although fresh fish have been caught in September before.

It’s an exciting time to be on the Ure and our main obstacle is getting rods on the river. Nowhere near enough people fish it and it would be great to change this. Having performed 17th out of 64 Salmon rivers (Official EA Figures for 2017), with a very limited amount of people fishing, I am very confident that with more attention that figure would rise.

The Ure is a beautiful river in a very unique part of the country surrounded by beautiful scenery and historic buildings. It has now become a very attractive and viable destination to try and catch the King of Fish.

As ever I would be glad to assist via email, telephone (07930 073921) or a guided day. Come and give the URE a try, you may be pleasantly surprised.

You can also join the Ure Salmon Group at a cost of £50 per year. This money goes a long way to help support the wonderful work that they do.

Tight Lines.

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