Costa Beck, North Yorkshire | Oxfolds Beck, North Yorkshire

Getting reacquainted with an old friend


Something of a nostalgia trip this afternoon as I  made my way to the Costa and Oxfolds Becks near to Pickering. The tale of these spring-fed becks is a rather sad one. They are in fact the same watercourse, with the Oxfolds running into the Costa, separated only by a weir. Anyhow, many people will know that the Costa Beck was one of the premier grayling fisheries in the north of England many years ago. Stories abound of vast catches of quality grayling. Both becks were also prolific trout fisheries. But the fishing gradually deteriorated and while I had many a good day’s sport 12 or 15 years ago, things continued to go downhill until both waters pretty much eventually died. Over the past seven or eight years the the Pickering Fishery Association, which has these two stretches, has been working with the legal people on the Angling Trust to locate the source of the problem and get it resolved. Fishing has been out of bounds in recent seasons but has opened again now, so I thought I’d take a look.

As I say, these are spring-fed waters, nice and clear and with huge rafts of swaying ranunculus. The streams are pretty narrow but have many deep pools and here and there lot of silt that can catch out the unwary wading angler.

Because we haven’t been fishing the waters recently there is a lot of unchecked growth on the banksides and many parts of the waters are unfishable because of the encroaching vegetation.

It was a warm day, 19C on the thermometer, and the sun was shining when I went up at around noon, with a nifty southerly breeze that would help with the casting.

First thing I did as I made my way towards the bottom of the beat – the Costa end – was to take a sneaky peak over the steepish bank at a sewage outfall on the Oxfolds where a huge, dark, uncatchable brownie used to reside. Blow me, he was still there!


That’s my rather crude guess at his length – 22″ I’d reckon. What you can’t see is that he is tucked up beneath a load of overhanging hawthorn. He didn’t get to be that big for nothing…

Tackled up with a 6 ft 3 wt and small, well-hackled foam-headed emerger:


and slipped into the water on the Costa side. It is still a very pretty water:


Saw nothing: no fish in the water and no rises. I’d reckoned when I set out that this could be my first blank of the season and that certainly looked on the cards. Waded  for a hundred yards or so – including through some scarily deep water (tippy-toes!) – and didn’t see a sausage.


I was preparing for a long day as I approached the weir that marks the boundary with the Oxfolds beck:


In the old days this used to be something of a hot spot, and glory be I  began to see some fish – of a decent size. I cast the emerger into likely looking water and suddenly connected. But it was off the hook in a jiffy. A nuisance, but evidently there were fish around, and in the slack water above the weir I saw a rise or two. Dared I hope that things were looking up?

Over the weir and into the Oxfolds Beck. A lot of overhanging stuff meant that this was going to be tricky. But I was now somewhat more hopeful than I had been half an hour previously.


By now I could see fish in the water – mainly because I was spooking the hell out of them. Put the fly in with a decent-ish cast and suddenly there was an explosion and the line screamed. This was a decent fish – much bigger than I am accustomed to catching on these small waters. With heart in mouth I brought him to hand:


I reckon that is about a pound-and-a-half of brown trout. For me that is a corker. Well, whatever happened next I wasn’t going to blank. A few yards further upstream and another small detonation at the fly. Another belter:


Worked my way a bit further upstream and then got an enormous take. The line shrieked and disappeared 15 yards upstream. I got a flash of a huge rainbow – an old escapee from the trout farm upstream and no doubt a long-term resident. I reckon it was at least 3 lb. My weedy tippet coupled with inexpert playing caused the inevitable ‘twang!’ and the big bruiser vanished into the depths with my fly.

That was a scary fish. Next time I’ll tackle up with a bit more meat on the leader. Whatever, today was by now officially ‘a success’.

Twenty yards further upstream and another massive take. This time another decent brown. It smashed me at the tippet knot. I made my way through an unfishable avenue of trees to this pretty pool where in the past I have had success:


Bang! Another rainbow, not so big as the last one, but at least it stuck:


This was all getting a bit unreal – I am used to catching tiddlers. Anyway, through the bridge and into a steep-sided run which, again, was always productive back in the day:


Managed to avoid the overhangs with help from the tailwind then a quick boil at the fly brought in this – that’s more like it…


Onwards through water like this:oxfolds5_22may17

By now I was seeing many fish, mostly pretty large, and enough rises to keep me alert. Put my fly in and saw another biggun shoot across from about five yards away to take it and spit it out. C’est la vie. By now I’d changed to a slightly larger fly which was showing signs of battle.


Incidentally, these flies are really effective. The body and the hackle hang low in the water, with only the tip of the foam visible. It totally obviates the need for drying and applying floatant. Why bother with the hackle? Well, I’ve tried it without (effectively a suspender buzzer) and it just doesn’t seem as effective.

Came to this bend in the river:


Cast the fly in with no particular target except to avoid the snags. The foam head disappeared silently and I struck into this:


Yet another rainbow. But a few yards upstream and another brown was on:


Plenty big enough for me and with a stunning bronze belly. By now I was more than happy as I came to the next bend:


Was relieved that I had brought the six-footer. Anything longer would have been unmanageable. Then picked up what turned out to be the last fish of the day:


Five browns, two rainbows, smashed twice. In terms of size of fish I don’t think I’ve had a better day on the becks. It was good to say hello to an old friend and we’ll be keeping in touch.

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  1. I think I may have caught the uncatchable brownie a couple of years ago (may 2017)! We were saying in the cottage and I spotted the biggest fish I’d seen on the river tucked in near a bush – impossible to cover from below. I crept as close as I could, did a catapult cast from the bank and listened for a rise (couldn’t see the fly or the fish). On the first cast the fish took!

    It was a beautiful fish with an enormous tail but it hardly put up a fight and I played it to hand in a couple of minutes. I didn’t weigh or measure it but my brother took a photo and I’d put it’s length between 20 to 22 inches.

  2. There’s certainly a lot more bankside growth than when I fished it in the 80’s when the fishing was extraordinarily prolific. Loads of escapees of course of all sizes but plenty of wild browns too and of course the Grayling in Costa were legendary. I once hooked a rainbow about two pounds, I think below the little bridge in your picture if memory serves or maybe just below the mill. Anyway the bank was steep and clear of vegetation apart from grass then. The fish went ballistic, jumping like a polaris missile. It jumped out several feet up the bank and flip flopped back down into the water when the hook pulled out. I was laughing so much I wasn’t bothered about losing it and anyway I knew another would be along soon!
    There was a fearsome brown in Oxfolds then which everybody had a throw at and occasionally hooked butnever landed. It was eventually caught and weighed 8lbs. I also remember a 20lb pike being caught and dispatched (as they were in those days) I hope the club can get it back to those glory days.

    1. Ah, happy days Pete! There are still some clonkers in there – I’ve been smashed more than once. Yes, it is somewhat overgrown these days. For several seasons recently we weren’t able to fish it because of the ongoing investigations/legal machinations so there was no tending to the bankside vegetation. It’s still a very pretty water notwithstanding.

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