A few hours on the Usk

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Cabin fever is winning over good judgement.  Good judgement says stay at home as the river is high, fast and more rain is forecast today.  With so few opportunities to fish I need to get out and I can’t keep using the weather as an excuse.  I throw the kit in the Land Rover and set off to a short beat on the Usk, a few miles above Abergavenny.   It’s a late start and getting on for 9.30am when I leave.  At the garage, where I’m looking for a sandwich and water for later, the lady is moaning about working on Good Friday.  I smile sympathetically but unkindly I’m thinking, yes, rather you than me today.

I tackle up and make the short walk to the river where my mood takes a dip when I see the water.  The features I remember can’t be seen.  The top of the beat is a wide glide where the tail of a pool usually offers some skinny water which makes for a nice approach.  From there you can fish the pool above with nymphs or a dry and then reach the faster water near the far bank.  Today it all looks the same – quick and menacing.

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I stroll to the bottom of the beat wondering what to do.  Heavy nymphs I think, on a tight line.  It’s deeper here than at the other end of the beat and as I slip into the water it’s already above my waist.  As I fish my way out into the river, I soon realise that I need another plan.  Well before the mid point I’m struggling with the flow and all my focus is on staying on my feet.  I sit on the bank and contemplate.  Off goes the specialist nymph line and on with a regular 4 weight.  I tie on an elk hair caddis and suspend a pheasant tail underneath, thinking that I’ll be able to cover more of the water whilst staying out of the strongest flow.

Over the next hour I manage three small brownies, the best of which is 10″, but it’s slow going.  At least the forecast rain is absent and there’s little wind too.  I’ve fished half the beat now and I take a break.  As I’m staring down river I see a large head break the surface close to where I aborted my earlier wading.  My first thought is ‘what a monster fish’ and then I realise it’s an otter and I’m pleased no one is here to witness my mistake.

It’s not the first otter I’ve seen on the Usk, but this one is happy to entertain me for nearly 20 minutes.  I play ‘creepy uppy’ along the bank trying to get close enough for a picture.  I feel like I’ve snuck into a theatre without paying and I’ve got a front row seat.  I’m struck by how effortlessly she manages the river, ducking, diving and chattering away oblivious to me.  Then she spots me and with an enormous splash is gone.

 

 

I head back to the top of the beat and select a spot where the flow is more manageable.  I think maybe a lighter weight nymph will be better and with no surface activity I start prospecting the water.  Did I just see a little rise about 20ft upstream?  Difficult to spot in this condition and now with some light drizzle.  There it is again, definitely a fish.  I take a few steps to the right so that I can cover the spot with a little upstream mend and within a few seconds the caddis disappears and I’m in.  Initially it doesn’t feel special but then I realise it’s a good fish and it charges off to the deeper water.  After a good fight I decide to net it and let it recover.  At sixteen and a half inches nose to fork, it’s one of my best Usk trout, and in top condition.  This one fish is worth the trip, let alone it’s three little cousins and watching the otter.

16 1/2" beauty

16 1/2″ Beauty

Back at the car I chat with the owner who doesn’t seem to share my excitement about the otter.  He’s lost all the goldfish from his pond and blames his rent free tenant.  Me, I think its a small price to pay.  After all, who needs a pond when you own a stretch of the Usk?

Mr Notherone.

Opening Day Disappointment

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Usk Bridge

There is the opening day of the season and then there is my personal opening day – the day that marks my first opportunity each year to fish for wild brown river trout.  This is that day.  Over the years I’ve learned to temper the enthusiasm with a measure of realism born from experience.  There have been a few memorable halcyon opening days and a few that fell short of expectation.  Today is one that will simply fail to materialise.

IMG_0745The snow that fell overnight is continuing to fall as I take my first peak at the day.  There is an instant realisation that this seasons opening day is postponed.  I’m not a fair weather angler, but the heavy snow and strong wind is not what I have in mind and I’m resigned to doing something else with my morning.  I think the dog walk will be extra long.  The snow is not as deep as a few weeks ago and I know the Land Rover will get me out, so I’m not confined to the hills and woods around the house.  I think I’ll head to the river.

The Usk has something to offer every Season.  Even now when Spring is confused by the refusal of Winter to leave, the river is determined to impress.  Heavy rain that preceded the snow is pushing the flow through at a pace I would not like to test.  I enjoy wading, but I know my limitations.

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Today, even my daft retriever has enough sense of self preservation to stay out of the water.  The snow stops and I look for any signs of fishiness.  Nothing to report.  The river offers no hints of its (deserved) reputation for early season trout.  I contemplate the coming week and consider if it affords me a chance to open my season or will it be next weekend?  As I wander down-stream I continue to explore every inch of the current.  I rehearse where the fly will land and how the line will track.  I note where I’ll stand to fish the seam below a boulder and where I might try a left handed cast to avoid the tree trout.

My eye catches a little back eddy and I see a distinct ring.  It’s almost certainly something that’s fallen from the overhanging branch, but I know it’s a hulk of a brownie that is going to spend the next few days working its way upstream a couple of miles; where I will be waiting on my opening day.

Mr Notherone