It’s definitely a Good Friday

Apparently this will be the hottest day of the year so far. Just a few weeks ago I was walking the river banks looking at a torrent of muddy water, now it’s clear and at a height that is inviting me in. The temperature might get to the mid-twenties today, but the water still feels cold and it’s a reminder that we are only just past the middle of April.

I’m still exploring and around each bend is something new. I realise that I don’t know which river bank I should be on for the coming bit of water and I have to back track several times and cross over. What a fantastic place to be on a learning curve!

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I catch five trout and a grayling, but what marks the day is that I have my first trout of the season on a dry.

In one of the nicest looking pools I see one of only two rises all day. I take off the small klink and micro nymph that has caught me a couple so far and tie on a little F fly. I’ve only seen a handful of flies coming off in two hours on the river. When I don’t know what fish are feeding on, I often find the F fly to be one of the best in my box.

I’m not going to be able to get my preferred 45 degree angle on the fish. It’s going to be more straight across. I am able to get pretty close though so I’m hoping I can hold the line off the faster water that’s between my and glory. My cast is on the money and I can control the drift, but I’m soon past the point where I expect a take. I’m just about to lift off when the fly disappears in a swirl and I’m in.

It’s a jumper! Three times I’m treated to an aerobatic display and then it’s over quickly as he runs straight at the net. A very respectable 15″ brownie.

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I cover one more rise an hour later but I don’t see that fish again.

A nice grayling at around 13″ takes a small hares ear and I mange four juvenile trout to the same fly. I’d trade them all for the one on the dry though.

I twist my knee slightly, slipping off a boulder. Very minor, but it’s the excuse I need to pack it in. I want to get home in time for a drink or two in the garden before the sun disappears over the hill. I don’t celebrate Easter, but I’ll raise my glass to a damn good Friday.

Mr Notherone

 

 

First serious fish of the season…shame it wasn’t a trout!

The river has dropped significantly over the last week and is just clear enough to be able to avoid stepping in anything too deep. It’s mid-morning and the sun is threatening to make this a very pleasant spring day. I’m also looking forward to fishing some new water. There is something about exploring that makes fly fishing even better.

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Perhaps it’s because this is a new beat, but I decide to tackle up two rods. I usually can’t be bothered carrying two and I remind myself that I once left a rod on the bank and was very lucky to retrieve it the next day. Surely I’m not going to repeat that.

I set up the Hanak with two nymphs, a hares ear on the dropper and a heavy PTN on point. The Sage SLT has a furled leader and a little size 16 dry olive emerger.

This early in the season I’m just hoping to find some fish. I haven’t been out much and I’m yet to catch a trout on the dry. Realistically, I know I’ll be relying on tungsten as there’s too much water, but I clutch the Sage a little tighter more in hope than expectation.

I select a nice access point with a faster riffle in front and a few features upstream to provide some holding areas. I’m setting a good rhythm with the nymphs and managing to get a reasonable drift each cast. I target a quieter area at the edge of the main current and just as the point fly hits bottom there’s a strong take and I immediately know this is a good fish.

It charges downstream and as is usually the case with tight line nymphing, I’m reluctantly playing the fish off the reel. I know everyone is different but I always prefer to hand play a fish – isn’t that what the left hand is for!

A good size fish, down stream in a fast flow is never easy. I don’t want to bully it too much but I need to get it across to the quieter shallows. It’s then that I catch sight of the telltale mainsail. The immediate disappointment is quickly replaced with the realisation that this could be one of my better grayling. It is.

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My best grayling came on the Wye a few years ago. That was 19″ and although I didn’t weigh it, I don’t think it was far off 3lb. Today’s fish measures 18″ nose to fork, is stunningly marked and a similar weight. It’s out of season of course, so I want to get it back as soon as possible. It’s too big to recover in the net so I cradle it until the big tail launches the fish back into the depths.

For the next few hours I explore upstream, stopping at likely spots and avoiding falling in the deep holes. I alternate between the nymphs and prospecting with the dry. As expected, it’s not a dry fly day but it’s still nice to cast the Sage. I catch four small brown trout (largest at 13″) on the hares ear and then call it a day.

I walk back to the car with both rods in hand (no need to dash back in the morning on a frantic rod search).

The sunny afternoon does not materialise and it’s chilly when I drive off. I still don’t have a trout on dry fly and I’m not catching in any great numbers. It is only April though, and one thing I’ve learned is there is no such thing as a ‘typical season’. You’ve got to take what’s on offer.

I think I’ve had a successful day on the Monnow – and when it comes to fishing, I’m the only one I need to please.

Mr Notherone

Fresh Out Of Ideas…..

Peering over the bridge I confirm what I already know. I’ve seen the river several times from the car and the high, swirling, brown water means no fishing today. I should have turned around earlier but a little ray of hope drives me on, wanting to believe that further upstream the Monnow will be better. It’s not.

Decision time. Head home, walk the dogs, watch the rugby and put off those jobs around the house that are becoming urgent. Problem is, I did that yesterday. So I aim for the Usk to see if casting a fly is possible. It is.

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The Usk above Abergavenny

It looks possible from the road that is, but up close I’m less sure. I exchange a few thoughts with a fellow angler who arrives as I’m tackling up. He’s after salmon and following a few pleasantries I wish him well. I take some comfort from not being the only one in the river today. It’s colder than the forecast suggests and the tops of the trees have a little movement. From experience I know that if the wind picks up, it won’t be until I’m ready to make my first cast.

The water is fairly clear and pushing through strongly. At the better access points, a few meters from the bank I’m already waist deep and side on to stay upright. With this much flow, the usual features are hidden. It’s going to be difficult.

I start with two nymphs, tight line, but as I can’t venture far I resort to laying on the coloured braid to get the flies in the better water. To my surprise I’m soon into a small trout quickly followed by a better one of about 13″.  He fights like an early season fish and looks lean and healthy in the net. Every angler knows the relief of not blanking on a tough day.

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Upstream the river deepens and I can wade even less. I decide to use a bushy elk hair pattern to hold up a nymph, that will get me a bit more distance and I’ll be able to see it. I persevere for an hour or so and then I need a rest. The strain of every muscle flexing against the flow is giving me one hell of a workout.

I wander further up stream and cast to a few likely spots but I’m not confident and my fly is not in the water much.

I take a break and sit and watch the river. It’s warmer now and I see a handful of march browns coming off, not what you’d call a hatch. No rising fish though. None the less, I tie on a dry march brown pattern while I eat an apple – just in case. Although, unless the trout breaks the surface under my feet, I’m not sure I’ll get the fly anywhere near him.

Time for another rethink and it occurs that swinging a few spiders might be worth it. Wading will be easier heading down stream and if I can get the flies out into the deeper water I can cover more. I search the box for a couple of likely candidates, tie on a longer leader, put the spiders on droppers and then add a heavier nymph on the point to get them all down quicker. Again I give it a bash for an hour, getting in and out of the river frequently when it gets too deep or strong.

My confidence gets a boost when I bump a fish and after a few more casts a 12″ brownie grabs the top spider. This is quickly followed by the best fish of the day, at just under 14″.

I very rarely fish spiders and I’m going to have to improve my ‘escalator’ technique if I’m to get my catch rate up with this method.

The Usk is a good size river and when it’s pushing through it can all get a bit intimidating, especially for a cautious wader like me. I’m pleased I decide to give it a go today and I’m very pleased with four trout. I’m also absolutely knackered.

I drive home slowly as if somehow I’m using less energy and it will help me recover. Then I remember I’ve a Sunday roast to look forward to and my aches already start to fade.

Mr Notherone

 

 

Where would we be without a PTN…….?

I get a rare chance to spend a second day on the river this week. With the trout season around the corner this is my last effort to catch grayling and I head for a little stretch of the Avon in Wiltshire.

I’m not a scholar of the history of fly fishing, but there will be few devotees of the art, unfamiliar with Avon river keeper Frank Sawyer. He is accredited with inventing the pheasant tail nymph and I came to the conclusion a while ago that when it comes to nymphs, variations of the PTN are pretty much all that’s needed. So it proves again today.

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The Avon above Upavon

It’s six months since I was last here and today the river is pushing through strongly with a dark colour to the water. This is not one of those chalk days when you can count each grain of gravel in six feet of water. Every river looks different in each season, but this stream is unrecognisable from last August.

I decide to fish traditional upstream nymphs and just vary the weight to suit the flow. The banks are accessible and I can cast to many pools without wading; an impossibility in summer. My 8ft Sage SLT is perfect.

In the past, I’ve had as many as thirty grayling on this beat, but something is telling me this day will be different. As I make my way downstream, I can’t resist stopping at my ‘banker’ pool. I’ll fish through it again on my way up but I’ll just run the fly through a few times now. No response.

After nearly an hour, I’m still at the same pool and after several fly changes, I continue south with just one small grayling to hand. It doesn’t feel like a red-letter day is in the offing.

Things look up when I get back in the water and first cast I have another small but perfectly formed grayling posing for a snap as he slides back in. I continue upstream but I get no activity from the suspect lies. At the next pool, I’m convinced it’s holding fish but after a dozen drifts, again no interest.

I have little patience and keep tweaking the presentation. I switch to a size 16 PTN with a red tag and straight away I have the best fish of the day at around 14″ and it’s followed by another two smaller grayling. The fishing is not prolific but it’s fun.

The red tag stays on and lands two more grayling from my ‘banker’ pool and four OOS small trout from the next glide. I check my watch and I’ve only an hour before I need to head home. I spend the rest of the time on the upper beat, mostly kneeling trying to hide my profile whilst prospecting likely water. If anything the water is colouring up more and I’m fishing blind.

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I have half a dozen boxes of nymphs, mostly variations of pheasant tails and hairs ears. The majority have never been wet and I’ll guess that goes for a great many fly anglers. We all have our go to patterns. I wouldn’t dream for one minute of denigrating the ‘match the hatch’ approach, but here’s my reality. I have seen precious few hatches in recent years and most of the time I can’t identify the chosen food. I catch my share and when I’m not fishing a dry, the PTN variations work more often than not.

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I find that red, orange and pink tags work well with grayling and won’t escape a passing trout.

I catch everything today on the red tag PTN and a shrimp, both size 16. For those of you watching in black and white, the red tag is the one next to the pink shrimp (yes I’m old enough to remember Ted Lowe and Pot Black).

I think the count today is eight grayling and four trout. I’m not sure when I’ll get back to the Avon. This coming season, I’m planning to spend as much time as possible on the Monnow, her tributaries, and of course the Usk. Alas, there are only so many days for fishing.

On a few chosen occasions, I’m fortunate to be able to get to a chalk stream within a reasonable drive and for a reasonable price.

Mr Notherone

 

 

River Irfon Magic…

The drive up Mynydd Eppynt is a little daunting. The narrow road, hairpin bends and wayward sheep, all focus the mind. This would probably make an exciting race track and I imagine how the Caterham I owned thirty years ago would fair. Fantastic I’m sure. Today though, my land rover is not accustomed to such mental agility and even if this is one of the best off-road vehicles available, I’m determined not to test that claim here.

I’m also aware of the frequent artillery range signs and red warning flags. I imagine some snotty nosed trainee gunner tracking me in his sights with the latest hi tech kit, itching to pull the “trigger”!  He doesn’t, of course.

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Irfon Valley – beautiful grey morning

My last visit to the Irfon ended in a wash off – nothing could have persuaded me into the river that day. By contrast, today is grey and mild for the date, with a little on and off drizzle. The water is fairly low and running clear. I fully expect to spend the day euro nymphing but conditions suggest otherwise and I opt for the duo to give me a little more distance. I have my 9ft 6″ Hanak that will manage a fly line and the french leader if I want it.

I walk to the downstream limit and realise with the water this low there are really only a handful of pools that will likely hold grayling. Long stretches are no more than ankle deep, clear and with a distinct lack of fish.

I prospect the first few ‘fishy’ seams and have to change the depth and weight of the nymph several times. I’m fishing well (for me) but I’m lacking the confidence that the grayling are in this quicker water. At the first more obvious pool I take a break, eat an apple and plot my line of attack.

It’s not obvious. I think the grayling will be just out of the main current and somewhere before the back eddy, so I’ll have to cross over and clamber around a fallen tree.

IMG_2248I wade out, slightly further than I’m comfortable, and try to cover the water. It’s the third or fourth cast when I get a take at the end of the drift. A pristine grayling of about a pound. The pool is at least 6ft deep and my nymph is hitting the bottom.

I catch three in this pool before all goes quiet. The next pool is also productive and another three similar grayling come to hand. On this beat there is plenty of room for casting, however the the wind picks up and as I round the next bend it’s hard in my face. Time for lunch.

Over the next hour I manage three more grayling, two from an eddy where the bank falls away and one from some faster water at the head of a longer glide. They are all the same size and I see only one larger fish. When I peer over the bank like a beginner, I succeed in spooking the fish and it bolts downstream. I make a mental note that surprisingly, I’ve no interest from an OOS trout in four hours of fishing.

I’ve not been out for a while, so I’m pleased with nine grayling from a river I don’t know. The Irfon probably plays second fiddle to it’s big brother the Wye, but she is beautiful and well worth a visit. I will definitely return for the grayling, ideally when a little more water is flowing. I’ll also do a little research to see how the trout show later in the year.

Back at the car I’m shocked to see that I have a phone signal – probably only happens one in ten trips where I fish. I discover it’s tuna steak for dinner. Apparently, in our house I’m the “best at cooking fish” which I have learned is code for “you’re doing dinner”! After a day on the river and a ninety minute drive my reward will be slaving away in the kitchen. Wouldn’t have it any other way.

Mr Notherone

 

 

Celebrating Thanksgiving on the Lugg

Once again I take a couple of days off for Thanksgiving. With so many American colleagues disappearing to consume turkey, it’s a perfect time not to work. So I give thanks in my own way, by searching for grayling on the beautiful river Lugg. I get the bonus of knowing that I will come back to no email backlog and no wasted time playing catch up. An American holiday to which I don’t relate, is something I now look forward to.

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The Lugg Valley

It’s been too many weeks and I’m eager to get on the road, but first thing this morning I’ve got a touch of the ‘grumpy old man’ about me. The bathroom has more bottles of stuff in it than the local branch of Body Shop, but I still can’t find some simple soap and shampoo. I don’t want to come out of a shower smelling like a fruit salad, I just want to be clean!

The dogs seem to share my opinion and I swear I can see Ollie screw his nose up as he wonders what I’ve been rolling in.

It should be a seventy minute drive, but traffic in Hereford has me wishing I’d picked a less direct route. The Lugg rises in central Powys and after meeting the Arrow flows into the Wye ten miles south of Hereford. I’ve fished it several times but I wouldn’t say I know the river.

It’s a dry day, bright and bitterly cold. After heavy rain in the last few weeks, the river has fallen but is still pushing through and has a grey tinge. The low bright sun makes visibility in the fast flow very difficult. I set up my Hanak Superlight with a shrimp on point and a red tag hare’s ear on a dropper. I step carefully upstream – there are some deep pools and it’s way too cold to get wet.

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Quick Return For OOST

My first take is at the tail of a deep run, but it’s a 10″ OOS trout, as is the second and third fish, all from the same run. Funny how fish feel bigger pulling against a strong flow.

An hour in and I find no grayling. I decide to go back to the car and change gear. The open ground has given way to overhanging trees and the long nymph rod is proving a challenge. My 8ft Sage gets the flies to those fishy places and I alternate between nymphs and the duo.

One more small trout and still no grayling. I’m not convinced by the method and my patience is running out. I think it’s a myth that anglers have an abundance of patience, I have none. I constantly fiddle with flies and depth and the grayling don’t respond.

I decide to go a bit old school and fish a couple of lighter nymphs on a traditional longer line upstream. Cast, retrieve line, a few steps, repeat. Probably more by luck than judgement, I bring three small grayling to hand in quick succession. Two take a pink shrimp and one the red tag. They are feisty for little’uns.

I really enjoy this beat.  It’s out of the way with a variety of water, easy to access and in a beautiful valley.  At the upper limit is a weir, below which there is plenty of promising water.  I explore every likely area and collect two more small grayling and then a better one of about 12″.

I fish for four hours in total before the cold gets the better of my fingers. On the valley floor the frost hasn’t lifted. I enjoy Winter fishing and usually don’t mind the chill, but today it’s starting to find a way in and I’m becoming uncomfortable. Why spoil a nice day by hanging on for an hour.

I warm up in the Land Rover, munch a sandwich and take in the view for ten minutes before driving away. The sun is already disappearing through the conifers on the far ridge. Winter day’s are short in this part of the valley.

Tomorrow I’m taking my father to a concert to celebrate his ninetieth birthday. I may not be that interested in an American public holiday, save for a day off to go fishing, but I’ve plenty to be thankful for.

Mr Notherone

 

 

Thoughts on another season behind me…

I can’t be alone in thinking each trout season disappears faster than the one before. It seems only weeks ago that I was sat planning a few winter grayling trips and yet here I am a year later doing the same thing. I wish for more time on the rivers. I wish for less time earning a living. One day, I know exactly how I will spend more time and it won’t be getting under someone else’s feet.

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The Upper Wye (end of season)

The past season proved a mixed bag. Some truly memorable moments, some easily forgotten and a lot of frustration on route.

Spring

Snow, driving rain, rivers unfishable and impossible to wade. Just what we want when the lines are all dressed, the fly boxes are full and that child like anticipation for the first brown trout of the year, is not being contained at all well.

Winter won’t give up and it’s almost April before I slide into a raging river Usk and wet a line in anger. I share the day with a few small trout, a playful otter and one very decent trout of 16 1/2″. The season is up and running, but this year it resembles a middle aged ‘couch to 5k’ novice, not a well trained sprinter. Boy it’s hard going. A few more trips through April sees me picking off some of the Monnow tributaries with varying degrees of success and wondering where the fly life is. The rising trout is a rare sight indeed.

I will regard May as the best month of the season by far. Spring has finally sprung and the weather and water levels are just right. The fish are tricky though and still have an aversion to the surface. People talk of the rivers being at least a month behind where they should be, so I confidently add this to my list of more trusted excuses!

During the month I fish the Monnow, Usk, Wye, Honddu, Escley and Olchon and at last I’m catching good numbers….but definitely fewer than previous seasons. I’ve never been that motivated by catching a lot of fish, I’m too easily distracted by just being there.

I have spent recent seasons improving my nymphing technique which has significantly upped the number of fish caught, but I frequently opt to just fish a dry fly. It’s hard to beat the satisfaction of the hook up to a well cast dry. May ends up as one of the wettest for a while, but the fishing picks up.

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Seasons Best Brown Trout

The end of May also sees me land what turns out to be my best fish of the season. The 18″ Usk brownie falls to a pheasant tail in the pool where the Grwyne brook tumbles into the Usk.  It’s up there as one of the best brown trout I’ve had from any river. In all these years I’ve yet to catch that magic 20″ brown trout – maybe next season.

I also can’t reflect on last May without a passing mention of the Monnow Social. A superb gathering of the good, the bad and the ugly, spending a weekend fishing and drinking in support of the Monnow Rivers Association. It’s hard graft but someone’s got to do it. I’d like to offer more detail but my recall is literally still lost in some scotch mist.

Summer

Late spring rolls into early summer and initially I’m optimistic. The Usk continues to give up some bounty and I enjoy a few evening sessions. Only on one occasion though, for around 20 minutes, do I experience what might be called a ‘good hatch’ with trout rising and gorging on natural olives.

Then comes the dry spell. A heat wave and lack of rain for weeks makes for great barbecues but challenging fly fishing. I’m still catching but in low numbers as the water temperature rises. One evening I fail to see or find a trout, but manage a dozen dace on a size 18 F fly, a strange but enjoyable hour.

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Avon Grayling

By mid-July the Usk is a trickle of a river and kids are strolling across at Usk town barely getting their feet wet. I register a water temperature of 24 degrees one evening and give it a break for the next six weeks.

An opportunity to fish the Wiltshire Avon presents in August and there is more water and flow than my regular freestone rivers. A fabulous day sees me land a lot of fish but it’s a similar story to home with a distinct lack of brown trout and many more grayling.

The Avon is a beautiful stream though and to complain would seem rather churlish. Particularly at a time when pictures of my local Monmouthshire rivers show some with almost no flow at all. It’s late August when I get back on the Usk and after some rain, the fishing improves and I’m able to pick up a handful of brownies from some of the faster heads.

Autumn

Following a late summer family holiday, I stumble into September and a crazy busy month at work. My hopes for some late season trips to the Wye evaporate and I have to wait until the last day of the season to finish with a dry fly high on the river Edw. My personal triumph is a cast directed through a narrow gap and under an overhanging tree, to where I know there will be a trout. The stuff of small stream dreams. The Adams is taken immediately and a feisty little brownie poses for a quick photo.

Then it’s gone all too quickly. The fish and the season.

On the way home that evening, I cross the Wye and stop for a quick look over the bridge.  I imagine where I might be standing on a cold frosty morning in some weeks time, no doubt trying to find a shoal of grayling.

It’s anything but a stand out season and I don’t enjoy the drought at all. It also feels like there are fewer trout around. I think back to a conversation I listen to at the Game Fair back in July. Nick Hancock (he of TV presenter fame and a keen angler) is part of a panel discussing the impact of FEB’s across the country. The consensus is rather gloomy and worrying.

With a little luck though and fair wind, I’ll still be back in the spring. By then I’ll be fed up of the cold and fickle grayling and ready to chase my first trout of another season.

Mr Notherone