A Sneaky Few Hours…

The little track down to the Usk is overgrown and unlikely the right way.  I’ve been here before though, so I know I’m only a few hundred yards from parking up and only a few more from the river.

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Downstream On The Usk

The path is overgrown too and I take my time, a slip here could spoil my afternoon.  The river looks spot on, just the right height, running clear, but it’s sunny and the water still feels cold

I’ve grabbed a couple of hours on a middle Usk beat at the last minute.  Today was supposed to be busy with other stuff, but no complaints, I’m on the river.  I’ve seen so few rises this season that when I spot a fish rising on the far bank as I walk down the beat, I stop and plan my approach.  This turns out to be one of just five rises I see.  I catch two of the five in the first hour, presumably I’m too clumsy for the others.  I’m pleased that my size 18 olive emerger does the trick as today I’m only fishing a dry fly and I pass over the faster water at the top of the beat, in favour of the more likely dry fly water.  My first cast is good enough and a 12″ brownie comes to the net, followed ten minutes later by another.

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Today resembles one of those days that I yearn for during the colder months, perfect in every respect, apart from the distinct lack of fish.  It’s a similar story to a week ago and a week before that.  Everything looks just right, except the fish don’t show.

I continue to prospect with the dry, concentrating on the far bank and I manage to rise and catch two more brownies to the olive emerger and an Adams.

A hundred yards upstream is a family messing around with a dog splashing in the margins, so I slow down and take a break.  I just sit, take a drink and watch the river.  There are some duns coming off and I see two yellow mays, but no fish are interested.

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Fell To An Olive Emerger

I’m tempted to stay longer but I’ve promised my daughter a barbecue.  I can catch some more if I work the faster water with nymphs but as this is a dry fly day I call it a day.

On the way home, near Raglan, I’m held up by a driver doing 25mph.  Diving a Defender, it’s rare that I find much going slower than me.  There’s a certain irony that the ‘go slow’  is driving a Suzuki Swift.  I bide my time, drop down a gear and plant my right foot.  There’s a three to four second pause as the land rover tries to work out what’s happened, before doing it’s best to respond.  It’s quite possibly the first time I overtake anything moving in my Defender.

Today I enjoy a few hours on the Usk on a warm Spring day and catch four smallish trout on a dry fly.  Nothing too remarkable.  However, I’ll remember the day for the rush of adrenaline as I see the Suzuki driver mouthing “hooligan” in my mirror as he eats my dust.

Mr Notherone.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Socially Speaking…….

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It’s Sunday evening and I’m slumped in the chair.  I’m aching all over, my feet are sore, I’m hoarse from laughing non-stop since Friday evening – oh, and I smell like a wrestlers jock strap.  There’s no other explanation needed, as I’ve just returned from the annual Monnow Rivers Association Social.

This is my second year attending and in-spite of my exhausted condition I’m hoping for many more to come.

There are those for whom fly fishing is a solitary pursuit, but even if it is, there is always room for a gathering like this where the friendship, banter, fun and fishing is served up in spades.  I’m richer for the experience even if poorer in the pocket.  Once again I’ve returned with a few “essential bargains” from the infamous auction, including a book from the 1980’s on still water trout fishing; something I don’t do and have no intention of starting.  Last year I was naive; this year I have no excuse and Patrick and Rob prove equally adept at removing my cash.

There is a lot of talk about the rivers being late this season and that appears to be true.  Some excellent anglers are made to work hard for their fish.  The conditions aren’t quite there yet, perhaps another three weeks?  None the less, I catch 16 fish in two and a half days, I learn a lot and I’m very pleased.  I experience two Monnow beats new to me in stunning surroundings and in the good company of Dave with whom I’m buddied up.  I also revisit a favourite beat of mine on the Honddu.  There is fly life (particularly under the stones) but the trout don’t look up much yet.  They can be tempted and the patient angler is rewarded.  A few very good fish are caught and returned.

In the evenings, the conversation and alcohol compete for which can flow fastest, with the inevitable winner.  Stories and anecdotes are shared with a passion and I now know what it means to literally ache with laughter.  I indulge more than I have for a while and eventually retire, fortunately to the same tent I put up earlier.  The mornings start with a procession of disheveled individuals armed with mugs, fresh from a night in a tent with varying degrees of discomfort, looking for caffeine.  A good breakfast revives the spirit and with fishing partners and beats distributed, the pursuit begins.

A lot of folk put in a lot of work to make the Social successful, something for which all us participants are very appreciative.  I’m already looking forward to next year and have worked out that there are only eleven and a bit months to go.  As a proud social (small s) media luddite, I’ve even been moved to join something called Facebook, so that I can keep in touch with MRA gossip – whatever next!

Mr Notherone

Sizzling on the Monnow

It’s the warmest day of the year so far and as I leave home around mid-morning, the car already feels like an oven.  A forty minute drive finds me parked up beside the upper Monnow and peering over a little bridge trying to spot trout.

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The Upper Monnow

The beautiful spring day feels more like mid-summer and although I can’t spot any fish, I’m looking forward to an afternoon and early evening on the river.  A white land rover pulls alongside and I chat with the most stereotypical farmer imaginable.  His look is of a man who has never spent a day indoors in his life.  He seems knowledgable about the local rivers and he’s telling me to look out for a pair of kingfishers just below the bridge.

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Water Temperature Is Still A Little Low

The beat is under a mile long and I’m going to go minimalist.  This is partly because I’m always trying to carry less but mostly because it’s so hot.  I’m greased up with sun lotion and with a small shoulder bag and a handful of essentials I’m off.  I’m carrying my 8ft 3wt and starting with a specialist nymph line and a pair of lightly weighted pheasant tails.  I have another reel and regular line with me and whatever happens I’m determined to spend time with the dry fly today.

As I walk down the beat I meet a family on a weekend break.  The little lad has a bent pin, piece of string and a stick and is trying to attract the fry with bacon rind.  He looks at my rod and reel with envy and so rather than tell him he’s poaching, needs a rod licence and that it’s fly only, I give his Dad a couple of little flies and some tippet and tell the six year old to be careful waving it about in front of his sister!  I’m genuinely hoping he catches a tiddler but I’m also hoping he’s moved on by the time I’m fishing back at this pool.

Given the recent rain, the river is lower than I expect but still a little cloudy.  All in all I think the river is about a month behind where it should be.  There are various sporadic hatches throughout the afternoon but I see just one rise all day.

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No Net Needed Today

I spend several hours leisurely working upstream, exploring each likely spot and bring several lovely little fish to hand.  It’s hard work though, and I’m constantly swapping flies and changing depth.  Today I’m in no rush and I spend plenty of time just watching the river, soaking up the sun.

All the fish are similar, beautifully marked and full of fight.  Both the lighter dropper and heavier point fly have taken fish.  As I run the nymphs though a deeper pool I see a slab of silver and then the sighter straightens a little.  I tighten up and for a few brief seconds I feel a better fish and then he’s gone.  I relax back out of sight and after about 15 minutes I try again, but to no avail.

I fish the whole beat picking up small brownies from the faster top of the pools, but on the slower glides I see nothing.  The boy with the stick has disappeared.

Back at the car I dispense with the bag and just stuff a small box of drys, tippet and floatant in my shirt pocket.  I’m going to fish the whole beat again targeting any rise and prospecting a few likely haunts.  After an hour I’m done – just one rise and in spite of me creeping on all fours and kneeling to cast, he gets away.  My cast is on the money, but I can’t get him up and I suspect I’ve spooked him.  Today is not the most prolific, but a day to remember none the less.

The Crown offers a very welcome drink and a few locals enquire after my fortune.  My mind wanders to the little lad with the deep brown eyes and how his face lit up when I showed him my fly box.  Who knows, perhaps I’ve caught more than small brownies today and another would be fly angler is hooked already.

Mr Notherone.

Struggling in the Honddu Valley

As I turn off the road and onto the track that leads to the river it’s not the sight I am expecting.  Looking forward to a remote few hours on the Honddu, I’m confronted by what looks like a well established campsite and the usual array of green, orange and blue  tents.  There is the smell of campfire and breakfast on the air.  A few early risers are friendly enough as I pass and make my way downstream of the bridge to the bottom of the beat.  The campers are as entitled to be here as me, but I’m already feeling out of sorts.

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The Honddu below Llanthony

No reason really, the river looks good with a nice flow and very clear water.  I decide to fish with a pair of nymphs, traditional upstream rather than European style.  Nothing for twenty minutes then I hook and lose a small brownie in some pocket water before bringing another to hand.  They seem to be in the quicker water today.  I hook and lose two more as a spaniel from the campsite follows my every move from the bank.  At least he’s not interested in a morning bath.  As I fish past the campsite my mind is wandering; I’m not sure if it’s the smell of bacon but I’m not even looking when the next small trout snatches the pheasant tail.  This time he stays on and the fly falls out as I cradle him in the water before he bolts for cover.

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What’s not to like

Back at the car I grab a drink and a rethink.  I’m not fishing well.  I’m stumbling around heavily and in this small stream stealth and presentation is paramount.  I resolve to give myself a metaphorical kick up the arse.  The early morning sunshine disappears and now the wind picks up with a little rain in the air.  I head upstream where I’ve only the sheep and new lambs for an audience.

There is no surface activity but I decide to tie on a dry emerger and prospect.  I’ll probably miss out on more of the lovely little brownies in the quicker water but maybe I’ll tempt a better one up.  I’ve a rhythm going now and perhaps a quarter mile above the bridge my fly is taken as soon as it lands and a better fish is soon to hand.  A good fight, quick picture and he’s back.  Unfortunately, my mood uplift is short lived as I follow this success with two casts into a tree before putting a knot in the end of my furled leader!  Time to call it a day.

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Honddu Brownie

As I drive away it’s warming up and this is probably the time I should be arriving.  The Honddu is a lovely stream in a beautiful valley.  Today I’ve not made the most of this Monnow tributary and I’ve only myself to blame.

I decide to cheer myself up and stop at the Half Moon for a pint.  I’m greeted with a warm welcome and a “what can I get you on this beautiful Spring day”?   Not such a bad weekend after all.  What do they say about even a bad day fishing being better than a good day anywhere else…

Mr Notherone

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

Stark Raving Mad!

It’s not often that I’m startled at 7.30am by a stranger shouting at me.  The piercing shrill is coming from a large lady on the footpath who doesn’t break stride as she follows up the “Are you stark raving mad”? with a loud laugh and exuberant wave.  I almost lose my footing and all I can manage is a rather lame “quite probably” in reply.  Then her and her Labrador are gone and I’m still waist deep in the Monnow searching for grayling, perfectly convinced that my sanity is beyond question.

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A Frosty Message To The Family

The day starts with me scratching a message on my partners car hoping our daughter might find it amusing.  I’m going to defy the forecasters and their over excitement about the coming storm – it even has a name, the Beast from the East.  Everyone is busy stocking up and preparing for the 4″ of snow that will paralyse the country for days.  It will probably amount to nothing much.  So 7am finds me tackled up and walking across the fields to the bottom of the beat.  Although I’ve all the layers I need it’s one of my coldest starts to a fishing session at -4C on the gauge and as I continue my walk, ice is forming on my waders below the knees from crossing the river.

Today is also the first outing for my new Simms G3 boots, bought a while ago in a sale.  So far so good, actually they feel fantastic and my confidence is up.

 

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The river is clear and pushing through and I decide to try some Euro style nymphing so out comes the Hanak Superlight and my new Sunray line.  I choose a shrimp for the point and a lighter PTN on the dropper and go hunting.  Usually I don’t fish fast but today I’m not hanging around and I try to get a balance between getting a move on and keeping quiet.  Although I’m searching every likely haunt I find nothing, but two little bumps (that I’m convinced are fish) keeps me optimistic.  The first take comes at the end of a short drift just as I’m lifting and I unhook a small 8″ grayling with the fish still in the water.  This is not a day for the net or pictures of my catch and it’s too cold to mess about. I take a few snaps of the river.

 

 

 

Two more similar fish follow but I’m not finding a shoal even in the deeper pools.  Eventually the 4th grayling, a better fish of about 12″ takes the pink shrimp and shortly afterwards I’m in again to what I hope is a really good grayling but turns out to be a 14″ OOS brownie who is particularly feisty.  It’s hard to beat the Monnow.  After four hours on a cold late February morning I have chalked up five fish and I’m satisfied.  If spending a morning here in Winter makes me ‘raving mad’ then so be it – I’m not alone.  If you’ve found this post and read this far, you probably understand.

I warm up in the car with a sandwich and some chocolate – I’ll be home in half and hour.  My partner phones and wonders if, with the storm coming, she should make an extra trip to the supermarket.  No, let’s take a risk and live life on the edge I tell her…we’ll probably survive.

 

 

 

 

Mr Notherone