Testing Time in Hampshire

It’s a dark cold morning in Hampshire. The Test valley is waking up to the prospect of a lot of rain and wind. For many, this grim November day will no doubt be made worse when an annoyingly brazen politician turns up with a pestering “Can I count on your vote?”

A day for a lay in perhaps. Or, why not stand waist deep in a famous river looking for grayling. It’s an easy choice, with the added benefit of no self serving wannabes knocking on the door.

It’s Grim Down South

I lived in Hampshire for years and know this area well, but I’m unfamiliar with the river here and grateful to Steve who knows every inch of this stretch. Andy has fished here many times too and the three of us are looking forward to a good, if somewhat damp, day.

Even in this weather the landscape has a unique beauty and this stretch probably hasn’t changed much for centuries. You can still see the hatches connecting the carrier and main river. Although close to the town, it’s pretty quiet and the only sound is the frequent arrival of ducks and swans and the occasional distant blast from a local shoot.

The water is up from the considerable recent rain and a little murky. Spotting fish is difficult, but we see a few in the gravel channels. The plan is to start on the carrier and work our way up to the main river. As much as I’d like to be casting a dry, nymphs look the way to go and some weight will be needed to get down in the faster runs.

It doesn’t take long for us each to catch a few juveniles before Steve lands a better fish. The grayling here look strong and healthy and there’s a good head of youngsters.

Steve With A Nice Grayling

My best fish of the day also comes from the carrier before the rain really kicks in. The take is strong and my first thought is a trout, but as I backtrack to keep him upstream I get a glimpse of that big dorsal. I do like catching grayling. Andy obliges with a quick photo and we crack on.

My Best Fish

It’s just before 11.00 when the rain starts and it’s in for the day.

The main river proves a challenge and I learn that some very good anglers at recent nearby events have also struggled for grayling. Perhaps we need a more protracted drier cold snap. Although we continue to catch some smaller fish, anything of size eludes us.

Lunch in the heavy rain is also a challenge, but we find some shelter and warm up a bit. Andy and Steve are known as the ‘pot noodle twins’ and so I join them in the habit. Re-energised we hit the main river again and the going gets even tougher. None of us catch for the next hour or so, not even a bumped fish.

Steve is called away a little early and so Andy and I spend a final half hour on the carrier again before packing up. I switch to a smaller lighter nymph and fine tippet and manage a few more. It’s not a prolific day but enjoyable none the less and we are each into double figures by the close.

My thanks to Steve for introducing me to his home water. It’s many years since I fished the Test and I’m grateful for the opportunity to experience this special river again.

I may be in the minority, but I think I’d rather be on a chalk stream on a wet November day for grayling than fighting the well-heeled in May, trying to catch a stocked trout.

Mr Notherone

Another trout season slips away….

So another trout season has come and gone with the usual ups and downs. I was hoping to get out one last time, but the ‘Monmouthshire Monsoon’ has left my rivers in spate and running a milk chocolate shade of shit. 

When I drive over the bridge at Usk, I usually have to glance quickly in each direction and strain my neck to see the water. Today whilst looking straight ahead I can see the river on both sides. It’s high.

Time once again to reflect on a spent season, celebrate the highs and to see if I have the wisdom to learn from the lows.

An uninviting river Usk on the last day of the season

Before the trout season kicks off, I’m able to chase some grayling with trips to the Avon, Irfon and upper Wye. The fishing isn’t bad but predictably the winter weather can be challenging.

Spring

As March approaches so do the storms and this season will be topped and tailed with a lot of rain, flooding and no fishing. Once again it’s April before I wet a line and once again it’s the Usk that gives up the first trout of the season. In a heavy river and stiff breeze I manage just four smallish brown trout. I’m pleased though and my season has started.

I have access to a beautiful stretch of the Monnow this season and mid-April sees me exploring new water. Knowing a river well is a pleasure but there is always something special about fishing somewhere new and I catch my first trout of the season on a dry fly.

Seasons first on a dry

April also sees me catch a fantastic grayling at just over 18″. I’ve only caught one larger grayling (from the Wye a few years ago) so it’s a shame it’s OOS. The fish takes a heavy pheasant tail fished on the point and gives me quite a run around.

As the weather improves in May, my job starts to wind down and so with a break from earning a living, I find more time than usual to fish. May is a good month. The hatches gradually improve and increase and the trout are obliging. Several good fish at 16″ and 17″ are eventually bettered by my best wild river brown, a 19″ beauty that takes a mayfly, drifted under the far bank overhang.

I am a glutton for self inflicted punishment so I roll up for my fourth Monnow Social. The fishing is great, the company is better and I’m pleased not to have to struggle to work on the Monday following! https://fishingfortrout.blog/2019/05/13/fishermans-tales/

Summer

Early June sees me in the middle of one of the best mayfly hatches I’ve seen for years, reminiscent of some I remember from when I first started fly fishing. The spinner fall is extraordinary with trout rising in every direction. Only poor light forces me off the wicket.

With long summer evenings and time to fish I fill June with trips to the Monnow, Usk, Honddu, Wye and Lwyd. The fishing is excellent and I enjoy a lot of dry fly action. I manage to fall in one evening, thankfully with no great consequence and thankfully with no witness. Embarrassing as it is, there’s no better time to fall in than on a pleasant June evening, just before home time.

This Summer, on a few occasions, my daughter comes with me to take photographs for a school project. It’s welcome company and adds a new dimension to chasing trout up streams and rivers. She is getting better at taking the piss out of her dad and is good at not taking things too seriously. She’s a good influence.

The weather shifts in August and I find myself with less time on the river.

Autumn

Last season, I spent most of September either working or busy with family stuff. This year it’s the weather that keeps me off the water. I manage a couple of evenings and one afternoon trip before the rain comes and ruins the last few weeks. At least the last few trout are caught on a dry.

So that’s it. October already and a few grayling days in the diary.

This has been one of my better seasons for some time. More fish caught than in the last few seasons, more trout on the surface and some of the best mayfly activity for years. A new PB for a wild river brown was a highlight, but I won’t forget the little Honddu brownie that took a dry emerger only fifteen feet away, after possibly my most accurate cast of the season. It’s not just the bigger fish that bring reward.

It’s also been great learning new water, although I’ve sacrificed time on the Usk as a result. I’ll just have to make up for it next March. Until then, bring on the grayling….

Mr Notherone

Late season with a dry fly…..

It’s a bit of a lazy start to the day. I watch Ireland start their rugby world cup campaign by dispatching a very poor Scotland and then an unconvincing England flatter to deceive against Tonga, but a bonus point win is a good start. I’m nervous as Wales will start tomorrow.

In spite of the showers and growing breeze, mid afternoon I head to the river for a few hours. The season is almost done and it’s weeks ago that I cast a line.

I sit on the bank and wonder if my time could be better employed. The drizzle is getting stronger but no matter how much it rains it isn’t going to change the water level over the next few hours! It’s very low and clear.

In these conditions I would usually think that trying to winkle a few trout out of the faster runs with a nymph might be the only option but I’m just not in the mood. On the last day of last season I fished a dry all day and caught a hat full of trout on a small stream not far from here. I resolve to try the same again.

Wandering to the bottom of the beat I experience three seasons in a fifteen minute walk as rain and bright sunshine combine to briefly show me a rainbow. It fades all too quickly and the breeze increases. A lone sheep in a vast empty field, clearly unwell, makes no attempt to avoid me and I hope the shepherd realises it’s missing. There is something unsettling about a sheep on its own, they just don’t have that antisocial gene. Ominously, a buzzard is sat watching from a convenient perch.

As I step into the water I notice a few shapes I hadn’t seen dart away. This will be a challenge. I select a small elk hair CdC to prospect the far bank and quicker riffle at the top of the pool. I have my Sage 4 weight and a long 15ft leader.

Part of me is convinced I’m just practicing casting when a little trout makes a grab for my fly but misses. I resist the temptation to snatch it away and wait a minute before attempting the same drift. This time he’s accurate and so am I.

Couldn’t resist the elk hair CdC

To my surprise another four similar trout and one grayling are tempted over the next couple of hours, all from similar runs.

I rise nothing from the slower, deeper pools although I clearly see one larger fish circle and nose the fly twice before rejection. Another better fish, perhaps 15″ or 16″ swims slowly upstream just a metre from my feet as I’m tying on some fresh tippet. Whatever’s on his mind it’s not eating.

I’m also treated to a display of low level speed flying by a couple of kingfishers. They remind me of silent versions of the military jets that fly over our valley and like to rattle the tiles on my roof.

I’m hoping to get out one more time before the season ends, maybe after some rain has flushed the river and levels are up a bit. Another dry fly day perhaps.

Now, can Wales keep my blood pressure down and avoid a first match upset? I have learned that when following the oval ball, hope and despair usually take it in turns.

Mr Notherone

Autumnal August

Of all the trout season months, I struggle most with August. If it’s not too little water it’s too much and on day’s when I expect to enjoy some wet wading, I’m as likely to need the thermals. I’ll have to rethink my assumption that August is a summer month.

Low murky water and a strong wind

Today the river is falling after some heavy rain and coloured. It’s not particularly inviting. Intermittent showers has me putting on my light weight jacket and then packing it away half a dozen times. Tiresome.

A strong wind is gusting and swirling making it hard to keep a good drift with the nymphs and I can’t see me using the dry fly rod that is tucked into my waders.

For nearly two hours I fight the elements working upstream through the faster seams and pocket water. Nothing, not even a knock. My motivation is waning and as it’s the middle of the afternoon I decide to eat some lunch, although I’m not really hungry. I notice the kingfisher that I’ve seen twice already, settle on a perch directly opposite me. He’s joined by his mate and over the next twenty minutes they come and go several times before I’m treated to him diving three times into the pool. I’m not close enough to see if he’s successful.

It would be easy to call it a day but I persevere with the pheasant tail in the next pool and I catch a small brown trout quickly followed by a grayling.

As the grayling is sliding back, to my surprise I spot a rise about 25ft upstream under a tree. I’m going to have to cast backhanded or with my left arm to have any chance. I edge a little closer and decide backhand is more feasible. The size 16 Adams in the keeper ring will do.

My first effort isn’t bad but a little short. The second cast is just right and a good fish is on. I’m taken by surprise as he runs straight at me and I can’t take up the slack fast enough. Neither can I hide my disappointment and my curse startles a pheasant on the far bank.

It’s the only rise I see all afternoon but as the wind drops the fishing improves and I net more trout and grayling, including two 14″ browns, on some pheasant tail variants. It’s just before six o’clock when I leave and I notice another angler has arrived to try his luck. I hope he’s not expecting a balmy summer evening.

September is around the corner and when I get home I find my daughter actually doing some school work. She must also be sensing that summer is drawing to a close. I wonder if there’s time to squeeze in one late mini heatwave?

Mr Notherone

Some welcome company…

Our daughter is studying Art at GCSE and one of the modules requires building a landscape portfolio, initially with photographs. She decides that rivers might be a good subject. I concur and casually suggest she joins me on the river to get some practice.

I’m half expecting the teenage grimace followed by a perfectly plausible excuse, but she says yes. I’m surprised and pleased as we don’t get a lot of dad and daughter time.

It’s warm and a little overcast when we arrive and as its past lunchtime, the first thing we do is devour all our measly provisions.

She has borrowed a camera and is super enthusiastic. I’m not sure how much of this is the photography project and how much the idea of wet wading on a nice July afternoon. I ask her to stay reasonably close and stay down stream, but she seems as enthusiastic to take some shots of me as the landscape. Maybe I’m just in the way.

As we move slowly upstream, I fish a few of the faster pools and we chat non stop. She takes over 300 pictures from close ups of trees and insects, to fish, me and the river. She is deleting and editing as she goes and I’m pleased she’s having such a good time.

At her age, I would have a roll of 24 and be waiting a week for the packet to arrive from the chemist to see if there were any pictures without my thumb in them.

After a fun few hours we head home and she drops a few not so subtle hints that her own digital SLR might make all the difference. Smart girl.

Oh yes, I almost forget. I catch a few trout and grayling too.

Mr Notherone

Not the day I expect…

This evening I’m travelling with the family, taking my daughter to compete in an athletics meet over the weekend. Surprisingly I’m given an afternoon pass without request (why they want me out of the way is still a mystery) but I take it.

I realise that an afternoon on the river in this weather is not ideal. I’d rather fish the evening rise but as that’s not an option, I’ll take what I can.

It’s warm. The sort of July day we remember we had as kids, when our memory plays tricks and tells us every summer day then was warm.

The river is low and reasonably clear. I can see some trout in the shallows. I decide to fish a single nymph on a longish leader – I can switch to a dry if I get lucky. I’ll fish the faster more oxygenated water and maybe sight fish some of those trout.

I fish up the beat and start to catch a few, all small grayling up to about 12″. I lose one better fish, but I see enough to know it’s another grayling. It’s good sport, although I’m hoping for trout. On other days the exact same lies produce brown trout, but today the grayling have moved in.

It’s a good stretch of river and I’m surprised that I find the same pattern in each run. One or two grayling greedily snatching the nymph. No trout. I arrive at the top of the beat with about a dozen grayling.

Realising I’ve not eaten the apple in my pack, I sit down for a while. I can see the car from here. As I watch a dipper grubbing around in the shallows, I think I see a rise just off the food seam where the current swings around a 90 degree turn. It’s 4.30pm, my cut off time for leaving.

I’m in two minds. I should head off but predictably the temptation is too great and I tie on a small Adams. A few minutes won’t harm.

It’s not my best cast but the 11″ trout is forgiving and grabs the Adams with a noisy swirl. Not a big fish and a sluggish fight. Perhaps he’s been caught recently or is not well. No obvious visual signs of distress though and he swims off well enough.

A lovely but slightly odd afternoon.

It has the feel of being a really good evening in the making. I notice another car parked up alongside mine. Perhaps the angler has headed upstream and is able to fish that evening rise which looks promised. I hope the trout turn on for him, or her.

I arrive home expecting to quickly pack the car and head off towards Oxford. My mood sinks as I notice one of the rear tyres partially deflated and on examination, what look like a 6″nail is the culprit. I spend the next forty minutes changing the wheel whilst my daughter offers unhelpful advice from the safety of the open kitchen window. She’s in a mischievous frame of mind and I suspect the upcoming drive will feel longer than it should.

Mr Notherone

These long evenings can make for great sport…

I take advantage of a little more free time and arrive at the river about 5.30pm. It’s a dull and overcast late afternoon but I know that this sort of weather can be very productive.

I decide to start with a pair of nymphs in the hope that there will be fish rising later. In the first pool I flick the nymphs into the current and watch the sighter as the pool deepens. It stops abruptly and I lift into a good fish. I haven’t even got my feet wet.

The grayling is 17″, not as big as the OOS fish back in April but heavy and puts up a stronger fight. After about a thirty second recovery she slides back out of sight.

Over the next hour or so I make my way upstream picking up a few small trout from the faster riffles, mostly at the heads of the pools. I’ve a silver bead PTN on the point with a gold one on the dropper. All fish take the point fly.

I connect with only one better sized fish but it’s off after a few seconds. This part of the river is well shaded with a lot of tree cover and I’m struggling a little to keep track of the sighter. It’s a relief when the river opens up a little and I can see again.

As the river divides around an island, I focus on a fast deep pool. The sort of pool where you know a good fish lies in wait. I put on a heavier point fly to get down quickly and search every inch, to no avail.

Looking ahead to the glide above the pool I spot a rise and need no further evidence to switch to a dry.

It’s a difficult approach and I’m going to need to cast back hand. My first effort is short. My second pulls him up but he misses the fly and I only just resist the urge to lift and let the fly float down stream. To be sure he’s not spooked, I wait to see him rise again, and my third cast results in a 12″ brown trout in the net. Very satisfying.

I’m hoping to see more fish rise, but it doesn’t happen this evening.

Above the glide is a long faster riffle, not more that a foot deep. I cast into the nearside seam and a small brownie grabs the fly immediately. From the same run I catch a dozen more, all to the same fly, as the light fades. I’m surprised by how many trout are in this small area and still feeding as I pull them out one by one.

I can’t believe that we are already at the point where the evenings are getting shorter. Got to make the most of the coming weeks.

Mr Notherone