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

 

Freezing on the Upper Wye

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The Wye above Newbridge

I’m not prone to feeling the cold, but for some reason this morning is already different.  I’ve the usual layers on, feeling as bulky as ever and yet I’ve got the shiver that won’t go away.  It’s about half an hour after first light and I’m picking my way across the field to the river.  The temperature gauge is only reading 0°C but it feels lower and the frosty landscape is contributing to the mind-games.  It’s the end of the trout season and I keep telling myself that trout like it cold – they’re bound to be voracious for my fly today.

I’m going to split the beat up and start at the top end where the water is faster and explore the food seams and holding areas where I suspect the fish with lay up.  Two nymphs will be the way to start.  Later, when it’s warmed a little I’ll venture down to the slower glides and see if any fish are looking up.

An hour in the river and my feet are cold (surely its lower than 0°).

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Pheasant Tail Red Tag

It’s uncomfortable but bearable.  I’ve hooked and lost one trout and I’m struggling to find fish.  A change to a little pheasant tail with a small red tag on the dropper brings reward.  Three fish in quick succession, all small but perfectly formed. I should have changed flies earlier but I’m distracted and now my feet are even colder.  For the first time that I can remember I spend time on the bank just thawing out.  It’s a chance to pause, take in the surroundings, enjoy just being there (if only it was a little warmer).  I’m joined for a few minutes by a friendly walker who enquires after my success.  “Three small ones I offer”, followed by a detailed explanation of why he can’t see them.  Many don’t understand angling and some will give that bewildered look when learning that I might spend all day standing in a river returning the fish I attract.  He walks off and I’m sure he’s concluding I’m a little bit crazy.

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Small but Perfect

Back to the task.  The pheasant tail lands me a few more trout and two grayling can’t resist the heavier olive shrimp on the point.  Wading is getting tricky and I’m trying to find the good positions without slipping off the bed rock into what look like impossibly deep pools.

It’s not long before the pain returns to my feet and now I’m starting to shiver again. The quieter water lower on the beat can wait for another day.  As I backtrack along the bank, I notice a rise just above a prominent boulder and wait to see him rise twice more.  I figure I can reach him without wading and so I cast out a small olive up-wing that’s engulfed almost as it touches down.  I’m in and it feels like a better fish.  I turn his first run downstream but then he jumps and throws the fly.  He is definitely a better fish – and this day he’s better than me.  He’s not going to succumb to an

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Where the one that got away, got away.

angler who has already given up and is nursing his feet back to life along the river bank.  Any way, I’ll get him next time when I’m fighting fit.

I peel off my wadders and throw them in the Landy.  I discover both my socks are soaking wet and my suspicion that these wadders are reaching end of life is confirmed.  I’ve had better days fishing, I’ve had warmer days fishing, but this one will certainly be memorable.  It’s a frustrating day but not a disappointing one.  Does any day spent in the company of the Wye ever disappoint?

 

Mr Notherone.

The Upper Avon

A Day with the Ladies..

If my first passion is the trout, the grayling is not far behind and it is the off season after all.

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The First Of The Day

It’s still dark when I pull into the little car park in the wood.  I want to get set up but the poor light and chilly air sees me reach for the hot flask and I stay in the Land Rover for another twenty minutes.  I could have ventured to the upper Wye or perhaps the Lugg where I’ve had memorable days with grayling.  Last season I tempted a 19″ beauty (my personal best) from the Craig Llyn beat below Rhayader.  I could have gone west to the Taff but I don’t know the river well and so I’ve opted for familiarity and I’m about to fish the Avon above the little village of Upavon.  Hard to turn down a chance to cast a fly in a chalk stream.

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The Avon at Upavon

 

As my boots crunch through the light frost, the optimism is rising;  I’ve caught well here before.  I opt to head downstream from the bridge that bisects the beat and work up with a pair of nymphs, short tight line style.  The water is up a little and much clearer than I expect after so much rain, so a change of plan.  A klinkhammer with a lighter nymph suspended underneath will hopefully put me out of spooking range.  I catch steadily on the nymph and take a couple on the klink, before a flurry of surface activity around late morning.  Unexpected but very welcome.

I tie on a size 16 F fly and for about 25 minutes I’m trying to hit those little sips above and below me.  I catch quite a few and miss as many.  All the fish today are in the 10″ to 13″ range – no monsters on this trip.

Lunch is the usual hasty affair before another hour or so trying to spot and target fish with a dry from the bank.  I manage a few more before the light fades and I start to contemplate the 90 minute drive home that will probably be two hours.  Remarkably it has stayed dry although the cold is just starting to prompt me to make that last cast.

The upper Avon is a beautiful stream and a wonderful place to spend a day.  As I pull away and head home the first drops of rain trickle down the windscreen.  Sometimes when the gods are shinning on you they do a little overtime.

 

Mr Notherone

Autumn on the Lugg

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A Beautiful Lugg WBT

An actual day off work, no one trying to reach me and no email to worry about until much, much later. It’s proving a longer drive than I thought though, not helped by what I’m convinced are poor directions. I eventually find the lane that leads to the Lyepole beat.  This is a beautiful part of the country, rolling hills and a wide, flat valley floor.  The entire landscape is a shade of green and ‘picturesque’ does not do it justice.  It’s one of those Autumn days of bright sunshine punctuated with the occasional small dark rain cloud, but they’re just teasing and there’s not a drop all day.  I gaze over the bridge near the parking space and I’m hit with two thoughts; this is a smaller river than I remember and there’s not much water in it.

I head off to the bottom of the beat (a decision I’ll regret) armed with a shortish 3wt rigged with a french leader, sighter and a pair of weighted nymphs.  In the first faster ripple, I catch a 9” brownie with my second cast and then briefly hook another. Might be a good day after all, in spite of the water level. This is fishing though and it’s an hour before number two comes to hand.

Back at the bridge I ponder the 5 little trout I fooled and wonder what the afternoon will bring.  Resuming my efforts, almost immediately I realise my mistake as the top half of the beat is where I should be spending my time. More fishy places and betterIMG_0497 access. Nice pools with heads and tails all holding trout. One or two pools are deeper than they look and even with chest waders I’m lucky to stay dry.

The little trout keep coming and then close to the top of the beat, where the water cascades through a series of faster runs, I see the first surface activity and so on goes a small olive emerger.  My first cast is off and I wonder if he’s bolted.  Then I get the mend right and I’m rewarded with the best fish of the day that leaps twice before finding the net. This really is a beautiful beat. I’ve caught around 15 trout and a couple of grayling and enjoyed a day of solitude.  The light is telling me it’s late afternoon as I stroll back through the fields and my legs are telling me I’ve waded and scrambled enough for one day.  But what a day!

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Mr Notherone

Kingfisher Dilema

I have lost count of the times I have shared with this magnificent bird, have you?  Often the first indication is a flash of blue in my peripheral vision and I’ll do my best to track it hoping to catch the landing.  I will watch the bird on it’s perch, often to the detriment of my angling.

kingfisherAs our rivers have generally improved in recent years I suspect kingfishers have benefited.  I ‘feel’ my sightings are increasing but I can’t be sure.  I’m no ornithologist and can’t claim much knowledge and yet the kingfisher mesmerises me and makes me feel privileged.  Paradoxically, I’ve also come to take these encounters for granted.

This was reinforced the other day when my partner casually commented, whilst watching a clip of a kingfisher on TV, that she’d never seen one.  I was genuinely surprised.

The conversation evolved and she was equally surprised that I’d watched so many whilst fly fishing.  (There’s a side point here about the obvious poverty of communication between us and our respective interests, but best not go there).

Turns out, my partner has a significant ambition to see a kingfisher.  The obvious solution is for her to accompany me on a days fishing to the Monnow or Usk.  Well, perhaps not so obvious as now I have to wrestle with my desire to help her fulfil a heartfelt ambition and the potential intrusion into my private retreat that is fly fishing.

For the first time in perhaps twenty years, I sense that neither of us is now looking forward to the approaching season with the usual gusto!  I think we’ll work it out… without too much drama.

Mr Notherone