It is extraordinary how an obsession forces attention to detail. I think of myself as a bit ‘big picture’ and not good with detail. I don’t enjoy the nitty gritty and I usually rely on those who do.
With fly fishing though, I’m increasingly peeling the onion and discovering new hidden layers of things to think and worry about.Fishing isn’t on the agenda today but I find myself with an unexpected hour to kill and as I have to virtually drive past the beat, I make a twenty minute detour!
I was on the Usk yesterday for a very early pre-breakfast session and although I catch a few, I struggle in the low clear water and strong downstream breeze. Today is a little more overcast and I’m now on a different beat, lower down the river valley and enjoying the humid late afternoon.
If fishing mirrored the rest of my life, I’d just jump in the river and start fishing. I don’t understand why it is, but I have more patience on the bank than in all other situations put together. Although I can see no fish, I’m convinced that if I sit and wait for long enough something, somewhere will rise. So I sit and wait.
I love watching rivers. If I’m minded, I can look with an intensity of concentration that usually eludes (thanks Mr P) me in other things. When I spend time on the bank with someone who doesn’t fish, I’m always surprised by what they don’t see, even when looking at it. Looking isn’t the same as seeing.
I notice a small dimple where none was, about twenty five feet from the bank and a little upstream. It’s not easy to spot as it’s in the middle of a ripple created by a stone, exposed by the low water. I’m tight against the bank with no back cast, so a make shift roll cast sends a size 18 Adams on it’s way.
The take is gentle and then the trout does some spectacular aerobatics before giving up. Not big but beautiful.
A glance at my watch reveals time has flown by and I need to make tracks. Spotting a hard to see trout is satisfying, but it also makes me wonder how much I miss when I’m just looking rather than seeing.
Given the awful wet winter followed by enforced late start to the season, like many, I’m unsure how the fly fishing will unfold. So far, I’m pleasantly surprised by the quality and quantity of trout.
There has now been several days of rain, flushing the river and providing a much needed top up. In the early afternoon sunshine the river looks magnificent and ready for us.
A friend and I are looking forward to a day picking up trout on dry flies and spending time on the river in beautiful countryside. The river is at a perfect height with just enough colour to help us stay hidden. We could do with a little more cloud cover, but none the less, we are both surprised by how quiet the river is – the fish just aren’t playing ball.
With very few rises to cover, we prospect the many likely runs, back eddies and overhangs where trout like to hang out.
A few trout make some half hearted attempts, but this is one of those day’s when nothing sticks. A couple of smaller fish and one decent brown take a pheasant tail in some of the deeper pockets but the dry fly fails us. I don’t think I’ve peered so intensely at the river, searching for the faintest sign.
A cold beer lifts the mood and we set about enjoying the river. Perhaps a shift to another beat will bring more fortune and an evening rise.
A short drive, more searching…same outcome.
In the fading light, watching a gorgeous pool, I spot just a few bubbles directly in front of me, a few inches from the far bank. The fish (if it’s a fish) is in a small gap between two overhanging branches. A roll cast and shooting some line might work, together with a slice of luck. The fly bounces off a leaf and lands perfectly and for a few seconds is still, in the absence of a current.
The trout does not rise so much as suck the fly under with hardly a sound. I tighten and the pool erupts. Despite my best effort to knock him off with the net, eventually I have him. A lovely wild brown at 16″.
Memories are made from days like this.
A lovely afternoon on the river, friendship and good conversation, plus a cast that I probably couldn’t make again if I practiced every hour of every day. When people ask what it is about fly fishing I love, these days I can only manage a smile.
I’ve never been afraid of the dark, but the pulse quickens and I can feel a little extra surge of adrenalin as the light fades. The feeling of splendid isolation and standing in a river in beautiful countryside, is disappearing with the fading light. Replacing it is a slight sense of anxiety and a growing desire to make tracks.
Being a short drive from the river, I often take advantage of evening summer fishing and there can be no better time to attract trout to fluff tied expectantly on the line. The famed evening rise, whilst no guarantee, is also no myth.
In a frustrating hour of stealth fishing and creeping up the slow glide, I discover that the fish are not sacrificing themselves as readily as I hoped. In the equivalent game of ‘jumpers for goalposts’, they would have grabbed the ball and gone home for tea.
I manage to catch a couple of juvenile brown trout, demonstrating their urge to feed is not yet tempered by experience, but the more wily fish ahead of me are proving elusive. I try several of my confidence patterns to no avail and with each fly change, it’s becoming more difficult to see to tie the knot. With a great deal of effort and a good measure of luck, I manage to get a small gnat attached to the tippet.
At least in the middle of the river I can flail the rod around with abandon, confident that no one can critique my technique and I’ll not catch a tree.
Then one of the wily trout foolishly strays within my limited range and a minute later rises for the gnat. It’s a short and confusing fight before he’s unlucky enough to swim into the net. My net is fifteen inches long so I can just see that the fish is bigger, by perhaps an inch. A nice result.
As he slides away, I notice that I can barely make out my exit on the bank. The water that is thigh deep suddenly feels much deeper.
I lose the line of the path a few times during the walk along the river back to the car. Why does the darkness amplify sound so much? I hear an owl, followed by a dreadful screech and conclude that some poor creature is being torn apart.
It’s a quick change and my kit is less than carefully placed in the back of the land rover. As I pull up out of the field and onto the road, one glance in the mirror confirms there is no horde of the undead following me. Must have got out just in time…
Starting the season in May is interesting. Strictly speaking I manage one short session in early March, but with a gap of some ten weeks there is a strange lack of acclimatisation. The cold wet March and April days where trout are reluctant risers, rivers are pushing through and fish are tempted by nymphs or wet flies, are absent.
Dry fly only anglers may not feel the same, but to those comfortable with flicking a pheasant tail upstream, this is a shock to the system. It’s not unpleasant though.
Early season days of casting rustiness and knot fumbling, I associate with damp, cold afternoons and wobbly legs that are still finding themselves as the current tries to push me over. Today my early season clumsiness is basking in sunshine, a gentle breeze and plenty of trout sipping surface goodies.
After casting to and catching the first fish I see, confidence is up as I approach the second. It’s an easier cast but I snatch at the rise. There is nothing like the tug of thin air to bring the angler down to earth.
It’s hard to be disappointed though, there will be others and the river in the middle of May is a wonderful place to spend a few hours. A pair of geese with three goslings in tow are working their way up the margins and a dipper is gathering his fill from the abundant larder at his feet. However, the kingfishers I watched for hours last year are missing. Hopefully they are still on the river.
The best trout today is a surprise. Having caught a couple in the pool below, I wade upstream where there is a faster riffle at the head before a deeper channel opens up. As I’m studying the channel for a sign, I think I see a disturbance in the shallow riffle. I cast the fly for a short drift and I’m in. The fish dives for the deeper water and there is a moment when he nearly makes it to a tree stump.
He’s feeding in no more than 8″ of water, taking his pick before the other trout downstream in the pool. He slides back, none the worse and now I know where to look for him next time.
When I leave the river, I edge my way around a field that is being ploughed. The farmer has left just enough space for me to get the truck though. As he waves, he’s still more than half the field to plough and it occurs to me that I’ll likely get my dinner before him. Some days just keep giving.
I cannot abide garden centres, although the farm shops which frequently accompany them are very satisfying places.
Conscious of my distance from all other humans, I queue with the hundreds of other escapees. I am able to take advantage of a seat and in the morning sun, my mind begins to wander.
Peering over the bridge the river is as splendid as I’ve seen, perhaps made more so by my time away. From here the water looks clear but on closer inspection there is an algae washing through. I’m surprised I’m not in more of a rush and a little downstream I sit and admire. Obstacles I knew have gone and new ones have taken residence. The water is the perfect height.
A size 16 deer hair emerger is enjoying a coating of floatant as I watch for a third rise. There are trout showing but many are subtle. Today I will only try to catch those who show themselves.
There is tremendous satisfaction in spotting a rise, casting and fooling a fish regardless of its size and my first success is small, beautiful and had thankfully rehearsed his part in the script. Laying just off a faster current and sheltered by a fallen branch, I watch him take two good size duns before landing a gentle cast.
A few more follow, without quite the same precision and then I net a lovely 16″ brown trout on the same fly.
Of course I miss a few (I always do) and given this is the first dry fly day of the season I decide it’s nothing more than rustiness. Like a darts player missing a double to win. No nine dart finish for me today.
The afternoon gets warmer and although there is a good trickle of flies all day, there are a few more intense hatches. The trout are slow to respond and I suspect they are gorging on emergers unseen. As I move up river, there are just enough showing to keep my interest.
Late afternoon I meet two other club members who have enjoyed a similar day and we exchange a few stories with some liquid refreshment. It’s great to have some adult face to face conversation with people outside the family and a surprise how much it’s missed. Keeping six feet apart, we decide to stalk a few more fish together and it’s not long before we each demonstrate that we’ve still much to learn!
“Young man” (I love that)……”Excuse me….excuse me, young man”. The lady behind me in the queue is trying to get my attention. “Sorry to disturb you” she say “but if you don’t move up, you might lose your place in the queue”.
This is my problem with garden centres, everyone is so nauseatingly polite.
I grew up just fourteen miles from here and my father’s childhood home is just eight miles away. Yet as I make my way down the steep slope to the river, I’m struck by how unfamiliar this area is. Roads now connect these eastern valleys that did not exist forty years ago and back then, people just didn’t travel as much.
The Sirhowy river emerges north of Tredegar on the edge of the Beacons park and flows south before turning left to join the Ebbw. Like all of her sisters she was the life blood of the iron and coal industries and paid the price. She ran black and dead for generations. Now, these eastern valley rivers are alive and healthy and hold some extraordinary trout.
Today the river is high and pushing fast after a night of rain. It is coloured too and not ideal for the first outing of a new season. None the less it feels good to be on a river and looking for brown trout.
I pick my way downstream, which is not easy with steep woods on either side and no path. It’s surprisingly quiet for an urban river and I’m disturbed by just one dog walker all afternoon. I’ve also more space than I anticipated and I’m already regretting bringing my 7ft 3wt. The wind is strong and I wish I had one of the longer rods still in the boot of the car. I can’t be bothered to go back, so I make do.
I set up a french leader and begin to prospect what any angler would recognise as a really ‘fishy’ run. The head of a pool narrowing to a deeper channel with two quieter areas either side for fish to hold. Even with the shorter rod I can get a good drift.
I’m surprised with no take and the same again in the pool above.
As it’s very early season and just after a spate, I wonder if the trout are not in the usual feeding channels, so a little upstream I try a deeper quieter pool. Under an overhanging tree and about fifteen feet ahead of me, I catch my first trout of the season and my first Sirhowy fish. A typical lean 10 inch march brownie, beautifully coloured. After a long time fishing, the thrill of the first wild trout of a new season does not diminish.
Over the next couple of hours I catch a dozen similar fish, all from quieter holding pockets and all to a fairly simple pheasant tail pattern.
The one exception is a more aggressive take and I immediately know it’s a good fish. Hugging the bottom of a deeper pool, it’s a minute before I get him to the surface and ease the fish towards the margins. I’m already celebrating when a flick of the tail near the rim of the net sees him disappear. My profanity is so loud and coarse, I even surprise myself!
Every angler who talks about ‘the one that got away’ will immediately be open to claims of exaggeration and that’s probably justifiable. So I’ll just say 16 inches (at least) and leave it at that.
With the wind getting stronger, I switch to a fly line and fish a single nymph upstream for the final ten minutes, but my opening day is done. Light drizzle is getting heavier as I begin the forty minute drive home. I’ve had access to this little river for a few seasons and I wish I’d visited earlier. I will definitely be back as I think this could be a lovely place to spend a few hours with a dry fly in the summer.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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….
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.