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

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

 

Season ends on a small stream high….

Late start….hot dry Summer, very low water levels – maybe a season to forget?  

With work ramping up, a daughter moving up to GCSE’s and a new puppy in the house, September is proving stressful. Fishing takes a back seat, but I’m determined to get out one last time. I’m given a pass and I decide to take it scrambling up the Edw valley. The River Edw is a small left bank tributary of the River Wye, with its source on the fringes of  Radnor Forest. It winds its way over bedrock and loose stone through Aberedw and into the Wye between Builth and Erwood.  

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The River Edw

Turning off the main road it takes only a few minutes to feel remote. No phone signal, no people and little bridges over the river that are better suited to a horse and cart. It’s overcast, a little cold and the water level is low.

At no time today am I wading over my knees and frequently I’m kneeling down trying to make that cast under a tree, to the water that looks most fishy. This small stream is not going to hold any monsters but it takes all of my strength and guile to winkle out the wild brownies. I’m carrying a small box of dries and an equally small box of nymphs but I decide to only fish the dry. I’m reducing my chances, but it is the last day and I’m in the mood for a trade off.

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Travelling Light

After wasting ten minutes in the pool at the bridge I move upstream and start prospecting the food seams trying to be as quiet as possible. I can see fish scatter ahead of me and it’s almost impossible to move undetected. It’s only in the faster water at the heads of the pools where I can sneak up.  With the river this low I also make use of a few exposed gravel banks to get into position.

The light makes tracking the fly tricky so I tie on an Adams with a hi-viz parachute. In these small streams I find the little trout none to fussy and takes are usually aggressive.

Today I’m using a 7ft 3wt and most casts are little more than a flick of the wrist. At times I have to reduce the leader to just 7ft to get under the overhangs. I land the fly in the slack behind a boulder and the first fish is on. Small they might be, but they don’t half hang on. The fish are lean, strong and beautifully marked – some quite dark, others lighter with bright red spots.

As I work upstream, my fly gets slammed in most of the runs I think there will be fish, but in only one pool do I catch more than one. They bolt for cover instantly and I’m forced upstream to the next likely spot.

I sit on a rock and grab a drink and something to eat. It’s probably eighteen months since I fished the Edw and I wish I’d made more effort. It’s a stunning valley. A kingfisher flashes past at terrific speed. I’ve seen quite a few this season but not managed to get close to one.

I continue up the beat, picking up the little trout that give me a runaround. I’m impressed with my little Streamflex XF2. As one of my least expensive rods, it’s perfect for these conditions, protecting the fine tippet and playing these tiny brownies firmly and gently.

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A Real Beauty

The Falls at the top of the beat is another ideal place for a pause. The creeping around, rock climbing and fallen tree scrambling has taken a toll. Recovered, I catch two more from beneath an overhanging branch and I’m feeling smug when the fly makes it through a small gap to land just where it’s needed.

As I trek back down river, I even pick up a couple fishing a downstream dry. It’s just one of those days.

I enjoy catching trout on nymphs, but nothing beats a hook up on a dry. I see only one rise today and it shows that these hungry little’uns are looking in all directions for food. I lose count too, more than 15 but definitely not 20.

I pick my way back through the tiny country lanes, feeling at home in the Land Rover and reflecting on the season. True it was a slow start. Getting out has proved difficult and then I stayed away when the water temperatures hit the mid twenties. I’ve caught fewer trout on the Usk and Monnow than for a good while and some days struggled for just a few fish. There have been moments though – and most came on these smaller rivers.

Today is one of those highlights and a great way to end the season. You may have guessed, but one of the pictures below was not taken on the Edw!

Now, where shall I go for my first post season grayling trip………?

Mr Notherone

 

Chalk Stream…but where are the trout?

I oversleep. Not the start I want and I’m annoyed at falling asleep after the alarm rings. Nothing I can do now, I’ll just have to catch fish an hour later than planned.

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The Wiltshire Avon

Despite my tardiness, I make good progress towards the Wiltshire Avon and stop at services to pick up a few things for lunch. Absent any breakfast I’m also hungry now.  The large gentleman in front of me buys the last two ‘pan au raison’ and I’m stuck with an ugly looking plain croissant (the French have a lot to answer for). I wonder if this is a sign for the day ahead.

It’s another hot one, bright sunshine and high twenties by lunchtime. I look for a shady spot to park and chat to the river keeper. He’s been feeding the stockies in an adjacent lake and wishes me well without giving too much away.

It’s a decent walk to the bottom of the beat. My last visit here was in Winter and now in August the vegetation is in full flow, making access difficult and impossible in places. Unlike my regular freestone rivers, the Avon has a good flow – lower than I remember but just as clear. A peer into the water shows just how skittish the fish are.

I’m armed with my 9ft 4wt. I want to use my 8ft 4″ 3wt but I broke the tip section a few days ago and so needs must. Today is a dry fly day. There are a few pools where I’m better off with a nymph or spider, but I’m going to persevere with the dry. I’ve not had enough dry fly action this season.

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I start with a small klink and work upstream, hitting the food seams, gravel runs and margins. It’s not long before the first small grayling comes to hand, quickly followed by a few more. Can’t be long now until the first brownie shows up.

The small grayling keep coming. I switch flies a lot in one pool where I see several rising. My reliable f-fly and olive emerger attract no attention at all. The klink and a small elk hair caddis are preferred and catch everything today between them.  I notice a better fish at the head of a pool, rising in a narrow channel between some ranunculus. I lengthen the leader a little and get into position.

This is one of those casts that I should make with ease. Twenty five feet, no wind and no obstructions, but nerves can strike under a hot sun.

I’ve become a strong proponent of the importance of the first cast, particularly in these conditions. I used to rush in for glory whereas now I spend more time watching and planning. A kingfisher takes my attention for a moment as I’m getting ready.

The take is almost instant and I’m into a better fish and certainly a brown trout. Well actually it’s a 12″ rainbow. I’m not sure if he has been stocked here or if he’s an escapee, but either way he’s not the fish I came for.

I grab some lunch sitting on a small hard bench. I resist the urge to use a comfortable looking chair in a garden on the opposite bank, placed temptingly close to the water.  Being run off someones property will surely spoil my afternoon.

The top half of the beat is a much harder prospect. Access is very difficult and short roll casts need pin point accuracy. A few more small grayling oblige until I spot a trout rising upstream in the margin just out of the main flow. The stream is no more than three meters wide at this point and I need to negotiate a tree and high bank vegetation. IMG_1448

Perhaps a bow and arrow cast from the bank, but I’m not too good at those.

With an effort Robin Hood would be proud of, the fly lands just up from the last rise and is greedily taken. At last, a lovely little wbt, perhaps 10″ comes to the net. He recovers quickly and bolts for cover.

I manage just one more similar trout from the next pool and although I catch and miss more of the ever present grayling, I see no signs of trout anywhere else.

It’s hard to be disappointed on such a beautiful day with the Avon. My catch is sixteen grayling, two brownies and a wayward rainbow – all on the dry. I don’t fish chalk streams often and I have this notion that they are stuffed with brown trout.

Perhaps I’m unlucky, perhaps it’s the conditions, perhaps I have the wrong tactics. Perhaps the little grayling are simply winning the race for my fly on a mile of prime trout water. Perhaps if I’d had the pan au raison instead of an ugly croissant. Who knows.

It’s a great day in beautiful Wiltshire surroundings, on a special little stream.

Mr Notherone

 

 

Pinch, Punch, First of the Month..

My daughter is first off the mark. She delights in pinching and punching dad and I can’t help noticing her punch is getting stronger. I take her for a sports trial in the morning and I plan on a couple of hours on the river this evening. She’s nervous, plays well, and I enjoy the morning with her. 

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A few miles above Usk

It’s another day in our current heat wave and we have no rain to speak of for weeks. So much for my little rain dance last weekend. With river levels this low, the trout will seek out the oxygenated water, lay low in the margins or hold in deeper, cooler pools.

This beat, three miles above Usk, is a lovely place to spend a few hours. It’s a long track down to the river and I’m surprised to find no other cars at the bottom. A fine Summer evening, and I’ve got a mile of the Usk to myself. As I ease myself into the water, there’s a huge splash near the bank below me and I turn just in time to see what looks like a good fish, bellyflop back into the pool. Encouraging. A few clouds roll in, and the evening will be a mix of bright sunlight with overcast intervals.

There are small and frequent rises all along a food seam where some faster water trails away. I work my way upstream and one by one the trout hit my dry fly. I’ve struggled at times this season with the dry. Not so much hitting the hook up, but rising fish have ignored fly after fly as I hunt for the right pattern.

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Small Usk Brownie

Not this evening. I start with a tiny Klinkhammer pattern and straight away I get a take and a lovely little wbt is to hand. Several more follow to the same fly. Unusually, I’m on my game and I’m 100% on hook ups, not even a long range release!

I notice a larger fish about 40 feet directly upstream.  I creep up and after several reasonable casts, fail to get a take. I guess maybe he’s onto something different and there are little midges everywhere.

I look for one of the smallest black patterns I have. It’s probably technically a Griffith’s Gnat, size 20.  Second cast and I’m in, but rather than the thump I’m expecting, a relatively modest 12″ brownie comes to the net. He has a nasty looking wound on the flank and probably thinks he’s down on his luck, but I get him back in the water in a few seconds. Unsure if this is the larger fish I think I see, I cover the same water, pick up a couple of smaller fish, but no sign of Mr Big.

 

My best fish of the evening also falls to the black gnat. It’s a well marked 14″ fish that literally jumps into the net. I hook him directly across stream and he immediately runs below me. With a size 20 hook and 010 tippet I adopt the ‘gently persuasive’ rather than ‘full on bully’ approach.

Two hours on the river, 9 fish and a very pleasant evening. This is why I love fly fishing the Usk.

On the short drive home, there’s an interesting sound from the Land Rover. More like a transmission problem than engine, is my gut. If you drive an old Defender, these things become expected and nothing to worry about. After all, a worrier doesn’t buy a Defender.

It’s a Sunday to remember for all the good reasons. Let’s see what Monday (and the rest of July) brings.

Mr Notherone

 

When that extra effort pays off…

This sunny spell is lovely. A family barbecue yesterday and now as I open the bedroom blind, this morning looks much the same. One of the wettest May’s has given way to one of the driest June’s. Gardeners aside, perhaps not many are hoping for rain, but I suspect I’m not alone amongst river anglers in wishing for a bit more flow.

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Pen y Fal.  The Monnow Valley in the distance.

The family is busy without me today and very early I find myself with just the dog for company. I want to go fishing but the rising heat and brilliant sunshine will make a day on the river a challenge. Perhaps an evening session is the best bet.

I head off in the Land Rover for an early morning walk with Ollie and thirty minutes later we are heading up Pen y Fal (more often known as the Sugarloaf). For a while I think we are the first to make the climb. Then I spot a couple ahead of us on the western most path – still, I calculate that we will be up and back home in time for breakfast. Certainly not late enough to call it brunch.

Although it’s early, it’s hot. Even Ollie is slower than usual and by the time we are back at the car we both are wacked and share a litre of water.

The day drifts away and I potter around avoiding some jobs that need doing. I make a business call and get a few things ready for an overseas trip this week. I can slide into the evening, put my feet up and wait for the family to get home. I tell myself that it’s not good enough and I should grab my kit and head to the river. I’m right of course, I always am when I talk to myself.

It’s 7pm when I stroll along the bank. I’ve my 9ft 4wt, a long leader and a trusted olive emerger tied on. I’ll probably only fish until 8.30pm and I’ve decided to just use a dry fly.

I select a spot just below some faster water. The seam tracks towards the far bank and deepens a little. It looks fishy and there is a gradual shelf where I can edge out without making too much of a disturbance. I spot a rise and position to cover the fish. My first few casts are good with no drag – no take. Over the next forty minutes, I try half a dozen patterns targeting several fish within range, but nothing.

Then quite suddenly there is a hatch and fish feeding in every direction. This is the first time this season when I’ve seen this much surface action. As none of my flies has caught yet, I’m unsure what to use and it’s not obvious what has turned them on. I reach for a ‘tups indispensable’ in the top corner of my Wheatley. It’s tied and given to me by an angler I met on the Monnow a few seasons ago and as yet, not been wet.

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Fell to a Tups Indispensable

Over the next fifteen minutes I catch 3 brownies and hook two more that I use to practise my long range release technique. Then as quickly as it started, all is quiet.  The little size 18 tups did just the job.

I’d like to say that my growing entomology knowledge helps me crack the feeding code.  Actually I just get lucky. All the fish are only about 12 inches, but they put up a good fight.

I’m pleased I make the effort this evening.  Funny how I always am after the event. I resolve to keep making the effort and remember this evening when next the lazy gene start to win through. As I’m traveling this coming week, I also do a little rain dance. Just enough to make sure it’s nice and sunny again when I get back on Friday.

Mr Notherone

 

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