Testing myself in the rain…

I’m in two minds about getting out on the river for a few hours. There’s a lull in the rain that’s been falling for days but the sky looks as if it could change that in an instant. The river level has been falling throughout the day though. Decision made, I head out.

I’ve never been a fair weather angler and I’m happy to fish through a shower or something heavier. However, I can’t say I enjoy a torrential downpour and this is what I find when I park at the river. It doesn’t look like easing and I’ve only a couple of hours available.

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As I make my way downstream I disturb what I’m pretty sure is a little egret. It clears the tree tops and cuts across the fields before circling back towards the river, no doubt I interrupted it’s late afternoon snack.

Without doubt, the worst thing about fishing in rain is seeing well enough to tie good knots. In the last few years I’ve had to accept that I need reading glasses to see close up and now when fishing I use a small magnifier that attaches to the brim of my cap and folds away when not needed. It won’t win any fashion awards but I find it excellent. Until that is, it rains and then I could do with windscreen wipers.

The river is coloured and pushing through, but not so much as to make things difficult and wading is still comfortable.

Over the last six weeks, a lot of my fishing has been with a dry fly but conditions today suggest nymphs are the way to go.  I target the faster head waters of the pools and it’s not long before I bump off the first fish and then bring another to hand from the same riffle. A small brownie with exquisite red spots.

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I’ve worked a lot on my nymphing technique and I’m more comfortable now ‘casting’ the flies but I still get the odd tangle. Today I snatch at what I think is a take and end up with a birds nest that’s largely of my own making as I tug at the line out of frustration. More fun tying knots in the rain.

IMG_3495I force myself to slow down and I’m soon into another good fish, again from the faster water at the head of a pool. The water shallows as I pick my way upstream and I manage two more trout targeting the holding areas just out of the main current.

The second fish is the best of the day and puts up a good scrap, made worse for me as I let him get below. In these conditions and fishing nymphs I’m able to use 4lb Maxima for tippet, so I’m able to bully enough to get him to the net reasonably quickly.

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I catch another three from the top of the next pool and just as I’m running out of time, the rain eases to just a light drizzle.

I’ve not seen any surface activity today but as I get close to where I parked up I spot a small rise in a quieter glide, just the other side of a mid-stream island. I glance at my watch and decide I’ve time to swap leader and tie on a dry. After a minute or two I’m wading across to the island trying to stay low. I see the fish rise again.

I squat down and ready myself to cast. As I glance behind to see how much room I have, I lose my balance and topple backwards. I perform the start of an acceptable backwards roll and as my head hits the water, I feel the rush of cold water down the back of my waders. Fortunately, it’s only about a foot and a half deep and I’m back on my feet pretty quickly, with just my pride bruised. Time to call it a day.

It’s quite a while since I fall in properly and it’s a gentle reminder to take more care. At least it’s June and not January.

Back at the car and in the best tradition of a poor workman blaming his tools, I examine my boots and determine that the studs have worn and need replacing!

Mr Notherone

 

Mayfly Mayhem

There are plenty of past seasons when the revered mayfly period has missed me. Perhaps it’s not being able to get out enough at this time of year and perhaps because recently, there are seasons when I see little in the way of any insect life, let alone the mayfly.

Although you will meet many anglers more in tune with the mayfly hatch, I’ve fished long enough to have caught a few on may duns and spinners. I also know from experience that the mayfly hatch can be very unpredictable.

None the less, I’ve seen some spectacular spinner falls, and few as good as the one I see today.

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It’s about 5.30pm when I park up and another thirty minutes before I start to stroll down stream. I stop opposite the pool I want to target and from where I can fish back up, through some varied water, in a few hours.

I have a total of thirteen feet of leader and tippet to which I add a small deer hair emerger, my most successful dry fly this season. Might as well start with a winning formula.

I don’t have to wait long before the first rise and moments later I register my first miss. My fly induces a take, but I’m too slow (or is the fish too fast?). This happens a few more times before I finally bring a lovely small brown trout to hand.

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It’s one of those early evenings which has the potential to see some rain. but it holds off and remains overcast. It should be perfect for a hatch and after picking up a few similar trout, the trickle of duns increases.

I fumble my way through my small box of mays, trying several patterns as the hatch increases and I eventually settle on a small danica fly that seems to raise a few fish. Around 8pm the air is thick with spinners of various types and duns are still coming off.

I stand at the edge of a pool that I took my time to approach quietly and now the trout are oblivious to me as the feeding frenzy is all around. The insect cloud is unrelenting and I’m able to pick off fish in all directions, bringing some to the net and bumping a few off. Some of the trout are so close I hold all the fly line off the surface, avoiding any drag. In the fading light as the sun dips behind the trees, it’s a fantastic experience.

As I walk back to the car, I’m sure I have a grin from ear to ear.

This season starts slowly with March a wash off. Now in early June it’s much improved and I’m having more dry fly action than the last few years. Over the next six weeks, I anticipate being able to get out and fish a few more evenings than usual and I feel my grin get even wider.

Mr Notherone

Three Duffers in the Pub…

Over a late lunch pint or three I’m discussing fly fishing with a couple of other self appointed gurus. I’m celebrating catching my best river brown trout at 19″ and arguing about whether that matters. 

Inevitably, we start to discuss the four levels of fly angler development. Do not be tempted to think there are five or three, for we have already agreed there are four.

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19″ Monnow Brown Trout

Naturally, we all conclude that we are each at level four, the highest attainable order of angling. It is obvious to us and besides we only have to convince each other, a diminishing task with each round of drinks. This afternoon we are judge and jury.

We conclude that the developmental levels of the fly angler do not necessarily correlate with any acquired skill. Thankfully, the duffer can enjoy the same progression without fear of exclusion.

I do get the sense that none of us is being entirely honest about where we’re at. I for one, suspect I’m increasingly talking bollox.

I hear that at level one, when we start our fishing journey, we are happy just to catch a fish, any fish. More than anything we want to avoid the big B.

We develop anxiety over whether our 8ft rod is good enough and would we catch more with an 8ft 6″. We worry about what our tippet is made from, the optimal length of a dropper and why no one will tell us what green mucilin is for. We are obsessed with the “what” and “how” of doing, so we search the net for tips and advice and keep quiet when we learn that watercraft is not a type of dinghy.

Trying not to look at either of my friends in particular, I conclude that level one can last a longtime (or is that lifetime).

Next, our new found confidence pushes us down the quantity route. At level two, we want to catch a lot of fish, we keep count and get upset when someone else catches more. It’s extraordinary how many anglers at level two think that 5+1 = 8.

We learn to change flies in a nano second and buy “tactical” gear so that no trout can escape our onslaught.

We know our high sticking from our euro nymphing, the subtleties of the Czech and Spanish styles and why they are all happy to use a French leader. Some anglers perfect carrying multiple rods and can cast with either hand to maximise fly time in the water. Klink and dink becomes second nature. We are comfortable using the in-line sighter but know to draw the line at using split-shot – an unsavoury American habit.

Now some of us are ready to progress to level three and evolve to become the specimen hunter. Quantity is now a mugs game, big fish are what we chase. I’ve a friend who is a slave to level three and will no longer go fishing without the chance of a seriously big fish.

We perfect the ability to sit and watch the same square foot of water for hours and stalk our prey for weeks on end. We only carry one dry fly pattern because we know precisely what the specimen will be eating, before it does. Only when enough time has elapsed and the stars have aligned do we deliver the perfect cast, dropping the fly on the nostril of the unsuspecting monster. We are master of the grip and grin.

Finally, we are ready for level four, when apparently we ascend to another level of consciousness where we exist in a state of mindfulness and inner peace – at one with the river. At this stage we are content to simply be there, where casting the fly (or not, if we are too busy observing a beetle) is the destination itself. Catching becomes so ‘last level’…

After levitating across the stream so as not to create a disturbance, we return home in ecstasy having seen no fish at all.

It occurs to me that when I’m sat on the bank, head in hands, the casual observer might think I’m in a level four meditation, when in reality I’m pulling my hair wondering why I can’t catch an ‘effing fish.

I’m happy to confess that I catch my new PB trout whilst having a level one day out!

They say mixing fishing and alcohol is a bad idea and can be dangerous, but I think we’ve proven that as long as you stay in the pub it’s safe.

Next time, the three of us have decided to discuss aquatic entomology in great detail and the finer points of when you should swap a large brown one for a smaller green one.

Mr Notherone

 

Exploring New Water

This is the sort of afternoon when we all want to be on a river. It’s warm, a little overcast and the water looks the perfect height for dry fly.

There is a pleasure in knowing a river well. There is also an excitement exploring somewhere new. The frustration of wasting some time or of having to backtrack is always offset by discovering what is around the next bend.

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I turn onto the small track, unsure if I’m in the right place and as I only have a few hours, I want to make the most of it. I can’t possibly fish the whole beat, so I focus on the first few hundred yards. Access is easy and the only disturbance I make involves a few ewe’s and lambs relocating as I approach.

Initially I don’t see any surface activity, but I’ve only been here a few minutes.

At the bottom of the beat I decide to fish the far bank. It’s the tail of a nice looking pool with a few features to offer fish some protection. Of course, it’s good practice to fish the water you’re about to step into, so I strip some line and with no real sense of purpose I flick the fly a little upstream. I get a take as the fly hits the water and moments later I’m unhooking a greedy little 5″ brownie.

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A lot of juveniles about today

Whenever something like this happens it serves as a good reminder that fish can crop up in the least likely places.

Over the next two hours I make my way upstream, cast to and catch several risers. Today I’m struck by how subtle that rise can be. Barely a dimple on the surface. It’s so easy to miss particularly if I’m tuned into the more obvious rises. There are small olives, spinners and sedges trickling off, with midges abundant too.

As I’m stalking a fish on the far side of the food seam, I catch a glimpse in my peripheral vision of a disturbance much closer to me. Unsure if it’s a fish, I make a short cast across my body and after just a yard or two of the drift the trout takes the elk hair emerger.

My initial reaction is surprise as I’m expecting another small brownie, but this one takes off like a train and I only just stop him from diving under a submerged log. After giving me a run around and a few of those heart stopping moments I slide the net under. He is just over 16″ and a real lump. This season I have caught plenty of smallish trout in fewer outings than I would like, but a half decent fish has eluded me. I’ve got too familiar playing and handling smaller fish. This one, the seasons best so far, is very satisfying.

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Brown Trout, just over 16″

A bit like my first catch of the day, the trout is taken in twelve inches of water just three yards from the bank. Water I’ve already stepped through in pursuit of others.

In a couple of hours I manage eight fish, bump off two more and all on a dry fly.

This beat looks great and the map suggests there could be another half mile to explore next time. I’m looking forward to coming back and seeing around the next bend.

Mr Notherone

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 me 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