Not the day I expect…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A lovely but slightly odd afternoon.

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

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

Mr Notherone

These long evenings can make for great sport…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mr Notherone

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

Sometimes One is Enough

For a very good reason, today is not the best day. I feel a sadness and sense of relief in equal measure. 

I want to spend a little time by myself and head to the river, not sure if I will fish. It’s a warm late afternoon, the river looks perfect and the first thing I see is a solitary Yellow May Dun fighting the gentle breeze.

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Deer Hair Emerger

Close to where I park the car, I sit on the bank and watch the river. It’s shallow on my side, shelving away to a faster ripple. The middle of a typical pool and sure to hold a trout.

I didn’t come here to catch a fish, but after about ten minutes I see a small rise just upstream and slightly off the food seam. I watch the fish rise again and decide to make a cast. I land the fly upstream of the rise and at the same time I’m telling myself I’m a foot short, the fly disappears in a swirl. I lift and tighten gently.

The brown trout jumps once and pulls strongly to get downstream. I manage to hold him on a fairly light tippet and guide him into the net.

The twelve inch brownie punches above his weight and as I unhook him, I’m aware that I release the first smile of the day. Today, there are only a few things that can lift my mood and this is one of them. I feel no compulsion to look for another fish.

When I start the engine it’s exactly thirty minutes since I parked up. I drive home better prepared and in a better frame of mind. A few days ago I was catching trout and laughing, today the same activity is giving me a different type of energy. This is a wonderful thing that we do.

Mr Notherone

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