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.

The past season proved a mixed bag.  Some truly memorable moments, some easily forgotten and a lot of frustration on route.

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The Upper Wye (end of season)

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 the 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 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 hit 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 you might call 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 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 on 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 certainly not a stand out season and I don’t enjoy the drought.  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 fed up of the cold and fickle grayling and ready to chase my first trout of another season.

Mr Notherone

 

A Lesson Learned…..

It’s funny how after all these years I can still miss the obvious.  I spend a couple of hours on the Usk this afternoon and waste the first ninety minutes fishing where there are no fish.   I think ‘fishing where the fish are’ must be one of the golden rules of fishing…. and I break it.

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The Usk is a big river and with no discernible hatch, the trout spread out.  I aim for a little stretch, a long bubble line where I have caught on several recent visits and with little thought I set up to prospect with a dry.  It’s mid afternoon, overcast and with a good chance of a shower. There are no fish rising.  After a while I switch to the duo, with the same spectacular lack of success.  I’m happy to be out fishing and continue going through the motions.

I assume that because we’ve had some rain and the temperature has dropped I will find trout in the long tails where I have caught them before.

For an hour and a half I see no fish and get no interest on any fly.

I take a break and sit on the bank.  Looking down on the river I realise that I’ve got it all wrong.  The water temperature is still high and although we’ve had some rain the river is still relatively low.  Trout are going to seek out the oxygenated water or lie deep in the cooler pools.  I wander upstream to the first stretch of quicker water.  I switch tactics to two nymphs, a Jon Barnes black magic on the point and a pheasant tail with a red tag on the dropper.

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I’ve also switched to the sunray line and I’m targeting the pocket water and food seams as they fan out across the river.  Today I only have my Sage SLT with me, a fantastic dry rod but not renowned for tight line nymphing.  I make do.

I need to cross the river to get into the best position on the drift and just two casts in, I hook and net my first brownie.  In less than twenty minutes I catch three more from the same run.  Three are about 12″ with the best at 14″.  I should have thought more and started here when I arrived.  The last hook up is the most satisfying, even though the fish throws the fly.  I cast over my left shoulder and manage to land the nymphs just to the side of a prominent boulder.  As they drift below I lift the flies a little and induce an aggressive take, probably the best fish today, but I can’t control his initial jump and he’s gone.

I head back, as today I can’t stay and fish into the evening and this season most fish have come late in the day.  It’s true that from the start of the year I’ve caught less trout from the Usk per hour fished than any previous season.  I’m not the only one to experience this.  I also realise that today I’ve had a bit of a lazy session and wasted a lot of time.  It’s still fun though.  There’s nowhere I’d rather be for two hours on a Saturday afternoon.

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 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

 

Season’s Best….So Far

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The weather has put paid to a day on the Monnow so with the gear already packed, I decide to head for the Usk to see what impact yesterday’s torrential rain has had.  I’m pleasantly surprised, a little colour but fishable and I can see a few small fish topping.  I decide to tackle up and give it a go for a few hours.

At the bottom of the beat there is a fast ripple, deepening towards the far bank.  I run a couple of dry’s along the whole seam but nothing so I switch to a beaded nymph on the point and a spider pattern on the dropper.  Second cast and a small brownie about 10″ comes to hand and I tap the leader and he’s gone.  A few more casts, the sighter straightens and a similar size fish is on. Not a bad start.  One to the nymph and one to the spider.

As I reach the top if the pool, I spot what looks like a larger fish feeding on the surface.  Not big splashy rises but a definite and regular pattern.  There are a few Yellow May’s on the water but I don’t see much else.  I tie on a small size 18 emerger pattern.  My first cast is short; there is that silence that you want to be broken with a splash, but nothing happens.  Second cast is better and almost immediately the fish hits the fly.  I curse as I lift into thin air.  Time to move on up the beat.  I try a few more faster ripples with two nymphs and then the duo with a tiny hares ear and a small klink.  I miss two more takes before the third brownie come to hand, smaller this time, perhaps 8″.  The fourth is another 10″.  Time for a break.  I sit on a welcome wooden bench, throw down a sandwich and decide to move on to another beat a few miles upstream.

IMG_0974A five minute drive and I’m locking the Land Rover and heading down to the river.  Over the last few seasons, I’ve caught well on this short beat.  I set up with two nymphs and fish my way out towards the confluence at the bottom of the beat.

After only about ten minutes, I am hit hard and I’m into a much better fish.  This is a proper Usk trout.  I try to keep him upstream but he runs twice below me and it’s all I can do to bully him back.  I miss the first attempt with the net….success on the second effort.  The PTN falls out in the net.  The fish is 18″ nose to fork and my season’s best.  He takes a few minutes to recover and then slowly glides away and out of sight.  Time for the last of my chocolate bar and a drink.

 

I catch two more smaller fish and then spend half an hour casting a dry to a small fish repeatedly rising in impossibly shallow water.  I try half a dozen flies to no avail and part of me wants to sling a rock at it!  I decide to spend the last half hour back at the pool that produced earlier.  I cast a weighted nymph through the ripple and it hangs in the current below me, as I prepare to use the water tension to cast forwards I feel a solid tug and then something takes off like a train, stripping line from the real.  Then nothing.  The tippet is snapped at the tippet ring.

I don’t see what I’ve hooked, but I’m guessing a salmon.  Certainly heavier than any trout I’ve hooked in a river.

The final count is seven, including my season’s best.  It’s a warm, pleasant late afternoon as I drive home.  Not a bad way to spend a day off.

Mr. Notherone

A Sneaky Few Hours…

The little track down to the Usk is overgrown and unlikely the right way.  I’ve been here before though, so I know I’m only a few hundred yards from parking up and only a few more from the river.

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Downstream On The Usk

The path is overgrown too and I take my time, a slip here could spoil my afternoon.  The river looks spot on, just the right height, running clear, but it’s sunny and the water still feels cold

I’m grabbing a couple of hours on a middle Usk beat at the last minute.  Today was supposed to be busy with other stuff, but no complaints, I’m on the river.  I’ve seen so few rises this season that when I spot a fish rising on the far bank as I walk down the beat, I stop and plan my approach.  This turns out to be one of just five rises I see.  I catch two of the five in the first hour, presumably I’m too clumsy for the others.  I’m pleased that my size 18 olive emerger does the trick as today I’m only fishing a dry fly and I pass over the faster water at the top of the beat, in favour of the more likely dry fly water.  My first cast is good enough and a 12″ brownie comes to the net, followed ten minutes later by another.

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Today resembles one of those days that I yearn for during the colder months, perfect in every respect, apart from the distinct lack of fish.  It’s a similar story to a week ago and a week before that.  Everything looks just right, except the fish don’t show.

I continue to prospect with the dry, concentrating on the far bank and I manage to rise and catch two more brownies to the olive emerger and an Adams.

A hundred yards upstream is a family messing around with a dog splashing in the margins, so I slow down and take a break.  I just sit, take a drink and watch the river.  There are some duns coming off and I see two yellow mays, but no fish are interested.

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Fell To An Olive Emerger

I’m tempted to stay longer but I’ve promised my daughter a barbecue.  I can catch some more if I work the faster water with nymphs but as this is a dry fly day, I call it a day.

On the way home, near Raglan, I’m held up by a driver doing 25mph.  Driving a Defender, it’s rare that I find much going slower than me.  There’s a certain irony that the ‘go slow’  is driving a Suzuki Swift.  I bide my time, drop down a gear and plant my right foot.  There’s a three to four second pause as the land rover tries to work out what’s happened, before doing it’s best to respond.  It’s quite possibly the first time I overtake anything moving in my Defender.

Today I enjoy a few hours on the Usk on a warm Spring day and catch four smallish trout on a dry fly.  Nothing too remarkable.  However, I’ll remember the day for the rush of adrenaline as I see the Suzuki driver mouthing “hooligan” in my mirror as he eats my dust.

Mr Notherone

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Socially Speaking…….

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It’s Sunday evening and I’m slumped in the chair.  I’m aching all over, my feet are sore, I’m hoarse from laughing non-stop since Friday evening – oh, and I smell like a wrestlers jock strap.  There’s no other explanation needed, as I’ve just returned from the annual Monnow Rivers Association Social.

This is my second year attending and in-spite of my exhausted condition I’m hoping for many more to come.

There are those for whom fly fishing is a solitary pursuit, but even if it is, there is always room for a gathering like this where the friendship, banter, fun and fishing is served up in spades.  I’m richer for the experience even if poorer in the pocket.  Once again I’ve returned with a few “essential bargains” from the infamous auction, including a book from the 1980’s on still water trout fishing; something I don’t do and have no intention of starting.  Last year I was naive; this year I have no excuse and Patrick and Rob prove equally adept at removing my cash.

There is a lot of talk about the rivers being late this season and that appears to be true.  Some excellent anglers are made to work hard for their fish.  The conditions aren’t quite there yet, perhaps another three weeks?  None the less, I catch 16 fish in two and a half days, I learn a lot and I’m very pleased.  I experience two Monnow beats new to me in stunning surroundings and in the good company of Dave with whom I’m buddied up.  I also revisit a favourite beat of mine on the Honddu.  There is fly life (particularly under the stones) but the trout don’t look up much yet.  They can be tempted and the patient angler is rewarded.  A few very good fish are caught and returned.

In the evenings, the conversation and alcohol compete for which can flow fastest, with the inevitable winner.  Stories and anecdotes are shared with a passion and I now know what it means to literally ache with laughter.  I indulge more than I have for a while and eventually retire, fortunately to the same tent I put up earlier.  The mornings start with a procession of disheveled individuals armed with mugs, fresh from a night in a tent with varying degrees of discomfort, looking for caffeine.  A good breakfast revives the spirit and with fishing partners and beats distributed, the pursuit begins.

A lot of folk put in a lot of work to make the Social successful, something for which all us participants are very appreciative.  I’m already looking forward to next year and have worked out that there are only eleven and a bit months to go.  As a proud social (small s) media luddite, I’ve even been moved to join something called Facebook, so that I can keep in touch with MRA gossip – whatever next!

Mr Notherone

Sizzling on the Monnow

It’s the warmest day of the year so far and as I leave home around mid-morning, the car already feels like an oven.  A forty minute drive finds me parked up beside the upper Monnow and peering over a little bridge trying to spot trout.

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The Upper Monnow

The beautiful spring day feels more like mid-summer and although I can’t spot any fish, I’m looking forward to an afternoon and early evening on the river.  A white land rover pulls alongside and I chat with the most stereotypical farmer imaginable.  His look is of a man who has never spent a day indoors in his life.  He seems knowledgable about the local rivers and he’s telling me to look out for a pair of kingfishers just below the bridge.

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Water Temperature Is Still A Little Low

The beat is under a mile long and I’m going to go minimalist.  This is partly because I’m always trying to carry less but mostly because it’s so hot.  I’m greased up with sun lotion and with a small shoulder bag and a handful of essentials I’m off.  I’m carrying my 8ft 3wt and starting with a specialist nymph line and a pair of lightly weighted pheasant tails.  I have another reel and regular line with me and whatever happens I’m determined to spend time with the dry fly today.

As I walk down the beat I meet a family on a weekend break.  The little lad has a bent pin, piece of string and a stick and is trying to attract the fry with bacon rind.  He looks at my rod and reel with envy and so rather than tell him he’s poaching, needs a rod licence and that it’s fly only, I give his Dad a couple of little flies and some tippet and tell the six year old to be careful waving it about in front of his sister!  I’m genuinely hoping he catches a tiddler but I’m also hoping he’s moved on by the time I’m fishing back at this pool.

Given the recent rain, the river is lower than I expect but still a little cloudy.  All in all I think the river is about a month behind where it should be.  There are various sporadic hatches throughout the afternoon but I see just one rise all day.

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No Net Needed Today

I spend several hours leisurely working upstream, exploring each likely spot and bring several lovely little fish to hand.  It’s hard work though, and I’m constantly swapping flies and changing depth.  Today I’m in no rush and I spend plenty of time just watching the river, soaking up the sun.

All the fish are similar, beautifully marked and full of fight.  Both the lighter dropper and heavier point fly have taken fish.  As I run the nymphs though a deeper pool I see a slab of silver and then the sighter straightens a little.  I tighten up and for a few brief seconds I feel a better fish and then he’s gone.  I relax back out of sight and after about 15 minutes I try again, but to no avail.

I fish the whole beat picking up small brownies from the faster top of the pools, but on the slower glides I see nothing.  The boy with the stick has disappeared.

Back at the car I dispense with the bag and just stuff a small box of drys, tippet and floatant in my shirt pocket.  I’m going to fish the whole beat again targeting any rise and prospecting a few likely haunts.  After an hour I’m done – just one rise and in spite of me creeping on all fours and kneeling to cast, he gets away.  My cast is on the money, but I can’t get him up and I suspect I’ve spooked him.  Today is not the most prolific, but a day to remember none the less.

The Crown offers a very welcome drink and a few locals enquire after my fortune.  My mind wanders to the little lad with the deep brown eyes and how his face lit up when I showed him my fly box.  Who knows, perhaps I’ve caught more than small brownies today and another would be fly angler is hooked already.

Mr Notherone