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

Fresh Out Of Ideas…..

Peering over the bridge I confirm what I already know. I’ve seen the river several times from the car and the high, swirling, brown water means no fishing today. I should have turned around earlier but a little ray of hope drives me on, wanting to believe that further upstream the Monnow will be better. It’s not.

Decision time. Head home, walk the dogs, watch the rugby and put off those jobs around the house that are becoming urgent. Problem is, I did that yesterday. So I aim for the Usk to see if casting a fly is possible. It is.

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The Usk above Abergavenny

It looks possible from the road that is, but up close I’m less sure. I exchange a few thoughts with a fellow angler who arrives as I’m tackling up. He’s after salmon and following a few pleasantries I wish him well. I take some comfort from not being the only one in the river today. It’s colder than the forecast suggests and the tops of the trees have a little movement. From experience I know that if the wind picks up, it won’t be until I’m ready to make my first cast.

The water is fairly clear and pushing through strongly. At the better access points, a few meters from the bank I’m already waist deep and side on to stay upright. With this much flow, the usual features are hidden. It’s going to be difficult.

I start with two nymphs, tight line, but as I can’t venture far I resort to laying on the coloured braid to get the flies in the better water. To my surprise I’m soon into a small trout quickly followed by a better one of about 13″.  He fights like an early season fish and looks lean and healthy in the net. Every angler knows the relief of not blanking on a tough day.

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Upstream the river deepens and I can wade even less. I decide to use a bushy elk hair pattern to hold up a nymph, that will get me a bit more distance and I’ll be able to see it. I persevere for an hour or so and then I need a rest. The strain of every muscle flexing against the flow is giving me one hell of a workout.

I wander further up stream and cast to a few likely spots but I’m not confident and my fly is not in the water much.

I take a break and sit and watch the river. It’s warmer now and I see a handful of march browns coming off, not what you’d call a hatch. No rising fish though. None the less, I tie on a dry march brown pattern while I eat an apple – just in case. Although, unless the trout breaks the surface under my feet, I’m not sure I’ll get the fly anywhere near him.

Time for another rethink and it occurs that swinging a few spiders might be worth it. Wading will be easier heading down stream and if I can get the flies out into the deeper water I can cover more. I search the box for a couple of likely candidates, tie on a longer leader, put the spiders on droppers and then add a heavier nymph on the point to get them all down quicker. Again I give it a bash for an hour, getting in and out of the river frequently when it gets too deep or strong.

My confidence gets a boost when I bump a fish and after a few more casts a 12″ brownie grabs the top spider. This is quickly followed by the best fish of the day, at just under 14″.

I very rarely fish spiders and I’m going to have to improve my ‘escalator’ technique if I’m to get my catch rate up with this method.

The Usk is a good size river and when it’s pushing through it can all get a bit intimidating, especially for a cautious wader like me. I’m pleased I decide to give it a go today and I’m very pleased with four trout. I’m also absolutely knackered.

I drive home slowly as if somehow I’m using less energy and it will help me recover. Then I remember I’ve a Sunday roast to look forward to and my aches already start to fade.

Mr Notherone

 

 

Where would we be without a PTN…….?

I get a rare chance to spend a second day on the river this week. With the trout season around the corner this is my last effort to catch grayling and I head for a little stretch of the Avon in Wiltshire.

I’m not a scholar of the history of fly fishing, but there will be few devotees of the art, unfamiliar with Avon river keeper Frank Sawyer. He is accredited with inventing the pheasant tail nymph and I came to the conclusion a while ago that when it comes to nymphs, variations of the PTN are pretty much all that’s needed. So it proves again today.

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The Avon above Upavon

It’s six months since I was last here and today the river is pushing through strongly with a dark colour to the water. This is not one of those chalk days when you can count each grain of gravel in six feet of water. Every river looks different in each season, but this stream is unrecognisable from last August.

I decide to fish traditional upstream nymphs and just vary the weight to suit the flow. The banks are accessible and I can cast to many pools without wading; an impossibility in summer. My 8ft Sage SLT is perfect.

In the past, I’ve had as many as thirty grayling on this beat, but something is telling me this day will be different. As I make my way downstream, I can’t resist stopping at my ‘banker’ pool. I’ll fish through it again on my way up but I’ll just run the fly through a few times now. No response.

After nearly an hour, I’m still at the same pool and after several fly changes, I continue south with just one small grayling to hand. It doesn’t feel like a red-letter day is in the offing.

Things look up when I get back in the water and first cast I have another small but perfectly formed grayling posing for a snap as he slides back in. I continue upstream but I get no activity from the suspect lies. At the next pool, I’m convinced it’s holding fish but after a dozen drifts, again no interest.

I have little patience and keep tweaking the presentation. I switch to a size 16 PTN with a red tag and straight away I have the best fish of the day at around 14″ and it’s followed by another two smaller grayling. The fishing is not prolific but it’s fun.

The red tag stays on and lands two more grayling from my ‘banker’ pool and four OOS small trout from the next glide. I check my watch and I’ve only an hour before I need to head home. I spend the rest of the time on the upper beat, mostly kneeling trying to hide my profile whilst prospecting likely water. If anything the water is colouring up more and I’m fishing blind.

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I have half a dozen boxes of nymphs, mostly variations of pheasant tails and hairs ears. The majority have never been wet and I’ll guess that goes for a great many fly anglers. We all have our go to patterns. I wouldn’t dream for one minute of denigrating the ‘match the hatch’ approach, but here’s my reality. I have seen precious few hatches in recent years and most of the time I can’t identify the chosen food. I catch my share and when I’m not fishing a dry, the PTN variations work more often than not.

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I find that red, orange and pink tags work well with grayling and won’t escape a passing trout.

I catch everything today on the red tag PTN and a shrimp, both size 16. For those of you watching in black and white, the red tag is the one next to the pink shrimp (yes I’m old enough to remember Ted Lowe and Pot Black).

I think the count today is eight grayling and four trout. I’m not sure when I’ll get back to the Avon. This coming season, I’m planning to spend as much time as possible on the Monnow, her tributaries, and of course the Usk. Alas, there are only so many days for fishing.

On a few chosen occasions, I’m fortunate to be able to get to a chalk stream within a reasonable drive and for a reasonable price.

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

 

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 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