Testing Time in Hampshire

It’s a dark cold morning in Hampshire. The Test valley is waking up to the prospect of a lot of rain and wind. For many, this grim November day will no doubt be made worse when an annoyingly brazen politician turns up with a pestering “Can I count on your vote?”

A day for a lay in perhaps. Or, why not stand waist deep in a famous river looking for grayling. It’s an easy choice, with the added benefit of no self serving wannabes knocking on the door.

It’s Grim Down South

I lived in Hampshire for years and know this area well, but I’m unfamiliar with the river here and grateful to Steve who knows every inch of this stretch. Andy has fished here many times too and the three of us are looking forward to a good, if somewhat damp, day.

Even in this weather the landscape has a unique beauty and this stretch probably hasn’t changed much for centuries. You can still see the hatches connecting the carrier and main river. Although close to the town, it’s pretty quiet and the only sound is the frequent arrival of ducks and swans and the occasional distant blast from a local shoot.

The water is up from the considerable recent rain and a little murky. Spotting fish is difficult, but we see a few in the gravel channels. The plan is to start on the carrier and work our way up to the main river. As much as I’d like to be casting a dry, nymphs look the way to go and some weight will be needed to get down in the faster runs.

It doesn’t take long for us each to catch a few juveniles before Steve lands a better fish. The grayling here look strong and healthy and there’s a good head of youngsters.

Steve With A Nice Grayling

My best fish of the day also comes from the carrier before the rain really kicks in. The take is strong and my first thought is a trout, but as I backtrack to keep him upstream I get a glimpse of that big dorsal. I do like catching grayling. Andy obliges with a quick photo and we crack on.

My Best Fish

It’s just before 11.00 when the rain starts and it’s in for the day.

The main river proves a challenge and I learn that some very good anglers at recent nearby events have also struggled for grayling. Perhaps we need a more protracted drier cold snap. Although we continue to catch some smaller fish, anything of size eludes us.

Lunch in the heavy rain is also a challenge, but we find some shelter and warm up a bit. Andy and Steve are known as the ‘pot noodle twins’ and so I join them in the habit. Re-energised we hit the main river again and the going gets even tougher. None of us catch for the next hour or so, not even a bumped fish.

Steve is called away a little early and so Andy and I spend a final half hour on the carrier again before packing up. I switch to a smaller lighter nymph and fine tippet and manage a few more. It’s not a prolific day but enjoyable none the less and we are each into double figures by the close.

My thanks to Steve for introducing me to his home water. It’s many years since I fished the Test and I’m grateful for the opportunity to experience this special river again.

I may be in the minority, but I think I’d rather be on a chalk stream on a wet November day for grayling than fighting the well-heeled in May, trying to catch a stocked trout.

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

 

 

Stark Raving Mad!

It’s not often that I’m startled at 7.30am by a stranger shouting at me. The piercing shrill is coming from a large lady on the footpath who doesn’t break stride as she follows up the “Are you stark raving mad”? with a loud laugh and exuberant wave. 

I almost lose my footing and all I can manage is a rather lame “quite probably” in reply.  Then her and her Labrador are gone and I’m still waist deep in the Monnow searching for grayling, perfectly convinced that my sanity is beyond question.

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A Frosty Message To The Family

The day starts with me scratching a message on my partners car hoping our daughter might find it amusing. I’m going to defy the forecasters and their over excitement about the coming storm. It even has a name, “The Beast from the East”.

Everyone is busy stocking up and preparing for the 4″ of snow that will paralyse the country for days. It will probably amount to nothing much, so 7am finds me tackled up and walking across the fields to the bottom of the beat.  Although I’ve all the layers I need it’s one of my coldest starts to a fishing session at -4C on the gauge and as I continue my walk, ice is forming on my waders below the knees from crossing the river.

Today is also the first outing for my new Simms G3 boots, bought a while ago in a sale.  So far so good, actually they feel fantastic and my confidence is up.

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The river is clear and pushing through and I decide to try some tight line nymphing so out comes the Hanak Superlight and my new Sunray line. I choose a shrimp for the point and a lighter PTN on the dropper and go hunting.

Usually I don’t fish fast but today I’m not hanging around and I try to get a balance between getting a move on and keeping quiet.  Although I’m searching every likely haunt, I find nothing. Two little bumps (that I’m convinced are fish) keeps me optimistic. The first take comes at the end of a short drift just as I’m lifting and I unhook a small 8″ grayling with the fish still in the water. This is not a day for the net or pictures of my catch and it’s too cold to mess about. I take a few snaps of the river.

Two more similar fish follow but I’m not finding a shoal even in the deeper pools. Eventually the 4th grayling, a better fish of about 12″ takes the pink shrimp and shortly afterwards I’m in again to what I hope is a really good grayling but turns out to be a 14″ OOS brownie who is particularly feisty.

It’s hard to beat the Monnow. After four hours on a cold late February morning I have chalked up five fish and I’m satisfied. If spending a morning here in Winter makes me ‘raving mad’ then so be it – I’m don’t think I’m alone. If you’ve found this post and read this far, you probably understand.

I warm up in the car with a sandwich and some chocolate. I’ll be home in half and hour.  My partner phones and wonders if, with the storm coming, she should make an extra trip to the supermarket. No, let’s take a risk and live life on the edge I tell her…we’ll probably survive.

Mr Notherone

 

 

 

The Upper Avon

A Day with the Ladies..

If my first passion is the trout, the grayling is not far behind and it is the off season after all.

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The First Of The Day

It’s still dark when I pull into the little car park in the wood. I want to get set up but the poor light and chilly air sees me reach for the hot flask and I stay in the Land Rover for another twenty minutes.

I could have ventured to the upper Wye or perhaps the Lugg where I’ve had memorable days with grayling. Last season I tempted a 19″ beauty (my personal best) from the Craig Llyn beat below Rhayader. I could have gone west to the Taff but I don’t know the river well and so I’ve opted for familiarity and I’m about to fish the Avon above the little village of Upavon.  Hard to turn down a chance to cast a fly in a chalk stream.

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The Avon at Upavon

As my boots crunch through the light frost, the optimism is rising; I’ve caught well here before. I opt to head downstream from the bridge that bisects the beat and work up with a pair of nymphs, short tight line style.

The water is up a little and much clearer than I expect after so much rain, so a change of plan. A klinkhammer with a lighter nymph suspended underneath will hopefully put me out of spooking range.

I catch steadily on the nymph and take a couple on the klink, before a flurry of surface activity around late morning.  Unexpected but very welcome.

I tie on a size 16 F fly and for about twenty five minutes I’m trying to hit those little sips above and below me. I catch quite a few and miss as many. All the fish today are in the 10″ to 13″ range – no monsters on this trip.

Lunch is the usual hasty affair before another hour or so trying to spot and target fish with a dry from the bank. I manage a few more before the light fades and I start to contemplate the ninety minute drive home that will probably take two hours. Remarkably it has stayed dry although the cold is prompting me to make that last cast.

The upper Avon is a beautiful stream and a wonderful place to spend a day. As I pull away and head home, the first drops of rain trickle down the windscreen. Sometimes when the gods are shinning on you they do a little overtime.

Mr Notherone