With a new season just a few weeks away, I’m calling this my last trip of the winter. As March can be brutal, this might be optimistic but I’m dragging back a memory of just a few years ago when we had a mini March heat wave and temperatures were above twenty for a week. Who knows.
Today is a cold dry afternoon, but it is great to be stood in a fast flowing river again.
I’m taking my time. The flow is faster than ideal and today is not a day to get wet. I suspect the grayling will be lying deep though and I’ll need to get close to some of the deeper pools.
After searching the first few likely spots and finding nothing, the kelly is bubbling away a little earlier than usual. Even when there are no obvious signs of fish, sitting on the bank thawing out in the afternoon sun with a warm drink, is satisfying. There are a few fry in the margins and I wonder how successful this winter spawning has been.
Back in the water I persevere with a ginger tom and a pink shrimp trying to cover every inch of each pool. Same result, nothing.
I’m beginning to think that this will be one of those days remembered for a pleasant few hours on the river rather than anything caught. Once upon a time I would have been grumpy but these days I’m more mellow. There are some who will not agree.
I now have a more classic pheasant tail on the point but it’s the small shrimp that finally attracts a fish. The juvenile grayling puts up little resistance, falls off at the net and in just a few seconds is back in the pool. One quality about grayling is that they don’t go back and blab to their mates about the indignity of getting caught and this one seems content for me to pull out six more of his chums from the same few square feet of river.
With cold hands I fumble to take a picture, nearly drop my phone and decide that this sudden change of fortune is enough to call the day a success.
Weather permitting, in about three weeks I will start a fresh season with all the enthusiasm and hope it always brings. Next time out, it’s all about trout.
So another trout season has come and gone with the usual ups and downs. I was hoping to get out one last time, but the ‘Monmouthshire Monsoon’ has left my rivers in spate and running a milk chocolate shade of shit.
When I drive over the bridge at Usk, I usually have to glance quickly in each direction and strain my neck to see the water. Today whilst looking straight ahead I can see the river on both sides. It’s high.
Time once again to reflect on a spent season, celebrate the highs and to see if I have the wisdom to learn from the lows.
Before the trout season kicks off, I’m able to chase some grayling with trips to the Avon, Irfon and upper Wye. The fishing isn’t bad but predictably the winter weather can be challenging.
As March approaches so do the storms and this season will be topped and tailed with a lot of rain, flooding and no fishing. Once again it’s April before I wet a line and once again it’s the Usk that gives up the first trout of the season. In a heavy river and stiff breeze I manage just four smallish brown trout. I’m pleased though and my season has started.
I have access to a beautiful stretch of the Monnow this season and mid-April sees me exploring new water. Knowing a river well is a pleasure but there is always something special about fishing somewhere new and I catch my first trout of the season on a dry fly.
April also sees me catch a fantastic grayling at just over 18″. I’ve only caught one larger grayling (from the Wye a few years ago) so it’s a shame it’s OOS. The fish takes a heavy pheasant tail fished on the point and gives me quite a run around.
As the weather improves in May, my job starts to wind down and so with a break from earning a living, I find more time than usual to fish. May is a good month. The hatches gradually improve and increase and the trout are obliging. Several good fish at 16″ and 17″ are eventually bettered by my best wild river brown, a 19″ beauty that takes a mayfly, drifted under the far bank overhang.
Early June sees me in the middle of one of the best mayfly hatches I’ve seen for years, reminiscent of some I remember from when I first started fly fishing. The spinner fall is extraordinary with trout rising in every direction. Only poor light forces me off the wicket.
With long summer evenings and time to fish I fill June with trips to the Monnow, Usk, Honddu, Wye and Lwyd. The fishing is excellent and I enjoy a lot of dry fly action. I manage to fall in one evening, thankfully with no great consequence and thankfully with no witness. Embarrassing as it is, there’s no better time to fall in than on a pleasant June evening, just before home time.
This Summer, on a few occasions, my daughter comes with me to take photographs for a school project. It’s welcome company and adds a new dimension to chasing trout up streams and rivers. She is getting better at taking the piss out of her dad and is good at not taking things too seriously. She’s a good influence.
The weather shifts in August and I find myself with less time on the river.
Last season, I spent most of September either working or busy with family stuff. This year it’s the weather that keeps me off the water. I manage a couple of evenings and one afternoon trip before the rain comes and ruins the last few weeks. At least the last few trout are caught on a dry.
So that’s it. October already and a few grayling days in the diary.
This has been one of my better seasons for some time. More fish caught than in the last few seasons, more trout on the surface and some of the best mayfly activity for years. A new PB for a wild river brown was a highlight, but I won’t forget the little Honddu brownie that took a dry emerger only fifteen feet away, after possibly my most accurate cast of the season. It’s not just the bigger fish that bring reward.
It’s also been great learning new water, although I’ve sacrificed time on the Usk as a result. I’ll just have to make up for it next March. Until then, bring on the grayling….
It’s a bit of a lazy start to the day. I watch Ireland start their rugby world cup campaign by dispatching a very poor Scotland and then an unconvincing England flatter to deceive against Tonga, but a bonus point win is a good start. I’m nervous as Wales will start tomorrow.
In spite of the showers and growing breeze, mid afternoon I head to the river for a few hours. The season is almost done and it’s weeks ago that I cast a line.
I sit on the bank and wonder if my time could be better employed. The drizzle is getting stronger but no matter how much it rains it isn’t going to change the water level over the next few hours! It’s very low and clear.
In these conditions I would usually think that trying to winkle a few trout out of the faster runs with a nymph might be the only option but I’m just not in the mood. On the last day of last season I fished a dry all day and caught a hat full of trout on a small stream not far from here. I resolve to try the same again.
Wandering to the bottom of the beat I experience three seasons in a fifteen minute walk as rain and bright sunshine combine to briefly show me a rainbow. It fades all too quickly and the breeze increases. A lone sheep in a vast empty field, clearly unwell, makes no attempt to avoid me and I hope the shepherd realises it’s missing. There is something unsettling about a sheep on its own, they just don’t have that antisocial gene. Ominously, a buzzard is sat watching from a convenient perch.
As I step into the water I notice a few shapes I hadn’t seen dart away. This will be a challenge. I select a small elk hair CdC to prospect the far bank and quicker riffle at the top of the pool. I have my Sage 4 weight and a long 15ft leader.
Part of me is convinced I’m just practicing casting when a little trout makes a grab for my fly but misses. I resist the temptation to snatch it away and wait a minute before attempting the same drift. This time he’s accurate and so am I.
To my surprise another four similar trout and one grayling are tempted over the next couple of hours, all from similar runs.
I rise nothing from the slower, deeper pools although I clearly see one larger fish circle and nose the fly twice before rejection. Another better fish, perhaps 15″ or 16″ swims slowly upstream just a metre from my feet as I’m tying on some fresh tippet. Whatever’s on his mind it’s not eating.
I’m also treated to a display of low level speed flying by a couple of kingfishers. They remind me of silent versions of the military jets that fly over our valley and like to rattle the tiles on my roof.
I’m hoping to get out one more time before the season ends, maybe after some rain has flushed the river and levels are up a bit. Another dry fly day perhaps.
Now, can Wales keep my blood pressure down and avoid a first match upset? I have learned that when following the oval ball, hope and despair usually take it in turns.
Of all the trout season months, I struggle most with August. If it’s not too little water it’s too much and on day’s when I expect to enjoy some wet wading, I’m as likely to need the thermals. I’ll have to rethink my assumption that August is a summer month.
Today the river is falling after some heavy rain and coloured. It’s not particularly inviting. Intermittent showers has me putting on my light weight jacket and then packing it away half a dozen times. Tiresome.
A strong wind is gusting and swirling making it hard to keep a good drift with the nymphs and I can’t see me using the dry fly rod that is tucked into my waders.
For nearly two hours I fight the elements working upstream through the faster seams and pocket water. Nothing, not even a knock. My motivation is waning and as it’s the middle of the afternoon I decide to eat some lunch, although I’m not really hungry. I notice the kingfisher that I’ve seen twice already, settle on a perch directly opposite me. He’s joined by his mate and over the next twenty minutes they come and go several times before I’m treated to him diving three times into the pool. I’m not close enough to see if he’s successful.
It would be easy to call it a day but I persevere with the pheasant tail in the next pool and I catch a small brown trout quickly followed by a grayling.
As the grayling is sliding back, to my surprise I spot a rise about 25ft upstream under a tree. I’m going to have to cast backhanded or with my left arm to have any chance. I edge a little closer and decide backhand is more feasible. The size 16 Adams in the keeper ring will do.
My first effort isn’t bad but a little short. The second cast is just right and a good fish is on. I’m taken by surprise as he runs straight at me and I can’t take up the slack fast enough. Neither can I hide my disappointment and my curse startles a pheasant on the far bank.
It’s the only rise I see all afternoon but as the wind drops the fishing improves and I net more trout and grayling, including two 14″ browns, on some pheasant tail variants. It’s just before six o’clock when I leave and I notice another angler has arrived to try his luck. I hope he’s not expecting a balmy summer evening.
September is around the corner and when I get home I find my daughter actually doing some school work. She must also be sensing that summer is drawing to a close. I wonder if there’s time to squeeze in one late mini heatwave?
Our daughter is studying Art at GCSE and one of the modules requires building a landscape portfolio, initially with photographs. She decides that rivers might be a good subject. I concur and casually suggest she joins me on the river to get some practice.
I’m half expecting the teenage grimace followed by a perfectly plausible excuse, but she says yes. I’m surprised and pleased as we don’t get a lot of dad and daughter time.
It’s warm and a little overcast when we arrive and as its past lunchtime, the first thing we do is devour all our measly provisions.
She has borrowed a camera and is super enthusiastic. I’m not sure how much of this is the photography project and how much the idea of wet wading on a nice July afternoon. I ask her to stay reasonably close and stay down stream, but she seems as enthusiastic to take some shots of me as the landscape. Maybe I’m just in the way.
As we move slowly upstream, I fish a few of the faster pools and we chat non stop. She takes over 300 pictures from close ups of trees and insects, to fish, me and the river. She is deleting and editing as she goes and I’m pleased she’s having such a good time.
At her age, I would have a roll of 24 and be waiting a week for the packet to arrive from the chemist to see if there were any pictures without my thumb in them.
After a fun few hours we head home and she drops a few not so subtle hints that her own digital SLR might make all the difference. Smart girl.
Oh yes, I almost forget. I catch a few trout and grayling too.
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.
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.
An early morning walk with the dogs persuades me to spend the afternoon on the river. Just ten minutes trying to keep up with them in the woods and I wish I’d left the light jacket in the car. I’m hot.
Actually it’s never me I have to persuade. I casually ask if we’ve anything planned for later. “No” she says. I search for my best nonchalant tone, “I think I’ll spend a few hours fishing…OK with you?”
It’s still warm and sunny as I park up and slide down to the water. With the bluebells on the way out, the red campion are dotted all along the bank side. It’s the sort of landscape someone wants to paint. Despite the doom and gloom about the state of our wild bird population, the few remaining are doing their best to make up for all their friends departed.
I’ve only caught one fish on a dry fly this season so I leave the nymphs in the car and take a couple of small dry fly boxes with me. I’ve been known to start nymphing to save a blank so I’m taking away the temptation.
At the first promising pool I sit and watch. It’s a few minutes before I see a small rise, quickly followed by another. I think they are small grayling but I can’t be sure. There is a steady trickle of flies coming off. Some brook duns for certain and what I think is a pale watery but I’m not sure. I also see a few yellow may duns float past but I’m the only one showing interest in them.
I select a small emerger with yellow ribbing. My first two casts are accurate enough but prompt no action. On the third I connect with a fish that is indeed a small grayling. Over the next couple of hours I cast to six fish I see rise and catch four of them. All small grayling, 10 inches being the largest. That’s 66% success rate, probably better that I ever achieved in a statistics exam – never my best subject.
As the sun disappears behind some menacing looking clouds it gets quite cold and unlike this morning I’m wishing I had an extra layer. In just a few minutes the sky looks like rain is threatening but nothings falls as the wind picks up a little.
I stroll upstream stopping at likely pools and change the pattern and size of the flies as fancy takes me. I don’t see any further surface activity, but I do rise and catch two more grayling to a small Adams. I’ve managed six more fish to a dry fly this season but unfortunately I see no trout today. They are probably gorging on nymphs in the deeper water when my imitations are in the car boot!
As I head back, in no particular hurry, the sun emerges again and it looks like a pleasant evening is on the cards. It takes no time at all for the sun to warm me up and I make a few final speculative casts in the hope that a trout is paying attention.
I find small grayling can be hard to hook up so I’m pleased to get my eye in again with the dry, but it’s not much consolation for not seeing a trout.
Driving home I think about the Monnow Social next weekend and wonder if we’ll get good weather. After dinner I decide to prepare as best I can, so I open a bottle of red. That should do for a start….
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.