Celebrating Thanksgiving on the Lugg

Once again I take a couple of days off for Thanksgiving.  With so many American colleagues disappearing to consume turkey, it’s a perfect time not to work.  So I give thanks in my own way, by searching for grayling on the beautiful river Lugg.  I get the bonus of knowing that I will come back to no email backlog and no wasted time playing catch up.  An American holiday to which I don’t relate, is something I now look forward to.

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The Lugg Valley

It’s been too many weeks and I’m eager to get on the road, but first thing this morning I’ve got a touch of the ‘grumpy old man’ about me.  The bathroom has more bottles of stuff in it than the local branch of Body Shop, but I still can’t find some simple soap and shampoo.  I don’t want to come out of a shower smelling like a fruit salad, I just want to be clean!  The dogs share my opinion and I swear I can see Ollie screw his nose up as he wonders what I’ve been rolling in.

It should be a seventy minute drive, but traffic in Hereford has me wishing I’d picked a less direct route.  The Lugg rises in central Powys and after meeting the Arrow flows into the Wye ten miles south of Hereford.  I’ve fished it several times but I wouldn’t say I know the river.  It’s a dry day, bright and bitterly cold.  After heavy rain in the last few weeks, the river has fallen but is still pushing through and has a grey tinge.  The low bright sun makes visibility in the fast flow very difficult.  I set up my Hanak Superlight with a shrimp on point and a red tag hare’s ear on a dropper.  I step carefully upstream – there are some deep pools and it’s way too cold to get wet.

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Quick Return For OOST

My first take is at the tail of a deep run, but it’s a 10″ OOS trout, as is the second and third fish, all from the same run.  Funny how fish feel bigger pulling against a strong flow.

An hour in and I find no grayling.  I decide to go back to the car and change gear.  The open ground has given way to overhanging trees and the long nymph rod is proving a challenge.  My 8ft Sage gets the flies to those fishy places and I alternate between nymphs and the duo.  One more small trout and still no grayling.  I’m not convinced by the method and my patience is running out.  I think it’s a myth that anglers have an abundance of patience, I have none.  I constantly fiddle with flies and depth and the grayling don’t respond.

I decide to go a bit old school and fish a couple of lighter nymphs on a traditional longer line upstream.  Cast, retrieve line, a few steps, repeat.  Probably more by luck than judgement, I bring three small grayling to hand in quick succession.  Two take a pink shrimp and one the red tag.  They are feisty for little’uns.

I really enjoy this beat.  It’s out of the way with a variety of water, easy to access and in a beautiful valley.  At the upper limit is a weir, below which there is plenty of promising water.  I explore every likely area and collect two more small grayling and then a better one of about 12″.  I fish for four hours in total before the cold gets the better of my fingers.  On the valley floor the frost hasn’t lifted.  I enjoy Winter fishing and usually don’t mind the chill, but today it’s starting to find a way in and I’m becoming uncomfortable.  Why spoil a nice day by hanging on for an hour.

I warm up in the Land Rover, munch a sandwich and take in the view for ten minutes before driving away.  The sun is already disappearing through the conifers on the far ridge.  Day’s are short on the valley floor.

Tomorrow I’m taking my father to a concert to celebrate his ninetieth birthday.  I may not be that interested in an American public holiday, save for a day off to go fishing, but I’ve plenty to be thankful for.

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.

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

 

Season ends on a small stream high….

Late start….hot dry Summer, very low water levels – maybe a season to forget?  

With work ramping up, a daughter moving up to GCSE’s and a new puppy in the house, September is proving stressful.  Fishing takes a back seat, but I’m determined to get out one last time.  I’m given a pass and I decide to take it scrambling up the Edw valley.  The River Edw is a small left bank tributary of the River Wye, with its source on the fringes of  Radnor Forest.  It winds its way over bedrock and loose stone through Aberedw and into the Wye between Builth and Erwood.  

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The River Edw

Turning off the main road it takes only a few minutes to feel remote.  No signal, no people and little bridges over the river that are better suited to a horse and cart.  It’s overcast, a little cold and the water level is low.  At no time today am I wading over my knees and frequently I’m kneeling down trying to make that cast under a tree, to the water that looks most fishy.  This small stream is not going to hold any monsters but it takes all of my strength and guile to winkle out the wild brownies.  I’m carrying a small box of dries and an equally small box of nymphs but I decide to only fish the dry.  I’m reducing my chances, but it is the last day and I’m in the mood for a trade off.

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Travelling Light

After wasting ten minutes in the pool at the bridge I move upstream and start prospecting the food seams trying to be as quiet as possible.  I can see fish scatter ahead of me and it’s almost impossible to move undetected.  It’s only in the faster water at the heads of the pools where I can sneak up.  With the river this low I also make use of a few exposed gravel banks to get into position.

The light makes tracking the fly tricky so I tie on an Adams with a hi-viz parachute.  In these small streams I find the little trout none to fussy and takes are usually aggressive.  Today I’m using a 7ft 3wt and most casts are little more than a flick of the wrist.  At times I have to reduce the leader to just 7ft to get under the overhangs.  I land the fly in the slack behind a boulder and the first fish is on.  Small they might be, but they don’t half hang on.  The fish are lean and strong and beautifully marked – some quite dark, others lighter with bright red spots.

As I work upstream, my fly gets slammed in most of the runs I think there will be fish, but in only one pool do I catch more than one.  They bolt for cover instantly and I’m forced upstream to the next likely spot.

I sit on a rock and grab a drink and something to eat.  It’s probably eighteen months since I fished the Edw and I wish I’d made more effort.  It’s a stunning valley.  A kingfisher flashes past at terrific speed.  I’ve seen quite a few this season but not managed to get close to one.

I continue up the beat, picking up the little trout that give me a runaround.  I’m impressed with my little Streamflex XF2.  As one of my least expensive rods, it’s perfect for these conditions, protecting the fine tippet and playing these tiny brownies firmly and gently.

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A Real Beauty

The Falls at the top of the beat is another ideal place for a pause.  The creeping around, rock climbing and fallen tree scrambling has taken a toll.  Recovered, I catch two more from beneath an overhanging branch and I’m feeling smug when the fly makes it through a small gap to land just where it’s needed.

As I trek back down river, I even pick up a couple fishing a downstream dry.  It’s just one of those days.  I enjoy catching trout on nymphs, but nothing beats a hook up on a dry.  I see only one rise today and it shows that these hungry little’uns are looking in all directions for food.  I lose count too, more than 15 but definitely not 20.

I pick my way back through the tiny country lanes, feeling at home in the Land Rover and reflecting on the season.  True it was a slow start.  Getting out has proved difficult and then I stayed away when the water temperatures hit the mid twenties.  I’ve caught fewer trout on the Usk and Monnow than for a good while and some days struggled for just a few fish.  There have been moments though – and most came on these smaller rivers.  Today is one of those highlights and a great way to end the season.  You may have guessed, but one of the pictures below was not taken on the Edw!

Now, where shall I go for my first post season grayling trip………?

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

 

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 Euro style 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, but 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 not 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

 

 

Freezing on the Upper Wye

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The Wye above Newbridge

I’m not prone to feeling the cold, but for some reason this morning is already different.  I’ve the usual layers on, feeling as bulky as ever and yet I’ve got the shiver that won’t go away.

It’s about half an hour after first light and I’m picking my way across the field to the river.  The temperature gauge is only reading 0°C but it feels lower and the frosty landscape is contributing to the mind-games.  It’s the end of the trout season and I keep telling myself that trout like it cold – they’re bound to be voracious for my fly today.

I’m going to split the beat up and start at the top end where the water is faster and explore the food seams and holding areas where I suspect the fish with lay up.  Two nymphs will be the way to start.  Later, when it’s warmed a little I’ll venture down to the slower glides and see if any fish are looking up.

An hour in the river and my feet are cold (surely its lower than 0°).

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Pheasant Tail Red Tag

It’s uncomfortable but bearable.  I’ve hooked and lost one trout and I’m struggling to find fish.  A change to a little pheasant tail with a small red tag on the dropper brings reward.  Three fish in quick succession, all small but perfectly formed. I should have changed flies earlier but I’m distracted and now my feet are even colder.  For the first time that I can remember I spend time on the bank just thawing out.  It’s a chance to pause, take in the surroundings, enjoy just being there (if only it was a little warmer).  I’m joined for a few minutes by a friendly walker who enquires after my success.  “Three small ones I offer”, followed by a detailed explanation of why he can’t see them.  Many don’t understand angling and some will give that bewildered look when learning that I might spend all day standing in a river returning the fish I attract.  He walks off and I’m sure he’s concluding I’m a little bit crazy.

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Small but Perfect

Back to the task.  The pheasant tail lands me a few more trout and two grayling can’t resist the heavier olive shrimp on the point.  Wading is getting tricky and I’m trying to find the good positions without slipping off the bed rock into what look like impossibly deep pools.

It’s not long before the pain returns to my feet and now I’m starting to shiver again. The quieter water lower on the beat can wait for another day.  As I backtrack along the bank, I notice a rise just above a prominent boulder and wait to see him rise twice more.  I figure I can reach him without wading and so I cast out a small olive up-wing that’s engulfed almost as it touches down.  I’m in and it feels like a better fish.  I turn his first run downstream but then he jumps and throws the fly.  He is definitely a better fish – and this day he’s better than me.  He’s not going to succumb to an

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Where the one that got away, got away.

angler who has already given up and is nursing his feet back to life along the river bank.  Any way, I’ll get him next time when I’m fighting fit.

I peel off my wadders and throw them in the Landy.  I discover both my socks are soaking wet and my suspicion that these wadders are reaching end of life is confirmed.  I’ve had better days fishing, I’ve had warmer days fishing, but this one will certainly be memorable.  It’s a frustrating day but not a disappointing one.  Does any day spent in the company of the Wye ever disappoint?

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 be 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