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.

IMG_1340

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.

IMG_1368

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

 

 

Pinch, Punch, First of the Month..

My daughter is first off the mark. She delights in pinching and punching dad and I can’t help noticing her punch is getting stronger. I take her for a sports trial in the morning and I plan on a couple of hours on the river this evening. She’s nervous, plays well, and I enjoy the morning with her. 

IMG_1140

A few miles above Usk

It’s another day in our current heat wave and we have no rain to speak of for weeks. So much for my little rain dance last weekend. With river levels this low, the trout will seek out the oxygenated water, lay low in the margins or hold in deeper, cooler pools.

This beat, three miles above Usk, is a lovely place to spend a few hours. It’s a long track down to the river and I’m surprised to find no other cars at the bottom. A fine Summer evening, and I’ve got a mile of the Usk to myself. As I ease myself into the water, there’s a huge splash near the bank below me and I turn just in time to see what looks like a good fish, bellyflop back into the pool. Encouraging. A few clouds roll in, and the evening will be a mix of bright sunlight with overcast intervals.

There are small and frequent rises all along a food seam where some faster water trails away. I work my way upstream and one by one the trout hit my dry fly. I’ve struggled at times this season with the dry. Not so much hitting the hook up, but rising fish have ignored fly after fly as I hunt for the right pattern.

IMG_1193

Small Usk Brownie

Not this evening. I start with a tiny Klinkhammer pattern and straight away I get a take and a lovely little wbt is to hand. Several more follow to the same fly. Unusually, I’m on my game and I’m 100% on hook ups, not even a long range release!

I notice a larger fish about 40 feet directly upstream.  I creep up and after several reasonable casts, fail to get a take. I guess maybe he’s onto something different and there are little midges everywhere.

I look for one of the smallest black patterns I have. It’s probably technically a Griffith’s Gnat, size 20.  Second cast and I’m in, but rather than the thump I’m expecting, a relatively modest 12″ brownie comes to the net. He has a nasty looking wound on the flank and probably thinks he’s down on his luck, but I get him back in the water in a few seconds. Unsure if this is the larger fish I think I see, I cover the same water, pick up a couple of smaller fish, but no sign of Mr Big.

 

My best fish of the evening also falls to the black gnat. It’s a well marked 14″ fish that literally jumps into the net. I hook him directly across stream and he immediately runs below me. With a size 20 hook and 010 tippet I adopt the ‘gently persuasive’ rather than ‘full on bully’ approach.

Two hours on the river, 9 fish and a very pleasant evening. This is why I love fly fishing the Usk.

On the short drive home, there’s an interesting sound from the Land Rover. More like a transmission problem than engine, is my gut. If you drive an old Defender, these things become expected and nothing to worry about. After all, a worrier doesn’t buy a Defender.

It’s a Sunday to remember for all the good reasons. Let’s see what Monday (and the rest of July) brings.

Mr Notherone

 

Season’s Best….So Far

IMG_0975

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

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

As I reach the top if the pool, I spot what looks like a larger fish feeding on the surface. Not big splashy rises but a definite and regular pattern. There are a few Yellow May’s on the water but I don’t see much else. I tie on a small size 18 emerger pattern. My first cast is short; there is that silence that you want to be broken with a splash, but nothing happens. Second cast is better and almost immediately the fish hits the fly. I curse as I lift into thin air. Time to move on up the beat.

I try a few more faster ripples with two nymphs and then the duo with a tiny hares ear and a small klink. I miss two more takes before the third brownie come to hand, smaller this time, perhaps 8″. The fourth is another 10″.

Time for a break. I sit on a welcome wooden bench, throw down a sandwich and decide to move on to another beat a few miles upstream.

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

After only about ten minutes, I am hit hard and I’m into a much better fish. This is a proper Usk trout.

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

I catch two more smaller fish and then spend half an hour casting a dry to a small fish repeatedly rising in impossibly shallow water. I try half a dozen flies to no avail and part of me wants to sling a rock at it!

I decide to spend the last half hour back at the pool that produced earlier. I cast a weighted nymph through the ripple and it hangs in the current below me, as I prepare to use the water tension to cast forwards I feel a solid tug and then something takes off like a train, stripping line from the real. Then nothing. The tippet is snapped at the tippet ring.

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

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

Mr. Notherone

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.

IMG_0266

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.

IMG_0267

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