River Irfon Magic…

The drive up Mynydd Eppynt is a little daunting. The narrow road, hairpin bends and wayward sheep, all focus the mind. This would probably make an exciting race track and I imagine how the Caterham I owned thirty years ago would fair. Fantastic I’m sure. Today though, my land rover is not accustomed to such mental agility and even if this is one of the best off-road vehicles available, I’m determined not to test that claim here.

I’m also aware of the frequent artillery range signs and red warning flags. I imagine some snotty nosed trainee gunner tracking me in his sights with the latest hi tech kit, itching to pull the “trigger”!  He doesn’t, of course.

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Irfon Valley – beautiful grey morning

My last visit to the Irfon ended in a wash off – nothing could have persuaded me into the river that day. By contrast, today is grey and mild for the date, with a little on and off drizzle. The water is fairly low and running clear. I fully expect to spend the day euro nymphing but conditions suggest otherwise and I opt for the duo to give me a little more distance. I have my 9ft 6″ Hanak that will manage a fly line and the french leader if I want it.

I walk to the downstream limit and realise with the water this low there are really only a handful of pools that will likely hold grayling. Long stretches are no more than ankle deep, clear and with a distinct lack of fish.

I prospect the first few ‘fishy’ seams and have to change the depth and weight of the nymph several times. I’m fishing well (for me) but I’m lacking the confidence that the grayling are in this quicker water. At the first more obvious pool I take a break, eat an apple and plot my line of attack.

It’s not obvious. I think the grayling will be just out of the main current and somewhere before the back eddy, so I’ll have to cross over and clamber around a fallen tree.

IMG_2248I wade out, slightly further than I’m comfortable, and try to cover the water. It’s the third or fourth cast when I get a take at the end of the drift. A pristine grayling of about a pound. The pool is at least 6ft deep and my nymph is hitting the bottom.

I catch three in this pool before all goes quiet. The next pool is also productive and another three similar grayling come to hand. On this beat there is plenty of room for casting, however the the wind picks up and as I round the next bend it’s hard in my face. Time for lunch.

Over the next hour I manage three more grayling, two from an eddy where the bank falls away and one from some faster water at the head of a longer glide. They are all the same size and I see only one larger fish. When I peer over the bank like a beginner, I succeed in spooking the fish and it bolts downstream. I make a mental note that surprisingly, I’ve no interest from an OOS trout in four hours of fishing.

I’ve not been out for a while, so I’m pleased with nine grayling from a river I don’t know. The Irfon probably plays second fiddle to it’s big brother the Wye, but she is beautiful and well worth a visit. I will definitely return for the grayling, ideally when a little more water is flowing. I’ll also do a little research to see how the trout show later in the year.

Back at the car I’m shocked to see that I have a phone signal – probably only happens one in ten trips where I fish. I discover it’s tuna steak for dinner. Apparently, in our house I’m the “best at cooking fish” which I have learned is code for “you’re doing dinner”! After a day on the river and a ninety minute drive my reward will be slaving away in the kitchen. Wouldn’t have it any other way.

Mr Notherone

 

 

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 seem to 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. Winter day’s are short in this part of the valley.

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

 

 

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 phone 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, 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

 

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. 

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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.

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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

 

When that extra effort pays off…

This sunny spell is lovely. A family barbecue yesterday and now as I open the bedroom blind, this morning looks much the same. One of the wettest May’s has given way to one of the driest June’s. Gardeners aside, perhaps not many are hoping for rain, but I suspect I’m not alone amongst river anglers in wishing for a bit more flow.

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Pen y Fal.  The Monnow Valley in the distance.

The family is busy without me today and very early I find myself with just the dog for company. I want to go fishing but the rising heat and brilliant sunshine will make a day on the river a challenge. Perhaps an evening session is the best bet.

I head off in the Land Rover for an early morning walk with Ollie and thirty minutes later we are heading up Pen y Fal (more often known as the Sugarloaf). For a while I think we are the first to make the climb. Then I spot a couple ahead of us on the western most path – still, I calculate that we will be up and back home in time for breakfast. Certainly not late enough to call it brunch.

Although it’s early, it’s hot. Even Ollie is slower than usual and by the time we are back at the car we both are wacked and share a litre of water.

The day drifts away and I potter around avoiding some jobs that need doing. I make a business call and get a few things ready for an overseas trip this week. I can slide into the evening, put my feet up and wait for the family to get home. I tell myself that it’s not good enough and I should grab my kit and head to the river. I’m right of course, I always am when I talk to myself.

It’s 7pm when I stroll along the bank. I’ve my 9ft 4wt, a long leader and a trusted olive emerger tied on. I’ll probably only fish until 8.30pm and I’ve decided to just use a dry fly.

I select a spot just below some faster water. The seam tracks towards the far bank and deepens a little. It looks fishy and there is a gradual shelf where I can edge out without making too much of a disturbance. I spot a rise and position to cover the fish. My first few casts are good with no drag – no take. Over the next forty minutes, I try half a dozen patterns targeting several fish within range, but nothing.

Then quite suddenly there is a hatch and fish feeding in every direction. This is the first time this season when I’ve seen this much surface action. As none of my flies has caught yet, I’m unsure what to use and it’s not obvious what has turned them on. I reach for a ‘tups indispensable’ in the top corner of my Wheatley. It’s tied and given to me by an angler I met on the Monnow a few seasons ago and as yet, not been wet.

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Fell to a Tups Indispensable

Over the next fifteen minutes I catch 3 brownies and hook two more that I use to practise my long range release technique. Then as quickly as it started, all is quiet.  The little size 18 tups did just the job.

I’d like to say that my growing entomology knowledge helps me crack the feeding code.  Actually I just get lucky. All the fish are only about 12 inches, but they put up a good fight.

I’m pleased I make the effort this evening.  Funny how I always am after the event. I resolve to keep making the effort and remember this evening when next the lazy gene start to win through. As I’m traveling this coming week, I also do a little rain dance. Just enough to make sure it’s nice and sunny again when I get back on Friday.

Mr Notherone

 

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Season’s Best….So Far

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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

A few hours on the Usk

Cabin fever is winning over good judgement. Good judgement says stay at home as the river is high, fast and more rain is forecast today. With so few opportunities to fish I need to get out and I can’t keep using the weather as an excuse.

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I throw the kit in the Land Rover and set off to a short beat on the Usk, a few miles above Abergavenny.  It’s a late start and getting on for 9.30am when I leave. At the garage, where I’m looking for a sandwich and water for later, the lady is moaning about working on Good Friday. I smile sympathetically but unkindly I’m thinking, yes, rather you than me today.

I tackle up and make the short walk to the river where my mood takes a dip when I see the water. The features I remember can’t be seen. The top of the beat is a wide glide where the tail of a pool usually offers some skinny water which makes for a nice approach. From there you can fish the pool above with nymphs or a dry and then reach the faster water near the far bank. Today it all looks the same – quick and menacing.

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I stroll to the bottom of the beat wondering what to do. Heavy nymphs I think, on a tight line. It’s deeper here than at the other end of the beat and as I slip into the water it’s already above my waist.

As I fish my way out into the river, I soon realise that I need another plan. Well before the mid point I’m struggling with the flow and all my focus is on staying on my feet. I sit on the bank and contemplate. Off goes the specialist nymph line and on with a regular 4 weight. I tie on an elk hair caddis and suspend a pheasant tail underneath, thinking that I’ll be able to cover more of the water whilst staying out of the strongest flow.

Over the next hour I manage three small brownies, the best of which is 10″, but it’s slow going. At least the forecast rain is absent and there’s little wind too. I fish half the beat and I take a break.

As I’m staring down river I see a large head break the surface close to where I aborted my earlier wading. My first thought is ‘what a monster fish’ and then I realise it’s an otter and I’m pleased no one is here to witness my mistake.

It’s not the first otter I’ve seen on the Usk, but this one is happy to entertain me for nearly 20 minutes. I play ‘creepy uppy’ along the bank trying to get close enough for a picture. I feel like I’ve snuck into a theatre without paying and I’ve got a front row seat. I’m struck by how effortlessly she manages the river, ducking, diving and chattering away oblivious to me. Then suddenly she spots me and with an enormous splash is gone.

I head back to the top of the beat and select a spot where the flow is more manageable. I think maybe a lighter weight nymph will be better and with no surface activity I start prospecting the water.

Did I just see a little rise about 20ft upstream? Difficult to spot in this condition and now with some light drizzle too. There it is again, definitely a fish. I take a few steps to the right so that I can cover the spot with a little upstream mend and within a few seconds the caddis disappears and I’m in. Initially it doesn’t feel special but then I realise it’s a good fish and it charges off to the deeper water.

After a good fight I get it to the net and let it recover. At sixteen and a half inches nose to fork, it’s one of my best Usk trout, and in top condition. This one fish is worth the trip, let alone it’s three little cousins and watching the otter.

16 1/2" beauty

16 1/2″ Beauty

Back at the car I chat with the owner who doesn’t seem to share my excitement about the otter.  He’s lost all the goldfish from his pond and blames his rent free tenant.  Me, I think its a small price to pay.  After all, who needs a pond when you own a stretch of the Usk?

Mr Notherone