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.

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The Upper Wye (end of season)

The past season proved a mixed bag. Some truly memorable moments, some easily forgotten and a lot of frustration on route.

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 that 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 definitely 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 catch 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 might be called 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, the fishing improves and 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 with 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 anything but a stand out season and I don’t enjoy the drought at all. 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 I’ll be fed up of the cold and fickle grayling and ready to chase my first trout of another season.

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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Sizzling on the Monnow

It’s the warmest day of the year so far and as I leave home around mid-morning, the car already feels like an oven. A forty minute drive finds me parked up beside the upper Monnow and peering over a little bridge trying to spot trout.

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The Upper Monnow

The beautiful spring day feels more like mid-summer and although I can’t spot any fish, I’m looking forward to an afternoon and early evening on the river. A white land rover pulls alongside and I chat with the most stereotypical farmer imaginable.  His look is of a man who has never spent a day indoors in his life. He seems knowledgable about the local rivers and he’s telling me to look out for a pair of kingfishers just below the bridge.

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Water Temperature Is Still A Little Low

The beat is under a mile long and I’m going minimalist. This is partly because I’m always trying to carry less but mostly because it’s so hot. I’m greased up with sun lotion and with a small shoulder bag and a handful of essentials I’m off.

I’m carrying my 8ft 3wt and starting with a specialist nymph line and a pair of lightly weighted pheasant tails. I have another reel and regular line with me and whatever happens I’m determined to spend time with the dry fly today.

As I walk down the beat I meet a family on a weekend break. The little lad has a bent pin, piece of string and a stick and is trying to attract the fry with bacon rind. He looks at my rod and reel with envy and so rather than tell him he’s poaching, needs a rod licence and that it’s fly only, I give his Dad a couple of little flies and some tippet and tell the six year old to be careful waving it about in front of his sister! I’m genuinely hoping he catches a tiddler but I’m also hoping he’s moved on by the time I’m fishing back at this pool.

Given the recent rain, the river is lower than I expect but still a little cloudy. All in all I think the river is about a month behind where it should be. There are various sporadic hatches throughout the afternoon but I see just one rise all day.

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No Net Needed Today

I spend several hours leisurely working upstream, exploring each likely spot and bring several lovely little fish to hand. It’s hard work though, and I’m constantly swapping flies and changing depth. Today I’m in no rush and I spend plenty of time just watching the river, soaking up the sun.

All the fish are similar, beautifully marked and full of fight. Both the lighter dropper and heavier point fly have taken fish. As I run the nymphs though a deeper pool I see a slab of silver and then the sighter straightens a little. I tighten up and for a few brief seconds I feel a better fish and then he’s gone. I relax back out of sight and after about 15 minutes I try again, but to no avail.

I fish the whole beat picking up small brownies from the faster top of the pools, but on the slower glides I see nothing. The boy with the stick has disappeared.

Back at the car I dispense with the bag and just stuff a small box of drys, tippet and floatant in my shirt pocket. I’m going to fish the whole beat again targeting any rise and prospecting a few likely haunts.

After an hour I’m done – just one rise and in spite of me creeping on all fours and kneeling to cast, he gets away.  My cast is on the money, but I can’t get him up and I suspect I’ve spooked him. Today is not the most prolific, but a day to remember none the less.

The Crown offers a very welcome drink and a few locals enquire after my fortune.  My mind wanders to the little lad with the deep brown eyes and how his face lit up when I showed him my fly box. Who knows, perhaps I’ve caught more than small brownies today and another would be fly angler is hooked already.

Mr Notherone

Struggling in the Honddu Valley

As I turn off the road and onto the track that leads to the river it’s not the sight I am expecting. Looking forward to a remote few hours on the Honddu, I’m confronted by what looks like a well established campsite and the usual array of green, orange and blue tents.

There is the smell of campfire and breakfast on the air. A few early risers (people not fish) are friendly enough as I pass and make my way downstream of the bridge to the bottom of the beat. The campers are as entitled to be here as me, but I’m already feeling out of sorts.

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The Honddu below Llanthony

No reason really, the river looks good with a nice flow and very clear water.  I decide to fish with a pair of nymphs, traditional upstream rather than European style. Nothing for twenty minutes then I hook and lose a small brownie in some pocket water before bringing another to hand. They seem to be in the quicker water today. I hook and lose two more as a spaniel from the campsite follows my every move from the bank. At least he’s not interested in a morning bath.

As I fish past the campsite my mind is wandering. I’m not sure if it’s the smell of bacon but I’m not even looking when the next small trout snatches the pheasant tail. This time he stays on and the fly falls out as I cradle him in the water before he bolts for cover.

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What’s not to like

Back at the car I grab a drink and a rethink.  I’m not fishing well. I’m stumbling around heavily and in this small stream stealth and presentation is paramount.

I resolve to give myself a metaphorical kick up the arse. The early morning sunshine disappears and now the wind picks up with a little rain in the air. I head upstream where I’ve only the sheep and new lambs for an audience.

There is no surface activity but I decide to tie on a dry emerger and prospect. I’ll probably miss out on more of the lovely little brownies in the quicker water but maybe I’ll tempt a better one up. I’ve a rhythm going now and perhaps a quarter mile above the bridge my fly is taken as soon as it lands and a better fish is soon to hand. A good fight, quick picture and he’s back. Unfortunately, my mood uplift is short lived, as I follow this success with two casts into a tree before putting a knot in the end of my furled leader! Time to call it a day.

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Honddu Brownie

As I drive away it’s warming up and this is probably the time I should be arriving. The Honddu is a lovely stream in a beautiful valley. Today I’ve not made the most of this Monnow tributary and I’ve only myself to blame.

I decide to cheer myself up and stop at the Half Moon for a pint. I’m greeted with a warm welcome and a “what can I get you on this beautiful Spring day”?  Not such a bad weekend after all. What do they say about even a bad day fishing being better than a good day anywhere else…

Mr Notherone

 

Stark Raving Mad!

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

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

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A Frosty Message To The Family

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mr Notherone

 

 

 

Kingfisher Dilema

I have lost count of the times I have shared with this magnificent bird, have you?  Often the first indication is a flash of blue in my peripheral vision and I’ll do my best to track it hoping to catch the landing.  I will watch the bird on it’s perch, often to the detriment of my angling.

kingfisherAs our rivers have generally improved in recent years I suspect kingfishers have benefited.  I ‘feel’ my sightings are increasing but I can’t be sure.  I’m no ornithologist and can’t claim much knowledge and yet the kingfisher mesmerises me and makes me feel privileged.  Paradoxically, I’ve also come to take these encounters for granted.

This was reinforced the other day when my partner casually commented, whilst watching a clip of a kingfisher on TV, that she’d never seen one.  I was genuinely surprised.

The conversation evolved and she was equally surprised that I’d watched so many whilst fly fishing.  (There’s a side point here about the obvious poverty of communication between us and our respective interests, but best not go there).

Turns out, my partner has a significant ambition to see a kingfisher.  The obvious solution is for her to accompany me on a days fishing to the Monnow or Usk.  Well, perhaps not so obvious as now I have to wrestle with my desire to help her fulfil a heartfelt ambition and the potential intrusion into my private retreat that is fly fishing.

For the first time in perhaps twenty years, I sense that neither of us is now looking forward to the approaching season with the usual gusto!  I think we’ll work it out… without too much drama.

Mr Notherone