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

 

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’ve fished half the beat now 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 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.  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 decide to net it 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