Looking isn’t the same as seeing…

It is extraordinary how an obsession forces attention to detail. I think of myself as a bit ‘big picture’ and not good with detail. I don’t enjoy the nitty gritty and I usually rely on those who do.

With fly fishing though, I’m increasingly peeling the onion and discovering new hidden layers of things to think and worry about. Fishing isn’t on the agenda today but I find myself with an unexpected hour to kill and as I have to virtually drive past the beat, I make a twenty minute detour!

I was on the Usk yesterday for a very early pre-breakfast session and although I catch a few, I struggle in the low clear water and strong downstream breeze. Today is a little more overcast and I’m now on a different beat, lower down the river valley and enjoying the humid late afternoon.

If fishing mirrored the rest of my life, I’d just jump in the river and start fishing. I don’t understand why it is, but I have more patience on the bank than in all other situations put together. Although I can see no fish, I’m convinced that if I sit and wait for long enough something, somewhere will rise. So I sit and wait.

I love watching rivers. If I’m minded, I can look with an intensity of concentration that usually eludes (thanks Mr P) me in other things. When I spend time on the bank with someone who doesn’t fish, I’m always surprised by what they don’t see, even when looking at it. Looking isn’t the same as seeing.

I notice a small dimple where none was, about twenty five feet from the bank and a little upstream. It’s not easy to spot as it’s in the middle of a ripple created by a stone, exposed by the low water. I’m tight against the bank with no back cast, so a make shift roll cast sends a size 18 Adams on it’s way.

The take is gentle and then the trout does some spectacular aerobatics before giving up. Not big but beautiful.

A glance at my watch reveals time has flown by and I need to make tracks. Spotting a hard to see trout is satisfying, but it also makes me wonder how much I miss when I’m just looking rather than seeing.

Mr Notherone

Always more to learn….

I’m having a good afternoon. More than a dozen trout have been in the net including four of around 15 inches. Some are a beautiful golden colour and were fooled into rising for a small deer hair emerger and a danica mayfly. Hopefully years from now, days like this is will be dragged back as memories to smile for.

I’ve lost track of time a little and I’m surprised to see that it’s almost an hour later than I think. I decide to fish the slower glide in front of me before heading home and besides, I’ve spotted at least two risers.

An Afternoon to Remember

One trout in particular is rising regularly, ahead and almost in the middle of the river. I edge very slowly to the left and decide that I can get almost level with the fish. The angle of the light has changed and will make keeping track of the fly that much more difficult. I’ve a long leader and the same emerger pattern that has taken ten trout today.

My first cast is good and the fly tracks right over him, so does the second. Nothing. Another rise.

So I haven’t put him down. Fly change time. On goes the mayfly, also successful today. Another two drifts and another two refusals. Perhaps I’m too close and he’s spotted me, but as I prepare to back off there is another rise, more prominent than before. I can’t see what he’s taking so I decide to go small.

A size twenty F fly tests my eyesight to the limit but I’ve developed a lot of confidence in the fly over the years. Unfortunately, I get the same result.

Another half a dozen casts with a small adams and a small wulff variant sees my frustration grow. Each time the trout rises as before sometimes with a splash and sometimes just a sip and each rise is within the same eighteen square inches. Perhaps my drift is not as good as I think, perhaps there is more drag than I can see, maybe I should have tried a terrestrial, who knows…

I decide to leave him to it and as I clamber up the bank I see him rise once more as if to rub it in. Today, one little trout definately got the better of me.

I resolve that there will be other days like this one to commit to memory and that I have some unfinished business on this small stretch of water. I will study harder, learn more and practice until I get luckier.

In the meantime, Scotland’s anthem comes to mind. The bit that goes “and sent him homeward, to think again”.

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.

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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

 

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