First serious fish of the season…shame it wasn’t a trout!

The river has dropped significantly over the last week and is just clear enough to be able to avoid stepping in anything too deep. It’s mid-morning and the sun is threatening to make this a very pleasant spring day. I’m also looking forward to fishing some new water. There is something about exploring that makes fly fishing even better.

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Perhaps it’s because this is a new beat, but I decide to tackle up two rods. I usually can’t be bothered carrying two and I remind myself that I once left a rod on the bank and was very lucky to retrieve it the next day. Surely I’m not going to repeat that.

I set up the Hanak with two nymphs, a hares ear on the dropper and a heavy PTN on point. The Sage SLT has a furled leader and a little size 16 dry olive emerger.

This early in the season I’m just hoping to find some fish. I haven’t been out much and I’m yet to catch a trout on the dry. Realistically, I know I’ll be relying on tungsten as there’s too much water, but I clutch the Sage a little tighter more in hope than expectation.

I select a nice access point with a faster riffle in front and a few features upstream to provide some holding areas. I’m setting a good rhythm with the nymphs and managing to get a reasonable drift each cast. I target a quieter area at the edge of the main current and just as the point fly hits bottom there’s a strong take and I immediately know this is a good fish.

It charges downstream and as is usually the case with tight line nymphing, I’m reluctantly playing the fish off the reel. I know everyone is different but I always prefer to hand play a fish – isn’t that what the left hand is for!

A good size fish, down stream in a fast flow is never easy. I don’t want to bully it too much but I need to get it across to the quieter shallows. It’s then that I catch sight of the telltale mainsail. The immediate disappointment is quickly replaced with the realisation that this could be one of my better grayling. It is.

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My best grayling came on the Wye a few years ago. That was 19″ and although I didn’t weigh it, I don’t think it was far off 3lb. Today’s fish measures 18″ nose to fork, is stunningly marked and a similar weight. It’s out of season of course, so I want to get it back as soon as possible. It’s too big to recover in the net so I cradle it until the big tail launches the fish back into the depths.

For the next few hours I explore upstream, stopping at likely spots and avoiding falling in the deep holes. I alternate between the nymphs and prospecting with the dry. As expected, it’s not a dry fly day but it’s still nice to cast the Sage. I catch four small brown trout (largest at 13″) on the hares ear and then call it a day.

I walk back to the car with both rods in hand (no need to dash back in the morning on a frantic rod search).

The sunny afternoon does not materialise and it’s chilly when I drive off. I still don’t have a trout on dry fly and I’m not catching in any great numbers. It is only April though, and one thing I’ve learned is there is no such thing as a ‘typical season’. You’ve got to take what’s on offer.

I think I’ve had a successful day on the Monnow – and when it comes to fishing, I’m the only one I need to please.

Mr Notherone

Where would we be without a PTN…….?

I get a rare chance to spend a second day on the river this week. With the trout season around the corner this is my last effort to catch grayling and I head for a little stretch of the Avon in Wiltshire.

I’m not a scholar of the history of fly fishing, but there will be few devotees of the art, unfamiliar with Avon river keeper Frank Sawyer. He is accredited with inventing the pheasant tail nymph and I came to the conclusion a while ago that when it comes to nymphs, variations of the PTN are pretty much all that’s needed. So it proves again today.

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The Avon above Upavon

It’s six months since I was last here and today the river is pushing through strongly with a dark colour to the water. This is not one of those chalk days when you can count each grain of gravel in six feet of water. Every river looks different in each season, but this stream is unrecognisable from last August.

I decide to fish traditional upstream nymphs and just vary the weight to suit the flow. The banks are accessible and I can cast to many pools without wading; an impossibility in summer. My 8ft Sage SLT is perfect.

In the past, I’ve had as many as thirty grayling on this beat, but something is telling me this day will be different. As I make my way downstream, I can’t resist stopping at my ‘banker’ pool. I’ll fish through it again on my way up but I’ll just run the fly through a few times now. No response.

After nearly an hour, I’m still at the same pool and after several fly changes, I continue south with just one small grayling to hand. It doesn’t feel like a red-letter day is in the offing.

Things look up when I get back in the water and first cast I have another small but perfectly formed grayling posing for a snap as he slides back in. I continue upstream but I get no activity from the suspect lies. At the next pool, I’m convinced it’s holding fish but after a dozen drifts, again no interest.

I have little patience and keep tweaking the presentation. I switch to a size 16 PTN with a red tag and straight away I have the best fish of the day at around 14″ and it’s followed by another two smaller grayling. The fishing is not prolific but it’s fun.

The red tag stays on and lands two more grayling from my ‘banker’ pool and four OOS small trout from the next glide. I check my watch and I’ve only an hour before I need to head home. I spend the rest of the time on the upper beat, mostly kneeling trying to hide my profile whilst prospecting likely water. If anything the water is colouring up more and I’m fishing blind.

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I have half a dozen boxes of nymphs, mostly variations of pheasant tails and hairs ears. The majority have never been wet and I’ll guess that goes for a great many fly anglers. We all have our go to patterns. I wouldn’t dream for one minute of denigrating the ‘match the hatch’ approach, but here’s my reality. I have seen precious few hatches in recent years and most of the time I can’t identify the chosen food. I catch my share and when I’m not fishing a dry, the PTN variations work more often than not.

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I find that red, orange and pink tags work well with grayling and won’t escape a passing trout.

I catch everything today on the red tag PTN and a shrimp, both size 16. For those of you watching in black and white, the red tag is the one next to the pink shrimp (yes I’m old enough to remember Ted Lowe and Pot Black).

I think the count today is eight grayling and four trout. I’m not sure when I’ll get back to the Avon. This coming season, I’m planning to spend as much time as possible on the Monnow, her tributaries, and of course the Usk. Alas, there are only so many days for fishing.

On a few chosen occasions, I’m fortunate to be able to get to a chalk stream within a reasonable drive and for a reasonable price.

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

 

A Lesson Learned…..

It’s funny how after all these years I can still miss the obvious. I spend a couple of hours on the Usk this afternoon and waste the first ninety minutes fishing where there are no fish. I think ‘fishing where the fish are’ must be one of the golden rules of fishing…. and I break it.

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The Usk is a big river and with no discernible hatch, the trout spread out. I aim for a little stretch, a long bubble line where I have caught on several recent visits and with little thought I set up to prospect with a dry. It’s mid afternoon, overcast and with a good chance of a shower. There are no fish rising. After a while I switch to the duo, with the same spectacular lack of success. I’m happy to be out fishing and continue going through the motions.

I assume that because we’ve had some rain and the temperature has dropped I will find trout in the long tails where I have caught them before.

For an hour and a half I see no fish and get no interest on any fly.

I take a break and sit on the bank. Looking down on the river I realise that I’ve got it all wrong. The water temperature is still high and although we’ve had some rain the river is still relatively low. Trout are going to seek out the oxygenated water or lie deep in the cooler pools. I wander upstream to the first stretch of quicker water. I switch tactics to two nymphs, a Jon Barnes black magic on the point and a pheasant tail with a red tag on the dropper.

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I’ve also switched to the sunray line and I’m targeting the pocket water and food seams as they fan out across the river. Today I only have my Sage SLT with me, a fantastic dry rod but not renowned for tight line nymphing. I make do.

I need to cross the river to get into the best position on the drift and just two casts in, I hook and net my first brownie. In less than twenty minutes I catch three more from the same run. Three are about 12″ with the best at 14″. I should have thought more and started here when I arrived.

The last hook up is the most satisfying, even though the fish throws the fly. I cast over my left shoulder and manage to land the nymphs just to the side of a prominent boulder. As they drift below I lift the flies a little and induce an aggressive take, probably the best fish today, but I can’t control his initial jump and he’s gone.

I head back, as today I can’t stay and fish into the evening and this season most fish have come late in the day.

It’s true that from the start of the year I’ve caught less trout from the Usk per hour fished than any previous season. I’m not the only one to experience this. I also realise that today I’ve had a bit of a lazy session and wasted a lot of time. It’s still fun though. There’s nowhere I’d rather be for two hours on a Saturday afternoon.

Mr Notherone

 

 

 

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

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