First fish, new river…

I grew up just fourteen miles from here and my father’s childhood home is just eight miles away. Yet as I make my way down the steep slope to the river, I’m struck by how unfamiliar this area is. Roads now connect these eastern valleys that did not exist forty years ago and back then, people just didn’t travel as much.

The Sirhowy river emerges north of Tredegar on the edge of the Beacons park and flows south before turning left to join the Ebbw. Like all of her sisters she was the life blood of the iron and coal industries and paid the price. She ran black and dead for generations. Now, these eastern valley rivers are alive and healthy and hold some extraordinary trout.

The Sirhowy near Hollybush

Today the river is high and pushing fast after a night of rain. It is coloured too and not ideal for the first outing of a new season. None the less it feels good to be on a river and looking for brown trout.

I pick my way downstream, which is not easy with steep woods on either side and no path. It’s surprisingly quiet for an urban river and I’m disturbed by just one dog walker all afternoon. I’ve also more space than I anticipated and I’m already regretting bringing my 7ft 3wt. The wind is strong and I wish I had one of the longer rods still in the boot of the car. I can’t be bothered to go back, so I make do.

I set up a french leader and begin to prospect what any angler would recognise as a really ‘fishy’ run. The head of a pool narrowing to a deeper channel with two quieter areas either side for fish to hold. Even with the shorter rod I can get a good drift.

I’m surprised with no take and the same again in the pool above.

As it’s very early season and just after a spate, I wonder if the trout are not in the usual feeding channels, so a little upstream I try a deeper quieter pool. Under an overhanging tree and about fifteen feet ahead of me, I catch my first trout of the season and my first Sirhowy fish. A typical lean 10 inch march brownie, beautifully coloured. After a long time fishing, the thrill of the first wild trout of a new season does not diminish.

My first Sirhowy trout

Over the next couple of hours I catch a dozen similar fish, all from quieter holding pockets and all to a fairly simple pheasant tail pattern.

The one exception is a more aggressive take and I immediately know it’s a good fish. Hugging the bottom of a deeper pool, it’s a minute before I get him to the surface and ease the fish towards the margins. I’m already celebrating when a flick of the tail near the rim of the net sees him disappear. My profanity is so loud and coarse, I even surprise myself!

Every angler who talks about ‘the one that got away’ will immediately be open to claims of exaggeration and that’s probably justifiable. So I’ll just say 16 inches (at least) and leave it at that.

With the wind getting stronger, I switch to a fly line and fish a single nymph upstream for the final ten minutes, but my opening day is done. Light drizzle is getting heavier as I begin the forty minute drive home. I’ve had access to this little river for a few seasons and I wish I’d visited earlier. I will definitely be back as I think this could be a lovely place to spend a few hours with a dry fly in the summer.

Mr Notherone

Another trout season slips away….

So another trout season has come and gone with the usual ups and downs. I was hoping to get out one last time, but the ‘Monmouthshire Monsoon’ has left my rivers in spate and running a milk chocolate shade of shit. 

When I drive over the bridge at Usk, I usually have to glance quickly in each direction and strain my neck to see the water. Today whilst looking straight ahead I can see the river on both sides. It’s high.

Time once again to reflect on a spent season, celebrate the highs and to see if I have the wisdom to learn from the lows.

An uninviting river Usk on the last day of the season

Before the trout season kicks off, I’m able to chase some grayling with trips to the Avon, Irfon and upper Wye. The fishing isn’t bad but predictably the winter weather can be challenging.

Spring

As March approaches so do the storms and this season will be topped and tailed with a lot of rain, flooding and no fishing. Once again it’s April before I wet a line and once again it’s the Usk that gives up the first trout of the season. In a heavy river and stiff breeze I manage just four smallish brown trout. I’m pleased though and my season has started.

I have access to a beautiful stretch of the Monnow this season and mid-April sees me exploring new water. Knowing a river well is a pleasure but there is always something special about fishing somewhere new and I catch my first trout of the season on a dry fly.

Seasons first on a dry

April also sees me catch a fantastic grayling at just over 18″. I’ve only caught one larger grayling (from the Wye a few years ago) so it’s a shame it’s OOS. The fish takes a heavy pheasant tail fished on the point and gives me quite a run around.

As the weather improves in May, my job starts to wind down and so with a break from earning a living, I find more time than usual to fish. May is a good month. The hatches gradually improve and increase and the trout are obliging. Several good fish at 16″ and 17″ are eventually bettered by my best wild river brown, a 19″ beauty that takes a mayfly, drifted under the far bank overhang.

I am a glutton for self inflicted punishment so I roll up for my fourth Monnow Social. The fishing is great, the company is better and I’m pleased not to have to struggle to work on the Monday following! https://fishingfortrout.blog/2019/05/13/fishermans-tales/

Summer

Early June sees me in the middle of one of the best mayfly hatches I’ve seen for years, reminiscent of some I remember from when I first started fly fishing. The spinner fall is extraordinary with trout rising in every direction. Only poor light forces me off the wicket.

With long summer evenings and time to fish I fill June with trips to the Monnow, Usk, Honddu, Wye and Lwyd. The fishing is excellent and I enjoy a lot of dry fly action. I manage to fall in one evening, thankfully with no great consequence and thankfully with no witness. Embarrassing as it is, there’s no better time to fall in than on a pleasant June evening, just before home time.

This Summer, on a few occasions, my daughter comes with me to take photographs for a school project. It’s welcome company and adds a new dimension to chasing trout up streams and rivers. She is getting better at taking the piss out of her dad and is good at not taking things too seriously. She’s a good influence.

The weather shifts in August and I find myself with less time on the river.

Autumn

Last season, I spent most of September either working or busy with family stuff. This year it’s the weather that keeps me off the water. I manage a couple of evenings and one afternoon trip before the rain comes and ruins the last few weeks. At least the last few trout are caught on a dry.

So that’s it. October already and a few grayling days in the diary.

This has been one of my better seasons for some time. More fish caught than in the last few seasons, more trout on the surface and some of the best mayfly activity for years. A new PB for a wild river brown was a highlight, but I won’t forget the little Honddu brownie that took a dry emerger only fifteen feet away, after possibly my most accurate cast of the season. It’s not just the bigger fish that bring reward.

It’s also been great learning new water, although I’ve sacrificed time on the Usk as a result. I’ll just have to make up for it next March. Until then, bring on the grayling….

Mr Notherone

Autumnal August

Of all the trout season months, I struggle most with August. If it’s not too little water it’s too much and on day’s when I expect to enjoy some wet wading, I’m as likely to need the thermals. I’ll have to rethink my assumption that August is a summer month.

Low murky water and a strong wind

Today the river is falling after some heavy rain and coloured. It’s not particularly inviting. Intermittent showers has me putting on my light weight jacket and then packing it away half a dozen times. Tiresome.

A strong wind is gusting and swirling making it hard to keep a good drift with the nymphs and I can’t see me using the dry fly rod that is tucked into my waders.

For nearly two hours I fight the elements working upstream through the faster seams and pocket water. Nothing, not even a knock. My motivation is waning and as it’s the middle of the afternoon I decide to eat some lunch, although I’m not really hungry. I notice the kingfisher that I’ve seen twice already, settle on a perch directly opposite me. He’s joined by his mate and over the next twenty minutes they come and go several times before I’m treated to him diving three times into the pool. I’m not close enough to see if he’s successful.

It would be easy to call it a day but I persevere with the pheasant tail in the next pool and I catch a small brown trout quickly followed by a grayling.

As the grayling is sliding back, to my surprise I spot a rise about 25ft upstream under a tree. I’m going to have to cast backhanded or with my left arm to have any chance. I edge a little closer and decide backhand is more feasible. The size 16 Adams in the keeper ring will do.

My first effort isn’t bad but a little short. The second cast is just right and a good fish is on. I’m taken by surprise as he runs straight at me and I can’t take up the slack fast enough. Neither can I hide my disappointment and my curse startles a pheasant on the far bank.

It’s the only rise I see all afternoon but as the wind drops the fishing improves and I net more trout and grayling, including two 14″ browns, on some pheasant tail variants. It’s just before six o’clock when I leave and I notice another angler has arrived to try his luck. I hope he’s not expecting a balmy summer evening.

September is around the corner and when I get home I find my daughter actually doing some school work. She must also be sensing that summer is drawing to a close. I wonder if there’s time to squeeze in one late mini heatwave?

Mr Notherone

These long evenings can make for great sport…

I take advantage of a little more free time and arrive at the river about 5.30pm. It’s a dull and overcast late afternoon but I know that this sort of weather can be very productive.

I decide to start with a pair of nymphs in the hope that there will be fish rising later. In the first pool I flick the nymphs into the current and watch the sighter as the pool deepens. It stops abruptly and I lift into a good fish. I haven’t even got my feet wet.

The grayling is 17″, not as big as the OOS fish back in April but heavy and puts up a stronger fight. After about a thirty second recovery she slides back out of sight.

Over the next hour or so I make my way upstream picking up a few small trout from the faster riffles, mostly at the heads of the pools. I’ve a silver bead PTN on the point with a gold one on the dropper. All fish take the point fly.

I connect with only one better sized fish but it’s off after a few seconds. This part of the river is well shaded with a lot of tree cover and I’m struggling a little to keep track of the sighter. It’s a relief when the river opens up a little and I can see again.

As the river divides around an island, I focus on a fast deep pool. The sort of pool where you know a good fish lies in wait. I put on a heavier point fly to get down quickly and search every inch, to no avail.

Looking ahead to the glide above the pool I spot a rise and need no further evidence to switch to a dry.

It’s a difficult approach and I’m going to need to cast back hand. My first effort is short. My second pulls him up but he misses the fly and I only just resist the urge to lift and let the fly float down stream. To be sure he’s not spooked, I wait to see him rise again, and my third cast results in a 12″ brown trout in the net. Very satisfying.

I’m hoping to see more fish rise, but it doesn’t happen this evening.

Above the glide is a long faster riffle, not more that a foot deep. I cast into the nearside seam and a small brownie grabs the fly immediately. From the same run I catch a dozen more, all to the same fly, as the light fades. I’m surprised by how many trout are in this small area and still feeding as I pull them out one by one.

I can’t believe that we are already at the point where the evenings are getting shorter. Got to make the most of the coming weeks.

Mr Notherone

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