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 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 to go 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 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

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

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 Euro style 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, but 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 not 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