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

 

Chalk Stream…but where are the trout?

I oversleep.  Not the start I want and I’m annoyed at falling asleep after the alarm rings.  Nothing I can do now, I’ll just have to catch fish an hour later than planned.

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The Wiltshire Avon

Despite my tardiness, I make good progress towards the Wiltshire Avon and stop at services to pick up a few things for lunch.  Absent any breakfast I’m also hungry now.  The large gentleman in front of me buys the last two ‘pan au raison’ and I’m stuck with an ugly looking plain croissant (the French have a lot to answer for).  I wonder if this is a sign for the day ahead.

It’s another hot one, bright sunshine and high twenties by lunchtime.  I look for a shady spot to park and chat to the river keeper.  He’s been feeding the stockies in an adjacent lake and wishes me well without giving too much away.  It’s a decent walk to the bottom of the beat.  My last visit was in Winter and now in August the vegetation is in full flow, making access difficult and impossible in places.  Unlike my regular freestone rivers, the Avon has a good flow – lower than I remember but just as clear.  A peer into the water shows just how skittish the fish are.

I’m armed with my 9ft 4wt.  I want to use my 8ft 4″ 3wt but I broke the tip section a few days ago and so needs must.  Today is a dry fly day.  There are a few pools where I’m better off with a nymph or spider, but I’m going to persevere with the dry.  I’ve not had enough dry fly action this season.

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I start with a small klink and work upstream, hitting the food seams, gravel runs and margins.  It’s not long before the first small grayling comes to hand, quickly followed by a few more.  Can’t be long now until the first brownie shows up.

The small grayling keep coming.  I switch flies a lot in one pool where I see several rising.  My reliable f-fly and olive emerger attract no attention at all.  The klink and a small elk hair caddis are preferred and catch everything today between them.  I notice a better fish at the head of a pool, rising in a narrow channel between some ranunculus.  I lengthen the leader a little and get into position.

This is one of those casts that I should make with ease.  Twenty five feet, no wind and no obstructions, but nerves can strike under a hot sun.  I’ve become a strong proponent of the importance of the first cast, particularly in these conditions.  I used to rush in for glory whereas now I spend more time watching and planning.  A kingfisher takes my attention for a moment as I’m getting ready.  The take is almost instant and I’m into a better fish and certainly a brown trout.  Well actually it’s a 12″ rainbow.  I’m not sure if he has been stocked here or if he’s an escapee, but either way he’s not the fish I came for.

I grab some lunch sitting on a small hard bench.  I resist the urge to use a comfortable looking chair in a garden on the opposite bank, placed temptingly close to the water.  Being run off someones property will surely spoil my afternoon.

The top half of the beat is a much harder prospect.  Access is very difficult and short roll casts need pin point accuracy.  A few more small grayling oblige until I spot a trout rising upstream in the margin just out of the main flow.  The stream is no more than three meters wide at this point and I need to negotiate a tree and high bank vegetation. IMG_1448

Perhaps a bow and arrow cast from the bank, but I’m not too good at those.  With an effort Robin Hood would be proud of, the fly lands just up from the last rise and is greedily taken.  At last, a lovely little wbt, perhaps 10″ comes to the net.  He recovers quickly and bolts for cover.  I manage just one more similar trout from the next pool and although I catch and miss more of the ever present grayling, I see no signs of trout anywhere else.  It’s hard to be disappointed on such a beautiful day with the Avon.  My catch is sixteen grayling, two brownies and a wayward rainbow – all on the dry.  I don’t fish chalk streams often and I have this notion that they are stuffed with brown trout.  Perhaps I’m unlucky, perhaps it’s the conditions, perhaps I have the wrong tactics.  Perhaps the little grayling are simply winning the race for my fly on a mile of prime trout water.  Perhaps if I’d had the pan au raison instead of an ugly croissant.  Who knows.

It’s a great day in beautiful Wiltshire surroundings, on a special little stream.

Mr Notherone

 

The Upper Avon

A Day with the Ladies..

If my first passion is the trout, the grayling is not far behind and it is the off season after all.

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The First Of The Day

It’s still dark when I pull into the little car park in the wood.  I want to get set up but the poor light and chilly air sees me reach for the hot flask and I stay in the Land Rover for another twenty minutes.  I could have ventured to the upper Wye or perhaps the Lugg where I’ve had memorable days with grayling.  Last season I tempted a 19″ beauty (my personal best) from the Craig Llyn beat below Rhayader.  I could have gone west to the Taff but I don’t know the river well and so I’ve opted for familiarity and I’m about to fish the Avon above the little village of Upavon.  Hard to turn down a chance to cast a fly in a chalk stream.

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The Avon at Upavon

 

As my boots crunch through the light frost, the optimism is rising;  I’ve caught well here before.  I opt to head downstream from the bridge that bisects the beat and work up with a pair of nymphs, short tight line style.  The water is up a little and much clearer than I expect after so much rain, so a change of plan.  A klinkhammer with a lighter nymph suspended underneath will hopefully put me out of spooking range.  I catch steadily on the nymph and take a couple on the klink, before a flurry of surface activity around late morning.  Unexpected but very welcome.

I tie on a size 16 F fly and for about twenty five minutes I’m trying to hit those little sips above and below me.  I catch quite a few and miss as many.  All the fish today are in the 10″ to 13″ range – no monsters on this trip.

Lunch is the usual hasty affair before another hour or so trying to spot and target fish with a dry from the bank.  I manage a few more before the light fades and I start to contemplate the ninety minute drive home that will probably be two hours.  Remarkably it has stayed dry although the cold is prompting me to make that last cast.

The upper Avon is a beautiful stream and a wonderful place to spend a day.  As I pull away and head home, the first drops of rain trickle down the windscreen.  Sometimes when the gods are shinning on you they do a little overtime.

Mr Notherone