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

 

 

Pinch, Punch, First of the Month..

My daughter is first off the mark.  She delights in pinching and punching dad and I can’t help noticing her punch is getting stronger.  I take her for a sports trial in the morning and I plan on a couple of hours on the river this evening.  She’s nervous, plays well, and I enjoy the morning with her. 

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A few miles above Usk

It’s another day in our current heat wave and we have no rain to speak of for weeks.  So much for my little rain dance last weekend.  With river levels this low, the trout will seek out the oxygenated water, lay low in the margins or hold in deeper, cooler pools.

This beat, a few miles above Usk, is a lovely place to spend a few hours.  It’s a long track down to the river and I’m surprised to find no other cars at the bottom.  A fine Summer evening, and I’ve got a mile of the Usk to myself.  As I ease myself into the water , there’s a huge splash near the bank below me and I turn just in time to see what looks like a good fish, bellyflop back into the pool.  Encouraging.  A few clouds roll in, and the evening will be a mix of bright sunlight with overcast intervals.

There are small and frequent rises all along a food seam where some faster water trails away.  I work my way upstream and one by one the trout hit my dry fly.  I’ve struggled at times this season with the dry.  Not so much hitting the hook up, but rising fish have ignored fly after fly as I hunt for the right pattern.

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Small Usk Brownie

Not this evening.  I start with a tiny Klinkhammer pattern and straight away I get a take and a lovely little wbt is to hand.  Several more follow to the same fly.  Unusually, I’m on my game and I’m 100% on hook ups, not even a long range release!

I notice a larger fish about 40 feet directly upstream.  I creep up and after several reasonable casts, fail to get a take.  I guess maybe he’s onto something different and there are little midges everywhere.  I look for the one of the smallest black patterns I have.  It’s probably technically a Griffith’s Gnat, size 20.  Second cast and I’m in, but rather than the thump I’m expecting, a relatively modest 12″ brownie comes to the net.  He has a nasty looking wound on the flank and probably thinks he’s down on his luck, but I get him back in the water in a few seconds.  Unsure if this is the larger fish I think I see, I cover the same water, pick up a couple of smaller fish, but no sign of Mr Big.

 

My best fish of the evening also falls to the black gnat.  It’s a well marked 14″ fish that literally jumps into the net.  I hook him directly across stream and he immediately runs below me.  With a size 20 hook and 010 tippet I adopt the ‘gently persuasive’ rather than ‘full on bully’ approach.

Two hours on the river, 9 fish and a very pleasant evening.  This is why I love fly fishing the Usk.

On the short drive home, there’s an interesting sound from the Land Rover.  More like a transmission problem than engine, is my gut.  If you drive an old Defender, these things become expected and nothing to worry about.  After all, a worrier doesn’t buy a Defender.

It’s a Sunday to remember for all the good reasons.  Let’s see what Monday (and the rest of July) brings.

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

A Sneaky Few Hours…

The little track down to the Usk is overgrown and unlikely the right way.  I’ve been here before though, so I know I’m only a few hundred yards from parking up and only a few more from the river.

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Downstream On The Usk

The path is overgrown too and I take my time, a slip here could spoil my afternoon.  The river looks spot on, just the right height, running clear, but it’s sunny and the water still feels cold

I’m grabbing a couple of hours on a middle Usk beat at the last minute.  Today was supposed to be busy with other stuff, but no complaints, I’m on the river.  I’ve seen so few rises this season that when I spot a fish rising on the far bank as I walk down the beat, I stop and plan my approach.  This turns out to be one of just five rises I see.  I catch two of the five in the first hour, presumably I’m too clumsy for the others.  I’m pleased that my size 18 olive emerger does the trick as today I’m only fishing a dry fly and I pass over the faster water at the top of the beat, in favour of the more likely dry fly water.  My first cast is good enough and a 12″ brownie comes to the net, followed ten minutes later by another.

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Today resembles one of those days that I yearn for during the colder months, perfect in every respect, apart from the distinct lack of fish.  It’s a similar story to a week ago and a week before that.  Everything looks just right, except the fish don’t show.

I continue to prospect with the dry, concentrating on the far bank and I manage to rise and catch two more brownies to the olive emerger and an Adams.

A hundred yards upstream is a family messing around with a dog splashing in the margins, so I slow down and take a break.  I just sit, take a drink and watch the river.  There are some duns coming off and I see two yellow mays, but no fish are interested.

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Fell To An Olive Emerger

I’m tempted to stay longer but I’ve promised my daughter a barbecue.  I can catch some more if I work the faster water with nymphs but as this is a dry fly day, I call it a day.

On the way home, near Raglan, I’m held up by a driver doing 25mph.  Driving a Defender, it’s rare that I find much going slower than me.  There’s a certain irony that the ‘go slow’  is driving a Suzuki Swift.  I bide my time, drop down a gear and plant my right foot.  There’s a three to four second pause as the land rover tries to work out what’s happened, before doing it’s best to respond.  It’s quite possibly the first time I overtake anything moving in my Defender.

Today I enjoy a few hours on the Usk on a warm Spring day and catch four smallish trout on a dry fly.  Nothing too remarkable.  However, I’ll remember the day for the rush of adrenaline as I see the Suzuki driver mouthing “hooligan” in my mirror as he eats my dust.

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

Opening Day Disappointment

There is the opening day of the season and then there is my personal opening day – the day that marks my first opportunity each year to fish for wild brown river trout.  This is that day.

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Usk Bridge

Over the years I’ve learned to temper the enthusiasm with a measure of realism born from experience.  There have been a few memorable halcyon opening days and a few that fell short of expectation.  Today is one that will simply fail to materialise.

IMG_0745The snow that fell overnight is continuing to fall as I take my first peak at the day.  There is an instant realisation that this seasons opening day is postponed.  I’m not a fair weather angler, but the heavy snow and strong wind is not what I have in mind and I’m resigned to doing something else with my morning.  I think the dog walk will be extra long.  The snow is not as deep as a few weeks ago and I know the Land Rover will get me out, so I’m not confined to the hills and woods around the house.  I think I’ll head to the river.

The Usk has something to offer every Season.  Even now when Spring is confused by the refusal of Winter to leave, the river is determined to impress.  Heavy rain that preceded the snow is pushing the flow through at a pace I would not like to test.  I enjoy wading, but I know my limitations.

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Today, even Ollie, my daft retriever has enough sense of self preservation to stay out of the water.  The snow stops and I look for any signs of fishiness.  Nothing to report.  The river offers no hint of its (deserved) reputation for early season trout.  I contemplate the coming week and consider if it affords me a chance to open my season or will it be next weekend?  As I wander down-stream I continue to explore every inch of the current.  I rehearse where the fly will land and how the line will track.  I note where I’ll stand to fish the seam below a boulder and where I might try a left handed cast to avoid the tree trout.

My eye catches a little back eddy and I see a distinct ring.  It’s almost certainly something that’s fallen from the overhanging branch, but I know it’s a hulk of a brownie that is going to spend the next few days working its way upstream a couple of miles; where I will be waiting on my opening day.

Mr Notherone