River Irfon Magic…

The drive up Mynydd Eppynt is a little daunting. The narrow road, hairpin bends and wayward sheep, all focus the mind. This would probably make an exciting race track and I imagine how the Caterham I owned thirty years ago would fair. Fantastic I’m sure. Today though, my land rover is not accustomed to such mental agility and even if this is one of the best off-road vehicles available, I’m determined not to test that claim here.

I’m also aware of the frequent artillery range signs and red warning flags. I imagine some snotty nosed trainee gunner tracking me in his sights with the latest hi tech kit, itching to pull the “trigger”!  He doesn’t, of course.

Irfon Valley

Irfon Valley – beautiful grey morning

My last visit to the Irfon ended in a wash off – nothing could have persuaded me into the river that day. By contrast, today is grey and mild for the date, with a little on and off drizzle. The water is fairly low and running clear. I fully expect to spend the day euro nymphing but conditions suggest otherwise and I opt for the duo to give me a little more distance. I have my 9ft 6″ Hanak that will manage a fly line and the french leader if I want it.

I walk to the downstream limit and realise with the water this low there are really only a handful of pools that will likely hold grayling. Long stretches are no more than ankle deep, clear and with a distinct lack of fish.

I prospect the first few ‘fishy’ seams and have to change the depth and weight of the nymph several times. I’m fishing well (for me) but I’m lacking the confidence that the grayling are in this quicker water. At the first more obvious pool I take a break, eat an apple and plot my line of attack.

It’s not obvious. I think the grayling will be just out of the main current and somewhere before the back eddy, so I’ll have to cross over and clamber around a fallen tree.

IMG_2248I wade out, slightly further than I’m comfortable, and try to cover the water. It’s the third or fourth cast when I get a take at the end of the drift. A pristine grayling of about a pound. The pool is at least 6ft deep and my nymph is hitting the bottom.

I catch three in this pool before all goes quiet. The next pool is also productive and another three similar grayling come to hand. On this beat there is plenty of room for casting, however the the wind picks up and as I round the next bend it’s hard in my face. Time for lunch.

Over the next hour I manage three more grayling, two from an eddy where the bank falls away and one from some faster water at the head of a longer glide. They are all the same size and I see only one larger fish. When I peer over the bank like a beginner, I succeed in spooking the fish and it bolts downstream. I make a mental note that surprisingly, I’ve no interest from an OOS trout in four hours of fishing.

I’ve not been out for a while, so I’m pleased with nine grayling from a river I don’t know. The Irfon probably plays second fiddle to it’s big brother the Wye, but she is beautiful and well worth a visit. I will definitely return for the grayling, ideally when a little more water is flowing. I’ll also do a little research to see how the trout show later in the year.

Back at the car I’m shocked to see that I have a phone signal – probably only happens one in ten trips where I fish. I discover it’s tuna steak for dinner. Apparently, in our house I’m the “best at cooking fish” which I have learned is code for “you’re doing dinner”! After a day on the river and a ninety minute drive my reward will be slaving away in the kitchen. Wouldn’t have it any other way.

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

 

Freezing on the Upper Wye

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The Wye above Newbridge

I’m not prone to feeling the cold, but for some reason this morning is already different. I’ve the usual layers on, feeling as bulky as ever and yet I’ve got the shiver that won’t go away.

It’s about half an hour after first light and I’m picking my way across the field to the river. The temperature gauge is only reading 0°C but it feels lower and the frosty landscape is contributing to the mind-games.

It’s the end of the trout season and I keep telling myself that trout like it cold – they’re bound to be voracious for my fly today.

I’m going to split the beat up and start at the top end where the water is faster and explore the food seams and holding areas where I suspect the fish with lay up. Two nymphs will be the way to start. Later, when it’s warmed a little I’ll venture down to the slower glides and see if any fish are looking up.

An hour in the river and my feet are cold (surely its lower than 0°).

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Pheasant Tail Red Tag

It’s uncomfortable but bearable. I’ve hooked and lost one trout and I’m struggling to find fish. A change to a little pheasant tail with a small red tag on the dropper brings reward.  Three fish in quick succession, all small but perfectly formed. I should have changed flies earlier but I’m distracted and now my feet are even colder.

For the first time that I can remember I spend time on the bank just thawing out. It’s a chance to pause, take in the surroundings, enjoy just being here (if only it was a little warmer).

I’m joined for a few minutes by a friendly walker who enquires after my success. “Three small ones I offer”, followed by a detailed explanation of why he can’t see them. Many don’t understand angling and this bloke gives me that additional bewildered look when learning that I might spend all day standing in a river returning the fish I catch. He walks off and I’m sure he’s concluding I’m a little bit crazy.

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Small but Perfect

Back to the task. The pheasant tail lands me a few more trout and two grayling can’t resist the heavier olive shrimp on the point. Wading is getting tricky and I’m trying to find the good positions without slipping off the bed rock into what look like impossibly deep pools.

It’s not long before the pain returns to my feet and now I’m starting to shiver again. The quieter water lower on the beat can wait for another day.

As I backtrack along the bank, I notice a rise just above a prominent boulder and wait to see him rise twice more. I figure I can reach him without wading and so I cast out a small olive up-wing that’s engulfed almost as it touches down. I’m in and it feels like a better fish. I turn his first run downstream but then he jumps and throws the fly. He is definitely a better fish – and this day he’s better than me. He’s clearly decided not to succumb to an angler who has already given up and is nursing his feet back to life along the river bank. Anyway, I’ll get him next time.

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Where the one that got away, got away.

I peel off my wadders and throw them in the Landy. I discover both my socks are soaking wet and my suspicion that these wadders are reaching end of life is confirmed.

I’ve had better days fishing, I’ve had warmer days fishing, but this one will certainly be memorable. It’s a frustrating day but not a disappointing one. Does any day spent in the company of the Wye ever disappoint?

Mr Notherone