Season ends on a small stream high….

Late start….hot dry Summer, very low water levels – maybe a season to forget?  

With work ramping up, a daughter moving up to GCSE’s and a new puppy in the house, September is proving stressful.  Fishing takes a back seat, but I’m determined to get out one last time.  I’m given a pass and I decide to take it scrambling up the Edw valley.  The River Edw is a small left bank tributary of the River Wye, with its source on the fringes of  Radnor Forest.  It winds its way over bedrock and loose stone through Aberedw and into the Wye between Builth and Erwood.  

IMG_1733 2

The River Edw

Turning off the main road it takes only a few minutes to feel remote.  No signal, no people and little bridges over the river that are better suited to a horse and cart.  It’s overcast, a little cold and the water level is low.  At no time today am I wading over my knees and frequently I’m kneeling down trying to make that cast under a tree, to the water that looks most fishy.  This small stream is not going to hold any monsters but it takes all of my strength and guile to winkle out the wild brownies.  I’m carrying a small box of dries and an equally small box of nymphs but I decide to only fish the dry.  I’m reducing my chances, but it is the last day and I’m in the mood for a trade off.

DC310EDC-6F08-4747-901C-A4AF41E7A094

Travelling Light

After wasting ten minutes in the pool at the bridge I move upstream and start prospecting the food seams trying to be as quiet as possible.  I can see fish scatter ahead of me and it’s almost impossible to move undetected.  It’s only in the faster water at the heads of the pools where I can sneak up.  With the river this low I also make use of a few exposed gravel banks to get into position.

The light makes tracking the fly tricky so I tie on an Adams with a hi-viz parachute.  In these small streams I find the little trout none to fussy and takes are usually aggressive.  Today I’m using a 7ft 3wt and most casts are little more than a flick of the wrist.  At times I have to reduce the leader to just 7ft to get under the overhangs.  I land the fly in the slack behind a boulder and the first fish is on.  Small they might be, but they don’t half hang on.  The fish are lean and strong and beautifully marked – some quite dark, others lighter with bright red spots.

As I work upstream, my fly gets slammed in most of the runs I think there will be fish, but in only one pool do I catch more than one.  They bolt for cover instantly and I’m forced upstream to the next likely spot.

I sit on a rock and grab a drink and something to eat.  It’s probably eighteen months since I fished the Edw and I wish I’d made more effort.  It’s a stunning valley.  A kingfisher flashes past at terrific speed.  I’ve seen quite a few this season but not managed to get close to one.

I continue up the beat, picking up the little trout that give me a runaround.  I’m impressed with my little Streamflex XF2.  As one of my least expensive rods, it’s perfect for these conditions, protecting the fine tippet and playing these tiny brownies firmly and gently.

C0AD2166-8A22-458A-9218-CBE2D34CC230

A Real Beauty

The Falls at the top of the beat is another ideal place for a pause.  The creeping around, rock climbing and fallen tree scrambling has taken a toll.  Recovered, I catch two more from beneath an overhanging branch and I’m feeling smug when the fly makes it through a small gap to land just where it’s needed.

As I trek back down river, I even pick up a couple fishing a downstream dry.  It’s just one of those days.  I enjoy catching trout on nymphs, but nothing beats a hook up on a dry.  I see only one rise today and it shows that these hungry little’uns are looking in all directions for food.  I lose count too, more than 15 but definitely not 20.

I pick my way back through the tiny country lanes, feeling at home in the Land Rover and reflecting on the season.  True it was a slow start.  Getting out has proved difficult and then I stayed away when the water temperatures hit the mid twenties.  I’ve caught fewer trout on the Usk and Monnow than for a good while and some days struggled for just a few fish.  There have been moments though – and most came on these smaller rivers.  Today is one of those highlights and a great way to end the season.  You may have guessed, but one of the pictures below was not taken on the Edw!

Now, where shall I go for my first post season grayling trip………?

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.

IMG_1589

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.

IMG_1538

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

 

 

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.

IMG_1340

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.

IMG_1368

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

 

Season’s Best….So Far

IMG_0975

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

Socially Speaking…….

IMG_0893

It’s Sunday evening and I’m slumped in the chair.  I’m aching all over, my feet are sore, I’m hoarse from laughing non-stop since Friday evening – oh, and I smell like a wrestlers jock strap.  There’s no other explanation needed, as I’ve just returned from the annual Monnow Rivers Association Social.

This is my second year attending and in-spite of my exhausted condition I’m hoping for many more to come.

There are those for whom fly fishing is a solitary pursuit, but even if it is, there is always room for a gathering like this where the friendship, banter, fun and fishing is served up in spades.  I’m richer for the experience even if poorer in the pocket.  Once again I’ve returned with a few “essential bargains” from the infamous auction, including a book from the 1980’s on still water trout fishing; something I don’t do and have no intention of starting.  Last year I was naive; this year I have no excuse and Patrick and Rob prove equally adept at removing my cash.

There is a lot of talk about the rivers being late this season and that appears to be true.  Some excellent anglers are made to work hard for their fish.  The conditions aren’t quite there yet, perhaps another three weeks?  None the less, I catch 16 fish in two and a half days, I learn a lot and I’m very pleased.  I experience two Monnow beats new to me in stunning surroundings and in the good company of Dave with whom I’m buddied up.  I also revisit a favourite beat of mine on the Honddu.  There is fly life (particularly under the stones) but the trout don’t look up much yet.  They can be tempted and the patient angler is rewarded.  A few very good fish are caught and returned.

In the evenings, the conversation and alcohol compete for which can flow fastest, with the inevitable winner.  Stories and anecdotes are shared with a passion and I now know what it means to literally ache with laughter.  I indulge more than I have for a while and eventually retire, fortunately to the same tent I put up earlier.  The mornings start with a procession of disheveled individuals armed with mugs, fresh from a night in a tent with varying degrees of discomfort, looking for caffeine.  A good breakfast revives the spirit and with fishing partners and beats distributed, the pursuit begins.

A lot of folk put in a lot of work to make the Social successful, something for which all us participants are very appreciative.  I’m already looking forward to next year and have worked out that there are only eleven and a bit months to go.  As a proud social (small s) media luddite, I’ve even been moved to join something called Facebook, so that I can keep in touch with MRA gossip – whatever next!

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.

IMG_0815

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.

IMG_0813

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.

IMG_0829

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

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.

IMG_0728

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.

IMG_0731

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