Testing myself in the rain…

I’m in two minds about getting out on the river for a few hours. There’s a lull in the rain that’s been falling for days but the sky looks as if it could change that in an instant. The river level has been falling throughout the day though. Decision made, I head out.

I’ve never been a fair weather angler and I’m happy to fish through a shower or something heavier. However, I can’t say I enjoy a torrential downpour and this is what I find when I park at the river. It doesn’t look like easing and I’ve only a couple of hours available.

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As I make my way downstream I disturb what I’m pretty sure is a little egret. It clears the tree tops and cuts across the fields before circling back towards the river, no doubt I interrupted it’s late afternoon snack.

Without doubt, the worst thing about fishing in rain is seeing well enough to tie good knots. In the last few years I’ve had to accept that I need reading glasses to see close up and now when fishing I use a small magnifier that attaches to the brim of my cap and folds away when not needed. It won’t win any fashion awards but I find it excellent. Until that is, it rains and then I could do with windscreen wipers.

The river is coloured and pushing through, but not so much as to make things difficult and wading is still comfortable.

Over the last six weeks, a lot of my fishing has been with a dry fly but conditions today suggest nymphs are the way to go.  I target the faster head waters of the pools and it’s not long before I bump off the first fish and then bring another to hand from the same riffle. A small brownie with exquisite red spots.

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I’ve worked a lot on my nymphing technique and I’m more comfortable now ‘casting’ the flies but I still get the odd tangle. Today I snatch at what I think is a take and end up with a birds nest that’s largely of my own making as I tug at the line out of frustration. More fun tying knots in the rain.

IMG_3495I force myself to slow down and I’m soon into another good fish, again from the faster water at the head of a pool. The water shallows as I pick my way upstream and I manage two more trout targeting the holding areas just out of the main current.

The second fish is the best of the day and puts up a good scrap, made worse for me as I let him get below. In these conditions and fishing nymphs I’m able to use 4lb Maxima for tippet, so I’m able to bully enough to get him to the net reasonably quickly.

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I catch another three from the top of the next pool and just as I’m running out of time, the rain eases to just a light drizzle.

I’ve not seen any surface activity today but as I get close to where I parked up I spot a small rise in a quieter glide, just the other side of a mid-stream island. I glance at my watch and decide I’ve time to swap leader and tie on a dry. After a minute or two I’m wading across to the island trying to stay low. I see the fish rise again.

I squat down and ready myself to cast. As I glance behind to see how much room I have, I lose my balance and topple backwards. I perform the start of an acceptable backwards roll and as my head hits the water, I feel the rush of cold water down the back of my waders. Fortunately, it’s only about a foot and a half deep and I’m back on my feet pretty quickly, with just my pride bruised. Time to call it a day.

It’s quite a while since I fall in properly and it’s a gentle reminder to take more care. At least it’s June and not January.

Back at the car and in the best tradition of a poor workman blaming his tools, I examine my boots and determine that the studs have worn and need replacing!

Mr Notherone

 

Mayfly Mayhem

There are plenty of past seasons when the revered mayfly period has missed me. Perhaps it’s not being able to get out enough at this time of year and perhaps because recently, there are seasons when I see little in the way of any insect life, let alone the mayfly.

Although you will meet many anglers more in tune with the mayfly hatch, I’ve fished long enough to have caught a few on may duns and spinners. I also know from experience that the mayfly hatch can be very unpredictable.

None the less, I’ve seen some spectacular spinner falls, and few as good as the one I see today.

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It’s about 5.30pm when I park up and another thirty minutes before I start to stroll down stream. I stop opposite the pool I want to target and from where I can fish back up, through some varied water, in a few hours.

I have a total of thirteen feet of leader and tippet to which I add a small deer hair emerger, my most successful dry fly this season. Might as well start with a winning formula.

I don’t have to wait long before the first rise and moments later I register my first miss. My fly induces a take, but I’m too slow (or is the fish too fast?). This happens a few more times before I finally bring a lovely small brown trout to hand.

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It’s one of those early evenings which has the potential to see some rain. but it holds off and remains overcast. It should be perfect for a hatch and after picking up a few similar trout, the trickle of duns increases.

I fumble my way through my small box of mays, trying several patterns as the hatch increases and I eventually settle on a small danica fly that seems to raise a few fish. Around 8pm the air is thick with spinners of various types and duns are still coming off.

I stand at the edge of a pool that I took my time to approach quietly and now the trout are oblivious to me as the feeding frenzy is all around. The insect cloud is unrelenting and I’m able to pick off fish in all directions, bringing some to the net and bumping a few off. Some of the trout are so close I hold all the fly line off the surface, avoiding any drag. In the fading light as the sun dips behind the trees, it’s a fantastic experience.

As I walk back to the car, I’m sure I have a grin from ear to ear.

This season starts slowly with March a wash off. Now in early June it’s much improved and I’m having more dry fly action than the last few years. Over the next six weeks, I anticipate being able to get out and fish a few more evenings than usual and I feel my grin get even wider.

Mr Notherone

Three Duffers in the Pub…

Over a late lunch pint or three I’m discussing fly fishing with a couple of other self appointed gurus. I’m celebrating catching my best river brown trout at 19″ and arguing about whether that matters. 

Inevitably, we start to discuss the four levels of fly angler development. Do not be tempted to think there are five or three, for we have already agreed there are four.

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19″ Monnow Brown Trout

Naturally, we all conclude that we are each at level four, the highest attainable order of angling. It is obvious to us and besides we only have to convince each other, a diminishing task with each round of drinks. This afternoon we are judge and jury.

We conclude that the developmental levels of the fly angler do not necessarily correlate with any acquired skill. Thankfully, the duffer can enjoy the same progression without fear of exclusion.

I do get the sense that none of us is being entirely honest about where we’re at. I for one, suspect I’m increasingly talking bollox.

I hear that at level one, when we start our fishing journey, we are happy just to catch a fish, any fish. More than anything we want to avoid the big B.

We develop anxiety over whether our 8ft rod is good enough and would we catch more with an 8ft 6″. We worry about what our tippet is made from, the optimal length of a dropper and why no one will tell us what green mucilin is for. We are obsessed with the “what” and “how” of doing, so we search the net for tips and advice and keep quiet when we learn that watercraft is not a type of dinghy.

Trying not to look at either of my friends in particular, I conclude that level one can last a longtime (or is that lifetime).

Next, our new found confidence pushes us down the quantity route. At level two, we want to catch a lot of fish, we keep count and get upset when someone else catches more. It’s extraordinary how many anglers at level two think that 5+1 = 8.

We learn to change flies in a nano second and buy “tactical” gear so that no trout can escape our onslaught.

We know our high sticking from our euro nymphing, the subtleties of the Czech and Spanish styles and why they are all happy to use a French leader. Some anglers perfect carrying multiple rods and can cast with either hand to maximise fly time in the water. Klink and dink becomes second nature. We are comfortable using the in-line sighter but know to draw the line at using split-shot – an unsavoury American habit.

Now some of us are ready to progress to level three and evolve to become the specimen hunter. Quantity is now a mugs game, big fish are what we chase. I’ve a friend who is a slave to level three and will no longer go fishing without the chance of a seriously big fish.

We perfect the ability to sit and watch the same square foot of water for hours and stalk our prey for weeks on end. We only carry one dry fly pattern because we know precisely what the specimen will be eating, before it does. Only when enough time has elapsed and the stars have aligned do we deliver the perfect cast, dropping the fly on the nostril of the unsuspecting monster. We are master of the grip and grin.

Finally, we are ready for level four, when apparently we ascend to another level of consciousness where we exist in a state of mindfulness and inner peace – at one with the river. At this stage we are content to simply be there, where casting the fly (or not, if we are too busy observing a beetle) is the destination itself. Catching becomes so ‘last level’…

After levitating across the stream so as not to create a disturbance, we return home in ecstasy having seen no fish at all.

It occurs to me that when I’m sat on the bank, head in hands, the casual observer might think I’m in a level four meditation, when in reality I’m pulling my hair wondering why I can’t catch an ‘effing fish.

I’m happy to confess that I catch my new PB trout whilst having a level one day out!

They say mixing fishing and alcohol is a bad idea and can be dangerous, but I think we’ve proven that as long as you stay in the pub it’s safe.

Next time, the three of us have decided to discuss aquatic entomology in great detail and the finer points of when you should swap a large brown one for a smaller green one.

Mr Notherone

 

Exploring New Water

This is the sort of afternoon when we all want to be on a river. It’s warm, a little overcast and the water looks the perfect height for dry fly.

There is a pleasure in knowing a river well. There is also an excitement exploring somewhere new. The frustration of wasting some time or of having to backtrack is always offset by discovering what is around the next bend.

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I turn onto the small track, unsure if I’m in the right place and as I only have a few hours, I want to make the most of it. I can’t possibly fish the whole beat, so I focus on the first few hundred yards. Access is easy and the only disturbance I make involves a few ewe’s and lambs relocating as I approach.

Initially I don’t see any surface activity, but I’ve only been here a few minutes.

At the bottom of the beat I decide to fish the far bank. It’s the tail of a nice looking pool with a few features to offer fish some protection. Of course, it’s good practice to fish the water you’re about to step into, so I strip some line and with no real sense of purpose I flick the fly a little upstream. I get a take as the fly hits the water and moments later I’m unhooking a greedy little 5″ brownie.

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A lot of juveniles about today

Whenever something like this happens it serves as a good reminder that fish can crop up in the least likely places.

Over the next two hours I make my way upstream, cast to and catch several risers. Today I’m struck by how subtle that rise can be. Barely a dimple on the surface. It’s so easy to miss particularly if I’m tuned into the more obvious rises. There are small olives, spinners and sedges trickling off, with midges abundant too.

As I’m stalking a fish on the far side of the food seam, I catch a glimpse in my peripheral vision of a disturbance much closer to me. Unsure if it’s a fish, I make a short cast across my body and after just a yard or two of the drift the trout takes the elk hair emerger.

My initial reaction is surprise as I’m expecting another small brownie, but this one takes off like a train and I only just stop him from diving under a submerged log. After giving me a run around and a few of those heart stopping moments I slide the net under. He is just over 16″ and a real lump. This season I have caught plenty of smallish trout in fewer outings than I would like, but a half decent fish has eluded me. I’ve got too familiar playing and handling smaller fish. This one, the seasons best so far, is very satisfying.

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Brown Trout, just over 16″

A bit like my first catch of the day, the trout is taken in twelve inches of water just three yards from the bank. Water I’ve already stepped through in pursuit of others.

In a couple of hours I manage eight fish, bump off two more and all on a dry fly.

This beat looks great and the map suggests there could be another half mile to explore next time. I’m looking forward to coming back and seeing around the next bend.

Mr Notherone

Sometimes One is Enough

For a very good reason, today is not the best day. I feel a sadness and sense of relief in equal measure. 

I want to spend a little time by myself and head to the river, not sure if I will fish. It’s a warm late afternoon, the river looks perfect and the first thing I see is a solitary Yellow May Dun fighting the gentle breeze.

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Deer Hair Emerger

Close to where I park the car, I sit on the bank and watch the river. It’s shallow on my side, shelving away to a faster ripple. The middle of a typical pool and sure to hold a trout.

I didn’t come here to catch a fish, but after about ten minutes I see a small rise just upstream and slightly off the food seam. I watch the fish rise again and decide to make a cast. I land the fly upstream of the rise and at the same time I’m telling myself I’m a foot short, the fly disappears in a swirl. I lift and tighten gently.

The brown trout jumps once and pulls strongly to get downstream. I manage to hold him on a fairly light tippet and guide him into the net.

The twelve inch brownie punches above his weight and as I unhook him, I’m aware that I release the first smile of the day. Today, there are only a few things that can lift my mood and this is one of them. I feel no compulsion to look for another fish.

When I start the engine it’s exactly thirty minutes since I parked up. I drive home better prepared and in a better frame of mind. A few days ago I was catching trout and laughing, today the same activity is giving me a different type of energy. This is a wonderful thing that we do.

Mr Notherone

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Fisherman’s Tales

What do thirty fishermen do when they get together for a Social? Tell tales of course. Not the stereotypical fishermen’s exaggerations about monster fish or the ‘one that got away’ (although everyone does have a ‘one that got away’ story). 

No, they tell true, heart felt, funny, often hilarious stories about real life, fishing, more real life and more fishing. Real life is so much funnier than a joke. After all, don’t the funniest comedians just tell stories we can all relate to?

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The Monnow

I’m reflecting on another Monnow Social. There is the usual chat about the weather, rivers we fish, insects (and the lack of), leaky waders and our prospects of catching over the next few days.

The fishing also proves to be very good with encouraging numbers reported, particularly later in the afternoons when the dry fly sport picks up. I fish with Matt who is providing great company and whose outlook to fly fishing seems similar to mine. We fish two beats of the Monnow new to both of us and enjoy catching in beautiful surroundings. I also spend a few hours on the Honddu where one particular cast I make, whilst almost lying down in the river, results in a lovely little wild fish which will last long in the memory.

Saturday’s auction, once again generates some moments of hilarity and generosity and hopefully raises a pile of money too. Strange that on Sunday morning, whilst looking as if he can’t remember his own name, quick as a flash Patrick is able to tell me the cash I’ve just handed him is a fiver short! A true professional.

This year though it’s the tale telling which emerges whenever a few of us gather, that I’ll particularly remember.

The river angler who puts his life jacket on under his vest and then can’t get his arms around to reach any zips when it auto inflates on the bank. Or the guide who breaks three of his own rods closing his own car door. The image of swinging over the river on a rope swing, only to get stuck in the middle with trousers heading south. I’ll certainly not forget the technique required to “czech nymph a salmon” in a hurry and I doubt I’ll ever accumulate enough fishing wisdom to park a chair by the bank and have the trout come to me!

It’s the banter with people who share a passion for fly fishing that makes the Social so much fun. Great to catch up with some friends and make a few new ones.

At the risk of sounding morbid, there are adverts on the telly telling me (to avoid leaving my family with the ‘burden’) I should start planning for my demise. Although hopefully it will be some time away, I was thinking perhaps a humanist ceremony, with maybe a bit of Radiohead playing in the background. After this weekend, I have another choice and should now consider the real possibility of going out like a viking.

The thought of being floated down river strapped to the nearest log whilst drunken fly anglers try to hit me with a flaming arrow has a growing appeal.

As they say, you probably had to be there…

Mr Notherone

 

It’s definitely a Good Friday

Apparently this will be the hottest day of the year so far. Just a few weeks ago I was walking the river banks looking at a torrent of muddy water, now it’s clear and at a height that is inviting me in. The temperature might get to the mid-twenties today, but the water still feels cold and it’s a reminder that we are only just past the middle of April.

I’m still exploring and around each bend is something new. I realise that I don’t know which river bank I should be on for the coming bit of water and I have to back track several times and cross over. What a fantastic place to be on a learning curve!

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I catch five trout and a grayling, but what marks the day is that I have my first trout of the season on a dry.

In one of the nicest looking pools I see one of only two rises all day. I take off the small klink and micro nymph that has caught me a couple so far and tie on a little F fly. I’ve only seen a handful of flies coming off in two hours on the river. When I don’t know what fish are feeding on, I often find the F fly to be one of the best in my box.

I’m not going to be able to get my preferred 45 degree angle on the fish. It’s going to be more straight across. I am able to get pretty close though so I’m hoping I can hold the line off the faster water that’s between me and glory. My cast is on the money and I can control the drift, but I’m soon past the point where I expect a take. I’m just about to lift off when the fly disappears in a swirl and I’m in.

It’s a jumper! Three times I’m treated to an aerobatic display and then it’s over quickly as he runs straight at the net. A very respectable 15″ brownie.

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I cover one more rise an hour later but I don’t see that fish again.

A nice grayling at around 13″ takes a small hares ear and I mange four juvenile trout to the same fly. I’d trade them all for the one on the dry though.

I twist my knee slightly, slipping off a boulder. Very minor, but it’s the excuse I need to pack it in. I want to get home in time for a drink or two in the garden before the sun disappears over the hill. I don’t celebrate Easter, but I’ll raise my glass to a damn good Friday.

Mr Notherone