Archive for the ‘Fishing’ Category

Circling the Drain

July 22, 2019

Circling the Drain:

I am going to warn you from the start, this isn’t an entirely happy story, and it doesn’t have a great deal to do with fly fishing either. That said there is a happy ending and that happy ending has a LOT to do with fly fishing, or at least a lot to do with the type of people who enjoy fly-fishing, (perhaps are obsessed with fly-fishing would be a better term). It also contains some fairly gruesome images (you are warned) , in compensation there is an image of a real angel at the end to cheer you up.

You see, approximately six weeks back I was battling a cold or perhaps flu, ( I don’t like to use the term flu because then you get all that “man flu”, feminist rubbish that boys cry when they sniff and this turned out to be a lot more serious than that), but anyway I had a cold.

It started about ten days before we were due to fly out on a holiday to meet up with my family in the UK. A reunion of sorts, and an opportunity for my partner Leonora, a most wonderful person, to meet my aged mother. Perhaps even the last chance for her to do this,  at 93 mother isn’t of an age where you buy a lot of green bananas. It will turn out, as the story unfolds, that it would be my green bananas at risk of going to waste.

I figured, as most of us would, that ten days or so would be more than enough time to smack this bug on the head, take some vitamin C , get some rest, perhaps inhale some Oubas or Karvol to clear the lungs and I would be good to go on my reunion trip.

I thought ten days of the normal meds would see me well for my trip

The problem was that the predicted recovery never happened, I got more and more sick to the point where I could barely breathe, and on the eve of our flight I had to pull the plug and cancel the lot, less than 24 hours before take-off. Trust me, nobody does that without good reason and as much as it meant losing money and missing the family get together it also meant disappointing someone I love dearly. But when you are that sick all bets are off, and anyway, had I got on that plane I would undoubtedly be dead.

Not hours later I booked myself into hospital and once the doctors realized that they couldn’t get my blood oxygen level up for love nor money things got really serious.

Firstly I was transferred to Groote Schuur Hospital and very shortly afterwards moved to an ICU ward where I was put on a ventilator, filled with drugs and tubes, I can’t say for sure exactly what happened, I have little recollection of the next two plus weeks.

I was diagnosed as having one version of avian/ swine flu pneumonia, and it was typed because there are a lot of them, some nastier than others. To my recollection I think this one typed as h1n4, but to be honest I can’t be certain, I lost three weeks of my life which will never be replaced in memory. The only thing I do remember vaguely is fighting off alligators on a trout fishing trip to a local dam, although the morphine probably had more to do with that than the flu did.

I don’t think that I dreamt in ICU, hallucinate would be a more accurate term

For the record influenza A has a number of sub types. In the protein coat there are two primary proteins, Haemagluttinin (that’s the “H”) and Neurminidase (that’s the “N””), there are 18 different variations of the “H” and 11 variations of the “N”.  Best I can tell, any H can be adjoined by any N which means a huge potential for possible variants. One of the reasons that it is so difficult to manage or immunize against. Equally one of the reasons why it can be very difficult for your body to mount a suitable immune response to infection.
Actually most of the technicalities really don’t matter, they are all nucleic acid structures wrapped in a protein coat and fired up with a sociopathic zeal for causing pain, suffering and potentially death, so best avoided.

After a week or so (again I have no recall of time) the virus was pretty much under control , or at least the symptoms were, and I was due to come off the ventilator, maybe even escape ICU. But then I contracted a bacterial pneumonia on top of things and it was back to the opiates, the ventilator, being tied to a bed and hallucinations which thankfully other than the alligators I don’t remember.

That lasted another week or so and it was at this point that I was referred to as “circling the drain”. I won’t tell you how I know that, some people might find the apparent frivolity of the diagnosis unprofessional, or offensive. Having survived I merely find it amusing, but the definition of “circling the drain” is, according to the Urban Dictionary: adj: still alive barely, but about to kick the bucket, buy the farm, shuffle off this mortal coil, etc.. What it really means is that there was a good deal of medical opinion that I wasn’t going to make it and fishing and much else, including fishing with alligators for that matter, wasn’t likely to be on my future dance card.

In reality I was a great deal closer to bright white light and feathered wings than anyone would care to be. Even with little or no recollection of most of it, I can tell you that I never imagined anyone could be that ill, and certainly not that one could be that ill and still make it out alive. I reckon that the odds of my survival were about the same as those of the next royal baby being christened De Shawn.

As a dyed in the wool Game of Thrones fan I would love to believe that when the grim reaper came calling I was able to say “not today”, although it is more likely that he was put off by a particularly loud hiss of the ventilator or a disgusting slurp from the drains in my chest.

I do so hope that in my delirious and weakened state I still remembered this quote.

Finally I recovered, and there can be no pride in that, the medical staff at Groote Schuur undoubtedly saved my life with dedication and commitment.  All I did was lie there, struggle against my restraints and try to pull out the well-meant and lifesaving drips, tubes and airways that had jammed into me.

Apparently at one point my temperature got so high that the sister in charge had me covered in ice cubes. So part of the point of this story is simply to acknowledge the amazing work that the doctors, sisters, nurses and support staff did in bringing me back, and based on the amount of adrenaline they pumped into my system I suspect they had to bring me back more than once.

Finally I was back in a normal ward, remembering nothing of the experience to that point and having it recounted by the visitors who came to see me.

If you want to find out who your real friends are nearly dying is a particularly effective, if risky, strategy  to find out who will turn up, and I thank all those who took the trouble, some every day.

Turns out that wasn’t the end of it, the ventilator, the adrenaline and all the rest combined to result in ischaemic damage to the toes of my right foot. That is that they suffered a severe lack of oxygen and they as a result turned black. (think frost bite on Mount Everest as a rough guide to the image of my foot). 

Most of that began to heal but having obviously not heard the nursery rhyme one little piggy didn’t go to market but instead went septic. That meant a return to hospital and a few days on an antibiotic drip.

The toes were a problem, thankfully more hospital time and intravenous antibiotics eventually warded off the risk of losing digits.

So now we get to the happy ending bit of, what has been a tremendously distressing episode. During all this time Leonora had been in touch with all my friends, found contacts, traced people on my phone so that nearly everyone was aware of my predicament and before I even traded alligators in trout ponds for some measure of reality I had hundreds of messages and offers of support. Almost universally from the fly fishing community. People from around the world offering encouragement and even financial assistance. One of the most wonderful of those people, Gordon van der Spuy, well known for his humour and exceptional fly tying organised a fund raiser, and a raffle to provide financial assistance. Some people simply dropped funds into my bank account with a simple “get well soon” as a reference.

It still brings tears to my eyes even thinking about the consideration and generosity I have received. I don’t like to name names for fear of missing someone, but I do need to particularly reference Steve Boschoff who made a bamboo rod for auction simply to go to the cause, Andrew Savs who under considerable time pressure manufactured the most gorgeous net, Tom Sutcliffe who donated original art work from his latest book, Peter Mamacos who visited me near every day in hospital and Craig Thom who raised my spirits by bringing tea and a teapot to hospital. I was desperate for a good cup of tea.
That of course doesn’t do justice to all those who contributed and I thank you all. You are a credit to fly anglers everywhere and to the human race in general.

Steve Boshoff made a bamboo rod for the cause and Andrew Savs the most gorgeous landing net

I have in the past had other anglers comment that “you fly anglers think that you are so special” and all I can respond with is that this episode, horrible as it has been on many levels, simply proves that fly fishers are indeed special, it would seem by good fortune I have come to know a number who are absolutely more special than average.

This lovely and super lightweight landing net was made and donated by Andrew Savs

I am recovering, the toes are apparently safe and although I have a great deal of strength and weight to gain (I lost around 25 kgs during this struggle) I am on the mend. Recovery undoubted helped a great deal by the good wishes and prayers of many.

Last season I did very little fishing for my own pleasure, that is going to change, this was a warning that we have all heard before, don’t put off doing what you love doing. There was no reason for me to get sick, bad luck I suppose, but it could all have been lost right there, any future plans or dreams gone up in smoke with a single gurgling last breath, frozen in ice in an ICU ward.

I don’t generally put personal information on social media, but here I am going to make exception, because for all the support from a wide spectrum of contacts there can be no one more deserving of my love, appreciation and thanks than Leonora. She was there every day, driving for hours in a less than reliable car in the middle of winter to visit me, even when she knew I wouldn’t be responsive (there were times when I didn’t even respond to touch).

Leonora walked into an ICU ward every night not knowing for sure that the bed wasn’t going to be empty, baked cakes for the nursing staff, phoning the hospital , juggling all manner of paperwork and keeping all of my family and friends in touch with any progress.

I never quite made it across to find out if there are angels on the other side, but I do know that there is an angel here and her name is Leonora.

.This is a picture of a real angel, it turns out you don’t see their wings, you know they are angels when they open their hearts.

Thank you to everyone who has been so kind and so considerate in assisting me with my recovery, I don’t think that it is a debt that can really be repaid, but I wish you all well. I wish you long and productive lives, hopefully filled with love and opportunity. But remember, don’t waste those opportunities, it turns out that tomorrow is promised to no one

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A Chance to Sit Down

May 28, 2019

It has been quite busy at home and at work, with little time to rest and less to get things done around the house. I have been on the road, fitting countertops, downlighters, shelving, mirrors and more. There have been some troublesome clients that have delayed jobs and increased workloads. Troublesome more as a result of indecision than actual malice it has to be said, but time consuming and energy sapping none the less.

There has been too much to do, with too little time to do it,  the list of outstanding and ever more pressing chores multiplying exponentially in some weird logarithmic curve of dirty laundry and unglazed bathroom tiles. In short my home is a tip and my time limited, my back and shoulders are sore, I am grumpy because I haven’t been fishing and my muscles and shoulders are tired.

A few weeks back I was invited by Duggie Wessels (Western Province Fly Fishing Coordinator for the disabled), to participate in a “Wheelchair” fly-fishing challenge. Dougie is a “legless fly angler” and not in the merry sense of having one too many at the pub on the way home from the river , but quite literally so. Dougie fishes, where he can, from a wheel chair and this event was for the rest of us to experience just what that was like. Not so much a fishing competition as an experiment for us able bodied anglers to experience the challenges and frustrations of less mobile flyfishers limited by physical disability or injury.

Craig Thom of Stream X flyfishing test drives his new conveyance.

The idea was to fish for three hours, restricted as are Duggie and his mate Mark, to a wheelchair. When the morning came to venture out I have to admit to being less than enthusiastic, as said, the chores had piled up, the house looked like a bomb site, the bathroom tiles, newly laid, were still awaiting their finishing grouting and there were tools on one floor, fishing gear on another and that never ending pile of washing which simply lurks in the washing basket, secretly growing in the dark confines of the wickerwork when left unattended.

But then again, “a man’s word is his bond” and I figured that the minor inconvenience of an untidy home was nothing compared to the frustrations and limitations that these keen anglers face doing something that we all take for granted. The simple pleasure of going fishing, and the object was for us to find out just a little bit about what it was like to walk in their shoes. (I apologize, that’s a  poorly used idiom because Duggie , for obvious reasons, doesn’t own any shoes).

The Author contemplating how to select a fly whilst trapped in a wheelchair.

We convened at “La Ferme” in  Franschoek, on a gorgeous autumn day, a beautifully landscaped oasis of shallow stocked ponds, with level grass banks and reasonable back-cast room. (I was to find that “level ground” is an entirely fictional concept, and that what may appear level from a bipedal perspective isn’t quite the same sitting down propelled on wheels by aching shoulder muscles.)

The Venue looks easily accessible, but in truth , even these manicured lawns hold hidden menace if you are confined.

It is worth noting that La Ferme is one of very few if not the only wheel chair accessible fishing location locally, rather like the concept of “level ground” the idea of “wheelchair accessibility” is equally open to interpretation. Even here, where the slopes are gentle, the ground reasonably firm, and access doesn’t require negotiation of steps and such, there are no wheelchair friendly ablutions, and negotiating slightly sloping grass banks turns out to be more like climbing el Capitan when viewed from a mobile chair.

Dougie had arranged for some local “celebrity anglers” to participate: the likes of Tom Sutcliffe, SA’s preeminent fly fishing author, David Karpul and Matt Rich (both seasoned competitive anglers), Gordon Van Der Spuy (Fly tying aficionado whose alter ego Fanie Visagie provides informative and entertaining fly tying education on line and in print), Craig Thom (consummate innovator and owner of the local fly shop Stream X), Louis de Jager (CPS secretary), Randolf Sloan, Garth Niewenhuis, and Luke Pannel…

The concept being that not only would we all experience the limitations of fishing on wheels but that we might just come up with some good suggestions as to how one could make fishing in such circumstances a bit easier or at least more efficient. (The guys had already come up with a design of a swivel chair that could be fitted easily to a rubber duck style boat, something which could benefit both disabled and able bodied anglers alike).

This boat chair, designed and built by disabled anglers could prove a boon to everyone.

So the rules were set : no using your feet, no jumping out of the chair because you are frustrated that you left your net back at the car . (a rule that incidentally Maddy Rich saw fit to break in the first five minutes). To tackle the day as though you genuinely had no other choice but to stay put in the chair and fish as best you could. Trust me, the temptation to pull a miraculous and Lazarus like resurrection proved to be exceptionally tempting at times.

Competitive angler Maddy Rich brings all his gear, forgets the net and pulls a “Lazarus” in the first ten minutes.

So what was it like? Having thought about it in advance I figured that perhaps casting from a sitting position may be more tricky and limit distance or presentation. In reality that proved to be less of an issue than expected. One is of course lower and movement restricted to a point. Equally it is not that easy to just change from “open” to “closed” stance either.  Something which to us is as minor as putting an alternative foot to the front, requires unclipping the brakes and rotating the wheels into a different position before resetting the brake again, all of which turned out much harder than you may imagine, certainly a great deal more troublesome than moving one foot.

The lack of height also means that obstructions, fences and trees behind one are problematic, and I lived in fear of hooking up on a high branch as climbing a tree to retrieve a favourite pattern was going to be difficult if not impossible. (I figure these guys probably lose more flies than the rest of us, not least because looking behind one is hard to do trapped in this shoulder powered conveyance).

The real difficulty proved to be simple mobility, yes the lawn was fairly flat, but wheel spin in sandy spots proved absolutely exhausting, and the idea of moving to the other side of the small dam to where the fish were rising felt more like planning a military operation than a simple stroll. Pick up net, rod, flybox etc and balance precariously on lap. Unclip brakes and wheel spin in the sand. Rest shoulders, try again, drop fly box, reverse, wheel spin,  find you can’t reach fly box from a sitting position, reverse, get stuck in sand again, strain back muscles trying to make some contortionist style move to reach aforementioned fly box etc.

Even the youngsters tried out what it was like, here Gordon van der Spuy’s son Stephan (age 10) fishes from a chair. (he caught a fish whilst sitting down too!!).

What would have been a three minute amble in normal circumstances proved to be a 15 minute struggle against gravity and lack of traction, it was rapidly becoming apparent that what we may view as insignificant adjustments  become , when bound to a wheelchair monumental , frustrating and exhausting hurdles.

Then there are some other unexpected complications: the dam in question has a very minor slope at the water’s edge, one that an able bodied angler wouldn’t so much as notice. But now, facing down the slope trapped in a chair, subject to the vagaries of slipping wheels and questionable brakes the slight slope raised all manner of fears and insecurities I hadn’t planned for.  “If I go down there will I get back up?”….. If I fall in what will happen then?  If I had no legs would I drown, submerged and dying in an undignified struggle, tangled in aluminium tubing?

To make matters worse, the construction of these ponds means that there are a few inches of exposed wire mesh all the way around the water’s edge, a wonderfully efficient fly snagging boundary of absolutely no consequence to an upright fisherman with flexibility and mobility on his side. Stuck in a chair, should you hook a fly in this mesh, you are faced with a near death-defying manoeuver; edging the chair dangerously close to the water on the aforementioned slope and having it teeter precariously as you reach forward to retrieve the fly. All the while preparing to make your sedentary belly flop as elegant as possible should the worse happen, images of death wrapped in aluminium tubing still much on one’s mind. The only really viable alternative is simply to suffer the indignity of deliberately snapping off with the fly no more than two feet from you. Two feet , it turns out, can be a very long way trapped in a chair.

These are all things that able-bodied anglers never so much as think about, certainly I never did.

Fishing from a wheel chair isn’t unlike angling from a small boat, one is confined there is limited space and maneuverability, but at least most boats are designed to minimize annoying line traps, with smooth surfaces and rebated hatch cover handles.

The organizers Duggie Wessles and Mark Schwartz did a great job

The chairs offered no such consideration for the angler, it proved to have the line snagging qualities of Charlie Brown’s famous kite eating tree, cross pollinated with velcro. The brakes, footrests, wheels, bolts, spokes and more, maliciously trying to grab the fly line at every moment.  A simple adjustment of casting angle would result in the line trapped under a tyre, in extricating that the fly would hook a spoke, and in reaching for the fly in the spokes the chair would tip precariously towards the water. In short it was frustrating, and there I had been looking forward to a good excuse for an extended period of sitting down.

Yes we caught some fish, and to be honest some of the time sitting down whilst fishing was really rather pleasant, but it highlighted the battles that our less able hosts deal with on a daily basis.

On catching fish, that raised even more questions and problems, how to get one’s hands wet so as to handle the fish? How to try to keep it in the water whilst unhooking (you can’t). How to release the fish safely without risking your own life? Problems presented themselves at nearly every turn. I did at least realise I could wet my hands with the mesh of the net, and could release fish by putting them back in the net and dipping them into the water, but that took a bit of thought.

I should also mention that all participants were “wise/canny“ enough to tackle up before being confined. Try reaching the tip guide of your rod or unspooling tippet whilst sitting. There isn’t enough room, things get snagged, dropped and misplaced. That would have raised the frustration levels further still.

I have never really considered that having four functioning limbs might be a privilege, after all, one assumes that most people do. But it turns out that is the very nature of privilege, one imagines that you deserve your good fortune, that those better off are lucky and those less so either unlucky or in some way deserving of their fate.

Privilege it turns out doesn’t mean owning a mansion, a Maserati and a private section of the Madison; privilege can be as simple as being able to walk. By day’s end I realized that I was far more privileged than I had previously imagined.

To see Duggie and Mark, wheelchair bound compatriots, battle the same hurdles without the choice of getting up and walking at the end of the day, and for them to do so with such good humour and hospitality, that is truly humbling.

A great and interesting day. I suspect that I might take a bit more notice of the steps, the kerbs, the hills, the bumps, stairs and sloping banks in the future. I do hope that more venues will take greater consideration of the needs of people who aren’t as mobile as I am. It seems unfair that should you be unfortunate enough to lose the use of your legs that you should also have to give up your passion for fishing. Of course there are going to be limitations, but there are things that can be done to make at least some fishing more accessible. Boat ramps, wheelie boats, something as simple as a tarmac pathway, can mean the difference between someone being able to enjoy their passion or having to stay at home.

Corollary: In the three days since this event I have seen six cars with wheelchairs in the back, one assumes that they were there all the time, but now I notice them.. I suppose that is the point. 

 

 

Sixty Years On

May 12, 2019

Sixty years ago I came into this world alongside my twin brother Guy. He will tell you “not really alongside”, as I was born a few minutes after he was. No matter the amazing adaptations of the human maternal body, it doesn’t allow for overtaking and I was stuck in traffic.

In my brother’s mind that gives him some sort of bragging rights and me the position of “runt of the litter” or something like that. Of course that is just good hearted banter, but it has remained something of a family joke over the years.

We were born in Freedom Fields hospital in Plymouth: bearing twins at home was considered a little risky at that time, bearing in mind that there were no scans or many of the other advanced medical procedures and the various tests we are all quite used to in this age. (The only real medically reliable indication of twin pregnancy back then was hearing  three heartbeats with a stethoscope).

Freedom Fields Hospital was originally built as a workhouse and renamed several times during its history, with the formation of the NHS the hospital was renamed Freedom Fields Hospital in 1948, (previously Greenbank Infirmary in 1909 and the Plymouth City Hospital in 1930). Maternity services were transferred to Derriford Hospital in 1994 and remaining services in 1998. The site has now been redeveloped into mostly residential property.

So it was mother had to be booked into hospital in Plymouth, the downside, it was on the wrong side of the Tamar River, the wrong side if you are Cornish of course.

Having been rudely whisked away over the border, effectively abducted in utero to a foreign land, the question of my Cornish Nationality was subsequently resolved with a Certificate of Nationality (Number 245), issued by Mebyon Kernow. Stating that I was a Cornish National, “notwithstanding any accident of birth beyond the Tamar Border”.. (Yes those are the precise words on the document).

Certificate of Cornish Nationality

Some twelve years after that eventful day on foreign soil I started fly fishing, now a further 48 years down the road there was the question of what to do to celebrate the anniversary of my birth and what better way of doing so than to go fishing?

A beautiful if unremarkable fish but for one thing. The first fly caught trout of my 60’s

My good friend Peter Mamacos had been in touch to arrange a trip and so it was we headed out to the Elandspad River, a late start to avoid too much traffic , the alternative of a commuter beating crack of dawn departure didn’t seem fitting to a relaxed birthday atmosphere.

 

It didn’t matter, the season is almost at an end as we get well into Autumn, and the sun, rising low on the horizon had yet to brighten the depths of the deep river valley by the time of our arrival. It may sound odd, but hereabouts the trout actually like the sun and are notoriously late risers (pardon the pun).

The low angle of the autumn sun requires a late start to avoid too much shade.

The water was up from autumn rains and the flows were simply perfect, water clear with a hint of golden whisky from the peat bogs on the highlands. Choroterpes mayflies were egg laying on some of the quieter stretches and we were into fish almost immediately.

The fish were obliging enough to make it fun and tricky enough to make it interesting.

Not a breath of wind stirred the protea bushes or restios along the way, and barely a ripple disturbed the water, making for wonderful sight-fishing opportunities.

We fished at a leisurely pace, Peter is an expert at leisurely fishing, so there is never any pressure to rush, just to work carefully upstream picking of sighted fish as we went. The sun had warmed the cooling pre-winter air, cold over the night up high in the hills, meaning the water was cool but the conditions perfectly pleasant.

Peter is a consummate and unhurried angler and great company on the water.

I am not sure how many fish we caught, probably in the region of forty plus over the course of the day. Peter nabbed a cracking fish of 18” in a large pool near the end of the beat and we had both had our fill of fishing really. It was just lovely to be out there, no pressure, no rush, no clients and consequently no back pack or lunch boxes, just two friends enjoying a perfect day on a pretty trout stream.

Peter finished off the day in style with a fish of 18″

Peter had taken his car so by day’s end after a moderate hike back to the road I enjoyed the wonderful privilege of being chauffeur driven home right to my door.

I suppose something of a move up in the world for someone effectively born in a workhouse in a foreign country 🙂

What a wonderful day and a memorable celebration of my crossing the line into dotage. (well not quite yet).

 

A Phone, a Net, an Eel and an Ant

February 13, 2019

A phone.... header

A Phone,a Net an Eel and an Ant

 

It was an odd day on the water, guiding an old client who had moved from Cape Town and now resides and fishes in the West Country on the streams of my home county. Andrew had learned to tie flies with us back in the days when we owned a fly fishing shop and ran tying sessions every Wednesday. That was decades back and it made me realize just how long I have been knocking around the fly fishing scene, hopefully positively influencing generations of fly anglers and fly tyers in that time.

Andrew Pieterse, a past resident of the Cape now based in the UK’s Westcountry

Now I was guiding someone who fishes “my home waters” on what used to be his home waters, a curiosity of sorts.

We aimed to hike high into the hills in the hope of more shade and cooler water, the rivers are low, it is mid-summer, the flows are slight and the clarity near crystal but for the slight tannin hue which never truly leaves these rivers. It is better to head out early, not that the trout care one jot about that, but it means missing the commuter traffic on the cloged highways of Cape Town , affords the time to stop for coffee and most importantly means that the hike is undertaken in cooler conditions and thus far more pleasant.

In the high mountains the valley sides provide shade and keep the water cooler.

Ours was the only car in the car park, being a week day that isn’t a rarity, the hordes of walkers that frequent the place on the weekends no doubt stuck in those long lines of vehicles we thankfully passed on the way out of town.

The weather was set to be a tad cooler than the past few days, there was a fairly stiff breeze, upstream at the start of the day at least, and not a fish moved when we arrived at the cave pool and the start of our beat.

This isn’t anything unusual, as much as it goes against common fly fishing wisdom, in these parts the fish wake up late and seem to rather like the sun, activity usually picks up once the sun breaches the high walls of the canyon and lights up the water. Whether this influences the fish directly or simply has effect on the insect life I am not sure. But you can certainly be on the water too early, a quirk of these streams.

As predicted the fish started to move once the sun got onto the water.
A first fish of the day on a small dry fly.

Once the sun was on the water, the activity, as predicted, picked up and Andrew was into his first fish in short order. We fiddled with the leader to get the set up just right, and to suit the prevailing conditions and once set proceeded upstream searching out fish.

My recent eye operation seems to be worth the money, not only do I no longer have to wear a contact lens in my left eye, but without the cataract that had invaded the lens my vision is better. I was spotting fish with ease and we spent virtually the entire day with me spotting fish and Andrew casting to them

As is so often the case, having not fished for several months over the Northern Hemisphere’s winter months Andrew was rusty , and what that generally means as that one mistimes the strike. Over and again he missed fish that we had carefully stalked, but he was doing well, raising far more fish than he scared. Just a case of not putting them in the net.

Spooky fish require that one uses all the cover you can get.

The fishing wasn’t on fire but we found fish in almost every run were we looked. Gradually the old skill sets returned, a bit of practice and Andrew was converting some of those strikes to landed fish, the ratio of misses to hits turning like the tide.

It was at this point that we found a net hanging in a tree, as though left their for a needy angler who might have forgotten his own. We resolved to bring it back with us on our return and try to locate the owner via the local fishing club’s Facebook page.

After a few more fish we found an iPhone, laying in a shallow run , I knew who it belonged to, a client had lost his on the stream just before Christmas and we had at that time been unable to locate it despite a determined search.

Slippery things fish

At this point we found ourselves in the position of targeting a large trout, holding and feeding quietly in the limited flows of a shallow corner run. He would look at the soft hackle which had provided most of our success for the day but wouldn’t commit to it. Two, three, four casts and each time he would tip his fins, inspect the fly and then apparently get the jitters and back off.   More than once we feared him spooked and then he would reappear in the shallow run, moving in time with the flows. The sort of liquid fluidity that marked him as a sizable fish, occasionally rising slowly with the languid flap of a tail that is a sure indicator of mass.

This CDC soft hackle has been tremendously effective but on this occasion the ant proved a better bet.

Now years back I would often use a diminutive ant pattern of my own design on “difficult fish”. It seems as though the fish have a “thing” for ants and it can turn the balance between caution and desire. So we affixed a size 18 “Comparant”, onto the 7x leader and Andrew cast again. This time something was different, from the moment the fly hit the water one could see the fish “lock onto it” In my mind I could virtually hear the “beep beep, lock on , target acquired” of some imaginary Top Gun soundtrack.

There was no doubt that this fish was going to eat that ant, but we had to wait for him to get to it. The fly drifted slowly around the bend, the fish tilted his fins and we held our breath waiting for the inevitable slow roll as he sipped it in. But all of a sudden the fish could wait no more; he accelerated and smashed that tiny fly as though he wanted to kill it. Andrew overreacted and missed the strike. The fish vanished.. An unsatisfactory end to a wonderfully intense and intimate encounter, and just one more fish that will haunt our dreams for years to come. But it did remind me to try the “ant trick” more often again. It can be a wonderful ploy to fool an “educated trout”.

As we sat mourning our loss a huge eel swam downstream, as thick as my wrist and probably a metre or more long. I don’t think that I have ever seen an eel here before. He rolled over the boulders and seemed to flow with the current as he passed us. Eventually slipping over a small waterfall and into the pool below. Perhaps heading downstream for a hot date in the Sargasso Sea?

We fished on for a while and then it was time to undertake the long trek back out to the car, an interesting day of targeted sight fishing to spooky trout in clear water. Those people in the commuter traffic missed out on a great day.

 

Author’s note: The “Comparant” is a simple winged ant pattern, designed specifically to be both imitative and visible. The crucial element in the author’s opinion is that it has nothing obscuring the slim waist which seems to be a clear trigger to fish in identifying ants.  Many commercial patterns , being over dressed and hackled lose this critical trigger and seem less effective as a result. The Comparant is one of numerous simple and effective flies featured in “Guide Flies” a book available in various formats from the “Inkwazi Flyfishing” book shop or downloadable from Smashwords.

Guide Flies CoverGuide Flies features, text, graphics and video content, discussing both the logic behind the various patterns and how to tie them. Simple and Durable Flies that catch fish.

Micro-Movement in Slow Water

January 28, 2019

We have just returned from a tough, low water trip to the Bokong River in Lesotho, targeting Yellowfish which we had hoped would be in the runs in a faster flowing stream. That wasn’t the case, the rains hadn’t come,  and the flows were minimal , the water gin clear and the fishing tough.

Of course that leads to experimentation and the sort of anally retentive fiddling that can only arise within a group of dedicated anglers and fly-tyers faced with tough low water conditions.

All those flies so lovingly prepared ahead of time, trying to cover all the possible bases were mostly ineffective. The preparations had expected high water, or good flows, but not really the slack water with which we found ourselves confronted.

Preparation is frequently the key to success, but sometimes you get it wrong.
Dozens of ant patterns remained nearly untouched.

It became apparent that the fish were fussy and being “locked” in the pools for the most part, were easily hammered by group after group of anglers and they weren’t going to easily escape the situation until the thunder showers returned and put some water in the river.

Despite low water conditions we achieved some success. A very pleased James Leach with a Bokong Yellow from the “Cascades pool”

Some of the fish could be taken on dry flies, (our preference really) when the going was good,  but for the most part subsurface patterns provided more fish. The trouble was that the traditional nymphs which we would have expected to work well were less than totally effective and in the end small patterns with split thread CDC collars proved to be the hands down winners.

The author with a cracking fish taken in stillwater with a CDC soft hackle

On one occasion, having caught a fish or at least elicited a take every cast (including three hook ups in three casts) I eventually used up the couple of CDC collared nymphs I had,(break offs due to a  sticky reel drag not helping the situation)  Once limited to non CDC nymphs, the sort of faster sinking, slim profile flies that would be the mainstay of Yellowfish fishing on moving water, I didn’t get any more takes on the nymph.

Variations of this fly worked for all of the anglers .

It was obvious that there was something about these patterns which the fish wanted, or at least something that triggered a response that the less mobile flies didn’t.

The working hypothesis was that with such little flow there wasn’t much to cause the nymphs to “look alive”, but the mobility of the CDC provided, even in dead water, enough movement to suggest life and elicit a strike.

A remarkably calm Gordon van der Spuy, admires a dry fly caught yellow.

I have used CDC collars on a lot of soft hackle patterns on trout streams to great effect, and have always considered that their very “helplessness” might be a trigger to the fish. (see: https://paracaddis.wordpress.com/2016/03/07/vulnerability-a-super-stimulus/) .But here I think that there was more going on. What we had in effect were “Ultra-soft” soft hackles and they worked like a charm.

Low numbers perhaps , but a few quality fish were taken once we had worked out the system

It has long been recognized that movement and even micro-movement in flies can provide a real trigger to the fish. Brushing out the dubbing on your hare’s ear nymph, adding a marabou tail and such seem to improve effectiveness and it would seem that when there is so little water movement, the more mobile the fibres the better.

So then it was that we all, virtually to a man, ended up fishing a dry and dropper rig with the dropper a lightly weighted and simple CDC collared fly that did the business.

All the fish were carefully released.

Well worth consideration next time you are on the water, particularly where there is little movement, perhaps a lake or a slack stream pool, that addition of micro-movement may well save the day.

Certainly I am going to consider this in some of my stillwater flies, it seems likely that micro-movement in flies fished static in still water may be a very good way to go.

Fishing trips are often a gamble, but the ability to work things out, to experiment and learn something are often the defining memories of  tough conditions.

 

CDC is frequently seen as a dry fly game changer, but inclusion in some of your sinking patterns is well worth consideration.. particularly for those fishing low flows or stillwaters.

Author’s note: The Bokong fishery at the Makangoa Community Camp is run by Tourette Fly fishing the camp provides exceptional comfort, both yellowfish and trout angling at different times of the year, quality guides and the sort of vibe that makes for a great fishing trip. The location is remote and at high altitude, hiking abilities are pretty much essential , the road ends just above the camp. But if you are up for some spectacular angling and beautiful scenery, combined with some big fish and clear water check it out.

 

 

 

A Gamble

January 8, 2019

I have three vices, smoking, drinking and one to tie flies with, I never gamble. I am not sure why, perhaps too much the pragmatist I realise that one has about the same chance of winning the lotto whether you own a ticket or not. Statistically speaking the difference isn’t significant.

Equally I subscribe to the view that gambling is simply a means of impoverishing people who don’t understand statistics, that in itself should be enough to encourage at least rudimentary concentration in maths class.

Anyway, I think that my life contains enough gambling without roulette wheels or packs of cards. There is the daily risk on our roads, which to my mind is a whole lot more of a gamble than climbing mountains or venturing up distant rivers.  But there are , like the motoring issue, some gambles that one cannot avoid unless limiting oneself to a sedentary life in front of the TV. Which could well prove to be the biggest gamble of all.

The current throw of the dice which is occupying more of my time than it should is a forthcoming trip to the Bokong River in Lesotho. Notwithstanding the accompanying risks of long distance road travel and potential mechanical failure in the distant “Mountain Kingdom” the real gamble is the weather.

If it rains too much the river will blow out and the fishing will be poor to impossible, if it rains too little then the river will be too low and contain few if any fish. The ideal, and we are talking the absolute, rarely witnessed perfect ideal, is to have lots of rain the day before you arrive and then non after that. I don’t suppose that it is too much to ask, but fishing Gods are notoriously fickle and we hit it once like that in previous years. One has to suspect that it would take great fortune to repeat things quite that good. (Of course a true statistician would tell you that the fact that you won once in no way influences whether you will win again, the odds are the same, and for once I hope the maths boffs have got this right)

The fact that the odds haven’t changed just because we hit all time conditions on a previous trip doesn’t however mean that if we repeat the near impossible I may be moved to purchase lottery tickets on my return.

That is the way of fishing trips, there is of course the weather, then the hatches and myriad other elements which may or may not conspire to give one a red letter trip or a drinking holiday with fishing rods. In the past in various locations I have experienced, rain, sleet, flood, drought and sandstorms and the truth is there is nothing you can do about it.

Because these things are entirely out of one’s control one tries to control all those elements which one can. The fly boxes being one, and as of Boxing day my limited free time, and wonderfully indulgent few days off from the grindstone have seen me tying flies and more flies. More of a gamble still because most of them would be useless on my home waters, if they don’t work up in Lesotho they will, like their previously tied brethren from other trips, be relegated to the back of a cupboard until we can go again.

The primary word up there is “ANTS”, fish like ants and yellowfish not to be outdone will generally respond very well to ant patterns, all the more if there is an ant fall, which is far from impossible. So I have large ants and small ants, red ants, winged ants, hi-vis ants and sinking ants. Foam ants , fur ants, parachute ants, compar-ants and more. Balbyter ants, for high water and imitative ants for low. No sooner have I completed the 147 odd ant patterns required to fill the new fly box then I am overwhelmed by a thought..what if there aren’t any ants? What if I need something else?

 

So in a state of moderate paranoia I start with CDC and Elk patterns, (I like large Elk-hairs more than the unwieldy foam hoppers , although I have some of those too). Then I shall have to sort out the nymph box, if the water comes up the only option might be Euro Nymphing so I need to have a good boxful of those. Thrashing high water with heavy nymphs wouldn’t be my first choice, but then again I don’t really wish to spend four days drinking either.

In the end you realise that you are heading for the gambler’s curse of buying more and more lotto tickets in the mistaken belief that it will improve your chances. Statistically speaking, it will, but probably not by much, and no amount of fly tying is going to influence the weather. If the fish are there, we will no doubt catch some and if they aren’t, well no number of flies is going to help.

But then again, better prepared than not, so I continue to churn out flies, not so much because I will use them all, but because I don’t know which ones I will use. Fishing trips almost always end up with one fishing the same two or three effective patterns on the day. But you never have a clue which of the hundreds are going to be the winners.. I suppose that if the lotto published the winning numbers in advance it would improve one’s chances, and if the fish posted on Facebook what they intend to eat in a few weeks’ time it would take the worry out of things. Neither of those things are going to happen, so I tie flies and fret over climatic conditions, say prayers to whatever fishing Gods I can think of and tie some more flies.

I have made up leaders, matted down rods, fitted new backing to a reel or two and although the preparation is necessary much of it is merely to take one’s mind off the situation at hand and imagine that one has at least some control.

We will not know until we get there, and then we will either find ourselves in the winning circle or perhaps (and I hope not) sitting around the loser’s bar, drowning our sorrows.

Fishing trips are a gamble, and there is really very little one can do about that.

Now, time to tie up a few more hoppers perhaps?

 

With Thanks

July 6, 2018

I have enjoyed a most memorable trip to the UK and much of that wouldn’t have been possible without the assistance and good graces of a number of people and organizations. Many people gave of their time and expertise to assist me and organizations which now make accessing river beats on a day ticket basis proved to be a huge plus in arranging a wonderfully diverse angling trip.
All in all I traveled over 1800 miles, fished nine different rivers in Wales, Cornwall, Wiltshire and Devon. I was granted the best of hospitality almost everywhere I went and the cooperation of fellow anglers significantly added to the value of the trip. I am most grateful to everyone who provided me with assistance.

 

In no particular order I would like to thank:

 

The Wye Usk Foundation.

Thanks to Allyson Williams and her team at The Wye Usk Foundation. This remarkable organization makes it not only possible but very easy to arrange fishing for trout, grayling, sea trout and salmon on waters of the Wye and Usk and tributaries. You can get further details from their website and even book water in advance all on-line. This scheme allows for forward booking on beats for specific days and the website indicates availability as well as a host of other information, Newsletters, fishing reports and more..  https://www.wyeuskfoundation.org/

Link to the Fishing Passport Scheme for Wales and the Marches https://www.fishingpassport.co.uk

 

Jane and Richard at Pwllgwilym Holiday Cottages

 

Pwllgwilym Cottages

Pwllgwilym Holiday Cottages proved to be an ideal place to base myself during my time in Wales. I heartily recommend it to anyone wishing to explore this part of the world. Offering both Bed and Breakfast and Self-Catering options it is the perfect spot from which to explore Mid-Wales.
If you are not an angler there is still much to do and see and Richard runs tours exploring many the local places of interest. Wake to the sounds of Red Kites calling to their young; enjoy an amazing breakfast and true Welsh hospitality.
Link to the Pwllgwilym Cottages Web Site http://www.pwllgwilym-cottages.co.uk/

 

Paul Kenyon and Geoff Stephens of Fly Fishing Devon.

Paul Kenyon

Geoff Stephens

Paul and Geoff were generous with their time and hospitality, they know these rivers and the fish that inhabit them better than anyone and if you wish to fish this area you are well advised to be in touch with them for some hands on advice and guiding. There website also hosts a plethora of useful information on flies and fishing, Video clips of trout and sea trout, and downloadable information sheets… a great resource. Link to Fly Fishing Devon Website http://www.flyfishingdevon.co.uk/

 

Peter Hayes author of “Fly Fishing Outside the Box”.

Peter Hayes

Peter was a generous host, with no real reason to be, and yet he took the time to meet up with me and arrange for me to fish parts of the Wylye as a guest . I am most appreciative of your efforts Peter, thank you. And those mayflies will be remembered always. As will the discussions on tactics, flies and more. If you have yet to read his book you really should. You can order it from Amazon on the following link. https://www.amazon.com/Fly-Fishing-Outside-Box-Emerging/dp/1904784569

The Westcountry Passport Scheme.

The Westcountry Passport Scheme offers fishing on a varietyof waters throughout the South West

The Westcountry Passport Scheme provides day ticket angling on a variety of waters in the South West. Offering visiting anglers a wide choice of water at modest expense.. This scheme operates on a token basis, with a different number of tokens required depending on the beat fished. Link to West Country Passport Scheme https://westcountryangling.com/?v=68caa8201064

 

The Dartmoor Fishery

Access to a number of sections of river, particularly the East and West Dart, Cherrybrook, Cowsick and Blackabrook streams. Permits are available from a variety of outlets including the Postbridge Post Office, Exeter Angling Centre, Arundel Arms, Two Bridges Hotel, Princetown Stoes and Post Office as well as others.

Paul and Rosie Joynson at the East Dart Hotel.

The East Dart Hotel Postbridge

The second time I have stayed at the East Dart Hotel, a wonderfully central venue to fish the Duchy of Cornwall waters on Dartmoor. I just love the remoteness of this small town and the fact that the river is but a few yards down the road. It was again a pleasure to be there. A great spot if you wish to do some angling or walking on the moor.A lovely pub and great pub grub.

 

My Family:

Of course none of this would have been possible without the assistance and hospitality of my family in both Truro and Bude. It was great catching up with you all and for once enjoying some real summer weather down there in the South of England.

 

You:

The readers and followers of this blog, who have encouraged me to write up the various goings on and adventures during my trip. It is always encouraging to receive positive feedback and I am glad that so many people took the trouble to mention that they had enjoyed the journey with me..  I hope this will encourage you to make plans for your own trip. Either in the UK or elsewhere, because even a weekend away can be good for the soul, particularly a weekend away fishing..

It is probably time to get back to more serious writing about fish and fishing, but it has been a fun journey and I have memories which will last a lifetime.

Fishing with Angels

July 4, 2018

Fishing with Angels, two evenings on the Wiltshire Wylye.

After all of the hustle and bustle of travelling down from Wales I was finally in the green and pastoral lands of Wiltshire, on the banks of the River Wylye with fly fishing guru and author Peter Hayes. There had been no rush to get out on the river, the evenings are uncommonly long, it was just past summer solstice and one can fish well past ten o’clock at night.

So we enjoyed a beer in the river gardens of the Swan Inn and discussed our thoughts on fly fishing and fly tying, on presentation and such , as two fly anglers from different hemispheres and with a divergent experience of our sport are want to do.

Peter is to my mind a true fly fisher, I don’t mean that he casts that well, I am sure that he would tell you that he doesn’t. However he exhibits that most crucial of all traits of good fly fishermen everywhere, Peter has an uncommonly inquiring mind, and challenges everything known or thought to be known about our sport.

I like that, I don’t always agree with Peter’s hypotheses and I am equally sure that he would respect that I don’t. Perhaps in this day and age people have lost the distinction between discussion and argument. What we did is discuss things, even if in disagreement, and that is a most valuable tool to the angler, and more than likely pretty useful to everyone else if they could get the hang of it.

Peter Hayes, practicing camouflage or maybe just having a quite sit down.

The commonality doesn’t grow from agreement, the agreement, if there is such a thing, stems from the desire to question, to query, to wonder if what you have been told is indeed measurably true. It turns out that in fly fishing, and one suspects much else, it isn’t.

The idea isn’t necessarily to be right, but to challenge common thinking, to question what has become the norm and if you have yet to read his excellent book “Fly Fishing Outside the Box” well you should. If you are a dyed in the wool “Match the Hatch”, “Dry Fly Only” ,  Halfordian disciple you may find the journey a tad disturbing, but I assure you that you will relish the thought processes that go with it. The simple act of questioning some norms will be beneficial in and of itself.

Peter Hayes’ thought provoking book, well worth a read.

So we chewed the piscatorial fat for a while, watched a few rises on the Swan Inn stretch of the Wylye and then headed out to visit a feeder of the main river.

Compared to the rugged aspect of the Welsh rivers with their slippery bed rock and overhanging trees the Wylye is a verdant if rapidly flowing stream of some distinction. The section we fished is I believe what is referred to as “lightly keepered”. That means that minimal effort is made to make things overly easy, one will find overhanging branches, nettles, deep holes and un-mown banks. But it isn’t quite the raw wilderness experience of the valleys of Cymru. Indeed the section I fished on the second evening had me casting at the bottom of various gardens, the backcast more inhibited by sun loungers than branches. That said once you are in the river, it isn’t quite such an easy thing to get back out and if one wishes to progress without scaring all the fish stealth is a prerequisite.  The feeder was of moderate width, with a few overhanging trees, of crystal clarity and it was obvious from the get go that the hot , (remarkably so based on yearly averages)  weather had affected the fish. They weren’t keen to engage, things were a bit too warm and a bit too bright and they were having little to do with our machinations. Peter landed a few small trout and I was , in time, able to land one small brown trout and a chub. A new species for me so the exercise wasn’t wasted.

This short video clip is really to illustrate the speed of the current and the clarity of the water.

What really was apparent, as a chalk stream neophyte, was that, although the flows appear tranquil, the weed beds throw up complex surface currents and the water is moving a lot faster than you may imagine. Peter’s assertion is that what you really want is slack in your leader; well you can’t argue about it. Interestingly we both recognize the value of that slack and we both achieve it in rather different ways. So there is more than one way to skin a cat, or to add slack to your leader. Interestingly Peter uses a clear floating polyleader as the base for his leader, one can argue if this is a leader or a line extension, but from what I saw it worked quite well, food for thought.

The fishing was however slow and Peter had to return home, leaving me to experiment on stream alone. The rises never really got going despite the hatching of a reasonable number of late blooming Ephemera Danica.

Peter Hayes targets a rising fish on the Wylye

Even for the non-angler, the Mayfly, Ephemera Danica, is really something quite spectacular. The nymphs live in the river for two years and then, at some preordained moment, hatch from a watery existence into adulthood. Breaking through prison bars of surface tension, dodging the preying eyes of trout and chaffinches to finally take flight and rise into the sky. I have to wonder that if we are so smart, how come it takes us years to learn to walk and more to ride a bicycle, but mayflies, having never felt a breeze or breathed air manage to master flight within seconds. Watching any ephemerids hatch is fascinating, but to see these massive insects rise up from the water, glowing as they are backlit by a setting sun.  Well to me it looks like one is watching angels being born.

Remarkably these sub adults (Dun or Sub-imago) still have a final trick up their sleeves, (a gross chunk of poetic license because I doubt that they have sleeves at all).

They then shed another layer of skin, including the surface of their eyeballs and emerge quite remarkably with longer tails and legs. It really is something of a magic trick, as though having pulled a rabbit out of a hat one then removes its skin to reveal a bigger rabbit.

All this fuss, the emergence from the water, the shedding of the skin, and the dodging of predators both in the water and the sky has one single purpose…………………………………sex. I suppose that if you had to set your sights on something, that wouldn’t be a bad goal to have.

Having spent all this time underwater, building reserves the hatched mayfly has no mouthparts and is unable to feed or drink. Timing is everything, put bluntly you have less than 24 hours to find a partner and get it on before you run out of petrol.  Arrive late at the party and it will all be for naught. And you thought that your end of school dance was high pressure.

For those who have never witnessed the true mayfly this video courtesy of FishOn productions.

As things turn out, a lot of this effort is for naught, numbers of insects are consumed by the fish in the river. Not just trout, but chubb and dace too. Then there are the chaffinches which sat on the backside reeds and simply waited. As soon as a fly would light up in the sunshine a chaffinch would swoop across the water to consume it. If real mayflies are angels, then, from my observations there must be a profusion of chaffinches in hell. One began to wonder if any flies actually made it to the relative safety of the bank side vegetation.

Peter Hayes with a fly caught dace on the Wylye.

So it was that I headed to bed only to return to a beat slightly lower down the same feeder stream the following afternoon. Having now had some time to get used to the different demands of this type of fishing I fared better, perhaps though the fish were just more in the mood . I took a number of trout one or two of pretty fair size despite it still being hot and bright. In the end I took a break and resolved to head out again in the late evening.

Back on the same stretch and now in fading light the river started to come alive and I was most pleased to see that those mayflies which had survived the trials of hatching were now hovering over the river in moderate clouds. The spinners are simply spectacularly beautiful, the duns are impressive but the spinners seem to glow, as though having hatched as angels they have now been awarded their halos.

One of my better fish on the Wylye, this one taken on a Spun Dun

I was so desperate to try to get a photo of these insects that I inadvertently drowned my phone by dropping it into the Wylye, plus I never actually got a good shot. The phone survived after some gentle coaxing. I figure that if one is to drown a phone a slip into an English Chalkstream is somehow more elegant than losing one down the loo, even a loo with ornately folded toilet tissue on hand.

Thankfully, although not mandatory, catch and release has become the norm on this water.

So there it was, my second ever adventure on a genuine chalk stream, my second ever experience of Ephemira Danica in the flesh and my first ever of the spinners on the wing. It just reinforces the notion that fishing isn’t really that much about the fish. The wonders one sees whilst hiking into or standing in a river are just spectacular, the flowers, the kingfishers, the otters, the mayflies. Not of course to ignore the sense of belonging that comes from such open invitations to fish from the likes of Peter and later on in the trip Geoff and Paul on the Yealm. Fly Anglers are blessed with this sort of bonhomie, it seems to stand out against the backdrop of the day to day “dog eat dog” scarce resource mentality of the masses. I am, and will remain, most grateful to all the wonderful people I have met through fly fishing. So I stood a last moment in the stream, slightly leaking waders adding to the slight chill of late evening, the light fading and the smell of new mown grass and meadow sweet in my nostrils I felt more relaxed than I had in ages,  I beats the hell out of therapy and even on a chalk stream is probably less expensive.

A Journey to Stoford

July 3, 2018

A journey to the Swan at Stoford.

Having delayed my departure for one more, most welcome, breakfast at Pwllgwilym Cottages and a last taste of generous Welsh hospitality I was to head West, to Wiltshire and the River Wylye at the invitation of Peter Hayes.

I was most thankful for the Sat Nav on the phone once again, the road system certainly flows well and most routes direct one around rather than through towns, speeding things up and avoiding congestion. The only trouble is that the free flow is achieved primarily by use of multiple roundabouts, large and small, often in combination. The sensation of listening to a phone message of “at the next roundabout take the 3rd  exit A4042”,………… “at the next roundabout continue straight on the A 4042” ……… at the next roundabout”…………..demands a level of concentration hard to muster after a week of endlessly enjoyable angling.  I don’t remember being that dizzy since a fling on the “octopus” at the local fair when seven years old.

After a succession of roundabouts, major and mini ones, the driver  is completely disorientated, without any sense of direction and the dreaded voice suggesting“GPS signal lost” is sufficient to induce raw panic. The trip took me off the grid of my Mid Wales map so there was no point of reference and one had to simply “follow one’s nose” in the racing commuter traffic until one could safely pull over, swear at the phone and reset one’s internal compass .

Further: it seems that in some act of defiance the road signs fail to mention that you may or may not be headed towards Bristol until such time that the Severn Bridge is virtually in sight. Given that you basically have to go over that bridge and that at the other end of it lies the metropolis of Bristol one would imagine it made sense to label the route as such far earlienr on. Hell, you can find a sign providing directions to the next opportunity to enjoy a “Cream Tea” that is 50 miles away, but an impressive feat of engineering (The Severn Bridge spanning miles of estuary) or indeed the city of Bristol with its near half a million inhabitants, well those go unmentioned.

Never mind, after a few minutes of panic and convinced I was now heading in the wrong direction the signposts finally said Bristol and I breathed a sigh of relief.

The Severn Bridge, a pretty piece of engineering, apparently doesn’t warrant a sign post to tell you you are heading for it.

It is an interesting aside that you pay no toll fees to use the bridge heading out of Wales, but do when traveling West into Wales. Given that the toll booths are on the Welsh side of the river one might conclude that the Welsh are not that keen for you to visit (toll payable) and are quite happy to see one leave (free exit)..

The alternative explanation is that the English are afraid you may find out how lovely Wales is and therefore provide a disincentive to visit and a financial inducement (no fees) to return East.

Given my wonderful break I would happily part with five quid to go back and the free ride on the way out did nothing to ameliorate my sadness at my departure. I just loved Wales, the people, the countryside, the friendliness and the fishing. The Wye/Usk foundation make an amazing variety of water available to the public and the place, to me at least, is a fly fishing paradise.

The Severn Bridge, completed in 1996 is over five kilometers long, and impressive as this feat of engineering is, the best part of it is that you drive for five thousand metres without coming face to face with a bloody roundabout.

I was now speeding through the countryside towards Salisbury and the manicured hills of Wiltshire, entirely different to the rough ground of Mid Wales. Even the sheep looked warmer.

I found the town of Stobridge, without too much difficulty, the Swan Inn, where I had booked, was right on the main road, which made it hard to miss. I was to find that this convenience came at a price. Trucks, whizzing to destinations around Salisbury, roared past my bedroom window at all hours.

Now the Swan Inn has a riverside garden right next to the Wylye River and before even attempting to book in I couldn’t resist the temptation to view the stream and see if I could spot some fish.

My very first view of the Wyle River , grass cutting upstream meant we would have to fish a feeder but the cut weed gives one some idea of the speed of the flows.

I had been warned by Peter that there was weed cutting progressing upstream, and sure enough clumps of long riverine weed were barreling down the stream and catching around the bridge supports. Despite this I spotted a few fish rising occasionally, I couldn’t tell if they were trout or grayling, but they were rising. Unless one has witnessed it, it is hard to imagine how fast these streams are flowing, they look quite tranquil in still images but the water is in fact whipping downstream at a rate of knots.

Anyway, time to book in, cart heavy bags up narrow stairs and prepare for my first trip on the Wylye and only my second ever fishing on a genuine Chalk Stream. (I had some years back fished the Piddle in Dorset under kind invitation of Tony King).

There is, to my mind, something a bit odd about the Swan Inn. A sort of mismatch of ideologies if you will. For example: The towels were cleverly arranged on the bed, twisted and folded like a clown’s balloons and fashioned into what I took to be two rabbits. (Perhaps they don’t know how to make towel origami Swans).

Toweling rabbit, as if chambermaids don’t have enough on their plate

In the bathroom, the end of the toilet roll was folded in the most complex fashion I have ever witnessed, the attention to detail impressive but perhaps overly ornate given the utilitarian purpose of loo roll. It did however provide some entertainment during morning ablutions to see if one could replicate this complex “fan in pocket” origami construction. Having mastered the art I set about reconstructing the folds with elaborate precision during each bathroom break. I have to admit that I approached morning ablutions with a degree of trepidation, always fearing that I may interrupt some wizened , graying , wall-eyed oriental, whose job it was to fold the toilet tissue.

The origami fan loo roll, which I mastered during early morning ablutions. Perhaps overkill for a country hotel?

Come to think of it, if the chamber maid had really been paying attention, she would have left some Brooklax on the coffee tray, as by now, based on the evidence before her, the roll apparently undisturbed and the origami in pristine condition, I should have been in a state of some discomfort.

So whilst these little details smacked of a level of service well above that expected of a country hotel, there were disparities in other areas. For example the room only had the most flimsy plastic glasses and the most utilitarian, boring and heavy coffee cups. I dislike drinking whisky out of plastic as much as I do drinking coffee out of thick and heavy “Sunday School” cups.  Pwllgwilym by comparision boasted Portmeirion breakfast crockery.

As a further indication of lack of detail in some areas, the hotel boasts a section of the River Wylye, which its guests may fish, given the correct license in hand. It however makes no mention in the welcome pack of fly fishing and I couldn’t locate anyone who could exactly tell me where the beat started and ended. In these parts, the waters are jealously guarded and it wouldn’t do to venture onto the wrong piece. So here, to my mind a serious lack of attention to detail. Also one reason why I never tested the “hotel section” which may or may not extend to the end of the car park or indeed the adjacent field, you guess would be as good as mine.

This dichotomy between standards seemed to plague the place.

In the bathroom adhered to the tiles was the following notice:

 

The offending/offensive notice, to be fair, not unique to the Swan, but a near ubiquitous adornment on hotel bathroom walls throughout the country.

I would like to think that I am an environmentally friendly kind of guy, but it seems more than a little disingenuous to have such a notice plastered on the bathroom tiles, when the room sports three (crappy) plastic glasses, two in the room and one in the bathroom, all three,  I hasten to add, hermetically sealed in their own plastic wrapper.

Then on top of that, at breakfast: the Tomato, HP, and other sauces all come in prepacked tear and squeeze individual dispensers. The jams, all in little plastic pots as with the butter. By the time I had eaten my “traditional English Breakfast” and reviewed the Polyethylene Terephthalate, Polyvinyl Chloride, and Polyethylene carnage left on my plate I felt personally responsible for the death of at least a dozen baby turtles somewhere out there in the deep blue. Sufficiently depressing to have one contemplating ritual seppuku with a plastic butter knife. Let’s not be too unfair,  I should point out that in an act of selfless, environmental magnanimity the straws in the bar are paper. (Can I hear a chorus of newborn reptiles cheering “Hooray” on a beach somewhere?)

The plastic pollution carnage of what is billed as a “traditional English Breakfast”,traditional obviously being post plastic invention.

So personally I would rather people stop pretending that their laundry efforts have anything to do with the environment. I should be at least as likely, if not more so, to assist, if I wasn’t being treated like an idiot.

It would have been preferable, to my mind, to see a sign that read something like this:

Dear Guest

BATH AND HAND TOWELS

Listen, we realize that you are on holiday and don’t have to do the washing, so the temptation to be a loathsome slob and fling wet towels all over the bathroom floor may seem overwhelming.

However our overworked and underpaid staff have to pick up and launder all your shit and that ultimately pushes up the price of your stay.

So please, just treat the towels and the rest of the room in the same manner as you would treat your own home. We already have two chamber maids and a laundryman on sick leave with PTSD as a result of the horrors they have endured when sliding open the bathroom doors of dozens of rooms.

Our one staff member can no longer open a door unless someone is holding her hand, she is in therapy.

Please be considerate, it saves us money, saves you costs and might even do some good for a baby turtle

With thanks Management.

Now if I saw that on the wall I would go a week drying myself off with the same musty, postage stamp sized piece of toweling, if only because I thought the management had a sense of humour.

But please, don’t treat me like some moron who doesn’t know that you are just trying to cut costs and using an environmental theme to mask the purely economic motivation. Just tell me that it costs too much to wash clean towels, I could accept that.

So I dismembered one of the toweling origami rabbits, had a shower , dried off and carefully replaced said , previously rabbit shaped toweling back onto the rail, and then it was time to meet up with Peter Hayes, author of a most thought provoking book “Fly Fishing Outside the Box”..and wetting a line on to the Wylye. There may be some weed about, but thankfully not a lot of plastic.

Cefnllysgwynne

June 28, 2018

Cefnllysgwynne (and no I don’t have any idea how to pronounce it)

This was to be my last day of fishing in Wales, this time back on the Irfon, and with packing in mind I decided that I should venture out early  instead of late. I hadn’t been on the water at crack of dawn at any point. Mostly because dawn is so early there would be little point in going to bed.

I have been up and about at five or earlier every day, either the sunshine or the dawn chorus awakens me, but never actually at dawn, so I set the alarm on my phone and was ready to head out before the sun rose. That is when the shock hit, it had been 27°C during the day. The dawn temperature according to the car’s gauge was 3.5°C, (According to my finger tips that was an optimistic estimate). Hell it was Frigging Freezing, or in Welsh FFriging FFreezing. (I think that I am getting into this dual language thing) 🙂

The directions were clear, and a wondrous discovery during my trip, the cell phone GPS /Sat Nav will find a building based on nothing more than the post code. You just put in EX23 8DG and it will take you to the door of my old childhood home for example. This beat had such a post code reference and it was a piece of cake to locate it.

The estate is large and on it there is a church right down by the river, there are a variety of access points but with such an early start I didn’t wish to risk causing disturbance to anyone else and this parking spot and access point was far from the main house.

I parked right in front of the Church, (I was to find out later that the building only has gas lighting and no electricity and that during the summer months there is a service on the last Sunday of each month).

A tiny church within the estate, not yards from the Irfon River.

It did strike me that attractive as the place was, it would have proven of little use in converting me. Being forced to listen to a sermon on the inside whilst trying to see fish in the river I fear would have seen me excommunicated at best.

There is also another tale associated with this church, which I have been unable to substantiate, that Prince Llewellyn the Last prayed here before being tricked and killed by the English the next day. I am not going to venture what that may say about the powers of prayer or the possible affiliations of God with the English. If God isn’t a Celt I’m not interested.

However, all of that aside, I headed down to look over the beat, the river steaming like a sauna because the water was far warmer than the air.  The sun was toying with the idea of coming over the hill and heating things up. However I was a little disappointed that the first sections of the river looked very slow moving and not ideal for trout and grayling fishing. Although lower downstream than the section I fished on the Colonel’s Water, I was expecting the flows to be limited as they were higher up.

I had however learned that these rivers change character throughout and wandered through the woodlands, working my way upstream and seeking out suitable fly water. I took a few small fish from a gravel run, shallow enough to force the current to speed up slightly and then took a couple better fish where the rock bed forced the current to accelerate once more.

Gradually as I headed upstream the river changed character and looked far more inviting to fish.

The River narrowed from there on, with more overhanging trees but at the same time more moving water and I was now catching both fish and branches with some regularity. Switch casts and roll casts became my primary weapon and I took some nice fish.  Focusing mostly on getting drifts under the many trees which overhung the water.

I took a number of very pretty brown trout, not huge but beautifully marked and strong for their size.

At this point, whilst lining up a possible flick under the dark shade of the vegetation I became aware of a family of otters playing in the shadows. Unfortunately we pretty much saw each other at the same time and then playtime was over and they disappeared.  Lovely to see though, I would say at least three and perhaps more, but their departure was as though a puff of smoke vanished. Not a ripple on the water or a communicative squeak. They were there and then they were gone.

The final fish of the day a grayling on a long cast into the head of a large but shallow run, my only “lady of the stream” and I was well pleased. All in all I think that I had captured 15 odd trout and that solitary grayling in a four hour session.

I was well pleased to catch a grayling at the end of the session. A long slack line cast and a take to the dry. I think the only grayling I had come to the dry fly during the trip.

On my return to the car there were, unexpectedly, people exiting the church and I was able to speak with the estate owner. He seemed surprised that I had caught fish, apparently a recent previous visitor had lashed the water without so much as a take.

 

Driving off the estate I came across a team of shearers with a portable outside shearing station, I didn’t take any pictures, fascinated as I was, I felt that I might have been in some way intruding. But I asked Jane when I got back to the cottages. “How do they keep the sheep still” and she suggested that in these high temperatures the sheep were probably only too glad to get rid of their coats. I was thinking that they might not be quite so pleased tomorrow morning if the temperatures are a repeat of the past 24 hours.

I had planned my day well, being a Sunday I was going to finish fishing, clean up and then head out to the Red Lion for a plate of authentic Welsh cuisine as a final goodbye to the land of Cymru .

Alas arrival at the Red Lion coincided precisely with the closure of the kitchen until 6.00pm and having not eaten since the previous morning’s breakfast I couldn’t wait. (I had skipped breakfast so as to attempt hypothermia during an early dawn session on the river).  I went to another pub / restaurant… no they closed at 2.00 on a Sunday and didn’t reopen until Monday. I then found a place that boasted serving food until 3.00pm on a Sunday, the rub was that by now it 3.00pm – kitchen closed. In the end my dreams of real ale washing down a plate of traditional Welsh fare were squashed and I had to settle, (hypoglycaemia was imminent) for a visit to Burger King, the only place I could find open.

Dreams of a hearty traditional Welsh supper were quashed and I had to settle for the most disgusting burger I have ever had the misfortune to consume.

 

ordered a “Bacon, Cheese, Chicken Royale” (my italics) . I think that they perhaps have trained the chickens to be grown in tins in the same manner that some places manage to grow fruit in glass jars. “Tasteless” would be to grossly over emphasize the effect on one’s palate, no matter that starvation was near set in. The bacon I never actually located and the cheese was some sort of melted goop that one expects to find in junior school science experiments. My mother always said that “Hunger makes the best sauce” in which case the sauce wasn’t up to scratch either, I was absolutely famished and could still barely force myself to swallow.

Thoroughly disappointed with what was supposed to be my final meal in Wales I opted to change the schedule slightly so that I could at least enjoy another of Richard’s magnificent breakfasts at Pwllgwilym cottages. Not the full Monty you understand, but at least raspberries with Greek yoghurt and cereal, followed by poached eggs on toast. I couldn’t let my final culinary experience in the land of the red dragon be a burger that tasted like foam rubber.

So it was that, packed and ready for departure to parts new, I enjoyed one last breakfast before hitting the road. I was genuinely sorry to leave, it was like living at home but for the fact that home is actually probably not that comfortable.

Pwllgwilym Cottages

Should you ever visit Mid Wales, fishing or not, I would highly commend Pwllgwilym: Bed and Breakfast and Cottages. Richard and Jane are wonderful , relaxed, welcoming and efficient hosts. Richard also runs standard and bespoke tours of Mid Wales and is a mine of information on the locale. Without a doubt the nicest, neatest, friendliest place I have stayed during my travels here.   They have a 9.9 out of 10 rating on bookings.com and they deserve it..
You can reach them directly through www.pwllgwilym-cottages.co.uk or email at bookings@pwllgwilym-cottages.co.uk

Pwllgwilym Cottages received a 9.9 out of 10 rating from customer reviews on Booking.com