Archive for the ‘Fishing’ Category

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.

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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

 

Penpont

June 28, 2018

Penpont on the Usk

Thoughts on fishing, the behavior of trout and people

I think that the very best fly fishermen all have inquiring minds, about not just fishing, but pretty much everything. One of the reasons I am looking forward to meeting up with Peter Hayes in Stoford. He and I share that sort of thinking, not that it means we agree, it means that we question everything, even things we are convinced about.

I had learned some things on this trip and one of them was to try to be on the water at the right time. In (what the UK views as a heat wave and drought) it seemed that being on the water late was the way to go. This was my final visit to the Usk and after the struggle and education on the low waters of Fenni Fach I decided that I would be on the Penpont water late in the day.

Not only that, I had resolved that I would check out the beat and NOT fish until the fish started moving. So I arrived in good time for the evening, parking the car around six or so. Rigged up and wandered down the river. There were a lot of people about, unusual compared to the other locations I had fished and it was obvious that there were accommodations and or camp sites near. I had these people pegged as “Outsiders” from the get go, it was the first time since arriving in Wales that I crossed paths with someone who didn’t say hello. I had got so used to giving and receiving greetings that when they were not forthcoming it was almost like an insult.

Parking was inside the tractor yard of the farm

It is one of the things I adore about rural living, in Cornwall, Devon, Wales, New Zealand or even SA , people are cooperative and friendly whereas the urban traveler brings their dog eat dog competitiveness with them, some ingrained feeling that you are all competing for scarce resources or something of that sort. In rural communities that pegs you as both rude and an outsider.

I adore the almost offensive familiarity that people in rural communities assume in conversation, as an example, when in Cornwall purchasing a pasty I had the following interaction with the middle aged female shop assistant: Five terms of intimate endearment in the course of one purchase:

Assistant: “Ello’ , alright then my lover?”

Me: “Fine thanks and you”

Assistant: “Just perfect me’ darlin’”

Me: “Do you have a warm regular Cornish Pasty?”

Assistant: “Fresh out the oven love”

Me: “Thank you I’ll take one”

Assistant: “There you go my sweetheart, have a lovely day”.

Assistant: “Take care now my lover”

I suppose many people would find that strange, but I grew up like this, where people are just friendly, it is a wonder these days that they aren’t nicked for sexual harassment or something and it would be a sad day if they ever were. Go into a shop and buy candles, matches, and some instant noodles and the assistant will as likely as not comment “Ello’ Love, going campin’ then?”

To me there is a friendly warmth to such conversation, which brings me back to the people on the bridge at Penpont.. Urbanites through and through, I would have bet my life on it.

The Penpont Homestead viewed from across the river Usk.

However, I digress, I walked down the river,  looking at the potential of the water. I saw a couple of rising fish but they didn’t keep at it. Sporadic at best and I knew that what I was looking for was something more regular, so that I would know if I had put the fish down. The water is crystal clear and but the dark bed of the river and the overhanging trees make this a case of “The fish can see you, but you can’t see the fish”.

An old stone style provides access to the fields and the river beyond

It must have been the Gods looking after me Because I realized that I had forgotten to take the net out of the car. It is very very hard to resist the temptation to have a cast, so the distraction of returning to the parking was a good thing. It would however mean that I had to encounter these hordes of unfriendly urbanites again, I could have done without that. The look I received when I said a cheerful “Good Evening” was something I would have assumed was normally reserved for sexual predators. Difficult to look like a sexual predator dressed up in a fishing vest and camouflage shirt. (Actually I have no idea how sexual predators would dress, maybe I have inadvertently aced it with my on stream garb?}. Nonetheless, the withering glare didn’t impress, not after a week in Wales of cheery “hello’s” , morning’s”and “evenings”

On my walk back to the car I bumped into the only other angler I have seen the entire week. On asking where he intended to fish he replied “Down there somewhere and I will work my way back up” Which left me with no real idea where he would be. He had apparently spooked a lot of fish earlier in the day and not caught any, I thought “I know that feeling on this river”..
Another urbanite I imagine, seeing me as competing for “his” resources as he didn’t bother to inquire where I planned to fish… it didn’t matter, I was confident enough to fish up stream behind him by now.

One comes across all manner of clever gate closures, from baler twine to sophisticated self locking mechanisms like this one at Penpont

So I wandered even further downstream to insure a clear run later, assuming that this guy would start fishing and the water would have plenty of time to rest before I reached where he had fished.

I must have been improving my stealth , because there were two people in a camper van not yards from the water and I realized that they didn’t have any idea that I was there. I was doubly cautious as I felt that should I now reveal myself they may have a heart attack. So I sat and watched the water and watched and sat, then I sat a bit and then I watched some more. It was really really tough to do that , but the previous day’s outing had convinced me of the wisdom of this approach. Seven thirty came and went and not a fish moved. Eight o’clock, not a ripple. 8.15 and a couple of small fish rose in the riffle in front of me.

Not big but coming up regularly and there was a reasonable amount of fly on the water, hundreds of midges and some larger ephemerids mixed in.

I had spent a good amount of time changing my leader structure over the past couple of days. I had realized that the leader I use is great for short presentations which are the norm where I generally fish. But less good where you are forced to go longer. Now I had modified the tippet such that it performed better and I could immediately see the difference. Accuracy but with slack and delicacy of presentation even at moderate range.

I covered the first fish twice before he took, his brother made a mistake on the next cast and was in the net. I was enjoying this, small fish to be sure but my plans were coming together and still I had avoided a blank on any beat..

A small trout but the blank has been avoided and the evening still young.

I always tell my clients that the difference between maths and fishing is that in maths the gap between 0 and 1 and 1 and 2 are the same. In fishing the difference between 0 and 1 is nearer to infinity.

So I was well pleased and feeling more confident. I fished on up, even managing to take some reasonable fish in pretty calm water, a feat beyond me yesterday, either the fish were a bit less fussy or I had upped my game. (I am going with the latter explanation for purely egotistical reasons).

Low water on the Usk

I had fished back to the parking area pretty much at the point where darkness would have made continuation impossible. A pleasant evening on the stream and by the time I packed away the gear and turned on the car I needed the headlights to find my way home.

The best fish of the evening,, parachute Judas firmly in his jaw

All I can say if you ever get the chance to fish the Usk you really must, and don’t forget to raise your game and lengthen your leader.

Catch and release fishing isn’t required but it is thankfully the norm.

Fenni Fach

June 26, 2018

Fenni Fach on the Usk.

 

I was most excited to be fishing the Usk, having never been on this river previously, it has a good reputation for some excellent brown trout fishing.

The river is of moderate size but was reduced by low flows to being more than manageable from a fishing and wading perspective. Perhaps one of the most pretty beats I have fished to date, and I started off with high hopes. The stream was a pretty as a picture, obviously low and clear, with lots of bankside vegetation but enough room to swing the rod with reasonable comfort.

The river was low, but pretty as a picture

But after hours of not raising a fish or seeing a fish I was really questioning if I hadn’t got things wrong. I did get a snatch at the nymph from a couple of small trout which didn’t stick, but that was it.

I am used to being able to drum up fish, even in low flows when fishing my home waters and had managed to do so pretty effectively on various sections of the Wye. It has to be said that success rates seem to have fallen as the weather improved and we have now had three days of sunshine in a row. Perhaps I had got things wrong and should rather be targeting the early morning or late evening?

I persevered for some time, I thought  I was fishing well and getting good drifts with long leaders and a variety of flies, all to no avail and in the end I resolved to return to Brecon a mile or so down the road, get something to eat and take a break. Perhaps if I were to return later there would be more action.

I was also keen to see if the position of the sun made a difference to the evening fishing, I was of a mind that having the sun glaring straight downstream on the Gromain beat the previous day may have stopped the fish feeding. On this section of the Usk the setting sun wouldn’t be directly downstream and into the eyes of either angler or fish.

On my return trip to the car I unfortunately got my feet caught up in some roots and loose and broken branches and took a tumble. I was carrying my rod broken down in four pieces and thought that it had escaped damage. Sadly however it turned out when I reached the car that the tip section had been broken.  So no more efforts with the long rod and I was going to have to get on with the 8’ 4” #3 from now on. (There will be more on this in a later blog, because customer service from Greys , it was a Grays Streamflex Plus rod, was useless)

That didn’t seem like too much of a problem the water wasn’t really the sort for Euro nymphing and I was confident that I could cover the water adequately with the shorter outfit.

After a brief wander around Brecon and something to eat and drink I headed back to the water to see what the evening might hold in terms of better fishing. It was obvious to me that this was a quality trout stream and I had been enjoying fishing it. I had simply failed to see a fish and really wondered why that should be.

Getting back onto the water at around 7.00pm the sun was still quite high in the sky and the first rises really only started to show at nearer to eight o’clock.  A few trout rising in a rather slick section on the edge of a rocky ledge.  It took a single cast to put the one fish off, the second stopped feeding before I was even within range to make the case.

It is difficult because one cannot see adequately into the water to gauge the behavior of the fish but the rises stopped and I had to re-evaluate things. I thought that I was being pretty stealthy and that my leader set up was about as long as I could make it. Close to 20 + feet in total and yet the fish had gone down with the first cast.

It has actually turned out that it is harder to fish when you are unable to see the trout. The water is clear and it is the bottom structure of dark rock which makes the fish tricky to monitor. In short it seems that the fish don’t have the same limitations looking in the opposite direction and easily spot an approaching angler.

Incidentally Peter Hayes has an entire chapter in his excellent book “Fly Fishing Outside the Box” (ISBN: 978-1-904784-56-2) on “Fishing rivers where you can’t see the fish” and some of those lessons were coming home. I am going to be fishing with Peter in a few days time, at his very kind invitation. I am sure we shall have lots to discuss, and he may have some ideas on my struggles on the Usk.

Peter Hayes dedicates an entire chapter in his excellent book to fishing streams where you can’t see the fish. This thought provoking book is a must read for anyone keen on better understanding fish and fishing.

I thought I was doing all the right things, camo shirt, dark vest, no bling, walking quietly and back near the bank with a backdrop of trees. Textbook stalking stuff and yet I was putting fish down without making so much as a cast. I suspect that these fish are far better educated in the ways of fishermen than some of their contemporaries on the Wye. I needed to be more careful.

Further upstream were a couple more fish rising in the slow flowing bubble line along the edge of a similar rock ledge as in the previous run.  The sun was quite low by now and the stream well shaded.  I thought perhaps my hat was a little too light so I took that off in case it was causing offence to the fish. Creeping carefully into position I made a long cast, mostly over the bankside rock I alighted the fly just above the rings of the last rise. ……………………………… The fish stopped feeding. 😦

Further upstream I repeated the process over and over again, changed flies, changed leaders, fished nymphs and emergers over rising fish which went down within two casts on each occasion.

I am quite used to tricky fish and to spooky fish but this was something else and all the more difficult because I couldn’t see the fish or their reactions to the fly or the cast.  All I could see were the rings of the rises and then the lack of those same rings when the fish quit feeding.

The trout didn’t seem to be coming high in the water, barely breaking surface if at all and getting somewhat desperate now I resorted to a CDC spun dun which would sit well down in the film if not treated. Somehow I had misplaced my box of CDC’s and F flies, but found a suitable pattern tied it on to an extra-long piece of 7 x tippet

There were now a couple of fish feeding in slightly quicker and shallower water over a gravel bed and making my best curve casts I covered the one fish with my Spun Dun.  Nothing, but perhaps the fly was a little too far to the left? The fish at least was still rising, a better sign.
A second cast further across stream, and a lovely slow porpoising rise to intercept my artificial, I struck too fast and missed.  That was frustrating, I have been covering water and then fish for hours and finally I deceive one and miss time the strike.

A very ‘fishy looking’ run on the Usk. Would the slightly faster water help me to deceive one of these very tricky resident trout?

The light was fading fast now down in the tree lined valley and I knew that I didn’t have a lot of time to play with. Not least because I had to find my way back to the car on a strange beat and through a rapidly darkening forest, knowing that the tangle of branches and roots had already resulted in one tumble and a broken rod.  I was however determined to catch an Usk Brownie. They had proven to be far more tricky than I had anticipated and I wasn’t keen to go home empty handed.

I waited for an agonizing ten minutes or so watching the run over the gravel to see if “my fish” would start feeding again.. Eventually a swirl and a bubble, then another,  now there were two fish feeding in the run and at least I knew that I had found a fly that they would take at least some of the time.

I cast and the now much modified and fiddled with leader wouldn’t behave, so I modified it some more and tried again. It was a long way from perfect but perhaps adequate.  It was quite obvious that from previous attempts that the presentation had to be near perfect. These fish seemed to be put down by the slightest error.

Finally I was ready, reminding myself that brown trout generally require some time before setting the hook I resolved to try to count to three should I get another taken  I cast again.

The fly fell short but the fish continued to rise, another cast and just as I was thinking that the fly had gone past the fish a swirl and my pattern, barely visible in the low light, disappeared.. “think don’t strike, think don’t strike” I pause for as long as I could force myself and felt the solid bend of the rod as the line went tight. At last an Usk brownie, but I still had to land it.

The fish put up a very spirited battle, pulling line from the reel on several occasions and finally it was in the net. I am not sure that I have ever been as pleased to catch a particular fish as I was to capture this one.

Finally success, an Usk River brownie deceived at last. I shall remember this fish for a lifetime. For the difficulty in deceiving it, its beautiful colouration, the lovely river in which he was found and for the lessons learned.

These Usk trout had been giving me something of a lesson, I had pulled out all the stops, lengthened the leader beyond where even I normally go, fined down the tippet, changed flies and more and I had struggled to deceive a single fish.

Finally I had my prize and what a prize it was, it didn’t matter all those fruitless hours casting, or the breaking of a rod or the weariness in my bones from wading up and down rivers for the past week.  What mattered was that I think this was one of the best day’s fishing I have ever had, in terms of the pure enjoyment, the effort, the difficulty and finally the success.

I realized that some of the fishing on the Wye had been easy, this was a different thing altogether.  I thought I was pretty much on top of my game and still I had to raise the bar further to fool these trout.

It was getting pretty dark and I was a little concerned about finding my way back to the car so started to walk downstream, all the while keeping an eye for a rise or two. Just off the path were a few fish rising in a tailout and I resolved to have one last go, fishing downstream onto the fish because that was the only option. The same CDC fly on a downstream cast, slack leader, 7x tippet, the fly quietly approaching the end of the run and it was taken. I struck into another lovely brown trout which jumped like a mad thing and threw the hook. I am not even sure I was disappointed really, I had deceived him and that was enough.

I am back on the Usk tomorrow and I shall do some more pre-planning before I head out. I have resolved to sort out my fishing vest, tie up some flies, tighten up a loose screw in my reel and then hit the water for the last few hours of light.

I shall hopefully then see if I have learned anything from my lessons on the Usk, perhaps I will be more successful with the benefit of some additional knowledge.

Gromain

June 25, 2018

Gromain and Upper Llanstephan.

Today’s beat was at least easy to find, one of the parking areas demarcated pretty much by a suspension bridge across the river. I managed to locate that without resorting to the cell phone GPS, from there was able to find the specified gate and the old railway track down which I was instructed to drive.

The Llanstephan suspension bridge makes for a fairly substantial landmark.

The sort of riverside track with grass growing high in the middle and suitable only for 4 X 4 vehicles and hire cars. I don’t think one would gladly drive there if it was wet, but it isn’t wet, in fact it isn’t near wet enough and the rivers are low. That makes wandering many of the beats relatively easy, but on contrast can mean that the fishing is tricky.

Parking is along an old rail track, via a gate and combination padlock. Suitable for 4 x 4 vehicles and hire cars only.

Off the track there were “steps down to the river”, that may provide some indication of the steepness of the sides.  A very different type of water to that which I am used to fishing, to my mind a massive river even in the reduced summer flows.

This is a very wide section of the Wye, with a great deal of near un-wadeable bedrock which is not only seriously uneven with fissures and pot holes in it but equally very very slippery even with the correct footwear.

All in all, from the perspective of someone used to more intimate and more easily waded streams the river is quite intimidating. Not least because it is difficult to know where to start fishing with so much water in front of one.

I opted for a shallow riffle section in the lower part of the beat where there seemed like a reasonable chance of finding fish and where the wading wasn’t quite so tricky with a smattering of  small boulders and gravel on the bottom. The smooth sheet rock sections, as mentioned, are dreadfully difficult to negotiate.

A typical view of a low water riffle on the Gromain beat

There was a nasty and troublesome downstream breeze on the day I fished and that made the angling all the more difficult. It isn’t so much that one cannot cast into such a breeze, stiff though it was, but more that one cannot maintain control and get the presentation that one might otherwise be able to achieve.

A feisty downstream breeze causes all manner of problems well beyond casting. One notices every single toggle and zipper on one’s fishing vest, because now every attempt at checking the fly or adjusting the leader results in the line being wrapped around some protuberance or other. Standing in the stream , struggling with 7 x tippet snagged in zippers and Velcro closures , it wasn’t the first time that I wondered if people who design fishing vests have actually ever fished.

I have a new shorty vest, which is better than my previous one, which sported those hard foam formed pockets that became all the rage.  I think that perhaps William Joseph started the trend and it became all the fashion. That vest I grew to strongly dislike, difficult if not impossible to pack into a bag when walking home and on the river, even if the pockets were empty, one felt rather like Mae West after a breast augmentation. At least the new shorty vest isn’t as cumbersome, but I am going to have to do some surgery on all those zip toggles. They exhibit the same affiliation for nylon as most of the bank side herbage here. In other words, any loose piece of leader will find its way around something.

Undeterred however I set about searching out fish in the riffles, fishing with a long leader and a dry and dropper combination I was able to pick up a number of trout and grayling in short order. The fishing remained like this for an hour or so and then seemed to die off. Whether the cold wind was putting the fish down or whether it was the bright sunshine I wasn’t sure. But things went very quiet and after a pretty good opening session I was struggling to find fish on the dry or on nymph rigs.

I did catch both brown trout and grayling , but pretty much all in the earlier part of the morning.

After much hard work and looking over other sections of the beat I decided to take a break and perhaps return later, I had a suspicion that I had been getting things wrong and that I should rather have been on the water in the early morning or late evening. It was the longest day of the year when I fished , which means both extremes, dawn and dusk occur almost eighteen hours apart. To be on the water at dawn I would have had to be driving by 3.30am, to stay until dusk would have seen me out at 10.30pm.

I resolved to stay out late and see what happened, and sure enough as the light faded and that niggling wind abated a little there was a considerable mixed hatch with flies over the water in near blizzard proportions.  For some reason however, even then, not a fish moved, I had no idea of why, and perhaps again it was that chill wind doing the damage but one would have imagined the river coming alive with action.

One interesting hypothesis and one we have discussed related to some sections of water I fish in SA, is that the fish don’t like staring straight into the setting sun. It is tricky to prove if that is the case, but the section I was fishing and where all these insects were hatching faced directly into the sunset and the glare was quite blinding to me. Could it be that fish either don’t like to face into a low angled setting sun or perhaps that they can’t see well in such circumstances? I think that this is something worthy of more consideration. Tomorrow I shall be on the Usk on a section that shouldn’t be facing the setting sun, perhaps if there is more activity on that section in the final hours of the day it could add credence to the theory.

I ended the day with something in the region of 25 trout and 10 grayling, but nothing of notable size and I worked far too hard for them.  Or put more correctly I worked far too hard after I had caught most of them, the first two hours of my fishing was really about it and I raised or hooked very few fish after that.

Of all the waters I have fished during my stay this would probably rate as the least enjoyable, perhaps it was just the day, that niggling wind or maybe I was just out of form.  It was however hard work and I fished for far too long , most likely at the wrong time of day.