Archive for the ‘Fishing’ Category

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.

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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.

 

 

Dayhouse

June 22, 2018

Day House on the River Lugg

When booking water back in SA there was no real way of knowing which beats would be suitable , particularly given that one can’t predict water levels and such. So I took pot luck balanced with some advice from clients who have fished the area as well as the Wye Usk Foundation offices.

But in all honesty, who could resist fishing a river called the “Lugg”?

I researched a bit more carefully this time in the hope of avoiding a reenactment of the navigational problems of some of my other outings but all of that came to naught when I couldn’t find any road signs for where I was headed and had to resort to the GPS/Sat Nav on the phone once more.

Of course it didn’t help that the village of Kingsland was off the side of my map of South / Mid Wales and I was reliant on the little voice on my cell telling me to “Turn Left at the next junction”. I don’t think I have ever arrived in a place without once ever seeing a sign for it. But there I was next to the designated “Corners Inn” and the required left turn to the River.

Directions from people in the UK tend to revolve around turning at either pubs or churches. I suppose depending whether you are inquiring of a religious zealot or an alcoholic. The Corners Inn was the final way-point on my trip to the River Lugg.

This is a relatively small stream with access through a cow pasture filled with very curious bullocks who immediately made a bee line towards me to check things out.

The view from the bridge indicated that the water was perhaps very slightly coloured but flowing nicely and my fears that there would be insufficient flows to offer good fishing as per the previous day were laid to rest.

Initially I opted for a nymph rig but changed my mind about that after hooking another broad selection of bankside herbage, the confines of the stream and the overhanging trees making it impossible to get the nymphs in under the banks where I felt sure the trout would be hiding. It has become more than apparent that the brown trout do like structure and tend to tuck themselves away in difficult lies.

I thought that my preparations had been pretty good, what with a local Sim Card, maps of Wales, spare leaders, fly tying kit etc. What I neglected to include was “A Guide to British Hedgerow Plants”. It wouldn’t have helped much with the fishing, but at least I would have been able to identify what nasty, noxious, Velcro-like piece of annoying greenery had entrapped my tippet this time.

Even the flat stones on most of the streams have a nasty tendency to grab the line when you are not paying attention and I missed one good fish yesterday because the strike was inhibited by a line sucking slab over which I had cast.

In short, you cannot let the line out of your hands for a moment, one error of judgement or lapse in concentration and you can end up wrapped in line, tippet, stinging nettles, brambles and barbed wire in a fair imitation of Captain Ahab lashed to Moby Dick.

The ever present stinging nettles and the anglers path right through the middle of a forest of them.

The curious bullocks had assembled in a row on the high bank to have a look at goings on.  They seemed fascinated at first, but I suspect they were accustomed to fishermen and after the third or fourth tangle with the greenery I think they decided they had seen better anglers in the past, because they wandered off to investigate something else. I have to tell you, it is a little disheartening to know that even the local cattle don’t think much of your efforts.

My audience of bullocks were curious to start with, but were seemingly unimpressed with my efforts.

In short, a shaded and overgrown stream is not the place to be flinging three tungsten beads on a long leader and I reverted to “dry and dropper” where I was able to horizontally cast into the more likely looking runs.

The change of tactics paid off and I began to take trout here and there, not huge numbers but consistently through most of this very pleasant beat. It is obvious to me that I am far more confident fishing this style, and confidence is a crucial factor in fishing success.  It was perhaps sad that I failed to entrap a River Lugg Grayling. I have managed to catch both species on all the other beats where they occur.

I take some pride in the fact that I only saw two fish rise during the course of the day, and captured both of them. One small brown in a shallow tail out of a long run and the second a veritable monster, probably close to 2lbs which had broken the surface in a bankside slick on the wrong side of some fast moving water.
The cast was good but even the slack I had manufactured disappeared rapidly and I was forced to mend upstream. In doing so I inadvertently twitched the fly and obviously the action of the nymph rising up served to induce a violet take from the fish.

It fought like a Trojan, battling to dig its way back under the bushes and the submerged roots beyond.  With the rod tip under the water and maximum side strain I mentally reviewed  my blog Trout Torque taking comfort in the maths, that I wouldn’t break off so long as I held the rod at sufficient angle. The struggle between me and my 7X tippet and that fish seemed to hover in stalemate for an age before he finally gave up on his quest for the roots and the prize was mine.

The picture doesn’t do this fish justice. A huge disadvantage of going it alone, no one to take pictures. But he was beautifully marked and fat as a pig.

He was the best trout of the trip so far and as fat as a brewer’s apron.  It is an odd thing, but after such a battle one tends to figure that you can’t better that fish for the day and it was easy in the end to fish a bit further and then decide to call it quits.

The back eddy from which the fish was taken and the overhanging bush he so valiantly attempted to escape under

I resorted to the GPS once again to find my way out of the morass of tiny lanes and by the time I was “home”  at Pwlllgwilym Cottages I couldn’t tell you where the hell I had been. I feel a little like Alice after a trip through the looking glass. I know I was there, and have fond memories of the Day House beat, but in my mind it exists in a parallel universe, as though only visited in dreams..

I stopped at the Red Lion for some supper on the way home, that is once I knew where I was. The road is on the border and one keeps seeing signs saying “Welcome to Wales”, all the time thinking “I thought I was in Wales”. More of that ‘Alice through the looking glass’ feeling.

I love these country pubs, a place where one can enjoy an ale, get a meal and easily fall into conversation with who every happens to be there. Warm, comfortable hostelries that have served travelers for decades, this one has been doing so centuries.

Tomorrow I shall be on a very wide section of the Wye and shall , be easily able to fling Euro Nymphs should I choose. The beat is close to my base and designated by a large suspension bridge across the river. With that in mind I may be able to locate this piece of water without resorting to the GPS..

 

Colonel’s Water

June 21, 2018

Day Three , Colonel’s water on the Ifron.

The day started slowly, I was determined to wait on my boots arriving if at all possible. So I took a stroll around Builth Wells to kill some time and found N J Guns, a shop advertising “Guns and Fishing Tackle”, a gloriously small, and totally cluttered place, smelling of gun oil and stacked to the ceiling with cartridges,shot guns and all manner of other bits and bobs. Such small outlets used to dot the British Isles when I was a boy, my first fly rod came from such a store, which operated as a pet shop, fishing tackle outlet and general store. Today such places are dying out, perhaps due to the efficiency of internet based shopping, and in part an apparent lack of interest amongst the youth for outdoor activities.

Neil, the owner, was telling me that the local gun club had very few youngsters within its ranks and he no longer carried much by way if fly fishing gear, a small selection of flies and that’s about it. This in a town smack in the middle of trout, salmon and sea trout country.
In fact it is quite remarkable that I have yet to see another angler other than one apparently receiving double handed casting lessons and not as best I could see actually fishing. It seems remarkable to me, there is so much water easily available through the Wye/Usk fishing passport and I would have imagined the town to be packed with fly anglers.

I purchased some dry fly floatant, a version I had never seen before, and reminiscent of “permafloat” which used to be sold in the UK when I was a boy. A glass bottle filled with a crystal clear, noxious smelling and possibly carcinogenic hydrocarbon one imagines as a solvent for a form of wax or similar. According to the instructions one simply dips the fly in the liquid and false casts to dry it out. As things turned out it worked pretty well.

Then I returned to my base and  tied some more perdigon nymphs, erroneously expecting to be Euro-Nymphing again later in the day and  I sorted out my fishing gear in preparation for a visit to the upper Irfon River. What I was really doing was waiting to see if my boots would arrive. One crosses a section of the Irfon when leaving Builth Wells, so I stopped and had a look at it from the bridge. It my error to imagine that the upper section would look the same. turns out it was a lot smaller and with a lot less flow.

Oh what joy when my boots arrived and I was able to head out onto the water

 

I was giving up hope that my boots might arrive on time, I had set my schedule at a 14.00 departure should the aforementioned footwear not arrive in time and just as I was about to head out in comes the DHL Van.  Finally, footwear for the rivers, Hooray!!!

Perhaps all that trouble distracted me, but somehow I mixed up Llandrindod Wells and Llanwrtyd Wells and headed out of town in completely the wrong direction; getting hopelessly lost in the process. (The Ordinance Survey map I have doesn’t even list most of the places I went through). Eventually I resorted to the phone and Google maps, which did take me the right way, but an hour long round trip to arrive at my destination.

I think that the trouble is that all the names look the same; in fact you could name your own Welsh Village. All you need to do is put two ‘L’s” at the front, “Wells” at the end, and then randomly assign some consonants to fill the intervening space. Vowels are apparently forbidden in Welsh place names.

Actually it strikes me that playing Scrabble in Wales would be most interesting, the locals would be getting a triple word scores even when they have run out of vowels. Trying to decipher place names is hard enough, doing so whilst passing a mini roundabout at 40 miles and hour is all but a blurred impossibility. It doesn’t help when the place you seek, Llanwrtyd Wells, is officially the smallest town in Britain.

I should point out, just in case it appears that I am being disparaging, Llanwrtyd Wells, isn’t only famous for having an odd spelling, or even for being the smallest town in Britain. What is exceptional about Llanwrtyd Wells is that it is the home of the “Bog Snorkelling World Championships”..Which only goes to prove that size isn’t important when you are on the World stage.. Oh , and you can’t keep a small town down, they also host the “Man V Horse” race each year, and just in case you imagine that is a bit of a diddle, let me tell you that in 2004 Huw Lobb beat the fastest horse and won 25,000 quid. Florian Holzinger beat the fastest horse by just under a minute in 2007..  Llanwrtyd Wells, may be unpronounceable and tiny, but it sure punches above its weight when it comes to extreme sports. ( Is it only me who is thinking that they should host the Welsh Scrabble Championships ? )

Just because your town is small doesn’t mean you can’t host a World Championship Event. Bog Snorkelling  in Llanwrtyd Wells.

 

Anyway, I saw a lot of nice countryside as my phone directed me through endless and nameless leafy lanes and finally arrived at my destination having driven a roundabout route along foggy roadways, I geared up to fish, taking the longer rod in anticipation of more Euro-Nymphing.

This is an upper section of the Irfon and was remarkably low, I probably should have brought the short rod, but I didn’t feel like walking back to the car. So I decided to forge ahead with the longer outfit and the low water. The prospects were not looking good with very little moving water and skinny flats over considerable parts of the beat.

Things were not looking too positive but I did winkle a grayling out of the first run.

 

I could immediately see the potential of the beat with a little more water in it, but here I was and had to make the most of it. I went in search of moving water, and found some tucked under the trees at the bottom end of the beat. Each cast into the shadowed flows a nerve wracking gamble , the flies landing inches from the vegetation. Toying with disaster I took a lovely grayling from the very first run, that buoyed my spirits, because looking at the water, things appeared to be pretty hopeless.

The only real moving water was tight against the bank and under overhanging bushes making presentation a tricky business.

 

In the end I really enjoyed the fishing, it was super tough and all the fish were taken with near impossible casts under the bushes, courting disaster with every flex of the rod. I took four really nice grayling on a tiny mayfly brassie and half a dozen trout, some of reasonable size. The browns all took the dry and the grayling all took the nymph.
It was difficult and at the same time fun fishing.

A Beautifully marked Irfon Brown Trout

On the way back to Builth Wells and my accommodations I got lost again, this time in thick mist and went ten miles out of my way, but I figure in a new place getting lost is part of the adventure. There was plenty of petrol in the tank and no real time limits so what was there to worry about?

As a finale ,when I got back to Pwllgwilym Cottages, Richard, the owner, was watering his plants. Bear in mind that it hasn’t stopped with the heavy mist for the whole day, I had to have a quiet laugh to myself. Richard tells me that “The mist isn’t enough for the plants”.. I suppose he should know,, but a month back people in Cape Town were having a shower with less water than Richard’s Bougainvillea got from the mist .

This is farmland and unfortunately I interrupted junior’s milk break.

For all that it is lovely here, I am well looked after by Richard and Jane at Pwllgwilym Cottages, there are miles of fishing waters within driving distance and , with the exception of the idiot ignoring a Give Way sign in his Alpha Romeo and accusing me of speeding, everyone has been helpful, gracious and polite. Tomorrow I am on another tributary and it may well prove to be as low and as tricky as today. Actually I don’t really care, I have caught enough fish, but the challenge is what drives me on.

Of course, all the fish were released unharmed.

Sydenham River Lyd

June 16, 2018

West Country Angling Passport Beat # 26: Sydenham on the Lyd

Well what a privilege to be able to fish a beautiful section of the river Lyd in the grounds of a gorgeous Elizabethan estate. The manor house, build between 1600 and 1612 and incorporating an older structure at that time, is really quite something to see, a spectacular relic of times past. It is a designated as a grade 1 listed building and lies within an estate of some 1200 acres. The river here is a little more open than sections of the Fal and Tressilian Rivers fished previously, but not by a large margin.

Sideways horizontal casting still being the order of the day. This beat used up four of my tokens, double that required for the previous beats fished but it doesn’t matter, I am off to Wales tomorrow and the remaining tokens in my book of ten will go unused. I was therefore more than happy to “burn” four in one go on this section.

Sydenham House, an impressive Elizabethan estate through which runs the River Lyd

Sadly the water didn’t live up to expectations, in that I only caught very small fish, perhaps 25 odd of them but it was still a joy to explore and one could easily see the potential.

One spectacular part of the day was the appearance of Ephemera Danica hatching;  after nearly 45 years of fly fishing I have never actually seen one of these insects in the flesh. Actually I am not sure that I have ever fished water that contained them before yesterday.

Ephemera Danica, my first ever “in the flesh encounter”.

The guide book did suggest that there was a reasonable population of these insects on the Lyd, but I hadn’t really expected to see them.  Being used to fishing #20 Midges most of the time back home these massive insects seem somewhat incongruous , they rise up and flutter over the water like miniature angels, the sunlight catching their wings as they head for the bankside vegetation for their final moult. They are most intriguing bugs, not that all the ephemeroptera are are not, but these large insects may live in the silt for up to three years as nymphs, before enjoying a brief adulthood of only days.

I was captivated watching them, the speed with which they manage to extricate themselves from the nymphal shuck and the instant ability to fly, no matter that they have never encountered air before. There is much in nature that fascinates me but if there was anything going to convince me of the existence of a higher power; watching mayflies hatch from the surface of a stream would be a pretty compelling example.

I had thought that the large mayflies would perhaps bring up some bigger fish to the surface but that didn’t prove to be the case and I fished a double rig of a large parachute mayfly and a diminutive #18 midge pattern and was probably equally successful with each fly. The tiny trout, despite some impressive acrobatics, often failed to get hold of the larger fly. In fact they frequently missed in their attempts to grab the real mayflies as well.

A view upstream, lots of shade but enough room to swing the rod

I do wonder if perhaps , had I stayed later on the water, I may have moved some larger trout but I had an arrangement to meet up with old friends and had to head home earlier than I otherwise might have.

I did try out my new waders this time as the weather was looking a little dodgy when I started fishing and although the water wasn’t that cold the advantage of the built in gravel guards can’t go unmentioned. Up until now I was near crippled by stones in my boots come day’s end. It is hard to stop and clear them out when there is fishing to be done, I doubt I am the first person to make that mistake. So all in all a good day, pleasant countryside and a lovely drive out to the water, followed by scampi and chips at the Bredon Arms in Bude with some good friends.

The drive to Sydenham had taken me through the town of Lifton and past the door of the famous fishing hotel “The Arundel Arms”. It was here, some 44 years back that I had my first and pretty much only ever proper fly fishing tuition, on a course for beginners. I remember thinking at the time that I didn’t need all the casting tuition and was simply keen to fish some different waters. Since that time I have re-engineered my casting  four or five times and learned a lot more about it than I ever knew possible when I was a teenager. I suppose the enthusiastic, if somewhat egotistical, confidence of youth isn’t all bad and those early days were the starting point of what has been a lifetime love affair with fly fishing. An obsession I suppose which ultimately has lead me back here some four decades later, still trying to quench an insatiable thirst for more fish. I would like to think that I am a little better versed in things piscatorial these days, perhaps better prepared and more inclined to see the beauty of my surroundings rather than just the fish. But truth be told, that boyish glee at casting a fly over new waters hasn’t ever really diminished and I look forward to the next stage of my trip with the same excitement that I once felt heading out for my very first dedicated fly fishing weekend in Lifton.

The Arundell Arms Lifton.

So this part of the trip ends and I was pleased to get in more fishing than I had thought or planned really. I have caught a bass or two in Falmouth and managed to land at least a couple of trout on all the beats attempted so far. Tomorrow I head for the Welsh Wye and the Usk and hopefully the little bit of practice enjoyed down here in the South will stand me in good stead when I hit ,what should hopefully prove to be, more productive waters.

Grogarth Beat #35

June 13, 2018

Grogarth  Beat # 35 of the West Country Angling Passport Scheme.

This section of the Fal River, one of several  rivers running into the Falmouth Estuary, is one of only two West Country Passport Venues within close proximity to Truro, my current base of operations.

After the struggle to find the water on the Tresillian River the previous day I have to admit to having had some feelings of trepidation. Back home “difficult access” may mean a long hike, even up a long hill, even in hot sunshine. What it doesn’t mean is a life and death struggle with out of control herbage ,such that one feels part of a reenactment of “Day of the Triffids” , all so that one can simply to get one’s feet wet.

Getting into the water is frequently the most difficult part of the fishing

This beat, at least on paper, looked a tad easier to find than that of the previous day. The beat starts directly above a road bridge, so no real difficulty there, and the passport ticket box was just where it was supposed to be, underneath the style which provided access to the public footpath along the river, all of which served as confirmation that I was in the correct place.

Even then it became quickly apparent that getting into and possibly getting out of the water may prove more troublesome than might be assumed from first glance. For the most part the banks were five feet above the water with a lush verge of protective nettles and brambles cascading down into the water. Access from the right bank (that is looking downstream, an English convention which can be confusing to start with), was near impossible and after exploring high stone walls and steep clay banks I decided to reconnoiter the other side of the stream.

Here at least, after walking a short distance, I could see some flattened grass suggesting that previous anglers had maybe accessed the water at this specific point in the recent past. Yes the nettles stung and the brambles tore at me, but at least I had the good sense not to wear my new waders .

Fox Gloves and other wild flowers dot the hedgerows

I may have been battered, bruised, stung and on one memorable occasion electro-shocked in the balls by a pulsing cattle fence but at least my waders would remain pristine in preparation for my trip to Wales. As an aside, it appears that wet lycra provides spectacularly effective conductivity when pulled tight around one’s nether regions and then pressed against an electrified fence. Although not exactly painful, the sensation is more than a little disconcerting.

Stinging Nettles are everywhere and one is left with little option but to simply brazen it out, wade through the darned things and accept that the fishing should take your mind off the stings.

So I plopped the last few feet down the bank into the water, feeling just a little out of sorts, surrounded by a canopy of tangled trees and still wondering how I was to get back out.. My learning curve of the previous day meant that I was already factoring in the low angles of casting and striking in such tight confines and although possibly trapped, I was at least ready to fish.

The canopy over much of the river meant that my normally functioning Polaroids, geared for more sunny climes were hopelessly too dark for the environment in which I found myself and I was forced to fish without them for most of the beat.

This is about as open as any section of the beat was, too dark for the most part to be wearing the polaroids.

The water was a little off colour and I opted for a dry and dropper rig with a silver bead PTN on point.  I quickly changed the dry to a simple indicator, two flies being roll cast under such a dense canopy of herbage was more of a struggle than it was worth.

With the two fly rig I am sure I hooked enough different types of vegetation to have put together a pretty reasonable stand at the Chelsea Flower Show.  Eventually one learns not to wave the rod needlessly, not to attempt anything remotely looking like a real cast and to manufacture all manner of rolls, flicks and bow and arrow presentations. Whatever allows the flies to hit the water.

The trout, although small, proved to be more than obliging and I had three out of the first run. Thank goodness that they aren’t too picky, presentation here means “hit the water”, there isn’t sufficient space to do a great deal more than that.  From then on it was a case of wending one’s way under the canopy, watching out for sunken logs and slippery clay banks and prospecting as best one could with the flies. Roll casts and horizontal strikes were the order of the day and I think that I made perhaps a dozen overhead presentations the whole morning.
In the end I landed in excess of 40 fish , most tiny and a few of about 10”,(The blurb on the beat suggests that maximum for the browns is around 11” here so that wasn’t bad going). In the end I had a lot of fun, it is very different to the fishing than I am used to and required some serious adaptations to make things work.

A native Fal River Brown Trout, beautifully decorated with red and black spots.

By the time I was done for the day I had become used to the near constant burn of the nettle stings and was able to appreciate the fishing and the natural beauty. The hedgerows are filled with Foxgloves and the air heavy with the scent of new mown grass and wild flowers.

Even the brambles can appear pretty if you are not trying to force your way through them to the water

The surrounding hillsides are a patchwork of greens and golds, random shapes on a quilt of cultivated lands and there is constant background noise of running water , the chirping of song birds and the harsh squawks of pheasants hidden in the undergrowth. The weather has been unbelievably good for the past few days and exploring new waters, troublesome though that has proven at times, has really been something of a delight.  I may still get to fish another passport water before I leave the West Country, but if you are visiting the South and you are, like me, miserable if you cannot fish. I would recommend that you visit https://westcountryangling.com

The Westcountry Angling Passport Book contains information on all the beats with thumbnail maps and descriptions of the various pieces of water available through the scheme

You can obtain a booklet with all the beats and beat descriptions: combined with a book of tokens and a UK fishing license ,  a wide range of waters are opened up to you.   These sorts of passport schemes have opened up a lot of previously closed potential for stream and river fishing in the UK. In a little less than a week I shall be enjoying similar benefits on the Wye and Usk in Wales. More on that later.

 

 

Mission Accomplished

June 12, 2018

 

I have been in the UK for a week now, most of that time dedicated to family and outings with mother. Trips to what passes in these parts as “ the big smoke” and a wander around “The Eden Project”, not quite as relaxing as you may imagine. The Eden Project is built in an old and pretty large quarry, the only lapse in the exemplary service received from all quarters so far was the lack of provision of an electric wheelchair for mater despite it being booked and paid for well in advance.

The Eden Project.

Thus the “stroll” around the gardens turned out to be more of a “push around” on my part as “designated carer” and de facto wheelchair pusher. As you may imagine, an old quarry, even one so magnificently re-purposed to accommodate exotic plants from around the globe, still has some fairly abrupt changes in contour.  I was thus thankful that at least our manually operated chair did have brakes. Mother was no doubt thankful too. She has flown the “Sky Wire” as celebration of her 90th birthday at this very same venue two years back. However that was a planned adventure. An unplanned loss of control down a steep slope in a wheelchair with a mind of its own, piloted by a ninety two year old woman with seriously waning eyesight would probably have proven just a little too Gung Ho.


The Skywire at the Eden Project.

 

Anyway, the steep slopes and humidity of the Rainforest Dome were eventually undertaken without major mishap and the marginal dehydration of aforementioned carer was set straight after a visit to “The Old Inn” in St Breward on the way home. A pint or two of ale and a delicious panini proved to be all the medication required for near full recovery.

The Old Inn in St Breward, apparently the highest pub in Cornwall and a welcome watering hole after the exertions of the Eden Project.

But now I am in Truro, administrative hub of Cornwall and gateway to the Fal River estuary, a massive piece of tidal water where I had hoped to catch a sea bass or two.

The bass have been making something of a comeback over the years after populations were in serious decline, but that said one has to find them and finding them in a massive tidal estuary such as the Fal is a fairly intimidating notion.

On the walk from Mylor around the coast towards Flushing, the volume of water in sight really had me questioning the wisdom of my quest, thoughts of throwing an insignificant twist of feather on the end of a thirty foot line trusting that a fish may see it were to my mind pure fantasy.  So I convinced myself that I was enjoying a very pleasant walk with the option of throwing a line, rather than seeing things as a serious fishing expedition. Such mind games take a little of the pressure off, but in my heart of hearts I knew that I would be dissatisfied if I failed to lure at least one small bass to the fly.

Confidence was really rather low, I never saw anyone else fishing, and this on a remarkably sunny Saturday. Logic suggests that if the fishing was good there would be fishermen in sight, and there weren’t.

No matter, I figured that a little casting practice from the rocks with the optional possibility of perhaps hooking a fish was no bad way to waste an hour or two. I did begin to wonder if any bass would show up, but they are inherently mobile and wander in and out of the estuary with the tides, such that at any given moment you may encounter a shoal.

I persevered, starting on the rocks opposite Falmouth Harbour and working my way along the coast towards Flushing I eventually hit a shoal of “schoolie bass” and managed to land one. Some time later I landed another. Unremarkable fishing in many ways but for the fact that I had never taken a sea bass on fly in this estuary previously. It is, as said, a large piece of tidal water and one suspects it may take a lifetime of dedication to understand its flows and know its fishing marks well. So I was well pleased with my humble success.

 

A fairly diminutive Schoolie Bass, but taken on the fly and something of a milestone.

The next day we headed out to try to repeat the success but to no avail. In the end we walked back to Mylor over the top of the hills along a footpath and headed home. Perhaps the disappointment got to me because later in the day I headed out to a section of stream that is part of the local fishing passport scheme. The beat was #36 on the scheme and is part of the Tresillian River, just above the section that it tidal. Finding the correct parking and then the ticket box proved to be easy, not so much finding the river however. The instructions were “Walk down to the river through the rush pasture” , no rushes in evidence and it took me almost an hour to find the water.

I had forgotten about brambles and stinging nettles, but I am now officially reacquainted with them, blood stains down my arms and an unpleasant “buzzing” sensation in my hands , arms and legs from the nettles serve as reminders of my reacquaintance with some of the less pleasant components of this verdant isle.

All that said and done it was an interesting and tiny stream, no room to make a proper cast so all presentations were roll casts, often sideways to avoid all the overhanging vegetation. Casting proved to less problematic than striking. There was rarely room to swing the rod and in the end I tried to focus on horizontal strikes, vertical ones would merely land one in trouble with all the overhanging branches.  I did manage to capture a few wild brown trout though. Diminutive perhaps but beautifully coloured and the real fishing on this trip only starts in about a week’s time when I head up to the Wye and Usk in Wales.

Tomorrow I shall visit the upper Fal on another passport beat, still not serious fishing, but more “ticking venues”, trying to catch fish in places I have never previously visited. It should also provide a level of preparation for my time in Wales later. By then I should have sorted out the new fishing vest and its contents into some sort of order.

For now I shall content myself with the idea that I did at least catch some fish, in both the fresh and saltwater venues visited and that, for the present, represents success enough.

 

Line Control

April 9, 2018

 

Line control and playing fish.

Some excellent video footage of remote fishing for large trout on social media had me all fired up. Beautiful scenery and wonderful fishing and I am not going to give the details because it may seem that I am being offensive to an angler who has put in huge effort to make these wonderful vlogs.

That said, I wasn’t only fired up by the fishing and the scenery but also by the numbers of fish lost due to poor control of the line and the rod angles whilst playing fish, and it got me to thinking. As a casting instructor I do a great deal of work teaching people to cast better but does anyone teach you to play fish more effectively?

One can find endless blogs, vlogs, and video clips  on fly patterns. There are loads of SBS’s on fly tying, leader set ups, tackle and casting but very very few on playing fish. I have seen recently a number of videos from various parts of the world where anglers lose control of the fish and either bust off or end up with the fish in the weeds or around a log.

So I thought that perhaps it was worth discussing my views on the better ways to manage ones rod and line when playing fish.

To my mind one of the most common reasons for people losing or breaking off fish is loss of the protective rod angles discussed in “Trout Torque”, doing what you can to avoid that, will greatly increase your rate of landed versus lost fish.

I have watched too many video clips of late, where the above scenario is played out in devastatingly graphic form. With the loss of great fish which deserved to be captured, but for an error on the part of the angler in playing the fish.

Firstly the reel set up:

I am Cornish by birth and in the UK virtually all reels , fly reels, spinning reels, rock and surf reels are all set up for left hand wind when you take them off the shelf. (They are of course all interchangeable if you have the need to put them the other way around)

So that’s how I learned to fish, as a right hander, right hand on the rod left hand to manipulate the line or the reel, the rod goes into the right hand at the beginning of the day and stays there until the end of the fishing, that is how I learned to fish and I still think that it is the right way to do things.

Most South African fly anglers  and quite a few in other countries, who cast with their right hands also reel with their right hands and so swap hands when they have a fish on. I have never understood this, why force yourself to swap hands at the precise moment that you have hooked your quarry? Yes we can argue about it, and everyone has a point of view, but to me it is something worth considering, particularly if you are starting out and haven’t become habituated one method or another.

If you do swap hands, then I suppose that isn’t so bad, but to my mind, then you must not swap back again until the fish is landed. If you have to swap back to strip in line and then swap back again to use the reel I think that makes for a serious loss of control.

Personally I can reel with either hand, but I cannot control the rod adequately with my left hand, no doubt because I have never practiced doing that in 40 odd years of fishing. I think that for many who cast right handed, you are constantly building your brain/muscle pathways to your rod hand when casting and as such naturally over time have a far more instinctive feel for the angle of the rod or the amount of pressure applied. This isn’t something being reinforced with your left hand which only holds the rod when you are playing fish. I suppose if you do it enough you will get used to it but for me playing the fish puts more complex demands on your rod hand than your reel hand. I prefer to use my dominant hand to control the fish. I am not saying everyone must do that, but I am suggesting that you should at least carefully consider the options.  If you are in doubt, try doing some basic things at home with your non dominant hand, stir your coffee, or pick up your mug and see which hand offers better control. (practice with cold coffee, you are likely to end up with it in your lap)

As said a few videos I have watched of late have seen many fish lost due to lack of control and one of the big issues has been swapping the rod to and fro when playing the fish or reaching for the net.

 

 

Maintaining rod angles.

In a previous post “Trout Torque” I discussed in depth the pressures and forces applied when playing fish. You are recommended to read that either before or after you read this post as they sort of go hand in hand. The main reason for mentioning that now is that almost all of the time the loss of fish is the result of losing that rod angle.
It can happen from simple carelessness, or reaching forwards, but most commonly it occurs because you are unable to hold the rod at the correct angle. Any jamming of the line, knots in guides, over tightened drag systems when a fish is pulling will force your rod tip towards the fish and invite disaster. Most of the issues listed below have the potential to force you to lose this angle and are well worth consideration if you wish to reduce the number of lost fish. Bear in mind break offs and hooks pulling out are the result of the same thing. Application of more pressure than the hook hold or tippet will withstand.

Line hand positions.

Bear with me, I am going to discuss this in terms of someone who uses their casting hand on the rod all the time and their other hand on the reel, although the same principles apply if you swap hands.

There are limited options for correct use of your hands when playing fish:

#1: The initial run

When hooking large fish which you are expecting to run, the best option is to simply form an “O” with your non casting hand fingers, keep your hands apart so that the line doesn’t entangle the reel or rod and let the line slide through your fingers. If you are fortunate, there are no tangles and you end up playing the fish off the reel, actually the easiest option.

During the initial run of a strong fish it is best to just let the line slide through an “O’ shape between your thumb and forefinger, keeping the line away from entanglements with the reel and rod.

#:2: The Pulley and Brake
For most trout fishing you are going to be trapping the line under one of the fingers of your rod hand, using pressure against the cork to act as a brake and at the same time using your finger as a “pulley” over which line can be retrieved with your non casting hand. This is much the same set up that you use when retrieving a fly when fishing,except of course when you are playing a fish you are going to be holding the rod at pretty much a 90 degree angle to the fish.  In my opinion it is far better to use your middle finger as the pulley/brake, using your forefinger as some people do makes it very hard to let go line whilst at the same time apply torque to the rod. (The primary lever of torque when playing fish is your index finger, so the line easily gets trapped underneath it. )

I also think that it is better to have the brake ON or OFF, fly line tends to sick and jump when you are trying to control the pressure on it. That leads to slack and dreadful bouncing of the rod, so try to make the transitions from retrieving line to giving line as rapid and as smooth as possible.

My preferred method is to use the middle finger of my rod hand as the pulley/brake. This is how I retrieve line, either when fishing or when playing a fish. Using the middle finger allows me to still apply pressure to the rod with my index finger without trapping the line.

 

Using the index finger can make it very difficult to let off pressure quickly, given that this finger is also responsible for applying pressure to the fish.

#3: Stripping line

If you are playing fish that haven’t run the line onto the reel, you will need to use the pulley brake system to control the line as you pull the fish in. Pulling and then trapping the line against the rod handle cork is an effective way of dealing with this. But, you do need to be able to release pressure rapidly should the fish run. Trying to hold on and allowing the rod angle to drop too low invites disaster.  You should never be in the position where you are trying to control the line with your non casting hand without the pulley brake system. I have seen video footage of some well known anglers fishing like this, and it results in near total lack of line control.

Ending up in this position, retrieving line without the benefit of a pulley/brake system is very dangerous. You cannot retrieve fast when called upon to do so and you can let go or reduce pressure quickly should the fish run. This retrieve position should be avoided at all costs.

#4: Winding the reel.

This is the only time that I don’t have my non casting hand on the line. Usually when a fish runs out the line I have out of the reel and I will then automatically switch to playing the fish from the reel. Some anglers will trap the line against the cork with their rod hand (Position #2) and then reel in the slack line to put the fish onto the reel. Unless there are significant snags around your feet I don’t think that this is a good thing to do.
When trying to reel in slack line with the line trapped against the cork two or three potentially bad things happen.

Firstly it can be very difficult to quickly let line slip should the need arise when you are winding in with the reel.

Secondly because you have one hand trapping the line and the other hand on the reel there is no control of the slack line that will all too easily wrap around the rod or the reel and snag.

Thirdly winding with the reel tends to cause the rod tip to bounce and particularly with smaller fish it isn’t uncommon for this bouncing motion to rattle the hookhold lose.

So generally speaking I think that it is better to play the fish with the line unless the fish takes all the line and “put’s itself on the reel”. You can of course , if there is sufficient space, encourage the fish to simply run the line out until it is on the reel and proceed from there.

That pretty much sums up the various and relatively limited different ways you would ever need to hold the line or reel whilst fishing, casting or playing fish.

Problems with the changeover.

It isn’t uncommon for larger fish to strip line off the reel , you are now in position #4 winding with the reel and the fish plunges towards you faster than you can reel in. In this instance (and it is a very common way for people to lose control of and ultimately lose entirely a hooked fish) you should be ready to let go of the reel handle and swap back to positon #3, line hand on the line, rod hand acting as a brake/pulley system. That involves two changes of position, if you use a style that also forces you to swap rod hands at the same time, then you are going to lose control at some point.

There is another option worthy of consideration, particularly with light tackle and that is to never totally give up the middle finger pulley even when using the reel. Just let the line slide through the pulley/brake of your middle finger whilst winding or letting line off the reel. (with heavy gear or a really big fish you can’t do this, you will burn your fingers).

By keeping the pulley/brake in play it requires only that you trap the line quickly and switch to the stripping position by grabbing the line with your non rod hand. Requiring now only one change of position.

 

Setting the drag on your reel.

Most reels have an adjustable drag system and certainly in almost all trout fishing applications there is no need to set this drag tight at all. Personally I think that you should set the drag at the minimum level required to prevent the line over-winding when the line is stripped off fast. Other than that it should be left alone.
In most freshwater situations additional braking can come from either the brake/pulley system of your finger against the cork or through braking the reel with your non rod hand. This can be done by either cupping the exposed rim of the reel or in some cases simply holding the reel handle and winding in reverse if you need to give line.

If you set the drag tighter, what will inevitably happen when you have a fish run is that you rod hand will not be able to maintain enough torque to hold the rod at sufficient angle to protect the tippet. The rod tip will be dragged downwards (towards the fish) the protective angle will be lost and the tippet will break or the hook will pull out. I have seen this happen thousands of times, on the river and on video. If you set the drag tight so that you are not able to hold the rod up (at an angle) you are going to break off almost every good fish you hook.

Other tackle set up issues.

Most fly fishing techniques today, be it dry fly or Euronymphing use leaders that exceed the length of the rod. With that in mind you want the smoothest connection possible. A knot jamming in the guides will surely result in your rod tip being pulled down and risking a break off.  Consider what you can do to get the smoothest transition possible. (See “Super Glue Leader Splice).The same goes for large knots in self tied leaders, particularly those in the butt section which are both larger and more likely to come through the guides during landing of a fish. Get them as small as possible and perhaps smooth them out with UV resin.

All of the above considerations need to be seen as providing seamless and rapid changes of hand positions and line control options during the playing of the fish. Things happen VERY quickly when playing even small fish and sudden changes of what the fish is doing need to be rapidly and easily adapted to by the angler.  (Which to me means that swapping the rod from one hand to the other is a very bad idea).

Outside of the tackle set up there are a few other considerations which may help maintaining control.

The forearm lock

If you can, it is a good habit to get into to hold the butt of your rod against your forearm. It is more easily achieved with a rod with a small fighting butt on it, reel seats tend to hurt when pressed into your forearm.

The forearm lock provides two valuable benefits, it takes a huge amount of pressure off your wrist whilst playing fish, and it prevents loose line jumping around the butt of the rod and snagging.

Side strain:

Maintaining the best rod angle is critical to taking pressure off the tippet/hook hold, but that angle doesn’t need to be in the vertical plane. On the horizontal plane you are not wasting any energy or pressure trying to “lift the fish”. It probably also contributes to keeping the fish “off balance”. In some overgrown streams your only option would be side strain anyway due to overhanging branches, but side strain is a valuable tool in your arsenal.

Netting the fish:

Firstly it is important NOT to reach for the net too early, all too often the fish is not spent, you now have a net in your hands when they should be controlling the line. It is all too easy to lose control like this, and I snapped off a good fish this past weekend making this elementary mistake. Keep the net out of the game until the fish is ready to be netted.
When the fish is ready it should be an easy matter of lifting the fish’s head just out of the water and as it is only capable of swimming forwards you can slide it into the net with one smooth draw, maintaining a high rod angle to protect the tippet in the case of a last minute dive.

Where possible steer the fish to slack water where you have more control and the fish cannot take advantage of the current.
Adjusting line length

There is an ideal length of line to have out when you net a fish, depending on the softness of the rod that will be slightly longer than the rod is. Too much line out and the fish will be short of the net when you try to land it. Too short (a common beginner error) and you are trying to lift the fish out of the water. Set up the correct line length BEFORE  trying to slide the fish into the net. Better still, don’t even reach for the net until you are in that position.

Adjusting the reel drag during the fight.
In fresh water situations I don’t believe there is a necessity to adjust the drag if you have set it up properly in the first place. Cranking up the drag leaves you exposed to break offs during last moment lunges of fish as you are about to net them. With one hand on the net and the other on the rod there is no way of releasing pressure should the fish make a last lunge (and they usually do try to do exactly that). Keep the drag as it was, be ready for that lunge and if necessary just give line and set up to net the fish again.

Planning:

Particularly if you have a good fish in your sights, it pays to plan “What will happen next”. Often we are so caught up in the idea of hooking the fish that we don’t consider what to do once we hook it.

There are two sides to this coin, What you think the fish will do and what you can plan in advance.
In some cases it is obvious that the fish will dive for the undercut or a sunken log or whatever. You can’t always plan around that but you can be prepared for it. You should also consider if your casting position is the ideal landing position and if not be prepared to move as soon as you set the hook. Ideally you will have located slack water with easy access where you can land the fish and be aiming for that from the original hook set. Looking around for a spot whilst playing the fish usually results in loss of control. It is also generally better that you move towards the fish , rather than trying to drag the fish towards you. Oh and do all you can not to let the fish get downstream of you, because then you are fighting both the fish and the current at the same time.

Giving up:

It takes some nerve to do this , but if all seems lost try to immediately remove all pressure on the fish, it is surprising how often it will just stop. You can then potentially get into a better position and recommence the fight.

There may be other considerations I haven’t included, but the above should cover most of the basics and no doubt identify errors that we all make or have made. If you follow all the rules above it won’t stop you breaking off or losing fish, but it will reduce the numbers drastically. In writing this I was actually quite surprised about how many factors there were, I don’t think about them most of the time. It is little wonder that people who have not considered them or not been taught them lose so many fish. We focus so much on casting and fishing, flies and presentations that when we finally hook our prize we find ourselves at a serious disadvantage. So perhaps you can agree, it is worth the effort to think about it, even practice a bit. Drag a weight around on the lawn, practice netting it, practice letting line slide through your fingers or swapping from reeling to stripping. We practice casting so why shouldn’t we practice playing fish.

I hope that this all helps you land more fish, and reduce the frustrations of lost ones in the future.

P.S. If you haven’t read the post on Trout Torque, thoughts on playing fish, I suggest you do read that now, as the two posts go hand in hand when it comes to more effective landing of fish.

The Mother of Invention

March 29, 2018

Necessity is the mother of invention, that’s what I was always told as a child and I suppose that much of my life has been living proof of that adage. I regularly have to solve problems with the tools at hand. It is frequently the case that something crops up for which one was unprepared and “you have to make a plan”..   All too often there is more satisfaction in managing to sort something out than to have it all ready to start with. Not that I am advocating unpreparedness, a little preparation goes a long way (another oft repeated maxim). But there does seem to be a mindset that “I will sort this out” which is beneficial in general and particularly so out on a trout stream.

For one thing, on most trout streams you are a long way from help and a quick trip to your nearest retail outlet isn’t really on the cards, so when things go wrong, which they often do it is the guy who can come up with a temporary solution who will still be able to go fishing.

I am sure that we have all had to make do with mismatched rods and lines at some point, and I have variously sharpened hooks on streamside stones, modified the failing drag on my reel with a bit of plastic or greased my flies with the reel’s lubricant when the floatant ran out.

We have even strapped failing wading boots together with twisted sections of plastic bag, or fixed a damaged net holder with a key ring or a reel seat with a cable tie, and on one occasion managed a spectacular “save the day” repair of a punctured rubber boat with some UV knot sense and a piece of cellophane from a cigarette packet.

But this past weekend I learned a new trick which may prove very helpful to others. We were coaching some junior fly fishing team members and it has to be said that teenage boys are not strong on preparation. We variously encountered all too many problems with lines tangled on reels, non functional drag systems, totally inadequate leader setups and a loose tip top guide on a rod.

So first test was to sort out the rod tip, by heating up the glue with a lighter we were able to easily remove the tip but then to fix it back again. I usually use hot glue to put on tip top guides but that obviously wasn’t at hand in the car park. But by melting some plastic packet and making our own “glue” we were able to secure the problematic ring long enough for the boys to go fishing.

Then came another problem, a leader attached to the fly line with a thin section at the butt, totally un-castable and the leader link was a nail knot. Now I almost never use a nail knot, I can’t remember the last time I tied one to be honest. I generally use a super glue splice to attach my stream outfit leaders, even if I had super glue with me it would be a near impossible task on the bank of a stream. I used to carry spare braided loops for such occasions but they occurred so rarely that I stopped carrying the backups. Now without a loop, or braided connection how to solve the problem and get the angler back out there on the water with a functional leader.

A new leader was found in a pocket but still the problem to attach it to the line. Nail knots are quite fiddly things to do and greatly helped by having some sort of “tool”. It could be the hollow tube of an ear bud, or a nail as the name suggests. Sitting and thinking about what I could use I realized  that the profile of my much loved and never forgotten Eze Lap Model S hook sharpener might be the trick. The sharpener, apart from being excellent at sharpening hooks, something that I do with every new fly I tie on the leader, has a groove on one side. Wouldn’t that be ideal for threading the leader back through itself when completing a nail knot?

And so it turned out, I was able to fashion a pretty neat nail knot with the butt of the new leader and we had a happy angler back on the water. Turns out that three other boys had none functional leaders or connections and in the course of the morning I used the same trick four times to repair or replace leader connections. More nail knots than I have tied in that many years.

So whilst we were teaching the boys, I learned a new trick and isn’t that often the case? We should never stop learning and never stop experimenting, I think that makes for good people and in particular good anglers. Sure it is nice to be prepared, and carrying an emergency kit of a little bit of hot glue, some superglue, a few braided loops and maybe even a spare tip top guide in a small packet might be the way to go. But when things go wrong and you have to choose between solving the problem or missing a day’s fishing it pays to search your brain and your pockets and try to come up with a workable if temporary solution.

 

Prozac for the Soul

January 20, 2018

Streamside Meditation – Prozac for the soul.

I have recently been reading an excellent and newly released book , “Lost Connections” Uncovering the real causes of anxiety and depression-and the unexpected solutions.  (Johann Hari, Bloomsbury Circus, Jan 18)

I won’t go into the details, although that may come in time. What I can do is recommend it to you, whether you think you have ever been anxious and depressed or not. Because it isn’t just about that, it is about considering how our environment and the things that we accept as “normal” in society are most likely making many of us sick.

There were however a number of things in the book which really struck a chord with me, and some of them I think may well say something about why we fish and indeed why we should fish.

Firstly it turns out that there are only two primary motivations that drive us to do anything. What the author terms “Extrinsic or Intrinsic motivation”.

Extrinsic motivation is doing things to get stuff. The science shows that “getting stuff” as a result of your efforts doesn’t provide any long lasting psychological benefit in terms of a sense of well being.  This isn’t some opinion piece, it is backed up by real scientific study. Working like a dog to get that new car will give you a transient boost, but it won’t last. It could even ultimately increase your anxiety when you have to find money for the insurance and worry about scratching the paintwork. And anyway, if you have been seriously infected with society’s extrinsic values, your pleasure will diminish the moment your neighbour gets his bigger and newer model.

On the other hand, “Intrinsic motivation” proved to show sustained results in terms of people’s sense of well being.

My understanding of intrinsic motivation is that it relates to the stuff that you do or achieve simply because you want to, reading a book, writing a letter,  painting a picture, climbing a mountain , going fishing or just standing on a lawn casting a fly line.

Essentially then, something which is worthwhile for the simple sake of doing it, and without material goals or specific payoffs.  Think in terms of children playing, they do this simply for the joy of doing it. Joy it turns out is a word that you don’t hear too much these days and one has to wonder why that should be. Perhaps it is simply because people don’t experience it, a sad but likely truth.

I think that we all recognize at some point that there are (hopefully) things in our lives that are like that. For most people reading this blog almost certainly one of those things is going fishing, (oddly it turns out that for me, writing this blog is exactly the same thing). Most of us don’t expect to get anything out of it. We don’t kill or eat the fish and on the best days it doesn’t even matter if we don’t catch any fish.

I would put it to you that going fishing is a wonderfully intrinsically satisfying pursuit that we all do for little reason other than we like doing it, and we all know inside ourselves that it is good for us. Those who question the validity of our chosen passion, usually with that universal query “what’s the point if you don’t eat the fish” are caught up in societal acceptance of the importance of extrinsic goals. For them there has to be a payoff, a reward, a trophy prize at the end of any endeavor.

I suspect that anglers in general, and to my mind fly anglers in particular, have come to realize that it is the very fact that we don’t take anything which makes it worthwhile. We have discovered for ourselves what Johann Hari has highlighted, doing things we like doing, for little reason other than the fact that we like doing them is actually very very good for our sense of well being. In fact the science suggests that it can have a material effect on our real physical health.

It turns out there are a number of other similar factors which influence how you feel. One of the positive ones is meditation. My limited understanding of meditation is essentially that you clear your mind of all the clutter and I think we all recognize that happens to us when we are fishing.

A negative factor is the effect of unwanted input, mostly advertising, which infects most of our waking hours. The constant chatter that says you aren’t good enough without this, that you can be more successful, more sexy, more admired, less inadequate if you swallow this pill, buy this car, use this cream. In our normal lives, and ever more so with the advent of social media, we are bombarded with messages that try to highlight our flaws and inadequacies in an attempt to sell us more stuff.

If you look at it, most advertising has a negative message, even something apparently as innocuous as the Photo Shopped front cover of a magazine essentially suggests that you are flawed. That your skin isn’t perfect, your waistline too full, your hair lacking luster or perhaps your partner isn’t up to scratch. Even adverts that don’t look like adverts are there to make you feel less than. None of us is immune to it. It is equally pretty obvious that this background chatter doesn’t exist on a trout stream.

 

Finally, another finding, highlighted in this book is the benefit you can gain by “reconnecting to nature” to simply be in a natural space, to breath in its beauty, balance, and connectedness to everything else. Again, that is something that simply “happens” when you are out on the water.

So when you are fishing, you are already doing a lot of the things that are recommended in this book in terms of benefiting your mental and physical wellness, and that is before you factor in the advantages of exercise and clean air. Who would have known?

You are in pursuit of joy, for little reason than it is good for you, you have stilled your mind, or at least focused it sufficiently that you are at peace. You are in direct touch with nature and generally in a large enough space that your ego becomes minimalized by the sheer scale of things. Turns out that there is a lot of scientific evidence that what you do when you go fishing is tremendously good for you.

I can’t tell you how many friends and clients report to me that the time that they spend fishing is the ONLY time that they are not worrying about something else. Work, relationships, money, mortgages, children, and such which tend to clog our minds and cloud our judgement.

I know of a friend from my past, whose wife would make him sandwiches and send him fishing when he was showing signs of being stressed out.  She recognized that he was a happier, healthier person having spent a day on the water and no doubt a nicer person to be around too.

Many of us instinctively understand this to be true, but for some reason it is all too easy to allow the extrinsic motivations that drive modern society to encroach on our reasoning and we find ourselves “Putting off going fishing” for “something more important”. What this book suggests in fairly scientific terms is that, there isn’t much that is rightfully more important.  In fact I think that the next time someone asks me “What’s the point of going fishing” I am going to tell them “The point is that it is very good for me”. What better explanation does one need?

I have often joked, when people ask me about going fishing, that it is “cheaper than therapy”, now I know that not only is it cheaper, there’s a very good chance that it is more effective too.

I have always known that most fly anglers are pretty smart, but who would have thought that we have discovered an “anti-depressant” , that has no known side effects, works better than anything the pharmaceutical giants can come up with, is for most of us, readily available and highly effective?

 

Books from the author of this blog are available for download from Smashwords