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.

 

 

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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.

Abernant

June 19, 2018

Day Two Abernant

The missing boots are on their way, confirmed by message from DHL, so hopefully today will be the last slipping and sliding all over the rocks. As things turned out, troublesome as it was, I did manage to stay upright for the day. My back feels as though I spent the day on a physiotherapist’s “wobble board”.

So today the designated beat was Abernant, with the low water the two main Salmon pools looked ideal runs for some dry fly fishing, all that was needed was a decent hatch of fly and the chill east wind seemed to put the mockers on that.

The path down to the Abernant Beat

 

I persevered with dry and dry and dropper for some time, taking the odd small trout that had risen within range, but there wasn’t much top water action. Eventually I re-rigged with a Euro-Nymphing line and leader, and fortunes changed immediately. A run which I had fished with a dry and a dry and nymph combination failed to produce anything and convinced that there had to be fish in there I switched tactics to a Euro-nymph set up with immediate results. Four small trout in four casts followed a few casts later by a decent grayling.

Moving on upriver, more laminar flows with the odd small fish rising occasionally, back to the double taper line, long leader dry fly and small nymph, and a couple of small trout taken on an olive parachute. I like that sort of fishing, I like casting, but it wasn’t producing the goods so back to the Euro  outfit at the next run and again success.

In the end I stuck to the Euro-nymphing thing, it isn’t my favourite but it was all that was producing fish. A good many small trout the best no more than 12” long and some reasonable grayling.

By day’s end, or at least when I decided to quit I had landed some 30 trout, but mostly small ones and 20 odd grayling a little larger on average than the trout with the best probably about 14” long. Not as large as a couple from yesterday but pleasing none the less.

An Abernant Grayling

 

An interesting thing was that I wasn’t doing that well on the Euro outfit either until I decided to add a much smaller nymph to the mix. The tiny perdigon accounted for the vast majority of fish, both trout and grayling.

 

These simple nymphs produced the most fish.

The gravel river bed meant that it was hard to get the flies down on the bottom, I have seen this before fishing in New Zealand. Where there is little obstruction to slow the flows the buffer zone where the fish can hold and feed is hard on the bottom and you need more weight than you might think to get the flies down there.

I covered a lot of water and worked hard, switching tactics and flies as the situation demanded but by far the most productive set up was the nymphing outfit.

The weather hasn’t been bad but there is a chill wind and the water levels are low too, something is restricting the hatches and it could simply be that low as the water is, it is equally cold water. I may try staying out on the water later to see if things change in that department.

For now though, I have had some fun and caught some fish, landed some graying which was akin to a goal on this trip and although one always thinks one could have done better I am far from displeased.

My accommodations at Pwllgwilym Cottages is really nice and the “Traditional Welsh Breakfast” proved to be more than I can eat in one sitting. I have ordered simple poached eggs on toast for tomorrow.  (It did cross my mind that I could claim to be fattening up for additional stability in the river, but a somewhat lame excuse, some moderation will be in order for breakfast tomorrow)

I like to try “local” cuisine” where I am, I think that is part of the experience. But this breakfast was too much, I thought I was going to burst at the seams.. Fantastic but too much for me!!

I have also ordered breakfast for later in the morning as I intend to wait a while and see if those cursed boots arrive. It may be the ideal opportunity to be on the water late into the evening.

It is only day two and I have already enjoyed myself immensely, it really is something of a privilege to be able to access such water and really rather easily too. The accommodations I would recommend to anyone and although the weather isn’t exactly playing ball it could be a lot worse. On the stream today the position of the flotsam from previous floods shows just how high the water can get, so low is perhaps difficult but certainly better than the alternative.
Actually the rivers are low,  don’t know how that can be, it hasn’t really rained but I haven’t seen the sun either.. Heavy mist most days with the odd spattering of rain, obviously not enough to keep the rivers at their best.

Hope springs eternal and I am enjoying my stay…

 

 

Craig Llyn

June 19, 2018

River Wye Day One…. Craig Llyn

This morning I was in Cornwall and this evening I bed down in Mid-Wales after an uneventful 4hr trip focusing more on the road signs than the scenery. I left early so that I might slot in some fishing time in the afternoon. All (or as you will see later, mostly) going according to plan.

There seems to me to be an inverse relationship between the width of the roadways and the quality of the fishing. Some of the best dry fishing I have ever experienced has been on the Bokong River in Lesotho, where one travels until the road stops and is replaced by donkey track

On this trip I started the day driving down narrow and leafy lanes, before negotiating the ubiquitous curse of British roadways, damnable and confusing mini roundabouts. Then onto duel carriage ways, then motorways, speeding along the M5 and M4, crossing the impressive span of the Severn Bridge and eventually ended up back in much the same sorts of narrow leafy lanes I had started with. Even then, each small town still sports at least one multiple mini roundabout, just to keep visiting drivers on their toes. I am currently working on the hypothesis that quality country living can be determined by the Mini roundabout/Country Pub ratio. As I ventured further into Wales the pubs were winning hands down, from my perspective a most cheering thought.

There are some similarities between Cornwall and Wales. Both peoples Celtic and both fiercely proud of their heritage. The Welsh have done a better job of preserving their language than have the Cornish , and each road sign requires a second take as directions are in both English and Welsh.

If you wonder how to pronounce any of the names in the native tongue whilst driving, you are liable to lose concentration and come to a sticky end at the next mini-roundabout. (As an example, my destination ” Pwllgwilym Cottages”, is apparently pronounced something like ‘Poff Gwillam”, meaning  “Gwillam’s Pond” as best I can understand.) Having spent a good part of my life trying to get a grip on the Afrikaans “G”, I don’t see myself learning Welsh any time soon.

Try reading this whilst whizzing around “Mini” Roundabout.

It is self-evident that back in the mists of time the Romans never held sway over the Celtic nations, the complete lack of any sort of straight roadway being proof enough. The lanes wend and wind around a hotchpotch of apparently randomly shaped fields, ancient boundaries of farms and homesteads that have been in existence for hundreds of years.

In Cornwall many of the boundaries would be demarcated with dry stone walls, whilst in Wales profligate hedgerows serve to mark out territory and of course keep the sheep where they are supposed to be (Sheep rarely stay where they are supposed to be even then)..

Green Fields and prolific hedgerows.

 

I drove along these tiny country lanes marveling at the scenery and the lovely natural stone cottages along the way, the greenery is only broken by the white dots of wandering sheep, it is too beautiful for words, enough so that even the drizzle failed to curb my enthusiasm. Even the next mishap didn’t really deter me too greatly.

Now for the “hiccup”: (Fishing trips, like Weddings, always seem to include at least on hiccup).
On every beat description of the Wye there are dire warnings that you MUST have studded and felt soled boots and I purchased some from Sportfish specifically for the trip, couriered overnight to Cornwall.. I don’t like or use studded boots at home, but the warnings were so dire (capitalized and in parenthesis) that I had decided it would be foolhardy to ignore them.

Now when I left Cornwall this morning my “little voice”, which is generally reliable if unspecific with regards forgotten gear, was telling me I was missing something and I wracked my brains to no avail. Eventually putting it all off to “road trip paranoia”. However no sooner had I arrived at Pwllgwilym Cottages and started to unpack the car when I realized the error. I was in Mid Wales whilst my newly purchased boots, with the prerequisite studs and felt soles, were still drying out, 200 miles away in my brother’s garden in Cornwall. 😦

Not good and I was faced with the choice of risking life and limb wading in my shoes or skipping the fishing. I had already glimpsed sections of the Wye and there was no way I could delay wetting a line,  so risking life and limb was really the only choice.

I did battle to wade and wasn’t able to fish the way I normally would, but that notwithstanding, I did manage to catch about a dozen grayling (the goal of the trip in many ways). In fact I got one of close to 2lbs I would think, and I was well pleased with that. They are tremendously pretty fish with bright red fringes on the massive dorsal fin which they use like a sail when fighting in the current. Gorgeous looking fish, and alas I shall have to delay posting this because on top of the boot saga the camera went on the blink and I was unable to take a picture. I shall hope to do so shortly, but of course we all know that when the camera is working the fish won’t be biting. I can only promise to do my best when the opportunity arises and if all else fails I shall have to take the cell phone with me on the water..

Finally a picture of a grayling.  The Latin name is Thymallus thymallus  because they supposedly smell like the herb. Had the originator been trying to photograph them instead of sniffing them they would have been called “Slippery slippery”..

I shall have a day more on the water without the correct footwear, but the family have already been instructed to courier them up to me (Hang the expense) because I need them badly. Tomorrow I shall be on another beat and will no doubt be staggering about or trying to fish the runs from the bank, not ideal but with good fortune the boots should arrive by Tuesday morning and then I will be good to go.

An interesting aside though, forced to fish without the prerequisite boots and the mobility that goes with them I had to adapt. Firstly very little Euro-nymphing  because it was not easy to wade deep enough for that. Secondly , because I was frequently out of position I was required to do a lot more mending of the line and curve casting than I might otherwise employ. In the end I suppose it was an exercise which is of value, no matter that it was born of error and frustration. Back home anglers and clients who find it difficult to wade make the same errors, trying to fish from the same position instead of moving to get better angles and more control.

Today I felt for those anglers , because I had become one of them, being forced to make difficult presentations where a move to a different location in the river would have made things simple, the ability to move and choose the best position for each presentation is a skill well worth learning and the troublesome footwear forced upon me highlighted that point with glaring clarity.

Tomorrow will be more of the same no doubt, but at least that first rush of overly hurried preparation and excitement will have abated and I should proceed with more focus and at a more leisurely pace on day two.

For now it is time for some pub grub, a pint of ale and a restful sleep in the absolute quiet of the Welsh hills. I shall have sweet dreams I am sure, (probably interspersed with short nightmares about missing boots).

 

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.