Posts Tagged ‘Brown Trout’

Sex with Larger Ladies.

July 6, 2018

 

The diminutive Brown Trout of Devon and Seatrout on the Yealm River.

Having waved my rod at a number of rather pampered fish on the clear waters of the Wylye I was to head South to meet up with Geoff and Paul who specialize in guiding the waters of the Westcountry.  They have been magnanimous hosts in the past, rolling out the red carpet when I call, I have to admit that I have done nothing to dissuade their erroneous interpretation that I am a fly fishing celebrity.. Actually they rather make me feel like one, which is both pleasant and embarrassing in equal measure.

Again, that camaraderie amongst fly fishers comes to the fore, and I can’t tell you how often I have cracked an invitation to fish from the most general inquiry. To be fair, I would like to think that I offer the same and have hosted great anglers and casters in my humble accommodations more than once. It is simply something that fly anglers tend to do and it is a most welcome and joyous celebration of our “oneness”.

For the record, Paul Kenyon and Geoff Stephens run Fly Fish Devon, and offer both tuition and guiding on the rivers of the Westcountry. They are very knowledgeable, particularly with reference to the streams on which they guide and you should look them up if you are in the area or wishing to get some instruction. Fishing these small rivers has a style all of its own and you can learn a lot from these guys.. The link to their website is http://www.flyfishingdevon.co.uk/

So off I set, wending my way down South, the roadways getting larger and larger and then of course smaller and smaller again . Perhaps one can measure the hospitality of people in inverse relationship to the width of their roadways?  Certainly, in my recent experience, the narrower the roads the nicer the people; maybe there is a PhD thesis in there somewhere?

So it was that I booked into the East Dart Hotel in Postbridge, a place pretty much in the middle of nowhere and a hotel in which I had previously stayed, hosted by Rosie and Paul Joynson. Now I really like this hotel, not so much because it is particularly smart, but because it is unpretentious. There were no origami towel rabbits, but there was decent pub grub, a more than adequate breakfast , which I hasten to add I ate with both gusto and a clear conscience. There being no polyvinyl chloride aftermath. The turtles were singing a sigh of relief and I was rapidly climbing the tower of moral superiority after stuffing myself with poached eggs, beans, bacon and sausages.

The Clapper Bridge on the East Dart at Postbridge.

I do have to mention though that I was very keen to give Rosie a “comma” as a present on my departure. The notice in my room read: Well I shall show you.

My mates know me as something of a grammar Nazi pedant when it comes to English, not that I don’t make my own fair share of mistakes. But I was sooooo very tempted to go downstairs and ask Rosie for a towel, suggesting that I had, as instructed, used the one provided to dry my dog..

You will have to forgive me, these things both amuse and annoy me, but I did laugh.

The waters of the East and West Dart were desperately low, and Paul and Geoff advised that I try to fish a bit lower down should I wish to wet a line. I had thought not to , but then watching from the bridge I noticed good numbers of fish , small maybe, but active and interesting to see.

How Small a Trout can you catch without being disappointed? Small brown trout feeding on the East Dart

There was one particularly good fish hiding under some overhanging grass just upstream of the bridge, venturing out from its hidey-hole every now and then to intercept an insect.

As it happens I came across the only two other anglers I met during my stay, relative novices and with apologies I suggested that I may be able to assist them. The first order of business being for one of them to target this large (relatively for this water) trout under the bridge.

Both anglers were called Mark, and that made it easy for me, because I am hopeless with names. So hopeless that I am not entirely sure they weren’t both called “Paul”.. but they were the same, that I remember.

So Mark #1 had a go at the fish below the bridge, spooking it, missing a few tiddlers and then remarkably , and briefly hooking it. I spent perhaps half an hour giving them some advice, which seemed well appreciated, one doesn’t with to foist one’s views on other anglers. And they set off for a night out on the stream. They had apparently stashed their camping gear earlier on in the day.

What a lovely way to fish.

I couldn’t resist and coughed up twelve pounds for a permit to fish what I knew would be for a few hours over tiny fish,  but it was worth it. To date I hadn’t blanked on any river during my stay and wanted to tick off the East Dart, even with a pretty small tick.

I drove a little downstream on the East Dart and fished for perhaps two hours in fading light. The fish were obliging if small and I had a wonderful time. It was quite tricky angling because the water was so low that many plants had grown up in midstream, representing hazards when casting.

John Gierach writes about it this way: “Your stature as an fly fisherman isn’t determined by how big a trout you can catch, but by how small a trout you can catch without being disappointed. “

Apparently then my stature as a fly fisherman grew in leaps and bounds on the East Dart.

East Dart Brown Trout

The next day I was to meet up with Paul Kenyon to fish a section of the Upper Yealm, word was that the water was very low but there were some seatrout in the river.

I met up with Paul after a tortuous and Sat Nav directed drive down the smallest and most serpentine lanes, with the phone declaring at some point that “You have reached your destination” when I knew I had not. But in the end I drove into the pub car park just as Geoff arrived in his Jimny and we were good to go and have a look at the river.

These fish bear spectacular markings

Paul is a real gentleman and despite my protestations refused to carry a rod, (it must be that imaginary and cultivated celebrity status that I have been trying to maintain).

First order of business wasn’t to fish, but to see if we could spot some of the really solid Sea Trout which were languishing in the river waiting for a flood and the opportunity to head further upstream to spawn.

I thought Paul was joking when we started a Monty Pythonesque, slow walk from the middle of the field. The river wasn’t even in sight at that point, but the Sea Trout are so spooky that one has to proceed with extreme caution.

In the end we spotted a few, fascinating things they are, and tricky to see, they barely move, trying to hang on to reserves of energy that they will need to reach the spawning grounds when the rain comes. Fish in a river are tricky to spot at the best of times. Fish that don’t move are near impossible and Paul’s eagle eyes and experience revealed fish that took me minutest to locate.

One can obtain day tickets for the Dutchy Waters from a variety of outlets including the Post Bridge Post Office.

The Sea Trout is an unusual character in that it is exactly the same species as the brown trout which were now fiddling about next to it. They aren’t just cousins but brothers and sisters and Geoff was explaining to me that the Sea Trout have a very positive impact on the brown trout stocks in the river.

Having done some minor on-line research it seems that more female trout head to sea and live an anadromous (migratory) lifestyle. That makes some biological sense as the energy demands on females to produce eggs is far larger than the demand on the males to produce milt (sperm). There doesn’t appear to be any real answer to the question of which trout decide to make the move. There are obviously benefits in terms of better food supply in the ocean and Sea Trout are mostly found in rivers with poor nutrient qualities. But there also great challenges in this migration. It would seem that having essentially two lifestyles within the same species offers some level of protection against a local disaster, where at least some of the stocks are not resident all the time. Of course the larger and better fed females are able to produce a lot more eggs having grown in size, another advantage for the species.

Studies also tend to show that many resident male brown trout will participate in Sea Trout spawning, and it is suggested that those that do are more than likely the progeny of Sea Trout in the first place. Biologically the fish are identical and it appears that there is a sort of continuum where the cross over from Trout to Sea Trout is in a constant state of flux.

It is though thought, that the Sea Trout females make a significant contribution to Brown Trout stocks, which as Paul pointed out, makes it all the more important that returning female Sea Trout are released.

Sea Trout, are simply brown trout which venture out into the ocean in search of better pickings, the original economic migrants if you will. But they have to return to their home stream to breed. Given that they are the same species and that , according to Geoff, the majority of the returning Sea  Trout are female, the local diminutive brown trout males have the opportunity to fertilize eggs from the female Sea Trout. In effect then they wait around for the opportunity to have sex with larger ladies. These diminutive trout who spawn with the large female Sea Trout are apparently referred to as “Precocious Parr”

As a slight aside in his book “Fish that Fake Orgasms, and other zoological curiosities” (St Martins Press: ISBN 978-0-312-37116-6), Matt Walker describes how Brown Trout (Salmo Trutta) and therefore quite possibly Sea Trout fake orgasms. By gaping and faking it they get males to ejaculate prematurely , thinking that they have successfully mated and then the female will move off to look for a better suitor. So maybe those precocious parr are being duped at least some of the time.. an interesting thought.

Some unremarkable footage of me making a hash of things and some wonderful stuff trying to spot Sea Trout in the river. Paul and Geoff are passionate about these fish and their survival and I can clearly understand why. (The last fish caught was successfully released, but with fading light and not wishing to harm the trout I called it a day)

 

It is an interesting evolutionary construct, with some of the population out of the river , they are protected from freak occurrences which may otherwise wipe them out. Essentially the Sea Trout/Brown Trout complex is the absolute epitome of the biological “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket” survival strategy.

So we crept up and were able to see some massive (by trout standards) fish lying low in the stream, they are incredibly tricky to locate, with no movement to give them away. Mind you a missed step or a waved arm and the massive bow wave of “something” tells you that you missed your chance.

In the end I couldn’t resist the temptation to wet a line and catch a trout, I had managed not to blank on any stretch I had fished to date, this was the final hurdle.  I didn’t care how small the fish was, and I didn’t’ wish to disturb the Sea Trout. So I caught a small brown trout and we headed back for a delightful supper in Paul’s garden.

After a most pleasant meal, under the watchful eye of Paul’s most lovely and generous Irish spouse,  we returned to the river. Geoff met up with us and we watched a few more Sea Trout before I let loose on the local brownies. They are tricky to hook but I caught a few and in the end I suggested to Paul that I should stop. The last fish of the day was hooked well back in the mouth and I struggled in the failing light to release it without harm. I figured that it was time. I didn’t wish to hurt any fish and I had caught enough.

We stood in the river, watching the bow waves of the now more active seatrout for a while and I simply marveled at the wonders of the natural world. That is what fly fishing gives me, peace, friendships, and a ringside seat to some of the most wondrous goings on on the planet.  I had my last cast of this trip on the Yealm , with Paul taking video, the Sea Trout waking up, and the songbirds singing a farewell. What better way to spend an evening?

 

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Penpont

June 28, 2018

Penpont on the Usk

Thoughts on fishing, the behavior of trout and people

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

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

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

Parking was inside the tractor yard of the farm

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

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

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

Me: “Fine thanks and you”

Assistant: “Just perfect me’ darlin’”

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

Assistant: “Fresh out the oven love”

Me: “Thank you I’ll take one”

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

Assistant: “Take care now my lover”

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

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

The Penpont Homestead viewed from across the river Usk.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Low water on the Usk

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

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

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

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

Fenni Fach

June 26, 2018

Fenni Fach on the Usk.

 

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

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

The river was low, but pretty as a picture

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

 

 

The Uneducated Trout

December 3, 2013

UneducatedHead

I have on occasion written down, both here and in other scribblings,  my thoughts on selective trout and that supposedly mythical beast the “educated trout”. Of course that has equally led to a level of derisive commentary from some, sufficiently determined argument that can on occasion have me questioning if I have missed the point and simply bought into the concept that fish learn from their mistakes if given the opportunity.

Indeed there was a time when I discussed the idea that there were no such things as selective trout and that the angler’s long held belief was simply an excuse for poor angling ability.. you can get yourself into a lot of trouble making known such thoughts, particularly if you are not careful about who you might offend.

In fact I have of late been reading through an entire book on the subject,  “What trout want, the educated trout and other myths” by Bob Wyatt, (Stackpole 2013) and it makes for some interesting cerebral gymnastics. Trouble is that there are still things that happen out on the river which suggest that fish do indeed become educated.  I don’t believe that they are going to fuss overly that the rib on your March Brown is slightly the wrong shade or that you have foolishly tied in four tails instead of three but fish that receive more angling pressure behave differently to those which don’t,  of that I am pretty darned certain.

Witter River Brown Trout Cape TownEducated or not, the trout on this stream are exceptionally pretty.

Take for example a recent trip to the high country of the Witte River in the Western Cape, a long haul hike up a pretty steep mountain to reach a river that has the longest history of Catch and Release angling of all our local streams. The water is crystal clear, holds relatively few fish and is renowned for being tricky. Personally I don’t think that this river is particularly technically demanding but to be sure you don’t get that many chances at a fish in the course of a day, so errors tend to have a significant influence on your catch rate. Not so much that the trout are harder to fool but more that if you do miss a couple of opportunities  you could easily be making the long walk back to the car with a dry net.

Witte6Into the high country in search of naive trout.

So it was that having not visited this particular watershed for some time and drawn by the lure of complete isolation, quiet fishing time and spectacular scenery I headed off alone, high into the hills.

Now hill country in general and this valley in particular is known for vagaries of weather, it is almost entirely impossible to predict and despite checking the weather forecasts and such one can find local climatic conditions changing suddenly as you gain elevation.

Driving up Bain’s Kloof Pass to the start of the hike into the valley I meandered through areas of complete stillness and the next moment had the car rocking in the gale. In the nearby town of Wellington the smoke from barbeque fires was floating straight up into a clear blue sky, on the pass the trees were bending dangerously as the air funnelled down the valley at near hurricane force.

Adopting the “you are here you might as well fish” mantra of the dedicated angler I headed uphill, puffing and panting to reach the stream. The wind wasn’t quite so bad on the high ground but still represented more than a bit of a challenge, buffeting downstream and into my face.

I am a great believer in the benefits of careful fly presentation, which normally then begets long leaders, small flies and fine tippets, but after a few practise casts it was obvious that such a rig wasn’t going to offer much hope under the conditions. I cut back the leader to around 12’, forwent the benefits of fine 8x tippet in favour of more sturdy stuff  and lashed on a large hopper pattern which when damp could at least be persuaded to cut into the gale and land, albeit with something of a “plop” roughly where I was aiming to throw it.

Witte4At least I got to wet the net.

I fished on, searching likely runs, there were a few hoppers about and the wind should be sending the odd hapless individual into the stream, I figured that I was at least in with a chance of a fish.

This is a notoriously bushy bit of water requiring some pretty gung ho orienteering to gain access to certain parts of the stream. Eventually after much struggling and rather splashy casting I came to a run amongst the bush where a trout held over a flat rock feeding merrily and occasionally coming up to the surface to engulf some tiny morsel. I decided that the hopper and the short leader just weren’t the ticket and re-rigged to a finer set up with more and thinner nylon and set about casting for my prize. The first cast looked good but was ignored by the trout so I changed flies, the second cast was a tad too far to the right and the third ended up with the line snagged in the bush. At some point during the retrieval process the fish must have got a glimpse of me because when I turned around he was gone.

Never mind early days and I pressed on in search of new quarry. The long leader set up really was troublesome so I reverted to the hopper and the shorter stiffer terminal tackle, bashing the fly into the gale in likely looking spots all to no avail.

Then, finally another trout, a big one and holding in the tail out of a long smooth run, feeding quietly in between two tufts of river grass and oblivious to my presence. This time I figured I would stick to the hopper despite the slow flow and made what I thought was a good cast, slightly to my side of the fish and a fraction behind his head. I figured that the “plop” of the hopper would be sufficient to induce him to spin and engulf the pattern. Not a chance, he spun around for sure, had a good look at the fly and bolted for the bankside brush, obviously less than impressed with something, either the fly or perhaps the tippet.

I fished on, things were looking a little grim, on this notoriously understocked river (actually it isn’t stocked and hasn’t been for decades), I thought I might be facing my first ever blank day. I have always managed to scratch a fish or two, even under the most trying conditions. Finally I fooled a small fish, at least the blank was avoided and it heartened me that the small fish was evidence that the occupants of this remote water were still managing to find the odd partner and breed. Most encouraging as their hold on survival is at best a little tenuous.

Witte3I wonder if this fish is now a bit better educated

I hiked higher up the valley, reaching waters that are rarely fished, the flow was becoming minimal and much of the river looked far too shallow to provide trout habitat. By now almost two hours from the car and a long way above where most anglers would turn back I threw the hopper into a shallow run with a slight depression amongst the boulders and got an instant hit. A nice fish and my second for the day. The next run I overcooked the cast, the hopper and the tip of the fly line splashing down hard into the water as the wind momentarily abated and I turned away in disgust at my error. When I turned back the hopper was gone, replaced only with the swirling rings of an obvious take, the ripples rapidly being flattened out by the still onerously strong breeze. I struck late and hooked a really good fish, surprised that it would swallow such a poorly presented fly at all. The next run and another fish, then another. High up in the valley where the angler’s trail all but peters out and where one imagines few ever cast a line the fishing became easy. Presentations, even poor ones frequently resulted in a take. The hopper splashed down, the fish rose up and I took trout almost at will from virtually every piece of water that had a little bit of depth.  After a poor start I ended the day with ten or so wild brown trout, some of pretty reasonable dimension and no doubt could have landed more but for the pressing need to turn tail and head home before it got too late.

Witte2Were it not for the need to hike back I probably could have increased my tally.

In the end I can’t come up with a better explanation of the day other than to suggest that the higher I went and the less fishing pressure the water received the more naïve the trout became. So perhaps “The Educated Trout” is a myth, but if that is the case how do you explain the concept then of the “Uneducated Trout”? Are they not opposite sides of the same coin?  The browns high up in this valley, which one presumes are rarely troubled by anglers machinations were heartbreakingly naïve, foolhardy to a near suicidal level. If I were honest, the only real difference I can come up with is that they haven’t had the chance or necessity to learn better.

For more musings on educated and naive trout, fly casting, fly tying and more from the author of this blog a number of thought provoking and educational titles are available on line and from www.inkwaziflyfishing.co.za

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SnapShots

April 19, 2013

SnapshotsHead

Fishermen I suspect see the calendar a little differently than most; it is Autumn here, well banging towards winter to be honest. The temperatures have dropped and I was up early which means that my feet are chill inside my slippers and it has taken an age for the skies to brighten.

I was contemplating the past year, for most the year starts in January but for me the year starts and ends in May. That is the last of the stream fishing for another season and at the same time the beginning of what one hopes will be some fine stillwater angling.

Come to think of it I was born in May and perhaps that was some sort of evolutionary mandate to allow me as much time as possible to grow before the opening of the season, much as sea birds give their chicks the time to learn to fly before the food source blooms, or Wildebeest time their breeding to coincide with the rains. You never know.

My life and my calendar are defined by fishing, I am not sure that I want it like that so much as that is just the way things are. I was born to fish and whilst I am interested in a lot of things, little or nothing grabs my attention quite in the same way as fly fishing does. So unremarkably the year is remembered in snapshots, moments in time, mostly related to fishing.

AlbumRainbows

The season has been kind, there have been more than a few days of angling, the early forays into the swollen and frigid waters, with some nice rainbows and of course a few tiddlers too. Mind you the tiddlers are inordinately pretty, with blue parr markings, reminiscent of inky finger stains on the flanks of the juvenile rainbows. There were a couple of wonderful browns, a fortunate happenstance courtesy of a damaged screen in a local trout farm a few years back. The browns have done better than anyone expected and packed on weight such that a 20” brown trout is, if not common at least within one’s sights.

AlbumBrowns

The rainbows have managed to breed well over the last few seasons too, plenty of fish to go around and all happily protected by catch and release regulations. They have provided sport for myself and clients alike, and I have been fortunate to be part of the capture of the very first fly caught trout with a number of anglers. There have been a few girls too who have ventured out and caught their first fish, little do they suspect that they may well end up as hooked as the fish were.

AlbumClients

There has been some travel, a trip to the UK to my old stomping grounds for a wedding, and of course a spot of fishing. My brother became betrothed for the first time and I fished a genuine English Chalk stream for the first time too. I met up with old friends, family and some new acquaintances who kindly helped me keep my line wet and fishing fever at bay.  I watched small children catch crabs from “Iron Bridge” which probably represents the geographical start of my love affair with fishing and wandered the West Country to try out some stillwaters and rivers that I had either never fished or only fished years before.

AlbumUKTrip

I walked country lanes and drank real ale in country pubs, thick granite walls, smoke stained wooden beams and roofs of local slate. There were hostelries with names like “The Fisherman’s Cot” and “The Trout Inn” and wondrous ales , my personal favourite being “Doombar” from the Sharps Brewery near Rock.

Memories of endless rain and gloriously verdant countryside, I suppose the two go hand in hand for obvious reasons.

Then there was the Wild Trout Associations festival in Rhodes, a lovely village set in the high country of the Eastern Cape, buckets of water or one should perhaps say “Miles of River” as the water was a bit low on some of the streams and a bucketful might have caused something of a flood. The fishing was however good and I was able to assist some anglers make the most of their trip. It has been a good year all round for the neophytes, with lots of coaching and guiding, some keen little kids and some older fly fishing beginners all getting into the swing of things and catching some trout. It is always a special pleasure to be able to help the newbies.

AlbumFriends

Now the season here is drawing to a close, I have fond memories of fishing on my own on Christmas Day and a trip out with my friend Mike on Good Friday, which was fun until the river turned to chocolate due to out-flow from one of the local trout farms.  Sometimes the opportunity to fish doesn’t present itself as often as one might like but all in all it has been good. The rivers will start to fill now, the night time temperatures are dropping such that the fish will turn their minds to breeding shortly. Just as that happens though the stillwater fishing will come into its own and there is the drift boat fishing to look forward to.

AlbumStillwater2

A chance to drift a lake with the snowcapped Matroosberg as a backdrop, hopefully some larger trout and relaxed angling.

All these things are memories, snapshots of a season passed or almost passed at least. What the future holds who knows but fishing is going to be part of it, that’s for certain.

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How Small a Trout?

November 12, 2012

How Small a Trout:

The title comes from a quotation courtesy of one of my favourite authors, John Gierach:

“Maybe your stature as a fisherman isn’t determined by how big a trout you can catch, but by how small a trout you can catch without being disappointed”

It also happens to be the name of one of my favoured fly fishing blogs “How Small a Trout” at http://howsmallatrout.wordpress.com

But the point was brought home to me on a remarkable day this past weekend where I was able to actually push both ends of the size envelope within the same day, from a particularly large brown to a tiny and totally wild rainbow within hours and not more than a kilometre or two of one another.

I had received a most gracious invitation from Sharland to join her at Fizantekraal Lodge in the Du Toit’s Kloof mountains. The lodge is top notch, with exquisite views, five star cuisine, and of course in this instance most pleasant and entertaining company. The real attraction though, at least for those of us in possession of “The Fishing Gene” is that it boasts three small trout lakes and a section of pristine trout stream headwater. A tiny, distinctly bushed in and closely wooded top section of the Kraalstroom River.

The lake fishing isn’t really my thing, I would have to admit, the dams are too small and the surroundings just a tad too contrived to really sit well with someone who would far rather be on a river or a large expanse of water, bobbing in a boat perhaps or searching the shallows in the hope of finding feeding fish. However on previous visits I had already established a Modus Operandi which makes the fishing considerably more entertaining than might otherwise be the case and Sharland and I have pretty much perfected the technique.

The thing is with these small clear dams and large fish sight fishing is more than simply possible, it is virtually assured. The impoundments despite their small stature contain some really rather large and not entirely stupid fish. They have been stocked mostly in relatively small sizes and grown on without artificial subsidy of diet, they have equally grown more than a little wary of anglers and eschew pretty much any fly or lure that most people would consider standard fare for the lake angler. Woolly Buggers and such are frequently followed but ultimately ignored and the dams therefore provide a wonderful possibilities for experimentation.

Refusal

Even with 7X tippet and #18 dries, refusals prove all too common.

It was on a visit a year or two back when , returning from the stream and under strict instructions from my hostess “Not to be late for lunch” that I passed one of the dams carrying my #3wt stream outfit, rigged with 7X tippet and a tiny #18 dry fly. The story is told in full in a previous blog “Big Fish on fine tippets” . https://paracaddis.wordpress.com/2010/09/20/big-fish-on-fine-tippets/

In short having sighted a fish on my way back to the lodge I couldn’t resist the temptation to take a cast, knowing , or at least mostly knowing that you weren’t supposed to throw such tiny flies on such fine tippet at 2 to 3 kilo trout. It isn’t done; but of course I did it and landed a superb fish. In the following hours and on into the next day we repeated the trick over and over. The fish would be very tippet shy and entirely avoid any moving subsurface pattern but would take well presented tiny parachutes.. It was tremendous fun and afforded the chance to push the limits of what was possible.

In fact those experiments worked so well that on this trip I didn’t venture to include anything heavier than a three weight rod in my gear. I caught some great fish in similar size ranges and a number of “tiddlers” which had entered the lower dams from the river over time. In fact I rarely fished a nymph at all for the duration of my stay but in the late morning I was returning to the lodge again, feeling more than a little dehydrated as it had become really rather hot and I thought that I would enjoy a drink before a planned trip to fish the river in the afternoon.

On the way back there was a sense of De ja vu when there appeared in the shallowest section of the dam a very large fish which boiled at something on the surface. I unhooked the dry on its gossamer tippet, trying to stay hidden behind a large grass tuft I flipped the dry out onto the surface not a few feet from the bank and waited. The trout appeared from behind the grass, a massive brownie, spots showing clearly in the sunshine and a simply huge head, with a seriously kyped jaw, broke the surface and engulfed the fly. It was a heart stopping moment, the mouth was so large that I could easily imagine pulling the fly right out of it and hooking nothing but thin air. Really, it seemed impossible to hook up, as though one had tossed the fly into a fire bucket and was hoping to catch up on the sides. I delayed the strike, lifting firmly but not overly quickly and the next moment there was solid resistance and a huge thrashing of foam on the surface as the trout felt the prick of the hook.

To start with it seemed the huge fish had failed to notice that it was actually attached to the line, he would shake his head from time to time but mostly just moseyed along a few feet out, hardly bothering to take more evasive action. I applied all the pressure I dared, pretty well as much pressure as I could with a #2 weight rod anyway and provoked a considerably more violent reaction, letting line whizz off the reel on occasion and trusting that in the end I would tire the fish sufficiently to land him.  After much delicate toing and froing, alternatively taking in and then rapidly giving back line I netted the fish. It is incredible what can be done on fine tippet if one has a sufficiently forgiving (soft actioned) rod and equally soft hands, ready to give line when necessary. Quite possibly the biggest brown trout I have ever caught, the kudos of the moment ameliorated slightly by the artificial surrounds but equally enhanced by the ultrafine gear that was being used. (#2wt Sage ZXL, 18′ leader to 7X Stroft copolymer tippet)

Brown Trout (mouth size inset), the weight and length estimates only

I removed the hook that was set well back in the giant fish’s throat, actually managing to fit my entire fist into his mouth in the process, a simply massive mouth for a freshwater fish, took a few quick pictures and put him back into the water. Unfortunately he got away from me a bit early before I was happy he was well set and proceeded to dive into a weedbed where I could see him laying, ostrich like,  head in the weeds and not looking entirely OK. He was too far out to reach with the net so stripping myself of my vest, glasses and such I dove into the dam after the fish, hoping to get him back in the net or provoke him into swimming away and driving some more oxygen through his gills. He shot off and appeared to recover fully. Soaking wet I returned, probably a little late for lunch.

Brown Trout Fizantekraal

This fish had been stocked years back as a 350gm baby

In the afternoon I headed up the Kraalstroom, the first section is impossibly bushy and Lilliputian, you wouldn’t swing a mouse no matter his proverbial adversary but as I walked the odd pocket opened up. Each time there was a pocket in the rocks there would be a beautiful wild rainbow trout of between six and eight inches sitting right in the tail-out. The difficulty wasn’t so much fooling the fish as getting the fly into the water.

I contrived numerous casts, variations of switch. roll, flick and goodness knows what else in the tight brush. Casts which may not appear in Gary Borger’s “Presentation” and would probably be righteously excluded from a book with such a title, but I hit the water often enough and each time I did I hooked a gorgeously marked baby trout. Flushed cheeks and classical metallic blue finger shaped parr markings.

Gorgeous little fish, naïve as girls at the school dance and pretty in much the same way too. All dressed up with nowhere to go in the tiny stream. On one occasion, and probably as much through luck as judgement I managed to flick a cast under an overhanging tree, get the leader to settle just before tangling an overhanging bush and as the fly drifted into the shade of entangled herbage a slight flash indicated the take and I hooked into a twelve incher. A monster really from this water and a most satisfying challenge to even get near, I was ecstatic with that result, the fish as deserving of praise and joy as the massive brown of the morning. One fish no more than twelve inches long demanding a dreadfully contrived and somewhat fortuitous cast , the other a leviathan, known of but never or rarely previously hooked in a small dam and landed on the finest of tippets.

Kralstroom Rainbow

Beautifully coloured baby bow from the Kraalstroom.

I have to say that I enjoyed catching them both, each represented different challenges, each had their own beauty, each was a fish and each was caught by a fly angler. My fishing gene obviously doesn’t discriminate, this is an equal opportunity adventure and any fish can join in. As to the title quotation, none of those fish during the course of the day had me feeling the slightest bit disappointed, I was feeling blessed to have received a most kind invitation to fish and revelled in the diversity of it all. Special thanks to my host Sharland Urquhart and to Ryan for providing information on the stream. Ryan informed me later that the brown, estimated at 3Kg on capture had been stocked years back at a miniscule 350 grams..   You can find more information on the lodge at http://www.fizantakraal.co.za/

As with all the posts on “The Fishing Gene”, you are welcome and encouraged to leave comments. Thanks to the regular readers “The Fishing Gene” blog recently passed the 30,000 views mark and hopefully will continue to grow in popularity.

Information on the style of tying the parachute patterns used can be downloaded for FREE from Smashwords in the book “Who Packed Your Parachute” on the link https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/17437

Other books available from the author: Click on the image to find out more:

Red Letter Day

September 18, 2012

After a poor start to the season fishing the remote Witte River in mono-vision, due to the loss of a contact lens en-route to the stream, I decided that the weather was looking good and it was time for me to head out onto the water and, if you will excuse the pun, “get my eye in”.

The weather was perfect with a very slight downstream breeze on the river, the first few runs didn’t show any fish and I switched from a spider to a beetle. Then I spotted the first rise, I have to admit I was somewhat in haste and made the cast from a less than idea position. The fish came up for the beetle but an intervening current grabbed at the leader and drag set in, game over.

I chastised myself for being impatient and carried on up-stream taking more care, slowing down, scanning the water carefully; and then I saw it. The languid rise of a massive trout, bigger than I have seen on these rivers before and quite obviously a brown, even at this distance the spots were easily recognisable, it looked huge.

I watched for a while, and now and then, the brown would put in a spate of rises, each time his tail wagging good-bye well above the water. Large trout head and tailing give away their size from the delay between the break of the surface with their noses and the wave of the dorsal and then tail as they sink back to the depths. This one took an age and was obviously huge by local standards; by most standards to be honest.

After the previous error of judgement I was determined to keep cool and get into position, a practise cast for the distance and I delivered a little olive over the lane in which the fish was feeding. Not a murmur, I changed the tippet down to 7X and pushed the leader to 18 feet long. Another cast and the fly was ignored, so I added a nymph. The tiny brassie which tends to be all things to all fish landed perfectly and drifted back over the fish, but again no response. I feared that I may have put the fish down, despite my care and stealth, I waited, the fish fed in batches, three of four rises in quick succession followed by a pause that had me thinking that he had gone down again, I waited some more and he rose again. A long drawn out languid roll on the surface to something far too small to see..

This time a size twenty ant was affixed to the leader, it is a very good bet when you are stuck and the fish was obviously not eating anything particularly large, this pattern has produced most of my bigger fish on these streams and I was hopeful that it would break the impasse, however two drifts and the ant was equally ignored, not so much as an inspection rise and I was getting stumped. I knew that it was only a matter of time before a wayward cast put the fish down but what to try next?

The fly that eventually fooled the fish was a version of the above pattern.

I tied on a #12 black and red parachute spider pattern sporting long wiggling Coq de Leon halo hackle and lots of life simulating movement. I hoped that perhaps, although much larger than the natural fodder on which this trout was focused, it may trick the trout into thinking a tasty terrestrial had dropped out of the bush representing easy pickings.

The fly alighted without so much as creasing the surface film and drifted down the slow current on the edge of the stream that held the trout, I mended the intervening line upstream to compensate for the different current speeds and the fly drifted perfectly over the fish’s lie. A tilt of his fins and he glided up and inhaled the fly with total confidence, I had to steel myself not to strike too soon, very easy to mistime things with these larger fish, particularly the browns which seem feed with a remarkable lack of haste.

Trouble was that, after setting the hook, the game was far from over, this fish was huge for this stream and pretty close to the limit of what one may hope to land on 7X tippet in relatively high water. He bored away upstream and I kept as much pressure as I dared on him, being forced to give line and then more. Fortunately it was quite a large run and he had space to move without too much risk of finding a hidey-hole.  He got about fifteen metres or so upstream before I turned him but then made a dash for some overhanging bush. I had to hold the rod horizontal with the tip underwater in the hope of avoiding getting snagged. He made a second and third dash upstream, each time the power of his large tail registering in the bend of the delicate two weight rod that I was fishing. It meant that I couldn’t apply a lot of force but equally was protecting that gossamer tippet. The fight seemed to go on for an inordinately long time. Hereabouts for the most part the fight of the fish is short lived, even on light gear but not this time. The line jammed twice along the side of the reel, which I think had been slightly overfilled with backing, a dangerous situation when tied to a trout of this size, but I managed to clear the jam each time and maintain a modicum of control over the fish. After some minutes he was almost ready to come to the net but far too large to be able to lift his head out of the water and I stumbled around trying to get into a good position to net him.

Eventually after what seemed an absolute age with heart pounding and legs shaking I landed my prize, an absolutely gorgeous dark spotted brown trout of 21 inches. Fat as a brewer’s apron and probably touching the scales at around four pounds. A massive fish for these waters, possibly the fish of a lifetime.

I took some photos of him, but of course that is tricky when one is on one’s own and the fish won’t fit in the net easily. The fly in his jaw, about the largest pattern that I generally fish on these waters, looked tiny against the size of the fish’s head and after releasing him I just sat in the early summer sunshine and calmed down.  Not only a fantastic fish but equally only the second fish of the season for me and the first had been spoiled by the monocular vision and lack of control brought on by the loss of that contact lens. What a start to the season. There is little hope of repeating such a capture in the near future. I have fished these rivers for about 26 years and have captured two fish this size before. One a rainbow of 22” and the other a brown of 21” but the brownie had been thin and past his prime, nothing like this specimen. Undoubtedly the heaviest fish I have ever landed from a local river, to be honest I would have been pretty happy to get him out of a stillwater somewhere.

I fished on, even caught some fish,but even the ones that I would have considered large simply confirmed how huge my brown had been. I dropped a rainbow of about 18” later in the day, I didn’t even mind to see her get off, my day was complete and nothing was going to top that experience or detract from it. It had been a red letter day and eventually sunburned and tired I headed home, just hoping that some of the photos had been in focus and that I had a record for posterity.

Note: The Coq de Leon parachute spider is one of the featured flies in my book, “Essential Fly Tying Techniques”,  you can see how to tie it on the following private You Tube Link.

Depth Perception

September 15, 2012

A funny think happened on the way to the river:

This past week my friend Ian Lourens and I headed for the Witte River, high up above the “Bainskloof pass”. It is a far flung spot given to vagaries of weather and wind that are frequently at odds with conditions in close by but different areas, predictions of what to expect are fraught with danger. The stream is notoriously tricky with some gorgeous brown trout, although not many, low numbers of fish contributing considerably to the possibility of getting skunked. In short it is a troublesome stream to fish and arduous to boot.

A gorgeous Witte River Brownie, worth the hike. 🙂

Access can be gained either by a long hike along a jeep track or a short cut straight up the side of the mountain which swops effort for time. You get there faster but more beaten up, particularly as the short cut route doesn’t have a path and one has to bash through brush and deadfall to reach the trail higher up.

I hadn’t fished so far for the season, the rivers had only just opened a week and a half previously and even then, although officially in the frame, they had been actually too high to fish for much of that time.

So I was not well prepared to start with, there is the extremely arduous hike up the mountain to deal with and further walking still to reach the water. It is not too far from an epic adventure and fraught with risk of failure if indeed not personal injury.

I slept little the night before, I had troublesome thoughts that something would go wrong and as a consequence I checked and rechecked my gear, boots, rods, leader and fly boxes, and then stopped the car on the way there to double check.

All was fine and Ian and I met up, switched to one vehicle and headed off, we parked on a remote pass and headed straight up hill, our gear safely stowed in our rucksacks for deployment when we got to the water. (It is a good idea on such ventures to carry one’s fishing kit and change near to the stream, affording one the option of dry clothes, socks and boots for the hike out).

All went well, the hill seemed inordinately steep, but then neither of us was fit after a three month layoff, and anyway the hill really is steep.

At the top we joined the path, level ground pretty much and started to tramp along, joy in our hearts, pleasant thoughts of fish and dry flies filling our minds, and then disaster. I had an eyelash sticking into my left eye and without a thought I brushed it aside, something I have done hundreds of times before. This time, the movement knocked my left contact lens out of my eye and into the bush. It was a most depressing moment, after wearing contact lenses for over thirty years without mishap; here I was on the top of a mountain, brown trout within reach and one eye out of action.

We searched of course, wasting a good half an hour or more on our hands and knees in the vain hope that we might be fortunate, but to no avail, and eventually I thought back to an exercise with a sports psychologist when part of the National Fly Fishing Team. Without going into too much detail we had been instructed to “fish” with completely mismatched tackle and after some fumbling we all discovered that we could prevail. The lesson was that if you are truly good at something you can manage, “make a plan” as it were. Not perhaps perform at one’s peak but at least make do, it was a lesson well learned. Anyway I figured that I should just have to make the most of a bad situation and anyway in the worst case scenario I could provide guiding support to Ian, who was still in possession of all his faculties.

So we carried on along the path, rigged up gear, changed clothing and boots and headed for the water. The oddest thing, I was actually quite capable of casting with reasonable accuracy, although should a branch be in the way it was tricky for me to judge exactly where it was. But I could cast and fish and that was a plus.

Spotting fish was a little more troublesome, one doesn’t realise how much one relies on binocular vision when looking “through” the water, so that was an issue, but the most difficult, in fact the positively dangerous aspect was the inability to walk and to wade.  Depth perception is everything when walking over broken ground, either under the water or not, and my ability to “rock hop” was severely hampered.

After some hiking, wading and falling, (mostly falling), which included a dreadful tumble that ripped off a substantial piece of my thumbnail we actually spotted a fish. I was quite surprised that I could see it at all, but he was there and Ian and I spotted it at the same time.

I really wasn’t feeling too confident and Ian was in pole position so he made the cast for the trout. The fish moved slowly (as only browns can), inhaled the fly and it was game on, a brownie close to 18 inches in the net. Darn we had some success, despite all the troubles and the memories of that psychologist came flooding back again, “you can do it”, “It doesn’t need to be perfect”..

Feeling somewhat buoyed with confidence I took the next run and got a slightly smaller female brown that ran straight into the bushes, depth perception had me thinking that she had some way to go to reach the bank and equally prevented a chase. Ian was dispatched to dig her out of the twigs and our second fish was landed.  Actually during the course of the day I didn’t fish well, it is tricky to spot fish or time the strike with one eye. Ian faired a tad better as one might expect. It wasn’t the best opening of the season I have ever had and the hiking was dreadful, it is simply the most trying experience attempting  to walk on broken ground without the use of both eyes and the walking and wading caused me a lot more trouble than the fishing, even though that wasn’t perfect.

In the end there were two thoughts that were predominant despite having a body that felt as though it had just lost an argument with a Sherman Tank.

You can prevail when things aren’t going right, the wrong line, forgot your favourite fly box etc, don’t quit because you know how to fish so just fish.

The second, more troublesome consideration, having spent the day in two dimensional purgatory, is what would happen to your fishing if you were permanently limited in such a manner?

It really brought home the fact that you should absolutely not fish without eye protection, this was a temporary setback and on arriving home I was able to restore my vision with a spare lens. A hook in the eyeball could mean that every fishing trip thereafter would be like this one, something I don’t wish to contemplate.

Last year I got as close as I ever have to sticking a hook into my eye, a wayward cast combined with an unexpected gust of wind had me dangerously close to being renamed “Cyclops”, it doesn’t bear thinking about.

The River Piddle

August 11, 2012

The River Piddle: Fishing Fellowship Part ll

After the exceptional hospitality afforded me in Tiverton by Adrian Howell and Darren Blackburn I set off on a day trip further afield to meet up with two anglers who once again I had never previously met and who had promised me assistance in accessing some fishing. This was however really rather special for a number of reasons. Firstly Tony King and Richard Slocock operate REFFIS, (Register of Experience Fly Fishing Instructors and Schools), an organisation established to provide a means of identifying quality angling instructors and guides. They also had access to the most Southerly Chalk Streams in the UK, the rivers Piddle and Frome in Dorset. I have actually, up to this point, never fished a genuine English Chalk Stream and was most excited by the prospect. I headed out of Tiverton in the early morning along winding country roads and negotiated numerous complicated sets of that most British of inventions the multiple “mini” roundabout, losing my way on occasion but finally found myself crossing the border into Dorset.

Richard and Tony run REFFIS. The Register of Experienced Fly Fishing Guides and Schools. Click on the image to find a REFFIS guide near you.

It proved an interesting journey and I was fascinated to see how as I moved further East the cottages changed subtly, appearing a tad more cosy and warmer in aspect than the dour constructions of the South West. Obviously this is a primarily the result of the use  of different stone, these older villages having been built using whatever materials were local. The cottages of Cornwall and Devon frequently manufactured from granite blocks and with local slate roofs having a cold and somewhat forbidding outlook, as though permanently huddled down against the wind and rain. The Dorset houses fashioned from lighter and warmer looking stone and generally topped with thatched roofs appeared much less dreary and welcoming in some way. The change in archictectural styel providing an interesting diversion as I motored past the parking for the Olympic Sailing events being held at Weymouth.

True to his word Tony was waiting for me at Lawrences Farm, Richard’s home in Tolpuddle, and first order of the day was coffee and some fly fishing chatter in the kitchen. There could be little doubt that there is a brotherhood amongst fly anglers as we settled in easily to discussion of fishing, guiding, REFFIS and the pro’s and con’s of instruction. It is rather like suddenly finding others who speak the same language and with communication barriers removed one settles into familiar conversation like old friends despite the newness of the acquaintance.

I spent some time with Tony on the lawn, casting various rods and going through the paces of an assessment to insure that I could actually cut the mustard when it came to fly fishing and the instruction thereof. It is interesting to see how different people approach fly casting instruction and although we didn’t entirely see eye to eye on the best means of transferring such knowledge it was equally apparent that we both knew what we were up to and agreed on all the more important aspects. So having passed muster it was time to head out to a beat on the Piddle for a spot of fishing. The weather wasn’t as kind or unkind as it might have been, a little gray and windy but at least not pouring down and we found the stream flowing strongly and crystal clear.

Tony King fishes the Piddle near Tolpuddle.

Tony proved to be a mine of information, instructing me on such gems as the traditional explanation that the many towns in the area, Tolpuddle, Afpuddle, Briantspuddle, Puddletown and the like had indeed been “piddles” in the past, the names changed to avoid causing affront to visiting royalty at some point in time.  There is apparently little evidence that this is truly the case but it is a nice story. The River Piddle however remained such and looking at the crystal water and waving weed fronds of this glorious little gem of a stream it was quite obvious that any association with bodily functions or sanitarywares was purely coincidental. Ref: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/River_Piddle

Tolpuddle is equally famous for the Tolpuddle Martyrs, a group of 19th century farm labourers who formed a friendly society in protest of the reduction of their wages. The Combination Acts which made gathering for such purposes had been repealed and the formation of Trade Unions was no longer illegal but the martyrs were prosecuted under an ancient law with respect to the swearing of secret oaths and ultimately sentenced to seven years transportation to Australia. They became popular heroes and 800, 000 signatures were collected demanding their release. Supporters organised a political march and eventually their sentences were overturned and they were released some two years later. Ref: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tolpuddle_Martyrs

With history put to one side Tony and I focused then on the fishing. The Piddle at this point is a narrow if frequently deep stream, and “lightly keepered” which means that it doesn’t sport the overly mown and tended lawns of some of the more famous chalk streams, it also and importantly remains un-stocked and hosts native brown trout . In fact the bankside herbage was more than averagely unkempt due to the heavy rains which had made grass cutting impossible in the preceding month, which made stalking and casting more tricky than it might have been, but the fishing was no worse for the challenge.

However conditions left us battling an unruly and troublesome breeze attempting to land flies in a fast flowing stream which in some parts was only a few feet across. Tony I have to confess was far better at spotting the trout than I was, but we did get to target some specific fish under tricky conditions and in time I had my first genuine wild native brown trout on the bank.

The chill wind and damp conditions were not conducive to insect hatches and the better fish fell to nymphs, I was sure that we could have caught more with a long rod and some weighted Czech nymphs but I don’t think either of us really considered this as a righteous option on such a spectacularly gorgeous stream. I think that we spooked more fish than we caught but it didn’t matter, we caught and release a number of trout, a few of good size and were more than happy with our efforts. On the walk back to the car Tony spotted a large Pike holding in the clear water, I suspect they he was already planning to come back and remove this predator at some point in the near future.

Tony with a gorgeous native wild Piddle Brownie, you can click on the image to go to Tony’s website.

The drive back to Tiverton was briefly interrupted for us to share an ale at a roadside pub before we bid one another farewell and went our separate ways but I am most thankful to Tony and Richard for affording me the opportunity.  Fishing on both the Piddle and Frome can be organised through Richard and information on these lovely and reasonably priced waters can be obtained from http://goflyfishing.co.uk/ If you find yourself in the vicinity of Dorset I can heartily recommend that you give these lovely streams a try and if you are particularly fortunate you may be able to arrange for Tony to guide you. The images above provide links to REFFIS and Tony King’s Website.

Many thanks to Richard and Tony for the opportunity, two more anglers who selflessly contributed to my most enjoyable holiday.