Posts Tagged ‘Tim Rolston’

Fishing with Angels

July 4, 2018

Fishing with Angels, two evenings on the Wiltshire Wylye.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Peter Hayes targets a rising fish on the Wylye

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Peter Hayes with a fly caught dace on the Wylye.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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A Journey to Stoford

July 3, 2018

A journey to the Swan at Stoford.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This dichotomy between standards seemed to plague the place.

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dear Guest

BATH AND HAND TOWELS

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

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

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

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

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

With thanks Management.

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

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

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

Cefnllysgwynne

June 28, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Pwllgwilym Cottages

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

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

 

Penpont

June 28, 2018

Penpont on the Usk

Thoughts on fishing, the behavior of trout and people

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

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

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

Parking was inside the tractor yard of the farm

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

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

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

Me: “Fine thanks and you”

Assistant: “Just perfect me’ darlin’”

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

Assistant: “Fresh out the oven love”

Me: “Thank you I’ll take one”

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

Assistant: “Take care now my lover”

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

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

The Penpont Homestead viewed from across the river Usk.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Low water on the Usk

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

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

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

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

Fenni Fach

June 26, 2018

Fenni Fach on the Usk.

 

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

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

The river was low, but pretty as a picture

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gromain

June 25, 2018

Gromain and Upper Llanstephan.

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

The Llanstephan suspension bridge makes for a fairly substantial landmark.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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.

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.