Posts Tagged ‘Tim Rolston’

Gates

October 4, 2019

I have found over the years that most fly anglers, and certainly almost all good fly anglers have this intense curiosity about them. People who are interested in “stuff”, usually not only fishing “stuff” but all “stuff”.

Fly fishing is demanding of this sort of thinking. “What insect is that?”, “Why are the fish over there?” or even “Why am I getting knots in my leader?”. Fly fishing, once the basic mechanics have been mastered, becomes very much an intellectual pursuit, a game of watching and learning and experimenting. Essentially puzzle solving on the water is what it comes down to.

Whether fly anglers become like this as a result of fishing, or whether fishing appeals to them because they already have these traits, is hard to know. Personally I would guess the latter, but you can’t be sure.

Combined with this interest in things and solving problems, fly anglers are for the most part pragmatists, fly fishing gear of itself is about as simple as you can make things and still be effective. Tenkara for example is little more than “stick and string” fishing, but effective none the less.

If you have spent any serious amount of time wandering waterways you will have encountered more than once, “The farm gate”..  They really have quite simple purpose, to keep animals in whilst allowing people to pass by.

Elegant and simple wooden slide bolt gate.

Farm gates fascinate me, if they are well designed and easy to operate you may very well take virtually no notice of them, but in reality they are superbly functional things and come in a wide variety of types and they can be found almost everywhere that people walk or fish on agricultural land.

This modern gate closure may be functional but to me lacks the elegance of older “hand made” contraptions.

Because of the need to control the movement of agricultural livestock has been around for centuries there are numerous examples of different solutions. A childhood riddle of “when is a gate not a gate, when it’s ajar” might be amusing but there are gates which can never truly be open or shut.

Kissing gates are common throughout the UK and provide easy thoroughfare and the opportunity for a little romance too.

Kissing gates, of which there are numerous examples in rural England and in particular the walking paths of my home county of Cornwall offer an ingenious solution to the problems of access and livestock control. These gates require one to only get half way through before having to swing the gate to exit. There are no locks or other contraptions, people can pass by with minimal trouble whilst animals can’t. Usually there is only space for one person at a time and thus you may well find your paramour temporarily stranded on the other side. It is at this point that one is supposed to grab a quick kiss, hence the name.

A stone stile on a dry stone wall, a design as old as the hills, durable and functional.

There are other “gates” which aren’t really gates at all and yet in many ways fulfill the same purpose, the ancient concept of the stile. Stiles again come in various formats, wooden ones, ladder like constructions, Cornish stiles and wooden and stone stiles.  There are also squeeze stiles known variously as “Fat Lady Stiles” in some parts and in other counties to avoid gender conflict “Fat man’s agony”.

 

A stone squeeze style. As simple as you can get, but a reminder to watch the waistline.

What they in effect manage to provide is easy access over a barrier, usually a wall or fence for bipedal hominids whilst preventing animals from doing the same. Stiles have been around for a long time at least since the 1500’s, the name is Anglo Saxon. Many are remarkably elegant solutions to the perennial animal control problem.  There were many lovely examples of stone and wooden stiles on Dartmoor where we fished the Commonwealth Championships a few years back.

A ladder stile over a dry stone wall.

Here in South Africa many “gates” are little more than interruptions in the fence, where wire loops allow temporary dismantling and reassembly when one wishes to pass through. A good farmer can manufacture any number of different gate closures using little more than wire. It isn’t uncommon that one of the problem solving questions of a fishing trip is how to actually “unlock and lock” a gate.

A simple sprung metal gate closure, common on many gates.

To try to prevent the accidental leaving of gates ajar many have some sort of self-closure or locking mechanisms. They are universally simple and durable systems, perhaps a block and pulley with a weight closing the gate, or a spring doing the same job.

Wooden stile over a wire fence, much better than snagging your waders on the barbed wire.

Perhaps it is what farmers do for entertainment during long winter’s nights, design and weld up new gate closures? But they are a fascination for me and something that adds to my day when out fishing new water. I wonder if you every really take notice of just how many different ones there are?

Finally, a particularly elegant mechanism from a farm gate on the Penpont Beat of the Usk, it was this one that got me thinking about gates all over again.

Opening the Account

September 5, 2019

Wednesday was September 4th , four days into the river trout fishing season in these parts. It was the first time that I could get away to sample the stream and hopefully catch the first trout of the 2019/2020 season.

Waiting three days to test the waters wasn’t simply a result of lack of resolve; other factors and commitments had to be taken into account. On Sunday 1st September, a significant group of fine anglers gave of their time and expertise to assist with a project to introduce kids with various degrees of Autism/Asperger’s syndrome to fly fishing.

The event was held at the lovely and user friendly fishery at La Ferme just outside of Franschoek . That so many gave of their time, tackle, flies and expertise to assist these kids in enjoying a day in the outdoors is testament to the selflessness and humanitarian ethos of fly anglers . All the more so because it was the first day in three months that they would have been allowed to get out on the streams themselves, but rather chose to use their time to participate and make a special day for the children.  

The day was a success, with the kids getting very excited about catching trout and perhaps more importantly letting them go safely. As the day progressed and the anglers assisted the kids in catching fish cries would ring out as another trout was hooked and kids would descend on the angler to grab the rod and play the fish to the net. Other’s seemed to designate themselves as “fish netters” and would race about, net in hand to scoop up the fish before the “fish handlers” would unhook the fish and send them safely on their way.

Carla-Mari and her brother Iain came all the way from Swellendam to enjoy the day.

There is something quiet special about watching these children, who see the world a little differently to most of us, showing respect and empathy for the fish. There was no abuse, the fish were handled with due care, explanations about how to wet hands, hold fish and release them were all understood and followed. Sad really that these special needs children can understand a message which some fully functional adults seem unable to grasp.

To witness the sheer delight of these children in holding another living creature in their hands marveling at its colours, its vitality and appreciating the natural wonder of it all was something quite special.

Non of the kids had ever tried fly-fishing previously

Thanks to Roland Oelofse for organizing the day and to all those anglers who gave of their time, on what to us is a special day in itself, to assist.

Anyway, that was one reason I didn’t hit the streams on the 1st and some work commitments got in the way on the 2nd and 3rd too, so it was that my very good friend Peter and I crossed out a page in the diary to go and sample the waters on Wednesday.

There had been some question as to the water levels after winter rains, it can be too high to fish on opening day but as things turned out the rivers were more than fishable although of course much higher than they will be during the summer months.

The day dawned bright but distinctly chilly and the river water was cold, the light breeze colder still and cutting into one like a knife where damp clothes and chill breezes combined to drop one’s core temperature with frightening rapidity.

Peter Mamacos prospects a chilly run in the early morning

In these parts for the most part we wet wade, waders are something of an unnecessary encumbrance most of the season, in the early days though it does make for a less than comfortable angling experience. We , for the most part simply accept that and get on with the business of finding fish.

Turns out that the trout weren’t that hard to find and we both captured our first of the season in short order, floating Elk Hair Caddis patterns through some likely looking pocket water. Then we came upon a trout feeding busily in a swirling pocket but he didn’t take notice of the caddis patterns.

A little further observation revealed large numbers of Net Winged Midges hovering, as they do, just above the surface. Out with one of my favoured patterns, a fly originally conceived to imitate these very same midges although one which has shown far broader appeal than that over the years. The CDC soft hackle midge pattern seemed inordinately small and insignificant to be casting into what was still a fast flowing and chilly springtime stream. But having watched the behavior of the fish I was convinced that this would be the ticket to success.

I tied on a tiny #18 soft hackle to a two foot 8x extension of the leader behind the elk hair. I often fish this pattern with another dry fly to assist in locating it on the water. The very first cast with the new pattern and the fish took before promptly entangling the leader in some overhanging twigs and breaking off. But we now had a working fly pattern which would see us right throughout the remainder of the day.

Time and again the midge outfished the larger Elk Hair

 

In some places we simply drummed up a fish, very occasionally on the Elk Hair but far more often the midge pattern. In other locations, in general more peaceful flows and laminar flats, we found fish rising and again a well presented midge would be the ticket every time.

I have written about this pattern more than once and it still surprises me how effective it is; a twist of fluff on a tiny hook which frequently proves more effective than lovingly fashioned and artistically superior flies which take far more time to manufacture. It is a go-to pattern in the tricky low water conditions of summer, but remarkably it was as effective now in the fast flowing chill of a spring time run. Any questions as to the acuteness of trout vision are laid to rest, if the fish can see this diminutive pattern in fast flows they can see a lot more than the average angler can.

Peter with a nice plump fish to open his account for the season

So it was that we progressed upstream, taking fish with reasonable regularity and getting out of the water at times to try to warm up. Tying on a #18 midge to 8x tippet with numb fingers is a tricky proposition.

By day’s end I was cold, tired and sore, back muscles ached from exertion and chill, knee joints complained about all the wading after a long layoff but we caught some great fish, lost a few, as one always seems to, but neither of us seemed that rusty and we fared well on the first day out.

The fish were obliging and once the sun warmed us a bit it was smiles all around

So we have opened our account and shall look forward to more fish and warmer days, as the season progresses. After all that time in hospital I was only too glad to have managed to get on the water and shall hopefully have many more days out there, trying to work out what the fish are up to and catching a few of them.

Many thanks to Peter, a great and selfless angling companion, for his company and for sharing his lunch. Here’s to many more successful outings.

One, Two, Three

August 31, 2019

I am not sure if it is because the movies always show lots of casting or because art directors love the idea of the line whistling through the air. But it seems to me that much of the casting one sees on video is absolutely excessive. Perhaps it is genuinely because casters enjoy casting or maybe they don’t believe that they can get to a target without all this rod waving. But darn it I find it frustrating.

Chasing trout in clear water casts should be kept to an absolute minimum

 

I just watched some fantastic footage of guided fishing in New Zealand, dozens of great fish in crystal clear water eating for the most part dry flies. Good guiding and spotting from the guide and one imagines a relatively novice angler. I am not going to provide a link; that could be seen as offensive, and it isn’t my goal to embarrass anyone.

 

But hell I was getting really frustrated watching it, I had to cut the video up into smaller pieces and return to it later. Fish that were frequently no more than two rod lengths away and one, two, three , four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten false casts to get the fly to the fish. All the while me shouting at the screen, “Just let the bloody thing go”… !!!

Art directors love false casting, but that isn’t what you want to be doing when fishing.

Yes they were using the excuse that it was a bit windy, but really, all the more reason to cut down on the rod waving.

This is perhaps one of the key signs of a good caster, that they don’t take multiple swings to hit a target. All of us can, even when casting less than effectively, reach a moderately close target with a cast or two

When I am teaching I emphasize a number of issues, “improvement should come at the same time as less effort” and as important “you should NEVER make more than three false casts (actually that isn’t true, but the times when one may wish to make multiple casting strokes are extremely limited)

If you are making too many casts you are spooking fish and in the aforementioned video, one would have to wonder how truly difficult this fishing is. Yes the fish were big, the guiding, from what I could see was top notch and the water crystal clear. But I have to tell you that in my home waters you make that many casts that close to a fish (a fish much smaller than these NZ browns) and your quarry would have scarpered well before you finished with the wand waving.

Tough low water conditions on the Bokong River, success required quick accurate casting to very spooky fish.

False casting is a curse, and it is very easy to simply get into the habit of it, too many videos show inordinate numbers of false casts. Perhaps, as mentioned above, people think that it is pretty, or artistic, or (my personal gripe) “an Art Form”. It isn’t it is physics and more to the point, wastefully excessive casting doesn’t catch fish. The fly works when in the water not in the air and even if you don’t scare the fish off, you are wasting valuable fishing time.

So a couple of points about false casting that one should consider.

  • A good caster can throw an entire line in three casts, stream fishing should rarely require more than two.
  • The first cast at a fish is ALWAYS your best shot; the odds of success reduce exponentially from there.
  • Casting isn’t fishing, certainly I like casting, I spend a lot of time practicing and playing with casting, but delivery of the fly to the fish as quickly and unobtrusively as possible is the goal when actually on the water.
  • You will find that you can cast a lot less than you think to reach most targets.
  • You will also find that if you have developed the habit of multiple casts it is just that, a HABIT, and not necessary or effective.

 

Some pointers in terms of reducing false casting.

  • Simply try not to, most people don’t get any more distance from multiple casts then they do from few.
  • Multiple casts are often little more than a habit.
  • If you lose control dump the cast and start again rather than try to rescue it
  • Hauling will assist in reducing casting strokes
  • As will shooting line both on the back cast and forward cast, if you don’t do this then practice it.
  • Trust your loop, if you are throwing good tight loops you will be amazed at how far they will travel with little effort.
  • In a headwind cast upwards behind you and downwards on the forward stroke, many anglers imagine that they can’t cast into a wind, but the real problem is that they simply aim too high and the fly blows back

 

Five essentials.

Finally, Bill Gammel’s five essentials of fly casting again come into play, as they do with almost all casting.

  • Eliminate slack line, that means start with the rod tip low and keep a tight line throughout the cast. Slack is inefficient simple as that.
  • Track the rod tip in a straight line, again it is the most efficient means of transferring forward momentum to the line cutting down on the need to cast more
  • Stop hard and pause at the end of each stroke to allow the line to unfurl, (if you don’t you effectively have slack again). A hard stop on the forward cast will transfer the energy most effectively cutting down on the need for additional casting strokes.
  • Smooth acceleration, longer smooth accelerating strokes will see the line sing out with very little effort or force required.

Carl McNeil provides some of the best casting demos on line, Clear descriptions and good photography.

You can learn a lot from YouTube, there are some excellent casting videos available on line, but there is also a lot of rubbish. Carl McNeil’s video clips to my mind being some of the best. It might be fun watching “shadow casting” in “A River Runs Through It” but that doesn’t represent efficient or effective angling.

Circling the Drain

July 22, 2019

Circling the Drain:

I am going to warn you from the start, this isn’t an entirely happy story, and it doesn’t have a great deal to do with fly fishing either. That said there is a happy ending and that happy ending has a LOT to do with fly fishing, or at least a lot to do with the type of people who enjoy fly-fishing, (perhaps are obsessed with fly-fishing would be a better term). It also contains some fairly gruesome images (you are warned) , in compensation there is an image of a real angel at the end to cheer you up.

You see, approximately six weeks back I was battling a cold or perhaps flu, ( I don’t like to use the term flu because then you get all that “man flu”, feminist rubbish that boys cry when they sniff and this turned out to be a lot more serious than that), but anyway I had a cold.

It started about ten days before we were due to fly out on a holiday to meet up with my family in the UK. A reunion of sorts, and an opportunity for my partner Leonora, a most wonderful person, to meet my aged mother. Perhaps even the last chance for her to do this,  at 93 mother isn’t of an age where you buy a lot of green bananas. It will turn out, as the story unfolds, that it would be my green bananas at risk of going to waste.

I figured, as most of us would, that ten days or so would be more than enough time to smack this bug on the head, take some vitamin C , get some rest, perhaps inhale some Oubas or Karvol to clear the lungs and I would be good to go on my reunion trip.

I thought ten days of the normal meds would see me well for my trip

The problem was that the predicted recovery never happened, I got more and more sick to the point where I could barely breathe, and on the eve of our flight I had to pull the plug and cancel the lot, less than 24 hours before take-off. Trust me, nobody does that without good reason and as much as it meant losing money and missing the family get together it also meant disappointing someone I love dearly. But when you are that sick all bets are off, and anyway, had I got on that plane I would undoubtedly be dead.

Not hours later I booked myself into hospital and once the doctors realized that they couldn’t get my blood oxygen level up for love nor money things got really serious.

Firstly I was transferred to Groote Schuur Hospital and very shortly afterwards moved to an ICU ward where I was put on a ventilator, filled with drugs and tubes, I can’t say for sure exactly what happened, I have little recollection of the next two plus weeks.

I was diagnosed as having one version of avian/ swine flu pneumonia, and it was typed because there are a lot of them, some nastier than others. To my recollection I think this one typed as h1n4, but to be honest I can’t be certain, I lost three weeks of my life which will never be replaced in memory. The only thing I do remember vaguely is fighting off alligators on a trout fishing trip to a local dam, although the morphine probably had more to do with that than the flu did.

I don’t think that I dreamt in ICU, hallucinate would be a more accurate term

For the record influenza A has a number of sub types. In the protein coat there are two primary proteins, Haemagluttinin (that’s the “H”) and Neurminidase (that’s the “N””), there are 18 different variations of the “H” and 11 variations of the “N”.  Best I can tell, any H can be adjoined by any N which means a huge potential for possible variants. One of the reasons that it is so difficult to manage or immunize against. Equally one of the reasons why it can be very difficult for your body to mount a suitable immune response to infection.
Actually most of the technicalities really don’t matter, they are all nucleic acid structures wrapped in a protein coat and fired up with a sociopathic zeal for causing pain, suffering and potentially death, so best avoided.

After a week or so (again I have no recall of time) the virus was pretty much under control , or at least the symptoms were, and I was due to come off the ventilator, maybe even escape ICU. But then I contracted a bacterial pneumonia on top of things and it was back to the opiates, the ventilator, being tied to a bed and hallucinations which thankfully other than the alligators I don’t remember.

That lasted another week or so and it was at this point that I was referred to as “circling the drain”. I won’t tell you how I know that, some people might find the apparent frivolity of the diagnosis unprofessional, or offensive. Having survived I merely find it amusing, but the definition of “circling the drain” is, according to the Urban Dictionary: adj: still alive barely, but about to kick the bucket, buy the farm, shuffle off this mortal coil, etc.. What it really means is that there was a good deal of medical opinion that I wasn’t going to make it and fishing and much else, including fishing with alligators for that matter, wasn’t likely to be on my future dance card.

In reality I was a great deal closer to bright white light and feathered wings than anyone would care to be. Even with little or no recollection of most of it, I can tell you that I never imagined anyone could be that ill, and certainly not that one could be that ill and still make it out alive. I reckon that the odds of my survival were about the same as those of the next royal baby being christened De Shawn.

As a dyed in the wool Game of Thrones fan I would love to believe that when the grim reaper came calling I was able to say “not today”, although it is more likely that he was put off by a particularly loud hiss of the ventilator or a disgusting slurp from the drains in my chest.

I do so hope that in my delirious and weakened state I still remembered this quote.

Finally I recovered, and there can be no pride in that, the medical staff at Groote Schuur undoubtedly saved my life with dedication and commitment.  All I did was lie there, struggle against my restraints and try to pull out the well-meant and lifesaving drips, tubes and airways that had jammed into me.

Apparently at one point my temperature got so high that the sister in charge had me covered in ice cubes. So part of the point of this story is simply to acknowledge the amazing work that the doctors, sisters, nurses and support staff did in bringing me back, and based on the amount of adrenaline they pumped into my system I suspect they had to bring me back more than once.

Finally I was back in a normal ward, remembering nothing of the experience to that point and having it recounted by the visitors who came to see me.

If you want to find out who your real friends are nearly dying is a particularly effective, if risky, strategy  to find out who will turn up, and I thank all those who took the trouble, some every day.

Turns out that wasn’t the end of it, the ventilator, the adrenaline and all the rest combined to result in ischaemic damage to the toes of my right foot. That is that they suffered a severe lack of oxygen and they as a result turned black. (think frost bite on Mount Everest as a rough guide to the image of my foot). 

Most of that began to heal but having obviously not heard the nursery rhyme one little piggy didn’t go to market but instead went septic. That meant a return to hospital and a few days on an antibiotic drip.

The toes were a problem, thankfully more hospital time and intravenous antibiotics eventually warded off the risk of losing digits.

So now we get to the happy ending bit of, what has been a tremendously distressing episode. During all this time Leonora had been in touch with all my friends, found contacts, traced people on my phone so that nearly everyone was aware of my predicament and before I even traded alligators in trout ponds for some measure of reality I had hundreds of messages and offers of support. Almost universally from the fly fishing community. People from around the world offering encouragement and even financial assistance. One of the most wonderful of those people, Gordon van der Spuy, well known for his humour and exceptional fly tying organised a fund raiser, and a raffle to provide financial assistance. Some people simply dropped funds into my bank account with a simple “get well soon” as a reference.

It still brings tears to my eyes even thinking about the consideration and generosity I have received. I don’t like to name names for fear of missing someone, but I do need to particularly reference Steve Boschoff who made a bamboo rod for auction simply to go to the cause, Andrew Savs who under considerable time pressure manufactured the most gorgeous net, Tom Sutcliffe who donated original art work from his latest book, Peter Mamacos who visited me near every day in hospital and Craig Thom who raised my spirits by bringing tea and a teapot to hospital. I was desperate for a good cup of tea.
That of course doesn’t do justice to all those who contributed and I thank you all. You are a credit to fly anglers everywhere and to the human race in general.

Steve Boshoff made a bamboo rod for the cause and Andrew Savs the most gorgeous landing net

I have in the past had other anglers comment that “you fly anglers think that you are so special” and all I can respond with is that this episode, horrible as it has been on many levels, simply proves that fly fishers are indeed special, it would seem by good fortune I have come to know a number who are absolutely more special than average.

This lovely and super lightweight landing net was made and donated by Andrew Savs

I am recovering, the toes are apparently safe and although I have a great deal of strength and weight to gain (I lost around 25 kgs during this struggle) I am on the mend. Recovery undoubted helped a great deal by the good wishes and prayers of many.

Last season I did very little fishing for my own pleasure, that is going to change, this was a warning that we have all heard before, don’t put off doing what you love doing. There was no reason for me to get sick, bad luck I suppose, but it could all have been lost right there, any future plans or dreams gone up in smoke with a single gurgling last breath, frozen in ice in an ICU ward.

I don’t generally put personal information on social media, but here I am going to make exception, because for all the support from a wide spectrum of contacts there can be no one more deserving of my love, appreciation and thanks than Leonora. She was there every day, driving for hours in a less than reliable car in the middle of winter to visit me, even when she knew I wouldn’t be responsive (there were times when I didn’t even respond to touch).

Leonora walked into an ICU ward every night not knowing for sure that the bed wasn’t going to be empty, baked cakes for the nursing staff, phoning the hospital , juggling all manner of paperwork and keeping all of my family and friends in touch with any progress.

I never quite made it across to find out if there are angels on the other side, but I do know that there is an angel here and her name is Leonora.

.This is a picture of a real angel, it turns out you don’t see their wings, you know they are angels when they open their hearts.

Thank you to everyone who has been so kind and so considerate in assisting me with my recovery, I don’t think that it is a debt that can really be repaid, but I wish you all well. I wish you long and productive lives, hopefully filled with love and opportunity. But remember, don’t waste those opportunities, it turns out that tomorrow is promised to no one

Sixty Years On

May 12, 2019

Sixty years ago I came into this world alongside my twin brother Guy. He will tell you “not really alongside”, as I was born a few minutes after he was. No matter the amazing adaptations of the human maternal body, it doesn’t allow for overtaking and I was stuck in traffic.

In my brother’s mind that gives him some sort of bragging rights and me the position of “runt of the litter” or something like that. Of course that is just good hearted banter, but it has remained something of a family joke over the years.

We were born in Freedom Fields hospital in Plymouth: bearing twins at home was considered a little risky at that time, bearing in mind that there were no scans or many of the other advanced medical procedures and the various tests we are all quite used to in this age. (The only real medically reliable indication of twin pregnancy back then was hearing  three heartbeats with a stethoscope).

Freedom Fields Hospital was originally built as a workhouse and renamed several times during its history, with the formation of the NHS the hospital was renamed Freedom Fields Hospital in 1948, (previously Greenbank Infirmary in 1909 and the Plymouth City Hospital in 1930). Maternity services were transferred to Derriford Hospital in 1994 and remaining services in 1998. The site has now been redeveloped into mostly residential property.

So it was mother had to be booked into hospital in Plymouth, the downside, it was on the wrong side of the Tamar River, the wrong side if you are Cornish of course.

Having been rudely whisked away over the border, effectively abducted in utero to a foreign land, the question of my Cornish Nationality was subsequently resolved with a Certificate of Nationality (Number 245), issued by Mebyon Kernow. Stating that I was a Cornish National, “notwithstanding any accident of birth beyond the Tamar Border”.. (Yes those are the precise words on the document).

Certificate of Cornish Nationality

Some twelve years after that eventful day on foreign soil I started fly fishing, now a further 48 years down the road there was the question of what to do to celebrate the anniversary of my birth and what better way of doing so than to go fishing?

A beautiful if unremarkable fish but for one thing. The first fly caught trout of my 60’s

My good friend Peter Mamacos had been in touch to arrange a trip and so it was we headed out to the Elandspad River, a late start to avoid too much traffic , the alternative of a commuter beating crack of dawn departure didn’t seem fitting to a relaxed birthday atmosphere.

 

It didn’t matter, the season is almost at an end as we get well into Autumn, and the sun, rising low on the horizon had yet to brighten the depths of the deep river valley by the time of our arrival. It may sound odd, but hereabouts the trout actually like the sun and are notoriously late risers (pardon the pun).

The low angle of the autumn sun requires a late start to avoid too much shade.

The water was up from autumn rains and the flows were simply perfect, water clear with a hint of golden whisky from the peat bogs on the highlands. Choroterpes mayflies were egg laying on some of the quieter stretches and we were into fish almost immediately.

The fish were obliging enough to make it fun and tricky enough to make it interesting.

Not a breath of wind stirred the protea bushes or restios along the way, and barely a ripple disturbed the water, making for wonderful sight-fishing opportunities.

We fished at a leisurely pace, Peter is an expert at leisurely fishing, so there is never any pressure to rush, just to work carefully upstream picking of sighted fish as we went. The sun had warmed the cooling pre-winter air, cold over the night up high in the hills, meaning the water was cool but the conditions perfectly pleasant.

Peter is a consummate and unhurried angler and great company on the water.

I am not sure how many fish we caught, probably in the region of forty plus over the course of the day. Peter nabbed a cracking fish of 18” in a large pool near the end of the beat and we had both had our fill of fishing really. It was just lovely to be out there, no pressure, no rush, no clients and consequently no back pack or lunch boxes, just two friends enjoying a perfect day on a pretty trout stream.

Peter finished off the day in style with a fish of 18″

Peter had taken his car so by day’s end after a moderate hike back to the road I enjoyed the wonderful privilege of being chauffeur driven home right to my door.

I suppose something of a move up in the world for someone effectively born in a workhouse in a foreign country 🙂

What a wonderful day and a memorable celebration of my crossing the line into dotage. (well not quite yet).

 

Micro-Movement in Slow Water

January 28, 2019

We have just returned from a tough, low water trip to the Bokong River in Lesotho, targeting Yellowfish which we had hoped would be in the runs in a faster flowing stream. That wasn’t the case, the rains hadn’t come,  and the flows were minimal , the water gin clear and the fishing tough.

Of course that leads to experimentation and the sort of anally retentive fiddling that can only arise within a group of dedicated anglers and fly-tyers faced with tough low water conditions.

All those flies so lovingly prepared ahead of time, trying to cover all the possible bases were mostly ineffective. The preparations had expected high water, or good flows, but not really the slack water with which we found ourselves confronted.

Preparation is frequently the key to success, but sometimes you get it wrong.
Dozens of ant patterns remained nearly untouched.

It became apparent that the fish were fussy and being “locked” in the pools for the most part, were easily hammered by group after group of anglers and they weren’t going to easily escape the situation until the thunder showers returned and put some water in the river.

Despite low water conditions we achieved some success. A very pleased James Leach with a Bokong Yellow from the “Cascades pool”

Some of the fish could be taken on dry flies, (our preference really) when the going was good,  but for the most part subsurface patterns provided more fish. The trouble was that the traditional nymphs which we would have expected to work well were less than totally effective and in the end small patterns with split thread CDC collars proved to be the hands down winners.

The author with a cracking fish taken in stillwater with a CDC soft hackle

On one occasion, having caught a fish or at least elicited a take every cast (including three hook ups in three casts) I eventually used up the couple of CDC collared nymphs I had,(break offs due to a  sticky reel drag not helping the situation)  Once limited to non CDC nymphs, the sort of faster sinking, slim profile flies that would be the mainstay of Yellowfish fishing on moving water, I didn’t get any more takes on the nymph.

Variations of this fly worked for all of the anglers .

It was obvious that there was something about these patterns which the fish wanted, or at least something that triggered a response that the less mobile flies didn’t.

The working hypothesis was that with such little flow there wasn’t much to cause the nymphs to “look alive”, but the mobility of the CDC provided, even in dead water, enough movement to suggest life and elicit a strike.

A remarkably calm Gordon van der Spuy, admires a dry fly caught yellow.

I have used CDC collars on a lot of soft hackle patterns on trout streams to great effect, and have always considered that their very “helplessness” might be a trigger to the fish. (see: https://paracaddis.wordpress.com/2016/03/07/vulnerability-a-super-stimulus/) .But here I think that there was more going on. What we had in effect were “Ultra-soft” soft hackles and they worked like a charm.

Low numbers perhaps , but a few quality fish were taken once we had worked out the system

It has long been recognized that movement and even micro-movement in flies can provide a real trigger to the fish. Brushing out the dubbing on your hare’s ear nymph, adding a marabou tail and such seem to improve effectiveness and it would seem that when there is so little water movement, the more mobile the fibres the better.

So then it was that we all, virtually to a man, ended up fishing a dry and dropper rig with the dropper a lightly weighted and simple CDC collared fly that did the business.

All the fish were carefully released.

Well worth consideration next time you are on the water, particularly where there is little movement, perhaps a lake or a slack stream pool, that addition of micro-movement may well save the day.

Certainly I am going to consider this in some of my stillwater flies, it seems likely that micro-movement in flies fished static in still water may be a very good way to go.

Fishing trips are often a gamble, but the ability to work things out, to experiment and learn something are often the defining memories of  tough conditions.

 

CDC is frequently seen as a dry fly game changer, but inclusion in some of your sinking patterns is well worth consideration.. particularly for those fishing low flows or stillwaters.

Author’s note: The Bokong fishery at the Makangoa Community Camp is run by Tourette Fly fishing the camp provides exceptional comfort, both yellowfish and trout angling at different times of the year, quality guides and the sort of vibe that makes for a great fishing trip. The location is remote and at high altitude, hiking abilities are pretty much essential , the road ends just above the camp. But if you are up for some spectacular angling and beautiful scenery, combined with some big fish and clear water check it out.

 

 

 

Fishing with Angels

July 4, 2018

Fishing with Angels, two evenings on the Wiltshire Wylye.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Peter Hayes targets a rising fish on the Wylye

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Peter Hayes with a fly caught dace on the Wylye.

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Journey to Stoford

July 3, 2018

A journey to the Swan at Stoford.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This dichotomy between standards seemed to plague the place.

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dear Guest

BATH AND HAND TOWELS

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

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

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

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

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

With thanks Management.

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

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

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

Cefnllysgwynne

June 28, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Pwllgwilym Cottages

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

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

 

Penpont

June 28, 2018

Penpont on the Usk

Thoughts on fishing, the behavior of trout and people

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

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

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

Parking was inside the tractor yard of the farm

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

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

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

Me: “Fine thanks and you”

Assistant: “Just perfect me’ darlin’”

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

Assistant: “Fresh out the oven love”

Me: “Thank you I’ll take one”

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

Assistant: “Take care now my lover”

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

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

The Penpont Homestead viewed from across the river Usk.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Low water on the Usk

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

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

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

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