Posts Tagged ‘Wye Usk Foundation’

Fenni Fach

June 26, 2018

Fenni Fach on the Usk.

 

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

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

The river was low, but pretty as a picture

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Gromain

June 25, 2018

Gromain and Upper Llanstephan.

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

The Llanstephan suspension bridge makes for a fairly substantial landmark.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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.