Posts Tagged ‘Wylye Rier’

Fishing with Angels

July 4, 2018

Fishing with Angels, two evenings on the Wiltshire Wylye.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Peter Hayes targets a rising fish on the Wylye

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Peter Hayes with a fly caught dace on the Wylye.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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