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Monnow Storming

It’s taken a while to get around to posting the pictures from a recent Monnow trip, the location is beautiful, the company was great – the catering from my buddy Vince was perfect camping fodder and the evening meal at The Crown was well above pub standards; there was no problem with the Butty Bach, we drank a few quite effortlessly … but … unfortunately, the timing of our visit was tragic, or perhaps more positively described as comically timed.  

We only had an afternoon on the Friday and a whole day on the Saturday to look forward to but it just happened to coincide exactly with a nasty little storm front coming through the Black Mountains.   We travelled on the Friday morning, passing across the New Severn Bridge along the M48 and then up from Newport, arriving just about lunch time to set up camp.

Vince soon had some lunch sorted and once we had paid for the stay we wasted little time in getting out fishing for the afternoon – there was a little indecision over which location to head for with the first signs of drizzle threatening but we settled on a trek to the Half Moon beat, which we managed to negotiate reasonably rapidly.   Sod’s law dictates that it started raining properly just as we got in the river and it didn’t stop for a long time after that.  We ignored the rain as best we could but gradually got wet inside our waterproofs;  I lost my Polaroids at some point (sat redundant on the top of my cap) and Vince managed to tear his waders on a barbed wire fence.   My Guidelines had starting leaking slightly and generally even the best of kit just couldn’t cope with the levels of moisture around us – there’s not much point having breathables if it’s simply too humid to remove moisture as it’s got nowhere to go – our equipment just acted like a wet suit.

The tricky conditions meant we were prospecting to begin with via the duo and taking it in turns to fumble and not get a rhythm,  so we decided to split up and try our luck alone.  I soon realised that the trout would rise to the dry on occasions but they were fast and wily, so I abandoned the dropper and started using some recently tied Elk Hair Caddis flies (as the step by step in the recent Fly Dressing Guild magazine) but spotting this  mottled dry in dark and dingy conditions was difficult and I missed far too many.  To remedy this I switched to a high vis Mini-Klink; a small fly with a sharp upturned point, I like to tie them on a #18 emerger hook, almost like a buzzer but hanging under a bushy hackle and adorned with a good sized post to help the angler spot it.  It can be safely described as a caricature of a fly, rather than an imitation and definitely not one for historians or purists, this philosophy is of course fine in it’s place but I wasn’t in the mood for purism.  The dappled balmy sunlight we’d expected didn’t comply with the late summer stereotype of our dreams, so I wasn’t in the mood to get all nostalgic and just wanted to outwit a few fish.  This fly did exactly that and I managed to catch a few to keep the pride in tact, even if there were no Monnow monsters. 

Despite all my moaning I should explain that we did manage to make the best of it though; a warm shower at the camp-site realigned the senses and once we were dry and changed into civvies, a sociable night was had in the pub, chatting with locals and farmers, some of whom owned some of the roving beats.  The Butty Bach Pie held up the standard as the solid version of the liquid variant and I can recommend it highly … we almost ended up staying too long but managed to bolt for the door around midnight when it was left ajar (… well perhaps it was more of a fast wobble than a dash though).   The tents had held up fine and we made it through the storm with a good night’s sleep.

Waking at a reasonable hour the next morning we were treated to better skies and a dry freshness in the air, which appeared hopeful … but upon inspection the river passing the camp-site was unfortunately looking like Willy Wonka had tampered with it.  This put us in a quandary,  all the locals we grilled about the weather the night before were adamant that things were going to get worse on the Saturday, so going against our usual never say die attitude, not fancying putting on wet wading kit again for further punishment, we put our wise heads on for a change and headed for home.  

Not the greatest of outcomes, we had hoped for better on this trip but it was fun anyway; the Monnow Social was rained off earlier in the year and so were a few other planned visits … the 2012 season has been described as ‘the bidet year’ by some of the local fly-fisher folk and that pretty much says it all … we’ll just have to sigh and say ‘that’s fishing’, whilst hopefully looking forward to improved conditions next year.  Looking on the bright side, all the wet weather has most likely been good for the rivers and fish so we shouldn’t complain too much.

Tight lines, Splash

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Man on a quest!

I had the pleasure of meeting Tony Mair today, an amiable fellow and inspiring explorative type; a man who exudes enthusiasm as soon as you meet him … unfortunately I couldn’t fish with him today but the river is best tackled on your own, so this was not such a bad thing.

Tony had made a most generous winning bid for a day on the Little River Avon in the Wild Trout Trust’s annual auction several months ago and was due to visit earlier in the year but unfortunately had to postpone due to bad weather and high water.

The need to reorganise his visit had niggled away at the back of my mind for some time; I was a little concerned as he was running out of trout season and I hadn’t heard from him for a while, so when he e-mailed me a short while ago to arrange a late season slot I was pleased he had made contact and eager to ensure he had a good visit.   We managed to get the paperwork and permissions in order (to cover club records and insurances etc.) and arranged to meet for a quick chat over breakfast in Tortworth Estate Farm Shop Cafe; it didn’t take long to cover parking, access and safety issues whilst prodding at an OS map and then we were out on the road.

I  pointed him at a few likely spots in a very hasty two car convoy tour, waving my arm out of the car window in a random way … this was probably just about enough to get orientated but as Tony is an experienced fellow now, with all his travelling, the impromptu disorganised dash around, following a man who was simply winging it, didn’t really matter.  I left him near the access to Cascades on the old A38 road bridge with a glint in his eye and the freedom to roam our lovely local river with none of the hindrances that usually apply with guest tickets.  The management group and Berkeley Estate had agreed to make him a full member for the day to allow him more scope and assist with this part of his challenge.   Tony is working his way around every county, aiming to catch a trout in each one and hasn’t got many left to do, so I was keen to see him do well (his blog can be seen here: http://afishermansjourney.com/about/ ).

Our little river can be fickle at times, some days it just doesn’t play ball, I do hope it worked out OK? … I await to hear how it went and wish Tony the best of luck for this visit and for the completion of his quest!

Tight Lines, Splash

PS – please see update comments below.

Video

Fly Rod Christening

My friend Vince invited me over to The Wellow for a last-minute fishing trip yesterday afternoon; as it was such a lovely sunny Sunday I didn’t have to think too long before opting to take him up on the offer.

It was a chance to get out fishing again as I haven’t been on the case much recently, what with all the sporting distractions and bad weather, somehow I’ve fallen out the habit.  The trip panned out to be a pleasant evening, very relaxed slow pace fishing, Vince led out as I was happy chatting and taking pictures of wildlife whilst standing in the cooling brook.  

It was something of a refresher session, a welcome reminder of what I’ve missed and a chance to see Vince enjoy settling into fishing the new rod he had just built and being put to use on its first outing.  The highlight of the day was capturing the first fish caught on it, this event just happened to coincide with the one bit of filming I decided to do on the day to capture the sound of a bubbling tributary coming in from off the side of the stream in a spot where we’d not seen anything on previous visits.  The up side of all the rain we’ve had this season is the flushing through of water courses with well oxygenated water, bringing up the ground water and river levels, making many spots more favourable for the fish.

A bit later as light levels dropped and enough trout had been taken to satisfy Vince that his new creation worked as well as he’d hoped, I thought the time had come to have a few casts and enjoyed testing the rod out on a spacious pool, I can confirm it is a little gem to use – I wonder if he’ll make me one?

Tight Lines, Splash

Simple Flies for Fishing: Parachute Adams

A quick slap together fly with just a little more time taken over producing the image.

This post doesn’t do the original full hackled dry-fly type justice at all really … but it is in the spirit of the modern variant and definitely one of the most productive flies for fishing with: the Monnow crew swear by it.   I will return and do the original fly pattern at some point and take some time over it.  This variant is the staple ‘knock a few up quick’ pattern IMO, although to make it even quicker to tie you can abandon the two hackle technique required by the original Adams pattern and just use one; then pick a complementary dubbing material and perhaps use a high vis’ post to help you see it and it becomes a simple ‘paradun’ which you can tie with any combination of colours and materials to suit your circumstances.

The Ford Focus of river fly tying:

Tight Lines, Splash

Simple Flies for Fishing: The Grey Duster

I had a conversation with Terry Bromwell about fly tying last night, we were discussing why people fly tie and what motivates them – we concluded that whilst a lot of the time some people tie and show other people flies that might look spectacular, demonstrating all sorts of wondrous techniques and using fancy materials etc., when it gets to what you actually put on the end of the line at the river it’s a different thing entirely.  At times, when faced with a fast flowing Welsh tributary or a slow moving back end of beyond tree tunnel, I’ve found myself feeling puzzled as to why I’m carrying all the flies in my possession, many of which I’ll probably never get wet.  

I’m not knocking those who tie for tying’s sake though, as I’m perhaps as guilty as anyone for this and enjoy social nights tying with my fishing club every couple of weeks;  a relaxed evening where we tackle all sorts of odd creations over a beer or two, helps you improve by running through technique exercises and the benefits of the different ideas swapped can’t be knocked.  All this is fine but if you’re like me, when you actually get down on the river to fish, you tend to go for simple flies that you know work well when it comes down to serious fish fooling.   I most often choose something that covers a lot of bases and acts consistently so that I understand how it performs when used in the waters I fish.   I pledged to myself that I’d start covering flies on my blog but rather that get carried away with fancy proposals, I thought it would be a good idea to get back to basics and start concentrating on flies that are simple and work well in the field – they may well still be creative and artistic but the bottom line is that I will be aiming to tie flies for publication that I am happy to fish with and would have no doubt in recommending to others.  We won’t rule out some unusual experiments at times perhaps but I’ll warn you when I’m going off-piste!

Now the main Mayfly hatch has been through, it’ll soon be time to take on more fickle fish – with this in mind, my first formal entry under ‘Simple Flies for Fishing’ is the Grey Duster (or at least a variant of that suits the materials I have).  It should perhaps have a Badger or Grey hackle and lighter Hare under dubbing but I’m after matching the Berkeley area bugs and Olives in general, so have gone a little darker.    The only unusual(ish) material in the fly below is the local Squirrel Tail, this could be replaced by many materials and a wing isn’t necessary if you want to keep it really simple, the reason I’ve used it in this instance is because it changes colour from white to a darker tone just at the length of the tie in point … a fickle little detail perhaps but I think in this instance it blends the forms together nicely.   I will aim to add a fly or two each month that suit the month / season from now on. 

Tight Lines, Splash

Mayfly Bonanza

OK I admit it, this time I can report that things  were about as Halcyon as they get (on Sunday the 27th May between 5 and 8pm).  

It’s said that good things come to those who wait, although I didn’t do it all that patiently … for all my moaning about bad weather and the slow start to the season, I perhaps shouldn’t have been lucky to perfectly time a visit with the Mayfly hatch in full bloom.   It was more intense than I’ve seen it for all the years I’ve studied the river but I’ve now developed a sense for when these things happen and if you listen to your instinct, then things work out fine.  

How’s the song go? ‘… summertime … and the fishing is easy, fish are jumping …’ or something like that anyway, although I wouldn’t say it was easy, they’re hidden away as ever but just more up for taking dries, you still need to use stealth to get near and it’s funny how they’re always positioned just behind a branch or where something is ready to grab your back cast!  Creeping up close, avoiding disturbing the water and good presentation was the order of the day, I worked the averages by moving from one rise to the next and not dwelling too long if the fish was risen but missed or even let off via ‘long range release’ and put down.   Videos and pictures of some of the evening are shown below, I only photographed the better / calmer fish; for every one I caught there was at least one I missed and moved on from.  

The fish which stick in my mind the most though are the two that bent the rod over and broke me off, some of the runs are tight and you’re working close up, with branches all round and tree roots nearby, this means if something big hops on the end you’re in for some close combat, which is exciting of course but sometimes goes wrong … one fish managed to get into the tree roots breaking the line and another was simply powerful enough to snap a 1KG Stroft tippet clean as I tried to hold it back.  When this happens you are left wondering how big they were, I’ll try for them later in the season of  course but these fish are old, wise and wily, my chance to catch them in a devil-may-care mood may have gone until next year?

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Start point with dappled sun, the cooling effect of the river and the late afternoon temperatures meant there were  bugs everywhere:

Later on the sun was paler and golden:

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This is the type of fly I used all evening:

The fly did its job well:

The prettiest fish:

The biggest fish:

The supporting cast:

Finally, the site where one of our Riverfly sampling teams reported 300ish Mayfly nymphs last sampling session:

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Tight lines, Splash

Almost Halcyon…

…the river is looking picturesque but the trout are still fickle and tricky to coax, although I managed a few with stealthy tactics.

Tight lines, Splash

Spring has sprung…

…well maybe.

I eventually managed a fishing trip out on Saturday 19th May 2012; everyone who’d fished the weekend before had reported blanking and it was clear from a number of reccy visits that there was very little fish action up until recently but I couldn’t hold off any longer and thought I’d give it a go.  My reasoning was as it was a little milder, the river had dropped slightly and was running almost clear for a change, the fish had to start switching on properly at some point.  

After various domestic and garden tasks I eventually got out about 11am; whilst it was true that it was a little milder in terms of air temperature, as soon as I waded ankle-deep I realised that the river was still cold for the time of year.  I started out well by rising a little brown to a CDC shuttlecock I’d tied in the week.  The fish was in a likely spot that I knew they usually hide under in a deep tree routed pocket near the M5 Motorway bridge.  This early result was encouraging and when I spotted a good rise some 60 metres ahead, in a 2 to 3ft deep run that is usually reliable, I thought my luck was in.  Unfortunately though, the rising fish didn’t reappear again, I was hopeful that I could coax a reaction and induce a take but when I got within striking distance I didn’t have any luck despite inching the fly out carefully over the area, increasing the distance and systematically searching the likely positions.  Reluctantly I gave up on the spot after a while and continued on through a very lengthy deep section that requires careful deep wading, as the water is almost mill pool calm, the extra depth means the water is slow and fish lurk in the depths but from previous experience I know that stealthy work can sometimes result in a fish being coaxed into action … but not on this day unfortunately … I spent hours working hard but with no real activity or payback for the effort.  This was a little frustrating, as like most anglers, I’ve waited patiently for the season to get into gear properly and this was beginning to hark of wasted time.  In hindsight the deep slow water and densely foliaged setting is not quite up to temperature yet, previous successes have been later in the season when things have warmed up well.  I might even conclude that the fish move into this section when water temperatures are higher, as a shady deep watered respite from warmer weather (a theory that will be tested more as the season unfolds).

I decided a change of scene was in order and I upped my pace, not stopping for the faster sections and marching on through some testing but sometimes fruitful spots to get to a more reliable stretch of water.  I’d moved on to the weir section, which is in a place we know locally as John’s Field, things are usually rock solid in terms of fishability.  The river is less densely foliated here and of varying but reliable depths – not too deep or shallow, there is a lot of bug life about and fish are usually always available; if they’re not feeding here then there’s little chance anywhere.  The beat didn’t let me down, it felt warmer here and more light was coming in, flies were rising more freely and I could see some good takes along the stretch in front of me.   Casting at the opposite bank from the weir itself is where I’ve caught my first fish of the season in two earlier years, I might name the spot ‘old faithful’ as I’ve had many fish here over the last few seasons.  I was  a little off the mark though and missed a couple of rises from the first few casts but I saw this as a good sign, fish were still feeding well in this river after all, I was beginning to doubt the season would ever get going from the couple of hours I’d spent earlier.   The signs of activity honed the senses and lifted my spirits, getting me back in the zone and just then I managed to take a good-sized OOS Grayling under a tree.  Someone needs to tell the local Grayling when it’s not their time, as they always seem to be up for it in their off-season.  My eye was back in  now though, I was pleased with what I thought was a skilful catch, winkling a fish out by laying a delicate line out gently; firing a side cast very low under the tree that often acts as a fly magnet as well as good cover for fish.   Settling down after releasing the fish, it was encouraging to see a few more rises ahead but these were also in tricky spots; some were under overhanging foliage and others were right up against the bank.   I decided super stealthy tactics were in order, so put on 1KG Stroft tippet and some of my finest fish fooling flies.  

Things weren’t quite going my way though, as I continued to mess about for perhaps half an hour, duffing the opportunities given me.  I’ll use the excuse of not being out for some time to account for my cack-handedness; rather than give up on this location though, I rested the water for a few minutes and changed flies to a Paraloop Emerger, before getting back on the case and eventually fooling a good brown from under a bush.  With a little more effort another came in quick succession, nudged out from under the far bank and I was happy that the instincts and skills were now safely back in tune.  By now it was 2.30pm and although I could see good rises ahead, they were still a little infrequent and it was clear that the fish were still in a fickle mood; unfortunately though my Guideline waders had sprung a leak somewhere on the left side below the knee.  Somehow I hadn’t noticed that my left foot had lost all feeling until now but once acknowledged, it’s difficult to ignore the weird feeling that your foot has been replaced by a non responsive stump,  it would have been nice to stay on and fish for a while longer but the run I was in required deep wading for some distance and climbing out up tree roots at an exit point much further on.  Good sense prevailed over valour and I turned back, walking just a few yards and exiting up the weir before crossing a field and chatting to one of my syndicate buddies en-route for home.  I could have pushed on but sometimes less is more, I was happy to have worked hard for the few fish I fooled and can now look forward to the easier sessions that are likely to follow over the next few weeks.  It was good to have got back in the swing of things and it looks like the spring has finally sprung for trout fishing after a painfully slow start to the season.

Tight Lines, Splash

Aside

Bug’s Life II

Our sampling carries on relentlessly every month, we’re a bit late in May due to the bad weather but got out to sample on the weekend, Jack has become an efficient and able side kick, included below are a few pictures from our other sampling site near the bridge at Berkeley Estate Kennels and some of the various inhabitants we get from both sites.

The Kennels site below the bridge into Berkeley:

Bug expert in action:

We sift out the Eels and any fish caught up in the sample before we get going properly:

Mayfly or Ephemera Danica (one has a tail missing):

Baetis nymph it might be a BWO but the markings appear too pale, we find it difficult to tell sometimes, this one is blown up a great extent via macro photography (answers on a post card if you can advise on the type):

Caseless Caddis (Hydropsyche and a Racophilia down at the bottom left):

Cased Caddis, the two groupings we get most either use gravel to build their homes, or a finer substance that makes the case look like a  little stick, when we first started sampling it was easy to overlook these as they fit in so well with the sand and gravel:

Gammarus (with little red spot which shows that it is infected with stage 2 of P. Laevis):

Stoneflies, these were very small examples and it’s quite rare for us to find these on the LRA, although now I know where to look we might find them more often:

Paraleptophlebia Submarginata or Turkey Brown:

Damselfly nymphs:

Bullhead (which is of course a fish and not a bug) and a freshwater snail-shell:

Clean up at the end:

Tight Lines, Splash (& Son)

Suitable for Vegetarians.

I’ve gone through a bit of a melancholic phase recently, it feels like the spring has dragged its heels this year and my grumpy mood has done nothing to counteract it.  The local river somehow appears to be a little lack lustre.  I’ve checked the  water regularly when passing but it’s felt like I’ve been short-changed by the frequency of rise forms.  I’m sure there were more signs of life at this time of year in the past?  Perhaps I’m being too eager and my memory is playing tricks on me, or maybe I’ve hit a plateau; the embryonic enthusiasm of the first 6 years or so of river fishing might have worn a little thin by now and it’s tainting my vision?

My fishing equipment is also niggling at me … the rigmarole of buying new kit and packaging yourself into wading gear was fun at first but getting all dressed up for fishing sometimes feels like too much trouble … I’ve obviously been far too busy sulking under the grey blanket of cloud that’s holding back a struggling spring this month, whilst  letting the gloom and doom of recessions and all the dark stories from the media get the better of me?  I’m not usually one to give in to negativity but this year my revolve has weakened … shame on me.

However, there’s a cycle to these things and just when one person’s mood dips, another’s can lift things back up again … my son Jack has shown more interest in the river lately, which has already lead us into fun new territory with the fly sampling;  I’ve aimed to avoid imposing my hobbies on my offspring but it is encouraging when your lad shows an interest in something you’re into.  Fishing is something I’ve considered a solitary pursuit for a several years but more recently it has become something of a social thing at times, the fishing focus suffers a though but the company adds to the pursuit.   In my mind, the premise is not one of pre-conceived ideas but one of entering into the outdoors with an open mind, ready to engage with nature, living for the now and reacting in the moment … perhaps you don’t need anyone making that overly complicated but sometimes it’s nice to have some company; fishing can be great when done alone, it’s often described as the contemplative man’s sport but people can also enjoy it in all sorts of ways.   It’s not wholly clear why we fish but perhaps it appeals to parts of the brain that the modern world neglects and getting out there allows us to find a more natural balance with our surroundings?  Concentrating on the moment and letting the concerns of the past and future drift out of focus is something that is healthy on occasions, these things matter less in a wild environment … if this experience can be under taken with a kindred spirit, then all the better, these days I judge a person as a true friend if I can imagine going fishing with them … my lad has been an inspiration on this front lately, it’s encouraging when someone drags you waterside with a simple enthusiasm … once you’re out there, you wonder what was holding you back in the first place.

On this occasion the water was up and the weather was blustery with squally showers, so we were going to try trotting for trout, something we’d never done anywhere, let alone on the local river.  Our club doesn’t allow juniors to fish at all and it wouldn’t be safe for a 9-year-old to wade anyway, so trotting with dad is a perfect introduction to fishing … traditional trotting is arguably not strictly coarse fishing and is allowed under the lease of our syndicate.   The ‘bait and line’ thing is a bit different for anyone who fishes with the fly but it’s not dissimilar to French nymphing; holding a float back against the current comes naturally, anyone who is used to raising a sunk nymph at the end of a drift will know the principle.  As a method, it’s not quite as mobile as fly fishing (assuming you’re not wading) but you can move about on the bank-side as much as topography permits; this wasn’t an overly serious expedition though and we didn’t spend all that long at it but we did have a few bites quite quickly and one particularly nice fish that we probably wouldn’t have caught via the fly.   The other plus is that Jack got to eat more vegetables than he usually would, he’s a bit of a carnivore at home but there’s something about tinned sweetcorn scooped out the tin on the river bank that is difficult to resist.   It was a successful day out and something different.  My only regret is that I’ve neglected trotting for Grayling over the winter.  I might spoil myself with a new centre-pin and focus on big Grayling during the cold months next winter.  In the meantime, come coarse season, I might have a go for some of the big Chub using the method.

Some might turn their nose up at his type of fishing and whilst I can respect their view, I would suggest that it’s always good to keep an open mind.  Fly casting with the dry is portrayed as a pure and elegant exercise but equally, it might also be deemed a little two-dimensional.  I like to keep a broad perspective;  I won’t be giving up fly fishing any time soon but traditional trotting is a relaxed alternative and makes sense in certain circumstances, particularly when water conditions are difficult … it’s definitely worth giving it a go on occasions.

Tight Lines, Splash (& Son)

Quick Dash and a Little Splash

We had the BEFS AGM last night and some excellent presentations from Patrick Heaton-Armstrong (on the catchment area overview) and Martin Wise (on our Riverfly Monitoring); the AGM comes at just the right time of year, I was fired up and in the mood to get out fishing again.

I managed to coax Stone garage into acknowledging that I was a ‘local’ and frequent enough a customer to buy some petrol on the phone, so an early season dash for a short hour on the river was possible.  It’s still quiet up at the Damery beat, as it sits in a wooded valley and spring is only just showing through there.  

Whilst sorting my badly packed kit out the bag in the car boot, the occasional rise was pleasing to see in the river and promising much for the new season but they were infrequent and once I was in the water a single rise would hint at positivity but this would result in some tentative casts that soon gave way to frustration as they wouldn’t show again to the dry fly at all.

I opted to fish the duo to cover all the bases.  Nothing at all happened for the first 30 minutes or so but then the dry dipped a little after a small tug on the nymph, the fish was interested but seriously tentative and spat the fly back out immediately.  I had a fix on the fish’s location though and viewing through the meniscus with my Polaroids, I watched a good sized trout following the nymph back down stream a metre or two,  this happened for a further two times before it decided to blank it completely and cruise past me at just above flow pace, passing a few feet away from my legs as if I wasn’t there … it was clear that although I was being stealthy enough and had the right set up, they weren’t quite in the mood yet.

A bit further on I did manage to get  one little fellow to oblige but as it was grey today and a little cold, I opted to wander the banks and check the river over … time passed quickly and after bumping into to John the Bailiff and having a good chat on various country and river issues, it was soon time to head back to base.

Signs of spring are welcome but it’s perhaps a little while yet before things get into full swing on the LRA home waters (pics are a little experiment with BnW + Colour Splash).

Tight Lines, Splash

Aside

Bug’s Life

The river is really waking up, I’ve pushed on with my monthly sampling of entomological data through a bleak winter, managing to cover two sites alone (buddy Nick has been elsewhere with his new job and it’s a long way from London / Copenhagen to the Little River Avon).  I don’t know why I’d not thought of an obvious solution sooner, perhaps not wanting to drag a lad reluctantly out to look at  a few bugs … but as my 9-year-old son Jack volunteered himself, I made the most of it.  

He was showing an interest on getting out in the fresh air with his ‘old man’ on Saturday morning and what a turn up for the books it’s proven … he’s already established himself and is an enthusiastic and competent new recruit and budding entomologist; good eyes and nimble fingers, perfect for spotting and separating bugs … he learns fast, the mind of an inquisitive boy is perfectly suited to investigating the strange going’s on at the bottom of the river bed.   A little enthusiasm goes a long way with a task that needs doing monthly (year in year out) and I’m pleased he’s taken an interest.  The timing was good, as the onset of March has seen an abundant sampling set with large numbers of bugs in the net; this bodes well for this seasons fish stocks and shows the river is in good health.  I can now look forward to sampling through the spring and summer with a new side kick – hopefully his enthusiasm will hold up through the winter but I’m not too worried, even is he’d rather stay inside during the few cold months, it’s good to know there’s a little back up available for the odd outing when the sun shines. 

For more information on the Riverfly Partnership Angler’s Monitoring Initiative please see here www.riverflies.org .

Excuse the picture quality, they’re taken from my mobile phone:

Tight Lines, Splash & Son


Wrapping Up 2011 with a Grayling from the Lugg

A late post to put 2011 to rest.  Work has been crazy of late and this was coupled with taking on a tutoring role on the Bath University Architecture course, meaning there was one less day in most weeks and more to handle so I’ve gotten out the rhythm of weekend fishing, in lieu of catching up with the hours lost … we’ll aim to get back on track now though as it’ll soon be spring and time to pick up the pace of the blog again; it’s been an odd winter in weather terms, very mild compared to last year.  As usual, when I’ve been ready to venture out the river hasn’t been in the mood and vice versa.

I did have a memorable trip out with Nick Steedman in early December; time moves on fast, Nick now spends time flitting between Reading, London and Copenhagen, so the logistics of organising an outing are more complex than previously but we did manage to get our act together enough for a spot of Grayling Hunting on the Lugg.  Nick came across from Reading on the Saturday evening and was housed in ‘number one son’s’ bedroom, he appeared happy amongst Lego and kid junk; a bit lazy on our part but we just couldn’t face setting up the fold out sofa bed in the study (it’s become a temporary filing area).  We had something that resembled a relaxed evening but it was a little compromised with me still working on the computer and being a poor host while Em’ made up for it with some Pasta and Pizza in the family room with the kids.  I bumbled on trying to resolve trivial things on my computer and Nick tied a few flies; we did find a little time to book our trip last-minute via the Usk and Wye Foundation’s ‘roving’ system on their website www.wyeuskfoundation.org . Life had been too hectic for us both lately so we opted to keep it easy and share a single rod ticket, it might have been possible to set out early to claim two rods via finding a venue that sells tickets for the voucher system but we opted to secure our slot via the website, even though the suggested two rod venue wasn’t bookable on-line; we did this  rather than waste time searching  in the morning and risking having a wasted journey; as it happens, we were happy to share the beat on this occasion.  In reality this was not really an issue as it was a chance to catch up on all sorts before focussing in on chatting about technique and the river context – we took it in turns leap frogging up sections of river and getting a feel for the water – we’ve found this is a good way to settle in to a place.  I’m a great believer that sussing venues for potential future visits is the way to think about a new water, expecting too much from a first visit is likely to result in disappointment, it’s inevitable you’ll duff your way through some spots but you’ll come away wiser and ready to return again some other day, living to fish another day is a smart tactic.

It transpires that Nick spent far longer fishing than I did on the day; he’s always super keen and that’s great actually, as it gets me out there.  I spent my time having the odd serious dabble whilst also wasting the percentages with fly in right spot, whilst shuffling about with the camera and taking in the scenery; I was just happy to get out in the fresh air rather than be sat at my desk.   Despite this, lady luck smiled on me that day and I had a few tiddlers early on, followed by a real specimen, it’s arrival timed perfectly at around midday.  A welcome point for me to stop and warm up a bit, then disappear off to the shops to buy some lunch and pick out a newspaper as an excuse to sit back in the car with some peace and quiet for the rest of the afternoon; a well timed quiet spell far from work and screaming kids with no-one to bother me until Nick’s verve gave up, I knew would likely be a few hours before the fishing itch was satiated so put on some tunes and relaxed.  

Now although my enthusiasm isn’t quite up at Nick’s level, I do sometimes put in the hours but on this day I felt I’d had had my dues early on; the river had been generous to me but it was not really earned through pre-planning, research or skill.  This meant I was feeling a tad undeserving,  perhaps it was divine intervention (?); if it was, I was happy to receive it.  My autumn river hours hadn’t really stacked up compared to Nick, who’d been out stalking at every opportunity; he’d been racking up a fair few whoppers at circa the 3lb mark and had started making it look too easy a pastime.  My eye certainly shouldn’t have been in but this didn’t seem to matter, to be fair to myself I did use my nous … one spot  just looked ‘right’ and I went about making the most of the opportunity via a serious probing of the depths.  I set about working my line across the river carefully.  Edging across the rifling food seam, I was trying not to spook any fish but giving them enough passes to provoke interest and perhaps familiarity with the look of my fly.  After two or three drifts I was confused by a dull pull on the line, the take was so slow it felt like a sub surface branch had caught itself  as it washed through (we had been working it up close to fallen trees through a long stretch,  snarling up a few times previously).  I hedged my bets and pulled into it slowly but firmly, as if trying to lift ‘the stick’ gently out the water … this particular stick had a different sort of feel though and responded with a presence confirming change of direction, power translated up the line as it moved across the current downstream; I gave some line but applied friction on the reel by hand, after a few seconds the Grayling realised it was loosing it’s footing against me, ‘the log’ then aimed itself back upstream … that didn’t work either though, so it went for the far bank again where the dance started.  This was followed by a slow set of big radius arcs flowing back and forth; after 40 seconds or so of twisting and tugging, the chain mail clad dancer was ready to give up.  Nick obliged by scooping out a perfect 2lb 6oz specimen for us to marvel at … a great result and just in time for lunch.  

We wandered across two field edges back to the car in good spirits , Nick being very decent in saying I deserved a good fish after being stuck at my desk for too long, I’m sure he was happy  in the knowledge that a promising looking tree-lined section was left uncharted for later and I had suggested he took the rest on without me.  I was pretty sure I wouldn’t be able to better the morning’s efforts so was happy to leave Nick to it for the rest of the day, he had paid for the ticket after all!

Typical water before the forested stretch:

Fallen trees and Cased Caddis:

Close up of real and not so real fish fodder:

Lovely specimen:

Nick checking the Grayling over before returning it:

Final Tight Lines for 2011 and here’s to more in 2012, Splash.

Summer Break Part 2: Eilean Shona and the Road to the Isles

Usually we are careful to choose a location for our summer escape; this year we felt like distancing ourselves from the hustle and bustle of a hectic world … ‘a week on an island or in a cottage next to a Scottish loch’ was the brief given to me when I asked what would be an ideal family holiday earlier in the year.

A little Googling and before I knew it, I had booked a holiday, it all happened within 30 minutes, this had to be a record as I would usually spend days enjoying deliberating over the choices.  The decision had a sense of inevitability about it,  Eilean Shona is a private island with no roads, with a large house (unoccupied when we were there) and a handful of holiday cottages for rent.  The accommodation is not lavish but it is well conceived, purposely sparse, spotlessly clean and perfectly comfortable.  Our stay was booked through Unique Cottages after just one phone call, we didn’t consider any other options, as this company ticked all the boxes straight away. 

So why choose Eilean Shona? Well, imagination plays a major part,  the island is most famous for housing J. M. Barrie whilst he developed the ideas for Peter Pan.  Like most things in life we didn’t originally plan to be there, it wasn’t our first choice from the website but when the pleasant lady at the travel company suggested we might consider taking a break in ‘Timber Cottage’ and went on to expound a little about the place, our imaginations were sparked immediately … it would be our own secret island, a place with potential for adventure, perfect to relax in basic but comfortable self-imposed isolation whilst exploring a wild world.  To be honest though, our cottage was the only 4 birth accommodation on the island, so choosing where to stay was simple and that sealed the deal.  There are four or five other rented cottages, mainly suitable for couples; some young and not so young adventurerous partners were staying in the nearby accommodation and two young families with children were staying just below us in Tioram Cottage (that sleeps 8 people), giving a squad that had a good mix of ages and a few friends for our kids to visit.  At this point I realise that it might sound almost crowded but the reality is that you had to work hard to bump into people when out and about but when you did it was a pleasure as it transpired our clan for the week were were all kindred spirits, fresh and enthusiast islanders …  well, perhaps not quite true, as a few of our party had visited a few times before … but it’s fair to say we had an immediate sense of community and everyone got along fine, people greeted each other with a holiday glint in their eye whenever they met on the paths and swapped tips and tales, where to walk and what to see, whilst having a little gossip about who the neighbours were and where they came from.

What really bound the visitors together was enjoying the simple things in life with family and friends, taking time to look at the world around us.  The  retired couple living down at Sawmill Cottage for the week were well into the spirit of things, young at heart, we came across them enjoying themselves bounding around with their two Labradors and after a brief chat on the path, we wandered down to see their accommodation and spent an hour or so chatting outside their cottage right next to the water’s edge, as the kids and dogs made the most of the waterside setting.  The island is a great place for young and old to cut loose, we were all free to act like explorative kids.  The newly married couple staying in the most remote cottage, which relies on gas light (having no electricity) are worthy of a mention as perhaps representing the other extreme, we bumped into them twice on our travels, both times they came along the path grinning from ear to ear.  The first meeting was as we began our ‘ascent’ to the top of the 265 metre peak … the second get together was on the last full day, unfortunately, dark grey skies and squally rain showers were buffeting us as we worked our way to the remotest part of the island.   The white sandy beach of Shoe Bay was something we hadn’t tackled earlier in the week but as our four-year old had managed a hike to the peak we thought we’d push it and tackle the long walk to the end of the island.  It had been a fair old slog to get to and we trundled out of the heather and bracken onto the pristine sand like wild heathens, gate crashing a fairly intimate setting; it was the happy couple’s 1 week wedding anniversary but we didn’t know this and as we’d walked for two hours to get there, we weren’t about to turn back now.  They seamed pleased to see us, this might have been a side effect of drinking Champagne and eating a fresh Pot Noodle, with water boiled in a tin can over a little twig fire but they were the generous type who were happy to great all comers .   Despite the grey clouds and drizzle, we were having a ball and I had to admire their sense of fun; in fact as the male was wearing the kilt he got married in and the female was more sensibly dressed in full waterproofs including leggings, I had to comment that it gave me confidence that they were set for a long and happy married life; swapping the trousers on occasions and taking the rough with the smooth was a fairly healthy metaphor for how to get along, I felt it was only fitting to accept a glass of the fizzy stuff and enjoyed waxing lyrical whilst sipping from my thermos beaker in the rain, a decent flute might have been better but it didn’t really matter.

So to summarise, a free wheeling holiday was had by all; days were filled with idle wanderings, poking in rock pools, playing sticks, fishing a little (not too seriously), walking a bit (sometimes seriously to get to the high peak and visit Shoe Bay) but most of all, we were all content to be hiding away from the world and taking it easy in such an astounding place; whilst most of Britain was busy rioting, we were kept busy watching Red Squirrels, catching Mackerel, Pollock and Wrasse, smoking wild Mussels with garlic and white wine in tin foil fresh off the beach on log fires, spotting the Deer in the early morning and watching Pine Martins visit the kitchen window sill for scraps as dusk fell.  The Inner Hebrides proved to be a very welcome tonic, it was great to gulp in the air, soak up the views and get near to nature, listening to the shriek of Sea Eagles echoing off the hills with the back beat of bubbling waterfalls.

I had planned a day fly fishing on the river Moirdart; I had been given the heads up that this was a possible opportunity and did a recce on the return home when we took a day trip off the Island.  We visited the local town of Mallaig where you can catch a ferry to Skye; we also visited Camusdarach Beach, near Morar (featured in films ‘Local Hero’ and ‘Highlander’) and after our day out there was time to spare to drive along the river and spot a few fish, abundant rises had my hackles up so I knocked on the door of a nice old lady who had given us directions when we were trying to find the jetty to our island a few days earlier.  I was lucky that the local lady was such a font of knowledge and after a brief chat I even knew where to head for my day ticket.  It looked like everything was panning out perfectly… unfortunately though, destiny barred my exit from the island once we back under its spell.  The day set aside for venturing off the island on my own to get into some serious fishing was dissolved by a full day of relentless stair rods, it had to be seen to be believed.   I wasn’t totally beaten though and instead I had a trip out in my waders and best waterproof jacket to fish for Mackerel.   I tried a few spots and ended up in a vast but intimate bay, standing on a low rock, level with a surprising motionless sea; if the sun was out it would have been like a mill-pond, flat calm and balmy but the streaking vertical rain fizzed away across the sea’s surface; there was very little wind but a hell of a lot of falling water.  There was a sense of calm about it all though and the weather could do nothing to obscure the wild beauty, it was great to be alone in such a stunning place with the elements doing their best to wash the island away for good; I caught a few Wrasse but couldn’t repeat my earlier successes with catching Mackerel, so after a couple of hours or so, I was happy to head back for the great indoors.  The  easy ambling gravel paths we had walked along in sunshine a few days earlier were now running like small streams, previously mild mannered water falls were now gushing torrents, hissing venom like angry vipers … it was an easy choice to stay hidden away on the Island on a day like that, as a full day out with only a single boat crossing to get back later in the day wouldn’t have been pleasant at all, a couple of hours were manageable but the rain was so relentless it would have pierced even the best of clothing and made a lengthy visit dreadful.  I felt no shame in giving myself a break from fly fishing for a change whilst on holiday.

Out of all the places I have visited, this is one place I offer to readers with a little reluctance, as it is special and should perhaps be kept a secret to be found through your own efforts; Neverland just wouldn’t be the same if everyone knew how to find it … I will definitely be returning to soak up the energy of the place in the future and next time I may even get around to tackling the trout fishing on the mainland as well.

Tight Lines, Splash.

The fly fishing treasure is not on the island!:

Summer Break Part 1: The Clyde, Biggar and New Lanark Falls

To bring the diary up to date with recent adventures, the blog will take the form of more of a travelog than a fishing diary for a few posts; hopefully the places visited will be of interest and offer a few pointers for planning future fishing trips to anyone reading this.

I missed many opportunities to make the most of the fishing on offer during my holidays but there is a sense that a return might be on the cards one day; besides, leaving yourself something to discover when retracing old steps is a healthy thing, allowing you to judge yourself against old bench marks … it’s been an interesting summer and I wasn’t really short changed at all but I’m left with a sense of unfinished business with the places I visited.

It’s been a while since I’ve had time to update the blog; summer holidays are a double edged sword when you run your own show, work has a habit of biting back when you’ve neglected it; my normal pattern of fishing and blog writing has suffered as a result but the aim now is to get the show back on the road and put the summer to rest … the start of the Grayling season is upon us now and the summer reflections need to be scrubbed off the mirror, so we can get into the winter properly (where the autumn is this year is an issue I’ll not dwell upon too long).

August proved to be a great month and we were lucky to have two breaks in the diary, thanks to an offer to use a friend’s accommodation in the Haute Savoie with just a week of notice, we were ‘forced’ to take most of August off.   The first part of our odyssey had been planned back in January, we decided we should finally get around to visiting Scotland properly; it was a down to earth holiday, happy to be spending money in the UK as ‘stay vacationers’; it’s not my first visit to Scotland but this time I wanted to do it at my pace, not just flying in and out on a business site visit or for a quick skiing trip (like we did when we were young professionals, before we had kids and the world fell apart).  We had booked a suitably isolated looking cabin on Eilean Shona to insulate ourselves totally from work and the daily grind, the Inner Hebrides came recommended by a trusted friend and although web searches offered sparse information, there was a hint of un-found treasure about the place (we will get onto this in a later blog post).  Balancing the idea of romantic escapism with some logic meant we opted to break the journey into manageable chunks and take a few days travelling up; this proved to be a good decision, as we kicked the holiday off well by staying two nights at Cormiston Farm near Biggar (a real find that we can recommend as a relaxing home from home, perfect for short or longer breaks).

The stopover was carefully conceived, as it offered the opportunity to take the family around to meet up with my Fly Fishing Forum pal ‘Buzz’ and his clan.  We arrived in Biggar on the Thursday evening and made arrangements to meet up the next afternoon; a good night’s sleep was chalked up thanks to an imposing but surprisingly comfy Rennie Mackintosh bed, pristine cotton linen and so much silence that you could slice it into chunks, all this helped to get us in the holiday mood easily … we lived a life of leisure for a night or two before really getting into the trip on our remote and wild final destination.   A walk with the dog was a great way to start the first whole day on holiday, followed by a ‘Full Scottish Breakfast’.  To be honest, a ‘Scottish’ breakfast was actually a bit like a ‘Full English’ but with White Pudding introduced to us (as well as fresh fruit and yoghurt, filter coffee and zingy orange juice) – it’s got to be tricky catering for travellers from all over the world(?).  Harsh criticism, as the owners of the farm have the balance of country home versus high quality B&B perfectly balanced … the place is superb, professional to a level that would put many an international hotel to shame, whilst almost feeling like you’re staying with friends; we will return!

The Scottish mornings in late August are perfect; crisp and bright, light coming from everywhere, the landscape is broad and rolling, whilst still managing to come at you from every angle – sheep and ginger long horned cows are happy grazing in lush fields … all was well and we were lucky to have such a pleasant morning, there was an edge of harshness hanging in the atmosphere but summer was still holding it’s own; when it comes to weather I’d like to draw some comparisons; Wales is wild but intimate, it’s weather is pretty mild and a bit like what we experience in England except wetter.  Scotland is more like parts of Scandinavia than many other parts of Great Britain, having to deal with a harsher extremes and with wild and rugged characteristics; dog walking is the same the world over though and whilst it can sometimes be a chore, it gets the blood moving first thing as it should; to be able to enjoy such a lovely setting made it all the better.  The breakfast was a welcome follow up, fueling the inner engine for an energetic day ahead; with ablutions sorted and another night to look forward to, we were free to set off for a morning out at the Falls of Clyde at New Lanark, I won’t dwell on this except to say they are spectacular.  With our tourist bit under the belt, we headed over to Buzz’s place.  After a bit of Sat Nav faffing, we arrived in a quiet little hamlet to find children chasing around … we parked on the drive of a fine-looking Scottish homestead and Buzz came out to greet us.   Instantly the kids were busy getting to know each other and whilst we were wary of asking Buzz to leave his tying table for just a while, it was great to finally meet up; we then proceeded to distract him for the entire afternoon.  The children got on swimmingly and the adults could sit back and watch them unleashing their energy, we all gave into any pretence of any work being done and spent a lazy afternoon drinking tea, munching large chocolate cookies and chatting.  The kids ran around the local woods, they found their level together and then returned to play with the pets … the young ones sprayed each other with water pistols, whilst the grown ups waxed lyrical and enjoyed some glorious sunshine.

The afternoon passed quickly and we said our farewells but the day was still young in fly fishing terms; Buzz and I had formed a plan for the evening … Buzz collected me from the B&B at 6.30pm for a  ‘boys own’  trip out on the nearby river.   A few hours on the Clyde was a bonus event to end a decent day; fishing was not really the main aim of the trip and we were in the notorious flat spot of the season – however, this venture was always known to be packed tightly into the journey en route to our destination and something of a recce visit, so we gave it a go any way.

I was lucky to be able to call on Buzz and he had sorted me a day ticket without me even asking; in hind sight, it’s certain I was with the best person to show me the local waters, there is no way I’d have managed to get out fishing if just passing through under my own steam, meeting up with someone with local knowledge cuts out a lot of time-wasting in terms of scoping and getting out to fish.  I’ve heard the Clyde is not an easy river to fish (in August especially?) but we set about trying to coax a fish or two with the dry fly none-the-less … to be fair to the aspect, it looked very promising, at our first point of contact with the river we saw fish rising on top of some fast riffling water; perfect territory, clear water and oxygen rich water in a lovely tree lined setting.  We were situated near the bridge in Lamington, the fly life was prolific compared to most of the spots I visit down south and midges were everywhere.  The fish have an abundance of food sources to choose from, so are well educated diners, which might go some way to explain Buzz’s focus on perfect fly tying.

There were free rising fish but my efforts to coax them were not much to write home about … Buzz didn’t manage to interest any fish at this location either so we moved on a fair distance and picked our way through deep foliage upstream, chatting away whilst also viewing some good-looking but difficult to access water; after a while we reached a prime spot and slotted back for a while.  Buzz’s advice was that we should wait on the bank for light levels to fall.

He certainly knows his river and it did look like a decent venue to produce fish, sure enough, when the sun began to tone itself lower and head off towards Dungavel Hill, it was as if someone flicked on a switch … fish began to rise again and Buzz demonstrated how it was done fairly rapidly, with a fair few fish brought to hand with little signs of any excess effort.  I was left trying to find my rhythm, this was not due to any lack of decency from Buzz though as I had suggested that we have an evening fishing the way he would fish by himself; there’s more merit in learning from observational fishing, with someone fishing naturally in my view, I don’t expect to impose on people and be guided by fishing friends to the detriment of their own fishing; similarly, I don’t expect to unlock things first visit either.

I spent most of the evening messing with my set up, feeling uncertain of how to tackle things and generally screwing things up … the darkness wasn’t going to wait for me and soon took hold of proceedings.  Meanwhile the fish switched into top gear, as if to say ‘come on, sort it out’, we were fishing into the night and the day just wasn’t long enough after all, so the pursuit continued into almost total darkness.  As the night took hold I began to get in a better rhythm, by now I was just happy to be out in a new river.  Any true fishermen will know that relaxing into things is paramount and my spirits rose as I suddenly felt fish tug at my fly, the local fish were beginning to warm to me – admittedly I needed to learn how to swear as aggressively as a Scot’s man but with a little training that wasn’t too difficult.  The fish still messed with me though before eventually allowing me into the fold; I had missed many takes but they were communicating and I began to get to grips with things as I struggled with the diminishing visibility;  a change of mindset and a switch to one of Buzz’s excellent high viz Balloon Caddis flies was what was needed to give me the necessary confidence; I could just about make the fly out on the surface against the black mercury but things felt right.

Feeling fish hit the fly took over more than trying to spot them rise, striking at any hint of a rise in the blackness was the tactic and I finally managed to catch myself a small brown … nothing to shout about I’ll admit but it was my first ever Scottish trout; us fly fisher folk are a fickle bunch, with many seemingly irrelevant bench marks but this one was a precious thing to me.  The little jewel took a fair amount of effort to extract compared to the ones I coax out of my home environment but like most things hard won, I was bowled over to have opened my ‘Scottish Account’; Buzz overlooked my incompetence in far too decent a way by saying ‘once you’ve caught a fish out the Clyde you can catch them anywhere’.

Now to make my excuses, the river is different in character to the ones I’ve been accustomed to in Wales and the South West and it’s a venue that I have a lot to learn about, as my first taster, it was an enjoyable short evening visit with the added benefit of some great company, who also just happened to come with a huge amount of local knowledge; I am left with the feeling that there is much more to offer from the Clyde and I will need to return to study her in more depth at some point, perhaps in the spring next time.  It’s poetic justice that a Sassenach shouldn’t have it easy on his first fishing across the Scottish border but I’m not complaining, I was quite happy with my lot.

I should make sure I introduce Buzz properly … Mr Mark McGee is a specialist in all things ‘Clyde’, in both summer and winter, you can rest easy that there’s someone safe at the helm when being introduced to the area … ‘Buzz’ ties the meanest of flies and offers guiding services upon request to a select few (click on Buzz Fly Fishing ), if you’re heading that way you should look him up, there is no-one better to show you around.

Tight Lines, Splash.

One for the road, a Gin clear Wellow

A quick entry as time is short, I managed to squeeze a half day with my pal Vince Brandon on the Wellow on Saturday morning; a leisurely wake up and a quick hop in the car from home along the M5 and M4, speeding along the scenic high road into Bath, swerving through an usually quiet city centre (pre-shopper arrival) and out through the country lanes,  meeting outside the Fox and Badger in Wellow just before 10am; a perfect place to live, picturesque homes, people on horses, folks tending their gardens and everyone saying good morning … plus of course, an idyllic small stream just 100 yards below the village.  We were both early and wasted no time in moving on to park in the village car park (rather than bung up the road outside the pub).  We were both on borrowed time but still managed to sneak just a couple of hours into the diary for a meet before the holiday season proper, just enough time to form some relaxed fishing on this wonderful little stream.  Tricky low water and gin clear conditions made for fickle fish, we saw them and they saw us, trout were darting off all over the place; a series of comedy snags and schoolboy casting errors were par for the course for both of us to begin with but we settled down and managed a few nice healthy fish.  A hasty bonus visit to chalk in the records, almost rushed but actually just about long enough for both of us to get our nature fix and some good friendly banter, followed by a quick drink in the pub before shooting off to get back to our family duties.

Tight Lines, Splash

That Time of Year

I’ve not been fishing much lately due to an over packed diary,  the summer season is always hectic for your average architect / father / school governor come fly fisherman … many things need to be wrapped up before even beginning to imagine getting away on holiday.  This time last year I was dreaming of Sewin (Sea Trout) and went on to catch some in the Teifi whilst on holiday in west Wales, this year we have two trips planned, one to Scotland and the other to the French Alps.  I will be away for a while but keep an eye on the blog as I’ll aim to capture my travels and report back when I can; in the meantime, some memories from yesteryear:

Sewin fishing is a vampire like past time; creeping around late at night like a poacher, feeling like you’re up to no good, every sound heightened – ready to jump out of your skin.  Unnatural sounds split the thick silence, perhaps a sheep adjusting it’s slumber and leaning on it’s night time tin shelter or some other strange sound that makes the mind jolt mentally like an electric current has been applied.  Creeping around with your nerves on edge is not natural for your average 40 something, every small event is magnified, resulting in an inner lightning flash of adrenalin which courses through the veins; somehow your trepidation and instinct to remain quiet means you still maintain the control of a viper, the energy is internalised as you’re keen to become part of the darkness and not to allow the mental fireworks to become visible physically. 

Seemingly insignificant daytime issues become disproportionately acute under a night sky; I recall feeling uneasy wading chest deep in the darkness with the sound of rapids behind me, the water pulling at me like the Earth pulls at the moon, a constant reminder of the power of gravity and water, intimidating the psyche in a way that feels of greater magnitude than when experienced in daylight … the ears, imagination and other senses take over as the key sensory input whilst you get used to casting with very little visual feedback; an odd sense of excited alertness takes over you, a mix of slight uneasyness but focussed excitement and control over the fight or flight mechanism, you can understand why people get obsessed with Sewin fishing, as it’s almost like some form of performance enhancing narcotic has been introduced into the system. 

The occasional views of full moon soon felt like the face of a welcome friend as it peered out from behind the tumbling clouds, the increased brightness allowing me to see the line sparkle across the surface and judge the distance of cast that I was putting out – according to the book I was reading back in the coziness of the holiday cottage  just a few hundred yards away, moonlight is supposed not to be ideal when Sewin fishing but I was more than happy to see it on occasions as it is an able accomplish; sometimes the casts were working out well, other times the line was around my thighs, an alternative form of feedback telling me I’m not retrieving fast enough in relation to the current; even when retrieving correctly, fishing with discipline was key, keeping your house in order is clearly a priority whilst night fishing; the spare line catching round the scoop net would hinder the cast when putting the line back out and was an unwelcome frustration in the blackness which demanded a different net set up, just one example of a number of small tweaks that were necessary to avoid making a hash of things in the dark. 

Somehow, by the end of the second late night, I suddenly heard the splash of a good specimen somewhere nearby;  a different mindset took over, as I stopped thinking too much about the process and sensed where the fish was, by some fluke of nature I managed to gel all the recent experiments into a whole, resulting in the indisputable feel of a powerful fish on the end of the light blue intermediate sinking line; for a moment the fish demonstrated, vicious flashes of silver crashing through the surface … an impressive spectacle for my eyes only, the Sewin smashed in and out of our two worlds aggressively but in vain, as by now the fish was securely hooked by the specialist fly I’d selected after receiving plenty of good advice from more accomplished night prowlers, I used a big long fly with blues and blacks in it, tied on a large barbed black hook with a small trailing treble masked in the long hair, this was coupled with a heavy leader that would have pulled a dead sheep out if I’d of snagged one by accident, the quarry had little chance of breaking off and my line retrieving left hand was on autopilot. 

It felt other worldly when somehow I managed to pull the fish into the net, although to allow myself some credit, I’d done my research, persisted in the long hours around midnight without a hint of a fish for some time and tackled the proceedings with a constant open mind, reviewing every action as I went along … it was seriously satisfying to achieve my aim and the feeling when all the little decisions came together to capture the somewhat elusive quarry that I’d read so much about was simply magical!

The location where I caught my first Sewin (taken in daylight, it’s a lot different at night):Tight Lines, Splash

Standing in the Shadows

It’s been pretty hectic in the world of Splash lately but I managed to steal a day back on Saturday to get out fishing with the lads on the Clydach (from left to right: Ceri Sweeney, Terry Bromwell and Nick Steedman).  The Taff was running high, so we opted to fish one of her tributaries instead, Nick hasn’t been on this particular water before and his first impression, on seeing the flow rushing through at the bottom of the tributary near its confluence with the main river, was that it was barely fishable but Terry and I know from previous experiences that this is actually a good time to visit.  The weather was wet and changeable for most of the day, giving way to sunshine and warmth later.  Dry fly fishing wasn’t really practical with such fast water, so we all opted for nymphing; it was a bit of a slow pick up for Nick and I compared to Terry and Ceri who had started further upstream but we kept moving and once our eye was focussed in on spotting the right lies, it soon became clear that nymphing was the right choice on this visit and remained the predominant method used all day.  We did dabble with dries later in the afternoon, when we found pockets of more manageable water, as the levels dropped slightly and the colour cleared a touch but this was only for short bursts, unlike other visits when the river was flowing slower making for entertaining dry fly sport.  Even though fast and raging white water was the norm throughout most of the waters we covered, the fish didn’t seem to mind as they were on the boil and appeared to have welcomed the flush through from the recent rain, which no doubt stirred up lots of bugs for them to eat.  We managed well over a 100 powerful little stream fish between us, the fishing was great despite us getting a little wet from the rain and it was a great day out with good company … I’ll let the pictures do the talking.

Some of the feisty little inhabitants:

Despite lurking around in the shadows most of the day, the sun peaked through on occasions and reminded us of the colours of summer (Foxglove):

Tight Lines, Splash

Chalking Up Numbers

 

On Saturday 2nd July I managed to fish a different sort of stream to the ones here locally and in Wales, chalk stream fishing is something I’ve only done once or twice before and I do have to admit to usually preferring my river fishing in wilder locations, so a trip eastward in pursuit of adventure was a little out of character.  In years gone by I used to travel to London often for work, so retracing the familiar route that I used to embark on as part of a commuting regime for a leisure trip on a Saturday morning had a confused feeling about it, the pace of life we’ve settled into in our tucked away spot is my preferred sanctuary these days.  The difference of pace is something we relish, we’re lucky to live in the country and work fairly locally, so getting onto the motorway heading towards London was not the most natural thing to do.  I nipped down the M5 onto the M4, even though it was early in the weekend somehow I found myself jockeying for position, getting washed along in a hectic 3 lane cavalcade of traffic pushing on frenetically towards the capital.  This was not the relaxed pace I would usually experience when heading in other directions, it felt like I was heading the wrong way but I buried this thought, turned up Sounds of the Sixties on Radio 2 and went with the flow.  Taking in the rolling scenery along the M4 corridor and given the pace everyone was traveling I soon passed the junctions for Bath and then Swindon, plus a couple of motorway service stations, before beginning to concentrate on homing in on the destination.  I had planned to do this via exiting a junction earlier than necessary and approaching the west side of the town via a B road; covering the last few miles at a slower pace was a purposeful decision, allowing me to re-tune the mental frequencies and soak up the lie of the land more easily.  Sean is a good fellow and heaps of fun, so despite the odd feeling of heading towards increased urbanity to go fishing I was still feeling positive, ready to look for the best in whatever was on offer; he had invited me to tackle a little gem of chalk stream that he’d found somewhere within his local patch but hadn’t offered many more details.  As I neared the end of the journey I began to wonder what was in store.  Knowing Sean he wouldn’t have suggested a place that involved a bit of a trek unless the  prospects were good and he would be wary that I am spoilt for choice living where I do, knowing full well what is available to me within an equivalent radius of the distance covered to meet him.  I could have travelled to the Taff, crossing notable rivers like the Wye & Usk, or I would have been able to reach streams on Exmoor, or the Monnow System, to name just a few possibilities.

After slipping off the motorway I drove directly to the rendezvous point on the outskirts of town; my SatNav was in action just to be sure but this was unnecessary as the destination was clearly sign posted.  Checking the time I realised I was far too early, so stopped to buy some provisions and fill the car up to use up some of the excess but even after doing this there was still half an hour to spare; luckily Sean arrived soon after I did.  We had a brief chat about the various fishing available locally and concluded that the already bright conditions and rapidly warming temperatures suggested it would be a scorcher, so we opted to fish somewhere with some shade.  Sean knew just the right spot some 5 minutes drive away, so we moved off in convoy, hopping round the outskirts of the town and parking up in a residential street nearby.  The suburban setting was a little different to what I’m used to but this wasn’t an issue, as I’d already spotted the stream when crossing a bridge a few hundred yards back and it was now trickling past right next to us looking idyllic.  We had a brief walk and with just a few strides we were soon tucked away among foliage on a bank side footpath, with fish clearly visible throughout the length of the beat.  After a few minutes I commented that I’d seen enough to know that I should be holding a fishing rod and not heading further from the car without one, so we returned to the vehicles and tackled up. 

We had parked at the upstream extent of the beat, so we needed to wander down stream again to get access to the fishing.  Rather than being strict with ourselves and getting to the logical start point, we couldn’t resist having a go at the fish we could see en route, either casting from the bank side or dropping into the edge of the stream at suitable access points.  I soon managed a couple of small Grayling, although the bigger fish were trickier to coax using this method but we continued leap frogging past each other downstream chancing our luck.  This isn’t a technique I would usually use on the rivers I fish, as the colour and depth don’t often make this a practical method and of course, you also risk spooking the fish, but as we were in a relaxed mood it was nice to just dabble, soaking in the pleasant morning and giving the fish every chance to avoid us.  Sometimes it’s nice to not get too het up with maximising the number of fish brought to hand and we were having great fun watching the fish in action.  Sometimes they would turn their head just a touch before rejecting the fly, sometimes moving fast to inspect it, sometimes slow, or they might follow it back down stream some distance, or lurch up stream to check it out early; most of the time they were wise to us but just occasionally they would give in to the urge to take the fly.  The fish in this particular stream are used to passers by, as the public footpath runs right next to the water (on both sides in places) and they don’t seem to associate the presence of people with getting caught all that much, although they are more than a little wary and careful to check out their actual food source before feeding.  Nevertheless, the morning session saw a good few fish, although we were sidetracked by chatting more than fishing but a sociable day out is as good as anything, so there was no problem there. 

After a stop for lunch and a cup of tea, we eventually got back to the river in a more serious mood; even so, we gave in again and did a bit more sight fishing before heading off to the start of the section.  We were just about to tackle the stream ‘properly’ when unfortunately Sean was interrupted by the sound of his mobile phone and after a little debate he was called away on a domestic errand.  I was left to tackle the afternoon session on my own, an unexpected outcome and a little unfortunate for Sean but it did allow me to concentrate on the task in hand and see what the stream really had to offer.

After saying our good byes I got into the river just in front of a road bridge; road noises, passing ambulances and the rowdy conversation from a nearby pub garden soon dissolved into the background as I focussed on fishing.  I could still see fish to target upstream but this time I also worked on prospecting through the promising lies.  Not many fish were rising, so I had opted to use the nymph only, with the addition of a small piece of Strike Out yarn that helps as an indicator in the faster water, allowing me to explore the deeper lies for the hidden treasure.  I was soon into a good Grayling and then another … and another … and another … the fish were everywhere, I could do no wrong, they just kept on coming and I proceeded to catch fish after fish, taking three or four out of each lie for a solid few hours, I was really in the zone and my world became one based solely on fish predation.  I’d lost track of time spending an age working up a deeply foliaged section and only noticed the outside world again when I emerged into a clearer spot.  The sun seamed to have shifted to a lower angle in the sky at an escalated rate and it dawned on me how fast the time had gone.  Thoughts of home comforts and the distance of the return journey entered my mind, after such intensive fishing I was suddenly struck by how tired I was.  I had worked my way half way up the section to where we’d been fishing previously and was reminded of how long I’d been out.  I checked the time, it was nearly 5pm and upon realising this my focus lagged away entirely.  You can have too much of a good thing, I hadn’t noticed fatigue creeping up on me with all the intense activity; fishing in a crouched position for hours on end without taking a break certainly takes it out of you.  A niggling back pain had crept in and some stiffness across the shoulders were signs from a body requesting a break and asking to go home, so as I had more than filled my boots it felt like the right time to call it a day.  I had already gone well past the point of quitting whilst ahead a while back, as the numbers of fish had to be into the late thirties.  The pictures below represent only a portion of the days events, I didn’t bother taking pictures of really small fish and the odd fumbled unhooking accounted for a few more than recorded, not to mention the number of missed takes and long-range catch and releases.

So despite my initial mixed feelings, it had transpired to be a great days fishing after all, many thanks to Sean.  What remains up most in my mind is the positive effects of the habitat work that has been done on the river; I haven’t determined if the EA or Local Authority (or both) were the instigators yet but it’s clear  a lot of positive effort has been put into forming gravel beds and shaping the bank sides, along with timber posted retainers / planted areas and in stream flow deflectors; these work together all along the stretch and combine to create a well conceived whole, shaping the river into a flowing serpentine form.  The scheme has created lots of pockets paired with well oxygenated riffles and the  habitat is obviously allowing the fish to thrive; I don’t know what it was like before of course but I can’t imagine it would have been so productive.  I am told that the work began in 2006 and has been formed over a few years, so it’s still early days yet, as the fish population is likely to still be developing – the predominant fish were Grayling but there were also a fair number of Trout;  I suspect the proportions of the catch would have been more Trout orientated if I were to visit again to fish dry fly only in the evening but I’m not complaining, as catching Grayling is just as much fun as anything and boy did I have a lot of fun on the day; it’s an outstanding stream and I have witnessed some exceptional improvement works first hand so it was well worth the trip; I hope to return to the area to see what else is on offer soon.

Tight Lines, Splash

Fishtec Support Bloggers

The good people at Fishtec have recognised this blog in their latest list of ‘blogs to be reckoned with’ .

The list includes a growing band of brothers (& sisters) who take the time to write-up their thoughts and post pictures and clips of their fishing antics for the world to see; why do we do it some might wonder?  In my case it is mainly to have a record of my fishing trips, capture the awe-inspiring details in nature and to try to relay the connection you make with the fascinating aquatic ‘other’ world that fly fishing takes you into.   I also like to showcase the enthusiasm and skills of many fishing friends who I meet whilst documenting my travels to different fishing spots. You get to see special places when out fly fishing, sometimes miles from anywhere but sometimes in spots hidden (and not always hidden) just under people’s noses; there is a sense of being involved in something special when you’re out stalking for trout; every time I go out it’s like a mini holiday that helps clear out the mental cobwebs, it’s a challenge to try to get this recorded and hopefully my posts convey this whilst helping motivate others to get out there and have a go.  Likewise, it is good to soak up other people’s passion for fly fishing and I enjoy reading other people’s blogs; many of my favourites are included in Fishtec’s records, so being listed among them is most welcome, many thanks to Fishtec for their support and to all the other bloggers for their inspiring efforts – keep on blogging!

There are hundreds of people I could mention but I’d particularly like to mention Dave Wiltshire and Gareth Lewis for inspiration and at this point I’d like to make a special mention of my ‘butty’ Terry Bromwell who has also made the list, I’ve learnt a lot fishing with Terry and I’ll take this opportunity to showcase some great images and point you at a particularly fascinating little film clip from the blog he’s started recently, an amazing example of capturing a stunning wild brown trout feeding naturally in the way Vincent Marinaro describes in his books.   Terry explained the antics he went through to film the clip to me whilst we were chatting on the phone a few days ago and there aren’t many people I know who would take the time and put in the effort required to do this, or perhaps even be able to achieve the delicacy needed to place themselves without spooking the fish; Terry informed me that filming this clip involved 30 minutes and a slow and careful approach, clambering along the bankside, balancing along drainage pipes and hanging from a tree by one arm whilst filming with the other (which is why the clip goes wobbly half way through, as he’s readjusting his grip).  Even more impressive is that after Terry worked hard to get it on film, he then went on and caught the fish a short while later; you’ll realise at this point that the nickname Fishstalker fits perfectly – well done Terry! 

You can read his full report at Taff Diaries :

Tight Lines, Splash

Fathers’ Day

Mid Winter – Christmas morning 2010:

Mid Summer – Fathers’ Day 2011:

Time rolls on ever so fast these days and half years turn over like half a month; sometime in mid winter last year I set myself the task of writing a blog for a year and now it seems we’re half way through, the blog has taken on a character all of it’s own, it’s like I am part of it but somehow it almost seems to write itself, I simply need to engage with the opportunities offered me and flow with the stream, taking on the chances to get out there and fish when they come my way.  Similarly, the concept of fathers’ day creeps up on you fast and this year I’ve found that something that I didn’t consider all that important before some how becomes something you take a little more seriously.  It was a good day, the children are at at age where they can now work under their own steam (well almost) and with only a little help from the local school and mum, I was blessed with a card each from the children, plus a new shirt which was a bonus that came as a surprise (as well as a new Orvis CFO fly reel from the whole family to me, via me … ahem) – not half bad.  The first half of the day was a typical family Sunday morning, followed by an afternoon of leisurely fly tying of some summer flies that I’ve promised to tie for Mostyn in return for a silk line he’d given me.  A pleasant thing to do whilst sat at my desk with one of my favourite films streaming to the computer in the background; the children had left me in peace and visited their grandparents for Sunday dinner.  Now I would usually welcome a Sunday roast over in Wales but this time I dodged it by using my ‘fathers’ day trump card’ the one that’s given to you for good behaviour the rest of the year and that allows you to do what you please on this particular day, freeing time for a late afternoon trip out with my buddy Nick on the local river. 

Nick arrived around 5pm to collect the booty I’d bagged him from the BFFI the day before and then we whizzed off to the river around 5.30pm.  Fickle fish were few and far between and only the odd rise was visible but on the local we’re in our natural environment, so by  being efficient with time and distance, covering the most likely spots as a priority, we still managed to catch a good few.  What sticks in my mind is how nice an evening it was; the weather was not too hot, which is surprising, as at this time of year the sun feels very close (it is the equinox after all).  The light levels were high though, even with the evening fading away as the sun gets lower in the sky, high luminance levels meant that powerful rays still managed to glare through the tree canopy, penetrating through the densely leaf burdened overhead bows with ease.  It’s all very yīnyáng this time of year, in the mid winter the trees lose their foliage whilst the ice makes solids of the water as the sun fights to push it back, in the summer the sunlight contrasts strongly with the shadows thrown from the foliage that guards the more sensitive flora and fauna underneath from being scorched by too much heat.

So, on to the notable fishing events – one big break off for me at the end of the evening is still haunting me, a ‘Humpy’ lost at dusk beckons a further visit later this week (if I can squeeze it in) and a nice Grayling came to the dry fly for Nick.  The latter was pleasing, as Nick is now sorted with fishing outside his comfort zone, resisting the urge to use habitual techniques that he usually relies on and is now happy to forego the nymph or duo in favour of seeking active or induced rises with stealthy dry fly stalking.  In my opinion this is the best way to enjoy the summer months on our home turf; to see Nick getting to grips with this with great skill, using the back handed cast demonstrated so well by Paul (Lighthouse) and getting the ‘angle of the cast’ right for presentation was a high point of this particular little trip.  The positioning of the fly was an eye opener for me, as I would usually aim to be more cautious in landing my fly beyond the fish in it’s stream position but that’s the beauty of fly fishing, misconceptions abound and we all learn on every trip … we had a great evening and I even managed to capture proceedings on film (see below), hopefully the clip sums up what small stream dry fly fishing is all about?

There’s no need for me to spend too long waffling on, as it was clearly a halcyon summer’s evening on the local stream, one to remember during those cold winter months.

 

Tight Lines, Splash

Home Sweet Home

For the first time in ages I managed to fish the local river, my buddy Sean and I had planned to get out late afternoon but we got delayed on finishing off a few elements of a bespoke house build project we’ve been working on for a while nearby; funny how work has a way of conspiring against fishing trips.  We eventually managed to get out though, the light levels were dropping steadily in the shaded valley near Damery but we conjured up a fairly decent hasty evening session; a welcome end to a hectic day.  I can’t help feeling like it was a bit of a short changed visit for Sean though, as it took us two years to get around to syncing a diary date!  We spent an hour or so making slow progress, wondering where the rises were in a spot that I would usually expect to have been productive on a late evening visit but as nothing much was stirring we abandoned that section.

We then moved up river a bit and got settled into a more likely spot; the area was usually a dead cert and the patch that I suggested that Sean should begin to prospect in produced a fish first cast.  This may have proved that the theory of ‘fishing where the fish are’ and ‘moving on’ to find them is a good one in certain circumstances, it did prove the right decision to start over in a new beat.  Feeling pleased Sean was up and running I left him to it for the last half hour; three wild browns and a OOS/almost in season Grayling was the result.  I feel content to have got Sean settled into some productive fishing on the river given our lack of time; like every good host, I like people to benefit from a positive experience on my home turf and as it was looking like an evening of fickle, sparse and tentative rises earlier on, we didn’t fair to badly, not quite the Halcyon evening session I’d planned for us but actually not far off ?  

Anyway, back to earth captain Splash … I had already missed a few fast popping circles whilst trying to demonstrate the likely spots and had been feeling uncertain the fish were in the right mood to harmonise with our will to extract them from their evening sub-surface but once Sean was up and running, we were fine and settled in nicely.  I left Sean to have a good go at a nice productive section whilst I went elsewhere to try and trick a few from less accessible spots further on.  All in all it was a nice and relaxed evening flipped positively in our favour after a hectic day.  Sean will be back soon I’m sure and has mentioned he might get his name down to join the club; next time we fish together it will be on Sean’s patch in the Oxford area, we haven’t decided exactly where yet but have a day set in the diary for early July … it’s another case of watch this space.

Some pictures of the visit, please excuse the slight blurriness of some of them, the shots were suffering from lower light levels than my compact could handle:

Tunnel Vision

I’ve been a little obsessed with crossing the bridge into Wales or driving miles around Gloucester to visit the Monnow of late, to such an extent that I’ve not really fished the local river or taken up invites to fish streams closer to home.  On Saturday I made amends and had a great day on the Box Brook (near Isambard Kindom Brunel’s Box Tunnel) just outside Bath, with a fellow Berkeley Estate Fishing Syndicate member Dave Morton.  Dave is a member of the management team at BEFS and is also responsible for river maintenance on the Box Brook.  I won’t waffle on too much in this post, except to say it was a pleasure to get out with someone who cares so much about water systems and is good company to fish with – Dave was insistent on putting me into the best spots first and more concerned that I had a good time fishing than anything else on the day of my visit … which I did of course.  Three fish in the first 15 metres set the day up just fine for me, it allowed us to relax and chat (as well as fish) with no need to worry about chalking up numbers; much of the success was down to the fly of the day that was provided by Dave and named the ‘Rupert Bear’, a striking yet slightly bizarre Mayfly caricature that despite looking a bit odd, for some reason really manages to do the trick in the slow waters under the shadow lined tree tunnels that prevail on the brook.  I believe the fly can be purchased in the vicinity of Usk (you’ll know where I’m sure).

Watch this space for future postings, as we’ve pencilled in a late season visit, so I’ll be back to cover this venue in more detail later this year in the autumn.


Thanks to David Morton or ‘Big Dave’ as he’s known to his fishing buddies in BEFS!

Tight Lines, Splash

Concentric Circles on the Monnow

A 4cm Monnow Minnow:

The film Powers of Ten was visually striking the first time I saw it as a lad, it was filmed in the year I was born and released in 1977 – the original idea was taken from a book from the 50’s; these days Google Earth drags the concept into the 21st Century, offering interactive globe-trotting with an amazing level of accessibility to mapped info.  Like many people I use it to assess fishing possibilities by studying topography and many other factors.  These days it’s simple to look at the available information just as easily as playing a computer game.  Often the first visit to a venue is one of scoping territory at eye level after a virtual map reading exercise, assessing possibilities for fishing that follow on from studying on-line info is a great benefit of this semi-virtual day and age.  As the last trip to the Monnow was one of overview and introduction in the old style, via esteemed hosts, with little strategic decision-making involved on my part (and the author’s eyes suffering somewhat from an ability to focus on the job in hand for some reason), the return visit was one that allowed a better gaining of bearings and scrutiny of the details at a more controlled and leisurely pace.  This trip was more like the ones I would usually undertake under my own steam, although the return visit to the Monnow was enabled courtesy of a generous offer of a guest ticket by Dave Smith (thanks Dave).  It transpired to be a bit like the return to the scene of a traffic accident, taken in order to piece together the events from a rather hazy recollection of the last episode, we even took a few wrong turns before finding the desired spot.  Bickering over map reading is all part of  motor touring fun; Mrs Splash and I are masters of spiteful direction related criticisms, we’ve been rehearsing for a fair while now over the years all over the planet, this outing was a welcome excuse for The Splashes to wrangle a Friday afternoon away from the office.  Funny how when on your own you can drive straight to a desired spot but with a map reader you can tour at least half as much again in the area before getting to where you want to go?  This time I was able to ponder the cartography at leisure the evening before visiting and take in the full extent of the waters I have yet to venture into within the Monnow catchment; we could have gone elsewhere on this visit but as we were in a leisurely mood, familiar territory seamed to be a more relaxing prospect – well anyway, it was when we eventually found it! 

We had somehow managed to conjure up a piece of summertime idealism from a wobbly start; the phone just wouldn’t stop ringing back at base in the morning but we exited the house soon enough with time still on our side, the children were benefiting from a week away in Charmouth with the grand parents, work had conspired to keep us from going with them but today we were due some time off and the Monnow offered a perfect venue for a hasty exit.  Dave had suggested we could park behind the Bridge Inn at Garway; we found the spot he described but as we were after a venue for a picnic and fishing, I was feeling a little uncertain of what was on offer on that stretch and Mrs Splash was after a relaxing setting, so we stuck with the location  introduced to me previously.  Re-visiting a spot I’ve fished before is something I like to do sometimes in order to take in the subtleties passed over on the previous visit, seek out the opportunities missed and compare the differences that that particular days conditions might impose.  It was a glorious day, a windows down drive at 26 degrees (according to the car) around Gloucester and across to the Monnow was like driving through warmer countries, we parked up and made our way to a lovely spot on top of some bubbling rapids.  Very bright conditions and low water made for tricky fishing, I discovered that the bigger fish were elsewhere (or at least they were for me), the rises were few and far between and in slightly odd and unpredictable mid river locations compared to the textbook style rises of the last visit but I managed to find a fair few small to medium fish, mainly in faster water; a few came out from under trees as the day cooled off later in the afternoon but none were of any scale (as a number of colleagues have been reporting) but I’m not complaining, it was another great day on the Monnow; however, I am going to have to visit again and try to increase the proportions of the catch.

Mrs Splash was content to read a book next to some rapids for a few hours:

On this trip I had a Fosters of Ashbourne split cane 8ft #5 to play with named ‘ The Champion’, probably last used in the 50’s and judging by the condition perhaps used only once, if at all (?):

The first of the day had amazing markings:

Lots of little circles were clearly visible, if a little minute, popping like corn in the shallow water next to the picnic spot.  On closer inspection we focussed on perfect little rise forms – lovely little surface pings, like little vignettes of the ones we fly fishers usually look for. Fascinating … and some of the little ones were jumping clean out the water, with a scoop of the net just a couple were captured from the thousands of little fish flipping away in the shallows:

The last of the day was typical of a fair few small but healthy fish that were taken in between:

Then with no need to rush home, we visited the Monnow fly fisher’s local, The Crown at Longtown (image from Golden Valley Art ):

More nectar delivered in the form of Wye Valley Brewery ‘Butty Bach’ accompanied by an excellent plate of gastro pub style seafood pasta, far better food than the understated country pub chalk board menue might have suggested, Monnow socilaites will be shocked to notice that Mrs Splash is drinking at a faster pace!:

Tight Lines, Splash

French Nymphing in a Welsh River under a Bavarian Castle?

Last weekend I watched the Eurovison Song Contest, this week I’ve mainly been getting confused by the whole concept of Euro Nymphing … with a French Leader tied on you feel fit for purpose but take care as this feeling can soon unravel.  Somehow when your bit of Orange string is floating at distance and (apparently) it looks like it’s doing what it should be, then you’re French Nymphing, you can also pick this off the river surface as long as you still maintain slack line at distance you’re still in the  realms of liberté, égalité and fraternité but then it comes into close range and the slack falls out of the equation, then apparently we’re then into Czech nymphing territory.  I’ve not sufficiently stoic to begin to think about considering what the Polish and Germans do at present.  The way you use your leader appears to change a lot within 10 or 20 yards on a Welsh river, kind of globe trotting a la nymph technique; it’s all very perplexing, all this border hopping makes my head hurt, when it comes to getting into Euro nymphing I think I’ve scored nil or perhaps a measly deux points?

A hastily organised opportunity to fish some good Welsh water came together last minute just before the weekend; the i’s and t’s were left drifting, as the organisation was undemandingly minimal and just about tacked together amongst our work and other commitments.  I can’t speak for the boys but it was a bit of a coup on my part, grabbing a day pass just before the demand for chaffering the children took hold.  I managed to stick a flag in the pinnacle named ‘Dad’s going fly fishing” and claim it as mine for the Saturday.  It’s been a while since I’ve had a chance to get out fishing with ‘my buttie’ Terry and introduce ‘my buddie’ Nick to the wonders of the river Taff  (and it’s a good job I speak South Walian, or these two couldn’t have communicated).

I’ll cut to the chase; in fishing terms my role was that of average level involvement, dropping to useless bystander on much of this outing.  It simply wasn’t happening for me, a few missed takes and then long dead periods of very slow going lead to a lack of concentration and distractions took hold of me, so I donned the cloak of scribe and cameraman.  Demonstrating a hopeless lack of fishing focus comes naturally sometimes, after a hectic week, not being able to raise the right levels of drive needed to respond to the delicate takes and tune into the Heron like sharpness required for French nymphing is sadly all too easy.  Spending too much time taking in the scenery and waxing lyrical is good for blog writing but doesn’t get the job done, the boys got down to the proper business of nymphing with far greater efficiency, whilst I faffed with camera and took in the wildlife, wading through potential good lies and clambering up banksides  to get better view points for photos.  Prodigy Nick held our end up and concentrated on the real issues in hand, after seeing Terry take four reasonably sized fish out of the first pool within circa  5 minutes of the kick off, it was clear who he needed to copy, the most impressive extractions happened whilst we were getting tackled up and just started dipping our toes in the margins. Once in the river, getting accustomed to teetering amongst the big rocks that make for tricky Taff style wading took a while to re-acclimatise to as well (I can sense people thinking ‘excuses excuses’) but we got into mode and managed to cover some lovely water.

Whilst I cursed a lot and  wrestled mentally with my miscalculated assumptions on the simple pleasures of fishing and the supposed relaxing nature of this particular fly fishing trip, I was simultaneously pondering the theories behind the 4 dimensional complexities of French nymphing and thoughts of the probability of getting the nymphs through in the right line at the right time on each drift at the same moment a fish is ready to take.  Arguably French nymphing is a type of conceptual fishing for those with imagination and focus, or at least it appears that way to my ill disciplined brain? It seems to me that much of it is done via imagining the river topography and contents below;  I’m realising that I need to get more attuned to these issues and drop the misconceptions that it is a passive or secondary technique; you can think about things too much of course and as the day was full of late spring bristle, with lime green tones settling down into richer hues and darker green bass tones kicking in with abundance,  I just clicked away with the camera. This time of year is a change point, natures initial botanic enthusiasm settles as the foliage begins to bears the full volume of the seasons freshness and kicks back ready for summer, I was just content to be out and about. 

Now I’m a bit of a ‘dray flay’ man on the quiet, not through any perception of eliteness but mainly because it is visual, direct and interactive (not that nymphing isn’t) but as a graduated coarse fisherman, my buddy Nick is into the finer subtleties of sub-surface fishing more than I am (at present), so he was able to take himself beyond the melancholy induced by lack of rises and get into the unseen zone without undue fuss.  Terry is a nymphing master and on this trip he mentioned it’s his natural and preferred method of fishing, so the boys focussed on just doing it.  Nick already accomplished but learning the finer points of ”Welsh Nyphing” from Terry, all at a rapid pace that gels when people just appear to ‘get it’ … Terry just doing what Terry does naturally and generously coaching able scholar Nick to greater levels of skill.  At this stage I should outline the etiquette involved in this sort of trip; whilst you might pay for pleasantries from an official guide, when you’re out with your mates (even if they know the water and you don’t), then the challenges are old style, it’s like being back in the 70’s, you’ll receive a few pointers but put simply, the fishing is raw and real and you need to take responsibility for yourself.  The day is devoid of risk assessments and CRB checks and there are but a few simple rules – firstly you should try to remember to avoid drowning, if you do fall, remember to smile at the camera as you disappear over the rapids, then perhaps think about working on not taking offence if someone laughs at your inadequacies or cock ups … and for gods sake, please just try and keep your pecker up and enjoy the party … actually, it’s wrong of me to offer this fairy tale description, as it’s always a relaxed good laugh when out with both Terry and Nick, being able to learn by your own mistakes amongst friends is what it’s all about and this makes for a an uncomplicated day out, just another great day on the river.  The going was tough in fishing terms though, as the river was on its bones … nevertheless, a fair number of fish were extracted and subjected to a photo study.  As usual the requisite levels of fun were easily exceeded, Terry out fished everyone as normal and Nick soaked up all the pointers,  I’ll be back soon to apply what I’ve learnt in my own time.

Nick bending the rod a little and yours truly doing some sort of that there ‘Bavarian style, Czech, French, Welshing’ (?):

Bug shots (first two courtesy of Terry Bromwell):

Tight Lines, Splash

Addendum – feeling a little short changed by the last visit, the urge to return was niggling me; I managed a 50 minute return visit on the 31st May, as I was in the area with fishing kit in car and time to spare.  Managed two well proportioned browns out of the section shown in the first picture; no fish pics I’m afraid as traveling light and fast on the river but hasten to say the mental balance is now restored!  A lovely summer’s day and it was good to be out, with Mrs Splash on board the fishing wasn’t the only issue on the agenda, with the children safely packaged off with the grand parents on holiday in Charmouth were free to roam so a visit to the castle was in order followed by a couple of early evening ‘Butty Bachs’ in the Inn at the top of the lane.