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


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)

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


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

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.

Monnow Social Event 2011

A few weeks ago I signed up to a long weekend fishing after browsing an interesting thread on an internet forum, in a spontaneous moment I PM’d a colleague and soon after I was booked on my first outing to the legendary annual social event put on by those generous fellows at the Monnow Fisheries Association; I’d heard the waters that run through the crevasses around the Black Mountains in Monmouthshire are something to behold, the time had come to venture amongst them.  I decided to immerse myself fully in the weekend and blocked the Friday out the diary in order to join the advanced party. This meant three solid days of river fishing with an eclectic group of affable and dedicated fly fishing folk; you couldn’t wish to meet a better bunch, or for that matter, ever hope to match the logistics involved in assembling them in one place on your own; it was a privilege and an honour to meet everyone and I feel lucky to have had the opportunity to partake in such an event.  During the weekend I was blessed with some remarkable fishing on three sections of the Monnow catchment and more ‘social’ possibilities than you’d expect to undertake with all the fishing going on.  The waters I fished all offered quality fishing, every turn in the water bringing variety; I am left with the lasting impression of a diverse water system nestling amongst stunning border scenery, the dramatic terrain and twisting vistas hint at the gems that lie in the valleys.  The rivers or tributaries appear to be woven into everywhere you visit, they certainly don’t disappoint either, taking centre stage amongst the slopes; in fact I think I’ll go as far as to say the area has got to be classed as a fly fishing Mecca (the pictures and clips in this entry will speak for themselves).

The Friday kicked off well, we all hooked up at 10am over a cup of coffee in the Crown at Longtown.  The pub is a short hop from the B&B and camping site next to the river, providing a perfect venue to hold the event. Robert (Cranefly) informed us of our beats, I was told that the fellow I’d just been chatting with named Paul would be my fishing partner for the day and we were to test a new beat in Clodock; being a little slow on the uptake I didn’t twig it was ‘Lighthouse’ until a little later, so we set off chatting in polite mode, all very civilised for two frequent FFF users (the well honed insults were parked for a while). Paul and I got on like a house on fire; it was a good way to start the weekend with some relaxed stream fishing (normal to me) and it dawned on me that I was finally out fishing with a Monnow veteran in the ‘real world’, Paul had not been out on the streams this season so like a golf game, we were almost on equal handicaps; this is nonsense of course as really Paul was being detored by my newbie banter and I was just happy to be living the dream, rather than looking at pictures of other people enjoying themselves on the internet.  Fishing together isn’t compulsory on the Monnow event though, as you are free to split up to tackle things in anyway you like but as conditions were low and slow and the conversation was flowing better than the river, we stuck it out together, making the most of the social aspects of the day.  There was an added bonus in this, as it allowed me to scrutinise Paul’s GAIA casting skills, hoping some of it would transfer into my grey matter by osmosis; despite the technical challenges from the conditions, it transpired to be a positive first day and we managed to catch just a few small but perfect fish in the deeper sections.

We had wasted no time in getting out fishing as Paul had suggested gambling on the weather and leaving setting up camp until later. This was a good move, as the prompt start and dry afternoon allowed an early return to camp to get organised before the main group arrived.  On arrival at camp I was greeted by Vince (VGB) who took a few moments to say hello between his wanderings fishing around the locality; it was good to put a face to a name at last.  As well as ‘potential’ outstanding fishing, the event offers plenty of chances to meet fellow anglers and swap stories (the clue is in the name).  As more people arrived, the event started taking shape, the advance party and early arrivals settled down to relax, as others trickled into the site by car and camper van.  Dave (Tigermoth) arrived in his classic ‘motor’ and said hello to everyone, I said a brief hello but pushed on with finishing the business of pitching camp in order to be unhindered for later; soon after this I ended up sat down with TAFNACothi & Sewinman. Hightower, Tony (& a transient Dave) sat round as well followed by Paul, Splash2, Tim and a few others who soon joined in (hope I’ve got the names right and haven’t missed anyone?).  The discussion circle gradually expanded to include many of the well known veterans and the banter livened as the evening unfurled.  A few tipples are a factor in most social environments and of course they are a part of this weekend but things were not as excessive as imagined; things do get a little lively but the chat and micky taking is all good-hearted stuff, if a little risqué at times (sadly I won’t be able to print much of it here); it’s clear that ‘Derek and Clive’ jokes are something I need to brush up on!  On the whole it was proving to be a broad ranging event, you don’t have to overindulge, as it’s also possible to take yourself off early, or find solitude along the river bank walks, or get involved with some casting practice (Frank had managed to take a moment out of a busy schedule to make an appearance).  Some of the late arrivals made up for lost opportunities with some leisurely evening fishing  right in front of the campsite.  Gradually the light faded and the aroma from the barbeque wafted across from the marquee to draw the group closer around the mess tent. Somehow a well formed event had sprung up and by half light it was looking like a bizarre travelling circus with casting acrobats doing their tricks outside the big top, a kind of bespoke country pursuits event, staged exclusively for fly fishing compulsives.

It was clear that a technical discussion was possible with some of ‘the gurus’ if you were that way inclined but you only needed to do this if it took your fancy.  Most of us just settled into the weekend feeling confident that a knowledgeable pair of helping hands would always be somewhere nearby to answer any fishing queries as / if / when necessary.  My lasting impression is that this was an event for everyone to enjoy, complexities were kept to a minimum.  Anyway, to pick the pace up a bit, much joviality entailed as the night rolled on and I made full use of the opportunity to be away on tour!

I’ll fast forward a bit to the Saturday morning (ahem). The second day was a tough start due to over enthusiastic après-fishing but I just about managed to make it to breakfast and out on the Garway section on time, I did at least attempt to engage fully in fishing with Neil (Quicksilver) who was only due to be with me for a short spell  in order to get me moving.  Now Neil had managed to pace himself well the night before (I think?) and was full of enthusiasm; he’s as passionate as it gets when it comes to all things ‘Monnow’ and was champing at the bit.  I was lucky to witness further technique pointers and film him catching a good sized fish within minutes. The second day was different in style to the one spent with Paul, we were playing for real and I was nowhere near match fit; the Friday was familiar small stream territory for me (in terms of water characteristics) and it was obvious the conditions were not great so there was little pressure on us but today I was out of my comfort zone on a big river with perfect conditions and huge potential laid out in front of me.

The fact Neil had just plucked a whopping great brown out without even thinking about it was a little daunting but like all the Monnow team, he was concerned to make sure I was set up right and gave me plenty of pointers.  His demonstration of the potential offered by the water was a kick start, this might have had me on the ropes of course but I’ve never been one to dodge a challenge and it helped to serve as a nudge in the right direction.  Rob showed up to collect Neil within 15 minutes, reporting that my fishing buddy had already caught two fish downstream.  They were both keen to get their own day underway and sensing I needed  space to work out a game plan they left me to it; after a further 10 minutes of duffing casts and dodgy presentation, I decided to sit on the bank side and collect my thoughts. Somehow I had managed to find the sense to grab a can of ginger beer and put it in my pocket as we left the car earlier, once consumed it made me feel a little less ragged.  Whilst sat there looking down the river I had a moment of epiphany witnessing plenty of rising fish along the right bank.  Having just wrestled last night’s excesses into submission and re-tuning the mental focus, the path was now clear; it was time to press reset, walk back down to my previous entry point and start all over again – this proved to be the right decision, as things really started happening, a large fish rose after the first few attempts and unfortunately it broke off a tippet but the mindset was readjusted and a small fish soon obliged, other fish kept on coming.  What at first appeared as a daunting prospect quickly turned into one of the best days fishing I’ve ever had, particularly pleasing on a totally new water.  I should thank Neil for the boot up the rear, he’s a really good guy and fairly local to me, so we’ll no doubt be able to catch up and fish again soon.

My fishing buddy Nick caught up with me at 2pm, just as I was releasing another fish.  I’d only really fished 300 metres in half a day, time almsot stood still, having lost count of the number of fish I had snarled, many were subject to long-range catch & release and most were small but plenty came to hand, the typical size of fish is pictured above.  Nick had done reasonably well also so it was clear the crew had helped get us both get up to speed; there was no stopping us now, we carried on taking small and medium-sized fish throughout the afternoon and only called it a day when our wading was halted by a deep section of water.  By now clouds were spitting and turning sombre, so we returned to base camp having both notched up a good day.  Contrary to the warnings and probably due to the fact that the pub didn’t have a beer festival this year, the Saturday evening proved to be a civilised affair (for me at least); just a couple of beers in the pub and then back to base for local steak prepared perfectly by the catering lads; the auction came soon after and was entertaining and suitably rowdy.  After a couple of  glasses of red I got caught up in all the enthusiasm, resulting in a reduced bank balance but with a future fly fishing event to look forward to.

We all managed a relatively early night, allowing many of us to get up at circa 7am; this time I got my act together making use of the campsite’s shower facilities to set the day up right. After a good breakfast I was well prepared for the last day; unfortunately the torrential overnight rain had brought the river up, which had the campers a little concerned, it didn’t look bad but people were scratching their heads a tad.  Rob (Cranefly) was soon on the case and nipped out in the car to survey the catchment for opportunities to fish, returning in a surprisingly short time and calling us into the mess tent. We were still able to fish parts of the system, Nick and I were pleased to ve allocated part of Skenfrith waters for our final venue; this is somewhere that’s been on my to do list for some time, so quite a result.

We broke camp as the sun poked through, said our goodbyes, before following Patrick to our parking spot; he aimed us at the start of our beat and wished us well.  After walking ¾ mile through picturesque fields we were confronted by balmy late morning temperatures and some moving fish.  By now the Monnow crew had worked their magic to full effect, Nick was tackled up first and quickly snagged a fish, it was only small and he failed miserably in copying Vince’s overhead fish flicking technique (the one where you strike at an unknown sized fish with a bigger rod than you’re used to, in order to throw the little par backwards over your head when striking too hard).  Nick hasn’t quite perfected it yet, as the fish took it on itself to jump off the hook on its own accord and only travelled a few feet.

I knotted on my fly a short while later, I had said I would take a back seat and gillie a while to begin with for Nick but unfortunately (for Nick) I’m a liar and nipped in front as the rising fish were popping too many circles to ignore. I managed to spot and raise a good fish immediately, a missed take to my first cast was soon converted to catching a fin perfect brownie on the third presentation (Neil would have been proud).  Nick and I then worked away at metronome paced set of rises for just over an hour and a half , they weren’t easy to fool though and the tentative half rises and trigger happy missed takes were plentiful; however, with a little perseverance and careful presentation, I managed to repeat the success two more times in the first 100 metres of the beat.  We fished on a little further and time had slipped into the early afternoon as the wind got up.  By now the rises were less frequent in the slack water.  I have no doubt there was still lots of promise in the faster water but the fish had gone off the boil on top (patches of gusting riffles were spooking them).  I was questioning the way forwards now, not wanting to put Nick off and close a decent day down early but feeling too shattered to match his enthusiasm.  I had my long nymphing rod in the car and all the right bits of leader kit for French nymphing but I wasn’t minded to begin fishing in this way at this stage of the weekend though.  I was out of steam and felt that the proceedings had reached their end point for me; it couldn’t possibly get any better and knowing when to stop is a principle I’ve been toying with since Friday, so I decided to bow out gracefully.  I left the ever enthusiastic Nick practically the whole section to enjoy by himself (he’d not managed to fish on the Friday, so was due a little extra to make up for this).  I headed for home via Monmouth and the Wye Valley, the old Severn Bridge was soon behind me and a few miles later I settled back in an armchair at home, utterly exhausted but with a great sense of satisfaction.

The weekend definitely lives up to the hype; the fishing is great and the social side is equally well supported. The success of the event can be attributed to an abundance of natural assets and the sense of place, coupled with planning, hard work, judgement and extensive local knowledge among the Monnow crew. An exemplar bunch of guys who show enviable stewardship of their waterways, recently the Wild Trout Trust held their annual get together there, this is for obvious reasons.

Robert, Patrick, Dave & Neil front the proceedings well and many thanks to them and their support crew; I would particularly like to thank Paul (Lighthouse) for getting me going on Friday, his scalpel like wit is better experienced in person and acts as an ice breaker that makes you feel at ease straight away.  It can be a little daunting to turn up to a new water and fish side by side with experienced river fly fishermen / casting instructors but any trepidation soon dissolves once you get going.  I was aiming to learn a few new casting tricks to practice at home and I was able to do this by simply watching someone good in action, it was exactly the kind of mentoring that I like, examples of real world fishing by someone who knows their stuff. I should also take the opportunity to thank all the guests for being good company, everyone made an effort to look after the new recruits and make us feel part of the family.  One last point I should make is that the event was well assembled with careful consideration given to the allocation of beats; Rob and crew were good at gauging the river and forming an action plan which seemed to suit the changeable conditions well. 

I would recommend this event to anyone, the non-fishing catering guys even managed to have a first go at fly fishing on the Saturday under some instruction and caught some fish; I believe this demonstrates an admirable level of accessibility, making the fishing available to all abilities.  Simply put, it’s a top weekend that serves as a great introduction to the area.  I’m already looking forward to returning next year; perhaps I’ll even fit in the occasional trip in between when I get the chance.

Finally, I’d like to quote Nick Steedman’s signature on the FFF (he’s already far too wise for a young one, the smartarse), he didn’t write it as that credit lies with Bernard Venables but I think he gets it better than I do already:

Fundamentally fishing is a philosophy. A philosophy of earth, and growth, and quiet places. In it there is a rule of life, a recognition of permanences. It makes you notice the little things of nature, wherever you may be.

Tight Lines, Splash

Welsh Fly Fair 2011 – Micro Dragons on St George’s Day

(Bug shot above courtesy of Terry Bromwell).

Saturday 23rd April 2011 was a gloriously sunny day, perfect conditions to visit the Welsh Fly Fair at Pontardawe, which is just outside Swansea on the River Tawe.

It was an easy start in the fine weather which made for a leisurely drive into Wales around 8am; spring was bursting out in the fresh morning light and as ‘me and my butties’ were not going to be dressed in grimy fishing gear for a change, I had decided to take the Mercedes for a run.  A little  ‘leather and walnut’ clad motoring was a welcome change to our previous fishing outings in the less glamorous Citroen work horse (the one that usually accompanies me).  Floating along the sparsely populated old Severn bridge road with the sound system buzzing  summer tunes meant the time passed quickly and I  soon found myself level with Cardiff and exiting at Junction 32.  Winding my way up the road towards Pontypridd, you pass Castell Coch (Red Castle) that stands proud above the tree-lined valley.  In days gone by I used to cycle out of the city along the Taff and end up at the castle, so I have a soft spot for it as it brings back memories of care free yesteryears; the castle is well worth a visit, it has a fairy tale like sense of place which is probably why it has been used as a stage set for a number of popular films over the years.  

Back to the day … a few short minutes along the road  I pulled off the dual carriageway and picked my way through the town centre, turned under the heavy stone railway bridge and zig zagged up through steep streets to the rendezvous point. My fishing buddies Terry and Math were visible outside the house, by the time I had turned the car round they were out on the pavement and raring to go, so we wasted no time in getting back on the road and were soon floating up the valley past Aberfan (the site of the tragic mining  tragedy in 1966) before collecting another attendee en-route and heading South West towards Neath; after a while and with a little help from my Blackberry GPS we honed in on the destination around 10am.

The venue was the local Leisure Centre, most likely chosen due to its range of indoor spaces, ample parking, wide grass areas and being next to the river; the show boasted a range of fly dressers, trade stands and a variety of scheduled events covering fly tying, casting and general fly fishing activities inside and outside the hall (whilst on and off the river).  This is the second year for the show and it had expanded to cover two days, I am not sure this was a good thing as unfortunately the good weather and bank holiday weekend had taken its toll on numbers, which was a pleasant thing for those of us who did attend but most likely not so good for those who organised the event. 

Whatever the pros and cons of the day, my ‘butties’ and I managed to enjoy ourselves and had a good day out meeting fellow fisher folk and swapping some good-hearted banter with like-minded people.

Terry Bromwell (Fishstalker) spent a while tying at the show:

Our pal Gareth Lewis was there in his official capacity as a GAIA casting instructor, shown here working on the skills of a young angler:

Mark Roberts of GAIA undertook informative double and single handed casting demonstrations on the river:

The hours whizzed by and after a burger from the van and a pint of Magners from the bar, we made a few purchases and by mid afternoon the day was looking like it would soon to be drawing to an end but we hung on for Charles Jardine’s presentation.  This was a good move, as it proved to be entertaining, in fact, I might go as far as saying he probably stole the show.  Arriving riverside with sampling net in hand full of energy and reassuringly disorganised (in a creative sort of way), he marched off straight into the river with a sense of purpose and his trusty (well-behaved) dog in tow,  he soon found a suitable riffly spot to sample a section of river (photo courtesy of Terry Bromwell):

Once back on the bank the contents of the net were studied in a sample dish:

Some of the contents of the sample:

Macro shot of the flat bodied Heptageniidae from the top of the dish  (photo courtesy Terry Bromwell):

He then set about tying a loose representation of the ‘mean average’ of the bugs in terms of size, form and colour:

Then moved on to gearing up to fish the river using a french nymph leader, indicator fly and trailing nymph (hanging off the indicator fly via a small loop of mono tied in under the tail):

Whilst we all took note of what had hatched already that day (Alder fly):

Large Dark Olive or Brook Dun? (photo courtesy of Terry Bromwell):

… our host set about trying out the theory:

… and proving that it works:

The crowd lapped it up as the presentation was both humorous and informative; all the proceedings took place with a running commentary via microphone headset, giving us an insight to the thought processes that go on whilst tackling the water. You could be critical and suggest the demonstration didn’t perhaps introduce too many new issues to some of us but it was pitched perfectly for those who were showing an interest in taking to the rivers.  He did present the sport well to newbies, capturing the spontaneity of thought required in river fishing and demonstrating a further layer of issues to the more critical types amongst us in a way that prompted thought and comparison with their own techniques.  It is sometimes said that river fishing is on the whole a solitary past time, generally it is for me when out on the small streams but I am also fortunate to have some good friends I can spend time river fishing with, if the mood takes us and geography permits but it’s a rare thing being able to assess the techniques involved from a detached viewpoint at a critical distance.  Anyone who does presentations on occasions will tell you that it’s not an easy thing to combine impromptu actions, whilst trying to give a running commentary, particularly when it isn’t scripted and especially on something that takes a fair amount of concentration in itself. Charles Jardine managed to do all this seamlessly, whilst entertaining the unruly mob with great skill. He gained all our respect that day; he is undoubtedly a brilliant celebrity fly dresser and media personality as we know but he also manages to be a rounded and humorous everyday sort of fellow at the same time,  proving to us all that he’s not just a ‘journo’ but also a real world river fly angler.  One who just happens to be able to combine a little theatre and fly fishing all in one stride.  It was great fun to spend some time with the man and  I believe Terry has even offered an open invite to fish the Taff with ‘the boys’ any time he likes.

Tight Lines, Splash

Purple, Blues and Browns

I’ve been fly fishing the Little Avon River for five years now, the experience has made me focus on the changes of the seasons; although I’ve never really kept date records, I have an inkling that the ‘purple patch’ starts just about Bluebell time.  This is the time that fisher folk look forward to all winter, it’s the time when the river begins to wake up properly and you get a chance to blow away the fishing blues, hone your stalking instincts and develop a more free-flowing surface based technique, working in harmony with the wild life around you by targeting rising fish or inducing them to rise in promising locations.  It’s probably not a fixed calendar thing, perhaps more to do with temperatures, weather and the associated water temp’s, along with the fly life activity that results … in my experience this time does seem to coincide with a good abundance of Bluebells in the local woods.  This is a time to savour, the stage when Brown Trout start rising more freely to the dry-fly; ripple circles and rise forms become something that raise your hackles and focus the hunting instincts into a heightened and mesmeric state.  May Fly time isn’t far away either, after that we’re into the period where the easier early season abundance gives way to warmer conditions and more fickle fish, so it’s a good time to get out there, blow the cobwebs off your casting presentation skills and enjoy the best of what the river has to offer.  Now I’ve written the Bluebell theory down for posterity, hopefully I can look forward to many more seasons testing the idea.

The start point of the day, a handsome morning.  Fresh spring air, tree blossom and dappled sunlight:

The short walk past the cows awakened their curiosity and suddenly there’s an audience:

Time to put my best (better?) foot forward and face the limelight:

The river is very clear but beautifully inviting, with silver riffles and darker toned pools:

The obligatory fish pics:

It’s bad form to take pics of OOS fish but this sneaky pic sums up what most of the morning was about, trying to avoid cheeky little Grayling chomping the fly off the surface, actually quite good fun but I shouldn’t say that … no large Grayling though, they will be busy spawning somewhere, so my conscience is clear:

… and the Bluebells in Michael Wood:

Finally, my signature catch and release clip of the best fish of the day, a powerful and truly wild specimen:

Tight Lines, Splash

First Brown

Managed to steal an hour this afternoon to hide away from the crazy, over-accelerated and unnatural world of work; the outside world was challenging me to make the most of the weather and get re-tuned to the rhythm of the river.  It was good to get out and to catch the first Brown of the year, a lovely natural healthy fish that was distracted from it’s daily routine for just a short while by a little brown biot bodied dry fly with a traditional hackle and matching tail that I tied whilst staying in Wales on the weekend.

Route to the river:

Magical late afternoon light:

Fly of the moment:

Catch and release:

Tight Lines, Splash

So fly fishing, what’s it all about?

Sounds like a simple question but many people will have different opinions, perhaps it’s really just about replicating bugs to catch fish?

People will have taken up fly fishing in all sorts of ways but generally we all start by either buying or being given some basic equipment and after some brief research or a few pointers from an influential someone, we set about venturing on our own path, wafting artificial flies about on a weighted line to catch fish from rivers, streams or lakes.  Before you know it, you’re into a world that has many facets; doors open into areas you would otherwise never get involved in … you might even start crawling around on all fours looking at wildlife in a way you’d never have dreamed of previously or might even have considered daft.  Perhaps you’ll even start tying your own flies and obsessing over bits of yarn and bird feathers … maybe it’s all a little too eccentric for you, maybe it’s not? 

Wherever it takes you, do please prepare yourself for a new chapter; if your experiences are anything like mine, you might find you get involved in all sorts of spin-off activities, some are odd but some are the stuff that dreams are made of … there’s nothing like a bit of an adventure.  One thing’s for certain, for something that appears simple, elegant and refined at first glance, there are not very many absolutes in fly fishing, which is probably why people like it so much.  It’s simple and complicated all at the same time, fairly easy to take up and gain proficiency in but with the potential for filling more than a lifetime’s worth of leisure time in pursuit of refining the subtleties.

Anyway, enough waffle … here’s an artistic / craft based representation of a fly, formed from feathers and other ‘stuff’ tied on a hook with thread; this one is in ‘nymph’ form:

The above is a loose representation of the reality, an olive nymph that swims around in rivers as part of it’s life cycle, Trout and Grayling eat a lot of these:

This is one method you might use to find out more about bugs:

… and to make sense of it all you might consider doing some of this:

So is it really such a contemplative sport (or if you prefer pastime, based on a countryman’s traditional hunting pursuits)? Well yes and no, it can be kept really simple or it can be expanded to encompass all sorts of artistic and scientific elements, I sometimes need to remind myself to keep it simple, as some subjects can become mind-boggling – if you don’t believe me, then remind me to tell you about the night spent down the pub with Dai Roberts before the recent training we undertook on the LRA.  This probably says more about my limitations than the sport but it can definitely be as simple or complex as you care to make it, you don’t have to turn into a bearded weirdo to enjoy fly fishing but it helps to know a little about the complexities of river systems and the influences on them, as well as the life forms in them and what constitutes good fish sustaining habitat.  However, since I’ve suddenly found myself hanging out with scientists, the well-known mantra for keeping it simple stupid is more important to me than ever before; I think I’ve got a grip on things though and can conclude that generally if it’s good for the fish, then it’s good for everyone and although knowing all about the ins and outs of bugs doesn’t necessarily guarantee you’ll catch any more fish, it just might make a difference between a dull days fishing or catching the fish of a lifetime, now if only I can work out how to use the knowledge I’ve recently gained  … don’t think I’ll worry too much though, as there are lots of worse ways to spend your time.

The images above are from the Little River Avon Riverfly Monitoring Training day on Saturday 19th March 2011; this is a community based system of checking the water quality of rivers and something we’ve spent a year or so raising funding for and then implementing with the support of local landowners and the two fishing clubs that manage the water.

Conservation and environmental issues are intrinsically linked with fly fishing and most anglers are concerned with protection of the natural environment, I am proud to say that our local clubs and landlords are proactive in terms of working together to manage a healthy river and implement habitat improvement works, with reporting and monitoring systems now in place we are confident that the river can be kept in the best of health; the two clubs involved both run mixed coarse and game fisheries with only natural fish (i.e. no stocking) and operate a total catch and release policy for all species, so the fish might have the inconvenience of being hooked every now and again but they are well looked after in return.

A clipping from the local paper (South Glos Gazette):

For more information on this scheme please see www.riverflies.org .

Tight Lines, Splash

Signs of Spring.

There is little need for too many words to explain what’s happening down at the river with new shoots indicating that the wildlife is beginning to find it’s feet again; the Trout season has already started in South Wales (March 3rd) and is due to start in South Glos soon (on March 16th).

Tight Lines, Splash