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 . 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.


Winter’s End.

I had intended to keep this blog updated often; however, the slightly odd winter and work commitments conspired against me as I only got out to fish twice after the New Year trip to Wales.  More often than not this was due to weather and bad river conditions and not lack of motivation to go fishing.  Passing the river all week is something I’ve been fitting into my daily rounds for a while but keeping an eye on things almost seems to have turned into a rain dance recently… early and mid-week weather would promise this:

… followed by a late week downpour with weekends ending up looking like this:

The winter proved good for dog walking; on the few trips I did manage to make, some fish reluctantly came to hand but the going was tough and there wasn’t really much to write home about.  Many of my fly fishing colleagues located all over the country have reported similar experiences, there was a definite and pronounced lack of fishing activity through the winter of 2010/11 compared to earlier years. Looking on the bright side, things can only get better.

This weekend was better though, as the signs of spring gave me encouragement and things were on the up again; the Grayling returned to what I would describe as ‘normal’ mode, discarding their recent aloof mood, even though the weather was just over freezing.  I only managed a little over an hour in the river as the sunshine first thing in the morning had fooled me into dressing too lightly for the chilly E/NE’erly wind but the trip was much more entertaining in fishing terms than previously, with lots of little line twitches helping reignite my stalking instinct and enforcing concentration that had lacked of late; focussing on the extra activity gave way to a number good-sized fish (for the LRA) and also some energetic tiddlers.

I enjoy catching small fish just as much as the seniors, as it’s nice to see the future generations feeding well and getting healthy, allowing me to conclude that the river is perhaps running alright after all … the last two trips also saw a few out of season Trout; this is quite early on the local river, as the South Glos Trout switch off in winter in my experience (over the last 5 years or so) but now they’ve shown their face again, things are beginning to look promising for the new season.

The picture just left is a shot from a few weeks back; the Grayling were looking pale and watery, whereas more recently they are oiling up for their spawning season (mid March onwards).

Whilst I don’t usually  photograph OOS fish (as I try to get them back asap), the one on the far left was a little different; I removed a small Leach from just above its gill plate, which I thought was a fair trade for an OOS picture.

Tight Lines,  Splash

Who switched off the light?

Sunday night I had a catch up chat via mobile with my friend Fishstalker; every couple of weeks or so I touch base to find out how the fishing’s shaping up on the Taff.

My ‘butty’ is well known for being a good pair of eyes and ears for river fly fishing on the sections around Pontypridd town and is also a seriously accomplished angler, as well as good company to waft flies about with.  Whilst FS was absolutely clear that the fishing was dire at present, I learnt that a few other (in)famous characters were destined to be out for an early morning New Year fishing session.

Mostyn, Gareth and Dan were due to arrive first thing in the morning, so even if the fishing prospects weren’t great, it was destined to be entertaining social visit. The bad news was that the kick off was at 8am, which meant a circa 6am wake up for me.  Thankfully (or perhaps not), my phone ‘reliably’ buzzed me awake on time (I would have welcomed a cleverly timed alarm failure from an IPhone). The unearthly hour was a shock to the system for me, holiday mode was still in place from the festive season and the enthusiasm wasn’t burning quite as bright as the night before.  I pressed snooze and bought myself a moment to wrestle with whether I should make my excuses or not but eventually the adventurous spirit won through, as the lethargy needed to be halted.  With a few choice words, I forced myself into action … or more accurately, stumbled and bashed around the homestead for a while in a bleary state whilst getting ready, provoking groans from the family and funny looks from the dog as I hoarded kit bags, rods, boots and waders into a neat pile on the door mat. After a degree of faffing about I finally reached the point where I found myself stepping out into the chilly darkness, loading the car and then shutting the door on cosy domesticity with no legitimate excuse to turn back.

The car started fine (this time) but the next motoring based irritation soon presented itself; I was rudely reminded that the fair had gone up by the shiny new blue signs at the old Severn Bridge.  I curbed the urge to comment on being fleeced by an Anglo-French extortion racket and curse our Payage orientated cross channel neighbours but remembered we did get another more reliable (if less aesthetically pleasing) crossing point out of the deal.  Besides, it wasn’t the attendant’s fault and making a resolute effort to avoid becoming too much more of a grumpy old man in 2011, I even managed to squeeze out a ‘Happy New Year’ before shooting out the start gate and crossing to the land of our fathers.

The next ominous sign was specs of white dust picked up in the headlights; yes you guessed it, more snow was falling and my reputation up in the valleys as being a ‘stormbringer’ seemed to be holding together well.  Thankfully, it wasn’t heavy enough to cause concern so it proved to be a pleasant drive into the hills, although the sun only just managed to squeeze itself above the horizon, barely peeking out from behind thick snow clouds and washing things with an eerie blue grey morning light. After a while the trip along the motorway and up the dual carriageway towards Merthyr Tydfil gave way to the familiar view of the footbridge where we were due to meet, along with the first glimpse of the river. The water looked like black granite in the half light and to add to the dark mood, the snow began falling more intensively, just in time for my arrival.  It certainly looked a lot less inviting than the times I’d fished it in the Trout season.

Predictably, I was met with some cheery banter relating to my bad influence on the weather, before swapping a few pleasantries and playing catch up on getting into kit, tackling up at pace and working our way down to the riverside.  We started in what should have been a hot spot … unfortunately it was clear early on that things were not going to be great.  We all spread out over some of the best spots for Grayling, ones where you should always be able to catch something respectable and also have a reasonable chance of a specimen in the right conditions but unfortunately there was not a sniff for any of us in the first hour.

Now those who follow the forums will know that the guys out fishing with me can usually catch a shark in a puddle, so things were not looking good; if we were wise we would have packed up there and then before travelling too far from the cars.  The company was good though and made up for the difficult conditions, so we pressed on;  if anything, we had more laughs due to the obvious insanity of trying to catch Grayling in such adverse conditions.

We did slot in some serious attempts to extract some silver amongst the banter though, taking it in turns through the good spots and working promising lies hard for anything that might be on offer.  After a couple of hours though, I have to admit to losing faith in the Grayling ever being likely to show.   I hung back in one spot and concentrated hard on what should have been a fruitful lie but still not a sniff; I was almost beat.  It was clear the fish were still in the lethargic mood that I had aimed to kick off earlier at 6.00am.

Ah well, that’s fishing … time to make the most of the social side of the visit, so I caught up with the others who were working the water ahead of me with a vengeance.  Gareth showed his metal working hard in long sections of deep water trying everything possible to lever out some bullion, baring the cold deep water for longer than most would bother should have earned a fish but sadly the efforts were to no avail, by this time I was happy to potter about watching proceedings from the margins and half heartedly trying the odd likely spot in the faint hope of just getting lucky.

Eventually we worked our way all the way out through town, passing under the historic bridge that is the iconic gateway to the river; being a wise type, Mostyn had gone to this spot much earlier.  Dan had followed his lead when the town sections looked difficult and had made a bee line for this spot some 20 minutes before us, as it’s a proven difficult condition safety net when all else has failed.  By now the snow had been coming down hard for a while and was covering everything in the familiar whitewash.  We arrived wondering if we would hear news that this last deep and slow section was holding the fish that were so evasive elsewhere;  well what do you know, it did bear fish … kind of!  Dan had somehow managed to re-visit a spot Mostyn had already tested at length and somehow tickled out what must have been the only Grayling that took a bite at anything in the Taff that day.  We were all surprised to hear that anything was still feeding, quite how it ended up on a hook is anyone’s guess? It probably coughed as the nymph went past, or perhaps sneezed and by some freak coincidence of timing accidentally swallowed the fly at the same moment inadvertently.

Now this is not fair on Dan, being the sporting type I’m sure he will forgive me of course, as there is always an exception to the norm and fair play to him for finding it on this occasion; by this time it was too late for the rest of us to get all fired up about trying again though.  The snow was pushing down in big floppy chunks and it appeared that the territory had been exhausted, time was now against us as the day was all but over – a visit to chalk up as experience. It was a great day out though, despite the lack of fish; a reaffirmation that fishing isn’t just about catching, it’s also about getting out there in the elements and having fun no matter what lady luck brings.  The company was great and meeting up with friends can be just as rewarding as any other aim on a fishing trip, although I would like to break the New Year duck next time!

As for the Grayling, who knows what flicks their switch?  If I was pushed to offer a few sudo/not very scientific thoughts, a combination of factors must be having an effect on catch results these past few weeks, water temperature, snow melt, road salt wash off and low light levels probably all play a part; perhaps the bug life activity has eased off to such an extent that the Grayling have switched into energy saving mode like the Trout.  I would presume that sometimes even Grayling find that searching for food consumes more energy than it returns and they give up on attempting to feed?  On a positive note, when the fish do switch back on, we will all be more appreciative … if I was a gambling man I might bet that the next bright day with reasonable water conditions is likely to be a good one.

Tight Lines (one day soon), Splash

Photos courtesy of FishStalker, Mostyn and Dan

Visit Gareth’s excellent website for more info on Fly Fishing in South Wales

He’s making a list and checking it twice…

With the general doom and gloom that seems to have prevailed in the media of late it’s been difficult to get in the festive spirit, bah humbug … add to this an annoying series of home grown disruptions, with intermittent Sky TV signals, disrupted water supply and top it off with a power failure at Chez Splash on Christmas morning (despite living only 3 miles from a nuclear power station), a fellow might concede that the recent freezing temps are in danger of twisting the psyche of this particular fly fishermen into permanent Narnia-esque bleakness.  Comments like ‘winter of austerity’ bandied about like square mints by the popular press don’t help raise your spirits much; if a man’s not careful, a Dickensian mood could easily begin to germinate in the grey matter and cabin fever has been threatening to take hold of many of us this year I fear, even without the need for journo’s to fuel the fire.  The memories of last season drifted away in the harsh winds far too easily, whilst rumours that the spring might return when the cold spell is broken feel like one tale too many at present, especially given there’s potentially a couple of months left for the chilly weather to organise another onslaught.

Unfortunately, the few days running up to the big day were sullied with illness this end adding to the tales of woe, the children had it first then it was my turn; taking a foot off the pedal a bit before a break sometimes seems to open the door to the lurgy.  I was rendered ineffective but remained busy at work whilst trying to kick off the niggles, I was in fact getting nothing wrapped up fast (literally) as Christmas was bearing down on me ominously, a bit like a shiny new four-wheel drive with it’s slick summer tyres in an all-wheel slide.

 I am pretty much convinced that there is a different class of bug around these days, modern sniffles don’t just materialise as common cold symptoms anymore, in fact  lingering aches and pains come as part of the deal at no extra cost; I aim to blame my creaky infrastructure on this fact in an assertive and eccentric fashion from now on, denying that it’s anything to do with my age, lack of exercise or any other scientific reasoning.  Now don’t think I’m after sympathy here … whilst it probably wasn’t pneumonia, it had definitely transformed into man flu by the time I copped it.  The type of bug that can only be caught by fellows of a certain age and definitely not for the faint hearted; thankfully, feeble types just aren’t susceptible to the advanced strain.

Despite having the Swine Flu Black Death combo, the festivities fell into place on time and the spirit of Christmas and the urge to go fishing returned about the same time, perhaps even developing a resistance to being snuffed out by a cold northerly; in fact, feeling a little perkier after the rest, a reconnaissance walk was in order on Christmas morning before embarking on the social rounds.  The river was looking good and whilst ice still had a grip, it did appear to be almost fishable.  It looks like the cold snap has nearly run its course now, for a while at least, so things are looking up.  In fact there wasn’t time to go fishing anyway and Jack Frost could hold on for a day or two over Christmas without any real loss, as those couple of days were always pre-destined to be set asides for presents, feasting, visiting friends / relatives and perhaps the odd tipple.   

Time moves on now though, Christmas and Boxing Day already feel as distant as last season’s Mayfly hatch, having flown through like a passing snow plough … all flashing lights and bleeping noises, a bit of spectacle at the time but soon passing by after leaving a bit of a mess and improving things just a touch.  Looking at the weather forecast, things are looking good for the period running up to the New Year, it looks like there will be a good chance of getting out soon.  Just a small rise in temperature is all that’s needed; this will widen the potential casting zones within the free running water, pushing the ice back into the margins and hopefully warmer water will allow the flow to cut a route through the centre of the slower frozen sections again, making more of the river available. 

Now it’s wrong to complain too much as on the whole Santa has been good to me this year, despite the prevailing climate, thankfully he delivered some very welcome fly fishing gifts that I’m now itching to give an airing.  I will admit to steering proceedings a touch but there comes a point in life when you’ve gained enough clout (usually by manufacturing some grand children) to be able to nudge things in the right direction on the Christmas list front.  As far as I’m concerned it’s fair to put aside notions that asking for something specific is lacking in etiquette, besides, how many variants of casual smart shirts have they got at M&S?  In my case relatives welcomed the pointer and my ‘suggestions’ proved a big hit for everyone.  A win-win for all … oh, and the littler kids were quite happy with all their junk as well.

You never know, the next Blog entry may even include some fishing!

Tight Lines, Splash

Is winter Grayling fishing the new skiing?

Today was one of those days, you will know the scenario I’m sure, the type that doesn’t go to plan.  I thought I’d start the blog off in style with an ‘ice in the rings’ Grayling session, I even left the car facing outwards on the end of the drive overnight, thinking it would allow a hasty exit, irrespective of what nature dumped from the skies.   Unfortunately forward planning proved irrelevant and unforseen car issues were the stumbling block; for the first time in 4 years of ownership, my trusted Citroën wouldn’t start in the cold.   This is out of character as it’s done well on trips to the Alps on previous years, the engine turned over ok but it just didn’t want to fire and after a few attempts the battery was flagging badly and in no fit state to carry on, so I sloped off back to the house in an agitated mood.  The Michelin Man clothing didn’t help with the feeling of frustration as the house was far too toasty and the arctic pantomime costume was inappropriate for the great indoors, so I unwrapped myself rapidly.  

I have since concluded that the -9 weather and wind chill blowing straight in from the NE and up under the car bonnet meant the temperature was probably -15 in the engine chamber; the old crate wasn’t having any of it … I don’t blame it though.  Slightly odd behaviour none-the-less, as it did start ok an hour or so after I’d slotted back into domestic slouch mode and given up on the trip, after a cup of tea I was thinking I’ll just give it another go before calling on the jump wires and lo and behold, it started first time.  Perhaps greater forces were at work?  I’m not one to impose a character on inanimate objects but it’s Christmas, so we can imagine some ‘Herby’ style antics; who knows, perhaps it was trying to stop me getting hypothermia whilst whipping a stiff fly line, standing up to my waist in very cold running water?  Perhaps it was protesting that having once been a trendy Doyen in the chique French Alps (pre-recession days), the old crate was now irritated at having to cart around a mere fishermen? … who knows?

Thinking about it , I am quite relieved to have stayed at home, even though the weather’s been playing havoc with the Sky signal.   Whilst it was a shame to cancel the trip at the last-minute after an hour or so of wrestling myself into new waders (with several specialist under layers), rational folks would suggest it was a far better choice to stay in the warm and dry perhaps?  Even though with all the technical clothing I was wearing it might have meant I could have managed a couple of hours before my limbs fell off, it is particularly cold at present even for the most dedicated winter enthusiast come Grayling hunter and it is unquestionably wise to wait for milder weather before seeing how the new waders perform. 

Not quite the inspirational first blog that I planned, which is probably for the best but as someone who’s spent years having fun in very low temperatures I can’t help feeling like a bit of a light weight – we’ll see if I can redeem myself over the next few weeks.

Tight Lines (well nearly), Splash