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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

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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

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  www.ffisw.com

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