I have a passion for fly fishing for trout. Mostly this involves time spent with the beautiful rivers and streams of Monmouthshire, but occasionally I venture further afield.
I write here about my fishing experiences and what I learn. Sometimes I throw in some personal anecdotes and when feeling bold perhaps even offer a little advice.
My journal is for my record and my enjoyment – and hopefully you will find something you like. I’m not an expert but I am an experienced angler and yet each time I go fly fishing I learn something new.
Hopefully you’ll find something interesting and stop by from time to time. Please do share any thoughts.
I always try to get out as close to the start of the season as possible, but truthfully, I’m not that keen on March fishing. Usually I’m in the process of thawing out from a few recent grayling trips, but this year (and last) the winter was a washout.
More likely it’s because March fishing can be difficult. Rivers wake up at different times; there can be prolific hatches in March, but often it’s a trickle of Olives, Browns or the Grannom Sedge. Blink and you can miss them.
Sometimes in March I sit on the bank and stare at the river wondering what to do. Usually I want to fish a dry fly, if only to cast a line again, but I know it can be fruitless. I may have fished nymphs for grayling over the winter, so want a change. Should I throw a small streamer at the undercut bank opposite…who knows?
At first glance the river can look lifeless but look again and there are signs of spring everywhere.
A dipper is here today, picking at the stonefly and caddis larvae. A good sign that things are warming up. I recently learned that dippers have a third, transparent eyelid called a ‘nictitating membrane’ that they can close, enabling them to see underwater. Peel back a layer of the natural world and under the simple, satisfying veneer, it is staggeringly complex. Equally staggering is that a plethora of people would rather sit indoors and watch Love Island than sit where I am sat…watching spring unfold. Even the sheep this afternoon are keen to explore the stranger in their field.
I’m later to the river than I hoped and may have missed a more obvious hatch. I could probably find more fish targeting the deeper holes with something heavy, but it’s been nearly five months since I cast a dry fly and I also have a new line to try. I dismiss fishing a dry dropper as I want to see how the new line performs with just a small dry, so on goes a size 18 caddis.
It takes about an hour before I see a fish rise ahead of a fallen tree branch. It’s a straight forward cast but although I feel the take it doesn’t stick. The second small trout gets all the way to the net before slipping the hook and although it’s rewarding to connect with a rising fish, I feel that I might have to be content with just a few hours on the river. Thankfully a third fish of just over 12″ is fooled and it’s great to see a fin perfect brown trout in the net again.
Time to make tracks.
Last week I had my Covid 19 vaccination and was surprised what a good mood it put me in. Optimism is fully restored. I really like the new fly line too, next time out I’ll try it with my other four weight, but most of all I relish being back on a river.
We are well into February and this is now the longest period that I have not been fishing my memory can recall. I miss it as much as I expected. Those cold frosty mornings when the mist is slowly lifting off the water and the only decision is fish the next pool now, or warm up with a drink for ten minutes and then fish it. Either way the grayling will be there.
I don’t fish for grayling to stretch the season and although there may be a grain of truth to say it’s an excuse to be on the river again, the appeal of grayling has grown to become a pursuit in itself.
For once it’s not just the weather restricting fishing and although the rivers have frequently been blown, there would have been enough days to enjoy. No, restrictions of another kind have dampened the winter together with much of last year and fishing is the least of concerns.
Perhaps it’s the early snowdrops around the gate or the first daffodils I saw whilst walking the dogs yesterday, but I sense the proverbial light in the tunnel getting brighter. Is spring in the air? Definitely not, today there is a snow flurry, soggy ground and biting wind. There is optimism though. With the new season around the corner and the prospect of an easing of the shackles, mood is on the up! We all feel it don’t we.
The grayling may have missed me these past months, but I’m determined the trout will have no such luck. My fly box is primed and whenever my opening day will come, I’ll be there. Making up for lost memories.
I have set no great fishing goals or resolutions. Seeing a few old friends and perhaps making a few new ones will do. I’m spoiled for choice on where to look first, but as the Usk is an early riser after hibernation maybe this is where the season will start.
I was eighteen when Ian Dury and The Blockheads released “Reasons to be Cheerful part 3”, one of my all time favourite singles. The genius of Dury’s lyrics with a brilliant band. At the time I was leaving home, moving to London with a head and heart full of excitement and expectation. I’m feeling just the same today.
So enough of looking back on a shit year…this season will be stellar!
It is extraordinary how an obsession forces attention to detail. I think of myself as a bit ‘big picture’ and not good with detail. I don’t enjoy the nitty gritty and I usually rely on those who do.
With fly fishing though, I’m increasingly peeling the onion and discovering new hidden layers of things to think and worry about.Fishing isn’t on the agenda today but I find myself with an unexpected hour to kill and as I have to virtually drive past the beat, I make a twenty minute detour!
I was on the Usk yesterday for a very early pre-breakfast session and although I catch a few, I struggle in the low clear water and strong downstream breeze. Today is a little more overcast and I’m now on a different beat, lower down the river valley and enjoying the humid late afternoon.
If fishing mirrored the rest of my life, I’d just jump in the river and start fishing. I don’t understand why it is, but I have more patience on the bank than in all other situations put together. Although I can see no fish, I’m convinced that if I sit and wait for long enough something, somewhere will rise. So I sit and wait.
I love watching rivers. If I’m minded, I can look with an intensity of concentration that usually eludes (thanks Mr P) me in other things. When I spend time on the bank with someone who doesn’t fish, I’m always surprised by what they don’t see, even when looking at it. Looking isn’t the same as seeing.
I notice a small dimple where none was, about twenty five feet from the bank and a little upstream. It’s not easy to spot as it’s in the middle of a ripple created by a stone, exposed by the low water. I’m tight against the bank with no back cast, so a make shift roll cast sends a size 18 Adams on it’s way.
The take is gentle and then the trout does some spectacular aerobatics before giving up. Not big but beautiful.
A glance at my watch reveals time has flown by and I need to make tracks. Spotting a hard to see trout is satisfying, but it also makes me wonder how much I miss when I’m just looking rather than seeing.
Given the awful wet winter followed by enforced late start to the season, like many, I’m unsure how the fly fishing will unfold. So far, I’m pleasantly surprised by the quality and quantity of trout.
There has now been several days of rain, flushing the river and providing a much needed top up. In the early afternoon sunshine the river looks magnificent and ready for us.
A friend and I are looking forward to a day picking up trout on dry flies and spending time on the river in beautiful countryside. The river is at a perfect height with just enough colour to help us stay hidden. We could do with a little more cloud cover, but none the less, we are both surprised by how quiet the river is – the fish just aren’t playing ball.
With very few rises to cover, we prospect the many likely runs, back eddies and overhangs where trout like to hang out.
A few trout make some half hearted attempts, but this is one of those day’s when nothing sticks. A couple of smaller fish and one decent brown take a pheasant tail in some of the deeper pockets but the dry fly fails us. I don’t think I’ve peered so intensely at the river, searching for the faintest sign.
A cold beer lifts the mood and we set about enjoying the river. Perhaps a shift to another beat will bring more fortune and an evening rise.
A short drive, more searching…same outcome.
In the fading light, watching a gorgeous pool, I spot just a few bubbles directly in front of me, a few inches from the far bank. The fish (if it’s a fish) is in a small gap between two overhanging branches. A roll cast and shooting some line might work, together with a slice of luck. The fly bounces off a leaf and lands perfectly and for a few seconds is still, in the absence of a current.
The trout does not rise so much as suck the fly under with hardly a sound. I tighten and the pool erupts. Despite my best effort to knock him off with the net, eventually I have him. A lovely wild brown at 16″.
Memories are made from days like this.
A lovely afternoon on the river, friendship and good conversation, plus a cast that I probably couldn’t make again if I practiced every hour of every day. When people ask what it is about fly fishing I love, these days I can only manage a smile.
I’ve never been afraid of the dark, but the pulse quickens and I can feel a little extra surge of adrenalin as the light fades. The feeling of splendid isolation and standing in a river in beautiful countryside, is disappearing with the fading light. Replacing it is a slight sense of anxiety and a growing desire to make tracks.
Being a short drive from the river, I often take advantage of evening summer fishing and there can be no better time to attract trout to fluff tied expectantly on the line. The famed evening rise, whilst no guarantee, is also no myth.
In a frustrating hour of stealth fishing and creeping up the slow glide, I discover that the fish are not sacrificing themselves as readily as I hoped. In the equivalent game of ‘jumpers for goalposts’, they would have grabbed the ball and gone home for tea.
I manage to catch a couple of juvenile brown trout, demonstrating their urge to feed is not yet tempered by experience, but the more wily fish ahead of me are proving elusive. I try several of my confidence patterns to no avail and with each fly change, it’s becoming more difficult to see to tie the knot. With a great deal of effort and a good measure of luck, I manage to get a small gnat attached to the tippet.
At least in the middle of the river I can flail the rod around with abandon, confident that no one can critique my technique and I’ll not catch a tree.
Then one of the wily trout foolishly strays within my limited range and a minute later rises for the gnat. It’s a short and confusing fight before he’s unlucky enough to swim into the net. My net is fifteen inches long so I can just see that the fish is bigger, by perhaps an inch. A nice result.
As he slides away, I notice that I can barely make out my exit on the bank. The water that is thigh deep suddenly feels much deeper.
I lose the line of the path a few times during the walk along the river back to the car. Why does the darkness amplify sound so much? I hear an owl, followed by a dreadful screech and conclude that some poor creature is being torn apart.
It’s a quick change and my kit is less than carefully placed in the back of the land rover. As I pull up out of the field and onto the road, one glance in the mirror confirms there is no horde of the undead following me. Must have got out just in time…
I’m having a good afternoon. More than a dozen trout have been in the net including four of around 15 inches. Some are a beautiful golden colour and were fooled into rising for a small deer hair emerger and a danica mayfly. Hopefully years from now, days like this is will be dragged back as memoriesto smile for.
I’ve lost track of time a little and I’m surprised to see that it’s almost an hour later than I think. I decide to fish the slower glide in front of me before heading home and besides, I’ve spotted at least two risers.
One trout in particular is rising regularly, ahead and almost in the middle of the river. I edge very slowly to the left and decide that I can get almost level with the fish. The angle of the light has changed and will make keeping track of the fly that much more difficult. I’ve a long leader and the same emerger pattern that has taken ten trout today.
My first cast is good and the fly tracks right over him, so does the second. Nothing. Another rise.
So I haven’t put him down. Fly change time. On goes the mayfly, also successful today. Another two drifts and another two refusals. Perhaps I’m too close and he’s spotted me, but as I prepare to back off there is another rise, more prominent than before. I can’t see what he’s taking so I decide to go small.
A size twenty F fly tests my eyesight to the limit but I’ve developed a lot of confidence in the fly over the years. Unfortunately, I get the same result.
Another half a dozen casts with a small adams and a small wulff variant sees my frustration grow. Each time the trout rises as before sometimes with a splash and sometimes just a sip and each rise is within the same eighteen square inches. Perhaps my drift is not as good as I think, perhaps there is more drag than I can see, maybe I should have tried a terrestrial, who knows…
I decide to leave him to it and as I clamber up the bank I see him rise once more as if to rub it in. Today, one little trout definately got the better of me.
I resolve that there will be other days like this one to commit to memory and that I have some unfinished business on this small stretch of water. I will study harder, learn more and practice until I get luckier.
In the meantime, Scotland’s anthem comes to mind. The bit that goes “and sent him homeward, to think again”.
Starting the season in May is interesting. Strictly speaking I manage one short session in early March, but with a gap of some ten weeks there is a strange lack of acclimatisation. The cold wet March and April days where trout are reluctant risers, rivers are pushing through and fish are tempted by nymphs or wet flies, are absent.
Dry fly only anglers may not feel the same, but to those comfortable with flicking a pheasant tail upstream, this is a shock to the system. It’s not unpleasant though.
Early season days of casting rustiness and knot fumbling, I associate with damp, cold afternoons and wobbly legs that are still finding themselves as the current tries to push me over. Today my early season clumsiness is basking in sunshine, a gentle breeze and plenty of trout sipping surface goodies.
After casting to and catching the first fish I see, confidence is up as I approach the second. It’s an easier cast but I snatch at the rise. There is nothing like the tug of thin air to bring the angler down to earth.
It’s hard to be disappointed though, there will be others and the river in the middle of May is a wonderful place to spend a few hours. A pair of geese with three goslings in tow are working their way up the margins and a dipper is gathering his fill from the abundant larder at his feet. However, the kingfishers I watched for hours last year are missing. Hopefully they are still on the river.
The best trout today is a surprise. Having caught a couple in the pool below, I wade upstream where there is a faster riffle at the head before a deeper channel opens up. As I’m studying the channel for a sign, I think I see a disturbance in the shallow riffle. I cast the fly for a short drift and I’m in. The fish dives for the deeper water and there is a moment when he nearly makes it to a tree stump.
He’s feeding in no more than 8″ of water, taking his pick before the other trout downstream in the pool. He slides back, none the worse and now I know where to look for him next time.
When I leave the river, I edge my way around a field that is being ploughed. The farmer has left just enough space for me to get the truck though. As he waves, he’s still more than half the field to plough and it occurs to me that I’ll likely get my dinner before him. Some days just keep giving.
I cannot abide garden centres, although the farm shops which frequently accompany them are very satisfying places.
Conscious of my distance from all other humans, I queue with the hundreds of other escapees. I am able to take advantage of a seat and in the morning sun, my mind begins to wander.
Peering over the bridge the river is as splendid as I’ve seen, perhaps made more so by my time away. From here the water looks clear but on closer inspection there is an algae washing through. I’m surprised I’m not in more of a rush and a little downstream I sit and admire. Obstacles I knew have gone and new ones have taken residence. The water is the perfect height.
A size 16 deer hair emerger is enjoying a coating of floatant as I watch for a third rise. There are trout showing but many are subtle. Today I will only try to catch those who show themselves.
There is tremendous satisfaction in spotting a rise, casting and fooling a fish regardless of its size and my first success is small, beautiful and had thankfully rehearsed his part in the script. Laying just off a faster current and sheltered by a fallen branch, I watch him take two good size duns before landing a gentle cast.
A few more follow, without quite the same precision and then I net a lovely 16″ brown trout on the same fly.
Of course I miss a few (I always do) and given this is the first dry fly day of the season I decide it’s nothing more than rustiness. Like a darts player missing a double to win. No nine dart finish for me today.
The afternoon gets warmer and although there is a good trickle of flies all day, there are a few more intense hatches. The trout are slow to respond and I suspect they are gorging on emergers unseen. As I move up river, there are just enough showing to keep my interest.
Late afternoon I meet two other club members who have enjoyed a similar day and we exchange a few stories with some liquid refreshment. It’s great to have some adult face to face conversation with people outside the family and a surprise how much it’s missed. Keeping six feet apart, we decide to stalk a few more fish together and it’s not long before we each demonstrate that we’ve still much to learn!
“Young man” (I love that)……”Excuse me….excuse me, young man”. The lady behind me in the queue is trying to get my attention. “Sorry to disturb you” she say “but if you don’t move up, you might lose your place in the queue”.
This is my problem with garden centres, everyone is so nauseatingly polite.
It’s a small thing isn’t it, not fishing. An insignificant inconvenience buried somewhere obscure in the corner of the ‘bigger picture’. Surely a sense of perspective is all that is required to accompany a sense of responsibility?
Yet amongst the very real anxieties, this small thing occupies a disproportionate space in my mind.
No matter how many distractions of real life I create, the longing is never far from the surface and returns with enlivened regularity. There is something about imposed restriction that heightens the passion. I am prone to exaggerated emotion and at risk of a childish tantrum. I feel my humour evaporate with each additional sunny day.
If unsure before, I have no doubt now that I am a fly fisherman and not someone who goes fly fishing.
Amidst this new surreal landscape of quietness, clean air and vapour trail free skies, the rivers are showing perfect for floating a little Parachute Adams into a waiting mouth. That mere twenty minute journey though, is now as distant as a cross continent expedition. Thank goodness fishermen are patient people!
The little trout is not wondering where I am, it would upset me if he was. He is busy doing what he did yesterday and will be again tomorrow. He is nestled in his favourite spot, poised to flee or feed as nature dictates. A beautiful song on play and repeat.
Will I remember how to find him, fool him and free him? Of course I will……its who I am.
I grew up just fourteen miles from here and my father’s childhood home is just eight miles away. Yet as I make my way down the steep slope to the river, I’m struck by how unfamiliar this area is. Roads now connect these eastern valleys that did not exist forty years ago and back then, people just didn’t travel as much.
The Sirhowy river emerges north of Tredegar on the edge of the Beacons park and flows south before turning left to join the Ebbw. Like all of her sisters she was the life blood of the iron and coal industries and paid the price. She ran black and dead for generations. Now, these eastern valley rivers are alive and healthy and hold some extraordinary trout.
Today the river is high and pushing fast after a night of rain. It is coloured too and not ideal for the first outing of a new season. None the less it feels good to be on a river and looking for brown trout.
I pick my way downstream, which is not easy with steep woods on either side and no path. It’s surprisingly quiet for an urban river and I’m disturbed by just one dog walker all afternoon. I’ve also more space than I anticipated and I’m already regretting bringing my 7ft 3wt. The wind is strong and I wish I had one of the longer rods still in the boot of the car. I can’t be bothered to go back, so I make do.
I set up a french leader and begin to prospect what any angler would recognise as a really ‘fishy’ run. The head of a pool narrowing to a deeper channel with two quieter areas either side for fish to hold. Even with the shorter rod I can get a good drift.
I’m surprised with no take and the same again in the pool above.
As it’s very early season and just after a spate, I wonder if the trout are not in the usual feeding channels, so a little upstream I try a deeper quieter pool. Under an overhanging tree and about fifteen feet ahead of me, I catch my first trout of the season and my first Sirhowy fish. A typical lean 10 inch march brownie, beautifully coloured. After a long time fishing, the thrill of the first wild trout of a new season does not diminish.
Over the next couple of hours I catch a dozen similar fish, all from quieter holding pockets and all to a fairly simple pheasant tail pattern.
The one exception is a more aggressive take and I immediately know it’s a good fish. Hugging the bottom of a deeper pool, it’s a minute before I get him to the surface and ease the fish towards the margins. I’m already celebrating when a flick of the tail near the rim of the net sees him disappear. My profanity is so loud and coarse, I even surprise myself!
Every angler who talks about ‘the one that got away’ will immediately be open to claims of exaggeration and that’s probably justifiable. So I’ll just say 16 inches (at least) and leave it at that.
With the wind getting stronger, I switch to a fly line and fish a single nymph upstream for the final ten minutes, but my opening day is done. Light drizzle is getting heavier as I begin the forty minute drive home. I’ve had access to this little river for a few seasons and I wish I’d visited earlier. I will definitely be back as I think this could be a lovely place to spend a few hours with a dry fly in the summer.