Mayfly Mayhem

There are plenty of past seasons when the revered mayfly period has missed me. Perhaps it’s not being able to get out enough at this time of year and perhaps because recently, there are seasons when I see little in the way of any insect life, let alone the mayfly.

Although you will meet many anglers more in tune with the mayfly hatch, I’ve fished long enough to have caught a few on may duns and spinners. I also know from experience that the mayfly hatch can be very unpredictable.

None the less, I’ve seen some spectacular spinner falls, and few as good as the one I see today.

IMG_3224

It’s about 5.30pm when I park up and another thirty minutes before I start to stroll down stream. I stop opposite the pool I want to target and from where I can fish back up, through some varied water, in a few hours.

I have a total of thirteen feet of leader and tippet to which I add a small deer hair emerger, my most successful dry fly this season. Might as well start with a winning formula.

I don’t have to wait long before the first rise and moments later I register my first miss. My fly induces a take, but I’m too slow (or is the fish too fast?). This happens a few more times before I finally bring a lovely small brown trout to hand.

IMG_001

It’s one of those early evenings which has the potential to see some rain. but it holds off and remains overcast. It should be perfect for a hatch and after picking up a few similar trout, the trickle of duns increases.

I fumble my way through my small box of mays, trying several patterns as the hatch increases and I eventually settle on a small danica fly that seems to raise a few fish. Around 8pm the air is thick with spinners of various types and duns are still coming off.

I stand at the edge of a pool that I took my time to approach quietly and now the trout are oblivious to me as the feeding frenzy is all around. The insect cloud is unrelenting and I’m able to pick off fish in all directions, bringing some to the net and bumping a few off. Some of the trout are so close I hold all the fly line off the surface, avoiding any drag. In the fading light as the sun dips behind the trees, it’s a fantastic experience.

As I walk back to the car, I’m sure I have a grin from ear to ear.

This season starts slowly with March a wash off. Now in early June it’s much improved and I’m having more dry fly action than the last few years. Over the next six weeks, I anticipate being able to get out and fish a few more evenings than usual and I feel my grin get even wider.

Mr Notherone

Three Duffers in the Pub…

Over a late lunch pint or three I’m discussing fly fishing with a couple of other self appointed gurus. I’m celebrating catching my best river brown trout at 19″ and arguing about whether that matters. 

Inevitably, we start to discuss the four levels of fly angler development. Do not be tempted to think there are five or three, for we have already agreed there are four.

IMG_15

19″ Monnow Brown Trout

Naturally, we all conclude that we are each at level four, the highest attainable order of angling. It is obvious to us and besides we only have to convince each other, a diminishing task with each round of drinks. This afternoon we are judge and jury.

We conclude that the developmental levels of the fly angler do not necessarily correlate with any acquired skill. Thankfully, the duffer can enjoy the same progression without fear of exclusion.

I do get the sense that none of us is being entirely honest about where we’re at. I for one, suspect I’m increasingly talking bollox.

I hear that at level one, when we start our fishing journey, we are happy just to catch a fish, any fish. More than anything we want to avoid the big B.

We develop anxiety over whether our 8ft rod is good enough and would we catch more with an 8ft 6″. We worry about what our tippet is made from, the optimal length of a dropper and why no one will tell us what green mucilin is for. We are obsessed with the “what” and “how” of doing, so we search the net for tips and advice and keep quiet when we learn that watercraft is not a type of dinghy.

Trying not to look at either of my friends in particular, I conclude that level one can last a longtime (or is that lifetime).

Next, our new found confidence pushes us down the quantity route. At level two, we want to catch a lot of fish, we keep count and get upset when someone else catches more. It’s extraordinary how many anglers at level two think that 5+1 = 8.

We learn to change flies in a nano second and buy “tactical” gear so that no trout can escape our onslaught.

We know our high sticking from our euro nymphing, the subtleties of the Czech and Spanish styles and why they are all happy to use a French leader. Some anglers perfect carrying multiple rods and can cast with either hand to maximise fly time in the water. Klink and dink becomes second nature. We are comfortable using the in-line sighter but know to draw the line at using split-shot – an unsavoury American habit.

Now some of us are ready to progress to level three and evolve to become the specimen hunter. Quantity is now a mugs game, big fish are what we chase. I’ve a friend who is a slave to level three and will no longer go fishing without the chance of a seriously big fish.

We perfect the ability to sit and watch the same square foot of water for hours and stalk our prey for weeks on end. We only carry one dry fly pattern because we know precisely what the specimen will be eating, before it does. Only when enough time has elapsed and the stars have aligned do we deliver the perfect cast, dropping the fly on the nostril of the unsuspecting monster. We are master of the grip and grin.

Finally, we are ready for level four, when apparently we ascend to another level of consciousness where we exist in a state of mindfulness and inner peace – at one with the river. At this stage we are content to simply be there, where casting the fly (or not, if we are too busy observing a beetle) is the destination itself. Catching becomes so ‘last level’…

After levitating across the stream so as not to create a disturbance, we return home in ecstasy having seen no fish at all.

It occurs to me that when I’m sat on the bank, head in hands, the casual observer might think I’m in a level four meditation, when in reality I’m pulling my hair wondering why I can’t catch an ‘effing fish.

I’m happy to confess that I catch my new PB trout whilst having a level one day out!

They say mixing fishing and alcohol is a bad idea and can be dangerous, but I think we’ve proven that as long as you stay in the pub it’s safe.

Next time, the three of us have decided to discuss aquatic entomology in great detail and the finer points of when you should swap a large brown one for a smaller green one.

Mr Notherone

 

Exploring New Water

This is the sort of afternoon when we all want to be on a river. It’s warm, a little overcast and the water looks the perfect height for dry fly.

There is a pleasure in knowing a river well. There is also an excitement exploring somewhere new. The frustration of wasting some time or of having to backtrack is always offset by discovering what is around the next bend.

IMG_3230

I turn onto the small track, unsure if I’m in the right place and as I only have a few hours, I want to make the most of it. I can’t possibly fish the whole beat, so I focus on the first few hundred yards. Access is easy and the only disturbance I make involves a few ewe’s and lambs relocating as I approach.

Initially I don’t see any surface activity, but I’ve only been here a few minutes.

At the bottom of the beat I decide to fish the far bank. It’s the tail of a nice looking pool with a few features to offer fish some protection. Of course, it’s good practice to fish the water you’re about to step into, so I strip some line and with no real sense of purpose I flick the fly a little upstream. I get a take as the fly hits the water and moments later I’m unhooking a greedy little 5″ brownie.

IMG_3234

A lot of juveniles about today

Whenever something like this happens it serves as a good reminder that fish can crop up in the least likely places.

Over the next two hours I make my way upstream, cast to and catch several risers. Today I’m struck by how subtle that rise can be. Barely a dimple on the surface. It’s so easy to miss particularly if I’m tuned into the more obvious rises. There are small olives, spinners and sedges trickling off, with midges abundant too.

As I’m stalking a fish on the far side of the food seam, I catch a glimpse in my peripheral vision of a disturbance much closer to me. Unsure if it’s a fish, I make a short cast across my body and after just a yard or two of the drift the trout takes the elk hair emerger.

My initial reaction is surprise as I’m expecting another small brownie, but this one takes off like a train and I only just stop him from diving under a submerged log. After giving me a run around and a few of those heart stopping moments I slide the net under. He is just over 16″ and a real lump. This season I have caught plenty of smallish trout in fewer outings than I would like, but a half decent fish has eluded me. I’ve got too familiar playing and handling smaller fish. This one, the seasons best so far, is very satisfying.

IMG_3268

Brown Trout, just over 16″

A bit like my first catch of the day, the trout is taken in twelve inches of water just three yards from the bank. Water I’ve already stepped through in pursuit of others.

In a couple of hours I manage eight fish, bump off two more and all on a dry fly.

This beat looks great and the map suggests there could be another half mile to explore next time. I’m looking forward to coming back and seeing around the next bend.

Mr Notherone

Sometimes One is Enough

For a very good reason, today is not the best day. I feel a sadness and sense of relief in equal measure. 

I want to spend a little time by myself and head to the river, not sure if I will fish. It’s a warm late afternoon, the river looks perfect and the first thing I see is a solitary Yellow May Dun fighting the gentle breeze.

IMG_3211

Deer Hair Emerger

Close to where I park the car, I sit on the bank and watch the river. It’s shallow on my side, shelving away to a faster ripple. The middle of a typical pool and sure to hold a trout.

I didn’t come here to catch a fish, but after about ten minutes I see a small rise just upstream and slightly off the food seam. I watch the fish rise again and decide to make a cast. I land the fly upstream of the rise and at the same time I’m telling myself I’m a foot short, the fly disappears in a swirl. I lift and tighten gently.

The brown trout jumps once and pulls strongly to get downstream. I manage to hold him on a fairly light tippet and guide him into the net.

The twelve inch brownie punches above his weight and as I unhook him, I’m aware that I release the first smile of the day. Today, there are only a few things that can lift my mood and this is one of them. I feel no compulsion to look for another fish.

When I start the engine it’s exactly thirty minutes since I parked up. I drive home better prepared and in a better frame of mind. A few days ago I was catching trout and laughing, today the same activity is giving me a different type of energy. This is a wonderful thing that we do.

Mr Notherone

IMG_3205IMG_3208

 

 

Fisherman’s Tales

What do thirty fishermen do when they get together for a Social? Tell tales of course. Not the stereotypical fishermen’s exaggerations about monster fish or the ‘one that got away’ (although everyone does have a ‘one that got away’ story). 

No, they tell true, heart felt, funny, often hilarious stories about real life, fishing, more real life and more fishing. Real life is so much funnier than a joke. After all, don’t the funniest comedians just tell stories we can all relate to?

IMG_3122

The Monnow

I’m reflecting on another Monnow Social. There is the usual chat about the weather, rivers we fish, insects (and the lack of), leaky waders and our prospects of catching over the next few days.

The fishing also proves to be very good with encouraging numbers reported, particularly later in the afternoons when the dry fly sport picks up. I fish with Matt who is providing great company and whose outlook to fly fishing seems similar to mine. We fish two beats of the Monnow new to both of us and enjoy catching in beautiful surroundings. I also spend a few hours on the Honddu where one particular cast I make, whilst almost lying down in the river, results in a lovely little wild fish which will last long in the memory.

Saturday’s auction, once again generates some moments of hilarity and generosity and hopefully raises a pile of money too. Strange that on Sunday morning, whilst looking as if he can’t remember his own name, quick as a flash Patrick is able to tell me the cash I’ve just handed him is a fiver short! A true professional.

This year though it’s the tale telling which emerges whenever a few of us gather, that I’ll particularly remember.

The river angler who puts his life jacket on under his vest and then can’t get his arms around to reach any zips when it auto inflates on the bank. Or the guide who breaks three of his own rods closing his own car door. The image of swinging over the river on a rope swing, only to get stuck in the middle with trousers heading south. I’ll certainly not forget the technique required to “czech nymph a salmon” in a hurry and I doubt I’ll ever accumulate enough fishing wisdom to park a chair by the bank and have the trout come to me!

It’s the banter with people who share a passion for fly fishing that makes the Social so much fun. Great to catch up with some friends and make a few new ones.

At the risk of sounding morbid, there are adverts on the telly telling me (to avoid leaving my family with the ‘burden’) I should start planning for my demise. Although hopefully it will be some time away, I was thinking perhaps a humanist ceremony, with maybe a bit of Radiohead playing in the background. After this weekend, I have another choice and should now consider the real possibility of going out like a viking.

The thought of being floated down river strapped to the nearest log whilst drunken fly anglers try to hit me with a flaming arrow has a growing appeal.

As they say, you probably had to be there…

Mr Notherone

 

Typical spring day on the river

An early morning walk with the dogs persuades me to spend the afternoon on the river. Just ten minutes trying to keep up with them in the woods and I wish I’d left the light jacket in the car. I’m hot.

Actually it’s never me I have to persuade. I casually ask if we’ve anything planned for later. “No” she says.  I search for my best nonchalant tone, “I think I’ll spend a few hours fishing…OK with you?”

IMG_3047

Red Campion

It’s still warm and sunny as I park up and slide down to the water. With the bluebells on the way out, the red campion are dotted all along the bank side. It’s the sort of landscape someone wants to paint. Despite the doom and gloom about the state of our wild bird population, the few remaining are doing their best to make up for all their friends departed.

I’ve only caught one fish on a dry fly this season so I leave the nymphs in the car and take a couple of small dry fly boxes with me. I’ve been known to start nymphing to save a blank so I’m taking away the temptation.

At the first promising pool I sit and watch. It’s a few minutes before I see a small rise, quickly followed by another. I think they are small grayling but I can’t be sure. There is a steady trickle of flies coming off. Some brook duns for certain and what I think is a pale watery but I’m not sure. I also see a few yellow may duns float past but I’m the only one showing interest in them.

 

I select a small emerger with yellow ribbing. My first two casts are accurate enough but prompt no action. On the third I connect with a fish that is indeed a small grayling. Over the next couple of hours I cast to six fish I see rise and catch four of them. All small grayling, 10 inches being the largest. That’s 66% success rate, probably better that I ever achieved in a statistics exam – never my best subject.

As the sun disappears behind some menacing looking clouds it gets quite cold and unlike this morning I’m wishing I had an extra layer. In just a few minutes the sky looks like rain is threatening but nothings falls as the wind picks up a little.

I stroll upstream stopping at likely pools and change the pattern and size of the flies as fancy takes me. I don’t see any further surface activity, but I do rise and catch two more grayling to a small Adams. I’ve managed six more fish to a dry fly this season but unfortunately I see no trout today. They are probably gorging on nymphs in the deeper water when my imitations are in the car boot!

As I head back, in no particular hurry, the sun emerges again and it looks like a pleasant evening is on the cards. It takes no time at all for the sun to warm me up and I make a few final speculative casts in the hope that a trout is paying attention.

I find small grayling can be hard to hook up so I’m pleased to get my eye in again with the dry, but it’s not much consolation for not seeing a trout.

Driving home I think about the Monnow Social next weekend and wonder if we’ll get good weather. After dinner I decide to prepare as best I can, so I open a bottle of red. That should do for a start….

Mr Notherone

 

 

 

 

It’s definitely a Good Friday

Apparently this will be the hottest day of the year so far. Just a few weeks ago I was walking the river banks looking at a torrent of muddy water, now it’s clear and at a height that is inviting me in. The temperature might get to the mid-twenties today, but the water still feels cold and it’s a reminder that we are only just past the middle of April.

I’m still exploring and around each bend is something new. I realise that I don’t know which river bank I should be on for the coming bit of water and I have to back track several times and cross over. What a fantastic place to be on a learning curve!

IMG_2656

I catch five trout and a grayling, but what marks the day is that I have my first trout of the season on a dry.

In one of the nicest looking pools I see one of only two rises all day. I take off the small klink and micro nymph that has caught me a couple so far and tie on a little F fly. I’ve only seen a handful of flies coming off in two hours on the river. When I don’t know what fish are feeding on, I often find the F fly to be one of the best in my box.

I’m not going to be able to get my preferred 45 degree angle on the fish. It’s going to be more straight across. I am able to get pretty close though so I’m hoping I can hold the line off the faster water that’s between me and glory. My cast is on the money and I can control the drift, but I’m soon past the point where I expect a take. I’m just about to lift off when the fly disappears in a swirl and I’m in.

It’s a jumper! Three times I’m treated to an aerobatic display and then it’s over quickly as he runs straight at the net. A very respectable 15″ brownie.

IMG_2661

I cover one more rise an hour later but I don’t see that fish again.

A nice grayling at around 13″ takes a small hares ear and I mange four juvenile trout to the same fly. I’d trade them all for the one on the dry though.

I twist my knee slightly, slipping off a boulder. Very minor, but it’s the excuse I need to pack it in. I want to get home in time for a drink or two in the garden before the sun disappears over the hill. I don’t celebrate Easter, but I’ll raise my glass to a damn good Friday.

Mr Notherone

 

 

 

First serious fish of the season…shame it wasn’t a trout!

The river has dropped significantly over the last week and is just clear enough to be able to avoid stepping in anything too deep. It’s mid-morning and the sun is threatening to make this a very pleasant spring day. I’m also looking forward to fishing some new water. There is something about exploring that makes fly fishing even better.

IMG_2647

Perhaps it’s because this is a new beat, but I decide to tackle up two rods. I usually can’t be bothered carrying two and I remind myself that I once left a rod on the bank and was very lucky to retrieve it the next day. Surely I’m not going to repeat that.

I set up the Hanak with two nymphs, a hares ear on the dropper and a heavy PTN on point. The Sage SLT has a furled leader and a little size 16 dry olive emerger.

This early in the season I’m just hoping to find some fish. I haven’t been out much and I’m yet to catch a trout on the dry. Realistically, I know I’ll be relying on tungsten as there’s too much water, but I clutch the Sage a little tighter more in hope than expectation.

I select a nice access point with a faster riffle in front and a few features upstream to provide some holding areas. I’m setting a good rhythm with the nymphs and managing to get a reasonable drift each cast. I target a quieter area at the edge of the main current and just as the point fly hits bottom there’s a strong take and I immediately know this is a good fish.

It charges downstream and as is usually the case with tight line nymphing, I’m reluctantly playing the fish off the reel. I know everyone is different but I always prefer to hand play a fish – isn’t that what the left hand is for!

A good size fish, down stream in a fast flow is never easy. I don’t want to bully it too much but I need to get it across to the quieter shallows. It’s then that I catch sight of the telltale mainsail. The immediate disappointment is quickly replaced with the realisation that this could be one of my better grayling. It is.

IMG_2609

My best grayling came on the Wye a few years ago. That was 19″ and although I didn’t weigh it, I don’t think it was far off 3lb. Today’s fish measures 18″ nose to fork, is stunningly marked and a similar weight. It’s out of season of course, so I want to get it back as soon as possible. It’s too big to recover in the net so I cradle it until the big tail launches the fish back into the depths.

For the next few hours I explore upstream, stopping at likely spots and avoiding falling in the deep holes. I alternate between the nymphs and prospecting with the dry. As expected, it’s not a dry fly day but it’s still nice to cast the Sage. I catch four small brown trout (largest at 13″) on the hares ear and then call it a day.

I walk back to the car with both rods in hand (no need to dash back in the morning on a frantic rod search).

The sunny afternoon does not materialise and it’s chilly when I drive off. I still don’t have a trout on dry fly and I’m not catching in any great numbers. It is only April though, and one thing I’ve learned is there is no such thing as a ‘typical season’. You’ve got to take what’s on offer.

I think I’ve had a successful day on the Monnow – and when it comes to fishing, I’m the only one I need to please.

Mr Notherone

Fresh Out Of Ideas…..

Peering over the bridge I confirm what I already know. I’ve seen the river several times from the car and the high, swirling, brown water means no fishing today. I should have turned around earlier but a little ray of hope drives me on, wanting to believe that further upstream the Monnow will be better. It’s not.

Decision time. Head home, walk the dogs, watch the rugby and put off those jobs around the house that are becoming urgent. Problem is, I did that yesterday. So I aim for the Usk to see if casting a fly is possible. It is.

IMG_2518

The Usk above Abergavenny

It looks possible from the road that is, but up close I’m less sure. I exchange a few thoughts with a fellow angler who arrives as I’m tackling up. He’s after salmon and following a few pleasantries I wish him well. I take some comfort from not being the only one in the river today. It’s colder than the forecast suggests and the tops of the trees have a little movement. From experience I know that if the wind picks up, it won’t be until I’m ready to make my first cast.

The water is fairly clear and pushing through strongly. At the better access points, a few meters from the bank I’m already waist deep and side on to stay upright. With this much flow, the usual features are hidden. It’s going to be difficult.

I start with two nymphs, tight line, but as I can’t venture far I resort to laying on the coloured braid to get the flies in the better water. To my surprise I’m soon into a small trout quickly followed by a better one of about 13″.  He fights like an early season fish and looks lean and healthy in the net. Every angler knows the relief of not blanking on a tough day.

IMG_2510

Upstream the river deepens and I can wade even less. I decide to use a bushy elk hair pattern to hold up a nymph, that will get me a bit more distance and I’ll be able to see it. I persevere for an hour or so and then I need a rest. The strain of every muscle flexing against the flow is giving me one hell of a workout.

I wander further up stream and cast to a few likely spots but I’m not confident and my fly is not in the water much.

I take a break and sit and watch the river. It’s warmer now and I see a handful of march browns coming off, not what you’d call a hatch. No rising fish though. None the less, I tie on a dry march brown pattern while I eat an apple – just in case. Although, unless the trout breaks the surface under my feet, I’m not sure I’ll get the fly anywhere near him.

Time for another rethink and it occurs that swinging a few spiders might be worth it. Wading will be easier heading down stream and if I can get the flies out into the deeper water I can cover more. I search the box for a couple of likely candidates, tie on a longer leader, put the spiders on droppers and then add a heavier nymph on the point to get them all down quicker. Again I give it a bash for an hour, getting in and out of the river frequently when it gets too deep or strong.

My confidence gets a boost when I bump a fish and after a few more casts a 12″ brownie grabs the top spider. This is quickly followed by the best fish of the day, at just under 14″.

I very rarely fish spiders and I’m going to have to improve my ‘escalator’ technique if I’m to get my catch rate up with this method.

The Usk is a good size river and when it’s pushing through it can all get a bit intimidating, especially for a cautious wader like me. I’m pleased I decide to give it a go today and I’m very pleased with four trout. I’m also absolutely knackered.

I drive home slowly as if somehow I’m using less energy and it will help me recover. Then I remember I’ve a Sunday roast to look forward to and my aches already start to fade.

Mr Notherone

 

 

Where would we be without a PTN…….?

I get a rare chance to spend a second day on the river this week. With the trout season around the corner this is my last effort to catch grayling and I head for a little stretch of the Avon in Wiltshire.

I’m not a scholar of the history of fly fishing, but there will be few devotees of the art, unfamiliar with Avon river keeper Frank Sawyer. He is accredited with inventing the pheasant tail nymph and I came to the conclusion a while ago that when it comes to nymphs, variations of the PTN are pretty much all that’s needed. So it proves again today.

IMG_2283

The Avon above Upavon

It’s six months since I was last here and today the river is pushing through strongly with a dark colour to the water. This is not one of those chalk days when you can count each grain of gravel in six feet of water. Every river looks different in each season, but this stream is unrecognisable from last August.

I decide to fish traditional upstream nymphs and just vary the weight to suit the flow. The banks are accessible and I can cast to many pools without wading; an impossibility in summer. My 8ft Sage SLT is perfect.

In the past, I’ve had as many as thirty grayling on this beat, but something is telling me this day will be different. As I make my way downstream, I can’t resist stopping at my ‘banker’ pool. I’ll fish through it again on my way up but I’ll just run the fly through a few times now. No response.

After nearly an hour, I’m still at the same pool and after several fly changes, I continue south with just one small grayling to hand. It doesn’t feel like a red-letter day is in the offing.

Things look up when I get back in the water and first cast I have another small but perfectly formed grayling posing for a snap as he slides back in. I continue upstream but I get no activity from the suspect lies. At the next pool, I’m convinced it’s holding fish but after a dozen drifts, again no interest.

I have little patience and keep tweaking the presentation. I switch to a size 16 PTN with a red tag and straight away I have the best fish of the day at around 14″ and it’s followed by another two smaller grayling. The fishing is not prolific but it’s fun.

The red tag stays on and lands two more grayling from my ‘banker’ pool and four OOS small trout from the next glide. I check my watch and I’ve only an hour before I need to head home. I spend the rest of the time on the upper beat, mostly kneeling trying to hide my profile whilst prospecting likely water. If anything the water is colouring up more and I’m fishing blind.

IMG_2342

I have half a dozen boxes of nymphs, mostly variations of pheasant tails and hairs ears. The majority have never been wet and I’ll guess that goes for a great many fly anglers. We all have our go to patterns. I wouldn’t dream for one minute of denigrating the ‘match the hatch’ approach, but here’s my reality. I have seen precious few hatches in recent years and most of the time I can’t identify the chosen food. I catch my share and when I’m not fishing a dry, the PTN variations work more often than not.

IMG_2345

I find that red, orange and pink tags work well with grayling and won’t escape a passing trout.

I catch everything today on the red tag PTN and a shrimp, both size 16. For those of you watching in black and white, the red tag is the one next to the pink shrimp (yes I’m old enough to remember Ted Lowe and Pot Black).

I think the count today is eight grayling and four trout. I’m not sure when I’ll get back to the Avon. This coming season, I’m planning to spend as much time as possible on the Monnow, her tributaries, and of course the Usk. Alas, there are only so many days for fishing.

On a few chosen occasions, I’m fortunate to be able to get to a chalk stream within a reasonable drive and for a reasonable price.

Mr Notherone