Monday, 25 November 2013

Ladies About Town - Urban Grayling, Lower Taff, November 2013

Previously on Thymallus thymallus...

I have fished for river trout on the upper Taff since I was a small boy but, until a few years ago, I had not caught a Taff grayling as they only inhabit the lower river.

I enjoy fishing gentlemen's hours on the urban river in winter; it's convenient (within 40 minutes drive), cheap (£10 buys a ticket for Ospreys Fly Fishers Association water), the fishing can be top drawer (there is a large grayling population with a good number of fish over 2lb) and many of the friends that I meet on the river are proper fisherman and great company.

Landing a Taff grayling

The fish pictured below was one of largest Taff grayling I caught last season. It was captured in a heavily populated area and, upon landing, I received a hearty round of applause from spectators positioned on a nearby bridge. One of the onlookers, a small boy, clearly concerned for my safety shouted, 'Mr there's a f***ing shark behind you!'.

One from last season

This fish was caught on the pattern below. It worked very well for my friends and I last winter, proving a successful point fly on a number of Welsh rivers and English chalk streams.

Hook: Hannak grub hook - 12, 14 or 16
Bead: Metallic pink - 3mm or 3.5mm
Underbody: Medium lead wire - few turns glued behind bead
Body: Dark hare's mask
Rib: Red or pink wire
Thorax: Ice dub - UV shrimp pink

Cabin Fever, November 2013

It was a sunny November Sunday morning and it hadn't rained for three days. The local rivers had been unfishable for over a month and I was suffering from cabin fever. I'd been tying for weeks and was itching to wet a few new patters. 

Not my usual tipple

Upon checking, I noted  that the river had dropped to 0.9m at Upper Boat Bridge . The safe level is around 0.7m, but as I was desperate to fish I texted my mate Dan Popp...

I joined Dan and Terry Bromwell on a part of the Ospreys beat that I am relatively well acquainted with. Wading was tricky but we knew that some fish could be caught off the bank. That day we didn't return a huge number - perhaps fifteen between three of us (including out of season trout) - but the proper grayling we did land were well above the Taff average.

Terry was the first to catch. I was stood on the bank above him and saw the fish glint as he set the hook of his red tag HE nymph variant in the slightly coloured water. It put up a strong showing but Terry has had plenty of practice.

Terry with a pristine grayling

As we moved up river we caught several out of season trout (to 1.5lb) and a few small grayling, but did more talking than fishing. At one point I was talking and laughing hard at the end of a cast and, as my body shook, the fly bounced downstream of me and tempted a small grayling. That was not to be the last fish I caught jigging nymphs that afternoon.

Dan Popp into a fish in the coloured water

After a bit of free climbing, and some very difficult wading, we ended up at a pool that was large enough to accommodate the three of us. In the swollen river we knew that some grayling would be close in and so, initially, elected not to wade. I was using a pink butted silver bead hare's mask nymph on the dropper and a pink metallic beaded bug on the point.

I flicked my nymphs upstream, just beyond a weed bed on a line where the current slowed. As the point fly reached the maximum depth, my indicator stopped and I connected with the lady below. Both flies were heavily weighted and this made the difference, ensuring they presented at the required speed in the faster than usual flow.

Nicely conditioned lady

Once we had covered the lies close in, I waded into the river to fish another band of slower current. I varied my casts to cover the water and change the speed of the flies. Nothing took, but as previous experience had shown this to be a productive spot, I persevered. 

Again I cast upstream and slowly led my flies. When directly opposite me, I raised and dipped the rod slightly, repeating as the flies moved with the current. On the second or third rise the fish below hooked itself and put up an arm-aching attritional scrap.

Pleased it's in the net

This chunky fish had taken the dropper and was my largest of the day.

 Thick Taff two pounder

I left the water concluding that, given the conditions, we'd done well, with the quality of the fish more than making up for the relatively low number.  Also, I'd had a great laugh with Dan and Terry and managed to steal a look at a few new flies.

Something for the weekend

This weekend my friends David, Dave and Morgan are coming to stay. On Saturday we are booked to fish Doldowlod on the Upper Wye and later intend to watch Wales play Australia at rugby (in the pub). On Sunday Dave, Morgan and I will (slowly) fish the Taff. David remembers the Taff as an industrial gutter and is going to 'give it a miss'.

I can't guarantee grayling, but can guarantee more good humour and a few beers.

Morgan - elegantly wasted

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

There is a Season - River Usk, September 2013

Rock bottom - Early September 2013

Following a very dry summer that saw me out with the double hander on only three or four occasions, the Usk was on its bones for most of September. Even when we did receive water the river level fell back while still highly coloured. All very worrying and no doubt exacerbated by the numerous abstractions along the river.

Usk trout are some of the spookiest I encounter and, when the river is at rock bottom, fishing can be extremely frustrating.

Summer low

Early in the month there were some decent evening rises with fish feeding mainly on small dark olives, sedge and midge. If I could get anywhere near those feeding in slow water -usually after shuffling in and standing stock still for ten minutes- any hint of drag, line flash or spray and the fish either refused or were spooked. I also had to be pinpoint accurate as the targets were virtually lying in the surface film. With a 16 foot leader, 7x point and size 20 - 24 dries drifted drag-free past their snouts, I managed a few, but experienced many last second refusals.

Size 20 and 22 spun CDC emergers and duns

On those evenings I'm ashamed to say I yearned for the large dark olive hatches of the early season; the April day Pete and I fished at Llanover, the session with Morgan in the heavy rain and the solo day I was snapped on the Mardy beat (see earlier entries). Even though the water was low and clear for the time of year, those afternoon fish were hungry, deep lying and often obliging. Certainly not easy, but less difficult.

Autumn Usk trout

Beginning of the End - Mid September, Ty Mawr (GAS)

By the second week of September, the windspeed increased and I had resorted to nymph tactics spending two happy late afternoon and evening sessions on Ty Mawr. I had given up on creeping around fish that lay in the margins and shallow runs, and concentrated on the deeper water where I had more cover. 

Duo and trio tactics, with a sliding klink and spectra jig nymphs, worked well. During the first session I caught numerous fish up to 14 inches and was grateful for the lively sport provided by the well marked autumn browns.

Pretty Ty Mawr trout

The second session started off the same, but after an hour or so, where I caught several small fish, I became bored and reverted to my favoured dry fly tactics. Again, I left the water having been unable to connect with many of the occasional surface feeding fish.  

End of Sports - Late September, Mardy (MTAA)

By the last Thursday in September, all pure thoughts had deserted me and I left the car armed with only my 11ft Streamflex rod and French leader rig. Informed by my recent experiences I knew the spectra jig nymphs would work well and, as I was headed for some fast runs, I selected two black nickel size 16s (a 3mm bead on the point and the 2.5mm on the dropper).

Wet spectra jig nymph

Hook:   16 Hannak or Fulling Mill jig
Tail:      Coq de leon (I like to splay it)
Rib:       Red ultra wire (the finest diameter I can find)
Body:    Hare's mask dubbing
Thorax: Hends spectra dubbing No.15
Collar:   Soft hare mask 
Bead:    2.5mm or 3mm tungsten black nickel

While I've made some changes, I've seen similar patterns tied by Terry Bromwell, Kieron Jenkins, Nicholas Steedman, Gareth Lewis and others. For this pattern I have included a spun hare's mask collar but I (and others) also use spun CDC, pine squirrel and various soft feather fibres.

Some may consider a 3mm bead to be too large for a size 16 jig hook, this is not the case. I catch lots of trout and grayling on size 16s with 3mm beads. Last year, my most consistent winter grayling pattern was a size 16 3mm sliver bead HE PTN variant.

I walked to the bottom of the beat to a run that has produced numerous good fish over the last few years. It's very fast and, as such, is hardly fished. As I made my way up the run I caught three fish around the pound mark. At its head, on the other side of the main current, there is a slightly deeper channel and back water from which I have caught a number fish over 2lb. That  evening was to deliver one such fish (perhaps my biggest Usk brown of the season).

Apologies for the poor picture but the current is so fast, even in the margins, that I couldn't take my usual 'in the net' photograph and I didn't want to take time in returning the fish after a two minute fight. Safe to say this brown was a 20 inch minter and the image does not do it justice - you can only just see the double blues!

Late season Usk belter

The release

Looking Both Ways

It's been a good season on the Usk; I've learnt many important lessons and,  probably as a result, have hooked more quality fish (not that I landed them all). We have certainly done the right thing in moving to within spitting distance of the river, although there have been some torturous moments when walking the dog along the bank (and being too busy to fish) during a proper evening rise.

I don't want to tempt fate but, for next season there is a chance I may be able to fish a mile or so of water within a two minute walk of the house (see below). This would be a true privilege and, if it comes off, I shall be a very lucky man.

The sun sets on another Usk trout season

Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Deep Water - Sewin (Sea Trout) 2013

Alone with my thoughts 

With the window down, John Phillips sang Topanga Canyon on the CD player (much louder than usual to keep me awake):

'Oh Mary, I'm in deep water, and it's way, way over my he-e-ead!'

It was 10.30pm on a July Thursday and tired, hungry and dressed in my formal work clothes, I was  driving down the A470 with an energy drink at my side. (I dislike them but keep an emergency can in my sewin bag for when needs must). I'd just left the upper reaches of the River Dyfi north of Llanbrynmair and, with a two hour drive ahead, I reflected on the previous weeks.

I'd fished two consecutive days and a night on the Teifi and another two nights on the Tywi -with only a couple of small fish and dark bags beneath my eyes to show for it. In poor conditions the fishing had proved very difficult and, as usual, I taunted myself with thoughts of lost fish, missed takes and what might have been.


River Dyfi, July 2013

I left my house in South East Wales at 7.00am for some meetings in Aberystwyth. By 4.00pm I was on the road to Reeds Garage, Machynlleth, where I paid £17.50 to the New Dovey Angling Association for a day ticket on the upper reaches of their river. Tickets are also available at the Post Office in Cemmaes (nearer to the fishing) but, being a Thursday afternoon in rural Wales, I knew it would be closed.

That morning I had noted that the Dyfi -a small flashy river- was dropping to a nice level for daytime fly fishing after the previous day's spate. On my journey upstream, my excitement was fuelled as I noted all of the fishermen's pull-ins were occupied. We had benefited from the first significant rain for months and the locals were out in force.

Looking away from the river - the Dyfi Valley

I fished a mile or so of water, changing tactics as I moved. By 9.00pm I hadn't seen a fish, but didn't given up hope as the last hour is often the best. I fished a fast glass line with two wee doubles, casting square and varying the speed of retrieve.

The Dyfi near Cemmaes Road

The pool I finished on had a line of boulders that had fallen into the water on the far bank, providing lies for the fish. Towards the tail I changed to a rolypoly retrieve, effectively 'spinning' the wee doubles. On the second cast, behind the largest boulder, a fish smashed my red butted black hairwing point fly. I quickly landed and returned a coloured fish of a pound or so. It looked as though it had been in the estuary for a while, certainly not big, but a fish all the same.

Dyfi sewin

A potted history

Sewin or sea tout are the fish I like to catch the most. There's something about them, the places where they are found and the way they are fished for, that gives me a feeling like no other. I have only chased sewin on the west side of Wales; on the Dyfi (Dovey),Teifi, Wnion and Tywi (Towy), and like it that way.

I first ventured to the Towy when I was twelve years old. An older friend and I fished near Llandeilo for the entire night. In hindsight we were clueless and there's little wonder we caught no sewin. By 4.00am I had my eight footer out with a grey duster happily catching tiddlers in the dawn. On the way back, my companion dozed off at the wheel and, when I miraculously arrived home in one piece, I was in big trouble after a bad report from the school parents' evening the previous day.

Later in life, when my friend Aled taught me how to night fish more effectively, I would regularly catch one or two. Like the gambling man who wins first time he lays a bet, this beginner's luck ensured I was hooked.

My largest ever sewin is pictured below. It was caught on the Dyfi at dusk on a wee double.  In catching this nine pound hen, I learned a hard lesson: If I want to return these fish, I have to bully them to the net as quickly as possible. It took well over five minutes to land after it lodged itself in some tree routes and, as a result, it wouldn't swim away (even though I didn't take it out of the water), and ended up on the table. While it was delicious, fish of this size are not as good to eat as the two and three pounders that are far less important for breeding stock.

The size of the prize

River Tywi, July 2013

I'd been looking forward to the third weekend in July for a few months. A friend Brian kindly offered to put a number of us up at his house and cottages near the river, and he and David had arranged for us to fish at Golden Grove for two consecutive nights. I am very grateful to both as we had a great time, with the company more than making up for the difficult fishing in poor conditions.

I'd been tying for this trip for a number of weeks and was hoping that some sport could be had using surface lures like the jambos pictured below.

A pod of Jambo

Unfortunately we were in the midst of one of the warmest spells I can remember and the skies were clear and the river like bath water. It was also during a period when the moon was full, casting our shadows across the open parts of the river.

I often wonder if a bright full moon is always detrimental to sewin fishing, after all, the light must improve visibility of the fly's silhouette. Perhaps air temperature is more important; a full moon is obvious on a clear night and the lack of cloud cover usually results in lower air temperatures... What I do know is that the little action I did have on this trip occurred either when I was facing the moon, or with the trees shielding my back.

Moon on the Tywi

On the first night we landed no fish. There were big fish splashing in some of the pools but they were not in the taking mood. I managed to lose a smallish fish on a secret weapon and moved one on a surface lure.

On the second night there were no fish moving and, for the first hour, I fished a pool with some obvious lies (recommended to me by David). I concentrated on these 'lay-bys' and managed to hook and land a small fish employing a slightly upstream cast with a two inch aluminium tube on a fast glass line. 

'I've got bigger tube flies' - the smallest sewin in the Tywi

After letting my companion, Richard, fish through the spot, I employed the same tactics again and had three good 'buzzing' knocks with which I didn't connect. I later discussed this with Alun Rees (a good guy and sewin expert). He imparted that, where possible, he always observes the line at the end of the rod and strikes when it moves in any way other than that expected from his retrieve, often before the take is felt. With the moon offering plenty of light, perhaps things could have been different...

River Teifi, June 2013

Every year, my mate Aled and I meet up at his caravan in Cenarth to have a few nights on the lower Teifi. Over the last two seasons we've not landed a 'proper' fish between us. On the third night last year, I lost a cracker on a secret weapon that triggered some of the worst swearing ever heard in in the Newcastle Emlyn area.

It was cold for the time of year with the dreaded 'tarth' descending by midnight each night. Tarth (Welsh for fog or mist), results from a drop in air temperature and is a session killer. A likely reason for this, suggested to me by those in the know, is that if no light can penetrate the river through the tarth, then the sewin cannot see the silhouette of the fly.

Secret weapons

This year it started raining and, by midnight on our fist session, the river was rising and colouring limiting us to day and evening fishing. On the first day I lost a herling and Aled landed one very fresh fish of around a pound.

My mate Aled, 'fishing'

On second day we travelled up river to take to a ticket on Llandysul Angling water. We met a friend Steffan Jones at the Porth Hotel where we purchased our day tickets. Nobody knows this part of the river and its fish better than Steffan and we were very lucky that he offered to show us around some very picturesque water. After discussing flies and tactics Steffan departed, leaving us to our own devices.

All the gear, no idea / all the kit, s***!

We fished two wee doubles fast in the slightly coloured, falling river and the first couple of hours saw us catch over twenty brown trout to ten inches. About half way down a likely looking pool I managed to intercept a small sewin that jumped and slipped the hook.

By dusk we were at the top of a beat, fishing a deep pool that Steffan told us to leave until last. Aled had decided that -in the coloured water and low light- enough was enough and watched me make a few final casts. I had changed to a small aluminium tube that I was slowly figure of eighting. A good fish smashed the fly and fought hard and deep until it came off ten seconds later. A broken man, I said nothing and carried on fishing.  

As we walked back to the car, my mood was softened by Aled's banter and the dusk light along this beautiful stretch of river.

The Teifi Valley at dusk


Chasing sewin has provided some of my best highs and worst lows on the river. I shall never forget certain lost fish and still question some of the decisions I made in seasons past.

To the beginner I say beware - it's the crack cocaine of fly fishing. 

As I write this there is little night fishing left for me this season, but I'll drop everything to get out one last time. Deep water indeed.


Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Double Take - Mayfly, River Usk, June 2013

June mayfly

As everything on the Usk is three weeks late this year, I had some good sport with mayfly feeding fish in the early part of June.

Some of the older locals have told me that the Usk trout are 'afraid' of mayfly for the first few weeks and that the hatch doesn't amount to much. While I don't think the mayfly sport is as good as on the chalk streams, or even the nearby Monnow, I still beg to differ. Most seasons I have some sucess with mayfly emerger, dun and spinner patterns.

During the last week in May, I noticed a few danica whilst out walking the dog. The specimen below landed on my dog's back, which was a bad move as she turned around and ate it!


By the second week in June, some Usk trout appeared to be responding. It was during this week that my wife was away with work for two nights and I too responded. On the Wednesday I arrived at the Bakers (GAS) beat at 7.00pm and was delighted to be greeted by clouds of dancing spinners.

Usk Mayfly

Being  a member of both GAS and MTAA, I walked the half mile or so downstream to the Kemmeys beat with the intention of fishing the river back up to the car by dusk. I noticed a few fish feeding on emergers and suspected that they were taking both mayfly and the abundant yellow mays.


I started out fishing a yellow may emerger which tempted a few fish to just over a pound, one of which was a stockie. Over the last ten years I have only caught a couple of stockies on the lower river, but this season I catch one most sessions. I chap them as, in my opinion, they have no place in the river and I wish the few clubs and owners that introduce these stunted creatures higher up would manage their water properly and cease to do so. I concluded that this batch was stocked in Abergavenny at the start of the season during, or just before, a period of high water that washed the poor swimmers down river. Even though they've been in a few months these beasts will take most correctly presented flies and are often missing their pectoral fins.

Take 1

As I worked my way to the top of the pool I noticed that there were more danica coming off and so changed to a mayfly emerger. No sooner had I done so than I spotted a tiny blink-and-you'll-miss-it rise form tight to the bank, in about three feet of slowish water.

Considering the flow, I presented the fly two feet diagonally above the fish and, as it drifted towards the bank, the fish took very softly and ran hard up river. After a decent fight a shovel-tailed eighteen inch fish was slipped into the net.

Take 1

The actual fly that tempted this lovely brown trout has taken a bit of a hammering and is pictured below. It's a Paul Procter pattern that I tied on a size 12 emerger hook with an Aerodry shuck and loop wing. I especially like the pearl mylar rib and tag on this version.

PP Mayfly Emerger


Every now and then I make a real hash of things on the river and that evening included one of those occasions.
The light had dropped and I moved up river with my sunglasses perched on my cap. I stopped and watched a fish occasionally rising in some very deep, slow water and wondered if I could get close enough without spooking it. Carefully wading to nearly the top of my chest waders I made a few longish casts. The fish took on the third pass and I immediately realised that I was into something big as it dived deep making three initial heart stopping runs.

I had cast over 15 metres and the fish emptied my reel with ease. This was the first river dry fly caught fish to take me to the backing and my main concern was to get some line back and not allow any slack. As such I held my rod high, and moved towards the angry fish as quickly as I could with both arms fully extended above my head. This resulted in water overflowing my waders and my sunglasses falling into the river. At the time, I wasn't too bothered as the fish was still on and I had some line back on the reel.
I'd not yet seen my foe and was desperate to do so. I managed to retrieve about half of the line and considered retreating into some shallower water. As I stepped back the fish ran down stream, lightening fast. I recall some spray from the reel cooling my flushed face just prior to the line sticking and my tippet snapping.
Defeated, damp and shaking like a leaf I wound in.
The next day I learned that a number of good sea trout had been seen, with a few caught, lower down the river...

Take 2

The following evening's routine followed that of the previous and, by 8.00pm, I was in the spot where I'd caught the 18 incher on the mayfly emerger. I again noticed a very small rise in the same lie, covered it and landed the fish below. Another cracker from the same spot (I thought).

Take 2

It wasn't until I arrived home and looked at the pictures that I realised there was a chance this was the same fish. The closer I looked, the more convinced I became. My photographer mate, Jon Poutney, then overlaid the two images (see below).

Haven't I seen you somewhere before?

I have previously suspected  that I've caught the same fish twice, more than a couple of weeks apart, but never with the same fly on the next day. The most pleasing aspect is that it was clearly unharmed by our previous encounter and actually fought harder the second time.

It's probably pushing it to ask for a third meeting, but every time I cover that lie, I hold my breath. We live in hope.

Friday, 5 July 2013

Day Dreaming - River Avon, 1st June 2013

Kind invite

At the start of the season I received a generous invite to fish the River Avon with David. As I'd never fished a chalk stream before, I could feel the excitement building through to the first day in June. At that time of year, I was informed, the fish would normally be feeding on Mayfly, but as everything was around three weeks late, I tied some duns, emergers and spinners more in hope than expectation.

Mayfly duns

River Avon at Salterton

It was a two hour drive to meet David near Salterton and, though early morning, the sky was clear and the sun strong. I'd been out with friends the previous evening and distinctive character and rural beauty of the Salisbury area helped me forget my mild hangover. 

Upon tackling up at a small lodge, David informed me that there had been a sparse mayfly hatch but that the fish were not yet 'on' them and had been taking mainly olives. We followed a carrier to the main river, and as we crossed over a bridge, I was struck by the picturesque nature of the place.

The River Avon at Salterton

David and I took turns casting to feeding fish. This was very different to the rivers of South Wales, and the clarity of the water, coupled with the fact I'd not previously fished with my host, made me twitchy. David was the first to catch - a lovely 14 inch out of season grayling on a CDC and Elk.

As I focused on a fish that was on the fin -coming to look at my fly and turning away last minute- Morgan arrived. He was a welcome surprise as David had deliberately not told me his son (my mate) would be joining us. After a quick chat and photo opportunity, I went back to my two pounder.

The Jones Boys
What followed was quite embarrassing. Feeling slightly daunted by the difficult fish and my grand surroundings, I was on edge and needed to settle.  As the target moved into faster water at the opposite bank, I covered it perfectly with plenty of lead and a reach cast. My arm felt tense as the fish rose and I struck letting out a triumphant 'Yes!'. I concluded that I'd had too much breakfast as a small fish came flying out of the water! Unbeknown to me (in the fast water) the intended quarry had been beaten to the fly by a cheeky four inch brown. Morgan laughed loud and long, David looked bemused, probably wondering what he'd let himself in for. I apologised.


We took our time walking the beat looking for rising fish. By midday a few mayfly started to appear and we caught fish on our emerger patterns. I had most success with a Paul Procter Spun CDC version.

Winged beauty

Great food and better company

By one o'clock we were back at the lodge for the best fishing lunch I've ever had. David provided Wiltshire pasties, sandwiches, boiled eggs, salad, various breads and cheeses and strawberries. To do it justice, I had packed a nice bottle of Chablis and a few bottles of a favourite Untapped Pale Ale. A fry cry from the usual flask of coffee, cereal bar and bananas.

Long lunch

Afternoon session

As we walked down the beat in the early summer sun, the place shimmered and, I felt, had an almost ethereal feel to it. At the bottom of the beat, we managed to locate good mayfly hatch and a few fish appeared to be taking emergers and duns.

Morgan was his usual efficient purist self, hoovering up the surface feeding wild fish. Further upstream I, conversely, was missing most offers. Or were the fish missing me? The larger fish didn't seem to be turning on my mayfly emerger pattern and I was making no connection at all. I put on a dun and, a couple of times, saw the fish nosing it. I managed two, but one was foul hooked and it was tough going. Morgan then joined me and cast to a few of the difficult fish. He too struggled to hook them until he tried a small olive emerger... We concluded we were too early for the best of the mayfly.

A nice wild fish caught by Morgan

We continued to take the occasional fish on olive emergers until we packed up at around seven o'clock. After we said our goodbyes, the two hour drive did not seem a chore in the evening sun. A day (and a picnic) that will live long in the memory.

Chalk stream splendour

Sunday, 16 June 2013

Mixed bag - River Usk, May 2013

A few odds 'n' sods from May 2013.

Desperate times

Renovating a house can be stressful at the best of times, but when you are struggling for a space to tie, things can become intolerable!

Desperate times
Thankfully an old bureau came to my rescue. This is located in the living room so that I can tie whilst my better half watches the telly.

 Situation remedied


One warm Sunday I fished a new beat (GAS, Llan Farm) with a mate Alex. It was quite tough with the fish taking different food items depending upon their position on the beat.
During the early afternoon the water was thick with chironomids interspersed by a few hawthorn flies (see the foreground of the image below). I noticed a few taking the chironomids but also the occasional fish taking the less abundant hawthorns. As I rarely have the opportunity to fish a hawthorn imitation, I tied on a detached foam bodied version that I copied from Davie McPhail.
 A carpet of chironomids
The first time I successfully covered what looked like a good fish, my suspicions were confirmed as it took and dived to the bottom. This lovely fat fish of 17 inches put up a cracking scrap and took me a fair way down stream. The first and last fish I caught on a hawthorn fly this season. 

Gill plate blues

Salmon Fishing

As I’ve not been able to get out whenever I like, I’ve not fished the Usk for salmon when conditions were spot on, and have only wafted the fourteen footer in anger on two occasions.

One sunny Saturday morning I was accompanied on the MTAA Kemmeys beat by fellow member Dan Popp. Within the first hour Dan was shouting for me to come with the the gye net. Before I could get to him, I noticed an air of disappointment as he’d hooked the nice chubb pictured below. Old rubber lips had a penchant for orange Alley’s Shrimps that day as Dan caught another twenty minutes later. Let's hope the next one is sliver...

Dan Popp's Chub


Tuesday, 4 June 2013

(Yellow) May 2013 - River Usk

This time last year I was out at least three times a week but, as a recently middle aged new owner of a large debt on a property, domestic life and DIY drudgery have hampered my exploits. Having written all that, I did escape for a couple of sessions on the Usk and a day on the Avon (coming soon).

Each evening I walk the dog along the river noting the hatch and what the trout are taking. Last week, often in the pouring rain, the trout competed with martins for yellow may duns. Martins, swifts and swallows provide one of my favourite sights on the river when they take yellow may duns off the water, and especially in mid-air.


During the last three Usk sessions I have tempted numerous fish on yellow may emerger patterns.This spun CDC style is adapted from a Paul Procter mayfly emerger pattern:

This is a tweaked version of the standard CDC emerger patterns that I use:

At the head I like to use a very small amount of yellow spectra spun via a split thread in order to give a trapped air effect.


When fishing in low clear water, if fish refuse a fly that I know has previously worked, the first thing I do is degrease. Usk fish, feeding in slow clear water have declined my offerings with a freshly degreased 6X point, but responded when using 7X. I’m sure some will tell me that this is nonsense, but I’ve experienced it numerous times.

I don't degrease to sink the leader, I do it to take the flash off the the tippet. I don't want the leader to sink as I think that this adds drag to the fly and the mud that I use never seems to sink my copolymer tippet.

To emphasise how cautious Usk fish can be, last week my friend Dan Popp and I conducted an experiment when we spotted a very large fish feeding on emergers. Dan crouched down higher up the bank below the fish while I attempted (heron-like!) to enter the river downstream. Before I was in up to wellington height, the fish was back under the overhanging bank on the opposite side. 
As it was a bright slow afternoon, I waded in further and decided to wait to see if the target started to feed again. Luckily a few small fish started rising 20 metres downstream and I entertained myself collapsing the cast, feeding them line and trying to hook them on a spun CDC yellow may emerger and 7X tippet- I managed one.
Well after I’d put the rest of them down, and about twenty minutes into my vigil, I noticed a protrusion on the surface (that left no bubbles) adjacent to the lie of the big fish. My first cast was deliberately short in order that I could assess the current speed and angle. The second covered the fish and, as my hands trembled, the lump slowly rose and turned - remembering to breath, I lifted. Immediately the trout realised its situation and dived violently to the river bed. Upon a third short run, the line went slack. I was afraid to look, but knew that the fly was no longer attached to what was left of the 2.5 lb bs tippet. Despondently I wound in and went home. I hate leaving flies in fish (even if they are barbless).


I shall persevere with 6X tippet and no longer use 7X unless I’m fishing micro dries, and I am reminded to check my leader more regularly for scuffs and kinks.

I am also going to do my damnedest to catch that fish.

Tuesday, 28 May 2013

The Monnow Social - May 2013

It has been a long held ambition to fish at the Monnow Rivers Association Auction and Social and, thanks to a few mates, I managed to do so this year. 'The Social' is a celebration of the River Monnow and a great way to generate income to support the commendable river management activities of the organisers.

I had little charge in my iPhone and forgot my camera and so please excuse the absence of photographs in this entry. Probably just as well...

Middle age

I have previously fished the river (quite unsuccessfully) for winter grayling (no reflection on the river I'm sure), and so I was keen to catch a few Monnow browns on the dry fly. I met Morgan and Mark below Kentchurch at 3.00pm on Friday 10th May (my thirty fifth birthday). They had already moved a few fish on olive emerger patterns and Mark generously showed me around the Garway beat. I elected to fish a slow pool about half way down.

There were a few small olives hatching and we noticed the occasional large dark olive and brook dun. Upon first inspection, there were no surface feeding fish, but I cast blind in order to reacquaint myself with an 8 foot #4 rod that has not seen much use. It was a relief to be on the water again as I hadn’t fished since moving house nearly a fortnight ago.
As I approached the faster water at the head of the pool I noticed what appeared to be a small dimpled rise. As I watched I could not distinguish another but cast above the spot anyway. It was difficult to make out the CDC plume of my emerger, but second cast I observed it being sipped a 10 inch brown trout. Over the next hour, I managed two similar fish using the same method. A good start.

Happy camper

It was then time to find out why the Monnow Social was named as such and we were off to Longtown where twenty odd fishermen camp in a field (thanks for the lend of the tent pegs Dan Colloby) . When we arrived many of the old hands were already suitably refreshed and I felt immediately at home. It was a good night and I finally fell over one of the guy ropes outside my tent (apologies for the bent tent peg Dan Colloby) well after midnight. Being a light sleeper, I was awake most of the night, serenaded by the snoring (and other noises) of my fellow socialites.
The morning couldn’t come quickly enough and I was very pleased to find myself drawn on a beat behind the Bridge Inn, Kentchurch. I fished with a new friend, Vince, and we had an excellent and challenging day; the highlights being an 18 inch out of season grayling and Vince missing takes when turning around to talk to me on three separate occasions!   

Brook duns

On the day, the fly life was sparse on this beat and, throughout the morning and early afternoon, there were few rising fish. By 2.00pm a number of brook duns drifted either side of the main flow and the fish responded emphatically. I have read that these flies tend not to hatch in open water and  thus, are of limited significance to the fly fisherman. Some of my experiences on the Monnow and Usk contradict this. On a recent Usk outing, the fish took these duns in preference to others (I’m very confident they were not march browns).
That evening, I was feeling tired and managed to get to bed around 2.00am after an expensive auction and impromptu sing along session with Mark (a superb blues guitarist) and others. I can assure the reader, it was worse than it sounds!

Father and son

The next morning I wangled a session with father and son team, David and Morgan. We took a few fish on nymphs early on and, as the Monnow has been successfully improved, I lost many flies to the ‘submerged habitat’.
Despite the strong downstream wind, by mid-afternoon, we located a number of surface feeding fish at the tail of a pool and took turns to catch them well into the late afternoon.
A highly sociable conclusion to a thoroughly social weekend! Thank you very much Monnow Rivers Association, I hope you’ll invite me back.

Thursday, 18 April 2013

New Season's Greetings - More River Usk, April 2013

There was much excitement on my part as I knew weeks ago that two guests would be coming to fish the Usk and, as I counted down, the Met Office App on my phone was under regular scrutiny. As described in my previous entry, it rained heavily on Wednesday afternoon, and for most of the night, so when I awoke to find that the river level had barely risen, it felt like Christmas morning.

Llanover, Llanover Estate - Thursday 11th April
At 9.30am, Pete and I met river keeper (Tim) at Llanover Church Hall and, after a brief tour of the top of the beat, we were fishing. There was the occasional oncer rising to midges, but we agreed that nymphing would be the most effective method until the anticipated large dark olive (LDO) hatch.

As on the previous weekend, the fishing was slow for the first hour but I managed to briefly connect with two very slow, deep takes. A move to a fast run, that deepened into a backwater on the far side, produced another slow offer and the first fish, a fat 14 incher. It fell to a size 12, 3.5mm nickel bead, HE jig that I loosely copied from Terry Bromwell. I was relieved to land the fish early in the day as I hadn't previously fished with Pete and was keen to show what the river had to offer (and that I wasn’t a numpty).
This is a serious business

I cast again into the same spot and hooked and landed another, slightly smaller fish. In this type of run I suspected that the fish may be lined up, perhaps with larger fish in front, and so called Pete over. I looked on appreciatively as, on his third or fourth cast, a large fish slowly took his PTN fished on the dropper. The river’s gift to Pete measured 17 inches and kicked very hard back into its lie, before we had the chance of a good photograph. No matter, Pete had caught his largest Usk trout, as denoted by our wide grins.
 Pete's fish being netted

Later in the day there was a good hatch of LDOs and the fish responded accordingly. We had a few hours of dry fly action that Pete compared to a mayfly hatch on a chalk stream. Pete is great company and a skilled angler who exudes contagious enthusiasm, not that it was needed today. Over the session (much of which Pete spent taking photographs) we returned approximately 17 fish between us with over half falling to LDO dun imitations.

Trying to look effective

Covering a fish
On the way home, I stopped at The Clytha Arms to meet my friend James, who had helped arrange our session on the exclusive beat. I have to admit that I was tempted to buy him a half.

For Pete's version of events see Issue 17, Eat, Sleep, Fish.

Bakers, Gwent AnglingSociety – Sunday 14th April
Morgan arrived at 5.00pm on the following wet Saturday. I had been tying flies since after breakfast and was looking forward to trying them the following day. But, before we could go fishing we needed to catch up and, as such, were sinking our first pints of HPA in the Black Bear by 7.00pm. My long-suffering wife had ‘volunteered’ to drive and a couple of pints later we went into Usk for a meal, and a few more.

The next day, it was with two expensive hangovers that we found ourselves on the river. It had rained for much of the night, with long spells forecast for the rest of the day. If Morgan hadn't visited I probably wouldn't have fished the rising river. As he is a fisherman whose skills and attitude I learn from and, over the course of a day regales many humourous anecdotes, I was keen to stay out for as long as possible.    
By 12.00 the water was high and colouring slightly, and Morgan had been snapped by a salmon that thrashed around furiously on the surface after breaking off his nymph. Had the occasional fish not started to rise to sparse flurries of LDOs and (possibly) the occasional March Brown, we would have left.
We walked the banks looking for rising fish but, as the river had become treacherous, none were within reach. When we finally found one that was, it looked like a very good fish. Morgan was changing his set up and so, ever the gentleman, I cast a horizontal slack line with a split thread CDC quill dun on the end.
The fish rose and I tightened with the sound of Morgan’s, ‘Good fish!’ ringing in my ears. I was using a meaty #4-5 weight, but this trout wouldn't be bullied and it was three or four minutes before I slid the net beneath the 19 inch beauty. After a very quick snap on Morgan’s phone it was off like a rocket (under the near bank in the spate conditions).
Dry fly fishing in the rain
We found no more rising fish within reach and left by 3.30pm. Later I noted that the gauge had been at 1.2m, a level which I would normally deem too high for salmon fishing.

Mixed blessings
As I write this, I am on the train travelling back from a meeting on Anglesey. This morning, on the outward journey, I passed over the bottom of the Llanover beat at the same time we were tackling up exactly a week ago. What a difference a week makes!

I have a day off tomorrow and, conditions allowing, will fish the Usk at the Mardy Beat, MTAA with Dan Popp. I’ve not seen Dan yet this season and am looking forward to catching up.
It also looks likely that we shall be completing on our first house tomorrow. This house is less than half a mile from the Usk, but requires a fair bit of work (and on a tight budget) – a mixed blessing indeed.