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