Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Brand New Beat - March Browns and Grannom, River Usk, March 2014

Death, Taxes and Leaky Waders - Ty Mawr (GAS), 14th March

American author John Gierach called it right; there are three certainties in life, namely 'Death, Taxes and Leaky Waders'. The inevitable came to mind, yet again, on a windy Friday afternoon the day before the Ides of March. It was my first session of the year on the Usk and I could feel cold patches spreading beneath my Simms G3s. This, and the strong northerly wind, was making me irritable but the stunning scenery set against a blue sky, the sight of long tailed tits and  the occasional Large Dark Olive (LDO) eased my troubled mind.

Trout were hard to come by, especially rising trout. Nymph tactics brought two to a size 12 hare and squirrel fur jig nymph that I copied from Terry Bromwell. This early season fly has served me well as a loose imitation of a March Brown (rithrogena germanica) nymph (I think).

Between gusts - Ty Mawr, March 2014

Becoming Acquainted - Bryn Derwen, 15th &16th March

On Saturday and Sunday (11.00am until 3.00pm), with crudely glued waders, I enjoyed (slightly) less windy conditions. I recently joined the Bryn Derwen Sporting syndicate and I am yet to get to know the beat, but as the fishing starts a couple of hundred metres from my house, I hope to do so over the coming season.

I caught three on Saturday and seven or eight on Sunday, nothing over 13 inches and all on the same nymph. I spotted only three oncers rising to the sparse hatches of March Browns and Large Dark Olives.

It was pleasing to see the Usk March Browns and I think that a report from Dave Collins the previous week may have been the earliest recorded UK sighting for 2014. These flies look similar to Large Brook Duns (LBDs) but I wouldn't usually expect to see LBDs until well into April. Upon close inspection, the March Browns I collected were identifiable by the presence of black areas on all femurs (upper legs), the absence of a yellow leading edge to wing and dark brown bodies with distinct gold(ish) banding.

Image courtesy of Dave Collins

Warming Up - Bryn Derwen, 22nd & 23rd March

The following weekend there were small hatches of LDOs and a few good flurries of March Browns. Despite the wind the fish began to look up; the occasional rising fish that would oblige when flies were hatching. I caught three on the Saturday (two to a CDC LDO dun pattern and another to a March Brown emerger) and three on the Sunday (all to the March Brown emerger).

The first top of the water trout of the season
On the first day, I managed to fall down when a badly undercut bank gave way. I jarred my left shoulder but luckily I cast right handed.

Falling down
The next day I came across a frightened looking lamb and returned it to its ewe. She had fallen down the same section of bank and I smiled as my shoulder reminded me when I lifted her to field level.

In spite of my good deed the wader Gods frowned upon me once more and my left leg was soaking by the end of the session.
River bank emergency

Grannom - Bryn Derwen, 31st March

Last Monday Dave Smith visited to help me 'get know the new beat'. I hadn't seen Dave for a few months and was looking forward to putting the world to rights and, hopefully, catching a few on the surface.  

After breakfast we tackled up and walked to the river where we noticed clouds of flies drifting up stream - unmistakably grannom. The previous day, Mark Roberts had informed me that they'd begun to hatch further up. Dave and I scanned the water and almost immediately observed a number of kidney shaped rise forms towards the far bank. A sure sign! We knew then were in for a good day and my hands trembled slightly and I talked too much as I tied on a GH grannom/sedge emerger.

Gwilym Hughes and Dave Collins Grannom emergers

We expect grannom to start hatching from the second week of April, but I couldn't recall whether I'd seen them earlier than this year, and so consulted a very experienced fly fisherman, Dave Collins (see the emerger above). He remembers (and so do I now) that about five years ago, after a very warm February and a winter of low water levels, they were present from the third week of March. He also informed me that we saw Yellow Mays in the fourth week in April that year (when we usually expect to see them the first week in May).

In Deep

To allow more control and drag free drift, I try to carefully wade within about ten metres of a rising fish, but this is not always possible on the wide, deep lower Usk. As the water levels were high and the majority of fish feeding tight to the opposite bank, Dave and I had to wade deep and cast long. This was made more difficult by a limited back cast in many areas. 

I was using an 11ft #3 loaded with a 4 weight line. The longer rod offers more control at distance and the 4 weight line allows me to work the rod with less line in the air (I normally fish 'one up' when sewin fishing).

Fish rising on the opposite bank...
Timing our casts correctly, we caught fish. The targets would not respond immediately after rising with the most enthusiastic feeding at around thirty second intervals. We took it in turns to spot and cast to fish, both losing large trout that had appeared highly efficient feeders in their bankside lies.

Bryn Derwen beauty

Average stamp
We were impressed by the stamp of the fish (and the numbers in evidence) and, by lunch time, were at the top of our waders targeting what were very challenging trout.

Dave - and for my next trick...
The fish, again tight to the opposite bank, were stationed just off the cover of tree roots and submerged branches. They required a long slack line but (thankfully) were feeding confidently and we successfully hooked many of them.

Gill plate blues

Root and branch
We worked our way slowly upstream picking fish off as we went. On one of my 'turns' we noticed a very small kidney shaped indentation just off a clump of roots over deep water. Suspecting a large fish I concentrated. After a few nervous passes it took the CDC emerger and proved us correct.

Retreating to land the fish
Three or four minutes, a few heart stopping jumps and plenty of side strain later and the fish was in the net. Dave and I marvelled at the perfectly conditioned eighteen inch March beauty.

Grannom feeding Usk brown trout

Dave soon spotted what looked like another good fish, where the water was even deeper and the back cast more limited. Single minded in his approach, he overflowed his waders resulting in a slightly early bath for both of us (not that I minded as it had started raining and my waders were leaking again).


Back at the house, we discussed our day over a warming cup of tea and, upon our goodbyes, Dave left me in no doubt that he would like to return to 'the new beat' in the near future.

I've all but given up on my year old Simms waders and, in a desperate attempt to keep dry, I have chanced my arm, ordering a reconditioned pair of Vision waders from Diver Dave. At £120, considering the places I fish and (I'm told) my odd shape, one other thing is certain:
 I'll be very happy if I can laugh in the face of Gierach and stay waterproof until the end of the season.

*Thanks to Dave Smith for some of the above images

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