Trout & Grayling Report
by Oliver Burch
The drought of spring continued into mid-summer and most of our rivers and streams were affected by low levels during early July. At this time we also had a heat wave to contend with. Then from the 11th to the end of the month we had days of rain and showers, but the effect on the rivers has been surprisingly little. Although some of the showers were intense, to begin with the rainfall was being soaked up by thirsty ground and trees, hardly reaching the streams. There were a couple of the notorious "quick and dirty" floods on the Wye and Usk, but these events are not so useful to the salmon fishermen, even if they wake up a few resident fish. A short pulse of floodwater will run down the Usk from the headstreams to the tide in not much more than a day (in the case of the Wye it takes 2 days), but something rather more sustained over a longer period is needed to assist fish from the estuary right to the upper river. Tributaries such as the Monnow and Lugg seemed to be hardly affected by the rain at all. We came to the end of the month with a salmon catch of less than half the five year average. In many places trout fishermen struggled, although realistically one does not expect July to provide the best fishing of the season. However, some of the catch returns showed very good results on more shaded beats here and there, for both trout and grayling. If the British summer is notoriously unreliable, other parts of Europe can suffer more; there have been fires along the Mediterranean and the current daytime temperature in Mostar is 42 degrees in the shade. We talked to my brother-in-law on Skype last night and he looked as if he were melting.
As usual there are a few late reports from the end of last month, and these came at a time when a drop in temperature and cloudy skies had definitely improved the fishing. There was a little rain, but not much. On 29th June PB from Gloucester and a friend fished the new Ithon beat at Bryn Ithon, just below Llandrindod Wells, and although they reported that access was difficult due to bankside growth, they got 10 trout and 3 grayling. The fish were of all different sizes, but one of the trout was an impressive 18 inches. Meanwhile, MR from Monmouth had a red-letter day on the Lugg at Lyepole, catching 13 trout and 38 grayling using a nymph under a Klinkhammer. DH from Penarth was out on the Rectory beat of the main Wye. I think this was meant to be a salmon day, but he used the trout rod instead and got no less than 30 trout to 2 pounds plus a grayling, reporting a significant hatch of fly at 5 pm. NN from Newnham was also meant to be trying for salmon upstream at Abernant. Instead he took up the smaller rod and caught 6 trout and 15 grayling with both wet and dry flies. RA from Holme Lacey fished the Arrow at Whittern and had 7 trout. On the 30th DP from Tewksbury tried Abernant and got 4 trout and 8 grayling to 15:50 inches. JD from Hereford fished the Irfon at Aberbwtran and got 3 trout and 12 grayling to 15 inches, mostly on dry flies. At the time the Cilmery gauge was at 0:30 metres, which is very low for the Irfon. I'm guessing he concentrated on the deep pool below the island on this pretty piece of water. During this time the main Wye was running on compensation water from the Elan dams which was keeping the Llanstephan gauge up to about 11 inches. In fact the occasional salmon was also being taken from the upper river by anglers using low water tactics and small flies and some of these were bright silver fish.
AS of Newent tried Abernant on the 1st July and got 3 trout and 14 grayling between 6 and 12 inches using nymphs. He reported that the fishing died abruptly when the bright sun came out early in the afternoon. HW from Penclawdd had a superb day at Doldowlod on the upper Wye, taking 7 trout to a sizeable 18 inches, plus no less than 34 grayling, also to 18 inches. Whether it is a trout or a grayling, 18 inches makes a very nice fish. On the 2nd, PS from Hereford used a Tenkara rod to get 9 trout to 10 inches from the Clettwr gorge. JD from Porthcawl got 8 trout to 10 inches from the Llynfi Dulas middle beat. I especially enjoyed the report from TL of Kingsland, who got 2 trout and 6 grayling from the Lugg at Dayhouse and described a trout which rose from the depths and then drifted downstream for about 3 seconds watching the dry fly at close range before engulfing it. Memories are made of such stuff! On the 4th, GC from Worcester had 15 small grayling from Eyton. On the 5th AM from Dorridge had a large catch of trout and grayling to 14 inches from Lyepole. And on the 6th, yet another hot day, HW from Penclawdd fished Doldowlod again and this time had 5 trout and 27 grayling to 15 inches. Doldowlod is a beat where low water levels favour access (much of the wading is difficult) and also well shaded from the sun. DM and SW from Hereford fished Craig Llyn on the 7th and caught 9 trout and 17 grayling.
Some of our visitors were enjoying themselves on the 9th. RB from Redditch caught 6 trout and 3 grayling from Ty Newydd and "...can't wait to go back." SM from Dubai fished Lyepole for 2 trout and 3 grayling, "...such a lovely day. Thanks WUF." RW from Hereford with a friend had 5 trout and 10 grayling from Dolgau, "....beautiful day on the river." On the 10th, SE from Chard wasn't so happy with Abbeydore Court where he took 4 trout: "This beat needs some attention...I expect some level of bankside clearance for a £20 ticket fee." I can appreciate that sentiment, but on the other hand the same angler had similar feelings about Abbeydore immediately downstream, which he fished on the 12th. Abbeydore is a wild stream beat and half the price - and as we mention quite regularly, wild stream beats are well named and anglers should expect a bit of scrambling around obstacles. Generally speaking, the Dore is a tight little river and not easy to fish. Still, there is something in the portfolio for everybody's tastes. On the 10th AL from Bromsgrove had a big catch of small trout and grayling from the Lugg at Lyepole. On the 11th (the day of rain), PB from Cheltenham also fished the Lugg at Dayhouse and got 1 trout and 9 grayling. On the 14th, NR from the West Midlands, despite the low water, got 6 from the Monnow at Lower Longtown using a foam beetle imitation. On the 15th, BP from Leominster took a couple of trout from a shrunken Hindwell Coombe beat and sent us a photograph of the remains of an otter's meal. Otters just love crayfish. Come to think of it, who doesn't? Finnish Battalion in post-war Bosnia used to invite us to their mid-summer crayfish barbecue. The delicacy from Finnish rivers was imported by refrigerated truck, cooked, served on a bed of ice with bowls of Russian salad and washed down with generous supplies of vodka. There would be a wee bit of Sibelius on the speakers to keep the few intellectuals amongst us happy, after which Swedish Battalion, who had a rock band, would treat us to a concert of mainly U2 covers. Everybody's breath smelled terrible the next day. There is apparently an insult in Finnish which means something like "crayfish breath."
Right, back to fishing reports. Also on the 15th MW from Ashford fished the Wye at Gromaine and got 4 trout and 8 grayling from around the Llanstephan Bridge. On the following day HW from Pencawdd fished Doldowlod again and got 5 trout and 33 grayling. There were some more comments about access, which is perhaps unsurprising as by the beginning of July the natural summer growth of brambles, balsam, nettles, bracken and everything else which gets in the angler's way has about reached its height. For the rest of the year it will be gradually dying back until at last the frost really burns it down. On the 16th BS from Bristol fished at Lyepole and caught 8 trout and 15 grayling, but was very critical about access arrangements including barbed wire where you don't want it to be. He finished by stating that, despite the obvious good head of fish, "...I won't return there." Possibly because I have known Lyepole over a long period, I find it easy enough to get around, but I do appreciate that it might not be everybody's cup of tea. On the 16th Jeremy Mantle of Kingsland spoke out in defence of Court of Noke, which, while it tends to become overgrown in summer, is a very local beat to him and where he had just caught 6 grayling. In a nutshell, his advice is to take a wading stick and just beat down the balsam to make a path to the water, for your own sake and that of those who follow you.
Regular Dave Collins of W Herefordshire had a good day on the 17th, starting by fishing at Abernant for 31 small grayling and trout. Relatively small dry flies seem to have been the key to success here. In the evening he went over to his club water on the Usk at Gilwern and was surprised to find himself on the river just at the end of a fall of flying ants. This is a rare event but unfortunately Dave was just too late for the action on the river. He noted that on the same day flying ants had also been seen at Chainbridge and over at Cardiff. Oddly enough, I can confirm that we had them too that hot and sultry afternoon, whirling in the air all over the Forest of Dean hill on which our house is built. All kinds of birds seemed to be going mad for them. There must be something about the atmosphere on a hot mid-summer day which triggers this behaviour. However, like Dave, I have never managed to be at the water at the right time to take advantage with a fly rod. JA from Leominster fished Bugeilyn again for ten brown trout, mainly with the ever reliable Kate MacLaren, and was then shocked to find a Cats Whisker lure resting in the heather. JA even paid me back in his report for teasing him in the last newsletter - he added yet another line of exclamation marks! Ah well, David Train's Cats Whisker certainly has its moments and a row of them live in one of my rainbow fly boxes - it might even work at Bugeilyn for all I know.
The drought continued and on the 17th RM from Wolverhampton with a friend expressed shock at the condition of the Ithon at Llandewi: "There were stretches where the whole river bed was dry. Never seen it like this before and I have fished this river since 72". On the same day, EM from Hereford with three friends fished the Usk Reservoir and caught 16 rainbows on Pheasant Tail Nymphs, Damsels and Daddy Long-Leg patterns from the deeper south side of the lake. On the 18th D and G from Worcester fished Ty Newydd for 6 trout and 7 grayling. They also wondered about the disturbed nature of the lodge and parking area and whether the 100 year old bungalow is due for redevelopment - I would also be interested to hear about that. On the 19th, AL from Bromsgrove, possibly with a companion, had a large catch of trout and grayling from Lyepole and on the 23rd AM from Dorridge had some number more than five trout and grayling from the same beat. RW from Hereford with a friend had 30 grayling and 2 trout by fishing nymphs on the upper Wye at Doldowlod. The following day PJ from Ammanford fished the same beat mostly with dries and found a rise to sedges during the early evening, catching 20 trout and one grayling. (That's curious, isn't it? You might conclude the Doldowlod grayling were looking down while the trout were looking up during that particular period). On the 25th, AP from Cheltenham on a nice breezy day with broken cloud had 10 trout up at Llyn Bugeilyn. On the 29th, TL from Leominster had 10 trout and 23 grayling from Lyepole, mostly with a PTN under a dry fly. The resident otter passed him while he was eating lunch. Incidentally, the bottom of this beat is where the river (looking downstream) approaches and then bends away from the path on the far (woodland) side. On the same day AS from Newent fished at Dayhouse for 8 trout and 4 grayling on nymphs. SC from Pontypridd was out on the Taff Fechan above Merthyr, and took 15 trout to 8 inches, mostly on dries. On the 30th LE from Usk fished the Llynfi at Pontithiel and got 12 trout and 1 grayling. As this beat was cleaned out by pollution last year, he was pleased to find it teeming with small fish.
It's outside my remit (as if that ever stopped me!) but I have been impressed by the tactics employed in low water by some of the salmon fishermen on the upper river. Believe it or not, it's not that difficult to catch a salmon or even several of them when fish are taking and conditions are just so, but to be able to extract a fish when the river is down on its bones is quite an art. We had just enough water in June to get some surprisingly fresh fish into the upper river and there was good fishing for a while. Since then the drought continued through early July, yet occasional salmon were still coming steadily, one, two or three a day and, again surprisingly, some of these fish were almost silver. Most of these seem to have been taken from the remaining fast pools or gutters. Some compensation water from the Elan Valley dams may have helped and, on occasion, a very small rise in river level of a couple of inches. To take a couple of examples, on Tuesday 11th we did have a day of quite heavy showers and by mid-afternoon there was some hope that the river was going to rise properly the next day. Salmon anglers were watching the gauges and growing restless. In fact there was already a 6 inch rise up at Llangurig. But most of that rise seemed to dissipate as it spread downriver and the rain itself stopped at midnight. I was out trout fishing with a client at Ty Newydd next day and although the river still seemed very low we caught a few grayling. About mid-morning I realised the river was rising just very slightly and a few pieces of debris were afloat (checking the web-cam record later it was just a 3 inch rise which was dropping again by mid-afternoon). My client left at the end of a reasonably successful day. About 7 that evening I was just packing up the gear by the car when Andrew Kelton, a lawyer who works several days a week at Fish Legal in Leominster, arrived at the lodge. Andrew planned to spend a couple of hours trying for a salmon before driving back to East Anglia. We had a chat and, being a nosy sort of chap, I had a happy rummage through his fly wallet which was full of miniature patterns and little tubes for riffle hitching. He announced he was going to fish a dropper and I mentioned that the late Stuart Jarvis had always recommended a dropper not far above the point fly for fishing at Glanusk Park in these summer conditions. Anyway, I finished packing the car and wished him luck before leaving. Next day I saw that he had got one, a nice looking fish of 12 pounds from the Spout at the bottom of the beat, caught on a size 10 Cascade in the dropper position. Oh well-fished, I thought to myself! And it was the next morning, I think, on the Gromaine beat immediately below, that George Ottewell hooked a very big cock salmon on fly from the fast running Spring Pool gutter, a fish which took him 100 yards downstream. He was fighting it for nearly an hour apparently. I imagine that both these catches will provide happy memories for years to come for the anglers concerned.
Somebody asked me how I got on with the Defence Academy's new trout lake last month? Well, I don't think I will be revealing any military secrets if I state an opinion that it won't be rivalling Grafham or Chew in the near future. The extensive Shrivenham estate has several more or less ornamental pools connected by a rather sluggish lowland stream. There is very little through-flow, particularly during summer, and I suspect this is a matter of some significance during a heatwave. One hot evening, rather than sit in the mess with a cold drink like a sensible chap, I went looking for the lake which has been stocked with trout as an experiment. Eventually I found it tucked away in the woods between Beckett House and directing staff's married quarters. It is certainly very pretty, with an ornamental bridge and summer pavilion, looking altogether rather like a Japanese water garden. It only lacks stepping stones and koi carp. However, the colour of the water was opaque brown with a few rising bubbles and great lily beds grew out from the banks. My immediate reaction was that it looked just the sort of place to go tench fishing early on a summer morning and watch a float as the mist came off the surface. As the air temperature was now nearly 30 degrees and the water felt almost as warm, I decided that any trout surviving in it had better be left alone, so I never put a rod together. Kerry, the trout fishing warrant officer at the staff college who had just come back from fishing a match at Grafham, concurred that the fish were better left in peace.
The subject of weights and measurements of fish came up in the bar of the White Horse the other day. My own view is that it matters little whether you weigh or measure, but whichever you do, if you are making a report for others to read it will be appreciated if you can be accurate about your results. Personally I measure, mainly because I like to travel as light as I can and I begrudge carrying the extra weight of scales, whether in my pocket or built into the handle of the net. Of course there are conversion scales with theoretical accuracy at least and the discussion in the bar turned to the Sturdy Scale, probably the best known method of estimating weight from length. The Sturdy Scale is now rather discredited in the case of salmon, as it was evolved from measurements taken on one particular Norwegian river with short, thickset fish, heavy for their length. Unless you are rather lucky, you can probably take it that that your 36 inch British salmon is rather less than the magic 20 pounds - but still it's a jolly good fish and much cause for celebration! In the case of wild trout, I believe the Sturdy Scale is rather more accurate. Thus, it is likely that a 14 inch trout is something like 1 pound and 3 ounces, a 17 inch fish is likely to be 2 pounds 2 ounces, an 18 inch fish very likely is 2 pounds 8 ounces, and a 28 inch sea trout is also likely to be around 9 pounds 8 ounces. The same scale holds fairly accurate for grayling also. Of course there are variations; fish are just like people and there are thin individuals and fat individuals, and good feeding and lean commons to be had at different times of the year. There are more accurate conversion charts if you want to take the girth, but please don't compromise the well-being of the fish by taking too long over it. A very well-conditioned Usk trout reported from Penpont a while ago measured just 16 inches, but was also weighed at a genuine 2 pounds. The weight usually comes in the shoulders and a big cock grayling can have shoulders like a bull.
Which, with a somewhat self-conscious segue, takes me back to the bar of the White Horse where anglers were regaling each other with bull stories, another favourite subject. The relationship between bulls and fishermen is perceived by the public as much like that famous one you used to see on sea-side postcards between old boots and fishermen, or the relationship everybody is supposed to have with their mother-in-law - a matter for automatic laughter. Personally, rather than bulls (or even mothers-in-law) I have had more trouble with groups of large steers, which can sometimes grow quite pushy and aggressive in fields where they don't normally see walkers. However, I can remember a couple of encounters with bulls long ago which seemed funny afterwards at least.
For example, I once went on a club outing to fish the Dorset Stour at the famous Throop Mill Fishery. I admit I was not a particularly good coarse angler, certainly the youngest and least experienced of this group - pretty well every other member on the trip was better equipped than I. On an autumn day with the river running high, but still a nice colour, we all decanted from the coach and spread enthusiastically along a mile of bank, everybody but me equipped with bait buckets, seats and all sorts of paraphernalia. I just had an Avon rod, a net, rod rest and a canvas shoulder bag with my lunch. Barbel was the hoped for species but, as it turned out, the fishing was slow and only a few chub and roach resulted. After a couple of hours a very large and well horned bull appeared on the opposite bank, looking sort of restless and snorty as he trotted up and down. "Just look at the size of that beast," the angler next to me said. "I'm glad they can't swim."
You can guess what happened next, can't you? In an instant and with a tremendous splash he was straight into the water, just as if we had dared him, swum across the current with great aplomb and virtually bounded up onto our bank leaving the river behind him rocking with waves. Anglers on either side scattered in all directions clutching rods and nets. At that moment I was glad that I had not brought much kit. From a distance we looked back at the giant and menacing creature and realised that in fact he was not interested in us at all. The heifers in the next field back were the attraction as far as he was concerned. After about half an hour the farmer appeared, picked up a sizeable oak branch which was lying under the hedge, walked up to the bull and gave it a whack on the head. "What are you doing over here you old b****r," he said, before driving it back across the nearby bridge. The bull had a somewhat contrite look on his face and did what he was told, although he didn't hurry.
Another time my friend John and I were fishing the Ockham Mill Stream in Surrey. This is a fascinating little river, a carrier stream of the Wey, which in those days at least housed a surprising variety of fish considering its size: chub, perch, roach, dace and even the odd trout. A mobile approach, dropping in a bait here and there, was tremendous fun. On this occasion we were sharing a float fishing rod and trotting a worm down one of the open sections with pastures on either side. It was John's turn and he had just seen a big swirl off some sedges a few yards down from our own position kneeling together on the margin. As he prepared to present the worm to the crucial spot, we became aware of a very large bull making its way slowly up the opposite bank. The stream, although tolerably deep, is only about 12 feet wide here and there was no cover at all. "Don't worry about him," said John, keeping his eyes on where we thought the fish was lying. John was a veterinary technician, so I thought he might know what he was talking about. The bull passed the fish, which swirled again, apparently unconcerned by its presence. "Anyway," John continued as it approached, "he probably can't see us. Most of them have rotten eyesight." The porcupine quill float was already on its way downstream. I was thinking to myself that the bull was a Hereford, a famously placid breed, which was good, surely? On the other hand, it seemed to be alone in the field, which was perhaps not so good. At the moment the bull was right opposite us, the float disappeared and John swept the rod back in a strike. That movement certainly caught the beast's eye. He turned round to have a look at us as the rod tip bucked and a great commotion began on the surface downstream. He shook his head and snorted, then strolled slowly on his way as if thinking to himself: anglers in my field again, what do they think they are up to? The fish turned out to be an 8 pound river carp by the way.
Of course there is a serious side to this matter and accidents occur occasionally. I won't claim to be particularly brave on the subject of potentially aggressive cattle, only to remark that familiarity eventually breeds, if not contempt, perhaps a slightly more relaxed attitude. There are several farms where I fish along the middle Usk, one of them with a public footpath, each of which keeps a massive Charolais bull in the meadows along with the cows. I have learned that these white monsters never seem to take much interest in anything, hardly even the cows most of the time, and certainly not passers-by, with or without fishing rods. They graze away placidly enough, or lie down to chew the cud: expressionless white statues against a green background. I have also learned over time that the bull which accompanies the herd of Welsh black cattle at Abernant is a pleasantly dozy fellow who never takes any notice of visitors.
Still, you do hear stories. I have certainly seen cows with calves upset to a state of definite aggression by a dog allowed to run around in their field. John, the veterinary technician mentioned above, once while on a field trip was chased over two fences by a very determined little Welsh black bull. And I attended enough Spanish corridas in my distant youth to know just how aggressive a brave bull can be bred up to be. Once we found ourselves camping in a Castilian field separated by a high chain-link fence from a ranch with the "dangerous cattle" signs showing. Under the blazing Spanish sun of mid-summer a group of young black bulls grazed under cork oak trees, ignoring the neighbouring camp site beyond the fence, having become accustomed to it. A herdsman showed up on horseback and dismounted 100 yards away to mend a water tap, but as he did so I noticed that he kept the horse to hand and kept also a wary eye on the group of beasts. If you can believe the stories, a fighting bull never sees a dismounted man at close quarters until in the ring. But then the tranquillity of the scene was interrupted by a domestic cat which came sneaking across the grass on the ranch side of the fence. The movement caught the eye of one of the young bulls and suddenly he was onto it like lightning, turning to chase and hooking down with the sharp horns just inches behind the flying creature. The cat only just made it to the safety of one of the cork oaks where he eventually sat on a high branch trying his best to look dignified while the bull trotted round in a circle beneath, shaking his head and snorting with anger at whatever had just eluded him. Rather you than me, I was thinking, looking up at the cat. Another time in Extremadura, we were standing with other loafers on the roof of the bull ring pens the day before a corrida, watching fighting bulls being let out of the delivery truck and allowed to run down a narrow passage about 7 feet below us. Some-one's movement caught the eye of one of the beasts, which reared up on its hind legs and with a horn slash hooked a brick out of the top of the passage wall, to the consternation of those standing within inches. It was the suddenness and speed of the attack which was so disconcerting.
I used to wander about Spain a fair bit in my younger days and it was in Extremadura too that I learned that there are those who can and those who can't hold their ground when an aggressive bull approaches. This is a matter which the writer Hemingway was famously obsessed with. It was at one of those bucolic festivals where a small town lets a bull loose in the main square which has been carefully barricaded off with farm carts, and all the young bloods would show off their recklessness by jumping in and running around the beast. It's actually quite dangerous and, rather like the Isle of Man TT in motor cycle racing, the tradition and supposed glamour of the event offset the effect of the annual casualties. I believe most of them are banned by the police now. But on that day I was standing outside the barrier, and wondered for an impulsive moment if I had the nerve to jump over and join the other young fools already in there with the bull. I didn't wonder for long. Some movement in our corner caught the bull's attention, it tossed its head and came trotting over looking for trouble. I can remember the murderous look in its eye to this day. Anyway, I froze in terror and stayed right where I was, safely behind the barrier. If I was embarrassed by my fear, the embarrassment didn't last long, because in a moment all those brave young Spanish guys came piling over the fence on top of me, now equally afraid and looking for a safe haven.
You can ask farmers' advice about safety with cattle, but I have noticed that while generally trying to be reassuring, they often hedge their bets a little in the reply. My limited understanding is that beef breeds are reckoned to be safer and more placid than dairy breeds and that bulls accompanied by cows are much safer than bulls left in fields alone. Farmers have a legal duty to maintain a level of safety in fields with public footpaths - for example dairy bulls may not be left in such fields unless accompanied by a certain number of cows. It should be noted, however, that anglers are often accessing the river through fields in which there is no public footpath.
I was fishing last year in Herefordshire with a herd of dairy cows in the riverside field when I realised that I had overlooked a young Friesian bull amongst them who was now showing a definite interest in my movements. He was stalking me quite closely by the time I crossed the river and, rather thankfully, rolled under a fence leading into the farm on the other side. As it happened, the next farmer was no great distance away and, possibly because he didn't wish to miss a chance to bad-mouth a neighbour, advised me: "You can never trust a Friesian." The same breed caused a certain amount of trouble among sewin anglers in Carmarthenshire last summer. The Towy valley has always been full of dairy cattle. One river bailiff told me of a bull which got him cornered on a peninsula with a very steep drop into deep water behind him. On that occasion, shouting and stick waving persuaded the bull to back down before he had to swim for it. On several other occasions anglers were chased by a Friesian bull in the meadows near the Towy. Very late at night, while we were standing together in the river, I questioned a lifelong Llandeilo sewin angler on this subject. "Odd times Friesians will charge at you," he said. "But so long as you stand your ground, they always stop short." Hemingway would have loved him. Fortunately, in the darkness he could not see the facial expression of disgust with which I received this (to my mind) not very helpful information. There is a nice example of Welsh machismo I was thinking to myself, totally unconvinced. And again, rather you than me.
My amateurish conclusion is that the more human movement cattle see in their pastures on a day to day basis, the more relaxed they become about it. If you have to walk right through them, a confident attitude and a reassuring voice go a long way: "Hello boys/girls." Some would advise to carry a stick and you may well be doing so anyway if you are going wading. A dog may be a problem when cows and young calves are together. Once when my son and I were walking through a field with his very docile retriever on a lead, an old cow trotted up and made a rather ritualistic mock charge at the dog. This was a field with regular walkers and I think she was just delivering a message to behave ourselves whilst near calves. Herds of young cattle in numbers, either heifers or steers, tend to be naturally and harmlessly curious when somebody comes into their field and will follow them around. You may well be mistaken for the man who comes every morning to bring them supplementary feed. Herds of steers left to grow large late in the season may not be quite so harmless in their curiosity and can sometimes show signs of aggression. The fact is that there are a few fatal accidents with cattle every year in most countries where stock are reared. So my humble advice, at least the advice I follow myself, is to pay attention to the demeanour of cattle when entering a field and behave accordingly. I certainly have no plans to go near a bull left on its own. If in doubt, stay well clear.
More talk in the White Horse, this time on angling photography. I don't consider myself much of a photographer - although my friend Lyn Davies certainly is and just look at the glorious pictures of the Wye which Adam Fisher provides for his coarse fishing report. However, I do have some views about welfare of the quarry in these catch and release days. Occasionally you see a picture of a live fish laid out on grass or even dry gravel, perhaps against a rod handle to show its size.The fact is that big fish especially are liable to kick around and injure themselves if treated in that way. Grayling, large or small, rarely lie still for long. I suggest it is much safer to photograph your catch in the net while lying in the shallows. Alternatively, a fish weighing up to about 2:50 or 3 pounds can be lifted from the surface on a wet hand for a couple of seconds while a photograph is taken with the other hand. Whatever you do, don't grip it or squeeze it, just lift from below. If the fish wriggles or kicks, it will merely fall back into the water and no harm done - and never mind about losing the picture. There is a lot to discuss about angling photography, perhaps for another occasion.
The Golden Grove sewin fishery on the lower Towy is up for sale again and the asking price is rumoured to be over 4 million. Along with Abercothi, this must be the most famous sea trout fishery in the UK. "If I won the lottery," said Eifion our chairman, having drained his glass and with a dreamy look coming over his face, "I would definitely buy it. And there would be none of this nonsense about running a sporting business. It would just be reserved for me and my mates." "Yeah, right, Eifion, that kind thought is much appreciated by all of us. You had better start by buying a lottery ticket then, hadn't you? And isn't it your round this time?"
So for now, while waiting for Eifion to win the lottery and acquire the Golden Grove for us, we must content ourselves with slightly less prestigious fisheries. What with low water levels, it has been a slow start to the sewin season. Our little river Loughor was affected twice last month by dirty grey water from a sewage outfall and twice Eifion had to call in NRW and the water company manager who arranged for emergency pumps to be brought on-site. There has been no sign of fish casualties, but as Eifion questioned, apart from the spawning impulse, why on earth would sewin choose to swim from a big estuary into a shrunken river sour with ammonia? We would wait for rain and meanwhile fish the Towy at Llandeilo instead. At the same time, there are more stories circulating about the amount of slurry being spread on Towy valley fields. It seems that dairy farmers in the area have amassed more of the stuff in their ponds than they know what to do with. We began fishing a low and sluggish river. Here is a morning after email sent to friends which captures the mood of my first trip of the season:
Not an easy night, very bright with a full moon. Very little flow on the river. No other anglers out.
However, there were some sewin in the lower pool at Manorafon, with fish of different sizes showing before dusk. I marked down the spot of one good one and went through the pool first time with short sink tip and a Lyn's Secret Weapon. Nothing touched it but the big fish jumped right in front of me, stirred up I think by the fly going over it. Near to double figures I would have said, very fat in the belly.
After fishing the tail out (one brownie), went through again with same line and an Alexandra Tube - said to be good for moonlight - but nothing doing.
After midnight now and no more fish moving. Changed to a slow sinking line with a big Black Lure and fished the deeper part very slowly. Nothing doing. Moon riding high.
One o'clock. Tried Surface Lure on the switch rod, rolling it under the trees into the shadows away from the moon. Nothing doing. Moon still bright.
Two o'clock. Clouds came over the moon and it was quite dark for about 20 minutes. One fish boiled at the Surface Lure under the far bank, but didn't stick. Tried stripping back from the same area (as the natural current too slow to move the lure), and a sea trout of just over a pound locked on properly and was netted. Moon came out again and nothing more.
Three o'clock - heading for home.
Hard work eh? Towy nights!"
August has a bad reputation as a fishing month and anglers tend to mutter about the Sirius star and those notorious "Dog-days of August". However - and this will please only anglers, I suppose - this year's August is projected to be a cool and wet one. The ground is now pretty soaked, so we expect the new rainfall to reach the rivers quickly. Anything is possible in the days after a flood. Otherwise, shady beats and small streams may be able to provide good sport, just as they did in the month past. And in September, we should be able to start in earnest on the best of the grayling fishing.
Oliver Burch www.wyevalleyfishing.com
We have had another busy month on WUF waters while the June weather and associated fishing was of the varied kind you might reasonably expect. The mayfly season carried on well for quite a while longer, just as we had hoped. The extended spring drought finally came to an end with showers of rain in the first week, which eventually built up to one of those "quick and dirty" summer floods on both rivers. This certainly gave them a good clean out and moved a few salmon upstream. As the levels dropped again, a proper heat-wave arrived and lasted for nearly a week. This involved night temperatures around 20 degrees and day temperatures as high as 30 degrees. The water began to heat up and, as you would expect, fishing became generally difficult, although there were a few exceptions. The last week of the month was much cooler, mostly cloudy with some light showers, and the fishing began to improve once more.
Starting with a few late reports from the end of May, NG from Dilwyn had a good day on the Lugg at Lyepole on the 27th, taking 16 trout between 6 and 12 inches. The same angler fished the Arrow at Whittern on the following day, taking 8 trout from 6 to 10 inches on dry mayfly patterns. On the 29th, AD from Richmond fished at Lower Glanwye and had 15 trout between 9 and 14 inches with various methods. On the 30th, PW from London with a friend had 12 trout between 12 and 24 ounces on the Glanusk Ty Mawr / Canal and Rivers Trust beat of the Usk, mostly on nymphs. On the 31st, RG from Llandrindod Wells took 11 at Llyn Bugeilyn, fishing in wind and rain. JT from Maclesfield had 14 trout at Skenfrith, a Monnow beat which is really at its best at mayfly time. And on the 1st June he was out again, this time on the Usk at Ashford House, where he had fine 18 and 16 inch cock fish in a bag of five taken with a Deer Hair Emerger. LJ from Hereford fished for 6 rainbows from Llyn On, using a variety of methods, MR from Monmouth took 10 brown trout from Upper Longtown by fishing a nymph under a dry fly, while PB from Gloucester with a friend fished the Lugg at Eyton during the evening and between them got 12 trout to 14 inches during a rise to mayfly spinners. On the 2nd AB from London had 7 trout including a very fine fish of 16:50 inches from the Arrow at Eardisland, mostly on a small Pheasant Tail Nymph. AB from Epsom reported 8 trout from 8-10 inches during a mayfly hatch from the Middle Llynfi Dulas beat, having earlier fished the lower beat for three fish.
I was intrigued by a report on 3rd June by MD from Barry, who had a 1:50 pound Wye shad as a by-catch while salmon fishing at the Rectory. This fish apparently had a rainbow or pink stripe down its side. I can't imagine what that must have been, although shad normally have very bright silver scales, almost with a mother of pearl reflection to some of them. Shad shoals tend to be divided by sexes, and if the weight was 1:50 pounds I would make a guess that it was probably a male (females are more often 2 pounds or even 2.5 pounds). In the United States they call these buck and roes and the clash when the two shoals meet for mating, usually at nightfall, makes quite a sight. The pool immediately below the bridge at Usk Town is one place you can see this during early June. There is no attempt at red cutting; the extruded and hopefully fertilised eggs float freely down to lodge wherever they will and when the mating reaches its height you will see every eel in the pool on the move looking to make a free meal on drifting eggs. It bears stating again that while shad as an accidental by-catch are almost impossible to avoid (they will on occasions take everything from tiny trout flies to Flying Cs), you should not target them deliberately as they are a protected species.
Also on the 3rd, BS from Bristol had 6 trout while prospecting with a dry fly on the new Lugg beat at Dayhouse (nothing was rising). MD from Surbiton also had 6 from the Usk at Fenni Fach. On the 4th, JA from Leominster had a couple of small trout from a private section of the Pinsley Brook, fishing during the evening with a spent mayfly pattern. I have to state that I think that the little Pinsley Brook, gin clear and overgrown as most of it is, represents one of the most challenging small streams I know. It is really very like a miniature chalk stream, but on the other hand some of its trout are not small at all. Of our regulars, NG from Sutton St Nicholas is one angler who seems to have the knack of extracting a few. On the 4th another regular angler, AS from Newent, fished the Dayhouse Lugg beat and reported a large catch of trout from 6-15 inches on nymphs.
The weather now changed and on the 5th we had a gale of wind and the first real rain for many weeks. AS from Germany braved the storm to take 10 trout from 7-14 inches from the Edw at Hergest. 14 inches is really a pretty good trout for a stream the size of the Edw. MD from Surbiton had five good fish from 1 to 1:75 pounds from Usk at Trallong and Abercamlais. A short and very dirty flood now began to run down the main rivers, which really did need flushing through. However, the Lugg and Arrow only rose about 3 inches before dropping back quickly and the Monnow was also relatively unaffected. On the 7th, AM from Hereford had 7 trout between 7 and 12 inches from Whittern, mostly on nymphs. AS from Germany followed up with 10 more from the Hergest beat of the Edw on the 7th and another 11 from the Llynfi Dulas middle beat with a mayfly pattern on the 8th. JL from Mynddbach came to fish the little Blackpool Brook in the Forest of Dean the next day and had 13 with small nymphs in slightly high and coloured water. On the 10th, NG from Godalming took 9 trout on dry flies from the Usk at Glan y Cafn. On the same day AS from Germany fished at Aberedw again and took 10 fish to 13 inches with nymphs. AS from Newent fished the Lugg at Eyton the same day, finding the water slightly coloured and the winds strong. He fished with nymphs and "with utter disgust" put a bite indicator on his leader which "helped no end." I expect it did and I am not sure of the reason for the "utter disgust," because it is probably what I would have chosen to do. He caught 16 trout from 7 to 16 inches. On the 11th, BP from Pembridge was also assailed by a big wind on the Ithon at Llandewi and caught 5 while nymphing with a French leader. Unfortunately he broke his rod during the session. On the same day JM from N Herefordshire was out on the Lugg at Dayhouse and caught 5 on double nymph with no fish rising. D and G from Worcester fished Dayhouse on the next day and caught 20 trout between them, still with a big downstream wind blowing. Cattle are now in the field, as they reported, but alternative parking arrangements have been made (never leave your car unattended in a field with cows). Also on the 12th, JA from Leominster braved the wind to take 21 trout from Llyn Bugeilyn ... and used an even larger number of exclamation marks in his report (!) AC from Crickhowell with a friend had a dozen rainbows from the Usk reservoir on the 13th, while Dave Collins from W Herefordshire took 25 trout from 8-16 inches during morning and evening sessions on the Gwent AS water of the Usk. NO from Woking reported having a great day on the Usk at Fenni Fach, taking 12 trout during an afternoon hatch and spinner fall until dark.
Something rather strange happened on the 13th June at Dayhouse, which has one rod day ticket available or two by arrangement. RB from Bromyard reported somebody who should not have been there fishing the upper part of the beat ahead of him, while the rest of his day was spoiled by the boisterous Labrador belonging to the farmhouse. Meanwhile NW from Bromsgrove reported a big catch of trout taken at Dayhouse on the same day using dry fly and nymph. On the 15th PB from Gloucester reported for a party of three salmon fishers at the Ty Newydd upper Wye beat. There were no salmon to report, but one angler who spent his day with a trout rod got 6 to 17 inches. DH from Penarth had 15 trout to 2 pounds from the Rectory beat using nymphs. MR from Monmouth had 11 from the Maes y Beran beat of the Honddu. Meanwhile DA from Brecon with a friend took an evening ticket on the Usk at Penpont and got 10 fish during a spinner fall.
The weather was by now extremely hot and we were experiencing the beginning of a proper heat-wave. This is not untypical weather for the second half of June and I think it is wise to consider early morning or late evening fishing once the sun has become really powerful. 16th June is also the start of the coarse fishing and of course grayling now come into season. I usually find June and July grayling still quite weak after spawning, so it is worth taking some care when releasing them if the water is warm. (By the time we reach September of course it is another matter and autumn grayling will really be coming into their full condition and strength). On the 16th, HW from Penclawdd had 14 trout from 9-14 inches from the Usk at Trallong and Abercamlais, using a nymph suspended below a dry fly. AT from Lincoln had 19 at Fenni Fach, mostly on nymphs, while DW from Wellington caught 7 from Dinas. TJ from Leominster led a party of 4 up to Llyn Bugeilyn where they caught 28 trout on various wet flies. However, the heat was really starting to take effect now and of the following day LH from London wrote ruefully: "Oh the shame! A nil return from Llyn Bugeilyn!" I am not really surprised; LH and his friend experienced a day of blistering heat, windless and cloudless. Such days are even worse for fishing lakes than they are for rivers and I am sure the fish just went down and stayed down. You might do something with a sinking line in such conditions. The Wye received some compensation water from the Elan Valley dams about now, but all other rivers were low. While such conditions are not much good for salmon, trout or grayling which are essentially arctic species, the chub and barbel thrive much better in warm water and some good catches were certainly being taken downstream during the early days of the coarse season.
On the 17th AT from Lincoln with a companion took probably the best approach to the heat by fishing on into the darkness at Dinas. The day had been difficult, but there was an evening rise and they took 26 trout altogether including a 2:50 pound fish caught at dusk. HW from Penclawdd also fished the Usk at Trallong and Abercamlais and got 14 on nymphs. SB from Burton on Trent on the same day found a row of coarse anglers poaching Orchard Pool at Lower Llanstephan. That is rather surprising as this part of the upper Wye is pretty well known as hallowed salmon territory - hardly a place to make a mistake! I wonder what excuse they gave before they left? KG from Birmingham, who I think fishes for salmon regularly at Abernant, took the smaller rod this time and caught 5 trout and 4 grayling. On the 18th CT from Cardiff got 13 trout including several good ones at Teifi Pools. LW from Hythe with a friend got a pair of 2 pounders in a bag of 8 from Abercynrig. The air temperatures were really building up by now and the water temperature was inevitably rising steadily also. On the 19th JJ from Stourbridge with a friend found very few fish rising at Abernant, but nevertheless got 12 trout and 18 grayling on nymphs and spiders. On the 20th MR from Monmouth tackled the Honddu at Lower Henllan by fishing morning and evening sessions and had 14 trout from 6-12 inches. On the 22nd, with the heat-wave just ending, JG from Ross on Wye caught a dozen trout from 7-12 inches from the Edw at Hergest using a size 16 Adams - creditable in the circumstances I think we would all agree. RO from London had 10 trout by spinning on the Taff. Dave Collins from West Herefordshire was out on the Wye at Ty Newydd on the same day and recorded 9 trout and 4 grayling, mostly on various dries and emergers. Now I know that Dave habitually carries a thermometer and on this occasion he recorded a water temperature of 19 to 20 degrees, which is really getting near the stress point for most salmonids, so a change in the weather and reduction in air temperature was welcome. He noticed plenty of Argulus lice on his fish, something which usually happens when Wye is warm. You see them like brown lumps, mostly clustered on the dorsal area and spoiling the look of trout and grayling. Similarly, white fungus has been spotted on a number of Usk fish. Cooler water will be the cure.
On the 23rd KL had a dozen trout to 10 inches from the Bideford Brook, using a Klinkhammer and PTN. A day later NR from the West Midlands had 8 from the Llynfi Dulas middle beat while LB from London took 10 from the Usk at Glan yr Afon. On the 25th, BW from Cardiff had 20 from the Taff Fechan using a Parachute Adams. DM and SW from Hereford had 12 trout and 33 grayling from the Wye at Craig Llyn. Dave Collins fished the Wye again at Builth Wells (GPAIC water) and took 13 trout and 9 grayling, mostly small. On the 27th JM from Yarpole took 2 trout and 20 grayling at Abernant. The same beat was fished two days later by NN from Newnham, who took 6 trout and 15 grayling. Most of the Wye fish taken at this time were on the small side, but welcome nevertheless. On the 29th AL from Bromsgrove fished the Dayhouse beat of the Lugg again and caught 7 trout and 13 grayling to 15 inches.
Before war games and a Shrivenham syndicate room swallowed me up for three weeks, early June gave me three very different fishing experiences to my own rod, each of them interesting in their way. To begin the month and more than conscious that the mayfly was still hatching, I thought I would have one last try this year and see if the Teme at Bucknell could produce a big trout. I had visited once during early May and found the river already shrinking, but with a Parachute Adams hooked a good fish still feeding above one of the isolated pools. It jumped and then broke my tippet a few seconds later on the first dash for cover. This time, still waiting for rain as we were, the situation of the river looked much worse. I walked down to the bottom end and saw that now there was hardly any water running across the gravel between the still pools as most of the remaining flow had become subterranean. There was no sign of aquatic life. This part of the Teme is notorious for suffering in this way during dry spells. I found a chap with his car down there walking around looking at the river, or what was left of it - and after suspecting for a moment I had encountered a poacher - realised it was the local Environment Agency representative. We had a chat and he told me they were on the point of making a decision for a fish rescue operation, before predators capitalised on the situation. For the EA, netting this section has become almost routine during a dry year. In the circumstances it hardly seemed sporting to fish the lower section, so I walked back up to the top where the flow was still reasonable. The odd fish was rising here and I took three small trout with a mayfly pattern before going home early.
Another visit was to Teifi Pools, now on a day with clouds and rain arriving low over the hills on westerly winds. Lyn Davies always tells me he likes a "dirty day" to fish here and he is quite right; bright sunny skies and a calm surface are almost always the enemies of loch-style fishing. These are classic upland lakes on a wild moor, similar to Bugeilyn, although the altitude is lower. I arrived in rain and experienced drifting cloud and mists all day, walked right round Llyn Egnant through the peat bogs, casting a team of three traditional flies, Kate Maclaren, Silver Butcher and Grouse and Claret, wherever I could get good access and cast across the wind. I must have fished about half of the shore over 6 hours. I carried my lunch with me and sat for a while eating it amidst clumps of bog cotton and watching a red kite overhead. I never tire of watching these birds in a strong wind. A kestrel can hover as accurately as if it is strung on a wire, holding its position with rapidly beating wings. But the larger kite does the same thing without beating its wings, just balancing on the wind and adjusting its trim with very slight adjustments made with the spread feathers, just like the flaps on an aircraft. There is a very slight wavering of position when the air is turbulent, but not much. Like the kestrel the extended head of the kite is quite still and looks intently down, the sharp eyes scanning the ground. I hardly saw a fish move on the surface all day, but occasional fish were prepared to come up to a fly and eventually I found a small concentration in a bay at the bottom of the wind. I ended up with 7 trout including one of 16 inches, all of which took the wet flies with a wonderfully satisfying thump, and I thought I had done well enough for the day.
My only problem with the Tregaron area of West Wales is that it is so far away from my home in the Forest of Dean. My choice, whether adopting advice from map or satnav, is between taking a convoluted minor road over the Abergeswyn Pass, or going further south along the A40 and another slow road via Lampeter, or right round to the north via Llangurig at the top of the Wye. You are very near Cardigan Bay on this drive and in the valley of the Rheidol for several miles. Using the faster roads I clocked up 240 miles on the round trip and although I only had time for a one-day visit, reminded myself that it would be much more sensible to spend at least one night in Tregaron. This charming country town has the most interesting fishing around it in a most unusual landscape, with the Teifi flowing from upland lakes in the mountains, the great grey and brown Tregaron bog above the town and green pastures in the valley below it where the river looks almost like a chalk stream full of bright weed. It has been fished in the past by some famous names, including Dai Lewis, Moc Morgan, Oliver Kite and the Reverend Edward Powell. Once you have a day ticket, for no extra charge you can roam around all of it, including the lakes and 8 beats of the Teifi. I think you could spend a very pleasant week exploring all of this.
The next day I found at short notice that I was free again. Now that some truly heavy rain had arrived over 48 hours, our rivers had come up in flood and begun to fall off slowly. The idea of a Wye salmon fishing day was the obvious one. Alas, I was too late; other syndicate members had booked in ahead of me and there were no places left. I was just feeling rather sorry for myself and thinking about trying a club water on the Usk with the salmon rod, when a message arrived from David Burren. He was spending three days fishing his syndicate water on the Salisbury Avon where the mayfly were still going strong and would I like to join him for one of them? That seemed like a very nice idea, so early that morning I found myself travelling through a very different landscape from that of Tregaron, driving now over rolling chalk downs, passing tank crossings and thinking to myself as always that Salisbury Plain is badly named because it not really a flat plain at all. I passed Stonehenge, met up with David at his motel and in a few minutes we were dropping from the bare uplands into the valley of the Avon. Famous Netheravon and Figheldean are upstream; here at Heale House by the Woodford villages we were beside a slightly larger river (a salmon had been caught in one of the hatch pools during the week). (We spent the rest of the day buried in a world of green water meadows, quiet waters, leafy trees and thatched cottages with tall chimneys. The clear waters of the Avon with its waving weeds seemed unaffected by recent rain. The wind was fairly strong all day, something which often seems to upset chalk stream anglers, but David and I were happy enough. We fished dry fly all through and I would be embarrassed to tell you how many big trout were caught. I think David would be embarrassed to tell you how many he caught over three days. I was fishing a 9 foot 4 weight rod with a Model Perfect mounted on it and that delightful reel seemed to be making its famous buzz almost continuously as near grilse-sized fish sucked in the size 12 Monnow Gosling and made off with it.
You might say this sounds like dry fly paradise and in one sense you would be right. There is about five miles of fishing at Heale House, all of it in charming scenery with private access, and which has been looked after assiduously for 30 years by keeper Peter Major. Every time I see Peter his young son Ben is with him, and I would be prepared to bet that one day Ben will take over the management of the fishery from his father in the tradition of the area. At the same time, you need to accept that this kind of chalk stream fishing, if it is to be commercially viable, depends almost entirely on stocking with large trout. "That's a heffalump" I remarked to David when I had the first one in the net. Penpont on the Usk may have its "porkers," but I think Heale can definitely claim to have its own breed of "heffalumps." In fact Peter and Ben produce in their carrier stews some wonderful looking stock trout of a rich bronze colour and at mayfly time a majority of the taking fish in the river seem to be in the 18-20 inch range. They aren't all idiots by any means and quite a few of them refuse the fly until the drift is quite right or the pattern is changed - as we were able to watch with the polaroid glasses. Although I carry them, polaroids are not much used by me on my regular streams, except sometimes on the Lugg and Arrow when the water is low and clear. Nevertheless, by lunchtime we were both slightly embarrassed by a plethora of relative monsters which had thrashed the surface to foam for a while before coming to the net. I was slightly surprised that I had only lost one in the weeds.
By mutual consent, we spent the afternoon on the remoter, lower section, where you can wade and where the fish population is slightly more mixed, to see what we could find. So along with more big trout, I caught a decent out of season grayling which came out of the blue to a size 16 Parachute Adams I was trying on a very visible refusenik trout, a big fellow which had turned its nose up at three different mayfly patterns in succession. This was the only time I used a small fly during the day. A couple of quiet rises turned out to be from large chub which certainly like mayfly and I also caught a handsome dace of around 8 ounces. Big dace seem to thrive in southern trout streams. David found what turned out to be another rising chub which would only take a tiny fly after many presentations. The smallest trout of the day at 12 inches was, I think, a genuinely wild Avon fish with a markedly silvery colouring to it. At the end of it all, there was a sense of deep satisfaction. Upstream dry fly and when appropriate single upstream nymph are not just methods enforced by archaic rules and traditions as is often implied; in the case of the chalk streams they are the most logical ways to fish. We finished sitting under the plane trees, talking to Peter and Ben across the river from the faded brick facade of the great house. It was a charmed day in a magical place and hopefully there will be another opportunity to fish Heale at grayling time.
Dave Collins was one who turned in some good trout fishing results (see above) from the Usk in mid-June, just as the heat-wave began to intensify, and he sent us a message extolling the virtues of the Baby Sunfly which had accounted for most of them. This is one of the Reverend Edward Powell's famous dry fly patterns and like all the fishing clergyman's flies it has a certain "presence." The design is simple enough, using rabbit fur taken from the animal's mask between the eyes and the nose and coch y Bonddu hackles, two of them in the larger sizes. Powell's flies usually had very thick hackles, 10 turns in some cases, but I suspect from David's photograph that he dresses his own version rather lighter than that for the Usk. Baby Sunfly was Powell's development of an even bulkier "Sunfly" by Dai Lewis, which had a cree hackle in addition to the two coch y bonddu and was used on fast water sections of the Teifi in sizes as big as 10. Baby Sunfly in theory imitates a black gnat and should be good for early summer. I'm decided to give this pattern a longer trial myself when I get the opportunity and if you would like to do the same, here is the dressing:
Thread: brown or black
Tail: three fibres black or coch y Bonddu cock...or none
Body: dubbed whole rabbit fur from the mask above the nose
Hackle: One or two coch y bonddu cock hackles.
David also sent us the attached photograph of half-grown goosanders swimming along the middle Usk. He counted 34 of them no less, oddly enough with only one adult in attendance, so surely we will soon have an even larger number of predators competing for our fish.
The Wye and Usk Foundation's newsletter for spring 2017 arrived last month. It's a very interesting read from Simon and his team about what they are doing, but it also struck me as a reminder of how complicated and varied the threats facing our rivers have now become: climate change, acidity, abstraction, over-intensive agriculture and the rest. There is a long history of concern from anglers about the state of our rivers, but up to about the mid-twentieth century it must have seemed relatively simple. Apart from over-fishing, the enemy was industrial pollution and, bad as that was in areas of traditional heavy industry, pollution was about it. Clean up heavy industry, keep predators down and poachers away, and good fishing everywhere would return, or so anglers believed. I have a copy of Where to Fish from 1950 (the proper one, compiled by The Field) which mentions that our little River Loughor in South Wales had a good sea trout run and that the Pontardulais club were making great efforts to improve damage from mining pollution. A few of our committee members can remember those days - many older club members worked underground themselves - and recall that if the coal washing screens at the Ammanford Colliery upstream were not managed properly, the river would turn black. I have been told of nights when you could not see the moon reflected in the water. And yet the sea trout runs were wonderful then, distinctly better than today, when the river runs at least clean to the eye. Now, the same members are having to get used to the idea that the river is being damaged by phosphates, agricultural chemicals, lack of access to good spawning gravels and excess livestock in riverside pastures. We are confronted with too many cattle and sheep in too little space, too much agricultural production, above all too many water-consuming people and more and more houses built on formerly green land - how to manage it all better? It all makes the concept that the rivers were damaged merely by coal washings or too many predators seem refreshingly simple - and in fact it was over simplified of course, even then.
If I take one message from the WUF's newsletter, it is that over the next several years everything will be up for grabs. Whether you believe that the Common Agricultural Policy was harmful or not, whether you believe that the Water Framework Directive was effective or not, indeed whether you voted for Brexit or not, now matters little. The fact is that on the subject of our rivers and the planning and legislation for their protection, we will shortly find ourselves standing in front of a blank page. We can reconfirm the EU's Water Framework and Habitat Directives or where appropriate we can decide to improve on them with something more appropriate to our own needs. As the newsletter points out, the barrage builders and the abstractors are surely preparing to lobby for new and more relaxed regulations which will suit their interests. A great weakness of anglers as a group is that we sing to the choir a lot. By which I mean that on various fora we discuss (or rather moan) about our problems continuously amongst ourselves, but we are not very good at transmitting our concerns to the wider public. A letter to Trout and Salmon may relieve our own frustration but I wonder how much it achieves. To take an example, we have all been very clear in our minds for a decade or more after reading numerous magazine articles that lice from salmon farms in West of Scotland sea lochs has done immense damage to wild salmon and sea trout runs. But how many members of the general public - for example that lady there, heading for the supermarket chilled fish counter with the "Scottish salmon" sign on it - how many people like her do you think know about it? Try the question about sustainable salmon production on a non-fishing member of your own family as an experiment. The general public, including people who think of themselves as "green," make a lot of assumptions and sometimes strange ones about rivers and wild life, mostly through lack of knowledge or familiarity. The urbanised (or suburbanised) public, which is now most of the UK's public, have taken on board the big messages about global warming and carbon emissions, but they know very little about managing the countryside, which they experience mainly from occasional weekend visits in summer and TV documentaries. Judging by my local paper, one idea which is quite popular lately seems to be "let's put lots of turbines in our streams to generate clean energy" and there is no trace of suspicion that there might be a down-side to that plan. We all could do a lot more in this regard. Above all, even with the election over, this must be the time to speak with a loud voice to our politicians and ensure that protection of our beautiful rivers and rural environment is given due prominence in the busy days ahead. I once met the chap who has just been appointed Secretary for the Environment and I can't say I'm tremendously encouraged by anything I heard on that occasion, but let's try to be optimistic. I am sure the WUF will be among a number of organisations to take a leading role in publicising environmental concerns about our rivers and fisheries, but meanwhile why not write a letter to your newly elected MP emphasizing your own view? The Angling Trust has already produced a "Manifesto for Angling" which last month was sent to the major political parties and which is planned to be sent to all MPs. See what you think of it.
What next? For myself, once I have disentangled myself from Shrivenham I will take a choice between night sea trout fishing if the rivers are low and trying for salmon if the waters rise. Mountain lakes should be good if skies are cloudy and there is enough wind to produce a ripple. Evenings might be best for fishing the Usk and look for blue winged olives. Shady brooks should still be an option. Maybe try out that Baby Sunfly? And for sure we need some more rain.
Oliver Burch www.wyevalleyfishing.com
If we don't get good trout fishing during May, I don't know when we should get it. And after a difficult and rather chilly April, a good number of anglers had successes to report during May as temperatures rose and hatches increased. In fact at the end of the month we had something like a heat-wave which slowed down sport very slightly on the main rivers. The mayfly started early again and the usual tributaries produced some very nice fishing indeed to the dry fly, so that many of us enjoyed ourselves tremendously. However, the most notable feature of May was a general lack of rainfall in both catchments, despite dark clouds scudding over us and the odd short-lived shower. We finished the month with most of our rivers lacking water.
The fishing was still generally hard during the first bank holiday weekend. On the 29th April, HW from Penclawdd got 7 at Fenni Fach with a number of fish rising to olives and large brook duns. On the same day LH from Crew with a friend had a dozen fish to 1:50 pounds from Dinas on dries and emergers while sporadic hatches went on through the day. On the 30th IC from Gloucester very creditably got 14 trout to 10 inches from the little Dore at Chanstone Court, using a nymph fished under a dry fly. The Arrow started to appear in the reports on 2nd May. PS from Hereford had 6 trout between 10 and 12 inches from Mowley Wood while fish were rising to hatching olives. On the same day he stopped in at the nearby Court of Noke fishery and had an exceptional Arrow trout of 18 inches, found rising under a tree. Meanwhile MT from Evesham fished at Titley, another very beautiful beat as he accurately states, and found fish apparently feeding on terrestrials blowing out of the trees. Interestingly, he got most of his half dozen that day on a Bibio, a pattern choice normally more associated with lake fishing. I note that Paul Proctor in a recent article suggested using the black and red Bibio during a hawthorn fall, so he and MT may have something there. On the 1st May, AS from Newent had 7 trout from Llangoed and Lower Llanstephan, while TM from Braunston had 6 trout around 10 inches from the Lugg at Lyepole. He mentioned some problems with the directions to the beat, which the WUF have corrected. As regulars, some of us tend to overlook glitches like this which must of course be frustrating for visitors. I reckon my old car could find its way to Lyepole without me!
On the 3rd PH from Langnau am Albis had 6 trout from 10-12 inches at Ty Newydd, using French leader methods in fast water. On the next day, JA from Leominster had another day of 10 trout at Llyn Bugeilyn. In his report he quoted from Frank Ward's Lakes of Wales. Have you seen that one? It's a remarkable work, published by Herbert Jenkins in 1931. My ancient copy belonged to a Newport vicar in 1932, according to the fly leaf inscription. Ward managed to survey every single piece of still water in the Principality and missed none, at least I have never caught him out. The indexing takes some getting used to, but otherwise he faithfully lists the fishing opportunities, description, altitude, together with the history and the folklore attached to many of them. I doubt there is much chance of a reprint, but don't miss a chance to get hold of a copy if one comes your way. On Bugeilyn, the Shepherd's Pool, Ward mentions a fish of 4:75 pounds taken on a dry Wickham's Fancy by one Francis Awdry in 1929. Not, I'm afraid, a typical Bugeilyn fish, but Mr Awdry must have had the shock of his life when that rose out of the peaty depths.
The 6th was a red letter day for AS from Newent, who fished the Usk at Dinas, mostly with nymphs, and had 13 fish running from 10 inches up to 22 inches. A 22 inch trout is likely to be in the region of 4.5 pounds, so I imagine that will be one to remember. It's not strictly within the remit of my newsletter, but J from Bristol fished for salmon at Lower Symonds Yat (and saw a fish roll over in the Smokehouse Pool), but found himself totally frustrated by the number of canoes in the area. A number of the lower Wye salmon anglers complained about the numbers and behaviour of some of the canoeists. It's worth reminding that there is no debate about this; the Wye up to Glasbury/Hay is historically navigable and there is no question about the canoeists' right to be on the river. You can get over the worst of it in high season by avoiding weekends, start off by fishing early, then spend the busy middle of the day stretched out in a pub garden somewhere, then come back for the evening to fish again until dark. Personally I find this a not unpleasant routine. J also mentioned two huge boars he encountered coming down the forest line towards dusk. I will have something to write about those in a future letter.
On the 9th, PT from Kidderminster had 6 Arrow trout from the fast water at Mowley Wood. Trout from the Arrow are certainly beautiful creatures. Have you noticed how even quite large specimens seem to retain the blue parr marks on their flanks? Meanwhile, J from Yarpole had 7 from the Wye at Gromain. On the same day, Dave Collins from West Herefordshire fished the Usk at Penpont, where he persevered during a long day with the river now extremely low. It was what the Americans call "technical" fishing - by which they mean "extremely difficult". By various methods Dave got 11 including a 16 inch fish which was plump enough to weigh 2 pounds. On the 10th, ME from Towcester with a friend had a dozen from the Monnow at Skenfrith, while AG from Helston had 10 on a duo fished with French leader on the Usk at Glan y Cafn. JG from Ross on Wye caught 8 from the Edw at Hergest.
By this stage, a drought which had already lasted five weeks really was starting to take effect and the upper parts of the main rivers had become very low. However, the lower Wye at Redbrook did not quite reach the level which would trigger agreed extra water releases from the Elan Valley dams. At the same time, the Lugg and Arrow were still running at reasonable levels, sustained by the springs in Radnor Forest, while the Monnow, another important tributary, was not quite in desperate case yet. Also, inevitably the weather was becoming warmer which made the fishing a little easier and resulted in better catches. For the first time in many weeks the wind now switched around to the south and west, black clouds began to come over from the sea and the first hints of showers began slowly. Above all the nights were warmer. On the 11th BE from Longfield and a friend had 15 trout from Gromain and Upper Llanstephan, while CH from Grantham had 11 to 10oz from the Llynfi Dulas middle beat and noted that the mayfly were up. The following day I was spinning for salmon on the lower Wye in the deep, slow pools of Aramstone. The weather was warm with drizzling showers and I witnessed a huge mayfly hatch during the afternoon, the first I saw this year, although only the ducks were taking advantage of it. Not for the first time I marvelled at the colour variation in mayfly duns according to the light: some almost white; some with a green or yellow tinge; the smaller and blackish grey drake males; variations of brown or golden brown; in some of the naturals you could definitely see the orange tinge incorporated in certain mayfly imitations. I was also pestered by half a dozen twaite shad attacking the spinner, the spring run of these herring-like fish (which are protected) having now arrived in the river.
Also on the 11th, regular angler JD from Porthcawl had 10 from the Edw at Hergest on various dries. Meanwhile SW from London fished the Usk at Glanusk ty Mawr / Canal and Rivers Trust water for 8 trout; PD from Abingdon fished the same beat on the next day and had 13. Showers were coming regularly by now and the fishing was definitely looking up. The rivers seemed much livelier and the catch returns reflected an increasing level of activity. On the 13th, JE from New Malden had 8 from the lowest Edw beat at Aberedw on various dries, AS from Newent had 5 to 16 inches from the upper Wye at Dolgau, all on nymphs, while RW from Bristol fishing with his father had 8 from Dinas, including two superb fish of 19 and 20 inches. JP from London had half a dozen from the Edw at Hergest (and noted the need to leave gates clear for the farmer's tractor when parking) while JD from Porthcawl took 13 fish up to 12 inches from the little Duhonw. Simon Evans of the Foundation and a guest fished Greenbank again with various hatches going on during the session and they had 20, including some sizeable Usk fish. The 14th was another busy day: RW from Bristol had a 17 inch fish in a bag of 4 at Abercynrig; WG from Teddington had 14 from the Lugg at Eyton; AT from Kington caught 11 from the upper Lugg at Pilleth; WRP from Presteigne had 9 from the Lugg at Middlemoor and IC from Gloucestershire had 8 from the upper Grwyne Fawr beat. JP from London had a large fish in a bag of 4 taken on a Parachute Adams at Trallong and Abercamlais.
On the 15th JA from Leominster fished Llyn Bugeilyn again for 16 trout and this time he gave us another quote about the remote lake which, believe it or not, rather sets the cat among the pigeons! This one was from John Henry Cliffe, who apparently published a book in 1870 called: Notes and recollections of an Angler: Rambles among the Mountains, Valleys and Solitudes of Wales. Now that is a wonderful Victorian title, up there with George Borrow's Wild Wales, and I will admit right away, JA, that I haven't read it. But here's the thing. JH Cliffe relates that, apparently about 50 years before him, two sportsmen who used to shoot grouse on the surrounding moors had the fancy to stock the pool with brown trout from the River Rheidol. Before that, he says, the lake contained nothing but horse leeches. Once the trout were established, the leeches disappeared. Now there is nothing like the sport of angling to encourage the telling of stories or even legends. But this account, if true, is distinctly problematic for those ichthyologists who have been arguing for many years that Bugeilyn is one of a small number of lakes containing an ancient race, Salmo nigrippinis, or the black-finned trout, which has supposedly held out there in splendid genetic isolation since the last ice age. Salmo nigrippinis is more generally known as the sonaghen or black-finned trout of the Irish Lough Melvin, a strange creature which lives in deep water and feeds mostly on plankton. 19th century ichthyologist Dr Gunter also cited the same species as inhabiting Bugeilyn and one other lake on Cader Idris and this, naturally enough, became known in English as the Welsh, as opposed to Irish, black-finned trout. Jon Beer wrote an article about this a few years ago, but I always understood that opposing groups of taxonomists (the lumpers and the splitters) were at times almost duelling with pistols at dawn over whether this is genuinely a separate species from the normal brown trout, Salmo trutta. Some Victorian scientists delighted in identifying different variations in trout and even to accord them species status. Up to 50 variants were identified; this was the heyday of the splitters and doubtless they went too far. I have an old book which illustrates something called a "forest trout," distinctly green in colour, which looks just like the little fish living in my local Forest of Dean streams. It's a charming idea. Then the modern view (the lumpers in ascendancy) moved to the position that there is only one brown trout, Salmo trutta (fario indicates the river variant), with numerous colour variations, "a single polytypic species." However, the latest decision was in favour of once more declaring Salmo nigrippinis as a truly separate species, both in Ireland and in Wales; this on the basis that it will not interbreed with Salmo trutta and produce fertile offspring. Hearing about this decision, a few of us straight away made a celebratory trip up to Bugeilyn to congratulate the little fellows on their recently re-acquired species status. But if Mr Cliffe was right and a couple of early Victorian shooters merely introduced some common or garden Salmo trutta brown trout from the Rheidol, which over time became darkened and stunted by poor upland feeding, where does this leave the scientists and their theories? My friend Rob Evans, who fishes in the hills a lot, claims that many of the wild upland lake trout of Wales look similar to him, with a distinctly blunt head, a shortened and almost deformed jaw, large eyes for their size and generally dark colouration. The mouth is also large and looks as if it is adapted for surface feeding. Fins are not exactly black, but definitely without colour and the few body spots are a deep, dull maroon colour. He thinks these characteristics are caused merely by peaty water and poor feeding. If there are good spawning opportunities in streams running to such lakes, there will soon be large numbers of small fish whose size will be stunted by the restricted amount of food in acidic water. For that matter, I wonder which researcher tried to persuade brown trout and so-called Welsh black-finned trout to inter-breed and exactly how he went about the task.
I'm afraid I have now wandered rather a long way from my original purpose of reporting the May fishing and that's the job set for me, after all. On the 16th, RW from Portishead took 10 trout to 14 inches from the Honddu at Maes y Beran by fishing a Parachute Adams through the fast water. On the 17th, BC from Verwood took 8 from the Usk at Dinas on dries and TM from Bristol with a friend caught 20 trout from the Monnow at Skenfrith during a mayfly hatch. On the 18th, MR from Monmouth had 18 from the Monnow's Honddu tributary at Pandy. Hopefully our fears about damage by last month's pollution in this stream were not justified after all. On the same day RT from Newport had 6 upstream at Lower Stanton and JC from Barry caught 18 from the Usk at Dinas. The following day Dave Collins of West Herefordshire was out on his local Wye beat at Red Lion / Moccas and had 14 trout to 16 inches during mixed hatches. It's not so often we hear about trout fly fishing in the middle and lower Wye, but trout are certainly there to be caught and some are specimens. I'm sure Dave knows this beat and where to find them very well. Also on the 19th, ND from Framilode had 6 between 6 and 10 inches from the Edw at Hergest. RC from Bordon got 6 from the Monnow at Skenfrith using a Mayfly pattern and BW from London took 8 up to 1:50 pounds on the Usk at Glan y Cafn on a dry fly. BP from Pembridge got 6 from the Arrow at Court of Noke and AB from London got 7 to 13 inches upstream at Titley. Incidentally, AB has a piece of fly rod found at the Canal and Rivers Trust Usk beat; if anybody has lost a section of a travel rod, please contact the Foundation. On the 20th, AS from Newent fished the Lugg at Eyton, found it quiet at first, and then experienced an intense mayfly hatch for about an hour beginning at 4 o'clock in the afternoon. He got 13 trout between 10 and 14 inches. Meanwhile, MB from Seaton got 15 from the Dore at Abbeydore Court. AS from Cheltenham, who was fishing with me, got a lovely 18 inch trout on a Parachute Adams from the Usk at Ashford House.
The 21st was another busy day. RS from Upton on Severn with a friend got 15 from Llyn Bugeilyn. BP from Kingswinford had 7 small trout from the Titley Arrow while JP from Hereford had 8 from Court of Noke. NR from W Midlands had 6 on dry flies from the upper Monnow at Longtown. On the 22nd, HC from Wales was up at Bugeilyn and had 10, mainly on a small Silver Butcher, while AM from Worcester had 7 trout to 12 inches at Titley during a mayfly hatch. MAJ from Horley had 20 trout from the Escley No 3 beat while watching for birds - kingfisher, dipper and buzzards all being likely enough sightings, but also a tawny owl and a hobby hawk. CH from Bromsgrove got 7 between 6 and 13 inches from the Glanusk Estate water. JL from Hereford had 20 trout from the Llynfi at Pontithiel, which again is most encouraging as this stretch was badly affected by pollution last year. I was then tremendously excited to read GL from Stroud reporting on fishing the Honddu at Maes y Beran on the same day: 16 inch and 19 inch wild brown trout is what I saw on the page and good heavens what a wonderful brace from a small stream that must have been! But then I looked closer, noted gaps in the text, and concluded that 1 fish at 6 inches and 1 at 9 inches might have been intended. Perhaps GL will kindly put me straight; it's either a remarkable result or quite a modest one! Well fished, anyway.
On the 23rd, DC from Worcester fished the Lugg at Eyton and caught 8 during a rise to mayflies. MC from Newport found iron blues hatching in the Usk at Glan y Cafn and caught a fine 18 inch fish on a size 18 imitation of the same little dark fly. JB from Horley had 12 trout from 9-15 inches from the Monnow at Upper Longtown. MR from Monmouth had 7 trout from the Honddu at Half Moon. On the 24th, AT from Kington had 6 to 12 inches from the Whittern beat of the Arrow. GW from Pencoed caught 8 trout from Talybont Reservoir while a light breeze was blowing ...which must have helped with a ripple ... and all of them on a dry midge pattern ... which must have been fun. JB from Horley was out again, this time on the Olchon, and he had half a dozen including 13 inch and 15 inch fish. He also recommended the Crown at Longtown as a place to stay and I concur; this friendly village pub is everything a good fishing inn should be. CK from Stourbridge fished the Ithon at Disserth for 7 small trout and SC from Llandeilo Graban had 11 to 9 inches from the Hergest Edw on size 18 dry flies.
So far, so much pretty good, and you can see from the above that many anglers had excellent days during the warmer weather of May. However, the lack of rain was again making itself felt by this time and our main rivers had once more become very low. The earlier showers had simply not added up to enough total rainfall, certainly not enough to please salmon anglers although they continued to take the odd fresh fish from the lower and middle Wye. There was certainly a chance of finding a taking salmon if you didn't fish too far upstream, but overall numbers this spring are down compared to recent years. Also, for both trout and salmon anglers, the sun was now really becoming too hot for the best fishing with afternoon temperatures in the mid-twenties and higher. Much time was spent scanning the sky hopefully for any sign of clouds. On the 26th the Elan Valley dams began releasing extra compensation water into the Wye. Once more the problem caused by the sun and nutrients in the water causing brown coloured algae in the middle and lower Wye seemed to be back, to the annoyance of salmon fishers. Meanwhile the Lugg and Arrow tributaries were still holding up levels reasonably well due to the capacity of their springs.
On the 25th, CN from Berkely reported 5 trout from the Usk at Abercynrig and mentioned seeing several fish with white fungus infections on their heads. He wondered whether this presages a serious or wide-spread disease problem. From similar sightings in the Usk during previous dry springs, I suspect that it doesn't. Obviously the low water levels are far from ideal and probably are the cause of the problem, but there is every reason to believe it will disappear when reasonable flows are restored. On the 26th JS from Beckenham reported 8 trout from Ty Newydd on the Wye and he added good words about the Old Vicarage B&B in Erwood where they are very used to looking after anglers. I agree with that praise and would add that it combines perfectly with the Wheelwright's Arms, which is a couple of hundred yards down the road and seems to be able to serve you a hot meal at any hour of the day or night. (Why aren't all pubs like that? No, please don't bother to tell me if you happen to be a member of the Licensed Victuallers Association). On the 27th, MD from Cardiff had 16 from the Edw at Hergest. Meanwhile MN from Bristol fished the Usk at Cefn Rhosan Fawr on the same day and reported 7 fish. However, he was less than happy that the owner's "extra rod" on this occasion consisted of no less than three anglers making a great deal of noise between them. Cefn Rhosan Fawr would not have room for those numbers. I'm always rather dubious about the "retained rod" idea (read what Frederic Halford had to say about it more than a century ago) because it seems to me rather like renting something out for a profit and trying to retain your own use of it at the same time - better settle for one or the other, but not both. At the very least, I think paying clients should be given priority and not inconvenienced on the water. On the following day IG from Pontypridd was on Cefn Rhosan Fawr, presumably had a more peaceful time, and reported 11 trout to 14 inches. IC from Gloucestershire reported 8 trout to 11 inches from Escley No 4 beat. the 29th, AS of Newent had 8 trout from 10-14 inches on the upper Wye at Llangoed and Llanstephan and noted salmon in the lower part of the beat - they have taken their time getting there, methinks. CJ from Fleet had a 2:50 pound trout from the Usk at Greenbank, while BP from Bristol had 6 small ones from Dinas with an F-fly. On the 30th, JT from Glasbury had 8 from the Llynfi Dulas middle beat, while PS from Hereford had a 15 inch fish in a bag of 5 from the Arrow at Court of Noke. P from Bath had 9 from Talybont Reservoir over the day and noted a cuckoo was calling continuously in the woods opposite. It's a funny thing, but a few years ago cuckoos seemed to have deserted the Forest of Dean (although they have been back during the last couple of years), but whatever happened elsewhere, I could always be sure of hearing them at Talybont. We finished the month with the cloudy weather clearing; there had been a few showers, but not really enough to affect the low levels in the rivers.
Have you ever cast a fly line in the Annan? A lot of English anglers do, because it is one of the first Scottish rivers you reach as you head north, one of a number of fascinating border streams running into the great Solway Firth. The Annan is quite similar in nature to our own freestone rivers on these Welsh borders and while it has always been known for its migratory fish, it is now building quite a new reputation for its brown trout. The June issue of Fly Fishing and Fly Tying carries an article by Martyn Haynes about the river and his tactics for fishing it for brown trout during the spring, which is thoroughly recommended. Martyn likes to "stalk upstream" with a dry fly looking for rising fish where he can, but he will also search fast water with spiders. The hatches and his approach are described in very helpful detail and could certainly be applied to other, similar, rivers such as ours. Brown trout to 8 pounds have been caught during recent years in the Annan and I note with interest that the management board have operated mandatory catch and release for the last decade.
Finally, and this is with beginners in mind, I have added some notes about caring for tackle which I hope might be helpful. Personally, I wince when I see fishing tackle mistreated, whether it's the latest word in expensive kit or tired, cheap old gear. I always feel like saying: "If you can't look after it, there is surely somebody else who would appreciate it." A while ago I watched a salmon fishing video which featured a particularly flamboyant presenter enthusiastically fishing an arctic river. Every time he hooked a salmon, which was frequently, he would look over his shoulder and shout wildly at the camera: "This is better than sex!" Maybe it was, but I don't know what his 12 year old son watching from the bank made of it. Let alone his wife, if she ever got to see the video. For myself, I just reflected while watching that this was something to bear in mind if thinking of booking one of those expensive lodge holidays; you might find yourself stuck with such an individual for a week. But the part which really upset me was when he decided he needed to cross the fast flowing river to get a better casting angle and plunged across using his Sage Z-Axis double-hander as a wading staff, stabbing viciously at the rocks with its cork handle. I can only assume, given the guy's prominence in the angling world, that he hadn't actually bought the rod as the rest of us have to do. I wonder what the Sage people thought when they saw it. For myself, I have always adored fishing rods as precious and delightful possessions.
When I started, back in the days of split cane, I was advised that a good rod looked after properly would last a life time. This was perfectly true and it applies just as much today in the days of modern carbon. Rings may wear and need to be replaced, but given sensible care, practically everything else about a rod should last as long as you will. Probably longer in my case. Here are my suggestions for looking after carbon rods. I do appreciate that experienced anglers will have their own systems, but those new to the sport may find what follows helpful. I will begin by stating that I think rods should be supplied with a protective tube and a rod bag. Manufacturers are getting into a habit recently of supplying rods in a tube only with dividers. However, as well as a tube I like a bag for the purpose of hanging a rod up to dry after fishing. Also, I think rod tubes should be round, not triangular. Triangular tubes tend to put stress on the zips at the angles. What in fact is the purpose of a triangular section rod tube; to avoid it rolling downhill?
I think I am getting ahead of myself here. The first point to make is that great care should be taken to avoid grit getting into the tapered joints, whether they are of the over-fit or (rarer nowadays) spigot design. Don't put the sections down in gritty or sandy places and keep the inside of the rod bag or tube clean. When you assemble the rod, start by wiping clean the male section of each joint with a piece of towel, and then rub it over quickly with a stub piece of an ordinary paraffin wax candle. Several of the American rod manufacturers recommend the addition of a very fine layer of paraffin wax in this way, and effectively it means that the two tapered carbon surfaces of the joint are separated and avoid wear. They will not come loose while fishing, but it will be possible to separate the joint without too much trouble at the end of the day. Fit the joint together, rotate the sections until you think the rings are in line, lift up to the sky and sight along the line of rings to make sure you have the alignment right, then press home firmly but without excessive force. Do the same with the next section and so on. Personally, I work down from the tip section and finish with the butt. Note that a rod of 4 sections or more will probably not have a ring on the butt section, so you may have to fit the reel temporarily to make sure you have the alignment right. A recent development which makes me smile is the provision of alignment lines or dots on each section. What can be the need for this when you already have rings on each section to use for alignment purposes? Worse than useless are alignment dots or arrows which are not actually aligned with the rings, which is a situation more common than you might think. Getting the rings into line is what matters. And does it actually matter so very much that the rings are perfectly aligned? Well, I can't prove it to be so, but I certainly want to shoot line with the minimum amount of friction, so why not have it so.
In the case of salmon Spey casting rods, I still believe in taping the sections together once the joints are aligned and fitted and I use ordinary PVC insulating tape for this, once up and once down over the join. This is because roll or Spey casting can impart a considerable twisting force to the sections and on some rods they have been known to come loose while casting. Unless you catch the fault at once, the usual result is a cracked female section of the joint. The use of tape avoids this risk. This problem should not affect ordinary trout rods used for overhead casting, but I have been told of a few cases where anglers using long fine rods such as those by Hanak for roll-casting a French leader forward have experienced problems with loose joints. Again, taping is the cure. If the rod is a good one, the tape should not affect the finish where applied. Put the reel on, ensuring that it is secure, because the experience of a reel which falls off to the bed of the river while wading is extremely frustrating. Check it again after a few casts.
Very, very rarely (and not lately) I have seen a carbon rod apparently built with a flaw break while casting. If it is going to happen at all, it will probably happen during the first session of use. To the best of my knowledge, this was a problem which very occasionally affected some of the early carbon models and is now practically eliminated. Basically it is people who break rods, not the manufacturing process and certainly not fish. Get into an automatic routine to avoid the obvious accidents. Carbon rods are very good at resisting bending forces applied at the tip, but not crushing forces applied to thin sections of tube. Do not have rod sections protruding from an open car door or tail gate. So many rods are destroyed by the closure of car doors, whether by wind or unthinking human agency. When ready to thread the line and make up the tackle, I like to prop the rod up against a hedge or some bushes giving me access with safety. It is always asking for trouble to lay a rod down flat on the ground. When "parking" the rod, make sure it is somewhere it will be both visible and where no-one will inadvertently stand on it. There was a time when rods were provided with reversible spears in the butt section which was not a bad idea. I like those nice rod stands which good fishing huts offer. Short of that, propped up in a clump of sedges with the tip overhanging the river or lake is ideal. Marginal sedges might have been designed as rod stands. Be particularly careful of the situation where you catch a fish and then lay the rod down flat on the bank while you bend over the net to unhook your catch. If interested by-standers cluster round to see what you have caught, you can just bet that somebody will tread on your prized rod.
Now this will seem an obvious point, but fishing rods are designed to be held by the thick end, not the thin end. When wading therefore, if you find the leader tangled round the tip, hold the point fly off to one side with your free hand, keep holding the rod by the handle with your other hand, and rotate the rod until the leader comes free and can be drawn out from the tip ready to fish. If you have a long leader and a braided loop or any bulky leader to line connection which is reluctant to pass through the tip ring, rotate the rod by the handle until the reel is horizontal and pointing away from your body. Then give a slow pull to the leader holding your other hand out on the far side and the joint should pass out through the ring. This is because the tip ring is mounted at 45 degree to the rod and the action just described will give the joint an easy passage. You might also bear in mind that a needle knot to fasten the butt of your leader to your line, the neatest way of all, will completely sidestep the problem. Alternatively, if you are standing in a fast current, drop the leader down in the stream, point the rod downstream waving the tip gently and let the water draw out the joint. If you really must, you could drop the reel and butt section onto the bed of the river, work your way up to the tip of the rod and sort out any tangle which has occurred there. But please, please, don't do what so many people decide to do. I am referring to the awful crime of standing in the river working your way hand over hand from the butt to the middle section and finally reaching the situation where you are holding the rod by the tip section trying to sort out your tangle with the weight of the reel overhanging above the surface. Crunch goes the top section! It will be quite sudden, but what else do you expect? So many times I have watched this developing situation from a distance in horror, my cries of alarm drowned out by the noise of the river. You can do this to your own rod if you must, but please not to one of mine! If you can't sort out the leader, go ashore and prop the butt safely on clean ground while you resolve the tangle.
The traditional advice is to carry any fishing rod butt foremost when moving around on the bank. This is certainly the safest way, but when making my way through tree branches and bushes I tend to find the tip and the leader get hitched up behind me. So in that case, I do carry the rod tip foremost, threading the tip carefully through the clear gaps and following through from behind. One very serious risk when walking with the rod tip foremost and parallel with the ground, is that if you should stumble or trip forward, the rod tip will be the first thing to dig into the ground with a disastrous result. So if you do want to walk along the field carrying your rod tip foremost, carry it at high port, pointing up at the sky.
When fishing is over, make sure the rod is clean (you might like to wave/wash it briefly below the surface if you have been fishing on a lake with muddy margins), take the sections apart with a twisting movement, use a clean rag to clean the wax off the male part of the joints and put the sections away in the bag. If you used wax, a simple twist while holding each section firmly and close to the joint should suffice. Do not hold either section by the rings unless you want to distort or misalign them. Under no circumstances use penetrating oil on a stubborn joint; it seems to have a welding effect on carbon. Put the bag in the tube to protect the rod on the way home, and once arrived hang the bag up on a nail in a reasonably warm and dry place for 24 hours. Then put the rod and bag back in the tube for storage, but leave the end of the tube open so that air can circulate to some extent.
If I can buy a rod with a good action, I will of course accept the rings which the maker provides, although I will express a preference for double legged snakes (whipped to the rod in two places) even if there is a slight weight penalty. Single legged rings, if you are unfortunate enough to knock the section against something (which of course you should avoid like the plague), tend to get knocked or bent out of alignment. A really good recent development is the provision of flexible rings which spring back to the original position if knocked. Some of these make a bit of a hum when certain fly lines are worked through them, but this is not really a fault. Most rings, particularly the tip ring, will eventually develop grooves if the rod is used hard enough for long enough and should then be replaced. It is the fly line carrying specks of abrasive dirt which does the damage, and it is the fly line which in turn will be damaged by a grooved ring. So keep the line reasonably clean and certainly do not drop coils of it in the mud while casting/shooting. This is a good reason to use a line tray when fishing from the muddy margins of lakes. As a matter of interest, certain coloured streams draining sandstone country are notorious for causing premature ring wear. Tiny particles of silica and quartz suspended in the water column are responsible.
One part of the rod which has not changed is the cork handle, although some substitutes are being experimented with. Cork is very good in its way, feels comfortable in the hand and resists wear reasonably well. Water does not damage it, although it will make it expand and contract like any other wood. One problem is that the quality of cork provided for most modern rod handles, even of expensive makes, is nowadays not that good. Even when new, there are many flaws and fissures. I would need to know more about the Portuguese cork market and the biology of the cork oak tree to understand why this is. Oddly enough I possess a relatively cheap Greys trotting rod provided a very long cork handle of far higher quality than those on Loomis salmon rods costing much more. Cork will develop an interesting patina over the years of use, and the fissures and imperfections can be ignored provided they do not allow water to enter the interior of the handle. If water does leak inside, very likely a wooden reel seat will swell and distort until finally the reel cannot be fitted and a new butt section is needed. When you buy a new rod, the first thing to do is to tear that shrink-wrapped plastic off the handle. It's there to keep the handle looking clean and new while people try the rod out before sale, but if you leave it on it will trap moisture underneath. Incidentally, you may read of methods to restore worn cork handles by sanding them down and adding filler to cover the holes. In my opinion, this is a waste of time. Filler has a temporary cosmetic effect, but the problem is that nobody has yet come up with a filler which expands and contracts when wet and dry at the same rate as natural cork. The cork expands and contracts and the filler drops out, sooner rather than later. One way in which you can avoid excessive wear on the handle is not to stick the point of a mounted fly in the cork. Park it in the keeper ring provided, or alternatively in the butt ring.
I cannot prove this, but I believe most carbon rods naturally "mellow" to some extent with use. A new rod which feels at first somewhat harsh or tippy in its action will be slightly softer and easier in use, pleasanter in fact, after a year or so. However, I have also seen it claimed that storage in a particularly warm place damages and softens the action of carbon in time - just as it used to damage split cane. So it would be wise not to lean your rod tubes against a radiator.
Similarly with reels, which do inevitably get wet, whether by being immersed below the surface when wading deep or just from water riding up the line or from rain. There was a time when it was absolutely necessary to take a silk line off the reel and dry it out at the end of the fishing day. Plastic fly lines should not come to any such harm, but I still like to take the reel out of its case and put it on a shelf to dry out overnight after each fishing trip. Check the front taper of the line for cracks and the condition of the leader joints. If you are going to need a new braided loop fitted or new leader needle-knotted to the line, now is the time to find out. It is the work of a few seconds to do all this along with hanging up the rod bag. Most spools are drilled to aid the drying of the line and backing, but you might like to bear in mind that solid plastic cassette spools are not ventilated and therefore the backing mounted on these may well remain wet for years at a time. In the case of modern nylon braided backing which will not rot this should not matter much, but somehow it still bothers me. In any case, the rest of the reel should be dried out at the end of the fishing day. If you have a drag system on the reel, it's worth pointing out the value of paying the extra cost to have a sealed drag. There is nothing as annoying as a drag which gets wet when the reel is immersed and then without warning aquaplanes - suddenly runs completely free when a pull is applied - and then locks up again. The reel should be dismantled at regular intervals, checked for correct operation and wear, and then lubricated according to the manufacturer's instructions. If you have one of those expensive American reels with a cork drag, you will need to apply neatsfoot oil to the cork at intervals to keep it working properly. But the hell with that, say I, because in my youth I had quite enough trouble with oil lubricated cork clutch plates on British motorcycles! Life is too short for such tasks and again a sealed drag is the answer. You need a very light oil like 3 in 1 or sewing machine oil for the metal working parts of fishing reels, and some much lighter kind of grease than the car wheel bearing lubricant sold in the high street auto-shops. I like something called white rifle grease which I get from a gunsmith in Ross. A good reel could and should last you a life time without developing wear, except perhaps in items like check pawls which should be available as spares from the manufacturer. It is infuriating to be given a reel to handle where the lubrication has dried up and the grease is stiff with age and grime. Preserve the function of the drag by only applying it when fishing if you think you need it. At all other times, and particularly during storage, the adjustment should be backed right off, thus extending the life of the spring and avoiding any tendency of the plates to stick together. And by the way, I have come to the conclusion that I like all my reels, whether or not they have a disc drag (arguably only necessary for sea trout and salmon, even if then), to have an audible and reliable check mechanism working in both directions. I want to hear when line is coming on or off the reel. In particular, if I am in the process of netting a fish for somebody else, I want to hear if the fish starts taking line.
While I have the reel drying off on a shelf, I often leave the fly box open next to it overnight if there is any chance that damp has got inside. I don't want to be faced with a row of rusty hook points a week later. Flies can last a hundred years, provided damp and moths are kept away. Anglers usually don't, of course, with or without damp and moths. Good fly boxes should have a water tight seal, but many of mine lack that. I also make sure that the sheepskin patch on my waistcoat gets a chance to dry off thoroughly.
I tend to have my waders turned inside out to air them in the back of the car on the way home. Don't screw them up wet in a stuff bag. Once arrived, they need to be turned back the right way and hung up to dry along with nets. Give your net a quick wash in the stream before coming home. A fresh-caught grayling may smell a little like sweet cucumber in your hand, but grayling slime on a net smells truly awful after a few hours. Rain jacket and waist coat similarly should be hung up in a dry place and if this is a garage or shed, make sure that it is rodent proof. Wading boots and neoprene socks go next to the radiator indoors to dry out as best they can.
Spools of nylon, when not in use, are stored in the dark and marked with the date of purchase. In fact I am realising that I have become slightly autistic in my old age about the way I store tackle in the office and adjoining garage. Everything has its appointed place. There are drawers and boxes marked: "rainbow trout", "brown trout and grayling", "salmon", "sewin", "spinning", "trotting," "fly-tying" etc. After a few senior moments and omissions, I now have checklists to work against when loading the car at the beginning of the day, which are similarly headed: brown trout, salmon, and so on. It is on record that a forgetful angler of the past made up a similar checklist including everything he had to put in the car before leaving, along with a final thoughtful item: "Kiss wife." He wasn't going to be accused of lacking a romantic streak. Then it struck him that as the checklist now existed, he could simply give it to his wife and get her to perform the chore of loading the car while he took his time over the breakfast she had cooked. It was what they call a traditional sort of marriage (meaning that she did everything). After some more thought, he then crossed out the final line and replaced it with: "Kiss husband."
I would hope that we should see quite a few days more of mayfly fishing during early June. The problem I always find is that the WUF has more mayfly beats available than you can get round in a single mayfly season - and in truth that is hardly a problem, is it? We are lucky in this part of the world. I have just heard from Seth and Chris at the WUF that they have taken on another Lugg beat. This is Dayhouse near Kingsland, which should be well worth a visit. Of course Seth and Chris had to have a few casts at the end of their scoping visit to this new fishery and they tell me there were trout rising for mayfly all over the place. In general, June should be a very good month to try the smaller streams and tributaries as well as the upland lakes. Much depends on the weather; anglers will be about the only section of the population hoping not to experience another heat-wave. Certainly we should hope for rain. Otherwise, I saw the first fox-gloves in flower the other day, which is a reminder that sea trout nights are not so very far away. For myself, I'm afraid it's war-game time again, so with some reluctance I will have three weeks indoors this month and next, either talking to student officers in a staff college syndicate room or following the game on a computer screen. However, the RAF warrant officer who processed my paperwork this year tells me they now have trout stocked in one of the lakes in the grounds and that he spends most of his free time by it. Sandhurst has always had fly-fishing and so why not Shrivenham? So there is some hope of light recreation in the evenings and I'm taking a rod, net and fly box.
Oliver Burch www.wyevalleyfishing.com
It has happened again! Late on the evening of 4th April I received an email bearing news of a pollution incident on the Honddu. It seemed that the wall of a farmer's slurry lagoon had failed and caused what was described as a major pollution incident affecting this beautiful trout fishing tributary which runs out of the Black Mountains and into the Monnow. As bad luck would have it, I was due to guide clients on the main Monnow below the junction on the following two days. On the first day the river, high anyway with spring flow levels, was strangely black. We saw (and duly missed) exactly one rising trout. On the second day, fishing on the clients' own water, the river was running clearer but seemed absolutely dead. This might mean something or nothing at all. Fishless days are not unknown, nights had been cold and the Monnow can take some time to wake up in early spring. We saw no corpses. Perhaps in the circumstances we should have rescheduled. Meanwhile, the press releases were full of reassuring words. The farmer had telephoned news of the breach rapidly to NRW, which in turn had energetically dug ditches and deployed booms to limit the pollution. At first we had a "significant discharge." Later came a wonderful if rather bewildering sound-bite: "Up to 3/4 of the 450,000 litres of slurry in the lagoon has been prevented from entering the Honddu." That is damage control by the press officer if ever I heard it! The fact is that this kind of accident, involving either slurry containment or muck-spreading, is happening much too often and a layman like me cannot help wondering whether the legislation controlling this activity of dairy farmers is adequate. One of my sons is currently doing a consultancy for British Nuclear Fuels up at Sellafield - I can ensure you that the legislation covering their containment activities is highly demanding!
Let's look at the April results and there was certainly a big angling effort. However, this was not an easy month for trout fishing and it turned out to be distinctly more difficult than March. This year's April weather was defined by high pressure conditions, which tend to result in clear skies at night and cold early morning starts, often with a white frost or fog. Often this would be followed by a big temperature swing up to a very hot and bright afternoon. The April sun is almost high enough to burn you in these latitudes and such days are usually not the best for fly hatches and fishing. At other times the cold temperatures remained all through the day, usually accompanied by very cold winds. In the dry conditions the water levels also came down steadily until many of the brooks were distinctly low and clear. There were some hatches and those who managed to be in the right place at the right time had some reasonable catches, but many of us experienced fishing which could be described as patchy at best. "Tough day" appeared in many of the fishing reports and somebody coined the new phrase: "the dog-days of April"! Oft-times it was just plain darned difficult - there is no other phrase appropriate. Lacking rising fish, some anglers saved their day by concentrating on heavy nymphs in the fast water. The month went on with some very cold winds from the general direction of the Arctic - somehow always downstream on the river of course - which again inhibited hatches and rises. On occasions, really very much a matter of luck, the insects did hatch and the fish did put their heads up and the Wye was just a little easier than the Usk, or so it seemed to me. What was strange or certainly interesting, was that despite icy winds the aquatic fly hatches have all been early. I suppose we can attribute this to the warm winter. Large dark olives were to be expected, but march browns were also present right from the beginning of the season. Grannom were with us by late March and kept going to some extent all through April, although not quite in the numbers we sometimes see. I only found one group of Wye fish feeding on grannom during an unusually warm afternoon early in April, but on several occasions, march browns appeared for a time during a slow-burning grannom hatch - and of the two insects it was the march brown which the trout wanted. We normally expect the yellow mays, olive uprights, and large brook duns to join us during the month of May, but in fact all these had turned up at least in small numbers on both rivers by the 20th April. I have it on good authority that an adult mayfly has already been seen and the other day I saw a big white mayfly nymph which was so ripe that it seemed close to bursting. Only the terrestrial hawthorn flies, the little black ones with trailing legs which are famous for appearing on St Mark's day (25th April), arrived right on time. By now some of the tributary streams were almost at drought level and the weather seemed to become even colder. I arrived at one brook at the end of the month with the air temperature at 5 degrees, water temperature at 10 degrees and my breath smoking on every exhalation. Needless to say, nothing was rising.
Let's go back to the reports and to begin with, here are some late ones left over from the end of March. MC from Arsenal fished at Abercynrig on the 28th and caught 8 trout with spiders and a dry Adams. He noted an impressive hatch of olives. JJ from Stourbridge with a friend was fishing downstream on the Glanusk Ty Mawr / Canal and Rivers Trust beat and they had 9 trout on PTNs and a Greenwell Spider, including a fish of 2.5 lbs. DR from Truro fished at Glan yr Afon, where once again the day was spoiled by canoeists practising in the white water. DR did report the trespass at the time. On the same day MD from Barry was fishing at Chainbridge (for salmon I think) and reported a problem with foul or chemical smells around the bridge, possibly from a septic tank. That certainly is not normal. PD from Buckingham fished the Taff at Merthyr Tydfil on this day and would have liked much more information about how to access the river. On behalf of those who are not actually from Merthyr, I suggest he has a valid point and more detailed mapping and directions would be very helpful. Also on the 28th, PT from Kidderminster came to fish the Bideford Brook and got 7 trout with the duo method. He remarked that his 8:50 foot rod was a bit of a handicap and I can imagine that it was. 7 foot is generally the more useful length for these little streams. On the 29th, PW from London fished the Usk at Glanusk Ty Mawr / Canal and Rivers Trust, and took a fine 2:50 pound trout.
At this point, I feel a need to apologise to JL from Mynddbach, who on 30th March came along to fish at Bideford Brook shortly after I had left off fishing it during the morning. It didn't fish well for him and JL realised what had happened when the catch returns were submitted. A collision between two season ticket holders rarely happens; normally if a car is already on the designated parking spot it's easy enough to implement Plan B by going to a neighbouring stream. Not so if the first angler has just left, unknown to the second. This does spoil the water, I do appreciate, and although it certainly isn't intended, it is one of the risks of season ticket holders visiting wild streams which have not been reserved in advance. If it's any consolation, the same thing has happened to me on occasions and I can usually tell by the way the stream fishes. You wonder why the fish seem so "stiff" today and then you see a fresh boot print in the mud. Interestingly, JL had a small trout on a Black Streamer while he fished the brook.
On 1st April JD from Cardiff fished the bank at Llandegfedd Reservoir and had 10 rainbows with a sinking line, short leader and booby flies. On the same day AP from Merthyr noted the very bad condition of the access road to Usk Reservoir which he thought might easily have damaged his car. Obviously care will be needed with 2WDs. One of the big Usk brown trout turned up on the 2nd when FB from London with a friend had a 23 inch fish in a bag of 5 from Cwmwysg Ganol. On the 3rd, SH from Birmingham with a friend had 10 from Abercynrig using various methods. HW from Penclawdd was out on Trallong and Abercamlais on the 4th and had 10 fish to 14 inches and noted a particularly spectacular march brown hatch. The next day VC from Ashford was out on Dinas without much hatching on the river, but over the day managed to persuade 5 trout up to 1:50 lbs by plugging away with dry olive patterns. On the 6th RK from Beech Hill fished at Glan yr Afon and had a bag of 5 nice fish, all of them between 1 and 2 lbs. VC was out again on Fenni Fach and had just 3, all taken over a short period when the dark olive hatch intensified.
On the same day RA from Holme Lacey fished the Llynfi at Talgarth and didn't catch, but noted a small dead pike on the bank. I'm told this stream also contains perch and there are certainly good trout and grayling. This is a new beat and we have high hopes that this year it will fish as well as its tributary the neighbouring Dulas. Much work was done on pruning it last winter, although you will find it still requires some effort to fish, with a certain amount of scrambling up and down the banks where the stream is too deep to wade. There is also a section in the middle consisting of deep pools choked with fallen trees, beyond our efforts to remove, which most people will want to skip. At the very least it's all good fish cover and the silt in some of the pools should mean mayfly latter in the spring. On my first try it took me 6 hours to work up the whole beat. The Llynfi is hardly a typical Wye tributary as rather than coming out of the hills it drains the great lake at Llangorse, which is certainly famous for its pike. According to legend, there was also a distant time when salmon would ascend this little stream and even appear in the lake on occasions. Note that this part of the Llynfi is above the section affected by the pollution incident last year.
Dave Collins from West Herefordshire was fishing his club water at Gilwern on the 6th, found conditions difficult with grannom and march browns hatching here and there, but managed 8 trout to 15 inches. On the 7th, AL from London was out with a friend on Glan yr Afon and they got 9, including a couple of 2 pounders, using dries and spiders during a mixed hatch of all three expected species - large dark olives, march browns and grannom sedge. DH from Swansea with a friend fished the Glanusk Tymawr / Canal and Rivers Trust water and got 8. Grannom were in the air but nothing seemed to be rising. AH from Sherborne had to use heavy nymphs in the fast water to get 4 from Abercynrig, one of them being an 18 inch fish. The same angler had 5 trout on the dry fly from the Penpont beat of the upper river on the 8th, while AS from Newent used a French leader outfit and nymphs to fish the streamy water at the head of Glan y Cafn to catch 11.
On the 9th, RG from Llandrindod Wells went up to Llyn Bugeilyn and got half a dozen trout on an Alder Fly despite a cold NW wind making conditions difficult, "...but a special place." On the 10th I was encouraged to see that GM from Exeter with a friend fished the Monnow at Skenfrith and had half a dozen trout, so hopefully that river is cheering up after its pollution incident. On the 11th, KB from Bath also tried Llyn Bugeilyn, and he too got half a dozen, using flies like Bibio and Mallard and Claret which were intended for exactly this kind of fishing. On the 12th LB from London got 6 from the Usk at Fenni Fach while AG from Helston had a dozen small trout from the Wye at Gromain and Upper Llanstephan. NG from Dilwyn fished the Usk's Cefn Rhosan Fawr on the 13th and had three super fish - 15, 15 and 19 inches - using a Tungsten Hare's Ear nymph in the fast water. On the same day my friend SC from Llandeilo Graban started with a morning on the Cammarch Brook, where he found very little doing. After lunch he switched to the Edw at Hergest where he had 8 trout on the duo method. The Edw is a great little stream and has been producing good fishing consistently since the early days of the Passport. GW on the 14th reported on what I think must have been a block booking: four anglers on Dinas and Abercynrig had a total of 34, mostly on dry fly. Two more anglers fishing Fenni Fach had 18 between them, mostly on nymphs.
On the 15th, HW from Penclawdd had 6 on nymphs from Cwmwysg Ganol. On the 15th NB from Chelmsford reported 3 trout from the Clettwr gorge and also wondered about the bodies or shells of two white clawed crayfish he found up there. Given the location, I would be prepared to bet that an otter had something to do with that. On the 16th, IC from Gloucestershire managed 6 trout from the little Dore at Chanstone Court. On the same day JL from London found better conditions on the Usk at Dinas, with an overcast sky and march browns hatching. He managed 9 trout to 15 inches on a Jingler dry fly. On 17th BP from Pembridge took 11 from the Edw at Hergest on nymphs and dries.
On the same day, MD from Barry reported another infringement of the canoeing agreement, this time at the Rectory on the Upper Wye. So many of the canoeists I meet on the lower river are charming people, interested to ask about the fishing as they pass you and concerned to avoid spoiling it. But then there are those who just don't care, either about the law of trespass or other people's sport, and this group, it seems, was one of the second kind. I often wonder where this disagreement about our non-navigable rivers will finish up. Clearly the canoe lobby have no legal case for the free access everywhere which they are seeking and an attempt to prove otherwise in court has already proved expensive for them in legal costs. However, the risk is that they may eventually convince politicians hungry for votes that anglers and riparian owners represent a sort of small and reactionary patrician elite, whereas canoeists represent the urban masses (with lots of votes) desperate to enjoy the countryside and the fresh air. That would hardly be the case in much of Wales, where a good deal of fishing is club water, available to everyman at a very reasonable price. Still, there is a concern that the law of access might eventually be changed, possibly following some mass action like the Kinder Scout Trespass of 1932 which resulted in the opening of the Pennine moors.
On the 19th, TD from Amport found better conditions at Abercynrig, where he found march browns hatching in the middle of the day. He got 5 to 15 inches, using nymphs and a dry Jingler. On the 20th Dave Collins fished the Usk above Gilwern again and got, I think, 8 by various methods. On the 21st RW from Hereford had half a dozen from Craig Llyn. On the same day, JE from Cheltenham reported a fine catch of 6 wild trout from Talybont Reservoir, all of them between 1 and 2 lbs. On the 22nd, Simon Evans from the Foundation went to fish the new Usk beat at Greenbank with his 6 year old son. In difficult conditions, he was very happy to take 7 trout, the best three fish weighing 1 lbs 10 ounces, 2 lbs and 3 lbs 4 ounces. The big ones were taken with a nymph fished under a dry fly in the fast water at the head of a pool. And the catch return for young Master Evans? Simon didn't tell us. On the 23rd DH from Gloucester got 9 from the Bideford Brook, mostly on nymphs. PL from Monmouth with a friend fished the Usk at Penpont and had 12 trout in difficult low water conditions. On 26th CH from Bromsgrove had 6 from Glan yr Afon, including a large one, while DP from Barrow fished the Wye at Abernant, also for 6 trout. One of these he caught on a spider during a hailstorm while four F16s screamed overhead. For those who visit us and may not know it, low-level military training flights are a familiar feature of the valley and may include anything from fast jets to Chinook or Apache helicopters. I must admit I rather enjoy these as I look up from the river, particularly the big C130 Hercules heavy lift aircraft from RAF Lyneham which come banking from side to side and rumbling between the hills. It is noisy for a few seconds but, after all, it normally happens only once a day. The fish don't seem to mind and I know for a fact the pilots enjoy themselves. Once we had the treat of seeing a Spitfire and Hurricane from the Battle of Britain Flight, which I think were headed for the Royal Welsh show.
On the 28th, CH from Bromsgrove had a large catch from the Wye's Abernant beat on the dry fly with plenty of trout rising, but on the 29th AS from Newent found almost no rises and resorted to nymphs to take 7 trout from the fast water. Llyn Bugeilyn continued to fish well. On the 26th, JA from Leominster had 11 up there and on the 29th RS from Upton on Severn, inspired he tells us by George Barron's book At the End of the Line, reported 14. It strikes me as interesting that Llyn Bugeilyn has fished so well, so early. Here we are struggling to find rising fish on the rivers and blaming the cold weather for it, while up at Bugeilyn, which is around 1500 feet higher and certainly colder, those little black-finned trout are apparently keen to hit flies on or near the surface. At any rate, although it may be a long trip up to the lake, there is something special about the Bugeilyn experience; reporters seem to be bubbling with enthusiasm and you have the idea that they returned from the hill with a broad grin on their faces. Those are the reports to hand at the time of writing; no doubt there will be some more from the bank holiday weekend.
There are three rather interesting articles in the April edition of Fly Fishing and Fly Tying. One is by Malcolm Greenhalgh, a widely experienced northern angler, on the subject of rare fly dressing materials and the law. Malcolm is a spider fisher supreme - he was brought up on them - and he is at least as interested as I am in some of the older fly dressings. The problem is that a number of the animals and birds used for their hair and feathers in older patterns are now protected by law. These creatures are not necessarily so rare today - conservation law having been relatively successful in many cases - but it was always my understanding that you would be on the wrong side of the law and liable to prosecution if you were found in possession of their plumage or pelts. Malcolm, backed up by Steve Cooper of Cookshill Fly Tying, tells us this is not so, and what is in fact illegal is trading in such materials. Provided you don't buy and sell them, it is perfectly legal to pick up what you may come across: heron feathers found by the waterside for example, or material snipped off accidental road-kills (if you don't mind the slightly grisly task). So that unfortunate young badger which was hit by a car last night might donate some bristles for an old sea trout pattern, or that tawny owl lying in the roadside gutter could provide the wing feather originally defined for some of the Bustard flies.
Malcolm is a game shooter and a wild fowler as well as a fly-dresser, so has always been in a good position to pick up plenty of material from hares, pheasants, partridge, grouse, woodcock etc, for which there has never been legal protection. However, he does add the slightly discouraging note that in the case of finds or road kill, you might be wise to remove all doubt by providing some kind of proof that you did so legitimately. Apart from the fact that I always thought you would be innocent until proved guilty under British law, that idea of the need for proof worries me slightly and I would not like to find myself under suspicion from the environmental protection agencies or the police who probably have better things to do.
There are a couple of points to make here. The first is that the amount of material actually needed to make fishing flies is very small compared to the amount on the animal itself. Even in the case of materials legitimately sold on the market, pressure for fly-tying materials alone is unlikely to have much effect on a species. To look at the lower end of the scale, a single mole skin from which is scraped grey dubbing fur for spider bodies lasts me for many years. A flight feather from a large bird like a Canada goose to make herl bodies will provide hundreds of flies. The second is that there is almost always a substitute, in fact a substitute so like the original as to make little difference in the performance of the fly. Marabou plumes, sold in vast quantities for making modern rainbow trout lures, these days don't come from the Asian marabou stork at all, but from domestic turkeys. I tie some emerger patterns which call for strands of condor herl to make the body; however, fear not, the brown dyed material doesn't come from the famous Andean bird but something like goose. Starling wing feathers substitute acceptably for blackbird and stocks still seem to be available. Hen pheasant wing usually substitutes for owl. There is no need whatever to make an Orange Otter from dyed otter fur (although Malcolm Greenhalgh did so as an experiment, using road-kill), but a mixture of orange and claret seal's fur will do the job equally well.
Seal's fur itself is a slightly odd one; we thought at one time it would become unavailable, but today there is plenty to be had as a few seals are legally culled. Again, the quantities used are very small. Waterhen (moorhen) wings used for the famous Waterhen Bloa are an ongoing problem; there are never enough of them on the market, mainly because it is a friendly little bird which countrymen are so fond of that nobody wants to shoot it. However, you can use coot as a substitute, although in that case you should use the upper rather than the lower wing coverts and, to be honest, the fibres are coarse by comparison with the original. Golden plover is a problem and I have read that during the 19th century this charming bird was made almost extinct by overshooting, partly for the fly dressing market. Hare's Lug and Plover is the spider pattern I like to make from this material, but a speckled Brahma hen cape dyed golden olive seems to make a perfectly good substitute and the cape I bought a few years ago will see me out, I am sure.
The same magazine also carries an article by Bob Wyatt on the evolution of modern fly patterns. Bob Wyatt, it will be remembered from his book What Trout Want: the Educated Trout and Other Myths, reviewed in the March 2016 newsletter, is one who believes in working on presentation rather than imitation and who carries no more than a handful of patterns in different sizes. The general message of this latest article is that there are very few really original ideas in fly pattern design. I suppose I would have to agree with that and I certainly haven't come up with any original designs myself. The slight modification of an Irish mayfly pattern, the Gosling, for use on our rivers is as much as I can claim. Bob Wyatt, famously, claims his recommended patterns - Deer Hair Emerger, Hair Wing Sedge, Hare's Ear Nymph, Snowshoe Hare Emerger, Dirty Duster, Grey Hackle and Grey Boy are all you will ever need. Mr Wyatt is very fond of deer hair and hare's fur as you can see, but presumably doesn't need to spend so much on hackle capes! However, he fishes now in the New Zealand back country and I wonder if his trout see as many artificial flies as ours do. Can they in fact be as darned awkward as Usk trout sometimes are? After reading his book, I tied up an experimental box containing nothing but Bob Wyatt's flies in different sizes. It even has his name written on the front of it. One of these days, I'm going to pluck up the courage to go out with the Wyatt box alone and see how I do.
Finally, there is an article by Yorkshireman Oliver Edwards, probably the best wet fly fisher we have in this country. His DVDs are certainly the best demonstration on film of the several ways in which spider fishing can be tackled. This latest article is about the grannom sedge hatch, which can be notoriously difficult to fish at times, and he suggests no less than 10 different patterns, his own and others. Oliver Edwards has spent a lot of time making close observations of British aquatic insects and is in touch with many others doing the same. And while he ties and fishes with impressionistic classics like the old spiders of the North, his own fly designs are usually highly imitative and therefore quite complicated to tie. This makes me smile somewhat, as he is a great fan of the upstream wet fly fishing style of the 19th century angler WC Stewart as expressed in The Practical Angler. And yet Stewart himself mainly relied on three simple impressionistic spider patterns. At least one of the Edwards patterns given here is still at the experimental stage and the article itself is to some extent an insight into work in progress. Take it as an honest attempt to understand the complicated business of the grannom hatch. What interested me about it is his explanation that there is can be a vulnerable stage in the grannom's emergence, lasting no more than three seconds or so, when it lies flat in the film before fluttering off. This brief stage of inactivity is very attractive to the frantically feeding trout. Which prompts me to think I could suggest one more pattern, the Super Pupa of Lennart Bergqvist, tied small in an olive/grey colour, which sometimes works for me when the grannom are coming off. Personally, I have spent a lot of time trying out different caddis patterns with grannom in mind, but this year I did well enough with a little Hair Wing Sedge when flies were clearly being taken at the surface, and with Hare's Lug and Plover or Louis Noble's Grannom spiders when I think pupae were being taken below the surface.
Some more good news worth pointing out, although this is mainly for salmon anglers. Until the coarse season opens on 16th June, Upper and Middle Hill Court have been combined into one large beat in two sections, now to be known as simply Hill Court. These come either side of Goodrich Court (reserved all season for salmon) and together the whole thing comprises nearly all of Robert Pashley's old fishing haunts. These now include such famous catches as Hom Pill and Pashley's Crib at the top end and the Rope, Parson Stream, Ford Stream and Marl Bed at the bottom. In comparison with much of the lower Wye, this particular part of the river is remarkable for the amount of fly water it includes. Another good one, I predict, will be new lower Usk beat at Greenbank. As a salmon or a trout rod is the same price (25 lbs), you can make your choice and bring along tackle for both species. I suspect it will generally be of more of interest to the trout anglers and there are certainly plenty of trout in it. Simon Evans from the Foundation tried it this month and had a superb leash of trout in his catch - see above - even while conditions on the day were generally difficult. I tried it a few days later and, on arrival, realised that years before I had fished the top end of it from the opposing bank. This was an early spring trip with David Burren, on a rather expensive Llanover day ticket, and as I recall we did quite well fishing dry flies and spiders with an exciting large dark olive hatch after lunch. On this occasion, fishing from the Greenbank side, rises were suppressed by a cold wind so there was nothing doing with the dry fly, but I had some nice fish on spiders in the fast runs. It is a very easy beat to wade and fish with some very wide and open gravel pools and the sort of foamy, swirling corners where duns get trapped on the surface. Given some rising fish over those pool tails, I imagine it would be difficult to get through it all in a day. There is also a civilized charm about a beat where the river runs around three sides of one enormous sheep pasture. Wherever you are on the water, you are never too far away from the car, lunch and the coffee flask. We older anglers appreciate such personal comforts! Unfortunately this one is only available weekends and Mondays.
Let's try some practical advice for trout fishing next month. If the climate will only behave, we should finally have some easier fishing in warmer weather as we get into May, together with some different aquatic flies to imitate. It's also reasonable to hope that the smaller streams will open up. Olive uprights, already with us, are likely to be the mainstay on the Monnow and many other rivers. Despite the slightly misleading name, this one is not so closely related to the baetis family of olives but to those flies with the flat bodied stone clinger type of nymph, so in fact it is a closer cousin to the march browns and yellow mays. Look for a medium or largish up-wing with a straw coloured body. I find an Adams or, even better, a parachute Adams, usually works for trout interested in these. You may also encounter something which looks very like a march brown, but has a yellowish tinge to the leading edges of the wings. This is the large brook dun - again, already appearing in places - and any march brown imitation you have faith in should work on fish which are interested in the natural. Try a March Brown Jingler or a large Deer Hair Emerger. Sometime from the middle of May onwards, hatching from those tributaries with pockets of silt (needed for the nymphs to make their burrows) we should start to see the true mayflies. The Monnow and Lynfi systems stand out together with the Herefordshire and Shropshire streams, but mayflies are found in many other places. These large white flies, where they exist, should carry us through until mid-June and even beyond. There is a plethora of mayfly patterns available, but I am going to put my faith in the Mohican Mayfly (which I like to put on because it is so big and so much fun to see it attacked and taken) and also the smaller, duller, but very deadly Monnow Gosling (scroll back to the April 2017 letter for a dressing). One more insect to watch out for is the little iron blue, which has a tolerance for bad weather and is quite easy to miss on the surface as it is one of the very smallest up-winged flies. However, when it shows up trout often show a definite preference for it over anything else which may be hatching. There are plenty of nymph patterns available; for the dun I get on well enough with a little F-fly dressed with a mole fur body on claret thread.
Finally, we already have salmon smolts on the gravel flats in our rivers, silvered up and ready to go to sea on the next flood. They are very willing to grab little flies, wet or dry. Move your location if you catch more than one or two. Meanwhile, unhook them as carefully as possible, and pop them back kindly with a wish to meet again in two or three years.
Oliver Burch www.wyevalleyfishing.com
For most people in my part of the world, March can be defined by birdsong, nesting rooks, the first green appearing in the hedgerows, daffodils, Cheltenham races and Irish voices around the pubs and B&Bs. For anglers like you and me it's also a matter of watery sunlight on the river, blustery winds at times and with luck the sight of flotillas of duns floating down the swollen Usk. To make everything just perfect, the surface will be marked by excited and splashy rises from the first trout of the year. In fact our 2017 season opened with flooded rivers everywhere, and for days it seemed there was nothing much to do but sit indoors tying up more flies. At the same time I was marvelling at how well the barbel fishermen manage to succeed in conditions which would be impossible for game anglers. This of course was at the end of their season on the middle and lower Wye. Provided the water is not too cold, they seem to be able to catch even when the level is many feet above normal and muddy to boot. The rainbow trout reservoirs of South Wales were open by this time and plenty of reporters seemed to catch their limits fishing from the banks.
During this period of waiting, along came a message from the WUF with at least one reason to be cheerful. It turns out that Llyn Bugeilyn is going to be available on the Passport this year, contrary to earlier information in this letter. I am so pleased about this! An expedition to this remote mountain tarn is an experience thoroughly to be recommended and I will look forward to that in the summer. Another piece of news heard via the Merthyr Tydfil Angling Association is that all fishing for wild browns on Talybont Reservoir, another remarkable water, is to be catch and release this year.
While floods were slowly subsiding on the Usk and Upper Wye, the Taff and some of the other Valleys rivers came first into fishing condition, and thus their anglers were on the water and ahead of the rest of us by a couple of days. There was a report of a remarkable 6 pounds fish taken on a Pheasant Tail Nymph from the Rhymney and Daniel Popp and Ceri Thomas sent in some pictures of excellent Taff trout in peak condition. Also, it turned out that two sportsmen who did manage to start early on the Usk were AL and AT from London who contrived to fish successfully at Dinas on 4th March. As I recall, the river level then must have been pretty high, but they did well with 23 trout during a hatch of large dark olives during the morning and march browns after lunch. This seemed a very good early result, but the rest of us waited through another week of floods until the level dropped and river catches started again in earnest.
From around the 10th, fishing on the middle and upper Usk became practical at last. We were blessed then with some mild and cloudy days, and both large dark olive and march brown hatches were in evidence at once. These weather conditions produced sometimes extended hatches as fly slowly trickled off and this was just what was needed. On Friday 10th AH from Sherborne had 3 to 1:75 pounds at Ashford House, using an Olive Nymph. AL of London was back at Dinas on the same day and took 11 fish to 1:75 pounds. On the 11th, AH from Sherborne fished Ashford House again and had a 2:50 pound fish in his brace of trout, taken on an Olive Emerger. And AL of London fished Glan yr Afon for 3 fish, including a 2 pounder, taken on dries, again during large dark olive and march brown hatches. On the same day, one very large trout in a bag of 7 was reported by HW from Swansea, who was fishing the upper river at Cefn Rhosan Fawr. It was taken with a nymph and HW was justifiably thrilled with it - see the photograph. On the 13th, a very windy day, Dave Collins from Herefordshire was out on the middle Usk at Gilwern, again with some large dark olives and march browns about, and took 7 trout to 1:50 pounds by various methods. Also on the 13th, BS from Bristol had half a dozen trout from the Monnow at Skenfrith using nymphs. On the same day and the same beat, JH from Usk fished nymphs through the fast water to get 9 trout and 3 grayling.
It's outside my remit, but about this time as the Wye was coming into condition, the first 2017 salmon began to be reported from the upper/middle section of the river. These were multi-sea winter fish in the high twenties and low thirties of pounds, proper Wye springers. One fish of 32 pounds was taken at Wyeside by 88 year old Mr Ernest Coleman. I like the sound of that and his example would be one for us all to emulate if we are spared for later years of fishing. Mr Coleman, when I grow up, I want to be just like you! Another of the big spring salmon, a cock fish estimated at 35 pounds, was taken by Terry Ward fishing at Lower Winforton in the Cow Pond. This was the slow deep pool, part of a fishery belonging to her father, where in 1923 Doreen Davey took the record Wye fish of 59:50 pounds. Ms Davey was just 18 years old at the time, the gillie had to light a fire to see by when the fish was landed after nightfall, and she became a celebrity overnight, with several offers of marriage received through the post. It's worth noting that Ms Davey used a minnow, while Mr Ward caught his on a fly fished with a floating line and sink tip after seeing it move. Before we knew it, more fish were being reported from as far upstream as the Nyth and down below Monmouth at Wyesham. TS from Brecon was also salmon fishing upstream at Llangoed and Lower Llanstephan on the 15th. He had a take to the salmon fly at the foot of Llangoed Rapids, which turned out to be a trout of 23 inches - possibly 4 pounds. It is remarkable how often salmon anglers bump into large trout, especially at this time of year. I was fishing the beat downstream (the Rectory) on the same day and saw plenty of trout rising to olives and march browns, but sadly my salmon fly, a Black and Yellow tube, remained untouched. On the 16th, NG from Hereford came for his salmon fishing day on the Rectory and saw a great hatch of Large Dark Olives. Wisely perhaps, he changed rods and took 8 trout on a dry CDC Olive.
On the 17th, AL from London was back on the Usk, this time at Glan y Cafn just above Abergavenny. He took a dozen trout using spiders and a dry CDC Dun, but also voiced some reservations about the ticket price of 35 pounds for a trout fishing day, especially given the poor access and rickety condition of the walkway along the beat. That walkway has been quite precarious in places for a while, and I think I saw from across the water recently that there has been a landslip halfway down the beat. Glan y Cafncan certainly produce a large trout on occasions, but then so can most Usk beats. I suppose market prices are all a matter of opinion, availability of money, supply and demand. However, I will weigh in on behalf of the punters with my own humble opinion, which is that I would still like to see the normal ticket price for a day of main river trout or grayling fishing in this part of the world pegged at 20 pounds. If it's more than that, I would like to think there is a good reason, which might include one of the following: there is a resident keeper carrying out bankside maintenance; there is an unusually long stretch of fishing available by comparison with the typical mile or so; the fishing is quite exceptionally good and there are records to prove it; stock fish are being put in (you may indeed not want them, but they certainly cost money!) As stated, this is just my opinion - nobody likes inflation but value is a matter of human perception. And pretty good Usk fishing is still available for a 15 pounds day ticket.
It was all change again on the 17th and 18th as rain and floods returned. A series of wet days produced floods almost everywhere and for quite a period small streams were the only option as we waited again for water levels to fall. J from Mynddbach fished the Forest of Dean's Bideford Brook on the 23rd and got 8 of its little trout using a Gold Bead Hare's Ear. By the 24th the top of the Usk was just about back in condition again and it was possible to fish at Brecon and above. However, the conditions were not as ideal as at the beginning of the month. While high pressure weather allowed the land to dry out, nights were cold, the sun was bright and a cold wind from the East tended to restrict the number of fly hatching. Big temperature swings are never the best background for spring fishing. On some days I found that spiders worked better than the dry fly.
MW from Salisbury with a friend fished at Dinas on the 24th and they had 16 trout between them, mainly during a march brown hatch at the bottom of the beat. The same team fished upstream at Fenni Fach on the 25th and took 9 trout to 14 inches, noting a relatively sparse hatch of march browns and large dark olives. On the same day, LE from Usk with a friend fished Ashford House, John Henderson's famous water, and took 11 trout, again during a 90 minute march brown hatch. Meanwhile, Dave Collins from W Herefordshire fished downstream on the Gwent AS water at Gilwern and took 10 trout, mainly on his own March Brown emerger patterns. He saw the first grannom sedge of the year that day, although the fish did not seem to be reacting. I was elsewhere at the time, but I heard that a little downstream on the Mardy beat one pool had a quite spectacular grannom hatch on the same afternoon and that on this occasion the trout did sit up and take notice. It's curious to note that, for two years running now, the first grannom of the season have been recorded on the 25th March, while this was formerly an insect we associated with mid-April hatching. Also on the 25th, BS from Bristol fished the Bideford Brook and took 7 trout on goldhead nymphs. On the 26th, TP from Burcough was disappointed to catch 6 trout from Fenni Fach above Brecon. On the next day JP from Caerphilly fished at Chainbridge and had 5 during a dark olive hatch with some grannom showing also. Meanwhile SF from Blaydon on Tyne also had 5 on the dry fly from Dinas. BS from Bristol fishing at Dinas on the same day also had half a dozen. MC from Arsenal reported illegal canoeing on the middle Usk at Glan yr Afon, a part of the river where this problem constantly occurred last year. Judging from MC's account, the paddlers were fully aware of the legal situation, but determined to carry on regardless. On the 28th we had our first report from Llyn Bugeilyn. JA from Leominster went up to the lake, fortunately found at least half-way reasonable weather conditions given the early season, and had 6 with a Clan Chief and a spider pattern. Dave Collins was fishing the Usk at Gilwern again that day and found the weather conditions cold and difficult as he took 5 trout. At about this point, the showers came back although the weather was slightly warmer. By the end of the month, both main rivers and most of the tributaries were once more up in flood and yet again we were kicking our heels and waiting to re-start our spring fishing. I think I will remember the fishing of this March of 2017 as occasionally excellent, but for much of the time quite frustrating due to the conditions. Looking on the bright side, we have some dry weather forecast for early April.
Here are a few thoughts which came to mind as I was paddling around with a fly rod this month. Squabbling wild fowl are much in evidence at this time of year. Normally I think trout are familiar enough with the sight of a duck passing overhead and it doesn't do the fishing too much harm if there isn't undue disturbance. But the other day I found myself on a small stream with a menage a trois of two mallard drakes and a duck upstream of me. They were noisily trying to sort out their marital arrangements and they kept moving just one pool ahead of me all the way up the beat. Every time I moved up, they moved up to the next pool and they continued to quarrel and splash, trying to work out who would do what and with which and to whom. Meanwhile I wasn't catching much. Does anybody know a solution for this problem? I suppose I should have skipped a hundred yards or two of fishing to get above them and then rejoined the stream.
Rivers move their beds and sometimes it happens with surprising speed. The results are always noticeable in the spring. The gravel of the main pool at Pwll y Faedda on the Wye changed over the last couple of years to form a new central ridge, and the current now runs diagonally across the pool instead of straight down. Trout and grayling have changed their lies to suit. Several seasons ago at Brecon, when the water was high and rising, I nearly scared the life out of myself trying to cross the Usk at my usual place. The winter floods had eroded the formerly secure ford into a deep and dangerous trench. Small streams, unless they run over rocky ground, change their positon even faster as the water moves gravel and silt around. Deep holes are filled in over a couple of floods and new ones are scoured out in the same time. The sinuous stream moves sideways over the flood plain, the water cutting into an eroding cliff on the side of the current while the land reclaims the slack side, first with silt and then with weeds. Trees are undermined, pushed over, broken up and finally carried away. The Monnow is a stream which, once out of the mountains, runs mostly through sandy pastures and it moves its bed with every flood. Once this river rises, its muddy torrents can be dramatic. On one upper Monnow water where I fish, a peninsula of soft sandtopped with grass, once part of a sheep field, was cut through at the neck a couple of winters ago. We could all see it was going to happen, but when it finally did, events moved with surprising speed. A long curving U-bend of the river was deprived, first of flow and then of open water. Today it mostly consists of mud and the places where we used to cast a mayfly for trout are good for wildfowl and maybe frogs, but not to find a trout. As some sort of consolation, there is a new pool with a fast run where the river made its cut through and there is a good place in it where last spring I caught a couple of decent fish, right by a submerged tree stump.
During the days in which we were beset by floods and not having much else to do, I carried right on in the office tying up new flies. Looking through the fishing literature, I find it interesting how fashions in fly patterns have come and gone. Take the evolution of the wet fly into the modern nymph. The nymph as created by Skues was designed to fish below the surface all right, but was not really capable of sinking far or fast, due to a lack of weight and the inclusion of a hackle, albeit a sparse one, which would delay sinking at any speed. Frank Sawyer and Oliver Kite after him were adamant that they were after depth at all costs, and therefore their nymphs had added copper wire as weight and were without hackles, as streamlined as possible to get down to the bottom without delay. We have gone on in the same direction for years, imitating only the outline of the head, body and tail of the larval insect and finding ways to add more and more weight, firstly with lead wire, and then brass and tungsten beads. Just lately there seems to have been a slight reversal of the process, because fly-dressers are becoming concerned to imitate legs again, usually by adding a sort of fringe of CDC fibres behind the bead. The idea is that these fibres must wave, perhaps in a life-like way, perhaps like moving legs, as the weight of the bead pulls the pattern down towards the bottom. At the same time, they must slow down the sinking process very slightly. Do trout and grayling appreciate them? It's hard to say; I can't claim to have noticed any difference.
In a similar vein, looking through my trout fly boxes the other day, I was turning over some old Usk patterns which brought back happy memories. As I mentioned, fashions come and go with fishing tackle and perhaps with fly patterns more than any other item. Now I am not one for using any vintage fishing equipment just for the sake of it. For example, I cannot imagine wishing to use any kind of wooden fly rod again - modern carbon fibre is just too good by comparison and even today is still being developed to improved performance. There are those who claim silk fly lines had their advantages in terms of lightness and delicacy and they are being manufactured again for a niche market. I have never used one and so can't comment, although the cost and extra maintenance required to look after them don't make the idea very attractive. When leader nylon first arrived on the market, a number of anglers stuck with gut for a while. This was because some of the early nylon brands were quite unreliable. This had certainly changed within a very few years and nylon swept the board. Who wants to tie pieces of drawn silkworm gut together now?
At the same time, there are some items of equipment which have improved in design much less than we like to imagine. I would suggest fly reels come into this category. We convinced ourselves for a time that we needed large arbours and disc drags for our trout fishing. But do we, in reality? What we really need are well engineered reels of a weight to balance our rods and these were certainly available in the past. Whether or not there is a drag, I definitely want a properly made click check which works in both directions. Even now I defy anybody to fish with a Hardy Model Perfect reel and claim that he didn't enjoy the experience. That is why the design is still in production today, 120 years on. I still spend quite a lot oftime in chasing down old hand-made hooks, but purely because I find many of them are better made and certainly better tempered than the machine-made hooks on the market today. I don't think hook design has really been improved much at all, except perhaps for some of the East European heavy nymph patterns. What has changed is that the manufacturing process has been automated, but I don't believe we have a better product at the end of it all.
Fly patterns, I think, come into much the same category. We have some new materials and a host of ideas and theories from fishing writers, which the magazines are certainly quick to publicise. As a result, fly patterns are more affected by fashion than almost any other angling item. But that doesn't mean that older patterns have automatically become obsolete. I will be the first to applaud significant modern developments - PTN, Klinkhammer, F-fly etc - but most of the masters of this sport, if they really know what they are talking about, will also accept the pole position occupied even now by such ancient designs as the North Country spiders. These still nail fish just as efficiently as they did a couple of hundred years ago. I would like to point out that if you read the magazines regularly, you may be getting no more than an early look at some patterns which have not had a very long trial. Angling writers, some of them, just love the idea of getting their name on a fly pattern, and in any case they will likely have an editor pressing them all the time to come up with new ideas. You could certainly call some of these "me too patterns" and many of them will be totally forgotten in a year or two.
On the other hand, if you are keen to fill your fly box by tying up patterns which really do work, you could do worse than look into the angling history of your local area for designs. Have due regard for how they were intended to be used and the season in which they were intended to be used. Courtney Williams' Dictionary of Trout Flies is one very good source, and is definitely still unsurpassed as a wide-ranging survey of trout and grayling flies which have been, or were, in use for a long period of time. When in doubt, why not check with the local tackle shop? I know for sure that Jean Williams at Sweet's Tackle Shop in Usk would suggest some reliable flies for our local rivers. Anyway, it's always good to call in on Jean and find out what is going on. Arthur Ransome once wrote: "The pleasures of fishing are chiefly to be found in rivers, lakes and tackle shops and, of the three, the last are the least affected by the weather." To return to the main subject, I would rather put my money on a fly pattern which established a reputation as a fish-killer over 50 years of use, than one I have just read about in a magazine. To summarise, if you are an experimental fly dresser, don't miss trying out some of the old well-proven ideas along with the new ones, which may or may not turn out to be important.
Spiders, in the strictly North Country sense, were not much used on the Usk in the past, but some down and across wet flies certainly were. Many of these had throat hackles and stream-lined wings designed for easy entry through the surface, the kind of fly design which today mainly survives for loch-style fishing for wild brown trout. There is still something to be said for fishing a team of three wets down and across, particularly in the spring when the water is high, and the wide gravel pools of the middle and lower Usk do suit the style. Here then are a few old-timers which I have found useful over the years:
There must be few anglers who don't know the story of the invention of this fly by Canon Greenwell, and eventually it became world-famous. It's an olive imitation of course and certainly works well when thelarge dark olives are coming off the Usk. What isn't always appreciated is that, while it became famous as a dry fly and Canon Greenwell who survived and fished until 1918, when he was 97 years old, must have lived to see that, the original version from 1854 must surely have been fished wet and would have been intended as such. The important points about the dressing are the coch y bonddu hackle and the colour of the body which combines pale yellow silk darkened with brown wax and a glint of gold wire. When wet, this has a perfect brown/olive effect. Here it is:
Hook: 12 or 14 wet fly
Thread: Yellow silk (Pearsall's no 3) well waxed with dark brown cobbler's wax to give the olive effect.
Rib: Fine gold wire
Throat hackle: Coch y Bonddu hen
Wing: Hen blackbird or substitute starling
This is a very interesting pattern which I discovered by chance. I would really like to find more about its history, which is slightly obscure, so please let me know if you can add to or correct the information I have here. The folk at Glanusk Park did not know about it when I gave them one. My understanding so far is that it was invented by Captain Alfred Crawshay of the famous iron-master's family and used for fishing at Dan y Parc and Glanusk during the 1920s. Capt. Crawshay had been in the Royal Flying Corps during the First War and I believe he was killed quite young in a flying accident around 1930. I tend to think of this pattern as the "Millionaire's Fly" by virtue of the inventor's family background; be that as it may, I promise you that it is a wonderful fish-taker. Like the previous fly, it is intended for olive feeders. There is something very effective about the blend of dull grey mole fur and yellow rib in its colouring:
Hook: size 12 wet fly
Tail: Honey dun hackle fibres
Rib: Thick yellow silk
Body: Mole fur
Throat hackle: honey dun hen
Wing: Starling or coot
This is probably the best-known of the old Usk wet flies. Sometimes it is misnamed "Nailer" which is not surprising because it certainly works with great efficiency. However, my understanding is that it was invented by a Mr Naylor who was associated with the Worcester Cottages section of the middle river. This is another one for the early olive hatches. Interestingly the colours used in it - blue, purple, dun, gold - are distinctly similar to Oliver Kite's Imperial dry fly, also intended to be used during the large dark olive hatches:
Hook: 12 or 14 wet fly
Tail: Blue dun fibres
Rib: Fine gold wire
Body: Strands of bronze mallard
Hackle: Blue dun hen
Grouse and Silver, Grouse and Gold
These are two general purpose wet flies by the late Stuart Jarvis, former river keeper at Glanusk Park. Stuart had charge of the estate's shooting as well as the fishing, and he once told me he thought a good river keeper should be able to construct a fly entirely from materials locally to hand. Pheasant tails can be picked up on any shoot; Welsh grouse, always good for sourcing a wet fly hackle, came from the high country of the estate; the shiny body materials were obtained by Stuart from family Christmas decorations. We can get it all from Veniards or one of the other specialists. Use the silver bodied version when the river is clear and the gold for when the water has some colour.
Hook: 12 wet fly
Tail: Cock pheasant tail fibres
Body: Silver or gold tinsel
Hackle: Grouse body feather
Around Brecon, the march brown insect was once known as the cob - a name I always associate with sturdy Welsh ponies. Moc Morgan in Trout and Salmon Flies of Wales gives three wet fly versions to imitate the march brown. The famous Leslie Peters of Brecon always recommended the Yellow Cob, but it is the Brecon Cob which I have found most useful of the three, usually fished on the point. Claret rather than red seal's fur seemed to work best for me in this pattern.
Rib: Fine gold wire
Body: Yellow seal's fur
Hackle: Brown partridge
Wing: Hen pheasant wing
Rib: Fine gold wire
Body: Orange floss silk
Hackle: Brown partridge
Wing: Hen pheasant wing
Rib: Fine gold wire
Body: Dark red silk or seal's fur (claret)
Hackle: Brown partridge
Wing: Hen pheasant wing
In the days before internet and mass media, development of fly patterns was a parochial matter, discussed at length between local anglers on the bank or in the pub, but dissemination of the knowledge was slow, particularly between regions. Slow but eventually sure - once an angler has taken a number offish on an unfamiliar pattern, the conviction tends to last. I remember an early riverside conversation with Stuart Jarvis during which we discovered that we both had a well-founded faith in the northern Waterhen Bloa spider for spring fishing. "A gentleman from Yorkshire first showed it to me," said Stuart. "I tried it out, found that it worked, and I've never looked back really."
Those are just a few of the old Usk patterns which have given me pleasure, but there are many more and if you really want a really comprehensive list of local flies, look in the pages of Roger Smith's Fly Fishing the Welsh Borderlands or Moc Morgan's Trout and Salmon Flies of Wales. I doubt there is time, even in a long angling life, to experiment thoroughly with them all. However, I have often thought it would be nice, remembering that old story by Skues of Mr Castwell, to spend eternity below some really difficult and picky trout, steady but choosy risers. I'm thinking of those Lugg fish in the deep hole by the ruins of the old footbridge at Middlemoor. Eternity would be spent working through boxes of dry flies trying to get a result. Some would find that experience fascinating; others infuriating. Would it be heaven or would it be hell? I think I would need a success just now and then to make it heaven.
I suspect I was one of many anglers who will have been pleased, if rather surprised, to read of the 20 million pound fine imposed by a Crown Court judge on Thames Water Co for a series of sewage pollution incidents affecting the Thame and upper Thames. On the way to Oxford, I used to peer over a bridge at the Thame, a pretty little river, although I never fished it. Downstream on the Thames, the polluted Marlow and Henley reaches were once the inspiration for The Wind in the Willows. We have become used to the idea that the wishes of angling and wildlife conservation lobbies are usually shouldered aside by "greater" needs: in particular the need to build more housing estates and supply water and other services to them. Once the problem was industrial pollution; today that is largely solved but instead we have the pressures of a growing population. Privatised water companies, today, are more reluctant to make long-term investments in assets such as reservoirs and new treatment plants. Thus, in a country with a naturally plentiful supply of water, we have become used to the idea that it is a more and more precious commodity. We are certainly getting less than our share of it as urbanisation continues and the schemes proliferate for abstraction, drilled boreholes in the water table and water transfer between rivers. Dams and reservoirs themselves have their downsides when we consider the needs of migratory fish. The problem of sewage pollution should have been resolved many decades ago. And yet we constantly hear the refrain that "exceptional flooding" resulted in a raw sewage overflow into a neighbouring river. Note that the overflow pipe always leads into the river - the fall-back scenario - although personally I would like to see the overflow pipe poised above the water company CEO's office carpet! In this case, it seems that the water company had a history of non-cooperation with the regulation process and for once the judge decided to impose an appropriate fine, one which could not be regarded by the company as just part of the cost of doing business. We are informed that measures will be taken to ensure that the cost of the fine is not handed on to the customer, but will come out of profits. Bravo, is my reaction to that decision! I suppose there might be an appeal.
Following the pollution incident on the Llynfi last year, the WUF's Llynfi Sirhowy AA beat above the tributary's junction with the Wye will be open this spring, but anglers are being asked to return everything caught. Also, those responsible for the Llynfi's fishing would be very pleased to read in the reports any information about fish seen rising or fleeing, quite apart from those caught. Hopefully this excellent fishing tributary will soon recover as new fish move in.
Two events for your diary: on Saturday 13th May the WUF and LAFA are holding a Wild Streams open day based on the Radnorshire Arms at Presteigne; and on Sunday 2nd July a Tenkara fishing event will be held at the Caer Beris Hotel near Builth Wells. Details can be had and bookings made via the WUF at www.fishingpassport.co.uk/shop or call 01874 712074.
After what has been, so far, a relatively dry winter with plenty of opportunities for grayling fishing, February opened with a fairly sustained period of high water on all our rivers. A little bit of rain at this time of the year goes a long way and once the Elan valley dams began to overtop again, the Wye kept high for quite a while. I'm not sure I would describe this period as a raging flood, but fishing had come to an end almost everywhere for the first half of the month. The Lugg and Arrow kept up above fishing height with the springs now running full. Only the Irfon, as usual, dropped off quickly into fishing condition, although not many anglers seem to have taken advantage. I admit it was pretty cold during early February and I certainly spent more time indoors tying flies for the coming season rather than on the river.
Halfway through the month temperatures rose and we were treated to some halcyon days, the kind that really make you want to go fishing. A few of us did and it was great fun, although the grayling had to be worked for. With some local advice, I got several good grayling from the Ithon, which was a first for me. Meanwhile the rivers were dropping steadily so that the Irfon became quite low and the upper Wye was at a good spring fishing level, as indeed was the Ithon. Only the Lugg and Arrow, slow as always to change their levels, remained stubbornly turbulent, green water swirling around their pools to make it difficult to sink nymphs effectively. On the 22nd it was all change again: although still warm, we had heavy rain in central Wales and a very sudden and steep rise in the upper Wye, Irfon and Ithon to a real muddy flood. The Doris storm swept in and the subsequent showers kept the rivers up so that no fishing would have been possible. The Monnow too, which had escaped the earlier rain, was now in flood. Balancing the water levels with the weather forecast at the end of the month, there seems to be every chance that we will start the new season with high water.
High water also called a halt to pruning activities on the wild streams. That was not so much of a problem as we were already quite well ahead with the work schedule for this winter. What has turned out to be especially helpful this time is the surprising number of people who have volunteered to "adopt" a favourite stream and to make pruning visits. I can recommend this approach as my experience is that if a stream has been trimmed once, subsequent annual light maintenance visits are relatively easy, particularly if you live close by. We all have our favourite or local streams and under this system it seems that much work has been achieved. Thank you to all who volunteered to adopt a stream or to join the main work parties. Particular thanks to the two volunteers who have adopted the whole Monnow system - a not inconsiderable task.
An era has come to an end for me. After a few years fishing the upper Wye at Pwll y Faedda near Erwood, I'm not taking a rod for the coming season, but will try some fishing a little further downstream at Gromaine and Boughrood instead. I will certainly have happy memories of the private fishery at Pwll y Faedda (the Churning Pool), where a magnificent black and white lodge in Arts and Crafts style was built by Lord Glanusk during the 1920s. This is a dramatic half mile of river, with a steep fall, fast gutters and wide pools - in fact almost every kind of upper Wye river characteristic in a short space. I have seen the original fishing log, a very elegant leather-bound volume provided by Harrods, which is still kept in the house. 1928 seems to have been the best of those years in which everybody was concentrated on springers; Lord Glanusk and his guests took 100 salmon averaging 18 pounds by the end of June. Those were the days! Some fishing with worms and prawns went on later in the season it seems, but not so much. There are many stories about this house, including the one that the King and Mrs Simpson were simultaneous guests, but I found no evidence for that in the fishing records - at least there is no salmon in the lists with either E or W written against it! Guests would have arrived by train in those days, the old Erwood station having been just across the river from the house (it's now a cafe). It is said that Lord Glanusk and his gillie used to drive across the pass from the family's Usk estate and his other fishing in a Morgan 3 wheeler. Traditionally much of this beat was fished by boat, but in recent years we have made the best of difficult wading on slippery rock to cover several hotspots on pool tails and in the mouths of rushing gutters. There are also some good gravel flats for grayling and trout. I seemed to lose a lot of fish last year (fellow rod Brian Skinner did better) but I will certainly remember the last salmon I took at Pwll y Faedda, in the final week of the 2016 season. It took a size 6 Bann Shrimp a very long way down in Isaacson's Run, went down further into the backing and jumped three or four times, a big black shape against foaming white water. Rather surprisingly, this one did not come off and subsequently allowed itself to be persuaded to my stance at the head of the pool: a 35 inch hen fish. Brian once described Isaacson's to me as "a flatterer," meaning that it "flatters to deceive," or is not quite the piece of salmon water that it looks to be. I have seen an old photograph showing Isaacson's with a series of useful stone cribs on the Brecon side, now mostly washed away, as well as a boat moored ready for use. It is not so easy to fish now, but salmon certainly still lie under that rush of water.
The coming month? In case anybody doesn't yet know it, we start the new trout and salmon season for the Wye and Usk on March 3rd. Every year, I find it quite difficult to sit down and write on a cold day at the end of February about what is going to happen in March, because so much is about to change. The signs of spring are there all right in February, from snow drops in clusters on the banks, to swelling buds which give distant woods a purple tinge on bright days, lambs in the pastures, early morning birdsong and of course the squabbling and frisky mallards on the pond. There is now noticeably enough power in the sun, when it shines, to warm the inside of the car through the glass. All this is encouraging and yet February itself can be the coldest month of all. Compared to other parts of the country, 3rd March is a relatively early start date for trout fishing. 1st April is more normal in Hampshire and the Home Counties and I can recall individual trout fisheries where the management felt 1st May was quite early enough. It follows that much, or even everything, will depend on the early spring weather and the fly hatches. You can very easily score a blank during our opening weeks. You might also be pleased to score a brace and if you do, they are likely to be very nice fish. Some of the best ones are caught at this time.
Those in the know usually look first towards the Usk for trout fishing at this time of year (the Wye tends to be just a little bit later in warming up, as do the small streams). Now the Usk, often cited as the favourite trout river of Welsh anglers, is a game river from top to bottom, although there are a few coarse fish, chub and barbel, in the lower reaches. I suppose that we could consider the Usk in three sections: the lower part from the tide around Newbridge up to Abergavenny; the middle river from Abergavenny to Brecon; and the upper river from Brecon to Sennybridge and on into the high hills beyond. The main characteristic of the lower and middle river is very much one of a steady gradient and easily fished gravel pools, and for the most part the valley is wide and pastoral. The exception is a rocky section of pocket water and gutters where the stream finds its way through deep gorges around Bwlch and Buckland. Above Brecon the Usk is different, with very little gravel and a steep gradient pouring water between deep salmon pools over sandstone slabs and tumbled broken rocks. Some very fine oaks overhang the water in what is now a narrow upland valley. "An overgrown version of the Escley Brook" somebody described this part of the Usk to me recently and small stream aficionados will understand what is meant by that. Even here there is an exception in the Penpont beat, which certainly includes some rocky sections, but also has gravel pools which are reminiscent of the lower and middle river.
To repeat, likely development of temperatures and possible fly hatches are the important considerations when planning spring fishing, particularly during March and early April. The altitude has a considerable effect on the progress of spring and what happens in the river. The lower and middle Usk valley seems to enjoy a particularly pleasant and favoured climate, although it is difficult to understand quite why. It is here, to my annual surprise, that I usually see the very first signs of growth - new leaves, flowers and blossom. This is always at just about the same time as a dusting of green in the thorn hedges along the Severn estuary, which has the obvious advantage of being warmed by the salt tides. However, the pass at Bwlch, where the valley narrows, forms a definite block to any mild breezes. The high mountains on either side have a cooling effect and when driving up the Usk valley it is always visibly clear that the section from Bwlch up to Brecon is several weeks behind. The higher valley to the west of Brecon is colder still so that by mid-April the spring here seems hardly started, while the tributaries above Sennybridge remain fixed in winter for even longer. You can certainly have a good day on the Usk in early March and with the winter behind them the fish can feed quite greedily. However, so early in the year, any hatch and the day's surface activity are likely to be quite short, even on the lower and middle sections. Personally, I would not start my fishing too far upstream during the early weeks. There is a very nice article by James Beeson in the March edition of Trout and Salmon about spring fishing on the Usk just above Brecon at Fenni Fach. Typically, James and his photographer encountered both fish rising to olives and a snow storm - but note their visit was during last April, not March.
Another matter I might mention is the reputation of the upper Usk for producing particularly large trout. I won't deny that some big ones have been taken between Sennybridge and Brecon, but this has resulted in something of a myth, in my humble opinion. The truth is that almost anywhere on the Usk, including the middle and lower sections, can and does produce large trout: 2 pounders are relatively common and 4 and 5 pounders are encountered every year. What is rather missing from the upper section is the population of smaller fish which I would like to see and I suspect that fish eating birds may be largely responsible. The ones I do catch often show signs of attack. There is a general lack of cover in those open rock-bottomed pools. (At the same time and while on the subject of large trout, don't overlook the possibility of a big one from the Wye, and not just from the upper river. The biggest river brown trout I ever saw was in the Wye - and no, I'm not saying exactly where! But the Wye certainly carries large trout, right down to the tide along with its coarse fish and salmon. Any salmon angler who spins or fishes fly on a sinking line in the middle and lower Wye during the spring will very likely tell you stories of superb brown trout encountered by accident. I suspect that, on occasions, what are reported as sea trout / sewin, actually quite rare in the Wye, are in reality misidentified brown trout which particularly after a long winter of muddy floods can be quite pale or even silvery in their colouring).
From March onward, nature is likely to be making some rapid changes which the angler can take advantage of if he plans his day intelligently. There is not much point in being on the water first thing in the morning in a white frost. But with a bit of luck, from 11 o'clock until mid-afternoon there might be some exciting surface fishing, even at the very beginning of the season. Rather than repeat myself in detail, I need to refer you to the newsletters for February 2016 and 2015 which you can scroll back to at the top of this report. The main points to remember are that we can expect three significant spring hatches which, in recent years on the Usk, have followed each other in fairly close order. For that reason we need to discuss them this month. The first fly, one which we been seeing on the surface in small numbers right through the winter, is the large dark olive, Baetis rhodani. This creature doesn't mind cold weather at all and should be around on most days. It's a common sight on all our rivers. Expect it from lunchtime on, although hatch timing may vary between pools. Trout just love them and I always say to myself that by the time I have spotted half a dozen dark olive duns floating down on the surface, a rise is going to start for sure, and normally the individual rises are eager, splashy ones, giving the impression that fish have been starving for months. Even if this only occurs for 20 minutes or half an hour of the day, this is great fun and a sign that winter is leaving us and that another mild season is on its way with more months of dry fly fishing to come. What's more, you might get a big fish because some of the best trout can be almost naïve at this very early stage of the season. Lately for a dry pattern I have been using the Bastard Adams by dear old Stuart Jarvis or the northern Olive Jingler, although others might suggest Oliver Kite's Imperial. Personally, I'm getting very fond of the Jingler. It is one of a family of flies, including the Gosling mayfly patterns, which combine a short stiff shoulder hackle with a few turns of something long and soft like partridge at the head - see also Dai Lewis' March Brown below. There seems to be something very attractive to trout about that slightly messy and tangled combination. And I have always liked the idea of combining two hackles of different colours - look at the success of the Adams. If fishing wet, the Waterhen Bloa is a highly effective spider pattern to imitate large dark olives. Incidentally do not be confused either by photographs which are not to scale or that "large" adjective in the latest English language name of Baetis rhodani. The "large" is only there to distinguish it from another called the small dark olive, and I always thought the earlier description "spring olive" was a better name. (The old anglers and writers, Ronalds for example, knew it as the blue dun although Goddard assigned that name to the medium olive). In reality the large dark olive we are discussing here is quite a small fly (a female might be 3/4 inch from head to tip of tails) and a little grey sailed boat is about the impression of its tilting wing you will get when you spot it on the water.
So we will see what happens in early March, famous as the time of the large dark olive, remembering that we may yet have an arctic blast. I can remember climbing out of the Wye at Goodrich while fishing for salmon during opening week and hearing a distinct crackling sound as the water on my waders froze to ice in the scouring east wind. That was the end of a cold dry winter and the river that year was full of kelts. This year, judging by the river levels now and the rain currently forecast, we are going to be faced with high water on opening day. Never mind, I'm going to be optimistic from the start about the trout fishing and at the first opportunity I will probably be out on the middle or lower Usk with two rods, one of them a 10 footer made up with a team of spiders, two of which will certainly be Waterhen Bloa and either Dark Moorgame or Orange Partridge. I can experiment with the point fly, but a nymph may well be used there if fish are reluctant to come up. A traditional wet fly such as a Greenwell can also work on the point at this time of the year. The 9 foot rod will be made up for dry fly with an Olive Jingler or similar. Hopefully there will be a little bit of sun, a few dark olives will come tricking down the foam line and I will be watching for the first rising fish of the season.
Next we should hope to see the march brown. As every year I will be holding my breath for the appearance of this famous fly, once thought to be extinct on the Usk and in any case more generally known in Britain as an April emerger despite its name. For the last few years, it has appeared on the Usk in good numbers, and presumably due to recent mild winters it has kept true to its name and hatched from about the middle of March onward. It comes in a series of flushes and several hatches of about half an hour each may occur on the same day. It is has also been appearing on the Wye lately and hopefully we will see it on both rivers again this year. Now this one is a large fly, the dun being about 3/4 of the size of a mayfly or 1:25 inches from head to tips of tails and the dark speckled brown colour of body and wings should make it unmistakable at this time. (The large brook dun, sometimes confused with the march brown, comes much later in the year and has a yellowish tinge to it which should make the difference clear even at a distance once you have seen it a few times). The Usk does not have much of a mayfly hatch, but the march brown makes up for it in every way because the fish react with the same kind of enthusiasm associated with the white mayfly. The artificial March Brown designed by Dai Lewis works well as a dry fly, but a large Deer Hair Emerger, although a generalist rather than a strictly imitative pattern, seems to do even better. Woodcock and Hare's Lug seems to me to be a better spider pattern than some of the specifically designed March Brown wet flies. There are also some local traditional down and across wet fly patterns, such as the Brecon Cob, which certainly do work.
I am going to mention a third natural fly here too, because while the grannom sedge is commonly associated with sunny spring weather and mid-April hatching, we have seen it on the Usk during March on a few occasions recently. Again we assume the warmer winters are also responsible for this earlier appearance. The Test used to be famous for its mass hatches of grannom, a fly which Halford and his contemporaries used to find very exciting. On the Usk, it has lately been slightly uncertain, but you have a good chance of coming across it on the middle or lower river at some time during the spring. This fly does appreciate a sunny day and hatches can develop quite suddenly, anywhere from morning to afternoon. The action can be frantic but is also likely to be brief, and accordingly you need to be ready. A mass hatch of this little caddis fly measuring less than 1/2 inch is unforgettable, like a storm of whirling scraps of brown paper. It is likely to start suddenly and to end suddenly. However, a trickle hatch which lasts for sometime might be more useful from the angling point of view and you also see these on occasions. I see from the notebook that last year on 25th March (Greek Independence Day, why not?) I saw a good hatch after lunch at Chainbridge on the lower Usk, in the fast broken water above the bridge. This was while I was salmon fishing but an F-Fly got a few after I put the big rod away. Dave Collins has designed some emerger patterns for the grannom to target them on the surface; personally I like to try fishing a team of spiders during this hatch. Hare's Lug and Plover works well enough, but recently I discussed with Louis Noble a version of his own spider design which I will try out this year. See below:
Louis' Partridge and Green
Hook: Size 14 Kamasan B405
Body: Green Pearsall's silk
Rib: Brown Pearsall's silk
Hackle: Greyish-brown partridge
That should be enough to be going on with for the Usk during March. The small streams, at the beginning at least, will probably need to be fished with a nymph for a while until fish begin to rise. On the brooks I keep this operation very simple, casting a single weighted nymph upstream on the dry fly outfit, watching a greased leader butt for takes, chalk stream-style. The upper Wye should also be in action before the month ends.
Alternatively, there is the chance of a spring salmon from the Wye. A few years ago, I wouldn't have troubled about this on the basis that the odds against success were very long and that it made much more sense to go trout fishing. Today, it seems like a plan which might just work out. The Wye has been improving and it is the spring run, that for which the river was once so famous, which has been creating most interest. Springers run slowly and the big question is how far up have they travelled and what part of the river to try? The first part of the winter was cold and dry, presumably good for effective spawning, and then many will hope that the high water of February will have been enough to help some springers move well upstream. The 2015/6 winter, of course, was one of extensive floods, and last spring the first fish was a big one taken on the upper river after the waters receded enough to permit fishing. It's possible that springers will have moved so far up as Erwood in the present high water and certainly the upper river will come into fishing condition first. If I had to put money on it, I would guess that this year the lower or middle river, below Hereford at least, will be your best bet for a March or April salmon fishing day, but let's see what happens. The Usk is a slightly later salmon river, but a few should be arriving in the lower sections before too long.
And finally, still on the subject of migratory fish, all through the last year Welsh angling club members have been arguing amongst themselves about the situation of salmon and sea trout stocks in the principality. The debate has been provoked by the consultations invited by NRW and the revised conservation by-laws that are under consideration. By the beginning of this year, it seemed obvious that there would be no regulation changes in time for the 2017 season. Now NRW have issued a briefing to local fisheries groups confirming that there will be no changes for 2017 (really because consultations, necessarily complex, have run out of time), but emphasizing the reasons for concern. These include poor salmon results in almost all Welsh rivers, excepting the Wye which shows some signs of improvement,and poor sewin results in around half of Welsh rivers, particularly in the south-west. The low parr counts of 2016 in a number of Welsh rivers only add to wider worries about migratory runs on rivers in England, Scotland, Ireland and France. The NRW brief makes it fairly clear that extended catch and release legislation will be coming in 2018 and adds a plea to anglers that meanwhile no salmon be killed during 2017.
A big problem here is that NRW's statistics, based on submitted catch returns, are certainly inaccurate and therefore open to challenge. A large number of anglers fail to fill in the returns. (One might suggest that NRW decline to issue new rod licences to those who have failed to submit returns in previous years, but I doubt the organisation would take any action likely to reduce the revenue stream). In fact any catch figures we have from any source are likely to be below the true ones. Unfortunately there is a long tradition among some anglers of playing cards close to the chest and thus avoiding revealing good fishing to competitors. From the information we do have it seems pretty clear that fishing for Welsh salmon and sea trout is getting worse, but it is almost certainly not quite as bad as the NRW figures indicate. Another subject which may be problematic is that of hooks and fishing methods. There are certain small overgrown rivers in Wales where fly fishing or even spinning have never been really viable methods, but continued worm fishing is surely not going to be possible with a catch and release regime. NRW will also be considering acceptable hook patterns for C&R. I have no doubt that the outrageously large trebles which have been used on Flying C lures in the past have killed numerous deep-hooked salmon and many or most anglers would like to see those banned. But is it also the case that smaller trebles used on Devon or Quill Minnows are so harmful? Similarly, the Rapala lure equipped with small trebles usually seems to be taken sideways and I don't recall seeing a salmon badly injured by one of these. Tube fly trebles to size 10 or 8 also seem to come out quite easily and the low water double or small treble fly fishing hooks most people use during the warmer months, barbed or not, seem to get a good hold without doing undue harm. In the case of sea trout, there seem to be some nights when almost any hook combination can be avoided by the quarry with infuriating tweaks. So will NRW be insisting on barbless singles? These are only my own observations, not those of the WUF, and I'm open to advice; most salmon and sea trout anglers, whether they fly-fish, spin, or both, seem to have their individual and strong opinions.
Game fishing in Wales for migratory fish has a distinctly conservative aspect to it, even by the conservative standards of British game fishing as a whole. While voluntary catch and release figures have improved, there are plenty who feel angry at the idea that the decision whether to keep or release fish is going to be taken away from the angler, whether responsible or not. "If I can't keep the odd fish for the pot," you hear, "well the hell with it, I'm not going to take up a licence next year." The same aggrieved lobby will also protest that if fish cannot be kept the membership of angling clubs will fall away and thus threaten their financial future, and also that the wider rural economy will suffer. The NRW invariably comes in for a good deal of stick, due to the feeling that anglers are being unfairly punished while the fault lies elsewhere: commercial fishing in the Atlantic, estuary netting, seals, fish eating birds, agricultural pollution and all the other worries. There is also an idea that paying the NRW licence fee somehow entitles anglers to keep fish, as if they were being purchased: "What did the NRW ever do for us?" Well, I could answer that one at length, just like with the Romans in the Monty Python sketch. I will confine myself to stating that I do support catch and release and have done for some time, if only because it puts anglers on slightly higher moral ground in the blame games which are doubtless to come about fish stocks. And obvious as it seems to state the point, it's a lesson of life that people very often do not do what they threaten to do. I do hope that those talking about hanging up their rods in frustration will think again, because I'm pretty sure that those I know, most of them very good anglers, actually fish for the love of the sport rather than for obtaining food for the table, whatever they may be saying at the moment. And I would finally point out that the same kind of threats were being made a few years ago at the time that a total ban on killing salmon was applied to the Wye. There was an idea that salmon anglers would abandon the Wye en masse and move to the Usk where salmon could be killed later in the year. It didn't happen. In fact, while the Wye is moving against the trend and showing some improvement in catches I am fairly certain that sales of salmon fishing tickets on the river will continue to rise. While there are fish in our rivers, there will be anglers keen to fish for them.
Tight lines for March!
Oliver Burch www.wyevalleyflyfishing.com
It is probably fair to state that grayling fishing is rather more difficult during the late winter period compared to the weeks before Christmas, although there are certainly exceptions to that rule. There always are in angling, aren't there? This is not just because of the January and February weather, which despite the slightly longer days is likely to be harsher on average with lower temperatures, but rather because grayling do tend to coalesce into tighter shoals now and they forage around much less. This is great if you manage to find yourself in front of such a pack of grayling, but you can find yourself roaming over large areas of river which are virtually untenanted until you locate them. Nor do the shoals necessarily show up in the same places every year. I recall a wonderful afternoon in January, albeit a cold one, a few years ago. I was on the Glaslyn Pool of the Irfon's Cefnllysgwynne fishery when I stumbled upon a huge shoal of good grayling right under the water falling in from the falls at the top. This is not what you would call a typical grayling lie, involving a rocky bottom under a waterfall with at least 6 feet of water over it. I was trotting maggots, but hooking fish under the rod top in the foaming water right in front of my position at the head of the pool. I connected with fish after fish and eventually worked up to catching 20 grayling from that one spot. Unfortunately I must have lost at least another 10 when hooks straightened out and they kicked off. I was experimenting that day with some little coarse fishing maggot hooks, spade hooks to nylon, which may have been good for roach and dace, but not for hefty grayling to be tackled in a big current. I called an end to play at 20 fish netted, which seemed more than enough disturbance for one shoal on a single day, although the bites were still coming. And of course I hoped this might be repeated during subsequent seasons, but I never again found the grayling in that particular place in such numbers.
This particular January to some extent lived up to my expectations for a dry, cold winter. We had a couple of halcyon days during which temperatures struggled up to double figures, the sun shone for a while and birds were singing. But mostly it was a month of raw, cold weather, often with thick fog and clouds over the valley. There was a gale of wind on the 11th, when continental high pressure relaxed its grip for a while. There were a few showers in central Wales to produce short-lived rises on the Upper Wye and Irfon, but overall it remained fairly dry until the last few days. The Lugg, Arrow and Monnow remained in good fishing ply for weeks on end with plenty of opportunities for those minded to try for some late winter grayling. Only at the end of the month did steadily increasing rains bring fishing to a stop.
I have seen the report for the European Grayling Festival which was held on the Welsh Dee at Llangollen during early December, with the river apparently in excellent condition. During three fishing sessions, 36 teams each consisting of three anglers took a total of 1009 grayling over 20 cm, the best fish of the match being a wonderful specimen of 49 cm (just over 19 inches) taken by Belgian angler Thierry Hockers. The winning team was Ireland's Iron Blues with a total of 74 fish, including 39 for team member Peter Driver. Personally, I'm not a huge fan of match fishing as a pastime, but I did compete in this event a few years ago and enjoyed myself. "Oliver's Army" as some wag called our team came somewhere in the middle of the field and not particularly due to my efforts. If you fancy dipping a toe into the match fishing scene, the Festival might be a good place to try it.
Let's go on with some reports of holiday fishing which didn't make the cut for the December newsletter. On the 30th of the month JD from Hereford, one of our regulars I believe, had 5 small grayling on a nymph from Llangoed and Lower Llanstephan. On the same day, PB from Cheltenham had 14 grayling from Lyepole. In fact PB, whether he knows it or not, passed a milestone with this report: to my knowledge this is the first recorded instance of an angler admitting to the use of a certain nymph pattern known as a "Squirmy Wormy" on WUF waters. Now surely, I thought on reading the report, this is going a step too far? Whatever can we expect next after PB's momentous confession? People will be fishing our rivers with Alexandras, I shouldn't wonder. In fact I'm not really well positioned on the higher moral ground in this case and probably I should apologise to PB at once. This is because I must now admit that I also have had a rubber Squirmy Wormy living in my fly box for a while. This was given to me by Rob Evans, who lacks moral fibre of course and has rows of the things. For a long time I didn't use it (my conscience was troubling me for even thinking about it), but everybody in competition fishing was telling me that as soon as I did, all inhibitions about them would vanish because they work so darned well! Now comes my own confession. A couple of weeks ago I found myself struggling on Lyepole, where conditions looked reasonably good, but none of the usual tactics seemed to be working. Eventually, mindful of PB's earlier success, I felt more and more tempted to look at the Squirmy Wormy lurking there in the corner of my box. It seemed at that moment to be actively coiling like a snake around its mounting hook. "Get thee behind me, Satan," I muttered under my breath, but then, being more or less desperate for a fish or two, I succumbed and tied it on. It would be good to report that I caught a huge bag of grayling thereafter, but in fact I lost it on a snag within 5 minutes. So that is twice at least that the SW has been used on WUF waters. More on the notorious Squirmy, the Evans fly boxes, and indeed other kinds of worms later in this letter.
Back to the reports. DJ from Evesham fished Lyepole on the 2nd January and scored 8 small grayling with a nymph. Also on the 2nd, DM from Redditch (now there is a classic fishing address for you, as Redditch was once the beating heart of Britain's tackle industry) used a stick float and maggots to get 4 grayling from Court of Noke. Not a huge number, but with two at 16 inches, one at 15 and one at 14 inches, an impressive bag of grayling for a little stream like the Arrow. He also saw the otter and also got his car stuck for a while on the icy grass of the car park - which all sounds rather familiar! On the 3rd, in very difficult and cold conditions, PJ from Abercynon fished Craig Llyn with three other anglers and between them they got 6 grayling. Again, that may not sound so impressive for four anglers, but 5 of these fish were taken on dry flies during a large dark olive hatch. You must admit that any ephemerid which goes for a hatch during a January frost is a plucky little creature; full marks to the grayling for rising to the occasion, and full marks also for the anglers who managed to do the same. Here comes this month's exception. On the 7th, AS from Newent had a really superb day in good conditions on the Lugg at Eyton, taking 15 grayling on small baetis nymph imitations. Five of these fish were between 16 and 19 inches. Before reading this one, I was about to remark that Eyton and other beats are being rather under-fished this winter. Lyepole isn't the only grayling fishing option in North Herefordshire, you know! Similarly, Craig Llyn is not the only option for the upper Wye and nor is Cefnllysgwynne the only place where the Irfon is worth fishing. Perhaps it might pay us all to spread the angling effort around a little more.
On the 11th, AM from Worcester tried trotting maggots at Court of Noke for a few hours without result, but then repaired to the fly rod and got a fine grayling of 17 inches with a Hare's Ear nymph. I would have been very happy with such a fish from a small stream like the Arrow. I remember the 11th as the day of the big storm. During the morning I was trotting, or trying to, on the upper Wye at Pwll y Faedda, but gusts of wind to 50mph were making it more and more difficult to stand up in the river without being blown over and disappearing downstream. Occasionally there was a loud crack as branch came down. Moreover it had obviously rained to some extent in Central Wales and the Wye was coloured and rising slowly. I did catch a 14 inch grayling and then one of 10 inches, followed by a loggerhead chub of something over 3 pounds, but then I just had to try a safer spot before the gale toppled me in the river. This new place was just off the steps running down from the French windows of the house, not normally known as a grayling spot, but at least the exposure to the wind was slightly less. Here in the House Pool I hooked something large in deep water. Through the murky current there was a sight of a bronze flank and big scales so that I quickly realised it was not a grayling, but yet another large chub. Oh dear, that's not good, I was thinking, I do hope this isn't one of the pet fish the lady of the house has a habit of feeding from the terrace steps? Once secured, it only just about fitted into the net headfirst and as I took the size 16 maggot hook from its lip it promptly coughed up about a slice of fresh white household bread which it had obviously eaten that morning. I apologised profusely to the fish as I released it with an additional guilty glance over my shoulder at the windows of the house. I gave the struggle up by lunchtime as the wind showed no sign of calming and the river was still rising. As a tree had by now blown down across the drive, thus blocking my car inside the property, I was more than grateful when a chain saw team arrived to clear the road.
On the 14th, AS of Newent fished at Eyton again and had 9 grayling to 15 inches, reporting that all the action took place during the hour after midday. Eyton was fished again on the 21st by BR from Abergavenny, who had just two small grayling, but experienced the charming sight of no less than three otters emerging from their holt. At the same time he couldn't help but wonder what effect the resurgence of otters is having on the fish population? I wonder the same thing sometimes, but any evidence on the subject is likely to be anecdotal. Our tolerance of or dislike for predators is, after all, rather illogical and anthropomorphic in origin. Thus most of us like otters, quite like kingfishers, are probably ambivalent about herons, hate mink and goosanders, and really hate cormorants. If we are realistic, they must all be doing a certain amount of damage. For myself, when I see an otter I smile and try to comfort myself with the idea that what they really like eating are eels. It's a nice thought, but I have seen an otter with a trout or a grayling often enough. Also on the 21st, ST from Swansea with two friends had a dozen grayling from Gromaine and Upper Llanstephan. On the 23rd, MN from Bristol had 6 to 14 inches from the same beat. And on the 25th, BS also from Bristol had 5 small grayling on nymphs from Abernant. After this, the increasing rains resulted in more difficult conditions through most of the system. On the 28th, SC from Llandeilo Graban and AC from North Somerset were two anglers who did their best, SC on the Ithon at Llandewi and AC on the Irfon at Cefnllysgwynne, but were stymied by rising floodwater. SC noted a dead sheep on an Ithon sand bank. Somehow there's always a dead sheep drifting along when a river comes to a proper flood, isn't there? January ended with fishing at a halt again due to high water.
Once a month, by tradition Lyn Davies, Rob Evans and I meet in the Black Horse Inn for a glass and a dinner before the committee meeting of the Pontardulais Angling Association. Lately Lyn and Rob seem to be talking constantly about the hunt for exotic materials needed to construct more and more weighted nymph patterns. Although I used to experiment with a lot of nymph patterns, these days I'm known for my "all you need is a few good tools" approach to tying nymphs and other flies too. However my friends, particularly Rob, are far from convinced. "Matches are won on the fly-tying bench" he is in the habit of remarking sagely with a very serious expression. Every time I see him he seems to have a new magic nymph pattern. I fall back on history and point out that an expert such as Frank Sawyer used just three nymph patterns and Oliver Kite after him never felt the need to go much beyond one good baetis imitation - Sawyer's famous Pheasant Tail Nymph. "I only use this one pattern of nymph," wrote Kite referring to the PTN, "the one I began with... I have not found any other necessary." Eventually he graduated to using an even simpler ball of copper wire on a bare hook and still had good results. For myself, after a lot of experimenting, I came to the conclusion that baetis nymphs of various kinds and gammarus shrimps in numbers exist in all our waters, and also that I'm quite certain that no trout or grayling is likely to miss investigating anything which looks like either of them which comes near. So by all means let's have a good pattern for each. But in which case, why do we also need to imitate peeping caddis, rhycophila, hydrospsyche, stone fly creepers, heptagenids and every other type of crawling beastie in colours both natural and distinctly weird? There is an answer to that posed question: because it pleases so many of us to do so! Besides, this simple fly selection philosophy of mine or my quoting of angling history impresses Rob not a jot. And Rob's colourful fly boxes are a sight to behold: the one I published in the September 2016 newsletter (Purple Haze) attracted a lot of attention. So, purely in the interests of you, the reader, the other day I had a private discussion with Lyn, after which he held Rob down and suppressed his wild cries while I went through his car boot and photographed the rest of his nymph boxes. Here they are for your attention. And the only further comment I can make is that Mr Evans seems to catch plenty of fish with them.
After an episode such as the Teifi pollution reported last month, you perhaps wouldn't expect me to be encouraged by the sight of rotting fish along our river banks. But in the case of the salmon, it's exactly what we hope to see and even to smell in January; it's after all only evidence that nature has completed the life cycle of this remarkable creature while so many circumstances conspired against it. A couple of years ago during January I was grayling fishing at Abernant, taking fish steadily with the trotting rod. Early on in the day I became aware that a large hen salmon was wallowing around the slack water at the head of Stone catch. Half covered in fungus, the fish, which judging by its girth had spawned successfully, was now in the last stages of life. It was in one way a sad sight, but there was also in it something of grandeur if one could appreciate the sacrifice made by the individual for the species. By lunchtime she was upside down in the shallows, gills still working convulsively; by mid-afternoon she was dead. In fact a significant number of female kelts of Atlantic salmon do survive, eventually to make a second spawning run. Before they regain the sea we catch them by accident in the early spring of a low water year, silver again now ready for the salt, but unnaturally thin. However, most of the male kelts, which remain longer up-river in the region of the newly created redds, are dead before January is out. The corpses are quickly cleaned up by various scavengers, but heads and tails remain for a while as evidence of the giant fish which visited us from the ocean and whose descendants are now alive and growing in the gravel.
The WUF rolled out the new Passport website on the 23rd, and I have been exploring it since. Essentially this takes the various activities which used to be under the "Booking Office" section and places them on a separate site linked to the original WUF one, displaying the information in a new and rather more pictorial way. I had to call the Foundation a couple of times for help when I got into trouble but, elderly technophobe as I am, even I now seem to be able to navigate around it. Try it out and see what you think. I gather that once any initial glitches are ironed out, some new features and capabilities will be introduced. One bit of bad news, actually pointed out by a client, is that Llyn Bugeilyn is no longer on the Passport for 2017. Apparently the sporting rights were auctioned last year and the new owner is not minded to market tickets via the WUF. The owner may change his or her mind in time as new owners often do, but in the meantime I am going to miss this one. Not exactly an easy place to get to - 110 miles from my front door and you need a 4WD for the last section - but it was always an adventure going up to Bugeilyn, even when the weather was horrendous. As a compensation, the Passport does now have other upland lakes for those feeling like an adventurous trip, perhaps over a weekend or longer. These are the lakes at the head of the Teifi around Tregaron and a greater number around Blaenau Ffestiniog in North Wales which were once the home of a school of mountain fly-fishing developed by slate quarrymen - read Plu Stiniog: Trout Fies for North Wales by Emrys Evans
There are of course times when there is no river fishing to be had due to floods, and normally this happens more often in winter than during any other season. Having no dog to walk and being unreasonably obsessed with a need to go fishing somewhere, somehow, even if grayling are not on offer, I generally start such wash-off days by at least a few hours of chasing rainbow trout. We are well-placed for this in the Forest of Dean, with two private syndicate fisheries stocking Exmoor-bred trout into old hammer ponds in wooded valleys. I belong to one of these, but when a change is needed, there are also some quite nice commercial waters open to anybody, such as Woolaston Court where lakes lie in open country with a distant view of the Severn estuary and then of course the fisheries notched into side valleys of the lower Wye, such as Ravens Nest near Tintern, Fairoaks up at St Arvans, Broadstone above Monmouth on the Staunton road and Big Wells near Redbrook. Most winters I encounter at least one longer period of floods when I do the rounds of them all. The stream-fed pools will eventually colour up for a while during very heavy rain, but it's worth remembering that the spring-fed pool at Big Wells stays clear whatever the weather. And also, by the way, when the weather turns really cold it remains reliably ice free as the incoming spring runs at a constant temperature. I can remember a chilly day here a few winters ago when Hywel Morgan came all the way to Redbrook from West Wales with a cameraman to make a fishing documentary, having no closer option.
Since the advent of triploid rainbows some years ago (effectively all the fish are neutered females), there is no spawning or loss of condition during the winter, a time when the fish in the pools are actually at their best. Trout are normally stocked at 2:50 pounds, a size which is relatively cormorant-proof, but owners will normally try to please their customers, at least the impressionable ones, with a few larger fish up to double figures. You come across the occasional stocked brown or the rather attractive blue trout, which is a rainbow colour variant. The fisheries themselves are invariably friendly places and in most cases include a heated fishing hut with tea, coffee and maybe bacon and eggs on offer. This is the social aspect of fishing and the clientele tend to be retired working men who treat themselves to maybe one fishing trip a week spending a morning in the fresh air, then enjoying the chat with a bacon butty and a mug of tea before taking a couple of rainbows back to cook at home, assuming they don't take the catch and release option. For the most part these won't take their fly fishing any further, but you also meet the odd youngster, new to the sport and keen as mustard, who will probably get into river fishing and wild fish sooner or later.
There are many more such fisheries in the Cotswold side of Gloucestershire, based on old gravel pits. More recently, similar establishments have opened to accommodate the local clay pigeon shooters and the format seems to be much the same - an opportunity to shoot at 50 or 60 clays on a frosty Sunday morning, a cup of tea, bacon sandwich and a pleasant chat. Overall, the commercial lakes are excellent places at which to introduce beginners to fly-fishing and casting practice on grass is possible at many of them before starting on water. For some reason I am feeling the need to be slightly defensive when writing about this kind of fishing, but on reflection I am not sure why. I accept that commercial fisheries with their stocked rainbow trout are far from natural, but they do keep a lot of anglers happy. As indeed do the chalk streams, where many or most of the beats are similarly stuffed with stocked fish. There are almost certainly more fly fishers these days than wild-fish rivers can cater for.
I dropped into Big Wells during the New Year holiday and found that they were engaging in a single malt tasting session in the fishing hut. Given that it was 7:30 in the morning, this was something of a surprise, although a very seasonally appropriate one. Somebody had a bottle which, he explained, came from an island distillery where the tide regularly invades the cellars and over the years somehow imparts a slight iodine flavour to the liquor through the wood of the barrel. A bit far-fetched, I thought while sniffing and sipping, but if true it would be another reason apart from trout fishing to head north to the Machair lochs of the Outer Hebrides. One day, perhaps.
The chat went on and it was slightly later than usual when we all piled out into the cold to make up tackle, scratch our heads and address the rainbow trout of different sizes clearly to be seen circling in clear pools. As usual, these haughty fish had an air of great aloofness. They were "I've seen it all" fish who must have studied Courtney Williams' Dictionary of fly patterns from A to Z. The angler got a very good view of each new fly he had tied on being approached closely when it was presented, and then the fish turning off in apparent disgust. It was a still day without a breath of wind to ruffle the surface, so that everything seemed to be visible with almost painful clarity. Nevertheless, fish were moving steadily and occasionally taking small objects at the surface. As so often in winter, I opted to take AH Chaytor's advice given to his sons and try "..to begin with, an absurdly small fly." So I mounted a size 16 Black Speck nymph to 5X fluorocarbon (which is probably quite fine enough when double figure fish are present). And, while there was not exactly a take to be had every minute, using this little nymph and finally a tiny shuttlecock dry fly, by lunchtime I had returned my 10 fish limit, including one of the big ones ambushed on the shallows.
Chaytor was writing about salmon fishing of course, but a reduction in fly size is very often the solution when dealing with stiff fish of any kind which are reluctant to take. If you are not familiar with stocked commercial fisheries, the main difference from wild fishing is that there will certainly be a much greater density of fish present, but these will have been cast over continually on a daily basis and will have early in their career decided that lines slapping on the surface above are no good for them, any more than are the various artificial flies which are towed past at different speeds and different depths. Clear water and a fishery catch and release policy only intensify the feeling of nervousness among the stock. Most anglers will respond by trying various lure patterns at different speeds and angles until a fish is annoyed enough to make a mistake. Alternatively, many more will fish a static fly with an indicator to give a second of warning when a fish investigates it before he feels the weight of the line and ejects.
However, there is still a place for straight line nymphing with light tackle and you can have a very interesting day if you can make such tactics work. In these lakes you can usually see natural feeding going on through the winter, an activity which even recently stocked fish seem to take to quite quickly and one which you should take advantage of. In the case of small still water pools with a silt bottom, the main food item of the inhabitants is almost certainly going to be one of the forms of the chironomid midge, which account for about 80% of the food intake of trout in most lakes. You can see hatching midges (which presupposes there must also have been pupae) on most winter days, particularly if the sun shines at all, but bear in mind that at this time of the year these can very small indeed, almost microscopic. The superglue buzzers tied on hooks size 14, 12 or even 10 which you may have used during the warm months are unlikely to be effective now, even if you hang them on a "washing line" with a floating fly on the point. In the December 2015 letter I gave the dressing for some small Pheasant Tail Nymphs (Black and Olive) which can fished round in the wind through a rippled surface. If you are a spider fisherman, it is surprising how often a small Snipe and Purple from your river fly box, if fished slowly, can attract midge feeding rainbows. Here are some more ideas for winter fishing, depending on the conditions you may encounter, which involve some fly patterns, several of which are so delightfully simple that any novice will be able to tie them without difficulty. For this kind of fishing, I normally use a 9 foot 5 weight rod with a double taper floating line and a relatively long (14 or 15 foot) tapered fluorocarbon leader.
Bloodworm: This might be the best approach for a cold period with no sign of activity by fish near the surface. Bloodworms are the larval form of the midge which live in the silt of the bottom anywhere the depth is less than about 12 feet and trout are very ready to feed on them. Scoop up some mud and you will find that the naturals come in olive colours as well as haemoglobin red, but I have had much more success with a red imitation. Artificial bloodworms lately come in all shapes and sizes, such as the spectacular Apps Bloodworm which has 4 or 6 trailing tendrils up to 6 inches long. That may look like a bunch of lobworms on a hook and it certainly makes a good lure, but I cannot seriously believe that it imitates a chironomid midge larva! The pattern I recommend to you here is much simpler and should be about 1:25 inches long overall, which is in itself about double life size, but seems to be taken with confidence. I used to tie them with red rubber bands, but now we have Flexifloss.
Hook: size 14 Kamasan B110 strong grub hook
Thread: Red 6/0
Tail and body: Red Flexifloss trimmed to 1:25 inches
This is fished on a floating line with a long leader. Cast it out into a likely area and just allow it to sink very slowly. When it reaches the bottom, let it lie for a minute or two (takes often occur on the drop and trout also pick the fly off the bottom at times). If nothing happens, bring the fly up from the bottom and towards you at a very slow rate of retrieve. Takes are usually also very slow and confident. Winds and surface currents can complicate this kind of fishing, but persevere because a moving surface will help you in other ways.
Black Speck Nymph: At some point in the day you are very likely to see fish in numbers cruising under the surface and - with luck - breaking the surface with slow head and tail rises. This last will indicate that a hatch is under way and that emerging midges are being taken. If you actually see an emerging or adult midge at this time of year, you will probably find that it is very small indeed, so that even a size 30 hook would be too large as the basis for an imitation. I would suggest that you don't even try, but (here comes another salmon fishing analogy) follow the line taken by AE Wood and his low water salmon patterns such as the Blue Charm - in other words tie a small fly on a (relatively) large hook. I usually use a size 16 Kamasan B175, which once it is driven home gets a surprisingly secure grip on a rainbow's jaw. However, the dressing is only made on the front third of the hook and it consists only of a little hump made with black tying thread and then given a coat of varnish. It is in fact no more than a black dot or speck but, believe me, on the right day it can be absolutely deadly.
Hook: Size 16 Kamasan B175
Thorax: Hump of black tying thread on the front third of the hook, varnished.
(That's it and that's all folks!)
Cast this little dot over the area of activity, ideally where a shoal is working so that you can exploit the element of competition amongst them. It will sink very slowly, but do not allow it to go down too far before retrieving it back with a very slow figure of eight. Look for a twitch or a draw on the leader. In clear water you may be able to see the take even if you can't see the fly. What you should be looking for is a fish which accelerates behind the fly with a slight wriggle of its fins. When it turns aside it will probably have the fly in its mouth, if only for a moment, and you should tighten. As always, a little wind or drift on the surface will help.
There are some variants on the Black Speck theme, all of which are tied only on the front third of the hook, such as the Hare's Ear Speck and the Copper Speck which, obviously enough, are made with hare's ear dubbing and fine copper wire respectively. (The last one is also known in the North as the Brassie and please note that it is almost exactly the same thing as a weighted fly, the Barehook Nymph, which Oliver Kite used to cast to trout and grayling on the chalk streams to provoke his famous induced take). Occasionally on a cold winter's day without fish showing, I would fish with a team of three: a weighted copper wire PTN on the point with Black Specks or Copper Specks on the droppers, again drifted round in the wind with a floating line. This enabled different depths to be explored, but I would not be very keen on fishing such an outfit where there is much weed growth.
Which brings us, if rainbows are still moving near the surface, to a floating fly option. It's surprising how often you can get a rainbow off the top during the winter, particularly in the middle part of the day. A lot of patterns might work, but as a first choice for midge feeding fish on small still waters I would put my money on one of the CDC "shuttlecock" emerger designs. For some reason, on still water CDC as a wing seems to be more effective than the versions with a deer hair wing (DHE) I like to use on rivers. Cul de Canard feathers, of course, become wetted relatively easily even on still water, so be prepared with some tissue paper to dry them off. There are so many good variations on this theme, such as the Yellow Owl, but Bob Carnill's CDC Shuttlecock is one of the best. This can be constructed in different sizes and colours (black, olive, brown) but the one I find most useful is:
Hook: Kamasan B100, size 14 or 16
Thread: Brown 8/0
Rib: Narrow pearl Lurex
Body: Dyed brown condor herl (substitute)
Thorax: Wound strand of peacock herl
Thorax cover and wing: 3-4 natural CDC plumes, tied forward over the eye
However, even in size 16 this can prove to be too big a fly. If you get a few refusals (swirls under the fly should be obvious enough) keep to the same theme but reduce the size of the fly still further. This tiny Shuttlecock Buzzer by Simon Robinson works well:
Hook: 16 or 18 dry fly
Body: Black silk
Rib (optional): Fine silver wire
Wing buds: Tuft of red floss
Wing: 2-3 natural CDC plumes, tied forward over the eye.
So much for silt-bottomed lakes created in open pastures, where the midge and the buzzer reigns supreme. Some of the older tree-shaded lakes and hammer ponds in the Forest have a population of coarse fish, usually small roach (rudd in one case), and stocked trout invariably learn to feed on these and their young. A different approach is needed for such fry-feeding trout, but more of this later.
There is one particular piece of kit which I find very useful when fishing from the bank on small stillwaters or reservoirs, particularly during the winter. This is a line tray, a simple device which will preserve your soft plastic fly line from being trodden into the mud and grit at your feet. That will extend the life of the line itself and the rod rings also. Used correctly, it will even help you to cast slightly further. You can spend up to 50 pounds on a purpose made one, of course, but not many of those on the commercial market are very well designed. Bear in mind that a mere container into which you retrieve the line will be very little use, because the coils will invariably bunch together in one corner and tangle when you try to shoot the line out again through the butt ring. Once it was the fashion for reservoir bank fishers to wade far out in the shallows and drive the handle of their landing net diagonally into the mud, so that the head of the net could act as a line tray. Believe me, it didn't work very well. To prevent tangles, it is essential that the base of the tray contains several rows of spikes or pillars which will keep the coils separate, so that they shoot out in reverse order to the one they were retrieved in. If you care to save yourself 50 pounds and spend just 5 or so, you can make a highly effective line basket for yourself. What you need is a simple square or oblong plastic washing-up bowl, not too large, some elastic luggage cord with hooks at the end, a couple of feet of very thick (100 pounds BS) sea fishing line or alternatively some plastic strimmer cord, some Araldite glue and a hole punch or fine drill. Cut 9 lengths of 3 inches each from the thick nylon or strimmer cord. Turn the bowl upside down and punch or drill holes, three regular rows of three, in the bottom. Insert the 3 inch sections of stiff nylon so they project upwards into the interior of the bowl and secure with a dab of glue on either side. When that is dry, drill holes in the bowl rim so that the luggage elastic will secure it around your waist and you are ready to go. I wear my basket with an inch or so of water in it, which means the line stored therein will always be wet and slick, even on a hot day, which is probably worth an extra yard or two when it is shot. The water in the basket also works as a continuous line cleaner of course, which is useful when the surface film of the pool is dirty. When you have played your fish to the net, retrieving line into the basket if you play it off the hand rather than with the reel, just twist the basket round on to your right hip, and you are ready to kneel down for unhooking and release. Incidentally salt water fly-fishermen will tell you that such a basket is absolutely essential for fishing off a rocky shore, where waves and tide will wash your precious line into tangles around sharp stones. I even experimented with it once for night sea trout fishing when I found the loose coils of a sinking line were being washed by the current into tangles on an uneven bottom with snags. That exercise, however, proved to be all too complicated; better to hold the retrieved line in coils at the surface.
Here is something which caught my eye, should you be thinking of giving yourself a treat and still have some money lying around after Christmas (a circumstance which certainly doesn't apply in my case). Fishtec of Brecon are selling off the now superseded Sage One rod, 9 foot for a 4 weight, certainly a lovely trout fishing tool if you like a fast action, at a reduced price of 399:99 pounds. If 400 pounds for a trout rod seems to be a lot of money, I should point out that the retail price was formerly 689 pounds. Looking through the catalogues over the last months, it seems that the price of fly rods in general has risen considerably compared with a year ago. One middle price contender which continues to stand out as an exception is the Grey's Streamflex range of river rods, now sold under the GR70 label. 200-250 pounds depending on the preferred size should buy you one of these workman-like river rods, and I predict that you would enjoy using it for many years. An alternative to the discounted Sage might be one from the Hardy Jet range which have been giving good service for a long time. Meanwhile, for a trout fishing reel to go with it, Glasgow Angling are offering the perfectly practical and no-nonsense Orvis Access reel in black for 65 pounds. Model no 2 for a 4 weight line is the one you want.
Let's hope for a few more grayling now as we approach the end of their season - tight lines for February!
Oliver Burch www.wyevalleyflyfishing.com