The Wye and Usk Foundation

Trout & Grayling Report
by Oliver Burch

Year: 2017201620152014

Month: JanuaryFebruaryMarchAprilMayJuneJulyAugustSeptemberOctoberNovemberDecember

February 2017

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.

Ithon at Llanddewi Ithon grayling Top of the Lyepole beat Pwll y Faedda Pwll y Faedda Pwll y Faedda Pwll y Faedda The cottage by the Lugg at Lyepole

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.

Brecon trout in spring Middle Usk trout Floating lines Bastard Adams - dry olive imitation Oliver Jingler

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.

March brown

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.

Springer going back Salmon shrimp flies and the makings Early salmon fishing on the Usk Spring salmon flie

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


January 2017

Glasglyn Pool Trotting on the Irfon

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.

The winter Dee at Llangollen Squirmy Wormy tied on a jig hook

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.

Craig Llyn on a misty day A Craig Llyn grayling Pwll y Faedda Chub Otter

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.

Rob Evans The Evans collection A The Evans collection B


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.

The Evans collection C The Evans collection D
The end of the story The end of the story Bugeilyn

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

New trout arriving Woolaston Court Fishery rainbow trout Blue trout

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 2.5 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.

Winter fishing

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 The notorious Apps Bloodworm

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

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.

Black Speck, Copper Speck and Hare's Ear Speck Bob Carnhill's Shuttlecock Buzzer A CDC Shuttlecock

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.

Line shooting basket

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

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