Here's an article I wrote almost a year ago to enter into a writing competition; I didn't win the competition, but rereading it has really wet my appetite for grayling fishing as I'm fishing the same stretch it's based upon in only a few weeks time:
The Perfect Grayling River
ontological argument as put forward by various philosophers
throughout history has been the source of much debate and
controversy, a paraphrased version of this argument goes as follows:
I can imagine a perfect being; therefore, because I can imagine it,
it must be real. I really fail to see how such an argument could be
used to explain the existence of a deity, but as Bernard Venables
once said “fishing is a philosophy”, therefore, perhaps this
philosophical line of argument could be adapted by fishermen.
Sunday, 23 September 2012
Thursday, 20 September 2012
I spent the second weekend of September trying to catch salmon on the river Usk on Saturday and the Wye on Sunday. I couldn't sleep on Friday night in anticipation of fishing on these classic salmon rivers, and amongst the best salmon rivers in Wales.
Nick and I fished for Salmon on the middle Usk at Llanover, the ghillie informed us that the height was perfect. Unfortunately the day's weather wasn't conducive to fishing, bright blue skies and glaring sunshine. We fished on regardless, covering the lovely pools and enjoying the wading on the gravelly river bed. Later in the day the Usk's trout managed to distract Nick and I, but with salmon on my mind I seemed incapable of casting a dry fly upstream. Nick looked on at what was “the worst display of casting” that he'd ever seen. I'm curious if anyone else is incapable of casting to trout when they should be salmon fishing? Needless to say I gave up, leaving the trout to Nick, and returned to the salmon fishing.
My tactics seemed rudimentary, and I'm not entirely sure how effective I was fishing the beat for salmon given the time of year and water conditions. As a novice salmon angler, lacking even a double handed rod, I am always quite unsure as to how to actually fish for salmon on the fly. I was casting a size 10/12 silver stoat double with a floating line to the far bank at an angle of around 45-90degress (depending on pace) and then simply allowing it to swing around whilst slowly retrieving using a figure of eight retrieve. I managed to get the hang of the single spey cast using my single handed rod (casting off of my right shoulder) and by the end of the day I was throwing a nice line. It was the first time I've ever been able to shoot a length of line with a roll cast. Even if the salmon weren't playing ball I was certainly enjoying the casting and wading enough to consider it a very good day's fishing! In the end I was lucky to catch two small trout on my silver stoat in a rather riffly glide of the river. No salmon were caught, or even seen by either of us. Nick managed to catch quite a few nice trout on a small nondescript terrestrial pattern during a hatch of flying ants.
We camped over night in a campsite right next to the upper Wye, a few miles upstream of where we'd spend our Sunday fishing. After some beer and a hearty camp dinner of sausage sandwiches and soup we turned in for the night, slept soundly and dreamt of huge silver fish leaping in the pools that flowed quietly beside us.
The Wye at Gromain was much wider than I'd imagined. I found covering the water with my 9ft 7# near enough impossible and my single handed spey casting off of my left shoulder wasn't at all good. I concentrated on fishing from the planks and concrete stands that jutted out into some of the pools. These enabled me enough of a back cast to throw out a decent line across the river and feel as if I was covering fish. At first I was using the silver stoat from yesterday, but soon switched to a heavier and larger williegun tube fly in order to fish a little deeper. I did this on advice from the owner that we saw fishing in the morning. I never felt the confidence on the Wye that I had on the Usk. I simply couldn't cover the water. I fished on, but towards afternoon I began to lose hope in catching a salmon.
I wondered off from the bank, up a track and to the Llanstephen suspension bridge in order to enjoy the view of the river and valley in the gentle light of the September sun. I peered Nick fishing in a glide below, upstream of the bridge. Suddenly Nick disappeared! He bobbed back up, a stumble and a wader full, perhaps the wading at Gromain really is living up to it's name, although it's not been atrocious so far. On the beat guide the wading on a section called heron's run is described as “Truly awful!”. Enough scenery, back to salmon fishing.
I stroll back down to the river filled with renewed confidence, changing tactics and opting to fish a big heavy tube as slowly and methodically as I could through the pools that offered a good back cast. I fished hard through the afternoon and into evening, but neither caught nor saw a salmon. I wonder will I ever catch a salmon. I must endeavour to try and fish for salmon more next season.
Nick had a dramatic end to the day whilst streamer fishing in a pool that allegedly held monster trout; a fish hit into his streamer and tore off with terrific force, he believed it a large trout, or a salmon! And then all went limp, up came a pair of rubbery lips and he landed a chub of around 3lbs. His first fish on a streamer and a great end to a day spent in fantastic surroundings.
Tuesday, 17 July 2012
I'd been looking forward to this trip for a long time, 10 days of staying with family and fly fishing in the picturesque setting of the west of Ireland. The unusually wet summer unfortunately seriously affected the height of the river local to where I was staying, the Clare. The river was almost a meter higher than it had been on my last visit, and it's water, which is usually as clear as tap water in the height of summer, was peat stained, the colour of over brewed tea.
The river Clare has a reasonable run of salmon and given the high water I concentrated on trying to catch one. I've never before caught a salmon, and have almost no experience salmon fishing. I fished for several evenings using my single handed 9ft 7# rod, swinging an orange shrimp fly down and across. I don't think I was fishing deep enough and I'm not even sure that the fish could have seen my fly in the high and coloured water. It's no surprise then that no salmon were caught during my trip. That elusive first salmon will have to wait .
I tried my hand at trout fishing in the swollen river, placing nymphs in pockets of calmer water, in the slacks created by boulders and cowslips. I found one rising fish in a large slack in a cowslip located behind a section of stone wall that extended into the stream. I covered it with various nymphs and dries, all to no avail.
On one of the days with better weather I tried fly fishing in the sea, casting small shrimp imitations into the waters of a beautiful sandy bay. No fish were caught.
I met up with a work friend of my uncle's , who has a boat on Lough Derg. I spent the day chasing trout on the fly. I was informed by him however that it was a bad time of year for fly fishing for trout. Apparently the sport wouldn't improve again until late august. The Lough was beautiful, and the weather fantastic for being out on the water, albeit not ideal for fishing. I saw what I believe to be a pine marten scurrying along the wooded shore a sheltered bay as I stopped fishing for lunch. At first I thought it was a mink until it proceeded to climb a nearby tree.
The highlight of the trip was a day I had on Lough Corrib with a local guide, John O'Malley. We spent the day fly fishing for pike, something I'd never done before. The casting took a while to adjust to and wasn't helped by a very strong wind. The fishing was great, I was getting hits from pike almost as soon as I could cast the fly a decent distance. I soon managed my first pike on the fly, a beautiful fish estimated to be around 7-8lbs. The fight on the fly rod was incredible, I've never had a pike fight so hard on spinning or bait gear. I went on to catch two more pike that day, one of around 3lbs and another around 6lbs. John managed to catch an impressive high double, around 17lbs in weight, it fought ferociously; landing such a fish was a two man effort as I had to pull in the drogue and assist in taking the fish onto the boat. Both of us had a lot of hits that day, and hooked several more fish. We were very unlucky not to have brought more fish to the boat.
Friday, 15 June 2012
Having worked flat out for my up and coming A level exams I couldn't help but give myself last saturday off when my fishing friend Nick offered a trip down to a nice exclusive stretch of a local chalkstream. I did deserve a break I thought, all those hours of work, besides, biology is a subject that has as much relevance on the bank as it does in the class room.
The weather was lovely, albeit a little windy. The stream was up a little and flowing well owing to the recent heavy rainfall in the south. Perhaps the river held this much water prior to the days of abstraction, I'd bet it held even more! The fishing was superb, both Nick and I fished the duo with devastating effect. We entered the river by a bridge, fishing our way upstream, and very quickly losing count of the number of small trout and grayling we'd caught. The EA undertook significant habitat work here around three years ago and the fish seem to be thriving, spawning successfully on the newly put in gravels. The bulk of the trout we caught were only a year or two old, reassuring proof of successful spawning in the winters following the work.
In one pool I managed to capture my largest ever grayling on a dry fly, a fish that would probably have made 1-1.5 pounds in it's autumn condition. Being out of season and clearly recovering from spawning it was swiftly unhooked in the water and released without weighing. The fish fell to a klinkhammer expertly tied by Nick, a pattern I shall almost certainly steal for future use.
Many fish were caught and much fun was had. With my last exams on tuesday and the coarse fishing season beginning tomorrow I shall be spending my summer trying to temp all manner of species with bait and flies and shall hopefully have much more time to update this blog.
Wednesday, 16 May 2012
I've been so busy with school work that my fishing has unfortunately had to be put on the back burner. I have however been obsessively fly tying, filling up my fly box with various offerings that will hopefully one day tempt a few sea trout or salmon. All are tied on size 14 partridge, wilson hooks.
Despite the mountains of revision for my final A level exams, I still find tine to tie a few. It makes a nice, refreshing revision break...
Tuesday, 15 May 2012
The only freestone rivers I'd fished until Sunday were a benign stretch of the Monnow and a small tributary of it called the Honddu, both of which were fairly tame. On sunday I fished the Taff and Rhondda. This was my first time fishing and wading in such powerful rivers; I was completely out of my depth.
Nick and I made the journey across the Severn bridge to fish with a friend, Dan, who regularly fished the Taff. The river Taff was enormous! Much larger than I had envisaged, and far more powerful than I could possibly have imagined. Recent rain had swollen the river, and although it was dropping it was still a foot or so above normal levels. We started out fishing a beat where Dan and Nick had experienced past success, however owing to the very powerful water it proved impossible to access any of the good holding spots.
Enjoying no luck in the first section, we moved on, fishing a section further up. Dan managed a nice, albeit out of season, grayling on a nymph; the nymphs we were using were very heavy, 3-4mm tungsten beads, my little 8ft 3# fly rod could barely cast them! Moving up this beat I managed to find a few fish holding in a large slack, catching 2 grayling and a small trout in successive casts. The fishing I was told was not as good as it usually is, although before we moved on once more I heard shouts from Nick coming from the direction of the slack I'd found. He had hooked an enormous trout! The fish went 2lb 6oz when landed, and was a beautiful cock fish, with a handsomely kyped jaw and an iridescent blue sheen on gill plate. The fish's tail had a notch worn out from spawning. It's good to know that this attractive wild fish had been busy siring the next generation of Taff trout. Nick has a knack of plundering the pools of others, and Dan will probably quite willingly second me on that.
With the Taff not quite fishing as well as usual we decided to have a go on one of its tributaries. The Rhondda, which is a significantly smaller river than the Taff, was in better shape after the recent rain. The entry to the river was interesting, jumping and clambering down miscellaneous old industrial structures. (The Rhondda was once a very heavily industrialised river, essentially an open industrial sewer.) The current was equal in power to that of the Taff in places, a very powerful river; thankfully only thigh-deep most of the time. I really struggled with the wading and found the fishing to be extremely difficult, having never come across “pocket water” before, and having little idea at first of where exactly I should be placing my nymphs. My short rod further restricted the areas I could fish. Nick and Dan, being experienced pick pocketers and possessing long rods and French leaders were quite happily fishing every inch of slacker water. Dan managed an absolutely lovely trout of around 1 ¼ lbs from a pocket behind a boulder, it fought hard in the flow. Quite possibly one of the prettiest fish I've seen. Shortly after this my waders began to spring leaks, I felt a very uncomfortable cold trickle coming in from a hole that had developed in the crotch. My phone (which was snugly in the pocket of my jeans) soon died, informing me of its plight by vibrating constantly until finally giving up.
After what seemed like an age of difficult fishing and wading I managed my first Rhondda trout, a small but beautiful fish. The Rhondda was a truly challenging river for me, being so unused to such boisterous flows and tricky wading. There were times when crossing the stream that Nick had to save me from falling to a watery death (a slight exaggeration, but it was a perilous situation none the less) I found it difficult to concentrate on wading and fishing at the same time, I often stood too long in one spot for lack of confidence in my ability to move safely a few steps upstream!
Towards the end of the day I thought that I was getting the hang of the wading, although Nick informed me that I still looked like a drunkard in the water. I managed one more fish that day, a lovely brown trout of around ½ – ¾ of a pound.
By the end of the day my waders were so full of water that as we walked back to the car spurts of water spewed from holes by the boot, and I had to drain the boots, in the same vane as emptying out a full wellington boot! There was a dodgy moment where I had to change into dry clothing, using little more than a car door to save my dignity in the middle of the very urban Pontypridd!
In spite of being an extremely difficult and at times frustrating day's fishing, it was extremely enjoyable and refreshing to fish on rivers so different from anywhere I've ever fished before. It was a real eye opener. Freestone rivers are fast becoming my favourite kind of river, their varied nature, power, and changing character prove captivating. The fishing itself was amongst the most challenging I've yet to experience.
Saturday, 3 March 2012
A condensed season of Grayling fishing.
This season's Grayling fishing has been my best so far, with a number of productive outings and several large fish caught. Owing to the constraints of A levels, and a lack of fishing funds I've had less outings than I'd have liked, often going for months without casting a line. This however simply meant that those special occasions upon which I got to fish were savoured all the more. Each trip brought new challenges, and I feel that I've learned a lot as a fly fisher through my grayling outings.
My Grayling season got off to a flying start back in mid October with a trip to a prime tributary of the River Test. The river was perfect, it was everything a chalk stream should be, and the aroma of water mint permeated the bank side scene as it was crushed underfoot. The day was one of glorious sunshine, making fish spotting easy. Many large Grayling were drifting, ghost like on the pale chalk, and what's more, could be seen to be feeding. On several occasions I saw large Grayling tilt their snouts down, causing a small plume of silt to rise as they sucked in nymphs from the river bed.
Nick opened the season with what was then the biggest Grayling I'd ever seen. It was a very dark fish, weighing in at 2lb 11oz! It was the first victim of the day to a fly that is now legendary within certain fly fishing circles: the killer orange beaded nymph. This fly, with it's visible bead, was to prove itself time and time again as the day went on, and I believe, I may not of course be correct, that every Grayling mentioned to be hooked or caught by Nick during this expansive blog entry was on one of these nymphs.
After this wonderful start, Nick spotted a couple of large Grayling feeding in the outside of a bend behind extensive rushes on our bank. Nick, having already had a good fish, gave me the privilege of casting to them. Crouching behind the rushes, I catapulted a pink bug of my own creation out to the fish, which to my great surprise took it straight away. I struck into it, causing it to bolt downstream, taking line! If memory serves me right it even jumped! Nick could see the other fish still feeding, seemingly undisturbed by it's partners swift exit. He flicked out his nymph, and in no time at all we were both playing good Grayling in the same glide, his fish bolted down as well, overtaking mine. We landed the fish at the around same time, mine weighed 2lbs, a new Pb, and Nick's was a little under 2lbs, a good fish.
The day carried on in this vein, Nick landing countless large Grayling on his killer nymph (which was fast becoming a classic) and I landed several more good fish, all being around a pound in weight.
The season thus opened in fine style, and it went on...
My second and third trips of the season were to a stretch of the main River Test and the River Lambourn during a weekend in late November.
The Test was remarkably low, it was at least 1foot lower than it probably should have been for the time of year. The low water though probably made the fishing a little easier, the fish being that bit more shoaled up, and easier to spot. Both Nick and I made good catches on nymphs. Nick catching at least one 2lber and catastrophically losing a fish that may well have topped 3lbs; I caught a dozen or so Grayling of up to 1 3/4lbs on the duo.
On the far bank, over a patch of clear gravel, we spotted a pair of what must've been salmon cutting their redds into the pale flinty gravels. It was a marvellous site, watching the fish tilt and kick, cleaning the gravels. We possibly even witnessing the spawning event itself.
Along with the subsurface action there was a reasonable hatch of small, pale up-winged flies, which as a keen naturalist and aspiring biologist I have to say, ashamedly, that I have no idea as to what species they were! I'm pleased to say that I managed to catch my largest Grayling on a dry fly, a fish of a pound and a quarter or so in weight.
In one pool, memorably, there was a large pod of out sized stocky brown trout rising lazily, head and tail, to these small upwings. In amongst them were several grayling, also rising. As I cast my small dry into the pool, chancing my luck at the Grayling, Nick laughingly said “There is no way that your fly won't get taken by one of these trout.” As he said it, by a strange coincidence, a very large brownie nonchalantly swam over to my fly, fully intent on casually taking it. Raising the tip of my rod caused my fly to skate an inch or two away from the fish's open mouth, leaving one very confused trout, which rose, it's back breaking the surface, only to find it's intended morsel had disappeared. The fly continued on it's drift and into the mouth of a very welcome half pound Grayling!
The River Lambourn the next day was frightfully low, a comparison of pictures in the hut and the present water levels showed it to be at least 2 feet lower than it had been in the summer of 2007! The fish were extraordinarily sparse, and very difficult. Fishing the entire length of the fishery, which was a mile and a half if memory serves me well, we spotted precious few Grayling.
The ones sighted were big, but proved near impossible. Nick hooked and lost one in the first pool we came to, this along with the loss of a very large Grayling and the landing of several out of season brown trout proved to be the sum total of fish caught during our stealthy creep up the beat. We even failed to catch a Grayling in a very promising hatch pool in the middle of the beat. There were supposedly two or three hatch pools, but owing to disrepair and worryingly low water levels the other two appeared as nothing more than deep, stagnant, weed filled pools.
A dog walker in a field nearby came down for a chat with us, seemingly surprised that anyone would bother fishing the river in it's present state. This walker spoke of the river in the recent past, before much of the abstraction had occurred. He spoke of a fast, gurgling stream, several feet deep and with a channel far larger than today's, at present the channel being choked by encroaching marginal weeds. Back then this stretch supported good populations of brown trout, running, he reminisced, to over two pounds in weight.
At the top of the fishery the river simply disappeared into an extensive marginal weed bed that appeared to dominate the entire channel from there on. Succession it seemed was moving on, bringing sharply to mind the fact that our chalk streams are not natural, quickly turning to marsh if left to their own devices. Neglect it seemed plagued this pretty little river, evident throughout in the rotting planks of the walkways and the hatches that were crumbling in disrepair.
The day almost over, and having reached the top end, we elected to fish the first pool once more, where we'd spotted the most Grayling on the way up. We took turns perching in a tree that overhung the pool, directing the other's casting to the fish, watching from the vantage point as the nymphs drifted past their targets.
I so happened to be lucky enough to hook and land one of these fish. It proved larger than I thought, weighing in at 1lb 14oz's, a monster from so small and slight a stream.
From the tree I saw Nick's nymphs being taken numerous times, but failing to connect with the takes, Nick remained fishless that day. The fishing was ridiculously hard, the water barely flowing. The Grayling we managed to catch was the result of combined effort and team work, requiring every ounce of our collective experience, cunning and skill. I can now understand why the late Frank Sawyer always refused any invitations to fish for Grayling on the Lambourn, on the grounds that these fish are just “too darned hard to catch”.
Following the last trip, I was forced to put fishing aside for a few months and put in countless hours of work for my upcoming January exams.
The exams were over by early February, and I enthusiastically accepted Nick's offer to accompany him to fish on another, thankfully easier, stretch of the Lambourn. This stretch was downstream of the neglected reaches, having recently received significant habitat improvements from the EA.Grayling were plentiful, both Nick and I catching around thirty fish each! The average size was small however, the bulk of the fish being around the 4-6inch mark, but larger fish were had, I myself taking a couple of fish that, if we had weighed them, would probably have made a pound or so in weight.
Snow lay on the ground, and there was a frosty chill in the air. I distinctly remember silently cursing absolutely everything whilst trying, and failing, to tie a three turn water knot several times with cold hands. The frustration was indeed immense.
Hopefully I'll be able to get out in the trout season before being forced by necessity to try and forget about fishing once more and study.