Monday, 15 August 2016

A New Home

I picked up a fly rod for the first time in just over half a year this past weekend and it occurred to me that the same amount of time has passed between Aston Villa's last two wins! Perhaps for the sake of my Villa team I should go fishing more often? I would never have dreamed it would be the case, but after fly fishing pretty much every week for the fourteen months of my recent travels, I felt like I needed a little break from the pursuit of trout. Hence the blog silence this year. That and having other things to focus on, like finding a new job, accommodation and all the things that are a part and parcel of delving back into the ‘real world’.

From one ‘trout desert’ to another it seems... after living and working in Birmingham for almost a decade and having to travel some way to find trout in rivers, I have landed on my feet in West Sussex, about an hour south of London. There’s not much in the way of river trout fishing in these parts either. The famous English chalkstreams are a two hour drive to the west but they come at a steep price and can be no more than an infrequent treat I suppose. Some research and a few enquiries later, my ears pricked up at the mention of a little stream not far away from me which apparently has trout. I went on a reconnaissance mission several weeks ago and lo and behold I spotted a few trout in between shoals of chub. It’s a tiny urban stream, hidden from houses and allotments by trees and nettles for the most part, with the sounds of trains, planes and traffic never far away. But the trout were there and I started to make plans...

And so Laszlo and I visited the stream this past weekend and we spent our time in equal portions exploring and fishing. We initially targeted a section of the stream which meanders though a park, which meant the usually clear water was prone to discolour whenever a dog went for a swim upstream, which was often. It didn’t affect the fishing though and the chub were eager to have a go at the dry fly. Laszlo also caught a brown trout within half an hour. We weren’t the only fishermen and competed for space with two fishing with stick floats and baited hooks.

Eager to find some quieter water we followed the river downstream where it leaves the park and enters the trees. After some way we came upon several people living in tents next to the river and at one point a man emerged from the trees and, without seeing me, emptied the contents of a cooking pot into the river. Not wanting to go any further we turned and fished our way back upstream. Evidence of fishing activity was all around and I reckon a good deal of subsistence fishing happens here.

At one stage the river flows through a tunnel of about 40m under a motorway and on our way back through the tunnel I had a couple of casts to several fish rising in the dark, and caught one of them! In the darkness I had to largely guess when to strike (more miss than hit) and the little chub I caught must be one of the more unusual fishing moments I have experienced, no different to what I imagine fishing in a dark cave must be like.

I still hadn’t caught a trout by this stage, but in virtually the last stretch of stream before we returned to the car park, possibly the most ‘trouty’ looking riffle we had seen all day, complete with weeds and gravel, I managed to tempt a trout to dart out from under the weeds to a well placed flick of the dry fly. After so long, it was good to be back in the business of catching trout, and it was made all the better for being so close to my new home too. It’s good to have a fly fishing escape so near to me, even if it's a highly urbanised stream environment and all that comes with it: artificially straightened banks, waste and rubbish, fishing pressure, dogs in the river and transients living on the stream’s banks. Just the knowledge of trout being so close to me and apparently thriving despite the challenges lifts me. As does knowing I now have somewhere to snatch a couple of hours of pure escapism, to immerse myself in a little green slip of nature within an urban sprawl, to watch the fish rise and take my mind off everything which fills it midweek.

My first trout of the UK season

This riffle and weed had trout written all over it, and so it proved to be

Monday, 7 December 2015

New Zealand is Terrible

New Zealand is terrible. Do NOT come here. The fish are few and far between and ultra spooky and that's assuming you can even spot them. Blind fishing is for amateurs. The wind blows all the time and almost always in your face. It's usually raining. It may even snow or freeze. Your gear will be tested and will most likely be found wanting. The hikes are long and arduous. Sandflies wait to drain your blood the second you leave the sanctity of your vehicle and you will be left scratching the growing collection of red bites for the duration of your trip. Sandfly flavoured coffee and noodles are a given. Don't believe the hype. Stay away!

It's been so "difficult" over the past month and a half I've had no motivation to write. My 'followers' (all 49 of you) must be in a state of despair and worry. I apologise. Blame New Zealand.

I've done solo camping trips and trips with friends old and new. Along the way I've had some truly wonderful and memorable terrible and disappointing backcountry experiences. David, Nick, Jack and Pieter - thank you for your company. Here's a selection of photos from my New Zealand season to date.

David scouting for fish

David and fish

I caught this trout on a dry fly next to our camp on a chilly morning, just after first light! Go Seahawks!

Nick and me with a double hook up

Jack with the finest looking trout I have ever seen
New Zealand has been kind to me this season. Here's a few grip and grin shots with yours truly (most done with a self timer unless specified).

(Jack Kos image)

(Jack Kos image)
New Zealand is so terrible I'm already thinking about returning next season.

Friday, 16 October 2015

Idaho and Oregon

I leave Idaho today with a heavy heart. Goodbyes are never easy. The silver lining is that when I step off my final plane in two days time it will be at Christchurch, New Zealand. I have a bit of an epic flight schedule first, with stops at Salt Lake City, Los Angeles and Auckland, but when I finally get to the South Island it will be the start of three months of stalking large trout in gin clear water, fantasy landscapes and living in a tent. I can't wait.

The Snake River gorge near Twin Falls, Idaho. An oasis of green in a barren landscape.

Shoshone Falls, one of the "twin" falls
I did go back to the little green trout stream in Twin Falls one evening. On my previous visit I had spotted what is for this little stream a decent sized trout, holding in shallow water right behind a low overhanging branch and not two metres from a picnic table on the mown lawn of the river's edge. There was a much smaller trout holding in the same seam just a metre behind the bigger one, and I watched them for a while as I tried to figure out how to get a cast to the larger fish without snagging the tree fronds or leaving the cast too short and exciting the smaller fish.

You can see the larger fish holding in the bubble seam, under the tree fronds. A tricky cast!
I crossed the river a little way downstream and startled a family of ducks. They took off from their shady refuge, a cacophony of squawking and wing beats and I heard them settle in the pool I intended to fish a little way upriver. When I eventually made it to that pool, having hacked my way through the undergrowth, the ducks took off again, making just as much noise, but thankfully the large fish was nonplussed by the commotion. It continued to feed in the seam of bubbles.

I eased slowly into a casting position where I could cast over my left shoulder and of course, my first cast was too short, and the smaller of the two fish in the secondary lie came up and swallowed my dry fly. That was it for the larger fish. It disappeared pretty quickly.

The smaller of the two - the other looked to be about four times larger...
A look at the tricky lie from the point I made the cast
As dusk settled, bringing a chillness to the air, I came by a shallow pool with gravel and green weeds and rising trout. I slowly entered the water - a cast from the bank was impossible - and hooked three more brown trout on a little caddis and purple haze pattern. Catching brown trout on a dry fly just at the moment between day and night when the light is pink and red is a magical experience.

And then I hit the road for near on a week in Oregon. The town of Bend in Oregon is probably the prettiest town I have seen in America. It sits right where the mountains and tall pine trees start - the Oregon I imagined. I had driven for hours through Oregon on roads as straight as a tape measure with nothing but dry sage brush to look at (if lucky a few gnarled juniper trees broke up the landscape). As far as drives go, the long drive from Idaho through Oregon to Bend is one of the most mind-numbingly boring I have driven. I had to turn the music up and open my window to stay awake. Bend probably seems prettier than it is because of the eastern approach to it.

The fishing in Oregon was largely uneventful. I fished a very low Crooked River and caught four rainbow trout. I fished the Metolius River near the quaint little town of Sister, a picture perfect river if ever there was one, hooked two fish but lost them both in the strong current. I rounded off the trip by spending a day fishing a pretty famous river - the Lower Deschutes - near Maupin, and whilst everyone else seemed to be going after the steelhead I focused on the seams and tried - and failed - to gain the attention of the resident trout. This is the biggest and most powerful river I have ever fished. I did hook a little trout on the nymph but it wriggled off and was gone in a flash.

The Crooked River, described to me as a "desert tailwater"

The Metolius River

The Metolius trail
Steelheaders on the Lower Deschutes

The confluence with the aptly named White River
That's it for the USA in 2015. New Zealand awaits!

Sunday, 4 October 2015

Trout Surprise

I'm back in the USA visiting someone I know in Twin Falls, Idaho before moving on to New Zealand later this month. The 'city' of 45,000 people - it really doesn't take much to obtain city status in the U.S. it seems - is located on the crest of the spectacular Snake River canyon in the semi arid southern half of the state. As its name suggests, a couple of picturesque waterfalls cut through the canyon in the vicinity of the city. It's hot and dry here, and mostly flat. The land bordering the city is somewhat bleak and lunar-esque (the stark Craters of the Moon National Preserve is not very far away in south central Idaho). There is nothing to suggest the presence of trout, not even a dedicated fly store which is rare for Montana, Wyoming and Idaho. Until today I thought a drive north for at least an hour was needed to find trout.

The Springboks had just beaten Scotland in the Rugby World Cup, convincingly too, and I decided to take advantage of the beautiful weather and feel good factor by walking a trail through a park not 100 metres from my motel. I descended the path to the river basin and left behind the sounds of the city. Being a fly fisherman of course I had to check out the river and this is when I spied a feeding fish in the murky green water. I watched it for a while and it was unmistakably a trout by its shape and the way it moved. I couldn't just leave a feeding trout to its own devices, especially one chanced upon completely unexpectedly, so I popped back to my motel and fetched out my rod and reel and camera.  

The trout tracked my dry fly several times and even mouthed it gently once before darting away into the depths, clearly unimpressed by the unwelcome texture of feather and deer hair. It ignored a streamer but eventually took a small unweighted pheasant tail nymph suspended below my dry fly. It was a little brown trout.

I recently purchased a waterproof Nikon AW130 and this was its first trial. Taking underwater shots seemed a bit hit and miss and the murky water and shaded tree canopy didn't exactly lend itself to great underwater photography. I think I still got a couple of interesting shots for a first effort with a waterproof compact.

Finding trout where you don't expect them is always a pleasant surprise, like finding a $10 note on the street or cracking open an egg and getting two yolks for the price of one. To discover that the city I am visiting has trout existing in its very heart makes the experience even more rewarding, and not simply because of the obvious recreational boon. My deeper underlying positive feeling is perhaps too esoteric a concept for anyone who is not a fellow trout nut to truly comprehend. People who own pets are supposedly happier. My fix comes from knowing there are trout in the waters that flow through my daily life, for they are pure and healthy refuges and places of innocent, carefree pursuit.

I can see myself spending more time in the park in the coming evenings, looking for signs of trout in the green water.

Tuesday, 1 September 2015

A Return Home

It was great to catch up with Laszlo on my return to the UK and head out to mid Wales and a secret stream we have fished for the last four years. The weather was typically British, of course, and the stream was at the lowest we have ever seen it. In some places it was unrecognisable, a barely moving trickle, but we gave it a full go.

Fishing was not easy and we struggled to find willing trout. I saw a handful of rises but almost as if someone had flicked a light switch the rises would cease the second I moved into casting position. I lengthened my leader and tippet to 15 feet and cracked into my spool of 6x tippet and only then did I start to have some marginal success. I caught two little trout and what I think was a salmon parr. Laszlo fared a little better with three little trout and a salmon parr.

Salmon parr?

No fireworks, nothing spectacular to report but it was simply good to be back home for a little while and to have fished a stream I know well. Indeed I have fished this stream more than any other so it feels like a special place to me. I was a little disappointed to come across another angler fishing the upper section - the first angler I have come across on this stream - and when he said "the lads at my work told me to come and give this river a try" and "my mate caught 17 fish here yesterday" my heart sank a little at the thought that the secret may slowly be getting out. Oh well, that's fishing for you and nothing lasts forever.