Sunday, 25 September 2011

The River Onny, Shropshire

With the trout fishing season closing this coming Friday, I was anxious for one final fishing trip to mark the end of my first full season exploring the rivers of Mid Wales and the neighbouring English counties. Last week, I received an invitation from a fellow West Midlands based fly fisherman which offered me the chance to do just that. I accepted the offer with little hesitation and met Spencer for a day fishing the River Onny on the outskirts of the small town of Craven Arms, a one change, 1 hour 45 minute train journey from Birmingham.

Photo courtesy of Spencer

The Onny is a tributary of the River Teme in south west Shropshire. Flowing close to the town and the busy Shrewsbury-Ludlow road, it’s understandably not the most tranquil setting I have experienced for a day’s river fishing this season. There were a fair number of dog walkers along the banks, and as customary, at least one was throwing large rocks and sticks for his dog to collect in perhaps the most promising looking pool of the entire section. It shows how spoilt I’ve been this season to have felt a little “crowded out” by the presence of a few dog walkers! Having said that, the Onny is a stream with an interesting mix of riffle and deeper pools, and a good head of wild trout, grayling and chub, making for varied and interesting fishing.

Photo courtesy of Spencer

At the risk of my posts sounding a little repetitious, the river was the lowest both Spencer and the local farmer had ever seen it. A good spell of rain is needed to flush our local rivers clean and raise the water level.

Spencer has many years’ experience fishing the Onny and he seemed to know it like the back of his hand. When I mentioned that I had never caught a chub before, he confidently said, “don’t worry, you will get one today.” It was a prediction which soon came true when we came across a shoal of chub and trout. Being low to the water, I couldn’t see them, but high on the bank and concealed behind trees Spencer could spot them and call out their location. I cast out an olive Klinkhammer to the shoal and within seconds a gentle swirl engulfed the fly. I struck successfully and played a species guessing game for a few seconds as the fish clung to the riverbed, eventually surfacing and revealing strange orange fins and silver diamond-shaped scales. A chub! I was ecstatic to catch a new species on the fly.

Triple whammy part 1: chub

Triple whammy part 2: grayling

Triple whammy part 3: the largest trout of the day at10"

In amongst a total haul of 10 fish including 8 brown trout I landed the full house – a triple whammy of trout, grayling and chub - making this a memorable and fitting end to the season. Exactly half the fish fell to an olive Klinkhammer, whilst the rest fell to a collection of weighted and unweighted nymphs. 

Spencer with a trout

My thanks to Spencer for introducing me to the Onny and showing me a few of its secrets.


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Saturday, 10 September 2011

The River Edw, Wales

The Edw is a small, fast flowing stream, hemmed in by impressive oak trees and channelled by forest covered hills, imposing cliffs and rich-green pasture land. The surrounding valleys and quaint village of Aberedw are steeped in history. The air is clean and the remoteness uplifting. It is a bewitching place, making the fishing experience that much more exquisite.

Being a mountain stream, the water flows over broken bedrock and loose stone. On arrival, looking upstream from the stone bridge, Laszlo and I were relieved that the river was running with sufficient volume for a decent crack at a day’s fishing. We had stopped to look at the River Arrow along the way and were shocked to see how low it was running, with barely enough water to dip a toe in. Only a matter of miles separates the headwaters of these two rivers but the west draining Edw appears to have come off better than the east bound Arrow in the summer drought conditions. Looking over the bridge we spotted a number of small fish and promisingly, a fish rose to feed on the surface whilst we watched.

I tied on a Black Klinkhammer #18 and was surprised when it failed to induce any takes. This fly has singlehandedly accounted for more fish than any other this season, and tied with a bright red post I find them very easy to see in turbulent water. After a while, I tied on a #22 bead head PTN to the hook shank of the dry, “klink and dink” style, and was again a little surprised that this usually successful combination failed to produce a result when trundled past the visible fish. The water was so clear that fish could easily be spotted, their shadows on the bedrock a give-away. I replaced the PTN with a larger bead head Gold Ribbed Hare’s Ear, increasing the length of tippet between flies to ensure the nymph was fished deep enough, and very soon the nymph attracted the interests of a trout. This was quickly followed by two more hard fighting trout from the same pool, the best of 9”.

Some of the trees lining the river bank are just starting to turn a shade of yellow, a sign of the season. With each gust of wind, those trees would give up some of their leaves. They would fall gently to the surface of the water where they would become a snag-in-waiting for the dry fly. The trees were also alive with the energetic rustling of squirrels. I hadn’t seen a single squirrel all season until my recent visit to the Bideford Brook in Gloucestershire. Just as I am trying to get in as much trout fishing before the impending season’s end, the squirrels are focussed on increasing the size of their food larder for the coming winter.

At places, the river has slow moving pools of surprising depth. It was from these pools that the majority of fish were taken on the nymph. The takes were extremely subtle and often imperceptible – I guess there is no real urgency in slow moving water for a fish to waste energy on a fast, savage take. This is not to say that the dry fly was ignored. I caught my largest fish of the day, a good 12” brown trout, on an olive Klinkhammer from a very slow moving, shadowy pool flanked by a cliff and overhanging trees. The Edw’s brown trout are typically densely spotted and have prominent cherry red markings on their adipose fins. The majority of them behaved like rainbow trout once hooked, leaping from the water on several occasions in their lust for freedom. By day’s end, 15 trout had come to hand (discounting possibly the smallest fish – at 3” - I have ever caught on the fly). Whilst most were in the 6” to 8” range, four fish stood out at 9”, 10”, 10½” and 12”.

Laszlo and I also witnessed a pretty unusual sight. I had been attempting to cast beneath a low hanging tree branch to where a fish had been rising in a back eddy against the cliffs. My cast was just a little too long and too high, and the nymph swung over the tree branch like a pendulum. The dry fly (connected to the nymph by a length of tippet) settled on the water on my side of the tree branch where it remained stationary despite the strong current. The nymph, a bead head GRHE, was left dangling about 2 feet above the water. As I was about to try flick the line from the tree branch a trout of about 10 inches leaped clear out of the water in an attempt to catch the nymph! Unfortunately, it didn’t succeed and I was left wondering what would have happened had it managed the feat. Possibly a snapped tippet but boy, what a way that would have been to catch a trout!

This beat, together with the Clettwr River, make up my two favourite experiences of the Wye and Usk roving voucher scheme to date. They are both tumbling mountain streams and I see the Aberedw beat of the Edw as a larger version of the Clettwr.

A castle once stood at Aberedw, believed to date back to the Norman conquest of south Wales in 1093. Today only ruins remain but from 1282 it would have been a symbol of English authority over the conquered Welsh lands. It was at Aberedw that Llywelyn ‘the Last’ was killed and beheaded by the forces of the English King, Edward the First. Llywelyn was the last independent ruler of Wales and his head was put up on a gate at the Tower of London where it is said to have remained for 15 years. Ever since, the heir-apparent to the English throne has held the title ‘Prince of Wales.’ A local legend exists that Llywelyn hid in caves at Aberedw and escaped the English by reversing the shoes on his horse, only to be captured near the River Irfon and killed. Whatever the circumstances of his death, it signalled the end of any serious Welsh resistance in the immediate period. To me, the rich sense of history adds to the overall experience and enjoyment of fishing the Edw.


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Monday, 5 September 2011

The Bideford Brook, Gloucestershire

Autumn has arrived. Waking up early for fishing is now done in darkness and the days have a cold edge to them. Yellow leaves fall steadily on to the water when fishing and the pebbled river banks and log jams are cluttered with leaves in varying hues from yellow and orange to red and brown. Grey squirrels, unnoticed so far this season, have suddenly become active in the trees as they busy themselves collecting acorns and nuts for the winter to come. I enjoy the fact that the seasons are so neatly and tangibly defined in Britain as opposed to where I grew up in Africa. There, the seasons tend to merge simply into a hot summer and slightly cooler winter. The autumnal colours offer a striking contrast to the greys and browns of the thinning undergrowth as the icy grip of winter approaches, a warm and vibrant annual last stand against the inevitable as the days become shorter and the weather more bleak.

I happened to be down in Lydney, Gloucestershire, for a day with a few hours to spare so I took along my Hardy Flyweight rod and waders and fished the diminutive Bideford Brook. Lydney borders the Forest of Dean which, thanks to being reserved for royal hunting for centuries, is one of England’s few surviving ancient woodlands. The Bideford Brook is a small tributary of the impressively sized River Severn which flows onwards to the nearby Bristol Channel and Atlantic Ocean.

I was dropped off at the beat’s start, a stone bridge downstream of the town of Blakeney. Looking over the bridge I was instantly struck by how low the brook was flowing. Tree roots were left high and dry and I doubted my bootlaces would even get wet. Alas, this has been the story for much of this drought hit season. Given that I didn’t really have any other choice, I gave it a go. I’m still learning my craft at river fishing and, the way I see it, the low water conditions this season have provided a valuable grounding to my fledgling education, stressing the importance of stealth and delicate presentation.

I struggled for the first hour. However, the usual pattern of seeing fleeing bow waves of spooked fish in the pool tails, well before I had even reached anything remotely near casting range, was encouragingly broken by missing two lightening fast rises to my dry fly. The brook was filled to the brim with little trout. I must have seen at least a hundred before I reached the beat’s end and they seemed to shoal in the deepest parts of the river. The thick vegetation also offered its challenges – I reckon I lost more flies to the trees in these four hours of fishing than I have the whole season!

The lesson I learned is to slow the pace right down, to keep as low a profile as possible and to false cast sparingly. In conditions such as these I also shift down from 6x to 7x tippet. When it all came together, the fish were willing and I caught 4 brown trout on the ever reliable black Klinkhammer (#18) as a reward for my efforts. All but one (which may have been a salmon parr come to think of it) were honey coloured, an autumnal golden brown with an orange eye-ring unlike any I have caught this season to date. The best fish was a princely 9½” and the other three were between 6” and 7”.

I also lost what felt to be a hefty fish. I had noticed a rise in a rare deep hole covered by a swift bubble line, right up next to the submerged roots of a tree at the very head of a shady pool. I caught and released my second fish of the day in the tail of the same pool and managed to bring it to hand without spooking the other fish, evidenced by a second rise in the bubble line as I crept forward on my knees. A tight cast was required and I delivered a rare perfect first cast which saw the dry fly drift for a second before disappearing in an eruption of water. I had the fish on for the briefest of moments – long enough to feel its weight – before the fly dislodged and came hurtling back to me like a lost puppy. There’s always a wily old lunker or two in any river, even one as little as the Bideford Brook. Who knows what size of fish was left slightly bewildered at the little black floating creature which packed an unusual punch? Ten inches or twenty, anticipation and mystery are two large parts of the addiction which is fly fishing.

Fly fishing can’t get much smaller than this cramped, depleted brook and I was pretty happy with my hard earned return in the circumstances. Walking back down the beat, I came across another fisherman making his way upstream. Incidentally, it’s the first time I have ever encountered another angler on a Wye and Usk roving voucher beat. Given that I had been dropped off, the absence of a car in the designated parking spot would have led him to believe that he had the beat to himself. I felt pretty bad about it, especially as after we greeted he said “there’s nothing in here!” At least, he pointed out, he was going home with a good excuse.  


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