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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  1. Pretty good going, Justin, for such a tiny stretch of water.

    I'll have to pay a visit if I'm up that way (if only to raid the trees to fill my fly box, lol)

    Great atmospheric pics.

  2. Chris, thanks. If you're in need of a few Klinks, you now know where to go (just take a step ladder with you).