Saturday, 16 February 2013

A Sheep in Wolf's Clothing

I caught my first trout in a river in May 2009. For a long time aspirant river fly fisherman it was a treasured rite of passage. I also remember it as a bittersweet moment because the experience led to the fish's demise. I don't believe I have killed a river fish since.

It was a propitiously bright spring day in Mid Wales. Kate and I were being tutored by Andrew Cartwright in the basic skills of river fishing on the banks of the upper Severn. Sheep warily watched us whilst grazing in the fields and the yellow blossoming gorse bushes painted a pretty scene. It was Kate's first attempt at any kind of fishing and Andrew did a first class job in teaching her the roll cast and basic overhead cast in next to no time. I had been a stillwater fly fisherman for many years before that, but moving water was a perplexing and seemingly impossible animal next to lake fly fishing. The instruction was priceless.

Pretty soon Kate caught her first fish, a lovely little brown trout.

I left Andrew to continue to teach Kate and moved upstream, beyond a river bend to the next pool. Now with a vague inkling of what I was meant to do I cast my NZ duo rig into the river and watched the dry fly carefully as it floated downstream, until it was swallowed up by the tumultuous current of a tail pool. I left the flies to continue to drift downstream, unsighted, through the promising deeper water. Instinctively I lifted the rod and line and felt the unmistakable resistance of a fish on the hook. I mention instinct - that is how I like to remember it - but in reality I was probably oblivious to the take and lifted the flies out of the water to re-cast them. Nevertheless I was ecstatic, more so that I had accomplished the feat on my own. After a spirited fight I jubilantly brought the brown trout to hand. I remember the fish having unusually large, bulging eyes, which accords with the photos.

The trout had taken the nymph. Unfortunately the fly had been swallowed so deep in the throat that I was unable to remove it. I ran back to Andrew with the fish and even he could not reach the fly with his forceps. He took a view that the fish had been out of the water too long and summarily knocked it on the head to kill it. The fish wasn't wasted - we later took it into a local pub and the landlady said she would cook it for a guest. I still felt a little bad about it though.

A few weeks ago someone mentioned to me that trout are stocked into the upper Severn to complement the wild population. I was unaware of this and had assumed all the fish were wild. I went back and had a look at the photos of my first catch from four years ago and reckon it was most probably a stockie. The tail is a giveaway. A sheep in wolf's clothing.

At first I was a little disappointed at the realisation, but the more I thought of it the more I have come to the conclusion that it is an insignificant detail and made it no less of an achievement for a first catch. On the bright side it has however made me feel fractionally better about the fish ending up as someone's supper.

Sunday, 10 February 2013

"An Appalachian Adventure"

A copy of my latest article which appears in the February edition of South African magazine FLYFISHING. It recounts the fishing part of my visit to the American south in May last year and my first encounter with brook trout. Reproduced here with kind permission of the managing editor, Dave Rorke.

To read, click on each image to enlarge and then click on the image again to magnify the page.

Monday, 4 February 2013

First Fishing Outing of 2013

Encouraged by clear skies and a falling E.A. river level gauge, Laszlo and I drove to Llangollen this past Saturday to fish the Welsh Dee. The river was high and pushing through fast and clearly not in any condition for fly fishing. Disappointed, we drove the 18 miles upstream to Bala, with little hope that the river higher up the valley would be in any better condition, and it wasn't.

The Dee is a poet's river: Milton called it the "wizard stream" and Tennyson "the sacred Dee". Charles Kingsley wrote the poem "The Sands of Dee". We earmarked the poetic Dee as a river to return to in the trout season.

We set course for "stream X" which seems to do well in times of rain and high water and the drive took us through the eastern edge of Snowdonia National Park. This was the first time I had passed through Snowdonia and the spectacular scenery of snow capped mountains and steep sided valleys in the clear weather literally took my breath away. It's not too far from Birmingham and Laszlo and I promised to find day ticket fishing in Snowdonia later this year in the trout season. The mountains will make for an incredible backdrop to the fishing.

Snowdonia: photo from

The changes this year to the Wye & Usk Foundation's roving voucher scheme (which is no more) has seen us cast the net a little wider and look at other options for day ticket fishing, hence our trip to the Dee. We have yet to decide whether to buy the WUF "wild streams" season permit but we are both set against the alternative option of pre-booking our fishing beat and being lumped with it. The British weather is just too unpredictable!

Anyway, we arrived at "stream X" after a bit of a drive and found it at a reasonable level and clarity to get our hopes up. Had the river not been in a fit-for-fishing state we would have pushed on back home with only the drive through Snowdonia preventing it from being a completely wasted trip. We tackled up in the cold wind and went fishing, the time just gone 1.30 pm. Laszlo caught 2 grayling on a pink shrimp pattern and he said the first grayling had a mouth full of pink worms. I blanked without even coming in to contact with a fish. It seems to be my thing to blank on my first fishing outing of the year. I wouldn't exactly say I am enamoured by fishing in the winter - it's cold and uncomfortable and the stuff of heavy nymphs. I did see one rise and for a moment I tried to tempt the fish with a small F Fly, with no success. I realised that I have never caught a fish with an F Fly although many people swear by the pattern. I have stocked up on a few F Fly patterns for the coming trout season and I am determined to do better with it.

It was great to have a day out with fly rod in hand, if only for 3.5 hours before the weak yellow sun dipped behind the hills and it quickly turned dark. I'm looking forward to the start of the trout season which is only a month away now.