Monday, 20 May 2013

Splendorous Spring

Spring has definitely arrived if you go by fishing in shirtsleeves to rising fish. Last Saturday was just such a day, resplendent in sunshine, the greenery of new tree leaves and bank side stinging nettles, wild flowers, bird song, inquisitive lambs and bounding, nervous squirrels. The riverside has finally come to life.

Four trout in succession were tempted to take a size 18 nymph drifted past the tree roots centre left of the image

River X was in fine fettle as it always seems to be, running clear whilst other rivers seen through the train window were brown and murky after recent rains. Trout were active and willing to rise to the dry fly - what a joy it was after so long to take a trout on a dry fly! I caught somewhere in the region of 25 fish, all brown trout but for a lone grayling. A pair of trout measured 14" and I will be hard pressed to match them for quality in the season ahead.

A lovely 12" fish taken on the dry fly

Laszlo was surprised by a rather wild looking rainbow trout, his first. Initially at a loss to explain its presence in the river I have since learned that there is a stocked trout pool about 5 miles upriver which is fed by a small tributary. This rainbow must have escaped. Whatever the case, it is a fine looking rainbow trout.

The evening walk home

Sunday, 12 May 2013

The River Dee, North Wales

After our abortive visit to the Welsh Dee in February this year Laszlo and I promised to return when the weather improved. The weather has been relatively stable over the past 2 weeks and we took a chance yesterday, driving the 80 or so miles north west of Birmingham to Llangollen. Our start was held up a little because I couldn't find my rain jacket. In the end it was a good thing I found it, as we met up with a spell of rain sweeping in from the Atlantic.

The Dee oozes a special charm and it’s difficult to describe the beauty of the Dee valley, especially in the green wash of spring. Arriving at Berwyn, just east of Llangollen, we were treated to the sight of the impressive working steam train pulling in to the station on its short tourist journey along the course of the river. Throughout the day we would regularly hear its whistle. The valley to the east of Llangollen was clear and sunny and, whilst the river seemed to have a little tinge of colour to it, it was at a perfect level for fly fishing.
The Dee where the little Abersilio brook joins it

We purchased day tickets from Watkins & Williams hardware store and decided to fish the upper section of the 10 miles of river offered by the Llangollen-Maelor Angling Club. We crossed the river, watching kayakers and white water rafters setting off for the rapids downstream, and parked at the small hamlet of Abersilio. The left bank is the outer bank of a bend in the river and therefore the current here is swift and the river deep. We hadn't given much thought to which bank to fish from, thinking that we would be able to wade across the river if required. How wrong we were! Attempting to ford the river would be near suicide. The Dee is a large and powerful river with a smooth bedrock bottom that offered as much purchase to the studs on my wading boots as flip flops have on ice. I later crafted a makeshift wading stick from a tree branch and this helped to some extent. Our bank was forested and casting difficult but I flicked in my team of nymphs and immediately caught a little trout of about 7 inches on the heavier copper wrapped dropper. I turned to Laszlo and we agreed that the signs looked good for a rewarding day’s fishing. 

First fish of 2013!

We continued to move up the left bank and cast where possible through the trees. I was mesmerised by the swathes of blue, yellow and white coloured wild flowers which carpeted the forest floor. Eventually, having dawned upon us that crossing the river was impossible, we returned to the car and drove to the other side of the valley where there were fewer trees on the river bank and where the option of wading as least presented itself. By this time it had started to spit with rain with tremendous wind gusts from the west (blowing directly downstream).

Beautiful wild flowers beneath the trees

On the right bank my first cast yielded another trout, this one a little smaller than the first. Two casts later a much larger fish took the nymph and I saw it turn and reveal deep flanks. Unfortunately the fish threw the hook and left me ruing what might have been a pretty decent fish. I had hooked 3 fish in about 10 casts and the prospects were looking good. And then, it was almost as if someone had flicked a switch and the trout went off the boil. I had no joy for the rest of the day and Laszlo was unable to entice any fish either. There was some fly life coming off the water but we didn't see a single rise the entire day. Birds made sure not to miss out on the feast, swooping low over the water to nimbly catch the hapless morsels. Having consulted Lapsley’s and Bennett’s pocket guide today I'm pretty sure that I spotted a few iron blue duns. The authors suggest that iron blues often hatch on “cold, wet, blustery days”, a perfect description of yesterday.  We fished until about 6pm and then decided to call it a day.

Access to the right bank

The right bank of the Dee

It was great to finally open my season’s account with a fish in the net. The Dee is a bewitching river and I'm pretty sure I haven’t seen the last of it. In the meantime I am looking forward to an improvement in the weather over the coming weeks and the appearance of mayfly! 

Season Opening Curse Strikes Again!

I have sworn never again to fish for trout in March, the first month of the trout season in Wales and most parts of England. My opening season forays in the past 2 years – both in March – have been cold and unrewarded with even a sighting of a fish. It is almost, but not quite spring in March. There is little sign of fly life, the days are still short, the air and water cold, and the trees still bare. Still gripped by the icy vestiges of winter the trout tend to be correspondingly sullen. The travel and effort does not correspond with the lack of reward to my mind. So this year I planned my first trout fishing trip for the first weekend of April, perfectly timed to take up an invitation from Simon Evans to fish the Usk. Simon is blessed by living in trout country, on the banks of the Gavenny and within a stone’s throw of its confluence with the River Usk.

Of course, 2013 had seen snow in March and lingering cold conditions. By the first weekend of April it was difficult to see any evidence of spring.  In our email correspondence Simon had mentioned cold water temperatures of 3 degrees due to snow melt and hard frosts but I paid little heed and focused on positive - Simon’s expectations of a steady olive hatch from 1pm to 4pm.

Fortified by a hot cup of tea on arrival at Simon’s house, I met his friends Alex and Mark and we proceeded down to a private section of the Usk, which I recognised as the Crickhowell section from having fished it in May 2011. A large hatch of olives started to occur and we waited with baited breath for the first sign of a rise. Remarkably, none were seen and for several hours the trout completely ignored the sheer number of olives, the largest hatch I have witnessed. I was pleased to spot a couple of March Browns for the first time and encouraged when Simon told me they are making a comeback on the Usk after having been considered for many years to be locally extinct.  Simon’s family arrived for a picnic lunch on the banks of the river and I sipped a beer watching the olives drift by, unhindered by the fish.  Eventually we located a small number of fish rising to olives in a section of the river upstream. Alex, an accomplished sea trout fisherman but with little experience of fishing for trout,  had first dibs in the hotspot while I entered the water a little way downstream where a fish had risen on the far bank. I couldn’t entice the fish to rise again and, as quick as it had started, the rise had come to an end! Alex had managed to land a good trout, the only fish between the four of us all day.

It was a hard and frustrating day’s fishing, saved somewhat by the good company. The hills looking down on Abergavenny were covered in snow. At the conclusion of the day Simon mentioned that an old gentleman angler he knows swears never to fish when there is still snow on the hills. Through experience we learn. My season opening philosophy has been amended: no fishing in March and only when all the snow has melted from the hills!