I pretty much blinked at the start of 2014 and before I knew it, it was August and well into the trout season before I found myself getting excited for my first fly fishing trip of the year. My work had kept me occupied during a busy period and I missed the mayfly in May and June which is a shame, for there is no more enjoyable time to fish for trout than when they fling themselves about in careless abandon during a hatch. It had been far too long but at least I got to watch the Natal Sharks play rugby on TV most Saturdays. Having said that, the Sharks are possibly the most frustrating sports team in the world to support and another semi-final exit after yet another Super Rugby season of so much promise leads me to wish I could have spent my Saturdays fishing instead.
I had plans to travel by train to "River X" on Saturday, but a rain warning in Wales and a snap decision at 6am on Saturday morning put paid to that. I may have been suffering fishing withdrawal symptoms but I didn't fancy fishing in the rain all day. The decision was made easier in the knowledge that I had another fishing trip lined up the next day with Laszlo, and having a car meant the freedom of finding a river in a suitable condition if the weather was still playing up. As it turned out the forecast for Wales on Sunday was fine and so it transpired that the day dawned warm and mostly cloudless. I couldn't find my camera in the morning after much frantic searching (even with the additional 20 minutes afforded by Laszlo's now customary text of "Morning, I'm running 20 minutes late") I thought to myself that if ever there was a day to catch a memorable fish Murphy's Law would see it happen today. A bittersweet result, if you know what I mean.
We made our way to the River Clochfaen between the village of Llangurig and the town of Rhayader in Wales. Wikipedia tells me that Llangurig is reputed to be the highest village in Wales at an altitude of 1,000 feet/300m which doesn't seem especially high. Despite rain the previous day the Clochfaen was running clear and as we gazed over a road bridge the surface of the water rippled because of a stiff gale and I had to hold on to my hat. We spotted two trout rising, lending promise to the day. We headed down to the lower end of the bottom beat which is described in the Wye & Usk literature as presenting wading and access difficulties. The riverbed is mostly bedrock with deep gutters and holes with the distinct possibility of a dunking if not careful. The banks were mostly tree lined but Laszlo and I are used to this and don't expect manicured lawns when we visit Wales. The wilder the better, the greater the challenge and enjoyment and we hoped the trees would shield us from the wind. The water looked perfect and as we rigged up Laszlo and I both felt that all the signs were pointing to a very good day's fishing ahead.
An hour later when we met up again neither of us had caught a fish nor seen a rise. I had at least seen what looked to be a good fish but only when it darted away, spooked by my clumsy presence. I had to conclude that the fish were very spooky, especially in the bright light and this caused me to slow everything down and spend more time on my knees. My fortunes changed in the afternoon when I approached a pool and sat and watched it for 5 minutes and spotted a rise on the opposite bank. I crawled into the water on my knees and waited another 5 minutes for the water to settle. There wasn't any further sign of the fish but I covered the area where it had previously risen with an olive CDC pattern and sure enough, the fish sipped in the fly and I broke my trout duck for 2014. The fishing improved thereafter without it becoming easy. There were still very few rises and no interest in the nymph whatsoever but the olive CDC pattern did seem to garner enough interest from a few trout here and there. I lost what felt and looked to be an enormous trout, certainly over 3lbs. I cast to what I had thought had been a small fish that had just risen, judging by the small splashy rise type, and was faced with a huge snout which emerged confidently, casually and almost disdainfully to engulf my fly. I struck and immediately felt a solid resistance which reminded me of hooking into an immovable boulder. My first thought was salmon. In a split second I felt the fish realise its predicament and start to move in the opposite direction and then my tippet parted ways with the leader. To say I was disappointed would be an understatement. If anyone had been in earshot they would have heard some choice language. Fish of that size don't come along too often. It left me thinking about leaving my camera at home more often.
My disappointment didn't last very long though as a little way upstream I managed to hook and land my best Welsh trout to date, a beautifully spotted and chunky trout which I estimate at 2.5lbs and somewhere between 17 and 18 inches. Rises had been rare throughout the day so when I spotted a rise in a near impossible lie guarded by three separate overhanging trees I accepted the challenge and spent the best part of twenty minutes attempting a cast. I eventually landed the fly in just the right place upstream of a boulder on the opposite bank. The shaded water looked too shallow to hold a good trout and I was expecting a little fish to be holding station. After a brief drift the trout rose to the dry fly when it passed the boulder and sipped in the fly and again as soon as I lifted my rod and line I realised I was into a good fish. The fish turned into the pressure and presented its generous flank and I prayed this time that the tippet would withstand the trout's weight. With the hook set and the trout stripping line whilst running upstream I had to play the fish with side strain under the low hanging tree branches. I shouted for Laszlo who by this stage was only about 50 metres downstream and he came running over just in time to snap a few photos with his phone. I'm glad to have a photographic record of the catch. There may just be something in leaving home without your camera next time you go fishing. Why not give it a try (but make sure your fishing buddy has a camera at the ready)? After that trout I didn't have any further joy but then I didn't really try too hard or mind at all.