Wylye trout 2014 – first preparations

Isn't this the most alluring Mayfly Emerger you've ever seen ? - Not mine, I've copied and adapted it from an American fly tyer.

Isn’t this the most alluring Mayfly Emerger you’ve ever seen ? – you almost want to bite on it yourself don’t you.  I’ve taken the design from an American fly tyer, scaled and slightly changed components to suit what we can get here, – can’t wait to try it out, roll on May 2014

Am I suffering from some form of insensitive lunacy ? – I’m sat in my fly tying room in Somerset.  Outside it looks as if the end of the world is nigh, – 70mph winds driving rain and sleet sideways across the meadows; trees on many of the side roads to the village are down, and it seems that it hasn’t been properly light for four days.  The Somerset Levels have been flooded since Christmas, where residents have been unable to live in their homes for seven weeks now, further East towards London,  Old Father Thames is flooding his Home Counties neighbours,  David Cameron is on TV wearing wellies standing by a fire engine,  and what is it that I am doing ? – I’m sat tying size #18 and #20 small delicate olive upwing flies, larger emergers, and #14 and #16 buggy nymphs, in readiness for the Summer ! ! –  as I tie, I have an  image loop running through my head, when describing to anyone the River Wylye, clichés are unavoidable.  A classic gently flowing chalkstream, it is mid summer,  countless Swallows and Swifts swoop in to either drink or take flies from the bright babbling ripples, distorting and mixing the colours of wafting bright green melding with the glow of golden gravels.  Currently it is over the banks into the fields for some distance.  I think I need treatment.

I wind a badger hackle parachute,tie in and crinkle, a few fine deer hairs to create the impression of delicate legs, catch in the tips of a couple of CDC feathers and curve them over towards the eye, the side wisps splay out so beguilingly as it curves, one of my essential ‘trigger’ points on emergers;

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I’m planning my attack on the river as if it is some kind of warfare, which I think is how I see it, I envisage myself as a sniper.

The tail and schuck are deliberately this colour, if you've ever picked any out while fishing, you'll know what I mean to represent, these are a few wisps of Emu.  The abdomen is tied with a single Turkey biot.

The tail and schuck are deliberately this colour, if you’ve ever picked any out while fishing, you’ll know what I mean to represent, these are a few wisps of Emu. The abdomen is tied with a single Turkey biot.

The Wylye’s lower reaches, and carriers near the stables are my prime areas.  I do most of my fishing here, main river, sluices and ancient hatches, much of this area is akin to jungle warfare, fewer but larger fish, which even spook at cloud movement or if the sun suddenly peeps out.  If I fail here, as I often do, then I’m off to that overhanging willow just above the railway bridge where last summer, from less than four metres away, close in at the margins, a trouts very large head, appeared directly in front of me, under the overhanging fronds,-  slowly, timing its rise to synchronise the gulping down of a hatching, twitching  floundering  ED, – then sinking out of sight, all one smooth continuous movement leaving neither ripple nor splash.  No one would believe me if I told them of the heart stopping  fish like this one that I’ve seen on every reach of this part of the Wylye.   Emergers I’ve tied like these are for him.

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Further upstream from Wilton, there is a narrow arched stone bridge, where a muscular brooding brute of a trout appearing to be in excess of 18” holds to one side of an archway.  I’ve watched him several times for the duration of eating a sandwich and drinking a coffee, – he never moves more than a foot either side, holding just out of the main current.  I’ve begun to think of him as my ‘training fish’.  This is the fish that spurs me into trying to improve my fishing skills, trying to perfect an underhand cast up inside the arch, trying to achieve for the fly to land as close to the inside edge where water meets stone as possible, so that as it comes back towards me, emerging from under the arch with no drag or hint of an unnatural movement  hoping to entice him into making that short open mouthed move before the current swings it away downstream.  I really don’t want to anthropomorphise, but this fish exudes brooding malevolence.  I’ll have him, I just want to have that few seconds of adrenalin fuelled fear as I feel his weight, the fast deep head shaking runs as he attempts to dominate the angle of my rod and test my tippet and knots.  I just want to put my fingers round those shoulders, feel the prick of those needle teeth as I remove the fly, and I want that special lingering moments of looking down, holding him in the current waiting for the kick away – for this fish, it is one of these emergers or maybe this new nymph that will give me that experience this coming season.

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Further upstream from this stone bridge is a series of carriers, where a heart  stopping sulky  20” fish resides,  in a narrow piece of water with overgrown banks that you could almost stride across.  He’s hard up against a big Hawthorn root stock that extends out into the water.  This is a one cast fish, no one ever, within half a day will have a second cast at this fish.  Last season I chose to walk and stalk this one fish three or four times.  Only once did I rise him, Just the once, he closely inspected my fly, matching his drift with the fly and current, then I’m sure he sneered at me, hidden amongst the reeds and nettles, before sinking away below the ranunculus.   He’s a real canny one, seemingly tolerating the presence of four or five smaller fish that hang around, a couple of metres behind him.  They are his warning signal;  if anything disturbs them, they shoot upstream towards and past him, then he’s gone in a blink, leaving a very slight swirl of silt drifting and settling in the current.

The poly yarn fibres mixed with tail filaments are to represent the schuck, you can just see the three tail filaments amongst them.  Quite often I colour them with a brown permanent marker.

The poly yarn fibres mixed with tail filaments are to represent the schuck, you can just see the three tail filaments amongst them. Quite often I colour the poly yarn with a brown permanent marker.

Summer 2014 will mark an epoch in the catching of large trout.  I wish, – and yet it is precisely this kind of lunacy, more charitably described as an over developed sense of optimism, –  that makes us  fly fishermen, an unswerving belief that everything will improve and we’ll have better luck tomorrow.

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Be careful what you wish for………

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Lest it should slip your minds…..This is what we’re here for
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A passion for this beautiful, enigmatic and bloody frustrating Chalk Stream.

And why I’m here writing this blog

DSCN3939We’re all involved in trying to catch wild brown trout and grayling, but just stick with me, in this, it is my first returning post, I’ll weave it through not only with references to English Literature, Shakespeare, and modern poets, but also classic philosophy and existentialism – bear with me.
Now, don’t get on my case – I’ve had all your messages. I’m very sorry that I’ve been away, I’ve not just been ignoring the responsibility of writing, (I have been writing other things) my lack of posting was something that was nagging away at every peaceful moment; my absence is probably best explained that after fifty years of fly fishing I found myself unprepared, unceremoniously at something of a cross roads in my fly fishing life, it was a situation that I’d not quite thought through – it wasn’t a crisis, I hadn’t lost my mojo, I was just standing there, rod in hand looking around in bewilderment.

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Did you ever as a child, have the fantasy of being locked in a sweet shop or chocolate factory, able to eat as much as you want without any limits or parental disapproval ?. Well, that was how I found myself. I was fishing regularly through the summer of 2012, but the previous twelve months hadn’t been good. Some very close friends, since childhood either shuffled off their mortal coil, or were gone in the blink of an eye with no warning. Immediate family were blighted with devastating long term illness. An extensively planned fishing holiday was cancelled at three weeks’ notice.
I found myself going through a 21st century equivalent of Hamlets soliloquy, and W. H. Davies poem, Leisure, (‘what is life if full of care, we have no time to stand and stare’). An English Grammar School Education of the sixties came to the fore, and I was transported to a dusty dull classroom in Manchester, where a fearsome master stood, imbuing it with a deathly silence no one dare break, making us read and understand the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius, some of which I now recalled, discovering it had relevance, ‘ find and preserve equanimity in the midst of conflict by following nature as a source of guidance and inspiration’
During 2012, a financial opportunity arose that would enable me to retire, earlier than many hard working people are able to do. The culmination of all these matters coming together meant that I embraced it without too much hesitation. The opportunity of being able to fish, any day, any time, for as long as I wanted was suddenly available to me. After gorging myself for a month without ever breaking my rod down, I stopped dead in my tracks. This endless availability that I’d always dreamed of through my business life was altering the mood of my fishing. It dawned on me that part of the pleasure of fishing, is the looking forward, the anticipation, the planning. Without the structure of a working life, every day becomes the same; I’d find myself travelling to the river just because I could, but without a plan of which reach to fish, or how to fish, that I could do this, ad infinitum, hit me right between the eyes. Trust me on this, – it is a shock.
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How incredibly, and possibly undeservedly lucky I was, for there really isn’t a better place to be than having good health, sat on the banks of an English Chalk stream, on a summers day, just sitting, watching and listening.

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I kind of got through it, I have been fishing over the past year, but I’ve become far more discerning. I’ve spent much time writing more articles, tying more flies – lots, Shrimps, tubes, templedogs, hairwings for Salmon and Sea Trout, emergers, duns and nymphs for my beautifully cunning wild brownies, and a range of succulent grubby weighted nymphs for the graceful alluring grey and lilac flanked beauties of the Wylye.

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During all of this, I’ve had plenty of time contemplating what constitutes a good day, and it doesn’t always involve big fish, lots of fish or exotic locations. Keep coming by, – as way of an apology, I’ll post my secret fly for 2014 in the next week or so.

Cane Rods and Narrow Streams

The River Wylye has some of the most picturesque, delightful  and beguiling little carriers that you’ll  ever come upon.  True Chalkstreams aren’t found anywhere else in the world, so these medieval narrow  man made irrigation rivulets really qualify for the word unique.    Rarely more than six feet across, in places you could jump across them, were it not for the bankside rushes.  The water, genuinely crystal,  their depth can vary from a three feet to just under 12”, depending on how they  were designed to flow, flood and carry nutrient bearing silts into the old water meadows.   It is only by crawling, stalking, and occasional subtle peering,  that you will ever catch sight of some of the heart stopping  trout and grayling that control and claim parts  of each channel.  Under ranunculus, in banking undercuts, or beneath overhanging trees, these cunning and wily fish sit controlling their own piece of this narrow never ending flow of nutritious  invertebrates that chalkstreams produce in such huge amounts.    Invariably, and shrewdly, these fish seem to have positioned themselves with devious fly casting fishermen in mind.  Here there are some large uncatchable trout that will make a a fool of those who assume themselves to be expert.   Just when you think you’ve got this river cracked, it can make a muppet out of you to bring you back to reality.   Therefore, if you’re content to spend an afternoon  spooking more trout than you could ever dream of catching, there just might be a couple you can take from these carriers.   Catching a fish of any size from a carrier is no mean feat,  and those who venture to do so should mull over  John Gierach’s intelligent and eloquent phrase,  ‘….your stature as a fly fisherman isn’t determined by how big a trout you can catch, but by how small a trout you can catch without being disappointed….’

For when the masochist in me opts to pass a few hours on these small nitrate free, calcium rich overgrown streams, I have a beautiful 6’ 6” #3weight rod that after much deliberation and research  I had made for me in Michigan by the illustrious Shane Gray.   It’s an absolute delight to use, I treat it as if it’s a very special friend, there’s something about it, its almost a work of art – (and there’s a caution in those last few words)

Using a cane rod somehow makes me change my whole approach, maybe its because its made of a real living material,  cliché though that might be, but a cane rod makes me want to be a better fly fisherman,  I’m sure it flatters my casting, occasionally it teaches or makes me aware of why the fly hasn’t landed precisely where I wanted it.  Something special happens to your mind set with a cane rod,  if I’ve missed a teasing little dimple of a rise, it slows and calms me.  No hurried re-ginking and clumsy tangling re-cast.  Somehow, you can’t rush a cane rod, you become more contemplative.

Love it as I do, I think I’ve discovered an issue, though one I’m content to live with.   Late on an  evening rise, I had one of those intimate tantalising sipping takes that could so very easily go unnoticed in the dying light.  The lift, the responding moving splattering  subsurface weight indicated a good sized fish, but with the  temperament of a scorned  Mike Tyson.   In those first five seconds,  I wanted this lightweight delight to transform itself into an 8’ 6” 6 weight carbon fibre rod.   This hard fighting plunging fish in an instant had me involuntarily lowering the tip almost parallel to the water – a novices mistake.   The ‘work of art’ rod was bending alarmingly from tip to butt, I became aware that I was constantly glancing up at an extreme curve,   a thought came into my head…’ is this fish worth £X’s?’  I came to no answer or decision, and irrationally, how I’d haggled with a Customs Officer at Heathrow over whether it was a ‘used’ or ‘new’ rod came into my head.

I allowed the fish greater control than I would normally have done, realising that you need a longer rod to quickly take control and subdue better than average fish.   Eventually, longer than I was comfortable about, it came alongside for me to unhook.   On this occasion, I was lucky, it hadn’t got snagged anywhere or run further than I could manage.   Some fisherman say that cane can take it and bend forever, but it caused an hiatus in our relationship….I’m not sure that I can trust her anymore, or maybe myself with this rod.  I’m giving myself a good talking to, if it breaks then tough, I have two tips for it, and I’ll just have to buy another from Shane Gray in Michigan.  The lesson for me is that I shouldn’t endow an inanimate object with an aura of being something special, a rod is  just a tool to catch fish with.

I’ve decided that I have ten, probably fifteen, active fishing years left before eyesight and physical infirmity prevent me scrambling through undergrowth and wading swift waters, so I’m going to have another two cane rods built specially for the coming years.  A new adventure beckons, researching and meeting the craftsmen who will manufacture a thing of beauty that I’ll leave to my Grandson to fish with after my demise.

Fly Fishing and Fly Tying Books that every fisherman should have Part 2

To me this man is as close to the US term  ‘Trout Bum’ as you’re likely to find in the UK.   Gordon Mackie is a one off, and after him they broke the mould.  Renowned for his monthly half page column ‘From the Chalkstreams’ in FFFT Magazine, Gordon has kept diaries from sometime in the fifties and sixties and up to date, on where he fished, how he fished, through a golden period when the taking of 4 – 6lb wild fish was quite a common occurence.  Written in an easy and narrative style, highly observant of his rivers and all wildlife around him, in short chapters,often quite controversial which Gordon is unafraid to shirk the confrontation and he can defend his position robustly based on a wealth of knowledge.  His particular and forthright view of rivers, their management and fishing practices are based on the many years of fishing and how he sees the deterioration in the quality of our fishing today.  He is candid and critical, but always with a stimulating insight.   He is a minimalist in respect of what he thinks you need to carry, with great emphasis on observation and stealth skills and deep scorn for the ‘all the gear – no idea’ types.  There is so much trout and grayling fishing knowledge in this man it should be sweated out of him and presented to us at fishing seminars before he expires.  I think its quite possible that he’s fished more days, for wild fish, around the UK than anyone I’m ever likely to meet again.  This man lived to fish and suffered hardship as a result.  To finance himself he’s even been a gold prospector because it involved him with a river ! a rare man who’s pursuit and his passion of fly fishing for trout was regardless of personal and social consequence, e.g. none of us would want to research a section in the book called ‘chalkstreams on a shoestring’.  If you can’t get a copy of this book, beg, borrow, enquire, and do whatever to ‘acquire’ it.  Currently there are ten used ones on Amazon, go buy. You’ll not be disappointed.   Makes the average fly fisherman look like a home loving wimp.  My hero.

An icon of fly fishing in Ireland.  If you dare to fish in Eire before reading this, the quality of your holiday will be diminished.  A time gone by, written by a man with an astonishing professional career, but who’s command of language and sentence structure make me feel like a mumbling muppet.  Hugh Falkus said this was one his top twenty fishing books ever written.  If you’re an enthusiast of John Geirach you’ll struggle with the intellectual breadth of this mans writing on a subject that he was the master of.  Read this and you know you’ve read a book, beautifully descriptive salmon and sea trout events that give you a mental workout at the same time.  No golden moments of nostalgia, just hard core real knowledge with expertise imparted to the reader.   The final chapters are to do with waves and the effect of stained water on a salmons vision ! if you dodged physics at school, then this bit of the book maybe isn’t for you.    Whilst carving a spectacular careet in the Law and Politics, it made him financially secure whilst at the same time restricting his time with a rod, but he made up for it later. Through an  era when ghillies touched their forelock, and tied flies for the master, Salmon and Sea Trout runs that we can only ever dream about, threaded throughout with nuggets of information, humourous social observations, and cameo moments.  Its phraseology and terminology, not to mention some of the gaelic references make this a tome for the better readers ! – but very rewarding.

The fly pattern and materials source book.   Think of a fly – its in here, together with all the regional variations of how it might be tied.  Contributions and acknowledgements read like a who’s who of the fly tying world.  Every fly has some little comment of note that gives insight to its history, development, application, and how to fish it.   If I have a criticism at all it is that I wish the publishers had not used ivory coloured parchment style of paper as a backdrop to the flies, most of which should have been much larger.   A must have book so you can tie any named fly for UK trout and grayling.

It is precisely what it says on the cover. Not really to identify flies, but showing you the detail and relevant parts and colours of flies and their familial group.   Excellent drawings rather than photographs, and opposite each fly and fly family he offers suggestions of the artificial flies you might want to try.   If you’re relatively new to fly tying and fly fishing, in a single plate this book presents each stage of development for the fly and points out what you should be trying to achieve when tying.  No fishing advice, but thats not what it ever offers, and I found the drawings much better than any photographs I’d ever seen in other books.  An excellent book from which to become more conversant with the denizens of the river and lake.

There are many more books I have but I didn’t think they deserved mention here.  I’ve deliberately not included any of the John Geihrach books, not because I don’t like them, they’re entertaining and make me smile, but when you finish them you don’t ever think about them again, and don’t refer back to them, – but they did enthuse me to go fishing in the USA for which I’m very thankful.  

Thats it, – there are more I am sure, so if you have a fierce support for a fishing book in particular, let me know and I’d be pleased to read and possibly include it.

Fly Fishing and Fly Tying Books that every fisherman should have. Part 1

This book has been my favourite for the past few years.   Within its covers, there is a wealth of intelligent observation, which he complements by analysing some of the unproven myths that many of us have generally accepted and passed onto each other over the years.   Unafraid of challenging head on established dogma, Wyatt is able to pepper his American(but he’s Canadian) style phraseology with original dry humour and wit.  I enjoy his forensic dismantling of fishing scenarios that I’ve also encountered and I’ve employed some of his tactics successfully.  Of particular interest is the rationale for design and use of the Deer Hair Emerger.  Good fly pictures, disappointed that many more are in Black and White.  A must have book.

You cannot consider yourself to be a serious tyer of flies without this book close to hand.  And in turning the pages, you quickly become aware of the limitations of your tying skills.  Expensive, undoubtedly, and some of its explanations are atypically American worded, so you have to re read them to fully understand, but the excellent step by step pictures on every  technique imaginable, – and there are more than you’d ever beleive existed.  This book provides you with the details of how to set about tying any kind of flies, for any kind of fishing destination in the world.  Should I ever be washed up on a Desert Island, then this is the book that I’d want, together with a huge chest of materials and tools, to be washed up on the shore beside me.  Enough content to keep you absorbed for years.

A fishing life we'd all aspire to

An almost romantic love of living alongside a Chalkstream he’s blessed with fishing, the subtext of which is an enviable, much sought after lifestyle.  An easy raconteur who’s accounts of everyday and special day encounters with his river, fish, and the characters that formed part of the fishing fortunate on this picturesque and famous river.  Maybe a book for the nostalgics, but delightfully littered in margins and headings with pencil drawings of flies and scenes of the chapter and month of the year. 

I doubt if there are many fly tyers who do not have this handy pocket sized book somewhere close to hand when they are tying.  In parts it is a little difficult to follow in the structure of its layout.  Whilst highly informative, whenever I refer back to it, I always find myself wishing that  that some of the photographs and illustrations had been better and larger, there is an amateur feel to them, but I think this was probably dictated by publishing costs, and also prevented by its chosen format.  It is a text book that steers the populist side of entomology.   Possibly ‘the’ reference source for fly identification prior to fly tying in the UK, not always easy to find and follow individual stages of fly life, but I wouldn’t be without it even if the spine of it has been cracking and pages coming loose since I first purchased it.   

This book can destroy your sanity. It should be read only if you’re absolutely satisfied with living in the UK doing your everyday fishing.   To the less secure, this book will have you reaching for luggage bags and a variety of rods whilst googling the places he fishes.  A successful writer and film producter who has too much talent to call upon, evidenced here as an accomplished writer able to evoke a sense of his younger days with some excellent fishing destinations.   His ability to use the English language in such a subtle and yet powerful way is a master class of communication.  If you have only one book token, – this is the book.

Methadone for the Fly Fisherman

The trout fisherman has at his disposal, unlike so many other outdoor activities, a fallback position.  Whilst the world is experiencing a deluge of rain, freak storms, flash floods, and complicated explanations of jet streams, we can throw a log in the log burner (essential in a July like this one) and settle down to tie flies.   Fly tying I describe as a form of Methadone for people who are addicted to fly fishing, not quite the real thing, but a passable alternative until you can do the real thing.  

The non stop sheeting rain last week had parts of the South West and Midlands  sandbagging up to the bedroom windows, uprooted trees were being swept down unseasonally high and fast Welsh rivers.  I decided there wasn’t anything I could do, things couldn’t get any  worse so I’d go fishing.   What astonished me was watching flies emerge from raindrop splattering river surface.  I couldn’t identify what they were other than some kind of upwing olive, but occasionally I could see a different surface disturbances which were fish taking emergers just sub surface.

In a desperate attempt to catch something, unable to see the end of my fly line, never mind a fly, I tied on one of these patterns more in hope than expectation, but it had a CDC bubble wing that I could see and would float, as well as making a discernible surface shape to fish.  Within seconds I had a take and a fish, followed by another couple in the next half hour.   Sometimes, there is just no logic to what fly will take a fish in unusual circumstances.  What I did realise is that the fish are less cautious because you as a fisherman are obscured.  However, by this time, I was at that stage that maybe only fly fishermen know.  Water was rolling off the hat and down my neck, rolling down my wrist as I held the rod, and wicking up my sleeves, and the occasional cold shiver had set in.

Returning home only to watch incessant rain for the next few days left me going through my end of season, sorting and re-sorting of fly boxes, until I settled into the realisation that I just had to tie flies because I wasn’t going fishing.  I tied up a dozen of these which are essentially a basic emerging mayfly, so as to have them available, because if I believe the media’s weather pessimists, this rain isn’t going to let up for some time, and these flies float and can be seen through all the dimpled surface by fish and myself.  If you don’t use them, keep them for next season, and tie them slightly different shades, not just Mayfly emerger colours. his is a standard tying process, nothing fancy.

The Hook is a Daiichi   #12.  I’ve used brown tying thread, normal pheasant tail herls for the three or two tails, whatever your choice.  As you come to the bend in the hook, catch in a piece of normal embroidery thread in a colour of your choice, this is dark olive brown.  Dub the thread with a noodle of dubbing, this is just a creamy ginger rabbit, but I’ve used other colours as well.  Stop winding the noodle at the upward bend part of the hook shank.  Let it hang, and then counter to the way of the noodle you’ve just wound, rib the abdomen in neat spacing turns, tie down the end with the thread, give it a couple of wraps, snip off all the waste.

At this point tie in two CDC feathers, inset to each other, tied in tight to the shank, with their butts towards the eye, BUT, they must remain on top of the hook, not swivel.  Dub the thread with either a Hares mask mix, or, as in this case, I’ve used some dark almost black CDC fibres plucked off a couple of feathers dubbed onto the tying thread, and then wind them up towards the eye, stopping a couple of mm (3/16ths) off the eye.  The thread must be clean for when you tie down the CDC wing next.  Use your dubbing needle to helo in lifting and curling the shape of the bubble part of the wing, and pinch and hold down while you tie it down with a couple of threads immediately behind the eye.  Snip off the waste thats extending over the eye, form a neat head and snip off the thread.    How easy does tying an emerger get ?  Ensure the eye is clear and doesn’t prevent the tippet tying on when stood in the river.

How to catch a wild brown trout – contrast and compare !

I spent a few days in a darkened room recovering after my recent day when fishing on a beautiful stock trout fishery.   A few people made contact to chastise, berate,or abuse me for my attitude to stocked brownies, much was presumptious because they didn’t know me and probably never would.   A brave few tried to explain to me that stock trout were more difficult to catch, and fishing for them was an enigmatic and complex challenge (!) – but overwhelmingly, more people were in agreement with my observations to a lesser or greater extent.

Upon recovery, I ventured out onto the river in between the gales and incessant rain.  I went to a stretch that doesn’t seem as popular with club members, and yet it has yielded some significantly good fish in recent seasons.  The renovation and flow improvement work of recent past couple of seasons has partially matured, and there is half a mile or so of quite variable fishing.  Very deep, unwadeable slow pools, fast shallow riffles over large cobbly stones

whilst on each side there is head high vegetation, thick patches of nettles, genuine thistles, and beautiful greeny purple teasels amongst the variety of other meadow flora up to the waters edge where a metre or more of rushes overtake and provide a serried bariier right along the bankings, growing through soft ground, residual silts and shallow water.  In this picture, you can  just about see the rings,  mid picture, that have been left by a good sized trout, he moved only in a small area, just below the surface, sweeping and mopping up the emerging mayflies,  mostly without hardly breaking the surface, taking them with delicate sips.  The approach was going to be quite difficult, the rushes at the waters edge are rooted deceptively in deep muds dropping quickly into waist deep water.   Getting behind the head height rushes wasn’t the problem, but there is no solid foothold, just the mud and shallow water that would quickly, easily, give out a pressure warning rippling bow wave that would put him down and away.  An upstream twitch wiggling lob of a cast getting surplus line onto the water, and onto the side nearest to me essential, to give five or possibly ten seconds of drag and suspicion free presentation of my emerger.  Before I’d arrived at this point, I’d already lower down the reach, spooked three or four similar  sized trout when making my first cast.  As with those, this was a one cast chance, then I’d have to move up a short distance and begin watching again.

I crab like wriggled and crawled through the undergrowth to the edge of the where the solidity gave way to sloppy wet, this was the difficult bit.  Raising to a raised crouching, casting position took a minute.  I began giggling thinking I must have looked like someone practicing Tai Chi in a bog.  Peering through the rushes, I could just about see him snootily sorting the ones he’d take and those that would be untouched to float downstream and maybe fly.  With a whispering silent prayer I made my cast, instantly looking down to ensure I’d not made a compensatory warning ripple.  Emerger a couple of yards upstream of the trout, then suddenly he switched to his left, and with his nose right under the emerger, gently emitted an air bubble and it disappeared.  I tightened and felt the fast moving weight.  You know when you’ve hooked a good trout.  It goes wherever it wants and you just keep it tight…ish, trying to coax it away from any obstructions and giving an impression of exerting your authority.   As I’d hooked it,  I’d stood fully up, step plunging into the water causing disturbance which I thought would force it upstream into the shallower riffle.  During a short delectable thrill of the fish’s plunges and powerful runs, (not without an underlying  fear of loss)  I don’t think I breathed until I had him coming towards the net.  A couple of last moment plunges and in the net he toppled.

Cheapo camera out of vest pocket, trembling wet slimed fingers, couldn’t remember how to focus it, two pictures with the wrist cord in front of the lens ! – (couldn’t be bothered slipping it on my wrist, concerned about time and returning the fish, thats how I came to drop the last expensive one in the river) and then I was cradling him and feeding my eyes on his immediate camouflage as I submerged him and waited for his break for freedom.  My holding hand could only partially encircle his solid powerful girth.

He didn’t hang about, after five or ten seconds and he robustly lunged away and into the depths.  I guesstimated his weight about three to three and half pounds, (sounds better than 1.5kg) and for his length on the Sturdy Scale this fish should have been much lighter, so the extra weight possibly comes from gorging in the past couple of weeks on Mayflies.

Compared to my previous fishing day, this was a deeply satisfying catch, even if it had been a much smaller fish.  I’d actually had to observe, think, calculate the possibilities, present the appropriate fly, in difficult circumstances to a fish that would have melted away if he’d been momentarily aware of anything in his surroundings being untoward.   Its a fairly safe bet, and I offer my apologies now for the unavoidable characterisation, not one of the chortling chaps who had nonchalantly strolled along the manicured bank of the stocked fishery, waving an expensive rod at the river, occasionally calling to each other, would have caught even the most suicidal of fingerling trout on this river.

Again, to quote one of Bob Wyatts beautiful analogies. (And I hope this doesn’t bring a law suit from his publishers)….. ‘Just to make worthwhile the inevitable indignant comments of elitism and snobbery or differerences of taste, stocked trout fisheries are so badly off plumb, that it isn’t trout fishing at all, it just looks like trout fishing.  Its similar to going out to for a romantic dinner with a woman who you have found to be attractive and interesting, one who you have chatted, wooed and charmed over a period of time before inviting out, against the option of hiring a hooker by the hour.   There may be superficial similarities, and a certain amount of fun may be involved, in one case its a possibility, in the other its an absolute certainty, but the distinction is very important, and its not only a matter of taste.’

Back to the fly tying and crawling through nettles, – I know my place, its the River Wylye, a sinously beautiful but challenging chalk stream populated by some of the most ‘ornery’ and difficult wild trout, some uncatchable, in the South of England.   It isn’t for the faint hearted, nor those with mental image of creels of fat buttery trout, Masochists only need apply.

Stocked Trout Versus Wild Trout. Two very different fishing days.

Not me…an excited angler who I happened upon on along the river bank

On a fishing trip to the US some years ago, a long road journey across Wyoming provided some entertainment by reading the back bumper\window stickers that our American cousins seem to have a penchant for.  Humourous, clever, funny, cynical, aggressive, exhortations of faith, or extolling their particular sports, however, one that caught my eye went something like….’I am not against golf, since I cannot but suspect it keeps armies of the unworthy from discovering trout’….well, I’ve discovered something that could possibly make me want to either take up golf or give up fly fishing.

A well meaning friend who lives overseas last week treated me to a day at a very exclusive Hampshire fly fishing venue.  On my arrival, there were four or five cars on the small grassed lawn, Bentley, Aston Martins, Maserati’s – and a pick up truck.   This is a heart stoppingly beautiful private estate.  There is no better evocation of ‘picture book’ fly fishing than this.  The medieval ‘chocolate box’ manor set amongst  ancient chestnuts and oaks with uninterrupted views across rolling parkland populated only by grazing sheep.   A similarly photogenic river, crystal clear, golden gravel, ranunculus you could almost walk upon, scuttering Coots and Moorhens, (and not a Swan was seen all day) Fly fishing rod and tackle manufacturers should flock here for their advertising photographs.  Unnecessarily cautious I walked up to the banking, keeping behind a huge pollarded willow tree, – there in about three feet of water, less than a rod lengths away there were three or four superb fish, over a couple of pounds each.   I emerged from my hiding place and stood in full sunlight, at the edge of the bank, they didn’t even waft a fin !

The introductory walk along the river by the ‘professional guide’  gave me sight of more large trout than I’d ever seen before anywhwere, and it rained Mayflies !.   There was no escape, I was obliged to fish.   I explained to the ‘professional guide’ that he wasn’t needed, and after a few minutes watching me, he drifted off to put his feet up.  I can’t imagine what his role is other than to tie flies on for those used to assistance with everything, and preventing them from drowning themselves. In the first hour I caught eight large trout, three came in three consecutive casts.  I began ‘snicking’ my fly away from some of the larger and therefore dumber ones, presuming that smaller fish might be wildies.  I changed flies for entertainment….Sedges, Daddy Long Legs, Hawthorn Flies, all took fish !  An hour and a half later I wondered what I was going to do all day.

First fish caught – didn’t bother taking photos after this one.

 

If this is a corporate fly fishing venue, I would have thought that those who have clawed their way up to dizzy heights on the corporate ladder must surely feel that their obvious intelligence is insulted by this ‘fish in a barrel’ ease.   They’d be better challenged going Deer Stalking.   On the river I came across a Father and Son duo, each expensively clad in high quality tweed, and kitted out with top name tackle, cumulatively their clothing and tackle was more expensive than my car, – I felt like a shabby interloper – if this place has poachers they’d probably be better dressed than me.

Its difficult to explain what this day felt like, was I an accidental  ‘extra’ on a filmset ? ……Walt Disney discovers the Waltons fly fishing ?  – maybe its how you’d feel if you’d been force fed crunchie bars.  The whole thing was unreal – I didn’t even get nettled !  The only similarity to what I normally do was the holding of a rod, I really didn’t mean this posting to be derogatory but I can’t see any benefit from this experience.  I’ve thought what the young lad with his dad might have  learned from this experience;  NOT observation, NOT stalking, NOT presentation, NOT fly selection, – there’s absolutely no merit in anything caught.  Unfortunately, what the young lad may have learned is that immediate gratification is available – at a price.

I recall a pithy quote in Bob Wyatts superb book ‘Trout Hunting…The Pursuit of Happiness’ it goes something like, ‘ casting a fly at a stocked trout is similar to dragging a lure in front of a farmyard animal who’s last meal was served on a shovel..’ he’s not far wrong.

The reason I haven’t posted for a while is because the new waterproof camera proved that it wasn’t really waterproof.   I’m back on an ebay cheapie until I find one at a reasonable price.  I’ll make a balancing wild trout fishing post tomorrow.

One of God’s chosen people

Fishing this week has been an evening only activity, the beautiful bright hot sunny weather during the day has made fishing any earlier a nonsense.  It’s been at least 6:30pm before it was  reasonable to even consider casting a fly upon the water, a couple of times I’ve had to leave it until 7:30pm which means only two and a half hours of fishing before it was too dark. 

Its been quite puzzling.  For some reason there has been very little surface activity, and whilst some Mayflies have been seen – they haven’t been in any signficant numbers.  Correspondingly there hasn’t been a spinner fall, just occasionally you see the odd lone female returning to the water.  I spend quite some time crouched on bankings or stood in the river margins, just watching the river, and I’ve not yet seen the dancing columns of males of previous seasons.   In a casual chat with the Riverkeeper this week he commented that he’d seen Mayfly hatching on the surface but pinging off into the air within a second or two, their wings dried and opened by the warm dry air.  As a result the trout had the sense not to try to pursue them.  

To anyone unacquainted with the river, it would seem that there were no fish in that stretch at all, but,…on a nearby bridge support, hundreds of Baetis are crawling down to lay their eggs, and lurking around the pillar, in about half a metre of water, partially under the bridge, circle several large trout, waiting, like Nile crocodiles for supper to deliver and present itself.  There is one fish of at least a couple of pounds that bosses others away and then returns.  Creeping to forty or fifty feet is as close as you can dare go, and then bounce a nymph or fly off the bridge, even on 7x tippet , this makes them sidle away into the deeper mid stream water for a few minutes. Instantly, smaller and less cautious trout and grayling quickly take their chance at snatching, almost grazing them from the stonework, but they’re soon removed by the return of larger brethren.  Just one or two more casts in a ten minute period, and they’re put down for quite a while.  Instinctively the fish know that the flies will be there much longer than a clumsy scary intruder downstream.  After a few more grayling – a couple of which were good rod benders,  I put the hook in the keeper ring at 9:30 and just sat and watched as night descended. A good evenings fishing. 

I clambered up through the reeds and yellow iris that line the banking to be rewarded with this exquisitely beautiful view as ground mist formed right over the watermeadows that line the river for as far as the eye can see.  

 This river, and this valley never ever disappoints me – to come fishing on this river is always an uplifting experience.  Being a member on this river, an SSSI,  makes me feel like one of Gods chosen people, it gives me access to not just the river, but the meadows, hedgerows, and banks.  So far this season, camouflaged by standing in the reedy margins, I’ve had privileged close up views directly into the lives and behaviour of voles, moorhens, countless warblers, barn owls, sparrowhawks, buzzards, weasels, even a couple of deer coming to drink within forty feet of me.  The highlight this week was a noisy screechy family of Kingfishers which held my attention for twenty minutes as I watched them fishing the shallows near the cattle drinker.  Its all so very far removed from the industrial northern city I grew up in.  As a Junior Mixed Infant, Miss Wilcox, the only adult, used to crocodile thirty of us onto a public bus for an hours ride, in order for us to visit ‘the countryside’ a large country park, Lyme or Tatton, where we’d search for ‘things’ for the classroom nature table.  Dead birds weren’t allowed, nor were squashed frogs and toads, Miss Wilcox placed great emphasis on catkins, leaves and coltsfoot, but there were a few of us that she always kept a sharp eye upon, we always ended up wet, so even at that age, staring at the denizens of streams and ponds held a fascination that developed right into adulthood.   From the sluggish and musty smell of factory polluted rivers and canals where only rats seemed to live, to the fragile crystal chalkstreams of Southern England – some journey. You don’t have to catch fish large or small to have special days on this river.

As Evening Light Falls

We’re having a tough seasons beginning on the chalkstreams.  After the April deluges that extended into early May, things are now getting off to a late start.  Hawthorns in Spring just didn’t have a chance to work, and I’m told that all the chalkstreams currently have an algal bloom brought about by the intense sunlight and high temperatures, possibly aided by phosphate and nitrate wash off.

I saw on Dave Wiltshires blog, (http://www.riverflybox.co.uk/) that where he fishes the Mayfly has almost finished, and the fish have become ‘picky’, whilst on the Wylye, Mayfly hasn’t really yet begun ! 

Because of the recent very hot sunny days,  I’ve not been arriving at the river until after six pm, there’s very little point before the sun has begun to cool and lose the brightness on days like these.  My last visit was cut short because I had a minor accident.  I’d hooked and was playing good fish that was giving me a fair old tussle in the fast current, for a split second the line went slack and I thought I’d lost him, then just as quickly it tightened again enabling my heart to re-start.  In that instant the hook pinged out of the water back towards me and embedded itself in the back of my right hand.   Now, here’s a confession I’m ashamed of, – I had failed to  crush the micro barb down when I was tying, and now I couldn’t extract it from my bleeding hand, the only solution was to snip the tippet, and pack up, very carefully, so as not to catch it on anything that made me yell.  I had to go somewhere, anywhere, to get someone, anyone, to remove it for me.  It was painful.   So on this visit, I began upstream of where I last finished.

Whilst I was fishing  a  nymph through a pool at the head of a small weir, I spotted a single newly hatched duckling desperately paddling and swirling in vain against the powerful current doing its best not to drown.  It was directly above me, so I just passed the rod to my left hand, scooping up the duckling in my right, this was the signal for a trout to snatch the nymph.  I stuffed the duckling in a vest pocket and caught the trout.    

After searching upstream I couldn’t find either a distressed female mallard or a nest, but I did espy this nest and placed the duckling in amongst the eggs, I hope the owner, probably a Moorhen wasn’t too confused on its return.  The duckling would probably have perished if I hadn’t picked it up, and on this small island it just might survive.

Just up from the island as the light slipped away, there was a slight ‘plop’, I looked up in time to see the rapidly dissipating rings in the half light.   This is the point where carriers rejoin the main river, you can see them to the right in the picture, presumably with the higher flows, the carriers brings in numerous nymphs, emergers and spinners to waiting mouths.  Carefully stalking to within casting distance, pausing to carefully watch and consider the complex surface currents – this is a one cast opportunity.

The absence of any obvious surface flies gave me some food for thought, I presumed they were Baetis, so opted for a rather bedraggled medium olive, which I thought might better resemble a spinner just before it lays its eggs and dies, but it was quite difficult to see in the dying light, – I took this picture earlier when the light was much better.   An invented casting style was required, and it was one that I wouldn’t want any of my peers to witness, a kind of high upward dump, upstream and to the left of the incoming ripple, with a final rod tip wiggle as I lowered to the finishing point.  This was to put some snakes in the line and leader and to keep the tippet curves close together sufficiently to give me a few more moments of drag free drift.  Just two seconds and there was the tiniest dimple on the surface where I perceived the fly to be,  I couldn’t be sure, was it a take or just a spinner alighting on the river.  An instinctive lift, and there it was, that rewarding beautiful sense of a subsurface moving weight. I don’t know what it is about trout, I try not to anthropomorphise about them, but I often have the impression that they’re bloody furious at being hooked.  

This is a reasonable fish, what I wanted to show here is the incredible depth of the tail compared to the depth of the body.  An evolutionary development for living in speedy currents with the necessity for rapid propulsion  in order to devour passing food items.    As the light fell rapidly into almost total darkness, there were just a few occasional surface rings, hardly a plop, and not a splash anywhere.  I managed another couple of trout in the last of the twilight before complete darkness fell.   A few minutes later I was left with just the eerie silhouettes of trees, skimming bats and the clucking of moorhens in the reeds for company.  Every fishing day so far this season I’ve seen water voles calmly criss crossing the river, sometimes less than a metre away.  

River Wylye – Stoford Bridge

Stoford Bridge is about mid way on the River Wylye, – it commences up in the Deverills, and meanders through Wiltshire until it joins up with the River Nadder and Avon in Wilton and Salisbury.

Apologies for my absence, I’ve had a bit of a disaster, an enforced short break in Budapest and on my return there were a few days when the weather wasn’t conducive to fishing at all.  I’m also quite cross with myself.   I’d planned an informative and illustrated fishing update. Buoyed by my relative photographic success with my cheap £15 Ebay camera, I decided to invest in another one, but with more complex acronyms and extra fiddly bits, and waterproof – essential to avoid a similar demise to the £15 camera.  Ninety quid and a week later I’m off fishing with it in my vest pocket.

There are a number of reaches downstream of Stoford Bridge right into the village of Wilton, and the one I chose had a good level of water, which I noticed had cleared in comparison with the previous weeks, the level had dropped, and so I was full of confidence.  For the first hour and half I flogged away with LDO and Deer Hair Emergers under the trees  but not a touch.

The river narrowing work has caused a couple of deep pools to scour out, and here I changed to a nymph.  The usual Tungsten bead headed GRHE.  (where would my season be without it).   In the next two hours I took trout of 14″, 12″ and two at 11″ – as well as a myriad of various sized grayling, one a superb fish of 15″, as well as an always welcome number of smaller trout, less than 8″ – ‘fingerlings’. 

 The fast currents caused by the narrowing made them feel much heavier and presented a much higher risk of losing them particularly the grayling once they turned in the current and raised that sail of a dorsal fin.

The riverkeeper has several fly boards in the river, so I turned them over and took some macro pictures of the nymphs in different stages. 

On return home, I excitedly put the camera chip in the computer, made and labelled a folder.   I was overjoyed with the results.   Transferred them to the picture folder on the computer, and then CLEARED THE CHIP ! ! I knew as I pressed the button that I hadn’t checked the new Fujifilm Finepix software that had somehow taken over my picture mangagement – but the folder name was there on the left hand side of the screen  – and guess what, ? – another couple of lessons learned – DO NOT CLEAR THE CAMERA CHIP UNTIL YOU’VE CHECKED YOU’VE PROPERLY SAVED THE PICTURES.  In a right stew with myself, I immediately wiped out the Fujifilm picture viewer software, and in an instant I also erased the fly tying sequence I’d done two days earlier – I’m back using the embedded Microsoft picture management, I’m not risking it with any other branded system. 

All the pictures in this blog are as a result of my revisiting the same reach a couple of days later and trying to replicate the pictures, I couldn’t replicate the catch, and the nymph pictures from the flyboards aren’t as good as the original ones I wiped out.  I will post again later this evening, depending on when I get back from fishing.   I have some postings ready to go so keep checking in.

Oh to be in England, now that Spring is here….!

What is going on? – its early May and I’m wearing neoprene waders and still getting cold.  Is it my age or has the weather pattern gone out of kilter? Its May on an archetypal English stream.  The trees should be a watery pale green as young foliage bursts forth, the river should be an inviting sparkling bright babbling flow that dances and catches the light, whilst Hawthorns and Large Dark Olives hatch to slashing fish that want to feast upon them.  Yesterday the air was full of House Martins and Swifts – (no Swallows yet) hawking for the Hawthorns, but they’ve also been duped into thinking the weather would be more hospitable.  I’ve only travelled a few miles by car, but they’ve put in days and nights of unrelenting wing flapping thousands of miles from the Southern hemisphere, just in time to meet the low temperatures, gusting cold Northerly winds.  And rain.  I know we needed it but that was during the winter.  The rain is rapidly becoming of Biblical dimensions, but it is too late to refresh the underground acquifers for the summer months, so in a way its mocking us, filling to the tops of the bankings, but flowing through too fast to help the fishing for the coming summer, – presuming, of course, that there is one on the way.  

After breaking my rod last week at the beginning lower end of this reach, I decided to return and finish it.  The river is the colour of cold tea, Wrens and Robins huddle in the denser brambles for warmth,  while Gulls are blown like animated stunt kites scudding across the sky.   So, surely for fly choice it has to be something dry and brown…ever the optimist.  An hour later, no fish, so it was back to the nymph, but I only saw one fish rise during the whole four hours.

Following are a few pictures of what I caught, nothing special really but a couple of the Grayling were circa 16″ – one of which had a lesion on the flank – probably from spawning because Grayling are out of season at the moment, but Trout aren’t, difficult not to catch them when nymphing.                                                                                                       

The trout were all under 11″ but thats no matter, yes I’d have liked them larger, but they all went off like little firecrackers, performance exceeding size. Here’s one.