Monday, 30 December 2013

Big Welsh Grayling

Afon Irfon
Our final session of the year was another far flung Grayling chasing sortie into deepest darkest Wales. The Afon(river) Irfon starts life on the upper slopes of Bryn Garw(rough hill) in the Cambrian Mountains and flows through the Abergwesyn valley until it meets the River Wye at Builth Wells. It is a spate river that rises and falls rapidly but the majority of the time it is crystal clear, bounded by woodland and has many rapids interspersed with some tempting looking pools and runs. I have fished it a few times now and it has never disappointed me, the fishing is excellent and the scenery stunning.

This trip had to be booked a few weeks in advance which is always a risk, our timing could be out and we could end up being faced with a raging angry tea-coloured torrent or the weather at this time of year could make the long trip impossible. This time we were lucky. The river was swollen three days ago but it had now dropped to almost it's normal level and the clarity was returning. The weather forecast was sunny and dry.
Martin and I set off at 5am, there had been a really harsh overnight frost, the roads were fine where the gritters had been but we still had to take it steady. We arrived in Builth Wells at first light and grabbed some refreshments. The stretch we were fishing is about three miles from Builth up and down a narrow little country road. As we came down the first sharp incline the van started to gather speed. I touched the brakes gently, the wheels lost their grip and we started to slide. I tried to ground the vehicle up a verge on the left hand side but this only succeeded in flicking the back end out and we entered into a full on spin. With the van bouncing off one verge then the other we rotated a full 720 degrees before I managed to straighten it out again just before the bridge at the bottom. Thankfully neither of us were hurt and there was minimal damage to the van.
With the small bridge negotiated we pulled into a lay-by next to another van. The driver was also an angler on his way to Linear but he had skidded down the other side of the hill and thought better of it. He had been watching us coming down the hill with the headlights going round and round, it must have looked hilarious.
From hereon in we had a choice, sit in the van and wait for the road to defrost or slide our way up the hill (on foot!) to fetch grit salt to help it along. The three of us set off and within 3/4 hour we had both slopes gritted enough to finish off our journey. After a slight detour (wrong turning!) we finally arrived at the river well after sunrise.

Abergwesyn Valley
A roving approach trotting maggots was the order of the day but we struggled to either find fish or get them to feed and after a couple of hours we were biteless. Martin was upstream, trotting the sedate edge of a stunning pool when finally he struck into a decent fish. After rolling around and leaping clean out of the water several times the fish finally succumbed and he put the net under a quality Sea Trout of a couple of pounds. Not the target species but it was good to see a fish.

I decided to head downstream to where the water was calm and deep. I figured the bright light and overnight temperature had forced them into that area. I remained biteless for another hour and I was sure fish were in front of me so I turned to desperate measures. I set up the feeder rod-I know it is sacrilege but blanking was not an option after the arduous journey we had undergone to get there!
Within twenty minutes I finally struck into a bite and landed a 1lb 3oz Grayling, a welcome fish but the target was a 'two'.

1lb 3oz
Next cast produced another bite which as soon as I struck felt different. I was using a very light hooklink and putting as much pressure on as I could in the fast flow but the fish was using it's oversized dorsal fin to great effect and at one stage we reached a stalemate. Then gradually the fish started to come towards me, inch by inch. After what seemed an age I slipped the net under the biggest Grayling I have caught for quite some time.

2lb 1oz
On the scales it went 2lb 1oz and equalled my previous personal best for the species.
The rest of the day passed without any more fishy interruptions. This stretch is normally prolific but was decidedly difficult this time. Hopefully the lack of action was down to the conditions and not the creatures that made these tracks that we found!

Saturday, 28 December 2013

Boxing Day Blank

The run up to Christmas has been particularly busy this year and has prevented me from wetting a line for quite some weeks.
However it has long been a tradition of mine to fish Boxing Day, although I cannot it recall it ever being a successful session and this year was no different.
I have been watching the river levels online and the Avon had dropped about two foot, looked good on the screen but when I arrived my heart sank at the muddy, still raging torrent before me.

Chub had to be my only chance of a fish and I dropped a lump of smelly cheese paste into a slack area  between two(now submerged) trees.

A biteless hour followed and when I got bored of messing about with the camera and I lost all terminal tackle, snapped off by an unseen snag I decided enough was enough. Still it was nice to be out in the Winter sunshine and to give it a go.

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Lechlade Rainbow Chasing

With a few days holiday left to take before the end of the year I decided to dust off the fly rod and go chasing some big Rainbows at Lechlade Trout fishery. Conditions were perfect for a change, overcast, mild with just a gentle breeze. This fishery comes into it's own at this time of year, the water is crystal clear, ideal for stalking big Trout.
Despite all that it is still a challenge especially it seems today as the half dozen or so anglers at the venue found.
When I am fly fishing I like to stay mobile, the fish are not spread out evenly around the venue instead seemingly in pockets here and there, find one and there are generally others about. For the first couple of hours I struggled to find any but then I spotted one in a quiet corner and that was the area I concentrated on.
I watched it for a short while and it seemed to have a specific patrol route and a lie that it favoured. I cast several flies towards it but it ignored most of the offerings, bloodworm, stalking bugs, an orange lure got it's attention but it turned away at the last moment. After half an hour of teasing me it started to get annoying. I changed fly again to a small white cactus lure which got it excited but I missed the first take. Finally it took again and this time I connected and we had a spirited battle which I eventually won.
5lb 5oz
The disturbance from that success put paid to any more action in that bay so I moved off up to the deeper section. I overheard another angler telling his mate that he had had a take trundling a fly along the bottom so I put on a pink critter

 and let it sink the depths before slowly retrieving it. The second cast and the lure was dropping through the water when I noticed the end of the fly line 'twitch'. Instinctively I struck and it was fish on. The hooked Trout twisted and turned, set off on runs and generally led me a right song and dance before I finally netted it. Again not a monster but a satisfying capture none the less.
5lb 6oz
That was that for the day as I only had a two fish ticket, at least I was the first angler to fill their card!

Sunday, 8 December 2013

Tough Winter Perching

6am and the kettle is boiling to fill a  flask prior to my first session for three weeks. Unusual for me but family commitments and work have stopped me from wetting a line since the Hampshire Grayling trip. This time it was to be a Winter Perch session on a new pool with potential to throw up a biggie. There are so many commercials around where the stock of Perch is unknown so I was excited by the anticipation.
Martin had found the place and I met him and Danny in the car park just after 8am.

The fishery comprised of three small pools that were stream fed and we chose the middle of the three, it looked the part, lined all the way around with reeds and the odd lily patch still visible. 

Our high hopes soon started to melt away, the water was gin clear and the sun came out, overcast skies and coloured water are always preferable for Perch. Whilst Martin and I blanked Danny did catch a small Perch and a half decent Roach but not enough to satisfy and we decided to up sticks at lunchtime and head to another spot thirty minutes down the road.

Right from the off at the new venue we felt more confident, the sun still shone but there was more colour in the water although you wouldn't think so from the photos. Yet again Danny struck first with a decent Roach, followed by another. I soon followed suit landing several Roach to about a pound, lovely fish in excellent condition. I also caught a few of the target species-Perch but none to warrant getting the camera out.

Martin joined in too landing a Perch that was so small the whole lobworm got wedged in it's throat whilst the hook was still outside it's mouth and then just as it turned dark he hauled in a signal crayfish.
The fall in light values heralded a run of unhittable bites that were also blamed on Crays. We gave up when we could no longer see the floats.

Saturday, 16 November 2013

Surprises on the Itchen

Our successful sortie on the river Test gave us a hankering for some more chalkstream action so we booked a day on the Test's shorter cousin the river Itchen. Like the Test the Itchen is a predominantly Hampshire river rising from the chalk aquifer at the Hampshire Downs then flowing some 28 miles through Winchester before joining the Solent in Southmpton. Most of the river has been designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest due to the presence of seven species which are Brook Lamprey, Salmon, Otters, Bullheads, White-claw Crayfish, Souther Damselfly and Water Crowfoot. The water quality is superb and must be to support these species. 
Dave arrived first having stayed locally overnight and was just finishing off setting up when we landed. He was doing things the right way, split cane rod and centre pin reel. His target was the same as mine, Grayling but Martin also had a hankering for some oversized Chub which inhabit this stretch alongside the ubiquitous game fish.
We would all begin by trotting floats although some would fall by the wayside and end up chucking out feeders later in the day, sacrilege!
My own set up was simple, 13 foot float rod, fixed spool reel, 5lb line straight through (possibly a little overgunned but you never know what might turn up!) to a strong size 18 hook plus a bucketful of red and white maggots. The approach would be a roving one searching as much water as possible before picking the best swim possible for the last couple of hours of light. This river was new to me and I wanted to fish as much of it as I could in the little time we had available.

The first swim I tried drew a blank but the next one produced a Grayling first trot and the another straight after, both around the pound mark. My Grayling photos are always net shots even if someone is close by to help. They fight as well on the bank as they do in the water and are so wiry that holding them is nearly impossible. It just causes them too much stress and then they end up belly up in the water, pointless trying, they are too delicate!

The fishing continued along that vain taking fish from each swim including some cracking but out of season Brownies. I was really hoping for big Grayling but they were all around the pound mark, the Trout tending to be bigger going to about two pounds in weight.

An interesting aside for me was the Sea Trout. I have never caught any Sea Trout before so an instant personal best was achieved with my first one, weighing twelve ounces. They are impressive battlers going mental when they are hooked but they can quickly ruin a swim for any subsequent fish!

Several more Grayling and Brownies were landed before my mobile rang, well it rang three times before I answered it, I hate my phone with a passion when I am fishing! Turned out to be Martin who had a Salmon in the net that needed photos and weighing. 5lb of stunningly coloured male Silver tourist had fallen for double red maggot.

With the Salmon returned lunchtime was upon us and classy Dave continued his 'doing it the right way' theme as he helped himself to a glass of Cabernet Sauvignon with his sandwiches and bathed in some welcome Winter sunshine,

and a cheeky Robin helped itself to Martin's maggots while his back was turned.

The other boys had dropped down to the lower end of the fishery by the mill race but it turned out not too successful meanwhile I went back upstream to Grayling country. I steadily fed a lovely looking run and after about ten minutes I hooked into an absolute nutter of a Sea Trout that gave me the scrap of the day. Twice it leapt clean out of the water and I ended up walking 30 yards downstream to net it. The flow in the swim was powerful enough to rip the hook out if I had tried to pull it upstream.

Another new pb at 1lb 8oz and another Trout destroyed swim so I decided on one final move. A cracking swim I had dropped in earlier where the main flow was pushed under some trees on the far bank. I landed several more fish including Grayling, Trout, Sea Trout and a bonus Chub of about 2 1/2 lb. I trotted until I could not see the float any more.
A stunning sunset provided a fitting finale to another great day of chalk stream angling, cheers.

Sunday, 3 November 2013

Hampshire's Magnificent River Test

The early morning sun begins to burn off the overnight mist as we take our first look at the river Test, one of England's finest chalk streams world famous for it's superb fishing. It is also the longest (40 miles) of Hampshire's chalk streams and the crystal-clear waters are so clean they are used to wash the paper for making bank notes!
Rivers of this quality are normally the reserve of noblemen and gentry where they practice the art of fly fishing in it's inaugural home so why were three numpties from the Midlands stepping out on this hallowed ground?
Nowadays certain sections are open for day ticket, and at this time of year even for coarse anglers allowing them to fish for big Grayling, large Roach and Dace and massive Pike. An opportunity Martin, Baz and myself wanted to take full advantage of.

Really I should have brought the fly gear, it would have been the right thing to do but I fancied trotting for her ladyship the Grayling. I also had the feeder rod in the bag but that is where it stayed, it would have been a step too far, chucking out a 'plastic pig' into this hallowed water, I couldn't bring myself to do it! My rig consisted of 5lb line straight through to a size 18 Drennan specimen hook. A strong set up that could deal with any monsters that I may hook during the session.
We all caught steadily throughout the day, loads of Grayling, sadly none over 2lb but hard fighting quality fish up to about 1 1/2 lb. 

Interspersed with the Grayling were the inevitable Brown Trout. They can be a real nuisance when Grayling are the target but I relish them when they came along. These stunning creatures were great fun, huge and fought like stink on the light float rod I was using.
3lb 7oz
They are out of season at the moment and the beat has a strict policy on no photos of Brownies but I am sorry I could not resist, magnificent specimen and a new pb to boot. I only took very quick net shots and then released the fish quickly, no harm done!
I roamed around the beat even fishing the carrier streams too.....

I landed lots and lots of these............

Too many of these............

and a few of these.......

Plus I added another pb with this fish, 3lb 11oz.
The scenery was stunning..............

and the sun sets on a fantastic day.

Friday, 25 October 2013


The river looked perfect for a Barbel, about a foot up with a touch of colour. The forecast rain had not materialised and the sun shone all day. I didn't see it until mid-afternoon though as the previous nights over-indulgence meant I needed some extra sleep.
My excessive lethargy also meant that I could not be bothered with trotting instead choosing to sit behind a pair of static rods and wait.
Bait was the usual Spam but this time a flavoured variety. The plain stuff works really well but the fish do seem to like a bit of Garlic with their snack.
It was a quiet session but I avoided a blank with an Eel which I photographed and unhooked in the water, doing my bit for their conservation.
I didn't have the energy to sit out long and went home early for some more tablets. It definitely takes longer to recover the older I get!!

Sunday, 20 October 2013

Wonderful Wye

Another fitful nights sleep caused by the usual pre-fishing session excitement was interrupted by the 5am alarm call, to be honest it was a bit of a relief. Today Martin, Dave and I were heading down to the middle Wye just the other side of Hereford. It was a section I was unfamiliar with so I packed virtually everything, trotting gear, Barbel rods and Pike rods plus a selection of baits to match. It only just fitted into Martin's estate as he had packed the same amount if not more!
We met Dave at the car park down by the river and wandered across the field to discover a typical stretch of this beautiful river, shallow riffles interspersed by slower runs with deeper holes all bounded by Willows, Ash and Elm. Dave suggested also having a gander at a section beyond the woods but I had seen enough and persuaded him that wetting a line straight away would be a much better option.
Dave and Martin chose a pellet attack targeting the Chub and Barbel in the deeper section while I ventured upstream to an enticing trotting peg. A Cattle drink stretched into the river and from this point I could wade out to the middle and enjoy a 90 yard long trot with maggots. I attack a new stretch of water like a batsman builds a cricket innings, get off the mark as soon as possible ie avoid a duck/blank and then build an innings/netful as the day wears on. Trotting maggots is not selective but it would get me off the mark.
It took slightly longer than expected but eventually I hooked into a good fish a long way down the run. It used the powerful flow to it's advantage and kited into the near bank straight in to a snag. I released the bale arm and wandered down the bank. From a higher vantage point it was possible to see a Chub tethered to a fallen branch. It was only shallow so I waded into net it and as I did it managed to slip the hook.
I carried on trotting and within minutes struck into another fish but this time I knew where the snag was. The fish made a beeline for the branch but I was able to steer it safely past to the waiting net. An immaculate Chub of about two pounds that spewed up a bellyful of maggots.
There is only one slight problem with fishing a cattle drink, cattle! Initially just the one came down for some morning refreshment,
but then all his mates followed as well.
Thankfully they were obviously used to seeing people down the river as they just ignored me, some cows can be a nuisance trampling over fishing gear and getting too close but these ones just left me alone.
I was also grateful that the fish were used to them and a succession of Brown Trout were carefully captured and released back into the swim.
With Brownies being out of season I decided that a change of both tactics and swim was required so I headed downstream to a more sedate swim with increased depth and some good cover from Willows, there had to be Chub in residence and I was not wrong.
First cast and the rod hooped round and the fish headed straight into tree roots and escaped, transferring the hook in the process. I pulled for a break and managed to snap the rod's tip ring clean off! In order to be able to continue fishing this swim I was going to have to use 'hit and hold' tactics, bullying any fish hooked so I upped my hooklength to eight pound breaking strain and increased hook size from an 18 to a 16. The larger diameter line did not affect bites and the very next cast the rod wrenched round again but this time I gave it some serious welly. At first I thought it was a Barbel such is the power of these fish but it soon became apparent it was a decent Chub when a pair of big rubber lips breached the surface. Not a monster but a hard fighting 4lb 6oz immaculate specimen.
Several more Trout and Chub followed and each time the fight was brutal. I could not believe I was getting beaten up by average Chub and small Trout! I felt knackered! They were all in excellent condition too.
Time was marching on and come late afternoon I struck into yet another fish but instead of heading for the snag this one set off past it and downstream and there was nothing I could do about it. A right ding dong followed, I was hoping it was a monster Chub but I was not disappointed when I eventually saw I was attached to my first ever Wye Barbel. I kept on with the heavy pressure until it was beaten into submission.
I have never caught a Wye Barbel before so I guess it is a kind of pb, all 4lb 14oz of it!
By now Martin and Dave had changed from pellets to maggots and they were also catching well now.
More Chub (and a solitary Dace) followed for me before I landed my second ever Wye Barbel, again only a small one, 4lb 10oz.
The silly expression is me telling Martin that it was worth photographing and to just get on with it. That was the end of the action.
A superb day spent in stunning surroundings on a magical river.