The lows and highs of fly fishing

After reading up on why I might be losing so many fish and decided it was due to too much aggression on my part in the early stages of the fight I decided to tackle up and go after some river Brown Trout. The River Tern is the closest river to me that is known to hold Brownies and is fishable without a joining a syndicate, so on a Tuesday evening I set out.

I arrived at the car park and tackled up with a Klinkhammer. At the water’s edge I soon realised that on this particular stretch at that particular time a dry-fly was the wrong choice. The water had just come over a 30 foot riffle and the speed of the flow meant that my line was bowing and pulling the fly around in an unnatural way. So I opted for a weighted wet fly to get some depth and avoid the line drag by high sticking my rod. So on went a Gold Head Bibio fly in black & red. First cast out got into something, “great, hooked into a stick” I thought, but wait a sec … its moving and shaking … and ping the hook was out. Still a promising start. A few more casts and I hooked in again, I struck and set the hook. As I did the little fish leapt from the water and flew off downstream. It must have only been 2 inches long and the combination of my strike and his leap sent him off to freedom a long way off from where he started.

Cast again and hooked in again. This time “breath, relax, and let the fish run” I thought to myself. This chap gave a good account for himself but my God was I pleased (relieved) to get him into the net. My first wild Brown Trout and my first fish in sometime. All that blanking pressure was suddenly lifted and now I could settle in to enjoy my fishing again.

River Tern Brown Trout. Lovely.

River Tern Brown Trout. Lovely.

A few more casts and a few more fish were taken before I got caught up in some wood stuck between the rocks in a riffle. I didn’t want to lose my fly and I as I had my waders on I decided it was time to go for a walk upstream. The fly was retrieved and I took a few casts to explore the riffle, but upstream in the pool at the head of the riffle I could see signs of surface activity so I pressed on. In hindsight I should have worked the riffle more as I’ve learned since that they can hold good fish, but they’ll have to wait till next time. I waded through the riffle into the pool. The first twenty feet of the pool were unfishable for my standard of casting due to the amount of low tree branches, but luckily the rises were further upstream. I must have taken me at least five minutes to reach the spot I wanted to get to by slowly and stealthily wading up. The surface was calm and the flow relatively slow so I switched to a dry-fly and started casting. The first few casts had no interests but then I had a bit of an offer but no take, so I switched to another dry, and a lighter colour one as I was struggling to see the olive & browns in the sunset. I stuck with this white moth fly for a few minutes before deciding to switch back to the Bibio. First cast out … bosh! Fish on! Fish in net! Fish released! Ah the joy success. I took a few more Brownies and even took a young Rainbow (which must have escaped from a fishery upstream) and ended my day with a respectable tally. The light was fading now and as I still had to wade back downstream through the riffle to get to my car I decided to call it a day.

A River Tern Rainbow Trout, what he doing here?

A River Tern Rainbow Trout, what’s he doing here?

This spot will probably be my new favourite venue for a while so hopefully my run of blanks is behind me, but as I’m reenergised for fishing I’ll have lots of opportunities to find out!

The lows and lows of fly fishing

It’s been a few weeks since my last blog update but in that time I’ve been busy fishing. So why no updates you ask? Well because there was nothing to report, i.e. there were no fish on the end of my line. We go through bad patches I suppose, the times where the weather, the water, your skill, and the fish fail to align properly so that the sum of parts equals zero. Well that’s been the story of me for the last few trips out.

It all started when I arrived at the still water and noticed that there was a corporate event at the water. As I was registering with the water’s Bailiff he told me about the ‘do’ they were holding. “Have a go on the far pool lad we’ve put a few more in there this week for these guys to have a go at, fish there and you’ll be right”. Right then that sounds like a plan here we go!

Blanked. I did hook into one but in my excitement I held on too tight early on and he broke off. Ah well never mind, everyone blanks some days.

A week later I was party of a group of six work colleges that had arranged to fish the massive Blithfield Reservoir. This was going to be my first time fishing from a boat and the size of water at 754 acres certainly made me feel inadequate. We arrived in glorious sunshine with a forecast for rain and we braced ourselves against the high winds that were blowing. Our party leader Ken, who is a regular fisher at the venue settled our nerves by saying “well lads we couldn’t have picked a worse day for it, this wind is gonna kill it for us”. Ahh how right he was.

Out on the water the waves were much bigger than the looked from the shore. Honestly it was like doing a north sea cross in a dingy. The wind and bright sunshine of course had the effect of pushing the fish down deep so we were all fishing on intermediates and sinking lines with lures. I really don’t like using lures but on this day I followed the group advice and attached a large chicken to my leader. I had a few pulls and a couple of scraps but they broke off. Ah well never mind everyone has blanks some days, sometimes two in a row.

A trip back to my favourite still water was planned, the day off work was booked, the kids were at school, and the wife was at work. When I arrived at the venue the weather was good and water looked good, plus there were trout leaping from the water. “Today I’m gonna clean up” I thought to myself. I started on a dry olive and cast close to a margin where I could see some rises but I had no takes so I moved out to cast to water further out. A passing angler asked if I’d had anything yet, “not yet” I said “but there’s plenty of action happening, we’ll do well today”. That statement turned out to be the kiss of death. You guessed it, hooked in and lost early on. Ah well never mind everyone has blanks some days … but hang on, three in a row? Something isn’t right here.

I sat down at home and went through each of the days and analysed what I was using and how I was using it. Then after doing some online research on to reasons common mistakes playing fish when fly fishing I zeroed in on what I concluded was my primary error. Fighting too hard after the initial strike. I’m not sure why it had happened but I realised I was trying to get the line back onto the reel early on in the first few seconds of the fight. This in turn meant that I was holding the fish under too much tension so as the trout was shaking its head from side to side the tension in the line was pulling the hook free. “Right, let it run” I reminded myself, I used to do that, why did I stop? Who knows? But anyway I’ll see how I get on next time.

Needed a wading staff so made a wading staff

I’ve waded in river and stream fishing about five times now and I’ve nearly taken a muddy bath on every trip, so I’ve decided its time to get a wading staff.

I went to my local fishing tackle shop to get one but when I asked them for a wading staff … stick … pole … they just looked at me like I’d been let out on day release or something. I must admit my hopes weren’t high to begin with though as this shop is heavily geared towards the maggot drowners and their wheelbarrows full of, well whatever all that stuff is they take. So I went on-line, ah now it gets interesting; collapsible staffs vs. solid vs. telescopic hiking/walking poles. After reading a few threads on forums about telescopic poles and collapsible staffs failing when you needed them the most I decided that I’d go the solid one piece wooden staff route. I’m not sure what I was expecting to pay but I knew that the going rate of £50 – £100 was more than I wanted to spend, so I went deep in the fires of Mt. Doom (the shed) to forge a DIY wading staff. The one staff to rule them all.

The ingredients were as follows:

1. Fighting staff left over from my martial arts days
1. Length of para-cord (about 1.5m)
1. Old bicycle tyre inner tube
1. Old dog lead
1. Top from a posh whiskey bottle
1. Piece of scrap sheet lead from eBay (£2)

plus a sprinkling of handsaw, a splash of drill, and just a pinch of solder … and hey presto: a wading staff.

OK so it won’t win any beauty contests but it hopefully will stop me taking a unplanned wash in the river.

Small fish, big fish.

Well things have turned around a bit since my last update and a new fishing rota is in place which means I can get out not once a week but twice. Woooo hoooo good times.
So onto Tuesday’s fishing trip: down the canal. I’d taken the dog for a walk along a stretch of the canal I’d never visited before. This stretch is owned by a local club who charge a very wallet friendly £9 for a yearly pass, or £2.50 for a day pass from the bank. I opted for the latter as I was on a test run to see if the canal was viable for fly fishing. As it turned out there was no bailiff there on the night so I saved my money, and the stretch was great for fly casting as the banks were clear with only a few trees, result! 

I could see some fish rising for the evening hatches but they were clearly not the 15lb Carp that the stretch is supposed to hold, but never mind as a fish is a fish is a fish, and it wasn’t long until my small Bibio had its first take. A few were caught, many were missed, but my bite detection and striking had definitely improved for these little fish. They were small Roach and Rudd ranging from 7cm to 12cm, the smallest shown here. Obviously they don’t put up a lot of fight but I like getting these micro catches as much as the still water big trout.
 

A wee fella from the canal. Micro Rudd, 1oz

 
Friday night I went to a new small river / brook stretch. As usual there were trees, and as usual the trees kept some of my leader and a couple of my flies. After about an hour of fishing where I waded probably one hundred feet from where I started I found a nice little pool. Something took a nibble on my dry fly early on but it never really took a bite. A few casts later and the dry was lost to a tree, but as I was tying on a wet (hot head scruffy buzzer) there was a little ‘plop’ in the water no more that two feet from me. Ah-ha there are fish here I thought, and they’re taking the p*ss out of me.

A few minutes later and I was hooked into something “holy sh*t it’s a fish” were the words that came out of my very surprised mouth. But what was it? Please be a Brownie but any fish will do. It took a good 30 seconds of playing before I caught a glimpse of it with a flash of its silver belly. What the hell a silver belly? A Rainbow? Wild in this stream, it can’t be can it? And it wasn’t. A few more minutes of playing and I got good look at it … Oh my days it’s a Grayling! Now this is a big deal for me as not only have I never caught one, I’ve never actually seen one apart from photographs. To say I was keen to net it would be a huge understatement. I brought him close to my waiting net hoping to get him in but he had a burst of energy and raced right past my left side turning me through 180 degrees so I let some line run so as not to break him off. He swung left towards the line breaking tree roots and he swung right towards the rod tip grabbing tree branches before passing me again, now I’d done a full 360 turn. Who’s playing who? He took a couple more runs but I kept my cool and got him to the net. Phew what a relief! A moment to unhook the fly and pose for a photo or two and he was ready to go back. It was a great fight from a great fish, and it was great to see him swim of like a bullet ready to live another day.

 

My first ever Grayling, maybe 2lb

 
Another memorable fish, and a stream I’ll be definitely visiting again. Oh and it’s right next to a pub which is a bonus too.

 

Canal stretch at sunset, lots of small fish eating small flies

 

Here be Graylings

  

Down the canal, flying for coarse

It’s been a few weeks since my last fishing trip thanks to the white noise that is a wife and kids. Now I love them really but they do get in the way of fly fishing. Anyhoo over the last month while I’ve been walking the dog along the old canal I’ve noticed lots of fishy activity. Big fish swimming just under the surface in groups of two or three, and schools of smaller fish taking insects of the surface. Well now that’s just too tempting isn’t it?

So Tuesday rolls around, a night that’s known in the house as the ‘ironing night’ which means she wants me out-of-the-way so that she can catch up on her soaps and get the ironing done with minimal fuss. “Hey why don’t you help her?” I hear you say. Well that’s a good question, and one I will choose to ignore for now. Anyway it was 19:30, the kids were in bed, the dog was walked, the iron was on, and I was out the front door and off fishing down the canal.

This canal was disconnected from the rest of the old canal network in the 1960’s so no boats have been through it in 50 years, so as such it’s now full of plant life, coarse fish, and the occasional dog out for walk. It is however in a very nice condition and well stocked. The fishing rights are owned and managed by a local club who luckily for me allow day tickets which are bought from the bank. Gear wise I set up with my small stream trout outfit of an 8ft 4wt rod & reel with floating line, small box of small flies in sizes 10 – 16, small scoop net (just in case), and various other bits and bobs all neatly packed away in my Vision Love Handles.

I’d walked the dog along the canal not more than two hours earlier so I already had an idea in my mind where I was going to fish and what tactics I was going to use, and I was pleased to see that not much had changed when I got to my first spot on the bank. I set the rod up, picked a small black gnat dry-fly, degreased the tippet and dressed the fly. Hang on where’s my gink? This isn’t gink this is xink, curses I’d left my floatant in my other bag. Ah well I’ll just have to hope that fly is small enough to sit on the water by itself, but I’ll add a couple extra false casts to dry it out when I cast. Soooooo first cast out and … a hit … but I missed it. Still a promising start none the less. Second cast and … a hit … and the hook was set. Ahhh look it’s like a fish but smaller I thought to myself as I unhooked it, but a fish is a fish is a fish so was happy with my little Rudd (or Roach or whatever it was).

Small Rudd or Roach taken on a dry gnat fly. Maybe just a shade under 6lbs

Small Rudd or Roach taken on a dry gnat fly. Maybe just a shade under 6lbs

I cast out again, hit again, missed again. Cast out, hit again, missed again. Cast out, hit again, missed ag … well you get the idea. I must have missed twenty or so takes from these little fish, they were just so fast. I tried striking immediately, I tried pausing, I tried lifting into them with the rod, tried drawing the line back, but nope I couldn’t get them on. So I switched to slightly larger fly to try to force a bigger take from the fish but I had the same results, lots of hits but no hook ups. A new personal challenge has been presented to me now: how to get the hook set in a very small and very fast mouth.

Time rolled on and the light was starting to fade and I was struggling to see the dry-fly on the water so switched to a small wet spider pattern. Second cast and I was hooked into another fish, a bigger Roach or Rudd. Nice fish, unhooked and away he went. A few more casts and a few more fish before I decided it was too dark to carry on so I packed up and went home quite happy with my two hours work. Happy days.

Rudd or Roach taken on a wet spider. No records were broken.

Rudd or Roach taken on a wet spider. No records were broken.

The next day I was back walking the dog along the canal when I spotted a new target. I’m not sure what it was but it was about the size of a 2 lb Trout, it was dark in colour and slim in shape. Definitely not a Pike but maybe a Tench or a Carp, anyway it swam alongside me at my walking pace for a good ten seconds. I’m watching you I thought to myself I’m gonna have you. It was almost sinister how it was swimming next to me as I walked, I wonder if he was thinking the same about me in some sort of ‘Jaws: The Revenge’ scenario. Maybe I need a bigger boat?

Catching them in the wrong places

Well time for fly fishing has been in short supply from the end of March and will probably stay so until mid-April. There’s been Rugby matches for the Son, Ballet performances for the Daughter, visiting family for the Mrs, and ‘important’ gardening jobs for me. Such is life.

I did however manage to secure myself a four hour spot at my local still water fishery to try get some Me Time. I was feeling confident, the water looked good, the sky was clear, and the weather was warming up. The only thing missing was the fish. What is it about Trout and Fly Fishing that sometimes seem to make the two things completely incompatible? I was struggling, the guy down the bank from me was struggling too, and so was his mate, and his dog. Where were the fish?

Were they jumping? Nope.

Where they cruising the margins? Nope

Down deep? Nope

Up shallow? Nope

Well I say ‘Nope’ obviously what I mean is ‘well I haven’t found any yet’. So after two and half hours of changing location, retrieves, depths, and countless flies I finally hooked into one, my first bite of the day. Whoa Momma this was fish was not happy with me! He went off like a rocket out and around the outcrop of bank I was fishing from. “Not the reeds, not the reeds!” I said to myself as the line was rapidly unwinding from my reel, get him on his side, bank right bank right! I’m not sure who I was talking to but the fish responded by coming back towards me while I was working hard to get the line wound back onto the reel and to keep some tension. Here I caught my first glimpse of him, he was easily the biggest Rainbow I’ve had on. Off he went again out to the deeper water, I held steady and managed to get him close the net. Oh no, not yet he thought and off he went again. Twice more in and twice more out before I got him in. Here I could see perhaps why he was such a good fighter, the Bibio fly I was using wasn’t in his mouth but was actually clean through the base of his Pectoral Fin, as I’ve described it to a friend ‘I hooked him in the arm-pit’ and Wow he was not happy about it. What a fight! A quick coffee to toast him and I was back in business (with my now new favourite Bibio fly). No other catches, pulls, or bumps were taken, but that’s OK as this was my most memorable fish to date.

An ANGRY Rainbow. I'll call him a 5 pounder.

An ANGRY Rainbow. I’ll call him a 5 pounder.

The trouble with partners who don’t fly fish.

Well after some encouragement from my parter we have decided that she is right and the dining room isn’t the best place to keep my fishing gear. It’s not loads just four rods plus a 60x40x40cm plastic box full of bits & pieces, that’s not loads is it? I’ve got ideas for much much much more.

Anyway fingers were wagged and eyebrows were raised. It’s a shame really though as I will miss her cooking. 

Small stream fly fishing: First attempt – a bit of a horror story.

The river trout season is barely a week old in my part of the world so I’m keen to get to the water as much as possible and as soon as possible. I’d spent quite a bit of time over the closed season identifying rivers and streams that were close to home and didn’t cost a fortune to fish, and I’d managed to secure myself free access to a stretch of privately owned water. This stream is a tributary River Tern, which in turn feeds the longest river in England the Severn. All was looking good!

Then I learned that the once healthy fish population of the stream had been almost wiped out in the 1980s by a pollution mishap from a nearby farm, and the result was that the fish and fisherman had gone elsewhere. Over time the coarse fish had returned followed by the coarse fishermen who generally targeted the stream’s Chub, Pike, and Barble. But what of the Brownies? Local knowledge indicated that no one had fly fished it for years so no one truly knew if the trout had returned. This meant that I’d be fishing in unfamiliar waters, using tactics I’d never tried before, in a river that potentially had no target fish. Well we all like a challenge don’t we?

I got there at 8:20, got into the water at 8:40, and was ready to come home again by 9:15. After getting snagged in tree after tree, after getting scratched by brambles & stung by nettles, and after wading out to slightly deeper water than my waist wader’s design limits I concluded that anyone who fished small streams instead of still waters must be bloody mental.

But I decided to carry on so I moved to a stretch of water that was relatively free of fly eating trees so I tried again. Ummm better, quite pleasant actually (ignoring my wet pants), I could see the appeal of this. Plus my casting was behaving and my waders were working as designed. The river was moving pretty quick so I opted for weighted wets and nymphs to get some depth but I was still having to retrieve at full speed to keep up with the flow and try to retain some tension in the line.

Might of had 50 takes or none for all I know as there was so much slack in the line, but still it was better than being at home watching tv and I was starting to enjoy it, but there’s definite learning curve is in front of me now.

Final score:

Fish in net: 0

Takes: ?

Flies lost: 3 (2 spiders and a buzzer)

Chance of returning at a later date: 100%

Section of the river where I had some fun and was able to cast. See those trees round the bend to the left? They beat me up and stole my flies.

The story so far … part 2

I’d gone through a few weeks of the pain of paying my dues to the fishing Gods with blank after blank before things started to fall into place. Maybe it was me allowing the flies to sink to the correct depth, maybe it was me learning to retrieve properly, maybe it was me learning to feel bites and knocks on the line, or maybe the fishery had received a delivery of particularly suicidal trout. Whatever it was I saw my catch rate move up from zero, to one fish per visit, then two, then three, and then back to zero again … hey this is fly fishing after all.

The first one I caught was on an Olive Damsel streamer. That’s the fly for me I figured so used it as a go to fly for the next visit. It was cold that day and my fingers were wet and numb, so much so that I could barely tie the fly on to the leader. As I cast out I saw something small and dark disappear into the water out in front of me with a nice plop. I knew right away it was my fly. So on when another one. I cast out, fish on! A few seconds of playing the fish before … fish off and I pulled the line back in to inspect the fly whilst uttering a few choice phrases. But there was no fly. No this isn’t some kind of Matrix ‘there is no spoon’ reference in this case there actually was no fly. I think I lost four flies that day before I managed to get my cold finger knot tying up to standard. I carried on and ended up taking some fish on a selection of different flies; pheasant tailed nymphs, pupa buzzer, and bibios. I had a rush of blood to the head at one point and tied on the New Zealand style Klink & Dink. Whoa momma what a mess that made of my leader! A tangle of a wind-knots and fluorocarbon that put me firmly back in my place. The following weeks also proved fruitful, fish were taken, fish were returned, and only a couple flies were lost.

Rainbow Trout caught on Airflow 9ft 6/7wt

Rainbow Trout caught on Airflow 9ft 6/7wt

Rainbow Trout caught on Wychwood 8ft 4wt

Rainbow Trout caught on Wychwood 8ft 4wt

And so here we are up to date. I’ve had good days fishing and bad days fishing. I’ve blanked while a chap fifty feet from me is pulling fish out every five minutes, and I’ve been that guy pulling them out while others have struggled (the latter is definitely more preferable). So what’s next? More fishing naturally, but now on different types of water. I’ll still be fishing on still water banks yes, but also I’ll be branching out onto rivers and streams, and large still water boat fishing.

The story so far … part 1

It was July 2014 when I decided to try fly fishing for the very first time. I’d watched Robson Green on the tv catching Brown Trout from a New Zealand river with ease. That looks a nice way to spend an afternoon I though, so I got myself booked onto a day of instruction in fly fishing basics and casting at the local fishery.

It was a blisteringly hot summer day. Shorts, hat, t-shirt, and sun-cream was the uniform of the choice. However I was soon discover (and blame) that super hot days were not the best for catching fish … so I blanked. But nevertheless I had a great time, so much so that I went straight out and upgraded by rod & reel from Airflow beginners kit to a Wychwood Truefly SLA. 10ft 7wt. So next time out I though it was game on. I WILL BE THE FISH WISPERER!!

Blanked …

Next time … blanked, but I did get a take which being my first ever nearly gave me a heart attack.

Blanked again …

And so it went on for the next six trips out. Its got to be the weather I thought.

I’d been through the fly box, I’d tried different retrieves, different depths … nothing. But then it happened. A nice steady figure of eight retrieve with the fly about fifteen feet from the bank, suddenly the fly stopped. Not again I thought, my fly, an Olive Damsel, must have got snagged on another twig or root. But then as I tried to pull it free I saw the line zigzag off to the right turn around and shoot off the left. HOLY CRAP A FISH! The mixture was that of excitement, fear, and impending doom (as I was surely to lose the fish right?). But it stayed on the hook. Man vs. Fish, Fish vs. Man, Man vs. Fish vs. Net, we were all caught in an epic battle. But landed he was.

The relief in those few seconds was great, now I could look my fellow fly fishermen comrades in the eye. But hang on. Now I’ve got do something with this fish flapping in my net on the bank. Time to break out the Priest, or as it’s come to be known; the Noggin’ Bosher. SMACK on the head and he’s done. No wait it’s still flapping. SMACK, SMACK ….. one more for luck SMACK. That’s got him. Nope still flapping. Oh man now I have the guilts! A final hard smack and its all over. A tough learning curve in fish dispatching and one I happy to say I mastered fairly quickly.

But what of the fish? Well he wasn’t the greatest specimen in the world to be honest. In fact judging by the fist I’ve caught since then he was pretty poor, but he went well with new potatoes. I’ll save you the details on gutting a fish, look it up on YouTube if you’re desperate.

My first Rainbow Trout. Not the greatest trout in the world but tasty none the less.

My first Rainbow Trout. Not the greatest trout in the world but tasty none the less.