I don’t know about you but I’m not very good when I get a bit bored. I tend to make rash decisions, maybe not think things through as well as I should. I’ve always had a bit of adventure lust, there must be a “Marco Polo” gene in me, a devil on my shoulder that says “go somewhere else and do something epic” regardless of the consequences. Add that to the sudden Facebook stream of early trout season captures on the Welsh rivers and I guess this adventure was kind of inevitable. At an hours notice I had packed my big rucksack with all the fishing and camping kit I would need for four days fishing on the Usk and before I knew it I was on a train to Abergavenny.
I’ve made no secret of my love of the upper Usk. I’ve written about it previously in my old Farlows Blog as well as last year on this very site. It’s a truly stunning river in spectacular surroundings but it presents the angler with a number of challenges. Firstly the wading in many of the upper beats is terribly treacherous as much of the river flows over sheets of super slippery bedrock and I always expect to spend a little bit of time on my backside. Secondly these upper Usk fish are quite sparse in their distribution and are truly wild and tough to tempt, paticularly on dry flies. Any success at all should be celebrated. That said there are some really cracking fish up there and if you’re willing to take a few knocks, work hard and bring your A-Game you might just bag yourself a 20″ wild brownie.
I arrived to the river at around 13:00 and found a valley that showed few signs that spring my be around the corner. The trees were bare, the air was cold despite the sun being out and other than a few early lambs it all looked a little desolate. I was a little later than I had planned but got straight on the phone and booked four days fishing between two beats through the superb Wye & Usk Foundation who manage much of the fishing on the Usk as well as many other rivers in South wales. These four days fishing costs me half the price of one day fishing on the Test or Itchen at this time of year. Having no car meant I was restricted with how far I could travel so I found a suitable spot, pitched the tent and climbed straight in to the river.
I forgot how badly my waders were leaking at the end of last season but within seconds I was fully aware of not only just how porous they are but also how cold the water was! Still, the holes in my waders were no match for the holes in my technique – it transpired that I had almost completely forgotten how to fish a french leader effectively! I spent a few hours wildly flailing my Sage ESN 10′ 3# rod around the place, retrieving flies from trees, fishing awful drifts and not really getting anywhere. The best of the fishing was well and truly over by 16:00 and I was faced with a blank day to start the season when I hit a sitter of a take from a 12″ fish – it felt good to feel tight line!
When I had formulated (cobbled) together the plan to fish the Usk I had checked the weather report but didn’t really pay much attention to the night time temperatures which for somebody who is camping is really stupid. I had remembered the Kelly Kettle though and tried to make the best of the situation though in truth my crappy cup-a-noodles weren’t much protection against the elements. It hit minus four that night and dropped to around or below freezing each night. I woke up each morning feeling tired, groggy and unsatified with the evenings rest. There’s something to be said for the conditions when you have to defrost your net every morning before fishing…
A swift brew on the morning of day two and I was away fishing again on the same beat and having knocked the dust off my dodgy technique the day before I was soon in to a few fish on the nymphs, the Hi Vis Nymph from Fulling Mill was chalking up a score and actually accounted for the vast majority of fish during my trip. I’ve heard other anglers talk of matching the colour of the nymph to the colour of the riverbed and the brown, orange and gold of the Hi Viz certainly does that – I wonder if there’s someting to it. As my confidence grew so did the catch rate and by mid-morning I felt I had enough fish under my belt to try chasing a few on dries. The Large Dark Olive and March Brown hatches on the Usk are notorious for both their intensity and speed – the whole thing can be over within an hour – so it pays to be rigged up and ready before 11 am.
Sure enough at 11:30 there were both LDO and MB’s on the water and the fish were rising but showed little interest in my smaller olive patterns or the jingler and I found myself in that awful position of knowing what the fish are eating but having nothing in my box to match it. I was so fortunate to bump in to Tom, a good old Welsh boy and local angler who very kindly doled out a couple of size ten cdc duns after hearing my tale of woe and within ten minutes I had my first fish on a dry for 2014 – cheers Tom!
I had missed the best of the hatch however and at 13:00 with fish still rising they began to refuse Toms LDO but a quick switch back to my own MB dun pattern put another fish in the net before the rises stopped completely. It was interesting to note that the trout only switched from the LDO to the MB late in the hatch as both flies had been on the water the whole time. Once again I reached for the french leader and eaked a few more from the riffles including a terribly skinny 20″ fish on the Hi Viz.
A different beat on day three but the same great start on the Frenchie as I netted two crackers in the first ten minutes – queue the smug texts to fishing mates! The weather was far warmer today and I wonder if that had an effect on the fish as I didn’t even touch a fish on the heavy nymphs for the next few hours. In hindsight I wonder if the bugs had started to move under the water and perhaps I could have tried fishing some spiders on the long leader. Once the fish came to the surface it was game on and after losing a really solid fish to a hook pull I began to rack up a score using Toms LDO, I didn’t even need to switch to the MB this time. Often the hardest decisions was picking a target fish as there were so many rising to the flotilla of LDOs that were drifting down stream. I plucked three in three casts from the pool in the picture below and was content enough to take it easy with the nymph rod once the hatch was over.
Day four might go down as one of my most frustrating days trout fishing. I knew the hatch, knew the flies, knew the times and the areas and had really psyched myself up for a great day. Two hours of blank fishing on the nymph leader had me worried but by 11:00 the fish once again looked up and I reached for the dry fly rod. I worked through a pool full of rising fish with Toms fly but couldn’t get a take, something I put down to a mixture of drag and bad luck. Only after covering the fifth fish unsuccessfully did I notice the lighter colour of these olives and changed to a size 17 cdc Blue Winged Olive.
I had a lovely 12′ fish first cast before bumping two more takes. I moved further up the pool and hooked a real bruiser of maybe 3lbs which I lost on a hook pull before covering a really big fish at the top of the pool in the prime feeding position. I watched him head and tail on my fly, it truly was an enormous fish, and I calmly delayed the set before striking. The rod hooped over and the fish bucked hard before everything went slack. I hate that feeling. It was only when I checked the fly that I realised that the hook had no point to it! Three bumped takes and one lost fish and in all probability it was down to me not being diligent with the fly I was using.
I had wasted the whole hatch and I knew it. Three very cold nights in the tent had taken its toll, I was tired and making mistakes. At around 15:00 there was a sudden but brief flurry of very splashy rises that I covered with no joy. It was only when I sat on some stones at the end of the day contemplating my successes and failures that I noticed a number of very large black stoneflies crawling up the boulders. I flipped some rocks and found a number of stonefly nymphs – no wonder the trout didn’t want my size fourteen gold heads if these guys were in the water.
The journey back was bittersweet. I had caught plenty of fish and had a really great time but I was disappointed in my own performance. Why didn’t I have an LDO in my fly box? Why hadn’t I noticed the fish switch to the March Brown sooner? Why hadn’t I switched to a lighter olive earlier on the last day? Why hadn’t I noticed my fly was a dud? Why hadn’t I flipped over some rocks sooner?! I guess this is all stuff to pack in to the box called “lessons hard learned” and since the last time I threw a fly rod was in the Seychelles I can excuse myself for being a little rusty with the lighter kit. I know where that brute of a fish lives now though, hopefully next time our paths cross he’ll be on the sharp end of a rueful angler – hopefully he’ll get my point…