I love a grey day. You know those ones with the fine dank drizzle and the foreboding ceiling of low cloud that threatens to burst out any minute in to an apocalyptic downpour? I think they’re the days every fly fisherman should pray for. Not for me the heady heights of blazing summer and the 10pm sedge hatch, nor the cool crisp January grayling frost that nips at your nose. When I go to bed at night I dream of grey, miserable and nondescript afternoons that to most people are forgotten before they’re even over. The first hour of a four day trip to South Wales reminded me why.
It all went to plan – which is bizarre in itself – and by 1pm Dave and I stood before the river Usk fully kitted up and ready to go. The sky was grey, the air was grey and even the valley itself which showed little evidence of the spring metamorphosis seemed grey and moody in character. I’ve no idea what the meteorological term for very fine rain is but to the layman we were experiencing something between a mizzle and a drizzle. It was the kind of stuff that necessitates a waterproof even though it isn’t really raining. If I’m not selling this to you then stay with me because while you may not like the sound of it the bugs in your local trout stream really do.
Ever noticed the colour of your favourite early season trout flies? The Adams, the Iron Blue, even the Brook Dun – they’re either grey or a fairly miserable shade of something. It’s to be expected then that when these tiny insects make their dash from the river bed to the meniscus they might consider a grey and mizzly day to do it as they’ll be at their least visible to the voracious trout in the water and then the various bug bashing bird life once they’re airborne. A dapple of precipitation can only make hunting insects more difficult for the trout which is great news for Olives and Anglers alike as long as you don’t mind getting wet. Dave and I stood in the fizzle (that’s the new term, I’ve settled on it now) and watched as Iron Blues lifted from the waters surface and trout crashed and splashed and swirled at them with a reckless abandon neither of us had ever seen on this river.
The very first pool was an 18″ deep glide of glassy clear water with a slightly deeper trough mid way across its twenty yard span. Behind this trough was a slight turbulence and in that turbulence we counted four trout rising, all in an area a couple of yards square – totally unheard of on the upper Usk. Dave had the first shot with a sz14 Hans Weilenmann Trout MRE which he turned over with deadly accuracy and grace on a long leader. His first cast drew a rise from the fish at the rear of the trough which went to 17 inches and represented the perfect start to the trip.
I was on strike now, and having seen Dave rack up a one cast one fish score I was more than a little apprehensive. My sz15 Iron Blue shuttlecock emerger looked ideal so I began to pitch this toward my target fish which was still rising confidently despite his comrades departure. My first cast was a little short and didn’t turn over properly, my second was perfect but he ate a bug inches away from my fly. The third looked good – one of those presentations that you make and think “that’s the one” – and sure enough he head and shouldered right over that little fly. And they were big shoulders too. I waited as long as I could bare to and set the hook.
There was no eruption, no splash or crash, he just held his line and weighed up his options and there was nothing my 4# rod or 6x tippet could do about it. He flanked and glided towards the far bank and at that moment Dave and I realised just how big this fish was – this was the fish we had been waiting four years to hook. I played that fish in total silence, the only sounds were the manic squeal of my Wychwood River & Stream reel as the fish beat me up and Dave shouting “HORSE!” every few minutes just in case I wasn’t already aware. Playing a big wild brown in shallow water is as close as you can get to the feel of a bonefish in the UK, it’s a brilliantly terrifying experience that you both actively seek and dread.
I’ve no idea how long it took to play that fish, it felt like hours and each time we caught a glimpse of him it appeared even larger than before. Every head shake, every plink of the line over a fin, every savage run felt like it could be the last contact. He avoided being landed twice with the guile of a fox and the brutal speed of a falcon and right up until the moment his huge head slid over the net I really didn’t believe we would land that fish. At nigh on 22″ this is my largest wild trout in the UK, a fish we estimated at somewhere between 3 1/2 and 4 pounds in weight and it was truly beautiful. The pictures speak for themselves really, it’s an incredibly special creature that we were so fortunate to encounter. We spent a little time reviving him before setting him off on his way. I was pleased to see the fish swim away so strongly because frankly I was shattered – needless to say a big wild fish like that is made of sterner stuff than myself.
We caught the other two trout in that pool too, both fish of between 16 and 18 inches. We fished on and caught a few more fish, I missed a sitter of a take from another huge brownie but in truth the rest of the day felt more like waking from a dream that it did a fishing trip. I must have looked at those pictures twenty times to make sure it really happened. As the mizzle settled on the water the flies lifted off and the fish fed frenetically. The moment was lost on neither of us and amongst the gloom and atmosphere of a moody Welsh valley two very English anglers were aware that they had just experienced the most phenomenal hour of trout fishing they might ever encounter.
We owe those fish to the conditions, I’m sure of that. While the rain may not have been pretty it had given the bugs the opportunity they needed to hatch en masse and this in turn had stirred the usually shy and spooky Usk trout in to a frenzy. To catch one fish on a dry from a pool can be hard enough at times so to systematically pick off four was frankly astonishing. What we achieved that day was a lesson in being on the river at the right time, even if the right time isn’t necessarily when you prefer to fish. This country has its fair share of dank and miserable weather and as trout anglers we should embrace these conditions.
Take a waterproof, take a warm drink and take some stronger tippet – you too might find yourself squaring off with the fish of a lifetime.