I’m no trophy hunter. Don’t get me wrong I really enjoy catching large fish but more than that I really love catching fish. On a river as hard as the upper Usk sometimes just catching a fish can be an achievement in itself. To that end day two of our trip should be regarded as a huge success. Some significant precipitation overnight had made for an uncomfortable sleep in the tents . We fished a beat I know well, one which usually responds excellently to my french leader bugging tactics and with the water increasingly coloured I felt I was in prime position to hit it hard and catch a lot of fish.
After three hours and countless fly changes I had nothing, not even a bumped fish. The river had continued to rise and colour quickly and at midday it looked like we might get washed off the water for the day. Dave had eeked a few out on dries, including one that ate a sunken and dragging DHE – I guess sometimes the rules go out of the window. I switched tactics and reached for the dries and soon had a solid fish of my own in the net on a cdc Brook Dun.
After midday the water began to clear and the fishing really hotted up. Dave continued with the dries while I switched between the frenchie and my dry rig. The Brook Dun continued to pull the fish for me, including the trout in the picture below which might just be one of the most bizarre and beautifully coloured fish I’ve ever landed. The density of the spots and the darkness of them really stands out on what is otherwise a very pale flank. A huge blue patch behind the eye and a blur of rusty red spots near the tail make this a very distinctive wild fish.
Another large storm early in the morning of day three again threatened to wash out the fishing on a beat sightly lower down stream. Fortunately we arrived to a river that showed no ill effects of the extra water, in fact we found this area to be humming with entomology and heaving with rising trout. This beat is a favourite of Daves, the long slow glides provide the skilled dry fly angler with a good number of opportunities to catch fish from the surface. Dave is an exceptional dry fly fisher, far more skilled than I and though I drew first blood with an easy fish first cast he was soon racking up a cricket score.
He has a particular skill for catching those rock hard fish from the tail of a pool, those fish sat right at the back where it seems impossible not to drag the fly and ruin the presentation. When you ask a fishing mate how they’re getting on after an hour and they shrug and tell you they’ve lost count it’s a sure sign they’re hitting it hard. Unfortunately while he was giving a masterclass in presentation I was missing, spooking and losing fish left right and centre. I worked methodically through a lovely deep pool which was full of rising fish but my A game had been left in the tent. One particularly huge fish lost was very hard to take as I had played it for nigh on ten minutes before the hook popped at the net – he would have breezed past twenty inches.
After a quick lunch I decided to go back and focus on one particular fish which had frustrated me totally during the morning session. He had been rising incessantly for the best part of three hours but I couldn’t tempt him with anything. The huge abundance of insects emerging made matching the hatch on this trout a real pain. The Iron Blues, Brook Duns, Blue Winged and Yellow Sallies on the water were plentiful while the air was thick with clumsy Hawthorn flies and even a few Daddy Long Legs. This fish ignored every imitation of these I had in my box, and I soon wondered whether his swirly rise which never broke the surface might be the clue I had been missing all day. I remembered a trick my late father used when fishing spiders as dries, applying floatant only to the tips of the top of the sparse hackle so the fly dangles provocatively just below the surface. I’m certainly nowhere near as competent a spider angler as dad was but to my amazement I rose, hooked and landed the impossible fish first cast. Cheers dad!
How many fish is too many? I’ve no idea. At the end of day debrief in the pub we estimated that we landed around fifty fish between us – a true red letter day. I know there have been plenty of days when we have scratched around for a fish between us on the Usk so the opportunity to really get stuck in was too hard to resist. Very few of those fish were easy fish either, most required a change of fly or two and there were plenty of shots which I took with downstream drifts because there was no other way to avoid the fly dragging. The spider fish was a real epiphany for me as I have been nagging myself to fish this technique more often for years. In many ways I guess this is the advantage of a “numbers” day – you can relax and play around with a few theories that have been on your mind.
I won’t remember every fish I landed that day and I’m pretty sure Dave won’t either but i’ll definitely keep in mind the contented feeling as we discussed the events over a home made pub pie. It’s a wonderful sensation to come away from a days fishing feeling like you did pretty much everything right, though it’s also a very rare one so if you have a day out like Dave and I had then savour every moment of it – we’ll soon be in the dog days of summer and once the water has fallen low and clear the chances of hitting the numbers you did in spring become few and far between. When it comes to early season trout fishing it’s important to make hay before the sun shines.