Booking fly fishing in the dog days of summer is always a gamble, a gamble which the fly angler very rarely wins. The odds are that in the middle of the year the rivers will either be running low due to a lack of water or bursting their banks during the increasingly common tropical deluge that positions itself over our grey and drizzly land. It is far from my favourite time of year for trout fishing and the more regular blog readers may have noticed that I haven’t been chasing too many spotties recently.
The thing is you can’t always pick and choose when your trip happens, so when Dave and I booked four days on the WUF beats of the Usk in the first week of August we knew that it probably wasn’t going to work out quite like the roaring success of our trip in May. Through our prior communications we had very carefully managed our own expectations but reminded each other that “the fish are still there’. Besides, this time of year sorts out the wheat from the chaff and in my eyes an angler who can catch wild brownies from the surface of a crystal clear and super skinny river during the dog days of high summer is an angler worthy of note.
The Usk was just that too, I have never seen the valley so dry. For a guy who takes such joy and pleasure from rivers it was uncomfortable to see the riffles barely trickle over the gravel and broad slabs of bedrock open to the searing heat of the sun. The riverbed seemed to be choked by a thick layer of sludgy brown weed which at the merest contact would explode in to a puff of putrid particulates in the clear water. The pools crawled along with a tired and laborious roll as the warm still air of the Saturday afternoon seemed to leech the energy out of anything that dared to move in its presence. There was however just enough evidence of brown trout abroad to set the mad blood stirring – Dave and I made camp, suited up and got to the river for a little after 3pm.
Dave is not only a brilliant dry fly angler but a staunch one too. While he rigged up a leader of nigh on 20′ to avoid spooking the finicky fish that were sipping tiny somethings I rigged up the french leader on the hunch that the majority of the fish would be hunkered down in the most oxygenated water they could find. With a #14 KJ Olive Grub on the point and the deadly Quill Jig in a #16 on the dropper I worked through a long riffle which in places held no more than a few inches of water but plenty of hungry trout. I caught steadily through the riffle and I am sure that the key was the amount of white water churning oxygen through the flow.
Further up stream I found a deep pool to the side of the main drag which was fed over a lip of bedrock, the tumbling water again seemed to be freshening this area of the river. After upping the size of the flies (but sticking with the same patterns) I hooked a corking 20″ fish which I initially thought was even bigger – the flank looked enormous as it tried to thrash the hook from its bottom lip. I must have looked an idiot as I inadvertently beached the fish on some pebbles in the mid – stream but couldn’t figure out how to get him in to the net. Instinctively I trapped him like you might a spider with a drinks glass – one of those “I hope nobody saw that” moments.
Dave had struggled on the dries during the day but as time wound on the hatch increased and so did the rise. I don’t think I have ever seen so many different bugs all hatching off at once and before we split for the evening session we both remarked that we felt that figuring out what flies the fish had locked on to would be harder than making the right casts or even finding the fish. This was a prophetic hunch. At eight in the evening I stood in a slow, wide and heavy glide with my dry fly rod in hand surrounded not only by rising trout but also the smorgasbord of bugs they were eating. Small caddis, large caddis, blue winged olive duns, tiny little rusty olives, sherry spinners, daddy long legs – hell there were even a good number of Danica hatching – why are there Mayflies hatching in August?
I went through the whole fly box, twice. I tried every fly to every fish in every direction but couldn’t work it out and with less than an hour of daylight left I faced the very real prospect of spending an evening surrounded by fish and not catching one. I was tying on a tiny spinner pattern when a Blue winged Olive flew right in and sat on my fly box and while I’m no believer I took this as a sign – on went the Blue Winged Olive cdc #17. The game changed and I rose every single fish I cast to, landing plenty to 18″ and only being beaten by the setting of the sun.
This first day set the pattern for the next three. During the heat of the day I was able to reach for the french leader to catch the fish while Dave flogged the dry fly horse. I’ve no idea how but he caught fish from some of the trickiest pools imaginable. We found the micro currents in the most consistent feeding lies would ruin the presentation of nearly every drift and even if the fly didn’t drag often the fish were spooked by the presence of the leader – infuriating fishing.
In the evenings though the game changed and as the sun fell lower and lower the fish fed with increasing confidence and vigour. Had it not have been for yours truly missing nine (yes nine) takes in a row on the #14 Apricot Spinner I could have had a cricket score on the third evening such was the intensity of the rise.
I’ve asked a lot of questions of myself since I returned from South Wales. Could I have picked the hatches sooner? Should I have been better prepared for the super tough daytime risers? Most worryingly – do I hide behind the french leader when the fishing gets tough? It’s a lethal technique that produces numbers that I hadn’t even dreamed of ten years ago but I’m starting to wonder if I’m a worse all-round fly angler for learning the frenchie.
As I sit here now the rain is falling heavilly and the rivers will finally be rising. Quite frankly I don’t mind if it rains for the next three weeks as long as the deluge washes away these dog days. Roll on the autumn caddis, spinners and streamers. Roll on rain.