Tom ‘Doc’ Sullivan recalls the evening he tackled the mighty River Suir and its tributaries and came across one of its big resident brownies…
Come the month of April the Irish flyfisher’s window just gets bigger and bigger. At this stage of the year we should have already had some decent action on the loughs, but it can be a different story on the rivers as they take that little bit longer to come to the fore. However, the advent of the longer days and a gradual increase in temperatures (although this can be sometimes just mere hope) will see them come into play.
Ireland has some fantastic river trouting and this often gets forgotten about as our loughs take the centre stage when it comes to wild brown trout. There are some tremendous rivers in Ireland, giving the angler a chance to catch some beautiful wild brown trout. From April onwards right through the season they offer premium fishing.
For lough fishing I have been blessed in where I was born and raised and to this day still abide. I have over 70,000 acres of lough trout fishing all within a 30-minute drive for me, so I have gown up with the loughs. However, I do love river trout fishing; it is a different world to the loughs but no less beautiful and every bit as challenging.
For me, though, it involves a bit of travelling. The majority of the better Irish rivers are situated away from the mountainous seaboard and concentrated more in the flat vales and pastureland of central Ireland.
Introducing The Suir
One of Ireland’s most famous rivers is the Suir, which is located in the southeastern part of the island. It rises in the Devil’s Bit mountains in Tipperary and a course of 185 kilometres, or 115 miles, brings it to the sea at Waterford, but not before it converges with two other great Irish rivers, the Nore and the Barrow.
It has a rich history of angling; the noted Victorian author Francis Francis wrote of it in the late 1800s that it offered sport equal to any of the southern English chalkstreams.
One of the most notable features about it is not only the fishing that the river itself offers but also what is to be had in some of the many tributaries that join it on its continual journey to the sea.
Over the last couple of years, I have had the opportunity to fish this marvellous water and been lucky enough to have done so in the company of Andrew Ryan. Andrew owns and operates the successful Clonanav Fly Fishing guiding operation and tackle store, situated in the village of Ballymacarbry just on the Waterford side of the county border with Tipperary. Andrew has been guiding here for a good few years now; growing up beside the river he was on it from a very early age. He has fished further afield as well and recounts with relish the couple of seasons he spent while guiding in Argentina’s Patagonia region.
He has his own stretches of water on both the Suir itself and the River Nire, which are only minutes away from his impressive and well-stocked shop. As I mentioned earlier, the quality of some of the tributaries are fantastic and the rivers Nire and Tar, which is also close by, are proof of this.
There is a strict catch-and-release policy on Andrew’s stretches and there is no doubt in my mind that this has allowed the fish to flourish and reach a much bigger average size
Ticking All The Boxes
Think of all the major river flies and the Suir will tick all the boxes. All the olive hatches are present; the iron blue is a particular favourite. Mayfly are there and in certain areas they are in good numbers, local knowledge plays a big part here. During the summer month the hatches of sedge are phenomenal and give the fly angler some great top-of-the-water action.
On the last occasion I fished the Nire there was a decent hatch of pale olives and the method that was working was ‘klink and dink’ (New Zealand-style). We were fishing a size 16 Goldhead Flashback Pheasant Tail under a foam post Olive Klinkhamer, which is great for buoyancy. This style is Andrew’s go-to method for the river, giving him a chance to see what the fish are on. The fish were really on the go for the nymph and it accounted for 90 per cent of the action. The takes were subtle in the low water and sharpness was required.
The Suir has a wonderful reputation for big brownies. Down through the years this has always been the case. You can target these fish with streamer patterns, working the fly down and across the current and then searching the bank in under you. Erratic retrieves are the order here, short spurts followed by dead drift and quick retrieve again. The takes on this method can explosive as the fish hit the fly with aplomb!
It is a good method when the river is running a bit higher or has a bit of a colour in it. Andrew has successfully targeted the bigger fish on this method and has accounted for plenty of fish in the 2lb to 4lb class. His best trout on streamers was a cracker of about 7lb.
Never To Be Forgotten
I’ve been fortunate enough to have had a red-letter day one evening on the Suir the season before last, with regards to big trout. It was midsummer’s evening and I was there at a demonstration event at Andrew’s shop, with well-known anglers Stevie Munn and Ian Gordon.
When the show was over we decided to throw a line on the Suir. When we arrived there was a good fall of olive spinners dancing their way down on to the river. The water was high enough as it had been a typical Irish summer.
Fishing the open water of the Suir can be very productive, especially if you target either bank with your flies.
We had accounted for only a couple of small trout as the trout were strangely quiet on what was a glorious evening. Then at about 10pm it was as if someone flicked a switch and the trout awoke; fish started moving everywhere. We were on our way up to the flat glides at the head of the pool when Andrew said he was after seeing a good fish move in a channel in among the riffles. He said it was a good trout and on that it rose again. “He’s a couple of pounds if not more,” he added.
I clambered down the bank with my 9ft 4-wt rod at the ready. On my descent he rose one more time, about 10 metres upstream of me. I took note of his position with some adjacent vegetation on the bank and covered him. Three times I put the fly over him with no response. I let it go then and really ought to have waited inactive for him to rise again; however, some fish started moving directly out from me so I decided to have a cast at them. Thankfully (in hindsight) none of them looked at my fly.
Five minutes later, in the exact same spot, up he rose again, once then twice. I steadied myself, gauged my cast and landed my Para Dun three or four metres ahead of the spot. The anticipation that you feel as you watch your fly approach the spot where you know there to be a fish is mesmerising and, as the fly passed over his lie the black neb of his nose appeared and intercepted my size 16 V-Winged Mahogany. I waited that half second or so that you should always give a bigger fish and tightened.
A Fish Of Pure Beauty
What happened next will stay with me for the rest of my days. As my rod buckled I was looking westward over the river into a crimson and orange skyline truncated with the silhouette of the Knockmealdown Mountains, behind which the sun had just sank on that midsummer’s evening. Then this vista was shattered by the eruption of a mighty trout leaping high into the air, gyrating as he did so, furious at having been deceived!
There is a strict catch-and-release policy on the rivers under Andrew's control, which allows these wild fish to grow on.
On the bank the guys, who were watching, shouted, one of them uttered: “That’s more than 2lb!” A hectic battle ensued as the fish swam straight out midstream into the main flow. I was blessed with the fact that with all the major snags the fish didn’t venture towards them, preferring to stay pumping in midstream. After a battle that lasted 15 minutes or more the great fish finally tired and I was able to draw him nearer the bank. Stevie slipped the net in under him and I do think I let out a roar of exultation.
The fish was a beauty, unfortunately we didn’t have scales on us to weigh him in the net so we worked on the estimations among us and concurred that the trout was about 8lb; lowest estimation was 7lb, highest was 9lb. The fish took a couple of minutes to get its breath back but as we pointed him towards the gloaming in the river that evening, he gave a sudden kick and was back swimming again.
To me that was probably my fish of a lifetime; funny for a guy like myself, who is steeped in lough and lake fishing, that this trout should come from a river!
Clark Colman enjoys a short but memorable visit to one of his favourite Cumbrian hill tarns, Small Water, and meets a true Lakeland angling legend along the way.
“Difficult of access and often disappointing” was how the Where To Fish guide for 1961-2 wrote of Small Water, an 11-acre tarn above Mardale in what Lakeland guidebook writer Alfred Wainwright called “the Far Eastern Fells”. I’m sure the contributor to this veteran publication had his reasons for such condemnation but as my line pulled tight halfway through the retrieve, and the rod bent against the dash of a wild mountain brown trout, I couldn’t have disagreed more.
A Flying Visit
Regardless of the plump, lively fish that had snatched my fly, the dramatic scenery and atmosphere around Small Water was enough to render disappointment an impossibility. As to the difficulty of reaching the tarn, which lies at an altitude of just under 1,500 feet, I’m sure that by the time we’d returned to the cars, my companion for this short but memorable session had developed at least a degree of sympathy for the view expressed in my old book.
This was the second time in two days that I’d dragged TFF editor Andy Taylor into the high Cumbrian hills. With the memory of yesterday’s exertions still fresh in his mind and legs, Andy will be the first to admit that he was in no hurry to set out on yet another steep climb!
With plenty of trout and pictures already secured, along with changeable weather conditions and lengthy drives home looming, the plan we’d hatched over breakfast was simple. We’d drive up from our Kendal base to the Mardale Head car park and try some mountain stream fishing, while waiting for a sustained break in the weather that might give us a chance of the cover shot we were still after. If it came, we’d immediately strike out for Small Water before the clouds and rain descended again. If not, we’d carry on up the beck that runs down from the tarn into Haweswater for a little while longer before calling it a day.
A Familiar Face
As our Land Rovers picked their way through the driving rain, I wasn’t even sure whether we’d make it out of the car park. Still, we weren’t the only ones braving the wet weather and narrow, twisting roads in the hope of some sport to the fly. Another angler was already tackling up in a small lay-by near the Haweswater Hotel – no doubt intent on fooling a few of the better than average wild brownies that share their home in Mardale’s dramatic, moody reservoir with the occasional silvery schelly.
Tarn expert Terry Cousin shares his many years of knowledge of the Lake District waters
Taking your eyes off the road here can be risky even on a fine day, so I allowed myself only the merest glance to the left as I passed by, with Andy following close behind. There was something about the elderly chap’s face and attire – what little I saw of it – that seemed familiar, though at the time I was more concerned with road safety and reaching our destination than trying to remember where I’d seen him before!
Few vehicles had beaten us to Mardale Head that morning, and we were in two minds whether to applaud or pity the handful of hardy walkers setting off up the track into the fells. Even in the worst of weather conditions this rugged corner of Lakeland still has its charms, and with the rain still falling, Andy and I were perfectly content to sit in the front of his Freelander and put the game angling world to right, while watching white streaks of water streaming down the surrounding hillside ghylls, and dark clouds stalking over Harter Fell, High Street and the Nan Bield Pass. I thought of the other flyfisher we’d seen, and hoped that he too was taking shelter from the elements in the warm of his little white car.
Braving It On The Beck
Just as we were starting to contemplate heading for home, the rain eased off into a faint drizzle and an optimistic hint of blue sky appeared overhead.
“It’s now or never!” announced Andy, so we sprang from the car, grabbed our gear and headed off across a slippery wooden footbridge towards Mardale Beck – a boisterous, gin-clear watercourse of boulders, pockets and miniature falls below the nearby confluence of Blea Water and Small Water becks.
The many becks also offer some superb sport and are well worth a cast between fishing the tarns.
Such high-gradient upland streams are seldom if ever, fished today, with few now containing those four-to-the-pound pan fillers that once delighted anglers of yesteryear. While I already knew for a fact that there were still one or two trout to be had in Mardale Beck, the racing currents and low temperature (even in May these hill streams can still be icy to the touch) meant that however hungry they might be, tempting one wouldn’t be anything less than challenging.
After a few minutes’ worth of pocket picking with a fixed-line duo setup, the bushy Retirer Sedge on the dropper disappeared as it drifted below a bankside boulder. I’m sure many of us have experienced what followed, and there are few things more humbling to a fly angler than four or five inches of startled wild brownie hurtling through the air towards you on the strike!
I couldn’t help but beam with delight as I eased the size 16 barbless Copperhead Pheasant Tail Nymph from the corner of his mouth. His little spots were more orange than red, and they glowed like gemstones in the pale morning sunlight before the fish twisted out of my wetted hand and disappeared back into the tough, rough-and-tumble world from which, somehow, trout still manage to eke out an existence here.
Putting A Name To A Face
With dark clouds looming once again, Andy was keen to reach Small Water before it got too late, so I reluctantly forced myself away from the beck and prepared to move off. I had, however, left my waterproof map case in the car, so decided to jog back and recover it rather than risk my map getting soaked to pulp by any further rain.
In doing so, I discovered that the angler we’d encountered earlier had made his way down to the car park, and was now preparing to try his luck in the shallow, likely looking bay below it. He smiled warmly as I drew near, before asking where we were bound. When I explained that Small Water was our objective, as part of an assignment for a fly fishing magazine, he became even more interested.
“I know it well,” he said over a firm handshake. “My name’s Terry Cousin.”
It was then that I realised where I’d seen that wide-brimmed hat, spectacle cord and lean, outdoorsman’s face before. This was one of my all-time Lakeland angling heroes, whose newspaper articles and magazine contributions I’d read for years – but whom, until now, I’d seen only in photographs.
An all-round angler, vintage-tackle enthusiast, former River Eden bailiff, award-winning entomologist and conservationist, Terry’s also the veteran fishing columnist for the Cumberland and Westmorland Herald. His sage advice on all matters piscatorial, and dedicated work on the significance of river flies for anglers and running-water environments in general, have benefited many related organisations both locally and nationally – and in 2008 brought Terry Cousin a special award ‘in recognition of excellence and achievement’ from the Association of Rivers Trusts and the Salmon & Trout Association.
I was honoured when Terry agreed to appear with me in front of Andy’s camera. You’d struggle to better his knowledge of the fishing to be had on Cumbrian hill tarns, and with Small Water evidently one of his favourites, I could quite happily have stayed to reap the benefit of his wisdom on this and other venues all day.
However, with time running out for Andy and I, and the Haweswater trout awaiting Terry’s skilful attention, we said our goodbyes and parted company in the hope of meeting up again soon.
A Rewarding Climb
Whatever mood the Small Water brownies might be in, my day had already been well and truly enriched by a hill-stream fish and a true Lakeland angling legend. And there were, even more, delights to come when, after a steady climb up a well-defined track, we scrambled up the final, narrower section and caught our first glimpse of the tarn.
Surrounded by rocky, grassy slopes, and overshadowed by the dramatic Nan Bield Pass, its rippling and sun-dappled water was very welcome in photographic terms, and we soon had the potential cover shot we’d been hoping for. All we needed now was a trout or two; however, the cold water and bright, breezy conditions weren’t going to make this easy.
Cast-and-step tactics near the entrance of a feeder stream on the southwestern shoreline came up trumps for me. Ten minutes’ work with a 9ft 6in 6-wt rod, slow intermediate line, 16ft leader of 4lb fluorocarbon and two traditional wet flies spaced eight feet apart, produced a solid, lightning-fast tug from a plump, plucky fish with spots like a leopard. For once, it hadn’t preferred the size 14 Black and Peacock Spider on the point, instead opting for the flashier charms of a similarly sized Silver March Brown on the dropper.
Then it was my turn to go behind the lens as we negotiated our way round the rocky margins so that Andy could try his favoured area around another feeder on the shallower, shelving northeastern shore. His line, leader and flies had barely settled beyond the drop-off before our second, similarly sized, Small Water brownie was fighting for its freedom after pouncing on a black pearly Dabbler variant – also on the top dropper.
These heavily spotted fish are truly beautiful!
Our short but sweet second day in the Lake District mountains ended with a fairly quick descent back to the car park at Mardale Head – where, having caught two nice fish of his own on Haweswater, Terry Cousin was also packing up. Despite the aching legs, thumping heartbeat and dry throat he’d endured along the way, Andy had clearly been mesmerised by our hill stream and tarn adventures. As he bid goodbye to Terry and I, I’m sure that part of him wasn’t at all sure how easy it would be to return to stocked fisheries after the thrill and beauty of his first-ever tarn trout. I well remember having similar feelings over 20 years ago.
For my part, it had been good to revisit Small Water – if only for a little while. Every inch the classic Lakeland hill tarn, my experience had been rendered all the more memorable for meeting Terry Cousin, and I’ll certainly never forget his parting words to me before I too headed for home.
“I didn’t expect to meet another angler out here today,” said Terry after another good chat and a final handshake. “And I’ve certainly met a friend.” What more could I have asked for?
Ben Bangham takes his new wacky patterns to Surrey’s Frensham Lakes to see if the trout think they are weird or wonderful…
The weird, the wacky and the downright insane. Sometimes you need a bit of this to get by in life. Evidently, though, it isn’t just us that need it, it’s trout as well.
I have some pretty weird flies in my boxes that are sometimes just what you need to tempt a trout that isn’t in a giving mood. Over the last few months the editor has commented on some of my more bizarre creations and asked if they actually worked or were just the creations of a madman (bit of both really).
This signalled a challenge for me to create some weird or wonderful flies made from bizarre materials to see if they would work on some unsuspecting trout!
Nestled deep in the Surrey countryside is a quiet beautiful set of lakes at Frensham Trout Fishery. It has two separate venues not far from each other. The main one comprises six lakes, all with different characteristics. The trout are strong and healthy because there is a constant flow of water through all the lakes, and the owner, Richard Twite, is a keen advocate of letting nature do its bit. This means there are plenty of trees and bankside vegetation to hold a huge larder for the fish to gorge themselves on. As a result, it is a fantastic dry-fly water almost throughout the year because there is always something around to drop on the water.
The other part of the fishery is called Crystal Pools and, as the name hints at, the water is crystal clear in these ponds, and the fish are big! It is like an aquarium of big rainbows and a smattering of browns. When you see the main lake and stocking levels you think that things will be easy – they aren’t. These lakes are available on a catch-and-release ticket as well as a catch and kill, so these big fish have seen it all and are well educated.
We decided to separate the day into two parts. We started on the main lakes to give the flies a run through on a water more akin to most fisheries. Then we planned to take them for a swim in the specimen pools, where things might be a bit trickier and more of a test for the flies on some large catch-and-release resident fish.
The Blood Chain
Well here is the crux of the article in the form of the three weird flies, the Wotsit, Blood Chain and Marigold. Catchy names I know, but they describe what they are pretty well, I think.
The Wotsit is a simple fly that is made from one of those modern dusters with the bobbles on. The colour that I tend to favour is the hot orange. Each duster has a hundred or so bits to tie with, so they are great value.
It’s easy to tie. Get your hook and bead ready and then cut off a bobble and slide it onto the hook, lash it on and then put a small bit of dubbing on the thorax – job done.
The Bloody Chain is the easiest of the three to tie. It’s made from plug chain in red from B&Q. Cut off a good length and then whip it onto a grub-shaped hook with pink Nymph-It. That’s it, very simple and very effective.
The Marigold is my favourite. Tie in a marabou tail and then a Fritz body leaving a gap at the front of the fly to accommodate the marigold part. To finish the fly, cut off the tip of a finger from a Marigold glove (be careful of the wife) and make a hole in the tip, push it onto the front of the fly yellow first. Then whip it in by just catching it so that it stays in position. Push it so it inverts over the fly so that you are left with a white cone. On this cone I paint two eyes with an oil marker and that’s the fly finished.
The Wotsit, the Blod Chain & the Marigold
As is normal for the stillwaters I fish, out came the Sage Bolts 9ft 5-wt with matching reels, the perfect small-water tools. I set one up with a clear intermediate line and a short 6ft leader of 8lb fluorocarbon to which the Marigold was tied.
The second rod was set up with a floating line and a bung to fish the other two flies. I set the depth of this to about four feet because as I was setting up by the lake I saw a trout cruising at that depth.
Time For A Wotsit
I was at the end of the lake when setting up so that I could see most of the water and look for any signs of fish. I caught sight of a few moving fish in a hard to reach corner of the lake, which I kept my eye on while fishing the area where I had tackled up. I started with the Wotsit, casting it around the area to see if I could catch. I missed one fairly quickly, which I hooked but couldn’t keep on. I caught sight of a rainbow coming into the area so I flicked the Wotsit into its path. Much like me, this trout couldn’t resist a Wotsit and the first fish of the day was soon being netted.
I wanted to carry on with the early success so I took the opportunity to get the Blood Chain on. I carried on casting around the swim without much luck. All the time I saw the odd sign of fish in the hard to reach corner.
I said to myself: “One more sign of a trout and I will go over and fish the area.”
Sure enough, less than a minute later I was making my way around to the corner. There were trout absolutely everywhere. I started putting the Blood Chain in front of several fish, which elicited a large amount of interest but without any takes. This continued for a while until eventually one made a mistake. This did surprise me. Normally this fly has produced the goods for me; just not today.
There were still lots of trout in the area and they were pretty active as well. I thought that it would be a great opportunity to give the Marigold a go. I love this lure, and although it looks like nothing on God’s green earth it really catches fish. The head makes it wobble erratically on the retrieve and this really seems to get the trout’s attention. We saw this really well on the crystal-clear pool later on.
On the first water, though, the fish were tight to a reed bed in the corner. Due to the trees and bushes around the peg it meant an awkward roll cast over my wrong shoulder. I roll cast down the reeds, letting it all settle for a bit, and then retrieved. Well with all the fish stacked up in this corner, how could I fail? I didn’t. Every cast was either a take or a landed trout; they were loving the Marigold! To be honest, it was so easy that we decided to move off because it was losing some of its appeal. We decided it was time for the challenge of the educated big fish of the Crystal Pools.
Marigold Magic In The Crystal Pools
Marigold magic. The movement of this fly in the water proved too irresistible to both the fresh stockies and big residents
I found the hour or so we had on here very interesting. As in the other lakes, I started out with the bung fishing the Wotsit and the Bloody Chain to no avail.
First cast with a Wotsit a good fish took but spat it instantly and that was it in terms of action for this fly.
The Bloody Chain fared even worse, without even getting a look, so it was down to the Marigold to see if this fly could produce.
Out went the fly, I let it sink for a couple of seconds and then started the retrieve and the fish went crazy, four or five trout following it one time, what a sight! I frustratingly missed a couple of fish because they were hitting it and spitting it so quickly I simply couldn’t connect. After about five minutes one managed to hang itself, so I was the proud owner of a rather large rainbow that fought like a runaway steam train. It tore up and down the pool for a good few minutes, testing my tackle to the limits.
After this the action died. The trout weren’t interested at all in the fly. I decided that I would wet a few of my favourite lures to see if they would elicit a response. Well the trout were less than complimentary to my lures, showing no interest in them at all.
I switched back to the Marigold after a while and immediately took a fish again, which was amazing. As before, they would then ignore it until I fished other flies then switched back. It seemed as though they were forgetting the fly after a while and would then eat it again once reintroduced.
I have caught fish on all the flies over the last few months and it was great to show Andy how effective they can be. Without a shadow of a doubt, though, the star of the show has been the Marigold. With its seductive wobble it has accounted for numerous trout and will no doubt account for many more in the near future!
Now where has the wife left those Marigolds?
Welsh international angler Kieron Jenkins visits Cwm Hedd Lakes, where he finds some quality resident fish right under his feet…
Flies For Cwm Hedd
Fulling Mill Bung and Weighted Blob
Sometimes when you say “small-water fishing” many anglers automatically assume a puddle filled with recently stocked trout and an armada of local anglers taking up the best spots to catch their limit quickly. However, small waters have a lot more than this to offer, in particular the challenge of catching wise old resident fish that have seen it all.
Cwm Hedd Lakes in South Wales is one water where there are plenty of such trout, and I set out in search out some of the resident feeding fish that this water has to offer.
Cwm Hedd has a growing reputation and is quickly becoming one of the best small-water fisheries in Wales. It’s a seven-acre spring-fed fishery nestled on the outskirts of Newport, which lends itself to the experienced angler looking to tempt some of the educated residents, as well as the novice angler after some fun on the stocked fish.
After a long, dry summer and high water temperatures, many small waters tend to go off and the fish sulk into the deeper areas of the lake. But after lengthy cool spells throughout the winter the water cools and the fish become more active as spring arrives. The fish now move into the shallow water to feed on buzzers, damsels, corixa and shrimps, as well as the abundance of roach fry at this venue.
Matt and young Callum Russell (a father and son team!) and I turn up to find an almost flat-calm lake with half-a-dozen anglers dotted on the inside bank near the lodge, so we decided to tackle up in front of the lodge to discuss tactics. I set up a floating line, a 5ft floating Poly Leader and a length of 6lb fluorocarbon with two size 12 Crunchers and a brown Wrapped Minkie pattern on the point.
The floating line is ideal for fishing the shallow water, ensuring the fly stays above the bottom and maximising your fishing time. I wandered across to the far side of the lake, known as the Wading Area, to try my luck.
As I walk past the first three platforms, I spook two fish that were extremely close in. I stop and let the water settle, and begin to peel a few yards of line from the reel. Many anglers tend to forget that trout do actually feed close to the bank and whack a line out into the horizon, spooking anything that may have been in close.
Matt Russell selects the flies for tempting the resident fish at Cwm Hedd
I roll cast the line from the ground and once I have a short line out I retrieve quickly, trying to force water through the Minkie so it falls through the water column faster. I instantly get a bow wave behind the fly with a fish following it right into the bank. Lifting off I drop the now wet Minkie back to the water and a feisty rainbow comes out of the margins and takes just a few inches below the surface. Sure enough, a resident fish of around 2lb comes into the net.
Avoid the temptation to cast a long line to start with - the better fish are likely to be the margins first.
I fish the area for another 20 minutes or so without a take, with sporadic fish rising just outside casting range playing hard to get. Much of the walkway around the lake is higher than the fishing platforms and with many of the fish at this end of the lake being in the water for quite some time they have become wary and easily spooked by wandering anglers.
I reel in and move off, making my way towards where Matt and Callum were fishing.
Fishing The Drop-Offs
Matt, who is just a few platforms ahead of me, is fishing close to the bank over a drop-off into around 10 feet of water. Both stocked and resident trout like to patrol structures. Fishing close to the margins, weed beds and drop-offs can produce some exciting sport.
As I get nearer he strikes, unfortunately missing the take and we settle down for a chat. Before I could even put my kit down he strikes again, this time hooking the fish and swiftly bringing it to the net.
Young Callum Russell with a beautiful resident brown from the margins.
He’s fishing a Sunburst Blob under an indicator at around five feet in depth. He tells me that he started at about eight feet, but after missing two takes pretty early on as the Blob was falling through the water he shortened his tippet to around half the length and was quickly rewarded with a fighting-fit rainbow.
We sit and talk and within 10 minutes he nets another two fish, again taking once the Blob settled at the 5ft mark.
Try The Difficult Pegs
With Matt explaining that the fish were deeper over this side of the lake and the conditions still almost flat calm, I too set up the bung, fishing an orange Squirmy Worm at five feet. Earlier in the morning, we saw fish getting caught from the point of the island, so I decided to head to the far side of it when the anglers have moved off.
I settle on a peg that is quite difficult to fish; the trees are close to the right and quite thick behind, making for a hard back cast – the ideal place for fish to hold up when they’re getting pressured.
Flicking the fly from the rod and roll casting just 10 or so feet out, the bung hardly has time to settle before it goes skating across the surface!
A beautiful, fully finned rainbow that looks to have been in the lake quite some time is soon in my net. A couple of casts later the bung dips; I pause and wait, then it disappears, this time right along the tree line, and another old fish gracefully slips into the net.
As I slip the fish back into the water, Matt appears as his sport has dried up. I allow him to jump onto the platform while I sort out a tangle and describe how difficult it is to cast with the surrounding obstacles, as he expertly puts the fly into the tree behind!
Quickly rectifying himself he lands his fly in the prime position, not too far from where I’d caught the previous fish. It isn’t long before he too is rewarded with a resident of his own, a beautiful fully finned rainbow around 17 inches in length! It goes to show that persevering in an area that is ‘hard’ and adapting to the situation can pay off.
A Personal Best
As the morning grows old the grey cloud disappears, leaving a beautiful sunny day. The temperature has risen slightly and a few fish are starting to rise, so Callum and I venture back to the Wading Area hoping for some action.
We tread gently and move slowly close to the reed bed and spot a good brown trout right in close to the bank. Callum is itching to cast but I persuade him to sit and wait, to watch its movements. Not a lot happens, the fish glided about close in unaware of our presence, so Callum decides to cast, dropping a weighted Sunburst Blob about three feet away from where the fish has settled.
He twitches the rod, making the fly lift from the bottom, and this grabs the fish’s attention. It darts over and engulfs the fly literally under the rod tip – Callum strikes and the fish is on!
Keeping the tension, he holds the fish hard and expertly nets it by himself. For a 12-year-old, he can fish! The fish is quickly photographed and released, a brown of near-enough 4lb in weight and a personal best for Callum!
The fishing at Cwm Hedd has been incredible over the last few months, with rainbows and browns between 4lb and 7lb regularly getting caught over the winter, including a beautiful grown-on fish of 6lb 5oz for me. So, now’s the time to get out on those small waters and target the resident fish that lurk in the margins.
Kieron’s Bung Setup
I know many anglers don’t like fishing the bung, but it goes without saying that it’s probably one of the most effective methods on small waters – and reservoirs for that matter – especially when fishing buzzers.
For quite some time I’ve had trouble getting the bung ‘right’ on the leader, though. I have mainly been using Fish Pimp indicators, which slide onto the tippet, but after time they tend to slip and the silicone insert perishes with use.
During the past few months, I’ve been using a 5ft Airflo Polyleader with a tippet ring attached to the end and a dropper of three inches of 5lb copolymer and a Fulling Mill Foam Bung, with the tippet/fly tied directly to the ring too. The short dropper ensures you’re in direct contact when you get takes and the Polyleader makes for good turnover, even at distance.
Small waters are prone to pressure from anglers, which can often lead to the fish going off or becoming very finicky. I tend to fish as light as possible, usually 5lb or 6lb, depending on the rules of the fishery.
Cwm Hedd operates a strict barbless-only policy – due to being a catch and release water – with a minimum of 6lb tippet so as not to get broken off by the big fish that inhabit the lake.
Cwm Hedd Lakes
Croesheolydd Farm, Bassaleg, Newport, Gwent NP10 8RW
Professional angling guide Andy Buckley spends a week in Slovenia to sample the stunning rivers and superb fly fishing this country has to offer.
It doesn’t matter whether you’re into glamorous long-haul adventures or short weekend breaks, finding fresh angling opportunities is becoming more difficult. For the angler looking for a long weekend of fishing, central Europe and the Balkan nations offer some of the finest fly fishing on the planet, but the more widely known waters are becoming increasingly expensive and heavily pressured.
When quality fishing is in such high demand it is up to the angler to look away from the crowds and think outside the box a little. Slovenia is certainly no secret to the game angler: rivers like the mighty Soča, Sava Bohinjka and Idrijca have long been considered as world-class angling destinations but such recognition is attracting higher volumes of anglers than ever before.
For the adventurous flyfisher, though, this is excellent news as there are huge numbers of alternative river systems full of wild trout and grayling, which go unnoticed in the shadow of the more well-known waters.
Guide Uroš Kristan's fly box. Note the heavily weighted Red Tag theme to his flies...
... which the Bistra grayling seemed to like.
Book A Guide
One such area is only 20 minutes from Slovenia’s capital city, Ljubljana, so England youth team captain Will Robins and I hopped on a short flight to meet a world-renowned guide who had waxed lyrical about a district neither of us had heard of before. Travelling to Slovenia is a simple affair with regular flights departing from both London Stansted and Manchester and taking no more than a few hours.
Upon arrival we were met by Slovenian guide Uroš Kristan who was not only to be our mentor for the week but had offered to provide our transport for the duration of our trip, negating the need for a hire car.
"There is a wealth of information available about Slovenian game angling, and while it would be possible to make the journey alone I would strongly recommend hiring a guide."
Many of the finest angling areas are very much off the beaten track and having gone through the ordeal of being lost on the side of a mountain on a previous trip, I can assure you that a little extra local knowledge will always equate to more time at the river and more fish on the bank.
Our transfer took us on a short and scenic drive southwest of Ljubljana to our lodgings on the outskirts of Vrhnika. A small town rich in culture, its emblem is the Argo, the ship that Jason and his Argonauts sailed upon during their mythical mission to retrieve the Golden Fleece. Legend has it that it was at one of the springs of the Ljubljanica river that the Argonauts had to dismantle their vessel and carry it on their shoulders to the Adriatic Sea.
Vrhnika has 40,000 years of settlement history, including one of the oldest examples of a man-made wheel, which dates back some 5,000 years! A strikingly green and lush area, the many bridges around Vrhnika also hint to the huge number of angling opportunities in the area.
A typical Bistra grayling. Fish to 40 centimetres are common on both dries and nymphs.
Standing in the grounds of a 13th-century Carthusian monastery, our hotel was also only two minutes by foot from the tiny Bistra Spring, our first water of the trip. Rising abruptly from the earth in the centre of the monastery grounds, Will and I were sceptical of this unremarkable-looking piece of water, which was only a few rod lengths wide and just 18 inches deep, but a 25cm grayling on the French leader settled our cynicism.
The fishing here got better as the day progressed, as we both caught a succession of wild brownies and grayling to over 40 centimetres on both nymphs and dries. At times it was hard to comprehend just how many large fish were holding in such a tiny stream. Uroš suggested that the heavy rainfall that fell prior to our trip had forced more fish than usual into the cold and rich waters of the spring.
Half a mile from its source the Bistra Spring flows into the Bistra River proper. Bistra is the Slovenian word for ‘clear’ and for good reason; the water here runs pure and cool, which makes the perfect habitat for all kinds of flora and entomology. The Bistra is an overgrown and unfettled river; fishing here is technical, wild and done entirely by sight.
We caught a number of excellent grayling on weighted nymphs before stumbling across an enormous chub hidden underneath heavy foliage on the far bank. I pitched a number of casts towards the fish with an enormous streamer jig that our guide assured us would tempt the huge fish from its hiding place.
Uroš and Will acted as my eyes from their elevated position and fed me information on the reaction of the fish to different drifts. After a dozen presentations, including a handful of false alarms, I got the call: “STRIKE!” "My little 4-wt rod buckled over like spaghetti but after an attritional tug of war the net was slid under a magnificent fish of nearly 7lb, one of the largest our guide had ever seen in Slovenia."
Red Tags The Way
The next morning we travelled for 10 minutes across Vrhnika to fish one of the two springs that form the Ljubljanica River. The Mala (small) and Velika (big) streams converge to form the main river but even before their juncture, we found excellent numbers of big and beautifully marked grayling.
The shallows of the Velika spring produced many fish to 40 centimetres on small CDC red tag dries fished blind through tumbling riffles, while the deeper pools fished well with our guide’s extra-heavy nymphs proving irresistible not only to the grayling but also some beautifully marked rainbow trout. The theme of red-tagged flies recurred throughout our trip and for the angler making the journey to Slovenia I would strongly suggest taking a selection of both CDC and hackled dry flies with bright tags.
Our guide’s box was full of them in different guises and throughout our adventure, it became more and more obvious that the little flash of colour makes a difference.
Further downstream as the river broadened we found the most engaging sight fishing imaginable, stalking large grayling at close quarters beneath the tree branches of the near bank. By hiding behind the trees and using a mixture of improvised roll casts and archer-style presentations we were able to pitch our weighted flies far enough upstream to get them down among the fish.
There can be fewer more fascinating sights in fly fishing than watching a large grayling move towards and then inhale a well-presented nymph in crystal-clear water, a sight that Will and I saw a dozen times each in little over an hour.
After a long, heavy and appropriately boozy lunch away from the searing heat of the early afternoon we moved further downstream to the main Ljubljanica River where, glancing over the bridge, we spotted a large Danube salmon. This European taimen is prevalent in the Ljubljanica and while we couldn’t stir this fish from its torpor we were later shown pictures of specimens of over a metre in length by Marko Barisic, chairman of the Vrhnika angling club. Marko also informed us that we were the first non-nationals to fish the Bistra springs and river for 20 years as the club had only recently moved to offer day-ticket angling – a rare honour and a real privilege.
Cheaper Than Hampshire?
The waters around Vrhnika present the travelling angler with such a breadth and diversity of angling opportunities. From tiny spring creeks full of trout and grayling to swinging streamers to Danube salmon and pike, it’s all here and it’s all so accessible.
It's not just trout and grayling, as this huge chub took hold of Andy's streamer!
With flights from London taking two hours, Vrhnika only minutes
Clark Colman refines his dry-fly techniques to enjoy good early season surface sport on a taxing but a productive river, whose wild brownies can often be found ‘looking up’ right from opening day…
As a devotee of modern, light-line, European-style nymphing approaches, it’s not always easy for me to lay these aside in favour of other methods when the new wild trout season dawns on our rivers and streams. With over 80% of a trout’s food being taken sub-surface, and with insect hatches or falls yet to gain real momentum and volume, my first trouting sessions of the New Year usually involve the same techniques that serve me well for grayling during the autumn and winter.
Wild brownies respond just as well as ‘the lady of the stream’ to the delicate presentation and sensitive take detection afforded by my favourite 10ft 2-wt and 3-wt rods, fixed-line leader-only setups, and tungsten-beaded bugs presented on the finest tippets that conditions and fly weight allow. With bumper catches possible right from opening day, it’s all too easy for me to become fixated by such approaches. However, there are times when greater flexibility is called for in making the most of changing situations or a venue with certain fish-feeding peculiarities of its own.
Speculate To Accumulate
One such place is a largely unknown and very challenging river lying a short distance from my former home in the northeast Midlands. Seldom more than thigh deep, the narrow, gin-clear and largely sedate stretch on which I tend to concentrate appears made for the single-fly French nymphing technique, especially at the start of the season.
Given the mild winter we have had this year, don't be surprised to see early hatches of winged flies...
Given the right conditions, dry-fly fishing is equally productive at this time. The shallow water here can warm up a good deal earlier than on other, deeper rivers nearby, which stimulates a good deal of early aquatic plant growth and invertebrate activity. As a result, the river often enjoys decent hatches of that familiar early season upwing, the large dark olive, not to mention ‘hardy perennials’ like black gnats and midge. So if ever I’m in the mood for some good surface sport right from the off, this is one of the places to which I head.
... especially in the shallower runs and glides
Tackle For Twitchy Trout
One particular dry-fly session on this difficult but rewarding venue stands out in my memory. It started on a crisp April mid-morning around three years ago, under bright blue skies, minimal cloud cover and piercing sunlight, which, together with the river’s crystal-clear water and intermittent rises, foretold of wary fish and the great care that would be demanded in terms of equipment, fly patterns, watercraft and presentation.
With little opportunity to get close to trout, my 9ft #3 tip-flex rod would allow me to cover them at distances beyond the reach of a French or presentation leader, while still aiding delicate presentation. The latter would also be helped by a more gently tapering weight-forward line for tight loop formation, turnover of long, light-tippet leaders and minimal landing impact. The one I opted for sported a willowy-olive colour – a perfect compromise between visibility and minimisation of line flash.
I’m usually well outside my comfort zone with anything less than 12 feet of tapered leader when dry-fly fishing. Given the conditions, today would have been no exception, and I was thankful for the largely clear surroundings and lack of downstream breeze that rendered a necessarily longer leader both possible and comfortable. The one I used was formed by barrel knotting a 5ft tippet of 0.10mm copolymer to the 0.12mm point of a 9ft tapered leader.
I’ve been a convert to the drag-reducing benefits of long, level tippets for some time now (largely through Jeremy Lucas’ influence), and was confident that such a leader configuration could be more than adequately presented via my choice of rod and line. To further aid turnover I’d also removed the small welded loop at the tip of my fly line in favour of a needle knot line-to-leader connection, which is far more efficient in transferring energy (built up during false casting) from fly line to leader.
The raised, open banks on my side of the river entailed keeping a low profile while observing rise forms and choosing an appropriate fly pattern. There were one or two large dark olive duns on the water, but from my vantage point, it appeared as though the trout preferred more easily targeted emergers over fully hatched adults that could disappear in a second.
In such circumstances, an appropriately sized Parachute Adams or my own GPE (General-Purpose Emerger) usually finds its way onto my tippet. These are hardly the stuff of legends when it comes to creativity; however, I seldom find the need for anything more complex at this time of year and prefer (on the basis of experience) to prioritise presentation over close-copy imitation.
Bringing fish downstream to the net quickly in the shallow glides will avoid spooking the other rising fish upstream.
Recent work by Paul Procter, Dave Southall and others has questioned the need for regular degreasing of dry-fly tippets on running water and instead argues for the greater benefits of slack-line casts and tippet collapse in aiding natural, drag-free drifts. I don’t doubt for one second that their experiences and expertise more than bear this out; however, I’m at my most confident when using all available ways of minimising poor presentation – especially on this hard taskmistress of a river.
Thus, before sliding carefully down the bank into the gin-clear water below, I went through my usual leader-preparation drills. First up was greasing everything to within three feet of the fly, to ensure clean, smooth pick-up when rolling or lifting off into the next cast (or striking into a fish). I then used sinkant paste to degrease the remainder of the tippet, which would prevent it silhouetting on the calm, oily surface like a scratch on a mirror.
Whatever technique I’m employing, I always try to get as close to rising fish or likely looking areas as possible, so as not to jeopardise presentation and line control with longer than necessary casts. In this respect, the gravelly riverbed offered comfortable, secure wading, which very much supported the ‘gently, Bentley’ approach that would make all the difference between success and failure that day. Even with the slowest and subtlest of leg movements, I could do little to prevent expanding ripples from arcing upstream towards rising trout; however, the tail of a narrow, foam-flecked run afforded a measure of cover from which to make my first casts.
Smooth acceleration to crisp stops over a narrow casting arc served to load the rod and turn over the long leader with minimal fly line beyond the tip. After three failed attempts, I managed to drop the size 16 GPE just above the nearest rising fish, and up it came. Afraid that his splashy acrobatics would spook other trout in the run, I quickly steered this plump, vividly-spotted 10-incher downstream and into the net for a quick photo, before releasing him back into the cold, clear water.
Parachute Adams Variant
Hook: Orvis Classic Extra-Fine Dry-Fly, sizes 14 to 20
Thread: Semperfli Nanosilk (grey)
Tail: Mixture of Grizzle and Rhode Island Red cock hackle fibres
Abdomen & Thorax: Hare's Ear or Wapsi Superfine dubbing (Grey)
Wingpost: Orvis Poly Pro Yarn (White)
Hackle: Grizzle and Rhode-Island Red cock hackles, wound together
GPE (General Purpose Emerger)
Hook: Kamasan B100/B100 Gold, sizes 14 or 16
Thread: Semperfli Nano Silk, olive
Abdomen: Stripped Peacock quill, dyed olive; varnished for protection
Wing: Two natural CDC plumes, backward-sloping
Thorax: Olive-dyed Hare's ear
Legs: Dark dun cock handle, clipped
Something A Little Bigger…
With large dark olives continuing to trickle off, and the run rested briefly, the antics of this first fish wouldn’t prevent more of a similar size from following in reasonably quick succession – providing, of course, that I’d dried the fly with floatant dust and retreated the leader. Then, while distracted by a busy water vole some little distance upstream, I almost missed the slow, unhurried swirl that engulfed the GPE in the shade of a left-bank reed clump.
Clearly no 10-incher, the trout bolted off upstream as I struck, accompanied by all the line I’d retrieved (at the same speed as the current) to keep in touch with the fly as it drifted back downstream. More line followed by a singing reel, before the fish paused, hung in the placid current and shook its head a couple of times – always the sign of a bigger brownie. Then it was off across the river, intent on burying itself under the bank.
A big tail and long, golden-olive flank slapped angrily on the surface before the hooped-over rod tip sprang backwards and the barbless GPE dropped sadly down to the surface. “At least you know they’re here,” I said to myself, in a not-entirely-successful bid to assuage my guilt at losing what was clearly a very special trout for this river.
Onwards And Upwards
It soon became obvious that the escapee had put his smaller cousins to flight, so I crept slowly upstream to the tail of a wider, slower and even shallower run, where I’d observed several fish rising consistently while tackling up. They were still there, and in good numbers too, but longer casting and even greater care with presentation were necessary here.
At times I was my own worst enemy in this respect. Whether mulling over my lost ‘monster’, engrossed in watching the fly or distracted by my new friend the water vole, I wasn’t always quick enough in retrieving line to maintain drag-free contact with the GPE. This caused a loop of line to pass behind the rod tip, creating a ‘pulley wheel’ effect that zipped the fly downstream in a pronounced V-wake – clearly very offputting to the trout. Also, if takes from less-discerning fish had come at that point, I’d have needed to lift the whole loop off the surface before driving the hook point home – by which time they’d likely be long gone.
A bit more self-discipline was necessary to bring several more pretty wild brownies to the net, including a fine, olive-hued and large-spotted 13-incher. Given their preference for helpless emergers, takes weren’t exactly hurried, and the number of rising trout here made it all-too-tempting to recast immediately if the GPE passed over one without disappearing. This would, however, have caused much disturbance, so I waited until the fly, leader and fly line were well downstream, raising the rod tip all the while to create a D-loop, before gently rolling the line high off the water and accelerating into the back cast.
Given current weather conditions, this day on one of my all-time favourite early season rivers seems like a long time ago. To judge from the cold, wet and windy scene outside, not to mention the welcome fire crackling in the hearth, it’ll be a little while yet before the large dark olives start to appear in sufficient numbers to warrant resting my nymphing rods and heavy bugs.
When they do, however, I might well celebrate with a trip back to the Midlands, armed with a light-line dry-fly outfit and a box of appropriate imitations – plus a reassuring tub of leader sinkant or two!
For all the satisfaction I get from leader-only, European-style nymphing tactics, I must admit to missing the sight of a fly line and leader unrolling over a rising river brown trout. It should at least make for a nice break from the norm, and hopefully, Mr Vole will be there too – I do miss his company!
Don't rule out the dries this spring...
... the rewards are well worth it!
(Photography by Will Burn)
Name: Clark Colman
Tel: 07752 268073
Clark Colman is the Fly Fishing Specialist at Orvis UK’s Harrogate store. He also runs EDIP Fly Fishing – a popular guiding service operating nationwide.
Fishing on your lunch break – sounds brilliant and wouldn’t it be awesome if you could do this every day. Fishtec’s Ceri Thomas simply couldn’t handle missing out on the spring hatches... so he started doing just that.
For a good few years lunch time angling never even crossed my mind, despite the river Usk being just up the road from the Airflo and Fishtec HQ. Evening fishing after work yes - but never at dinner time. I simply couldn’t fit it in – or could I?
The problem was in early season you don’t get an evening rise, just a lunch time rise. And on the Usk, it’s brilliant in early spring, with the legendary march browns and the large dark olive hatches.
As normally happens by the weekend the Welsh rain is back and it’s blown out ... you miss the hatch but it’s frustratingly perfect again by the middle of the week. I was missing out big time; the weekend just wasn’t enough.
The answer was to try and hit the river at lunch break, just in time for the fly emergence and enjoy casting at rising fish, with the challenge of squeezing this into just 30 minutes or so.
I took some inspiration from my fishing pal and fellow team member Tim Hughes. It turns out Tim had been sneaking down to the river to get his fix! So it was entirely possible, I just had to make the jump and give it a try.
Here’s how I do it: rod is pre-rigged with line, leader and fly ready attached. Fly is pre-ginked, leader already degreased. Waders and boots are at the ready in the boot. No vest, just a few essentials in the jacket. With fly choice I go with what I think will work, usually dry. No time to switch methods or for many fly changes. It’s basically a one fly, time limited lunch time challenge.
My chosen beat is literally down the road at Brecon Town – a 2-minute drive. Sling the waders on, boots over the top. Don’t bother with gravel guards. Then literally RUN like crazy down to the river whilst pushing the two rod sections together, beginning false casting on the way. As I move, the fly is unhooked from the keeper ring and bingo you are fishing, all within 5 minutes.
I time my break with the hatch and hope to hit the best time of the day. Keeping tabs on Facebook and online reports really comes in handy for this. Avoiding a blank is the ultimate goal, with just one fish making it a proper result. Even a blank is fine though; simply being on the river watching a dry drifting for 20 minutes is a great break from the office.
My record is 4 fish, I’ve had a few 3’s, ones or two’s are fairly frequent and so are the blanks. Tim recently had 6 (the record!). Lunch time angling has been great for a bit of product testing - waders for example, prototype fly lines and the new Airflo Airlite V2 fly rods have all been baptised on the river in the past month.
It's nice to see the river as a snapshot in that little daily window. Things can change radically from day-to-day; sometimes there is a hatch of fly galore, others times the river remains dead and grey. Hurricane winds, dog walkers and canoes, high water, snow and rain have all played their part. It’s all good.
So to conclude lunch time fishing can be done! It’s simply great to be out trying to catch a fish. Next time you are on your lunch break, gazing out of the window thinking about trout, do some research on where your nearest bit of water is - you might be surprised at what you can fit in.
Day and season permits for the Breconshire River Usk Fishery association are available from the Fishtec tackle shop in Brecon.
Word's and Pictures from Fishtec Fly