Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Floodwater Grayling.

I doubt many UK anglers would have cause to disagree with me saying that the weather so far this winter has been shit, even by the standards of our drizzle-blighted little island.

It's as if winter hasn't even arrived yet. Temperatures remain warm at around 5-7 degrees most days, and with the unseasonal mildness has come endless rain and a howling, bone-rattling wind. The rivers rise and fall at an alarming rate and always seem to be carrying colour, and the lack of any lengthy periods of cold weather and frost has left the grayling dispersed far wider than is normal for the time of year.

The weather patterns have been particularly frustrating for me as, having not wet a line since September, I was rather hoping to spend as much time chasing the 'ladies' of the Wharfe as possible in the short window I had back home. Well, it appears that was not to be! Every time in the last week or two I've so much as picked up a float and looked at it, all the rivers in the area have burst their banks simultaneously. I would've probably seen the funny side of it normally, but in the back of my mind lurked the awful thought that I might not fish until April should I miss this window - not an easy pill to swallow for a fish-head. So, driven to near panic by that prospect I was determined to hit the river on Saturday come hell or high water, or suffer a mental breakdown (something I could really do without in my final Uni year).

Boils and swirls in a normally calm pool.

I'd like to give some epic rendition of how I battled the elements like Captain Ahab, roaring defiantly at the heavens as I battered every inch of water to oblivion in search of my prize... but in all honesty it really wasn't that bad. In fact is was absolutely fine. There was of course a nasty wind and constant drizzle, interspersed by the odd bit of 'proper rain' - nothing a good pair of waterproofs couldn't handle. The real issue was the extra foot or two of water the river was carrying. Still, trotting with worms has landed me fish in worse conditions, so I rigged up my centrepin setup (with a loafer float capable of carrying plenty of shot to get the bait down to the bottom) still fairly confident of at least tempting a fish.

Float rod sporting the centrepin reel... I should really put a little more effort into my photographs.

The current was pushing hard in a number of normally sedate 'banker' swims, which made life awkward as I struggled to find creases and back eddies where the grayling could be sheltering. Nevertheless, I managed to search out a welcome fish in the first twenty minutes. It had been sitting tight to the bank where a young willow trunk bowed abruptly outwards, creating a narrow channel of slack water, and accepted my worm gladly once I managed a successful trot downstream without being pulled into the main flow. Predictably, that's exactly where the unsuspecting fish decided to bolt, and I was subjected to the agonising process of having to gradually ease it upstream against the weight of the current before it could be steered into the net. Anyone who has fished for grayling will know just how much pressure they can put on a hook hold, using their huge dorsals to catch the current. Multiple hook pulls are par for the course, but in this case I was lucky, and after summarily admiring the fish's pewter flanks and stately sail-like fin it was slipped back to relocate its refuge.

Relief: first contact for almost four months.

Celebratory tea and fag time! Pressure off, blank avoided. I carried on fishing the run for another half hour with no further interest before moving on. I searched a number of other swims for the next couple of hours with no reward other than snags, lost gear and one fine branch - not the best of the year, but not far off (well, if you're going to come into contact with river-junk now and then you might as well make a game of it). Stumped for ideas I headed back to the original spot and fed a handful of chopped worms before trying again. After a few trots down the float dipped again and I hooked into another fish which held its own, stubbornly hugging the bottom for a while before yielding - a better grayling around the pound mark. Not a monster by any standards but a worthy catch, and good enough for me.

A respectable example of Thymallus thymallus.

This success was followed by a series of missed bobs,dips and stolen baits - odd considering the river's seething hoards of minnows tend to vanish through the colder months, and shoals of small coarse fish such as dace and roach are notable in the upper Wharfe by their absence. I changed to a smaller piece of worm and was immediately rewarded with what turned out to be a tiny grayling skittering along the surface towards me. Another slightly larger one around six inches was swung to hand within a couple of casts. Perhaps this wasn't the stamp of fish I was looking for, but it's certainly an encouraging sign for the future of the river that the juveniles are present.

It would seem there were quite a few of these tiny fellas present. Embarrassing to catch, encouraging to see.

The nabbing, pecking bites ceased as abruptly as they had started, leading me to think something was afoot. Sure enough, ten minutes later the next disappearance of the float was followed by an eruption of spray as an out of season brownie launched itself all over the swim in its manic attempts to shake the hook. Not a bad fish at around a pound and in excellent condition for the time of year, it was slipped back with the minimum of fuss so as to cause minimum disruption to its off-season relaxation. Whilst it would have been a very welcome fish in September, trout are a downright nuisance to the winter grayling angler. Once they sniff out loose bait or detect feeding activity they can move in quickly and often muscle out the more reserved grayling. Add to this their no-holds-barred maniacal efforts to escape once hooked, and they can soon clear a pool of any fish with an ounce of common sense if not swiftly subdued. Having contemplated on this, after a few more token casts I decided to quit while I was ahead. After all, it hadn't been a bad few hours sport. Enough to cure the cabin fever at least.

I'm still faced with the fact that I probably won't be able to wet a line now until springtime, but a few hours chasing ladies was a perfect antidote to the stress of the last few months. Hopefully the memory will be enough to drag me through the even worse months to come!

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Minor revamp, plus a spot of rainbow chasing.

Well it's been a long while since I've posted on here, and not for the first time. I've been rather busy with the combined burdens of Uni work and a new job, so I've barely been fishing at all, let alone had the time or motivation to write on here. But here I am now, and as you might have noticed if you're a regular on my blog I've made a couple of minor cosmetic tweaks. I've also changed the title - 'Yorkshire Fly Novice' always sounded a tad clunky to me... 'Yorkshire Fly Fisher' is much slicker, don't you think?

Housekeeping aside, I did manage to sneak in a couple of evening sessions on a small stillwater recently. The weather's been bright and hot, making the sport fairly tough going. Dry flies have brought me fairly consistent sport, though - anything small and black really seems to be okay at the moment, picking off fish head-and-tailing after emerging midges. When that hasn't worked, bullying a response out of them with a G&H sedge has rarely failed. Here's a couple of nice blues from last Tuesday:

It's been kind of nice to fish stillwaters for a change. I suppose it's kind of like setting aside your copy of the Telegraph and picking up a tabloid... you don't take it seriously, but it can be good fun now and then. I should be back on flowing water for the first time in an age tomorrow though. My piking pal Tom's been having some good results on the Aire recently, so I must go scope it out. I can have a stab at the grayling now, too! Watch this space for further developments... there will be further developments this time, I promise!

Tight lines,

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Another Aire Trip (and video).

Well, I had another quick trip to the Aire yesterday morning. The fish there are definitely more active than they are on the Wharfe at the moment, but bumping nymphs along the bottom with frozen hands it still felt more like a November Grayling session than spring trout fishing. Things seem to be on the up though, although we're still lagging a few weeks behind normal spring conditions. A couple of fish came to the net - two brownies around the 3/4lb mark - it's a wonderful feeling to get my string pulled again!
I got enough headcam footage to cobble together a small video - hope you like it. My casting/general technique is a touch rusty after a long off season as you can probably tell... please be gentle!

Tight lines,

Sunday, 7 April 2013

At last!

Well, here it is! My first trout of the Yorkshire season, taken on a heavy copperhead nymph from a deep, fast run in the River Aire. Unbelievably relieving to finally get some points on the board as I was beginning to question the small amount of ability I possess. The fish came after a plump out of season grayling - much more solid and stocky looking than its counterparts in the Wharfe. I'm certainly looking forward to fishing for them when they come into season. My pal Tom managed his first trout on the fly too, so smiles all round!

It's easy to wax lyrical about any fish when you've grafted so much to catch it, but this brownie really did put on a pretty spectacular show. I was fishing my nymph below an indicator, watching for any stops and stutters in its run, but on this occasion the line fully slammed tight and the fish launched itself from the water, proceeding to do so five or so more times during the course of the scrap. Heart stopping stuff, and I wish I'd caught it on my headcam but unfortunately it was sitting in my fly vest pocket at the time! Stupid boy... I might sneak in an hour or two tomorrow morning though, so I'll be sure not to make the same mistake then!

Anyway, the pressure's off now, and I can get back to enjoying my fishing fully! If you want a look at the nymph, it's one sold by Stuart Minnikin of Yorkshire Dales Fly Fishing in his online fly shop. Looks a simple tie but bloody deadly, so if you want you can see it plus a bunch of other cracking patterns here.

Tight lines for now,

Burning the Midnight Oil...

It's rather late on a Saturday evening, and really I ought to be out drinking, trying to cop off with random unsuspecting lasses, having punch ups over god knows what or throwing up into a drain, same as pretty much every other lad my age. Admittedly that can be the case rather too often on a weekend when I'm up at University, but I'm at home and tomorrow I'm going fishing - the thought alone of tying up leaders with a hangover is enough to make me feel ill. So, rather than kicking seven colours of shite out of my liver, I've been burning the midnight oil tying up a number of variations on a tungsten head PTN in sizes 14 and 16. As you can see above, pretty rough work and I definitely need more practice, but hopefully the trout will get the general idea and humour me. The Wharfe left me watterlicked for a fourth session in a row on Thursday by the way - lots of LDOs, not a single rising fish! Outrageous in such lovely weather. Hopefully the Aire will be more generous... five blanks on the bounce could see me nipping to Homebase for a length of stout rope!

Thursday, 4 April 2013

Still struggling..

Well, I'm still struggling to get off the mark for the season. It's getting rather worrying actually! Yes, I've had two fish on that chilly opening day session at Ullswater, but I don't really feel settled until I've had a fish from a river. Three sessions so far, three blanks. One in a blizzard on the Cumbrian Eamont, one on the Wharfe last Friday (lots of hatching LDOs, no rising fish) and then Tuesday on the Aire, although that trip was almost a success. Tuesday was a catch up session with my good pike fishing pal Tom, just throwing a few spinners whilst I assessed the stretch of river (a regular spot for Tom) for bug-wafting potential. One major positive was there were a number of areas of great looking trout water, as well as some slower, more typical coarse fishing swims. Another positive was that at around 3 p.m. a number of fish, including some weighty looking fellas, began to rise to a good hatch of midges although there were no olives to be seen. Heartening to see real signs of life for the first time this year, but at the same time it would have been far better had there been a griffiths gnat on the end of my line rather than a 3/4 inch floating rapala! Happily I did connect with a fish in some deep, steady water - a fit little brownie of around 3/4 lb to the pound mark I think, then again, I didn't get him close enough to find out before he shook himself free... yeah, so like I said, all in all the session was almost a success...

I've been dicking about some more with my headcam on my recent outings, and I'm fairly pleased with the it. Good image quality at 1080p for the price you pay, and the sound quality seems better than that of the more expensive 'GoPro' cameras. Hopefully the next fish I film on it will make it to the net.

Hopefully I'll be out on the Wharfe again today, and then the Aire on Sunday with Tom (with proper gear this time!), so keep an eye out and expect a post or two if things pan out well.


Sunday, 31 March 2013

Time to start tying my own...

The current extent of my fly tying gear: a crap vice, substandard tools, thread, a handful of beads and  some scraps of pheasant tail. A few purchases in order then...

Over the last few months I've been finding it harder and harder to justify to myself why I don't tie my own flies. It really doesn't make any sense, and I suppose I've finally come to accept it's down to laziness and/or a lack of willing to learn - not traits I want to transfer into the rest of my fishing, that's for sure!

The advantages of tying your own are undeniable once you get the hang of it. You can create flies for any situation whenever you need them, you can make tweaks to the style/weight etc. of patterns rather than being stuck with the 'get what you're given' approach of big fly dealers (some professional fly dressers are excellent though), and most importantly from my perspective, you can create more flies for less cash.

One of my rare, hamfisted attempts at a nymph. Some practice needed!

So, no more excuses. Time to start learning. I've purchased a few bits and bats to bulk out my currently rather sorry looking tying armoury, and hopefully they'll be with me later in the week. I figured I'd start off with some pheasant tail nymphs and other weighted patterns since they come across as the most straightforward river flies to knock up, plus a large amount of my fishing at the moment involves shortline nymphing and duo techniques, so the more choices I put in my box the better. Once I've got the hang of that, I'll start tinkering with the more fiddly wets and dries.

I'll keep you all posted with how things go!


Reverb: Fly Fishing and Punk Collide (a film review, inexplicably masquerading as musings about music, emotions and growing up...)

Outside of the world of fly fishing I suppose that I'm something of a - and I really hate to use the expression - 'music fan'. Ugh, just the sight of the phrase on the screen in front of me makes me feel bilious for a plethora of reasons far too petty and off-topic to grumble about here, but nevertheless it's the simplest way of putting it. Let's just summarise the potential book's worth of drivel (I really could babble for hours, but this is hardly the place or the audience) by saying I likes me a bit o' music. My sphere of interest encompasses anything from classical to ska, metal to celtic and, in some extreme cases, dubstep. From a fairly young age though I've been particularly taken with punk music - something about the whole 'young, stupid and pissed off about... well, we're not too sure' vibe always appealed to me on a level that other genres never quite managed. It can be angry, aggressive, erratic, but at the same time retains a carefree, youthful energy which is perhaps lacking in my staple diet of death and thrash metal. Punk never gets too serious, and when you're a kid (hark the wisdom of the man of nineteen summers) what is there to be serious about? Nothing. To be honest, if, as I nose my way out of the nursery stream into the raging torrent of adult life, I ever start to take things too seriously, if I lose that feeling of inner punk, It'll feel like I've gone very wrong somewhere down the line.
"Yeah yeah, you're a punk fan, we get it. Now stop being such a tooth-aching sycophant and get to the point."
Apologies, reader, but it's a genuinely emotive subject for me! You'll sooner see me getting dewy eyed listening to a favourite album rediscovered in a forgotten attic box than over the predictable 'reunited against all the odds' scene you see at the end of every film ever. My girlfriend has pointed out to me on a number of occasions that I can be an insensitive git to be with in the cinema, as it happens. But yes, sorry, my point...

Pegboy, formed in Chicago in the early 90s, have grown to become a favourite band of mine since I stumbled across them on one of my regular trawls through the darkest recesses of Youtube a year or two ago. I've also been a follower for some time of a chap called Robert Thompson, who runs the site Third Year Fly Fisher. He used to put up monthly blog-type videos of his fishing exploits interspersed with nice compilations of footage. In the last couple of years though he's started making longer films, good ones at that. So, imagine my surprise when the trailer below popped up!

"Reverb" fly fishing trailer - Youtube
(sorry I couldn't embed the vid to make it easier - Blogger decided I could have anything, just not this)

Yep, it would appear Pegboy (or at least half of Pegboy plus their pal Herb from Rights Of The Accused) are fly fishers. Fate? Well I don't believe in that crap, but a happy coincidence at least. I emailed Robert and asked about getting hold of a copy. I was given a price, and it was in the post the next day. It arrived surprisingly quickly actually - only a week, which from the States isn't bad.

So, how was it? Well, for me? Fantastic, but that could be the 'music fan' (again... just no) in me talking. It's really a documentary about the band tied together by fly fishing, but there's plenty there to please the angling eye, with wonderful shots of small stream brown and brook trout fishing. Reverb is actually only an extra on the DVD of Robert's film 'Heart of The Driftless' which takes a more full on, and again excellent look at the same streams in the Driftless area in the upper American Midwest, and even if the whole punk thing doesn't float your boat, HOTD is worth the price all on its own.

What really struck a chord with me in Reverb, though, more than the fishing, more than the music, was actually seeing Larry and Joe now as forty-somethings looking back on their career. Quite a shock at first when you're used to the angry young guys from the music videos. The fact was though, as much as time had passed and they'd changed as people, the spark was still there. As soon as they jump up on stage the youth bursts back out, and so it does when they're together chasing trout. This brings me full circle, back to my thoughts at the start of this post - a post which has turned out to be a hell of a lot longer than I was expecting, might I add! Punk spirit. Never take anything too seriously, never lose your playful side. In a little over a month I turn twenty. I can hear your laughter, but shit, twenty! Somehow for the first time it just feels like a proper number, no more messing about. Double that and you're forty. Presuming I make it to forty, where will I be? Life gets more serious the older you get. The miserable bastards on the trains at rush hour are testament to that. Will my inner punk be squashed out of me by taxes, bills and bairns? So long as I keep a fly rod close at hand and a good river nearby, I think it'll survive. As I've said, it's all about not taking things too seriously, and as much as you can concentrate hard with fishing - apply all your wit to it, hone your skills - you can never start to take it too seriously. Where would the fun in that be? No matter what happens, even if I have to sell all my CDs to pay the rent, I'll always be able to keep the inner punk hidden away in there somewhere, and let him loose to swear at tangled leaders and curse fly-snatching branches.

Play me out, guys!

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Staying Positive.

Ullswater can be a stunning place, as this February snap shows...
The Cumbrian trout season opened last Friday, and true to form when I arrived on the banks of Ullswater (sort of my local when I'm up here) at around 7 a.m. I was met with a mixture of sleet, rain and a howling wind... yeah. Not ideal. But March is an unpredictable time of year and you simply have to make the best of the conditions you're faced with. At least that's the way I rationalised it in my head as I rigged up my rod, gritting my teeth in the icy spring air. A legered worm was the method for the day - the fly seemed pointless given the conditions, and really I only planned to fish a couple of hours to appease the gods of the water. I punched my bait out hard to reach deeper water, set the rod down and began my long, chilly vigil.

Come opening day, conditions weren't so pleasant - I took this shot during a rare break in the wind and sleet.
The depressing thing about fishing a long ribbon lake like Ullswater in bad weather is that you can see the next squall or snow flurry coming from upwind about 5 minutes before it hits you. It's useful in the sense that it gives you time to wrap up and prepare, but it taints even the sunniest spell with a sense of futility as all too soon you see the next wall of black cloud bearing down on you. In normal circumstances this just adds to the drama of the place, but on a cold, biteless March morning it saps one's morale at a rate that cannot be stemmed even by the liberal application of tea, whisky and cigarettes. Today was certainly one of those days, and it wasn't long before I grew weary of the site of my stubbornly static rod tip. I couldn't believe when I checked the time that it was barely past 8 a.m.. A bus was due shortly and I was sorely tempted to catch it, but I talked myself around - a couple more hours, make the trip worth it at least. Stay positive. Rebait, recast, keep hoping. Stay positive. Turn your back to the wind (and was that hail now?). Pull down the hat. Turn up the collar. And for God's sake, stay positive.

Still time dragged on in this manner as I refused to accept the likelihood of an opening day blank. Surely there had to be something out there looking for a spot of breakfast? I was sure the wind had eased off, and perhaps the temperature had risen a couple of degrees, but maybe that was the contents of my now empty hip flask talking. Still, I could have sworn that I had a rattle on my rod tip just as this change  in conditions was coming about... hmm, perhaps not. I tightened the line and waited. A few minutes passed, then all at once the tip sprang abruptly straight and I struck into a definite solid resistance. Not a leviathan, but after the dismal start to the day, the pulsing of the rod as the trout finned determinedly out in the deeps felt positively miraculous. Soon it was on the bank - a stunning opening day brownie, slim from the winter but wonderfully marked and fin-perfect.

Against the odds: the first of the season.
After performing the necessary (I do like to keep the odd fish, and the first takeable fish of the year tends to find its way to my pan) and stowing the prize safely in my bag I checked my watch - half past nine. Time for another fish before my next bus, maybe? I hooked up a new worm and sent another prospecting cast over the ledge. This time the bait had barely settled before I had another thumping bite, and soon another sprightly, golden trout lay on the bank. Funny what can happen when you force yourself to be positive...

The fruits of a positive mental attitude: a brace of opening day Ullswater trout.

Sunday, 17 March 2013

Winter Grayling Fishing (Early February)

I originally meant to post about this trip last month, but once again a combination of mounting University work, trying to think of a dissertation proposal and general laziness set me back. Nevertheless, here I am now, and here's the lowdown...

At the start of February I popped home for my girlfriend's birthday, and having squirmed my way back into the good books I managed to cadge a lift down to the River Wharfe for a  morning chasing ladies, also providing me with a chance to test out my new Contour Roam 2 headcam. There had been a substantial amount of rain, so I opted for the age old Yorkshire tactic of trotted worm. The weather was dire and I'd been expecting to take a bit of a whipping, but to my surprise and delight I had a day of days with 11 gorgeous Grayling up to around a pound and a half. Not bad for a flying two or three hour session! Below are some photos from the day, plus some video footage I shot with the new headcam, hope you enjoy it!

New gadget: the Contour headcam. Takes a wee while to stop feeling self conscious about having it  strapped to the side of your head!

On target with one of the first ladies of the session...

... But bumping into a few of these chaps was unavoidable.

Posing for the camera...

Not all of them were so cooperative!

A decent fish  to finish.

Tight lines,