At the beginning of the year I had hatched an elaborate plan for this years mayfly period. The plan was to head over into Wales for a week of solo camping and fishing in the Wye and Usk catchments around Wales. I spent all winter planning out the trip and tying up the flies I would need and purchasing the necessary tickets and licences.
Coronavirus soon squashed any chance of my trip going ahead, for this year at least. As gutted as it made me I’m still very grateful to be able to fish the magical hatches at all this year. For all of us, I believe lockdown has birthed a new found love and admiration for our sport and some of the places it takes us.
So with restrictions keeping me on this side of the Welsh border I quickly began researching different rivers and beats to fish. It’s been really tough, the beats I would normally get on with ease have seen really heavy booking schedules as anglers wanting to fish in Wales have had to resort to the same plan as me.
With many smaller club waters still not processing new members after the lockdown period just yet, I decided the Wye and Usk passport waters were a safe bet to try.
My first mayfly expedition saw me out on the banks of the river Teme, hoping to catch one of the many trophy sized fish it is famed for. The river is extremely low and clear up there and with the forecast looking dry it seems that a complete dry up is in the cards for this year again too.
On the day I fished it the conditions were just about perfect. A steady 16 degree temperature and decent cloud cover. However the fishing proved to be really challenging. The open meadow banks and low water meant that the fish were on high alert. Only total stealth tactics would give me the chance hooking up today.
The insect life picked up as the day went on, with midge clouds covering the few shaded bits of water. A steady trickle of mayfly began just after midday – it is still early but the fish seemed to be switched on to them already judging by the violent rises.
In such conditions I always feel like it pays to be patient. Many an angler can go trampling off down the banks at a brisk pace and pass up many a fish on the way. I haven’t fished this particular beat before but I adopted the same techniques as I would anywhere in these conditions.
Far away from the sides of the rivers I walked slowly and selected a few pools that I felt would hold fish. Despite having over a mile of water to go at I decided to gamble most of my time into two really good looking runs. My plan would be to crawl down into a decent casting position and remain seated as still as I could for some time, allowing the fish to regain confidence and begin feeding in front of me again.
The first, consisted of a wide sweeping bend that began life as a shallow riffle and cut itself underneath the opposite bank, before snaking around the roots of a small half submerged willow tree some 25 yards away. The depth was around 4 feet amongst the roots and shallowed up to two feet along the far side undercut.
The pace of flow was just right too, a brisk walking speed that slowly tailed off into a back eddy around the willow. Although I couldn’t see any signs of fish to begin with, I knew that they would most definitely be hiding amongst the shady tree roots. My only hope was that a steady show of mayfly would draw them out to feed.
I crawled down the pebble beach on my stomach to get into position. You may laugh, but such stealthy approaches can be the difference between catching or not, especially in conditions such as these.
Sure enough after a waiting for around 20 minutes staying completely still a few trout began to rise in front of me. I could make out the silhouette of two substantially large fish. The smaller of the two I estimated to be just short of a pound, the second was much larger and pushing closer towards the magical three pound mark. The anticipation begins to build…
It’s important not to snatch at the opportunity too soon, just because a fish has rose once in front of you doesn’t mean you should begin to cast out your fly. Take your time, observe every detail of the trout’s behaviour and the environment around you.
I had noticed a few key elements to the feeding pattern of the two trout that I knew would be key to any success. Firstly, they seemed to be reluctant to take the mayfly duns as they came off the water. Instead they targeted the flies that were in the process of emerging – my chosen mayfly emerger imitation had been suitably tied on in readiness.
Secondly, the fish seemed to take the flies in two different areas. The slowly swirling back eddy seemed the favourite haunt for the smaller trout, with the trophy fish heading up and down the faster water tight against the undercut bank.
It made sense to try and take the smaller trout first out of the eddy downstream of the larger fish, in the hope that the larger trout would return to feeding shortly after.
It didn’t take long. Pretty much as soon as the fly touched the surface it was met by a large boil and a steady lift saw me hooked into my target fish. Light tippet was a must in this situation but I knew that any hooked fish would try its best to dive back into the willow roots. Some strong side strain proved to be get the better of the trout and it was soon in the net.
After a quick photo and release I waited for the other trout to resume feeding. Despite expecting a lengthy wait, the trout seemed to continue feeding always instantly. Again though, I watched and waited to assess the best approach. My first cast covered the fish with a perfect, drag-free drift. It moved towards the fly but turned away at the last second. I tried again, this time the trout approached again and turned away in a very agitated fashion.
I wasn’t going to get away with many more casts, so as a gamble I tied on a pheasant tail nymph underneath the emerger, hoping this would provide something different for the trout to inspect.
I cast the two flies further upstream, allowing the nymph time to sink down. As it passed over the trout I saw it turn out underneath my dry fly and knew that it had taken the nymph. A sharp hook set and the size of the fish quickly became apparent.
Sadly, as happens when fishing 7x tippets I just couldn’t hold it out of the willow roots. The line went solid and I knew the fish had shed the hook. In a bittersweet way I was glad to know that I hadn’t left the fly in the fish. I’m afraid for now, it will have to join the long list of the ones that got away!
I took a couple more trout over the course of the session too, so I didn’t stay too disheartened for long. This is a really exciting and special beat that I really enjoyed tackling. I think I will try and wander these banks at once or twice a season from now on.