We are off to the Spring Fly Fishing Show for the weekend and hope we’ll see some of you there!
In the meantime a few words from my good friend Paul about his trip to a chalkstream.
A Beginners Glimpse of Paradise- P Fitzmaurice
I started fly fishing in June last year with two days tuition on a small, stocked lake. Hooked! I spent a happy summer undoing casting knots and hanging flies on bushes beside lakes all over Devon. In September, I had a guided day on the river Exe, catching, a 5″ trout a salmon parr and a grayling. Doubly hooked!
I spent the winter (with still-water fishing limited by an overfull freezer), itching for the river season to begin. I joined the Crediton club (12 miles of bank on our Devon lowland streams), dutifully helping with bank clearing to pick up clues from other members as to how to fish them.
During the season, I fished hard. My first three days were blanks; I lost flies by the score in the narrow, tree-lined streams ; I dropped floatant and fly boxes in the water and watched them sail downstream; filled up my waders falling into holes in the riverbed and suffered all the other frustrations that are part of a fly fishing apprenticeship.
I started to catch fish- and spooked, missed or lost a lot more! One mid-season day, flushed with success (three 6-inchers) I was mortified to bump into another club member, none other than Mike Weaver, who had hoovered up thirty! As the season drew closed, I finished with another blank day; each fish had required nearly two hours of fishing time.
As I thought of putting away my river gear for the winter, I got a call from Pete Tyjas. Pete is my fishing guru. He’s a fishing nut- infectiously enthusiastic about all aspects of fly fishing. He has developed a rare speciality. He uses human live bait to catch fish! He gets more fun from putting other people into fish than catching them himself! He’s also a qualified, professional guide and director of Wellard & Scott, importers of the well-known American Scott rods and Nautilus reels.
Pete invited me to join him for a day on the hallowed banks of a one of the few remaining wild trout chalk streams- the Wylye- on the last day of their trout season. Grayling would be the main target. Despite being desperately excited at the idea, I demurred; I could not possibly be good enough to take on such a challenge after just one season but “If you can catch on our Devon streams you can catch anywhere” easily persuaded me.
I spent a frantic week reading magazine articles about autumn grayling and tying “tiny pheasant tails, pink buggy things and a few Klinkhamers”- not the detailed recipes with diagrams I‘d been used to working from.
The weather forecast was dire- heavy rain and high winds. We set off for the 2hr drive through pouring rain and my heart sank- was this ‘day of days’ to be ruined? A quick comfort stop at a garage “grab a sandwich, there might be a lunchtime rise and we’ll be busy” (Pete’s optimism was undimmed, mine wasn’t!) and we finally arrived. A beautiful, pastoral landscape- someone had taken the heavy roller to a bit of Devon- with a beautiful stretch of river some 30 foot wide full of gentle ripples and slower, oily glides. The rain and wind eased to be replaced with dark, menacing cloud.
We tackled up and walked across the field to the bridge. Pete was talking ten to the dozen about reels, tackle and goodness knows what but I heard him not; I was stunned by anticipation; my surroundings and a foreboding sense of inadequacy. Trembling fingers fixed a klinkhamer to my leader with a tiny, tungsten-beaded pheasant tail, New Zealand dropper style, below it.
We walked into the river- no sliding down six foot muddy banks full of nettles here. A beautiful firm pebbly bottom made wading a joy for elderly, unsteady bones. It was so overcast and dark that the ultra clear water was impenetrable even with polaroids. Pete suggested a short cast into the gentle ripples, watching the bridge behind me in case I plinked the nymph on my backcast. Plink! Tie on another nymph! In quick succession I missed some five or six rises- trying desperately to persuade myself (and Pete) they were not fish but the nymph catching bottom.
Then I got my timing and hooked a grayling that rose to the dry. It was a little bolt of silver with small black spots on its flank; two golden lines along the length of its belly and that wonderful mottled magenta back and dorsal fin; a bit over ½ lb- what turned out to be standard for the day. No stepping up to the next likely stretch as I would back home; these beasts gather in shoals. A couple more were hooked, a couple more lost and (more than) a few casting knots caused by snatching at it in over-excitement.
Then came a slightly stronger, slower pull; dashes upstream then down; slack line tied round my waders; rod tip in a bush; but a 10″ brownie came to the net. Very chubby by the standards of our food- starved rivers; an almost metallic blue sheen from the mosaic of tiny scales along its back; deep burgundy aureoles round the black spots which covered its flanks and gill covers; a white line edging its anal fin and a beautiful buttery gold belly; an absolutely splendid fish.
A short shower was followed by a slight lifting of the Stygian gloom. Suddenly the clarity of the water became apparent- the river in front of us was alive with fish. This was now a real test- casting to individual fish- but there were so many that, if I got a rise from the one three foot left of my real target I could always pretend it was the one I was aiming for!
The next hour or so to lunch was pretty prolific. A little back eddy in a pot at the right of the main stream produced the fish of the day, a fabulous grayling of about two pounds that finally took at the fourth time of asking. The morning session produced 14 grayling (which fought like trout twice the size), Also 7 trout one of which at 12″ was the same length (and probably twice the weight) of my best ever.
Lunch was hurried- I couldn’t wait to get back to the water. The afternoon passed in a blur of fish caught, missed and lost (and of more casting knots!). Three times I caught fish on successive casts. I’ve only twice before had to use two hands to count my fish so I lost count, but the total was more than thirty grayling and over ten trout with at least half as many missed or lost. All these from around 1/2mile of water. Although some came to the dry, the majority took the nymph; there was no need to play with fly size or pattern, just replace those that got chewed up!
Time came for the last cast- at a little pod of unusually large grayling. These were something special even by the standards of the day. Still high on adrenalin, I gave the cast too much wellie and the flies soared into the tree beyond the fish, never to be recovered and spooking the entire shoal.
We drove back, tired but happy, through heavy rain. The next day, still on a high, I had to pinch myself to prove this had not been a dream. Being brutally honest once returned to earth, I was just good enough to have a wonderful day but a more experienced fisherman would have fared much better. Nevertheless, it was a rare privilege to be invited, all the planets aligned themselves and the weather relented. A truly magical day- a glimpse of fisherman’s paradise! Thanks Pete!