Sunday April 2nd, 2017
It was back to Wales today for a short session at Chirk Trout Fishery. We arrived a bit early. It doesn't open until 9.30 we discovered, so we enjoyed the warm, sunny weather and took a stroll over the aqueduct to England and back.
Given the smaller average size of the rainbows at Chirk on our last visit, we thought it would be more fun to use our lighter four weight rods today, so George tackled up his Greys GS2 #4 and I used my #4 Orvis Superfine Touch.
I put on a drab beige marabou damsel lure with a dull black bead head and let it float on the surface to see if anything would snaffle it. Two little tugs on the line to pull it beneath the surface and a good sized trout smashed it off the top! It was a bigger fish - about 3lb - so gave a cracking fight on the light gear.
Moments later, George was into a fish. He was using a similar technique, but with a rather more gaudy fly - a tequila blob made from FNF Colossus Fritz.
As ever at Chirk, it's great fun to watch the fish following the fly in the crystal clear water. It's amazing to see how many times you watch the fly being engulfed but see neither any movement in the line nor feel the writhing of a fish on the other end.
Turns out my technique was the winning one today, with no fewer than five nice rainbows falling to my dull beige fly in six casts! The trick was to cast it along the lake towards the end where the wind was blowing and then very, very slowly twiddle it in. Or, if you could handle the wind, cast directly into the headwind. This was arguably the better of the two techniques, but not much fun with a very bendy rod and a weighted fly.
A switch to dries after lunch saw me lose my best fish of the day - a good sized brown of at least four pounds. After catching another few rainbows on the damsel though, it reached that post-lunch lull when everything gets much harder. Aside from a couple of pulls and some follows, we struggled then, especially when the wind died down to leave a pool devoid of ripple.
It was a great session, though, and for once I actually hit double figures.
Final score: Matt 11, George 2.
Sunday April 9th, 2017
George and I were back at Llandegla Fishery in Wales today for the Troutmasters qualifiers. He's already qualified for the Junior Troutmasters Finals, but seeing as I won my first badge last summer, I thought I'd have a crack at entering for the first time. The weather was really beautiful, but sadly not the best for trout fishing, so you could tell from the start that it could be a tough one.
Simon and the team at Llandegla really looked after all the entrants and had put on a cooked breakfast, tea and coffee, a roast dinner and even afternoon tea after the match. Quite amazing, and the breakfast was as delicious as usual.
By coincidence, George and I drew adjacent pegs so we weren't fishing too far from each other and I was able to help out if he got himself into any nasty tangles. I started off working through a range of different coloured lures on my intermediate line, and on each peg tried naturals, including some natural-looking buzzer imitations, some tiny nymphs and the ubiquitous orange blob.
One of the other anglers got lucky early on and had several fish from the first three pegs, but it wasn't until we reached the pegs on the other side of the lake that we began to get bites. After going through every colour in my box, I eventually took the first fish on a white Apache lure. The second fell to a white snake pulled across the top at speed, while number three took a straight lined buzzer.
After lunch it was similar, I just couldn't get a bite on the windy side of the lake, which is usually where I catch most. George was fishing his crazy carrot fly (a sort of purple and orange lure with orange bead chain eyes) and was getting lots of pulls but no fish.
In the final thirty minutes, with me sitting in about third place overall with three fish, I thought I'd give the shoulder a rest and put on an indicator. I left the natural buzzer imitation on the top dropper, tied an FNF Colossus Fritz orange blob to the point and set the depth at about four or five feet.
Within seconds the indicator bobbed and I missed the first fish. Moments later it was off again and I managed to land number four - the fourth blue trout of the day. With a couple of minutes left on the peg, just as it was starting to fish well I had one final bite, which also evaded capture, then I moved up the bank.
I passed on the tip to George and he also managed to catch and land his first fish - a lovely rainbow of about two pounds, so he was happy.
On the final peg, the method just couldn't go wrong. It was a pull a cast. Pretty soon, I'd have a further three trout, putting me a fish behind the leader. In the final three minutes I managed to hook another much bigger fish - either a brown or a hen tiger trout - but it threw the hook as it leapt clear of the water. Then, in the final seconds, I hooked another rainbow. After a few seconds on the hook, it too managed to break free.
If only I'd figured it out earlier. It was a thrilling end to a difficult day of fishing and I was happy with second place.
Final score: Matt 7, George 1.
Saturday 15th April, 2017
An unplanned opportunity for a short fishing session saw George and I heading to the River Dee for the first time in ages. We first checked out The Wharf beat, didn't have our map book with us and couldn't figure out where the boundaries were. We headed up the road to the popular Chain Pool beat instead.
Parking is quite convenient for this beat, as there's a small parking space on the road side overlooking the river and it's just off the A5. This beat is popular with salmon anglers and you're only allowed to fish it for two hours, so before we got started we had to set the clocks on the back of the tree, then go under the steam railway line and head for the river.
Chain Pool is fairly open, so casting would have been fairly easy if it wasn't blowing a gale down the Dee valley. The water was clear, the bottom consisted mainly of pebbles and it sloped away fairly gradually, despite being a few feet deep, so it was fairly safe wading for us both. We started at the upper limit of Chain Pool and worked our way down towards the adjoining beat known as Bonwm Halt.
After twenty minutes trying dry flies failed to result in a rise, I switched over to the French nymphing set up and fished a few Perdigon nymphs through various depths of water, trying to get as close as I could to the river cliff on the opposite bank where I thought the fish might be holding. I managed to get a few sharp tugs, but sadly no fish.
Meanwhile, George had figured out how to get the fish interested. He'd given up on the French nymphing and had picked out a pink double-tailed squirmy wormy tied onto a jig hook and weighted with a tungsten bead. He was fishing it, rather crassly, under a strike indicator. While it might not be the proper thing to do on the Dee, it did actually seem to work. He had pull after pull for several minutes.
In his efforts to ensure a drag-free drift he was piling loads of slack line into the cast, but whenever the fish took the squirmy and the indicator shot away it took him too long to take up the slack and the fish was gone by the time he'd struck. Eventually, he got the technique nailed and was into a fish he estimated at a pound or two!
Sadly, it came off and our two hour time limit was up, but it was a lovely morning to spend by the river, even if it was a fish-less one.
Final score: Nil nil draw.
Monday 17th April, 2017
George and I were up before seven on Easter Monday for a trip back to the River Dee to have another crack at Chain Pool. It was a dull, cold and damp day, but conditions didn't look too bad overall. The clocks on the back of the tree at Chain Pool suggested that nobody had fished it since our visit on Saturday, so at least the fish wouldn't have been spooked.
We started at the top of the pool repeating the methods that had seemed to work on our last visit - a squirmy wormy suspended three feet beneath an indicator. However, the fish weren't as cooperative as they were on Saturday with two walks down the pool resulting in no obvious bites.
A trip back to the top of the pool resulted in the first fish - a tiny brown trout - from the middle of the pool. It had taken the fly just as it reached the end of its drift and I'd just started the retrieve. Ten minutes later another did the same, this time slightly bigger.
A switch to a dry fly resulted in one fish smashing the fly confidently off the top as soon as it landed, but I missed it and neither of us could persuade anything else to come up to feed. With our two hours up, we packed up and got back in the car and headed for St. Davids.
Another CADAC member was already fishing further up the beat at St. Davids when we arrived, so we stayed out of his way and fished the upstream end closest to the Pen-Y-Bont beat. Conditions were worse than at Chain Pool, with a gusty wind, more rain and the water moving through fairly quickly.
While I tried French nymphing in the slower water at the side of the main current seam, George stuck at it with the squirmy and indicator approach. However, after half an hour of trying, neither of us could get a bite. At least it wasn't just us finding it tricky. As he left, the other angler said that he too was finding the fishing challenging.
A final trek to the lower end of the beat gave us the chance to try some other methods, including upstream and downstream dry fly fishing, and more French nymphing. However, the fish just weren't having it. After eating some lunch and watching the birds, and witnessing a mink swimming across the river and diving down for a fish, we decided to call it a day.
Final score: Matt 2, George 0.
Sunday 23rd April, 2017
Today we were at Llandegla Fishery in North Wales for the first junior fly fishing coaching day of the season for Corwen and District Angling Club. CADAC coach and GAIA casting instructor Paul Ainsworth was attempting to turn half a dozen keen junior fly fishers into miniature professionals.
While a few of the juniors were keen fly fishers, and one is on the Welsh national team, a few of the others were fly fishing for the first time, so Paul got started with a basic refresher on safety and a lesson in roll casting. The youngsters picked it up very quickly and one of the total novices was actually among the first to hook up, which caused cheers to erupt from across the lakes.
As the weather today was brilliantly sunny, the fish were rather uncooperative. There was the odd rise here and there, but they weren't chasing, would take anything suspended beneath an indicator and were very tricky to coax into rising for a dry fly. For Llandegla, it was an extremely challenging day of fly fishing.
A few of the juniors managed to hook and lose a fish, as did I, but nobody was really getting any pulls and everyone was finding the conditions tough. After lunch, when we'd tried pretty much every method and depth going without much luck, we gave up on the trout and decided to fish for the rudd on the fly instead.
It didn't take quite so long to catch these and we both had a couple of nice ones out of the weed beds on our Griffiths' Gnats.
George also figured out that there was another species in the lake that was actually feeding - the sticklebacks. He managed to catch several of these on a squirmy wormy of all things. I got the impression that they weren't actually hooked, but rather were just holding onto the worm body itself.
To avoid a blank for one of the other youngsters, George shared the technique with him and he managed to catch a monster specimen!
We ended the day with a casting lesson from Paul. George had spotted that my hauling hand wasn't going up properly, so Paul helped me improve this which made quite a difference to my loop.
George, who is aiming to get his 25 yard badge at the British Fly Casting Club event this year, was having a lesson on increasing his carry, and having some bad habits ironed out.
Final score: Matt 1 (rudd), George 5 (rudd and sticklebacks)
Saturday 29th April, 2017
George and I were back on the River Dee today at the St. Davids beat in Carrog, Denbighshire, for Corwen and District Angling Association's annual single handed casting instruction day.
There was a bigger turn out this year than last year, when Sarah and I attended and had some great instruction from Master Fly Fishing Instructors Paul Brown and Chris Aldred. We got started in the river with some practice on our basic overhead casts, and received some useful advice from Chris.
George is over-reliant on his hauling arm, so Chris encouraged him to use his rod arm more to improve his cast, while I was using too much wrist and not enough bicep. The tips made total sense to both of us, but it's going to take time to knock these bad habits out of us!
Next up was roll casting. This is something we often do, mainly as a roll cast pick up, but neither of us are masters of the cast. Turns out there's an easy way to improve it, which is to use your arm more and push down as you roll cast. It works surprisingly well and both of us noticeably improved as a result of the tip.
After a quick break for lunch Chris gave a lesson in fishing North Country spiders, while Paul Ainsworth gave a masterclass in fishing dry flies. I had a dry fly lesson last year, but fishing spiders is new to me, so George and I opted for this lesson.
Spiders, incidentally, aren't meant to imitate spiders. They're sparsely tied flies with a soft hackle, generally made from a couple of turns of partridge feather, and when wet they resemble tiny nymphs. They're one of those flies that works by looking not exactly like anything, but a bit like a lot.
Fishing North Country spiders is a fairly simple technique. Chris' rig consisted of 15 feet of 3.5lb fluorocarbon with a dropper four feet from the point fly and the top dropper about nine feet from the end of the line. You simply cast it across the river and then let the flies swing around.
It clearly works, for Chris had a double hook up and landed two grayling on the first cast. Apparently, there are various ways to fish them, other than just swinging the flies. Chris reckons that a better technique is to hold them back a second or two and then let them drift drag free for a couple of seconds at a time, before repeating. I also got a couple of pulls by figure eighting them back...
While I had no spiders in my fly box, I tried it with the closest match and also hooked up after a few casts. George, meanwhile, was fishing dries in the slower water and was getting plenty of rises, but missed them all.