Sunday, 16 September 2012

Fishing the Usk Pt6

So you've been reading about our adventures fishing the Usk, and you're thinking of coming to the UK to fish, or you're new to fishing and you're wondering how things roll 'stream-side'?

All The Gear - No Idea
There is no greater fear in the heart of the British [I know, this time I'm including them - as its the same for them too] Outdoorsman than to be branded with this epithet. In other countries a man fishing with his new £800 fly rod, in his £600 waders and £500 wading jacket is probably admired for his financial success or profligacy with a credit card, looked up to as someone who has invested seriously in the sport.

Here he could be rendered the lowest of the low with just a few words: if he was really good all you'd have to do is look  at the ground and say 'Tackle Tart' or if he was anything less than world championship standard, 'All The Gear - No Idea' would do it. Once dismissed like this I'm not sure there would be any way for him to bounce back without living on the riverbank for the next year, eating only fish he'd caught, but caught only after repairing his rod with Pine Pitch and parts culled from an abandoned washing machine.

For the real 'Aficionado' look your gear would look something like this:
Your Jacket: should look like it was; dived from a dumpster or belonged to your grandfather.
Your Waders: should be mainly made up of patches.
Your Rod: can be as expensive as you like, you may know the name of the brand, but certainly not the model and you should have a story to go with it about how you got it in a trade with some fool who thought they could buy their way into the sport but has now taken up something else, letting you buy the rod for 10-15% of its sale price.
Your Reel: anything more than 60% of the original finish left on the reel. We have a name for people like that.
Your Hat: like the dog dragged it in, and preferably you'll be seen using it as a dogs bowl at least once during the day.

Your Fly-Box; if you must insist on using a bought one, it needs a crack in the plastic, but better still a very old tabacco tin, preferably of a brand no longer sold.

Now we get to the difficult bit, how to conduct yourself. Any kind of success must be down-played, but the opportunity must also be used to demonstrate your ethical superiority. That 20lb fish was ' reasonable' but obviously was released to breed and so others could enjoy the majesty of caching it. However unworthy they may be. Where visitors from more expressive nations often come unstuck is that we have very strict rules banning: earnestness, gushing, emoting and talking about yourself. To prevent social disgrace where others would use the above, we use that most British of traits Understatement. If in doubt feign dry, deadpan, indifference at all times.

"The understatement rule means that a debilitating and painful chronic illness must be described as 'a bit of a nuisance'; a truly horrific experience is 'well, not exactly what I would have chosen'; a sight of breathtaking beauty is 'quite pretty'; an outstanding performance of achievement is 'not bad'; an act of abominable cruelty is 'not very friendly', and an unforgivably stupid misjudgment is 'not very clever'; the Antarctic is 'rather cold' and the Sahara 'a bit too hot for my taste'; and any exceptionally delightful object, person or event, which in other cultures would warrant streams of superlatives, is pretty much covered by 'nice', or, if we wish to express more ardent approval, 'very nice'."
From 'Watching The English', by Kate Fox. [Bright girl, not a bad read.] 

An antique shotgun of staggering beauty and fascinating provenance is "this old thing", a supermodel = not a bad looking bird, a vintage Porsche = 'my hack' and/or  'I'm keeping it on the road', a handmade suit would be 'the uniform' and a man who owns as far as the eye can see is 'a farmer' or even better understating the understatement 'a bit of a farmer'.

Another nation with understatement rules is of course Japan [aka the Britain of Asia]. I once asked a japanese girl how the notoriously polite japanese people cope with the english trampling over their social sensibilities. She smiled kindly "It's not your fault you're a barbarian"

More soon
Your pal

Saturday, 15 September 2012

Fishing The Usk Pt5

The true sportsman needs neither game laws nor bag limits, nor does the securing of a license make a sportsman. He must be moderate in his kill, find part of the pleasure in being afield, and in observing the lives of the denizens of the streams and wood. Many of our best days are those in which a large catch was not made.
"Uncle" Lloyd Taylor
No fishing excursion is complete without an emergency trip to the fishing shop, so when The Lighthouse Keeper's waders self-destructed we made a pilgrimage to SportFish in Hereford. The shop is vast, they have a casting pool out the back, but due to my scrappy and short range casting I could have practiced indoors the shop is so big.

The enthusiasm of the fly shop guys is something to behold, this is a job for people who basically couldn't do anything else, because there's only so much talking about fishing that is aceptable in other more conventional workplaces.

As we patrolled the aisles it quickly became apparent the scheme is a simple one:  loads of tiny gadgets and accessories that you can get in the door for pennies and sell for £4.98 so you can take at least a tenner off every one who comes through the door, but if they want to spend £100's you can then take some of the pain away by 'throwing in' a pile of stuff with a nominal value of £40-50 without it actually costing you more than a few quid.

By the time you or I are in the shop everything they sell seems like a duress purchase, without which we have no hope whatsoever of ever catching a fish. Cunning.

Shop guy: Have you tried a Czech Nymph?
SBW: One or Two
Shop guy: Fantastic aren't they!
SBW: Sixteen years and two kids later she's still speaking to me, most weekends.

It turns out that Czech Nymphs are a kind of fly that isn't a fly, they are for catching fish under water where Trout do most of their feeding, and therefore TLK considers them un-sporting. Until day two without having caught a fish, when they suddenly become worth a special trip to the fly shop. But hold your horses/park yer pony if you do decide to use Czech Nymphs you'll then need 'Strike Indicators' which are basically little floats, so 'fly' fishing has now become float-fishing just in miniature. So much for the simple life. The sodding things are £5 a tube of 5; two out of five broke while being put on the line, with the next two flying off into the bushes on casts one and four. The whereabouts of the fifth remains unknown. On our second visit we find that they also sell coloured thread in a cute little tin that you can add to the leader knot to make an unbreakable strike indicator. "That'll be £4.98 sir."  Another £4.98.

Shop guy: [having just sold TLK set of waders] What about your mate, does he need anything?
TLK: Oh I think he's got most things
Shop guy: Tackle Tart is he?
TLK: You could say that.

The man who coined the phrase "Money can't buy happiness", never bought himself a good fly rod!
Reg Baird

There's more

Friday, 14 September 2012

Unusual Fly Reels: Franco Vivarelli

 Saw this the other day and though of the Usk, a reel that uses the drag to coil a spring which in turn takes up line. Very neat and tidy for wading through the thick stuff.

Made by Franco Vivarelli carbon fibre, Alloy, or even wood, weighing in at 103g [3.5-ish ounces] not the lightest reel in the world, but certainly the most 'gadget' so far.
More soon

Thursday, 13 September 2012

Fishing The River Usk Pt4

Look everyone SBW's rod is overshadowed by Lord Hereford's Knob

Every hobby starts with a hat, when stalking deer hats keep you warm and give you something to catch the rounds in when you unload the rifle, when fishing they keep off the sun [and more usually the rain]. Here I'm using a Sombrero as a training aid, the brim largely prevents overhead casting, entraining me in the art of the 'scrappy side cast' which will may put a fly under the overhanging bushes and trees which line the banks of the tributaries.

Opps that's another half hour untangling!

While we're on the subject of untangling I'm not sure if fishing causes divorce but its certainly one of its benefits, various chaps we invited to join us were 'mysteriously' busy after expressing initial enthusiasm.  As we canvased our friends looking for accomplices to join us on the trip, I noticed a new found unpopularity; with our talk of new GF's and fishing trips we were perhaps sounding a little too much like an escape committee, or at the very least Rebel Forces. To be crushed under the jackboots of the Empire.

For those of you who value a committed partnership AND fishing here's a few words of advice:

It’s a stunning summers morning. Three guys are fishing a Trout stream

Guy One:
“You have no idea what I had to promise the mrs to be here. I’m painting BOTH the kids rooms next weekend.”

Guy Two:
“That’s nothing I’m weeding the garden, BEFORE I reorganise her mother’s garage”.

Guys One and Two:
“What did you have to promise”?

Guy Three:
“Suckers, same as last week, I just set the alarm for 3am when it goes off I give her a nudge and say her Frolicking or Fishing? She said ‘Wear a hat, it’s cold out there’”.

On the subject of 'Conchita has left me' and hats. For those of us of a certain age, the Sombrero will always be synonymous with the now much missed 'Bandit' bar of our youth. Remember this one?

More soon
Your pal

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Fishing The River Usk Pt3

Catch a snag or catch a fish? Well there's a surprise its another snag!

As we were leaving our first nights camp at Pen Pont we chatted with the Lady of the House, who kindly wished us well with our fishing as we waived our goodbyes.

SBW: We'll follow you on Facebook
LotH: I'm sure you've better things to do
TLK: Trust me, he doesn't

The fishing opportunities in the Brecon's are absolutely the stuff of fly fishing calendars, you can fish  tumbling frothing gravel beds, weirs - both natural and man made, and the pokey streams and tributaries that feed the Usk and the Wye.

If you've only ever fished reservoirs and stocked ponds, this will be a revelation to you, stalking without deer or rifle, stalking truly wild fish, in their truly wild habitat. I took a an 8ft 5/6 weight, which was OK for the more open sections but next time I go I'll be using a 4 weight no longer than 6ft and if I can afford it something smaller too.

Word to the wise - studs, felt soles or better yet Studded Felt soles are a must. Or then again you could just sack the whole 'fishing' bit off and just go for an invigorating impromptu swim like I did.

The Wye and Usk foundation have made a really great job of making these waters accessible. They publish a 'Passport' to the area with fairly detailed maps of the beats, and a Roving Voucher Scheme where you can pay-as-you-go by dropping tokens into boxes at the start of each beat.

The Wye & Usk Foundation is a charity concerned with restoring the habitat, water quality and fisheries of the rivers Wye and Usk.

The Foundation is more than just a lobbying organisation: through a series of partnership projects, we are raising significant sums of money to remedy problems such as habitat degradation, poor water quality and diffuse pollution, barriers to fish migration and over-exploitation of our fisheries.

In 2000 we became a registered charity with the following objectives:

To conserve, protect, rehabilitate and improve the salmon and other indigenous species of animal and plant life of the rivers Wye and Usk, their tributaries, streams and watercourses and the banks, riparian lands and catchments of the river.

To advance the education of the public in the conservation of rivers, river corridors and their animal and plant life and the need for conservation, protection, rehabilitation and improvement of such environments.

More about our trip to come

Monday, 10 September 2012

Fishing The River Usk Pt2

After packing and re packing my kit we finally left London for the first part of the trip, we were to stop off in Cardiff (the capital of Wales) to spend the night with old friends. Cardiff is an amazing city that's still in the grips of a massive regeneration program where the bay has been reinvented as a leisure destination, sadly that means the usual chain restaurants, but the setting is nice.

Somehow on the way home from the pizza and beers I acquired a Sombrero.

The next morning we set off proper, driving up into the hills of Brecon. The countryside offered it's usual delights, roadkill, people who thought leaving the car's hand (aka parking) brake on would be prudent, people who thought if they got there quick enough they'd be up for a prize, and farmers who just like to shower the road with shit because they can.

For our first night we camped in the garden of  Pen Pont  a very nice country house that has evolved over the last 350 odd years with each generation adding wings, annexes, and remodelling to suit their needs. You can stay in the house which looks lovely, we were on a more restricted budget so it was camping for us. For those of you with an interest in traditional architecture you can find a very good history of the house and the family HERE

How's that for Bushcraft?

By the time we'd got there, set up the camp and sorted out our gear we'd long missed the morning rise by about six hours. So we started with the time-tested tactic of enthusiastically thrashing the surface of the water. Within moments we'd both seen fish jump, near-ish to our flies, buoyed by these early 'near-wins' enthusiasm turned to over exuberance as it so often does. Sigh.

Unable to find the other old approach shoe that I'd earmarked as a temporary 'wading boots' I'd chosen a pair of Neoprene stalking wellies as my footwear, if I'd set out to provide The Lighthouse Keeper with a high comedy moment as I slipped from rock to rock before plunging into the depths they would have been the perfect choice. Not my intention, but he seemed well-pleased with the outcome.

Now shivering slightly in the dying light I wasn't going to let a soaking dampen my spirits or dull my enthusiasm so I paused to tie on a new fly and watch TLK casting, I was just admiring the fluid motion of his back cast when I was stung on the back of the head, as my hand instinctively rose to the afflicted area, a sudden searing pain was accompanied by the amusing sight of TLK suddenly stumbling forward into water deeper than the height of his 'waist waders'. The forward motion of his cast had been suddenly interrupted by the line snagging and then snapping causing him to lose his balance. By this time my hand had reached the back of my head, where I found his fly neatly embedded, its broken tippet hanging down my back.

With the score for the afternoon at:
Soakings 1.5
Fly strikes on other anglers: 1 [direct hit]
Fish hooked 1
Fish brought to the net 0

We called it a day, heading for the relative safety of the campfire.

More Soon

Eden Binoculars Review

'I don't know how many guides I've met who dressed in rags, lived on wallpaper paste and government cheese but who owned a pair of $2000 binoculars" David Petzal

There is a much held view that expensive glass, for your hands or atop a rifle, is a waste of money. That 'OK' and 'quite good' are all you need. I wasn't convinced. I used to do a spot of stalking with a chap who had a couple of pairs of mid-range binos, his pair were rubbish and the 'client' or 'sport's' pair even worse. Then last summer in the Kingdom of Fife, my pal Andy had fifteen year old Swarovski's that were a revelation to me, binos as they are on TV! You can see right into the trees! 

I've looked and looked; on eBay - they'll set you back the thick end of £500 and a new pair is £1,600+. The Zeiss and Leica alternatives aren't much cheaper. Zeiss now do an entry level range from £650, very nice, but they just dont have the bomb-proof feel that Andy's had after fifteen years of very rough treatment, guiding and keepering in all weathers. 

"Clients are too fussed about their rifles, you've got to see the animal first, with these I've guided clients to animals they couldn't even see through their Tasco scope on their custom rifle" Andy Richardson

I went to the camera store and took a look through the £150 glass. Pointless. Once you've seen through glass brightly it'd be like setting fire to the cash without the fun or Youtube hits. So there I was sitting at home, with piles of junk recovered from lofts and basements across london, hopefully cataloguing it all in preparation for a big sell-off to finance the glass, when and email came through from a chap in the knife business. 'Would I like to take a look at the glass he's now selling?'
He tells me 'Eden have teamed up with a manufacturer to bring out glass to a bird watcher's standard's of colour reproduction at a web sales only price point. '  
My first thought was, 'give them a once over and then sell them to add to the money for proper glass'. He seemed confident in the product 'write anything you like about them, or dont write about them, your choice'. 

That was three months ago. 

I've used them in every condition I can, across valleys, through hedgerows, in English woodland, in the dark recesses of the Welsh tree farms, and scanning the sides of tower blocks. Then I've been into every binocular stockist who would let me do comparison tests [and been chucked out of one that wouldn't], while I'm not saying they are exactly as good as the top-flight Austrian glass, they are very very close. I'd have them over the entry level Zeiss's which are more than twice the price. I've given them to photographers and cameramen to test: they talked gobbledygook about colour saturation and edge definition - I didn't really understand - but they seemed delighted.  If you are, as I was, about to suck-it-down and buy some posh glass, have a look at these first. You wont be the only person shocked to see how far Chinese glass has come on in recent years. 

Now, does anyone want to buy a pair of unused Campagnolo brakes from the 80's? A collection of comix? For you madam a fire surround? Sir! Perhaps a ......

More soon
PS For more thoughts about glass from a blogger who actually spends time afield Hodgeman knows

Sunday, 9 September 2012

Poo: By Any Other Name

I found this one, where 'someone' had burped it up while sitting on a hay bale scanning the field for the next victim. Which animal left it behind? Answers in the comments section please.

Your pal

Saturday, 8 September 2012

Chad's Querencia

We know him as Blogger, Bird hunter, Dog bloke, and Ditch fisherman. But in another life Chad would be the enigmatic [read grumpy] proprietor of a second hand book shop: but not just any second hand book shop, this book shop would be within moments of fine, fine, Trout streams, some of which would be blessed with runs of Sea Trout and Salmon. Deer Stalking would be on the doorstep too, with long seasons for ghostly Roe, and a never ending season for Muntjac. Rabbits and Squirrels could be taken any morning, as the shopkeep turns helpful pest-controller on his morning constitutional. Did I mention the micro-brewery, but a few footsteps away?

Well Chad I've found it for you, Hay-on-Wye is the town for you.

More soon
Your pal

Monday, 3 September 2012

Escape Velocity

Exit postponed due to missing 'wading shoe'. Any ideas?

Fishing The River Usk Pt1

Unlikely as it may seem, especially to regular readers: myself and The Lighthouse Keeper are making our way westwards to fish the River Usk a Brown Trout stream that rises in the notorious Brecon Beacons. The Brecon's are an exceptionally handsome range of hills in Wales that have been the making or breaking of many a military career. I've been up there a few times over the years and the place is usually thick with squaddies being beasted along by their PT instructors. Who will, amongst other choice incentives, be offering age-old moto of the Brecon experience "if it aint raining it aint training!"

While the poor young recruits are suffering it, TLK and myself will be living out our Trout Bum fantasies; drinking whiskey-laden coffee for breakfast, eating fried things, and growing Abercrombie and Fitch style stubble.

A few mobile posts to follow and then a full report on our return, in the meantime more military cliches HERE
Your pal

Picture credit

Gear Freak, Kit Tart, Blogger

" I know nothing else that so restores the buoyant optimism of youth as overhauling ones kit "
Horace Kephart 1906

"Um-errr, I think I've got everything"
SBW 2012

More soon