Below are some members' recollections of the few occasions on which they fished in the past year, and other memories.
Trout can thrive in some pretty strange places but few can be much stranger than the River Rhondda in the heart of the South Wales valleys to the north west of Cardiff. In Devon our rivers are bounded by meadows, moors or woodland but in Cwm Rhondda one bank is likely to be the high wall of a decaying factory while the other might be the rear of a DIY warehouse, and just about every bankside branch is draped with paper and plastic. All around is industrial decline and row upon row of terrace housing, a far cry from the beautiful places that we associate with casting a fly for trout.
But ignore the surroundings for a moment and cast your eyes on the river and what you have is a classic trout stream with a lovely sequence of pools, riffles and glides. Little more than a dozen years ago it ran black with coal dust, but now it runs clear and both the trout and the insects they feed on are back. And in the spring of 2001 the Rhondda had a very big advantage over most of the trout streams in the country - it was open for fishing!
With grazing livestock gone from its banks since the industrial revolution, there was no need to close the fishing as a precaution against the spread of foot and mouth disease, so the Rhondda was open for fishing from the first day of the season on 3 March and stayed that way all season. This was one time when an urban location was a blessing.
Virtually from opening day I was getting good reports of the fishing from Rob Stratton, a friend who lives in Cardiff, and by the May Day weekend I could no longer resist his invitations to come and fish. Our destination was the fishery controlled by the Glyncornel Angling Association, which starts just beyond Pontypridd by the Rhondda Heritage Park and continues upstream as far as Treorchy.
Our start on Saturday morning was towards the top of the fishery where I was introduced to a stretch that might almost be described as rural. We parked at the bottom of a small nature reserve where, for about three-quarters of a mile, the factories and houses were set back some distance and the river flowed through woodland and meadow. My first cast was into a pool above the railway bridge at the bottom of the reserve and, with nothing showing, I tried the inevitable goldhead hare's ear nymph. Several fish snatched at it but failed to make contact so, when a few duns started to emerge, I switched to a floating olive sparkle dun. The response was immediate, in the shape of a nine-inch brown, followed quickly by a couple more around the same size before I had fished out the pool. And so it went for the remainder of the morning as I worked up through the reserve, with the best fish just topping 12 inches.
After lunch we resumed at the junction pool where the Rhondda Fach joins the Rhondda Fawr in downtown Porth, with a windowless warehouse on one side and a couple of the local lads cannibalising the remains of a discarded car on the other.
There's something strange about adversity. It almost always results in happy memories. Whether it is because the privation causes us to look elsewhere for new challenges which in themselves stay large in the memory because of their uniqueness, or because the actual events are so few and far between they are more easily remembered, I'm not sure. But this year most definitely it was the former.
It has always been my dream to fish the Test, and every year I get no nearer to achieving this. I had begun to think that pressures of work and lack of opportunity would mean that that this would always remain just a dream… until one evening this summer I received an email from Peter Tyjas asking me if I would be interested in a day's fishing on the Test at at Kimbridge. Would I heck! There was a very swift response to Peter as you might expect.
"You will have to be there at 8.45am for a full English breakfast", said Peter, adding more importantly "There will be about 7.5 miles of the Rivers Test and Dun and various carriers to be shared amongst 7 of us". 8.45am? 120 miles, no trouble, I was so excited that night that I was fully awake by 5am. Setting off early, I decided to drive the long way round and travel through all of the streamside villages immortalised in books such as Summer on The Test…. The Wallops, Over, Middle and NetherWallop, Broughton, Houghton and Mottisfont.
The weather forecast was inauspicious to say the least, but the Fates, as if sensing that no amount of downpour could dampen my day, decided to hold off the advancing storm and send it somewhere else where it might have more effect.
Nothing in my imagination prepared me for the scene which greeted me as I approached the river. The setting was idyllic: an old brick bridge clad in flowering vine gently arching over a wide and crystal stream; and willows bending gently to caress the stream… all the stuff of books and more. After a leisurely breakfast we ambled off upstream to begin fishing in earnest. I didn't walk that far. I promised myself that I would hold off fishing for a while and drink in the moment, but my good intentions were waylaid by the sight of fish already feeding. I covered and hooked a stockie on my second cast, and moving up twenty yards or so, I could see a very large trout close by the bank. It's really true, you can see the fish holding station in the water, and almost see them think. This one's eyes followed everything, and it leisurely drifted across a little, dropping back with the current and rose to intercept a daddy-long-legs befor resuming its original position. You could see the degree of interest it showed in passing food, by how its body responded: eyes first, faster gill movements second, them a movement ranging from a slight shiver to a sideways glide for further inspection and then either a return to base, or an interception.
Greg had given me a Daddy-long-legs pattern the day before, because the forecast had been windy. I tied this on and with a very short cast, dropped the fly on the water in the feed lane just above and slightly to one side of the fish. There was no hesitation, none of the circumspection that it had been showing immediately before. It glided smoothly up and took the fly "whopp". Now was the first time that realised just how big the fish was. I knew it was large, and had estimated it as 3+lbs, but I had not allowed for illusion caused by the depth and clarity of the water. The trout was obviously another stock fish, but I was not prepared for the way that it launched itself away like a small salmon, with no signs that anything was likely to stop it. I began to wish I had listened to the advice from Peter about using a minimum tippet of 6lb strength. As it reached the other side of the river, it straightened out in the current which enabled me to apply side strain and get back in control. Perhaps surprisingly, after a nervous five minutes during which I got severe arm ache, I managed to manouever the fish to the tail of the pool and tire it sufficiently to bring it to net. By which time I also discovered that my little landing net would not be long enough or large enough to cope. After three failures to net it and lift it out the water, I decided to try to free the hook from the corner of its mouth using the landing net. Fortunately because it was a large fly, this was accomplished more easily than I expected.
"Well", I thought " This chalk stream fishing is just a doddle really"
Having been put well and truly in my place, the gods took pity on me again and granted me two further brownies between 2.5 and 3 lbs before lunch.
It was a much more humble fisherman who approached the banks in the afternoon, and a good job too. The sun was extremely bright, and positioning yourself so that you would not be obvious to the fish was very difficult. The biggest problem was knowing whether they knew you were there - the trout don't spook and rush of, but often lounge around as though they aren't in the least bit suspicious. But at least the fish were on the feed again, and by teatime I had caught a couple more.
The evening fishing was something quite different. First of all there was an almighty downpour, which made up for the total lack of forecasted rain that had gone before, then again the skies cleared, but much of the earlier warmth had gone. On the Test itself, all was still for an hour, during which time James and I occupied our time by dropping about twenty different patterns on the nose of a grayling about two foot out from the bank.
Tiring of this, I wandered upstream, and as I was abreast of a hatch, trout suddenly began to feed on nymphs judging by the way the water boiled. Casting right across the river was quite difficult, and I spent the next hour and a half trying to reach these fish. When I did reach them, they totally ignored my pattern, and it was only at the end when I changed fly for the umpteenth time that I was rewarded with a small rainbow of about 1lb.
When you have enjoyed a day like this, You do not expect further such good fortune, but in September, Pam invited David and myself to fish the Otter. The Otter is another of those rivers of which I have read much and done little. We almost did not go because it was near drought at the time and the Yeo and Creedy were all but dried up. However, we set off one evening and found the river in very good order. It was a beautiful warm september evening, and as we walked downstream of Ottery, the countryside still had the look of summer about it. We saw the occasional rise, but ignored these and continued for about a mile and a half. We fished for only about two hours, by which time the bats were about and the owls were making a racket in the oak trees on the opposite bank. It was so serene and peaceful, and the river was full of fish. I caught seven fish all very lively and beautifully coloured; David caught twelve. As we walked back in the deepening darkness, we both felt it was one of the best evenings we had had for a long time.. And there was yet time for a pint at the Beer Engine on the way home.
|I remember the first time quite clearly - the happening that got me hooked on fishing. Fifty plus years ago when I was probably nine or ten , together with a friend I rode my bike a couple of miles to the Royal Military Canal on Romney Marsh to fish for roach( you would not be allowed to do that today!). We knew nothing. We had long sticks cut from the hedge with a length of nylon line tied to the end, a small float, a shot and small hook to nylon suspended no more than 12 inches beneath the float. The technique was simple. If you had a bite you swept the whole lot back over your head and the unfortunate tiddler roach landed on the grass behind you. One moist warm afternoon I had a bite and back went my stick. This time, however, no shocked little fish over my head - just a glimpse of a large very orange finned and substantial fish as it rolled over the surface and broke away. I was amazed, shocked and hooked forever. Since then I have always remembered most clearly the big fish that got away - the ones that leave you trembling with dramatic disappointment such as the large Pike hooked whilst minnow fishing in the little Hammer Stream in Kent only inevitably to be lost after several minutes . Some many years later I was fishing for sea trout in Hurdle Pool on the West Dart in the dark when I saw a salmon move at the head of the pool, cast right on it and hooked it. A very large salmon swam in large arcs from side to side of the pool for what seemed like hours before thrusting his head down amongst the sharp rocks on the bottom of the pool with the inevitable parting. Moving on a few years, in our own club waters above Salmon Hatch I was drawing over my landing net the largest trout that I have ever seen in our river when my fly gently released itself and the fish swam lazily away. The following year, in the same pool, I briefly contacted the same fish, never to be seen again. And then more recently on our own River Taw on the last night of the season several years ago there was large sea trout just above the bridge who powered down the pool and grabbed my Peter Ross, lay like a silver bar broached across the current in surprise before powering up stream through the neck of the pool in a long surging unstoppable run to smash and freedom . And then again on the Taw a tale of little and large. ' Little' was the smallest troutling it is possible to hook on a fly and 'Large' was the brownie that grabbed the little fish as I drew it to my side. The two remained attached until over my net when they parted company - largest trout I have ever seen in the Taw. So we all have our tales of failure but for me they are my most vivid memories.
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