With months of exciting fishing ahead, there’s no better time of year to be a fly angler than the spring! To welcome in the new season, we caught up with host of passionate game anglers, from Charles Jardine to Jack Perks, Ceri Thomas and Pete Tyjas.
Where will you make the first cast of 2020 for trout? Whether it’s in a wild lake or a tumbling stream, it’s a good time to be alive for any angler. With the huge floods of winter 2019/2020, however, it promises to be an unpredictable season ahead. We shouldn’t be short of water at least!
For those who are new to this branch of the sport, it’s also well worth checking out our “Starting Fly Fishing” blog post, not to mention the many beginner sessions you can find listed at www.getfishing.org.uk
Acclaimed fly fishing writer, artist and casting master!
I can’t ever remember a winter like the one we’ve just endured, so the start of the season might be a case of some careful thinking about where we can actually fish! I saw the River Bourne recently in Salisbury and I’ve never seen it like that before.
However, once we get further into the season, the extra water actually bodes well for the rest of the year. It will clean off a lot of gravel and should increase numbers of some of the insects, especially those that like a river with plenty of volume- species like the Blue Winged Olive (BWO) could have an excellent year. Mayflies, I’m not so sure because as silt burrowers their beds may have been blown out in a lot of places. Again, conditions are unprecedented in many places so we just don’t know what will happen.
Given the extreme conditions then, my first spring session will probably be on one of the reservoirs. Blagdon has been full since November and will fish excellently. Wimbleball will also be well worth a cast because it has been back to its excellent best. This is great to see and 2020 could be another fantastic year. On the rivers, I do often like the Frome early in the season, especially if the grannom are hatching, but it might take a while for the levels to drop so Blagdon will be my fallback option.
It promises to be as unpredictable a season as we’ve ever had this year, but one thing I’m determined to do is keep getting more kids on the bank with Fishing For Schools. I’m doing the London Marathon once again this year (and you can chip in at my just giving page!). The more we can raise, the more schools we can involve and the more kids we can get fishing, it’s that simple. Click here to support Charles in this year’s London Marathon!
Wildlife photographer, BBC filmmaker and keen angler
For me theres one fantastic venue to chuck a fly and thats the Cressbrook & Litton stretch of the stunning Derbyshire Wye. Its ideal for me as I don’t always get enough time to fish to merit a membership (I’m often in the drink filming and photographing them, rather than aiming a fly!). Thankfully, this club offers day tickets on many beats of the Wye with hard fighting brownies, glorious grayling and arguably the most beautiful rainbow trout in Britain.
I try to stick to a dryfly but have to admit a nymph does tend to find its way onto the end of my leader when its getting tough. My fly fishing has been pretty non existent of late with the amount of rain, but I’m seriously looking forward to trying for some brown trout soon and as an added bonus watch the grayling and rainbow trout spawn!
I’m planning a feature film on British fish will be launching for funding in October so that’s taking up a lot of my time currently. I’ve also been honoured to help with the Salmon and Trout Conservation’s River Fly Census which I’d urge all anglers to get involved with to help many of Britain’s waterways.
Editor in Chief of Fly Culture Magazine
The river I love most at this or any time of the season is an easy question to answer: my home river, the Taw. It is where I spend most of my time fishing for salmon and trout. It may not be considered a “big name” river but I love it all the same. It never ceases to surprise me.
The first fly on my cast will depend on the species and conditions. When it comes to salmon I spend most time fishing old style spey flies like the Lady Caroline. They are so beautiful and still catch fish. For trout, I prefer to try and fish a dry fly and on the Taw the trout start to rise properly when the grannom hatch is on in April, so it will probably be a grannom emerger.
In spite of the crazy winter, I’m also hopeful of a good year ahead. During the actual season I hope that we have a little more rain (steady this time, not torrential!), a few more salmon and some great hatches, but in essence I just want to keep enjoying fishing as much as I always have.
As for the health of our rivers in general, it’s not just floods that are the worry. Late crops like maize are depositing a lot of silt into rivers following downpours, to say nothing of the damage sewage treatment works are doing in areas where more houses are being built and the old works can’t cope with excess demand. I sincerely hope that one day the fines for offending water companies become big enough that they decide to invest in the infrastructure rather than paying the small fines as part of their operating costs.
There’s always hope if anglers can pull together, though, and whether it’s river fly monitoring or taking kids fishing I’m always keen to promote fishing in a positive way. Another current issue is fish welfare, and via my magazine, Fly Culture, I push the idea that grip and grin photographs are not always the best way to show the beauty of a fish. I don’t have any of these sorts of photographs and look for fish to be photographed and handled in the water or just above it, and we include “Keep ‘Em Wet” principles in each issue.
Passionate fly angler and Fishing in Wales Manager
For me, early season means fishing the Taff and other South Wales rivers – and we have an early start with March 3rd being opening day! We have fantastic fly life, which allows for dry fly-fishing right from open day. Large dark olives and March browns often hatch out from lunch time into the afternoons on cold spring days, and can bring the better trout to the surface to feed for short spells.
The Taff and other nearby rivers such as the Ebbw, Rhondda, Ogmore, Tawe, Wye and Usk can all be fished on day tickets from tackle shops, via organisations such as the Fishing Passport and in most cases by joining an angling club – often at extremely reasonable prices for an annual pass. There will be lots of information on where to fish and buy tickets on the upcoming ‘Fishing In Wales’ website – set to go live this spring!
While a lot of Welsh rivers (and the wider UK) have suffered from severe flooding this winter, I am confident that the fish survive such events. Trout are a species that are very well adapted to extreme water flows and have an instinct (much like their cousins, salmon) to home in on specific areas – they often live in the same pool for life. With even the worst floods, I’d like to think our game fish populations don’t suffer nearly as much as you might fear.
Fishing nymphs deep is the standard method when nothing is rising early in the season– nothing fancy, just basic patterns tied on jig hooks such as hare’s ears and pheasant tails. Tungsten beads and deep French Leader presentations can also be excellent. The ‘duo’ or “New Zealand Dropper” is also very useful, however, with a large bushy dry fly used to suspend a nymph beneath, attached direct to the hook bend.
If you can find the fish rising, however, the dry fly is the most exciting early season method of all. Patterns such as the Jingler (below) and Deer Hair Emerger work well as general upwing fly imitations. A long leader and a stealthy approach will work wonders, as can simply walking the river looking for rising fish.
For the season ahead, I’m planning on enjoying long summer evenings fishing for rising trout on the Usk, nymphing the afon llwyd’s pocket water for wily wild trout, and casting a fly at the specimen trout that can now be found in the famous river Teifi. There are still a huge number of rivers in Wales that I haven’t yet tried – and I’m looking forward to sampling as many of them as possible this year.
For lots of updates on fishing Welsh rivers throughout the season, be sure to check out the ‘Fishing In Wales’ Facebook page.
A superb start to the 2020 trout season!
For me, the first trip of the season is always magical day and I always try and hit the water on the opener if possible, although it doesn’t always go to plan! In 2018 I recall we had a foot of snow on the bank, which melted and made things very tough. Last year, I was faced by a rising river and torrential rain, but thankfully I did catch a fantastic trout from the River Usk.
This year, due to the recent biblical flooding and resulting high water I couldn’t get out on the 3rd, but I did manage my first outing just 3 days later. I chose a local stretch of the River Taff, on the Merthyr AA club water. It’s a stretch that normally fines down well, but how would the river be after record floods?
I started in a semi urban location, just outside Merthyr Tydfil. The sun was shining as I tackled up and the river looked in fine fettle. As I carefully waded into position, the waft of sizzling bacon from a nearby catering van assailed my nostrils, just as I made those first magical casts of the season into the clear, but strong flow of the pool. It was great to be out again, simply going through the rhythmic motions of casting and enjoying the outdoors in the cold, crisp morning air.
Nothing happened in that spot, so I jumped upstream in to the town section, which despite its urban surrounds holds some of the best trout in the river. It was here that the devastation of the floods was really apparent – whole pools had been filled in with cobbles, rocks the size of cars had been moved, islands had vanished, and bankside vegetation had been completely scoured away! It was like fishing a completely new river.
As I took it all in two anglers in waders appeared, fishing their way up the pool. As they approached, I recognised them. It is always great to share the first day with a fishing buddy – and here were two of them, local anglers Dan Popp and Rhys Morgan. We fished our way together upriver, taking turns to cast into likely spots and reflecting on the changes to the pools and the season ahead. Finally, we saw sign of life – olives hatching and a rising trout, which despite our best efforts we didn’t catch.
Not long afterwards, my dry fly dipped under and I lifted the rod – a trout had taken the heavy nymph suspended beneath, a good one, which after a fair scrap filled the net at 19 inches. A bit storm battered, she went back fine. A fantastic fish to start the season with!
We went our separate ways from there on – but my day wasn’t done. One of the best things about fishing in Wales are the sheer abundance of rivers, often in close proximity. A 20 minute drive and I was somewhere completely different, a small river called the Sirhowy, which like the Taff has a post-industrial past, but now flows clear and abounds with moderately sized wild trout.
I was greeted by the sight of a flotilla of March browns drifting down the first pool – then on cue a trout rose. A few casts later the first fish came to hand, a feisty fellow of about 9 inches. This was followed by several more cracking looking fish up to 12 inches, with plenty of others bumped and lost. Clearly the floods hadn’t impacted much here, other than to shift around a fair amount of gravel. It was a great way to finish the afternoon off, working my way up the small stream dropping a weighted nymph into various inviting looking pools.
To finish my weekend, I headed out to the Taff again the next day, just before the rugby. For me this is the beauty of fly fishing – it is a great method for short, mobile sessions, simply grab the rod, slip a fly box in the pocket and head to the river for an hour or two.
It always pays to visit the river around lunch time early in the season when the day begins to really warm up. This is when upwing flies are most likely to be hatching, which gives you a chance to fish a dry fly, or simply spot where a fish may be holding. This was the case today, where in one deep pool a singular rise gave away the position of what looked like a good fish. A dozen casts later and the dry fly dipped under – a fish had taken the trailing nymph. It pulled and battled hard in the strong flow and after a few hairy moments, finally came to the net.
I must admit, I did a fist pump and let out a yell in celebration – It was another fantastic specimen, 20 inches long with unbelievably vivid colouration. A truly wild fish, of the quality the Taff has now become famous for. They were still here, survivors of the worst flood in living memory. What a perfect start – the magic of early season river trouting had begun. It’s going to be a good season, I can tell.
Fishing author, knackered dad and Angling Times columnist
For me, nothing says “thank God it’s finally spring” like a sparkling little trout stream and, fingers crossed, some rising fish. Having a baby in the house means that my hours of fishing are as precious as ever; fly fishing is ideal because I can stow a rod in the car and catch a fish or two even if I only get a window of an hour or two!
We might not have the biggest trout or the most famous rivers where I live in East Devon, but we certainly have some beautiful spots. I could pick any one of twelve or so pretty tributaries and bigger rivers, and pretty much all of them can be fished at minimal expense- especially if you investigate the excellent Westcountry Angling Passport scheme, which I’ve been delighted to use and support for over a decade now.
Perhaps the river closest to my heart, however, is the first place I ever caught a trout as a kid growing up in Devon, and that’s the gorgeous River Culm. The upper river is packed with feisty little brownies that will hit most smaller flies, while the broader sections at Champerhayes hold some bigger fish.
In the doom and gloom headlines of today’s world, it is refreshing to see a river like the Culm thriving. Once upon a time, the old heads will tell you about the river running blue or red, depending on what the local printworks was churning out! These days though, it’s so much cleaner and better. Nor do otters appear to bother abundant trout stocks, which thrive on some excellent fly hatches. The numbers and varieties of various olives can be spectacular from April onwards- and the classic Culm fly the Beacon Biege will be on my leader as soon as things really kick off. For March, though, it’s Klink and Dink all the way and I can’t wait to feel the pull of that first wild brownie.