Some fish give you pleasure disproportionately to their size.
After a gap of some thirty years, I returned to my childhood river – the Western Cleddau – where I learnt to fly fish with a split-cane rod. (Even in the 80s, this was an antique. Fibreglass rods were then giving way to carbon fibre, and ‘boron’ rods were the latest thing). In those days, I frequently caught small brown trout using fly or worms. At the time I was disappointed with their size: a seven-inch fish was about the largest I recall. With the passage of time and greater wisdom, I now realise how perfect those small wild fish were.
I picked a beat where I had some success before. I remembered this section as being open fields; the banks were now tree-lined and overgrown. I suppose a tree can grow quite large in thirty years.
Years of careless slurry poisonings, worried me that the river had been cleared of trout. Previous recces of the river hadn’t revealed any fish. However today, in the surprisingly clear water I was pleased to see a few small fish rising, and even more darting away at my clumsy approach.
I prepared to tie on a fly, when I met a member of the Pembs Angling Association, making his way upstream. He was shaking his head, saying that today wasn’t really working for him, despite the good conditions. Sewin catches were very poor this year too, I was told. He recommended a stretch which I had considered before, but had never tried. It is “like a chalkstream” I was told.
I set up my Hardy 4-weight with a duo-system of a Parachute Adams and and a weighted Gold Ribbed Hare’s Ear, and persevered with my chosen length of river. The thick undergrowth along the banks meant I had to wade the whole section otherwise my flies wouldn’t be getting wet today. I saw a few fish rise underneath trees, but they weren’t taking my offering. Was that a slight pull? Otherwise no action here.
I got back in the car and drove a mile or two downstream.
With the Ranunculus weed flowering in clear water flowing over a clean gravel bed, it really did look like a Hampshire chalk stream. Not many fish though. I followed the river upstream until a friendly, but boisterous herd of cattle blocked my progress. As I stood on the high bank above the water the herd disconcertingly lined up along the barbed wire at my back. One beast stretched over the wire to give my back a lick. I waded into the middle of the river to get away from them. I couldn’t connect with any of the fish rising in a promising looking back eddy, so I left the amorous bovines and tried a little further downstream.
The light was fading as I waded into the middle of the pool. A few tiny fish, presumably minnows, were attacking my parachute adams, occasionally drowning it. After several fishless hours, any fish would be a result, so I switched to a size 20 version of the same fly. This was still too large for the fishes’ tiny mouths. In the pool’s faster water, a few splashy rises revealed some small trout. Just before 10pm I finally hooked into a fish. A perfect gem of a wild brown trout.
I can’t wait to give the River Cleddau another go. Maybe the elusive sewin will show next time.
- 1 Brown Trout (Parachute Adams)