Saturday, 30 August 2014

The Wye with Friends/ Fly Fishing for Chub

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As the saying goes, it's better to do something late than never. You say to yourself "I really must have a crack at X this summer," but with rain clouds and autumn threatening you still haven't done it. Actually, the scale of delay was even more dramatic in the case of the Wye. My pal Russ Hilton had arranged a trip for him and his dad with me on this great river last Christmas, but owing to terrible weather in early 2014 it never happened. So there we were, hitting the road in late August for what must be one of the most overdue festive gifts of all time.
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Still, after a daft o'clock meet up we started with a bang. We would have got the Wye even earlier, had my directions been up to scratch. Why oh why do two different places within 6 miles of one another both have to be so unoriginal as to go by the name of "The Red Lion"? Needless to say, we went to the wrong one first, before I got my bearings. Luckily there was no mistaking my favourite swim for feeder fishing. Russ and Dave were raring to go by this time, but we played it sensibly, baiting positively and letting the fish settle for over an hour before casting in. And patience was rewarded as Dave Hilton kicked off in style with a chub of over 4lbs. It wasn't fish a chuck, but the barbel also came along in dribs and drabs over the course of the afternoon and next morning. The chaps also got a special visit from Bob James, much to their surprise, who was on hand to provide tea, cake and some timely fishing tips (you can read more on Russ's blog "Tales from the Towpath"):
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Even if it's for mates, a guide's main priority should be to get their guests catching before all else. I barely fished on day one, but enjoyed netting barbel and some terrific chub for my friends- or just soaking in the peaceful flow of the river during the lulls. Nevertheless, there was time for a cast on the second day. In contrast to "bait and wait", the fly can work instantly. You won't catch the numbers in one spot you will with bait, but there is nothing I love more than roaming about and casting a fly. Bob even snuck back for a go with some small lures as we spent a pleasant hour or two fishing side by side and comparing notes.
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Bob was quickly into a couple using tiny spinners, before he had to depart while I got into action on the flies. A couple of fish came quickly after a good walk with polarising glasses as I kept a close eye on little weed rafts on the near bank. Approach is everything with these fish; usually a case of carefully sizing up each spot before approaching from a safe distance and presenting a good sized dry fly cast well upstream. As is often the case, anything big and juicy seemed to get them going. I got a little overexcited and pulled a Black Cricket right out of the gaping mouth of a cracker that looked four pounds plus! The next two fish were barely half that size but I made no repeat of this mistake. I might have got even more takes with a lighter leader, but 5lbs was as light as I was prepared to go around the rough stuff.
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Fly fishing for chub is certainly not for the lazy on river like the Wye. Steep banks and tight spots must be negotiated, while I always feel the right way to proceed is to spend at least as long just looking for fish as you spend actually casting.

With a large perch sighted in one area, I also tried a few catapult casts with a tungsten bead streamer- but disappointingly I just couldn't get this lovely fish to make a grab:
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There were other treats too: I lost a fine trout on a daddy longlegs, while I also spotted a cracking pike sunbathing in barely eighteen inches of water. While I would have loved to go for it, my seven weight rod and fluorocarbon leader would have rendered such a a feat virtually impossible, not to mention irresponsible. So I just caught her with the camera instead:
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After that, perhaps the most interesting fly fishing of the day was with streamers. I've done a fair bit of this for chub, but the trip really emphasised the value of fishing downstream. In several spots it was the only way to cast towards a snag only accessible from one side. Casting downstream has big benefits: you can not only fish the fly much slower (often getting a strong pulse by little more than just holding the fly against the flow), but you also get really positive whacks and a high rate of hook ups, because you have no slack line to pick up. The size of fish seemed to increase too, with a Black Woolly Bugger doing more than its' fair share of the damage:
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Ok, so such tactics aren't quite as tantalising as watching fish rise, but streamers seem to catch in a wider range of conditions. Even cool winds and a spot of rain didn't seem to stop the chub launching some gratifyingly brutal attacks. There is no need to fish too fine with streamers- and I often fancy the method for bigger fish, hence my set up was to fish straight through with 8lb fluorocarbon. They don't always fight super hard but rather fight dirty, lunging for snags, getting into the main river flow or trying to wrap you in weed. I was glad I used robust tackle anyway:
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Why did I leave it so late this season to have a crack at the Wye? It beats me. I really wasn't keen to leave. I was even less willing after catching up with Russ and Dave in the afternoon, who had started getting bites from barbel again. It felt warmer too, and after a whole morning on my feet I fancied an hour on my backside I couldn't resist having a cheeky cast with the feeder in the main swim they'd been steadily baiting. It suddenly felt warmer too and after a lot of earlier climbing up and down banks and wading it was great to lose the coat and waders and sit on my backside. The rod didn't so much rattle as wrench over with my final bonus fish, while the lads added three others:
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A few "last casts" were inevitable, before we remembered that human beings need things like food and water. I think my pals were as knackered and starving as I was anyway, and on the way home we devoured fried chicken like men who hadn't eaten for a week. Like our Wye trip I guess you could say we left it rather late. For anyone who still fancies a crack at this great river, there's still time to drop me a line though and the fishing can still be very good in the autumn. For details of our two-day "From Float to Fly" trip, as well as juicy, purpose made flies for chub, check out my site:

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