Friday, 15 July 2016

a tale of two rivers

The stars have aligned in my favour. A journey across country to a family wedding has given me the opportunity to  fish two very different trouts streams, both in the same weekend. 

The Fowey and the Valency. Two contrasting rivers both with their own characteristics and challenges. I will be taking my new esoteric zoom. At 8' to 6' 9" it's certainly a specialist little rod, and this is just the sort of water that Daniel Hall of Esoteric Tackle designed it for. I am keen to test it out, and I'm hoping for a trout from each river.. 

The Valency in Cornwall is a true freestone stream, lively, clear and bright and narrow enough to jump across in places. This is a stream of plunge pools, riffles and pocket water, all in exquisite miniature.

Another Cornish river, the Fowey, though still a small stream in its upper reaches, is by contrast heavier, faster  and more powerful, with deeper pools and glides. Here it runs through shady woodland with a dense canopy, its banks are mossy and green and its water has the color tinge of old rust.  

So, a few days at work then it's a 230 mile trip out west to Cornwall, destination the upper River Fowey. It's hard to believe that this lively little river tumbling down off Bodmin Moor soon becomes an estuary big enough for container ships to hold up in.

I'm on my own this time, no local knowledge from here on in. I don't think I could have chosen a location less like my last destination, the Wandle, where often the only obstacle to a back cast may be a passerby. Here it is the trees that seem to jostle and  crowd you in. There is a mystical atmosphere to this place. The deep, cool silence of the woodland soaks up the white noise of the rushing water. It's easy to imagine as you fish that you are the subject of watchful eyes.. 

This water has the kind of braided currents that the tenkara approach is ideally suited to. As I am not wading though the overhanging branches make it difficult to fish an upstream fly. Here the option to shorten the zoom to just 6' 9" is invaluable and lets me fish under the canopy in places denied to a longer rod. Even so I can only flick out a fly and track it with my rod for short a distance so I resort to letting my fly swing wet fly style at the end of the drift.  

I am trying my version of a terrestrial pattern - the hawthorn fly which swarms around hedgerows and river banks in May. Liftin the rod induces some taps from the tiny resident trout and in the low light I find that the red lilian is useful in highlighting the most subtle takes as the rod tip twitches round. I get some more taps. But time is very short and I manage only to hook up briefly with a couple of fish before it's time to leave for our hotel.

My final destination is the smaller of the two rivers - the Valency, bright and airy, a beautiful little freestone trout stream in perfect miniature.

I have a few brief visits planned in and around the wedding preparations, and so time is of the essence if I am to catch a Valency trout! I find those mischievous Cornish pixies have other ideas though..

The bankside offers little cover save the odd alder and the water is gin clear so I don't want to risk spooking the trout here. My plan is to keep low and sneak upstream along the tiny shoreline to each little pool and get within casting distance. There are few casting restrictions so I am using 6 1/2 ft of titanium leader plus a purpose matched french style indicator, then 8ft of 6X tippet. I first used the titanium leader on the Wandle when 40mph gusts had been forecast and I was impressed with its wind beating performance. It is virtually invisible though and the indicator is essential. The whole shooting match turns over nicely and is very easy to cast. With the rod extended to 8ft I have a reach of about 17ft when I hold the level line off of the water. These seems a good compromise between manageability and being able to fish 'far and fine'

I try a little brass head PTN at the first pool I come to, and from a sitting position I can  make a cast to the tail of the pool. Nothing, but on the second cast I get a solid pluck before the line goes limp again. I know this pool is blown now for a while but suitably encouraged I fish on up the river. It is a hot sunny day and clouds of small pale colored midges gather over the water. There is distant rumble that sounds like thunder, then another louder one, and then a definite thunderclap over head tells me I am not welcome here today. I have been fishing for perhaps only twenty minutes.

After getting skunked on the Fowey I am keen to salvage some honour and catch something from this river, so I sneak back again early the next morning and retrace my steps. Again I flick out a PTN in that first pool and this time it gets hit straight away. The fish stays on long enough to tell me it is above average size for this river where 6 inchers are the norm. But once again the line goes limp so I move on to the next pool. Here at last my luck changes. A lovely and lively little brownie takes my fly with gusto. It skitters and jumps around the pool before I hand line it to the net. Such a beautiful fish, but just as I am getting my camera ready it leaps clear out of my net and is gone. Those pesky pixies..  time to go but I have one last chance to fish the Valency again, early tomorrow.   
It is the morning of the wedding and I have risen at 5am to sneak out of the hotel room, trying very hard not to wake the rest of my family as I leave. I wouldn't normally hit the water this early as I prefer to let the day warm up and the trout wake up. This is my only remaining chance though so here I am back at that pool. The trout in these pocket waters are very territorial so I am expecting the oversize trout to be home and waiting for my one last try. Today I will do it properly, with a small pale colored sakasa kebari I have tied, a good suggestion of those pale midges I saw here earlier. I am in position, sitting comfortably on a flat rock, just in range of the head of the pool where the water slides in from a tiny fall. I cast, letting the fly fall lightly onto the water where it swirl and sinks. Although the surface boils, underneath the current is surprisingly slack and my fly just leisurely wafts around. My mind drifts too, and all I can hear is the music of birdsong and of water. I'm not actually sure how long I have sat here when the indicator slides across and the line tightens. I lift into a weight that instantly transforms into the wildest of trout. I am sure this is that same fish I have hooked twice before. Quicker than thought it streaks upstream to the head of the pool away from me. I am rising from my seat as it rockets up through the spray like a tiny salmon and leaps the fall. I catch just the briefest of glimpses as it leaps clear of the water shaking its head. It is indeed a big fish but the hook falls free and it is gone.  

It is the most emphatic of denials, but I feel honored to have touched the wild heart of nature, if only for a few seconds. It's time to go now but as I leave I reflect that this most memorable moment of my whole expedition occurred when I was the most relaxed, unhurried and trying the least. Perhaps there is a lesson here.         



  1. Lovely spot and excellent report. I was 'holding my breath' whilst you had the last trout on!