The course of true fish­ing does not run smoothly, as Jon Beer demon­strates on the lovely River Ar­row in Here­ford­shire

Trout & Salmon (UK) - - Highland Loch Trout - PHO­TOG­RA­PHY: JON BEER

IT WAS A sunny day in the first week of April. I have been bit­ten by a sunny day in the first week of April so of­ten and so thor­oughly that you might think I’d learn. But I don’t. Be­sides, I had a Wye and Usk Wild Stream sea­son per­mit burn­ing a hole in my waders. Do you know how that feels? The Wye & Usk Fish­ing Pass­port now has 280 beats on its books, from salmon and sea-trout on the Western Cled­dau in the west, to the moun­tain llyns of Snow­do­nia in the north and, in the south-east, some lit­tle streams that thread the For­est of Dean. None of which, you’ll have spot­ted, flow into or out of the Wye or the Usk. Which is why, I sup­pose, it is now just called The Fish­ing Pass­port. But it all be­gan with a few small streams, un­re­garded trib­u­taries of the Wye and the Usk, where fish­er­men who liked that sort of thing could fetch up, post a cou­ple of pa­per vouch­ers into a box tacked to a tree, and go fish­ing. They are still there, those lowly lit­tle streams, scat­tered among the lordlier beats of The Fish­ing Pass­port like com­mon­ers at a royal wedding. These are the W&U “Wild Streams”: there are 64 of them and any – or all – that have not been pre-booked by 6 pm can be fished, the next day, by the happy holder of a W&U Wild Stream sea­son per­mit. Like me. So there we were, on a sunny day in the first week of April, with a smor­gas­bord of 60 beats to choose from. We headed for the Mon­now – for no bet­ter rea­son than the mem­ory of a sausage sup­per. Some years ago, Philip and I had fished the Lower Long­town beat of the Mon­now, fol­lowed by sup­per in a lo­cal pub. On a plate over­flow­ing with mash and onion gravy were three of the fat­test, juici­est sausages I’d come across in a long life. We would re­turn to the Mon­now, find that pub and get out­side an­other sausage sup­per, then fish our way up half a dozen wild stream beats above Long­town the next day. We ar­rived be­side the Mon­now in the late af­ter­noon. The sun still shone from a cloud­less sky and there was time for a first fish. Putting to­gether the tackle, climb­ing into waders, for the first time of a new trout sea­son is a time of tin­gling an­tic­i­pa­tion. Rea­son and ex­pe­ri­ence tell you that not much will hap­pen in the first week in April.

But hope and blind op­ti­mism aren’t lis­ten­ing. And so we set off up the Up­per Long­town beat. Noth­ing rose on that pleas­ant lit­tle stream, lac­ing its grav­elly way be­tween wooded banks. We worked up­stream in the dap­pled light, cast­ing small dry-flies into likely spots. My back-cast caught fast in a tree. Not for the first time. I thought I might res­cue the fly if Philip could grab a nearby branch and pull it down. He pulled with both hands and I could just reach the twig with the fly. I looked down. I was stand­ing on the tip sec­tion of Philip’s rod. Look, gen­tle reader, it may appear that the blokes who reg­u­larly fill these pages with ad­vice, in­struc­tion and tales of der­ring-do, know what they’re do­ing. Per­haps some do. But for the most part, in fish­ing as in life, this is an il­lu­sion. This is not men­dac­ity. If it is a sin, it’s one of omis­sion. We write of the days when we caught fish: we don’t write of the days when we didn’t. We take pho­to­graphs when the sun shines: we don’t when the rain lashes down. It’s bet­ter for the cam­era. And so you, dear reader, get sto­ries of fish caught amid pic­tures of fine weather. And not the other sort. But from time to time, per­haps once a decade or so, it be­hoves us to tell the other sort. Here’s one. The rod was bro­ken three rings down from the tip. So we went back to the camper and I fetched out the spare rod I carry for such oc­ca­sions. But some of the bub­ble had gone out of the af­ter­noon. We trod the length of the Lower Long­town beat, cast­ing oc­ca­sion­ally with­out suc­cess. And then called it a day. What we needed, we said, was that sausage sup­per, a good night’s sleep in the camper and we’d be rar­ing to go next morn­ing. We couldn’t re­mem­ber the name of the pub or the vil­lage. But we had a clue: Philip had taken a pho­to­graph on that night a dozen years be­fore. Be­hind a moun­tain of sausage, mash and gravy, I am sit­ting by a win­dow on a seat of but­toned brown vel­vet. And so we called at every pub for miles that evening, search­ing for the place. We never found it. And by the time we gave up most had stopped serv­ing food. At the Dog in Ewyas Harold they rus­tled up an over-spiced beef and black bean stir-fry. But it wasn’t quite the same. The tem­per­a­ture plum­meted that night un­der the clear sky. There was a hard frost out­side the van. And

“I could just reach the twig with the fly. I looked down. I was stand­ing on Philip’s rod”

some­thing sim­i­lar in­side. Philip, in the raised roof of the camper, had the worst of it: he need­ing chip­ping out of his sleep­ing bag at dawn. We needed the heater, which meant driv­ing the van, and so we drove. And we just kept driv­ing: by the time we’d thawed out suf­fi­ciently for ra­tio­nal thought, we were 30 miles from the Mon­now and its trib­u­taries, in the val­ley of the River Ar­row. The Ar­row val­ley is the quin­tes­sence of ru­ral Eng­land, a pas­toral idyll, the very stuff of jig­saws and the fancier sort of choco­late box. Pem­bridge is the mono­chrome, dou­ble-choc truf­fle at its heart. We warmed up over full English in the Café on Bridge Street and then made our way to the river. There are nine “Wild Stream” beats on the River Ar­row, al­most nine miles of fish­ing on this lovely trib­u­tary of the Lugg. We sank down a nar­row lane be­tween hedges be­jew­elled with spring flowers to the Tit­ley beat. We had fished here be­fore. The sooth­ing balm of fa­mil­iar­ity and mem­o­ries of a glo­ri­ous day of trout in warm sun­shine was just what we needed. We were still a lit­tle frag­ile af­ter a shaky start with a bro­ken rod and a freez­ing night. The Tit­ley beat was as lovely as ever on that April morn­ing. The pas­tures along the river were bright with new growth and lambs gam­bolled in the sun­shine. The water was high but clear. I put on a gold­head nymph in the ab­sence of any ris­ing fish. Philip, ever op­ti­mistic, stuck on a dry-fly, cast­ing his way up the runs, hop­ing to drag some­thing to the sur­face. I worked my way slowly up­stream be­hind him, swim­ming the heavy nymph down the deeper pools. And af­ter some time at this the leader veered side­ways and I struck into a fish. There is some­thing mag­i­cal about the first fish of a new sea­son. And the trout of the Ar­row have a sub­tle magic of their own. Not the bold-spot­ted, but­ter-bel­lied beauty of other streams, these are sil­ver-white and dusted with black and red speck­les as from some ex­otic blend of pep­per­corns. I ad­mired it in the mar­gins then fished on up­stream. It was noon and warm in the sun­shine. But not warm enough to ex­plain the ap­pear­ance of Philip, strid­ing across the meadow, top­less above his waders. There’d been an in­ci­dent, a full Han­cock with dou­ble twist into the chilly wa­ters of the Ar­row in April. So we went back to the camper and I fetched out the spare clothes I carry for such oc­ca­sions. I rum­maged in my bag for a small black tube I al­ways carry. This is Loon’s UV Wader Re­pair. The in­ci­dent had torn a half-inch tear in Philip’s waders at the knee. With my back to the sun I squirted a bead of the clear liq­uid down the tear. I stepped away, ex­pos­ing the stuff to the sunlight: within a few sec­onds this mirac­u­lous gloop had cured to a wa­ter­proof re­pair. But there wasn’t a lot I could do for his cam­era. We fished on for a while but the day seemed doomed and long be­fore dusk we headed for home. I felt bad about that rod tip. The bits were sit­ting on my desk at home. It wouldn’t be a dif­fi­cult thing to re­pair if I could find a car­bon-fi­bre spigot to in­sert in the bro­ken ends. The rod was tiny, a 6½ ft wand throw­ing a 3 wt line. The in­ter­nal di­am­e­ter at the break was some­thing un­der 2 mm. I gave the prob­lem to Google, who turned up a bloke on ebay sell­ing car­bon-fi­bre “push rods” in var­i­ous lengths and di­am­e­ters. I or­dered one – 10 cm long, 1.8 mm di­am­e­ter – for pen­nies. It ar­rived three days later. It was a per­fect fit, just slid­ing into the bro­ken ends. I posted Araldite down each bro­ken end with a nee­dle, coat­ing the in­side. I cut the push rod down to 5 cm, smeared half of this length with Araldite and pushed that into one of the bro­ken ends. I smeared the other half and pushed it into the other bro­ken end. The sec­tion of rod looked good as new. When the glue had set the next day, I cov­ered the break with an inch or so of whip­ping be­fore fin­ish­ing the whole thing off with a coat of epoxy var­nish. A month to the day af­ter that first bungling visit, Philip and I re­turned to the Ar­row. A month older, a month wiser: we’d brought our own sausages. Spring had ar­rived in deep­est Here­ford­shire. New leaf tinged the tallest trees, the or­chards were flushed with blos­som, the lanes bright with blue­bells and red cam­pion. We pulled in at Manor Farm, the low­est beat on the Ar­row. We tack­led up with new hope in our hearts. Philip was try­ing out the re­paired rod. He wag­gled it about as we made our way to the water: it seemed fine. Down here the Ar­row runs be­tween high banks, lush with new growth and net­tles. Lush enough, in fact, to hide a fallen tree – which Philip fell over into a bed of net­tles. And broke the rod again. This time it had snapped clean, just above the han­dle. I’d be get­ting out the Araldite and epoxy once more that evening but now we trudged back to the camper for spares and re­pairs. We made our way to Mon­k­land, the next beat up­stream. And there, in a tun­nel of trees shield­ing the stream from a stiff north-east breeze, a fish rose to Philip’s Klinkhamer. Noth­ing broke. Or fell in the water or oth­er­wise screwed up. We had our first fish of the day, the sec­ond from the wa­ters of the Ar­row. A few min­utes later we had the third. And, as it turned out, the last. That af­ter­noon we ex­plored the beats of the lovely Ar­row val­ley with­out see­ing a fish rise. Three small trout over two and a half days, two bro­ken rods, torn waders and a duck­ing. The cam­era, mirac­u­lously, came back to life af­ter a lengthy so­journ on the ra­di­a­tor. Hardly an ed­i­fy­ing tale. But it all de­pends how you mea­sure these things. We’d spent two and a half days in the loveli­est of English val­leys at the loveli­est time of the year. The sun shone. Lambs gam­bolled. King­fish­ers were ev­ery­where. For five min­utes at Mow­ley Wood I watched in fas­ci­na­tion as a dam­sel fly ate a pale olive dun. The wooded banks were laced with blue­bells and the heady scent of wild gar­lic. On the Whit­tern beat we watched a squir­rel stuff­ing its face with sama­ras, the fruit of the wych elm. And on a shin­gle beach by the river we did much the same – with sausages grilled over a wood fire. Per­fick.

“There’d been an in­ci­dent, a full Han­cock with dou­ble twist into the chilly wa­ters of the Ar­row”

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