Abroad

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This year is turning out to be the season of foreign fishing. Just a few weeks after my brief fishing trip in southern France I found myself on a flight to Seattle (that’s in America). Another trip theoretically not about fishing. Another trip where a 5 weight rod, reel and flies were smuggled on board. This time the waders made it too.

Work commitments took up the main part of the week, which left the weekend for some exploration. First port of call was a fly shop. Twenty five minutes and a short walk followed by the 522 bus took me north of the town centre to a nice fly shop called the Avid Angler.

As I explained my predicament I noticed a slight uneasiness come across the face of the nice gentleman shopkeeper dude. I was too soon for the rivers, they were still pumping brown sludge from the winter runoff. Lakes were not much of an option given my lack of floatation. Despite protestations that I was indeed full of hot air and likely to float, he wasn’t convinced it was worth the risk. So what to do? His considered recommendation instantly perked my interest. Sea-run cutthroat trout, in the sea (as in the salty water).

I went on to discover that the Puget Sound area is full of small trout streams that aren’t really large enough to sustain high densities of adult trout. This means that young fish quickly migrate into the estuaries to feed and grow. It sounded very similar to the sea trout of the UK’s west coast; I’m thinking of the West Highlands in particular. The main difference: there are still plenty of trout in the Puget Sound, if you can find them…

I bought a selection of silvery-minnowy-streamery type flies along with a couple of foam-based items. Apparently the cutties sometimes like to smash flies on the top. I was told to look for pebbly beaches, to fish the moving water before and after high tide and to look for current rips. So with my map suitably marked at half a dozen possible starting spots, I was keen to get going. I picked up the hire car and made for the Tacoma Narrows bridge.

A treepool on the Puget Sound from Mike Tamanawis on Vimeo.

It turns out that cutthroat trout can be harder to find than a generous tip in Yorkshire. The first afternoon on a west facing beach was beautiful, with views to the snow-capped Olympics mountain range. It produced one ‘proper’ sized trout of about 7″, and a small legion of parr/smolts (what I think we’d call finnock in the UK). Very difficult to say the least; I probably made about 500 casts for that beautiful little silver fish. If I’d realised what I was doing, I’d have known to switch beaches after about 100..

The second day was considerably worse. I decided to venture a little further across to the Hood Canal area and try a new beach. I tried. For about 6 hours. I caught nothing, but did get plenty of casting practice in the wind. It turns out that casting for 6 hours in the wind, with your fly getting gunked up every second cast, isn’t as fun as you’d think.

As I sat in my motel room that night I pondered giving up and not bothering to go out for the third day. On a bit of a whim I did some googling and ended up sending a few messages to folks on the Washing Fly Fishing forum. Why I didn’t do this in advance of travelling to Seattle is a mystery only understandable through the distorted, procrastinatious mind of someone who’s been in universities for too long. A kind soul made one or two suggestions, some of which I was already aware. But one place in particular was new and perked my interest, and I felt a new rush of determination to catch a proper-sized sea-run cuttie.


That’s a bald eagle on top of the pylon. He was harassed continuously for an hour by a large crow/rook but just sat there watching the sea.

I arrived early at my chosen spot for a final attempt. The tide wasn’t really ‘on the move’ yet, but I set up anyway and starting casting at floating seaweed. I continued to cast at floating seaweed for about 2 hours. I caught plenty of it.

I neared the end of the beach, where it swung around to the left and below a bridge. This was a narrow point in the estuary and a channel was formed between the opposite side and my beach. I became aware that there was more energy in the water, and that the wind had picked up. It was quite bizzare, there was this sense of things in motion and working towards a climax. High tide was only an hour away, and water was now pouring into the inlet in front of me, from across my right hand side.

A fish broke the surface 10 yards out. I clumsily chucked the cast out into the wind and the line immediately began to swing at some pace with the incoming tide. As the cast fished around almost into dead water the fish absolutely nailed the streamer and I was at last attatched to a little silver bullet. An excellent scrap and a beautiful fish of maybe 12″. Bright yellow pectorals, greenish back, bright silver flanks and heavily spotted. What a beautiful creature.

I fished on and found myself standing above a huge swirling back edy of a pool. Baitfish were zipping about, buffeted by the rotating vortices and rising water. Casts into the pool produced nothing. I sent a longer cast below the main swirl, and received another very solid take. This fish jumped repeatedly and even stripped line off the reel. Another angler came around the corner as I beached the fish and we both admired its gleaming form for a few seconds. In the busy water and confusion I opted not to photograph and in a flash it was gone. He must have been about 14″ and in wonderful bright condition.

Sometimes after releasing a really memorable fish I feel almost detached from the experience, as if it didn’t really happen. One moment there are spots and bright colours cradled in your hand and a moment later you are grasping water. No matter how hard I try to look at a fish and take it all in, I can never quite escape the feeling. Perhaps that explains my obsession with photographs. In the end, as the images in memory fade into increasingly abstract and condensed forms, it’s perhaps just the raw feeling that you try to hold on to the tightest. It felt good.

It’s easy to over romanticise fishing trips, even those that aren’t very successful in terms of fish numbers. In terms of angling effort I found my 2 and a bit days of fishing/casting in the Puget Sound extremely tough. Easily as challenging as any fishing I’ve ever done. I felt rather confused most of the time (even more than usual), not sure if I should be changing location, fly, retrieve and so on. That defines learning I suppose, and is an effect magnified by new and unfamiliar waters.

I ended up, however, feeling like I’d glimpsed under the magic carpet of cutthroat fishing in the sea, and it was with some sadness that I stepped onto the flight home. My final view of the Pacific Northwest was a vast expanse of channels and inlets stretching away to the Olympic Peninsula, and then we were in the cloud.

..in the sea. Not the usual blank rate. But the blank rate times three.

It’s not every fishing day that one has the chance to fish in the watershed previously inhabited by the oldest known artists in human history. A few weeks ago, however, I found myself in the south of France, in the city of Valence. The city lies on the edge of the beautiful Ardeche region, which seems to be largely constructed from towering limestone cliffs and tumbling crystal clear streams.

On this trip I’d managed to bring along a simple setup, which included a 5 weight rod, reel, a box of flies and one or two other accessories. No waders, no heavy wading boots, just a pair of sandles. More about this in a moment..

On the evening before my earmarked fishing day I finally found my way to a small fishing shop (Denis Guichard I think was the owner) in Guilherand-Granges, a town which lies next to Valence, on the Ardeche side of the Rhone river. He summarised the ticket options for me and kindly pointed out a few likely streams. I love the simplicity involved in fishing most countries outside of the UK. Buy a permit, fish anywhere. No skipping past the large Manse stretch of X and X a river, where the fishing is reserved for their-stuck-up-privyships Lord and Lady Whoha. Just miles of river and the chance to escape for a few hours.

The morning arrived and I set off early with no definite plan. The joy of an uncertain day awaited, where fishing could be had wherever you found yourself. I headed up the D533 road and into the heart of Ardeche. This is possibly the windiest road I’ve ever driven. By the time I arrived in Lamastre I felt like I’d been to the gym.

At this point it was time to make a decision. Right or left. Slightly nearer or slightly further away. I opted to maximise fishing time so turned right and headed up to a remote corner of the upper river Doux (known as the haut Doux).

We now interrupt proceedings to mention perhaps the greatest joy of fishing in rural France. As I passed through a small town called Desaignes I stopped to pick up some tucker. Oh what tucker… Unlike many small towns in the UK, places like Desaignes (and seemingly most of the others besides) have retained small, independent bakers, butchers and grocers. You can rock up at any time of day and buy exquisite bread, beautiful locally-made sausage-products and whatever else you care to eat. As a fan of the aforementioned sausage-products I duly purchased some swine and found myself in a porky heaven. With my larder now amply stocked I was ready for the river.

At a bridge I parked the car and stepped into a day of warm sunshine and light wind. The river was exceptionally clear and rather low. Extensive bankside herbage forced me to slip on the manly polyprop tights, socks and sexy sandles. Boots would have made more sense, but then ‘sense’ doesn’t seem to be very connected to the warm, gentle baggage policy of everyone’s favourite Irish-based budget airline. As I gingerly stepped into the streamy water and the end of the first pool, my feet and ankles produced some muted protestations, before slowly quieting down into a numbed stupor.

The river was small, at turns 1m to 5m or so across. It seemed to be particularly rich in invertebrates. Ranks of cased caddis lined the surfaces of most rocks, and turning up a few stones revealed lots of squirming upwinged nymphs. Many of the bankside trees were also covered in the shucks of hatched flies. There was certainly an abundance of trout food. Now to find some trout..

I sat on a rock at the bottom of the first pool. It was a beautiful combination of a tumbling run-in at the head, a deep scoured channel next to some large rocks, a bit of flat water at the tail, before more rapids leading to the next pool. This was my first visit to fish a river on the continent, so I had no experience of locally-recommend flies or tactics. But where there are caddis and upwings there must surely be deer hair sedges and dirty dusters, so on went one of the latter in a size 16.

A small rise revealed that there were fish here. I felt uncommonly excited about this. Perhaps it was the outstanding beauty of the surroundings and the apparent solitude of this particular bit of stream. More likely I suppose it was the possibility of catching a trout on a different island to my own home waters.

I made a few duff casts before getting caught in a tree on one of my backcasts. Did I mention that the water was clear? As I struggled to get my line and fly back, I think I probably spooked this and several other pools. A few more failed casts with the retrieved line and I moved on.

This turned out to be the basic state of play for most of the rest of the day. Struggling to make casts whilst hemmed in by trees, feet and lower legs feeling more and more detached from my body. Lots of cockups, lots of lost flies. But it was all great fun really, stalking up and trying to spot fish. Making too much noise and not spotting any fish. You get the idea.

Eventually I came to a particularly enticing pool. Wide and fast run in at the head, the stream then turned abruptly to the right and calmed down to flow alongside a huge boulder. A careful cast and a fish took but didn’t stay on. A little further up and success at last as a beautiful little trout decided that the haggis-flavoured sedge was worth eating after all. Time for a pause then, a trout had been caught, success was assured and I felt a bit chuffed if I may say so.

Over the next few hours I worked up and up the stream, with a handful of similarly-sized small trout. I spooked plenty of other fish, but never saw anything that might be called ‘large’ (i.e. over 1/2lb). Nonetheless, they were very pretty fish and felt like a fair reward for my now deep-purple coloured feet. At one stage I switched to a small nymph underneath a bit of sheep’s wool as an indicator, and caught the nicest fish of the day from a tiny little divot behind a rock.

Time wore on, and with the thought of 2 hours of that road back to Valence, I called it a day and started the squelchy trudge back down to the car. On my way I stopped briefly to talk to a farmer who had been driving in and out of the river in his tractor performing some unknown task. I noticed his eyes immediately drawn to my deliciously attractive wet leggings and sandles. He motioned and asked if I’d been walking in the river. I said I had. He said I should have been here last week, it was much warmer. There was something fitting and reassuring in this information. No matter where you fish, at what time of year, you’re always a week too late.

A gallery of all my photos from a day out in Ardeche. Click the full screen button for a 3D-like immersive experience.