Fly Fishing the River Touvre

River Touvre France

This August I went on my annual pilgrimage to the south west of France. My destination, the Poitou-charentes region of France has several beautiful limestone trout streams which are spring fed and keep a good flow in the summer months, but more importantly remain cool enough for trout to survive through the regions hot and dry summer season. They are however very heavily fished by the locals for food early in the season, so the fish stock density is relatively low and therefore extremely wise to the angler – a challenge indeed!

Just 30 miles from our holiday gite was the river Touvre, which is essentially a huge chalk stream. It emerges from the ground from vast springs and is almost instantly 100 meters plus in width. The water is a constant 12 degrees Centigrade, ideal for all salmonoids. It only flows for 8 miles before it hits the Charente river and becomes too warm to support Trout.

The river hosts a population of indigenous wild browns which lack heavy spotting like typical UK browns. There are also escaped rainbows and char present from numerous fish farms which use the rivers ice cold clean water.

To fish in France as a visitor you need a 30 Euro ‘carte vacances’ week long tourist ticket, these are easy to obtain from a tabac. These entitle you to fish any public navigable river in the region, which is great value for money. As long as your feet are wet you can pretty much fish anywhere.

The Touvre  flows through mainly urban areas so finding the access points to actually get into the water and start fishing was a challenge. When buying the fishing ticket I had spotted two lumps of at least 50 – 60 cm taking nymphs under a busy road bridge. This spot was however impossible to get in to as it was five foot deep at the edge with a heavy push going over a artificial canoe run. I headed a few miles further up, where the river was broader, split into channels, waist deep and full of gravel pockets and dense weed beds. Perfect for a French leader and jig set up on my trusty 10 foot #3/4 Airflo Streamtec nantec rod.

I managed to get in next to a bridge and worked downstream flicking the leader square across into the pockets and slots. I had my first Touvre trout within 20 minutes in blazing sun and 28 degree heat, a nice little fish about 25 cm. The fishing was very tough however, plus I had competition from several French anglers sharing my stretch, and also heavy canoe traffic to contend with. Credit to the French anglers – they were cracking fish spotters. One guy pointed out a few decent fish to me, with one sighted of 60 cm plus hidden in a weed slot where I had just drifted the fly through! Funnily enough the French anglers had never seen a French leader,  they were quite amazed by it… The favoured local technique was the old fashioned yarn indicator fished on a short drift. Despite the conditions I did manage to winkle out a few more that afternoon, best one about 40 cm, plus missed several more.

brown-trout-airflo-rod

Due to the ongoing day time heat I returned for a 6 am early morning session a few days later. From the minute I arrived I was into a fish nearly every drift! This didn’t last long though, as soon as the sun hit the water an hour later it was game over… just like a switch being flicked, the sunlight simply killed the sport and sent the trout scurrying back under the dense weedbeds.

Being on a family holiday unfortunately I couldn’t visit the Touvre every day (wanted to!) but I somehow managed to get out for a third and final occasion. This time I went further up stream, right to the source. It was an incredible spot to fish, I was close to seemingly bottomless springs which well up from under a hillside into bright, ice cold turquoise tinted pools. Again this was a challenging session, very hot with bright sun and to top it off some French lads decided to dive in and swim right in front of me! I did however pick up an escapee rainbow trout plus a couple of small browns.

Brown-Trout-Fishtec-Rod

I would love to return to the Touvre one day – despite the urban surrounds it really is a magical place, truly unique in many respects.

The Taff Demise? I think not.

Fly fishing on rivers has become vastly popular over the last eight to ten years, I remember days when we were the only anglers on the river. You could go anywhere, on any river and not see ten other anglers throughout the whole winter! There would seem to be just the few hardy grayling fishers, standing in the river with the water below 3 degrees and the air temperature even lower. Then, we had two techniques. Czech Nymphing and the Indicator.

Overtime, our flies and techniques have evolved, the Czech nymphing has more or less turned into french nymphing, using tapered leaders with short indicator pieces. The indicator, superbly impressive on its day – using a foam indicator (fish pimp.etc) has become the ‘Duo’ and ‘Trio’ fished with a dry fly as the indicator. All, very, very effective.

The lower Taff is designed to relieve the valley of water quickly. The steep banks and pools gather the water and lets the water flow  uninterrupted downstream in theory reducing the risk of flooding. Over the years, pools have changed and water flow has increased and subsided in some areas, obviously pushing the fish around into more comfortable areas.

Fish caught czech nymphing Mid winter 2009

But. There’s always a but. Especially on the Taff, the numbers of large grayling getting caught have dropped dramatically. Fish in access of 1.4lbs, which were very common in previous years. There is much speculation on what has caused the decrease of large grayling, angling pressure, cormorants and their life cycle.

I fished a tributary of the River Wye, the Irfon on the weekend with two friends last weekend, Tim Hughes and my usual fishing buddy, Jon. Tim has been around for some time, representing Wales at Rivers and Lake internationals and World-championships.

Tim had observed anglers from European countries fishing the Czech nymphing style whilst fishing the World Championship in Wales 1991 –  The Euporeans swept away the glory through fishing deep with heavyweight nymphs, something he wanted to master, and went on to qualify for river teams and take top welsh rod at one international on the Dee too.

We got talking at the bank about techniques, flies, fish, the usual stuff when on the bank and holding a rod. Tim had opted for a Czech nymph set-up, the way we used to do it, two heavily weighted, pretty large czech nymphs – Pink on the top dropper, a hotspot pink & hares ear in the middle, and a tungsten headed red tag hares ear on the point. Me and Jon, the usual, french leader setup.

Looking for a pool which the three of us could fish, we walked from the mouth of the Irfon upstream and eventually broke off the path into a long run. The kind which is only up to your knees, easy to wade and has plenty of pea gravel… The perfect grayling tertiary, right?

I pitched my fly into confluence of the slow & fast water on inside seam, and within a few seconds, I struck into a feisty browny on a pink bug… skill eh? Into the same crease, Jonathan made the same cast, and the indicator shot forward… it was a lady of around a pound. Again, third cast, I had another brown. A small shoal was located and as we move upstream it was obvious why, a small depression in the bottom with a dip of around 10 inches. Only if all pools where like this? We met up with Tim after he ‘bugged’ his way downstream to no apparent avail.

From there up, the water started to deepen, pools started to get larger and our catch rate seemed to go down, many trout but less grayling. This is how we usually fish the Taff, two nymphs.. change the weight and leader length accordingly to the depths. Tim on the other hand was ‘whacking ’em’ – Fishing these pools with heavy czech nymphs and double tungsten caddis patterns. I had heavy bugs on, 4mm tungys, I seemed to be fishing the bottom, but I couldn’t get them.. I quick change from the french leader to a braided fly line and three heavy bugs went on. A few casts in I was into a lovely grayling. We continued fishing picking off grayling and the odd trout in the fast and powerful water.

Talking to Tim later in the day we were discussing the lack of larger grayling in the Taff, their there, because their caught sometimes.. Usually when the waters low.. When we can reach them. It suddenly hit me, with the same situation happening that day, Jon and I would have had a pretty dower day for grayling if we hadn’t switched to the Czech style of nymphing. When fishing the Duo, Trio and the French Leader – Our flies are naturally lighter – Its our mind set. Dryflies can only suspend so much weight before being submerged, and two flies are never going to be as heavy as three.

Maybe we’re not catching any large grayling because were not fishing like we used to? Our flies may be too light, and not getting down to them. Trout don’t usually feed on the bottom unless grubbing, maybe that’s why trout and small grayling catches have increase.

Are we REALLY getting down there?

Written by Kieron Jenkins