…was placed at the spot where I caught my first wild brown trout from the Usk in Brecon last week.
I love fishing auctions and regularly bid in those of the S&TCA, the WTT (to which I also submit offers for fishing in the streams in the southern Alps near to where my wife and I have a home), the Monnow Rivers Association…and the Wye & Usk Foundation, and the latter, for reasons that readers of my blog, will be well aware.
Last year the W&UF offered a lot which intrigued, and I bid for it and won.
It was for an engraved stone which would be lovingly released into the river Usk, which is where my fly fishing adventure began. And it will be post lockdown and I hope to witness it but may not be able to.
Eventually someone may pick up this (my) stone from the bed of the river where I learned to fish and wonder…well what?
Will that happen next year, in five or fifteen years, or fifty or five hundred years?
When they do, will spates have smoothed the stone and erased, what was carefully engraved?
If I cannot be there, I have asked that it be placed, or maybe dropped, into the river on the downstream side of Llanfaes Bridge.
This is my stone.
I have now ‘netted’ wild brownies in every one of Wales’ 22 Counties…mission accomplished !
Now I will put ‘pen to paper’ in the hope I can encourage more anglers to see and enjoy the more remote places my journey has enabled me to enjoy.
It feels to me, a Christ College’ Breconian, to be a wonderful irony that my Carmarthenshire trout might come from the river which flows through the town of our rugby arch rivals, in Llandovery. Me, a ‘Green and Gold’ raider from the Usk, stealing a march, or a trout in this river, from the ‘Hen Elyn’!
I remember it well. It was Monday, September 10, 2018, and Alistair Cook was batting, and around noon, play was halted for two minutes or more so that he could enjoy and take the rapturous applause from his Oval fans after he scored a century against India, in the second innings of his final test match. He eventually scored 147, after recording 71 in his first innings. What an incredible exit from a remarkable cricketer and all round elegant chap. Reception on those parts of the A40 close to Llandovery was affected by the slopes of the Beacons National Park, and the excitement of the TMS team was counteracted by my frustration of blackout moments, and as the inevitable drew closer, a welcome lay by where Aggers could be heard, guaranteed that I could share their excitement from a special sporting moment. A sunny moment on a sunny day.
My day ticket for the Llandovery AA beats on the Tywi was purchased from the Castle Hotel, where I was staying that evening. (Try their Scotch Eggs…I had two for lunch, and feel nothing more need be said!)
My afternoon on the river proved to be hard work as weather conditions worsened. I fished downstream of the town, and also ventured up the tributary, which is the Bran, but failed to connect with a fish. A few rose, but not to anything at the end of my leader.
After heavy overnight rains, the river rose and coloured up, and this Breconian, retreated, beaten but not bowed.
Nearly a year later and on July 30, I returned. After taking advice from Welsh fisher friends as to where I might succeed, the consensus was that the waters on the Towy of either Llangadoc Angling Association, or the Cross Hands and District Angling Association, just below the former Club’s beats, and both downstream of Llandovery, might deliver.
Cross Hands AC has interesting origins. It was formed fifty years ago by retired miners who used their redundancy monies to buy and rent salmon fishing on the Towy.
I opted for their water on the advice of Phil Lewis, a member, who suggested precisely, where I should try. That was below the railway bridge! Hhmm!
From the Club’s website, I read that the Service Station at Manordeilo sold day tickets, and bought one, then and with the help of GoogleMaps, sought out how to access the river close to ‘the’ railway bridge. A wrong turn off the narrowest of lanes where summer overgrowth of grasses and wild flowers did its best to clean the dust and motorway dirt from the flanks of my X5, and into a farm yard, to the bemusement of the young lads playing there. A grandson, Freddie, lookalike put me right, but not enough, and a turn into the farmhouse drive close by, and said lookalike spotting a townie when he sees one, was at hand to put me right, and minutes later, and two more narrow lanes, then over an unprotected rail crossing next to an ancient short platform and rail hall, now tastefully converted, and along a bumpy track where the Beemer learned who is the Boss, I was on the grassy banks of the Towy. And damn me…fish were rising in the morning sunshine.
So what did I find below the railway bridge?
A flow of forty yard or so width but shallow, but with deeper glides within the pools, created by upstream obstructions of bushes deflecting flows, and fallen trees doing the same. A bed of gravel, small stones and larger pebbles. A lack of rain enabling this summer’s sunshine to encourage algae growth making the slimy stones incredibly slippery; a complete absence of streaming weed of any type; no fly life to speak about, but the turning of stones revealed hundreds and hundreds of cased caddis larvae; fry in the margins suggested a healthy stream; a quiet place except for welcome birdsong and the odd croaking frog! Bankside, there was much evidence of ‘balsam bashing’ but there is so much more to do. Not only here, but throughout our land to eradicate what if we do not, we may regret.
Ridiculously, I caught a fish with my first cast.
After my second cast, and mid drift, my mobile rang and it was Phil Lewis enquiring whether I had found the beat he recommended!
I caught four more before noon, and all came to a small olive emerger from my Dan Popp collection. His flies are sparsely dressed and work for me as well on spate rivers as chalk streams.He is a great tyer, and I will willingly connect anyone who wants to purchase flies from him.
I always planned to return late afternoon and fish into dusk to try to catch a more sunshine wary larger fish, and did, but for just one more, and with only one fish of six, around the half pound mark, to my name, the thundery squalls which hit Cornwall in the morning arrived in S W Wales, and ‘rain stopped play’ at around six o’clock.
Job done, though!
My readers will know, I now have caught trout from rivers in every County in Wales.
Auctions are a useful place to find fishing you might not have experienced but this relies on its owners to offer it. In the Angling Trust Auction (2019) the Nevern Angling Association did this very thing, (Lot 68, as I recall) and it was too good for me to ignore, because it would in prospect, enable me to capture my 21st Welsh County, and my bid was successful.
My hosts, Dave Sweet and Phil Lewis excited me with the opportunity, and their enthusiasm was supported by my FFC friend, Stephen Heckler, who described the Nevern as a ‘gem’. I think all hoped that sewin was to be my target for it is sea trout for which their stream is famed, but where there are sewin, there are wild brown trout, my favoured quarry!
I made my first attempt at a visit in early June, knowing that the weather was ‘iffy’ at best and likely to deteriorate. At about Reading and after learning from a BBC travel report of rains of ‘biblical proportions’ on the M5, I called Phil for an update.
‘Bring your spinning rod and some worms’ he suggested, which for a dry fly addict was a major deterrent, and I turned back to London, after postponing my reservation at the Salutation Inn, a move which for a small hotel, was accepted gracefully.
‘But I will be back’’ I confirmed.
Fast forward to the end of July…
It’s a long way from London to this beautiful part of Wales, and the journey takes in the whole length of the M4 motorway, which I now know is 189 miles long! I think that Carmarthen is about as deep into South West Wales as I have visited, and the winding roads from there to my destination at the delightfully named Felindre Farchog, was, on a sunny day, a delight, and I had my first sighting of the renowned but frequently bespoiled, River Teifi.
And soon after I arrived, so did Phil Lewis, Hon Treas., of the Club, and we spent a good hour
or more, chatting as fishers do, about all things River Nevern. I learned of their eight or so miles of single and double bank; of its rightful claim to be a sea trout heaven, with a few salmon thrown in for good measure, of the specimens caught in recent years; a 22lb sewin being caught recently; but how catches have fallen off due a mix of estuarine, coracle netting, and pollution, the latter from farm slurry (which kills the invertebrates on which fry feed) by unscrupulous farmers believing theirs is the right, and of an impotent NRW. How often I have heard that in my travels through Wales, along with the belief that the Assembly is in thrall of the farming community, to the detriment of conservation. Welsh anglers must get aligned to fight off the dual threat from the farming powers, and a well organised kayaking lobby.
But back to the Afon Nyfer. It’s a short river, just 11 miles long from its source from a spring in the south west slope of Frenni Fawr, near Crymych, to the sea, at Newport, on the Cardigan Bay.
Ample water for the 109 members, some of whom, under the watchful and experienced eye of Phil and his fellow Committee members, undertake the maintenance required of a spate stream which rushes through with winter flood waters after heavy rains.
And what a good job they do. The short beats I fished were testament to their effectiveness.
Phil warned me that “the wild brown trout are really rather small”, to which I responded that that did not worry me, “so long as they are beautiful!” They are aggressive feeders he said, and would often come to a slow retrieved Rapala, which at three o’clock in the morning must be a nuisance to sewin hunters.
Upstream from the village is where I headed, and soon learned that here is a river, which over thousands of years has etched out a path through reddish rocks, to create a steep bank, which in its shaded places contains ferns and lichens and more, and is most easily accessed by mountain goats, or Welsh lambs. At this entry point its feels like an assault course!
But from above, it is easy to spot the pools where you just know, lurk some silver tourists, resting before their nocturnal games begin. In the meadows nearby, nettles and balsam grow to five feet. More work here for the Nevern team to conquer this Japanese invader, I think.
There are runs between narrows opening into pools and glides of only a short distance, before turning abruptly and creating yet another deep dark water bend, and in the sunshine pouring between overhanging alders, a dart here and there, revealed the presence of the small trout Phil told me about. Stealth was important for the fish in the feeder lines at the head of the pools did not need to alerted to a two-legged predator! And these were the lies where, five Pembrokeshire wildies succumbed to my elk hair caddis. Phil was right.
They are small, and about four to the lb., but they are lightning fast, and scrappy. I was not sure what their food source was, because fly life was sparse, on this afternoon, but Phil’s fly recommendation to me was either a black gnat, or caddis, so that suggests terrestrials, midge or sedge.
Felindre Farchog is a small village where everyone knows each other, and during my chat outside with Phil, he was greeted, or greeted many. Exchanges more often than not, were in Welsh. Everyone takes care and looks out for each other in this small community. How unlike urban folk! My overnight sleep was in the Salutation Inn, where Brenda and her team made
me welcome, in English. Mine was a simple room with great bedding (how important). Supper, a local lamb burger, was delicious, and the purpose of my visit intrigued the friendly locals.
Thank you, Nevern Angling Association and Phil Lewis and Dave Sweet; thank you Brenda and all at the Salutation Inn for having me; and thank you the River Nevern, for giving me my Pembrokeshire trout. Just Carmarthenshire to ‘net’ now, for a full house!
Every one of my stories has another aspect which in my mind enhances my fishing experience.
When David (Thompson) promised me a Gwynedd trout, albeit on his terms, and in this case based on the older designation of Welsh counties, it was to be in Merionethshire! Which today, is, of course, Gwynedd. As is Caernarvonshire.
Wales today is so much more than it was. Glamorgan, that famous and successful cricketing county, cannot be so now, because it is…well, how many administrations? Just how small can a county be, and how can Blaenau Gwent be justified, in costs terms? Or Rhondda Cynon Taff, for that matter! Mid and North Wales have lost Montgomeryshire and Merionethshire and Radnorshire. South Wales has added cost on cost, where it cannot afford to. Daft or what?
Anyway…I am sure you get my drift. Is more better, one wonders !
But back to Merionethshire, or rather Gwynedd.
The outstanding sea trout river which is the Dovey enters Cardigan Bay at, of course, Aberdovey. To fish its trouty waters requires a day ticket which can be bought in Machynlleth. And now you will know where I am going with my opening paragraph, for a ticket can be bought in Mr News, at 5 Penrallt Street. So what, you may ask!
Well, behind the counter of this delightful throw back, is a shelf, partitioned with vertical wooden slats about three inches apart, and visible along the left hand verticals are sticky labels with names on them…Dai him, and Ethel her, and I guess those spaces are where are placed the latest edition of Railway Modellers News, or Knitting Weekly, or even the Radio Times (does this still exist?), awaiting the arrival of Dai and Ethel, which prompts a friendly chat between Mr News himself, or his charming assistant, and their loyal and important customers. I love it! Customer service in spades…memo to W H Smith – no self- scanning here. Just people, real people, people who adore and respect their customers….where did that all go?
I bought the latest, and so-called, ‘improved’ edition of Trout and Salmon, to play my bit! (sadly, it’s not improved, by the way)
Bless you, Mr News…and may you and your business, prosper.
The River Dovey (Afon Dyfi) rises in the small lake Creiglyn Dyfi at about 1,900 feet (580 m) above sea level, below Aran Fawddwy, before flowing south to Dinas Mawddwy and Cemmaes Road, then south west past Machynlleth, the only large town in its course, to Cardigan Bay at Aberdyfi. It shares its watershed with the River Severn and the River Dee before flowing generally south-westwards down to a wide estuary. Since the closure of the lead mines and the decline of the slate quarries, the Dovey is now a very clean river, with good runs of salmon and sea trout.
The fishing on the Dovey is controlled by the New Dovey Fishery Association, and day and weekly tickets are very modestly priced.
My ace Navigator, and OS Map ‘junkie’ did a splendid job getting us to the stretches, where we knew were, for sure, in Gwynedd.
I confess that when I am confronted by a stream which is so different to what I am used to, I struggle rather. It’s a psychological thing, and utterly without logic, but I bet I am not alone. Such was the Dovey, whose reputation as a sea trout river far exceed that of a brown trout water, and between 1700 and 2500 are reportedly caught every year. And the parts we sought out looked sea-trouty, and intimidated me!
A morning of casting with no reward, did little to encourage, either, so an early lunch was taken at the Brigands Inn, at Mallwyd, which did little to impress. Waiting a full five minutes at the bar whilst others were served, and without a ‘hello’, or ‘be with you in a minute’, seemed hospitality at its worst. Let’s hope the afternoon would be better, we agreed! At least the beer was worth waiting for.
‘Apres midi’, we explored some very interesting stretches of pocket water,
but upstream, even more sea trouty waters beckoned, but eventually a small brown took pity on me, in a riffle,
and succumbed to this fly.
Now one small fish hardly entitles me claim that I have conquered Gwynedd, but he counts! And I am grateful to him/her!
The scenery here is splendid, and my fish came from a stretch of the river where the southern side of the Snowdonia National Park was visible.
And it was a gloriously sunny day, and enjoyable for that alone. Noisy, too, in part. One of the locals’ past times is to climb to the top ridge of the mountains and look down into the Dovey valley on the fighter pilots practicing low level flying, under the radar, literally, at record speeds, as they race past, out toward the Irish Sea, and photograph them smiling up to said photographers…very dramatic, and a worthy distraction from hard fishing!
But I had my Gwynedd trout.
Have you been to Aberystwyth?
Do you even know where this town is?
Well in my seventy years, I have not but I have/do now!
If you set off on a road journey to this place, Google Maps tells you it should take around five hours from London. And it does, I imagine…unless you slow to admire the extraordinary beauty of the Cambrian mountains in the upper Wye valley, on your way. Or the many other beautiful aspects ‘en route’.
Mine took me along the M4 (the boring bit) toward Swindon, then veering north around this old railway town, (I confess to stopping when my SatNav told me I was crossing a small stream on the A419, and imagine my excitement when peering into the diminutive River Ray, and I saw fish rising, but they were probably dace!) past Cricklade, with its lakes, galore, to Cirencester, then climbing (a relative term) up into the beautiful Cotswolds toward Gloucester (but avoid the City) then onto Ledbury, then driving over the muddy Severn, toward Hereford, a mere thirty miles hence.
On this route, I stopped for sustenance, and was looked after beautifully by bright young things, and spotting some clues from my past enquired whether one Will Chase had an interest in my hostelry, named interestingly, ‘Verzon’? He did, I was told. He owns it. You will know of Will…Tyrells crisps, Chase vodka (also from potatoes) and more. I tried to do business with him, once, and didn’t, but Verizon is well worth a visit!
Where were we? Ah yes, Hereford. Avoid it and beware the SAS snipers!
But onwards to glory in the acres of apple orchards, all claiming to be the prime source of Strongbow cider, once a Bulmer’s of Hereford brand, but now, not!
This is a very fertile region of our country, and whilst quiet now, in the growing season, imagine the controlled chaos at harvest time when acre upon acre of fruits need to be liberated from their stalks and stems and sent speedily to be cleaned and processed…or pressed!
We are getting dangerously close to the Welsh border now, but still in the Severn catchment, which is important, because every time I spotted a stream, and in spite of what has happened since, at that time, the end of May, it had rained a lot, and every stream I saw was brown, and fast flowing so I was concerned, because I was venturing into the unknown and prospects looked grim, for already I had fished this year less than half the number of days I had in 2017 at the end of May, and I WANTED TO FISH!
My route to this oasis of a town, took me through the picturesque villages of Rhayader and Llangurig, then onwards along the A44, a one road in, and one road out, it seemed, of the most westerly of Wales’ significant towns, and this one, home to 8000 students, as well as the 13000 resident population. And what did I see and feel? Well, somewhere where I recognised today, because of retail brands we all know, but at the same time, somewhere from a past, perhaps the 50’s or later, and where similar ‘sea side’ dwellings as once enriched Brighton or Hove or Hastings…a by-gone era, but reassuring, too. No towers here. People in shorts on a warm Spring evening. People enjoying, simply, what is theirs.
I arrived at mine host’s retreat – a family home of standing owned by David Thompson, friend, entrepreneur, Brewer and fisherman, who had already embraced my Quest, and helped me ‘net’ Salop and Herefordshire, via his membership of the Midland Flyfishers.
He was there ‘en famille’, for their annual gathering from far flung parts, and what a gathering, and what a family. Poor chap has not one but three sisters! What could growing up, totally outnumbered, have been like? Twins, Frances and Lizzie, and Emma, too…all wonderfully bonkers! And what a super evening we enjoyed, with great food, lovingly prepared, and washed down appropriately, accompanied by laughter galore, and great conversation. (Thanks, Mark though, for some sobering sips of said host’s Malt before retiring…wink, wink!)
To the west of the Cambrians, the streams were running clear, and I was relieved, and David took me fishing, for a few hours before the family fun, which I felt privileged to be part of, began
We fished the Llanilar AA water on the River Ystwyth at Rhydyfelin, where fish were rising but not, committedly, to my parachute Adams, and also upstream near to Trawscoed on the Crosswood Estate, where just one did!
Ceredigion has another stream I am interested in – the Rheidol. This is mainly in the hands of the Aberystwyth AA.
It is 10pm and I am sitting in the bar at the Bear at Crickhowell reflecting on our (mine and Rhys’) afternoon/evening fish on the Llynfi…
So many of Britain’s wild brown trout are quite small, but there are some beauties, too, including this fish which came to my net in April when fishing with Rhys Morgan.
We reckoned it to be between 2 and 3 lbs, but it is overwintered and lean. Imagine what it could weigh after gorging on Spring’s olive hatches! It came from MTAA’s water on the Taff in Merthyr Tydfil, quite close to where Will Millard, guided by my friend Dan Popp, caught a cracker whilst filming the lovely series “The Taff: The River That Made Wales” for BBC Wales. It was one of several fish rising to emerging olives mid afternoon that day, and between Rhys and I, we caught two and I lost a third. All were of similar size – remarkable.
The Taff, in my view, is now South Wales’ most impressive trout river, having recovered from decades of the ravages of industrial waste, thanks, in no small measure to the efforts of the MTAA, a club I am proud to be a member of.
Some mornings you wake up and get down to the river and just know, it’s going be a good day. Not often, but when you know…you know!
At Castle Mill Bridge, I slipped into the water, thinking this is a shallow stream and
thigh waders would do, but, stud-less rubber soles and slippery stones just don’t work, so my enthusiasm for what I knew would be, had to wait until I returned to the new X5 to get into the Orvis chesties, and solid and studded boots. They weren’t that much better in truth, but ageing and weary knees need the support of a stick, so booted and supported, I was off!
But there is a prologue to this, which must be told.
Wrexham has a couple of trout streams of note, and probably rather more than an outsider like me can know about. The Alyn was my target for Flint, so this could not be my Wrexham ‘river’, and for reasons I know not, the Ceiriog was on my radar, for its reputation is of an outstanding trout stream. Lloyd George declared that the Ceiriog valley was “a little bit of heaven on Earth” Was he right? Well, from its entry to the Dee, and for the many miles upstream through pretty villages (Chirk, Pontfadog, Dolywern, Glyn Cieriog, Pandy, Tregeriog and Llanarman) it is shrouded and protected from much by a canopy of trees, and mainly the dreaded alder! Until high up in the eastern Snowdonia National park, it is an open stream flowing through the plateau which is farmland. It is a verdant and fertile place, green and lush, peaceful and calming…in the summer! Bankside debris suggested that it can be a little nasty in spate.
Who would not want to fish this splendid stream, but the Ceiriog Fly Fishers website states very clearly – ‘Fishing is by fly only and is restricted to members and their guests’ That means, no day tickets!
My Breconian contemporary, Martin Nicholls (SHR, 63-66) hails from Wrexham, and he intervened and connected me with Secretary, Peter Heath, who was intrigued by my quest, and offered to consider my plea.
So imagine my delight when, after consulting with his directors, he responded with a truly generous offer. Maybe that was what sponsored my optimism? And his was yet another example of the generosity of the angling community, of which I have written before.
But before I tell you of my day, I want you to take a look at Eoin Campbell’s brilliant short ‘youtube’ footage, which is what I watched , and what inspired me, in preparation for this Wrexham adventure – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JAFhB5Vsyf8 and note where he states – ’with much of the river treelined, it’s a real test of your abilities and dedication to get at ‘em’
I find that I am preferring to fish lighter than in years past, so my new Orvis Recon, 8’4” 3-wt, was my chosen wand. A Daniel Popp #16 orange post, olive klink was my attractor.
And my first fish came just yards above the Mill Bridge in the first pool I encountered. I blessed him in gratitude and wondered where his Mum or Dad was, for he was pretty wee, and rather like some of Eoin’s!
I moved up stream slowly, casting into riffles as well as the pools.
These were so still, the water low, in spite of recent rains, that only a cast or two would likely entice a hungry fella before they realised there was a threat about and fled. The riffles were a different matter, but on reflection, the fish I took in just a couple of hours, five, all came from the slower, deeper pools. Rises were scarce, so the fly choice, which was right for the day, was important. Real flies…a few olives and some midges, were moderate in number so the fish were looking down that morning.
My impressions of this stream included…the silence. And it is so clean. I saw no signs of human detritus on this river, which is so rare today. And there are some mysteries on this stream, like, where are the grayling that the EA introduced? Washed away in a spate? And…are there sea trout here? I think there are, but those who know aren’t telling!!
But…Wrexham ‘netted’…lucky me !
Back on the B4500 and ready to pursue my N Wales adventure, elsewhere, I stopped in a lay by and parked up when spying another angler getting ready to enter the river, just upstream from where I was happy. I approached him and our conversation went thus –
How serendipitous, that I met and was able to thank, personally, the very man, who made my visit possible. And what an interesting chat we had. I learned so much about this special stream, and more, the decision to fold the Ceiriog Fly Fishers Club into Corwen and District Angling Club, known, colloquially, as CADAC.
Is this the end or a new beginning? Clearly the latter.
Numbers at CFF are around 68, and the resource to maintain a stream which has a strong spate at times, and the implications of that and the overhanging, present a complicated mix of need which has permissions and regulatory costs to bear, and the time to undertake what over the length of their water, can be over demanding. CADAC is a bigger club (600+ members) with a rich tradition of voluntary time giving to working parties. The completion of the integration is expected in July this year, and it is a friendly takeover which bodes well for the Ceiriog.
The next day, I visited the stretch that Peter was on, just a quarter of a mile or so upstream, and much more open, so no tree snags today.
At 10am I was greeted by huge swarms, of what? Caenis? Micro caddis? Whichever, my fly from yesterday was ignored, too big probably. I was sure that I had to tie on the tiniest fly I could see, which was a pale imitation of, I know not what, and at #20, it did seem to interest, and eventually after quite a few showed, nosed or swiped at it, I netted three more Ceiriog WBT, two from pools, the third from the riffle.
What a stream…I love it.
Two new chums (‘Fennel’, and Steven M) were impressed with my catch. Apparently it is not an easy river to succeed on, but then ‘some mornings you wake up and just know it’s going to be a good day’
Thank you, Peter; thank you, Ceiriog Fly Fishers, and thanks for your intervention, Nick.