THE MONNOW RIVERS ASSOCIATION
The MRA Fundraising Auction contained the following :
MRA Auction IX Lot 55 : A Black Mountain Odyssey with Tigermoth. One Rod, One Day, Five Streams : A Black Mountain Odyssey.The aim…to catch a trout from each of the following streams: The Dore, The Escley, The Olchon, The Honddu and of course The Monnow. The infamous Tigermoth will be your guide for the day and will take you around some of his favourite Monnowland haunts in search of some wonderful wild trout….and, “I’ll throw in a barbequed Black Mountain ribeye and some beers too”
A keen collector of streams, this appealed, and in a location I know relatively little about, and with the promise of a BBQ and some ale!
Well I had to, and bid, and did high, and aided and abetted by Patrick Lloyd, won it!
And if I overbid, then so be it…a ‘win-win’ in any terms.
A date was chosen with ‘Tigermoth’ via an email exchange, and I checked into the delicious Bell at Skenfrith, which was to be our meeting place.
Did things run smoothly thereafter? They might have done except for the MetOffice whose forecast around ‘the date’ suggested torrential downpours. But overnight the rains were actually drizzle and the Monnow outside looked little different to the day before, and we agreed via ‘Messaging’ (no point in bringing your mobile to Skenfrith, Prime Minister) that we should try…and then at 830am there was a torrential downpour. But over breakfast just 45 minutes later, the skies cleared, the sun came out, and spirits lifted. The sun was still shining when Tigermoth, aka Dave Smith, arrived and we sat and he suggested a plan of attack!
The drive through parts of Britain I do not know to our first port of call in Tonker Too, revealed much for the two of us to consider and be grateful for, of life and experience, its ups and downs. Dave’s has been rich and varied, and I enjoyed listening to a brave, bold, successful man, for whom fishing has delivered so much. He loves Monmouthshire and pointed out its interesting landscape and allied its history, and the significance of Offa’s Dyke, Skirrid, Lord Hereford’s Knob (!!), to what he described. A land of more than gentle slopes, but green and interesting. The Black Mountains, Sugar Loaf. I ventured that without motorways nearby (the M’s 4 and 50 at its periphery) few have seen what he loves. “Happy to keep it that way” he responded! Good Man.
The sun shone as we parked up on a grassy verge opposite St Bartholomew’s Church in Vowchurch, just over the border in the Golden Valley, in Herefordshire.
Wikipedia advises that the Dore “rises on Cusop Hill, in the foothills of the Black Mountains, close to the border between England and Wales. It flows for 12 miles (19 km) through the villages of Dorstone, Peterchurch, Vowchurch, Abbey Dore and Pontrilas before reaching the Monnow near Llangua.” The schizophrenic nature of this part of Britain shows in these villages names, a mix of neo Gaelic and Anglo Saxon!
The river is shallow in the main, and under fished I would judge, because in thirty minutes or so, we lost one fish, but between us caught six. Small wild fish not used to the temptation of well presented artificials!
The Escley Brook
This is a short stream of maybe six miles, rising at Vagar Hill, and flowing through the village of Michaelchurch Escley, giving it its name, to join the Monnow near Clodock. An WUF Passport wild stream, too.
We fished it at its middle section near the Bridge Inn, and as the rains returned, still managed to take a couple of rising fish on dry flies.
Beware the slippery bedrock!
The Monnow flows for 42 miles from its source below the Black Mountains at Craswall to join the Wye at Monmouth.
We fished this exceptional stream at its upper middle reach near Clodock, where it flows through meadows,
with its banks revealing the red mud of the area, and atop the meadow, the wooded detritus of winter storm run off, and a lot of it, as well as a catalogue of fallen trees. The sun still shone when we arrived but gathering cloud looked ominous. It was 2pm at this time, and Dave was keen to eat. A Wye Valley Brewery bottle later, the portable BBQ was fired, when the cloudburst hit…and how!
Eager to enjoy some quality beef, it was off with his wading jacket for an inevitable soaking and even with me standing behind him as a wind break of sorts…to an observer it would have looked comical (the Odd Couple, indeed), but needs must, and his obvious discomfort after the storm passed, was rewarded by the tastiest sandwiches known to man!
Through all, some fish rose, perhaps to one of the few early Mays we spotted before the downpour, but given some May duns floated downstream unmolested, it was perhaps to emergers?
When the curious and variable nature of our Spring brought back the sun, we set off upstream, and the warm air encouraged a spasmodic hatch and we spotted Mays, and Large Brook Duns, as well as caddis and midge, and rises were localised which helped, and five or six fish came to net, and these were fighting fish, the largest, perhaps, a tad under 2lbs.
The rains will cease. It was wonderful to watch sand martins begin the chore of establishing nesting in the muddy banks, confident that theirs would remain dry. They are so much more attuned to the vagaries of nature, and I trust them more than I do the MetOffice!
Mercifully the rains had passed. We had not managed to fish the five streams we sought, and during a fleeting visit to view the Hondddu,
we realised that after six hours on the river, then was a good time to call it a day! And did, and we retired to the Bell for a refreshing ale!!
My thoughts about the Monnow – it is a stream of much character and variety. Flowing in its upper reaches, a small stream, through wooded places, it opens up around Clodock, and is then subsumed by woodland around Skenfrith and on its way to Monmouth. An upland stream, a lowland stream, it is coloured by the soil so spotting moving fish takes a practiced eye, for at this time, rises were subtle, and I was lucky to have Dave’s experience of this river to lean on. In fact, I think that without his local knowledge and expertise, I would have struggled on a stream of this type, which is alien to my ‘norm’ of chalkstream or spate river. He saw so much more than I.
The fish here grow big. It is not stocked very much and far less than in previous years after careful catch monitoring which reveals than fish kill is diminishing, reducing the need for replenishment. And earlier this year Dave caught a magnificent specimen of well over 3lbs from where he took me.
I am so grateful to Tigermoth, who gave me a day to remember, in a beautiful part of Wales (and in a small part of Herefordshire).
If reason were needed to support the MRA in its auction next year, then the fact that its funds have been used to virtually eradicate Himalayan Balsam in the Monnow catchment, is surely it! That and its program to trap ravenous mink which migrate its way (the MRA’ Going Native project).
How many Associations can claim to have achieved so much?