In October last year (2015) I noted that in the Salmon & Trout Conservation UK (previously the S&TA) Annual Online Auction, there was an offer for two rods on the Gwent AS waters in S Wales, of which theirs at Ty-Mawr on the Usk is most highly rated.
But my motivation was different, because Gareth Lewis has previously told me of a little gem of a stream which ran through Blaenau Gwent, and one of his own favourites, to boot!
So, I mused, if I was successful, then I could chance my arm alone, to the benefit of the S&TCUK! And I was!!
I had to contact Chairman, Mark Roberts, who could not have been more helpful. He sent me maps, Google Earth web-links, Club blog page links, and a ‘name’, one Alan Parfitt, who knows the Sirhowy, my hoped for, Blaenau Gwent ‘river’, better than almost anyone. He’s been fishing it since an 8 year old…a few years ago!
After a morning on the Taff (MTAA) in April, I went for an exploratory ride to find the Sirhowy, and on a bright and sunny, but cold afternoon, my appetite was whetted. Tiny, meandering, rocky, variable, and many, many feet below the equally meandering A4048, linking Tredega and Blackwood…a stream for small stream fishers (at least, this one) to drool over!
My meeting with Alan was set. “Meet me at the entrance to the old Markham Colliery” he suggested. Folk are friendly in this old mining area, and an elderly couple out for an early morning stroll helped me locate where I had to be, and Alan was there already. “You caused some consternation at the Club” he suggested…the Sirhowy, not the Usk!
You know when you meet someone, you know instantly, you will like them? I felt this with Alan, and our walk down to the river was spent with me listening intently to man who is utterly passionate about this place. His knowledge of its mining history and heritage was inspiring. Its impacts on ‘his’ stream both depressing and uplifting. This water once ran black with coal ‘wash’ but is now clear. He described how the river colour would change through the day, according to the cycle accorded at the mines higher up the Sirhowy valley. The remnants of the past are still evident.
This stream, like so many tumbling off the Brecon Beacons to its north, could tell us so many tales. I wonder whether how many appreciate where the product of the coal mines and the steel manufacturing abundant hereabouts, is to be found? The US railway system…?
And yet, when the Sirhowy ran black with coal dust and the effluent of the industry which is now long gone, its indigenous brown trout survived.
Please watch this lovely tribute to the change in the Sirhowy’s fortunes.
And Alan advised me that the odd salmon and a few sewin have found their way this far from the sea!
The Sirhowy is not a long stream. Rising on the hills above Tredegar, it flows for fifteen miles or so and joins the Ebbw at Crosskeys.
Alan introduced me to it at Gwent AS’ beat 4, close to and just upstream from Markham. We tackled up on the walk bridge there and he showed me where in the low waters, he would be seeking my prize, with dry fly preferred by these hungry wild fish, for which stealth and craft were essential. Short casts into the head of each riffle was the order of the day, with presentation more important than fly choice, but for me, a para-something for visibility, and fluff for him to attract a quick snatch!
Early morning wading in a stream where the rocks were algae covered, was a little like the first run of the day at Courchevelle, when the ski legs are not quite ‘engaged’ It is the same with wading, but, Boy! were they slippery, and I am not sure that they made for the required ‘stealth’!
Nothing happened for me, even though a few fish were rising. “You’re doing nothing wrong” he encouraged, and I tied on a different fly. He had to leave, but with his words still echoing, I set off upstream, and an elk hair caddis into the run above the bridge brought up my first fish, which was far too quick for this angler. As it was with the second! The wading into the river which narrowed was easier, and I have rarely felt I was ‘wild fishing’ as much as did there. Evidence of floods/spate abound, and does some of the urban detritus which would have been swept down from Tredegar, but there was less than in some streams, and my over riding memory is of clear water, wild flowers (the bluebells were magnificent), and may riffles and holes where I just knew, were far many more wild fish than I had seen. Beautiful fishing water.
But…hurrah! In a pool carved out form the roots below a fallen tree, my first was netted. Hardly a ‘monster’ but what colouration.
A few more came, a couple were lost.
(Look at the similar colours…dark and broody…coal stained!)
At 230pm, the forecast rains came, too, but after four hours on this lovely river I was already heading back to my car. And this took a while. A dog walker provided welcome distraction from the ardour of a climb of several hundred feet, as did the de-feathered parrot in its own wired cage. Its screams, I hope were reserved for the little terrier, rather than me!