October 1st was always seen as the unofficial start of the predator season, but due to milder autumns the general consensus over the last few years is that this has changed to November 1st. Whilst I was hopeful of taking advantage of the date this year, the start of the month was still exceptionally mild, enabling RD from Hillingdon to catch 22 barbel from Fownhope 5 on the 1st! Catches were good all along the river too, with Home Fishery producing 9 barbel, Lower Canon Bridge 19, Middle Hill Court 12. This could have been to do with a flooded river, but when the first frosts arrived while the river was still high, the fishing literally died overnight. Air temperature then, can have just as much effect as water temperature. I think it’s more to do with the direction of that temperature though - if it’s going down, even in summer, the fishing goes quiet. Looking at the distinct rise in catches prior to this recent cold snap, it looks like the fish knew it was coming - in the future then, if a cold snap is forecast, that could be your cue to get the barbel rods out as they may well be on the feed!

As we entered the second week, catches picked up again, even though it was still cold. I put this down to the fish getting used to the temperatures after they’d gone through the shut off from the drop in temps the previous week. Whilst catches improved they were nowhere near as prolific as before however, and in my experience this is pretty much it for barbel fishing now until late February or March (providing it’s mild then of course).

After all the chub in the early part of the season (see below if you don’t remember the stats in my June report), I was hoping to see some of that sport carry through the autumn into this winter. I love chub fishing and there’s nothing better than getting amongst a good shoal and catching steadily on the float all day. The fact is though, that this just hasn’t happened this winter. Even where float anglers have worked hard to build a swim the numbers just haven’t arrived. It doesn’t mean the fish aren’t there of course, I think they’re just particularly hard to catch as they’re still spread out, probably using bankside cover to hide more than mid river, especially with the lack of ranunculus this year. Still, I’m hopeful and I’ll keep trying no matter what – you’ll be the first to know here if it goes well!

In the town stretches we get an idea of stocks in winter due to the match reports, but out on the wild stretches of The Passport it’s only direct anglers’ feedback we have to go on. Of course, I try to get out there weekly, and along with the feedback from customers at the shop, I’d like to think I have my finger right on the Wye’s pulse. With that in mind we’re fairly confident when we offer feedback to you on how the river’s fishing, whatever the species, and whatever the time of year.

Whilst mentioning match anglers, we had the Wye champs earlier in the month. The river was high, warm and coloured, which meant that barbel should have put together the winning weight. However, the sheer amount of leaf matter coming downstream from the autumn fall meant competitors could only keep a bottom bait in the water for a matter of minutes. Due to the colour in the water, putting a mixed bag together on float was tough too. There was, however, one fish that fed shallow and in huge numbers, and this was the bleak. Some of you may be aware of Hadrian Whittle who held the British 5 hour match record with 70lb of bleak in 2016. Well, Hadrian did it again against a star studded field, and from a very unfavoured peg was crowned 2020 Wye Champion with a weight of 52-5oz of bleak!

Towards the end of the month things did get properly cold, and we experienced a few hard frosts with fog that didn’t lift in the lower valley for 3 days solid. These are great pike conditions and whilst I didn’t manage to get out myself, several 30s were reported off the river. Big pike are very susceptible to over fishing, and in recent years we have tried to manage how they are fished for. One of the best ways other than keeping schtum about our catches, is to practice good welfare. There are numerous ways to do this, but whatever you do, please don’t handle pike like the chap in the photo below…this being shown off on social media as an “awesome capture”…

What’s wrong? Well he’s stood up, on top on the bank nowhere near the water, 2 towels – one head holding its head and the other the tail, no support of the belly or the spine, the fish has clearly been thrashing around on the mud and grass, and blood running from its gills, quite possibly from being deep hooked. The pike is an apex predator and apart from a salmon is probably the most delicate fish in UK freshwater. If you do not know how to handle a pike properly, don’t fish for them! If you catch one by accident, let it go asap. The Wye is renowned as one of the best venues in the UK, please try to keep it that way.

Here’s a few bullet points highlighting best practice:

  • Use strong tackle – minimum 20lb mainline or even better 30/50lb braid. Not only does braid have no stretch, keeping you in contact with the fish, it has far superior abrasion resistance when it comes to vegetation and snags. Apart from on rocks, where unfortunately it parts like cotton.
  • Have a large unhooking mat, large net, forceps and wire cutters at the ready before casting out.
  • A chainmail glove or some form or hand protection is advisable if you are unsure on handling. Do not use dry towels (as in the photo) and ultimately refrain from handling a fish too much at all. Always support the belly if you’re taking photographs. The overall key is to be confident, as hesitation can cause harm not only to the fish, but you too.
  • Try to hit a run as soon as possible - a bite left to develop often leads to deep hooking a pike, and this can end in disaster.
  • Try not to fish too close to snags and favour open water instead - a lunge from a big pike can both take you by surprise and be unstoppable.

One fish that coarse anglers often don’t relate to as a coarse fish is the grayling. Whilst they are often targeted by fly anglers through the summer and autumn, they provide excellent sport on trotting gear through the winter. Not all places permit trotting, but the few that do are available through The Passport – Abernant on the Wye, and Cefnllysgwynne on the Irfon are about as good as it gets. If you get the time, I strongly recommend you give it a try. I understand you may be anxious, but it really requires a simple approach of an 11/12ft trotting rod (the softer the tip the better), centrepin or fixed spool. I load with 5lb mainline which will handle a rogue chub and a 4/5g loafer with a bright tip. The bigger the float the better to hold the line in the current - the old saying is “don’t let the flow bully you, you should bully the flow.” Hooklength we’re on 3lb bottom to a 16/14 hook. Hooks to nylon are great as you get through a few due to blunting on grayling’s mouth and tripping bottom over the gravel glides. If you fix to a swivel on the line it makes changing hooklengths easy – with the swivel also allowing the hooklength to spin and not twist up.  It also acts as your tell-tale shot. Red or white maggots are the go to bait, mixing up the colour and number, from a single maggot to a bunch of 3 or 4. Some anglers take sweetcorn as a change bait, but I think if you fish maggots correctly there’s no need for anything else.

I hope this gives you something to look forward to, as if you add grayling to your fishing over the next couple of months, you’ll be looking towards the end of the season before you know it. The snowdrops will be coming through, and everything will just be looking a little bit more positive in the New Year, which we hope of course, will be a lot better than 2020.

December and January are quiet months on the river, so I’ll probably leave the next report to February or March. That only leaves me then to wish you all the best for the festive period, and I hope you all stay safe and keep well.


Adam Fisher is a coarse and game fishing instructor and guide with a wealth of experience fishing the Wye. He also writes for magazines such as 'Improve Your Coarse Fishing.' For more information can be found here.

Please note that the views within this report are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect those of the Wye & Usk Foundation.