Ashford House - MJ from Sevenoaks

“Another incoming low” read the Metcheck weather report again as we entered April. We seemed to have experienced little else this spring, after becoming thoroughly used to dark clouds chasing low with only occasional glances of the sun while accompanying hard showers arrived regularly out of the south and west. Air temperatures were warm at first, but would fall later in the month and there was wind too. Storm Kathy, the latest of a procession of named storms this year, was a big one. Trees were down and roads damaged. Land everywhere was flooded and a farmer complained to me of new-born calves actually drowning on the saturated fields before the mother could nudge them onto their feet. A young Lincolnshire farmer talking on the radio had his 200 acres flooded since the autumn and needed to reach his farmhouse by boat. Rich black earth which would grow “just about anything, not just potatoes” had turned to a stinking sludge, without oxygen or worms or any living thing. When dried out it would have to be ploughed and tilled somehow to put air and life back into it.

Meanwhile new bands of rain swept over us regularly every 24 hours so that river levels on the Usk continued to hop up and down around the critical 1ft 6 inch level on the Brecon gauge. The Wye was then in flood all the time and had been since the season began. Anglers lucky enough to catch the Usk when it was a little lower and a little less coloured did manage to produce results, but many more were disappointed.  FR from Hereford fishing at Abercynrig on the 2nd saw a couple of hatches and caught 3 trout on a Deer Hair Emerger and 4 on nymphs. Meanwhile MH from Swansea fished the Breconshire Fishery in a midday session, and caught 3 trout on a Jingler and 6 on nymphs. There was a small hatch of large dark olives mid-afternoon. It’s worth remembering while considering this that the Wye is nearly twice the length of the Usk. The Wye therefore tends to change its level more gradually, while the Usk, particularly at the top end, can go up and down in 24 hours. For the next few days the fishing reports arriving were of three types: washed off in nearly every case for the Wye, washed off or marginal fishing for one or two fish depending on the height of the Usk, or a handful of fish taken in the wind and the rain on the upland lakes. Even the tributaries were too high and muddy for the most part. There was no more news of salmon. It was all very disheartening.

Not until 11th April did the sun emerge again from the cloud and for a few hours we were reminded that this was actually spring and temperatures briefly reached the high teens. There was a sudden explosion of sprays of fresh green and new bankside flowers as if to emphasize that cold and wet weather had been holding up the season. The main Wye was of course still in high flood, levels only now beginning to fall. However, there were some who tried the Usk successfully and grannom were seen in a few places. IC from Taunton fished at Greenbank, where the level must have been still very high, and managed 6 trout on dry fly from slack water during a grannom hatch. PR from Bristol fished the Duhonw, an overgrown upper Wye tributary below Builth, and managed 6 trout on nymphs. RW from Hereford had half a dozen trout from Talybont Reservoir. AD from Swansea took 4 rainbow trout from the Usk Reservoir using buzzer nymphs while NT from Carmarthen with a friend had a dozen from the same water.  

Goodrich after the floods
High water on the Usk - FR from Hereford

I saw some sun-loving grannom on the lower Wye at Redbrook that same day, despite the height of the river. There were also a few adult alder flies falling on the water in one of the stocked pools of the neighbouring Big Well fishery, and most of them fell victim to a snapping rainbow trout. To diverge from the reports for a moment, the alder is a curious insect, historically very highly regarded by angling writers such as Charles Kingsley who went to a lot of trouble to imitate the adult. All the early fishing books had alder patterns to be copied by their readers. Then it went out of fashion and ever since the late John Goddard’s assertion that trout were not unduly interested in it, you don’t read so much in the fishing magazines about this creature which can be mistaken for a large sedge. (I’m reminded that Goddard made the same assertion about trout and the Yellow May dun, but imitating that certainly works on some rivers). However, when I do see alder flies on the water, which isn’t that often, the fish certainly seem to be interested. The nymph is one of those really aggressive pond creatures, almost as aggressive as the dragon fly nymph, attacking and eating everything which comes its way from tadpoles to tiny fish. I used to take still water trout in spring with Donald Downes’ imitation of the nymph, using a floating line and very long leader, creeping it slowly along the bottom, stopping and restarting at intervals, watching the leader butt for a pull.

Bardog's Aldie

Bardog’s Aldie is the name of this particular tying. It’s quite a fancy idea, featured in Pat O’Reilly’s Matching the Hatch, although I bet any long shanked Hare’s Ear nymph would do the job equally well:  

Hook: Longshank size 12

Thread: Brown

Rib: Fine silver wire

Tail, back and thorax cover: bunch of cock pheasant tail herls.

Body: Natural sheep’s wool from a fence mixed with a little reddish brown seal’s fur.

(Take the herls right over the back to the eye and tie in to the head, rib the whole thing with the silver wire and pick out the sheep’s wool between the ribs).              

Head: Black varnish

Back to the fishing reports and that encouragingly warm weekend of 13th/14th April. The problem now was that while the general landscape was lit with spring sunlight and scattered with fresh flowers, the rivers were still running off the floods. Water was high everywhere although the Usk provided a very slightly better opportunity than the Wye. RP from Ampthill with a friend managed half a dozen trout from the gravel pools of the Abergavenny Town Water with the Brecon gauge showing 1ft 3 inches. CE from Worcester fished the new Usk beat at Buckland and caught 5 trout on Hare’s Ear nymphs. There were olives and a March brown hatch for about 10 minutes in the early afternoon. Regular AK from Churt was also on Buckland and managed 8 trout from 12-18 inches by various methods. BG from Exeter struggled to catch in high water on Cefn Rhosan Fawr and was surprised to find 5 dead toads. I imagine this would have been something to do with spawning failure, probably due to unseasonable conditions. I had already seen the first spawning toads using one of the beaver ponds in the Forest of Dean a full 2 months before, in February. LH from Wrenbury in Cheshire caught a brace from Talybont Reservoir by fishing a lure deep. He described the weather as very windy and cold. HJ from Bridgend with a friend fished up on the moors at Teifi Pools and had 4 from Llyn Teifi and 3 from Llyn Egnant.  

On the 14th regular angler MH from Swansea was fishing the Rectory on the Wye with the gauge showing 2ft 3 inches, clearing and falling, which I would suggest is just about a height for starting salmon fishing. The salmon pools produced nothing, but he had 4 trout. LH from Hereford went up the Irfon tributary to Llanfechan, where he found the stiles in bad repair and part of the beat cut off with barbed wire, but did catch a brace of trout. I liked his Hardy reel in the photograph. SN from Abingdon was also out on the Irfon at Aberbwtran and took 3 trout, 2 of them specimens of 18 inches, slightly surprisingly on a Mayfly Emerger pattern. That was quite a memorable spring catch. RP from Ampthill and his friend were out again, this time on the Usk at Ashford House, where they caught 6 trout. SS from Wylye with a friend fished at Abercynrig where they caught 9 trout by various methods and noted a short March brown hatch. AK from Churt was now on Greenbank, well downstream considering the water height, and had 5 small trout on the French nymphing method. A few grannom were to be seen. MJ from Cardiff had 5 rainbows at Llwyn On. The weekend ended with more rain and rivers rising again. Many gave up in the bad weather and very difficult fishing conditions, but MN from Bristol, waiting for hatches at Cwmwysg Ganol which never came, caught 5 trout to 18 inches on nymphs.  

Llanfechan access blocked - LH from Hereford
The Rocks - Richard Thomas

We had been waiting almost a month for more salmon catches and the Wye finally relented by starting to give up a few. The quality of fish was all that you might expect from this famous spring river and the high water had spread them out. Richard Thomas caught a bright hen fish of 15 pounds well upstream at the Rocks while using a Cascade. On the 15th Laurence Birkin caught another fine fish, this time a cock of 16 pounds 8 ounces, using a yellow Flying C at Aramstone on the lower middle river. On the 17th George Ottewell caught a silver cock fish estimated at over 20 pounds from the Rectory’s Gravel Catch. For some reason that pool always looks a bit nondescript to me, but the gravel flats on the tail have proved a consistently good high water catch. Regular MH from Swansea concentrated on the top of Gromaine and Upper Llanstephan using tungsten tips to try and get his fly down. There he balanced himself on the Bachawy board system so carefully constructed by the late Stephen Marsh-Smith until he eventually fell in! Pressing on regardless, later in the Spring Pool he contacted something which shook its head in the depths until a Flying C lure dropped out. Was it a fish, a kelt, or even a big chub? We will never know. Meanwhile Brian Skinner had a fish of 18 pounds with a black Flying C on the beat below, Llangoed and Lower Llanstephan. This came from the depths of the Llangoed pool. A couple of days later Otis Ferry recorded a fat and silver fly-caught hen of 86cm from the Rectory. Christopher Morley had another fine silver fish of 22 pounds on the fly from Glanwye’s Churchhouse Pool.

Otis Ferry scored again on the 20th with a fish of 17 pounds from Gromaine and Upper Llanstephan, followed by another of 19 pounds from the same beat next day. Brian Skinner had two more, 15 and 25 pounds, from the Rectory’s big pool with a Rapala. That must have been quite a day. James Kent recorded a fish of 18 pounds from the Barn Pool at Glanwye. Downstream Ricky Reno of Leominster had a fine fish of 26 pounds on a red Flying C at Garnons. Laurence Birkin caught another of 12 pounds from Aramstone on the fly. TH from Warwick with a friend had one of 14 pounds on a Flying C at the Carrots water. It was beginning to dawn on us that all this was not just a flash in the pan; the receding floods for once had left a significant stock of magnificent three sea winter fish in the Wye.

Aramstone - Laurence Birkin
Abercynrig - AK from Churt

Meanwhile we had an interesting report from salmon regular Stuart Macoustra who on the 17th with two friends fished the Usk at Chainbridge after “…the longest close season in living memory.” That’s the best description I have heard of fishing this spring. They didn’t catch, but there were interesting comments about close season bank improvements to Upper Rocks and the fact that you can often wade more of this beat than seems apparent at first glance, including the top almost down to the Chine and the water below the bridge to the Cables. There is a way down the bank to just above the Cables incidentally, which tends to become obscured with brambles in summer. Don’t waste a good taking spot. At the time the NRW gauge was showing 1.1 metres, while the WUF gauge at Trostrey, which is the one I usually look at, was showing 1ft 11 inches, that is to say plenty of water!     

Turning back to trout fishing, by the 17th anglers on the Usk had reasonable water levels although the weather was often not in favour. There were more black clouds than sunshine and a particularly nasty NW wind. Still, midday perseverance often paid off. DB from Lancaster caught 6 trout to 1.5 pounds on a dry fly at Abercynrig with a few March browns hatching, despite that difficult downstream wind. AF from Nailsworth used weighted spiders and streamers to catch 4 trout to 16 inches at Dinas. Again, very few fish were rising in the cold winds. A gang of 5 led by FD from Harrow fished the Tees up at Barnard Castle and reported 11 trout, mostly on dries. Dave Collins of West Herefordshire fished his Gwent AS beat of the Usk at Gilwern, hoping to see some hatches despite the cold. Insects were reluctant, although he did see some egg-laying grannom from the previous day, March browns and large dark olives – but not many. Nevertheless he managed 7 trout to 16 inches on various dry flies including the Ducks Dun.

Abercynrig - DB from Lancaster
Buckland - AK from Churt

RW from Hereford was out on Green Drive, which is once more on the passport list, and reported 6 trout. This is a wild bit of river near Buckland (not to be confused with Green Bank below Abergavenny) and RW felt the map provided was badly in need of revision. It’s a long time since I fished Green Drive. I do remember it as a bit of a scramble although I was definitely a much younger man at the time. PR from Bristol braved the wind at Glan y Cafn and saw a few grannom although fish didn’t rise. At around 2 o’clock something hatched – he isn’t sure what – and he was able to take 7 fish on dries and nymphs. JL from London with a friend were at Ashford House and saw hatches of large dark olives and March browns in bursts during the afternoon. They caught 4 fish using the March Brown version of the Jingler, and lost a big fish at the net. AW from Warrington was disappointed with the directions for Cefn Rhosan Fawr, where he did not manage to find the access points. MF from Wokingham was pleased with the Arrow at Titley, despite what must have been very high water. He caught 5 trout on nymphs. And HJ from Bridgend used a traditional approach with a team of three wet flies to catch 5 trout from the Beacons Reservoir. He was using a floating line, intermediate polyleader with Claret and Olive Dabblers and a Soldier Palmer. Glyn Cawte was scoring well for middle Wye salmon, reporting fish of 15 and 20 pounds from Lower Carrots and Luggsmouth, plus fish of 15 and 25 pounds from a private beat. 

The weekend was a bright one and we had lost the low pressure weather for a while. At this time of year high pressure tends to result in big temperature swings, from early morning frosts to mid-teens readings during the afternoon. Still, we anglers shouldn’t always be moaning… despite a very bright sun there were some respectable catches. MM from Cwmbran with a companion fished the Teifi at Llandysul and reported 14 trout between them. JL from Street with a friend fished at Dinas and they took 16 trout, mostly on a size 14 Quill Shuttlecock while olives were hatching. SN from Abingdon fished alone after a cold start at Cefnllysgwynne on the Irfon where he enjoyed the wild-life and cut some cuckoo flower or lady’s smock to go with his cheese roll. I wouldn’t have known it was edible, but apparently so! The river was falling and he took 4 trout to 16 inches on a CDC Emerger pattern. At Penpont GC from Pontypridd took 7 trout on dries while the cloud was over the sun early in the afternoon. GC from Gateshead, who had been out with me on Abercynrig the day before, took his turn fishing Dinas on the Sunday and accounted for 17 trout to just under 2 pounds using various methods. The expected large dark olive duns showed up early in the afternoon. Billy Reynolds reported his first salmon which took a Red and Black Flying C on the Eign water of the Hereford and District Angling Association. The fish was estimated at 18-20 pounds.

Llandysul - MM from Cwmbran

Monday 23rd was dour again, with a strong cold northerly inhibiting catches for most, although Joe Alexander in an exuberant report described catching trout on dry flies up on the Claerwen reservoir. AM from Worcester with 2 friends made their annual trip up to Llyn Bugeilyn where, despite the wind, they experienced some warmth from the sun. The trout were taking “small black flies” and they accounted for 35 of them. They thought they saw a pair of hen harriers around the abandoned farm buildings on the approach track. AF from Ferndale caught 6 trout from the Usk Reservoir, while AF from Nailsworth had 6 trout during a cold, grey day at Abernant on the upper Wye. On the 25th NT from Carmarthen with two friends took 18 trout during another cold day on the Usk Reservoir. RW from Herford reported 8 trout from Talybont Reservoir on the same day. The salmon were still showing. Lawrence Birkin had a bright 12 pounder from Aramstone while Alastair Thompson opened the account for Spreadeagle with another fresh fish of 18 pounds taken with a Black and Yellow tube from the top of the Adams Pool. Another 15 pounder was reported taken with the fly on Lower Glanwye. Steve Brown had a fish of 15 pounds from Lower Carrots and Luggsmouth and the same beat reported another 15 pounder the following day. Nathan Jubb had a fresh hen of 27 pounds on a Flying C from Locksters on Beat 5 at Whitney Court. Water was still high on the lower river, but Wyesham reported their first on the 25th, a very fresh fish of 19 pounds taken on the fly. Another first salmon came for Josh Bunning who was fishing at Whitney Court with a Yellow Flying C. This fish was estimated at 21 or 22 pounds.

Cue another rather wet and miserable weekend with temperatures well below normal. SC from Linga, Bucknell complained that “lots of the stiles need attention” at Lyepole, but congratulated the management for adding new gates through the fence above the bridge. On the 27th LM from Builth Wells with a friend experienced bad weather at the Rectory, but fish started to rise when the sun broke through. Joe Alexander from Rhayader found the trout were starting to rise on the Edw at Hergest and caught 6 with a Parachute Greenwells. RW from Kendal with a friend struggled on the upper Usk at Cwmwysg Ganol, where again they found the access gate closed off with barbed wire. After finding their way round to the water, they managed a trout of a pound. (It would seem to be a good idea if the WUF could approach the owner about access to the water on this beat, which seems to causing problems to many visitors). AK from Churt was on Abercynrig, where despite the wind he managed 5 trout from 12-16 inches using a size 16 PTN fished duo style under a dry fly in the ripples. Alan Gilligan had another salmon of 14 pounds on a Flying C at Whitney Court. And finally the Nyth opened their account with a fish of 12 pounds taken by AN from Builth Wells with a Willie Gunn. The upper Wye was quite low by now, with difficult wading on slimy rocks uncovered at last.

Irfon trout - LH from Hereford
Ashford House - RP from Ampthill

Pausing to reflect for a moment, we now have 32 Wye salmon recorded since the season’s start. The numbers are therefore down, although to be fair the floods which have taken up so much of the early spring must account for a lot. On the other hand, the individual fish have been magnificent with a majority in the 15-25 pounds range, which indicates three winters of feeding in the North Atlantic. (I don’t suppose anybody does scale reading in these days of catch and release).  

Writing now on the final day of the month, it’s raining again with low cloud and a strong wind blowing, although not quite as cold as before. The Usk has already risen a foot this morning, while the Wye is unaffected so far. My farming friends over at Keeper’s Lodge are debating whether they will be able to get their maize planted now. So far this spring they have managed in and around the weather by picking their moment, but make the point that if they didn’t possess their own machines but had to rely on rentals and pre-booked contracted planting, they would be in a mess. This has not been an easy April by any means, for anglers, for farmers or for holiday-makers in the countryside.

Glan yr Afon Usk - LE from Surrey

While we struggled with early April conditions on the Wye and Usk, there were apparently a few more opportunities on other South Wales rivers. About this time we were shown a photograph of a 4 pounds brown trout taken while spinning for sea trout on the Ammanford water of the Loughor. Lyn Davies worked hard to get a couple of trout from his local river Tawe, Swansea’s river, which was then running high, and made a video of his day; here is the link:

It’s a mystery to me how people manage to catch fish and film it as well; either of these activities alone seem difficult enough. This year I often seem to see people wandering the rivers armed with cameras and microphones on poles. In fact everybody around me seems to be making movies these days, quite apart from Davies Productions. I would never have predicted this, but one grandson hangs out on the set of Dreamland with Lily Allen; his sister plays Ruth in Malory Towers; their mother is doing cosmetics adverts now and they all seem to have agents presumably taking their 10%. I have inquired but I don’t think any of them yet have their own caravan or even a canvas chair with their name on the back. My elder son, who is just an old-fashioned accountant, has somehow missed out on all this family movie activity, but then he is working regularly which is always a consolation.

The politics of most of this United Kingdom seemed to be in chaos at the end of April. Truly I am becoming less and less enamoured about the supposed advantages of devolution for the nations. One bit of good news: there are some signs that, following the departure of the anti-car First Minister Mark Drakeford, the Welsh Government is preparing now to back-track on the controversial blanket 20 mph speed limit. There will be some bland statements about a more nuanced approach, prevarications and face saving measures designed to conceal what a waste of time and money this has all been – the minister responsible for implementing the new limits has resigned – but half a million objecting Welsh drivers clearly cannot be ignored. Of course nobody objects to 20 mph limits around schools, hospitals, care homes etc, so they will likely remain …just as in England! Discussions now revolve around who will pay the cost of returning the roadside signage to the status quo ante.

When we elderly anglers finally shuffle off this mortal coil and go to join the majority in a better place – there is a nice mix of metaphors for you - what will our memorial be? What will we leave behind us? Well, in most cases what we will leave behind us is a great pile of fishing tackle and some bemused non-angling relatives wondering if it might be of any use to anyone. Some of the more knowledgeable friends might even be muttering under their breath: “He certainly was a notorious tackle tart, wasn’t he? Did he really use all this stuff?” But mostly they keep such thoughts to themselves and the children and grandchildren have no more than fond memories of the old boy (it’s usually a man) and his hobby, and a vague hope that this treasure trove of gear might be of some help to a younger angler. Who knows, they might even have a go at fly-fishing with it themselves sometime, when family duties and work permit.

Quite a number of these posthumous hoards, sometimes inherited and sometimes picked up in car boot sales, are brought in to me for an opinion and there is something rather charming about it. In terms of financial value and indeed value for practical angling, the rods are usually not worth so much as you might expect. This is simply because carbon fly rods have advanced so much in the nearly half century they have been around. Why labour away with one of these slow old things from the 70’s or 80s when you can replace it with a modern equivalent which is so much quicker and lighter.

Edw olive - Joe Alexander from Rhayader

The other day my second (fishing) son brought along some gear which had come his way via his wife’s family. We knew it had belonged to a man of Sussex who had been involved in the arcane business of Sussex sea trout fishing and we also knew that he had fished regularly at Weirwood Reservoir. The rods were 30 years old at least and of the kind we used to see listed for at least three different AFTM ratings. And what do you with an 8.5 foot rod listed for 9 weight? Perhaps current fashions in rods will seem curious to the anglers of 50 years hence. There was a 10 foot 2 piece Hardy rod listed at 7/8/9 along with a nice Greys cassette reel loaded with a newish 8 weight line. “It’s heavy gear,” I told Malcolm. “But why not keep those in case you want to try sea trout fishing some time.”

You can tell a lot from the fly boxes and the first one we opened rather confirmed the story. One side had lots of sea trout flies, including Medicines, some of them well-chewed, and some tiny Secret Weapons. “I bet this guy read Hugh Falkus on sea trout,” was my rather obvious remark. For a generation of sea trout anglers (which I think would include me as a late-comer) Falkus was a god-like figure and the pronouncements in his book on sea trout fishing were never to be questioned. The other side of this box were filled with hair winged salmon flies on singles and doubles, maybe 30 or so years old, and also looking well used. We wondered where he had gone for his salmon fishing and whether he had used a double hander or fished “light” with the single handed Hardy rod.

There were some boxes of more modern flies including nymphs and wet flies which could be used in rivers for brown trout and grayling. He had used Red Tag a lot. Curiously there were very few dry flies, but a small box was filled with traditional lake wet flies. “Holiday fishing,” I suggested while looking at those. “Maybe he went to Ireland or Scotland?” On reflection, maybe he had used them at Weirwood Reservoir. Such flies were recommended for rainbow trout fishing once and I can remember starting as a raw novice at Weirwood with a split cane rod and a team of such flies as Bloody Butcher, Mallard and Claret, Peter Ross and Teal, Blue and Silver. All of these were represented here. There was one fly box which I could relate directly to more recent fishing at Weirwood; he had rows and rows of Boobies! Malcolm was intrigued by these. I began to explain about the Washing Line and also fishing a buoyant fly on a sinking line and very short leader. Even these ideas and fishing styles seem a little dated now.

A nice surprise came at the end. In its original box and complete with zip up bag, we found an Okuma centre pin reel, looking to be almost unused. The Okuma is not quite as illustrious as the products of Youngs and Hardy, but as the cheaper trotting reels go, it is a pretty good one. I flicked the spool to get it spinning and it was perfect. “Here you go,” I told Malcolm. “Load it with 100 yards of 3 pound BS nylon and you can use this trotting a float for winter grayling. A perfectly good bit of kit which will give you lots of fun.” We wondered where the original owner had used it. Possibly trotting for winter roach and chub on the Rother or the Arun?     

You can tell a lot about a man and his life by rummaging through his fishing tackle. Good tackle for its day, neatly kept and stored, is an indication of character and a serious approach to the important business of angling. A muddle of randomly selected gear indicates a different kind of thought process, but probably just as much enthusiasm. I remember the writer Tom McGuane, who set a lot of store by fishing trips with his own son, asking his uncle whether his late father had been a good angler. McGuane himself had become an expert angler, but as a boy he had a somewhat distant relationship with his father, a successful businessman with an alcohol problem, who died early. Fishing was one of the few things that had linked them. McGuane must have been gratified in a way to receive the reply:  “No Tommy, he was not. But nobody loved it more.”

Tight lines!   

Oliver Burch 

Wye Valley Fishing         


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