Should I Stay Or Should I Go?

After the thrill of catching a large grayling on my last river outing I had been hoping for the chance to hook another hefty lady. Frustratingly my wait had extended into months due to high and unfishable conditions which lasted all winter. I had kept an eye on weather forecasts and river levels but had to spend my spare time tying flies rather than fishing. Towards the end of February a window of relatively calm weather saw the water levels drop just enough to fish. Well at least I thought it had…

My heart sank as I walked across the field and found the river still very high and carrying a fair amount of colour. Perhaps the level had risen over night from rain further upstream. After a couple of minutes of hesitation I decided I should try for an hour or so.

The Wye – full and coloured.

On the bank I could just about see the river bed in about a foot depth of water. Further out and the water became very murky. With a feeling of disappointment I cast and worked my way quickly downstream, finding that the current was too powerful at my usual starting point. I finally found an area where the water had slowed enough for my flies to find an adequate depth. I decided I would concentrate on the water within 5 or so metres of the river bank. This area was generally around 3 or 4 feet deep. Any further out and the current was too powerful to wade and water too cloudy.

After 10 minutes my confidence got a nice boost as a grayling of around 20cm found my middle dropper. After a quick scrap it was in the net and I felt the day had not been a complete waste of time after all.

Continuing downstream with no further takes for 30 minutes or so I came to an area that was a bit deeper than I was comfortable wading through. I made my way to the bank and dragged myself out. The water had quite a nice pace so I decided to cast from the bank. On my second cast the line stopped and I struck.

For a split second I thought I had hooked the river bed as my weight 3 rod gave little resistance to whatever was on the other end and just bent fully over. NO! It was a fish! The line zipped through the water back and fore and I quickly wondered what I had hooked. I have had plenty of false alarms in the past and so seeing the beautiful dorsal fin eventually break the surface was a joy. The fight was by no means over however. The fish was in a serious flow of water and with barbless hooks I could not afford to rush things. Eventually the grayling began to tire though and It’s surges became less powerful. Finally it was ready, and slid into my net first time.

A handsome Wye grayling about to be released.

I raised the net and could see a grayling of 2lb+. The fish was a pin stripped beauty of 45cm. After a couple of photos I slipped it back and reflected on how close I had been to aborting the day earlier on.

I started casting again, and before long was into another decent fish. This turned out to be a fish of 38 cm and possibly a pound and a half. Another deep shouldered beauty.

A good size grayling to end the day.

Although this was the last fish I connected with, and I ended the session with only 3 fish, it had been a memorable day. Needless to say I will definitely be trying the margins during high water in future.

Advertisements

Autumn Grayling Fishing On The Wye

Although Llyngwyn offers a great option during high water, I was itching to get back onto the river. The Wye had been out of condition since the end of the salmon season, but was now starting to come back to a manageable level. My friend Phil had contacted me in the week to see if I was available and if the water would be suitable for a grayling session at Builth Wells. I checked the river level on the Environment Agency website and saw that it was still a little high but with no rain forecast for the rest of the week there was a good chance of having a go on the Sunday.

10 am was as early as necessary to meet on a very cold murky Sunday. We decided to try the top section of the clubs water first, an area where we had both caught plenty of grayling in the past. We reached the water to find it still around 8-12 inches above normal but on the plus side virtually all of the colour had gone. Feeling a little out of practice for grayling And with the water still slightly high I decided to keep things simple and went for a Czech Nymph setup of a 10′ 5lb leader with 3 weighted bugs all in the last 3′.

A cold murky morning on the river Wye above Builth Wells

There was no immediate action for either of us until I reached a slight kink in the river. I was not quite ready for the take and by the time a flicked the rod to strike there was no resistance. A little further down the run and the same thing happened. Then I had a take and connected with a decent fish. After a few seconds a large magenta dorsal fin broke the surface before the fish turned and threw the fly. I gradually moved a few more metres but received no more takes. Phil then fished through with a duo but without a take, the fish were obviously tight to the bottom. I waded in just above the shoal and worked my way back down stream. This time there was a confident pull and a stunning grayling of around 1lb 4oz was soon netted. This was our only fish of the morning.

A stunning autumn grayling from the upper Wye

I then suggested we move to the lowest section on the clubs Wye water. I was a little surprised when we got to the parking area to find that we were the only people fishing. We made our way across the field to the river. When we arrived Phil decided to try first the middle section of the run and work down stream. I was going to start in the fast water at the head of the pool and fish all the way down. Neither of us had any joy until Phil reached the slower water at the tail of the run. After a few takes he landed his first grayling of the day.

As I reached the slower water I could feel the bugs starting to trundle along the bottom perfectly. It wasn’t long before I had a very subtle take and landed a nice brownie of around 8oz. Soon after a slightly larger brown graced my net before I connected with my second grayling of the day of just under 1lb.

By now Phil had walked up to the fast water at the top of the section so I decided to walk to just where the water started to slow and fish it through again. On my very first cast I had another subtle pull and after a gentle flick to set the fly I felt the solid resistance of a substantial fish. The fish kept deep and didn’t give any ground for a minute or so. I started to wonder if I had hooked an out of season salmon or a large chub. It then decided to fight and after a few head shakes came to the surface and splashed about showing it’s large silvery body and beautifully coloured dorsal fin. Realising that this was by far the biggest grayling I’d ever hooked a little bit of panic and eagerness to land the fish set in. The fish however was far from done, and shot off on a deep run into the middle of the river. With my weight 3 rod bent alarmingly over, I decided to try and move down stream of the fish as it’s huge dorsal was very effectively able to lock it in the current. After a few more runs I was able to get the fish into the slack water where again it splashed on the surface showing just how big it was. I stretched out with my scoop net and finally the huge fish was mine.

My biggest grayling ever.

I waded back to the bank and lay the fish next to the rod. It was a monster grayling, a fish I had been in search of for years. Unfortunately I didn’t have a tape measure but after measuring my rod when I returned home I would estimate the fish at being around 46-47cm. Looking through weight-length tables on the internet that would put it just over 2lb 8oz, perhaps around 2lb 10oz. A great way to start the grayling season.

Llyngwyn Lake

Llyngwyn is a 16 acre spring fed lake located near Nantmel between Rhayader and Crossgates in Mid-Wales. Owned by The Rhayader and Elan Valley Angling Association the lake is run as a fishery primarily for trout however there are also Carp and Tench in the lake which can be fished for. The Carp are reportedly descended from a strain originally introduced by the monks at Abbeycwmhir in the 12th century.

Llyngwyn lake near Rhayader

The rivers in the area were running high preventing any Grayling fishing. Purchasing a winter season permit for Llyngwyn gives you another option in the off season when the rivers are no good, although it does occasionally freeze over. Being spring fed means the lake is not badly affected by heavy rain, and although the level may rise by a foot or so it remains crystal clear and ideal for fly fishing. I arrived at the lake to find it had indeed risen by at least a foot and a strong wind was blowing from the south making fishing on the north shore near the boat house very difficult. After a few casts I decided to make my way to the calmer waters of the most southerly corner of the lake. I had forgotten to look in the catch return book to find out what patterns had been taking fish. The fish here can sometimes shy away from a pulled lure and so I decided to start with a more natural approach of a team of buzzers. Working the flies slowly back I suddenly hand a firm pull. I had hooked a decent rainbow which zipped across the top of the water pulling a substantial amount of line from the reel. The trout in Llyngwyn really do put everything into the fight which sometimes makes you unsure of how big the fish is. After a scrap which included summersaults, head shakes and powerful runs I finally landed a nice Rainbow Trout of around 1lb 8oz. This was quickly unhooked and slipped back. A couple of casts later an out of season Brown of around 2lb was landed and released.

A nice Rainbow to start the afternoon

The takes eventually stopped and so I decided to move to the opposite bank. It was far windier on this bank, blowing hard onto my right arm making casting difficult. The fish seemed to be a bit more aggressive though and I found that most fish were taking on the drop and hooking themselves. I caught 5 Rainbows to around 2lb before the light started to fade. I decided to have a couple more casts and suddenly had a savage take on the drop. The reel screamed as the fish to shot off with explosive speed. This fight was another level to what I had with the other fish and I wondered If I had hooked a very large fish. The fish then launched itself into the air and I realised I had hooked a Blue Trout. During a fight these fish are like Rainbow Trout on steroids and really don’t know when they are beaten.

A lovely fully finned Blue Trout from Llyngwyn lake

£120 for fishing from October to March represents great value for money on a stocked lake in my view and hopefully I will have several more days like this during the winter.

Salmon Fishing On The Upper Wye

Around September time I started to focus on salmon fishing. With the low water levels this year, not many had been caught at Builth Wells on The Groe Park and Irfon club water and the last couple of months of the season would probably offer the best chance of a fish.

The Church Pool, River Wye, Builth Wells

The river was fairly low but I had spotted a few salmon showing in the pools and runs during the week. I had decided to take a Friday off work to have a go. After no luck on the Fly Run, I moved up to the Church Pool beat. Starting at the head of the pool I spotted 2 fish move in the first half hour. At least I knew there were salmon in the pool. However after an hour or so, it felt as if nothing was going to happen. Luckily I was wrong. Casting slightly more squarely there was suddenly a long pull of line from the reel. I lifted the rod and was into a decent fish. With the 100% catch and release laws on the Wye its best to try to play the fish has hard as possible after the initial reel screaming runs. Not only does this help stop barbless hooks dropping out during the fight but it also means the fish will have more energy left to swim off strongly on release. I was soon able to christen my new Wychwood Gye net. This is a lovely product from Wychwood and is engraved with a length to weight scale which really handy for catch and release fishing for salmon. I was quickly able to measure the fish and determine it was around the 10lb mark before unhooking and releasing. The fish had taken a Snaelda tube fly which I had tied the evening before. Unfortunately my phone had run out of battery so I was unable to get a photo.

The Fly Run, River Wye, Builth Wells

Two days later I ventured down to the Fly Run to try again. After fishing through the beat I decided to change the setup slightly to a faster sinking polytip leader and fish down through again. Mid way through the run a salmon suddenly jumped where I had just cast. A jumping salmon is usually a bad sign as they generally don’t take, but at this late stage of the season with the salmon starting to become more aggressive I felt it was worth pursuing. I cast to the same spot for around 15 minutes and suddenly what appeared to be the same salmon jumped slightly further down the run. I felt I was starting to annoy the fish and it had moved from its original lie. I moved down a little and made several more casts before there was a gentle mouthing at the fly. The trout fisherman instinct in me kicked in and I quickly raised the rod. I immediately regretted this as generally salmon need to turn with the fly for a good hook up to be made. On this occasion I had been lucky and the Willie Gunn double had made a decent connection. After a fairly brief but violent battle I managed to net the fish. It’s great to see a salmon safely in a net rather than exhausted due to unsuccessful attempts to hand land it. So much energy is lost during the fight and its never good to see a salmon turning upside down when you intend to release it.

A quick photo and then released, a Wye salmon of around 11-12lb.

My salmon fly fishing setup starts with a Vision Atom 15 ft rod #10-11 which replaces a very heavy old Shakespeare 15 ft rod made in the early 90’s. Since purchasing this rod I have seen my casting really start to improve. A wide arbour aluminium Airflo reel helps keep the weight down and stores an Airflo Multi-tip spey line. I like the ideal of having just one spool with line and a wallet of tips, but I do often find the fly doesn’t maintain the correct depth and rises up in the water as the line swings round in the current. For this reason I think I will soon be investing in a shooting head system where not only the tips but also the head of the fly line are interchangeable. Leader is simply 15lb of Maxima. Flies are a personal choice but I do use larger flies in stronger flows. A small fly in a powerful current appears unnatural and I feel may spook fish. When practicing catch and release its obviously important to debarb all hooks before use. As well as my new gye net another addition to my kit has been an Airflo wading staff. After using this for a month or so I would now consider it an essential piece of kit for wading in powerful currents on boulder strewn rivers. The staff very conveniently straps to a wader belt and folds away into a little neoprene pouch.

A selection of salmon flies for autumn

Dusk Till Dawn

 photo P1040507.jpg

The river Towy from Llandeilo bridge

During the last part of August I got the opportunity to fish for sewin (sea-trout) on the river Towy. Night fly fishing for sewin is something I had only tried once before several years ago but without any luck. The Golden Grove Fishery has a reputation for being one of the premier sewin fisheries on the Towy and so I was extremely excited to be able to fish it. I had arranged to meet Jamie Harris the head ghillie at 7:30 which would give us time to have a quick look at the river and a chat about tactics before darkness fell and the serious business began. On my journey along the upper section of the Towy towards Llandeilo I found I was a little ahead of schedule and so stopped for a quick look over the bridge at Llangadog. The river appeared to have cleared nicely after a recent flood and just under a tree I spotted what looked like a sewin resting in the shadows.

 photo P1040492.jpg

Possibly a sewin resting under a tree below Llangadog bridge.

Whether the fish under the bridge was a sewin I was not 100% sure, but it did seem to increase my excitement and eagerness to get fishing. I jumped back in the car and headed to Llandeilo where I met up with Jamie and another fisherman called Peter in the car park on the top beat of the fishery. The section of river we were going to fish consisted of a lovely long bend of very smooth gliding water. After a look around and a chat about flies, tactics and wading issues we waited for darkness to fall. Every now and then we would hear the huge splashes of 5lb+ sewin launching themselves into the air and then crashing back into the water. It was a warm evening and nicely overcast which was ideal to keep the night as dark as possible, stopping the full moon from illuminating the river.

When we could no longer make out the individual leaves of the trees on the opposite bank the time was right. We each entered our section of river and would work slowly down stream to the bottom of the beat before moving back to the top to start again. Jamie advised that I should use a surface lure but laughed when I showed him my version. He then handed me one from his collection which was huge and made my lure look like a deer hair sedge.

 photo P1040498-1.jpg

A large Secret Weapon and a Snake fly.

After fishing for a while with no takes I was handed a large secret weapon to fish on an Intermediate line. By now it was so dark that I was not exactly sure where I was along the beat and where the most likely areas that had been pointed out earlier were. Every now and then the moon would poke through the clouds and then disappear again. The darkness heightened my sense of touch as I worked the fly back in a quick figure of eight and I thought at any moment the rod would be pulled out of my hand. I heard a shout as one of the others had a take but didn’t fully connect. Then BANG! my own rod was yanked round and I was into my first sewin.

It felt a decent fish and pulled a fair amount of line from my reel before trying to shake the fly out. I decided to play the fish on the reel to try to avoid any fumbling for loose line. “Don’t lose it” I told myself as it started shaking its head again. By now Jamie had come over to see what was happening. I lunged at the fish with my scoop net but it ducked under and I thought I had lost it. No, it was still there, so I stretched again and this time watched it swim into the net. My heart was thumping. By Towy standards it wasn’t a large sewin and had been in the river for some time but it was my first and so I was over the moon.

 photo P1040503.jpg

My first ever sewin.

A quick photo and then the fish was unhooked and released back into the river and we decided to take a break. After a sandwich and a cup of coffee Jamie decided to call it a night and left for home.

Peter and I continued fishing but without any luck for around an hour or so. Then at around 3am just as I was starting to think there would be no further action I heard the biggest splash of the evening coming from upstream. Believing Peter had hooked a double figure monster I walked back upstream to have a look. I finally located him back around the bend of the river. He had hooked a fish but not of the size I had first anticipated. It did however give a good account of itself and made several reel screaming runs up and down the river before being netted. The fish was around 5-6lb and looked quite fresh, a beauty which was again released after a quick photo.

 photo P1040501.jpg

A bar of silver.

After another hour or so of further fishing we both decided to end the evenings fishing. I jumped in my car and headed for home and bed just as dawn was arriving. It felt so great to have finally, after so many years of fishing, caught one of these magnificent fish.

A day off in late spring

A gorgeous May afternoon on Craig Goch reservoir

Quite by luck I had managed to book a beautiful spring day off work. I planned to pay a visit to Craig Goch reservoir in the Elan Valley after not being able to fish it due to the bad weather a few weeks earlier. I had a few things to do in the morning but around lunch time I jumped in the car and headed for the Old Aberystwyth road (Just outside Rhayader towards the Elan Valley) and then back towards Pont ar Elan bridge at the very far end of Craig Goch. Locally this area is known as the ‘zig zags’ as the river Elan makes a lovely pattern as it meanders towards the bridge.  After my previous Elan Valley outing the lake could have been in another country with not a cloud in the sky and a temperature of around 20 degrees, what a difference! I kitted up, put some sun tan lotion on and set off across the boggy ground. With the sun now high in the sky I felt that the fish would probably be a few feet down and so I had set up a floating line with around a 20ft leader. At this point I realised I only had a metre or so of leader material left and would have to be very careful for the entire afternoon, doh! On the point I tied a small tungsten beaded nymph, middle dropper was a black & peacock and on the top dropper I tied a small hopper which I felt would work well in the surface ripple. As I wanted to return all the fish I squeezed the barb down on all the hooks.

I decided to walk a fair way down the bank and then fish my way back towards the car with the wind at my back over the course of the afternoon. As I walked I was a little surprised to see the odd rise. Eventually I found a nice spot and started casting at an angle to the bank with the wind helping the cast. I counted the flies down and after a few casts moved further down the bank. After a while I hand a nice solid pull but no then nothing. This did give me confidence though and I felt good about the setup I was using.  Soon after the line tightened again and I was into a nice little brownie.

A perfectly finned little brownie.

It’s always nice to get off the mark and avoid a blank day. I continued fishing and felt it could be a really great day after the start I’d made. During the spring on these lakes there seems to come a point where the water temperature rises and the fish gradually switch on to aggressively searching for food. I was getting a lot of takes and some fish coming slightly short so felt maybe the water temperature wasn’t quite enough to really get the fish going. The next fish I connected with was a little beauty keeping deep for a while before finally making some head shaking jumps as it tried to shake the hook out.

Best fish of the day.

It’s sometimes difficult to tell if fish caught in the Elan Valley are wild or stocked as the lakes are usually stocked each year with several hundred small fish and after a winter they are can be hard to tell apart. Some people say the stocked fish don’t have any red spots but I’m not sure. The next fish however had very few red spots and it made me wonder if this could have been from the previous years stocking.

One of last years stockies?

As the afternoon went on I caught a dozen or so more fish mainly on the point fly. A few clouds started to pass over head and as they passed in front of the sun a few fish started to rise in the rippled water. I decided to replace all three flies with a team of three shuttlecocks to see if i could get some surface sport.  One major difference I have found between fishing a dry on these lakes and the river is the length of time it takes before a fish will take. On the river you cast upstream of a rising fish and it either declines or takes. On these lakes though you must be prepared to wait and wait and allow the fish time to actually find the fly themselves and inspect it before deciding to take. The fish also have an amazing ability of knowing when you have looked away for a split second and when you look back you may find the fly has disappeared and only a rise ring on the surface remains.

A promising stretch of bank for the dry fly.

I soon had a lovely slow rise to one of my flies and could actually see the fishes mouth close around the fly but somehow I managed to miss time the strike and felt no resistance at all. I walked a little further down the bank and made another cast. After 10 minutes or so there was another rise for my middle dropper and this time I connected. The fish gave a good little scrap and eventually I netted another beautifully fully finned fish.

One off the top.

The surface action was fairly short lived however as the sky cleared and the fish headed a little deeper again. I replaced the flies for a team of weighted nymphs which proved successful catching me another couple of fish to complete a great afternoons sport.

First Club Competition Of The Season

The 14th April was the first Rhayader and Elan Valley Angling Association club competition of 2013. In this competition competitors can choose to fish Caban Coch, Garreg Ddu, Pen-y-Gerreg or Craig Goch (known as the lower lakes, Claerwen being excluded). I have been going to these competitions since I was about 10 years old when I would pester my uncle to take me fishing. In those days I would be over the moon to just catch a trout to weigh-in.

As it was my first days fishing on the Elan Valley this year I decided to take a drive from Rhayader up the Old Aberystwyth road and back down through the reservoirs to check out the conditions of the lakes. The weather was absolutely foul with rain coming down in sheets and gale force winds blowing up through the valley. The first lake, Craig Goch looked high and the wind was very strong creating white horses. I decided I would give it a miss. Pen-y-gerreg and the bottom two lakes looked more suitable with lighter wind but still heavy rain.

I met up with the other competitors in the car park and had a bit of banter until it was time to set off for our chosen areas. I had decided to try the far side of Caban Coch in front of Dolymynach dam. This can be a very productive place to fish but it is a bit of a pain to get to, having to go behind Dolymynach reservoir and through a farmyard and several gates to get there.

When I arrived I found that the water coming over the Dolymynach dam and into Caban Coch was brown . This colour was pushing well down into Caban and any clear water was a good walk down the bank. I was using a 10ft weight 7 rod with a floating line fast sinking polyleader and 3 flies. A Montana nymph on the point, Diawl Bach on the bottom dropper and a Bibio on top dropper. I fished in the clearer water for a good hour or so with no luck which I felt was due to the dark chocolate colour of the water so I decided to move to another location. I got back to the car carefully loaded my kit, placing my rod through the passenger car window and set off. I got approximately 10 m before the wheels of my car started spinning. I started to panic. I was on an area of mud that was usually under water and the water level was rising fast. I was about 2 miles from the farm and had no phone signal. I walked up the bank to try and find signal and there to my relief was another competitor who had parked up and wisely decided to stay in his car and avoid the wind and rain. I tapped on his window and asked if he could drive my car while I pushed. Little by little we got the car out and I owed my friend a pint.

Pen-y-gerreg resevoir ‘boat bay’ with the coloured water from the stream visible on the top shore line.

I decided next to head for Pen-y-gerreg and a spot known as ‘boat bay’. The stream coming into the lake was very brown but I started fishing on the very edge of the cloudy water. In the past I have found trout will often collect in these areas just on the edge of the clearer water. The wind was not as bad as the lower lake and rain had started to subside. After a few casts the line suddenly tightened into a good fish. A good fight followed in which the trout kept very deep but gradually I managed to gain the upper hand. With the fish tiring I got the net ready but suddenly noticed the fish had something sticking out of its mouth. At first I thought maybe it had picked up some weed during the fight but as the fish slid into the net I could see it was in fact the bottom half of a frog. This was stuck fast and I couldn’t believe the greedy devil had gone for my fly as well. I decided to leave the frog in place for the weigh in as i could do with all the weight I could get.

My first and best Brown Trout of the day with the frogs legs sticking out of mouth.

I managed to catch another smaller fish of about 11 inches just around the corner from the first and suddenly felt a bit of confidence coming back to me. I only had 2 hours left to fish though and had run out of decent bank to fish. I decided to find another spot and returned to the car. I made my way to Garreg Ddu and a bay known as Henfron. Again the stream entering this bay was in full spate and making the bay very cloudy. Using the same method as earlier I worked my way along the bank towards the stream. The bank in this area was very steep making the back cast difficult. The gradient of the bank continued into the lake itself creating a very deep bay. I reduced the speed of my retrieve to gain some extra depth. By the time I had reached the stream I had caught another two trout around the 11-12 inch mark. By now it was 4.45pm so I made my way back to the car casting as I walked but with no further takes I ended up with 4 decent fish. Not too bad for a day which at one point threatened to be a complete disaster.

A beautifully marked Elan Valley Brown Trout

I set off and made my way to The Lamb & Flag pub in Rhayader where the weigh-in takes place at 5.30pm. I felt that probably a few of the other chaps would have achieved their 6 fish bag limit but was surprised to find that only one person had. There’s always banter between the fishermen at the weigh-in and I was very relieved not to have blanked. We all gathered around to watch the weigh-in and as I produced my bag frog and all, some of the others gasped with one suggesting I should remove it. After a brief discussion it was agreed that the frog should stay in place. It turned out that a bag of 6 fish had been caught and then several bags of 4. Luckily of these bags of 4 fish mine was the heaviest and so I came 2nd. What a day!