I visited Iceland for the first time in in July, using outfitter Fish Partner to book the fishing. To be fair, the trip was incredible – I’d definitely do it again. A very detailed write up of the trip will feature in an upcoming issue of Fly Fishing & Fly Tying Magazine.
I took an enormous amount of images, many of which were not quite magazine standard, but worth posting for posterity. With so many of them spare, I’ve upload a few ‘b-roll’ images here as a gallery. It should give you an idea of what a special place Iceland is.
I recently went on a solo mission to a couple of little known llyns in Mid-Wales. One of these I’d fished a couple of times a good few years ago. From memory it held trout, perch and rudd. Frank Ward (Lakes of Wales) describes this llyn as holding just trout, so these must be illegal introductions. Ward also mentions the llyn as being haunted by a dead fisherman, and that it wasn’t visited for many years by the locals as a result!
The other llyn was higher up in the Cambrian mountains, perhaps half an hour drive away from the first. I had never fished it, so I was quite excited to tick a new one off. Ward mentions that this lake was ‘destitute of fish’ – although I’d heard otherwise…. intention was to try both.
It was a grey overcast Mid-September morning, not much of a breeze . The sky was gloomy and rain threatened but never came. I was on the shore of the first llyn, I’d brought the float tube with me aiming to cover a lot of the lake. Conditions looked good and a few sedge skittered about in the rushes.
I spent a few hours paddling up and down the llyn, fishing all of the likely looking spots – of which there were many! I’d moved one fish (small?) but that was it. It really was slow going, it was like the lake simply hadn’t woken up, no rises no life…..
As I drifted off some lilly pads at the top end the water finally parted and a fish firmly took hold of the fly, just as I hung it near the surface. It plunged and bored, staying deep before it gave up. To my surprise it was a perch – I was expecting trout. It wasn’t a bad one, in good condition.
Fishing onward, I finally saw a singular rise in a shallow bay. Soon after I hooked a trout, about 10oz, that almost looked like a sewin. Another hour or two went by with nothing doing, I neared the place where I had started out and made a few ‘last casts’ – which netted me three moderately sized wild brownies in a row! All of them had the same sewin-like look about them.
I left the peaty waters of the mysteriously dour llyn behind and headed off to the next place, which was accessed through some very narrow single track roads. The final approach would involve a two mile walk through a forest, so I left the tube in the car and struck out on foot.
First glimpse of this llyn revealed a lovely sheet of water – shallow, gin clear and also very weedy. I saw a rise and waded out carefully, making a side arm cast under a pine tree. The line went tight and a good fish was on – a pure bar of gold that jumped high and then buried itself in the thick week, before shedding the hook.
So it held trout and good ones too! It looked like a good pound and a half, a great size for a llyn this high up. I fished for about an hour, working the weed free spots on the far bank. Two more fish hit the fly and came to hand, plus I bumped a few. No monsters, but lovely golden wild trout of about 11 inches.
Bizarrely, I noticed that there were hundreds of flying ants (of the red variety) all over the surface, yet no fish taking them! I’d only seen one rise, that first fish that was lost. How odd, maybe red ants taste bad? Never the less, it was a really nice llyn with a lot of potential – I will be returning next year.
The llyn we were heading to was deep in the Cambrian mountains; a vast expanse of bare rolling hills, clothed only in grass, bracken and bog. This part of Wales has been called a desert (albeit a damp and green one) and before us was an oasis – a beautiful circular llyn heavily edged by reeds, horsetail, lily pads and quaking swamp.
To get here we had tramped for more than 3 miles over the green moors, following the meandering brook that flowed out of the llyn. The final mile had been hard work – it was pathless and entirely covered in tussock grass, or as Alan calls it ‘Disco grass’. I’ve also heard it called ‘babies head’ grass, but whatever you want to call it, the stuff is dreadful to walk through. To make things worse I was also carrying a bag with a float tube in it – we’d heard most of the lake was unfishable due to weed so I thought it might be a good idea to bring it.
Alan headed over to the other side of the llyn to a clear spot while I blew up the tube. As I did I noticed some coch y bonddu beetles in the grass and also in the margins of the lake. So I tied one on my dropper, with the usual streamer on the point.
Launching, I noticed how cold the water felt. It was also very peaty, almost like black coffee. It didn’t feel like June – it was raw and breezy. It was a slow start, and I’d covered a lot of water with no action. Then I saw a good rise, tight to some reeds. I covered it well but no response. It started to rain, and I got pretty cold fast. As soon as the shower passed I had a take – a first fish, 9 inches long and as dark as you would expect from a peaty llyn.
And so it went on, showers and takes. The fish were clustered and just off the weeds in the margins. I had a good number of 8oz fish with a 10 ouncer about the best. All were well fed, certainly not stunted. Almost all my fish had taken the wet coch, so I had put another one on the point which worked.
Alan had done well on the bank, with chest waders he was able to fish a fair bit of the lake. He had stuck with a streamer and out of half a dozen nice fish the best had been a good pound. There are stories of 3lb fish here and I wouldn’t be surprised if that were true.
After two hours we had fished the whole of the llyn, which was pretty small at around 5 acres. I was freezing cold, so I was quite glad to get out of the tube onto dry land. I soon warmed up in the endless tussock grass – it was like being on an assault course. Sore footed, we made our way back to the car, another great day out.
Wales is quite rightly known for its spectacular mountainous terrain dotted with natural lakes, or llyns as we call them. Almost all of them hold native wild brown trout, some just mere fingerlings whilst others contain good quality fish of several pounds in weight. Snowdonia of course comes to mind instantly, but there are many lesser known parts of Wales dotted with llyns that can provide exciting sport for beautifully marked wild fish.
The Cambrian mountains of central Wales are such a place; here the terrain is slightly softer than the north, with rolling hills, tussock grass, peat bog and wetland among the rocky crags. This is a favourite place of mine to fish; there are many trout lakes to choose from here, some of which require a walk of several miles across bleak moors, while others are quite easily accessible, yet retain a true wilderness feel. One such location is the Teifi pools, situated in upland countryside in deepest Ceredigion, where the terrain is simply breathtaking. If you crave solitude when you fish, the Teifi pools are the perfect spot to get away from it all.
Despite their remote feel and appearance, the pools can be reached by a small metalled track that allows you to park right next to some of them. The llyns are completely natural in origin, although some have had small dams added in order to convert them into a water supply. They have been fished and documented by visiting anglers for hundreds of years and have always offered excellent wild brown trout fishing. The fish, whilst not huge by stocked fishery standards offer great sport – if you can get your head round the fact that a pounder is a good one and a two pounder is something really special, then you are going to love the place.
The famous River Teifi originates in llyn Teifi, the largest pool, one of a complex of six llyns in total. The others are llyn Hir (the long lake), llyn Egnant (the lake of the church), llyn Du (the black lake) and llyn Y Gorlan (lake of the enclosure) and Pond y gwaith (lake of work). Lying in a stretch of barren rocky wilderness of at least 1500 elevation, each llyn has its own unique character and a different strain of trout in each one.
Fishing is available by day ticket on llyn Teifi, llyn Hir and llyn Egnant only, with fishing rights being owned by Tregaron Angling Association. Handily, permits are also available online with the Wye and Usk foundations fishing passport scheme. Fishing is for the most part from the bank, however it is possible to float tube on the pools, another reason to pay this special part of the world a visit.
Llyn Teifi is over 70 acres. Surrounded by steep, almost sheer sides in places it has many bays and points. It generally produces the most fish, although usually of a smaller average size than the others and often quite dark in colour. Abundant spawning must be provided by the many small streams that feed the lake. Half a pound would be a fair average here, although larger specimens of around the pound mark are often caught. Here the water carries a slightly peaty tinge, typical of most acidic upland waters.
To the east Llyn Hir is around 20 acres and long and narrow in shape, with gin clear water and for the most part steep, rocky banks that drop off rapidly to around 20 foot depth. There are no inflowing streams, so peaty matter doesn’t get into the lake as much as the others, perhaps accounting for the crystalline water. The trout here tend to be larger and of better quality than the others, probably due to limited spawning grounds, which means there is less competition for food. Due to its clarity and low stock density this lake is always the most challenging, but if you can catch one, it’s usually a spectacular golden specimen of over a pound in weight.
Llyn Egnant is approximately 50 acres and has quite dark, peaty water. In places shallow submerged beds of peat extend out into the lake with surprising drop offs. Marginal rocks and boulders are stained black, giving an almost volcanic feel especially if the water level is low. On one occasion I used a portable FishSpy echo Sounder and found Egnant to be over 60 feet deep. The surroundings are a bit less rugged, with rolling hills enclosing the lake. Here a good compromise can be found between average size and fish abundance, making it the best all-round lake in the complex. Fish from 9 to 16 inches are common. The trout here are typically very dark specimens, with large black velvety spots. There is a lighter colour morph, said to be introduced by the Monks in medieval times. These tend to be silvery with more red spots. The contrast may in fact be due to bottom substrate differences; the far side of the lake has more gravel, which is paler.
I usually visit the Teifi pools at least once a year and have done on and off over a period of two decades. These lakes follow cycles; some years there are lots of smaller fish, and at other times they are few and far between but all relatively large. One thing I have noticed in recent years is a noticeable improvement in fish numbers, quality and average size. Importantly fly life seems to have improved drastically. This could be down to improved farming practices and a change in the usage of sheep dipping chemicals from extremely toxic organo-phosphates. Acid rain has also been a factor in the past – thankfully coal burning for electricity is being phased out and we are now seeing the upland areas recover. Whatever the cause of the improved fishing, there has never been a better time to visit the pools and enjoy the fine scenery.
Last year (2018) I ventured up to the pools in early May, along with Airflo fly line production manager Mike Morgan. Our intention was to enjoy a full day on the water, fishing from dawn till dusk. The float tubes were packed, with this method being the most enjoyable way to fish these pools. The tubes have many advantages; firstly you are able to cover water efficiently and reach spots that never see an angler, secondly your movement is silent and your profile low to the water, allowing you to approach spooky fish, thirdly you can present your flies tight to the bank; right over the drop offs and rocky reefs where the trout lie in wait.
After a quiet drive along B roads and then winding country lanes we finally reach the mountainous and rugged landscape of the Teifi pools. Llyn Egnant was our first stop, the furthest pool in the complex. We were greeted by a mirror calm lake, with the sun already bright and strong overhead at 6.30am. Far from ideal conditions, but a beautiful day for enjoying the scenery! We could see the occasional rise, most of them in the margins, which are covered in a literal soup of buzzer shucks. Of course, fishing on the bank in these conditions would probably result in a blank most of the time, but with the tubes we were confident of salvaging the day, despite there being barely a cloud in the sky or a breath of wind.
In conditions this calm the perfect stealth line is the Airflo Sixth Sense slow intermediate, which cuts just below the surface film allowing you to fish your flies sub-surface without making a fish spooking wake. Regarding flies, these hungry wild fish are not too fussy; provided your presentation is good. Most dark traditional wet fly patterns work well here, especially those with a touch of red. For example, bibio, blue zulu and black Pennell. One particular favourite for me is the Ke-he, which features a combination of peacock herl, soft hen hackle, pheasant tippet and a red tag. It is suggestive of many food items and importantly has multiple trigger points. I tie one on in size 12. I’m not mucking about with teams of flies today; sorting out a tangle in the tube can be a nuisance, but more importantly a single fly on a long leader is going to make a huge difference with the presentation, given the bright and still conditions. 6lb G3 fluorocarbon is added to an 8 foot Airflo intermediate polyleader, making my leader 20 foot long for stealth and accuracy.
We inflate the tubes and enter the water as softly as we can, quietly paddling our way along the banks. We are able to get quite close to the moving fish, some of which are mere yards off the shore. If we had been standing on the bank, no doubt the noise and shadows we would have generated would have sent these fish scurrying into the deep water. I cover a fish and gently draw the fly over the rings of the rise. The low stretch core indicates a fish has taken, and I lift the rod into a nice fish of around a pound that fights hard despite its size. The morning goes on with us both catching some nice fish, with plenty between 14 to 16 inches in length coming to the net – a decent average for an acidic hill lake. It becomes a little easier once a ripple sets in, and we enjoy catching quite a few between us. As the sun gets higher into the sky, the action really slows and by 10 am the moving trout have disappeared into the depths, despite some pond olives making an appearance.
We decide to give one of the other lakes a bash, Llyn Hir, which is only about 200 yards walk over the crest of a small hill. We reach the rocky shore of this lake and can see instantly that the water is much clearer. There is no sign of any surface activity, but there is a little more wind. Kicking out into the southern, more enclosed portion of the lake I make a long cast right down the middle, which trails behind me as I head to a rock island. A sharp pull, and I’m in right away! It seems like a decent fish, for 10 seconds I can’t do a thing with it, and then it drops off. Shortly after I get another savage pull, which doesn’t stick. It’s a good start, as getting a take here, let alone a fish can sometimes be hard to come by. Things don’t pick up however, so a few hours later I’m cursing myself for the missed opportunities. Mike also hasn’t had much joy, with the sun mercilessly beating down it looks like we are going to have to give it a break until evening.
On the verge of heading off, I make a cast towards an almost vertical rock wall, which is partially shaded; the flies swing around in a nice curve as I paddle slowly past. Suddenly the line jags away and this time the fish is firmly on. It’s incredibly strong and next thing I know all of my line has been taken and I’m on the reel – the new Airflo V2. The drag clicks away as the fish bores around me and makes a few strong runs. It takes a good few minutes to even catch a glimpse; it stays deep down in the gin clear water. I finally get his head up and into the net. It’s a magnificent gold cock fish of 18 inches in length – which is about as big as they get up here. I’m made up; this stunning fish really is the ‘king of the long lake’. I decide to head in for a break, and since it’s a paddle of about half a mile back to the exit point I tie on a woolly bugger and troll it behind me as I go. This works, and I pick up two fish, both nice specimens of around 15 inches that like the big one really give it their all.
Back on dry land we head back over to llyn Egnant and take a well earned lunch break. We rest our now tired legs for a few hours, waiting for the evening rise to begin. Around 7.00pm it’s still ridiculously bright and hot, but we decide to head across the llyn and fish some remote bays which normally produce a few nice fish. It’s a slow start, with a couple of bumps and lost fish. But as soon as the angle of light changes things suddenly improve. Pods of fish begin roaming the drop off just yards away from us, sipping buzzer and any terrestrial insects that have found their way into the margins. We are in just the right position and a quick flurry of fish follows, including a stunning dark cock fish with blood red spots. This beauty, like the others today, fights like an absolute demon for its size.
The evening continues to fish well, we both catch consistently as the light drops, often casting to moving fish in just a foot of water that are oblivious to our presence thanks to the float tubes. We are hoping to fish through till about 9.00pm, but a chill suddenly fills the valley and an eerie, thick mist begins to roll its way insidiously towards us as the temperature inverts. Within minutes we are enveloped – I can barely see Mike just 10 yards away! Despite this we still manage to catch a few more before we leave the water, shrouded in a mysterious blanket of dense fog.
Between us we have had more than two dozen nice wild brown trout, so the trip has been a great success. Above all it’s been a truly wild, liberating experience in a spectacular landscape, something that everyone should try in their fishing lifetime. We will be back.
Fishing on Teifi pools is controlled by Tregaron Angling Association. We purchased our day tickets via the Wye and Usk foundation’s Fishing Passport website.
I was standing on top of a wind blasted mountain, barely able to keep my footing. The wind howled, and with it came the rain and thick fog. Somewhere far below us was a llyn which we had passed without even seeing. The steep path (if you can call it that) led ever upwards. My companion, Alan, was nothing more than a lurching hooded figure fading in and out of sight.
How we had progressed this far without getting lost was remarkable, yet we were not even half way. We were trekking to one of the most remote llyns in Wales, whose name loosely translates as ‘the lake of the winged creature’. Somewhere up ahead, through the murk lay the lakes of the dogs, another ominously named place which brought to mind Arthur Conan Doyle’s ferocious hound of the baskervilles. The weather certainly suited the tale, and at 2000 feet it was relentless.
After a good hours walk we were completely drenched. We found ourselves taking a break at the outlet of the lower dogs lake, only halfway to our ultimate destination.
Little of this llyn could be seen, other than a reed bed and strange white quartzite boulders. We took a side each and proceeded to fish. Within a short while, several mountain trout came to hand, each one 8 or 9 inches long and dark, typical trout from a high llyn. A few more were bumped and missed.
I waded through the reedbed and conveniently found it floated, like a mattress, allowing me to cover fresh water with the ferocious wind at my back. On the way back to shore I found myself sinking helplessly into a bottomless ooze of peat, I was really lucky to get out of it without getting stuck. Lesson learnt – don’t wade in a reed bed miles from nowhere!
There were another two llyns here, each higher again. However we decided to press on, hoping the fog would lift.
The next part of the trekk found us shambling over trackless moors where heather and bilberry grew amongst treacherous green bog. We had to check our bearings a few times on my phone (remarkably I had occasional signal!) It took some time, but eventually we came to a rain swollen rivulet that took us to the remote llyn.
There are tales of big fish from this place. It is said the fish average over a pound, with monsters present that would grace a glass case. Its also said to be a dour, deep llyn which most of the time keeps its secrets.
From what we could see of the lake it was indeed deep and dour, with rocky banks that sheered steeply into dark boulder strewn depths. Wading was difficult, so for the most part we had to scramble about above the water.
Today we had our work truly cut out – the wind must have been 40mph or more – with visibility at nearly zero! We could barely throw a line – the wind would gust and squall violently, and the banks were slippery and treacherous. This limited where we could fish to just a few places. I managed to find a good spot on a rocky islet that allowed me to get a line out a fair way.
Persistence paid off – I managed to capture two perfectly formed trout, each one hardly longer than my hand. Granted, they were not the giant creatures of myth, but we both had a few savage pulls which in my mind could have been good sized fish.
We left the llyn after a few hours, sodden and freezing cold. Our final stop was the llyn we had passed on the way up, hidden in the murk. Thankfully the weather had lifted a little, allowing us to enjoy a view of this spectacular corrie lake.
This llyn has a macabre tale – an angler, said to be a carpenter, drowned while fishing the lake, having climbed the sheer cliffs seeking to catch the larger fish that are said to sit beneath them.
Indeed, half of the llyn was very shallow and not so good for fishing. In the gin clear water I actually spotted a few fish swimming about over pale patches of algae on the bottom. A few of these took my fly, smallish fish of from 6 to 10 inches.
The best area proved to be in the deeper water under the slopes. The water appeared black as night, almost fathomless. Here I saw a trout move vertically from the deeps and nail my fly almost under my feet – this one was the best yet, just over a foot long. Several other better fish also came to hand here. I didn’t risk the very steepest part, it looked dangerous, although I did see some temping rises just below them, they weren’t enough to lure me to a potential watery death!
We’d had a full day out, having walked a total of 12km accross some extremely challenging terrain. Sore footed we headed back to civilisation to dry off, content that we had caught fish from all three llyns. Another great adventure completed.
These are two of Snowdonias most scenic llyns. They swarm with tourists in fine weather, but this morning (29th May) it was raining, that sort of fine, non-stop stuff that soaks into your very pores. So they were deserted. As a fisherman this suited me just fine.
I was on Llyn Dinas, after picking up a day ticket at 8.00am for £15 from the post office in Beddgelert. It was flat calm, and I was expecting to see some rises, but I didn’t. I worked round the East Side of the llyn, stepping and casting as I went. A good breeze had picked up; from experience these conditions often produce capital sport. I must have carefully fished a good half a mile of bank, and all I had to show for it was one sharp pull. A sign at least that there were some fish here! The water of llyn dinas was gin clear, weedy in places but almost sterile in appearance with no insect life to be found on the water or in the margins. It seemed odd.
I decided to head to Llyn Gwynant which is a few miles further up the valley on the same ticket.
Conditions were similar here. Crystal clear water with the odd discarded beer tin or child’s Wellington boot clearly visible on the bottom! Here I spent another two hours fruitlessly casting my fly line. At least on Gwynant I saw a singular rise – but nothing took an interest in my flies, not a single pull or swirl. I’d fished a lot of water in perfect conditions and covered it well. The lack of action was strange, but perhaps I’d come on the wrong day. Or maybe there aren’t that many fish in these llyns. Still, it was another two llyns ticked off and the scenery was superb, despite the rain.
It was Whitsun Bank Holiday week and I was staying in Snowdonia, just a few miles from llyn Arddu. Being within walking distance I thought I would pay it a visit.
There isn’t much information about it, other than a brief entry in Frank Wards ‘Lakes of Wales’ book, which states it holds small trout.
On the OS map the llyn was nestled in a dramatic rocky hollow at the top of a very steep slope. I would walk about 2 miles to the base of the mountain side and follow the stream coming out of the llyn all the way up to its source. It looked easy enough.
Stage 1 was a fairly pleasant walk through the Nant Mor valley. Through farm fields, tracks, meadows and finally fording a small river. This led me onto a narrow road where a small stream tumbled down from the high slopes above. This part of the journey had taken me 35 minutes.
Stage 2 involved a steep uphill scramble through a conifer forest. The stream ran to my left in a walled off gulley. This was a lot harder than I expected – the trees were dense, it was incredibly steep and slippery, with low branches and random boulders to contest with.
Drenched with sweat I eventually broke through into a clearing, which led to a swampy plateau where the stream flowed under a jumble of boulders and an ancient stone wall.
Stage 3 involved following the stream bed, which ran through an almost vertical gorge. The stream boulders and rocks acted as a natural staircase for a time, although I had to be carefull as they were covered in treacherous slime and muck. I veered to the right of the Channel where a slightly easier route went through centuries old bilberry and heather, in parallel to the stream. This was lung busting stuff, much harder going than I expected. After many stops and starts I finally reached the summit and the llyn lay before me. It had taken me nearly 2 hours to get here.
The llyn was beautifully situated with mountains and crags all around It. Further above views of Cnicht (the matterhorn of Wales) could be seen in the distance. At 6 or 7 acres The lake was circular in shape with steep rock walls to either side of me. In front of me I could see a jumble of red stained boulders in the clear water. In the margins I spotted buzzer shucks, some small sedges and a few tiny pond olives. Enough food to sustain wild brown trout I hoped. I rigged up with a 7 weight 4 section fly rod, a floating fly line and a leech pattern and took a few speculative casts.
I worked my way around the llyn, which appeared to be fairly deep away from the margins. The far side was quite open and easy to access, although the wind was blowing hard into my face. Clumps of emerald green weed could be seen here and there. It looked fishy, but I didn’t see a rise, or have any interest in my flies. I noticed the odd natural flitting about on the water, and in one corner the wind funnelled them into a wind lane, a place where fish can always be found on llyns like these. However there were no fish to be seen mopping them up….. After just over an hour I had covered all the likely spots on the llyn and had to conclude that it was empty of fish. Frank Ward doesn’t always get it right – or had the llyn been wiped out by acid rain in the 1980’s? Either way, it hadn’t been a wasted trip, it had been worth it for the breathtaking views alone. With curiosity satisfied, I headed back down the mountain. The decent was significantly easier.
Urban fishing is a new frontier – and where better than Wales where fly fishing on the post industrial rivers is simply phenomenal. Read on to find out more about fishing on the River Taff…..
Like many South Wales Rivers the Taff used to run black with coal and industrial waste. The stretch at Merthyr Tydfil was once one of the most polluted rivers in Europe, with numerous ironworks disgorging effluent continuously into the river; in later years this was followed by coal waste and industrial effluent, not to mention untreated sewage. Fish and invertebrate life was pretty much non-existent, hanging on only in the headwater streams.
Today things have radically changed, with the Taff being a productive game fishing river from source to mouth. Over time industry moved on, the mines shut and new regulations cleaned up the river. Trout are now widespread, with the middle and lower reaches also having Grayling that were introduced around 15 years ago; here you will find them in huge abundance along with some large trout and occasional salmon.
The upper river and some tributaries remain the preserve of trout only, and it is on the Merthyr Tydfil Angling club stretch that some of the best fishing can be found. The club has 14 miles of river, including two rural tributaries, the Taff Fechan and Taff Fawr that wind their way through the scenic wooded gorges of the Southern Brecon Beacons.
These rivers meet at Merthyr, forming the main Taff. From here to Quakers yard this part of the river regularly produces wild trout averaging well over a pound, with many specimens ranging up to 3lb or even more. It’s certainly one of the best trout rivers in Wales in terms of average size and quality of fish, but it wasn’t always this way, even in recent history.
For one thing, once the water quality improved when the mines and factories closed, the Merthyr Tydfil Angling Association carried out regular stockings of farmed brown trout – in fact in excess of 3000 table sized fish per year were stocked into a 10 mile stretch of club water. This resulted in the wild fish population being unable to compete for food, prime living space and spawning ground.
As well direct competition, the vast numbers of easily caught stockies also encouraged the ‘fish monger’ element and helped encourage poachers, who were indiscriminate as to what they took, year round, from the river. To top it off regular ‘catch and kill’ competitions were being held by the club on the river. So what chance did any wild fish have of growing to maturity, let alone specimen size?
10 years ago I lived half a mile from MTAA angling water, but had to drive down river to find good fishing. The wild fish were small and stunted, seldom getting above 10 inches and the stockies were not much of a challenge or nice to look at. It was disappointing, because the upper Taff had so much potential as a river fishery.
Eventually, things changed. The stocking program was wound down for various reasons, firstly financial, then due to stock supply issues and then forced implementation of triploid stocking. After 2013’s 1600 fish, only a few hundred fish went in each year, and the program was finally discontinued last year. A radical change in the native trout population had been happening in the mean time. Wild trout begin to flourish and grow large, filling the void left by the stockies. Specimen wild trout started appearing in the catches a few years ago and it has been improving steadily year on year. In fact the upper Taff has now become a ‘trophy fishery’ with some of the best fishing in the region.
Per mile of water the upper Taff doesn’t have vast stocks of fish (like the nearby River Ebbw for example) however the balance is just right with a good mixture of small, large and specimen fish to be found. Almost every pool has a decent trout in it, and these fish can often be seen rising to abundant hatches of upwing flies. Wild fish of between 16 and 20 inches are commonplace, with larger to be found.
Last season for me was incredible, with numerous quality fish gracing my net in the same stretch of river that 10 years previously had produced poor fishing. Many of them were captured on the dry fly. I wasn’t the only one, with local anglers consistently capturing wild trout to nearly 4lb, right until the end of the season. There are bigger fish to be sure, I have seen them.
On the subject of fish food, The Taff has some wonderful fly life. Starting in March there are strong hatches of large dark olives and March browns, followed by the brook dun, which is an abundant and long lasting hatch on the Taff. Stonefly, olive uprights, various caddis, yellow may and grannon also appear in the spring months. In the summer the upper Taff still has great hatches of blue winged olive, making for fantastic evening spinner sport.
Thanks to its origins over a band of limestone the Taff has an alkaline PH of 8.3. So sub-surface the river stones literally crawl with shrimp, snails and nymphs of all kinds. There are also horse leeches, bull heads and shoals of minnows that provide yet more food for the fat, well conditioned trout.
Despite it’s urban catchment, ironically the water quality in the river is actually better than most rivers found deep in the Welsh countryside. Although there are acres of concrete, roads, houses and retail parks there are no farms spreading slurry, or sheep dip and agricultural waste being washed into the river. Yes, there are pollution problems, mainly fly tipping, untreated sewage and road oil, however these have a far lesser effect on river invertebrate and fish life than agricultural runoff.
The river is an engaging mix of urban and semi-rural fishing, with some of the biggest fish to be found slap bang in Merthyr Tydfil itself. I’ve always thought ‘town stretches’ produce a lot more fish because of the lack of predators such as cormorants and otters, as well as maybe being a thermal refuge over the cold winter months. They certainly throw up some of the best fishing opportunities; as long as you can handle the urban environment.
For more tranquil fishing, head down stream or fish upstream on the Taff Fechan. The stretch at Quakers yard through to Aberfan is quite rural, with plenty of decent fish to be found, if the urban environment is not your thing.
Today I have brought Airflo’s Tim Hughes with me, to sample some of the fishing and hopefully find one of the Taff ‘giants’ willing to rise to a dry fly. Tim mainly fishes on the Usk, where the trout are more plentiful but generally smaller in average size. The Taff trout in my opinion are better quality, and are perhaps a little more discerning, maybe due to the outrageous abundance of food available to them here, allowing them the luxury of being more selective. Tim hasn’t had a decent Taff trout in his fishing career, so I am hoping we can find a few willing to play ball.
For a true taste of ‘urban’ fly fishing I have taken Tim to the Merthyr town stretch. We are starting off at the back of a large retail complex, where there are some nice pools and runs, with the intention of working up into the town. We are here in mid May, a prime time. The fishing was slow last month, due to the awful snow and rain we were subjected to in March, and only now has the river properly woken up. As an upper Taff virgin, this is some tough but enjoyable bit of fishing for Tim to get into.
We walk our way down a narrow path and cut into the river. The bank side growth of thick brambles and Japanese knotweed is just starting grow up. Waders can easily get shredded here, so I’m wearing a set of the Airflo Super-Tuff, a great ‘industrial’ strength PVC bootfoot wader that almost functions as a suit of armour. Much of the wading here is tough, but these have studs built into them, which are essential for dealing with the rocky and often slippery bottom.
We work our way up, fishing nymphs in some likely runs and pools, avoiding the shopping trolleys, BMX bikes and even a wheelchair that has been thrown into the river. Everywhere we fish we find a mix of old industry and modern urban, including walls and stonework from the old iron working days, as well as graffiti on the bridges that span the river. It’s kind of cool.
It’s a cool and breezy morning and nothing is showing on the surface. After bumping a few fish we decide to move up into the town and wait it out for a hatch. En-route, we meet local angler Neil Ashman, who is fishing some nice pocket water with a French leader. Tim looses a good fish, which appears to have been a rainbow – they are present in the upper Taff in small numbers, escapees due to the reservoirs in the headwaters.
We reach a long flat pool and stand and watch the water for a while. Brook duns begin to hatch, first a trickle and then in big numbers. Olives are in the mix too. The wind is very strong now, so it’s limiting the surface activity. Despite this we spot a few rises, so rig up with the dry fly gear.
Tim covers a rise and gets a take. The fish goes berserk in the shallow water, really putting up a good account of itself. Tim finally gets him in the net, a chunky golden fish of 2lb plus. About the average stamp of fish in this part of the river, a cracker anywhere. Another fish shows, and Tim covers the spot repeatedly while we watch. The fish comes up, and almost in slow motion takes the split wing CDC brook dun, then wallows angrily, breaking the leader like cotton in the process. How big was this one? 3 to 4lb maybe.
We move up under a busy town bridge, picking up a couple of fish as we go. Casting tight to a concrete wall, where a brook enters the river through a culvert, I get a surprise take in a few inches of water to a jingler. It’s a nice pound plus fish, healthy and butter gold, that I play whilst buses rumble past. Our time is limited today, but It’s been a great couple of hours on the water, which I hope has given Tim the urban angling bug. We head off, and on the way back to the car spot some real heavyweights finning in some of the pools, some of them true giants.
The moral of the story is you don’t need to stock a river. Let nature take its course and things will come right. It’s certainly turned out well on the Taff – long may it continue.
Fishing on the upper Taff is controlled by Merthyr Tydfil Angling Association. Contact: Tony Rees Email: email@example.com