Guided trips on river and lake

Category: Wild brown trout

Fly Fishing Welsh Rivers – Early Season Success

It’s been a great start on the Welsh rivers, despite the variable conditions this month.

Local knowledge is everything, so if you are looking for a fly fishing guide, an instructional day in Wales this season or to improve your fly fishing skills then please get in touch.

I started my season on the river Usk in cold and exceptionally low conditions, however I did manage my first 4 fish of the season on dry flies, including a 19 incher.

With the current unsettled spell the main rivers have been blown out since mid-March, however I have found some excellent nymph fishing on the smaller streams and tributaries that would otherwise be hopeless in low water conditions. Some of these can produce unexpected surprises as well as fantastic numbers of smaller fish!

A few images from my early season fly fishing in Wales March 2023:

river usk trout caught by a fly fishing guide

Fly Fishing PodCast – Casting with Ceri Jones

I recently took part in a podcast hosted by Ceri Jones. This new show is called ‘Casting with Ceri Jones’. It’s a brilliant fly fishing podcast that I’ve really enjoyed listening to, so it was an honour to be invited up to Ceri’s studio in Porth.

On the podcast I mostly talk about fly fishing remote Welsh lakes, pike on the fly rod and Fishing In Wales, plus quite a few fishing stories. I really enjoyed recording the podcast and I hope you enjoy listening to it. Hit the link below to check it out!!

Ceri Thomas (left) with Ceri Jones in his studio.

Lock-down angling – Fishing where you live

In my last blog post in March, I talked about a perfect start to the season and ended with a prediction of a good season to come. Famous last words!! Covid-19 struck a few days later and Wales entered full lock-down, with angling completely off the cards.

After what seemed like an eternity without fishing (to keep sane I explored the local woods and purchased a mountain bike!) things finally changed in Wales around a month ago (mid May) fishing was permitted, but on a ‘local basis only’ with no driving to fish. You could walk or cycle to a venue.

Of course this wasn’t the news most anglers in Wales had been waiting for, but in my case I am lucky enough to live just half a mile away from my local stretch of river, only a 15 minutes walk.

Upon news of my local angling clubs re-opening, I was on the river pretty darn quickly! That first evening back was glorious, a pleasantly warm late afternoon faded into the perfect evening, still, without a breath of wind.

As the light diminished blue winged olive spinners carpeted the water, and at last knockings fish sipped them steadily in a smooth glide. Five lovely wild brown trout came to the net that night, silvery, strong fish, almost like sewin in appearance (as they often are on this part of the river) each one extremely welcome after such a long break. The simple enjoyment of wading in a cool, flowing river whilst rhythmically flicking dry flies at rising fish was something i’d really missed – it was great to be back!

From there on in, I was back on the water as often as I could – almost obsessively I must say, making up for lost time. An hour or two early in the morning, or a couple last thing, fitting a fishing fix into the day whenever possible. It was hot and the river low, the driest May on record. So keeping to these hours made for better fishing. I stayed very local and initially walked everywhere.

The fishing ‘regulations’ changed in Wales somewhat over the next few days and weeks – you could drive, but only very short distances. This opened up some more local river territory, and in another update we were told 5 miles ‘ as a rule of thumb’ was the limit for outdoor activity, which is still in place now (25/06/2020)

Although the productive early spring trout fishing had been lost, I still manged to catch the tail end of the brook dun hatch, which is one of my favourite upwing species. There were also yellow may duns aplenty, and the aforementioned blue winged olives, which hatched in numbers that I hadn’t seen for many years.

After more than a full month back on the water, I’d have to say I am now fully acquainted with the five miles of my local stretch, having walked or fished almost every single yard of it. The fishing has been challenging, in part due to the low water and very warm, bright weather, but there have been some memorable outings, with some great fish taken on streamers twitched through deep pools, or on dry flies fished at dusk or on rare, cloudy days.

I also had some great sport fishing for carp on the fly on a local lake, just 2 miles away as the crow flies. A former trout fishery, it holds an abundant head of carp (mostly commons) and is now open for day tickets.

I’ve fished it a few times, always on the hottest, blue-sky days days when the river was far too warm for trout – perfect conditions for catching sunbathing carp. I’ve done well on the fly, feeding dog biscuits on the top and then picking them off using deer hair ‘imitations’. The best fish, a lower double, gave me a tremendous fight on a 7 weight, a proper reel screamer.

So what was a perfect start to the season and became a disaster, has swung around again. It’s turning to out to be a good season after all – a fantastic one in fact, with much more to come. And sometimes, the grass isn’t always greener. I’ve grown to really appreciate, and be grateful of, the great fishing available on my own doorstep.

Fly Fishing Welsh Rivers – A magical early season start

You know spring is on the way when the trout river season finally arrives – and thankfully here in Wales it comes early, March the 3rd in fact – one of the earliest starts in the UK for river trouting.

For me, it’s a magical day and I always try and hit the water on the opener if possible, although it doesn’t always go to plan! 2017 went well, with plenty of fish caught on the upper Taff, but in 2018 I recall we had a foot of snow on the bank, which melted and made things very tough. Last year, I was faced by a rising river and torrential rain, but thankfully I did catch a fantastic trout from the river Usk.

This year, due to the recent biblical flooding and resulting high water I couldn’t get out on the 3rd, but I did manage my first outing just 3 days later. I chose a local stretch of the river Taff, on the Merthyr AA club water where the river tends to drop down to a fishable height after just a few days. The big questions were – what was the river going to be like after the record floods? And would the fish still be there?

My first spot was in a semi urban location, just outside Merthyr Tydfil. The sun was shining as I threaded up the rod on the bank – sunshine being very welcome after weeks of torrential rain. The river appeared to be in fine fettle, everything looked good. As I carefully waded into position, the waft of sizzling bacon from a nearby catering van assailed my nostrils, just as I made those first magical casts of the season into the clear, but strong flow of the pool. It was great to be out again, simply going through the rhythmic motions of casting and enjoying the outdoors in the cold, crisp morning air.

Nothing happened in that spot, so I jumped upstream in to the town section, which despite its urban surrounds holds some of the best trout in the river. It was here that the devastation of the floods was really apparent – whole pools had been filled in with cobbles, rocks the size of cars had been moved, islands had vanished, and bankside vegetation had been completely scoured away. It was like fishing a completely new river.

As I took it all in two anglers in waders appeared, fishing their way up the pool. As they approached, I recognised them. It is always great to share the first day with a fishing buddy – and here were two of them, local anglers Dan Popp and Rhys Morgan. We fished our way together upriver, taking turns to cast into likely spots and reflecting on the changes to the pools and the season ahead. Finally, we saw sign of life – olives hatching and a rising trout, which despite our best efforts we didn’t catch.

Urban angling on the Taff

Not long afterwards, my dry fly dipped under and I lifted the rod – a trout had taken the heavy nymph suspended beneath, a good one, which after a fair scrap filled the net at 19 inches. A bit storm battered, she went back fine. A fantastic fish to start the season with.

19 inch Taff trout

We went our separate ways from there on – but my day wasn’t done. One of the best things about fishing in Wales are the sheer abundance of rivers, often in close proximity. A 20 minute drive and I was somewhere completely different, a small river called the Sirhowy, which like the Taff has a post-industrial past, but now flows clear and abounds with moderately sized wild trout.

The Sirhowy river – Gwent AS club water

I was greeted by the sight of a flotilla of March browns drifting down the first pool – then on cue a trout rose. A few casts later the first fish came to hand, a feisty fellow of about 9 inches. This was followed by several more cracking looking fish up to 12 inches, with plenty of others bumped and lost. Clearly the floods hadn’t impacted much here, other than to shift around a fair amount of gravel. It was a great way to finish the afternoon off, working my way up the small stream dropping a weighted nymph into various inviting looking pools.

A stunning river Sirhowy wild brown trout

To finish my weekend, I headed out to the Taff again the next day,  just before the rugby (enough said on that!) For me this is the beauty of fly fishing – it is a great method for short, mobile sessions, simply grab the rod, slip a fly box in the pocket and head to the river for an hour or two.

It always pays to visit the river around lunch time early in the season, when the day begins to really warm up. This is when olives and march browns are most likely to be hatching, which gives you a chance to fish a dry fly, or simply spot where a fish may be holding. This was the case today, where in one deep pool a singular rise gave away the position of what looked like a good fish. A dozen casts later and the dry fly dipped under – a fish had taken the trailing nymph. It pulled and battled hard in the strong flow and after a few hairy moments, finally came to the net.

A 20 inch wild brown trout from the Taff – a fantastic fish to start the season with!

I must admit, I did a fist pump and let out a yell in celebration – It was another fantastic specimen, 20 inches long with unbelievably vivid colouration. A truly wild fish, of the quality the Taff has now become famous for. They were still here, survivors of the worst floods in living memory. What a perfect start – the magic of early season river trouting had begun. It’s going to be a good season, I can tell.

A version of this post recently featured on the Angling Trust’s ‘Lines On The Water Blog’ – check it out here.

Wild brown trout gallery 2019

Thought I’d post a few brown trout images from my fishing adventures in Wales this year. The fishing was excellent on the rivers and llyns, especially early and late in the season.

Welsh rivers and lakes have really abundant stocks of wild fish – long may it continue! Looking forward to next spring already….

Fly Fishing The Elan Valley

I recently enjoyed a cracking late season day roaming the banks of Craig Goch reservoir, Elan valley, with my good mate Alan Parfitt of the Gwent Angling Society.

The Elan dams really are a beautiful part of Wales to fish for wild trout, especially in autumn. We walked and fished our way around the whole of Craig Goch – a total of 7.5 miles!

The fish were quite spread out and not really in the mood, but we did capture plenty of pretty browns to about a pound in weight. We probably spent more time walking than fishing though, but it was worth it – a breathtaking place to enjoy a few hours with the fly rod.

Alan worked his magic with the camera once again – the pictures below are just a sample. The best are being saved for a new ‘Fishing In Wales‘ website and possibly a magazine feature.

Float Tubing In The Hills – Wild Trout Action On The Teifi Pools

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.

Llyn Teifi in the Cambrian mountains

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 lakes

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.

Llyn Teifi
Llyn Teifi – sunny and gin clear!

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.

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Llyn Egnant silver trout colour morph

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.

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A mirror calm Llyn Egnant

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.

The walk to llyn Hir with float tube
On the water at llyn Hir

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.

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A great fish from Llyn Hir

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.

llyn egnant cock fish
A cracking Llyn Egnant cock fish

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.

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Fishing in a eerie mist on Llyn Egnant

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.

This article originally appeared in issue 2 of Today’s Fly Fisher Magazine.

Urban Fly Fishing on the River Taff – Wild brown trout sport in the Valleys

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…..

Fly fishing the Taff (Image: Tim Hughes)

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.

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Upper River Taff trout are a good average size

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.

Fly life on the Taff is great – check out the brook dun!

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 Fishing

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.

Urban fly fishing in Merthyr Tydfil (Image: Tim Hughes)

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.

Tim into a fish in Merthyr Town center!!

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:

Day tickets are also available online via the Wye and Usk Foundation’s Fishing Passport website.

Article Words: Ceri Thomas Images: Tim Hughes

Article originally featured in Issue one of Today’s Fly Fisher Magazine.

Wild fish in the middle of town

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