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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.