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.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is llyn-egnant-silver-strain-with-ke-he-1024x768.jpg
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.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is Early-morning-on-llyn-egnant-on-a-red-hot-day-blog-1024x768.jpg
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.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is llyn-hir-close-up-1024x768.jpg
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.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is Float-tube-fishing-in-an-eerie-evening-mist-1024x768.jpg
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.