Thursday, 17 January 2013

The Upper Taff, Summer 2012 - No Fish in There!

June 2012

'There's no fucking fish in there!' Barked a woman in her forties as she strutted up the pavement.

'You're a rubbish fisherman!' Shouted a teenager from a passing car window as he threw a bread roll and the driver tooted the horn. My friend Dan responded with a two fingered salute, I put my hood up in case I saw anyone I knew.

Later, another hilarious fellow would shout (from a packed minibus), 'I'm coming back with my maggots tonight!' Much to the amusement of his drinking buddies on the bus.

We were fishing near Merthyr Tydfil town centre on a Saturday afternoon in June and the fish were concentrated on the far edge of a slow shallow pool, feeding on large dark olive duns. There were several splashy rises from smaller fish interspersed with the tell tale sips of larger more efficient feeders. 

I was using my 11ft #3 weight rod, employing leader to hand tactics with an olive klinkhammer type fly. After watching Dan return a couple of good sized trout -and landing a decent fish of my own- I noticed a small sip further out into the pool (about 8 metres directly opposite me). The fish lay in less than 1.5 metres of water and rose every minute or so. Not risking spooking the target in the shallow clear water, I remained in the same spot. Ideally I would have moved downstream, but it is far easier to ensure drag free drift for longer using leader to hand techniques, so this was not critical. 

Another rise, I waited until what felt like the right moment and cast well upstream of where the dimpled rise form had been. Nothing. Then, another small rise to a beatis dun, accompanied by that barely audible sound. I waited a little longer this time and made my second cast, a tiny sip and (yes!) the fish was on.  After a few strong runs and a very brief photo opportunity, this slim early summer fish was safely returned. 

Caught near Merthyr town centre

This is typical of how the summer fishing on the Taff unfolded. I often accompanied Dan (an almost ever-present figure on the upper river), surface feeding fish could usually be located and I experimented with leader to hand techniques (with varying degrees of success).

A reluctant reintroduction

I first became a member of Merthyr Tydfil Angling Association in 1986 and have been an on-off member ever since. I have retained constant membership for the the last ten years, but in this time, I have concentrated on fishing club beats on the Usk and Talybont Reservoir. Prior to last year, I hadn't ventured onto the upper Taff since before I left home, aged eighteen.

This all changed in April last season when I bumped into the aforementioned MTAA member Dan Popp on the Mardy beat of the Usk. Being someone that has always enjoyed peace and quiet when fishing, I was sceptical when Dan asked if I wanted to join him on Merthyr Town water for a day on the following weekend. Despite the excellent reports (two pounders are very common on the Taff), I was dubious that I'd enjoy myself in the cluttered urban surroundings.

I recalled fishing there as a boy and catching plenty of fish on the only five patterns in my box: Grey dusters, dry pheasant tails, partridge and orange spiders, pheasant tail nymphs and gold ribbed hare's ear nymphs. I also remembered plastic bags, old settees, being threatened by someone with a hammer and wondering what all the submerged sanitary towels were. It was against my better judgement that I agreed to meet Dan in the car park of the local leisure centre on the following Saturday in the third week of April. 

The river

The Taff has spluttered its way from the north of the Merthyr valley down grade to Cardiff through two centuries of heavy industry. For a long time much of the river was rendered unfishable; Tony Rees MBE (the chairman of Merthyr Angling Association) once wrote a letter to the chairman of Welsh Water requesting miners' lamps for the fish in order that they could find their way up river, such was the extent of the pollution. Since the decline of the industry, the river continues to recover.

Management is minimal. It is stocked with several thousand fish annually, poached extensively, its mouth is barraged, there are numerous sewage outfalls, mink and cormorant abound and yet in many ways, the river thrives. Aquatic life is prolific and the upwing hatches can be huge. This is no doubt attributed to the improved water quality resulting from the industrial decline and absence of diffuse agricultural pollution. Fifteen years ago, the Morlais Brook tributary in Merthyr Tydfil was dubbed by Environment Agency staff as the most polluted stream in Wales.

'There were toilets flushing directly into it. It was like Calcutta’, an ex EA officer once told me. This year, trout have been recorded spawning at the confluence.

The urban main river at Merthyr Vale


The debate often rages on the Taff thread on Fly Fishing Forums as to which image is of a grown on stocked fish or a wild brown trout. Some of you reading this may suspect that the fish pictured here are grown on stockies. For me, this is not a significant issue. The trout fought superbly, were feeding naturally when I caught them (on methods I enjoy) and I have fond memories. That's all that matters to me. I have no reason to think they are stocked but I'll admit that unless a fish has been introduced in the season I catch it, or it has stunted or damaged fins, I am unsure as to whether I could identify it as a stocked fish.

September 2012

It was early September and I had taken the day off work. Dan and I met near Merthyr Tydfil in the early afternoon. It was a muggy day and the fishing was slower than usual, but by early evening blue winged olive spinners danced in the air, many complete with egg sacks.

The town centre air thick with blue winged olive spinners

As there was little surface activity I was using the duo method and Dan his favoured French leader. We caught some decent fish on pheasant tail nymphs and I had a few smaller fish to Dan's favourite olive klink variant. All season we had caught well on this fly (on the Taff and the Usk) but I had been trying to tweak it; changing to a dubbed thorax instead of peacock, a pearly rib, a more neutral coloured post, a different hook. But I couldn't improve upon the catch rate of Dan's version and I am reminded of the adage, 'if it ain't broke'...

Dan's Olive Klink
Hook: Kamasan B100
Post: Light pink aerodry
Body: Light olive dubbing
Rib: Olive tying thread
Thorax: Peacock herl
Hackle: Light blue dun

By seven o'clock we had (intentionally) worked our way up to a pool that usually holds a good number of surface feeders and we were greeted by a few fish rising to what I assumed where the spent BWOs.

Off came the nymph and klink and on went a yellow single plume tip, then a yellow quill spinner, then a red quill spinner. For over an hour I caught smaller fish on all of these flies, but the large fish -that I could see rising- ignored my offerings. Meanwhile, further down the pool, Dan had a caught a fish that weighed over 2lb on his favourite fly.

In the fading light (when I could no longer see many of the rising fish) -it is likely that I'd put a few of them down- on went the klink. As darkness set in I could just make out a regular rise by the light of a streetlamp. I covered the fish and, sip, there it was (tinged in sulphur yellow). This well conditioned fish made four or five powerful runs before a few last gasp lunges saw it into the net. I don't normally weigh and measure fish, but I very carefully did this, as Dan and I disagreed on its size. (I'd underestimated and Dan turned out to be correct). I'd be interested to know how long and heavy any readers of this think the fish below is.

Last cast trout

A river of contradictions

The Taff is a river of contradictions; dirty but clean, urban yet wild, neglected and thriving. An ugly lovely river favoured by many, but not for everyone.

The rural Taff Fechan - a tributary of the main river

Saturday, 5 January 2013

Upland Lakes on Foot, by Boat and Tube - May 2012

In May I was lucky enough to fish three upland lakes in Mid and North Wales - Llyn Gwyddior, Lake Vyrnwy and Llyn Morwynion. All three are picturesque, contain brown trout and can be very productive at certain times of year and in the right conditions.

Llyn Morwynion on Foot

After a long day of meetings in North Wales I was to stay in Blaenau Ffestiniog (a few miles from the next day's fishing). For the uninitiated I'll describe Blaenau as a unique place and leave it at that, except to say that it has a rich fishing heritage. There are Welsh language books that feature flies from the region, and in times past many of the slate workers were notorious for their use of the 'styllen' or otter board. Locals have told me that they had special hiding places near the the lakes or llynoedd for their boards, and often others would know of these and borrow them.

After a decent steak and chips and a pint at The Grapes in Maentwrog, I arrived at my clean but basic guest house only to discover that the beds were not designed for modern man.

On foot...

It made for a long night, but I consoled myself with a few home comforts!

Blaenau essentials (minus styllen)

The next day I purchased my day ticket at the Post Office in Llanffestiniog (for about £15 I think)and drove a few miles  to the remote roadside car park from where the Llyn is a short uphill walk. Llyn Morwynion contains a good head of small(ish) brown trout and at one time was lightly stocked with rainbows. I had chosen Morwynion and not the more popular Llyn Gamallt,  as I was due to fish Gamallt a month or so later.

Of the Cambrian lakes, Gamallt is my favourite; suited to float tubing, it holds some excellent quality, good sized brown trout. I believe that it was restocked a number of years ago with trout from another Llyn and they have since thrived on the (relatively) abundant terrestrial and aquatic insects. I recently saw a photograph of the stomach contents of a summer Gamallt trout  (in a work meeting) and it had consumed a number of different terrestrial species.

It was a cold cloudy day with some heavy showers and an easterly blast, but from my elevated position you could see for miles. Conditions were hardly ideal but I was happy to be there in my neoprene gloves and fleece jacket.

The view from Llyn Morwynion

The morning session went as expected. Fishless. Dim sosej as my mate Aled would say. I had started out fishing two of the local wet fly patterns on a six weight clear intermediate line but when this brought no success, I tried various tactics, on top and deep with a floating line.

When changing back to the intermediate, I decided to shake things up. These dark thoughts coincided with me being directly opposite where I had started, having cast and stepped half way around the lake. Using 3X (5lb bs) Fulling Mill fluorocarbon, I knotted a 12 foot leader with a single dropper about 4 foot from the point fly. I tied a size 10 black and white muddler (see below) on the point and a size 14 pearly black pennell on the dropper. Also for the first time that day, I waded in very carefully up to my waste. I cast up the bank that I had not yet fished (very close in) and stripped fast in order to try and entice a take from the fish that I knew were in the three foot of water.

Shetland-type muddler 
Hook: 10 wet
Tail: Black marabou with two strands of holo tinsel
Body: Crystal hair wrapped around shank
Wing: Black marabou and a few strands of crystal hair
Head: White deer hair (I've used elk)

This is my version of a fly I saw in an article tied by Stephen Breivik of Lerwick.

It worked like a charm with most fish coming to the dropper and any feelings of guilt being banished by thoughts of the styllen. Over the next two hours I caught over ten wild brown trout to eleven inches, slowly working my way up the bank but remaining in the water. The fish were not very big, but very welcome and the muddler clearly fulfilled its role as an attractor pattern.

Average sized Morwynion trout

By around 4pm the weather took a turn for the worse and and so I walked down the mountain back to the car. I was due to meet my friend Aled at a guest house on Lake Vyrnwy and was looking forward to a meal and a few beers in the hotel

Lake Vyrnwy by Boat

On the map it looks an easy journey east from Llanfestiniog to Lake Vyrnwy. You travel over mountains roads past the sweeping Llyn Celyn and down to Bala and Llyn Tegid which contains grayling and gwniad (a whitefish native to the lake). From there you take a narrow road that nearly reaches the wild summit of Foel y Geifr (roughly translated as Goats Hill ) and then delivers you down to Llyn Efyrnwy, or Lake Vyrnwy. On the mountain track, in torrential hail showers, it was pretty hairy and I was glad to be in my small four wheel drive (definitely not a hairdresser's car). It was like a different world when I arrived at the guesthouse and saw Aled sitting in the sunny garden, such is our variable weather.

That evening we ate at the hotel bar and enjoyed more than a few beers over some games of pool. After a terrible night's sleep listening to Aled's deafening snores we picked up the permits, batteries and motor from the hotel.

Unfortunately that day we experienced torrential rain and strong winds and those photographs I did take between downpours were even worse than usual.

We caught fish from the off. Previous experience told us to fish wet flies close to the inlet streams in the shallower north end, and the fish did not disappoint. These Loch Leven derived fish averaged 10 inches with the largest being around 13 inches. What they lacked in size they made up for in number with frantic sport at times. 

The best fly of the day proved to be a size 12 Kate Maclaren variant but I also experimented with the muddler again. With this gaudy mini-lure on the point and a fast strip of my intermediate line the dropper flies definitely took more fish, and a few also took the muddler (much to Aled's distaste). As part of the muddler experiment I moved it to the middle and top droppers, and experienced far less success than when it was in the point position.

Kate Maclaren variant

Hook: 10-14 wetfly (this is Varivas 2400)
Tag: Silver mylar
Tail: Golden pheasant tipped (hot orange)
Body: Black spectra
Palmer: Black cock / hen (I've used cock here but I also use hen especially for middle dropper flies)
Front hackle: Brown hen

I think I saw this variant, or something like it, in FF&FT.

By late afternoon the weather had dried up and Aled and I were happily tired after a successful day talking nonsense in a boat. It was a long journey home but as I travelled back through Welshpool, Newtown and Builth Wells I felt lucky to have the opportunity to fish with my good mate in such surroundings.  

Llyn Gwyddior by Tube

Through the winter, there is probably not a week that goes by without me tying a 'fly for Gwyddior'. The lake is managed by Llanbrynmair Angling Association and is one of two that you can float tube (the other being Llyn Coch Hwyad). I first fished Gwyddior six years ago making a few trips per season ever since. It is a secluded spot and the lake is relatively prolific with larger than average hard fighting brown trout.

May usually sees the fish preoccupied with olives and this can be a good time to catch a specimen. The largest fish I have witnessed caught there was by Aled and it measured around 16 inches. I have also heard reports of others (including a well known fishing journalist) catching a larger fish than this.

It was the last week in May and I met a friend Dick in the car park at Llanbrymair. Being a relatively recent convert to float tubing it is reassuring to fish with an experienced hand like Dick.

After calling in to see 'Emyr Lewis of Llanbrynmair' for some permits -Emyr is a very experienced fisherman and has provided me with some excellent advice on brown trout and sewin- we travelled the narrow road and then the forestry track that leads to the Llyn. While it is not essential to have a four wheel drive for this journey, it certainly helps, particularly where a brook fords the road. During wet periods this road can become impassable in a car and fishermen need to be mindful that it is possible to become stranded (as Aled and I once were).

When you arrive you can either take an off-road vehicle (through some boggy ground)down to the lake, or you can walk. When boat fishing it is preferable to drive down with electric motor and batteries, but there is no need with a float tube on your back.

It was a a sunny day, warm for the time of year, with a stiff south westerly blow. I was using a 9 foot #5 Partridge rod (that I bought on ebay one night after the pub) with a floating line. My cast included a sooty olive with two small jungle cock cheeks on the point and an olive dabbler on the dropper. Dick fished a Harry Tom and a  black palmered fly. We both experienced some excellent sport and I returned ten fish over 10 inches.  

Typical Llyn Gwyddior trout

The highlight of the day came around lunch time when there was a large hatch of olives with the airborne adult upwings being blown to the north end of the lake. Dick and I held our positions about 15 meters from a weedbed and cast to some rising fish for thirty minutes or so. Most of the fish fell to the dabbler (see below) stripped  quite fast, and all were highly visible takes. It was hard work remaining in one spot in the stiff wind, but it caught us fish.

Olive dabbler

Thread: Olive powersilk
Hook: 10-14 wet
Tail: Bronze mallard
Body: Olive seals fur sub (I tie this in light, medium and dark)
Rib: Pearl tinsel
Palmer: Olive cock (I also use hen depending upon the effect I want)
Front hackle: Bronze mallard (for this version I cloak the top half only)

After this action, with the sun high in the sky, things went quiet; this prompted a change to a heavily weighted nymph on the point and a jungle cock HE diawl bach (see below) on the dropper. Fished with a slow figure of eight retrieve, three good fish fish smashed the diawl, snatching the line free from my left hand. 

HE diawl bach

Thread: Red
Hook: Size 12  heavy wire (I think this is a Kamasan B175)
Tail: Three strands of fine crystal hair
Body: Hare's ear
Cheeks: Jungle cock
Thorax: Hair's ear

I copied this from a fly I saw in a shop.

By early evening I was exhausted and must admit to getting cramp every ten minutes or so. All in all, we achieved a good return in the bright conditions and I was very pleased with the the quality of the fish, the savage takes and way they fought on the five weight. Worth every minute of those winter nights on the vice and the two and half hour drive home.

Friday, 4 January 2013

The Usk - April 2012

As I'm new to this I'd like to share some pictures from last year, and do my best to describe what's going on in them. This feels a bit like boring someone with my holiday snaps, but I'm going to enjoy doing it anyway.

April Usk Trout
This picture was taken mid April on the Mardy beat of the Usk (MTAA Water). It was the first decent trout that I'd caught last season and the first on the Greys Streamflex 11ft #3 that I now use frequently. I made a meal of landing it in the fast water -and on the unfamiliar light soft actioned rod- so it took longer than usual to revive.

This dry spring day was the most productive I spent on the Usk all season. There were sporadic Large Dark Olive (LDO) hatches and the fish were feeding hard on the the emerging Baetis nymphs in the falling river. I landed many trout of the stamp pictured above, most hooked in the faster water (including three from the same spot). All of the fish were caught on PTN jigs (see below) or a Baetis nymph pattern that I'd copied from Graham Rawson after seeing it pictured on Twitter.  

Rabbit PTN jig

Hook: Size 16 jig (I use Hanak)
Bead: 2mm or 2.5mm tungsten slotted nickel or copper colour (dependant on conditions)
Tail: Brown cock (less fragile than three cock pheasant barbs)
Rib: Ultrafine red wire
Body:Cock pheasant tail (coppery)
Thorax: Rabbit (well mixed blue underfur with guard hairs)

The next day I learned that many of the other Usk beats had fished  very well, especially Llanover where David Jones (a very experienced angler) had been amazed by the number of feeding fish.

A true red letter day signalling the start of a great few weeks of trout fishing on the Usk.

Thursday, 3 January 2013

About This Blog

Blwyddyn Newydd Dda bawb!

I decided to write a blog to document my fly fishing experiences, share useful information and (hopefully) make some people smile. As an addict, I compulsively pursue brown trout, salmon, sewin, grayling and occasionally saltwater species (mainly in Wales). I intend to diarise these fishing trips, but will also include some successful fly patterns, discussion, opinion and ‘colour’.

I started as an eight year old living in Merthyr Tydfil, fishing the Taff and surrounding reservoirs; at thirty four years old, I live in Monmouthshire with the Usk as my local. Currently, I am a member of Merthyr Tydfil AA, Ogmore AA and hold an Ospreys ‘winter ticket’ allowing regular access to beats on the Taff, Usk, Ogmore and Ewenny. In the coming season I also hope to join two or three other local clubs (so watch this space).

My work takes me to every corner of Wales. It can mean leaving the Usk (and the wife) when in perfect nick, but overnight stays and annual leave provide me with the opportunity to boat fish or float tube the upland lakes of Mid and North Wales and flog the renowned sewin rivers – the Teifi, Tywi and Dyfi.

I am often accompanied by friends who may be described in my entries. Last year I had the privilege fish of fishing with seven or eight individuals and hope to increase this over the next twelve months.

I work in the environment and energy sector and am concerned about climate change, pollution and land use issues that affect the countryside, particularly our rivers. I also take part in rural pursuits regularly working ferrets and lurchers in the colder winter months. This winter, one of the wettest on record, has been as bad for ferreting as it has for grayling fishing.

I fish and tie flies purely for enjoyment and consider myself an enthusiast. (Hopefully) lacking ego, I am not selling anything and provide a punter’s point of view. I shall not produce pages of technical instruction -as there are many excellent blogs that do a far better job than I could- but I will include essentials such as the quality of the beer where I stayed, the mood of my fishing companions, where I got the day tickets and who fell in.


Me on the Taff (picture taken by Mr Sion Lewis)