Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Higher Ground - Llyn Gamallt and Llyn Gwyddior, May 2014

Wild things

I left my meeting near Blaenau Ffestiniog and drove into the slate mining town ('that roofed the world') to pick up Aled who had been to purchase tickets for the next day at Llyn Gamallt.

We have been going on jaunts to fish upland lakes or llynnoedd for a number of years and have come know them as the ‘annual beer and steak trips’. Gwyddior and Gamallt are two favourites and we had arranged to fish them over consecutive days.

Going equipped

True to form, by early evening, we were on the edge of the Snowdonia National Park relaxing with a pint in The Grapes at Maentwrog (our digs for the night). The pub is under new management and the landlord, Simon, is a keen fisherman. The small hotel has an atmospheric bar and recently refurbished rooms. After a decent steak, we talked with the locals until well after bedtime, one of whom fished flies on a bubble float!

Llyn Gamallt, 30th May

Gamallt is not easy to get to but it's worth the effort; the larger than average fish often look up early in the year to take advantage of the surprisingly prolific hatches. The journey requires a short drive in to the spectacular moelwynion above Blaenau Ffestiniog, and then a crawl along a dirt track to a small car park from where there is a walk.

Fully breakfasted, and only slightly jaded, we arrived at the car park by nine. We had departed with the valley floor bathed in sunlight, but up here it was darker, with an occasional ray illuminating sections of the rugged landscape - the sort of light you get only in high places.


Llyn Gamallt
Ready for the off

Suitably attired and loaded, we followed the barely visible path through a peat bog and twenty minutes later, hot and sweaty, we were tackling up. I noticed some caddis and midge and so, fishing only two flies, I selected a pearly pennel on the point and a small muddler for the dropper.

Bring it on
While preparing to launch I spotted a good fish rising tight to a stone drop off beneath a single sapling. Wondering if it was taking sedges, midges or terrestrials, I covered it from the bank. It didn't take. With the position marked by the lonely shrub, I would return later.

Within five minutes Aled, who was bank fishing, had taken a fish on a mallard and claret. As I watched him return it, the line was snatched from my hand by an eleven inch brownie that fancied my flashy pennel.

Golden Gamallt trout / brithyll aur Gamallt
The next half an hour went without seeing a fish. As I neared Aled, he asked politely (!) if I would move away as there were fish rising in front of him. As I paddled out I noticed that there were numerous surface feeders around some weed beds at the windward end of the lake. The sedge were still present, including some huge skaters (that the fish ignored), and I stuck with the muddler on the dropper. The next hour brought four or five savage takes and three fantastically conditioned golden bellied trout to the muddler.

Gamallt surface feeder

Claret dun

With fish still rising, the takes ceased. After unsuccessfully covering two or three I wound in and took time to observe, something I find more effective at water level, when wading or in a float tube. There was a hatch of small, very dark coloured olives - claret duns. 

I changed to a single size 16 dark coloured CDC and Elk. This was the tactic for the rest of the day and numerous fish fell to this simple pattern, cast at rises and fished static.

Dark trout from a peaty lake

By mid-afternoon I remembered the fish near the shrub and decided to paddle back up the lake. As I neared the steep bank I heard a tell tale plop and honed in to see the disturbance beneath the conveniently located sapling. 

Quietly, I paddled into range and cast. The fly hit the water the fish rose confidently. It took me two minutes to land on my five weight rod and, I have to admit, I thought it was bigger than the fifteen inch gold bar that I netted. But I wasn't disappointed in the slightest.

Fish of the day

Happy, and with tired legs, I went to find Aled who had been enjoying some sport pulling dark olive imitations from the bank. I surrendered my float tube to him and he spent a few hours becoming acquainted with this dignified means of fishing transport.

Aled - on the tube

It was early evening before we trudged back to the car, both agreeing to return before the end of the season.

Resting my legs
That night we stayed at the Llew Coch, Dinas Mawddwy. I'll say nothing about the rooms, but food is plentiful and it's a cracking boozer. Despite a tiring, but very rewarding day, we played pool and talked about Dyfi sewin with the locals until the small hours.

It is what it is!

Llyn Gwyddior, 31st May

At nine o'clock sharp we rang the bell of a familiar house in Llanbrynmair (it's best to leave it until then to collect the pre-booked day tickets for Llyn Gwyddior from Emyr Lewis - y dyn o Lanbrynmair). Emyr is a hugely experienced ex-water bailiff fly fisherman, whose Coch-y-Bonddu pattern is known far and wide. He is also a nice man whose house can be recognised by a small sign inscribed with the image of a trout and the words 'Local Trout for Sale'. These rainbow trout are harvested from Llyn Clywedog and he was there that day, so we purchased the tickets from his very helpful wife, the aptly named Dyfi. We would have to chew the fishing fat with Emyr when we dropped the gate keys back to him at the end of the day.

From the village of Llanbrynmair, Gwyddior is a twenty minute drive along rural lanes, through a farm yard, over a brook and up gated forestry tracks. If you're not in an off-road vehicle it's worth checking the weather before you go, as the brook can be very difficult to pass after heavy rain. In fact, it's always worth keeping an eye on the weather when visiting such places...

Five years ago, a friend (who shall remain nameless) and I were in a boat on Gwyddior when a storm hit us. That day I witnessed two things for the first time: a grown man crying while sporting a fishing hat, and a rowing boat surfing a wave only to be deposited on the bank. By the time we descended the mountain, white as sheets, the trees were still and the sun shining.

Llyn Gwyddior

When we arrived at the llyn, I pumped up my tube and gathered my gear. As Aled and I surveyed the water there was a loud bang that triggered a blasphemous exclamation from my friend. One of my tube bladders had punctured! I can only conclude that too much breakfast in the Llew Coch resulted in over inflation.

Bladder malfunction

We had packed an electric engine and some oars so that, if needed, we could use the boat but, in a huff, I elected to bank fish. This proved to be a mistake.

I worked my way over to the opposite side with no success. Then, under a cloudy sky, some large fish started rising in a line about forty meters out, downwind of a large reed bed. Claret duns were hatching on the reeds and being blown onto the water, the fish hitting them as they bobbed past. I persisted with deep wading, trying to cover these surface feeders with a CDC and Elk, catching one and losing two. All good fish but - a schoolboy error - my camera was out of charge.

In the distance, Aled beckoned me over to the boat. By the time we were on the water, the hatch had slowed and we caught no more on the surface.

We tried various methods but it was dead. At these difficult times I resort to shock tactics employing attractor patterns. I attached a slow sinking poly leader and put a size 10 Alexandra on the point. As we approached a submerged fence we knew there would be fish present and, as I joked about a 'fence fish', my rod arced to the pull of a trout of about a pound and a half (which I lost at the boat). Within a few minutes, it was Aled's turn to land a fish of a pound on a large, very flashy claret dabbler.

Then another hour of nothing. In desperation I attached a tungsten cone head black wooly bugger-type streamer. This worked well and I landed a fish of over a pound, losing another before it was time to leave.

With the gear packed away, we started the journey down to civilisation, jobs and families. I was grumbling about a spare bladder for my tube and not taking the boat out soon enough when the sun came out. As we turned the corner I became quiet, stopped and got out to admire the view. I no longer cared.

Higher ground