It has been a fantastic summer in the UK and I have managed to fish several of the wonderful chalkstreams - the Kennet, Avon and the lesser known Wandle. Last month I spent a fantastic few days up in Wales fishing the River Irfon, a tributary of the Wye, and wanted to share the experience. Perhaps it would be of interest to your many readers.
On recommendation from my fellow anglers of the Wandle Piscators, I had been planning my Welsh adventure since the early spring. Like England, Wales has an abundance of fantastic water offering salmon, sea trout, trout, grayling and coarse fishing. The responsibility of managing these waters lies with the Wye & Usk Foundation (www.wyeuskfoundation.org). A fantastic organisation, very similar to our Cape Piscatorial Society (which I can proudly say I am now a member of), which does amazing work to ensure the pristine existence of these rivers and streams.
Roll on the fishing. Before I knew it September had arrived and we were into the last few weeks of the trout season with my Welsh adventure only a few days away. As usual any spare hours were spent tying flies, building leaders, cleaning rods, reels, lines and reading all the catch reports from previous months. Often neglected by many a fishermen, September in the UK offers spectacular late season trout fishing with Grayling coming into their own as winter approaches. I had also developed an obsessive habit of checking the weather every morning even though experience has taught me to take any weather forecast for the UK with a pinch of salt, certainly any that extends beyond 48hours. Low and behold, the coming days looked near perfect with mild temperatures, a slight breeze and can you believe it, NO RAIN!
My trip would consist of 4 days on several beats on the River Irfon (near Builth Wells) with each day proving to be a unique fishing experience among some of the most beautiful and peaceful scenery I have had the privileged to fish.
Click in images to enlarge
The Gofynne beat
My first day was on the Gofynne beat, a beautiful stretch of river with a variety of runs, riffles, deep pools and dry fly flats, reported to hold a good head of wild brown trout and grayling. My excitement was at fever pitch! The conditions were excellent, cloudy skies, a gentle breeze to ripple the water's surface and the river gin clear.
After tackling up and the customary cup of coffee, I settled into the morning's fishing. Wading on the Irfon is a skilled affair as it transitions from bedrock to boulders to gravel, so studded/felt soles are a must and your wading stick quickly becomes your best friend. The morning produced a lovely grayling of 10" and my first Irfon wild brownie of 9", both falling to a size 16 Olive Emerger.
As I came to learn, the insect life would be sporadic with small to medium Olives and the odd Caddis accounting for the majority of the hatching activity throughout the day. Unfortunately, those would be the only fish of the whole day, however, it was a most peaceful and rewarding start to my fishing trip. The character and remoteness of the river scenery quickly forces the grind of the office into distant memory. The only misfortune I came to realize as I lost myself between subtle rises and the whispers of the river were misplacing my favourite pair of polarized sunglasses - more to come on this story!
The Lower Cammarch beat
As I approached the Lower Cammarch beat on the second morning, Mother Nature was waiting with her open arms. It became all too apparent that every valley in Wales has its own micro climate and as I walked through the fields to the river's edge I wondered how my 3-weight outfit was going to protect me from the howling winds, ever-darkening clouds and a river unknown. Despite the conditions, the river looked all to inviting, with reports of ‘deep gutters and spectacular dry fly flats’ it was surely a fitting home for many a wild brownie or grayling.
The upper Cammarch Flats
After a morning battling the elements, ice skating across bedrock and not a single rise I decided to push upstream to try my luck on the flats. As every bit as spectacular as described, I have no doubt this section of river would have provided the most splendid fishing under the right conditions. The final sign from the River Gods that this was their day, was the timely arrival of the biggest Otter I have ever seen and from the look I received it was clear who was trespassing on whose river. It was time for lunch.
The otter’s run
As relaxation set in I drifted off into a comfortable day dream only to be awoken a few hours later by unnecessary cloud burst. This was the final act of the day's fishing, however, when it rains in Wales there is always a friendly pub to welcome a weather warn angler with a pint of the local ale.
The Upper Cammarch beat
My first action of the next morning was to check the weather - it looked good as I peered outside the window, the three websites I checked endorsed my initial assessment - today was going to be a good day. I had booked the Upper Cammarch beat.
This proved to be an amazing stretch of river, with its features promising many a fish to a well presented fly. Within my first few casts I had taken a lovely grayling of 9", truly beautiful fish that emit what could be described as a scent of lavender as you gently unhook and return them to the water. As the morning progressed a few Olives began to hatch, encouraging the odd rise as I made my way up river. Approaching a stretch of ankle deep water I picked up on the subtlest of rises some twenty feet ahead. I gently pitched my dry/dropper a few feet ahead of the spot I had memorized and watching with the utmost concentration the size 18 Klinkhåmer silently disappeared under the surface. My strike was instant and the water exploded with all sorts of commotion. After what seemed like a few hours, I netted a beautiful 14" wild brownie having taken my size 18 PTN. The feeling of targeting, landing and releasing such an amazing creature on a fly you have tied is quite special. It took a while for my hands to stop shaking.
A beautiful wild brownie
If I had thought I had reached my fishing nirvana for the day there was more to come. So after lunch and river chilled beer to dilute my adrenalin I headed onto the upper section of the beat. The relative lack of seasonal rain over the last two months had shaped the river into a deep dark channel running tight against the bank protected by over-hanging Ash and Willows - a perfect hideout for a wise old brownie. I decided to go with a size 16 ice dub nymph with an orange hotspot, drifting it through the deep pockets as I worked my way up the run. I must have hooked a sunken branch, so as I quietly stepped forward to retrieve my fly, my 3-weight was almost wretched from my hands as a huge dark shadow bolted upstream.
A magnificent 19 inch grayling
The next few frantic minutes were a blur as I silently prayed to the river Gods not to let this be the one that got away. Thankfully the 5X tippet held and I managed to coax a magnificent 19 inch grayling to the bank. The largest I had ever seen it must have been close to 2lbs! After a quick photo I released this behemoth back to its watery layer. It was a few minutes before I started fishing again. The day was already beyond imagination, yet as I made my way downstream to the exit point near the bridge pool, I was greeted with a multitude of excited rises. Over the next hour I enjoyed taking several little salmon parr between four to six inches on the dry fly. Just perfect!
Back on the Gofynne beat
My last day found me back on the Gofynne beat I had fished earlier in the week. The weather had delivered its best performance so far with a touch of a breeze, clear blue skies and warming sunshine. Taking in all that I had learned from the previous days I began fishing the lower section of the beat with my trusty 3-weight and a size 18 grey duster off the 6X tippet. Well, for the next three hours I watched, and watched and watched as every fish in the river ignored my fly and gorged themselves on tiny little aphids no more than 3-4 mm. I managed to catch a few of these tiny insects and observe their green bodies and translucent little wings. It was clear I had nothing in my boxes to match them. A first class lesson in matching the hatch with size, silhouette and colour dictating the order of the day - lesson learnt. I eventually tempted a lovely grayling of 8" on a size 20 F-Fly.
Despite a rather fruitless morning I was as excited as my 4-year old nephew on Christmas morning as I sat down on the bank for lunch. Up to that morning I had reasoned with myself that my favourite pair of sunglasses had seen a few seasons and it was time for a new pair. But the river had another story for me and not quite believing my luck, I stumbled upon my sunglasses floating amongst some fallen branches and covered in river weed at the top of the stretch I was fishing.
After lunch, a re-think of my tactics and sporting my lucky fish spotters I headed upstream. At the first holding pool, picking up the flow of the river I drifted my Olive emerger between the fallen Ash leaves. In a flash the water exploded courtesy of another fine grayling. Unfortunately, those little aphids were still taking top spot on the fish's menus so immediately went back to fishing a natural size 20 F-Fly - a simple creation of CDC, fine dubbing and thread. As the afternoon unfolded and time remained ever still I was fortunate to land another five lovely grayling between 10 to 13 inches. A fitting end to an excellent few days of fishing.
Wales exceeded all my expectations, you quickly lose yourself in the remoteness of the scenery and the River Irfon was a pleasure to fish with a lesson to be learned in every run, riffle and pool. The fish were beautifully wild and as always the master teachers of any time on the water. I cannot wait to return next year and fish the Usk, which is regarded as the premier brown trout river in Wales. I will be sure to share my tales of my next adventure.
The author on the Gofynne beat of the Irfon River Wales
I have attached a few pictures and apologies for the lack of professional skill, but hopefully I can improve these in the future. I am headed back to South Africa in December to visit my family and aim to stop by the CPS's offices to view the latest materials and learn a few more South African patterns to tie.