A Day on the Wye
Ian Nesbitt reflects on a memorable day's fishing on a very special river.
Looking over the bridge near Hay on Wye the sight that greeted me did not bode at all well. My eye caught sight of a large branch bobbing in the fast current and it was coming towards the bridge at pace. It soon disappeared under the arches and I wondered how on earth I was going to present a bait in such a powerful flow.
I thought back to the previous year when I turned up on the banks of the Wye downstream of Hay to find a similar river and found myself hopelessly under-gunned as my heaviest feeder, a two ounce job, was swept up to the surface to dance on the ripples - if I could have tied on a brick it might have actually sunk! The Wye doesn’t take any prisoners when it is carrying floodwater and is certainly not for the faint-hearted. On that particular day I was able to find some calmer water in which to fish; the saving grace being that the river was still within its banks.
I looked to the sides and though the shingle beaches had disappeared the river wasn’t dangerously high. The area that I planned to visit had a large pool that would provide some slacker spots and there was also an old dead-end channel that should be fishable if nowhere else was and it was this channel that I visited first.
A spot was chosen near the mouth of the channel with the main river hurtling by just a few feet away. Usually this channel would be as still as a lake but today a steady current was flowing and I figured that this peaceful haven should be chock full of chub and other species seeking respite from the main river. A willow trailed its branches over the water just to my right and under these went a sprinkling of hemp and luncheon meat.
Then the pike rod was assembled and, via a straightforward sliding paternoster rig, a small dead roach was attached to a single treble hook and dropped into the margins. No float or fancy setup was used as simple is definitely best. This is a ‘one size fits all’ rig, no matter whether the swim is shallow or deep, fast or slow you can simply drop it in and know that it will work. The only components you may have to change are the bomb to match the current speed you are fishing or the length of the bomb link to alter the height the bait is fished above the bottom. When fishing this method it is imperative that you watch the rod at all times.
The Baitrunner was engaged and I began to take the feeder rod out of the bag when the pike rod started to nod aggressively and I struck into a feisty fish that tore around the swim punching well above its weight. Thankfully I had already set up the landing net and a beautifully marked ten or so pound pike was brought out into the autumn sunshine.
Another half hour was spent hoping for another run but the thought of those big fat chub munching on my free offerings was too much and I wound in the pike rod and gently cast a lump of meat underneath the branches. The rod was put on the rest and eyes glued to the quivertip which I expected to pull round at any minute. However, twenty minutes later the tip hadn’t moved a jot. Checking the bait showed that everything was OK so another cast was made but my confidence was beginning to ebb away. Wye chub are not usually slow in giving themselves away if you are in the right area, so there was no point in flogging a dead horse and after another twenty fidgety minutes it was time for a move.
One muddy field and an even muddier pair of heavy boots later I neared the pool I had in mind but when I got there I wasn’t sure whether all the huff and puff would be worth it as the normally tranquil pool was twisted into a series of boils and erratic currents.
So it was with some trepidation that I beat a path to the water’s edge. The beach where I would normally fish from was hidden beneath the water and the pool was greatly enlarged but the main push of the current raced down the opposite bank and the edge of the pool still had a nice strip of steady water separating it from the main push. Having to fashion a makeshift place to fish and being surrounded by box willows didn’t make for an easy cast but it was certainly fishable.
My first job was to get some free food into the swim and I used a homemade extra large swimfeeder crafted from a small plastic bottle to lob out four large portions of hemp and pellets. Time was ticking on and it was already mid-afternoon so the usual bait and wait tactic was shelved and I cast out a 44g open-ended feeder stuffed with pellets. Bait was a cube of spam, flavoured with paprika and hair-rigged to a size six hook.
The second cast had settled for just a few minutes when the quivertip tapped a couple of times then pulled round just a little bit more. The strike met with a solid thump and a few feet of line was taken but luckily the fish didn’t attempt to get into the main flow. It felt good, very good and as I’d only caught chub from this swim in the past I began to get very excited. Was this a huge Wye chub? After a few anxious moments the fish briefly showed itself and I don’t think I have ever been so disappointed to see that it was, in fact, a barbel. It was a beautiful fish in mint condition and I’m sure it had never seen the bank before and my disappointment didn’t last long as on the scales it went a very gratifying 9lb.
No more barbel were forthcoming as, at last, the chub invaded the swim giving me some brilliant rod smacking bites that were rather more reminiscent of their whiskery cousins and four bronze fatties to 4lb came to the net all falling to the meat and pellet feeder combination and all neatly hooked in the lip.
I didn’t miss a bite but no sooner had the chub arrived than they were gone again. Twenty minutes without a sniff and the bait dropping feeder was back on and swinging its way into the river. Four more payloads should have been enough to entice them back for more but fishing wouldn’t be fishing if it was predictable and I sat watching a stubbornly inert tip for another half an hour. Noticing that the sun was beginning to go down and realising that dusk would be short I had a big decision to make: either persevere and hope for a return of the chub or barbel or spend the last hour after a pike.
The Wye is famous for its large pike and I had never been fortunate enough to catch one so, with this in mind, a small roach deadbait was attached to the trace and swung out to the same spot as I had just been fishing. I tightened up the line to the rod and engaged the Baitrunner at its lightest setting. I was just putting the butt section of my leger rod back into its bag when I heard a brief clicking and I noticed the line twitch where it entered the water. The bait had only been out a couple of minutes but there was no doubt that something had taken the deadbait.
Quick as a flash I was onto the rod and I opened the bale arm on the reel watching as the line started to slowly pay out and I could see that the fish was going in an upstream direction. I didn’t bother to wait too long as it was obvious that the pike was intent on her meal, so the slack line was slowly wound in until I could feel the fish and I gave a short sideways sweep of the rod to set the hook.
It felt a heavy fish, perhaps a mid-double, and on feeling the hook it went on a short run stripping 15lb line from the reel despite a fairly stiff clutch setting. Then it changed course and headed towards the bank and the rod bent alarmingly as I tried to apply sidestrain and persuade her back into the comparatively safer waters of the pool. The tactic worked but the fish wasn’t done yet and immediately made another run, this time downstream. This run was short and soon the pike was circling around in front of me, the odd thump shuddering down the line.
The fight was never spectacular but throughout I was aware of a heavy weight that indicated a good fish. When the pike surfaced in front of the waiting net it seemed rather short but as I lifted the net under her and she folded into the mesh I realised that she was certainly a well fed old girl! It was pleasing to see that the treble was lodged neatly in the ‘scissors’ making unhooking a piece of cake.
I weighed her in the net and after subtracting the weight of the net she fell just short of the magical twenty mark at 19lb 9oz. Not that I was complaining. She really was a magnificent beast and capped off another memorable day on the River Wye. I can’t claim that every day spent fishing this river is as good but given that you are guaranteed a day spent in stunning countryside, beside a characterful river that is full of all manner of fish then the odds are pretty good that an enjoyable day is on the cards; it might even be a red letter one.