River Wye - Paradise Found, Opportunities Missed…
Jim Crosskey reflects upon his FishingMagic competition prize of a couple of days’ fishing on the Llanthomas Beat of the River Wye.
There’s nothing quite like a Monday morning at work is there?
Weekend has gone, back to the grindstone and by 10.30 in the morning the usual set of tasks, issues and solutions are all starting to build...and then everything changes, an email plops into my inbox from some bloke called Ian Welch…
I’m delighted to inform you that you are the winner of the FishingMagic / Llanthomas prize and that you and a friend will be enjoying a couple of days’ fishing on the River Wye – I shall expect a write up for the site in due course”
I’d entered the competition a few weeks beforehand, certainly never expecting to win. But here it was, two days (midweek) for two anglers on a really rather exclusive stretch of the River Wye, inhabited by (amongst other things) some rather beautiful looking chub and barbel.
I was then put in touch with Will Barnard to arrange the most appropriate time and it turned out that there was actually an opportunity to go on a Friday/Saturday in August. So being the impatient so-and-so that I am, I grabbed it with both hands and started making plans.
A companion and a caravan…
So that then meant I had a month to wait…a month which went very slowly! Having said that, I do always enjoy the lead up to a trip like this. First off, I had to work out which of my fishing mates would be accompanying me – the honour finally coming to rest with my old mate, Tony ‘Norman Party Hat’ Jones.
Tony’s 50-something, making him ten years my senior – and is someone who’s taught me a great deal about angling over the last 20 years or so. We always enjoy a good a laugh whilst fishing but at the same time, he’s an accomplished angler with a good deal of enthusiasm, certainly not afraid of an early morning of two in search of his favourite species, barbel. The fact that he’s got a Landrover is just the icing on the cake!
Then the next part of the preparation process came in to play – as I tried to absorb as much information about the fishery as I possibly could, both from the fishery’s own website and also from other blogs and fishing reports where it’s mentioned. I’d also be spending a fair bit of time scrutinising Google Earth in my attempts to learn about the going swims and the access. Added into the mix were several emails to Will to ask about various details, I wanted to try and learn as much as I could before we set off.
The last part of the puzzle was to find somewhere to stay. We toyed with the idea of B&B, but I was a little bit concerned that this might not give us the best flexibility in terms of being able to come and go as we pleased. In the end, we plumped for a static caravan at www.blackmountainview.co.uk This turned out to be a pretty good idea as, unlike most self-catering units, it’s actually booked by the night (not by the week) despite being the middle of the school holidays. It’s only about three miles up the road from the fishery too, which meant a very short drive to and from.
A drive with Ozzy…
So finally the day arrived for us to set off for Wales. We were driving up from Oxfordshire on the Thursday night, fishing Friday and Saturday and driving home Saturday afternoon. The drive was a real treat for several reasons: Firstly because it gave me and my old mate a good chance to catch up, secondly because the drive through Gloucestershire and Herefordshire is really rather picturesque, but mostly (and yes, I know it’s a fishing website) because we listened to the new Black Sabbath album twice over! How it’s possible for a bunch of old fellas like them to keep producing the goods in their dotage is beyond me. Suffice to say, if you like that sort of thing, then you’ll really like it!!
Some two and half hours later, we were arriving at the caravan where we got settled in for the night and over a decent bottle of red wine we put the world to rights some more. Though with an early start coming, we both hit the sack quite early, dreaming of big fins and whiskers…
Friday morning came around and with great anticipation we headed down to the fishery. We’d decided that we’d make as early a start as possible, then fish through until the canoes started coming through and we were, we thought, well prepared for this. Then the plan was to head back to the caravan for a fry up and return to the fishery shortly after lunchtime to start getting the swims baited for the evening feeding frenzy.
The access on to the fishery was straightforward enough - particularly with the Landrover - and we had a good walk around the fishery and checked out several swims. I just have to say a few words here about the fishery itself as it is absolutely breath-taking in so many ways.
The view across the Black Mountains that run along the far side is stunning; the Wye is well known for being picturesque so for the angler who enjoys the beauty of nature and a little bit of isolation then Llanthomas really does tick all the boxes. I really loved the fact that some of the swims needed to be ‘found’ and to know that the whole stretch is yours to fish for your chosen dates is something really special. The wildlife we saw was amazing – in addition to the usual herons, kingfishers and hawks, we were treated to the sight of an egret on the water, something I’ve certainly not witnessed anywhere else in the UK.
Eventually, Tony chose the ‘Pulpit Swim’ and I installed myself in ‘The Larder’. These areas seemed to have the most going for them and Will had mentioned both of them in our emails so after a little while groundbait was mixed, rods were assembled and casts were made...
I decided to fish two rods (more about this later!), one ‘distance’ rod about half way across and straight in front; the other closer in and a little downstream and after a few casts to get some bait down, I got a very sharp tap on the distance rod. When this didn’t come to anything I set about recasting both rods. Given the slightly enclosed nature of the swim, this was quite an undertaking, so I was exceptionally annoyed when the next bite on the distance rod came whilst I was in the middle of casting the other rod! However, it was again a very sharp jag forwards and despite the Baitrunner being engaged, there was no screaming reel to follow.
The next bite saw me sitting properly behind the rods, but despite striking on the pull forwards, I still didn’t connect! Then Tony texted me to say that he’d switched to meat and caught a chub straightaway, so I changed too and after another comedy of errors with my attempts at keeping two rods in the water I finally connected with a bite that turned out to be a 2lb something chub. I got the rods back out and texted Tony about my success, only to learn that by then he’d had four...
It was now getting on for 10 o’clock and the bites had been pretty steady since we had arrived, however that soon changed and, as if a switch had been flicked, the swim went dead. As a result for the first time that morning I had a chance to think a bit more about what I was doing and it suddenly struck me that by using two rods I’d missed out on a lot of opportunities to catch simply because at the vital moment I’d been fiddling about with the other rod.
Tony, on the other hand, fishing one rod, and had caught four chub to my one - food for thought there. A quick call to Tony and it turned out that his bites had also totally dried up at exactly the same time as mine. Hmmmm… what to do next? We sat for another 45 minutes or so to see if anything else was going to happen (it didn’t) and then the first canoes started to make an appearance. So it was back to the caravan for a fry-up and a de-brief on the morning’s events.
We had both expected to see the bites dry up at some point, although we thought that would happen when the canoes arrived, whereas it had, in fact, happened some time in advance and whilst the chub had fed with suicidal tendencies the barbel were notable by their absence.
Still, we figured that the spots we were fishing were probably OK in terms of location, given the fact that we were getting bites from chub and not losing any end tackle, making us both feel that the presentation we were getting must be ok. In the rivers in which they’re present, chub and barbel seem to congregate in roughly similar areas so we decided it was simply a case of waiting it out for the evening feeding spell.
However, we also need something to do in the meantime. I think our choices of how to put this time to use reflect our differing styles and approaches. Tony decided that the most appropriate use of this time would be to have a nap and promptly curled up on his unhooking mat! I decided to do something a little more active and set up a trotting outfit. I have to say, this turned out to be a really great move as a succession of small chub, minnows and splashy small trout buried the float on various runs that I tried. I’d forgotten just how mesmerising a moving float is on a river, and the time literally flew.
I did have to dodge the canoes a little, they were coming down the river constantly. However, I reasoned that the fish would be used to this, and given the nature of trotting a float then it doesn’t matter if you have to retrieve a little early or maybe delay your cast a little to let a canoe go through. Whilst the canoeists ranged in ability from good to laugh-out-loud useless, they were all respectful of the fact I was fishing and did their best to keep out of my way, even the obligatory drunk stag party. The one thing you would have had trouble with is keeping a legered bait out for any time, so during this part of the day we didn’t even bother trying. The last canoes came through about 4.30, and once we were sure that was that, we both got to work with getting some feed into our swims for the afternoon feeding session.
Except it never happened.
Once the canoes were well and truly finished, we were both expecting bites to start coming ‘any minute’, especially having seen how prolifically the chub were biting in the morning but despite trying all of the baits available to us we couldn’t get a touch, not a twitch, not even a pluck. At about 8pm, we both conceded that we were knackered and hungry, so we beat a retreat to the caravan - somewhat crestfallen - to make plans for the new day ahead.
Early Saturday morning saw us back in the same swims, I quickly got some bait out (with two rods) but after making six or seven casts I decided then to just fish the one rod. First cast and the tip bucked, I was on it quickly and a lovely 3lb chub was netted. ‘That’s more like it’, I thought to myself… Tony texted to say he’d had two chub in two casts in his swim, I missed a couple of lightning quick raps on the rod and then, yet again, it went very, very quiet. This seemed really strange as the feeding spell the day before had been significantly longer. We stuck at it for another couple of hours but it was apparent that there wasn’t a whole lot going on.
I got the float rod out again and landed a few more delightful little trout and chub, but then the canoes arrived and we both decided it was probably time to call it a day. We’d known when we first planned the trip that we’d be heading home around 5pm on the Saturday and, based on the previous day’s action, we decided to bring this forward as neither of us fancied fishing through the canoes and I’d run out of bait for trotting.
So, time to set out for home and blast that Sabbath album again – it was even better third time round!
So what did we learn?
Conclusions? The first one has to be that I need to learn when it’s appropriate to use two rods and when it isn’t. The simple equation is that two rods gives you the chance to catch twice as many fish – whereas this just isn’t the case as my complete buffoonery during that first morning showed. Had I fished the one rod, I’m convinced that I’d have had a few more chub to show for my efforts.
Secondly, fishing a new fishery like this with a mate in tow is a really good idea. If Tony hadn’t been there, experiencing the same ‘flick of the switch’ feeding spells that I was getting, then I would have driven myself mental worrying about whether I was fishing the right swim or method, whereas as it was I had a sanity check in the fact that despite fishing swims with different characteristics and with slightly different methods, we both experienced very similar results. There’s nothing worse than leaving an unsuccessful session with a bad case of the ‘what-ifs’ and ‘if-onlys’, this certainly couldn’t be applied here.
Lastly, I must remember to float fish rivers more frequently. It’s something I did a great deal as a kid (it’s all I did for the first four or five years that I fished) and it really connected me again with that sense of excitement and ‘any second now’ that got me in to fishing in the first place. It also utilised a part of the day when nothing else was going on – and I’d rather do this than snooze on my unhooking mat - although Tony will tell you differently…
My thanks to fishery owner Geoff Maynard and to Ian and FishingMagic for making the competition possible; my heartfelt thanks also to Will Barnard for responding swiftly and positively to my endless emails and, most of all, my thanks to my old mate Tony for keeping me sane, doing his share of the washing up and putting his Landrover through terrain that my Nissan Almera would have struggled with!
And the future? I will be ‘Wye free’ until October, when I’ll be heading down for another weekend on some of the Wye and Usk Foundation stretches. They have a rule on those beats that you can only use one rod and just for once I’m thinking it’s a good thing…