I find this regular re-sculpting of the river both fascinating and quite exciting, there being the necessity to completely re-new my understanding of the river. Last year, I could make a modest underarm swing into 10ft of water at the Pulpit Swim, and a more enthusiastic chuck would place my bomb on gravel 22ft down. I could trot here too, or simply drop a dead-bait under the rod-tip and catch a pike maybe. Today, the Pulpit is near un-fishable because a very substantial island has been thrown across the entire width of the swim. And where once my Arlesey plunged into Llanthomas’s very own Mariana Trench I can now stand ankle-deep and run a float down the middle of the river! I must then completely re-assess the stretch if Opening Day is to be a success.
The Watling Pool has doubled in width in just three years.
The bank leading to the end of Geoff’s beat was once a firmly established home for some very substantial trees and big, thick, bushy overhangs. These made fishing quite impossible but there were a couple places from where a pellet or a lump of lunny could be rolled into the shady sanctuaries beneath. Not any more. The entire margin was undermined by the winter floods, felling the trees and rendering the whole stretch redundant.
However! The newly-created water-jungle can be fished from the newly-created gravel-spit on the other bank and it provides the perfect refuge for both spawning fish and those seeking to avoid the attention of cormorants and their like. Ain’t Nature wonderful? We no longer see Phalacrocorax Carbo, presumably thanks to the fallen bushes but also to the flood-loss of their favoured, white-spattered look-out tree.
But it’s the awesome power of water that fascinates me. Eager to thwart the Wye’s inclination for cutting corners and forming ox-bows, the farmer of the other bank systematically bolstered his bank over a number of years with hundreds of tons of steel-reinforced, waste-concrete hardcore: lumps big enough to crush a Fiat Panda. Knitting these mammoth chunks together were tons of old bricks, concrete posts and other formidable heavies, a combination you’d probably consider immovable – but not a bit of it! The return to normal water levels after the winter of 2014-15 exposed a tall, sheer, naked bank just begging to be colonized by sand martins. There is now no trace of concrete – just earth and a very attractive, shallow glide. Martin James fished there last summer, sitting in his chair, mid-river – and caught a good bag of chub.
Picture showing the newly-formed island across the Pulpit Swim (far bank)
Farmer Goodwin’s land will go eventually, I’m sure, and Geoff will be left with a shorter stretch of river and a boomerang-lake he can fill with F1s. I jest, of course… But this prospect is not at all outlandish – if you’ll excuse the pun, for just a couple of miles upstream Farmer Eckerly lost a huge tract of grazing land when the river decided against the scenic route and caught up with itself just across the meadow. In a flash, a mile or more of prime salmon-beat was lost forever. The resultant ox-bow course is now dry for most of the year and the old salmon hut which saw so many joyful weekends now stands ivied and forgotten.
Before the breach…
…after the breach
Geoff tells me the fallen trees at the end of his stretch are currently home to countless 4-5 inch chub! This is excellent news and proof-positive of their value as a sanctuary and – more importantly, perhaps – a probable holding area for my favourite, Esox Lucius. Initially at least, these displaced boughs and the holes they left must have been a veritable larder for the fry of early Spring – just the job for a high reach of rocky river with little in the way of weed; indeed, I sometimes wonder what the hell the fish eat for there is little evidence of anything obviously edible – other than minnows! These, we now think, form a greater part of the chub’s, the barbel’s, the trout’s and the pike’s diet than we’d previously imagined, and it is our intention to try these on the hook come the summer; who knows…maybe I’ll come up with one of the very rare perch to be found in the upper river?
Big perch, big salmon and dirty-great cows
Standing thigh-deep in the push of the river last Spring I became aware of two dark oval shapes some eighteen inches down and moving slowly toward me. I hadn’t noticed them before and, being identical, I perceived them as a ‘pair’ and surely, I thought, only creatures pair-up, don’t they? They had to be fish. But through the riffle it was difficult to determine what they might be so I stood stock-still and allowed them to get closer, then to skirt around my waders. In so doing, their flanks came into focus complete with the unmistakable black bars of two really hefty perch! These were 4lbs + and like nothing I’d seen before in the Wye – oh, that there were more! In similar circumstances around the same time I had the fleetingly un-nerving experience of sheltering a large salmon! Presumably it saw me as a tree or, at least, somewhere to hang out for a while, as it slowly moved in and came to rest with its flank against my waders. I hissed at Maynard, thirty yards upstream with a fly rod, and very tentatively jabbed my index down at my knees – “Salmon!” Understandably, Geoff’s eyes scanned the flow before me. “No!” I whispered Homer Simpson-style and kept up with the finger-work, “Just down here!” Geoff quietly waded down to me and saw the fish of perhaps 15lbs snuck up against my legs. We smiled. We were kids from ‘arold ‘ill again.
“See if you can tail it” he urged. So I did, but it shot off in a flurry of Wye never to be seen again – or so we thought. Shortly after Geoff had regained his position, the salmon was back, cwtching (as we say in Wales) with my waders! I fancy he or she was knackered for some reason and looking for a bit of precious cover. It stayed with me for a few minutes before I attempted another tailing job but, again, I was unsuccessful and it powered-off strongly to mid-river. Now that was something you don’t see every day!
Later that Spring a ‘Flying C’ I’d hurled across the Watling Pool ‘lined’ a sand martin and pulled the poor little sod down into the drink and, tightening-up – like you do – only served to submerge the little fella! I watched for some seconds, downhearted and feeling very guilty, when up he popped and shook himself off. Two seconds and he was away again. You don’t see that very often either!
Another rare sight is your car, plastered with shite, trim hanging off, wiper-blades bent at right angles, headlight smashed and electric wing-mirrors dangling forlornly, seemingly hanged by a mob long gone. This was the horrific scene friend and FM contributor, Mike Loveridge, found on returning to his formerly pristine, sparkling, metallic cherry-red Land Rover, confidently parked on fresh green grass in the corner of a field close to the river. Nobody had mentioned the cattle. While Mick and I had fished all day in blissful ignorance, sharing a joke and delighting in our good fortune, a gang of Hereford Hooligans had exploited our long absence, casually ‘keying’ the flanks of the vehicle and prising-off anything and everything their horns could get a purchase on. The ‘fresh green grass’ was now a quagmire of sloshy mud and mustard yellow cow-pats so they’d been calmly demolishing Mike’s pride and joy all day long. NEVER have I witnessed such pent-up thunder within a man. Thor would have backed-off.
Apparently, the insurance side of things wasn’t exactly straightforward with Mike having to field doubtful but good humoured calls from the claims department, “does it steer ok?” “Does the horn still work?”…they made the process as painless as possible and within a couple of weeks the Land Rover was back on the rodeo.
So! Those horrendous winter torrents are not all bad. They leave us with a fresh, reformed river to fish every year, creating new possibilities and interesting features to explore come June 16th. Unlike still waters there will be ‘new’ fish in the stretch and new swims from which to fish for them. But I still want to know how the moles survive…