A week of fishing in Wales and southern England: reservoir, lake, stream - chalkstream! GFF partner Martin Joergensen has been visiting Welsh Paul Slaney for a week of fun and fishing and meeting other Welsh friends.
It's amazing how short and easy flying from Copenhagen to London is. We were scheduled to be in the air 1.5 hours, but actually made it 15 minutes ahead of time.
My Welsh friend Paul Slaney was riding around the airport in his car, while I was scouting for him inside. A few calls on the cell phone and I knew that I had to move to the ground floor. We finally agreed on a spot and even though half the London police force were guarding every inch of (illegal, but convenient) parking space we managed a rendevouz and I was finally able to fight my way through the rain and shake hands with Paul.
We were quickly babbling happily in the car. We've been together quite a few times before, and there was enough to talk about. As we moved toward Wales Paul decided to take a detour and cross a chalkstream that he knew. The rain was a bit on and off now, and as we walked along the stream we spotted several large brown trout an grayling.
The water was - as it is in chalk streams - as clear as gin. This stream was shallow and wide and rich. Really rich. Tempting, but forbidden, fruit. As most of the good chalk streams the water is not available to the public, but held by private clubs, and well kept and protected.
After having unloaded our stuff in Paul's house and said Hi to Paul's better half Bev, we decided to go scouting along the Usk, which runs quite close to where Paul lives. The weather was quite nice and sunny now, and perfect for sightseeing and getting an impression of the river, which we were planning on fishing later that week.
And we saw it all: perfect conditions, a few brownies spooked off, a large shoal of sea trout in a deep pool, the dipper and the whole beautiful scenery. We had rods in car but no reels, flies or anything else. We were to regret that deeply the next day.
Paul served coffee on my bedside table and announced "I'll tell you the bad part when you're awake...". He didn't have to. One look out the window, and I could see it myself. The starry clear sky the we had seen in front of the Indian restaurant where we had our curries the night before had turned into a windy, cloudy, rainy morning.
We took our time, and while we were eating breakfast it started clearing up. We packed the car and left the house for a day of bank fishing on a reservoir.
After a beautiful car ride Paul bought licenses for the small lake and we rode up an exhaust-killing road to the top of the dam. The wind was harsh and cold but the weather was fairly nice.
I started off with a streamer and Paul fished a team of a nymph and a buzzer. Soon he was into a beautiful brown and as soon as it was released I was equipped with the same rig.
Paul got a rainbow within five minutes and I hooked a rainbow, which took a leap or two and spit the hook.
Soon after I was into a better fish. It jumped too, but stuck on there.
The fishing was dead drifting in the wind following the foam lanes and fishing the flies close onto the bank.
The weather got worse, and after one more effort after a lunch consisting of cup noodles and coffee we decided to call it a day.
We packed up and headed for mutual friend Charles Picton's place.
We fished Charles' secret stocked lake, saw a couple of the big rainbows that roam there but the weather was terrible and real fishihng almost impossible and at no real joy.
All the spate rivers were brown and up a foot or two and the Irfon, which we had planned on fishing in Charles' neighborhood was absolutely blown out. Just as the Usk had been when we checked it out in the morning.
We spent time in Charles' and Liz' house with tea and talk and their dogs and cats with strange names such Bogroll, Mush and Squish.
For dinner we went to the local pub and had beef and kidney pudding. Chips on the side of course and good beer too. The desert was Crusted Rhubarb for most of us and double up of Spotted Dick to Paul - who finished the huge serving with a silly smile on his face.
Need I mention it? It rained dogs and cats from the morning.
Charles cooked an impressing and delicious English breakfast, the whole treat: bacon, sausages, eggs, fried tomatoes and toast. I reclined the offer of baked beans, which is traditionally a part of this robust meal.
We talked and hung out in Charles' den looking at his flies and his gear. We also fooled around with Charles' site Taling-Bonefish and made some minor changes.
I wanted a C&R net in the US style, and after having called around to different shops, of which none could help us, Charles gave me his own trout net!
"Never use the bloody thing anyway!" as he put it. I could just tie a knot on the net bag to get a shallow net.
The local river Irfon was a foot or two higher than usual and brown as chocolate milk and "bloody unfishable" as I guess Charles would have expressed it.
We drove over the moor and saw several nice small streams and lakes. Paul shopped a sleeping bag, a bivvy and a therma-rest in a small army surplus shop. All meant for his Lapland trip this summer. Plus a pair of camouflage army trousers as he had worn them during his time in service.
We hit the butcher and green grocer and shopped for an English roast dinner. That turned out to be absolutely delicious!
Afterwards we tied Diawl Bachs for the GFF article and I was taught how to rig for British stillwater fishing in preparation for the lake fishing later that week.
Paul brought me coffee on the bed as he had done most of the other mornings, and after a quick shower we were on the way to the Test.
The trip was smooth and easy and even brought us by a baker. Danish (they said) and a jam donut. A good start for the day!
We located the access to our beat and the ajoining parking lot. Everything was very neatly kept and the grass was mowed for easy access with the car. We pulled on our waders, packed our stuff and walked the short distance to our fishing hut. The hut - aptly named Buckingham Palace - was a true mansion with cups and glasses, a stove, fresh water and the works - all within 20 yards of the stream. And nice table and banches in front with a full view to the stream just a few yards away.
We saw a bunch of fish, but they were easily spooked. It took some time for me to get used to seeing fish before thay saw me. There were few second chances. Deeper dwelling fish were not quite as easy to spook by casting, but could see you so much the better in the clear water.
The stretch was upstream fishing only, and we had great fun taking turns with spotting and casting.
We had one small shower and apart from that sunny weather with the odd cloud passing over. A close to perfect day.
At days end we could register at least 6 trout for me and 8 for Paul. Average size was really good - probably about 2 lbs or 1 kilo - not counting the little tiddlers, grayling mostly. We both had fish in the 3 lbs range and I saw one which I judge to be 5 lbs. or 2.5-3 kilos. The fish spooked and swam off at my first cast, which was of course almost perfect... These fish were not easy.
I managed to get one one more fish before we decided to head home - a one pounder to draw down the average. Time to put the cane rod down and rig off.
We would sleep well that night.
We were heading up north to fish a lake called Tal-y-Llyn - wild brownies only according to an article that Paul had read. Not quite the truth it would show.
I slept in. We were supposed to leave at 6:30, but it was more like 7:30 before we actually got going.
We rode for a couple of hours, and had breakfast at Little Chef. Greasy above average and not exactly good. We passed through Machynlleth and dropped by Paul Morgan's bookshop Coch-Y-Bondu. He wasn't in, but we left a message.
Paul had mentioned the fly Harry Tom several times on the way, but also said that he only had two in his boxes. So we had to locate a flyshop and pick up some Harry Toms. In Machynlleth the only fishing tackle is available in the bike shop. They had no Harry Toms, but we bought a few other flies.
We could always get the Harry Toms in the hotel, Paul said, so we commenced up the valley and found the lake and the hotel called Tyn-y-Cornel.
The lake looked beautiful, and we met Tom in the reception. He recommended snail like patterns - and Harry Toms of course - and directed us to a boat. We declined checking in right away wanting to fish as soon as possible.
We rigged the rods and I learned something new again. A 20' leader with tags for two droppers. Tied on a Diawl Bach on the point, left the tags for the droppers and entered the boat. The motor took some convincing to start, but eventually we could ride the waves towards the place of wild browns.
We didn't have action right away - apart from my tangles with the incredibly long leader armed with three flies: The Little Devil, one of our two Harry Toms and a Black Zulu.
But some little fish managed to hook themselves onto our flies. Small ones, mind you, but fish anyway.
Paul had the day's largest fish within 15 minutes and I were catching smallies - about 15 centimetres or 7-8 inches at the most, and a sea trout smolt now and then. I had two doubles where I'd have fish on two flies at once. First set were small ones. The next set a larger one and a small one.
The wind blew stronger and we decided to take a break. We checked out the fly selection in the hotel tackle shop. The only empty compartment in the fly bos was... you guessed it: the Harry Tom's. We had one left now, and I was to guard it with my life.
We had a cream tea (another first for me) followed by a pint in the hotel while the wind blew over and Paul Morgan showed up just as we were heading back out again.
He fished the float tube while we drifted. I had my third double - this time two good fish. Paul had several really beautiful fish. As we drifted our way further away from the hotel, we slowly apporached the far end of the lake. That was when the engine decided not to start. Luckily I could send one Paul as a messenger, while the other Paul tried to hold the boat in place with the ores. Eventuellt we got picked up by the fisheries manager, and were towed back.
We had dinner with Paul Morgan - steak, and a good one too - and Tom joined us for a talk about flies and fishing until midnight. Tom fished for sea trout in the ocean and was very interested in my native fishing in the same species. We exchanged flies and lies and had a few for the road.
He also told us that they stock 500 fish in the lake every month. So much for wild browns...
But the lake sure was beautiful!
We had breakfast in the hotel. Paul the full English, I had the continental. They were much the same... Paul's was fried mine was not.
Afterwards we watched the huge trout that were swimming close to the bank - in the non-fishing area of course.
When we turned around Simon was there! Good to see him again. He had come to fish the lake with us, but would in stead join us down to Paul's shop and up into the mountains to fish a couple of high mountain lakes.
We hung around a bit before we left. People were feeding them bread, and they'd come willingly to the surface for that. Tom fed them pellets. There were some monsters in that shoal. And only within the limit that marked the non-fishing erea. Wise fish!
After a visit to Paul's wonderful shop - and a couple of bagfuls of books later - we picked up licenses and drove into the mountains.
Simon was the gatekeeper, and good at it.
Paul was using a pontoon boat and did well.
I tried allsorts, but a large streaking - almost popping - caddis did the trick. I had several fish in the half pound range miss the fly completely and go out of the water line rockets in the try. Almost half a dozen others stuck. Beautiful and genuinely wild fish. They weren't big, but it was fun.
We said goodbye to Paul after coffee - good coffee - and walnut cake.
We said goodbye to Simon after lunch - water with carrots in it (they called it soup) and a pork sandwich - and headed home.
We said hello to Bev who had made chilli for supper - and an extremely good chilli too.
In the evening we tied skinny flies and drank brandy. Really skinny flies. Actually some of them were so skinny that they were merely a hook with very little thread and herl on it.
Skinny flies sink faster says Paul. I have to believe him. He'd know. He has fished them for ages.
We slept in. The sun didn't shine, which would have been the only reason to get up early and try the Usk. As my flight was at 5 in the afternoon, we thought it best to leave at 1 from Paul's place.
Breakfast was bacon and eggs - my last chance to get it this time around. Before that was served I tied the remaining bunch of flies for my dozen of Skinny Darth Vader Nymphs that Paul had demanded me to tie. I'm a slow tier, so the dozen took me a while to finish.
After that we went shopping a bit in stead. Nothing big. Candy for the kids and marmelade for my darling wife.
We returned for a cuppa, talked flies a bit more, Paul tied a few and I filled a small box with the traditional Welsh flies to bring home... plus a huge pike fly to try on my home lakes.
The ride to London Heathrow was smooth and a lot quicker than expected. We said our short goodbyes. Parking in Heathrow is not for the faint of heart, so Paul was out of there as soon as.
My flight was on time, and soon I was off ground on the way back after a great week in Wales. Not the last great week in Wales I get... I hope...
- Paul Morgan's fantastic bookshop Coch-y-Bonddu Books in Machynlleth
- A bit about Machynlleth, where you can enjoy the Welsh language.
- And the beautiful Tyn-y-Cornel Hotel at Tal-y-Llyn.
- The Diawl Bach - another thing I picked up in Wales.
- The Upper Test by Bullington Manor where we fished - groomed and expensive, but lovely
- Not much to do with Wales - and then again - Charles' site Tailing Bonefish that we fooled around with.