Sunday, 29 May 2011

The Escley Brook, Wales

If medals were awarded for small stream fishing, I reckon I earned one yesterday. I fished the middle beat of the Escley Brook in Wales, a tributary of the Monnow and one of the many roving voucher beats in the area offered by the Wye & Usk Foundation. This popular beat has achieved consistently good reviews in the past for its generous 2½ mile length, scenic upland setting and teeming head of wild fish and I was looking forward to fishing it for the first time all week. The stream would be diminutive at the wettest of times, but given the lack of rain this season we were faced with its bare bones. A local farmer commented that he had never seen the river so low, and the exposed tree roots along the stream’s course suggested that he was probably right. As you can imagine, the low, clear water conditions made for extremely challenging fishing.

The stream flows over concrete-like bedrock in most places making the stream bed a featureless open one, which is probably the last place you would want to live if you were a nervous trout in half the water you were used to. In other places the stream bed was littered with flat slabs of bedrock in varying sizes, torn away thousands or millions of years ago by geological disruptions. I spotted many trout, but most saw me first - most often it was the tell tale arrow dart of a spooked fish that I would notice, all too late. The trout were extremely skittish and leopard like stealth was required to get anywhere near close enough to casting range. I spent more time casting on my knees and haunches than upright and in some cases that wasn’t even enough! It also didn't assist that the pools were as still and calm as the water in a bathtub, not my favourite kind of fishing at the best of times. I much prefer fishing the riffles and faster water but that water looked far too shallow and exposed for all but the tiniest trout.

I mentioned last week that I was growing quite partial to small stream fishing. This was another level reached, smaller, wilder and far more challenging than anything I had done before and I enjoyed the experience.

It started to rain just as my fishing partner, Laszlo, and I arrived and rigged up our rods, but it soon passed and the remainder of the day was a tug of war tussle between the sun – when the fishing became even more difficult – and the clouds. The very first pool upstream of the road bridge is probably the best of the beat. It’s formed after a series of cascading waterfalls and in the drought conditions has enough depth to fish a nymph below the dry. The pool has a high rocky bank on the right, down which water was trickling from the recent rains, and the left has trees which completely shroud the pool, making casting difficult. On my third roll cast into the bubble line, the klinkhammer with bright red post disappeared as an 8” fish took the size 22 bead head pheasant tail nymph below it. The fish came to hand after a brief but spirited fight and it's the first time I can remember catching a fish on such a small fly. A few casts later in the same pool I lost another fish which had also taken the small nymph.

There were a few mayflies about but the fish largely seemed disinterested in them. It was the birds that were the most excited in the hatching mayflies, pouncing on them from their tree perches in aerial acrobatic displays as the defenceless mayflies lifted from the water. Not all of the mayflies went unnoticed to the trout though, and I did catch my second and largest trout at just about 9” on a large mayfly pattern. I even saw an agile little trout come clean out of the water in an arcing dive and catch a mayfly fluttering almost a foot above the water’s surface. He must have been watching the birds.

In most places the river was too low to fish a nymph without getting snagged on every drift. But when I could I added the size 22 bead head PTN below my dry fly and the fish seemed willing to take it. I lost count of the number of fish I lost on the nymph – I’d say I could have counted them on two hands – but I did land another trout and a little grayling of about 8" with it. The grayling came from the pool I described earlier - almost at 9pm - as we made our way back to the car at the end of the day. Neither of us had taken a watch with us and we were a little surprised at the time when we made it back to the car!

Another little trout, my fourth of the day, sipped a size 18 black klinkhammer almost as soon as the fly touched the water.

Laszlo making good use of the cover
It was a day of hard uncompromising fishing and I was grateful that I had some success to show for it. Little stream, light rod, fine tippet, tiny flies and fish of wild Lilliputian brilliance to match. This must surely be one of the most enchanting and rewarding methods of fly fishing.


  1. Beautiful looking stream. Looks like a great place to spend a day on the water.

  2. Greetings! Looks like the Colorado group likes The River Beat! You've got a very nice blog and I'll be a regular visitor.

  3. Thanks for the comments and glad you like the blog!

  4. I love a nice small stream. Sounds like a heck of a challenge with the gin clear water. Some beautiful wild browns. Nicely done. Great pics of the scenery and water. Tight Lines.

  5. Hi Trout Magee, thanks for commenting. Wales is a beautiful part of the world with many more small streams to explore!

  6. Small streams, and wild trout are beautiful where ever they're found.
    Your blog brings this out in such a wonderful way.

    Well done.

  7. Nice post love those small streams. Similar to Crane Creek, Stealth fishing all the way.
    What is the fish in the pic above the horses?

  8. Quality browns in a beautiful setting. Great photo thread and love the post. Stumbled across your blog and now following.

  9. Thanks for the great comments guys. Kevin - it's a grayling.