Monday, 25 July 2011

The Clettwr River, Wales

“Clettwr” is Welsh for “rough water” and the name pretty accurately sums up this little tributary of the River Wye. It tumbles down a mountain slope in a narrow gorge, secretly shrouded by steep sides and a canopy of trees.

Arriving early on Sunday morning I parked my hire car at the designated roving voucher parking spot near the rim of the gorge, grateful for the chance to stretch my legs after a 2 hour drive from Birmingham. I could only hear the river through the trees below as I slipped on my waders and boots and enjoyed a cup of coffee, anticipation rising all the while. 

The river’s voice grew louder with each step as I descended the river gorge, the gushing sound of a swift river ceaselessly eroding a path deeper into the mountain rock. Reaching the shadowy basin of the gorge I was struck by the dampness and humidity in the air. My sunglasses instantly fogged up when I put them on. Rocks and trees were covered with soft cushions of moss, adorned with tiny spider webs. Spiders, flies, butterflies, beetles and snails appeared to proliferate in the conditions. The river was running clear over stone and ochre coloured bedrock, dappled in sunlight and interrupted ever so often by a mini waterfall or a series of cascades. It is one of the most beautiful – and secluded – rivers I have fished.

I tied on a #18 black Klinkhammer (with purple rib, which I have been fairly successful with in Wales) and below it a #24 bead head PTN. Within a few casts the Klink checked and dipped ever so slightly in the current. I lifted my rod into the weight of a little 5 inch brown trout, which quickly came to hand where I could admire it. The trout of Wales never cease to amaze me in their uniqueness, and this, my first from the Clettwr, didn’t disappoint. It had crimson spots which melted to orange nearer its tail.

I caught another little trout in the same pool, this time on the dry fly, and then moved upstream. At first I climbed the steep banks, scrambling over the slippery rocks and soft soil to circumvent fallen trees blocking the route. I soon realised it was far safer and more energy efficient to simply climb over or squeeze under them where I could. There were so many fallen trees lying across the river I kept half an eye on the trees still standing, kidding myself that I could move quickly out of the way of a falling tree if I had to. This was no stroll down a manicured chalkstream bank - it was gruelling, energy sapping stuff over rough terrain and in humid conditions.

Throughout the day the fish generally seemed more interested in the nymph than the dry. I picked up two on a new pattern I was trying – a #20 tungsten bead head Endrick Spider PTN variant – but most took the small PTN including what I believe is the first salmon parr I have caught. I didn’t know it at the time, thinking only that it was a slightly unusual looking little brown trout with heavily forked tail and few spots. I only realised the difference when I first looked at the photos at home. The Clettwr has benefitted in the past from European funding used to improve its salmon habitat, and it’s good to see the salmon approve of the efforts. I suspect a few more fish which were enticed to take the fly may have been salmon parr too, but it can be hard to tell the difference between a salmon and brown trout parr. 

Salmon Parr

Eating my lunch in a sunlit glade next to the river, I watched a plump White-Throated Dipper doing a little dip-dance on a fallen tree lying across the river. For sheer escapism I doubt this river can be beaten. It’s only further upstream that one comes across a wooden footbridge and public footpath, the only sign of man and chance to encounter anyone else.

I have been putting my new Simms Rivershed Vibram soled wading boots through their paces this season. After witnessing first hand the devastating oxygen-starving effect of didymo in New Zealand, I consciously avoided buying felt soles when choosing boots. So far they have impressed, that is, until they met the Clettwr yesterday! The footing was extremely precarious and on three occasions I went for a little swim.

The river holds a good head of fish evident from the many ‘pinballs’ zigzagging every which way in the pools and runs as I made my way upstream.  The fishing was good and I ended with 17, all released. Five of them were above 7 inches and I would guess the best was just shading 9 inches. There wasn’t much in the way of surface feeding activity but I did entice a handful of them to take a black and purple Klink or Parachute Adams.

The walk back to the car was exhausting, and I drained the little water I had left. When I eventually emerged from the trees at the car I finished off my flask of coffee to quench my thirst. And gratefully, the coffee was still hot.


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  1. You do suffer for your sport Justin!

    Always amazes me that fish can be caught so far upstream in such little water.

    Great pics again.

  2. A very impressive post.
    The trout and the streams are wonderful, as are the photos.

    Well done

  3. Nice photos and story ! Reminds me of our mountain brooks over on this side of the pond

  4. "The river’s voice grew louder with each step" and then decrescendos to brown beauty. Lovely writing...I really enjoyed it!

  5. Wonderful looking water. Very nice blog also. Thanks. Todd

  6. Hello all, thanks very much for commenting. I'm glad you enjoyed the post.

  7. Beautiful pics and a great post. Thank you for following my blog. I'm looking forward to following yours.

  8. Nothing like sweating it out for some trout. Cherishing every last drink of water left in the canteen. Nice bushwhacking for some great pics, and some beautiful trout. Well done. Tight Lines.

  9. Really enjoyed this Justin - lovely water right up my street.

  10. I was with you every inch of the way when I read your report. This is a stream I have visited a few times and always come away drained but feeling priveleged that I have had the opportunity to fish such a wonderful place.

    The walk back from the top of the beat has always been an adventure in itself!

    Great report and enjoyable blog.