Monday, 27 August 2012

River Honddu, Wales

I haven’t done much fishing this year, mostly due to the wash-out of a summer we have had. It’s been a strange summer with completely rain free days few and far between and seemingly never on the weekends. Parts of Wales have seen some serious flooding this year. Contrast this to the position last year when much of Britain was experiencing a drought. The rivers of Wales were very low then and the fishing was difficult for very different reasons. It definitely seems that our weather patterns are getting more extreme. If it isn’t the driest summer since records began it’s the wettest and if it isn’t the coldest winter since records began it’s the warmest!

During the week Laszlo got in touch and we decided to go fishing on the weekend come what may. It was good to hit the road again and eat up the miles between Birmingham and Wales, high in spirit as is always the case on the outward leg of a fishing trip. Part of the fun of fishing is making the trip. However, upon reaching the border of England and Wales, the River Monnow, our hearts sank in dismay. The Monnow was the colour of a double thick chocolate milkshake from Wimpy. The wet roads and soggy countryside attested to what must have been a heavy overnight rainfall.  We decided to make for one of the uppermost tributary beats on the Monnow system in the hope that the water would have cleared a bit. We set course for the River Honddu in the heart of the Black Mountains, just upstream of the small village of Llanthony.

Laszlo’s satnav decided to throw in some adventure and took us along a small and very muddy farm track over a mountain that in places better resembled a cow path. A large brown puddle held us up for a while as we debated whether Laszlo’s car would make it through or not. Laszlo put on his Wellies and walked through the sea of mud to test its bottom whilst I had visions of having to soon knock on a farmer’s door to politely ask for a tow out by tractor. In the end, unable to turn around or reverse back up the wet track the way we came, Laszlo floored the accelerator and we made it through surprisingly easily. Descending the mountain we came upon two horse riders coming in the opposite direction. The road was too narrow for them to pass and they had to grumpily turn around and backtrack for a distance before finding a place to pull over and let us pass. Needless to say, we didn’t follow the satnav on the way back.

The small track had brought us into the beautiful Honddu valley. A mix of woods and farmland, this once glaciated valley is flanked on either side by a range of steep, level topped mountains that continued into the distance ahead of us. Tiny specks of white sheep were discernible on the summit of the range and I wondered whose job it was to fetch them down from there. Someone incredibly fit. We had fleeting glimpses of the river through the trees as we followed the road, but we couldn’t yet tell whether the river was in a fishable state or not. We parked at the designated parking space a little way from the ruins of the Norman built Llanthony Priory, and walked down to the river hoping we hadn’t made a wasted journey. Despite having some colour, the colour of iced tea rather than chocolate milkshake, the Honddu looked good enough to fish and we breathed a collective sigh of relief.

The fishing was excellent. It turned out to be one of those days when the fish were switched on and feeding hungrily, one of the rare days when you expect rather than hope that a good cast in a likely run will result in a fish. I fished the NZ duo style with a black klinkhåmer and a size 18 bead head flashback PTN. The klinkhåmer was completely ignored until much later in the afternoon but I was happy to leave it on as a sight indicator to mark the frequent takes of the nymph. The fish were small but willing with a few decent fish in the 10 to 11 inch range. In a glide just above an island which split the river in two, I caught about 4 or 5 trout in about as many casts. I didn’t finish fishing the glide. I didn’t want to be greedy and I didn’t want the fishing to be too easy. I sat down on the sun dappled river bank, avoiding the nettles, and ate a sandwich, watching and listening to the sounds of the river. I pictured the trout that must have been feeding cheerfully in the brown tinged water up ahead in the remainder of this Shangri-La of a fly fishing glide and left them to it.

I think the slight colour to the water made the fishing a bit easier. I was surprised at how close I was able to get to the fish without having to crawl on my knees. Normally on a river this size there is very little chance of approaching so near to fish in an upright walking position but that is exactly what I was able to do and I think the colour to the water concealed me (and spared my knees).

After a brief spell of rain at 2pm I saw, and lost, what looked to be the best fish of the day. With no interest in the Klinkhåmer at all until then, the fish came up in a surprisingly shallow and exposed piece of water in an exceptionally fast and ferocious rise, and I missed it. Suspecting that the fish had felt the sharp end on my hook and that the chance had been missed, I cast again in any event and watched the fly drift past where only a moment ago the fish had shown itself. Disappointed, I was about to lift the fly from the water when a much smaller fish hit the fly in an equally brutal rise. This time I was prepared for it and the strike was a good one. The bigger fish clearly had the prime lie at the head of the little run of water but I was surprised a fish of this size (about 12 or 13 inches) was even there in the first place.

Bullhead (aka Miller's Thumb)

The beat is not very long but it was enough for two anglers to divide up and enjoy for a good few hours. Laszlo and I both had successful and enjoyable days. I had read a number of accounts which had suggested that the Honddu can be quite a fickle mistress so it was great to have caught this river on a good day.


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