A shot in the dark
Would you take your chances on the Ystwyth? Nathan Pursall offers a guide to sea-trout fishing at night on this wonderful West Wales river
Nathan Pursall offers a guide to sea-trout fishing on the Ystwyth
MOST ANGLERS WOULD agree that standing waistdeep in water and belting out a long line makes them feel good, but each river we fish presents us with a different challenge and to catch big sea-trout on the Ystwyth in West Wales you must deliver short, accurate casts in darkness and have an excellent grasp of rivercraft. The Ystwyth rises on the western slopes of Plynlymon, a massif that also gives birth to the Wye, Severn and Rheidol, on the border between Ceredigion and Powys. A lively spate river, it flows for 20 miles through the scenic mining villages near the Cwmystwyth valley before crossing lowland pastures and reaching the tide at Aberystwyth harbour. It is looked after by Llanilar Angling Association, a highly regarded club that has recently installed gates, stiles and pathways (funded by Welsh Government) which have made previously hard-to-reach pools more accessible to the angler. The results are terrific. Although predominantly a sea-trout river, the Ystwyth has a decent run of salmon. Fishing for them is largely dependent on water: if the river has regular spates through July and August it can produce good fishing for grilse; however, most salmon tend to run late and often appear shortly after the end of the season. It is therefore sea-trout that provide the better sport and they can grow big – the fly-caught record is just shy of 17 lb, so this small river punches well above its weight! The large multi-sea-winter fish (4 lb-10 lb) begin to enter the system during mid- to late-may, but can be very difficult to catch. Local angler and countryman Tony Bevan always maintained that the first “taking” fish of the season seldom appear before the Aberystwyth Show (usually the second weekend in June). His rather unscientific prediction has proved uncannily accurate over many years. Larger fish build steadily in numbers throughout June and early July and are followed shortly afterwards by smaller sewin (1 lb-3 lb) which, given frequent rises in water levels, will continue to enter the pools all summer. These fish can provide fantastic sport but they move quickly and can be caught ten miles upstream still carrying sea-lice. Permitted methods include spinner and worm, which are productive, but it’s the quality of the night fishing that sets this little river apart. The lower beats, near the villages of Rhydyfelin and Llanfarian, are very accessible and although close to civilisation, they offer a genuinely wild fishing experience. However, if you’re seeking a more secluded, remote location, the middle river near Llanilar and
Trawscoed is set in stunning countryside where you can enjoy a wonderful evening’s fishing. The lower to middle Ystwyth has narrow, streamy runs and a succession of well-defined holding pools. Most casts will be shy of 15 yards and the smaller pools and runs need an “off the tip” approach. A switch rod will suffice in all but the biggest water and can be useful to control the drift because the Ystwyth in spate can be powerful. A 9 ft 6 in or 10 ft sea-trout set-up is recommended for night fishing, particularly during the early part of the season when you can expect to make contact with decent fish. The river isn’t deep: a floater with a sink-tip are all that’s needed. Keep it simple and concentrate on covering as much water as you can because a fish could come from anywhere. Fly patterns should be kept to a minimum, anything black and silver will catch in various sizes. Most locals use tubes or Snakes, but early evening can produce good sport on smaller flies. Many fishers use a two-fly cast: a Medicine dropper and a small tube on the point. I prefer one fly, and when the going gets tough I occasionally tie on one of club chairman Dave Rickett’s famous All Black tubes, which he says are guaranteed to catch when all else has failed… A surface lure is also worth trying. One of my favourite sections of the lower river early in the season is Rhydyfelin, just above the tidal reaches, close to Aberystwyth. There is plenty of fishable water and it’s only a stone’s throw from the car-park – no minor consideration when you’re fishing at night. A noticeboard and “Moc’s Steps” were installed in 2013, named in recognition of the renowned Moc Morgan’s work on behalf of the club. Last June I spent a night’s fishing on this stretch, following spring tides. I arrived early, quickly tackled up and made for the top of the beat and the lower river’s most productive pool – Bryn’s. Anybody who knows best will tell you that the last half-hour of light and first hour of darkness are when Ystwyth fish are most active and although it never seems to get dark during mid-summer I would advise you to be in position waiting for this time, and to make the most of it when it comes. Bryn’s sits on a 90-degree bend in the river and has a shallow head, a wide even-flowing tail and a deep channel all the way along the far bank. It is the first
“Many fishers use a two-fly cast: a Medicine dropper and a small tube on the point. I prefer one fly...”
major holding pool on the lower river and fish can arrive here within minutes of the tide. I’ve seen it empty one minute, alive with fish the next. On this evening, I had done my homework and had spent an hour during the day scouting potential targets – the Ystwyth at summer low is gin-clear and an excellent place to spot fish. I sat in the long grass on the elevated bank and dug out one of my fly-boxes (I have far too many) while I waited for dusk. I knew the fly with which I would start: a small tube, an inch or so long, silver Mylar tubing, red squirrel tail and a couple of jungle cock eyes. Simple. As the light faded, the sounds of the night were amplified and the river was alive with fish crashing about the pool. I waded into the run and placed my first cast tight to a willow that overhangs a pot in the riverbed – a good lie for big sea-trout, but unless you know the river you might not cover it with a fly. As my tube skirted across the current, without warning the line tightened and I was connected to a very strong fish. Unlike many sea-trout, it stayed deep and charged relentlessly up and down the length of the pool before darting under a very inconveniently
placed willow on my side of the river… All went slack. My only consolation was that my fly was still attached to the leader. I checked that the hook hadn’t straightened, before sitting on the bank for ten minutes to rest the pool. The next casts produced nothing, not even a touch, but as I began to enter my own little world, pondering why, something pulled back and the line decided to go shooting out of my hand before I could respond. I had missed the take and had nothing to blame but poor concentration. I fished through the pool without further interest and decided to head down to Mac Farlane’s pool, a tree-lined run that opens out into a long, straight pool with a uniform flow. Roll-casting is really the only way of getting the fly under the trees, but as with most tricky places to cast on the Ystwyth, it’s where fish often lie at night. The river is narrow, therefore a good look during daylight will help you to later judge your casting in darkness. I advise you to stay at least a rod’s length away from the water to avoid spooking the fish. Many times, I have seen fish lying inches from the edge. Pulling a few turns of line off the reel, I worked my way down the run, rolling my fly under the trees but without attracting any interest. No sooner had I moved to the main pool than a six-pounder crashed under the trees in exactly the spot I’d just fished. The far bank at Mac’s pool is cut above a shelf of bedrock, which is where the fish lie. If there are seatrout in the pool and you position your flies along the shelf, you can expect a take. About halfway down the pool, I had a pull – not a big fish, maybe 3 lb, but it was a belter, in fantastic condition and I kept it. I continued to fish through the tail with no further interest and decided to head home. Considering the number of fish I had seen during the day, the sport had been poor. The moon was out and the temperature had dropped sharply – two things that don’t help night fishing. On my way up the bank there was an almighty commotion in the broken water below the tail of Mac’s. A huge fish had entered the pool, a “back out of the water job”. I had to have another cast. Off came the small tube, on went a 3 in black-and-silver Snake. Starting halfway down the pool I guessed that the fish would be lying in a small depression under overhanging willows on the far side. Working the fly down over the lie, the line tightened. Not your usual sea-trout take, more a slow tightening (similar to that of a big salmon). It was on. Then the fish broke the surface, rolled and it was off. He won’t come again, I thought, and it was a lump of a fish, too. I suppose the pleasure is in the hooking. Now more content with my night’s fishing I spent the journey home trying to convince myself to take tomorrow night off, and keep the boss happy. Not a chance!
“A huge fish had entered the pool... I had to have another cast”
You could watch them for hours. Three sea-trout holding station in the crystal-clear water of Mac Farlane’s pool.
NATHAN PURSALL & MARK SEDGWICK are power linesman for Scottish Power. Nathan (pictured, left) is a passionate sea-trout angler, fly-tyer and rod builder. Photographer Mark is a keeper on the Rheidol and led the way in completing over 1,000 hours of voluntary work improving access on the Rheidol system.
BELOW Casting to a deeper, darker run at Station Yard pool.
Choosing a fly by Church pool.
Llanafan Bridge, a good holding pool late in the season.
A five-pounder caught in Mac Farlane’s pool.
RIGHT, TOP TO BOTTOM Plastic tube, needle and hitch flies for the Ystwyth.
TOP Waiting beside Trawscoed, the best holding pool on the river.
ABOVE An eightpounder caught at 3.30 am.