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

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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...

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.

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