Online Fly Fishing Magazine

Escape to the Irfon. Grayling fishing in Mid-Wales

Airflo’s Ceri Thomas and Tim Hughes find the perfect grayling day as they escape to the River Irfon in mid-Wales where the ladies lie in wait on the gravel runs…

WORDS: Ceri Thomas 
PHOTOS: Tim Hughes

H ere in Wales we are blessed with a multitude of grayling rivers. From the industrial Rhymney and Taff, to the Vale of Glamorgan’s tranquil Ewenny, not forgetting the mighty Dee of North Wales; there are streams and rivers of all types abounding in grayling. But the jewel in the crown must be the Wye system, with the tributaries Monnow, Ithon and Irfon being brilliant grayling fisheries in their own right.

As much as I love fishing the urban rivers, with their prolific fish stocks and easy access right on my doorstep, it’s hard to beat a cold, crisp winters day on the Irfon, surrounded by ancient woodland and beautiful unspoiled countryside; well worth the slight extra effort to reach and fish.

The Passport To Prime Grayling Fishing

The Irfon and the Wye catchment in general has really been opened up the past few years. This is mostly due to the downright hard work of the Wye and Usk Foundation, who as well as striving to improve habitat and water quality have made hundreds of miles of river available to the public. The beauty of the Fishing Passport online system is the vast choice and pure ease of booking. Browse the site, take your pick of beat, read the reports and then enter your credit card number. The beat map is emailed to you so you can either print it off, or download direct to your phone – simplicity, and you can book at any time of day you wish, thus allowing you to make a snap decision on whether to go or not. Above all, they offer superb value for money, and in many cases exclusivity. For (on average) about £15 you can have access to a good few miles of prime grayling water for a whole day.

Just a couple of weeks ago myself and fishing buddy Tim Hughes visited the Cefnllysgwynne beat, one of the most popular fishing passport stretches on the Irfon. With two miles of double and one mile of single bank, there is plenty of room to roam here. This beat also has comfortable holiday cottage accommodation available onsite, perfect for those looking for a longer fishing break. (More details here)


The Perfect Grayling Day

Recent reports indicated prolific catches of grayling, including some larger specimens up to 17 inches. Full of anticipation, we headed to the middle part of the beat, driving down a farm track until we were just a field away from the river. The conditions were great with no wind, slightly overcast skies and a frost still thick on the ground – a perfect grayling day.

The more eager you are to get on the water, the slower time goes…

Even with a day full day ahead tackling up seemed to take an age – the more eager you are to get on the water, the slower time goes…  It probably only took us about 15 minutes, but getting the kit on seemed like forever, wrestling with the thermals and then forcing frozen wading boots onto our feet with numb fingers.


Setting Up For Nymphing

We had a variety of rods with us, including the Streamtec series from Airflo, with a 9ft 3/4-wt and a pair of 10ft 3/4-wt’s ready for action. We were on a mission to try something new – a 9m long ‘Euro Nymph’ polyleader, specially designed to perform in a similar way to the monofilament French Leaders that are now so popular. The polyleader technology has really moved on in recent times; they can now make longer, thinner and much suppler tapered profiles than ever before, opening up a whole new world of potential uses, so we really wanted to give these test leaders a good trial today.

I set up the 9ft 3/4-wt intending to use it in the ‘French Leader‘ style, adding a few inches of coloured indicator, 5 foot of 4.9lb Airflo G4 tippet and a brace of flies to the end of the polyleader. Tim rigged up a 10ft 3/4-wt, the new leader plus a team of three flies, intending to fish them ‘Czech Nymph’ style. The end of the fluorescent yellow polyleader was marked with black permanent pen to give it a bit of contrast.

The other 10ft 3/4-wt rod was rigged with the Airflo SLN Euro Line and an AirLock strike indicator, for use on the longer flats and runs, where ‘long line’ indicator fishing would come into its own.


Flies, Flies, Flies…

My flies were the usual grayling suspects – various generalist tungsten bead ‘bug’ patterns complete with trigger points of pink, red and purple, whilst Tim selected a team of old school weighted Czech nymphs, including the obligatory ‘pink shrimp’. Incidentally, Tim was one of the first anglers in the UK to have extensively used pink in his grayling flies, with a string of big fish under his belt including a former Welsh record fish at 3lb 2oz from the Severn. Tim is an expert hand at this method which involves rolling the flies over the river bed and he often prefers this deadly technique in favour of the French Leader. It would be interesting to see which style would do best today.

It always amazes me just how tolerant grayling are of anglers, Tim must have waded through the shoal which obviously didn’t bother them in the slightest.

With a textured icy crunch under foot we headed down to the river and up the wooded banks. The river was running fast, up a bit more than we would have liked due to some heavy rain over the days before. However it was certainly fishable, with the Irfon catchment usually being OK about 24 hours after a spate. If in doubt there is a very useful online gauge that you can check before leaving home.


Under Your Feet

The first pool we tried was where the river split into an island, with a massive fallen tree along our bank. It screamed grayling to us. Tim waded out first, flicking the Czech nymphs into the seam on our side of the heavy flow. I mooched around and took a few pictures, watching the master at work. After 10 minutes or so, nothing was happening, so I decided to make a cheeky cast a yard or two directly above where he was wading. The Airlock strike indicator dipped on the first cast, and a nice Irfon pounder came to hand, having taken a liking to a 4.5mm heavyweight bug. Two more casts and two more fish from literally right from under Tim’s feet! It always amazes me just how tolerant grayling are of anglers, Tim must have waded through the shoal which obviously didn’t bother them in the slightest. Another cast and the rod pulled over into something better – a nice 16 inch grayling plunged away in the current, a long and lean specimen but hard fighting and fully finned.

It’s rare that I get a head start on Tim – and true to form Tim, who had moved a bit further upstream had located a pod lurking in some slack water in a narrow channel.  He soon caught up with me, watching the polyleader tip with eagle eyes as he stayed in touch with the weighted nymphs trundling away on the gravel bottom.


Long Gravel Runs

After a flurry of action things slowed down, as often happens when a shoal has had a hammering. So we walked upriver, trying a few likely spots as we went. We fished several lovely long gravel runs that looked perfect for grayling, with a steady flow and even depth of about waist height. Here we picked up some small fish, but strangely none of the better stamp of grayling that we were expecting from these areas.

We ventured up the length of the beat looking for the fish; this was such a scenic beat, resplendent in late autumn colours that we simply had to take our time to admire the surroundings as we went.

There really was some cracking water here, with rocky gutters and deep pools galore for salmon and trout. For grayling though, a patch of gravel is often the best place to try, no matter how small. Whilst taking a coffee break we spotted a short gravel bar at the back end of a pool – it looked like it could hold a few fish, so we had a speculative few casts in an area just a few yards across. This resulted in half a dozen nice fish, including a cracking specimen of over 16 inches that fell to a natural Hare’s Ear Czech Nymph pattern, worked expertly by Tim in water that I had just fished and waded back to shore through; yet more proof that grayling are not bothered by wading anglers in the slightest.

Time on the river bank simply flies, and even more so on a short, cold winter day. Before we knew it the session was done and we had to hit the road – with the obligatory stop at the Burger King in Builth wells for a well earned greasy calorie hit. Tim, naturally, had caught a few more fish, so Czech nymph had beaten French leader and indicator today. And the polyleader? Lovely to cast with, supple and much nicer to handle than mono. We think it’s going to be a winner.

Fishing on Cefnllysgwynne is available through the Fishing Passport here.

Ceri Thomas

Airflo’s online marketing manager Ceri Thomas has been fly fishing for over 20 years targeting practically anything that swims. With a preference for wild fish in wild places, Ceri’s fishing travels have taken him far afield, including extensive visits to the USA. His main passion remains his local Welsh rivers and lakes.

Tim Hughes

A true all-round angler, Airflo’s Tim Hughes has fished all over the world in search of numerous species. Tim’s latest obsession is salmon on his local River Wye, although he will fish for practically anything that swims. Tim often combines his love of fly fishing with his excellent photography skills.

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