Online Fly Fishing Magazine

A Sultry Summer Day On The Welsh Dee

With the weather effecting many of our stillwaters and rivers this summer, Phil Ratcliffe and his father Bernie head for the Welsh Dee where the grayling and trout are keen to take a fly…

T he Welsh Dee, near on 70 miles long, offers the fly angler a multitude of species to target. Rising in Snowdonia and travelling through breath-taking countryside it finally discharges to the sea in an estuary between Wales and the Wirral Peninsula in England.  The Dee is one of the most renowned rivers in Europe for grayling.  The Hanak Grayling Festival is held on the river every year and reported catches of over 800 fish are a regular occurrence in the two-day competition.  It’s not just the grayling that attracts the fly angler, there’s also brown trout, salmon and sea trout.  From June onwards the annual appearance of the sea trout tests even the most experienced of angler.  Salmon have increased steadily over the years. The odd springer can be caught early season, but the vast majority of larger species are found towards the back end of the season in the autumn months.

Life Long Addiction

The Welsh Dee has been one of my favourite destinations for many years, ever since I took a good dip over thirty-six years ago at Llangollen. The intake of Welsh Dee water at such a young age was most certainly my baptism for a life long addiction to the river.

This summer has been a hot one and with many rivers falling to record low levels, the Dee is kept nicely topped up with regular water releases from Llyn Celyn.

This river has much to offer with club and day ticket water readily available. Both Dad and I opted for a stretch in the upper reaches, where we have had many rewarding and happy fishing sessions. Countless grayling and trout as well as the odd salmon have graced our nets over the years.

The day was warm but overcast, perfect for targeting fish on the dry fly, the winter months are usually spent trudging the bottom with tungsten nymphs. But not today, the 9ft 4-wt was ready coupled up with a #4 Rio In Touch Trout LT , 9ft tapered leader and 5ft of supple flex tippet. I always have an array of patterns to work through but really, if truth be known I very rarely use more than half a dozen patterns. My go to flies are F-fly or Variant, Klinkhammer, sedge ,caddis or CDC Olive.

Bernie Ratcliffe searches the upper reaches of the Welsh Dee.
Bernie Ratcliffe searches the upper reaches of the Welsh Dee.


Dad opted for his traditional approach of spiders, a tried and tested method over countless decades, which is somewhat overlooked by todays ‘modern’ angler. Partridge and Orange , Snipe and Purple and a weighted Waterhen Bloa on the point was the team of choice. This method is ideal for searching the different water layers and a multitude of riffles and runs. Dead drifting or swinging the flies, either down or across, across and down or upstream enables the angler to target fish at a variety of depth. Spider patterns do not represent any one fly pattern in particular fly but are a broad representation of a variety of the fish’s food source.

The longer summer days give you more chance to assess the water in detail, waiting for that feeding fish on the surface and to check out the abundance of fly life on the water. All part of cracking the code. The odd olive and one or two sedge were present but nothing really to write home about and the odd riser was to be seen. I started working close to the tree line where I had seen a small rise. Only my second drift down the F-Fly was smashed and a small grayling came to the net; a decent start to the day.

Phil Ratcliffe with a ‘decent’ Dee brownie.
Phil Ratcliffe with a ‘decent’ Dee brownie.

Dries On The Glides

I was constantly swapping flies through a variety of patterns and sizes, as it soon became apparent that they were not locked on to anything in particular. The risers were few and far between but as I know all too well on this river, expect the unexpected. As I worked through a likely looking run this time with a CDC Olive and thoughts in my mind to change tactics, the tranquil glide of water was abruptly interrupted. A fish had come up and taken the offering, I was in! It was a dogged determined fight and with the light tippet, I dare not bully the fish. After one or two runs, a decent trout (for the Dee) graced the net. The Dee, synonymous with a good head of grayling, rarely gives up it brown trout quarry, so I was more than made up with this capture.

Partridge and Orange Success

‘Spiderman’ further down river had been latching into the odd grayling, and small trout. But as I was taking time out on the bank watching Dad work the spiders through his line tightened. The Partridge and Orange had done the business. A nice grayling came to the net, not one of the big lunkers that we have had in the past but all the same, a fish is a fish. It’s great to see the spiders being utilised to their full potential, a method Dad has used since he started fly fishing back in the early 70s.

With a noticeable release of cold water early afternoon, the fish had clearly gone off feed. Experience has taught us to either move further down the river system or head for home. The several hours of sport earlier in the day was enough to have scratched that fishing itch so we headed off for home. The day had accounted for a good number of grayling and trout, with the summer we are having fishing in the heat of the day would normally be a big no, and either late evening or an early start would be the best option. However, overcast sultry days such as these on Welsh Dee can not be beaten.

A Dee grayling taken on a CDC pattern.
A Dee grayling taken on a CDC pattern.
Bernie Ratcliffe casts out his team of spiders.
Bernie Ratcliffe casts out his team of spiders.

Phil Ratcliffe

Currently based in Cheshire, Phil is one of a new breed of up and coming instructors. He holds the highest single and double-handed casting qualifications in the UK and Internationally (APGAI – Advanced Professional Game Angling Instructor) and the Fly Fishers International MCI – (Master Casting Instructor. Phil is endorsed by some of the leading tackle brands representing Fulling Mill as one of their Ambassadors and is an International Pro guide for the Sage,Rio and Redington brands.

About the writer

Phil Ratcliffe is a Sage, Rio and Redington Pro Guide and Fulling Mill Ambassador.

Written by
No comments

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.