With a relatively dry January and February I was beginning to pray for rain, the importance of rain in the winter on the flow of the river in summer is crucial. The boggy uplands of the Usk catchment soak up the winter rain, like a sponge, and then release the water slowly and steadily over the coming months, even if the head waters of the Usk are controlled by the Usk reservoir. Well my prayers were answered at the start of March as the rain arrived in earnest and pretty much put paid to fishing on the opening day of the season, March 3rd. Four days later and the river although high (and dropping) has lost its colour and is now fishable.
The 2016 season was not bad for the Usk with around 800 salmon caught and hopefully, mostly returned. Most of these fish were caught lower down the river and here at Gliffaes we only had two salmon caught. I can only think that we are not holding the fish and that when a spate happens they are keen to keep moving upstream. I also think that the window for salmon fishing is really very short after rain and fishermen are not getting here in time. I hope that when the Water Framework Directive begins to bite that Welsh Water (who control the flow from the reservoir) will be forced to make the spates last longer by releasing water from the reservoir for longer after periods of rain, allowing for more time for salmon to leave the estuary and travel up river.
The last two salmon spawning seasons were warm and salmon eggs are very susceptible to even minor changes in water temperature and will not survive above a certain mean. We will not know the full effect of this for four or five years when fish will (hopefully) return after their time at sea.
The by-laws on the Usk state that all salmon must be returned up until the 17th June, however in a bid to conserve numbers I am imposing a catch and release policy through out the season at Gliffaes and also banning the use of trebles and barbed hooks and definitely fly only.
Gliffaes is well know for it’s trout fishing across our two stretches of the Usk making up our 5 beats. Last season we had a declared catch of around 120 trout and I see no real reason why the prospects for 2017 should be any different. 120 does not seem a lot of trout but I know many go unrecorded and remember these are wild brownies and not easy to catch.
The Usk is well known for its early season hatches of Large Dark Olives and March Browns (see the March issue of Trout and Salmon) which appear in a flurry around lunch time for a short and furious hatch and then the action is over as quickly as it started and it’s back to the nymph again. Frank Williams, our expert guide to fishing in Wales, dipped his waders into the river for the first time this season yesterday and came away with three fish (one pictured above) and he is his account of his couple of hours on the river.
I arrived at the river knowing that conditions were not the best but as the season had started a whole five days ago and I was yet to wet a line I had to get out for a cast.
Anyway, early season fishing is always a triumph of hope over experience why should I expect anything different today? I arrived at Nick’s Larder, a pool in the upper part of the top beat, hoping to open my account for the 2017 season with a dry fly. I chose this spot as it is the first pool that has the sun on it in the morning and I was hoping that even the weak spring sun would be enough to warn the river bed and bring on a hatch. However it was not to be, well not in this pool, not today anyway. I strung up the dry fly rod while scanning the water for a tell tale rise but after 30 minutes there was none. As nothing was rising I decided to set up a nymping rod with a couple of Pheasant Tail Nymphs. Job done, after a cast or four a bright Usk brown trout came splashing to the net. A while later I decided to take a walk down to the long pool about half way down the middle beat to see if there was anything rising in that spot. Although there were a few Large Dark Olives in the air no fish were rising to them. After a long while of watching I decided to run the nymphs through a few of the lies that often hold fish when the river is high. While sneaking into position to have a cast I saw a fish rise in just the spot I was planning to fish with nymphs. I’d much rather catch with dries so I crept back and changed rods for the one I’d set up with a LDO dry fly. Two cast later and the pictured fish came up and greedily ate my fly. I stood in the river for another little while until I caught another fish about the same size as the last one, a little under a pound I’d say. For early season, on a high river I felt it would be hard to do much better.. I’d fished from a little after 12pm until around 2pm and left the river happy with welcome thoughts of longer more fruitful day on the Usk to come.
We are running a three day, early season fishing break until the end of April (excluding Easter) which offers great value for fishermen. During your fishing weekend, you could benefit from taking some expert guidance from Frank or from the other guides we can put you in touch with. We also have space on our first Beginners Trout Fishing Course in April if you are keen to learn the art of fly fishing. More information on fishing at Gliffaes can be found here.