A wet morning in Foxford and yesterday was wet also. The river had been falling nicely but it will go into flood again after this. I mentioned last week that P.J and I were planning to try something different. We headed for the Welsh Dee to try Grayling fishing. it was a good experience.
Throughout the 90s I guided for Jean Pierre Guillemaud or Piam as he is known. A genius with the fly rod, it was an education to be with him. He always fished with massive enthusiasm and when he struck a fish he jumped into excited action. I can remember one day on Lough Conn where he had some beautiful trout on dry Mays (Long before fishing drys on the Lough was popular), one of the trout was over four pounds. It was a bright day and we spotted it feeding in the shade of a bush overhanging the lough along a small island. Piam who practiced stealth in his approach to angling crouched in the bow of the boat. Still a long distance from the fish he double hauled and landed the fly with pin point accuracy on the nose of the fish. The fish took, Piam struck and at the same time performed a Ninja jump from the bow to land on the seat beside me. We spent the next five minutes with Piam in the air more times than the fish. As the fish ran left or right Piam bounced from the stern to the bow and back again. The excitement was palpable, his passion and smile electric. Piam had traveled extensively to fish for several different species and he told me many stories of far-flung destinations. One of his favourite species at that time was The Grayling. He talked about them with love “The Lady of the stream”. On one of his trips to Ireland he brought me a gift of his most recent Video tape on Nymphing for Grayling. In the Video Piam fished in crystal clear water, sighting Grayling and casting tiny nymphs to them. Piam had sown a seed and I knew that someday I would have to give these “Ladies” a try. We do not have Grayling in Ireland and it would involve travelling. I’m busy, I’m working, I’m broke, there was always a reason not to go. If I have learned anything in recent times its not to take the future for granted and if you have a desire to do something, “Do it.”
Sitting with P.J one evening a few weeks ago I said we should go Grayling fishing. I didn’t tell him I knew Ryanair had an unbelievably good deal on flights from Knock airport to Liverpool and that it was possible to hire a car for not too much and that the Welsh Dee was only about an hour drive from there. I had done a little bit of research but as I was to find out, not enough. P.J gave me the standard “yeah” answer which depending on the tone it is delivered with, can be taken in many ways. On this occasion I didn’t need any more than a grunt that sounded positive, we could argue about the meaning of Yeah at another stage. I booked two flights
Credit where its due, Ryanair are brilliant. Even after adding two small bags, two 20kg cases and one large rod tube (sports equipment) I had two return flights from Knock to Liverpool for less than eighty euro each. Flights booked and secure I set about finding accommodation. Without too much searching I had found the Hand Hotel in Llangollen. It sounded like a good place and was in some way associated with a big European Grayling festival or so all the blurb said. I was not paying much attention, I was looking for two beds at a reasonable price somewhere on the Welsh Dee and this place was fitting the bill, I booked it. A car from Budget car Hire, again at an unbelievably good price (thirty pounds a day with full insurance) and we were sorted.
I had chosen the Welsh Dee based on a memory of an old article in Trout and Salmon magazine which rated it as one of the best Grayling rivers in the UK. After researching it a little further I found that the Llangollen Anglers offered day tickets at a similar price to a days fishing on club waters here (twenty two pounds a day).
I now needed to learn more about Grayling fishing and the area we were heading for. Facebook, the poor mans university, there’s a group for everything and if one can filter through it some good information can be had. I joined a few groups, followed a few posts and even posted a question. I was pleasantly surprised by the helpful replies I got including a message from Nick Wakelin the manager at Foxtons tackle shop, offering some advice and assistance, he was even good enough to offer to join us for some fishing. For a few weeks we watched the water levels and got some idea of what was a good level. A large low pressure that brought heavy rain crossed Ireland and Wales; things were looking grim. Thankfully though, this was followed by some nice dry weather with frost at night. The river was dropping again and there was hope. We have a friend a who has an interest in Grayling, he is also a keen fly tier. I contacted him for some advice and off course a few flies. He obliged by tying us a good handful of very useful patterns. Heavy tungsten bead heads and a few slightly lighter to fish above them. The weather was forecast to be very cold so the chance of any fly hatches or surface activity was slim. It would be better to get down to the fish, Czech nymphing was his advice and he offered us the loan of his rod. There was no need to take it, we had already packed five rods to cover a range of situations including Czech Nymphing, something neither of us have practiced very much.
There’s a few Nymphing methods that all fall into a similar category, Euro Nymphing (Polish, French, Czech/short line). As is normal in most things the experts or those who practice these styles will say there’s major differences but for the average guy its much of a much. For Czech nymphing the basic idea is to use a very heavy Nymph, normally weighted with a bead head or even lead to get to the bottom of the river with one or two other nymphs on droppers above this. Rather than casting, the nymphs are flicked upstream on a short line. As they drift downstream with the current the angler follows with the tip of the rod which is held high and parallel to the water watching for any movement on the leader which would indicate a take, a strike indicator is very useful. A long rod with a soft tip and small line class is popular (11 foot #2). The longer rod aids in flicking the flies upstream and controlling the drift while the soft tip helps eliminate the light leaders breaking when the angler strikes at very close range. That is about as much as we knew when we were heading off and it was enough. I remember our friends’ final word of advice as he wished us luck “Most of the fish will be between the rod tip and your feet” and they were.
8am on a frosty Wednesday morning saw us unloading bags from the car at Knock airport. Its an amazing facility and unlike other larger airports there is no queues or major security delays. They see a lot of anglers and are well used of seeing rod tubes. I think the biggest surprise for them was that we were leaving the west of Ireland to go to the UK to fish, they normally see it the other way around with anglers from the UK arriving into Knock. The very helpful security guy who checked in our large rod tube made a little bit of angling small chat, “Grayling, are they nice ta ate” , I hadn’t the guts to say we were going to release anything we caught, he would certainly have called his friends over for a laugh.
By 8.15 we were sitting with a cup of coffee less than 100 meters from our plane. Half an hour later we were boarding and once again, fair play to Ryanair, fifty-five minutes after take-off, we were on the ground in Liverpool John Lennon airport. A short walk to the car hire booth and we were handed a package with the car keys, it could not have gone smoother.
A forty-minute drive to Foxtons tackle shop where we met Shaun, a very nice and helpful guy who gave us the good news that the water conditions on the Welsh Dee were so good that Nick had already made a break for it and was gone fishing. Shaun took us on a virtual tour of the river and pointed out some likely pools along with one that he reckoned nick would be fishing.
Been a good sales man Shaun advised us that there was a handful of fly patterns that we should not be without and although we knew we had plenty we did take his advice and purchased a few, its nice to be nice. Foxtons is a well-stocked tackle shop with lots for the fly tyer and fly angler. I did notice a sign outside that said the shop is for sale, a sign of the times and a sad reality for a lot of tackle shops.
Onward to Llangollen and the Hand Hotel. There was some beautiful scenery along the way and I got the feeling that I’d like to visit Wales again for a proper holiday, id say that walking in the hills would be wonderful. We arrived at the hotel and at check in got talking to another very helpful gentleman, Shane. Shane told us that the hotel could offer us free fishing on the piece of water immediately outside the Hotel door. This was ideal for our first afternoon, all we had to do was drop our gear to our room, quickly go on line and buy a fishing Licence and we would be sorted.
We did all this and shortly after lunch time we were taking our first casts on the Welsh Dee. By now the temperature was dropping fast and we could feel a real frosty chill blow along the river. We knew it would be a short session but we were happy enough just to get the lines wet and a start made. After about a half hour of searching through little pockets of water my line tightened with that unmistakable fish motion. There is something different in a fish take that an angler can just spot, life at the end of the line. If you are an angler you understand what i’m saying. I struck and my rod tip doubled, it was a fish and yes it was our first Grayling. A short battle in fast flowing water and I slid the net under a nice sized fish of maybe 30cm. A quick photo, congratulatory shake hands and we were back to fishing.
It was not long before P.J made contact with a similar sized fish. We both now had accomplished what we came to do, catch a Grayling. The pressure was off and the remainder of the trip was for pleasure. We fished on for another while, caught another few smaller Grayling and one small Brownie. It was now very cold and we had made the mistake of putting our hands into the water, the power was going and numbness was setting in fast. We made a unanimous decision to call it a day and go get some food. By the time we got our waders off at the car, we could not tie our shoe laces. I’m sure the staff at the hotel wondered what weird Irish fishing custom it was to walk through the hotel shaking your hands and tripping on trailing laces.
We had dinner at the hotel where we noticed a few tables with other anglers. As one does, we got chatting about our respective days and how the fishing had been. We did notice these guys were not very forthcoming with information and it was only as the conversation developed that we realised why. They were teams practicing for the Hanak European Grayling Festival which by coincidence was been held on The Welsh Dee on the Saturday and Sunday. It was Wednesday and by Friday the place would be teaming with Pros, the lads were well out of their depths here. With all my googling before I made the booking, I had not foreseen this. It didn’t matter, we had already caught our fish and everything else was part of the experience, we might even learn something.
Breakfast was served from 7am the following morning, we sat down at about 7.30 but both of us knew that the white roofs we could see from the windows meant we were not going fishing for at least another two hours. Breakfast finished we headed off for a walk around Llangollen. A nice little town in which I would say tourism is important. People were very friendly and helpful. We made our way to the local hardware store where Permits for the local club Llangollen anglers association could be purchased. Stepping into the shop had that feeling of stepping back in time, there was an old world feel to the place and again the staff were very kind and helpful. We did smile when they discovered they were out of permits and decided to write us a note on a piece of white paper. We thought this only happened in Tiernan Brothers shop but no, we were wrong.
I had spoken to a gentleman at the Hotel, Hywel Morgan. Hywel who is well known and respected in angling circles is heavily involved in the organising of the competition. When I explained that we were just two anglers who happened to be there at the same time as all the competition guys he smiled and threw his eyes up to heaven in pity. He gave us some good advice on pools, while out of courtesy we told him we would not fish on two pools he was marking out for the competition. He suggested the Golf course was a good place to try as the wading was pretty good and chances of fish were promising. I got his card some details on how to enter a team in next year’s competition, we were progressing fast with this Grayling fishing.
A quick coffee and we headed off in search of the golf club. Finding the club was easy enough, crossing the fairway and dodging the golf balls was another story but we finally found the river. As expected, the competition guys were already belly deep in cold water and scattered along the river for as far as we could see upstream. We were not deterred, and as we made our way along the river bank chatting to the golfers, we observed the Pros in action. It is amazing what one can pick up from observation alone. These guys were good and one thing I noticed was they were not afraid to wade deep. Deep wading is something that does not work for me, as soon as the water reaches my hips I start to rise in the water and can feel my feet struggling to hold the bottom, I end up like a duckling in distress.
A good walk upstream and we found a nice corner with a reasonable depth of water and a moderate flow, ideal. We hoped in and started putting our very recently gained knowledge into practice. Up the middle of the river cautiously, changing the cast direction from left to right bank and searching every bit of likely fish holding water. We caught a few fish along the way and had an enjoyable two-hour session. That was enough though, my feet were numb and my hands were starting to sting with the cold. Time to head for the car and find a pub with a bowl of hot soup. As we walked back, I looked at the competition guys who were still fishing, by now they had done at least four hours. I could not work out how they endured the cold. Later, back at the hotel I got chatting to an angler from Norway. When we discussed the cold, (it was now minus four degrees) I was informed that in Norway it is now minus fifteen and the only fishing they can do is ice fishing! That is how they could stick the cold; they are used to it.
At dinner that night we hatched a cunning plan. Rather than compete for space on the Llangollen waters we would go exploring and try further downstream on the Bangor on Dee waters. Morning came and as we sat in the car with the engine running waiting for the ice to clear from the windows, we both agreed that a leisurely spin and a bit of sight seeing was in order.
We made our way to the Pontcysyllte Viaduct where we had a stroll along the canal. Looking at the smoke rising from the narrow boats I imagined how warm and cosy it must be to inside one of them. The Viaduct itself is a marvelous piece of engineering and we were lucky enough to watch a boat with its woolly hat and scarfed skipper putter its way across. We continued to Bangor on Dee where we drank coffee in the local coffee shop and purchased our permits from the very pleasant ladies “The Middle shop”. I complemented them on been so helpful and was told “we like it that way.” I thought fair play, it is a good attitude. We bought a few mars bars and headed off to explore the river.
The Hawker-Overend blog we had studied was very useful and Andrews description of the stretch and how to fish it was excellent. P.J had the first fish of the day, immediately downstream of the old bridge. Later and further downstream he followed this with a double hook up while I still had not had a take. There was a track along the river where locals strolled past us with their dogs, agreeably all on leads and well behaved. I thought it was great to see people having access like this and it’s a pity we don’t have more of it at home. Maybe someday we will, let’s work towards it. I did manage to catch a fish, I actually caught three but P.J had a better day catching at least half a dozen. Every dog has his day and it was my turn to buy the soup. Spicy parsnip soup in the Royal Oak, yep I was happy to pay. It was good end to an enjoyable trip.
Minus six at 4am as we defrosted the car to make our way to the airport. We were back in Foxford at 9am with all our gear intact, two hundred cigarettes and two bottles of Duty-free whiskey. Brexit had its benefits. We will be back in Wales and we will fish for Grayling again, I’m told Scotland is also good for them 😊