A year’s review of fishing traditional wet flies for wild trout in the hill lakes of Wales.
2018 has been a funny old year for fly fishing the natural upland lakes, or llyns as we call them in Wales. As I write this the season is just about drawing to a close and it has been a real mixed bag.
Starting off, the spring was ridiculously cold so the mountain lakes took a good while to warm up. Things were a full month behind. That said, the fishing was actually excellent; the fish were hungry, aggressive and very keen to strike at attractor wet flies and particularly streamers. As a result of the very cold water I found the fish were down a bit, so best sport came to fast intermediate fly lines, with the Airflo Ridge clear being a favourite.
I have a very effective streamer pattern that has been producing numerous llyn fish over the past couple of seasons. It was simply lethal this spring! The dressing is as follows:
CT Egg Sucking Leech
Hook – Fulling Mill heavyweight competition Size 10.
Tail -Black marabou
Body – Dark Claret seals fur
Rib – UTC mirage
Hackle – Furnace hen
Head collar – Black seals fur
Bead – 3 or 3.8mm Fl Orange tungsten bead
These lures are nicely proportioned at 1.5 inches or so in length, a size I find produces the most successful hook up rate. The Fulling Mill hook also makes a big difference – they are razor sharp and extremely strong. The tungsten bead makes it hard to cast this fly, so a powerful rod is recommended, but I believe it is essential as it imparts an enticing and erratic jiggling action on the retrieve.
As we progressed further into spring things warmed up and the llyn fishing really switched on, with good hatches of olives, buzzer and terrestrial insects bringing fish to the surface. Floating lines and teams of more subdued traditional wet flies such as Coch-y-bonddu and Black Pennell began to work well. In fact, it was the best start I had experienced for many a year, with some specimen fish landed, especially in early May.
We then lurched suddenly into a hot, relentless summer and missed out on the rest of spring altogether. Conditions became tough for traditional wet fly fishing, and with warmer temperatures, the fish became much less aggressive and harder to temp on streamers. However, by concentrating on evenings, mornings and rough windy days I was still able to enjoy some decent action. Although overall this was an extremely testing time for wild trout angling!
Presentation really became key and I found fishing a 20 foot long leader and a single fly with no droppers helped immensely. This set up included an 8 foot Airflo intermediate polyleader to help bed the flies down and improve turnover. This single traditional wet fly approach worked much better in tough, flat calm summer conditions than a team of three traditional wet flies did, as it aroused far less suspicion in wary fish.
To beat the heat, I also visited several high elevation lakes, which due to their altitude produced some nice wild trout despite the challenging conditions. Again thanks to the persistent bright skies and calm winds I found a single fly presentation the most productive.
July through to early August was a very tough period indeed; it really was roasting hot with water temperatures approaching lethal limits even on the highest llyns. The fishing had basically shut down with the fish unwilling to chase anything. Although a few late evening sessions did produce a couple of fish, especially to the Bibio in size 14, which suggests semi-drowned terrestrial insects that you often find on the water in mid-summer.
Thankfully In mid August, the weather cooled off nicely, so I headed up to an old haunt, the Teifi pools, where the fishing had switched back on after the summer dog days. Here the wild brownies were willing to chase blue Zulus on the dropper, a brilliant attractor pattern that works well on hungry fish looking to fatten up in readiness for winter.
Autumn arrived early at the end of August, when I visited a group of llyns in Ceredigion. Here on an appalling wet and windy day the fish were hard on the feed, coming aggressively to a variety of traditional wet flies and my streamer pattern. Between three anglers we managed 50 or so fish, a great day out in perfect ‘big wave’ wet fly conditions with bibio and claret dabblers scoring well.
Early September was also good, but overall the weather turned fine and bright again. Despite this, another trip to Mid-Wales produced some decent trout fish to a variety of traditional wet flies, and with the aggressive instinct starting to show in the trout the streamers worked best, producing some nice fish up to 2lb in weight.
Sadly the cream of the llyn season was cut short for me; due to a fishing injury sustained whilst on the river Taff. I had however managed to get enough quality time on the banks to see me through until next season.
The best bits…
A particular highlight of the season must be a visit to a remote heather clad llyn in Powys, where keen river angler Rhys Morgan landed his first proper llyn trout on a size 12 Fulling Mill Ke-he, presented on a Airflo Super stick 2 fly rod and Super-Dri Elite line in baking hot, flat calm July conditions.
Another must be an evening hike in late spring to a spectacular lake surrounded by high cliffs along with Fishtec sales manager Ceri Owen. We discovered that the llyn was teeming with small, lighting fast, golden trout up to 12oz – these were perhaps the prettiest fish we had ever seen. It is no exaggeration to say we caught several dozen of these fantastic little trout each, with the black pennell being a particular favourite – although these fish would have probably taken anything!
Finally, a trek through the majestic Moelwyn mountains of Blaenau Ffestiniog with Alan Parfitt of the Gwent Angling society. It’s safe to say the 9 mile walk through rugged terrain was well worth it, with trout to 2lb captured from several spectacular llyns along the route.
My Top 6 Fulling Mill traditional wet flies of 2018:
1. Ke-He – The ultimate attractor wet fly from the Orkney islands, combines elements from many successful patterns into one killer package.
2. Bibio – A reliable pattern for when fish are taking drowned terrestrial insects. A great middle dropper fly.
3. Blue zulu – A classic attractor for a dull choppy day. Fish on the top dropper for best results.
4. Coch y bonduu – A great all-rounder, not just for matching the famous beetle hatch. It works well as a single, fished in calm bright conditions.
5. Claret dabbler – A killer on rough, dull days or for fishing into darkness when you need to attract the attention of fish feeding in the margins.
6. Black Pennell – The pattern works fantastically well during a buzzer hatch and also as a general purpose ‘suggestive’ fly; it’s a true classic that works best on the point.