After almost two months of going without fishing since the close of the trout season, Laszlo and I set off on a cold and foggy morning for the River Irfon in the deep heart of Mid Wales in search of grayling. We thought we had made an early enough start, arriving at the Cammarch Hotel in Llangammarch Wells at 10.30am, only to be told that the hotel’s three beats were full. Fortunately, the hotel owner was able to put us on a small stretch of private water between two of the beats, which proved more than ample in the shortened winter daylight hours.
The Cammarch Hotel was apparently the venue of the last ‘wife auction’ held in Wales. Wives may no longer be on sale at the hotel, but it does offer some excellent day ticket access to the River Irfon in conjunction with the Wye & Usk Foundation. In its heyday the Irfon, a tributary of the Wye, was a famed salmon river said to have attracted royalty to its banks, but today it is more renowned for its grayling fishing. And with the hotel’s beats all fully booked by 10.30am on a cold winter’s morning, the news has clearly spread.
Ever so slightly tinged with colour - the remnant of recent rains - the Irfon was flowing fast and powerfully in all but the widest pools which had a more sedate flow. The quarry, the speed of the current and the absence of any surface fly life meant that I was immediately drawn to the partition in my fly box containing heavy tungsten beadhead flies. I picked out a flashback grayling bug which I tied as a dropper to help weigh down a favoured fly of the grayling, a pink shrimp, which I tied to the point.
It was just after 11am that I made my first cast into the first pool, known as the Junction Pool. The morning’s fog had lifted to reveal a low blanket of grey clouds. Every so often the sun would break through the clouds, reflecting brightly off the water’s surface and I was forced to change the yellow strike indicator for a red one so that I could see it. Within minutes the pink shrimp accounted for a little grayling, but other than that, the promising looking Junction Pool yielded no other reward.
The next pool up of any size, flanked by a caravan park on the right, had ‘fish’ written all over it. Within a matter of minutes I lost what looked a good sized grayling, but making my way up the long pool I more than made up for it. First, a pair of 13” grayling came to hand, followed by a 14 incher taken in the fast water at the head of the pool. The latter thought it was a tarpon, repeatedly leaping from the water and shaking its head in an effort to throw the hook. I have never seen this type of behaviour from a grayling before.
And then, the piece de resistance: from the narrow channel where the river entered the same pool, in the depths of the drop off next to a ledge forged by the torrent, I hooked my biggest fish of the year. The indicator checked, I struck and in the deep I saw a golden flash. Feeling the weight it crossed my mind that I had hooked a salmon. The fish hit the current immediately and stripped line down river whilst I stumbled over the rocks trying to keep up. My arms aching from the fight, the fish edged closer until I was eventually able to slip a hand under it. Grayling are affectionately known as the "Ladies of the Stream" but this was no lady. This was an old river warrior - thick set, scarred and strong. It measured 18" from the fork of its tail to its sky-blue coloured snout. Its sail of a dorsal fin flared proudly erect, revealing red and mauve patterns. Its gill plates had a marbled design, similar to the pattern left by wood borer beetles on dry tree bark. It was a fish to make braving the cold worthwhile.
View Larger Map