It was that time of the year again. The new river season having just passed its first fortnight, it was time to head to Ross on Wye for some early season barbelling. It can be a bit of a lottery when it comes to river conditions on the Wye. It can be low and clear or carrying 8 foot of extra water if it’s rained up in the Welsh mountains.
On our arrival this time we found the river looked pretty good. There was a touch of colour and a sensible summer level. So we’d struggle to come up with any excuses for not catching, judging by these conditions.
After setting up the caravan we managed to get down to the river around 4pm. Due to a mix up over the booking we had to fish the lower field at Whitehouse, which we hadn’t really fished before. The depth was a bit lower here and normally very weedy. I think the huge floods over the winter have really scoured the bottom of weed growth, as this year there was only minimal weed showing.
I had decided to try out Lone Angler’s Caviar Pellets in sizes 8mm and 12mm as hookbaits and to also mix them into my groundbait. I use a 50/50 mix of the LA groundbait and a hemp and halibut one. Into that I add a liberal amount of 4, 6 and 8mm pellets. I firmly believe you need to feed the right amount of bait into a big river like the Wye to draw the barbel in and keep them feeding in your swim. Most people don’t feed enough in my opinion, not that I’m advocating piling in kilo upon kilo of pellets either. I certainly wasn’t going to pin my hopes on just one particular bait and so had a number of other options at my disposal. As it turned out I needn’t have worried!
Initially I started on the straight lead as I knew there was weed present. After an hour of no action I opted to swap to a cage feeder packed with the groundbait and pellet mix and use 2 x 8mm caviar pellets on the hook. The results were instant. Within a few minutes the rod hooped over and a feisty Wye barbel was netted. I packed up at 9pm but not before securing a further 12 beautiful barbel and a few chub. It seemed that the pellets were to the barbel’s liking. Geoff was fishing around 6 yards below me and only managed a solitary barbel. Meanwhile Kevin was about 15 yards above me. Having watched me catch a few, he asked to try a few of the pellets and ended up with 3 barbel! Geoff was convinced it was just that all of the barbel were in my swim and so we swapped places. I bagged two barbel in his swim but sadly the fish had vacated my swim by then and it failed to produce. So a big thumbs up for the pellets on this first session.
The 1st fish of the week
The second day saw us on a new beat at Lower Hill Court. What a stunning place this is; heavily wooded banks thick with foliage and a back drop of Goodrich Castle. The beat was around 2 miles long and had a really good variety of water. There were some lovely gravel beaches to fish from around half way along, where with waders you could trot the far bank. Both Kevin and I opted for this method and soon were catching chub and dace. Kevin eventually latched into a barbel and netted a stunning fish of around 5/6lbs. Sadly I couldn’t tempt a barbel on the float and so decided an afternoon nap was in order!
Lower Hill Court
With Red Kites, Buzzards and a plethora of other wildlife surrounding us it’s not difficult to feel like you’re the richest man in the world to be lucky enough to experience places like this. We are so lucky to be fit and able enough to indulge ourselves in such pleasures. Geoff had wandered to the upper limits of the fishery and was fishing from a croy. There was a deep run on the inside but it didn’t seem to produce anything and so he cast right across to the far bank. This made all the difference and he was soon into some barbel.
Not one to miss out, I set up the barbel rod with a cage feeder and this time 2 x 12mm caviar pellets and was soon fishing the opposite bank. I like to use a 3 foot fast sinking coated braid hooklink and a barbless hook. Generally I use the Pallatrax ones as they are extremely strong and a nice pattern. The results were immediate and I ended up hooking 11 barbel and landing 10, along with around 14 or 15 chub. Kevin was having a chub fest and took nearly 20 plus 5 barbel. Geoff just piped me with 11 fish, one of which went 9lb 11oz. What a cracker.
We will certainly be back to this beat as it’s just such a stunning spot. There was so much variety as I said and access is brilliant, you can drive right along the banks of the whole stretch. The only downside were the number of accessible swims, with only around 6-8 being feasible to fish. When you’re on holiday you don’t tend to pack strimmers, machetes and the like, so I’d like to see the owners or the Wye and Usk just add a few more swims.
The following day saw us on another new Wye and Usk beat; Fownhope 5. This turned out to be another stunning part of the Wye. On the downside it did involve a massive hike up and over a mountain, well OK, a hill. But believe me with all of my fishing tackle on I did feel like Sir Edmund Hillary climbing Mt Everest. At one point you climb up some steep steps and find yourself in someone’s garden! The owners were enjoying a lunchtime coffee overlooking the magnificent Wye below. Wow what a view they had. Still they had one to remember now; me loaded up like a Sherpa with sweat pouring off of me and me huffing and puffing as I pulled myself up the steps. I just about managed a “good afternoon” although I’m sure it sounded inaudible due to my physical exhaustion at this point! Anyway they told me I was going the right way and looked with a raised eyebrow at all of the gear I was carrying and said just keep going up! “Up?” I said. Crikey this must be heart attack hill.
Sadly they neither offered me a cup of coffee or to help me up with the tackle and so we parted company. Eventually I made it to the top and the walk down to the river felt like a blessing. Still now I had to make my way through a heavily wooded hillside before eventually clambering down a steep bank to the river. Then I had to traverse my way along rocks and boulders that were strewn along the bank, before eventually finding a swim about 50 yards below a huge boulder weir that crossed the river. In front of me was a gully cut through the bedrock and looked to be around 4 feet deep of smooth water. I was cut, bruised, stung and generally exhausted but excited at the prospect of fishing such an enticing looking swim.
I cast a lead around and it seemed relatively clear from snags. Oh, sadly not though, as I was to find out. I have to say at this juncture that I’ve never had such a hectic days fishing as I did this day. From the minute I cast out to the last cast, the rod top never stopped knocking, tapping and whacking round. It was unbelievable. They were even taking the bait on the drop. I lost countless fish to hook-pulls and some snags and I missed a horrendous amount of bites. I think sometimes they were actually grabbing the feeder and giving false bites. There were more snags than I originally thought but luckily they weren’t a constant problem. By the end of the day I’d landed 9 barbel and somewhere in the region of 30-40 chub. Most of the fish were 3½ to 4½lbs but I had a couple that may have gone 5 but didn’t weigh any. The barbel were all around 6-8lbs and I weighed one which went 7lb 14oz just to give me a benchmark to judge the weights by. These Wye barbel look huge but they are lean and muscular with massive heads and mouths. It’s very easy to misjudge the weights.
Meanwhile Geoff and Kevin were struggling. I think they’d had a chub each. Towards the end of the day they tried my swim and both lost a couple of barbel and so at around 8pm I called it a day. It took me over an hour to work my way back along the bank, through the woods and over the mountain to get back to the first field. I was cream crackered, however what a great day. I’ve never experienced so much intense action before. What a river the Wye is and combine that with some of the finest views and wildlife you’re ever likely to see and its little wonder this is such a popular destination for anglers, walkers, birdwatchers and canoeists alike.