The river Wye is still new to me. I have only ever fished it on three occasions and this was the third, hence I am still getting to know it. I suppose with the changeable nature of running water it could take someone a life time to get even the smallest understanding of a river, and that knowledge could be washed away with one single flood; so me and the Wye still have a long way to go till I have even a modicum of understanding.
Before we even left the shire, the Wye on paper looked not that different from how it had been less than a month ago. This in turn created a hint of confidence that we may, in some way, have a repeat performance of our previous visit to this little-fished stretch.
At four in the morning the sky was about as clear as it could be, and even the glow of the city did not seem to diminish the view of the stars. But this clear night was to herald a clear day, and that we did not want one bit for our trip to this river. The problem with pre-arranging such jaunts is that should the conditions be adverse, you can't exactly just change tack having ultimately drawn your cards weeks prior; should it be a bad hand then it is simply a case of making the most of a bad lot.
Our day was planned, and even though the pair of us knew the bright sun might well be against us, the cogs were already moving, and come what may we would soon be slipping through the night to try and beat the rising sun to the Wye, to best our chances of casting into the half light.
Winter views of rising and setting suns are, I have to say, some of the best, but when you want to be on the bank before light up, that pale blue semicircle that appears on the horizon as you speed through the night, is like an alarm bell ringing in your mind. The journey into Herefordshire therefore was not savoured one bit and was instead reduced to a countdown of miles on the the satnav.
It was just getting light as I tip toed around ice clad muddy puddles to open the gate into the white frosted landscape of the Wye valley, and for the first time this journey, I felt relaxed. We were here, it looked great and the spot where we headed held fish for sure. Though how long those fish may be inclined to feed was anyone's guess.
Not long after this, Andy inched the car along the top of the flood defences as we neared the chosen spot. Being only a single car width, any vehicles travelling along this track must either travel the entire length or turn around on the single area wide enough and flat enough to do so, before powering back up onto the track.
It was decided that given we were the only people going to be on the stretch it was a good idea to turn the car around before we started fishing and leave it on the track ready to go later. Going down into the turning area was easy enough, but when Andy came to power back up, the car slid to an inglorious stop with the wheels spinning in the soft ground covered in frost. A few attempts all ended the same way. This was not a good way to start a session. We agreed that the frost may be hampering his efforts and decided to leave the car where it was and try again once the sun had melted the white grass green again. Though it was also agreed to try again around midday, so as to leave us enough time to go and try and find a kind farmer to drag us out should we be unable to get out any other way.
I know Andy had the worry of being stuck niggling in the back of his mind, and frankly I did too, but unable to do anything about it we went about trying to catch some fish, as prime time was ticking away with the quickly rising sun.
As I set up I watched the river flowing past, and as all the available information had confirmed it was no higher or lower than when we were last here. Even the colour of the water could of been a exact match to last time. But something about it was different. My rigs were identical in all ways but one: not wanting any disasters I had obtained some highly durable yet reasonably lower diameter mono line which I had previously used and was very confident in.
I even cast back into the same area where on my last trip I had done so well. Three quick casts and the feeling that the river was different grew. If my rig landed only a few feet further out, the flow seemed ten times as powerful. Sticking with just inside the flow, taps started to appear on the rod and soon enough those taps grew more violent. All the taps stopped suddenly before I got a proper rattle, and instinctively struck just as the tip bent over.
Although secretly hoping the barbel would show up again, I had wondered if the major drop in temperature overnight may have put them off feeding, but here I was playing a barbel after my first real bite of the day and it was really hammering me. The freezing temperature had certainly not made this fish lethargic at all. Time and time again it powered in and out of the current, until I finally coaxed it into the slack water towards my waiting net.
Not a massive barbel, but on a freezing cold morning it was more than I expected quite honestly. A few repeat casts later it's smaller brother or sister did a very convincing impression of giant roach. The tip kept rattling as is my baits were pecked at by a 10lb roach. This fish was half the size of the first and all the way in I suspected a the big white lips of a chub would appear from the fight, but then it suddenly turned into a small barbel.
Not long after the second fish, the bites dried up totally. Strangely, Andy, who was fishing a crease up stream, seemed to be getting regular bites. Thus I suspected the fish may of moved a bit further out. In order to try and squeeze out more interest I increased my feeders weight and pushed more into the flow. Just casting that few feet more it seemed like the entire pressure of the Wye was on my rig, and time and time again no matter how much more weight I added, the rig was unceremoniously ejected back into the slack after tumbling across the rocky bottom. Even going onto my second rod, with its Avon tip and a huge cow lead piggy backed onto the feeder, only served to bend my rod right through the top section.
Feeling like I was not fishing effectively, I decided a new spot was in order, and dropped down to fish the crease where the flow came back off the bend, only to find this was a hundred times worse. This time sunken maple leaves skipping the bottom immediately hooked up on my weighty rig and dislodged it in the edge.
It was whilst trying to fish this area that I realised that although the river was seemingly of exactly the same level as on our last visit, the flow had a lot more pace and power. It was almost malevolent as it pushed by, and was only content for me to cast beside it. Should I cast anything into its path, it was just shoved out of the way. Thinking about it, the only reason I can rationally think could explain this is that the water was encountering less resistance as it moved down stream. Whether it was reduced weed levels upstream or the wind coming from a different direction and not holding it up, or just pushing it on. The fact was that it was much more powerful than before, and this was confining us to areas where the fish did not seem comfortable feeding.
As agreed, around midday after fighting it out for very little, we opted to make a move. The last time here we held it out in one area under the belief that the fish would again feed as dusk fell, only to find they had no intention of getting back on a bait. This time we wanted to explore a few other spots lower down stream, and as Andy had managed to get the car out of the mire it seemed a good time to move.
First we checked out an area we hoped might hold a large upstream slack, where rumours of big pike abound, but it turned out the increased pace of the water had pushed the main flow of the river directly onto the bank where we stood, which had in turn transformed what I suspect was a normally sedate spot into a maelstrom of mixed currents which neither of us fancied trifling with.
Next we headed to the very bottom of the stretch, entering via a second gate at the bottom of a very muddy lane. This part of the river looked every part a salmon and trout beat; long riffles interspersed with slightly deeper pools had spey casting written all over it, but as for coarse fishing it was not looking good at all. Worst of all the early winter sunset was not so long off that we could justify going back to our original spot. So begrudgingly we picked the likeliest looking area, which turned out to be a grassy plateau level with the river, and tried to make the most of things.
Upstream from Andy, I could not hold bottom again, and soon enough resorted to trotting the biggest chubber float I had along a run mid river to try and steal a bite here or there. The float moved so fast that a fifty yard trot lasted mere moments, but after persevering for a good hour or more the float buried out of sight at the end of the run and I contacted a reasonable chub. Vilified, my only problem now was how do you tow in a 2-3lb chub against the full force of the Wye using only a 3lb hook link. It took a while and some gentle pumping, but a big white pair of lips appeared not far from my net just before one last turn against the flow pinged my size sixteen hook back in my face.
The move did turn out to be a bit of a bad one as the lower part of the stretch just did not seem the right sort of place to be fishing right now. Sure, in the summer standing knee deep in the river rolling a chunk of meat down the far bank under the trees may have been very productive, but at the time of year when that tactic would work, this place is the private premise of the salmon angler.
We had such high hopes for this session back on the Wye as it was going to be our last trip down this year, but the conditions had made the fishing difficult. However this river has me hooked, and I can't wait to return and discover a bit more about it, provided I can persuade its owner to let me come back again next year early after the salmon season is done.