Lyn Davies re-discovers a river he fished as a child.
A very special river cuts its way through the middle of Pontlliw, a village near Swansea, where I was born and bred. Every day, on my daily commute home from work, I pass over its little road bridge promising myself another visit. Generations of my family have fished the Lliw and I’m no exception. Straight from school, I’d run across the fields armed with a tin of freshly picked brandlings. Worming was all I knew, but it taught me so much about the river and where I’d expect to catch fish. Spate conditions were a favourite as they proved most productive. Fishing the running worm inches from the bank, I’d feel for the tell tale ‘knock, knock, knock’ from a little brown trout.
It wasn’t long before I graduated to fly-fishing. Armed with a little Silver March Brown or an Iron Blue Dun, I’d cast down and across for opportunist brownies – it was deadly, and seemed much more interesting than worming. Unknown to me at the time, this was the turning point in my fishing career. Fly-fishing was suddenly cool and I was also becoming fascinated by fly-tying. Throughout comprehensive school, I continued to fish the river using home-tied wet flies, but somewhat disappointingly, I never experimented with the upstream dry fly.
Over 20 years later, I finally arrange a return visit. This time with the dry fly, and accompanied by a good friend of mine, TFF contributor, Oliver Burch. Like me, Oliver has a passion for chasing pint-sized brown trout in small rivers. It’s a cloudy day in mid-August and the river is clear, holding a healthy amount of water following the recent rains. To save walking back on ourselves, we head off in two cars, leaving one near to the village of Felindre (our final destination), and then drive to the town of Gorseinon, some 3 miles further downstream to begin fishing. We tackle up from the back of the car overlooking some waste ground, just a 5-minute walk from the river. Instead of using a ‘hand-me-down’ rod, I’m now holding a top of the range, 7ft, 3wt, Hardy Marksman and it’s accompanying reel. How times have changed. It’s always nice to put together such a small ‘wand’ – a refreshing change from the usual 10ft, 8wt sea trout rod I have become so familiar with during this time of year.
The set-up needs to be straightforward to avoid any unnecessary headaches. You rarely cast further than 10yds, performing ‘flicks’ or even roll-casts more than overhead casts due to the overgrown environment. My Marksman reel is loaded with a Snowbee XS, WF3, whereas Oliver is fishing with a Cortland 444, DT3. Personally, I prefer a weight-forward for one reason – it’s easier to shoot line out in restricted areas. There’s certainly a more ‘relaxed feel’ about a double-taper line and of course they are noted for their presentation. But in my opinion, most of the time you see no difference when casting such short distances. A 5ft-tapered leader is tied directly to our braided loops, along with a tiny leader ring attached to the end. This enables a quick change of the final 2-3lb section of nylon (we prefer Bayer Perlon, when you can get it). When fishing an overgrown river, you inevitably get caught in tree branches and loose a lot of flies, so leader rings preserve the main tapered section. A single, size 16 Klinkhammer completes the set-up. I prefer Olive ‘Klink’s’, but Oliver has more confidence in the tan variations. We run some leader sink over the final 3ft of our leaders and apply a small amount of Gink to the bodies of our flies. Waders on and nets attached, we’re ready to fish. With so much walking involved I prefer to wear a waist pack, but it only contains the bare essentials – a couple of fly boxes, spare nylon, a chocolate bar and a bottle of water. I’ve also become used to wearing a C&F lanyard around my neck, keeping my snips and Gink close to hand.
Within minutes we reach the river. Oliver seems impressed, as he looks upstream towards some inviting runs. We leapfrog each other taking it turns to cast and it’s not long before a lively little brownie is bouncing along the surface. Oliver has hooked into his first ‘Lliw’ fish. It’s all of 6 inches, but with its butter-coloured underside and large red spots, it’s as pretty as a picture laying in his pan-net. It’s the start of things to come. Our Klinks are causing a stir in most places, although some open areas seem less productive. They are easy to fish, but the lack of cover probably puts off the trout, as they become more vulnerable from predators. We notice a couple of man-made weirs – someone someday has tried to encourage groins and pools. Soon the sun is peeping through the clouds and we see the first sign of fly-life. Small black sedges are fluttering around us and the odd olive is seen on the wing. Approaching a long open bank, I spot a splashy rise. As expected, the fish had taken an olive, which was floating temptingly downstream. It’s Oliver’s turn to fish so I keep my distance with the camera. Following a few well-positioned casts, the trout turns on his fly. It’s a better one, making his 3wt-rod work hard as it makes a bid for freedom. Soon a lovely 8-inch brownie is released. Well done Oliver.
Turning a corner, I recognise a landmark in the distance – it’s the M4 Motorway Bridge which passes over the Lliw between junctions 47 and 48. With the drone of cars, we weave in and out of some overgrown sections and struggle over a couple barbed-wire fences before reaching some open fields that skirt the village of Pontlliw. Not long after crossing the road bridge, two barking dogs welcome us. ‘Millie’ and ‘Max’ are fending off any unwelcome visitors from their property – we’ve reached the perimeter of ‘Lliw Mill Trout Farm’. Proprietor, and fishing pal Reggie Street, runs the rainbow trout farm, which is perfectly situated to receive water from the river via a feeder stream controlled by an ancient sluice gate. Unknown to most, the Lliw also experiences a small run of salmon and sea trout towards the end of the year. Reg often discovers small ‘sewin’ amongst his stew ponds and tells stories of large salmon being trapped in river during autumn.
Hearing the dogs, Reg soon appears through the trees to investigate. Being a fly-fisherman himself, he’s keen to know how we’d fared lower downstream. The conversation soon moves towards a well-known story of a ‘fish-farmers nightmare’, some 20 years previous. Following an unusually large spate, literally hundreds of half-pound rainbows escaped from the farm, filling the pools of the river immediately downstream. Locals have never forgotten the event. For days, hoards of anglers lined the banks (myself included) taking huge bags of escaped fish on bread and maggots! Fortunately, since taking ownership, Reg has made the farm more secure and only loses the odd fish (or so he says!). As any fish-farmer will tell you though, Reg fights a constant battle with natural predators, such as otters, mink and herons.
We’re overlooking a part of the river I know very well and much remains unchanged. It’s almost too low to fish as the farm extracts much of its flow, but nevertheless, very pretty. The same farmer owns the adjoining land and the area is full of memories. Memories of catching what seemed like huge fish at the time and other childhood experiences including kissing innocent schoolgirls and generally getting up to mischief!
We move on towards a picturesque weir. Above is ‘Pen-fach’ pool, which translates to ‘small head’. It’s one of the few named pools on the river. Being one of the widest and deepest pools, it’s full of mystery and has always proved a popular play area for local children. Legend has it that a local farmer’s daughter died near by. I catch one small fish before we move on. The river seems to be closing in on us – at times, it’s so overgrown that we struggle to even walk along the riverbed. Overhanging trees and bushes test our patience. We find ourselves skipping areas because it’s virtually impossible to fish. You can just about walk through, never mind cast a fly. It seems a waste – a few hours work with a handsaw could expose so much more. Approaching pool tails, we see fish darting off for cover amongst the underwater tree roots, warning their mates along the way. It’s frustrating but challenging and soon we only seem to be taking fish from the deeper holes.
Heading towards the village of Felindre, I’m in unknown territory. As a child, I never ventured this far upstream. We continue to take the odd small fish, apart from one good one, measuring 11 inches that had a particularly large head, somewhat disproportionate to the rest of its body. Soon the river opens out and I spot a recently renovated bungalow that confirms my position. It’s surprisingly easy to loose your bearings amongst an overgrown deep valley. The river is now running wider through a lush newly landscaped area, at last we can cast without battling with the trees – it’s a luxury.
We’ve just a couple more pools to cover before making an exit up the steep entrance lane towards our car. Presented with a ‘picture book’ run, I do a practice cast amongst the shallow water. To my surprise, a fish immediately splashes over my fly and it’s clearly a good one as it rips line off my little Marksman reel. Soon a very handsome 12” brownie comes to hand. Oliver has also taken a fish of a similar size just downstream – a fitting end to a great day. We finish with over 20 fish between us, having probably lost just as many. The dry fly has worked a treat and Oliver is VERY impressed, which puts a smile on my face. My little river had won over an experienced, visiting angler and there’s already talk of another visit.
I might be biased, but the River Lliw is definitely worth a visit. Don’t expect to catch monsters, the average fish is between 6-8 inches, but there’s always that chance of something larger or even a rainbow! The open, lower stretches seem more productive but they are more heavily fished. Be prepared to battle with a few barbed-wire fences and the noise from the busy M4 motorway can be distracting. Finally, I almost forgot to mention one important point – the fishing is free. It’s always has been this way, it seems that all you need is the permission from the landowner. Many anglers, including Oliver find this hard to believe. In this day and age it’s definitely seems to be an opportunity lost for someone.
River Lliw: Fact file
Location: J47, off the M4 Motorway.
Head for Gorseinon and park up on the waste-ground near to the Asda store.