July 2005 –
Night fishing in Wales
Casting towards the far bank of the river
it was still possible to distinguish the rounded silhouettes
of trees against an inky star-filled sky. “You might
not see it,” said a voice from the high bank behind
my back, “but an otter is swimming upstream just behind
Standing waste deep in mid-river I turned
and caught the glint of a bow-wave from an indistinct gliding
form. A while earlier, before the light had faded completely,
we had seen it fishing further downstream at the start of
its nocturnal patrol.
The rehabilitation of otters is one of
the success stories of British river conservation. Here
on the River Towy, just outside Carmarthen in West Wales,
they never disappeared, although their numbers have risen
noticeably in recent years at the expense of the non-native
mink that they have driven away.
Otters eat fish but few anglers would begrudge
their presence and most would regard the opportunity to
view these wonderful creatures as a bonus. My own experience
was that of the apprentice watching the master.
Struggling to see anything in the darkness,
I felt envious of the ease with which the otter negotiated
its environment. I had been lured to the Towy for an opportunity
to fish for big sea trout. The Welsh, who have been doing
this for years, are sometimes tempted to wonder why Scotland
gets so much attention among international game fishers.
Specimen “double-figure” sea
trout are still caught in the Towy. “There’s
nothing like the anticipation of standing in the river in
the dark fishing for something big. You hear the deep splashes
of big fish and, just occasionally, you hook one,”
says Tony Davies, who has represented Wales in international
trout fishing competitions. Now, with his business partner,
Illtyd Griffiths, he runs River to River, a company offering
courses and guiding for sea trout fishing on the rivers
Towy and Cothi in Carmarthenshire and Eastern Cleddau in
When Tony complained, therefore, that
the water had a little too much of a tinge for his liking,
my heart sank. It didn’t stop him catching fish, I
should add, but it laid the foundations for my own lengthy
I had arrived with neither rod, reel nor
flies suitable for this kind of water and in my haste to
pack had even forgotten a head-torch so made do with a truncheon-sized
Mag-lite that had to be wedged under the armpit when tying
At least it meant that the gear I borrowed
was the right kind of tackle. My biggest handicap, however,
was a lack of “feel” for casting blind. Night
fishing with heavy sinking lines and stiff-actioned one-handed
rods really does separate the men from, well, people like
me. Add to that a second fly - the dropper - a few feet
from the heavier tube-fly on the point and you have a fishing
combination that is never more than a wayward arm’s
length away from catastrophe.
In daylight I would struggle to cast well
with this kind of set-up. In darkness, with little opportunity
to reconnoitre the river beforehand, the potential for a
long, tiring and frustrating night can be imagined. The
dropper was the first to go after creating enough birds’
nests for a flock of sparrows.
Sometimes the casts would go well but,
when tiredness had destroyed my rhythm and confidence, nothing
seemed to go right. Tony and Jimmy Jones, his keeper, were
willing me to catch a fish but their enthusiasm, on my behalf,
only seemed to make things worse. It was not until they
left some time before three in the morning that my casting
started to improve during the lightening hour before dawn.
After a couple of sharp pulls on the line
I finally hooked a fish that took my fly with a savagery
that is rarely matched by a salmon. A moment later and it
was gone. Within minutes the darkness was receding and the
trees regained their form and texture. The sea trout retreated
in to their lies and the best chance of a fish had gone.
Bed and breakfast is something of misnomer
when night fishing but an understanding landlady, Fredena
Burns, was happy to let me sleep out the morning. She had
seen it all before. In fact they see a lot of things in
these parts that never reaches the news pages. Both she
and Tony Davies recall that a few years ago Ex US president
Jimmy Carter came to fish on the Towy “There were
security people posted up and down the river,” says
Tony. Imagine an ageing former president wading in darkness
– a worrying proposition, even when viewed through
night vision binoculars. He caught fish too.
The following evening I visited the Abercothi
Estate where Sir Edward Dashwood is transforming a former
farm in to a prime-fishing venue with a rod room that is
so well furnished it looks like something out of a lifestyle
magazine. The pampered anglers on this estate can drive
to within a few yards of their beat. But they still have
to wade and cast in the dark.
Tony gave me a consolation fish that made
an excellent meal. Night fishing, however, remains unfinished
business. If you like a challenge you should try it.
I stayed at Capel Dewi Uchaf Country House,
e-mail: [email protected],
and fished as a guest of River to River, tel. 01437 731259.
The Abercothi estate office can be contacted at 01494 524412.
For details about the area see: visit-carmarthenshire.co.uk