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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 you.”

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 Pembrokeshire.

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 excuse.

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 knots.

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:

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