A week ago I was heading north-west with Chris and Merv, the passenger window down and a familiar tale of footballing woe emanating from St Mary’s via the speakers of the car radio.
The day was soft and hazy. The sun warm and the breeze light. We chatted, laughed and spoke excitedly of the fishing that awaited us. The mighty Wye was calling, as it cut a meander through the ancient wooded gorges of its lower reaches. We hoped for barbel and chub, and we would find a few of each, but the fishing was tough in the low and cold water.
What a difference a week makes. Today, the gravelled shallows where I waded between minnow shoals will be lost beneath ten feet of ill-tempered torrent. Wales has been battered by a big Atlantic storm. Record rainfall, people stranded, homes and businesses flooded. Livestock drowned and thousands of tons of topsoil swept from the freshly drilled fields. We wouldn’t have managed to get close to the river, let alone cast a line, but thoughts of fishing are usually swept away in times of such violent spate.
It is hard for me to picture the Wye in such conditions. My, albeit brief, encounters have met with a refreshing wild river, rock strewn and wide, but ultimately benign. A place to play, whether walking, cycling, canoeing or angling. And regardless of the pursuit, there are places, particularly in the sparkle beneath the loom of the Seven Sisters, where you feel wonderfully insignificant.
I would sometimes have to stop and breathe for fear of becoming overwhelmed. The tumble of leaves from a thousand trees, the echo of a peregrine, the flash of a kingfisher.
And as a model for habitat, the Wye is supreme. We saw herons, little egrets, goosander and otter. All plentiful to a point where many anglers would panic. Yet the river is absolutely stuffed with fish. I trotted with maggots and the float danced incessantly. I tried to feed off the minnows but only succeeded in stirring up a glut of chublets – and ran out of bait long before I drew anything larger.
A salmon crashed downstream, a great flash of silver that sparkled in the sunlight. One of an ever-increasing population on the Wye. A result, not of restocking or predator culling, but considered habitat management. Twenty years of work from the Wye and Usk Foundation bringing undeniable success.
And I felt reassured. That a functioning riverine ecology is still flourishing. And while the Wye benefits from the shape of the land through which it courses – where the hand of man, through milling, misshaping and intensive agriculture, has not been able to create too much negative impact – It should surely be held as a model to which all our rivers can be measured.
Instead, many high profile anglers, who really should know better, use platforms of privilege to peddle personal opinion and not fact. Why anyone would wish to fish a river that has been sanitised and falsified, purely to catch artificial fish, is beyond my thinking. Give me a wild river, where life on every rung of the ladder can live, where I may not catch what I want, if I catch anything at all, but where, in a hundred years – a thousand, maybe – the same natural processes and genetic strains will endure. Give me that place every single time….
Massive thanks, as ever, to Adam Fisher at Angling Dreams – a top, top man. (http://www.anglingdreams.co.uk/)