Fishing the Upland Llyns
By Ceri Thomas
“Variety is key, no two llyns are alike”
What is an upland llyn?
Welsh for ‘lake’, a llyn is equivalent to an upland loch or tarn. In Wales we are blessed with hundreds of them, especially in the mountains of North Wales and the more gentle hills of Mid Wales. The majority are glacial in origin, although some are the product of ancient mining industries, which over the centuries have completely naturalised and can be considered true llyns. In some cases llyns have been converted to water supply reservoirs from their natural state.
Variety is key, no two llyns are alike; even waters just yards apart may have vastly different characteristics. You will find deep, heather clad crevasses, corrie lakes in natural amphitheatres under steep cliffs, and gentle moorland waters where the waves lap gravelly shores. Each one is unique with a special character.
What lives in them?
It is rare to find a llyn without a head of natural wild brown trout. These fish originally colonised during the aftermath of the ice age, or were introduced by farmers, monks and Victorian sportsmen over the years. Some of the deep North Wales llyns even contain arctic char.
Fish size and quality can vary just as much as the physical properties of the llyns themselves. Some contain mere stunted fingerlings, black in colour with bulging eyes, while others have plentiful golden trout of around half a pound with the odd larger specimen. A few remote llyns can hold true leviathans. Though rare, fish of 4 or 5lb are a possibility on the right water on the right day. In most llyns though, a fish of a pound can be considered a really good one and a two pounder exceptional.
Why fish a llyn?
For the angler seeking solitude, llyn fishing provides a taste of adventure in beautiful, remote surroundings.
It is rare to see another human being, let alone another angler so exclusivity is almost guaranteed. The fishing can be, and often is excellent. Llyns tend to be found in clusters, so you can often sample a number of venues as part of a grand day out.
Llyn fishing is definitely on the up; the dark years of acid rain and toxic pyrthroid sheep dip are now thankfully behind us, allowing for insect life to return. Many llyns swarm with fly life, such as pond olives, sepia duns, caddis, leeches, and buzzer. Terrestrial food sources such as heather fly, coch y bonddu beetle and daddy long legs provide windblown nutrition. In some the margins teem with minnow and sticklebacks, providing extra protein for larger trout. With more food and better water quality, fish populations have responded well. So now is a great time to pay a llyn a visit.
What’s the catch? Some llyns do require a bit of extra legwork to reach them. But if you are willing to walk and expend a bit of energy the rewards can be high. Thankfully the challenge of getting there is all part of the enjoyment, as are the wonderful views and scenery that you will encounter en-route.
“Llyn fishing is definitely on the up... many llyns swarm with fly life”
Llyn fishing on the Passport
The Fishing Passport offers access to a wide cross section of llyns all over Wales, from the moorland setting of Llyn Bugeilyn in the Cambrian mountains with its famous ‘black finned trout’, to the majestic and almost bottomless Llyn Dulyn of the Carneddau. All told there are three dozen llyns for you to choose from.
Not all are a hard walk – plenty of the Passport venues are easy to access and will suit less mobile anglers. For example the Teifi Pools offer a quality llyn fishing experience with metalled roads right up to the water’s edge. The newly added Aberystwyth Angling Association has a fantastic selection of llyns, some of there are very accessible yet retain a wild feel.
Because you can book online with the Fishing Passport you are able to plan and time your journey with ease. This is a massive advantage if you are visiting some of the remoter llyns where weather conditions and a long hike must be considered.
A few llyns to try in the Fishing Passport
Situated in a remote upland plateau setting, high above Blaenau Ffestiniog at over 2000 feet altitude. This llyn holds larger than average wild trout, with the chance of a real outsize specimen. Rich in fly life including the famous sepia dun. A two hour walk is required here, but you can fish two other llyns (Cwmorthin and Cwm Corsiog) on the way up.
Part of the Teifi pools group, Egnant is easily accessible and an ideal place for anglers new to llyn fishing to try. It produces good sport all season and holds decent sized fish to 2lb as well as plenty of sporting half pounders. Should the fishing be slow a short walk to llyn Hir or llyn Teifi can often change your fortunes.
An Aberystwyth AA llyn, Rhosrydd was created to power a local lead mine in the 1800’s. A shallow and fertile llyn, this lake produces some very special trout, up to 5lb in weight. It holds a mixture of truly wild fish, and a few stock trout which are mostly introduced as fingerlings to grow on. It fishes well on a wet and windy day in the summer months. The prolific sedge hatch in the late evenings of summer is something to behold, if you can hit it right. Like all Aber AA llyns, this lake has a fantastic coch-y-bonddu beetle hatch in early June.
A llyn of the ‘Great Desert of Wales’ at 1700 feet the moody moorland setting of ‘The Shepherds Pool’ is truly atmospheric. Bugeilyn swarms with moderately sized trout, which are dark in colour much like the peaty water. Although possible to access with a 4 X 4, it is a 2 mile walk along a track. On the right day fishing here can be fast and furious.
There are many other llyns on the Fishing Passport worth exploring, most of which are hardly ever visited. So why not be a pioneer and try them?
A few tips for llyn fishing
Walk and cast. Llyn trout like to occupy a small territory and will usually stick to it. Therefore, you must go and look for the fish. Cast and step your way along the bank covering as much water as possible. Make sure every new cast covers fresh water. The more fish you cover, the better your chances will be.
Bring the right flies. Classic traditional wet flies have been around for a long time for a reason; they are very successful on wild waters. So make sure you carry a well stocked box. Traditional wets including Black Pennell, blue and black Zulu’s, Bibio, Connemara black, Wickhams fancy, Black & peacock spider, Kate Mclaren, Mallard & Claret and my all time favourite, the Kee-hee should be in your box. A selection in sizes 10, 12 and 14 will see you well for all conditions.
Big wave, big fly. When the wind blows up on the hills it’s time to add a big, heavily hackled bushy bob fly to your cast. Make sure you bounce and draw your top dropper across the waves at the end of you retrieve – expect some savage takes. A big Bibio, Claret dabbler, Loch Ordie or the Goats toe (all in size 10) make for perfect ‘big wave’ dropper flies.
Ignore the nearer water at your peril. In upland llyns the fish are where the food is - that is very often in the margins. So never ignore the shallows, taking care to make short casts into the marginal areas before you even think about wading, and casting along the bank before targeting the deeper water.
Points point to fish. Points act as wind traps, funnelling food into calm water on their lee sides. Look for points, and fish the calm patches they create. Invariably good fish will be found on the sheltered side of points, picking off terrestrial food from the surface. To maximise your chances head for these areas and try dry flies.
Bring some lures. Wild browns are opportunists and will attack anything that offers protein. Tadpoles or streamers that represent small fish or leeches will work on their day, especially when the going is tough. Woolly buggers in particular are superb wild trout catchers in sombre colours such as black, olive and brown. A great way to cover all of your bases is to try a lure as your point fly with two traditional wet fly patterns above, as part of a team.
A regular angler through the Passport, Ceri Thomas works for Airflo in Brecon as online marketing manager. With a preference for wild fish in wild places, Ceri’s fishing travels have taken him far afield, including extensive visits to the USA. However his main passion remains his local Welsh rivers, streams and mountain llyns, many of which can be accessed via the Fishing Passport.