Wye Dreams

Angler and blogger Kevin Parr gives an account of a recent trip to the Wye and the fond memories it evoked.

It seems improbable, but more than three decades passed between my first and second visits to the River Wye. One of the most iconic and inspiring rivers in Britain, and never more than 100 miles from my doorstep. Yet despite the gap, there was a warm sense of familiarity when I returned.

My nine-year-old self had been fairly nonplussed about the grey, muddy-banked tidal water that swept past the ruins of Tintern Abbey, but further upstream, from a raised perspective, I saw a very different river.

Snaking beneath me was a piece of water quite unlike any I had seen. Even from a distance I could make out the ever-changing shapes on the surface - water twisted and funnelled by rock and weed. And either side, steep slopes that were blanketed in trees and surely prevented anyone from casting a line. Not that my attention dwelt too much on the fish. I was (and remain) struck by feather as well as fin, and was at Symonds Yat to catch my first ever glimpse of a peregrine falcon.

"Snaking beneath me was a piece of water quite unlike any I had seen."

In the years since, I have read much of the Wye, particularly its extraordinary biodiversity. Shad and lamprey swimming alongside salmon and chub, and an increasing number of barbel. It was this species that regularly caught my attention, but the prospect of a long journey to a rocky bedded spate river was somewhat daunting compared to the gentle chalk-stream intimacy that I had come to enjoy on the River Kennet.

About five years ago my friend Chris finally succumbed to his own Wye itch, and he returned with a wide grin and tales of long, lean barbel that were perfectly proportioned and freshly cast in bronze.

Plans were made for the following autumn, and I found myself casting from one of those banks that had appeared so impenetrable when I was a child. The fishing was compelling. I had arrived with the intention of adopting modern and trusted techniques, but felt encumbered with a sack-full of feeders, groundbait and pellet, and abandoned them to instead wander with a rod and net and single big baits. Bites came steadily, from many species, and the barbel (and chub) were just as impressive as Chris had described.

On my latest visit, conditions were less favourable. A hot, dry summer had left the river low and a mid-autumn Azorean plume found us fishing in short-sleeves in mid-October. But there was an upside, as Adam Fisher, our trusted Wye confidante, explained. The lack of flow would give us access to his favourite swim. The fishing wouldn’t necessarily be prolific, Adam said, but it would be worth the effort.

He was right. We waded for half an hour to reach the spot but didn’t begrudge a single step. A long, slow-swirling crease that trailed beneath the droop of three enormous horse-chestnuts. The leaves hanging in yellow and brown like the withered hands of a giant.

I flicked a bait out and let it settle, relaxing my shoulders to enjoy the contrast between the blast of warmth coming upriver and the cool of the water in which I stood. The deep valley below me glowed in its autumn finery and high above came the ‘Ker-ker-ker-ker’ of a peregrine – the bird that prompted my first visit to this place. I leaned back as a zephyr flushed against my face, a cascade of leaves tumbling like confetti and a glimpse of falcon above the ridge to my right.

What a piece of river….

Kevin is an angler and blogger, you can find his blog using the link below: