Mixed Lives
Trout & Salmon|March 2017

James Beeson goes west on a quest for some early-season dry-fly action on the famous River Usk.

James Beeson

THE USK RISES on the northern slopes of the Black Mountains above Usk Reservoir in the west of the Brecon Beacons. Although trout fishing can be good all year it is as a spring destination that the river is most famous. The early months should be filled with hope. These lion-like days when newborn lambs appear in the fields can be unpredictable weather-wise, particularly in the west where a single gust of wind can usher in a change of season. A warming sun that feels faintly of summer may malevolently transform into a full-blown blizzard. Hatches, too, can be unpredictable and therefore so are the trout. If you time it right you can have a day filled with rising fish hungry after winter. If the weather is against you then it can come down to only a few do-or-die chances. These are days that test an angler’s mettle, yet there is nearly always a flutter of olives or a last gasp of March browns that bring the trout on, even if only for an hour. To be on the river then, in the midst of a sudden burst of life, is reason enough to leave the fireside. To catch a first wild trout of the year on a dry-fly and feel its raw strength as the ice-cold water numbs your fingers is your reward. Whatever is true in the realms of men, however the times may be a-changin’, at least the natural world is renewed and peace may be found beside running water once again.

The name “Usk” is Brittonic in origin and like Axe, Esk and Exe it is thought to mean “abounding in fish”. All the beats from the middle river and up offer good prospects in the right conditions. Toby (the photographer) and I headed to Fenni Fach, which is a Wye and Usk Foundation beat just above the town of Brecon. Here there are lots of deep fish-holding pools that offer the chance of a bigger trout. There was a white coating of snow on the northern slopes of the Brecons, a reminder of the winter not yet fully gone. We looked at the river where the road crosses an old stone bridge: it looked in good condition under the weak April sun. The weather forecast predicted a heavy dose of rain around lunchtime so it was with extra urgency that we climbed into waders at the lower of the three parking spots for the beat – where the tarmac road turns into a firm track that leads on to the middle and upper access points.

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