Chasing Beetles

by Andrew Worthington

Few of us have the luxury of waiting, on standby, for the ideal time to go fishing. We have to fit it in around everyday life, hence the timing multiplier to the sum of our fishing luck.

Many members will already know that Llyn Clywedog is one of my favourite venues, as a large (615 acre), semi-wild venue that can offer sublime dry fly fishing opportunities. Llanidloes and District Angling Association run this fishery, and supplement the wild brown trout with large numbers of rainbow and brown trout and variants, cage-reared in the lake Whilst the bulk of the stocking in the past seemed to ber fish around 1½ pounds in weight, it is now much larger. The bulk of the fish seem to be around 2 pounds, but fish into double figures are also stocked.

Unlike the midlands reservoirs, that are closer to many of us, Llyn Clywedog is not blighted by algal blooms. Whilst it still receives a share of nutrient pollution from run-off and man’s pollution of the landscape, it’s in Wales! It was constructed as a drinking water reservoir serving the midlands due to the supply potential of plenty of….. water. This gives the reservoir plenty of flush-through, although the drought of 2018 led to a long walk down to the water’s edge and the boats – and the walk back up to the car with all of the gear….

‘Hot’ Chris among the bluebells

This results in reduced nutrient accumulation, which in turn limits generation of natural food organisms within the reservoir. Apart from notable hatches of tiny black buzzers (see the size of the commas on this page…?!) little food is produced beneath the water surface, although there are some Alder and Sedge Flies. Consequently, any terrestrial food organisms that find themselves on the water surface don’t usually survive for long before falling victim to the myriad sub-surface predators. In order to boost this food source, at some point in the past, coch y bonddu beetles were imported from the nearby Elan Valley, and became established on the hillsides surrounding the lake. The larvae of these large beetles live in the ground and feed on plant roots. They are associated with bracken, and once they transition to the adult stage, need warm, dry weather to take flight. It is during the latter activity, which they do clumsily, that they are vulnerable to being blown onto the water. Trout soon respond to the windfall, creating the kind of general rise typical of mayfly time on rivers. So, anglers who want to join the party are at the mercy of the weather – and the weather forecast! This was my predicament when deciding when to book a solo trip…

me and a wild brownie

Whilst the ‘headline act’ might be the coch y bonddu beetle, there are also significant ‘falls’ of Daddy Longlegs, Dung flies, Hawthorn and Heather flies, in support. Combined with the usually-amazing water clarity, trout can see what falls on the water surface from a long way down. The conical, visual ‘window’ for fish is bigger the deeper the fish is. Patrolling fish then have a better chance of seeing potential food items on the surface. What this all means is that the trout soon learn to look up for their next meal, and might just mistake your fly for exactly that, if you are lucky..

Having fished here on the Saturday of the recent club trip, sharing a boat with Chris Hollick, I was eager to get back, fingers firmly crossed for the blessed beetle. On the club trip, it all started slowly, when we were persuaded to divert from my considered ‘Plan A’. With no action, we motored up the reser, looking for a sign (surface-feeding fish) that would provoke cutting the engine to try our luck. Ideally, for success with dry fly, a gentle ripple is needed – the fish can see too much through crystal-clear water, otherwise. When we found some (apparently feeding on small buzzers) we were able to tempt fish up with dung fly imitation/brown emergers. First fish, not until 11.15.

Come mid-afternoon, we moved across the reservoir, upwind, as the breeze was stiffening. Did you see that ?! A Daddy Long Legs – not what I was expecting- watch – have the fish seen it? As we watched, over time, we could see more getting blown onto the water and the trout responded, enthusiastically. What made me chuckle, was that the ‘pack’ had motored up to the top of the reservoir, to Braich y Ffedew, over-optimistically hoping for a fall of the mythical beetle. We were in the midst of a fall of Daddies, and we were the only boat in the area – rare indeed. Luckily, we both had with us imitative patterns, and the fish approved. Great sport ensued – more-or-less, a take-a-chuck! The only problem was the clock – we had to break-off for the group meal, and had to leave the bonanza unsated. Crying in public, at my age, is so undignified…

Back to my latest trip. Having switched my chosen day, and brought it forward, due to the weather forecast, it flipped back again – I was going a day too early, and rain was forecast during the afternoon. A day afloat with rain takes the edge off the optimism, but hey-ho, I resolved to make the best of whatever was thrown at me. Having arrived early, I ate breakfast overlooking the lake and scanned for fish activity. I made mental notes, marking fish. On this trip, I brought my electric outboard and batteries, my preferred method of propulsion. Beautifully quiet, so that I could get the full benefit of any birdsong, including my summer favourite, the willow warbler. I set off from the jetty, in search of feeding fish, and cast my 2 dry flies in the first target area. One or two fish were moving, and I was rewarded within the first five minutes as a fish gratefully swallowed my dung fly imitation. I had a feeling I would have a few fish to choose from during the day, so returned the hard-fighting rainbow, as it was not quite 2 pounds. I have regretted such optimism in the past, when I have failed to get my bag of 6, but it was only 8.20 – the day was young! I had another fish about half an hour later, to the same pattern. However, my fly pattern, a combination of sheep’s wool, knotted pheasant tail fibre legs and cul de canard, takes a beating and becomes harder to re-float. It is hard to accept ‘down-time’ when there are fish to be caught!

brown trout victim of the dung fly

I moved up the lake, leap-frogging a group of 3 bank anglers, and again found some peaceful water with a few fish evident. There were a few buzzers hatching, and these were large, relative to the ‘punctuation marks’ I described earlier. This remarkable lake even has a population of sand martins that nest in a sandy cliff, and they were carrying out raids, low over the water, picking-off emerging insects. I switched my dropper fly to a small shuttlecock buzzer. Within half an hour a fish lazily scoffed it, and that was my second fish put on ice. I then caught a couple of lovely wild brownies, and also a beautifully-marked stocked one that took my dung fly. All of these were returned.

Around lunch time there was a general fall, including many dung flies (I refused to believe that the fly that died in my valuable coffee was one of these – no ill-effects, so far…besides, if they tasted like dung, would the fish eat them so eagerly?!), black gnat, one or two daddies, and a large, matt brown beetle, that I have seen during a fall of coch’s. The fish were indulging with relish. I was able to scoot around relatively quietly with my electric outboard in pursuit of ripple. But, Clywedog being Clywedog, there were times that it dropped dead-calm – and sunny, but I was confident that the breeze would return. This lake can be fickle, and I have seen wind blowing from 3 points of the compass at once – REALLY! Under changeable conditions, a weakness of electric power emerges. You can labour against the wind to get to the top of a drift, only for the wind to about-turn as you get there – Oh, how I laugh when that happens…

buzzers and shucks from spoon samples

There were some good fish taking flies off the surface, but a lot of fish are caught and released, and they get harder to catch, especially in a flat-calm. The rain came gently at first, followed by a menacing gloom, but it was not too bad, and fish were still rising. Towards the end of the afternoon, as rain was getting stronger, I put a foam beetle on the dropper, and persevered with my dung fly on the point. I had to change to fresh flies every so often, as this fly needs to be fished ‘dry’. The wind kept dropping-out, and I looked up the reservoir. It seemed that some of the boats were coming down, having spent time up in Braich y Ffedew. With my binoculars I could see more ripple in that direction, and I could also see rising fish. However, the sky was ever more threatening, and showers more frequent. I was still on my first battery, so knew I would have plenty of power to get me up and back to the jetty. I decided to move up, and cast to rising fish along the way. These fish had clearly seen some flies earlier in the day, and did not give themselves up. I thought I had better get up to Braich y Ffedew before I got rained-off when it really started. As I motored, I spooked fish near the surface. Eventually I got up there and there were a few boats but plenty of room. There weren’t many rising fish, and it started raining harder. The wind started to blow back down the Dead Channel towards ‘home’ so I felt I should drift along and try the margins. As I cast my 2 flies out and the rain intensified, I could just make out my cdc, and guess where the beetle was. There is something weirdly delicious about trying to fish dry fly in the rain. This is emphasised when a fish rolls through your imitation, like it is stealing it, hoping you won’t notice its shoulder and back arc out of the water. This happened twice in the channel. How can the fish see the fly, when the surface is being peppered with rain?! You don’t need to know – the fact is they can – and that was all I was interested in. I now had 9 fish, 5 in the box. I decided I had better head back towards home, and stop if a good opportunity presented. I had had good sport, but just a few more casts! I saw a few fish moving around the middle of the length of the channel, cut the engine, and lashed-out the flies. Several casts later a fish obliged and it dived – always a good sign. I played it for a few minutes, and I made the mistake of thinking that I’d leave after getting that one in the boat, when the hook pulled-out! Serves me right. The kit was wet, but I had had a lovely day regardless and was happy to come away and start my 2 hour drive back.

June 2016 at coch y bonddu time – the author caught a 4 1/2 ‘bow in full sun on a beetle.

Then the post mortem, and the time when I often come up with my best ideas: If only I had…

Next time. I accept I will miss the best of the beetle sport this year, due to other commitments. However, that place keeps drawing me back, regardless. There is usually a good fall of daddies in the Autumn….

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