Elan valley fishing

Elan Valley – Wild Trout in The Lakeland of Wales

The Elan valley lakes offer superb brown trout fishing deep in the heart of Wales. Situated in breath-taking, steep sided valleys that are clothed in green and brown hues, the vast dams offer a truly scenic angling experience – and all for just £12 a day.

The Elan lakes were created over a hundred years ago to supply water to the midlands. The Victorians really knew how to build stuff – but they also had an appreciation of how massive architecture could compliment the landscape. The elegant and baroque dams, with their fine stonework and ornate valve towers really enhance the already spectacular surroundings, making the Elan valley a delightful place to fish.

There are a total of 6 dams in the area, 4 of which were built across the River Elan, a tributary of the Wye. This created Craig Goch (the top in the chain), Pen-y-Garreg, Garreg-Du and Caban coch reservoirs, that in total cover 850 acres of wild water. It is on these 4 that the best fishing can be found.

All of the reservoirs hold abundant wild brown trout. The Rhayader Angling club used to stock browns every couple of years to supplement the native stock, in the more accessible bays. Although they probably don’t need to any more. Most of the wild fish average about 3/4lb, with pound plus fish fairly common. There are larger wild fish present – 4lb specimens have been known to figure in the catches, and a 3lb fish was captured on Craig Goch in the Autumn of 2021.

The reservoirs are all steep sided, with numerous in-flowing streams which create channels and drop offs, ideal places to cast your fly. In many places’ boulders and broken shale rocks form submerged reefs, where good trout congregate. There are also extensive areas of shallower bank and numerous bays, which have silty bottoms that can produce good buzzer hatches, particularly early and late in the season.

Some of the reservoirs (Craig Coch especially) have extensive weed beds, whilst others have fallen timber and tree cover, which extends right into the water’s edge. The water in the reservoirs can vary in clarity, from crystal clear to a dark peaty stain, depending on rainfall and time of year.

Such diverse habitat leads to a bewildering colour range in the wild trout – from almost black with white haloed spots, to bars of gold, speckled with red spots with white finned edges. Even trout from different bays on the same reservoir can vary vastly in appearance. If it’s stunning and diverse wild trout you are after, then this is the place to come.

Being upland venues, terrestrial insects feature highly on the menu – cow dung flies, heather flies (bibio), daddy long legs and the famous Coch Beetle hatch (which appears in June) all feature throughout the year, meaning the fish are always looking up. All of the lakes have good populations of minnows, which provide sustenance for the larger fish. Cased caddis, olive nymphs and snails also add to the sub-surface forage.

Tackle & Techniques

A floating line is all you will need for the Elan valley lakes. Although deep and expansive, the fish are usually within a short cast of the bank. Most of the food is in the shallow marginal edge, so the fish are never too far out. I like to use a weight forward line with a short head, it loads quickly in confined back casting areas. For the rod, 9 to 10 foot #6 or #7 rods are ideal, with my favourite being a 10′ #6 set-up.

A rod with a softer, more forgiving action is preferred. This helps with making roll and side casts, which are sometimes necessary under the steep slopes. A softer ‘mid to tip’ rod also gives you a bit more enjoyment with a feisty half pounder on the end!

Mobility is key – you must go and find the fish. They can be clustered in hot spots, so walk and fish, roaming the banks making prospective casts into likely looking areas. Drop offs, river channels, points, around weed beds, sunken rocks and timber can all produce fish. Never forget to make the odd cast directly along the bank, before you fish through the area – it’s surprising how close in they can be!

Flies & leader

Fly choice need not be complicated. All you need are a handful of traditional wets (e.g Black pennell, Zulu, Coch y bonddu, bibio to name a few) some black CDC hoppers and a few dark coloured lures. Red or orange trigger points in the files work well. A team of 2 or 3 fished on a floater with an intermediate polyleader (to help bed the flies in) will catch fish all day. Fluorocarbon in 5lb or 6lb is all you will need for tippet.

Great sport all season

The Elan lakes fish well all season – even in high summer when the lowland lakes are at their worst, making them worth a visit when the going is tough elsewhere. This is thanks to their high altitude in the Cambrian Mountains and the clean, cold oxygenated water that feeds them. Of course, pick a cloudy day if you do want to fish in summer, or try an evening if it’s very bright. The back end of the season in September up to the last day on October 17th can often be the best fishing of all.

I last visited the reservoirs with my good mate, Alan Parfitt, who has been fishing the upland reservoirs and llyns of mid Wales for many years. He once caught a 4lb trout on Craig Goch, which is where we headed to on the start of a glorious, mild autumnal day.

We began on the far side of the reservoir, crossing the dam and parking near the corner by the tower. It wasn’t long before we spotted fish, rising steadily in the calm conditions to buzzer. Of course, getting near to them was tough – it was flat calm and after a few casts the fish faded away.

A light breeze thankfully developed, which made things a lot easier for us. We fished our way all around the far bank, leapfrogging each other as we went, fishing every likely looking bay and channel with a cast or three.

We caught plenty of fish as we roamed – beautiful wild trout to just over a pound. After passing the remote Elan valley bothy, we found ourselves right at the top end of the reservoir, where the peat tinted upper Elan river comes in. Rather than walk all the way back to the car, we decided to fish our way back along the road side of the reservoir, where 3 or 4 streams form some attractive bays with extensive weedbeds.

It was here that we picked off even more dark, but pretty trout, and spotted the ruins of a farmhouse jutting out of the water, which provided a nice bit of structure for the resident trout to sit off. We eventually found our way back to the car, having spent just as much time walking as fishing; which to be honest was just as enjoyable as the angling itself – the breath-taking views, with red kites and peregrines wheeling overhead really adding to the experience.

Although we had walked over 7 miles in the fresh air we weren’t quite done – so after a break for food we headed down to the next lake in the chain, the picturesque Pen-y-garreg, with its tree clad island. Pen-y-garreg has some cracking stretches of meadow banked water, and here we ended the day with a few fantastically marked golden fish in the gin clear water, which contrasted greatly with the peaty water and much darker fish of Graig Coch.

As we left the water, as if by magic a rainbow appeared in the sky over the rugged, wooded banks of the reservoir. A truly special end to a grand day out. And at its base there really was gold – beautiful wild Welsh trout. 

Fishery Factfile

The Elan Valley lakes are run by Rhayader Angling Association.

Season runs 20th March to October 17th

The lakes are easily accessible, with good access roads running all around them. Just over 2 hours drive time from the Midlands, South Wales or Bristol.

Tickets are £12 a day, available from Hafod Hardware store and Daisy Powell newsagents in Rhayader.

Words: Ceri Thomas
Images: Alan Parfitt


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