Caught by the River

Blanking the Bryn (November 1980)

8th March 2017

Matt Morden blanks The Bryn:

Kenny Hunt picked us up at Llanyrafon shops at dawn in a rusty Ford Escort estate with wire showing through the all of the tyres. Having recently joined the New Inn Nobblers Angling Club, I knew very little about Kenny. But a drive towards Abergavenny at seventy miles an hour convinced me that we needed to find a lift home with someone else.

Mist had settled down the lanes between the orchards of the local estate. This provided Kenny with the perfect camouflage to attempt to run over pheasants as we rounded each bend. We parked in a field next to the estate farm and walked across the flood meadow to the Bryn fishery.

Though only twenty miles from Cwmbran, the middle Usk was a long way from the small rivers and lakes on which Neil, Greg and I had learned to fish. The Cardiff Nomads anglers held the draw under the railway bridge, with a range of characters straight from the pages of Coarse Fisherman’s ‘Snide Rumours and Dirty Lies’ column. The faces of the Abergavenny to Newport passengers flashed by on the trains above, unaware of the golden opportunities the river offered to us on that morning.

This was my first time coarse fishing on the Usk, a river well known for trout and salmon but that also held hidden stocks of dace, chub, roach and barbel. With the game season over, the Nomads club had negotiated a few Sundays when matches could be held, though Neil and Greg had told me that we would be required to kill all the coarse fish we caught in the match.

The match draw was an irrelevance for me. I had dreamt of fishing the river so long that just being on the water was enough. At my peg, I climbed down the low bank, pockmarked by a summer of sand-martin nests. My wicker basket creaked as I set it down on the pebble bar. Looking across the water, I hoped to catch just one dace or chub. My orange Shakespeare Alpha rod caught the sun as I cast the float rig. Brim full of expectation, I settled into a routine of baiting with maggots and casting the breadth of the swim.

After three hours, I was still waiting. Maybe I did have bites. Maybe the fish were elsewhere. Maybe I just wasn’t experienced enough at big river fishing. Months of waiting turned to disappointment. I climbed back up the bank to see how the others were doing.

Neil had drawn the next peg upstream. I sat behind him and watched as he disappeared into the experience of catching fish. In a set order, he ground-baited, catapulted casters, checked his rig and cast precisely across the slow moving water. Targeting the faster flowing water beyond a bank of weed, his float ran half way down the swim before disappearing. Then Neil struck and hooked the dace, the fish running briefly across the stream before being guided to the net. After unhooking and gently placing the fish in the keep net, he returned to his routine and to landing dace of between six and eight ounces.

In all my time fishing, I have never seen an angler more in the flow than Neil on that day. He moved smoothly from one action to the next, oblivious to anything else present, including me. And cast after cast came the dace, slivers of sliver from a river stained by the Old Red Sandstone of the Brecon Beacons.

When the match whistle went, I was still watching him. He pulled his net from the water and weighed in over fifty pounds of dace. When no-one was looking, Greg and I helped him slip the fish back into the river. Back at the car park, Neil pocketed the Nomad’s winning pool and I had no story to tell.

blank day
my keep net holds
only memories