Fishing on the Dyfi

In the 15th/16th centuries, there's a report that herring boats met in the estuary and:

"...there is a wonderful great resorte of ffyshers assembled from all places...and there is of the said companye there assembled, one chosen to be their admiral...".

The Dyfi has a fine heritage as a salmon and sea-trout river (sea-trout are known locally as sewin). They appear from May onwards, and those who know about such things say that the best months for fishing are Aug-Oct for salmon and Jun-Sep for sewin.

The earliest references I can find to Dyfi and its fish occur in the Tales of Taliesin, translated from a 16th Century manuscript, but probably far older, and relate to a prince called Elphin, son of Gwyddno. One year, Gwyddno granted Elphin the salmon catch from his weir, which was situated on the strand between the Dyfi and Aberystwyth. This must have sounded a like a pretty good proposition to Elphin, but when he checked it out there was nothing trapped in the weir but a leather bag on a pole. On opening the bag he found a young boy inside, whom he named Taliesin, and that was the start of a long and complicated story which has nothing whatsoever to do with fishing.

I fear that a lack of salmon might be an all too common experience these days, as the river seems to be suffering from our country-wide dearth of such fish. Figures for 1999 indicate that only 106 salmon, compared with 2070 sewin, were caught in the Dyfi by rod and line, and I can't help wondering whether netting in the estuary continues unabated. I'd welcome any information from anyone who lives locally please.

Where there are fishermen, then of course you'll find poachers, and poaching on the Dyfi has a fine tradition as well. Way back in 1778, Thomas Pennant wrote that the Dyfi "abounded with salmon, which were hunted in the night by an animated but illicit class, by spearmen, who were directed to the fish by lighted whisps of straw". Twenty years later, a Rev Bingley noted (in "A Tour round North Wales performed during the Summer of 1798") that coracles were working on the Dyfi, but netting from coracles was banned by the Dovey Fishery Association in 1861. Poaching continued, however, and just a year later, in 1862, George Borrow described a court hearing at Machynlleth petty sessions, where a man was convicted of spearing a salmon in the Dyfi.

There was once an ambitious scheme to export Dyfi salmon eggs to Australia: in 1861 six Australian Salmon Commissioners were appointed to "oversee the acclimatisation of salmon into Tasmania". An undated report lurking on the Web, taken from The Illustrated London News, tells how Sir Watkin Wynn and Mr. Edmund Buckley gave permission for 30,000 salmon ova to be taken from the Dyfi and transported to Melbourne. The sailing ship Curling left Liverpool on the 25th (month unknown, but the year possibly 1859/1860), with the eggs carefully deposited in gravel boxes and with ice-cooled water continuously running over them. I believe this endeavour failed, because another source tells of a third-time-lucky attempt in 1864. The Norfolk, a 3-masted clipper, left Britain for Australia with a cargo of 90,000 Salmon eggs taken from the Dyfi and the Severn, and - some say purely as an afterthought - 2,700 Brown Trout eggs, obtained elsewhere. 80% of the eggs survived the journey, wrapped in moss on large blocks of ice, and they were then transported to the Plenty River in southern Tasmania, the site of the first salmon and trout hatchery in the Southern Hemisphere. They successfully hatched "on 4 May 1864" and the trout thrived, being transported in billies on horseback to other mountain rivers to be released for sport fishing, and forming the basis of the industry in Australia today. The carefully-reared young salmon fry were released into the Derwent River, and the people at the hatchery must then have waited in the hope of seeing them return as magnificent salmon the next year. But they were never seen again - they never found their way back.

However, the trout were a resounding success, and the Salmon Ponds Hatchery is still operating today.

More at: http://www.redtagtrout.com/trout.html

Michael Faraday and his companion, Magrath, stayed overnight in Machynlleth during a walking tour through Wales in 1819, and commented on the Dyfi's "pellucid current" (yes, I had to look this up as well - it means admitting the maximum passage of light) and that there were "trout sparkling beneath the surface".

These days, much of the fishing on the Dyfi is controlled by the New Dovey Fishery Association, based in Machynlleth. It controls about 15 miles of the river, from Llyfnant stream to Nant Ty-Mawr (where?) on one bank, and from a point opposite the mouth of the Llyfnant to Abergwybedyn brook on the other. Fishing is allowed from 1 Apr-17 Oct, and they have very strict conservation rules: So there - just you behave yourselves when fishing the Dyfi.

The fishing reaches controlled by the New Dovey Fisheries Association all have names, most of which are quite ancient in their origins. I'm still trying to find out the significance of some of the names but, in the meantime, click on this link to bring up a map of this stretch of the river.

In addition to the area controlled by the New Dovey Fishery Association, short stretches of river are privately owned. Plas Dolguog has a 250 yard stretch of water; Brigands' Inn at Mallwyd has 2 miles of fishing; the Dolbrodmaeth Inn, the Buckley Pines Hotel and The Coach House - all at Dinas Mawddwy - also have short stretches. The Prince Albert Angling Society of Macclesfield controls the rights to a 2½ mile stretch of Dyfi at Gwastad Coed, nr Aberangell; at Gwernhefin, further upriver towards Mallwyd; and at Maescamlan, between Mallwyd and Dinas Mawddwy.