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The River Towy

My favourite angling destination, the River Towy (or Tywi in Welsh) is only some 70 miles long from its source above the Llyn Brianne Reservoir North of Llandovery to its estuary South of Carmarthen. However, the catchment area is over 500 square miles, making this a large and powerful river for most of its length. The most important tributaries are the Gwili, Cothi, Bran and Gwydderig. The upper and middle reaches are most attractive, with an abundance of mature trees and a variety of wildlife to enrich the angling experience. Below Llandovery the valley broadens out into pastureland, although very little spoils the rural idyll until Carmarthen is reached. The last 14 miles of the river are tidal.

There are good runs of salmon later in the year, although the prime quarry on the Towy is the sea trout (known as sewin in Wales). The Towy is one of Europe's finest sea trout fisheries and very large fish are regularly caught in the early part of the season, although these might not reach the upper stretches in Kite Country until June or July. Given rain, the river will then fish well through September. I caught the 7lbs beauty shown to the right in late July 2010 after one day of rain followed a prolonged dry spell. The water flow is assisted at certain times by the release of water from the dam at Llyn Brianne, which compensates for abstraction further downstream for domestic, industrial and agricultural purposes. The water released from the dam is treated in order to alleviate the effects of acidification caused by coniferous forestry around the headwaters.

Fishing opportunities on the Towy

In contrast to the Wye or Usk, the Towy has an abundance of fishing for the visiting angler. This is largely thanks to the fact that a great deal of access is controlled by local angling associations such as the Llandeilo Angling Association and Cross Hands and District AA rather than private landlords. The towns of Llandovery and (further downstream) Llangadog and Carmarthen all have thriving clubs and tickets are usually available through local retailers. Very high quality (and much more expensive) fishing is also available at the Edwinsford Estate, Abercothi Estate and Golden Grove fisheries, which have extensive beats available further downstream on the Towy and on the Cothi, often with holiday cottages to let in combination with the fishing. Please check my Links page for more general sources of fishing information. Fish can be caught on the fly throughout the season, although spinning is often preferred in the early part of the season. Local anglers will usually be most successful by fishing at night, when the sea trout tend to be less wary. Many are caught on the worm, although visitors should note the new Environment Agency byelaws, which prohibit fishing other than with fly or lure until the 16th June (see next paragraph for details). Please note also that any salmon caught before that date must be returned alive. These new initiatives are vitally important in order to reverse the worrying decline in spring salmon runs - see my Threats page for more details.

Salmon and sea trout may be caught in the Towy from the 1st April to the 17th October. However, anglers should note that with regard to salmon fishing only flyfishing and spinning may be used between the 1st April and the 15th June and from the 8th to 17th October. Other permitted baits may be used between the 16th June and the 7th October. For sea trout, flyfishing, spinning and permitted baits are allowed between the 1st April and the 7th October. Between then and the end of the season only flyfishing and spinning are permitted. Brown trout may be fished for between the 1st April and the 30th September.

The lower beats are generally safe to wade in Summer and the banks are often very open, making night-time fly fishing a real pleasure. The upper reaches of the river are the most beautiful, although the fishing requires considerable skill and it can be dangerous to wade in some of the deep, rocky pools or to fish alone without adequate protection. The season for migratory fish closes on the 7th October.

You will find plenty of information about the Towy on the Fish Britain site, including details of recent catches, water heights and lots of useful tips.

Llyn Brianne

This is an interesting, star-shaped reservoir some 3 miles long that holds about 13.5 million gallons of water when full (see Map 8). It is almost entirely surrounded by coniferous forestry plantations that are a testament to Man's ability to blight vast tracts of beautiful countryside. Although sections of the general public would consider these forests to be pleasant areas in which to roam, in truth very little wildlife is supported here and the tree canopy is too dense to sustain much in the way of indigenous wild plants. Commissioned in 1973 to serve the thirst of the the growing conurbations in South-West Wales, the reservoir was formed by the construction of a ghastly-looking dam some 300 feet high and over 900 feet across in a previously very beautiful gorge cut by the Towy river. It is worth taking the trip upstream to see for yourself, although it will take a great deal of imagination to think what the river must have looked like before this monstrosity was created. Attempts are made to transport migratory fish from a trap below the dam to spawning grounds above the reservoir, without much success. For more information and great aerial pictures of the Carmarthen project, please look at the Carmarthenshire Fishermen's Federation website, which also contains a great deal of very useful information about the River Towy and other fishing matters. Look at the picture of the dam below and tell me what you think. The slash across the middle is the overflow (it used to be a river). I would not like to fish in this place.

Other Attractions

Other than the awful dam, there are many other interesting diversions in this part of Kite Country when the fish are not being co-operative. If you are already at Llyn Brianne, consider continuing your drive all the way past the reservoir and through the dull plantations of dark forests until you climb and descend a series of very steep and narrow roads (not for the faint-hearted driver or for vehicles with bad brakes!) into the beautiful valley of the little River Irfon. You are now in the catchment area of the River Wye and this is what headwaters used to look like before dams were built. You could easily spend all day here and the little river is great for your kids to paddle in. There is also a wildlife reserve here. This unclassified road will eventually lead to the A483, which will take you back to Llandovery, or to Builth Wells on the Wye.

Whilst you admire the beautiful River Irfon you will be delighted to hear that if is now the target of a significant project by the Wye & Usk Foundation and a number of other partner agencies, who are attempting to restore this important Wye tributary by treating over-acidification, restoring the riverine habitat and protecting the diversity of the associated wildlife. It will take time, but the effort will be worth it.

Heading downstream from Llyn Brianne, you must make a stop just down the road at the Dinas Reserve controlled by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. This is a very beautiful area beside the Towy and was historically most significant as being the location, at the end of the nineteenth century, of the last breeding pair of Red Kites left in the country. I cannot over-emphasise the need to continue to support the RSPB, the Welsh Kite Trust and others in their efforts to continue to protect this magnificent bird and to ensure its survival into the next century. For more information, please go to my Kite pages. At Dinas you can enjoy a great walk along the cascading River Towy and through real broadleaf forest, listening to the sounds of happy songbirds as you go. Truly magical. See my Wildlife page for more information and a photograph.

Visitors to the Towy Valley with an interest in gardening should not hesitate to take this opportunity to visit the unique National Botanic Garden of Wales, much of it displayed in its huge, futuristic dome, which has the largest single-span glass roof in the world. The range of plants displayed both within the dome and around the rest of the beautifully designed gardens is truly amazing. By way of a contrast, also take some time to see the ancient and mysterious Aberglasney Gardens nearby, which have been carefully and thoughtfully excavated over the last 10 years to reveal their hidden secrets. There is also an excellent tea room here overlooking a tranquil pool and you can purchase many of the beautiful plants found in the gardens.

As you will be thirsty by now, the best place to stop is the Royal Oak Inn in the impossibly named village of Rhandirmwyn (pronounced "randermoin" (see Map 12). They have good beer, good food and lots of good humour. You can also stay there. The village is very pretty and there are great views of the surrounding countryside.

A few miles West of Llandovery, just off the A482 near the village of Pumsaint (see Map 12), it is also worth visiting the Dolaucothi Gold Mines, now a museum, operated by the National Trust. The mines used to be one of the main sources of gold for the Roman Empire, although they were eventually closed in 1938. Between May and September you can join a guided tour and can even try your hand at gold panning. This is also a very good place for a walk and they have a nice little cafe and gift shop selling the usual high quality Trust items. In Pumsaint you will also find the pleasant Dolaucothi Arms Hotel, which controls several miles of fishing on the River Cothi for the benefit of its guests.

I shall conclude this short tour of the Upper Towy valley by recommending that you visit the ruined castle of Carreg Cennen, about 3 miles South-East of Llandeilo (see Map 3). Constructed in about 1300 for one of Edward I's barons, this impressive fortress is situated at the top of a frightening cliff and it is not hard to imagine the power that its former inhabitants exercised over people and goods moving along the Towy valley. The castle finally fell to Welsh insurgents led by Owain Glyndwr and was again fought over during the Wars of the Roses in the fifteenth century. There are superb walks here and you can visit the rare breeds farm at the entrance to the castle, where there is also a good cafe and gift shop, together with a picnic area. Take the kids and lots of film.

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Click pictures to enlarge. Those with a red caption may take a long time to download.
Dolauhirion Pool on the Upper Towy
Dolauhirion Pool
The sparkling River Towy just below Llandovery
South of Llandovery
River Towy at Llandeilo
Towy near Llandeilo
Sea Trout
Towy Sea Trout
Llyn Brianne and Dam
Llyn Brianne and Dam
Llyn Brianne Dam
Llyn Brianne Dam
Upper River Irfon
Upper River Irfon
Massive glass house at the National Botanic Garden
National Botanic Garden
Dolaucothi Gold Mines
Carreg Cennen Castle
Carreg Cennen Castle
Parterre at Aberglasney
Parterre at Aberglasney
Frangipani at Aberglasney
Frangipani at Aberglasney
Borders at Aberglasney
Borders at Aberglasney
River Towy at Llandeilo railway bridge
River Towy at Llandeilo