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The River Wye

By British standards this is truly a massive water of great historical importance to the history of angling, boasting some of the largest salmon ever caught in Great Britain. It is both a coarse and game river and also hosts a number of other recreational activities, such as canoeing. A long-distance, waymarked footpath can be followed for almost the whole length. The river itself rises at about 2200 feet high on the slopes of Plynlimmon mountain in Wales and flows 156 miles before entering the Severn Estuary at Chepstow in England. It drains a huge catchment area of 1600 square miles and flows through the towns of Rhayader, Builth Wells (see Map 5), Hay on Wye (see Map 7), Hereford, Ross on Wye and Monmouth. Important tributaries include the Monnow, Lugg, Arrow, Irfon, Ithon and Llynfi. The whole of the river is classified as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). Despite its size, the Wye is still characterised by spates and depends on regular rainfall for the best catches. In its lower stretches some 58 miles of the river flows through an area of outstanding natural beauty (AONB).

Fishing opportunities on the Wye

On most of the River Wye the salmon fishing season extends from the 3rd March to the 17th October, with some minor variations. Between the 3rd March and the 31st August fly fishing and spinning are the only permitted methods. Fly fishing is the only method allowed between the 1st September and the end of the season. STOP PRESS JUNE 2012: Mandatory release of all rod-caught salmon on the Wye was finally enacted on the 24th June 2012. Please see my News page for further details.

The brown trout season extends from the 3rd March to the 30th September.

The season for grayling and coarse fish runs from the 16th June to the 14th March. Fly fishing is the only permitted method for grayling during the trout season. In the autumn and winter, given good weather, flyfishing for grayling in the upper reaches of the river above Hay and in the various tributaries can be fantastic.

My map shows only a very small part of this major river, running some 15 miles or so from Hay on Wye upstream towards Builth Wells. This is one of the most beautiful stretches of all and is classic fly fishing water. Good catches of grayling can be achieved in the Winter. Prolific salmon returns in the past and a good local supply of large country homes such as Whitney Court on the riverbank made public access to this stretch very difficult and expensive, although the collapse in the spring salmon runs over the last thirty years have made it a little easier and cheaper to obtain fishing.

For some years now I have featured the excellent conservation work being undertaken by the Wye and Usk Foundation. Another innovation from this group is the publication of its very useful and informative annual booklet called the "Upper Wye Passport". This describes all the fishing beats that visitors can either reserve direct through the Foundation's own booking office near Builth Wells or on presentation of pre-paid vouchers that are also supplied by the Foundation. Much of the fishing is on stretches where the Foundation has already undertaken habitat restoration work and on which fish stocks have already started to improve. Some of the fishing is catch and release and you will need to work hard to stalk some of the more elusive wild trout to be found in the Upper Wye and its tributaries, such as the beautiful river Irfon. Please check out the Foundation's web site for more information or call the booking office on 01982 560788 to ask for a booklet or to enquire about fishing. Prices for day tickets will depend on whether you are fishing for trout, grayling or salmon. You can book many of the beats online, after which you will be sent full instructions and maps by email - it couldn't be simpler.

Those of you wanting to try the beautiful upper River Wye and its tributaries, such as the Elan and Marteg, should contact the Rhayader and Elan Valley Angling Association, who have masses of fishing on these rivers as well as on the main Elan Valley reservoirs and a smaller stillwater named Llyngwyn Lake, just north of Builth Wells.

One of the most comfortable places to ask about fishing is the Griffin Inn in Llyswen, about 5 miles upstream from Hay (see Map 7). This most attractive old inn has excellent food, comfortable rooms at reasonable prices and a genuine Fishermen's Bar stuffed with angling relics. They can help with ghillies and control access to a variety of local waters. Telephone (0044)(0)1874 754241.

Another excellent choice would be the Caer Beris Manor Hotel further upstream at Builth Wells, or you could try the Cammarch Hotel at Llangammarch Wells, which has some 5 miles of fishing on the rivers Cammarch and Irfon, all of which is also available via the Wye and Usk Foundation voucher scheme described above. If you prefer Bed and Breakfast accommodation, pretty Kilsby Country House near Llanwrtyd Wells is very well situated for fishing on the Upper Wye and its tributaries and you will get plenty of good advice from the owner, who is a keen angler. They have their own self-catering cottage as well. The Glaslyn Estate also has some nice cottages with fishing. For more nice cottages in the Upper Irfon valley try Cwm Irfon Lodge.

For excellent, downloadable maps of the various Wye beats see John Symonds' Flyfish Guide.


The catastrophic decline in spring rod salmon catches from about 4300 in 1967 to about 650 in recent years is attributed to many factors, including the cooling of Britain's coastal waters and excessive drift net fishing. The potential impact on the survival of the salmon as a species and on the many commercial interests associated with rod fishing locally led, in 1995, to the establishment of the Wye and Usk Foundation and the initiation of the Wye Habitat Improvement Project (WHIP), a partnership of various agencies and institutions.

As a result of their hard work, funded entirely from levies on fishery owners and donations from anglers and other bodies, as well as European grant aid, a great deal of work has been done to improve spawning streams, build fish passes, remove obstructions, reduce acidification and mitigate the adverse effects of agriculture on the sensitive ecology of the river. The coppicing of riverside trees and the fencing off of banks to prevent erosion caused by grazing farm animals will also have a beneficial effect on wild brown trout. Much of this work has depended on the goodwill of local farmers and other landowners.

Recent changes in the fishing byelaws, introduced by the Environment Agency, also enforce the mandatory release of all salmon caught by anglers before the 16th June and prohibit angling other than with fly or artificial lure before that date. Net fishing is prohibited before the 1st June. Only time will tell whether these initiatives succeed and much depends on the actions and attitude of individual anglers. The fact is that salmon stocks in the Wye continue to decline and everything must now be done to preserve what is left for the future. The Wye Foundation deserves your support and I recommend that you consult their Website for more information. You will find more information on conservation and related issues on my Threats Page. I have also featured the ongoing work of the River Monnow Project on my News page.

Other Attractions

If the fishing on the Wye is out of sorts, or does not appeal, there is much to see and do in the area besides. At the very least you should try to enjoy some of the fine walking both along the river itself or in the Black Mountains to the East. My favourite halt on the river is the former Erwood Station, where you can enjoy tea and cakes sitting outside on the former station platform. One of the old carriages has been converted into a small art gallery and there is a high quality gift shop, where you can purchase very fine wooden artifacts made by the craftsman owner. The Station also exhibits the work of the many local artists and craftspeople who make up an association known as Platform One. A path leads down to the river (see Map 7).

The town of Hay on Wye is world famous on account of its numerous second-hand bookshops, where you could spend hours searching for almost any kind of book you could imagine. Hay is a very pretty little town and attracts many visitors in the Summer. One of the busiest times is the last week of May / first week of June, when Hay hosts a most impressive Literary Festival. During that week some of the finest authors converge on Hay to discuss their work in public. A variety of other entertainments to suit most tastes is also offered, whether in Hay or in some of the surrounding towns. It is well worth visiting the Festival, but you should take care to book your accommodation well in advance. There are good craft shops and restaurants in addition to the ubiquitous bookshops.

The accommodation available to visitors in this area is very diverse. If money is no object and you want some of the finest service possible, try Sir Bernard Ashley's hotel Llangoed Hall, near Erwood (check out Johansens for details - they also handle bookings for other beautiful country house hotels in the area). Needless to say, the hotel is furnished with the late Laura Ashley's fabrics and other designs. If you just want to have a quick look at how the other half lives, you could always go there for tea.

For a nice little excursion by car, head out from Hay on Wye towards the mountains (you will need a good map, as these roads are all unclassified and very narrow - try one of the Ordnance Survey ones that are available from many local shops). Climb up the hill to Gospel Pass, where you should see the summit of Hay Bluff (2219 feet) to your right. If the weather is fine, you can park here and stroll along the ridge for some magnificent views of the Wye valley. Otherwise continue in your car down the very picturesque Vale of Ewyas until you reach the Benedictine Llanthony Priory in the tiny hamlet of Llanthony (see Map 4). This is an excellent place to stop, as you will find a superb little pub situated in the ruined Abbey buildings, where you can have a good pint of beer and lunch in unique surroundings.

Continue down the very narrow valley road until you reach the A465, where you can continue the tour via the towns of Abergavenny and Crickhowell before returning to Hay via the A479. Crickhowell is certainly worth a stop (see Map 6). For more information see my page on the River Usk.

For a really unforgettable view of the Wye Valley why not hire a canoe? The Wye Valley Canoe Centre at Glasbury will let you have a variety of canoes for anything from several hours to several days and will even pick you up if you decide to head off for a long-distance paddle.

If you have navigated to this page first and are wondering what all this talk of kites is about, then I recommend one final excursion along the beautiful Wye valley to the town of Rhayader, beyond Builth Wells, where you will find Gigrin Farm. The owners are fervent supporters of the work of the Welsh Kite Trust and do all they can to encourage the survival of this rare and magnificent bird. You can watch Red Kites being fed here every day (times vary between Summer and Winter - check the site). For more information go to my Kite page.

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Click pictures to enlarge. Those with a red caption may take a long time to download.
River Wye at Glanwye
Wye at Glanwye
River Wye at Llyn Em
Wye at Llyn Em
"Rocks" beat, River Wye, above Builth Wells
Wye above Builth
Griffin Inn, Llyswen
Griffin Inn, Llyswen
River Wye at Erwood
River Wye at Erwood
Erwood Station
Erwood "Station"
River Irfon at Llanfechan
River Irfon
Llanthony Priory and Pub
Llanthony Priory and Pub
Cottage in Hay-on-Wye
Colourful Hay-on-Wye
Upper River Irfon near Abergwesn
Upper River Irfon
Angler on River Irfon at Llanfechan
Angler on Irfon