River Taf Fechan
The Taf Fechan rises in the Brecon Beacons just below Pen-y-Fan and joins the Taf Fawr at the Junction Pool, Cefn Coed.
The Taf Fechan above the Blue Pool, Pontsarn is a premier wild brown trout fishery offering technical small-stream fishing. This upland fishery is catch and release with all hooks required to be barbless or de-barbed.
Fly fishing ONLY
3rd March – 30th September (inclusive).
Our fishery starts at the bridge below the water works at Ponsticill. The end of the beat is at the junction of the River Taf Fechan with the River Taf Fawr.
- Fly Fishing only – between Pontsticill Dam and the Blue Pool
- Catch & Release only – between Pontsticill Dam and the Blue Pool
- Hooks must be barbless or must have the barbs crushed
Stocked fish will have the adipose fin removed. The Association would be very grateful if all anglers fishing above the Blue Pool would report the number of stocked fish caught via the Contact Us page.
Taf Fechan History
>by John Coombs
Merthyr Tydfil Angling Association have for many years owned the fishing rights on the Taf Fechan. Many years ago, the Association regularly stocked the river between Pontsticill and Aberglais, but as the River Taff improved so the Taf Fechan became neglected and ignored, with very few people fishing it. The water works at the bottom of the dam quite often polluted this stretch of river, resulting in fish kills that also put people off fishing it.
In June 2001 a small item in a fishing magazine caught my eye, it stated that the Wild Trout Trust in conjunction with Orvis fishing tackle would fund advisory visits by a environmental and fisheries scientist. After discussion with the committee I wrote to the address given in the magazine asking for an application form. Instead of an application form I received a phone call from Edward Twiddy the Projects Officer of the Wild Trout Trust. We spoke for about 20 minutes about the Taf Fechan and I explained that the stretch of river we were talking about was from the Dam at Pontsticill to the Blue Pool Aberglais. This stretch of river is about 3 kilometers long and is a unique habitat, because it has the dam at the top of the stretch and the blue pool waterfall at the bottom. It therefore, is a contained piece of river, and because it had not been stocked for many years it was also a natural wild trout fishery. Edward said that he would have to consult with other members of the Wild Trout Trust but he would let me know if we had been successful very soon. I received an email shortly after to confirm that we were successful and that Dr. Nick Giles had been appointed the consultant to visit our fishery and make a report, a copy of which would go to the Wild Trout Trust and a copy for ourselves. On the 4th August 2001 Dr. Nick Giles with Dyfrig Jones of Glamorgan Wildlife Trust came along to survey the river. Dyfrig is the Otters Officer with the Glamorgan Wildlife Trust. Nick did a kick survey of the river at different points on the way down the fishery; he also lifted various rocks and studied the general habitat. . Dyfrig meanwhile was studying the habitat to see if he could find traces of otters, he found spraint on 2 locations on the fishery so it was obvious that otters were using the river. A couple of days later I received Nicks draft report by email. It made extremely interesting reading, the suggestions were that we coppice trees over the riffles to open up the river to sunlight to enable the insects to breed. We had the right type of insects but not enough of them to sustain a very big head of fish. To create deflectors, and weirs to scour the river and to deepen the pools. Finally to put gravel into the river to create spawning beds for the trout to breed. Brian Walkley also became involved in the project, he had long had the dream that this piece of river should be bought back to its natural beauty. From the report, which had been presented to the committee it was obvious that we had a lot of work to do. The firsts thing Brian and I did was to obtain a large scale map which we then transferred points on the map to physical areas on the ground. We could then divide the 3K into 100 metre pieces. We were advised in the report to advise the Environment Agency (Fisheries and Flood Defence) what we were doing and if possible walk them through the area to enable them to either veto or agree to the work being done. Fortunately they both agreed that the work should go ahead. In fact the Fisheries Officer (Mr. Bill Purvis) verbally agreed to supply fencing if we require it. We also spoke to the 3 land owners who own the land adjacent to the river and appraised them of the work we were hoping to carry out, they all agreed that it would be a good thing if it improved the river and the habitat for local wild life. Brian and I walked the river and took photographs with a digital camera of all the areas in Dr. Nick Giles report where work was to be done for future reference. Brian also requested that Mark Samuels of the Environment Agency visit the project to do an electro-fishing survey of the river. 3 sites within the Taf Fechan and 1 outside as a control, unfortunately because of Foot and Mouth the only one they could do was by the dam at Pontsticill, which he did on the 20th September. The result was that in the 40 metre stretch of river they electro-fished they found 15 6″ Brown Trout and 1 8″ Brown Trout plus a large number of salmon parr stocked by the agency.
On the 18th October Brian formally applied to the Environment Agency to carry out the work on the Taf Fechan adhering to the Agencies own set of guidelines for this type of work. We quickly got approval for this, on the understanding that no instream work could be carried out before the 16th May so work commenced with the coppicing of some trees. This carried on sporadically throughout the winter when weather permitted. On the 9th November another pollution incident occurred from the water works, which resulted in over 500 trout being killed.
>In the meantime, I had had several emails from Edward Twiddy. One of which, asked if we had any photographs of the Taf Fechan, for Edward to do a presentation to Orvis. Orvis, who are a large American fishing tackle company, donate 10% of their gross profits to environmental projects. In the past these projects have only been funded within North America. Orvis were now keen to match fund a project within the United Kingdom. I downloaded all the photographs I had taken with the digital camera to CD ROM and posted it to Edward. Edward presented our project and other projects to Orvis and we were chosen to be match funded for £5000. Orvis and the Wild Trout Trust asked if we could arrange an official launch for the project on the 29th April 2002. This was arranged and the Red Cow Public House in Pontsticill was arranged as the venue to meet for the launch.
In the meanwhile, down on the river work was progressing coppicing and pollarding the trees to allow light into the riverbed. Brian contacted Bill Purvis and asked if we could work instream before the 16th May, because of the fish kill at the top of the river. Bill agreed, so we immediately constructed a stone weir across the river, flushed with the success of this we utilised a large rock above this weir to create a second weir. All this meant was getting bars to move around the larger rocks and place them in such a way that if we had a flood most of the water would flow straight over them without causing any back up of the water. The third weir we constructed was a wooden one. Besides the river was a tree that was leaning over the river and the roots were exposed. Nick had suggested that this tree be cut down. Brian noticed that the tree had a nice vee in it, so suggested that it be cut down and placed in the river as a weir. After much hard work, we had to turn it round because it fell the wrong way; we staked it into the riverbed and built up the sides of the river. This weir looked good and we were very proud of it, as we were of all the weirs we had created.
The launch went ahead on the 29th April, with our AM, Leader of Merthyr Council, Orvis MD, Wild Trout Trust Officers, Dr. Giles, the Chairman and Secretary of Welsh Salmon and Trout Association, representatives of Welsh Water, members of the Association and members of the local press attending. I also did a 3-minute live interview on Radio Wales on the morning of the launch. The launch went exceeding well, and we walked everyone along the river to show the work we had completed and asked for constructive criticism from Wild Trout Trust.
Since the launch we have constructed a 4th weir, opened the canopy at the top of the river and tied trees into the bank. The Alder trees we tied in have started to sprout so in a couple of years time we should have some bankside shade and root system for the trout to hide in. Willow withes we pushed into the ground have started to grow so in the future we should have willows to coppice. Before the 17th October this year we hope to have at least another 3 wooden weirs constructed and 1 more stone weir. We have found a supplier of gravels suitable for spawning trout, and hope to have gravels in the top 3 or 4 weirs before the end of September.
In April and May of this year we had a tremendous amount of rain. So much so that the dam at Pontsticill overflowed and we had a flood. Initially Brian and I were concerned about our constructions and wondered if they would withstand the force of water going down the Taf Fechan. We need not have worried because all the weirs withstood the force of the water and the wooden weir created a lovely scour pool below the weir. All the weirs are of a low construction and this enables the water in spate to flow over them rather than through them, as a result water is not backed up and the weirs should stay for some years.
I would say at this point that all this work could not have been completed without the help of a hardy band of dedicated volunteers, we do pay them for turning up and working, we are not mean – rate of pay? 1 mars bar per day! Hence the mars bar crew!!!
Well at last Brian and the Mars Bar crew, have had time to catch their breath.
The Association was informed that Welsh Water would be re-instating banks inside the works by the Environment Agency and permission had been granted to complete the works as soon as possible. This was on the 13th August. Well time went on and nothing was happening, we were meanwhile beavering away down river, creating wooden weirs. We were concerned because below where we were working the water mains pipe for the Cardiff had been exposed by the river during high flood. Brian wanted Welsh Water to cover the pipe and if he could wangle it get hold of the machine for a couple of days and do some of the heavy work such as remove the man made island. So grasping the bull by the horns Brian rang Andy Thomas on the 13th September and informed him that all instream work would have to be completed by 15th October to allow the fish to spawn. The upshot was that they hurriedly got a contractor in to complete their work. Whilst Brian was talking to Andy he mentioned that the pipe was exposed and that it should be armoured and cover for protection. This created a site meeting, at which (not being the shy types) we suggested that we have the machine for a couple of days to do some work. They agreed!!!!!!!! The contractor was also at the meeting and walked through with us, to look at the work we wished to complete. We were told we had the machine for 10 DAYS!!! When we asked when would we be having the machine the contractor said today the 20th September!! Brian and I were stunned to say the least. But got the machine working straight away. We then had that beautiful Indian summer, lovely dry ground, with a bit of horse trading……. we had the machine build a ramp into a field for one farmer, which meant we had access into the field to complete work on the river. Another farmer had some walls removed a track remade and some leveling done. We moved shoal, re-inforced banks and secured the 1st wooden weir. We then moved down river and removed the man made islands, removed the old car, (which had been slowly making its way down river for about 10 years). We coppiced trees, built 3 new stone weirs, armoured banks, reinforced the 2 wooden weirs, created gravel traps, deepened pools and made fish hides. On the last Saturday we had 40 tonnes of gravel delivered and used the machine to put some into the top two stone weirs. On the Monday morning we finished with the machine by putting gravels into two wooden weirs, which a local farmer had allowed us to store on his farm. He also delivered it to the weirs from the farm.
The winter was extremely wet and the Reservoir did not stop overflowing from October to March, which means that the river has had a really good scour out. The gravel which we carefully put above weirs was lifted by the floods and deposited all the way through the river. We are now hoping that we can convince the Environment Agency to put gravels at the top of the river during the summer months and in the winter it should be washed down during the floods. Because of the weather our programme for the winter was put on hold, although we did manage a couple of days work. We are now hoping to get going again, and carry on the work we started last year. We have at least 3 more weirs to create and some flow deflectors to site in the river. Where we have the large stones on the side of the river, I would like to see them covered with bio-degradable matting and planted up with various plants, which would give some bankside cover. I would also like to see some areas fenced off to enable the bankside vegetation to re-grow.
Brian, Tony and myself and a bunch of lads from the Gurnos Community Project have been whiling away the time building a new wooden weir about 200 metres below the 1st wooden weir. The weir is now completed and I would like to thank the guys from the Gurnos Community Project for their help and cheerfulness in completing the weir. This is a picture of a trout which had been freshly killed by either an otter or mink. I found it just to the side and slightly above the 1st wooden weir in the grass, Brian and I must have disturbed the animal that killed it. If this is the quality of the trout in the river then the Mars Bar Crew have indeed made a difference. We are awaiting the EA to redo the fish survey to assess the changes we have made to the river.
The fish survey could not be carried out this year, however it will be carried out next year, once I have that information I will put it on the site.
Just an update, the reservoir has been in overflowing after all the exceptionally heavy rain we have experienced recently. I managed to get a couple of pictures of the river in flood which are below, these were taken just below the dam at the start of the stretch we are improving. I took the pictures on the 4th and today 6th I walked the river with Brian and found that all the weirs looked in good shape although the river was still high. We have had some bank washed out above the 1st weir which we will work on as soon as the river drops. We also have a tree which we have to remove from the river below the pipe crossing the river at point 19.
Brian’s schematic of the whole project and work completed. This lists all the work and type of work we have completed to date against Dr. Nick Giles report. The area of the Taf Fechan between Blue Pool (Aberglais) and Pontsticill Dam is now a catch and release Wild Brown Trout Fishery, and signs have been erected giving this information and a list of all the organisations that have supported us.
Our first view after the flood was optimistic, because the 1st weir has had the centre washed out. We will be repairing it when we can work in river again in May, in fact some brainstorming will be done to perhaps redesign the whole thing. We have been working just below point 2 of the schematic below the 1st bridge. The river is beginning to wash the road out here and we have had a meeting with Powys County Council Highways Division who are quite happy for us to do something here without any flood damage coming back on us in future (we have that in writing). So we have started work putting in some willow logs and whips. We are hoping that the willows will take hold and give this area some stability. Very difficult when the river rises suddenly when the reservoir overflows. The pictures above show the river dropping just after the rains in February of this year.
I have created 3 new links on the page to the results of the electro fishing survey done during September. These are Vaynor results Due to many factors this summer the work that needed to be done was not being done, until the 3rd weekend in August when Brian, with everybody’s approval got a machine on hire for a few weekends. The result was staggering. Brian worked very hard on these weekends with the driver and achieved far more than I thought possible. Have a look at Brian’s report on the work achieved during 2004.
We were awarded joint 2nd prize in the Wild Trout Trust Classic Malts Competition for restoration projects.
We have just completed 2 kick samples which we will be doing monthly from now on at the same locations to see the results click link kick samples.
Carwyn Jones AM our minister for the Environment at the Welsh Assembly Government visit the Taf Fechan Project to see for himself how we had spent the sustainable fishing money awarded to us by the Environment Agency.
On Sunday morning about 9.45 Tony Rees MBE received a phone call from a local farmer to inform him that the river Taf Fechan was running white. Tony rang me and together we rushed up to the river. When we got there the river was running white but we could see no dead fish although we did see fish just under the surface looking distressed. We followed the river up to see where the colour was coming from and realised it was coming either from the dam or the water works at the bottom of the dam at Pontsticill, it was here that we saw the first of the dead fish. We then went to an area where we could obtain a phone signal and phoned the Environment Agency Wales to report the fish kill, we subsequently learnt that United Utilities had already informed the Environment Agency Wales that there was a pollution incident.
We walked various parts of the river and everywhere the aluminium sulphate was there were either distressed or dead fish. We informed the local council to open the feeder sluice to stop the water from the river entering Cyfarthfa Park Lake where there are thousands of coarse fish this they did stopping a potentially bigger disaster.
Having spent the last 5 years improving the environment for the fish in the top 3 kilometres of the river, it is heart breaking to see all the fish dead, we now have a major mountain to climb to bring the river back. This will also impact on all the otters, kingfishers, dippers, herons and other wild life that predates on the life in the river. We were told in the spring that nothing like this could ever happen, the backwash water was being recycled, none was entering the river and Pontsticill was a totally dry site. That all the site risk assessments had been done, that no dirty water or pollutant could ever enter the river again. After the heavy rains in May and the constant floods the bed of the river had been scoured and the gravels were looking nice and clean and we were anticipating a very good winter spawning season ahead, sadly this will now not happen. We now have to sit down and consider our options for the revival of the river.
This summer we had seen visitors from as far away as Holland, who had stayed in a local hotels, eaten in local restaurants, drunk in local pubs and shopped locally all this will now stop. So this is not just an environmental disaster, but also an economic disaster as well.
The river has recovered to be a beautiful wild brown trout fishery which challenges the angler. One stone moved, a shadow on the water and you watch the trout disappear.