The River Usk rises high in the Brecon Beacons National Park, flowing 75 miles initially west-east to Abergavenny and then north-south to Newport. Its tidal reaches impact up to Newbridge on Usk some 7 miles inland. The Usk passes through a number of towns of note, including: Brecon Crickhowell, Abergavenny, Usk and finally Newport where it enters the Severn estuary.
Four main reservoirs - Usk, Talybont, Cray and Grwyne Fawr - capture its flow in its very upper reaches and main its tributaries.
The river flows largely over limestone in the upper river and although not a classic spate river, spates play an important part in its fishing and character. The watershed is surprisingly small compared to its neighbours the Wye and Severn and as such water levels run off quite rapidly allowing the first of the fishing after heavy rain in the area.
Apart from the area around its mouth in Newport the river was largely unaffected by the industrial revolution and the upper river shows many of the same traits as it did hundreds of years ago.
Its reputation for quality trout and salmon fishing goes back many centuries as the following extract from Thomas Churchyard's Worthiness of Wales, published in 1587, suggests.
A pretie towne calde Uske neare Raggland stands
A river there doth beare the self same name
His christal streams that runnes along the sands
Shewes that it is a river of great fame.
Fresh water sweete this godly river yields
And when it swels it spreads ore all the feelds.
Great store of fish is caught within this flood
That doth indeed both towne and countrey good
A thing to note, when sammon fails in Wye,
And season there: goes out as order is.
Then still of course, in Uske doth sammon lye
And of good fish in Uske you shall not mis.
This seems straunge as doth through Wales appeere
In some one place are sammons all the yeere:
So fresh,so sweete,so red,so crimp with all,
That man might say, loe,sammon here at call.
From Worthiness of Wales
Thomas Churchyard 1587
Typical Usk middle river
The River Usk is designated as both a SSSI and a European Special Area of conservation (SAC). The river though owned under many riparian owners, clubs and associations it has evolved a very good ethos of conservation under the guidance of United Usk Fisherman's Association (UUFA) and the Wye and Usk Foundation (WUF).
In recent years nets have been bought off the mouth of the river and numerous habitat improvements programs put in place to improve invertebrate breeding enabling new and improved juvenile areas and densities. It is currently Wales's best salmon river and offers some of Britain's finest wild brown trout fishing.