BUY A ticket for the Washburn Valley Reservoirs and you get the chance to fish three fisheries for the price of one. Add splendid Pennine scenery, and you have reservoir fishing at its finest. Even the Ospreys agree, for the migrating birds stop for a time each year.
Fewston and Swinsty are adjacent, a dam dividing them, while Thruscross with its wild brown trout is a couple of miles further up the valley.
These reservoirs have existed since 1880, when they were built to supply rapidly-growing Leeds, and for many years the wild brown fishing was free to the city’s rate payers.
In 1974 Yorkshire Water first stocked the two main reservoirs with rainbows, and a modern stillwater trout fishery was born.
Warden Colin Winterburn has spruced the place up no end. In his time at the helm, he has opened the former nature reserve at Swinsty to anglers; re-opened Thruscross; modernised the stocking policy and is looking at the possibility of introducing boats to Fewston next year. There are now Washburn junior, men and women teams; monthly competitions from April, while a big annual Water Aid match is run by Yorkshire Water.
But what has not changed is the wild feel that is the hallmark of these stunningly beautiful venues.
“We allowed anglers into the former nature reserve, because the whole valley is one is one big nature reserve, teeming with wildlife, so there was no point in having a little corner set aside,” said Colin.
Among the wildlife you may spot are deer, foxes, badger, Nightjar, Red necked Grebe. And there are several types of birds of prey including Goshawk, Kestrel, Sparrowhawk, Hen Harrier, Marsh Harrier, and Red Kite which have been re-introduced into the area.
Both Fewston and Swinsty are 156 acres and up to 50 feet deep (Thuscross is 140 acres). Swinsty, being the lower water, tends to be more sheltered. Even on the wildest days there are corners into which anglers can go to escape the full force of the elements. No fishing is allowed from the dam walls as they are steep and slippery.
With wild browns plentiful, and the fast-flowing River Washburn emptying into Fewston, there is a wide range of fishing opportunities available, appealing to anglers with a flexible approach.
Stocking takes place once a fortnight with blues to 6lb, and rainbows to 10lb from Bentham Trout Farms. Browns were last stocked 14 years ago, but wild browns run to 7lb.
Bentham fish are reared in earth ponds rather than tanks, and are therefore slightly darker than most rainbows.
Rod numbers are increasing year on year, and tackle, tuition and rod hire are available. Among instructors are Roger Beck, Jim Curry, Steve Marshall and Steve Cheetham, while Colin is a STANIC instructor.
Because the reservoir still supplies the surrounding area, water levels fluctuate considerable. The trick is to take advantage.
When levels are low, areas of the bank open up which were previously unfishable. This is the time to get in underneath the steep banks, and try those spots, especially Thackray Bay and the river mouth, which may not have been fished for some time.
When the water is high, take advantage of the areas where fish move close inshore to snap up terrestrials blowing off bankside vegetation.
While it’s possible to remain in one spot and catch steadily, the wandering angler often gets the best from the venue.
Washburn Valley through the seasons
Strong winds often whistle down the valley, but in sheltered areas buzzer hatches are plentiful, and fish are quickly onto them. Olive and black versions are effective. As the season progresses, hawthorn flies and, in most years, mayflies appear in good numbers. Visibility is not brilliant in the peaty water and the fish must learn to be opportunist, snapping up nymphs making their way to the surface, and terrestrials.
Smaller Buzzers and traditional wet flies - including Blae and Black, spider patterns, Invicta and Black Pennell - come into their own as the water warms and fish become more active, seeking out any areas where food gathers, particularly wind lanes and bays into which insects drift. In the rare flat calms, or when the ripple is light, small dries such as CDC and Grey Duster will take fish, though usually Black Gnat and Bibio are more effective.
Now is the time to seek out the browns, and perhaps bigger rainbows. The browns will start to congregate off the feeder streams and river mouth. Try Daddies and Hoppers on warm overcast days, while lures should include Dawson’s Olive, Cat’s Whisker, and Minkies.
Winter fishing is permitted at weekends only, and lures come into their own, though in mild spells imitative patterns will still be effective. Seek out the sheltered areas in winter, both for your own comfort and for ease of casting, as well as to find shoaled fish. Spinning is allowed on Swinsty.
UNDERSTANDING THE WIND
Swinsty Overflow, Dam Corner South
Stack Point, River End, Former Nature Reserve
Dam Corner North, North Bank, Lodge Bank
First Bay, Thackray Bay, Swinsty Hall
1 DAM CORNER SOUTH
Very shallow water makes this a good dry fly area, especially as westerlies create a lively ripple for the wind blows all the way down the reservoir. The bigger the ripple, the more the fish feel comfortable coming right into the dam overspill, where the lack of depth ensures that surface and sub-surface insects are in their field of vision. Spent flies and other food items collect here, and Hawthorns, Daddies and Hoppers are effective. At times traditional wet flies, including the Kate McLaren, fish well here.
Top tip: Look to your left and right as well as straight ahead, because fish tend to cruise in and out of this area, and may well rise to either side of you.
Best times: A good high summer spot.
2 FIRST BAY
This area is deceptive. The gradient at which the bank disappears into the water is normally a guide to depth, but not in this case, for it is possible to wade out for around 60 yards. Around that distance is a shelf where fish often congregate. This is a particularly-good holding spot for browns, as a feeder stream runs into the area. With the water being shallow, floating lines are all that are necessary. Good patterns include Hawthorns, which are often found here from May, or occasionally earlier, and lures such as Dawson’s Olive and Minkie.
Top tip: Before wading towards the shelf, try a few casts before setting a foot in the water, for fish often come very close in to seek terrestrials, or nymphs hatching in the shallows.
Best times: May and June.
3 THACKRAY BAY
The biggest bay on either reservoir is a lovely area to escape to, because the fish do the same. Its accessibility depends on water levels, but when the water is low enough for you to find casting room, you could be on a winner. Wild browns to more than 7lb run into this area to spawn. Be careful because this area is very deep in place, and the bank here is a guide to the depth. Fish can be well spread out, though they often hug the bank so long casting is not always necessary. The Booby can fish well here, but the bankside growth produces good numbers of terrestrials.
Top tip: Vary your depth to find the fish.
Best times: Good early season area for rainbows, while the number of browns here increase as the season progresses, with September a key month.
4 RIVER END
Most accessible for the north bank, this is a key area as the River Washburn flows in here. The water is fairly shallow until you reach the river bed, where the flowing water has scoured out a deep channel - though wade carefully for the flow is not obvious from above, and the channel sides are steep dropping off to around 12 feet. This is a good holding area for rainbows and wild browns which run up the reservoir, and tend to stop here, some going on up the river. Imitative patterns work here for the fish are on the lookout for morsels being swept downstream. Try underrated and little-used patterns such as Blae & Black and Wormfly along with the more popular Bloodworm and Booby.
Top tip: There’s a lot of submerged vegetation when the water is high, so don’t trip over snags. Accept that you will snag your fly at times, and maybe lose fish in roots.
Best times: Mid to late summer, because water levels are low and the river channel most accessible.
5 OPPOSITE THACKRAY BAY
The whole north bank of Fewston is fairly straight, but there are areas along it where fish tend to congregate, and this is one. It’s difficult to wade here, because there is a sudden and deep drop off, but overgrown banks mean that you may have to take a few steps into the water to create casting room. Try an intermediate line here for the fish are often found a few feet down. Traditional patterns score here, including Mallard and Claret, Spiders and Invicta, with Buzzers, GRHE and Pheasant Tail all good standbys.
Top tip: Finding the right depth is more important than distance casting.
Best times: June, July and August
6 NORTH BANK
This is another area where it is possible, whenever water levels are low, to wade out and fish over the old river bed. Alot of the fish tend to run up to around here from the dam, then turn and go back. Wade carefully because visibility is not always good in the peaty water. Fish as you go, rather than wade as far as you can, before casting. Most of the popular Washburn patterns take fish here.
Top tip: Big red sedges appear here on summer night, and just before dark, a White Moth can be a killing pattern.
Best times: Summer, whenever water levels allow you to wade and cover a lot of water.
7 DAM CORNER NORTH
This area is deeper than the south corner, though you can wade a few yards from the bank to create the room to cast a long line. The prevailing south-westerlies have a long stretch of open water before reaching this point, so a good ripple, or even mini-waves, can lash this bank. At such times fish will be found surprisingly close in, so it’s worth punching a line into the wind, even if you struggle to get distance. In fact most of the fish caught here come to anglers fishing into the wind. If it’s too hard going, you can switch to the south corner with a five minute walk, but always give it a try here first. Mini-lures, goldheads and Buzzers are effective here.
Top tip: Try and reach any wind lanes that form here, because they invariably hold fish.
Best times: Agood early-season area because stockies often follow the wind.
8 STACK POINT BAY
The largest bay in Swinsty catches the sun and is a magnet for day trippers, who can be a bit of a nuisance at weekends. But anglers can take advantage of their presence for feeding the ducks and geese is a popular pastime here. Trout home in on any bread that is not picked up by the birds, therefore white patterns such as Cat’s Whisker, Appetiser and White Muddler take a lot of fish, especially towards evening when the picnickers have departed. The banks slope gradually, so wading is reasonably safe.
Top tip: Fish right up to the tunnel leading to the lagoon, for fish often hide in it.
Best times: Summer evenings, and early season where this sheltered bay warms up first.
9 DISABLED LAGOON
There is good access for disabled anglers here, who are permitted to spin in winter, and use worm in the main season. Extra fish are stocked here, though they can swim through the tunnel to the main reservoir. There’s a lot of coarse fish, and perch to 4lb, roach to 2lb and 6lb chub have featured in catches.
Top tip: Regular fly anglers should give it a miss.
Best season: Anytime.
10 LODGE BANK (Swinsty)
Similar to the equivalent area at Fewston. It’s too deep and rocky to wade more than a few yards and often choppy, but a fish-holding area where mini lures or a team of wets on intermediate lines will be most effective. Intermediate lines are probably best in an area which is tricky to fish but which can be rewarding. Fish moving in here with the prevailing wind usually linger for some time before moving off along the dam wall. As the dam wall is out of bounds, this is the area to intercept those fish.
Top tip: Cast across the wind to virtually on the dam. Then retrieve steadily to tempt fish that have congregated off the dam.
Best times: All year, but especially early season.
11 SWINSTY OVERFLOW
This is a very shallow area where you can wade long distances, although there is a gully, visible from the bank, to watch out for and a sandy area where the bottom is soft. The prevailing winds blow a lot of insects into this area, and fish will come right in over the shallows to snap them up. At the end of the wading range there’s a shelf, where fish may lie stationary waiting for the drift to bring them food items. Green and yellow patterns are particularly effective here, and Dawson’s Olive is a favourite.
Top tip: At quiet times cover this area from the bank before wading.
Best times: All season.
12 SWINSTY HALL
There are weed beds in this quiet secluded area, which is overlooked by many anglers. The abundance of natural food means that nymphs and dries are a preferred choice, especially Hare’s Ear, Pheasant, Tail, Buzzers, Bibio, Grey Duster, and Hoppers. There is a gradual drop off and wading is possible with care, though not necessary as this is an area for a careful, quiet approach. Wading may spook fish more readily than in most areas, especially as the area is sheltered from prevailing winds and sometimes flat calm.
Top tip: This is one of Swinsty’s main areas for wild browns.
Best times: From May to the end of the season, when insect life is most prolific.
13 FORMER NATURE RESERVE
Now open to angling, this is a mysterious area of submerged bushes, and moving water from the overflow. It has an ancient feel, and casting an eye over it is Neptune, intricately carved into the stone at the top of the tunnel linking the two reservoirs. Don’t wade except in times of low water, as there are depths of 12 feet straight off the bank. Try fishing the overflow, or the spot where the water runs through the pipe between the two reservoirs. ABooby in the flow is an excellent tactic, while elsewhere lures such as Dawson’s and Whiskey Fly are effective. On bright days in particular, orange patterns are effective. Fish will run up into this area whenever the water levels are high enough to produce a strong flow.
Top tip: Try fry imitations late in the season, for there are a lot of coarse fish in the area.
Best times: Early and late season.