Hidden away in the hills of deepest exmoor, scenic Wimbleball Reservoir remains one of the west country’s best-kept angling secrets. Here you can fish the banks all day without ever seeing another angler, yet sport from the shore can be superb
Wimbleball Lake is situated within the stunning scenery of the Exmoor National Park in West Somerset and, despite a few small lanes towards the end of the journey, it is perfectly possible to be fishing inside of an hour having left the busy M5.
Once you arrive, you are in trout fishing heaven. Wimbleball has it all - shallows, deeps, bays, even its own Mayfly hatch, all surrounded by some of England’s most beautiful countryside.
Take to the banks and the first thing to hit you is the incredible clarity of Wimbleball. You may have heard the term gin clear; this lake defines just that.
Standing on one of the banks staring into the depths, it is possible to pick out every detail of the lake bed, and sometimes, even the odd trout cruising by. Add to this a good supply of daphnia, a fair hatch of buzzers, some sedge and the all-important terrestrial insects and the result is a fishery which will respond to methods from lures on sinking lines right through to dries on the top.
In this part of the world, the weather can change at the drop of a hat. I have experienced several glorious sunny starts only to be shivering and dripping wet a few hours later. So wrap up warm and take along a hot drink because even if the weather turns sour, the fishing can be electric.
I remember one such occasion when during a gale and torrential downpour I almost gave up and headed for home, but in a flash of inspiration Itied on one of my faithful Wimbleball patterns, the Clifton, which resulted in a superb bag of fish.
The high altitude of this lake means that sinking lines are required for the first couple of months. Then as the water begins to warm with terrestrial hatches such as the hawthorn in late April and early May, the fish begin to venture closer to the surface. This signals the time to break out intermediates, sink tips and, on warm days, a full floater. Certainly most early mornings and evenings can be tackled with the floating line and a team of Buzzers/nymphs.
The lake lies North to South so during a brisk Northerly things can be a little uncomfortable when fishing the exposed areas. However there are plenty of steep- sided banks which offer protection. The only drawback is that this can require a good walk along the considerable perimeter to find shelter, although to fish this venue effectively it is wise to keep on the move anyway.
Wimbleball boasts a superb head of high-quality rainbows. Produced by a local fish farmer, the stock fish will not disappoint and if you are lucky enough to encounter one of the over-wintered specimens just watch out for that backing knot as it sizzles through the tip ring. As an added bonus, there is the occasional blue or tiger trout.
With so much going for it, one might expect the banks to be crowded. But, apart from the usual early-season bonanza, it is quite usual to be on your own. I have fished this lake many times with only the Buzzards for company.
UNDERSTANDING THE WIND
Bessoms Bridge, The Stones, Cow moor, Steart Dam, Upton Arm
Ruggs Bay, Valentines / Arthurs Bay, Steart Bay
Sailing Club, Bessoms Bay, Cow moor
The Narrows, Farm Bay, Cowlings Bay
1 Bessoms Bay
This bay is very popular as it is so accessible, being less than a couple of minutes from the car park. Shallow on the west side averaging 6ft, the bay drops into deep water quite rapidly heading east. The shallow water is best tackled using a floating line and lightweight Buzzers, or an intermediate using a steady retrieve. Otherwise it is easy to snag up on the abundant weed in the area. However, the presence of weed means that there are fish lurking all around looking for an easy meal so just an average cast is required for success. Look for a feeder stream in the small coppiced area which always gives up a fish or two in the right conditions. Failing that, head for the deeper water situated to the right and marked by a line of trees.
Top tips: Use intermediate lines and small attractors such as the Clifton in the deep water.
Best times: Great early season location; the shallows become very slippery when the water recedes later in the season.
Wading: Slippery in the shallows due to silt, but advisable to wade to reach out past the weed. Not required in the deeps.
Wind effect: Great in a light to strong south/south westerly.
2 Bessoms Bridge
Another accessible location providing very deep water. Not the easiest casting due to the steep-sided bank, but certainly an excellent early-season spot. A stony bottom makes it ideal for fishing patterns such as the Booby on lines such as the Rio Deep 7. However for the more imitative angler there are plenty of opportunities to fish Buzzer patterns on a long leader and this is also one of the top spots for fishing the hawthorn hatch. Watch out for sedge too. A very dangerous place to wade out more than a few feet and it is advisable to stay on shore. Perhaps not the most scenic spot on the lake and you can get nagged by holidaymakers stopping in the car park close by. However there are often large shoals of fish in the area and it can be a productive area during a north wind.
Top tips: Fish a dry such as a Black Hopper during a flat calm on a summer’s evening.
Best times: Most of the year, especially summer evenings. Also excellent in bright, hot conditions.
Wading: Dangerous, not advised.
Wind effect: Not comfortable in a strong wind. Best in light north, north easterly and east winds.
3 The Stones
A causeway across the lake with a road which leads to a small anglers’ car park provides easy access to the Stones. An artificial rock face provides a deep water area which can be fished from the east and west banks or, for the adventurous, from the causeway itself. Take care on the slippery rocks, preferably fishing from this spot only when it is dry. The tough casting, and loss of a few flies on the back cast, can be worth the effort as fish lay almost under the anglers’ feet and in strong winds can shoal quite heavily. Deep water makes it a good place to fish sinking lines, with Boobies or Bombs. Weed growth has made this tactic more difficult in recent years and during times of drought there won’t be any water to fish! Good supplies of daphnia keep the fish interested and, as heavy stocking often takes place close by, this is a really popular bank, with both Ruggs and the Bessoms Bridge area easily accessible. There are a couple of car parks.
Top tips: Try it in rough weather with the wind from the north.
Best times: All year especially early season but no good if water drops.
Wading: Not really required and definitely not from the actual stones.
Wind effect: Good in a variety of winds even rough weather.
4 Ruggs Bay
A good, long bay providing fishing in a variety of winds and range of depth. Look for the pinnacle with shallow water shelving steadily, this is a real hotspot. If the water drops, Ruggs dries up, leaving just a gully cut by the feeder stream. However, this only happens during really low water. Weekends can get crowded. Anglers prepared to hike south along the shore can get away from the regulars, and will find a fantastic stretch of bank dropping into 15ft plus just a short cast from the bank. Excellent for sinking lines and nymphs, with the odd small attractor to pull fish. As the season progresses, a sink tip with Buzzers fished static during light winds is deadly. When there is a fall of terrestrials, the odd fish is willing to accept a big dark dry fly. Ruggs often holds a lot of stock fish.
Top tips: Make the effort to fish the deep water trying flies such as mini Vivas, teamed with Buzzers and Hare’s Ears.
Best times: All year.
Wading: Not required in the deeps, but OK in the shallows.
Wind effect: Easy to fish in a light to moderate south or east wind. The shallow water is quite exposed.
5 Cow Moor
This is a huge bay, fishable from the bank in North and South winds and often offering over-wintered fish. Along walk is required either parking close to Ruggs Bay and then hiking South, or using the Easterly anglers car park and following the footpath. Making the effort to fish Cow Moor is rewarded with uncrowded banks, while the views are stunning. During a West wind, the narrow top end close to the feeder stream becomes infested with daphnia, and fish will gorge themselves. Steep banks on both sides provide good shelter and will fish in a North or South wind. Look for the various hedges along the banks, which often mark hotspots, and scan the water’s surface for fish feeding on terrestrial insects. Top hot spot is the feeder stream. Intermediates do damage and flies incorporating coral marabou such as a Jaffa, are a good bet.
Top tips: Walk the banks and fish near the hedgerows
Best times: All year
Wading: Easy in shallow areas, but cast first as fish are often close by
Wind effect: Good in North and South Winds, but not great in a strong Westerly which colours the water.
Along narrow strip of water, which is hard fishing due to tree-lined banks. Requiring a long walk, the small bay to the north of Valentines is referred to as Arthurs and provides peaceful fishing. Reasonably sheltered, this is a good area to escape a strong north wind or during an easterly. Look for the angler’s shelter that also marks the corner of the bay. A fence which runs into the water is another landmark, and a short to long cast covers depths averaging six to 8ft. There is also a deep section heading south along the easterly bank. This is one area where the odd half-decent brown puts in an appearance. The wading is easy but tread carefully to avoid stirring up too much silt, and beware of drop offs on the shelving banks. Long leaders and Buzzers fished on a floater in light winds is a great tactic and terrestrial insects will always figure. Not so popular with boat anglers, and requiring a long walk, it is often deserted.
Top tips: Take the minimum of equipment as it is a long walk.
Best times: Summer months when other areas have been fished hard.
Wading: Easy in the shallows but beware of drop offs in the deep section.
Wind effect: OK in a light north wind and well protected from an easterly.
7 Upton Arm
The most beautiful area of Wimbleball, but requires the longest walk of all and a good standard of casting. Fishing is only really possible from the rocky banks as the water drops. A Mayfly hatch takes place in late June and early July. Crouched among the trees on the uppermost corner of the north side of the Arm, it is possible to watch fish come within feet of the bank to gorge on the Mayfly. This is wonderful fishing, but expect to miss a lot of takes and lose plenty as the Upton fish are often lean, grown-on fish which fight hard and dirty. The ability to roll cast is essential. Boats rarely venture into the area. Another good spot is the narrow easterly section to stalk fish in gin-clear water. A good place to escape a strong north wind but as casting is hard offers limited fishing possibilities and should only be attempted from the bank during summer with a floating line. Imitative flies are the best bet and a Black Bits fished dry can pull a lot of fish.
Top tips: Wait for the Mayfly hatch before making the long journey.
Best times: After June.
Wading: Very dangerous in most areas.
Wind effect: Anything west makes it difficult; best in summer flat calms.
8 Steart Bay and Dam
The bay can be accessed via the bridleway leading from the car park on the Watchet road. Otherwise it is a pleasant walk through the forest on the west bank. Cross the dam, and chuck out a long cast with an intermediate. The deep water lends itself to sinking lines although the fish are quite clued up and are more often caught on imitative flies. Small Damsels are a good bet, along with Hare’s Ears, Buzzers. Fish slowly with a figure of eight retrieve and you could pick up an overwintered fish or elusive brown trout. The shore is quite stoney and deep water just a short cast away. No good in north winds and a long way from other bank spots so it can be a bit of a gamble. Across the lake is the Dam which has one very small area of fishing. Look for the gap in the trees and be sure to fish to the left of the rope that marks the no-fishing area. Very deep water, wading not advised.
Top tips: Watch out for wood beetles which can trigger a rise.
Best times: As a last resort if the fishing is hard, good for early season, overwintered fish.
Wading: Possible but not required.
Wind effect: Forget it in any northerly and fish it in light winds.
9 Farm Bay
A pretty bank marked by several old-fashioned barns. Quite a steep approach providing deep water, lending itself to sinking lines. However with a mixture of stones and silt, large hatches of fly occur and as the sun moves around and begins to dip good sport can be enjoyed on a floater. Easy to access by parking above the sailing club and walking across the fields. If the wind is blowing hard from the north, this bay can be quite sheltered but add some east and it becomes unfishable. If the conditions are right, Farm Bay is good. Experiment with lines and retrieves to get the right combination. This Bay can sometimes hold large shoals of stockies which migrate along the bank to find a nice depth. As with the other “wilderness” areas, which are lightly fished, it is possible to take some high-quality fish and the occasional wild brown. Catch and release is recommended if a brownie succumbs as they are few and far between these days. All Buzzers and nymphs will catch, but a slowly-fished Black & Peacock Spider provides a traditional and often deadly approach.
Top tips: Lovely in a light wind and perfect for a team of nymphs fished off a floating line. Try evening for the best results.
Best times: Well worth a try all year and especially in pleasant weather.
Wading: Eel grass is slippery and deep water is reached without wading.
Wind effect: Good in light winds but not anything from the east.
10 Sailing Club
A deep-water mark offering little in the way of features. The most popular spot is next to a fence that marks the boundary of the sailing club grounds. Do not fish in the sailing club area to the right of the fence when looking out across the lake. Stock fish are often available, although it is certainly not a first choice due to lack of features. Noisy during weekends when the sailing club is busy. Then it’s best to fish elsewhere as the banks are used by spectators. Sinking lines are the best option and, with little in the way of weed, a Booby fished on a fast sinker can produce. Look out in summer for insects close to shore during westerly winds. Then swap to a floating line with a large dark dry such as Black or Claret Hopper. Dries should be size 10 or 12 and well picked out to create a sharp silhouette. This is beneficial, as in the clear water fish will rise from the depths to intercept a tasty-looking meal. A good bank to enjoy a few casts before heading towards Farm Bay or Stearts and situated close to the car park behind the sailing club.
Top tips: Don’t stop for long and avoid weekends.
Best times: Early season when fish are deep.
Wading: Dangerous and not advised, sharp drop off.
Wind effect: No good in a north wind but sheltered in a southerly and pleasant during winds from the west.
11 Cowlings Bay
One of the hotspots, this bank does not shelve out into deep water as quickly as many other locations, and offers a good silty substrata which helps to promote aquatic insects. Look out for corixa in the margins, while spooned fish reveal bloodworm and buzzer pupa. Close to the permit kiosk and various car parks, Cowlings Bay can become busy which pushes the fish out. However, a 20-yard cast will cope with this and also has the bonus of fishing the flies over a deep gully running diagonally out from the shore. Weekdays will attract boats who can fish the area only while the sailing club is not in use, and anglers will attempt to get into spots close to the shoreline which can provide fast-paced fishing when there are stock fish about. The two best spots are a wide gap among two rows of trees and by a lifebuoy, but watch your back cast as a public footpath runs along the shore. Not bad in a north to north westerly so long as it is not too strong. Fishes well during a light west wind with a team of nymphs fished almost static, or with a Damsel or small Black Tadpole with intermediate.
Top tips: Get there early before the crowds and pick up an early fish.
Best times: Early season and during high water. No good in a drought.
Wading: Easy although a little slippery and often required to cast past the weed beds.
Wind effect: Good in various winds except an easterly.
12 The Narrows
The most accessible bank from the permit kiosk and popular with anglers making their way to Bessoms Bay. A tricky back cast as the Narrows is a long thin cut leading from Ruggs and Bessoms towards the Sailing Club. Boats have to use this route to reach the north end of the lake and will often come close to shore. If it is blowing hard, avoid the Narrows as it is exposed to most wind directions, especially due south or north. However the deep water holds fish and, after stocking, the trout migrate along this shoreline which can only be fished effectively from the west side. Look out for risers which will come to a dry fished at range during light winds. This is another location bordered by a footpath which becomes busy in summer and Bank Holidays. Fishing deep is a good bet and ultra long casts are not required as the deep water is easily reached. Best spots are by the fence just down from the boat pontoon and close to bushes. This area can give up fish close to shore which like the shelter of the bush. Try casting alongside the bush and twitching a fly enticingly past the branches.
Top tips: Stop here when taking the long route to Bessoms.
Best times: Early season, and during evening flat calms throughout summer. Avoid Bank Holidays like the plague!
Wading: Not required.
Wind effect: Hard fishing in strong winds. Not comfortable in an easterly.