THE UK boasts many fantastic fly fishing opportunities with everything from jumbo Rainbows on small stillwaters to the smallest of wild trout on our crystal clear brooks. In fact if it were possible to fish seven days per week, I reckon the lucky individual could cast everyday for several years with plenty of locations to spare.
While ticking off the ‘who’s who’ of trout venues, I believe it would be a sin not to visit the stunning banks of Clatworthy Reservoir. Just outside the Exmoor National Park, this stunning 130-acre Lake is the headwater of the River Tone and sparkles like a jewel amid the Brendon Hills - arguably one of the most beautiful areas in rural West Somerset.
Cruising along the B3190 towards Upton on a cold March morning, I experienced that adrenalin rush which every angler craves as the anticipation of a great day sets in. Very few days are ever bad on Clatworthy.
Turning left down a rutted old track heading towards the village of Clatworthy, I recalled the many times I have made the very same journey, trying to see over the Beech hedge and catch my first view of the lake while negotiating rabbits, tractors and pot holes! My recently acquired 4x4 facilitated my view above the hedges, a welcome change to my worn out Volkswagen, but a bunch of horse boxes forming a slow moving entourage required that for a few more minutes I would have to remain patient.
Finally, I arrived and jumped out of the truck to don waders and tackle up. I usually go for a 9 ft rod rated number 7 which I use for an intermediate or sinking line and if conditions allow, a 9ft, 5 weight to cast a floater. Flies should consist of the usual Buzzers, Damsels and Mini Lures, with something Orange being a favourite with both local anglers and the trout.
I used to wonder if this was due to the genetics of the Clatworthy inhabitants, which are reared entirely on site by dedicated ranger, Dave Pursey, but of course I am sure the answer is down to the fact that so many feel confident when pulling back a Jaffa or something similar. Certainly the fish often oblige!
But it’s not all lures, so don’t forget a good selection of dries with Black or Claret being favoured colours. You will also need a decent net here, as there are a few large fish to be had.
Many anglers turn left from the comfortable lodge and ample car parking and head south towards the very popular deep areas referred to as the Rowes Farm End. This area is often full of the hard-fighting fish for which Clatworthy is rightly famous, but the locals know this only too well, so to bag a good spot means an early start to be at the gates when they open at 8am.
As usual, I was late, so with the car park filling up, I decided that it was time for a long walk north towards the Trip End of Clatworthy. Although this was going to delay my first casts, I set off at a brisk pace listening to the rat-a-tat of a woodpecker and the plaintive mews of a buzzard overhead.
Clatworthy is home to a huge range of birdlife and deer or even badgers sometimes put in an appearance. With a variety of fantastic trees and diverse habitats to enjoy, bank fishing Clatworthy is like entering your own secret world for a few hours, well away from the hustle and bustle of the every day rat race.
The fishing is varied too, with everything from shallows to depths plunging to over 90ft. There are great hatches of buzzer to keep the trout well fed after stocking, while fish are often landed with Daphnia oozing from their mouths like Tomato soup - maybe another good reason for orange being a favoured colour.
But Clatworthy has much more to offer and while many opt for the sinking line approach, it should never be forgotten that, at times, this venue can enjoy a spectacular rise especially to the likes of Coch-y-Bonddu beetles, which appear in June in numbers which have to be seen to be believed. When the wood beetles fall, the fish can become willing to take any big black dry.
The average weight of the fish is around 2 lb and despite the extremely low water levels experienced in 2003, the fishery rod average still remained at 2.6 for the year.
Big fish also put in the occasional appearance and the fishery record stands at 16 lb 10 oz landed in May 1998. Last year the best Rainbow pulled the scales down to 8 lb 2 oz, with a brown trout of 6 lb 2 oz also landed.
To add a little extra spice during 2004, Dave Pursey informs me that there may well be a few big Browns into double figures going in.
Completing my journey along the East bank I arrived at the Trip End eager to cast a line and was pleased to see the sun appear from behind the clouds. While enjoying a brew and constructing a tapered leader, my eyes keenly scanned the water’s surface, anticipating that at any moment a few buzzers would begin hatching. I had been hoping for this change in weather as I have often been rewarded with an excellent rise for my long walk - yes - even in March. Just to complete the moment, the cooling north wind began to moderate and after just a few minutes they were there - big black buzzers.
The fish began to appear and before long one happened upon my Black Bob’s Bits just sitting, waiting, in the surface film. With the 5 weight Sage XP now firmly attached to an angry over-wintered Rainbow, a broad grin spread across my face and I once again remembered why Clatworthy is without doubt one of my favourite waters of all time.
UNDERSTANDING THE WIND
Trip End, Trip Bay, Dudderidge, Rowes Farm End
The Bay, Westcott Bank, Stocky Bay, The Lodge Bank
Rowes Farm End, The Bay, Westcott Bank, Dudderidge
Rowes Farm End, Syndercombe, Stolford End, Trip End
1 Trip End
This is perhaps the area least frequented by bank anglers and a long walk from the lodge, but well worth it! For those who feel like a more relaxing day, why not hire one of the many boats available? Engines are not supplied but can bring their own.
This area starts shallow before shelving off nicely into deep water of about 20ft. For peace and solitude on Clatworthy there is no better place. Scan the water carefully for Buzzer hatches and feeding fish, as Clatworthy is at a high altitude and the water is often cold. This means that the fish are actively on the look out for ready sources of food and even a small hatch can trigger the fish to feed.
A floating line and a team of superglue buzzers will often work here and it is easy to cover a large area of water. For those keen on visual fishing, it is always worthwhile having a dry fly rod set in case the fish begin to surface. Often the fish feed hard for just a short while, so time spent rigging up can mean missing an opportunity. In flat calm conditions and when the water is really clear, it is even possible to stalk fish in the shallows - especially around the feeder stream - while an intermediate and various mini-lures will produce results when sport is slow on top. Look out when casting, as this is a high bank with a lot of tall ferns that can punish a sloppy back cast.
Top Tips: Be ready to fish a sinker or intermediate early season, but don’t forget the dries, even when it’s cold.
Best Times: Fantastic in summer, but also an excellent location for an early season over-wintered specimen.
Wading: Not required as so much good fishing is reachable even with a relatively short cast and fish can often be seen cruising the margins
Wind Effect: Sheltered, especially in a West wind. Fishes best in calm conditions; not so great when the wind is blowing hard from the South.
2 Trip Bay
Just around the corner from Trip End, this is a pretty little bay with access to extremely deep water just a few feet from the bank. Nice and sheltered, but with a steep bank that can make casting tricky.
When the water is cold and the fish are lying deep, this can be a very productive spot. Once again the fish encountered have often spent a reasonable amount of time in the lake, evading capture, so offer hard-fighting qualities and razor sharp fins.
Boobies and Bloodworm fished washing line-style on a fast sinker is a good tactic here. There is also a small feeder stream at the neck of the bay that can be reached from the bank, but care should be taken, as the ground is very soggy. If Trip Bay has a boat or two fishing, it is probably best to move on, as anglers often fish along the ledge close to the bank making it tricky to cast without the inevitable boat or bank rage!
The far bank cannot be fished from the shore because of an almost vertical drop-off. Fishing this bay alone with the buzzards soaring above is beautiful and can feel like having your very own small stillwater.
Top Tips: Make up a fast sinking shooting head to beat the short back cast and fish deep with imitative patterns.
Best Times: Excellent in bright, hot conditions and also during the cold as there is considerable depth just feet from the shore.
Wading: Definitely not, other than in the narrow neck.
Wind Effect: Sheltered in most winds due to high banks and secluded location, a good place to get out of a strong blow up or down the lake.
3 Stolford End
A much under-fished bank but when the wood beetles fall from the surrounding forest or a buzzer hatch starts, superb quality resident fish can be taken with ease. It’s only possible to fish from the West Bank, which is easily reached by a footpath.
Once again displaying the characteristic deep water properties of Clatworthy, this bank offers itself to a variety of tactics. The Stolford End fish are often not far from the surface so if they won’t come to dries, a sink-tip or slow sinking intermediate would be my next choice.
Stock fish are always present all over the lake, but as this location means a fair walk, it is often left unfished for days and that leaves a reasonable head of wised up fish for the taking.
If you are up for some good casting, possible sight fishing and don’t want to reach the strictly enforced five fish limit too quickly, then this is a good location. Have a bit of fluorocarbon in your waistcoat as the clarity can be spectacular and Ihave witnessed fish cruising just below the surface and sipping naturals, fantastic but frustrating if they keep ignoring your artificial!
Top Tips: Have a rod set up with a dry as the fish appear on the surface at regular intervals. Otherwise go for slowly fished superglue buzzers.
Best Times: Great early season in the first large buzzer hatches and wild when the wind blows Wood Beetles on to the water.
Wading: Very deep, so not required. In fact, Ifind it best to stand up on the bank above the water to get a good long cast.
Wind Effect: Best in calm conditions, exposed in strong northerly or southerlies.
A large bay, sheltered in north or south winds. The south bank cannot be fished from the shore due to a wooded forest, but there is ample space on the North bank, which, once again, can upset a low back cast with lots of ferns and bracken to catch up on leaders!
Head for the feeder stream area, but beware that boats will often move in close to fish this feature. A long walk from the lodge, it is possibly worth covering a little more distance and bypassing Dudderidge for the Trip End. However there are of course fish to be caught in the bay and for those who like to fish alone, it is rare to encounter other anglers, certainly fishing from the bank.
There is a variety of rock and silt along the length of this bay that provides a great environment for bloodworm, buzzers and caddis. For a lazy summer evening, this would make a great location to throw out some kind of sedge pattern, sit back, enjoy the tranquillity and wait for a fish to loom up from the depths.
Top Tips: Try a floater or intermediate with a team of buzzers and watch out for the sedge hatch in summer.
Best Times: When the lake is crowded elsewhere
Wading: Deep water easily accessible, so wading not really required.
Wind Effect: Good if the wind is strong and from the north or south. Not the most comfortable place in an easterly.
A lovely long bank, easily reached by taking a car down Syndercombe Lane and leaving your vehicle in the car park provided. With so much space, this bank can be popular but it is rare to see more than two or three anglers casting from it. The small wood to the South West of this bank is home to many terrestrial insects, so depending on the wind, trout will often cruise close to the bank in search of a meal.
Average depth here is over 15ft, so Syndercombe lends itself to a sinking line, as does much of Clatworthy. The deep water means that wading is not really necessary and although the bank is fairly steep, it is perhaps easier to fish than many of the locations to the North end of the lake.
A definite hotspot is the point just to the left of the car park looking north, casting across the mouth of a small yet very deep bay. Inching back a Damsel on an intermediate line, it is possible to reach a variety of depths with ease and each cast feels as if it may produce. This is also a good place to strip lures, fish Boobies along the bottom or figure-of-eight a team of nymphs connected to a floater or sink tip with a very long leader.
Top Tips: Fish the bay, take a line tray to help cope with some of the undergrowth and look out for terrestrial insects triggering a rise.
Best Times: All year.
Wading: Not required - plenty of depth can be covered within easy casting distance.
Wind Effect: Quite exposed, so not the best place in rough weather. No good in an easterly.
6 Rowes Farm End
Without doubt, the hotspot on Clatworthy and very popular with local anglers. Rowes Farm provides access to a steep drop-off into depths of 12-15ft within inches of the shoreline. A feeder stream joins the narrow bay from the left hand corner and this forms a deep gully carving through the lakebed and creating an excellent fish-holding feature, often frequented by stockies.
Boats anchor over the gully, but it is also possible to reach it with a cast from the shore. Imust say that, on the whole, most boat anglers are very courteous and due to the narrow width of the bay, leave the south shore to the bank anglers. If you arrive early enough and fancy the chance of brisk sport, then this is possibly one of the best areas.
Heading for the bushes adjacent to the feeder stream and gully, Ifind it very rewarding to cast up along the length of the bank with an intermediate, before counting down and starting a varied retrieve.
Due to the clarity and the position of the angler above such deep water it is often possible to watch as an inquisitive rainbow follows the flies in. Be ready for this as on a number of occasions Ihave been day dreaming only to see a large swirl just under my rod tip. Pay attention and you just may witness that heart-stopping moment when the quarry grabs your fly.
Around 15 minutes’ walk from the lodge, this location is particularly popular and you will often find a long line of anglers bending hard into fish but with no chance of finding a place to join them. Because of this pressure, the trout often turn off for long periods, so unless you’re there early, it may be better to head elsewhere.
Catch Rowes in the right mood at the right time and the five fish limit can soon be scored, borne out by the number of anglers walking back to the lodge sporting a loaded bass bag. Perhaps not the best location to enjoy a proper day out then!
Top Tips: Get there early! A wide variety of sinking line tactics will do the business.
Best Times: All year except in hot weather when Rowes Farm empties completely.
Wading: Only with a wet suit and oxygen tanks!
Wind Effect: Good in most conditions but an easterly can make it a bit tricky.
7 The Bay
Sporting a particularly unoriginal name, this area of Clatworthy is truly a classic bay in which anglers will find plenty of feeding fish. Exposed in a north wind, the bank is out if you don’t like casting into head winds. However if the wind blows from the south or west, then many happy hours can be enjoyed flicking out a team of buzzers on a floating line. Yet another feeder stream enters the lake at this point, providing a fish-attracting feature, so when possible, take up a position to make the best of it.
The Bay is easily reached, so this location can also suffer from angler pressure, but unlike Rowes Farm End, it is possible to see how many anglers are fishing The Bay from the lodge car park. More than half a dozen figures and Ihead the other way.
It’s safe to wade but probably not necessary, as there’s easy casting over a gently shelving lakebed in one of the very few shallow areas of Clatworthy. Unless popping up slowly fished Boobies off the bottom in early season, the sinker is rarely required, as it is easy to become snagged in the weed that grows in the shallows here.
Visited by many terrestrial insects, this is one of the best locations for imitative fishing and dry fly from the bank. Look out in June for a west wind blowing terrestrials from the Syndercombe bank and sparking a rise, with fish often venturing within feet of the shoreline to mop up the stranded beetles and flies. One drawback to be aware of is that, during drought conditions, The Bay can dry up completely
Top Tips: Look out in summer for falls of terrestrial insects and be ready with a floating line.
Best Times: Can be excellent all year, with a good population of fish, but prone to drying up during warm summers.
Wading: Easy with plenty of solid stone underfoot. Watch out for the silted areas, especially around the feeder stream.
Wind Effect: Great in a flat calm, or with a light southerly or westerly. Not pleasant in a cold north wind
8 Westcott Bank
A well-maintained footpath supplies access all along the Westcott bank, while a wooded combe to the rear provides shelter in east winds and shade during the summer. The pathway often means there are anglers and a few walkers to look out for when casting, so if solitude is the order of your day, this should not be your first point of call.
Stock fish released close to the lodge often make their way along this bank when exploring their new home, so it is not uncommon to arrive at the lake and spot someone playing a fish somewhere along Westcott, especially during early morning.
A wide range of tactics can be employed as the steep shelving bank gives way to some deep water. However my definite hotspot is towards the southern end, where a gully runs out diagonally created by the feeder stream as mentioned in The Bay above. In cool or rough conditions, cast out with a Booby set-up and try and get them into this feature, on occasion Ihave enjoyed fast-paced sport with takes, lost or landed fish when using this method. Free-rising fish will venture close to the shore in a fall of terrestrials and for those concerned about their comfort, there is even the provision of a picnic table!
Top Tips: Try the gully with Boobies and always expect stock fish on an intermediate line with something like an Orange Blob or similar.
Best Times: Good all year, but not always very quiet, especially around bank holidays etc.
Wading: Not required, but possible over firm bedrock.
Wind Effect: Not bad in most wind conditions and fairly sheltered.
9 Stockie Bay
As the name suggests, this is the place to go for a fish fresh out of the rearing ponds. With fish trickle-stocked throughout the year at this point, it is inevitable that a few will hang around. Dave Pursey once told me that the fish will often stay for several days in the deep hole not far from the shore of Stocky Bay, before heading off to pastures new. Of course many don’t make it, falling foul of the many and varied lures stripped at high speed back to an eager angler waiting for his first fish of the day.
Being just a stone’s throw from the car park, it is perfectly possible to be in the thick of the action within minutes of arriving at the lake and buying a permit. Imitative tactics will of course also take fish, but with the hustle and bustle of anglers, walkers and the odd family making use of the car park or lodge facilities, Ican rarely settle into my fishing here and would much prefer to journey off to the more tranquil regions of Clatworthy. That said, for those who are unable to make the walk or fancy a few fish for the freezer, this is an excellent and easily accessible location.
Top Tips: Orange lures on lines such as the Di-3 or similar
Best Times: Can get a bit noisy, so best avoided during holiday periods. A popular early season location.
Wading: Easy wading - but watch out for the drop-off.
Wind Effect: A little more exposed than some areas, especially in a brisk north wind.
10 The Lodge Bank
First brought to my attention by Dave Pursey, it is not often that Isee anglers making use of this steep bank to the right of the fishing lodge. It is easy to be in position within a matter of minutes and during early season when the water is cold, a short 15 yard cast will cover some real depth. Cast long with a Rio Deep 7 or similar and booby tactics come into their own. The Di-3 or Intermediate is also a great choice of line for this bank and lures will score again and again if the stock fish have made their way around from Stocky Bay.
Not the most secluded of shores, but anglers and the public usually head off up the Westcott bank, making this one of the quieter areas of easy access. The back cast can be tough as the bank is so steep and it is often necessary to stand up two feet or so above the water to facilitate casting.
Be careful when landing fish, as this is a deep water mark which drops off very quickly and it is easy to slip. Check out the bank from the path and it appears that a section has been cleared within the ferns/bracken. This is in fact a natural occurrence and has the advantage of providing easier casting conditions.
I often have a good hour’s session here before making my way down to the Trip End, and it is rare not to pick up a fish or at least get a take or two. On the other hand, Iwell remember spending a day traipsing all over the lake for the sum total of one fish, only to have a last ditch attempt on the Lodge Bank and catch my remaining four fish in under 20 minutes! For those who require comfort, there is coffee and shelter provided by the nearby lodge and this may well be required if trying to fish this bank in a strong north or south wind.
Top Tips: Certainly worth making the high back casts required as there are often fish waiting to be caught, sinking lines mainly.
Best Times: All year and very productive if a little uncomfortable in rough weather.
Wading: Very dangerous and not required. Stick to the walking boots.
Wind Effect: Good fishing in rough weather - but only for anglers well wrapped up against the elements.