High mountains, green forests, deep lochs. This is the Trossachs, where Bonny Prince Charlie hid from the Redcoats. It’s also the location for one of Scotland’s most important trout fisheries, the Lake of Menteith.
IAN MUCKLE, with the help of three local experts, is your guide to the best drifts, flies and tactics on this scenic 600-acre natural lake.
Besides being one of the most productive boat fisheries in the country, the Lake of Menteith is also one of the most scenic. Part of that superb Scottish countryside which encompasses the famous Trossachs, the lake is surrounded by a spectacular mix of mountain and woodland.
The peak of Ben Lomond stretches skywards on the western horizon, while the slopes surrounding the Lake are covered with mature trees including oak, rowan, birch, beech and a variety of conifers. These are populated by a wealth of bird life, and the water environment is home to a diverse range of waterfowl. But the stars of the show are undoubtedly the ospreys, which work the Lake regularly and often plunge in to the water quite close to the angling boats.
Not that fishery manager Quint Glen begrudges these spectacular fish hawks a few trout. There is no shortage of these at Menteith, and apart from the anglers’ quarry, there are pike, perch and, rather unusually for a Scottish loch, roach.
No lack of fry, then, to feed the rainbows and browns. And that’s not to mention the other underwater trout fodder in this shallow and rich location, with its vast larder of snails, shrimps, larvae, daphnia and other tasty morsels.
Quint took over as fishery manager in 1998, and it is no secret that the place has blossomed amazingly since his arrival. By lowering the stocking density of the fish for restocking, there has been a tremendous improvement in the condition of the trout, and a further bonus is that the fish have attained a larger weight prior to stocking. Quint improved the overwintering prospects by stocking all triploids, and introduced a pike management policy which allowed smaller pike to be removed if necessary, giving the larger predators the chance to control the plentiful coarse fish.
A major improvement was the restocking of the Lake by boat and distribution of the stocked trout all over the fishery, which means that anglers can come across fish anywhere in those 640 acres.
Apart from the trout, Quint also turned his attention to the boats, and has upgraded the fleet and provided new and reliable engines. “My main plan is to preserve the Lake as a fishing amenity,“ says Quint, “And to safeguard the unspoiled local environment and the tranquility of the surroundings.“
Just how exciting the sport can be on Menteith was brought home to me when I was a guest of my mate Jim Boyd, PR man at the Lake, at the back end of last season. We had a magic day catching some hard-fighting, well-conditioned rainbows in the 2lb 8oz to 4lb class. The fact that you can often catch these fish on dry fly or Buzzer tactics is a major plus, though of course, other methods have their devotees. John Buchanan has made an art form of using the small Booby Nymph on the Lake.
It is to three of those Menteith top guns that I have turned to in formulating the major drifts and the way to fish them. I really appreciate them sharing their expertise, and what’s also pleasing is that although I sought their views individually, the three of them were almost totally in agreement as far as wind direction and times to fish were concerned.
All are former Scottish internationalists and well-known names on the Scottish angling scene. Malcolm Anderson, of Crieff, has a track record second to none on the Lake, and is a master of various methods. Jimmy Millar, of Edinburgh, is perhaps best known for his prowess with the dry fly on the loch, though again, he can adapt to any style. And Jimmy McBride, one of Scotland’s top fly dressers and a tackle dealer in the capital, has actually designed patterns such as the Blobby specifically for the Lake.
UNDERSTANDING THE WIND
The prevailing south-westerly wind suits most drifts, but a strong westerly can make setting off from the beach a bit tricky. An easterly wind in very hot conditions can make the fish go deep and difficult to reach, and any on/off wind causes the rainbows to go up and down like yo-yos as they follow the oscillations of the thermocline. An East wind reverses the Westerly drifts, and can be favoured on the Heronry. A Northerly is generally not a wind you want.
1. International Bay/ The Road Shore
As you leave the harbour, it’s worth glancing behind and admiring how the old church spire dominates the backdrop, with the woods and hills framing the building. Head left, and the first major drift you come to, and one of the most popular areas on the water, is the Road Shore, sometimes still known by the old name of Rednock Shore. The depths run from 3ft to 15ft, though the Road Shore Deeps, which hold plenty of fish in warmer weather, are over 40ft. Pulling methods, dries and nymphs can all be effective, and it is a case of experimenting to discover the most successful tactic on the day.
Top tip: Jimmy Millar says: “In an onshore wind, make sure your last cast is right on to the stones, since the trout are often very tight to the margins. Avoid leaving the drift on full throttle as that spoils it for others."
Best times: All season
Best winds: West or East
2. Kate’s Brae
Can be inconsistent, and blows hot and cold, though it’s an area which should always be given a try, and often produces a fish or two on days when the angler is struggling. The shallow spit runs for some distance out from the point, and the depths go from 3ft to 10ft. Use an intermediate or floating line, and again, experiment with the business end of the tackle.
Top tip: Malcolm Anderson says: “Although the reeds close in can hold fish, don’t be afraid to go right out in the middle and drift across to the Gun Butts in the right wind direction. I think this drift fishes better further out."
Best times: All season
Best winds: West or South West, though the drift can be reversed.
3. Lochend Bay
One of the top bays in the early months of the season, this is a relatively-shallow area with depths generally less than 10ft. There is usually a decent flow of water here because the lake runs out over a sluice just before the chalets. Pulling lures and mini lures can work well at the start, and an intermediate line should suffice. Look out for sipping rises close to the reeds in the summer, when dry fly tactics can be deadly. There are some larger fish in this sector.
Top tip: Malcolm Anderson says: “Don’t forget the floating fry at the back end. The area just before the outlet can sometimes be a bit of a hot spot.”
Best time: Particularly good early in the season; back end can also produce.
Best winds: Most winds apart from a cold Northerly
4. Tod Hole
This is a small quiet bay, only around 5ft deep, and often ignored by many anglers, though those in the know realise that there are usually fish patrolling up and down near the reeds. There is also deeper water within easy reach in which the fish may be contacted in the warmer weather. A cautious approach is always necessary here as the trout are easily spooked. It’s a drift which will not take a lot of boat pressure.
Top tip: Jimmy Millar says: “It’s always possible to pick off some better-class fish on dry flies in this little corner, especially if it has not been disturbed."
Best time: All year round, though May and June are
Best winds: Light West or South, though it can be fished in any light winds.
5. The Shooting Butts
This is one of the sections on the Lake which has really come to the fore since Quint Glen took over. Again, a stealthy approach is necessary, since it’s pretty shallow here, less than 5ft for much of its expanse. But it is one of the top dry fly areas on the Lake. Fish can be contacted right into the pike nets and beyond. Anglers are advised to keep on the move, searching new water and keeping an eye open for rising trout.
Top tip: Jimmy Millar says: “Always try this drift in May or June, especially when there’s a hatch of claret duns or vulgata mayfly. A well-presented dry fly can often sort out one of the grown-on residents to be found here.”
Best time: May and June, though it can fish well right through to the back end.
Best winds: South and East winds taking you across or in; you will find shelter here in a westerly in stormier conditions.
6. The Heronry
Shallow water close in, around 5ft, with much deeper stuff further out, around 30ft. An area which is renowned for quality rainbows, these often falling to dry fly techniques. However, Damsel Nymphs on an intermediate line will also do the trick. In a flat calm, you can often see the fish cruising around, and most anglers agree that you want as light a wind as possible to give you the best opportunities on the Heronry.
Top tip: Jimmy Millar says: “Use dry fly if you want to catch some real top-quality fish. Especially in the Autumn, look for collections of floating leaf litter - the fish won’t be far away.”
Best time: All season, though especially from May onwards; and always in light wind conditions.
Best winds: East, South or West
7. The Silage Pits
This is an area which can be a bit hit or miss, though when it’s on, it can be very productive. Fish here respond well to a variety of techniques, and the Booby Nymph can be deadly. It’s a drift which is always worth a look at any time of the season. You can take fish further out in water of around 15ft, though most anglers like a wind which takes them on to or along the shoreline.
Top tip: Jimmy McBride says: “Fish tight into the weeds or bank, and be prepared to change tactics, varying between pulling and dries until you find what the fish prefer.”
Best time: All season
Best winds: West or South-West
8. Dog Island/Malling Shore
Another area where you should attempt to fish close in to the shore, though if there are a lot of boats operating in this drift, then the fish will move further out. Most of the water here is around 10ft deep, though there are areas where the depths fall away to 20ft. Although you can find trout here most of the season, there seem to be times when it’s a really ‘hot’ section, and others when it’s rather unproductive.
Top tip: Malcolm Anderson says: “I actually prefer the Malling Shore after the water has had a little heat in it, and then I find that dries or floating fry can really do the business. The later summer days seem to produce some real quality fish from this section.”
Best time: All season
Best winds: West or South-West
9. Gateside Bay
This used to be one of the most popular regions of the Lake, and often rejoiced in the name Cages Bay, since this was where the stocking cages were sited. It’s not as popular now since the changes in stocking policy meant a much wider distribution of fish over the whole fishery. There is plenty of deep water here, with 40ft not uncommon, and the North Inchmahome Deeps falling away to 70ft. One of the few places on the Lake where fast-sinking lines are useful, and top patterns include a White Cat and various Booby Nymphs.
Top tip: Jimmy McBride says: “If we’re having a spell of sunny warm weather, this is definitely worth a trip; it may save a blank day in a real scorcher. You can find fish close to either shoreline or even drift right across the middle.”
Best time: Summer onwards
Best winds: Any wind except a Northerly.
10. The Rookery
This is a number one area for those who can employ pulling tactics, though dry fly has its devotees under the right conditions. The drift runs from very shallow (3ft) to very deep (40ft). There is a productive area of shallows with lots of ridges just out from the reed beds, where a burn flows in at the back of this vegetation. Sometimes, some of the older resident fish will lie up in this area, though they are not easy to approach, especially in a flat calm.
Top tip: Jimmy McBride says: “I know it’s a top pulling area but I enjoy using dry fly when it’s calm, and find it particularly effective towards the tail end of the season.”
Best time: All season if conditions are right.
Best winds: West or South-West.
11. Reedy Point/Reedy Bay
Another shallow area with underwater features such as a sunken island. Various tactics will work, including floating line and nymphs, intermediates and mini lures and dries, the latter especially in the evenings. If the wind is taking you into the reeds themselves, don’t give up until you are virtually casting your flies among the stems.
Top tip: Malcolm Anderson says: “The set of white buoys marking the sunken island highlights a great feeding area, and pulling with a fast intermediate is very productive at the start of the season when the pinhead fry are around in numbers. It’s a superb dry fly spot in the warmer weather, with large quality fish to be had all year round. Fish are always patrolling the reeds, but I do prefer the buoys area.”
Best time: All season
Best winds: South, South-West or West; preferably not too strong.
12. Hotel Bay
This is the finishing bay, and brings us back to the harbour area. It’s a region which always seems to hold fish, and though it is particularly rated at the start of the season, it really can fish well all year. There’s a variety of depths, from 3ft to 20ft, and pulling mini lures seems to be a technique by which you can cover most of the ground successfully; and it does take plenty of trout. You can use a wide range of lines here, from floater to Hi-D. If the Lake is busy, then it sometimes pays to go in there first thing; or if other boats are fishing the bay, leave it until things have quietened down. There is something extremely satisfying about playing a fish right in front of the Lake Hotel, where there’s normally a spectator or two to admire the proceedings.
Top tip: Jimmy McBride says: “Most of my larger fish have come from this drift, so be prepared. Go there after sustained periods of westerly winds, since these seem to direct trout into this general area.”
Best time: All season
Best winds: West or east.
Just 15 miles from the M25 and 35 miles from the centre of London, Hanningfield in Essex is justifiably famous for its ability to grow-on large rainbows and specimen browns. Its protected artificial banks provide good bank fishing in northerly or easterly winds when other reservoirs suffer. Fishery regulars COLIN DAVIS and MIKE MARSHALL outline the best bank fishing possibilities
TACKLE AND FLIES FOR THE BANK
THE best all-round outfit is a middle to tip- actioned 9ft 6in #7 rod; large diameter reel such as a Leeda Dragonfly 395; WF#7 lines types F, I and ST DI-7; Airflo Sightfree 8lb fluorocarbon leader and leader rings; large net with a long handle.
Regarding fishing methods and flies, the following four systems will suffice:
● Wind mostly behind: Use a WF floating line and two size 12 heavy Superglue Buzzers, seven feet apart on a 15/16ft leader. Try an 18-inch dropper length and a goldhead Olive Long Tail size 10 on the point at times. Allow the flies to sink for up to a minute, then retrieve by figure of eight very slowly. This delicate system produces a high proportion of grown-on, hard-fighting trout.
● Cross wind: As above but swap the floater for an Airflo WF slow inter-mediate clear glass.
● General conditions: Use an Airflo DI-7 shooting head, leader four to 10ft long, Boobies size 10 and 8 with short and long tails. Retrieve by FOE to long pulls and anything between. Best results to be decided by experiment ‘on the day’.
● Evening rise: Use a WF floating line, 10ft leader, two size 10 Wingless Wickhams 10 five feet apart. Cast in front of a rising fish, allow to just sink, then draw back with a slow pull.
UNDERSTANDING THE WIND
West Bank, Middlemead Bay, Main Dam, Goldfish Bowl, Peninsula, Inlet Bay, Hall Point
Middlemead Bay, Main Dam, Goldfish Bowl, Peninsula, Hall Point
Middlemead Bay, Peninsula, Inlet Bay, Hall Point, Mole, Natural Bank
West Bank, Middlemead Bay, Peninsula, Hall Point, Natural Bank
West Bank, Middlemead Bay, Hall Point, Natural Bank, all North Bank
MOST waters evolve naturally as fisheries and Hanningfield is no exception.
The biggest change for the bank angler since it first opened for trout fishing in 1958 is less bank available for wading, particularly at the back-end, due to a more stable water supply. Where the water level used to drop by up to 15 feet during the fishing season, exposing miles of wadeable bank, it now drops just eight or nine feet by the end of October, as can be seen in the accompanying photographs. This is a limiting factor, but some of the most important wading areas still come into play.
As a result of an environmental problem, Hanningfield no longer has a working fish farm. This used to concentrate a sizeable population of very large fish in just a small area. Now these larger fish are much more widespread, to the benefit of the bank angler.
When it comes to growing-on large trout, Hanningfield is second to none and provides a huge and varied larder for the most-discerning fish. Bloodworms, which transform to buzzers, are present year round, hatching best from April to June and again in September and drawing large numbers of swallows and swifts.
There are huge numbers of sedge larvae (stickflies) on the bottom which hatch in the evenings at roughly the same times as buzzers. Although they hatch in large numbers, only the larvae appear in quantity in the marrow spoon while pupae and adults are largely ignored.
Other bottom food to be found in vast numbers are hoglice and snails, which cause selective feeding habits in some trout. But the most prolific food supply is daphnia, which some trout live and grow on alone. During an evening rise, it’s easy to believe trout are feeding on insects when, in fact, the marrow spoon reveals only daphnia.
Hanningfield has only a very small coarse fish population, so fishing for fry feeders is generally unproductive. However, there are sometimes worthwhile numbers of sticklebacks at the back-end in Lodge Bay and along the Natural Bank, as well as good numbers of corixae. The trout, some very large, seem to enjoy these delicacies.
It is little wonder that 2lb stocked rainbows grow fast - the record was 24lb 1oz in 1998 and 21lb 9oz for 2002 so anglers are able to catch what are effectively wild trout.
About 60 per cent of the bank fishing is concrete wall, made more attractive because much of it is tree lined. It provides long lengths of sheltered fishing over deep water that is relatively unaffected by weed growth. If the water level drops significantly, though, some shallower areas do suffer badly through weed growth from June until the end of August. Standing on sloping walls is not permitted so metal platforms, which are comfortable to fish from, are placed at 40-yard intervals.
The water at Hanningfield is crystal clear at times, helped by the concrete banks which do not produce mud stains in windy conditions. But as on many lowland waters there are algal blooms. In March and April a brown stain becomes apparent, while in July and August green algae can appear in quantity. Both are unpleasant for the angler to fish in, but do not appear to affect the fish in any way.
Contrary to some opinions but established through many years of experience, this water fishes best when the wind is behind the angler. The most productive area is the piece of Main Dam between the Middlemead car park and the large tower.
Pay attention while your flies are sinking as trout often take ‘on the drop’. And keep your fingers away from the reel when a grown-on trout takes off – or you could find yourself suffering sore knuckles.
A clockwise tour of the main bank fishing locations, starting with the West Bank directly opposite the Lodge:
1. WEST BANK
This relatively straight stretch of dam starts adjacent to the small tower, where there is a marker showing the limit of bank fishing. Depth varies from 10 to 14ft over a plateau 150 yards wide which becomes weedy from June to the end of August, although it can die earlier. Fishing can be very good until June in a light south-westerly, or west and north winds of any strength. The same can be said for September onwards, but depends on the water level since, being shallow so far out, trout will not hold there.
As it is a half-mile walk from the Middlemead car park, check first on the water level. If it is any more than four feet down, don’t risk the long walk. The shelter of the tower gives the prospect of an evening rise in a south-westerly in May or June.
TOP TIP: Best in April and May in a light south-westerly with an intermediate line
BEST TIMES: March to the end of May and September onwards if deep enough
WIND EFFECT: Best in south-west, west and north winds
2. SALTMARSH POINT
Typical of most points, there are areas either side of this where the wind-driven currents slacken and harbour food, particularly daphnia. These slacks,frequently with associated wind lanes, occur when northerlies or south-westerlies blow. Within casting range the water is about 14 feet deep at full height sloping gradually into deeper water. Consequently, fish will confidently remain in the area. Weed can be a problem. Watch for strong undercurrents. An intermediate will start drifting one way, then reverse as it sinks.
TOP TIP: Best in April and May in a light south-westerly with an intermediate line, or a DI-7 line
BEST TIMES: March to end May and September onwards
WIND EFFECT: Best in south-west, west and north winds
3. MIDDLEMEAD BAY
Most popular bank fishing area on the whole water, fishing well in almost any wind, the exception being a strong south-easterly which makes the bay too rough. The water is about 14 feet deep at full height, sloping into deeper water, holding a resident population of trout through the season.
Weed can be a problem in places in July and August, although Geriatrics Corner does not weed up even though it may become shallower. This bay is very productive and bank anglers often outfish those in boats by more than five to one.
When the wind drops during a mild, cloudy evening in May or June, it can produce a good evening rise.
TOP TIP: Fish Geriatrics Corner with a floating line in May and June
BEST TIMES: All season
WIND EFFECT: Fishing possible somewhere in the bay in all winds except strong south-easterlies
4. MAIN DAM
Straight length of dam wall about half a mile long starting and finishing with depths of about 15 feet at maximum casting range, deepening in the centre to about 25 feet.
The bottom keeps sloping into deeper water throughout so trout always feel safe and will often come in quite close throughout the season. Even with bright sunlight and clear water, trout can almost always be caught, especially with Boobies.
This dam fishes well in northerlies or north-easterlies, so you can fish in shirt-sleeves in the shelter of the wall when everyone else is shivering in the cold wind. However, it is not the place to be in a strong south-westerly striking at right angles.
TOP TIP: With the wind offshore and dull, use a floating line. If it’s sideways, use an intermediate. If bright, use the DI-7 and a dark Booby with flash in the dressing
BEST TIMES: All season
WIND EFFECT: Fishes best in northerlies and easterlies, but will fish in light westerlies, although casting is tricky for a right-hander
5. GOLDFISH BOWL
Formed by the end of the Main Dam and the projection of the Peninsula. Depth similar to the Dam. The corner formed is a collection point for daphnia in westerlies and trout take full advantage. When it’s warm in an easterly wind, expect a good evening rise in the calm water. The start of the ripple along the dam will produce an excellent hatch of buzzers. It pays to be fairly sure of your facts since this end of the Dam is a long walk and is best reached from the Inlet car park.
TOP TIP: In a north-east or east wind, fish the floating line with Buzzers
BEST TIMES: All season
WIND EFFECT: Will fish in any wind except strong southerlies or south-westerlies
This projection between the Main Dam and Inlet Wall used to be the site of a trout rearing unit which is still there, but ‘mothballed’. Due to its shape and position, stronger currents pass the extreme end, with slack water and wind lanes on either side, depending on wind direction. The best are formed by north-westerlies and south-easterlies.
Water is not deep at the outer end of the Peninsula with a depth of about 12 feet at casting range, nor does it slope out into deep water. However, it is a very productive area from March to May and September onwards, with weed a problem in between.
Even after the water drops, bank anglers there will catch lots of trout when boat anglers further out catch very little. This may well be because the currents are between two areas of deep water off the Main Dam and in Inlet Bay, with the trout ‘in transit’. The Peninsula is reached after quite a long walk from the Inlet car park.
TOP TIP: When calm, fish the floating line. In side winds, fish the intermediate line and if bright, fish the DI-7 line
BEST TIMES: March to May and September onwards
WIND EFFECT: Will fish in one part or another in any wind, except strong south-westerlies
7. INLET WALL
This section of wall has quite deep water close in which slopes gradually deeper, thus holding trout in any conditions. It fishes best in easterlies and northerlies, but can also be quite good in southerlies. Occasionally there are periods of very light south-westerlies, which blow straight into Inlet Bay and fill it with daphnia. When this happens, orange or black and green Boobies do very well.
TOP TIP: The middle 60 to 70-yard section is the most consistent, with floating line or DI-7 line best
BEST TIMES: All season
WIND EFFECT: Best in easterlies, northerlies and casting into light south-westerlies
8. HALL POINT
This point is faced with loose rocks and stones so fishing out of the water is safest, particularly as the bank shelves steeply into deep water. Quiet water and wind lanes are formed on either side of the point, depending on wind direction. Often this quite limited location will fish very well from September onwards when the water cools down, and is reached by a bankside path from the Inlet car park.
TOP TIP: Fish a floating line or an intermediate line with a silverhead White Longtail as an alternative.
BEST TIMES: March to May and very best from September onwards.
WADING: Not advisable until the water drops below the rocks - about six feet down.
WIND EFFECT: Will fish somewhere in any wind except West, but North is very tricky.
9. NATURAL BANK
This short length of wading bank is within easy reach of deep water so trout move confidently along it. It will fish well in South-west, South and East winds, but any strength of wind from other directions tends to stir up the bottom and cause discolouration. This tends to be a back-end location due to the need for the water level to drop. The rangers will inform you when this happens.
The regular presence of corixae and stickle- backs is much appreciated by the trout and they will feed there regularly, particularly early in the morning. Access is easy from the Lodge car park.
TOP TIP: Fish floating line with a Corixa 12 on the point instead of a Buzzer or intermediate line with a silverhead White Longtail on the point.
BEST TIMES: When water level permits - usually September onwards.
WADING: Easy, although quite soft in one or two places.
WIND EFFECT: Best - South and South-west.
This large rock and concrete jetty was built to protect the boat dock, but it also provides some easy bank fishing in deep water, always with the chance of a large trout since they lurk among the rocks at its base. Fishing takes place from the top when the water level is high, and when it drops there is a convenient ledge lower down to fish from. A very long- handled landing net is available on request. Due to the proximity of the boat dock one thing is certain, you will never feel lonely, but the trout do not seem to mind all the comings and goings.
TOP TIP: Fish DI-7 line and Booby right to the base of the Mole and trout often take just as you lift up. Systems (1) and (2) work well here.
BEST TIMES: All season.
WIND EFFECT: Best in South-west, South or East winds.
A WARM, still Summer’s evening, and the insects are hatching out on the water. A pint of locally-brewed ale to be quaffed outside a rustic West Country pub is calling but you can’t resist that last cast with a dry fly in the fading light. That’s the beauty of Blagdon which has been attracting flyfishermen to the Mendip Hills now for nearly 100 years. Bristol Water’s resident professional John Horsey is your guide round the bays and peninsulas of England’s most historic trout fishery.
OPENED in 1904, Blagdon Lake is one of our oldest reservoirs and commercial trout fisheries. Thousands of anglers make the annual pilgrimage from all around the world to fish its hallowed shores. The lake’s mock Tudor fishing lodge has changed little since those early days and records on the wall show the total annual catch returns during Blagdon’s illustrious history.
At 440 acres Blagdon is a comfortable size - large enough to be challenging, but small enough to get round easily in a day. There is a fleet of 20 rowing boats but, in my opinion, Blagdon is the best bank fishery I have ever fished. And I’ve held a season ticket to fish the bank for the past 18 years.
The array of bays, points and peninsulas gives the roving bank angler plenty of choice as the fish move constantly around the lake. Blagdon is a shallow lake with the average depth 13 feet at top water. This means that from the shore, you are never fishing over more than 10 feet, so floating lines can be used with total confidence from opening day right through the season.
There might be times when you will require an intermediate line to counter the effects of line drag during windy weather, or you will need to use a sinking line and Booby. But normally a floater will suffice.
There is no doubt that Blagdon Lake is a nymph fisher’s paradise. There are still huge hatches of buzzer and sedge throughout the season, and famous fly patterns such as the Amber Nymph, Buzzer Nymph and Grenadier were invented by Dr. Bell to imitate the naturals.
Nowadays, anglers are more likely to be using Diawl Bach Nymphs and Superglue Buzzers, but the style of fishing hasn’t changed much over the years. Dry flies such as Hoppers, Bob’s Bits, Carrot Flies and various Culs also score heavily throughout the season.
Blagdon is rightly famous for its evening rises. Less well known are the early-morning rises, which I can confirm are often far better than their evening counterparts. Those of us who have made the effort to get out of bed early are rarely disappointed. When I say early, I mean fishing at 3.30 during the Summer months - by 7.00am it is normally all over for the rest of the day!
All of Blagdon Lake is open and accessible for the roving bank angler except the dam wall, which is out of bounds. There is plenty of vehicular access to most banks, with car parking, toilets and fishing huts placed strategically around the lake.
There are also a few places where anglers can walk for a while to get away from the crowds and fish in splendid isolation. Blagdon is all things to all men.
UNDERSTANDING THE WIND
Cheddar Water, Green Lawn, Rainbow Point, Wood Bay
Butcombe, North Shore, Ash Tree, Peg’s Point, Rugmoor
THE prevailing winds on Blagdon are South Westerlies. Due to the geological formation of the surrounding Mendip Hills, this wind tends to funnel down the middle of the lake from the Dam to the Top End. Righthanded anglers are best suited to the South Shore during a South Westerly, whereas left-handed casters can often have the North Shore to themselves!
The water can get a bit muddy on the North Shore in strong South Westerlies and the trout tend to sit in the clean water further from the shoreline.
Easterly winds are great on Blagdon - contrary to folklore! In fact, I prefer an Easterly wind to any other wind direction on both Chew and Blagdon. One thing is certain - the trout here love Easterly winds! This also opens up the whole of the North Shore plus Rugmoor Point and Rugmoor Bay for right handers such as myself.
A North Easterly wind can be cold and trout hate cold winds. There is little chance of surface activity during cold, windy weather and even less chance of a decent hatch. Once again, the North Shore is favourite during this direction, plus Butcombe Bay from the Island side.
I dislike both direct Southerlies and direct Northerlies. True, casting is much easier because the wind can be right off your back, but Blagdon trout tend to feed best when the winds blow parallel to the shores. Polish Water in front of the Lodge is great in a Southerly wind, but this area is only fishable during high water levels.
Rugmoor Point is a perfect spot during a Northerly wind, as you can cover fish as they pass the peninsula. However, the levels need to drop sufficiently to wade out here.
One important bit of advice regarding wind direction and theoretical fishing was taught to me through trial and error many years ago. “Fish where the winds blow directly into your face”. What rubbish! I too read the text-book theories of fish feeding right at your feet on food blown onto the lee shore. However, I can count on the fingers of one hand how many times this has, in fact, been the case!
As a contrast, I can sadly relate the tales of flies wrapping around my head, soaking wet trousers as the waves crashed over my waders and most important of all - dirty water!
No self-respecting trout will venture into the dirty water created by wave action on a lee shore, so my advice is: avoid these areas like the plague!
1) Cheddar Water
THERE is a culvert in this bay next to the Dam Wall where water is pumped in from Cheddar Reservoir - hence the name. It is a lovely bank spot, with manicured banks, fir trees and sheltered fishing in anything but a North wind.
There is ample room for at least six anglers and the banks drop off quickly into deeper water. The trout tend to patrol the margins of Cheddar Water during early morning and evening, but during the day they move out to the relative safety of the deeper water.
This water is easily within reach of the wading bank angler and during the Summer, the water in this area is usually pretty cool. It is easy to see the aerators in action at the Dam from Cheddar Water and during spells of hot weather, the trout are drawn here in large numbers. This colder water encourages the rainbows to continue feeding and the fishing here is generally very consistent.
Around the corner towards the Lodge is Pipe Bay, which fishes best when the levels drop a few feet. The pipe itself brings fresh spring water into the lake from nearby Rickford and once again, the trout head into the Bay during hot weather.
TOP TIP: Good depth for fishing the ‘bung’ with buzzers below and fry feeders at the back end.
BEST TIMES: All year round.
WADING: Yes with care.
WIND EFFECT: Best on all but a Northerly wind.
2) Polish Water
YOU will not find Polish Water on any map of Blagdon. It is directly in front of the Lodge and best fished either at top water, or when the levels drop later in the season. Early season, the fish patrol along the margins of Polish Water, feeding on buzzer and bloodworm on the muddy bottom. You can sometimes have hundreds of quality browns and rainbows moving on the top here feeding on hatching buzzer, but they can be almost impossible to tempt.
There is a steeply shelving drop-off around 100 yards from the lodge and the trout always seem to hold in this area. When the levels fall drastically, it is possible to walk out to Polish Water and fish for the trout that cruise along the shelf.
TOP TIP: Trout rise here before they start moving anywhere else on the lake.
BEST TIMES: Early season at top level or back end when the lake drops substantially.
WADING? Only possible when the levels drop and with great care.
WIND EFFECT: Best in a South or South Westerly wind.
3) Green Lawns
THIS is probably the most heavily-fished bank on the Lake. You can drive to the area, park your car, get out and fish. Great for less mobile anglers and very popular with the older Blagdon regulars.
The majority of the trout for Blagdon are stocked from Green Lawns, yet few remain more than a few hours. The South Westerly winds tend to push the stockies down the lake toward Top End. This regular stocking does promote feeding from the more resident fish and this is probably one of the main reasons why Green Lawns is so consistent.
Wading along this shore is safe and the banks drop away very gently. At the Eastern end of the Lawns, there has been a considerable amount of close-season construction work. There is now a sound, reinforced bank with a new entry point for stocking into Holt Bay.
TOP TIP: Get as close to the Western Point as possible.
BEST TIMES: All season.
WADING? Good, firm bottom.
WIND EFFECT: Good in anything but Northerly winds.
4) Holt Bay
NORMALLY, I would not advocate bank fishing in Holt Bay. There is a huge dairy farm alongside this Bay and the weed growth here can be phenomenal. However, due to the reinforcing work from Green Lawns through to Holt Bay, there is now a great-looking bank fishing area, complete with extensive weed scrapes and easy access for anglers.
If the new stocking ramp has the same effect on Holt Bay as it has had at Green Lawns over the years, Holt Bay could become a real hotspot.
TOP TIP: Gets heavily weeded during the Summer months, but the new weed scrapes might help this season.
BEST TIMES: Just after stocking!
WADING? Only possible after the levels drop a few feet.
WIND EFFECT: Best in a South-Westerly for shelter.
5) Rainbow Point
THIS is the most consistent point on the entire South Shore. Trout tend to pass across the Point and also swim alongside the banks. From opening day and right through the season, Rainbow Point will hold fish. It colours-up badly in a Northerly wind, but other than that, it is consistently good.
There are times during rapid weed growth when you will need to cast a long line to get over the weedbeds, but this is easily possible for competent casters, especially using shooting heads!
TOP TIP: A very popular spot, so try to get there early! Always consistent and normally not affected by Summer weed growth.
BEST TIMES: All year - right from Opening Day!
WADING? Good firm wading throughout.
WIND EFFECT: Fishable in just about all wind directions.
6) Wood Bay
THIS Bay is an enigma. One day it fishes its head off; the next day you can’t get a pull. I have never been able to work this one out. Early season when the lake is full, the sport here can be fantastic. However, heavy weed growth during the Summer months often makes fishing here an impossibility.
My favourite time to fish Wood Bay is at the end of the season when the levels drop and the trout move into the margins to feed on corixa. Often you can wade out ten yards into the slightly deeper water and the fish will move in behind you!
TOP TIP: Brilliant at the back end for corixa fishing.
BEST TIMES: Top level and the back end.
WADING? Take care when wading here as the bottom is very soft and treacherous.
WIND EFFECT: Best in West or East winds.
7) Bell’s Bush
NAMED after Dr. Bell, the fly fishing pioneer from nearby Wrington, Bell’s Bush is another area best suited to early or late season fishing. Shallow and muddy, the area is a haven for bloodworm, buzzers and corixa and floating fly lines are a pre-requisite.
This part of Blagdon is known as the Top End and it contains masses of willow saplings extending from the shores into the water. These are known as the “withies” and the trout tend to stay away from their roots and branches.
When the levels drop sufficiently, there is a narrow peninsula extending into the lake below Bell’s Bush know locally as Wookey Point. This area is very shallow indeed, but at the end of the season, it can be well worth a try in an Easterly wind.
TOP TIP: Teams of buzzers and nymphs fished on floating lines.
BEST TIMES: Early season and back end.
WADING? Take care - soft and silty
WIND EFFECT: South Westerly definitely the best here.
8) Rugmoor Bay & Point
THE first Bay that you come to when entering the North Shore gates is Rugmoor. This is a fantastic area. The Bay is full of withies, bushes, reeds and sedge grasses and is the best area on the lake when the longhorn sedges are hatching. It can be alive during warm May evenings and the fishing is truly spectacular.
Rugmoor Point is covered with water at top level and can be accessed only when the water drops a couple of feet. From the moment the first brave wading anglers get out onto the Point, it rarely fails to produce fish. It is an area that can be fished in any wind direction and I think it is the best bank fishing spot on the whole of Blagdon.
You will have to park the car and walk to get out onto Rugmoor Point and I often fish it on my own at the beginning of the season. Fish always patrol the shoreline here and they also lie across the point itself.
TOP TIP: The Bay dries out during the Summer, but walk across to Rugmoor Point and you will have the most consistent area on the lake.
BEST TIMES: All season.
WADING? With care. Beware of pot holes.
WIND EFFECT: Good in all wind directions.
9) Peg’s Point
MY mum’s name was Peg and for this reason it was one of the first places I ever fished on Blagdon - I also caught four trout! It is without doubt the most popular place on the lake during the early season and you have to be a sociable type of person to fish here!
There is only room for about four anglers and the closer you can get to the point, the better!
There is a steep drop-off in front of the point, which holds the trout like bees to the proverbial honey pot. In a strong South or South Westerly wind, the water colours up badly, but in any other conditions, Peg’s Point is fishable in comfort.
During the middle of Summer when the water warms excessively, Peg’s Point can be alive during the early mornings, yet by an hour after sunrise, the fish are gone. During these sessions, it is possible to watch the trout move out of range as the sun creeps higher into the sky. So take my advice and get there early.
TOP TIP: All methods work here.
BEST TIMES: Early season until the levels fall.
WADING? With care - beware of the drop-off.
WIND EFFECT: Not good in a strong Southerly.
10) Ash Tree
THIS is another good bank area along Blagdon’s North Shore. However, as the bank drops off suddenly into deep water, careful wading is of paramount importance. Now we all know that trout love sudden drop-offs and undulating contours. They have it here in abundance. If the wind blows from the North or the East, this is where I normally fish.
Left-handed casters have a real advantage here as they can cast across the wind in the prevailing South Westerlies. I need to backcast to get across the wind and it is a method that I would recommend all right-handed casters to practise.
Along from Ash Tree is Orchard Bay. This is now getting too overgrown and deep to wade during the early season, but is a favourite haunt for the boat anglers. Once the levels drop a few feet, it is similar in features to Ash Tree and the fishing here can be excellent.
TOP TIP: Learn to back cast if you are right handed and want to fish here! Great evening rises if it’s warm.
BEST TIMES: All season.
WADING? Take care not to wade over the shelf.
WIND EFFECT Good in all winds, but Westerly best.
11) North Shore
THE North Shore is a long stretch of bank that contains lots of bays and points and is easy for the angler to access. The banks drop off quickly to water six to eight feet in depth and, once again, they all fish best in a West or East wind. It is best when the winds blow parallel to the banks, so that the trout cruise along the shoreline in search of food.
The top tactic is to cast a floating line across the wind and let a bow develop in the line.
Using a team of nymphs, this bow should be allowed to get bigger and “swing” the nymphs around and in front of the patrolling trout. When the takes come, they are often savage so it is crucial to use 8lb fluorocarbon or even stronger.
TOP TIP: Head for the points to cover patrolling fish.
BEST TIMES: All season.
WADING? Be wary of sudden drop-offs.
WIND EFFECT: Good in all winds except Southerlies.
12) North Shore Point
THIS is the last access point on the North Shore where you can drive and park a car. If you want to fish Butcombe Bay around the corner, you will have to “park and walk”. This area is also very popular and wading is not normally necessary - nor advisable due to the steep drop-off into deeper water.
Once the levels drop, you can wade. But you will need a sharp-pointed landing net handle to take with you as the bottom here is like concrete. As with most of the lake, there are decent buzzer hatches here, but sedges seem to prefer the hard bottom.
TOP TIP: This is one of the best places on the lake for Damsel Nymphs that seem to live along this shore.
BEST TIMES: All season.
WADING? No problems with wading here.
WIND EFFECT: Good in all winds - even Northerlies.
13) Butcombe Bay
ACROSS the Dam Wall from Cheddar Water is a lovely area called Butcombe Bay. Most of the Western shore of Butcombe has been reinforced with stone groynes and these provide very comfortable fishing.
The banks drop away quickly into eight feet of water and, although back casting is tricky due to the trees, it is not necessary to put out a long line to cover the fish.
At the bottom of the Bay, there is a small river which flows into the lake. This is a great spot during the early season. Across the Bay from the Dam side is the Island which provides a great vantage point in any wind direction. Early season it is one of the most popular spots on the lake, but watch out for nesting swans in the Spring and disturb them at your peril!
Along from the Island is All Saints Meadow which can be brilliant in most wind directions. The Bay here is unpredictable and very hard to fish when the weed starts to grow. Worth a cast or two though.
TOP TIP: Lots of caddis in this bay, so deep fished stick flies and Diawl Bachs work well on floating lines.
BEST TIMES: All season.
WADING? Careful wading required on the Eastern side.
WIND EFFECT: Always somewhere to fish in any wind.
14) Butcombe (Spillway)
ALTHOUGH the prevailing winds blow down the lake from the Dam Wall, they tend to turn the corner into Butcombe and blow straight down the entire Bay. Strange but true!
Butcombe is the only part of the lake where the public can walk along a footpath, so care must be taken when back-casting. The entire Bay provides good, sheltered fishing throughout the entire season. The lake bottom on the Western side of Butcombe is very hard clay, so there is never a huge growth of weed. This hard bottom is also a haven for caddis larvae and the fish often feed right in the margins along the shoreline.
On the corner of Butcombe nearest the spillway is a section of stone groynes, constructed to combat the inevitable bank erosion. This corner is not fished by many, but I personally rate it as a tremendous spot. Even when the wind is howling from the South West, there is always a bit of shelter here and it is one of the first places each evening where a hatch starts. As a consequence, fishing a dry fly on this point often works wonders. That concludes our journey round Blagdon Lake.
TOP TIP: Try a team of dries early evening as the winds start to drop. Always plenty of fly activity here.
BEST TIMES: At top water from the wall.
WADING? Not possible at all.