Catching freshly stocked trout on small waters is one thing, but can you tempt wised-up fish in tough conditions? England world team member and current UK no.1 Iain Barr passes on his secrets to an angler wanting to improve his skills
Based in Peterborough, current International Brown Bowl winner Iain Barr (left) is a member of Sportfish Team England and knows his way around stillwaters large and small. He's also an enthusiastic river angler. Bruce Bullivant (right), from Etwall, Derbyshire, has fished stillwaters for a few years, but he's a 'one fly' man lacking the confidence to fish a team of flies and he struggles when the trout are in an uncooperative mood.
ON THE DAY...
Venue: Willington Trout Fishery, Willington near Derby.
A 19.5-acre gravel pit set in meadowland. Clear water with well-designed bays and an island. Catch and release is allowed in one area, which is sectioned off. Manager Rob Lowman has big plans for the venue including building an impressive lodge. For more details contact Rob on 07973 889709, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
WHAT TACKLE TO USE...
ROD, REEL & FLY LINE
Rod: a 10ft Diamondback rated 7.
Reel: Platinum X large arbor.
Fly line: Shakespeare Hi Vis Glider Floater.
Rio Fluoroflex 6lb breaking strain used level, straight through.
GREASE & SINKANT
Mucilin to make the tip of the fly line float high on the water acting as a take detector and sinkant to sink the leader and remove the shine or glint.
A variety of Buzzers and nymphs. Iain covers all his options with a Buzzer and suggestive nymphs such as a Diawl Bach and Cruncher.
Pliers for squashing barbs, knot trimmers, forceps and scissors. Nymph anglers are continually cutting leaders, trimming knots and replacing flies, so useful tools should be close to hand.
Iain choses a 7-weight because he's using just 6lb breaking strain leader, an 8- weight is too heavy for the delicate art of nymphing. A stiffer rod with lighter line and the potentially aggressive takes you can expect while fishing nymphs often leads to breakages. If you're looking for an 'allpurpose' rod, Iain suggests a 7-weight with a fast action tip, it’s powerful yet subtle enough for nymphs.
Iain's reel is a large arbour which reduces line memory and has a good disc drag system, helping to tame hard-fighting fish.
Use a highly visible, memory-free fly line - essential when nymph fishing because you won't be able to feel delicate takes if there is any coiling in the line as these prevent the tug of a fish swallowing the nymph being transmitted to your fingers. In some cases, a little memory helps as a bite indicator - you can just watch the coils tightening up - but Iain claims the number of missed fish outweighs the number of fish caught. Anyway, greasing up the tip of the fly line is a far better take detector than a coiled line. Also, apart from casting much easier and further, a memory-free line glides smoothly across the surface, but a coiled line cuts through the surface film causing a disturbance when retrieved. Many fly lines also have a bit of stretch, which can protect lighter tippets.
Fluorocarbon lines like Rio Fluoroflex sink very quickly, helping the nymphs get down to the feeding depth and are virtually invisible under water.
It's good to have gadgets close at hand, but always remember not to get the fly line tangled on tools when playing fish. Keep the rod and line well away from your fishing jacket.
1. Wiggly leader?
If your leader material has a bit of memory left in it after stripping it off the spool, give the whole length you intend to use a good stretch to straighten it. Remember that you want to achieve the best presentation possible and a wiggly leader won't help.
2. Knots for flies
When using a five-turn Improved Clinch Knot with 8lb fluorocarbon, the fly can fish at a 45-degree angle to the leader and the knot will be quite large, so appearing unnatural. Use just three turns and the fly fishes dead straight with the leader. When using a three-turn Improved Clinch Knot, moisten it and give the knot a good pull to tighten it down before fishing. This stops the knot slipping down while playing a fish and possibly losing the hook. The knot has to be tight and well bedded down before you start fishing. The clear water prompted Iain to opt for 6lb Fluoroflex, but he still used a Four-Turn Improved Clinch Knot to tie on the fly.
3. A stiff leader
Stiffer leader materials are less likely to tangle and there's less chance of losing fish once hooked. But stiff, thick leaders don't help presentation and can spook fish so affecting catch rate. Less rigid leader material offers better presentation, because the fly hangs freely, but they tangle easily. A balance needs to be struck between good presentation and the risk of losing the fish. Try various brands and stick with the one you feel most comfortable with. Rio Fluoroflex in 6lb strikes this balance, but again, try the other brands and see which ones provide you with the most confidence. For example, I find Rio best for nymph fishing, but the stiffer Fulling Mill suits lures in stronger winds.
4. Dropper knots
The humble Three or Four-Turn Water Knot is reliable and popular. After tying the knot, always use the length of leader pointing down towards the point fly away from the main line. If you use the length of line pointing up towards the fly line, you're risking a break if a good fish puts too much pressure on the knot.
5. Trim knots down
Tags or excess leader on dropper knots or flies, can spin the leader, resulting in an annoying twist, which can make the flies spin unnaturally. These unwanted bits of leader also cause tangles during casting. Trim all excess bits of leader right down.
6. A rig to cover your options
If you're not confident casting a long leader, opt for a 15ft or 18ft length with just two flies - a Buzzer on the point and a Diawl Bach or Cruncher on the dropper - spaced 6ft or 9ft apart. If you are comfortable with a longer leader, Iain suggests using a length of 22ft with four flies attached for coloured water conditions. But in Willington's clear water he opts for just three flies, as this allows greater space in between patterns, so reducing the risk of spooking the fish. Six feet down from the fly line, Iain ties a light Cruncher fly on the first dropper, then there's 8ft to a size 12 Red Head Diawl Bach and then a further 8ft to a heavy size 10 Golden Nugget Buzzer, which anchors the cast down. In coloured water, the set-up might be 6ft to the Cruncher, 4ft to the Diawl Bach, 4ft to another Diawl Bach and 8ft to the Buzzer. With the flies gradually getting heavier as you go down the cast, they will hang down through the water at an angle covering the depths and also different areas of water. This is far better than the bung technique, which has the flies hanging directly beneath the indicator covering depth but not area.
7. The flies
Iain started with the Red Head Diawl Bach as an attractor pattern with drab flies either side. After a fruitless spell he removed it, thinking that the red head was spooking fish in the very clear water. After chatting to Willington owner Rob Lowman, Iain discovered that the water was last stocked at the end of June so the fish had been in the water, feeding naturally for a while, making them extremely selective and easily spooked. Had fish been stocked recently, Iain would have had no problems keeping on the Red Head Diawl Bach, but with the fish a bit wiser than recent stockies, as soon as Iain put three drab flies on his cast, a Cruncher, standard Diawl Bach and a Buzzer, he started getting takes.
8. Prevent leader glint
In bright conditions with clear water, fish can be suspicious of a shiny leader. Applying Fuller's Earth, mud or sinkant will not only remove the glint, but it sinks the leader so that it won't float on the surface causing a disturbance. Sometimes the sinkant dries up, but just add a bit of moisture, rub the sinkant between finger and thumb and apply to the leader. Apply the sinkant to the whole of your leader.
9. Grease up your fly line
Mucilin, or grease, helps fly line or leader to float. When nymph fishing, it's best to grease up the last 3ft of fly line so that it rides high on the water. When the fly line dips forward or goes under - you've got a take.
HOW THEY FISH
10. Rod angle
If you start experiencing shy, subtle takes, aim the rod straight down in line with the fly line, with the tip close to the water's surface. This gives greater contact with the flies, so as soon as a fish takes, it's registered and you feel it on the line.
If takes are aggressive, lift the rod slightly and give it some slack line. When a fish takes a fly, the slack line lifts up suddenly and you strike. It's similar to the old swing-tip method in coarse fishing. The slack line also cushions aggressive takes, helping to avoid snap-offs on the strike.
11. Use a crosswind
When fishing nymphs, ideally, you want to cast your flies into a crosswind. It shouldn't be too strong, otherwise the flies will be swept along too quickly and appear unnatural to the fish. The other advantage of casting into a crosswind is that, because fish tend to move up the wind, you're more likely to intercept them with your flies spread across their path.
Casting with the wind behind you certainly allows the angler greater control over speed of retrieve, but the flies are covering a smaller area as the fish advance upwind.
12. Don't break that wrist
Place the rod butt under a handkerchief tied around your wrist (see pic left). This stops your wrist 'breaking' during the cast and enables you to use only one false cast to get your flies out - essential when covering rising fish or fish moving near the surface. You don't have to use it all the time, just when a fish needs to be covered quickly, with just one false cast.
Cast in and give the flies one pull to sink the leader. As the flies sink, give the line a couple of twitches because there's a good chance of a take on the drop. Fish often follow the flies as they descend, so adding a little movement can induce a take. Another tip is to occasionally sweep the flies up in the water with a gentle lift of the rod during the retrieve. This imitates the up-anddown movement of the naturals as they rise and fall through the water column.
14. Slow things down... No, even slower
Because nymph fishing involves a slow figure-of-eight retrieve, the heavy Buzzer on the point may snag weed, especially if the water's shallow. Don't pull free of the snag and immediately recast, just pull free and continue fishing because your droppers are still in open water and available to the fish. Alternatively, move to deeper water where it will take your team of flies longer to sink, offering more opportunities to get takes on the drop. In about 9ft of water a typical scenario might be to cast out and leave the flies for about 15 seconds. If no takes are forthcoming, retrieve with a slow figure -of-eight - about one or two centimetres per second - yes, really that slow! Then, occasionally lift the rod to sweep the flies up and then let them sink down again – just like natural buzzers.
WHAT’S THE VERDICT?
Having spent a day with an expert, how does our pupil feel?
It was a thoroughly enjoyable day. The Trout Fisherman team were welcoming and Iain's tips are making me think more deeply about how to tackle wised-up fish in difficult conditions. I had no idea that, to succeed, you have to pay so much attention to detail. I had no confidence when fishing droppers because I always got in a tangle, but Iain's advice has simplified matters and I can't wait to try again. Definitely a day to remember.