Ever wondered how to fly fish for trout on a clear stillwater? Well here we show you what you need to go fishing there, and how to catch the many trout that live in these lovely waters.
The richest trout waters in the country are mature gravel pits, usually lying in the water table of major southern rivers like the Thames, Avon and Test and their tributaries. Here you will find clear water and a plethora of aquatic flies like mayfly, olives plus the inevitable midge. By June, damselflies may dominate the water.
Also look out for terrestrial flies like the hawthorn dropping on the water and creating a rise.
The sun will now start to encourage the weed to grow in the shallows and the trout will not be far behind as they hunt for nymphs and shrimps. It may even be possible to stalk an individual fish and intercept it with a weighted nymph.
Clear-water fisheries can range from a specially-created lake of a few acres to a large gravel pit of 20 acres or more. Their common factor is rich aquatic plant growth, which usually has to be kept in check during the season.
On the smaller waters, stocking is likely to occur daily with no catch and release. The large gravel pit fisheries normally allow catch and release after you have taken your limit. The two types of water will require different techniques.
If there’s deep water close to the bank, it may be possible to stalk your quarry. Fresh stockies may cruise round the banks within easy casting distance. But it’s usually only worth targeting the larger fish.
The hard part of this tactic is judging the depth of the fish. Your weighted fly needs to get down to fish’s eye level quickly. Some clear waters don’t encourage stalking so always ask first.
Alternatively you can fish a small brightly-coloured lure like a Tinhead or Goldhead, working your way along the bank.
Features to look out for are natural depressions in the gravel bed of the lake — trout will lie up here; under any trees or cover; or close to weed beds. In the hotter weather, the natural inflow of the feeder stream will always attract fish.
Just because the fishery is a couple of acres doesn’t mean that it won’t enjoy a fly hatch. A good hatch of midge can bring the fish to the surface at any time.
The larger lake offers different options. You can always explore with a lure for the fresh stockies but the more interesting approach is to find fish feeding naturally.
If there are mayflies in the water, look for duns hatching around midday. The leaded Walker’s Mayfly nymph (pictured below) will work all day.
Every stillwater now has a buzzer hatch which can begin at any time so the nymph is always worth a try.
Another important insect on this type of water is the pond olive which hatches in spring and autumn. The Hare’s Ear can represent the nymphal stage while the CDC Suspender (below) is a good representation of the adult insect.
By late spring the first damselflies should be appearing. The trout will predate heavily on the sinuous nymphs as they swim towards the shore just beneath the surface making them tempting targets for the trout. This shoreward migration usually occurs in the morning.
For the smaller lakes, you will need nothing heavier than a 9ft mid-actioned six weight and a floating line. You can stalk with this rod, fish a lure and nymph, or quickly switch to dry fly.
When casting to fish close to you, a fast-action rod is useless. You won’t have enough line out through the top ring to work the rod. A softer, through-action is much better at flicking out small flies at close range.
On the larger lakes, it may be worth taking two rods — the shorter 6wt for any dry fly or nymph action and a 7/8wt for distance. If action is quiet during the day, it can sometimes pay to cast to water that has never been fished.
After a morning’s bombardment of flies, the fish often retreat to a quieter area.
Generally, the floating line is all you need but there will be times when the ghost tip allows your fly to work that bit deeper.
Good vision is so important on this type of fishery, so make sure you wear a broad-brimmed hat or peaked baseball cap and a decent pair of polarising sunglasses.
Economising in this area is false economy. On cheaper models, lenses work loose and the polarising film can become scratched.
Make sure they are protected by a lanyard around your neck or they’ll end up at the lake bottom.
It’s a beautiful morning and you’ve arrived in the fishery car park full of expectations. Try to get there early before anyone else.
First stop is the fishery manager’s office. Never be too proud to ask what patterns are working and the best spots. It’s in the manager’s interest to make sure you catch fish and spread the word.
Put on the sunglasses and go for an initial reconnoitre. You are looking for moving fish. Some fisheries stock the night before; others do it first thing in the morning. Some actually stock while you are fishing.
If the fish were stocked the previous evening, they could be holed up in a quiet corner and not showing. So look for a small bay, or deepish hole close to an island, and search with a general pattern like a goldhead Damsel on a long leader.
Fresh stockies will take a lure within 15 minutes of being stocked.
If the water doesn’t allow catch and release then, after a couple of easy fish, you will want more challenging sport. Are any fish rising? If so, what are they taking?
You will have to catch a trout first before you can spoon it but take notice of any adult insects either on the water or blown to the bank.
It’s too easy on this type of water to be tempted to lower your leader breaking strain to match the size of the fly, but be careful. Fish of five to six pounds are commonly stocked in clear water fisheries and will break four to five pound leader on the strike, especially at distance.
If there are good fish in the water, don’t go finer than 6lb or 7lb fluorocarbon. If you are trying dry fly, then switch to conventional mono. Fluorocarbon will gradually sink your fly.
Again, beware of fine double strength co-polymers. With the wrong knot, this leader material can part like cotton.
One of the most exciting events of the year is the peak of the damsel hatch in June. Fish will be jumping everywhere as they hunt the nymph, or electric-blue adult.
Now is the time to fish your Damsel Nymph on a long leader and rip it back fast just beneath the surface. The fish will chase the fly, often turning away at the last moment. But the less wary will nail the nymph spectacularly, often well out in the lake.
There are a few specialist crystal clear, chalk-spring fed waters like Dever Springs, Avington and Chalk Springs where stalking is welcome.
But other waters see it as a nuisance with anglers often pushing in front of other anglers. So don’t consider it as stalking, but rather as targeting fish. Often when you are fishing at range, a good fish will move in right under the rod top and start rummaging through the bottom weed for nymphs. So keep a second rod tackled up with a leaded nymph.
Provided you keep still, the fish will feed unconcerned allowing you to drop the fly into its window of vision and give it a jerk to attract the trout’s attention.
Some useful tips and advice for all clear trout waters...
Use the cover of any reeds or bankside vegetation to shield you from the fish. Nothing scares trout more than sudden movement of the flash of a rod.
These nymphs are adept at camouflage and take on the colour of their habitat, which can range from light brown to deep green.
These cream coloured nymphs burrow into the silt, emerging to hatch as adults from early May to late June. Hatches can be heavy.
Big rainbows will move into shallows, hunting nymphs among the weeds. If you spot one, be ready to drop a weighted nymph on its nose.
POND OLIVE NYMPH
Known as agile darters because of their swimming skills, these nymphs live in heavy weed growth where trout seek them out.
The pupal stage of the midge, lasts 36-72 hours. When conditions are right, they swim slowly to the surface where they hang, ready to hatch into adult flies.
By summer, the weed can be thick with Gammarus, or freshwater shrimp. Trout will feed on them all year. Try a weighted shrimp pattern.
The midge pupa hatches quickly into the winged adult, often resting on the empty shuck. Trout will take the emerging adults ravenously
A breeze will drift these large flies into the centre of the lake where they can quickly start a rise. Keep a Mayfly pattern ginked and ready for action.
In a shallow clear lake, the stockies will normally shoal up in the deepest areas. So you need to prospect these with a clear intermediate fly line.
A weighted Damsel Nymph with a goldhead and long marabou tail is the most successful fly you can use in spring and early summer.
Underwater shelves are a haven for weed and waterlife. Try to pick them out through your polarising sunglasses and fish from shallow to deep water.
Keep low to the water and you're going to raise your chances of catching crystal clear water trout massively.