Winter means cool water and high oxygen levels – perfect conditions for rainbow trout. But with shorter days how can we best prepare for and tackle these cold sessions?
THE trout fisherman’s calendar is filled with many exciting occasions. The first day of the new season is always a special affair and as the air temperature rises and trout begin to feed, we look forward to those all important hatches of buzzer, hawthorn and sedge.
Later in the year there is fry bashing, before the nights begin to draw in and the onset of winter prompts many anglers to pack away their equipment. Personally, I relish the winter.
In fact when it comes to stillwater trout fishing I look forward to it far more than summer. After all, rainbows are a cold-water species and can become stressed and unresponsive during prolonged high temperatures.
Of course there are drawbacks in the cooler months, such as reduced daylight hours and the fact that sometimes the lake resembles an ice skating rink, rather than a fishing venue! But these are minor considerations, as I found during a winter session at the well-established Blakewell Fishery in North Devon.
Arriving at around 9am I was greeted by Richard and John Nickell who have built up what is arguably the best small Stillwater in the region. It is well worth knowing the fishery management because they can provide valuable information regarding the depth fish are holding at, along with the preferred fly patterns, retrieves and hotspots to try out.
Time is of the essence, so this information can prove invaluable, as the fish will often feed for short periods during the warmest periods of the day. For this reason I often turn up early to bag a good spot on a venue, based mainly around where the sun is first likely to penetrate and begin warming the water.
During most of the season we are hoping for dull, sultry conditions to spur the fish into feeding, but during the winter I yearn for those cold, crisp, clear days that often result in spells of frantic sport.
MY session on Blakewell was to prove just so. Making my way along the well-marked path to the water’s edge the scene before me could best be described as breathtaking.
A sustained period of cold weather intermingled with dappled sunlight had created what seemed like another world, even though we were just minutes from the centre of Barnstaple town.
Crunching through frost spread over the grass like icing sugar I was filled with anticipation. Blakewell is well stocked with extremely hard fighting fish that the Nickell brothers lovingly tend throughout the year, each one sporting bristling fins and strong colours that the winter light conditions show off perfectly.
Coming out of my euphoric daze and realising that I should be thinking about tackling up I looked up to find an old fishing pal of mine, Wayne Thomas, hard into a fish. He had snuck off early from the car park and was now holed up in one of the most consistent areas of Blakewell, a spit that extends out into the lake and allows casting to many angles and depths, an important consideration when winter fishing.
I settled on another popular area of Blakewell, a large arm that extends well out into the lake and once again allows casting to many different areas of the venue.
Despite the fact that the margins of the lake were still frozen, the mist lifting from the surface of the water provided the tell tale signs that things were beginning to warm up and sure enough we were soon bathed in a stunning light as the sun broke above the valley that surrounds Blakewell. Mirrored reflections of beech and willow bounced off the water before me providing a relaxing sensory delight and so far I hadn’t even cast a line!
Get ready in the warm
SETTING up would only take a few minutes as I had turned up well prepared prior to this winter sortie.
Making the most of the warmth can often be the key to success and this means that leaders should be pre tied and a selection of flies picked out in readiness to make swift changes when required.
I had arrived with all my gear as normal, including everything but the kitchen sink, yet in just a few short minutes I was free from all this clutter and able to cruise around the lake flicking a fly here and there.
Waistcoats obviously swallow a huge amount of accessories but often I find that my pockets are bulging with far too many fly boxes that waste time as I ponder over the many patterns available for selection. Nowadays I find it really helpful to carry a very small fly box and furnish it with a few must-have patterns from the larger stock boxes.
Mixed bag of flies
FLY choice for winter can be very personal, as the Trout Fisherman feature “Dressing for Winter” (December 2005) proves, but my advice would be to go for a good cross section of flies.
A few Buzzer Pupa in assorted colours, some Bloodworm imitations, a Hare’s Ear or two and of course a couple of lures. Damsels are also worth a swim and I would never be without a Black Tadpole or variant somewhere close to hand.
Fish these flies on tapered leaders starting at 12lb and finishing with a tippet of 8lb to 6lb test, depending on water clarity. Often the water can be like gin during the winter months and so I also carry ultra low diameter fluorocarbon such as Fluoroflex Plus by Rio.
Don’t discount top of the water action because although the hatches are often sporadic and small, the trout are all the more aware of them and not afraid to search the surface layers for a meal. For dry flies I switch from fluorocarbon because it sinks quite quickly and use a copolymer leader material instead - Rio Powerflex has always served me very well.
Count down is critical
FINDING the depth during winter is going to be as important as ever and so a wide variety of line densities can be beneficial.
However it can become uncomfortable to have your waistcoat jammed to the gills with spare spools and this detracts from the liberation of travelling light.
Whether or not you can stick to the floating line depends a little on the depth of your chosen venue but I must admit that I find most small stillwaters are rarely much more then 12 feet deep so a floating line will usually suffice.
As previously mentioned, fluorocarbon sinks quite quickly and I have even experimented with leaders incorporating 10lb or 12lb test to assist the sink rate of my flies. By fishing a heavy point fly and counting down for a while it is surprising just how deep it is possible to fish.
Confidence is the key to success and so I tell myself that this heavy breaking strain will not be seen so easily at depth where there is less light penetration.
The fish often have the final say of course, but I have landed a great deal of fish while experimenting which proves to me that in fact often the flies and terminal tackle are secondary to finding the correct depth.
Flying start with the bung
IF you are not into this kind of experimentation then there is one very deadly method that when it works can reveal the trout’s depth beyond doubt. All that is required is some kind of indicator, widely referred to as a bung.
Blood knot a 12-inch section of 10lb copolymer on to the end of the fly line and then attach the bung. Measure out a two to four foot section of fluorocarbon and in a New Zealand dropper style tie a blood knot on to the hook bend.
This process is then repeated with water knots at two to four foot intervals, providing a couple of droppers within the leader.
Dependant on fishery rules and your confidence in casting multiple flies it is now possible to fish varying patterns, such as Buzzers or Diawl Bachs, at a range of depths. Casting them out and leaving them static can work but it is also worth giving them a long slow draw every 10 seconds to lift the flies up in the water, before allowing to sink once again in an enticing natural manner.
It is even possible to set this all up at home and use a large piece of foam or similar to wrap the whole lot around. Not everyone’s cup of tea, but certainly a deadly method and one that has helped me to many limit bags during a winter session.
A bung and Buzzer can be fished at different depths.
Rio Powerflex is excellent leader for dry fly fishing.
Winter fly dressings
It was to be the bung that provided me with my first fish of the day as a take came just after a short 12-inch draw on the line. As the flies sank the fish had intercepted a Red Quill Buzzer on the point, proof that the fish were fairly deep.
The bung slid away nicely and all that was needed was a firm strike and my six weight Greys Missionary was soon adopting a satisfying curve, framed by a scene worthy of any Christmas card. The trout proved to be a fairly regular Blakewell stockie of around 2lb, in the peak of condition and willing to give my platinum XD line a good stretch before finally giving up in an angry flurry of spray.
My first winter fish of the season and with the sun now lifting high in the sky I knew it would not be long before a few hatches began to stir the fish into action. A second fish a while later came to the middle dropper, but by this time I was ready for something else.
Watching a bung catches fish and I am all for this, but at times it can be a little boring, plus during the winter it is good to be on the move to keep the circulation going and body temperature up.
Layer up for comfort
I ALWAYS opt for layers to keep warm and rarely venture out after October without a set of decent thermal underwear (Simms Waderwick is particularly good), before applying plenty of layers such as fleeces and sweatshirts.
This process helps to trap layers of air that become warm and provides comfort even in the most bitter, cold conditions.
Gloves are also very helpful and I have settled on the fleece variety with open fingers as the best for maintaining warm hands while possessing enough manoeuvrability to tie knots and retrieve.
A warm hat is perhaps the most important of all the cold weather wear to pack before a trip and I often forget about my ever-growing collection of caps and go for a warm beanie/bobble hat to ensure that my giant ears don’t perish!
Fleece jacket, fingerless gloves and a hat - essential for winter sessions.
Sharp-eyed have the edge
IN fact I was as warm as toast and about to get a whole lot warmer! My last fish taken higher in the water prompted me to have a change of tactics and slow figure-of-eight nymph style could not buy a take. I had no doubt that their flies were below the taking depth and this shows how important it is to be observant of your fellow angler.
There is a certain amount of pride and satisfaction in working it out for yourself but I always say that I would rather learn from what other people are doing than be blinkered in my approach and drive home suffering from the dreaded blank!
Maintain energy levels
BLAKEWELL offer a five fish limit and I now had four in the bag, so I decided to head for a chat with Wayne and get a bite to eat. Keeping energy levels up with a few sandwiches and a warm drink is allimportant at this time of year.
Sat down enjoying the amazing Devon countryside I pitied all the go for a 12-foot leader with just one dropper. To this I tied on a mini Cat’s Whiskers followed on the point by a golden olive Damsel with a good long tail. Movement is a proven fish catcher and a varied retrieve really brings a highly mobile tail to life, which in turn often provokes the required reaction from hungry rainbows on the look out for a winter meal.
This was certainly to be the case as a couple of quick fish came to the net. In fact the warmth had provided action for several anglers as I could see Wayne playing a fish across the lake while a gent to my left was also engrossed in battle.
The interesting fact I had noticed was that those of us who were not allowing the flies to sink for long, retrieving with steady draws and twitches of the line were taking fish, while anglers fishing ultra poor souls stuck in stuffy centrally heated offices. What better way to enjoy a winter’s day than to get out in the fresh air and have a cast or two?
Lunch over, Wayne got back to casting, carefully presenting the line to ensure minimal disturbance in the flat calm conditions. It was not long before a fish took a liking to his Black Tadpole (one of my own favourite winter patterns), completing his limit. Just in time too as he had to head off for an afternoon shift at work!
I now had Wayne’s bay all to myself but the sun was already starting to dip and the air temperature had fallen dramatically.
Working the surface layers down to a depth of six foot using my Damsel set up, a take was not forthcoming for well over an hour. This is often the way of winter, all or nothing.
Adrenalin pumping rainbow
NOW that I knew the fish were looking for the warmer layers of water deep down, there was nothing for it but to follow them. I like to imagine the trout cruising around, just taking it easy. On a cold winter’s day we often like to put our feet up in front of the fire with a few snacks and a glass of beer, so why should the trout be much different?
Resorting to the bung and 12 foot of fluorocarbon tied to the bend, I launched out a long cast, straightened the line up and sat back to see what would happen.
Several minutes had passed so my heavy Buzzer would have been at a reasonable depth when a trout picked out the strong black silhouette and decided this was an afternoon tea too good to miss!
The Greys Missionary blank comes as a seven piece and this fish was going to test every section, as it felt much stronger than anything else I had hooked.
There are always a few double figure fish present in Blakewell and with this in mind I often choose to fish a disc drag reel and get the line back on to the spool to ensure that in the excitement I don’t stand on the line and ruin the chance of landing a sizable specimen.
After a few decent runs and negotiating the sharp ice that extended several feet out into the lake, the trout finally rolled and we could see that it was actually closer to 5lb rather than the double we had expected. Even so, this is a good fish on a 6-weight rod and though I could see each breath that I expelled, the adrenalin pumping around my body was certainly ensuring that I remained warm!
It was the perfect way to finish, but the session had been about much more than just catching. It had been an amazing experience, made all the more impressive by the fact that it was winter.
If your rods are feeling neglected in the loft, awaiting another open day bonanza, why not treat them and yourself to a refreshing winter session? Who knows, before long you may be willing the summer to come to an end!
Making note of a few simple clues can make a world of difference to your catch
TAKING time to interpret what Nature is telling us can make a huge difference to our catch rate of trout. There have been many occasions in my trout match fishing career when noticing these natural ‘hints’ has brought me more trout than my rivals. A good flyfisher is always searching the water for clues, and using good watercraft, as to which tactics to choose and, most importantly, where the trout are.
This provides vital clues as to where the food is, and therefore, the fish. During early season, it pays to cast with the wind blowing towards you, either directly or at an angle, because this is where the warmer water is blown. Trout will naturally seek out warmer areas during very early spring.
During the cool early season, trout prefer depths of around 8 to 10 feet, but not more than 12 feet. And these areas often have non-stony, silty beds which house a lot of insects such as buzzers.
Resident fish often frequent warm water during early season but freshly-stocked trout tend to remain where they were introduced for around two or three days before travelling with the wind and settling in a shore with the wind blowing in.
In the height of summer, it pays to cast with the wind at your back, over water as deep as you can find. This is where the more favourable cooler water will be.
But it’s interesting to note that, on a cool summer’s day, cooler water will also be in the top few inches near the surface, as well as very deep down.
But generally, on really hot days, the warmer surface water gets blown away, leaving the much-preferred cooler water right in front of you and many trout patrol this area. Search for water temperatures of between 9 and 11 degrees C, as this is the optimum temperature for trout activity.
SHELVES AND POINTS
Prevailing winds tend to deposit silt off the end of land points and, when boat fishing, it’s best to drift parallel to the direction of the shelf, casting over it (see diagram).
One of my favourite drifts of this type is along Flamingo Bay at Foremark reservoir in Derbyshire, where I’ve enjoyed tremendous success. The silt builds a natural shelf and offers good feeding grounds and safety in the shape of deeper water either side.
Try to be vigilant the moment you enter the fishery car park. Vital clues as to which insects are hatching are on cobwebs and in the insect shucks on the water near the windward bank. Pay attention to insect colour and size – but especially colour.
Look out for swifts, swans, seagulls and cormorants. Swifts often skim the water’s surface scooping up any newly-hatched insects, therefore they’re a sure sign there’s a hatch in progress. Make sure you exploit these areas and try to discover what insects they’re feeding on. You can be sure that the fish have also noticed.
With their long necks, swans dig up weeds, dislodging all kinds of food items for the fish. Make sure you cast as close to these swans as possible in the shallows – but not too close – the trout will soon take advantage of the available food.
Cormorants obviously feed on fish, so when you see them actively feeding, you know the trout aren’t far away. Many times, when competition fishing, I’ve used cormorants as a means of finding the fish.
These can form the entire length of large waters and to pass one by without casting a fly over it is criminal during the warmer months. The foamy edges of wind lanes trap all kinds of food items for trout, so position the boat in a parallel drift and cast over the lane’s edges, where you should get takes.
You’ll often see the fish moving up and down the lanes, sipping in those trapped insects and food stuffs. For obvious reasons, try to avoid motoring through the wind lane.
Pontoons, boat moorings, tree roots or anything positioned in the water offer food and shelter. Towers in large reservoirs are a haven for fry and, often, big trout are caught around them. Pontoons also provide trout with cover from anglers and birds. Buoy chains on the larger reservoirs are one of my favourite haunts, as the chains gather weeds which, in turn, attract trout.
One of the most obvious clues to fish location and fly choice is to watch other anglers. If there’s a gathering of anglers, then they’re usually there for a reason – trout!
Please, always avoid anchoring where boats are obviously drifting. Watching anglers closely can tell you all you need to know – the retrieves, lines, areas and if you get close enough, the flies as well. If you see a successful angler pulling, he’s probably using lures. If he’s using a slow figure-of-eight, he’s probably nymphing.
Don’t rely on seeing a take when river fishing with nymphs or wet flies. You’ll need to develop a sixth sense to know when the trout or grayling has taken your fly. BOB CARNILL explains.
EARLY autumn is my favourite time of year on the river. The leaves along the Derbyshire Derwent are acquiring those wonderful hues of brown and gold; the brown trout are becoming more hungry in preparation for spawning, and the grayling are in top condition.
Water levels are generally at their lowest of the year before the arrival of the rains, so being able to read the pools and runs is even more important.
Dry fly will continue to work, but now I have my nymph box at the ready. Sunk fly fishing with nymphs or wet flies is an art every bit as exacting as dry fly fishing. You need to keep in contact with that leader, being ready to strike at the merest twitch or hesitation.
The first lesson to be learned by the stillwater angler trying river nymphing is where to fish his flies. Let’s look at a pool on my favourite Derbyshire Derwent as an example, which we nicknamed the Dub. It’s not the easiest place to fish but always holds trout and grayling.
In the true sense of the word, the Dub could hardly be classed as a pool or run. It is in fact a short, deep, treacherous scour on the river’s right bank, backed-up by an equally deep back eddy on the left bank. But it’s the type of place you need to learn to fish.
The power of the current running through the Dub is generated by two factors. First, the water approaching the Dub runs down a steepish gradient from where it empties into the pool. The river is then divided into two by a sizeable gravel island with at least two thirds of the river being channelled and compressed through the pool.
The resident trout of the Dub all lie in the placid current of the back eddy, just on the other side of the raking current of the scour. This type of swim can be found up and down the country in fast-flowing, freestone rivers (see diagram).
These fishy-looking back eddies are always a headache to fish, and often protected by a deep rip between the angler and the bank, plus dense bankside vegetation. The trout enjoy a lot of natural protection, which you the angler must learn to overcome.
DRIFTING ON THE DROP
LET’S look at the problems to be solved. The first one is how to present a nymph close up to the far bank, and then fish it through without the fly line being caught up and dragged downstream by the intervening rip current.
The first thing you must do is wade as close as you can to the edge of the steep drop-off and rip current so that you can stay in contact with your flies. But be careful with your footing.
The rod must be held as high as possible to prevent the fly line from touching the rip current and dragging the nymph or wet flies away downstream in the wrong direction. The angler follows the fly line and leader round with the rod. If the line hesitates or behaves unnaturally, the rod should be lifted.
This method is called “drifting on the drop” and can only be performed in this type of swim when the river is at perfect summer level. An extra inch not only disrupts the flow, but makes the swim much harder to access and present the flies correctly.
So how do we achieve this? Standing opposite the centre of the back eddy, a cast is made to point one (see diagram above).
With the rod at 45 degrees and arm fully extended, let your nymph or wet fly sink. They will then automatically pivot and be drawn into the gentle current of the back eddy to point 2 which runs parallel to the rip of the scour.
Now the tip of the fly line will begin to travel upstream. Follow this upstream progression with the rod tip through points two, three, four and five, taking great care not to disturb the natural passage of the nymphs or let the fly line touch the rip. All the time during this upstream drift, the nymph or wet fly is dropping deeper - hence the term “drifting on the drop.”
It helps to leave a large loop of fly line hanging below the reel which can be fed out if necessary as the leader progresses from right to left in the back eddy current, letting the nymph drift unhindered with the current.
At almost any time between points two to five, a take can be expected. Keep your eyes peeled because you won’t detect a take by feel alone. The detection of the takes is part visual/part sensory. Sometimes, the belly of the line just seems to feel heavier. That’s all you’ll feel. It’s almost like having a sixth sense.
The solid resistance of a trout hooked deep down in the back eddy of the Dub gives one a true sense of achievement, as well as endorsing my belief that the leaded Pheasant Tail is one of the most effective river patterns of all.
Early season finds the trout quite reluctant to move very far to intercept drifting food. Therefore the closer and slower you can present your artificial, the more chance you have of one of them taking it.
To achieve the depth, I use a 14 to 15 ft leader armed with two large Pheasant Tails dressed on longshank size 12,10 and even eights, loaded with lead wire wound on to the hook shank for the full length of the thorax.
On the dropper I would mount another weighted PT Nymph dressed on either a size 12 or 10, or a size 12 Wee Silver Nymph (Franz Grimley), weighted with a Goldhead Gold-Ribbed Hare’s Ear on the point.
However, when the water warms up and the trout move higher in the water table, I substitute the weighted dropper fly for either a silver Butcher with a fluorescent fire orange tail, a winged wet Greenwell’s or even that old loch and reservoir favourite, the Soldier Palmer. That fly may sound a bit strange, but if you saw some of the stomach contents of Derwent trout you would understand my reasoning.
DEGREASING THE LEADER
WHEN nymphing, always thoroughly degrease the leader first, so that it sinks immediately on contact with the water along its entire length on the very-first cast. If you haven’t got any Fuller’s Earth paste (Fuller’s Earth and washing-up liquid mixed together) you can always use some bank-side mud. You want that first cast to fish correctly.
It’s also important to ensure that the flies sink, and the only way to do this is by holding them under the surface and squeezing them repeatedly until the water gets into the very fabric of the fly or nymph. Sometimes even leaded flies can take a bit of sinking if they are not thoroughly soaked. This is especially true where a lot of dubbed fur is incorporated into the dressing.
MENDING THE LINE
I NEVER use a sink-tip, intermediate or slow sink line to get my flies down close to the bottom. Instead, I go for a floating line, longish leader and flies designed to sink slowly. However, simply casting across the stream and allowing it to swing round and across the current will serve only to bring even the heaviest pattern to the surface, where it will skate ineffectively in the top as it comes round on the current. You need to be able to “mend” the line.
A “mend” is a loose loop of fly line which is flicked up, or sometimes down, the stream so that the business end of the line and leader can run free with the current for a longer period of time. This allows the heavy nymph, shrimp, bug or other patterns time to drop to an effective fishing depth.
The idea behind the upstream mend is to momentarily defeat the drag of the current against the fly line, leader and flies.
Start by casting fairly square across the flow of the current. Then, immediately throw an upstream mend into the fly line. Then with the rod held out over the main flow at 90 degrees, the fly line is allowed to straighten. Quite often, in a strong current, I will mend my line upstream as many as four times.
Each mend must be fed from a large loop of line hanging below the forefinger and reel. At no time should the fly line be jerked or tightened during the shooting of the upstream mends.
Following the fly line round with the rod tip helps the nymphs maintain an effective fishing depth by reducing the full force of the current against the leader.
Having made the final mend, the current is allowed to tighten the L-shape in the line. The forward part of the fly line and leader will now “swim” for a short distance across the flow of the current, ensuring the nymph fishes close to the bottom and across the vision of the trout or grayling. This action often produces a take, but it may feel no more than just a heavy sensation.
After completing the final mend and shoot, hold the rod well out over the water to let the current tighten the line, which hangs virtually straight downstream. But the bend in the line from the first mend is suddenly caught-up by the current and rolls out to conform with the rest of the fly line.
It is this rolling out of the bend which makes the nymph suddenly come to life and seem to swim away from the bank towards the open river, often producing a take from a trout or grayling.
Once the nymphs are fished out, and the fly line hangs at rest directly downstream, move a foot or two downstream yourself and repeat the process. This cast and walk becomes a routine, broken only by the playing of a fish. Don’t expect a vicious pull or tug. Often the only signs that a fish has taken the nymph will be the line stopping, or drawing away in the opposite direction to the sweep.
As you work your way steadily down the pool, the water will start to deepen, making it necessary to add extra mends into the line. There’s nothing magic about mending the line. But it’s a technique you have to learn to successfully fish rivers.
MEND & SHOOT
ALL pools are different on the river. Some fast and shallow; others wide and deep. And all have their problems to solve. One of my favourite pools on the Derwent is some 200 yards long, with the trout tending to lie along the far bank in water of four feet or more.
To add to the problems of reaching these fish, the far bank is very heavily lined with mature trees, a common situation on the Derwent. The conventional down and across approach is also not the answer because many of the trees reach over the water and are too low to cast underneath. However, I worked out a strategy for putting my nymph to where the fish are lying.
First I wade out on to the bed of sloping gravel in mid-stream, positioning myself slightly upstream of a gap between the trees which allows the nymph to drop right up against the far bank.
After casting, I throw a large upstream mend in the fly line while, at the same time, allowing a yard or so of line to shoot through the rod rings. This produces a sharp angle between the leader and the line which has been shot upstream.
I then pause to allow the line to float undisturbed downstream.
Then as soon as the belly of line, created by throwing additional fly line into the initial “mend”, arrives opposite where you are standing, I shoot another large belly upstream, taking care not to disturb the angle produced by the first mend. This upstream mend and shoot can be performed as many times as necessary.
After completing the final mend and shoot, the rod is held well out over the water while the current tightens on the line. Now the bend produced by the first mend comes into play, whipping the nymph round in a trout-attractive manner. Most trout taken on this method have been hooked firmly in the jaw or the scissors, which seems to prove that the trout have followed the nymph across the current, taken the nymph, and then turned back towards the cover of the bank.
As with other pools, you move slowly downstream, adding extra mends and shoots with every cast. This allows you to gradually search the far bankside water well downstream under the trees where few other anglers’ flies have reached.
The only risk is that eventually the nymph is liable to snag the bottom or tree roots. If this happens, move on to the next gap in the trees and repeat the mend and shoot routine all over again.
ROUGH WATER LIES
THE current supplies the vast majority of the river trout’s food. But they will forage around for other grubs like freshwater shrimp, nymphs, larvae, bullhead, minnows and even small grayling. So the angler needs to study the current of every pool, riffle and glide.
However, a trout doesn’t want to work too hard at maintaining its position in the current just to capture its lunch. So there has to be a happy medium.
Trout appear to use the current in different ways to how we imagine. Many times on the Derwent, I have regularly taken trout in water so fierce that you would never believe a fish could hold station in it.
One of my favourite pools has a natural weir at its downstream end where the trout hang in the fast, turbulent water just upstream of where it spills over the sill and into the pool below. And I think I know why.
Having spilled over this natural weir, the main flow pushes hard and strong into the pool, creating a buffer zone between the back eddies and the rip that is favoured particularly by the grayling. A string of submerged rocks immediately in front of the weir sill create a “stopper” wave, or another buffer zone, beneath the surface rip where the trout can “hang” comfortably on the fin until something edible passes by. Trout like to hover between two currents that “rub shoulders” with each other.
I fish the main rip in the traditional “down and across” fashion, allowing the fly line and leader to come to rest in the fold of current between the rip and the back eddy.
One particular day I decided to figure-of-eight my fly line back up the “crease” in the two currents, and in no time I was playing a chunky grayling. This proved to be no fluke. Since then I’ve had stacks of grayling and trout from the same place.
Top fly for this situation is Franz Grimley’s Wee Silver Nymph.
Bob's favourite nymphs and wets
Remember that grayling have a much smaller mouth than a trout of similar length and, despite their willingness to rise, if they have difficulty getting the fly into their mouth you won’t hook very many.
Even when you’ve got the “right” fly on the leader, you can still experience a lot of missed rises. The nearest explanation Ican come to after watching them rising at close quarters for years is that they are too fast for their own good.
A surface-feeding trout “hangs” on the fin, usually around mid-water or just under the surface, and rises leisurely through the water column to intercept surface prey. The grayling, on the other hand, will more often than not lie in a shoal over a gravel bottom from where they launch their Polaris-like ascents at the target prey.
They are literally “up and back down” before you can blink. So is it any wonder that they drown more flies than they can take into their mouths?
Another fascinating aspect of the grayling is how they home in on your feet as you slowly fish your way down a “shallowish” gravel bottomed glide. They are there to snap up the shrimps and nymphs that you disturb as you shuffle downstream.
A good pair of polarising glass is always a good investment. Not only will they let you see better underwater but they might save you from losing that precious eyesight.
Nymphs: Pheasant Tail size 12-8; Wee Silver size 16-12; Goldhead Gold-Ribbed Hare’s Ear, Bob’s All-Gold, Prince Nymph size 14-8; Mayfly Nymph size 10-8; Cased Caddis size 14-10.
Wet flies: Silver Butcher size 12/10; Greenwell’s Glory size 14/10 (winged wet and hackle variety); Shrimp size 14/10; Silver March Brown size 14-10; Soldier Palmer (slim dressed); Partridge & Orange size 14-12; Ginger/ Olive Quill.
The Silver Butcher, one of Bob's favourite wet flies (left).
For nymphing on the Derwent Bob uses the Pheasant Tail Nymph (right.)
More and more people are rediscovering the joys of fly fishing on the rivers as an alternative to stillwater trouting.
It’s more demanding, you’re unlikely to ‘sack up’ and double figure fish are virtually unheard of, but the numbers of anglers returning to the rivers are on the up. In the first of two articles, Bob Carnill talks newcomers through the basics of fishing in moving water, this month, focusing on dry fly skills
ON today’s typical reservoir fishery, the ‘hard-working’ angler is capable of catching a lot of fish through sheer effort. By ‘hard-working’, I mean the angler who is prepared to fish hard for hours on end and really cover the water in search of fish. Things are different on the rivers, where time spent NOT fishing can actually have more of a bearing on your catch rate. Observing flows, currents, flylife and rising fish and doing everything you can to ensure the fly is properly presented usually results in far more offers and hook-ups than thrashing every pool encountered to a foam.
You see, life for a trout living in a river is a solitary affair - totally governed by the current. The reservoir trout, on the other hand, tends to be more gregarious and feeds ‘on the hoof’, usually in the company of other trout in an area of plenty.
It is directly due to the fact that his life is dictated by the current that there is a strict ‘pecking order’ in place on all of our trout streams - from the wee moorland beck to the large lowland river. Without exception, the bigger and more aggressive the fish, the better the lie he will inhabit and defend against all comers. Catch him and you can guarantee a fish of similar size and attitude will be in his lie tomorrow. The thinking angler can exploit this to his advantage provided he reads the pool before barging in and ‘lining’ it willy nilly.
Having established that the biggest and best fish get the best lies and that this principal applies all the way down the ranks of a river’s trout population, all we need to do is learn how to recognise what constitutes a lie, which is easier said than done!
If the trout are rising, it’s easy, but for much of the time, their food will be ‘served’ sub-surface in the form of nymphs and various larvae, not to mention drowned terrestrial flies, insects and caterpillars.
On moderate to large rivers we learn either by association - by catching regularly at a particular place in a run, glide or riffle - and/or by reading the nature of the river at a particular point and fishing it accordingly. This is not half as difficult as it might sound if you bear in mind what I said earlier about the best fish getting the best lies.
To illustrate the point, let me take you to a small stream I visited on Dartmoor several years ago. I came upon a delightful trout pool in miniature. At its ‘head’ the pool was fed by a steady trickle from the pool above, generating a nice steady ‘push’ down its centre. In this, the deepest part, lay the ‘Master’ of the pool - all five inches of him! Behind him lay about five or six other wee trout that stepped down in size and ‘rank’ the further away they got from the head of the pool. Here was a classic example of ‘Mr Big’ dining first and rest living on the scraps from his table.
Each fish knew his place - at least they did until I inadvertently spooked ‘Little Titch’ at the tail end who then shot up the pool, causing a chain reaction as he went. Feeling threatened by this revolt in the ranks, Mr Big shot down the pool, nipped Titch’s tail and then returned to the head of the pool, whereupon the rest of the residents, one by one, fell back into line behind him.
If we were to apply this same scenario to a large river with bigger trout and a much heavier current - say something on the scale of the Derbyshire Derwent - then I can assure you that a very similar pecking order will prevail.
Learning to read pools can be daunting for the beginner, but like most things in life, it isn’t half as difficult as it first appears. The individual currents, characteristics and signatures encountered in one pool, run or riffle will be repeated time and time again in subsequent pools and the lessons learned in one can be put to good use in another.
Your choice of fishing tackle is a highly personal one, but when it comes to selecting an outfit for river fishing, you don’t have to be too specific. A nine foot 5-weight should be adequate for the majority of situations, but for smaller streams or really delicate presentation, an eight foot 4-weight rod will give you the edge.
Many river purists insist on using a double taper fly line for superior presentation of the fly, but I have used weight forward lines on the rivers for the last 30 years and don’t think a double taper line would have caught me any more fish.
Keep your fly line short to maintain control
As for dry fly leaders, I tend to keep things as simple as possible and will fish a ‘straight-through’ leader of uniform breaking strain mono whenever conditions will allow. Because most dry fly fishing is conducted by casting across or directly upstream, in anything other than a downstream wind, this is usually adequate. However, faced with the dreaded downstream blow, a tapered leader will make a big difference to turnover and presentation.
There are some really good knotless tapered leaders on the market and the plus side of these is that they transmit the rod’s power flow smoothly from flyline to leader and right down to the fly.
Always remember to degrease the forward section of any dry fly leader so it penetrates the surface film on contact - failure to do so is liable to spook the target fish in all but broken or choppy water.
The other alternative is to tie up your own tapered leaders using three different breaking strains of your favourite leader material. Such a leader should ‘step down’ from butt to tip, in increments of approximately 2lb, with each section being of a similar length.
Assuming that you need a 9ft dry fly leader with a reasonably fine point of say 3lb; using the ever-reliable four-turn water knot, tie the 3ft point section of 3lb line to a 3ft length of 5lb line and to that, tie a 3ft section of 7 lb line.
This is the tapered leader in its simplest form - the scope for variations in overall length and the constituent parts involved are endless and half the fun is experimenting to find out which combination delivers the best presentation of the fly in a given set of circumstances.
Almost as infinite is the choice of artificial dry flies available to the angler, so I’d recommend to do what I do and minimise the risk of utter confusion by keeping it as simple as possible.
On the Derbyshire Derwent the trout aren’t daft, but they aren’t all that fussy either. Spooning fish usually reveals a cocktail of aquatic and terrestrial life which falls from the deciduous trees lining the banks and is eagerly snapped up by the trout. Regular finds include soldier and sailor beetles, black beetles, various caterpillars, spiders, flat-winged flies, bees, wasps and lots of other unidentified terrestrial food-forms. Add to this the aquatic input of up-winged duns and spinners, various sedges, chironomids and what have you got? One heck of a lot of artistic licence when it comes to what fly you are going to put on the business end of your leader.
Given the choice between choosing the perfect pattern or achieving perfect presentation, I would choose the latter every time. So, for the Derwent, I restrict myself to the following in a variety of hook sizes:
Black Gnat, Knotted Midge, Grey Duster, Greenwell’s Glory, Caperer, Bob’s Black Beetle, F-fly, Soldier Palmer and various Mayflies (below, from left to right.)
Clothing and accessories
Nobody can enjoy a day’s fishing if he or she is cold and wet and as far as river fishing is concerned, it isn’t just rain, sleet and snow that is liable to wet you. If you are going to do the ‘river thing’ properly - particularly on some of our bigger rivers, then you have got getting in deep - quite a bit deeper than thigh waders will permit. Chest waders, then are a must and I actually have two pairs - some thick neoprenes for early season and lighter weight breathables for the warmer months.
Deep wading in swift currents can, of course, be dangerous so make sure you have the right soles for the job in hand - preferably with studs, which I glue in for extra durability. A wading stick is also a good idea for feeling your way around the riverbed and extra support while wading.
Reading the river
Because the trout looks to the current to supply his food, we, as anglers should be studying the flow of every pool, riffle and glide to pinpoint ‘fishy’ lies. It’s logical to assume that the majority of the food suspended in or on the water will be where the bulk of the flow is, but from the trout’s point of view, the equation is slightly more complex. If he has to work too hard to maintain his ‘station’ beneath the conveyor belt of tasty snacks, the energy expended in getting the food starts to cancel out the calories consumed, so he’s actually looking to strike a balance.
Trout actually use the currents very cleverly to maintain this happy medium and I’ve often caught fish in the most unlikely-looking of lies. Two areas in particular are worthy of special attention on the river - in front of stones and the ‘seam’ where two different currents ‘rub shoulders’. In front of most stones, there is a ‘stopper’ wave where, like dolphins surfing the bow wave of a ship, it’s easy for the trout to sit without too much effort. Similarly, a trout rising regularly in a fast run will most likely be hovering between this and the slacker water just to the side of the run.
I neglected what have since become some of my favourite runs on the Derwent for years because I considered the flows too ‘boisterous’ to accommodate trout and it was only by accident that I learned of their potential. It’s also worth remembering that the faster the flow, the harder it is for the fish to see your leader and the less time the trout has to scrutinise your fly and decide whether to take or reject it. Early season, or in a sparse hatch, this can often work to the angler’s advantage as given the choice to ‘use it or lose it’ fish will often opt for the former!
Presenting dry flies to arising fish
The main difference between still water and running water is that in stillwaters, the trout is always on the move. He seeks out his food on the hoof, takes it on the hoof and swallows it on the hoof. If you haven’t covered him during that time, he’s on his way.
The river trout is fed by the current and sits in his lie waiting for the flow to literally put food into his mouth. As far as the angler is concerned, this is no bad thing, because he isn’t going to go anywhere!
This means the angler has time to assess the situation at his leisure and plan his approach by observing the currents between him and his quarry. It’s not just the flow in which the trout is on the fin that’s important, but what’s happening in between that can make the difference between flawed and perfect presentation. More often than not, the target trout will have taken up station in a flow of water that is slower than the water between you and it. Given that casting from directly downstream of a fish is often not an option, the angler usually needs to cast upstream and across at an oblique angle, which means the flyline will be lying across water moving at different speeds.
Put out a straight line and the speed of the current between you and the trout means you will get drag almost as soon as the fly lands on the water, so the trick is to throw in a bit of slack by casting a ‘snaky’ line. You can do this either by wiggling the rod from side to side as you shoot the line at the fish, or sharply checking the forward cast just as the leader turns over in mid air, pulling back the fly line and making the leader land on the water with some slack built in.
This is where time spent ‘doing your homework’ will really pay off. Read the currents correctly and you increase your chances of getting it right first time and hooking the target fish.
The beauty of dry fly fishing is that everything about it is so highly visible. The target fish gives itself away because it has to break the surface of the water to take the naturals, but the way he takes a fly can vary quite dramatically. It may be a delicate sipping rise form, a classic head and tail rise or, during Mayfly time, an aggressive slashing rise.
But no matter what the rise form might be, they should all be reacted to in a very similar manner: in a word, casually. The simplest mistake anyone can make when fishing the dry fly is to strike the instant the fly is taken, because this will almost always end in failure to connect. The way to avoid this is to steel yourself in advance and try to wait that fraction of a second before you lift the rod to set the hook.
Catch and release
So you’ve hooked your first river trout and played him to the net. What are you going to do with him? I can’t remember the last time I killed a trout or a grayling on our stretch of the Derwent. Not that I have anything against anyone taking a few fish home from wherever they happen to fish, but, fishing the stillwaters as I do, I have as many trout as I can cope with without plundering our precious river stocks of native brownies. Consequently, I always return my fish.
Every angler should always deal with any fish caught with care and consideration whether it is to be killed or released. Always de-barb your hooks BEFORE fishing and try to unhook fish without actually removing them from the water. This is easy if you are wading and, as a consequence, I very rarely carry a landing net with me on the river.
As long as you have debarbed the hook, you can usually bring a fish alongside you, slide your hand down the leader, grab the hook and simply pull it free. If the fly is further inside the mouth, bring the fish to hand (which should remain in the water) and gently support it while you remove the hook with a forefinger or forceps.
A cracking Derbyshire Derwent brownie ready for release
Have you ever thought of trying to catch carp using fly fishing tackle? If you've already got the gear, why not give it a try? One such angler who knows just how thrilling catching carp on flies can be is Andy Parker. Here he explains all during a summer's session at Frant Fishery...
The breeze settles, revealing a scattering of semi-sunken dog biscuits on the water’s surface. I’m waiting in anticipation for the large-mouthed leviathans to systematically mop them up. And I don’t have to wait long...
One swirl…another…and each offering disappears down a watery vortex with the sound of a greedy slurp. By now the surface is alive with feeding carp.
I monitor the rise forms to decide my target. Which one’s biggest? The breeze picks up so casting is delayed; accuracy is vital to success. A few seconds later, the wind dies down and opportunity presents itself. A carp swirls, out goes the fly right on its nose. With heart thumping I wait for the huge fish to turn on my buoyant deer hair pattern. Sure enough, a large mouth sucks down the offering and I feel a mix of excitement and trepidation, simply because of the sheer size of its mouth! It kites off on a long run, pulling fly line off the reel, which, along with the rod, cries in pain. The reel’s ratchet clatters away as backing rips off in the direction of the battling carp. This is fast and furious stuff – exhilarating indeed.
The anticipation of a take is feverish but when the rod bends double due to 20lb of hard-fighting English common carp, the fight is absolutely unbelievable.
You simply MUST taste this incredible sport that potentially lies on your doorstep.
With summer here, and trout fishing perhaps limited to early and late in the day, some fly fishermen may be considering adding a new dimension to their sport. To me, common and mirror carp represent a worthy alternative to trout during these hot summer months. Why? Well, they have high tolerance and an ability to thrive in poorer oxygenated water, they come in varied and beautiful strains, they fight hard and grown big. But the biggest bonus of all is that they respond mainly to dry fly fishing.
Andy has another plump carp almost beat
Sound good? Believe me, it certainly is. However, before considering your first attempt and set off in search of gold at your local coarse fisheries, careful planning and preparation is necessary.
First and foremost is carp welfare. True carp anglers treat their quarry with absolute care and respect. Anyone seen not practising the correct code of conduct will not make themselves very popular.
A few extra items of kit need to be acquired, which probably won’t be in the possession of a trout-only angler. Unhooking mats are used as a rule at all carp fisheries. Please don’t be tempted by the smallest you can find on the grounds of mobility, they can be no bigger than a deflated whoopee cushion, offering little protection to a lively specimen. I’d thoroughly recommend a design such as the Terry Hearn Euro mat made by JRC. This product is of a sensible size, offers excellent protection and also doubles up as a weighing sling.
Another plus, the sling - designed with carrying handles - makes for a swift and safe release.
Landing nets are vital, but where carp are concerned, I would dispense with trout designs - even the larger salmon gye nets - their relatively short metal handles would be prone to buckling and, of course, sinking. The actual nets themselves are generally too short across the bottom of the bag. Specialist carp nets, available through coarse fishing shops, are the best choice. With a strong lightweight one-piece 6ft handle constructed from carbon or glass fibre,
I would recommend a model with 36-inch arms which independently detach from the net’s spreader block. This would allow you to collapse the net in the margins and safely transfer a specimen to your unhooking mat with minimal fuss.
Tools for the trade: A large padded unhooking mat,
large specimen landing net, scales...
... a catapult, bait bucket and plenty of dry dog biscuits.
Pedigree Chum Mixers are a firm favourite
I regard catapults as an essential piece of a carp fly fisher’s kit. Select a model with a soft conical, particle type pouch. Opt for those with a fairly powerful elastic, but replace at least once every summer as it does degrade over time, affecting performance.
Bait buckets are necessary for transporting your floating surface feed, the five-litre size is ample. A little tip here – buy two the same size and jam one inside the other, a spare bucket will later serve for pre-wetting the mat and the carp, in the interests of its wellbeing.
I have to admit, my ‘posey’ SAS camouflage buckets appear something of a contradiction when next to one of my colourful reels!
Throw in a pair of forceps and debarbing pliers, not forgetting your floating dog mixer biscuits. That about completes the ‘must have’ kit list.
Don’t be deterred from attempting this branch of our sport because of the expense of acquiring these extra items of equipment. Their collective cost is actually little more than the purchase of two top-end fly lines!
Remember, carp will quickly exploit any weakness in your kit and certainly justify the qualities of a reel with a good disc drag, so if you have one, use it.
The age old quote “a reel is merely a reservoir for the line” doesn’t apply. If you’re not familiar with their fighting ability, a good 8-weight rod will probably satisfy most situations. But I often use a 9-weight, especially where snags and big fish are concerned. The fight itself will leave you impressed and it’s not hard to see why the species inspires a cult following amongst coarse anglers.
Possibly the highest hurdle facing a fly fisher’s first attempt is where to fish. Commercial coarse fisheries have proliferated through southern England in the last two decades, these generally represent the best type of venue to intensify your early efforts. These can be sourced by various means such as coarse fishing magazines and local tackle shops.
It would be naïve to assume one carp fishery is no different from another, which is why I’m a great believer in good, old-fashioned footwork when casing a new fishery rather than merely relying on word of mouth information. Get out there and check it out first.
Create a feel for the venue without fishing. Remember these fisheries are unlikely to be set up with fly fishers in mind. Is flyfishing actually permitted?
Some fisheries won’t allow you while others make no objections. Always check first and explain your intentions to the fishery staff.
The take from a surface-feeding carp can be a gentle pluck or a savage lunge
You may also find that on some waters, flyfishing is only allowed under certain conditions, such as when the fishery is quiet, so always check first.
Secondly, does the bankside vegetation make flyfishing possible? Some waters may well have manicured banks, while some attain the natural look. Proficient roll casters will prosper here.
Do the carp regularly occupy the upper layers and succumb to surface baits? On some waters they rarely respond to offerings from above. Some well-known gravel pits close to my home, famous for their big carp and the olive flanked tench, are notorious for their lack of surface activity, a common scenario where a relatively small head of fish and an abundance of natural food is concerned. Although I wouldn’t rule out success on such hard waters, opportunities would be few and far between.
However, on the more prolific waters you may well enjoy a window of opportunity from mid April to late September, but it can vary from fishery to fishery and because of the variable nature of our seasons. On some waters, little is caught off the top until late May, with activity ending around early September. On the other side of the coin, my good friend Peter Cockwill has enjoyed superb results from Willinghurst in Surrey right into November last year, with a catch ratio which almost invariably betters the regulars. That must be a bitter pill to swallow, especially if some guy has just spent 36 hours at a venue and carried enough kit for a Himalayan exploration, only to be shown the way by someone with a fly rod and a couple of hours at his disposal – but that’s Pete for you!
On the whole it’s those long sultry summer days of June, July and August that I relish. Never be too complacent regarding safety, remember, it’s a coarse fishery and other anglers who pass behind you won’t necessarily be familiar with the mechanics of fly casting, and certainly won’t appreciate being stung by a needle sharp projectile, so take care.
Andy prefers to use Hedgehogs of varying
colours and shades - a deer hair pattern
They are a very close imitation of a
Chum Mixer dog biscuit
I fail to remember the presence of ducks even being a problem when in pursuit of trout, but all that changes when you throw in the audible “thwack” of a catapult firing dog biscuits into the equation. As far as they’re concerned, dinner is being served! So be observant, and feed the swim carefully, preferably not when ducks are close by.
So summing things up, with suitable fishery selection and planning, you may well enjoy some superb sport. To me, carp on a fly are more than a mere cavalier flight of fancy, but an effective and very deadly tactic. I confidently predict a growing number of disciples to this method, with much interest coming from coarse anglers who, hopefully, after witnessing the delights of flyfishing, will also help support our trout fisheries.
These pictures were taken at Frant Fishery in Kent which allows fly anglers access when it’s quiet. The session began at 10.30am with quite a breeze which would hamper accurate casts. I began by firing out six dog biscuits and waited for the carp to surface. You have to get the fish up, although I’ve sometimes done okay without this. Don’t overfeed though.
Rudd showed interest first and I’ve even taken roach/bream hybrids up to 1lb on fly before the carp have moved in. But move in they did.
I took several carp to almost 19lb, with a 21-pounder coming the previous day, not bad sport on fly tackle and for a modest cost of a day ticket. You must experience their sheer power. But I had to beware of a few snags in the form of sunken trees and fences, which were actually bigger than they looked.
I played the 18lb 14oz mirror for 20 minutes, which made my arm ache. It was an old, dark specimen. Then I spent 10 minutes on a 17lb common. I also caught another common around 8lb.
TOP TIPS FOR CARP ON THE FLY
● Don’t use fly tactics close to extremely snaggy swims – huge weed beds and cabbages close to the bank. It’s not wise when using light tackle.
● Deer or elk hair flies, Hedgehogs in my case, should be trimmed ‘keel-shaped’ so they sit in the film. You’re trying to imitate a dog biscuit that has absorbed some water and settled in the film. Select the thickest fibres, not too fine. Thicker fibres flare out better when spun. You want the fly to sit 1⁄3 above and 2⁄3 below the water’s surface.
● Cast out and leave the fly static, don’t twitch it across the top as this actually scares the carp. Cast as accurately as you can – on top of the fish. In coloured water carp may not see the fly, so accuracy is crucial. A “cruiser” is the best scenario as it’s easier to predict its path.
● Takes are often quite gentle – I’ve never experienced smashed takes - and problems only tend to occur when you hit snags. Play hard, angle the rod low and high, changing angles to keep the fish guessing.
Who'd say no to catching these when the trout aren't playing ball?
We’ve all had them. Those days when the fish simply will not take the flies that have been absolute ‘bankers’ for weeks. The reason for this is that the trout have entered the ‘transition zone’, when their diet and feeding habits adapt to the appearance of new food sources. In this informative feature, Iain Barr charts the changes you’ll need to be aware of during the course of a season to keep pace with the ever-changing feeding habits of reservoir trout.
OPENING day can often be an angler’s paradise. You’ve waited all the closed season for this, so follow these simple guidelines and get ready to enjoy a frenzied attack on your flies!
Early season stocked fish remain shoaled up more than any other time of stocking throughout the season. Bred together in small trays, grown on in small cages in a tight community, experience and instincts keep them together. But where do they go when they are introduced to our lakes?
A mistake anglers often make is that early season stock fish swim up the wind in search of their first ‘wild’ snack. This is not true. Fresh fish stocked before opening day will more often than not ‘run’ down the wind, following bank contours as they go in search of their quarry.
So will they swim across deep open water at this time of year? Some may do, and I have often found some fish in Dickenson’s Bay on the north bank of Rutland Water, which have been stocked at The Transformer on the south bank of the reservoir, following a SW wind. But more often than not the Finches, downwind of The Transformer, is where the majority will be.
The fish have simply hugged the contours of the land at a uniform depth and are patrolling the 8-12 feet depth of water, ending up in the well-known rich feeding area of the Finches.
It’s important to fish in this 8-12 feet zone as this is where you’ll find the slightly warmer water and hence the first early season hatches of fly are likely to occur here. Ensure you are fishing a natural bank, preferably with a soft muddy bottom, suitable for aquatic insects to lay their eggs in.
One of the most consistent areas on Rutland for me and many others has to be East Creek. It is not stocked here but the fish stocked in the Sailing Club, simply swim down the wind, through the yachts, where the water is too deep for them, and come to rest in East Creek, which has a rich larder of food in a more comfortable depth of water for them.
If the wind is blowing into where these pre-season fish have been stocked, and it’s a suitable feeding ground, these fish will not move very far!
One of the most recognised places for this on the Midlands reservoirs is The Willows at the North end of Grafham dam. There is always an early season bonanza here as fish stocked at G buoy are kept in there by the prevailing SW wind, and are held there by the ready supply of early season buzzers hatching off one of Grafham’s best buzzer beds.
We’ll look at nymphs in greater detail in the next section, but there is no question that lure fishing rules opening day on the majority of waters. Fresh stocked fish are hungry, naïve, and competitive as they are shoaled up tight and all fighting for your offering.
Black and Green is an early season favourite and a slightly weighted tadpole will be hard to beat. Other dead certainties are the Cat’s Whisker and any orange lure. I tend to use large marabou tails and ‘kick’ the tail with a flick as I figure-of-eight it back to entice the fish to eat this irresistible mouthful.
However, fish can still be taken on the nymphs and I often use nymphs myself to ensure I don’t have an early return to the harbour as I have paid for a day’s fishing not an hour!
BY mid-April, more regular hatches are occurring and the fish are aware of this. Their feeding body clocks are being determined by these daily hatches. They have seen every lure in our armoury, so takes to the tadpoles are slowing up. The fish have changed their habits, so it’s time to change ours.
As the season progresses only a few weeks, the behaviour of the early season stocked fish changes right in front of you - sometimes surprisingly quickly! How often have you watched anglers empty the lake by fishing lures in the morning and then resorting to more slowly fished nymphs in the afternoon as the fish ‘wise up?’
The majority of the fish will generally still be in range of the bank angler, so keep looking for that depth of 8-12 feet. However, their feeding patterns are changing and the fish will have moved higher in the water column. They are now waiting for that hatch of buzzers that appear during the warmest part of the day - and you have to be ready for them!
Fish will still be caught on the tadpoles, especially the black and green varieties, but will become increasingly difficult during the hatch.
At the first sight of a buzzer, switch your tactics to a floater or a sinktip with a team of nymphs. Although you may have only just seen your first buzzer, the fish will have already been feeding on them below the surface as they climb up through the water column to the waiting swifts and swallows. This upwards migration of the nymph encourages the fish to move higher in the water, so when your takes dry up as the hatch starts, more likely than not, you’re now fishing beneath the shoal as the fish have followed the nymphs up out of the depths.
If I stop catching, before making any change to lines, flies retrieves etc, I simply work through the different depths first by counting down five seconds after casting, then 10 seconds, then 15 seconds and so on until you start getting takes.
It’s still generally too cold for the fish to be rising, so nymphs will suffice. A size 10 Black Epoxy Buzzer on the point, with two smaller ones in size 12 will almost guarantee success during the majority of buzzer hatches.
Try to find a cross-wind to allow your nymphs to drift naturally round in the wind. Better still, find a shallow bay of 8-12 feet in depth with a head wind and the fish will be within easy casting range. These early season fish will still be following the wind influenced by new introductions of fresh stock fish.
IT’S now that the insect action really hots up as a much broader range of flylife comes into play. But that doesn’t mean the fishing gets easier - in fact it can get harder because the fish have a much wider choice of food on the menu and tend to get more fussy as the summer wears on.
Early summer sees the fish start to disperse across the whole lake. I’m often asked why there are so few fish at the top of the arms on Rutland early season. The food here is plentiful but the fish don’t seem to appear here until June.
The water temperature has increased and most feeding is done near or on the surface, when the conditions are right: cloudy skies, a light breeze and mild temperatures are ideal.
The predominant wind in the UK is Westerly and the fish are simply ‘sucked’ out from the basin and drawn up the arms as they do the opposite of fresh stockies and head upwind in search of the their food.
Once they reach the top of the arms, why leave? The food options are just so prolific - ranging from buzzers in their millions to the darting corixa in the shallows.
As we’ve already seen, in early season the food is found in the warmest water on the downwind bank, which is why you’ll also find the fish there.
But with the onset of summer, ideal water temperatures can be found right across the lake and the fish are on the move and fast!
Keen to make the most of the prolific hatches, they simply go in search of food, heading up the wind and intercepting whatever comes their way. At this time of year you can watch fish as they cruise through the surface and casually sipping down the naturals they find in their path.
The only exception is in a complete flat calm when it’s very important to be able to recognise the direction in which the fish is heading as it rises.
The fish are almost always in the top layers now, looking for that easy meal and lines like the floater and slime line will be sufficient for most fishing situations this time of year. To increase your chances, look for wind lanes. These are areas of flat, glassy water resembling oil slicks, usually only a few yards wide but sometimes stretching right across even the biggest of reservoirs.
All manner of insects get trapped in the tight surface film, making them easy targets for the trout. Fish will almost certainly patrol these ready-made larders and, when guiding, my simple rule is: never ignore a wind lane from mid May onwards.
Look for signs of fishy activity as the trout learn to sip trapped insects from the surface film.
It’s also important if you’re bank fishing to be looking for a ‘back wind’ or cross-wind to ensure fish are being drawn to you. A head wind will simply be drawing the fish away from you and towards ‘Fred’ on the other side of the lake!
However, with the fish now spread across the lake, and the chances of those early summer scorchers ever increasing, fish can also be found right down in the depths.
Daphnia, a tiny water flea explodes into a soup-like meal for the trout and as the sun rises, this tiny protein enriched crustacean descends to escape the sun’s rays. If the surface hatch activity is minimal, despite perfect cloudy mild conditions, the fish will readily stay sub-surface to gorge on this easiest of meals. Not boasting the best fly hatches, Grafham still out-guns most reservoirs for trout that grow heavy on this protein-rish ‘soup’. Fish stocked at 2lb in the early season are a fighting fit 4lb by late summer as the high protein helps them pack on the pounds, literally!
With such a rich source of food readily available, surface activity can be almost non-existent as long as good daphnia blooms are to be found. Trout will follow the daphnia as it rises and falls as the sun dictates. As a rule, if sunny fish deeper, if cloudy fish nearer the surface.
This is the most exciting time of year for me, as nymph fishing is my favourite method. Patterns like the Cruncher, Diawl Bach, Black and Green buzzers in size 12 are certainties for a good day’s sport. If the fish are right on top, I like to use Black and Ginger Shipman’s Buzzers or a single ‘Sugar Cube’ Hares Ear. For the daphnia feeders it’s hard to beat the Orange Blob or the new Flexi-Blob I created last year.
HIGH Summer - July through to August are often referred to as the doldrum months. Remember that the rainbow trout is an imported species and basically a cold water fish.
High water temperatures simply make the fish lethargic and many head for the depths to find the cooler water so that’s where a lot of the action takes place - unless you’re prepared to get up early.
As the sun beats down the daphnia dives for cover. As the daphnia dives to escape the sun it hits the cooler water, and yes, you have found the perfect match. Food at the right water temperature means the fish won’t be far away. I recall fishing Bewl Water in 2002 where the reservoir was like a lukewarm bath. To catch I had to fish a Di-8 line almost vertically beneath the boat across the deepest part of the lake. I caught eight superb trout all on buzzers 35-40 feet down. Some anglers managed to catch on dries across the surface, but the better bags came from the depths.
When bank fishing in high summer, it’s important to beat the dawn chorus! Aim to arrive at your venue as early as possible as fish will readily feed in the cooler morning temperatures, only to sulk as the temperature rises.
Head for deep water or a dam wall, which generally puts deeper water well within reach of the bank. As the day warms up, the fish head down and out of reach of the bank angler.
But as Arnold Schwarzenegger says, ‘I’ll be back’. Yes, as the day cools the fish will move back in to feed, so head back to the water for those last two hours or so.
Although the majority of their diet will be daphnia where it can be found, many fish will be feeding on the explosion of pin fry at this time of year. These tiny little fish can appear almost anywhere around the lake and the fish seem to lose all natural instincts as they make hay whilst the sun shines.
I fished Grafham last year and took Mark Sutcliffe, editor of TF, out for the day. It’s fair to say we had only about six fish to the boat but the water was boiling with grown-on fish around us all day. This can be a terribly frustrating time as the fry are too small to imitate! They will test your skills to the limit but a Sparkler Booby and two small Hare’s Ears usually fools a few of them. One of favourite methods for these is a small Hare’s Ear Sugar Cube twitched through the surface.
If this becomes too frustrating, on reservoirs that have aerators, head for the ‘boils’. This is an area where water and oxygen are pumped into our reservoirs. Whether you are fishing the most northern of reservoirs or the most southern, in high summer these areas will always hold fish. I remember fishing one of my favourite venues, Chew Valley in Bristol, and struggling. I was out with local expert angler Gary Haskins and was struggling in the high summer heat so we headed for the boils between Denny Island and the Dam. Fishing fast sinkers and a Blob teamed with nymphs, we caught some of the grown-on, hard fighting rainbows for which Chew is renowned.
Rutland, Grafham and Bewl are also prolific ‘boil’ hotspots but be prepared to mill around with many other keen anglers for this precious space - known as doing the ‘boil okey-cokey!’
In the heat of high summer, it pays to fish early or late. Follow the fish's example and take a siesta during the day!
AS autumn approaches it’s almost as if someone switches on the body clocks of the trout. They sense the winter approaching and the need to pack on body weight to see them through. Small buzzers and larvae are simply not sufficient to gain the much needed body weight so their diet again takes a drastic change.
Fry and corixa are high on the trout’s agenda, all to be found close to the shore. As the water temperatures fall, the fish move into the shallower water to hunt the fry into a frenzy.
It’s important to look for ‘structure’ where the fry will hold. Boat moorings, weed beds and dam walls are all good hotspots for fry feeders. Also look for seagulls, which are often a good indication of where the shoals of fry - and the trout - are.
Upturned swans are a good bet for corixa-feeders as they disturb the rich larder that hides in the weeds. One tip I picked up from Rutland expert Dave Doherty several years ago is either to wade or take your boat through the weed beds and return just a few minutes later. By doing this, you have disturbed all the food in the weeds and rest assured the trout will be feeding on it. A Minkie or a team of Diawl Bachs will readily catch these fish.
First light can be prolific for fry feeders and a Floating Fry out-fishes a Minkie for me. Trout will just see the silhouette and take it with confidence but as the day lightens they have time to study your offering which often results in swirls beneath your fly as the fish refuses your artificial. Many of my best bags of trout last year on the Floating Fry all came within the first hour of light. I took five grown-on fish off Grafham dam last year before 7.15am with the sun rising around an hour before that. After 7.15 you wouldn’t have thought there was a fish in the lake, so get out of bed and get there early!
MANY people pack up their tackle as winter approaches but sport continues right through to December. Fishing can be at its easiest as the fry feeding frenzy continues. Don’t miss out on it!
The fast-pulling days of the summer are gone. The days of fishing 30 feet down are gone. This is the bank anglers’ paradise. Large fish are well within reach of the bank angler and are at their most vulnerable as the need for body weight puts them off their guard. Fry are the number one target so be well-equipped with Minkies and Floating Fry. As the water temperature cools the Minkie out-fishes the Floating Fry when the cold nights leave a cooling mist ghosting over the surface of the water. Always add a small piece of weight to the Minkie to allow it to sink and often fish will take the Minkie on the drop as the fish reacts to the plop of the fly.
Continue to look for structure, anywhere your fry can take cover from the barrage of trout attacks. Slow your retrieve down to almost static as the fish are now looking for maximum protein with the minimum of effort.
As the day warms there is often a late hatch of small black buzzers and a switch to a team of nymphs can pay dividends. I have taken several winter limits off Yellowstone Creek at Rutland on small Black Buzzers fished on a floater. This window of opportunity can be brief - so make the most of it.
Try and fish into the wind or on a cross-wind, as you would early season, as this is where the warmest water will be and where any hatches are likely to happen.
So when the calendar reaches October, don’t put that tackle away, some of the best fishing of the season is yet to come!
I look forward to seeing you out on bank or boat throughout this season whether it’s during high summer or on the coldest days of winter!
THE winter months bring depression to many as they wallow in their Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) but, for the hardy flyfisher, this is a time to relish. The late-season temperature drop results in oxygen rich water and these conditions lead to happy, hungry trout; cue bending rods! But rather than being filled with jubilation at the prospect of this cold weather action, I have come across many winter anglers (in fact throughout the season) who seem just as miserable as those affected by the lack of sunlight. These anglers often return to the lodge within an hour of completing their permit moaning at the fishery manager that they have caught all their fish and now they have to go home! There is no pleasing some people!
Further enquiry into their astonishing accomplishment usually meets with an account of how a Cat’s Whisker or similar gaudy lure was thrown as far as possible across the lake and then ripped back at high speed. Now don’t get me wrong, there is nothing erroneous about pulling lures, in fact I love a session when the fish barrow after the fly and then nail it. But, as with all things, there is a time and a place. Small water stock fish tend to be fairly unaware of what constitutes natural and unnatural food, having spent much of their lives charging after pellets twice a day and so, once introduced to the fishery,
their natural reaction is to treat a high-speed lure without any caution. This means that, unless you intend to be searching for something else to do for the rest of the day, you will need to slow your catch rate down. It seems a crazy notion to pace ourselves during a session at the water’s edge but, let’s face it, where is the fun in reaching your limit after half an hour?
Arriving for a day at North Devon’s well-established Blakewell Fishery I am greeted by John and Richard Nickel who expertly manage this gem of a venue. They seem very confident that I could expect some brisk sport as the lake is well stocked and advise that lures will probably catch best of all. After thanking the guys for their assistance I set about tackling up and, while doing so, I’m soon able to spot several fish cruising just a few feet below the surface. This is typical behaviour for newly-introduced fish who must feel they are in heaven, having been given several acres of water to explore after a lifetime spent in a relatively diminutive stew pond! As an experiment I throw a small lure out in front of one of the fish and within seconds a shoal of three are following it! Rather than maintaining the retrieve I stop and the fish backs off allowing me to recover the fly before it is taken. It’s time to peruse the fly box and find something a little more subtle.
Over the years my fly collection has grown into a mass of variations, but recently I have started to fall back on that old faithful, the Hare’s Ear. This ancient pattern is relied upon worldwide and can be altered to suit many and varying conditions. It is also a fantastic 'hedged-bet' fly that can be used to imitate all manner of food items. Stock fish will take the Hare’s Ear of course, but this imitative artificial will also lure resident small stillwater specimens who, after a run in or two with a sharp hook, now possess a little more caution when it comes to enjoying a meal. Deciding on a goldhead version with a pearl rib, I set about modifying my leader ready for some laid-back nymphing.
There are all manner of leader configurations available to us but, when small water fishing with nymphs, you can keep it simple. While there is some uncertainty on a large reservoir whether or not your fly is being seen by many fish, during a small water session you can virtually guarantee that most casts are being eyed up. For this reason I rarely see the need to fish multiple flies when casting a nymph although, on tougher days, I may add in a small lure as a general attractor. This can be achieved by splicing a dropper into the leader using a water knot although, if I am feeling really lazy, I will simply construct a 10-foot leader, tie on my mini lure and then blood knot a further one foot section of leader directly on to the hook bend of the lure. To this section I then tie on my Hare’s Ear or similar nymph and find that the results can be mind blowing. For the moment, though, I am happy to sit back and watch the day go by as my singular Goldhead Hare’s Ear bumbles its way through Blakewell. Feeling very content I reckon it is a good half-an-hour before the first take materialises and I am in such a comatose state that I completely miss it!
Relying on a very slow figure-of-eight retrieve I had barely been moving the fly and, if I had been paying attention to the line, I wouldn’t have missed the fish. After all, if you feel the line pull at your hand, it had to have moved! Spot that movement and a firm lift will result in a hook up. Despite my bad angling I am not unhappy to have been beaten on this occasion. It is, after all, the sudden adrenalin rush of the take that I crave and so, already, I had been successful in my mind. Even so, the surging run of a trout is also welcome and so, now that the fish had my attention, I begin to concentrate. Casting the Hare’s Ear out once more my thoughts fall upon the weight of the pattern that I am using as it incorporates a goldbead. Coupled to my long leader and fished using a very slow two-finger figure-of-eight, the fly would have been deep and virtually static, even though I was using a floating fly line. Sure enough, I had enjoyed a take but I felt the fly was actually below most of the fish. Based on my previous observations of fish high in the water, I therefore choose to tie on a new un-weighted Hare’s Ear and up my retrieve speed to four fingers. Remember to always experiment with your retrieve; it is often the key to success.
My changes result in a positive outcome as a tidy Blakewell two-pounder makes its way to the net a while later, after a cast presented close to a weed bed. Examination of the stomach contents using a marrow spoon reveal that this fish had been feeding naturally on hoglouse, which the trout often turn to during the winter months if their favoured buzzer pupae are in short supply. The drab outline of my Hare’s Ear had obviously been mistaken for a hoglouse by my first fish of the day and I feel a sense of achievement that it had succumbed to an imitative approach. A lure may well have done far more damage in that initial hour or so but I am having much more fun taking the day steadily and potentially have another four fish to enjoy out of my five-fish limit. For those who enjoy filling their freezer, Blakewell even offer a 10-fish limit for the knock-down price of £50, amazing value and another means of prolonging a day at this picturesque stillwater.
With a fish in the bag I make another fly change, again going for a Hare’s Ear-based pattern but incorporating a strip of holographic tinsel along the flank and a bright floss head. This may seem like madness when a successful pattern has been found, but if there are plenty of fish to be enjoyed then use the time wisely and experiment with a few flies in your box that might not otherwise see the time of day. This willingness to try a variety of patterns and tactics builds overall confidence levels, which are crucial to success.
The alternative fly makes several journeys across the water and back again without incident; meanwhile I can see other anglers using lures bending into fish frequently. They seem happy enjoying their sport and that’s all that matters. My choice on the day was to go down the imitative route and, although this meant I had to work for my fish, I too enjoyed myself, especially when a top-quality Blakewell trout of 3lb snaffled the Hare’s Ear variant and shot off across the lake!
Steadily I continued to add to my bag throughout the day, but could not resist the opportunity to take a fish using pulled tactics to finish my session. Tying up the lazy angler’s dropper rig with a Straggle Cat followed by a Goldhead Hare’s Ear, I have another hour of fun throwing the patterns at fish spotted through my Polaroids. On many occasions fish charge down the fly, often creating a bow wave in the process but I pull the fly away at the very last moment, leaving a confused trout wondering where their potential lunch had gone! This is a seriously exciting practice and, not only is it fun, but also educational. Mess about with the retrieve and watch both the fly in action and how the fish react to it. This is invaluable information that can be used to visualise what’s going on below the surface when fishing blind. My final successful presentation of the day results in another fit Blakewell resident charging after the lure in an excited state. It's downfall turns out to be the Hare’s Ear – a great example of how flies can work together as a team to produce the desired result.
I enjoyed a proper day's fishing but remember that small stillwaters don’t always give up their fish easily and it is not wise to try experimenting when conditions are really tough. Instead stick with tried and tested methods in these circumstances and remember that when the fish have had their fill of lures, a slowly-fished standard Hare’s Ear on a long leader is hard to beat!
Tackle used and why
Rod: 9ft 6in 7wt middle-to-tip action, which allows for very comfortable, relaxing casting. I enjoy using the heavier line for long casts, but many stillwaters can be approached with 6wt or even 5wt rods. If you are allowed to catch and release on your chosen venue, ensure your tackle is up to playing the fish hard and fast.
Reel: Disc drags are worthwhile if you like to play fish on the reel. John and Richard had been cutting back the bankside vegetation prior to my trip and were in the process of removing it. By playing most of my fish off the reel I was able to ensure my line did not get caught up in any stray foliage.
Fly Line: A two-tone floating line in weight forward seven (WF7). An easy line to cast and I like the two-tone design for both casting and effectively spotting takes.
Leaders: Tapered leaders are a must and especially when there is little or no wind. Imitative tactics call for the very best presentation and a tapered leader will provide excellent turnover with a practiced casting technique. The water was very clear and this required the use of fluorocarbon, a leader material that reflects less light than copolymer for example. When fishing exceptionally clear water, drop down to 4lb because, when fishing slowly, the trout will have plenty of time to inspect your fly.
Net: I choose to carry a net with a long handle for trouble-free landing of fish while using long leaders.
Headgear & Eyewear:Important safety items. During my session at Blakewell the light levels were low so I went for a polarised lens with a yellow tint.
Flies: Lures stripped quickly through small stillwater stock fish often catch rapidly. Fishing with imitative flies such as Hare's Ears, Pheasant Tail Nymphs and Diawl Bachs may not interest the stock fish so much and could pick out the better resident specimens.
When the river's shallow, not very wide and shrouded with trees you need to be at the top of your game to catch trout consistently. Improver and fly angler SIMON WITHEY hones his skills with Sportfish Team England's JOHN TYZACK...
ABOUT THE ANGLERS
Stockport rod John Tyzack (left) cut his teeth on rivers and over 25 years has amassed an in-depth knowledge of approach and tactics. Simon Withey (right) loves the streams and is particularly fond of the Derbyshire rivers. But when the rivers are at their 'bare bones' after long periods without rain, like most anglers, he struggles to catch fish.
What tackle to use...
ROD, REEL & FLY LINE
Fly line: Rio Camo Green floater
Rod: Sage XP 812⁄ ft, four-piece, 5wt
Reel: Greys Platinum Xi
SINKANT AND FLOATANT
Orvis mud sinkant and Gink floatant
A small pan-shaped landing net is all that’s needed for this sort of fishing.
9ft Hardy tapered leader tapering down to 4lb connected to a 3ft length of 3lb Orvis Super Strong tippet
John’s box contains a mixture of small river dries and delicate nymphs
ROD, REEL & LINE
The rod has a fast, tip action and is good for combatting wind, allowing greater control of the flies and their presentation. Being a four-piece it fits snugly into a suitcase - ideal for the travelling angler. Although 812⁄ ft is a good all-round length, on narrow, overgrown rivers an 8-footer or even a 712⁄ ft model would reduce the risk of hitting trees. The reel is light, robust and sensibly priced - you don't need a fancy reel with all the gears when fishing for small river fish. When fishing under shady trees on a bright day, a brightly-coloured fly line will spook fish. A dull green fly line is far less conspicuous.
River fish are easily spooked by large colourful patterns so it's best to choose drab flies that imitate the natural insects on the water or in the air.
You don't need a huge landing net when river fishing because you're not dealing with oversized stock fish. A simple, wooden or plastic pan net will do.
LEADER AND TIPPET
A tapered leader helps turn over the fly properly and a short length of thinner tippet material makes sure that there's ample distance between the fly line and the fly itself. Tippet materials should be as thin as possible for the breaking strain, so that the fish aren't easily put off. They should also be subtle, strong and not shiny.
SINKANT AND FLOATANT
Sinkant not only sinks the leader, it also removes the shine - a must on bright days as the glint from the sun can scare fish. Floatant, when applied liberally to the fly, makes sure that the treated area rides high on the surface, just like an insect blown onto the water or after emerging through the film.
John's 9ft tapered leader with 212⁄ to 3ft additional tippet might seem quite long when fishing a narrow, overgrown river. But a longer leader means the flies will land on the water well away from the fly line, the very thing that's most likely to scare the fish in the first place.
So, John will no doubt get caught in the trees but he'll put up with that because when he does get a cast right, his flies will be presented properly.
Join the leader and tippet together with a standard two-turn water knot. Don't forget to wet the knot before tightening.
Whether fishing dry fly or single nymph, John uses the same leader set up. And on any given day he'll probably alternate between nymphs, dries and sometimes fish both together.
Dropper length is not massively important, although the longer they are the more wrap around you get. When grayling fishing, John is reasonably confident that the first flies he ties on will work, so he doesn't tend to change flies very often, hence the shortish droppers.
SELECTING A FLY
Basically, take a good look at what's hatching around you.
What's on the water and what's in the air? On arrival at this stream it was fairly obvious that a range of flies were hatching. There were a few olives and rather more midges over the water. Always watch the river and the river will tell you what you need to know. It will tell you where the fish are, whether they're feeding on the surface and what they're feeding on.
If you can't really see any flies on the water, it's a safe bet to use a small general purpose fly such as an F Fly. Alternatively, a small drab nymph with or without a goldhead would be a good first choice. In shallow, clear water, brighter patterns will simply scare the fish.
John's F Flies have a wing of three CDC feathers and he uses whatever body material is to hand. Hare's ear, seal's fur - anything at all which dubs onto the hook to form a neat, trim body. The original F Fly had a body of tying silk only.
Basically, match the colour of the body to the insect you see or expect to see on the water. John's F Flies are tied on TMC103BL hooks in sizes 17 and 19.
The Goldbead Hare's Ear simply has hare's ear for the body, a goldbead for the head, guard hairs for the tail and a gold wire rib. Both these nymphs are tied on Scorpion all purpose medium hooks, sizes 14 and 16.
John emphasises that the actual fly pattern is almost never the most important thing. Accurate presentation of the 'wrong' fly will often bring success. Poor presentation with the 'right' fly will usually result in failure.
SMALL KNOT FOR A SMALL FLY
When using small flies, you don't want a large knot at the hook eye, as this creates unnecessary bulk at the head and could make the fish suspicious. Here's a knot that's trustworthy but doesn't add bulk to a delicate dry or nymph.
Covering the whole tippet with Orvis mud, takes the shine off the tippet. There will be no flash on that tippet at all. This is vital when fishing in bright conditions.
WEIGHTED NYMPH RIG
An excellent set-up for fast runs. the small, weighted nymphs are close together in the shallow water and heavy enough to sink down to the bottom where the fish will be holding station.
NEW ZEALAND DROPPER RIG
An effective tactic offering the fish a choice of two flies - a buoyant dry fly on the surface and a very small nymph near the bottom. It’s a deadly tactic and a river angler’s best kept secret. The two patterns are fishing different depths while covering plenty of water, so the chances of connecting with a fish are increased dramatically. Dropper length depends on depth of water.
How they fished
Get this wrong and you might as well not bother starting to fish. If you stand bolt upright, talk loudly or hack down bankside shrubbery, there won't be any fish left in the pool to catch or those that remain will be wary. Be careful how you approach the river, keep off the skyline and make sure your shadow doesn't fall on the water.
Walk well away from the edge of the stream (right) and quietly so that fish won't hear any sound. As fish always face upstream, make sure you approach them from behind and move slowly.
2. STOP AND WATCH
Before starting to fish, assess the water in front of you. Look for signs of rising fish. Fish may be ‘dimpling’, which are very small rises. This is a sign that fish are taking tiny midges hatching through the surface or terrestrials stuck in the film. In deeper, faster water the fish are likely to take a larger fly such as a Sedge or Klinkhamer. These deeper areas, in this case 18in to 2ft, are also likely to respond to a nymph approach.
3. BEAT THE HEADWIND
In a headwind, casting upstream is difficult. The flies can get blown back on themselves and actually land behind the leader or fly line.
Solve this by actually punching the line down towards the water on the forward cast. This helps the flies turn over.
4. THE SIDE CAST
This is the main cast for avoiding those overhanging trees. It's the same as an overhead cast but on a horizontal plane.
5. USE THE FLOW
When casting nymphs under low overhanging trees, crouch down and let the current take the fly line behind you. Then, use the tension of the current to load the rod for
the forward cast. This saves the leader and fly line from moving back and forth repeatedly to load the rod, which will also scare fish.
6. CLEAN OFF THE SLIME
After a fish is caught on a small dry fly, dip the fly in the river and let the current wash off the fish slime. In most cases the dry fly doesn't immediately float again because of fish slime - not because it's wet. If it still won’t float, dry it thoroughly and apply floatant or dessicant before recasting.
7. SEARCH AND MOVE
Before moving upstream to get closer to rising fish at the head of the pool, cast over the area you intend to move to just in case fish are there. The water may be shallow, but fish may still be present.
8. KEEP THE NOISE DOWN
It's not just loud voices that scare fish. Careless wading will send a ripple moving upstream towards the fish (unless the current is broken and strong enough to take it away downstream). Walking fast and making splashes will create noise that will still pass through the water and to the fish. So wade very slowly and carefully.
9. TRY A DIFFERENT 'LINE'
Imagine the river is a series of parallel lines facing downstream. After you've fished a certain 'line', reach out and fish another one. Cover different areas of water.
After you've fished an area through it won't produce again for a while. So lean further out letting the flow take the flies along a different line. Another tip is to lift the rod higher to raise the flies up in the water.
10. SHAKE FOR FREEDOM
Getting caught up on the bottom is an occupational hazard of fishing weighted nymphs, especially in shallow water. When the flies get snagged on rocks and stones just shake the rod to free them.
11. LOW ROD
When drifting nymphs down with the flow, hold the rod and line as low as possible. Because there's less slack, you'll connect better with any takes you get. The low rod also counteracts the effect of the downstream wind and ensures that the flies fish at the correct depth.
12. REACH OUT
When fishing towards the far bank, extend your arm and body to get the fly to the far side of the run. Think of your arm as an extension of the rod.
In fast water like this, two small Tungsten beaded nymphs will get down to the fish quickly. With one fly on the point, put the other 18in up on the leader.
After taking many smaller grayling, as well as a surprise dace, John changed tactics to fish a buoyant Balloon Caddis with a small Goldbead Hare's Ear attached New Zealand style to the hook bend of the dry fly. It can be a deadly technique because the fish have two choices of potential food item and the dry fly and nymph cover a lot of water. The tactic earned John eight fish in only five minutes from the same pool - the best being this beautiful fish. Simon opted for the single dry fly approach and enjoyed plenty of takes.
What's the verdict?
Says Simon: “A very interesting day and I learned a lot from John, who's obviously a top river expert. I will now be more careful in my approach and to pay close attention to detail when setting up. Often, only a slight change in your tactics, makes such a difference to your prospects.”
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.
When the sun’s blazing out of a cloudless sky and the fish are holed up hard on the streambed, it can be as hard to get a take as it is in the depths of winter.
So what tactics will work on those impossibly hot days in high summer? It’s pretty simple really, explains Baz Reece - the same tricks that you’d employ in the middle of winter.
“IT’S GOING to be a real ‘bonceburner’,“ observes England international Baz Reece, as he surveys the cloudless cobalt sky through his oversize Polaroids.
We’ve just arrived at the renowned Lower Itchen Fishery on the hottest day of the year and it’s clear that the conditions are far from ideal for flyfishing.
Famed for its big brownies and grayling, the Lower Itchen beats are also acknowledged as being one of the few day ticket fisheries in the south offering a realistic chance of connecting with a sea trout or salmon.
Expectations of a memorable day’s fishing were reinforced when the day dawned cool and slightly overcast, but by 8am, the sun was beating down out of a crystal clear sky.
As the dreams of completing a ‘Hampshire McNab’ - brownie, grayling and sea trout in one session - melted like a mirage into the shimmering heat haze, we discussed the tactics that were going to deliver fish in these extreme conditions.
Baz pulls out a box of nymphs which rattles like a tin of heavy-duty nails. Inside are his ‘weapons of mass destruction’ - dozens of leaded and goldhead bugs weighing anything up to a quarter of an ounce. These lumps are designed to get down quickly and stay there... and they work.
“In these conditions, it’s pointless mucking around with more delicate patterns,” says Baz. “You’ve got to get down where the fish are quickly and stay there.”
Baz will use up to three of these depth charges on a 10 - 12-foot fluorocarbon leader, giving him almost an ounce of lead and beads to play with. He casts this unwieldy rig slightly upstream on a short line of between five and 10 yards and lets the bugs hit the deck before gently working them downstream through the deeper pools and runs of the gin-clear waters of the Itchen.
Purists could be forgiven for making comparisons between this and the coarse technique of fishing a rolling leger or ‘bouncing bomb’, but if the fish are hard on the bottom and you have a choice between fishing deep or going home, the aesthetics usually play second fiddle to the practicalities - especially if you’ve parted with £60 for a day’s fishing.
Yet even with this devastatingly effective technique, after 45 minutes’ plugging away with the bugs, we haven’t even seen a fish, let alone caught one. We’re both beginning to worry that the conditions are so tricky that we’re really going to struggle to grind out a couple of fish.
ACQUIRING A SIXTH SENSE
Despite the distinct lack of action, by methodically working his team of bugs through the swims, Baz is building up a picture of the bottom. He’s watching the leader for the slightest twitch and feeling his way around the riverbed, distinguishing between rocks, weedbeds and what could be a genuine take.
Just as I’m beginning to get seriously concerned, Baz strikes and his rod bends into a decent fish. After a lively scrap in the flow, Baz puts a 1lb 8oz grayling on the bank. Having failed to register any form of take, I ask him how he spotted the bite.
“It’s hard to describe, but you just know it’s there,” said Baz. “If I’m fishing upstream, I’ll watch the line for twitches, otherwise, it’s just down to intuition. It’s different when you can see the fish, because you’re watching for a movement of the mouth when they take it, but if you’re fishing blind. Be it right or wrong, I won’t use sight bobs; you’ve just got to develop a ‘feel’ for it and the more you do it, the easier it gets.”
The pod of fish that Baz has located are shoaled up in a deeper run which the faster water on the outside of a bend has scoured out. It’s a typical grayling lie.
“If you can’t actually see the fish, you’ve got to start by prospecting the likely-looking areas,” explains Baz. “You’re looking for areas where the bottom shelves off and deepens - that’s where you’ll usually find a shoal. It’s also worth trying behind and in front of rocks and boulders in the flow and behind or between clumps of weed.”
Once we’d located the grayling lie, peering into the depths revealed the odd glimpse of tail or fin and the occasional flash as a fish moved to Baz’s bugs.
Confidence restored somewhat, we head off upstream in search of more sport.
Even though we’re less than a mile from Southampton’s sprawling suburbs, the dense vegetation of the Itchen flood plain provides excellent sound insulation and it’s only the odd aircraft taking off from nearby Eastleigh airport that reminds us we’re within spitting distance of civilisation.
Overhead, a couple of little egrets struggle through the air with laboured wingbeats and in a little clearing in the trees, a pair of hobbies hawk insects in the heat while in the distance, buzzards mew plaintively as they circle effortlessly on the thermals. Even if the fishing’s a bit tough, it’s a great day to be outdoors and a hard day on the water is always going to top a good day at the office.
Buoyed by our success with the grayling and picking up more and more signs of life as our eyes tuned in to the right frequency, we attempted to catch a couple of vaguely alert brownies with dries, but they were too torpid to even investigate our delicate offerings. We were forced to revert to the heavy bugs, but opted for a more visual approach and began to target individual fish.
HOW TO SPOT FISH
Even in the crystal clear water of the southern chalkstreams, it can be extremely difficult to see what’s right in front of your nose. Anglers who have been lucky enough to have a crack at bonefish in the tropics will tell you that these ‘silver ghosts’ are virtually impossible to spot, but trout and especially grayling can be just as tricky.
Polarising sunglasses are an absolute must - without them you’ll struggle to see through the surface glare to the depths beneath.
In order to see the fish, it’s important not to scare them off first, but unless you’re really stealthy, you can empty a whole stretch of river before even setting eyes on a fish. So keep low on the skyline, avoid throwing any shadows on the water, make use of the cover afforded by bankside vegetation and move around quietly and slowly.
Take your time. Just like a batsman needs time to get his ‘eye in’ and your night vision takes a while to kick in on a dark night, it takes time for your eyes to adjust to the aquatic environment. But once you’ve spotted your first fish, you soon start picking up more and more.
Grayling are much trickier than trout - often you’ll only see a tail gently waving to hold the fish on station or you’ll catch a fleeting glimpse of a shadow moving across the bottom.
“You’re just looking for shapes or shadows,” says Baz. “You have to look where you’d expect to find fish. Sometimes you’ll make a mistake, but it doesn’t really matter if you waste a few casts targeting a piece of weed!”
KEEPING TRACK OF THE FLIES
We spot a good fish holding in a pool and have a cast at it. He isn’t particularly interested, but on the third cast, three fish appear from nowhere and start competing for the bug.
“That’s why it’s important to watch the flies, not the fish you are targeting,” says Baz. “And if you can’t actually see the flies, then try to imagine where they are in the water and follow them. If you’re watching the fish, you’ll just be in time to see the fish you hadn’t seen rejecting your fly. “
If visibility is proving a problem, it’s worth trying a bigger or brighter bug that you can see more easily.
Baz finds a shoal of big grayling in a deep scour behind a small groyne and drops his bugs a couple of yards upstream of the pod. He lets the bugs hit the bottom and then works them downstream with gentle lifts of the rod. If the fish don’t hit the bugs of their own accord, Baz lifts smartly to induce a take and the fish just can’t resist snatching at them.
You’ve got to be quick to hook them - in fact the lift to induce the take and the strike to set the hook should merge into virtually one smooth but deliberate movement.
This pool produces a brace of grayling of 2lb 8oz or more and Baz is starting to grow visibly in confidence. He’s got the method, he can see the fish and he’s in the groove.
We spot a big browie taking the odd olive from the top and Baz can’t resist a cast at him with his lightweight dry fly outfit. The fish has a look at the fly but rejects it and goes down, so it’s back to the bugs for the time being.
DRY FLY FINALE
By mid afternoon, Baz has added several more trout and grayling, plus a 1 lb chub to his portfolio. The fish are noticeably more active and a few are ‘on the fin’ and looking upwards for insects on the surface.
I hook a lively brownie which appears from the depths of a weir pool to snatch a weighted nymph and careers off across the current. These Itchen trout are powerful, muscular fish and although it probably only just tips the scales at 2lb, it attempts to wrap the leader round a snag before charging off down stream and then holding in the current, shaking its head angrily. I have to use the full power of an eightweight rod to gain line on the fish and it’s a good five minutes before I can bring it to the net. Baz, meanwhile, has been stalking the big cock fish that refused his dry fly half an hour earlier.
“It’s a myth that chalkstream trout won’t take a fly again once you’ve pricked them and put them down,’ says Baz, as he creeps closer to his quarry. “All you need to do is rest the swim for a while and then try him with a different fly.”
Baz ties on a size 16 Kite’s Imperial onto a tapered leader and puts the fly delicately over the fish, which is hovering in midwater just under the far bank. The fish climbs lazily up in the water to take a closer look, but doesn’t seem particularly interested.
Baz gives the fly his ‘shake and vac’ treatment - dipping it into a bottle of silica crystals to dry it off - before preparing to recast.
SHAKE AND VAC
“I’ve tried all sorts of different floatants, but I reckon this is the best way of keeping a dry fly afloat,” he explains. “I never go anywhere without it because once a fly is water-logged, it’s nothing like as effective.”
Kite’s back in pristine condition, Baz puts it over the tish again, and he rises to have a look at it, following it downstream for an agonising couple of seconds and then decides to nail it. Baz lifts in to him and he goes ballistic, bending the lightweight Loomis alarmingly and stripping yards of line from the small reel.
After five minutes or so of surging, headshaking action, Baz has the fish under control and soon slides the net under the 3lb brownie. As is he lifts it onto the grass for unhooking, we admire its developing kype and burnished bronze flanks before releasing it back into the limpid water. It was a fitting moment to call it a day and head off to the inviting shade of the nearest beer garden. We’d failed to complete the hat-trick we set out to achieve, but the fishing, though demanding, had been no less rewarding for it.
MANY non-competition anglers have differing views about the match side of the sport. Yes, I have won my fair share of competitions and I’ve had the honour of competing at the highest of levels in world internationals across the globe. This proves my competitive instinct and desire to win competitions, but it also shows that I catch fish and often more than others.
It’s this latter part that keeps me at the top. After all, we go fishing to catch fish whether competing or leisure fishing. I get great pleasure catching fish – be it a haul in a competition or simply enticing two grown-on fish with more subtle techniques.
I am often asked what keeps me at the forefront of competition fishing or what makes me catch when others around are not doing so. It is an accumulation of skills, techniques, vast experience and most important of all, confidence. Whenever I go fishing I am confident I’ll catch fish. You must have confidence in the flies you tie on and you must believe they will catch fish or you simply won’t. Try to believe that the fish are in front of you. If you don’t believe they are there you're less likely to catch them.
Over the years I’ve built up the skills, techniques and experience, but one of the major components I’ve picked up is patience. Inexperience will see anglers thrashing the water with ineffective methods, without having given it much thought. I was sucked into pulling lures during my early days of competition on the basis that work rate meant I’d catch more fish.
I have learned some very harsh lessons at the highest of levels in world championships. Eagerness to get my flies into the water took over from considering my approach; cast choice; positioning and my fly.
The approach to fishing is key. Stealth is important to ensure the fish are not aware of your presence. In the past I may have been heavy-handed with my approach to a river or small water, or over keen on the engine on a larger reservoir. Now I am conscious of my every move to the finest detail.
I see many anglers with camouflage clothing only to be wearing a brightly-coloured hat. This is the item of clothing that the fish is most likely to see first, as it is at the highest point. Before approaching your fishing spot take time to look around you. Use the natural surroundings for cover and consider where the sun is to ensure no shadows are cast over the water before you get anywhere near it. I have walked beats used during world internationals and swear blind there is no one there, only to see a competitor ghost out from behind a rock or from under a tree. I have seen anglers lying in the water, me included!
It often pays to get close to your quarry. The more line you have out the more line you have to bring in to get the fish to the net and therefore the longer the fish is in the water. In basic terms my theory is ‘the longer the fish is in the water the better chance it has of staying there’. However, getting close requires stealth and patience. I have caught grayling in rivers from under my feet by inching towards them.
In terms of trout fishing, I watch competitors eager to cast at a tracking fish when it gets within 30 yards of the boat. By making an early cast you are spooking any other fish between you and this one, as well as risking presentation, accuracy and of course hooking it at distance and landing it. Wait for the fish to come within 15 yards or so before making the cast.
The ultimate in stealth and patience is personified in Pascal Cognard of the French world team, now the team coach (pictured below). He is almost like a heron. He has extreme patience with arguably the best all-round skills ever seen. He’s been world champion three years in a row!
On occasions, he’ll make only three casts during a three-hour session to take all three fish he could see. This guy is beyond world class and proves that patience and stealth are critical.
The right cast and depth
Making the right cast is often more related to river fishing to help you present your fly into the smallest of gaps under trees and under over-hanging banks. However, the perfect cast can be related very much to lake or reservoir fishing. We have touched on the fact that casting at distance is not always the ideal approach when casting at moving fish. However, choosing the long distance cast when sunk-line fishing can be essential.
In high winds, when your boat may be pushing through and the fish are lying very deep, it is important to cast as far as possible with the fastest sinking line you may have. This is another harsh lesson I learnt when new to competition fishing. I failed to take the boat speed into account when sunk-line fishing and I wasn’t fishing at the depths I thought I was.
Slack line for dry fly
A technique I picked up from fishing the championships dominated by rivers was the importance of a slack, drag-free line when dry fly fishing. Again, when fishing lakes or reservoirs, introducing some slack into your cast when dry fly fishing will bring more hook-ups instead of the ‘thin air’ strikes we all suffer!
When making a cast with a dry fly, simply roll your casting arm in a small circle when releasing the cast. This will form a natural kink in your line. This kink will give the perfect split second delay when lifting into a fish when it takes your fly – making sure it gets its head down and has a good hold of your fly. It does away with famous sayings like ‘God save the Queen’ and the count of one to three.
Casts with nymphs
Fishing the nymph requires the cast to be measured depending on the depth of the fish. Why cast a long line with a team of nymphs if the fish are just a few feet down? A short line will keep the flies high in the water and again give you less distance to bring the fish to the net. In reverse, if the fish are lying deep and are hard on nymphs, a short measured cast will simply not let our flies get deep enough.
The key aspect to my fishing is analysing the surroundings. Every part of the day requires thought – from tackling up in the car park to casting the fly. Spend a little time thinking before you start your next day’s fishing. Take a look at the water, be patient and who knows, one day you may be as successful as Pascal Cognard of France.
DRY fly fishing should be easier. Fish meeting you half way, everything happening in front of you, clear-cut takes: what a doddle compared to all that invisible action with reluctant bottom-feeders and snaggy roots doing brief, maddening impersonations of 10lb trout.
Well, not quite…
Between the first, tentative steps of the dry fly novice and that triumphant splash on top of the water, lies a gameplan markedly different from that of his wet fly counterpart.
And it is Peter Cockwill’s job to talk you through it.
Over the last two years, the Trout Fisherman columnist has guided us through each phase of the new flyfisher’s basic education.
With ‘gear’, ‘casting’ and ‘watercraft’ boxes all ticked, it’s time to help you raise your sights and turn from lures to those patterns that work their magic on the water’s surface.
We could have had better days for it. To anyone without a rod in his hand, it’s an idyllic spring morning at Moorhen Trout Fishery, with bright sunshine beaming down on the rolling Hampshire countryside.
To anyone hoping to persuade trout to gaze in the direction of a blue sky, on the other hand, it’s challenging, to say the least.
This is merely my first lesson, however, for even as we’re tackling up, regular pockmarks appear in the surface of the lake, sun or no sun.
When you’re hungry for knowledge in any subject, it’s easy sometimes to pounce upon a general principle and think it infallible. Whatever you’ve been told about trout and their lack of eyelids, however, sunshine doesn’t always sound the death knell for those fishing floating flies.
Interestingly, when FMHalford – Grand Master of the dry fly movement – described bright sun in calm weather as being fatal to success, it was only because he felt that the early 20th-century gut leaders then in vogue would be all too visible in such strong light.
That apart, he declared fishing dries in bright sunshine over rising fish to be “the highest form of fly fishing imaginable”.
Peter Cockwill is a little more prosaic. “There’s a breeze to ruffle the water and stop the sunlight from penetrating so far and the fish have a bit of weed cover just under the surface,” he points out. “We should be okay.”
He has set me up with a nine-foot leader, tapered to 5lb, fished from a floating line and culminating in a 5lb tippet.
“I use 5lb for big flies like Mayflies and 3lb if I’m fishing smaller flies, say size 16s,” he explains, “but the tapered leader always ends with the same diameter as the tippet, so I’m tying like to like.
“The tippet is crucial to the presentation, because if anything in the fly or line causes the slightest drag on the surface as the fly moves in the breeze, a tippet as fine as possible will minimise the effect and the likelihood of putting off the fish.”
If casting far, he adds, he might use just two or three feet of tippet, whereas at closer range, it might be more like 15 or 16 feet.
Astillwater leader, unlike the line and fly to which it’s attached, has to sink, just far enough into the water to avoid creating a wake on the surface.
Ariffle may compensate for a buoyant leader but otherwise you’ll need to apply sinkant.
If so, make sure it spreads no further than its intended destination. You no more want sinkant on your dry fly than you want floatant coming into contact with your leader, so remember to wipe your fingers once the substance in question has been applied. Take care also that none of it touches the hook point, particularly if you’re fishing barbless, as slippery hooks can slide out of a fish as easily as they slid in.
Keeping your fly afloat should be easier on a stillwater than on a lively river but if you find yourself without floatant, brisk false casting (away from the water, so as not to spook fish) will dry your fly and the oil secreted by your skin (on the side of your nose, for example) can be gently rubbed into the fly to improve its buoyancy.
While Peter favours a double taper floating line for dry fly fishing on rivers (“it allows you to aerialise more line and roll cast further”) he opts for a weight-forward floating line on stillwaters, where longer casts are often needed.
On the subject of casting, there’s no retrieve involved with most dry flies, so how they land on the water is how they’ll look to the fish below, which puts the onus on delicate presentation (hence the tapered leader, which improves turnover as line and fly land on the water) and this in turn favours a wide loop in your line during casting. Tight loops may be less wind-resistant but they can cause over-casting, with the fly being driven into the water at speed.
Awider loop has less momentum and your cast ‘dies’ just before reaching its target, allowing the leader to turn over and gently deposit your fly.
Loop size is determined by the section of your back cast or forward cast in which you apply the power surge that shoots line.
The shorter that section is, the tighter your loop will be, so lengthen the surge slightly to broaden the loop but not so much that it throws your whole cast out of kilter (see diagram).
Casting should be no further than necessary: big dries are aerodynamically unsuited to long casts and close-range work makes presentation easier.
Once your fly sits satisfactorily upon the water, it’s easy to feel the hard work is done; yet it may only just be starting.
If the occasion calls for small, dark flies and the breeze is putting a ripple on the water, you can feel a bit cheated, as you squint towards where your fly is meant to be. Suddenly, the most visible form of flyfishing seems anything but. As long as you’re satisfied the fly hasn’t become waterlogged and sunk, however, it is simply a matter of adapting your game: focusing on the area in which your fly should be and responding to any surface disturbance in the neighbourhood. All the while, keep your rod tip close to the water, to reduce slack line and therefore the time lapse between lifting your wrist in response to a take and actually setting the hook.
Garish fly lines aren’t universally popular but a high-visibility version comes into its own in these circumstances. If you can clearly make out the end of your line, and you know the length of your leader, you can establish the arc of water in which your fly is likely to be. Also, as with nymphing, a sudden twitch in the tip of your line can be your only clue as to a subtle take. Keep the leading section of your line clean and de-greased, therefore, to maintain its buoyancy.
As for spotting the more subtle takes, some skills can be acquired only through bitter experience. If Ihad a fiver for every time Peter spotted a rise that Ihadn’t, Icould have restocked my entire tackle shed at Farlows of Pall Mall on the way home and still had change.
Even those takes Idid see were mostly ancient history by the time my hand-eye co-ordination had run its course. When people talk about the ‘window of opportunity’ in dry fly fishing, they mean one of those slits you see in castle walls…
If I can pass on one pointer from my limited experience at this type of fishing, it’s better to strike at shadows all morning than to have fish nibbling at your fly with impunity because you were waiting for the Unmistakeable Take.
It’s another of those ‘infallible principles’ we fall for, Ithink, the idea that to strike is to spook every fish in the vicinity, so we’re reluctant to do it. This isn’t sea fishing, though: you don’t have to strike with the force of a javelin thrower. Just a flick of the wrist does the job and if the ‘take’ turns out to be an illusion, all that happens is that your fly lands a few feet from its original position.
Far from spooking fish, this can be something of a turn-on. They’re used to certain newly-hatched insects skittering across the surface to dry their wings before take-off, so if a static fly is attracting little interest, try raising your rod tip and shaking it gently from side to side while stripping in line.
Peter had some success with that theme today, twitching a Muddler Daddy through the surface film, while his protégé eventually found a fish willing to make such a ruckus around an Olive High Rider CdC Sedge that not even Icould miss it.
Which, Inow know, is all it takes. My first try at this ‘easier’ fishing had left me feeling as frustrated and inadequate as a man can be when discovering that he has the reflexes of a carthorse, yet one splash, one taut line, one rainbow and I’d signed up for life.
Idon’t agree with those who insist that dry fly fishing is the only type there is. Ican, however, see where they’re coming from.
We all have our idea of the perfect fishery. But few would consider a concrete bowl as ideal. Being man-made they appear devoid of features and look nothing more than a large-scale put-and-take fishery producing ‘stockies’ for the masses, and only occasionally visited at the start of the season before the more high profile reservoirs open in April. How wrong our stereotypes can be!
Waters such as Farmoor, Toft Newton and Walthamstow should be overlooked at your peril. Concrete bowls have unique features that lead to quality fishing. Overwintered fish are plentiful and similar to trout in Rutland, Grafham or Chew. Concrete bowls produce quality fish all year, when anglers on other reservoirs struggle from the bank.
For newcomers they are a paradise, well-stocked with deep water right at your feet, allowing fish to be caught close to the bank. Often long casts are only needed in the hot summer months and, once an angler can reach the ledge at around 15 yards, they will have consistent sport all-year.
The very shape of a concrete bowl (usually round or oval) means that half of the fishery is always fishable, no matter what direction or strength the wind. The banks are tarmac or concrete allowing easy access to all areas, therefore especially suitable for the elderly or disabled. Casting is easy with few bushes or trees around – just avoid the lip of the wall on your backcast. Vegetation is minimal so your line doesn't tangle. There’s no need for a line tray or waders with deep water at your feet.
I’ve found these waters full of daphnia, bloodworm and fry, leading to quality fish. Given the consistent fishing, these waters get a raw deal from many anglers.
Concrete bowl reservoirs tend to be rich in daphnia
During early season, a few days prior to fishing, study the weather forecast, especially wind direction and overnight temperature. Avoid fishing after a frost. Cold northerly winds and low temperatures mean fish will be holding at depth, especially early morning when the day is at its coldest. Nothing will be hatching so nymphs will not be an option yet. It's cold so any feeding fish will not chase a brightly-coloured lure pulled at speed.
For me, early-season fishing on a concrete bowl is all about doing the simple things right – and staying warm! I always start by fishing directly into the wind, because the wind usually picks up during the day, often making areas unfishable by mid-morning. By starting off into the lighter wind you should get a couple of hours’ fishing over unfished water. I see any fish caught as a bonus and I often catch an overwintered fish or two. Then, when conditions deteriorate, I simply find a more favourable spot.
Concrete bowls don’t colour up like conventional reservoirs with wading anglers and muddy banks. Instead, the water is usually cold, clear and deep. I always start on a fast-sinking distance line such as a Rio Outbound Type 8 or a Di-7 with a six foot leader and a single Black and Green Booby.
After each cast I wait at least 45 seconds just to give everything a chance to get to the bottom. My retrieve is six-to-eight-inch pulls with a two-second interval between – giving the fly a chance to rise and fall enticingly in the water, yet remain close to the bottom. The next cast I’ll fish the fly with an ultra-slow figure-of-eight retrieve.
I prefer to mix up my retrieve rather than fish the same, cast after cast. The fish don’t move much at this time of year so they can soon wise up to the same fly and the same retrieve. When takes dry up my first option is to change colour to a Cat’s Whisker Booby, or a Coral Booby. Then, if no response, I lengthen my leader by three foot to see if they have risen in the water.
During early-season, a single fly is more productive when fishing lures in this style. Presentation is better and it gives the angler more time on the fish, as they don’t wise-up to your tactics so quickly.
The wind can create a problem, especially if it’s right-to-left, as a bow can form in your line. This bow absorbs any takes making them difficult to spot. I always dip my rod tip an inch under the water in an attempt to keep a tight line and direct contact with my fly – then I simply feel for takes.
From 11am to 2pm there is usually a slight rise in temperature, which sees the fish rise in the water. If you just want to catch your limit, lengthen your leader by three foot from six to nine foot and continue as before. However, if conditions are favourable, you may get a short hatch, usually at the top of the wind. Early-season hatches tend to be smaller than in summer and the insects are often black in colour. This brief opportunity can allow you to fish nymphs and target an overwintered fish or two.
My preferred method is to fish the bung with an Apps’ Bloodworm on the point and Buzzers on the droppers (point fly 11 foot, droppers eight foot and six foot). Again all flies should be kept in the deeper water. I fish the flies static, with a slow six-to-eight-inch pull every 20 seconds to impart movement into the flies and hopefully induce a take.
Your choice of spot is important. It’s cold so the fish won’t come to you – you must find them! If you don’t catch within 30 minutes then move – if fish are in the area you should get interest in the first dozen casts. But you can improve your chances by fishing the features first. Any small change in the bowl’s shape will result in a small point (as at Farmoor and Walthamstow). These points allow food to be channelled across them and will always hold fish.
All waters have pontoons for fishing boats, a draw-off tower, pipe work and marker buoys. These areas allow weed growth and hold natural food and fry, so they attract better quality fish.
The reservoir bottom will not be a uniform depth. Firstly, there is a ledge usually around 15 yards from the bank – fish always hold here and patrol around the ledge in warmer months. There will also be deeper areas usually by the draw-off tower. Toft Newton and Farmoor have maps in the lodge that give details of the water’s depth around the fishery, giving the angler a rough idea of the drop-offs that will hold fish.
Fan cast the water in front of you, present your fly at a variety of different angles, rather than the same angle as many anglers do. It’s these small differences that bring more fish to your net – you also cover more water in the process.
At this time of year you should stick to simple tried and tested methods on the concrete bowls. This is not a time to experiment, just keep everything deep and slow. I caught my personal-best reservoir rainbow from a concrete bowl, a fish of 9lb 10oz from Farmoor on the ever-consistent Cat’s Whisker Booby. It was a spectacular fish at the peak of its condition.
Big cats at large in the Lancashire Dales? Maybe not, but Bank House Fishery has its own stripy predator, the tiger trout. NICK HALSTEAD shows us the flies and methods he uses to catch one.
The small Minkie, imitating a nervous stickleback, twitches and jerks its way around the jungle of weeds and branches. It’s there, like the staked goat, to attract one of the more spectacular-looking predators in the stillwater trout fishery . . . the tiger trout.
A hybrid cross between an American brook trout and our native brown trout, the tiger is a handsome quarry with the characteristics of both species, particularly the aggression of the brownie. With the parent American brookies no longer so easily available, tiger trout are becoming increasingly unusual at our fisheries.
Bank House, on the edge of the Lancashire Dales at Caton, is now in its 31st year as a trout fishery. The lodge was once part of a cotton mill powered by a water wheel before it silted up through neglect. Jan and David Dobson bought the property and set about turning it into the eye-catching fishery you see today. Dredging, tree planting and thoughtful landscaping by retired vet David have now created a haven for the local bird and wildlife. A kingfisher is seen most days.
I’m there with Nick Halstead who has set his sights on catching a tiger trout as part of his own Bank House McNab— four different species of trout in a day. A traditional Highland McNab is now recognised as a brace of grouse, a salmon and a stag.
As well as the prized tiger trout, the fishery is also stocked with rainbows, blues and browns. And there’s a population of wild brown trout that move down from the beck that feeds the lake.
IT’S one of those glorious Indian summer days and the tree-lined picturesque two and a half acre lake is busy with anglers. The local River Ribble has a run of autumn salmon, and when the river is in spate, Bank House is popular as a stillwater option. Most are there to enjoy the day, for whatever species comes along. But Nick is deliberately targeting the tiger trout with his mini Minkie.
Nick pushes his landing net into the margins to see what type of food is available. And comes up with a netful of creepy-crawlies, including water snails, alder nymphs, lots of corixa and a silver shower of tiny sticklebacks.
We can see lots of swirls and splashes close to the numerous islands.
“They are on the sticklebacks,” he grins. “Tigers have a very different feeding behaviour to rainbows. They tend to sit lower in the water and then when they see the fly, swim vertically upwards to take it. In the summer months, they seem to disappear from the fishery but by autumn, they really come on the feed.”
On his last visit, Nick found that his own tying of the Minkie as a stickleback imitation sorted out the tiger trout. Using a long leader with two heavy Buzzers and a small Minkie on the point fished on a floating line was the key to tiger success.
Nick lends me one of his “tigerbait” chain-bead eyes Minkies with the plea “don’t lose it.” Mature trees with fly-grabbing branches surround Bank House. Owner’s son and Stocks boss Ben Dobson goes round daily with a long-handled pruner to recover stranded flies.
A number of fish are moving off the picturesque lodge. I make a long cast towards the disturbances and let the Minkie sink slowly through the water. This is one of the deeper parts of the lake. Halfway back through the retrieve, the line tightens and an orange stripy flank breaks the surface. I have hooked my first tiger trout.
Tigers fight tenaciously, boring down again and again. But when the three-pounder is in the net, the hook comes free.
Nick, whose heaviest tiger trout from the lake is 8lb 12oz, has found that the fish are actually quite difficult to hook securely. He advises that the best way to hook a tiger trout when the fish takes is to just keep retrieving. “Don’t strike or slow down,” advises Nick. “Otherwise you could lose your fish.”
It’s a truly spectacular-looking capture with white trailing edges to the lower fins, displaying its char heritage, and those mottled stripes on the flanks and sides which give the trout its name. Catch and release is allowed, so I slip the tiger back to resume its hunting around the weed beds.
Moving further down the bank, I cast the Minkie close to what looks like an obvious ambush point. Almost sensing that a fish is following, I concentrate on the leader end to see it stab down in the water.
Remembering Nick’s advice, I keep retrieving as the rod tip bends round into another tiger. The water at Bank House has a peaty colour today after some recent rain, but those golden-brown stripes are unmistakeable as the fish boils in a welter of spray. Then, just when the fish is ready for the net, it comes adrift.
As the morning clouds clear away to bathe the fishery in glorious sunshine, I put down the rod and take the opportunity to walk the banks with Stocks boss and fish farmer Ben Dobson to learn a lot more about tiger trout.
Bought in as fingerlings, the tigers grow quicker than browns and are stocked at around two and a half years old. The females are not fertile and the males produce no milt, but they are very aggressive and fight on the fish farm.
“They need plenty of room,” laughs Ben. “They’ve also got a lot more teeth than browns and rainbows. Watch your fingers when you’re removing the fly.”
Nick Halstead’s infectious laughter and fish-catching skills make him a natural attraction for other anglers. He’s never happier than when he’s teaching other beginners how to catch fish.
Carefully working his way from platform to platform, pushing the Minkie as close to the overhanging trees and bushes as he dares, Nick extracts everything he can from each swim. His competition-fishing instincts dominate as he moves into doubles-figures in numbers of fish caught. Some of the most popular pegs at Bank House are revealed by the number of lost flies in the surrounding bankside trees.
Approximately, 15 to 20 per cent of the stocking into Bank House is tiger trout, with the remainder made up of mainly rainbows, blues and quality browns. The tigers run to about 9lb, although Ben wants to grow on some larger fish for stocking. Blue trout into doublefigures are common. Nick’s firstever rainbow from Bank House still stands as his largest weighing in at 20lb 8oz.
At the far end of the lake is a shallow area where a small beck enters. Attracted by the flow of fresh water and numerous sticklebacks, some rather large trout can be seen finning across the current.
Here Nick rigs up an indicator set-up and flicks a small leaded white bug among the cruising fish. This helps to keep the fly down below the numerous floating leaves that can be such a hazard in autumn and early winter.
By dropping the fly in front of the cruising tiger’s noses, Nick is able to induce a take or two. But the hoped for wild brown doesn’t materialise.
Just three to go
WITH tiger trout firmly ticked off the McNab list, there are still three species to go. Rainbow trout are moving all across the lake, yet the Buzzers on the droppers are not working.
Nick puts this down to the fact that the fish are very high in the water and his heavyish patterns on fluorocarbon are actually fishing below the cruising level of the fish Of course a trout cannot see what is below its level — hence the lack of takes on the nymphs.
When Nick switches back to an all-black Minkie, tied with black Straggle Fritz for the body, he is quickly rewarded with a succession of rainbows, and a sleek shimmering 2lb 12oz blue trout which hammers his fly when figureof- eight retrieved just sub-surface.
In the late afternoon, with the autumn sun dipping across the water, fish are rising everywhere. One local uses a small Black Beetle to tempt these finicky risers. Nick tries a tiny Black Shipman’s Buzzer in the surface but it’s rainbows only that take the dry rather than the hoped-for wild brownie.
Nick is a man to try as many methods as possible. Another option when fish are moving so close to the top is to fish a bright orange Egg Fly or small Blob a few inches below an indicator. This method may seem crude but freshly stocked fish just cannot refuse it.
The McNab still seems elusive until Nick’s all-black mini Minkie is taken by a fin-perfect 2lb 8oz brownie to create a satisfying end to a perfect day.
WINTER FISHING TIPS
Wet the Minkie first
BANK House has a sensible rule about hook and flies that suggest they should be international size hook length — no greater than 5⁄8th inch and an overall fly length of 15⁄16th inch.
Says Nick: “I searched my boxes and found a number of small Minkies which fitted the bill perfectly. The fly is tied with a strip of mink fur (although numerous other furs such as rabbit, weasel and my particular favourite chinchilla also work) along the back.
“One of the major trigger points of any bait fish pattern is the eyes and my Minkies have enamelled orange and chartreuse chain-bead eyes which stand out well in the slightly peat-stained water.
“I had various colours of minkie tied with bodies that varied from dubbed Hare’s Ear to a Sparkler Fritz type of material, so I initially decided to experiment with the various Minkie patterns to see if I could tempt a tiger.
“When fishing Minkies, pay serious attention to the way the fly is fishing in the water. First, get the fly wet. Mink skin is very rigid when dry (particularly if it has been through a dyeing process) and does not come to life until it has had a good soaking. When choosing fur to tie this type of fly, go for the most supple pelts that have the thinnest skin thickness as this will help the fly’s effectiveness significantly.”
Check the tail
SAYS Nick: “Cast the fly into the margins and observe carefully the way the fly is moving. Speed of retrieve is crucial. If you strip the fly back really quickly, then the action of the mink strip will be lost and the fly will lose a lot of its appeal.
“Try flicking it into the water at your feet and note the speed of movement when the tail of the fly starts to kick. This is the optimum speed of retrieve for maximising the effectiveness of this fly.
“When retrieving, always watch the fly before you lift off to recast to make sure a fish is not following and to ensure the tail is not wrapped around the bend of the hook. If it is twisted, just correct the profile of the Minkie and carry on fishing. It takes only seconds but can save an awful lot of unproductive fishing time.”
Always check that the tail of your Minkie is not wrapped around the point of the hook (left). Check the speed of retrieve is giving the fly the right amount of kick (right). If it's retrieved too fast, the fly loses its appeal.
NICK initially tackled up at Bank House with a fluorocarbon tippet using quite stiff material (0.21mm diameter, 8lb breaking strain). But after 15 minutes concluded that the fly wasn’t “swimming” correctly.
Says Nick: “I put this down to the stiffness and diameter of the fluorocarbon.
“So I changed the tippet to a softer, more supple brand of a lower diameter (0.185mm, 7lb) and my catch rate improved significantly.
The more supple tippet allowed the fly to come to life and increase its attractiveness to the trout.”
Fish fresh water
NICK describes Bank House as an “intimate” water. “The wellplanned peg positions ensure that anglers never feel crowded, and there are numerous small islands and features which provide a haven for the food sources and so have a magnetic attraction for the trout.
“By continually moving and casting into fresh water, you will improve your chances of catching. Fish will always move away or become wary of the more heavily fished stretches.
“The more successful anglers at Bank House, and many similar fisheries, are the ones who can cast into the awkward lies. At many fisheries this just means casting a little further than the next angler. For example at Bank House distance casting is not required, but you need to be accurate.
“Before you start fishing, try to envisage where the least amount of casting activity has taken place. This untouched water is the most likely to produce fish.
“This is a good excuse to practise the roll cast for instance when the back cast is hindered by foliage. I found myself really trying to thread the fly through the overhanging vegetation so the fly could fish down the side of one of the islands or under an overhanging bush. When I got it right, I was rewarded with a pull, many of which turned into quality trout.
“However, we all got it wrong on numerous occasions and my stock of mini Minkies was severely depleted by the end of the day.
“You have to concentrate on your casting to get the best out of this venue, but we are not striving for distance, making the venue appeal to both beginner and expert alike.”
BE ACCURATE WITH YOUR CASTING
The more difficult cast up against the island trees will yield more fish than a cast into open water, which is usually well fished. Tiger trout like to hang close to roots and branches from which to launch their attacks.
At first sight a vast reservoir can be a daunting prospect when fly fishing. Here's how to find the trout when you are fishing the venue from the bank.
Its your first visit to a trout reservoir - yet when you open the car door to be greeted by a cold wind and acres of grey water, you may wish you had stayed at home in bed. The fact is that if you haven’t done your homework first, you may as well have done.
Trout are not stocked in a reservoir at the same density as they are in a small stillwater. So it’s absolutely vital to find the fish first. In days gone by, queues of anglers would form at midnight outside reservoir lodges on opening morning, such was the competition to get in the best spot. You won’t have that problem these days, but it pays to arrive as early as possible.
There’s a fallacy that you have to wade out as far as possible. All this achieves is to push the fish further out. So stay on the bank for as long as possible.
Let’s look at the typical bank features that will hold fish, and how you should tackle them.
CREEK: These sheltered, narrow bays are found on most large waters. The shallow water is rich feeding area and often home to some very large rainbows and browns.
WIND: Freshly stocked fish follow the wind then hold up in bays along the downwind shore. So, when casting into the wind, the trout will be closer than you think.
BIRDS: Fish eating birds like cormorants betray the presence of fish shoals. Get up early, see where the birds are lined up and fish the area thoroughly.
POINTS: Rocky or grass outcrops provide quick access to deep water, ideal during early season when the fish are lying deep. The nooks and crevices house food.
BIG PIKE: Reservoirs also hold large pike, often well into double figures. Cast your pike flies around weedbeds in the shallows as temperatures warm up.
NYMPHS: Fish nymphs and buzzers under the indicator off points and into bays. This is a deadly method during early season and often tempts better quality trout.
BOOBIES: Fished on a fast sink line to deep lying trout, the buoyant Booby rises just above the weed visible to any nearby fish. Again, fish off a point into deep water.
LURES: Search the depths with a glass intermediate line and black and green lure. This colour combination is successful during early season.
STOCKIES: Freshly stocked rainbows will follow a circular route round a bay until the shoal eventually splits up after several days of pressure.
THESE are the most popular of early-season reservoir features, because they always hold fish. The only variable is how far out they are from the bank.
Concrete, or boulder, dams will extend underwater, attracting all types of trout food in the nooks and crevices. The access to deeper water gives the fresh stockies a feeling of security.
You will find that the shoals swim up and down the dam, giving their presence away as several anglers in a line suddenly all hook a fish. It can be a bit like mackerel fishing.
But instead of trying to chase them, stay in your spot and eventually the fish will come to you.
As far as tactics are concerned, you can either pull a brightly coloured lure on an intermediate
line or fish a Booby on a sinking line like a Di-5 or Di-7. Both methods will work from the start.
If the wind is blowing into the dam, expect the fish to come in close although casting will be more difficult and you may have to shorten your leader. If the wind is on your back, casting will be easier, although the fish will now be further out. Best conditions of all will be a side wind when you can let your fly drift round in an arc.
TIP: WHEN CASTING FROM A DAM WALL, WATCH THAT YOUR HOOK POINT DOESN’T GET TURNED OVER, OR EVEN SNAPPED OFF, BY HITTING THE TOP OF THE DAM ON THE BACK CAST.
AT the start of the season, you can expect the water at most reservoirs (excluding drought-stricken Bewl) to be at top level after a winter of pumping from the rivers. This means deeper water close to the bank.
Although spaces may be limited, getting on the end of harbour wall or jetty will give easy access to deep water. Again, all methods should work but a varnished Black buzzer fished deep under an indicator can be deadly under these conditions.
Fish one Buzzer close to the bottom. Fish the second nymph, usually smaller and maybe a different colour, on a dropper closer to the surface.
TIP: IF CORMORANTS ARE WORKING THE WATER, THE STOCKIES WON’T BE FAR AWAY.
THERE is always intense competition to bag pole position on the end of a point. This is because you can fish your flies across the wind, or with the wind behind you; as well as accessing deeper water.
Where two banks meet, silt can build up creating a shallow spit that can extend more than 30 yards into the water. This shallow shelf creates a haven for food and a drop-off bolt hole should the trout sense any hint of danger.
The temptation on a point is to wade further and further out, which can be dangerous if the bottom is soft under foot.
Some points — Old Hall at Rutland is a good example — are not suitable for wading because of the depth, and will fish just as well from the bank. Here boulders have been placed to protect the bank from erosion and provide handy perches from which to cast.
Catch a cross wind on this type of point, and trout are almost guaranteed, Black Buzzers on a long leader working as well as anything.
The area where the shallow water drops into the depths is always worth exploring with a small lure like a Damsel goldhead on a clear intermediate line.
TIP: AVOID HARD CLAY OR ROCKY BOTTOMS. ANY EARLYSEASON LARVAE WILL HATCH FROM THE SHALLOW SILT BEDS.
IF your thoughts are on catching an overwintered fish rather than a fresh stockie, then you may have to go hunting. These larger fish will either be well out in open water, where you will need a boat to find them, or close to the shore in shallow protected areas.
If your chosen reservoir has a creek, then start to fish at the very shallow end, particularly if it has been recently flooded. Fry feeding may still be taking place and a lure like a Minkie is the best fly to try.
Besides grown-on rainbows, you may hook an oversize brown trout here.
If any weedbeds are left over from summer, concentrate around these.
TIP: CAST AS CLOSE AS YOU CAN TO ANY OVERHANGING BRANCHES OR VEGETATION. BIG FISH MAY BE LURKING BENEATH.
YOU may end up in a bay through no fault of your own. But don’t despair, fish will come in at some time during the day. Your best plan of attack here is to use Buzzers under an indicator cast out as far as you can. Bays really come into their own later in the season when the buzzers start to hatch in earnest.
TIP: TRY TO GET A POSITION ON THE SIDE OF THE BAY AS CLOSE TO OPEN WATER AS POSSIBLE.
RODS: Go for an 8wt fast-actioned rod. This will give you maximum distance casting opportunities as well as coping with any wind. If you buy a ten footer, then you can use that rod in the boat as well.
REELS: You will need a wide arbour reel with at least two spare spools to carry your extra lines.
FLY LINES: Besides your WF floater, you will need a clear intermediate and a fast sinker like a Di-7. Many anglers now prefer to use one of the Airflo 40 Plus series from the bank to gain that extra distance.
LEADERS: Don’t worry about too delicate presentation at this time of the year. Ten to 12lb fluorocarbon is ideal for lures; 8lb for nymphs.
LINE TRAY: If you are wading, then it is a good idea to use a line tray around your waist to prevent the fly line sinking into the water and coiling around bits of weed.
LANDING NET: Go for a net with a spiked handle. Then you can stick this into the bottom for when you need it. It also marks the spot that you are fishing.
CLOTHING: Standing for long periods up to your thighs in water requires the right thermal clothing.
Start with thermal underwear and long johns. Then wear a modern lightweight rollneck top, plus a fleece and a wading jacket.
Neoprene waders are the best bet during early season but breathables can be used when the water warms up a bit.
Protect your fly line by using a line tray strapped around the waist
YOU won’t need a vast selection of flies for the start of the season. The fish have not seen many so won’t be too fussy. For lures, use black and green, white and green and orange — preferably with Fritz and marabou tails. Fish the lures slowly with a figure of eight retrieve on a slime, slow-sinking line or sink-tip.
Successful lures would be Cat’s Whisker, Orange Blob, Orange Fritz and a marabou-tailed Damsel.
Try the nymphs during the warmer part of the day between 11.30am and 2.30pm, either fished static or beneath an indicator.
Productive nymphs are likely to be Black Buzzer, Diawl Bach and Cruncher.
Reservoirs, tarns, llyns and lochans all provide another scenic dimension to our summer stillwater sport in more distant parts of the UK.
By June, the trout should be feeding well on the surface as all manner of aquatic flies hatch in good numbers. However, if you are a Stillwater angler and looking for some surface action, then head north or west.
The English reservoirs do not offer the surface sport they once did. There are plenty of theories why, including the aerial threat from cormorants and the feeding of trout in cages with sinking pellets. But the most likely reason are the vast swarms of protein-rich daphnia clouding our reservoirs.
There is simply no reason for a rainbow to stick its head up. All the food it ever wants is in the depths. Northern and western reservoirs, often constructed on acidic, or low alkaline soil, are not as rich in food or as eutrophic as their southern counterparts. The chance of catching a genuine grown-on rainbow here is much smaller.
But you will find a wide range of insects, plus the important terrestrials that get blown onto the water, to bring the trout to the top.
Trout stocked on a moorland, or upland, reservoir, soon get used to looking upwards for their food. Small upwinged flies like the claret dun assume greater importance, as a good hatch during the day can produce a spectacular rise. This species can be identified by its hindwings which, unlike any other mayfly, are paler than the main wings.
A fall of these tiny terrestrials can occur at any time. Then watch the trout go mad with rises everywhere
Confined to upland moorland areas, these mating beetles can hatch in vast swarms on warm days
The northern version of the terrestrial hawthorn fly, the heather fly is identified by its orange legs
A small olive sized mayfly found on the more-acidic waters that will produce good day-time rises, even in a wind
These will generally be smaller than in southern waters and looking upwards for their food
Always expect a home-grown brownie in these older waters. Browns were originally stocked before rainbows
This hard-fighting strain of rainbows do well in the food-poorer but cooler waters of the north and west. They retain their condition
An easy food source for predatory trout like brownies, upland waters will often hold minnows if fed by a stream
An important summer insect on northern waters, the nymph or creeper is used as hook bait
These aggressive spiny-backed little fish haunt the shallows. Every so often, the trout will turn onto them, particularly in autumn
The caddis or sedge can be imitated at various stages in its life cycle. The adults hatch at dusk
CATCH & RELEASE
THE upland areas of the north and west of the country are rich in waters large and small. These are usually reservoirs, constructed more than 100 years ago, to supply water to the then burgeoning heavy industries. However, that now belongs to the history books and these reservoirs offer ready-made locations for trout fisheries. Many are owned by local clubs and can be fished on a very-reasonably priced ticket. And nearly all will be catch and release.
Don’t expect the thick silver vermillion-sided fish you will catch 200 miles south. These fish usually turn darker and slimmer once they have been caught and returned a few times.
Blue trout do well in these upland venues. It used to be brook trout but these are now hard for fish suppliers to get hold of.
These mature waters are normally as clear as possible but have neither the weed nor the algal growth found in waters further south. So the first step is to scale down your tackle and leader strength.
Depending on the wind strength and size of water, choose between a six-weight or a five-weight 10ft or 9ft 6ins rod. There is a growing trend to use lighter rods in longer lengths.
All you should need is a floating line, or a slow-sink like an SSI, that hangs just below the surface for some nymph work. But today we’re going to fish dry fly.
DUNS & DIPTERA
THE weather is warm, breezy and cloudy, ideal for good hatches. Look along the reedy margins or in the grass for insects that have recently hatched.
June is a good month for olive hatches, but on upland acidic waters expect also to find the claret dun which the trout will eagerly take from the surface or subsurface. Claret duns are a similar size to lake olives but you won’t find such large females.
Classic dry fly imitations include the Claret Dun, Iron Blue Dun or a Kite’s Imperial, all around size 14. But a darker CDC dry should do. A fall of black gnats can occur right through the spring, summer and autumn as winds dump the swarms onto the water to the delight of the trout. Calm days will see dying insects trapped in the surface film after the rigours of mating.
There are plenty of dry Gnat imitations, but you might do just as well with a small black Spider or Bibio fished just beneath the surface.
Later in the summer, look out for the heather fly, an ungainly flyer that is easily blown onto the water where its characteristic orange legs create a disturbance rarely missed by the trout.
In Wales and Scotland, expect the coch-y-bonddu, or bracken clock, beetle. On warm days, the mating beetles can create huge swarms which, once blown onto the water, bring the trout to a surface feeding frenzy. The classic pattern uses a body of peacock herl and a hackle of red cock although there are some new close-copy patterns around.
CADDIS & STONEFLIES
BENEATH the surface, a rake through the inshore pebbles will reveal other surprises, like the tasty larvae of one the largest groups of aquatic flies, the Trichoptera or sedges. Of the 193 British species, no fewer than 148 make cases out of material like small stones, gravel and small sticks. Flies that imitate them include the classic Stick Fly or the Cased Caddis. Fish these flies close to the bottom on a floating line and long leader.
The pupal and adult stage are even more important to the angler and we will be looking at these next month as they are found on waters up and down the country.
Although more important to the river angler, the stoneflies, or hard-winged flies, can be found on the shoreline of stoney lakes. The males of some of the larger species are incapable of flight as the wings hardly exist.
The stonefly nymph, or creeper, is a popular northern hook bait for trout where allowed but hard to imitate. However, the adults are on the wing from April to June and include Yellow Sally, Needle Fly and Willow Fly.
It’s rare to find any coarse fish in these upland reservoirs, except maybe a few small perch, but sticklebacks will usually be present in the margins and maybe some minnows if there is a stream entering. Both will offer another food source for the stocked trout.
Because of their age, most of these reservoirs will have probably been stocked with brown trout at some time or another and, provided there is a stream for them to spawn, their progeny should live on for future anglers to enjoy.
A caddis nymph uses bits of stick and gravel to build its protective case.
TACTICS & TACKLE
GET to the water early to take advantage of any early hatches. Terrestrials will appear later in the day. If casting is easy, you will have chosen a 5wt rod between 9 and 10ft. If more windy, then go for the six weight. You may also want to try a double taper fly line for more sensitivity and accuracy in the cast.
Use a tapered co-polymer 12-14ft leader tapering down to 5lb. Start off with a single dry fly, with both leader and fly lightly greased. If the breeze gets up and they are taking sub-surface, shorten the leader, add a dropper for the dry fly and fish a spider, nymph or drowned emerger on the point. The dry fly will act as an indicator.
If the move from trout fishing small waters to boat fishing large reservoirs is a daunting prospect, here’s our introduction to the basics. It's sure to help make you a much better boat angler...
Boats offer a huge advantage to the reservoir fly fisher. They allow the angler to cover more areas of water far quicker than roaming the banks. And when using a drogue - long, slow drifts over fertile fishing areas leads to impressive catches.
To the small water angler boat fishing can sometimes appear too much like hard work. Howdoes one tackle the boats, the engines, oars, drogues, anchors and all the safety elements? Well it’s not as complicated as it might first seem.
These areas provide an excellent food source. Two currents meet concentrating insects and other trout food.
Seagulls and other fish-eating birds betray the presence of coarse fish fry. It’s a safe bet that the trout won’t be far way.
On breezy days these can reach across the reservoir. Insects and other food items can accumulate in the edges.
Watch for other boats repeating drifts. They’re most likely catching fish but don’t offend by getting too close.
When these birds skim the water’s surface it’s certain that there’s an insect hatch going on. Trout won’t be far away!
These warm water areas can provide excellent buzzer beds with overwintered fish often patrolling through the weed for pupae.
Underwater structures make good habitat for trout food and therefore a large trout is always close by.
Find these areas and you’ll catch fish. All kinds of trout food gather here for cover. Trout patrol the edge in search of a meal.
Early season trout prefer a depth of 8-12ft. The water’s starting to warm now and insects begin to hatch. Trout move in.
On bright sunny days the trout may descend to deeper, cooler water for comfort. It’s now that fast sinking lines are used.
Tiny protein-rich crustaceans, water fleas, gather in huge numbers at certain depths and the trout hoover them up.
Coarse fish fry and insects gather around the weed
attached to the chain. Cast nearby as both attract the trout.
Always wear a lifejacket. Most waters insist on this and enforce it vigorously. Eye protection, sunglasses, are a must because when sharing a boat, a strong gust of wind can send a team of flies, some weighted or with double hooks, very close to your head. So, obviously, a hat is also advisable.
And another thing, always remain seated as standing up in a boat leaves the angler off balance with the inevitable dangers of falling in.
Your first session should always be with an experienced boat angler as they will operate the engine confidently leaving you able to get used to being afloat. But engines aren’t something to be avoided. Ask one of the fishery wardens for a crash course and you’ll soon be on your way with confidence.
Now for one of the most common mistakes made by first time boat anglers – broken rod tips. Make sure all rod tips are inside the boat and not protruding over the edge - especially when leaving the boat dock. It only takes one bump with another boat in a crowded boat jetty to bust your expensive Sage or Loomis.
Engine instructions and guidance from wardens is available.
SHALLOW BEDS – These areas are prime buzzer beds with many an overwintered specimen fish casually sipping in fat, juicy chironomids. Don’t get so close to the shore that you end up grounded on the bottom. Stay far enough away to allow easy casting into these areas.
Look at the contours of the bank to assist you with estimating the depth of the water. A steep bank may mean deep water and a flat bank may indicate shallower water. Look for ‘turned up’ swans feeding as this indicates a good depth of about four feet, the swan’s reach. This is a prime shallow depth for good-sized fish feeding on larvae. A feeding swan also disperses larvae in the weeds making it a larder for the trout. Use a large reeled tape measure with a weight on the end to find the exact depths. From a few feet to eight feet is a shallow bay.
Try fishing small nymphs like the Buzzer, Cruncher and Diawl Bach and fish them static or with the slowest of retrieves on a floating line. Fish a short line (don’t cast too far) to avoid spooking any fish in the shallow water. These shallow bays are excellent for dry fly fishing to keep the flies off the bottom and free of any weed. Try small shuttlecock dries in size 12/14 in red, black and hare’s ear.
DROP-OFFS – Occasionally the underwater bank suddenly slopes off from shallow to deep. These are natural holding areas for trout.
Drop-offs are usually found on points where silt has been able to build up causing the ‘ledge’. These are usually found by visually seeing them. You need to look for the bottom then it suddenly darkens as it drops away. You’ll see them easier on brighter days as you’ll see the shallow bottom protruding out with the darker parts down the side. This is ideal hunting ground for trout. They’re usually near dam walls too where quick depth is necessary.
Try fishing sinking lines on the drop-offs with Boobies being a favourite. Cast over the drop-off and fish the Booby slowly over the ledge onto the shallow water and wait for that take! Also try nymphs fished over the ledge as trout move over the ledge into the shallows to feed on them.
POINTS – The beauty of these areas is that two currents meet and therefore food items congregate for waiting trout. Look for a natural point on the land. Approach the point from about 80 yards so you don’t disturb fish feeding on the point. Try to avoid drifting straight onto the point but drift across it. This means you will fish both ledges as you approach and as you drift across to the other side, so doubling your chances. Boobies are a good choice but fish are here to feed along the shallow points on nymph larvae so try nymphs. Use a team of Crunchers, Buzzers and Diawl Bachs fished extremely slow.
WIND LANES – These lanes can form across the whole length of a water on blustery days. And they are a hotbed for surface feeding fish. Insects are clogged at the edges of the lane and trout cruise along mopping them up. Don’t drift down the middle of the lane as you’ll spook fish. Instead, drift parallel to the lane and cast in the edges to intercept fish.
Fish are feeding on food trapped in the tight surface of the wind lane. Dries are always excellent fished here. Match the colour to those on the surface and place your dries across the lane with one on the edge and the others across it. Using a Booby stroked across the lane can be devastating but try a wet fly like a Claret Bumble behind it to turn follows into takes. Continually cast across the lane stroking the flies back for best results. Casting straight down the lane will only spook fish cruising up it.
DEEP WATER – On bright summer days the fish will go deep to escape the sun’s glare, as they have no eyelids, and to reach cooler water. It’s now that the sinking line comes into its own. Fast sinking lines like the Di-7 are essential now. The Booby allows you to cast out and let it sink for long periods without snagging bottom. Best Boobies are orange, Cat’s Whisker or Sparkler for this time of year. Cast out and allow to sink for up to 40 seconds or so on the hottest of days and slowly figure-of-eight back. This keeps your fly in the cool zone for as long as possible. Many trout take on the curve when the fly is at its deepest, just before the line becomes vertical and lifts off the bottom. Stop retrieving here for a few seconds then slowly lift.
EARLY SEASON – Fish will lay in 8-12ft of water – usually April to mid May. Fish on to windward banks about 50 yards out. You need to be fishing slow now so a sinking line with Booby is ideal. Orange, Black or Coral Boobies are best. As you are fishing 8-12 feet of water the Booby won’t snag bottom, but conventional lures will. With the wind blowing in, the warmer water is likely to be found here so nymphs may emerge off the bottom. As the day warms up try a floating or midge tip line with a small heavy Black Buzzer on the point with a Cruncher and Diawl Bach on droppers. Fish extremely slow or try fishing them under an indicator.
MID-TO-LATE SEASON – Fish start to move to deeper water as they search for food and long drifts across middle of lakes can be very rewarding. The fish move out with the food, especially the daphnia. On a cloudy day try using Orange Blobs (pictured below) pulled fast on medium sink lines and if it’s sunny use a faster sinker. You may also try a Booby on the point with a Blob on the dropper and pull the Booby fast across the top causing a disturbance to attract the fish. They also follow the adult fly across the middle as it drifts with the wind so dry flies may well be worth a go, but try to fish in wind lanes where possible. Doing this will really increase your chances of coming across much more fish.
WIND DIRECTION – The daphnia or water fleas form a high-protein diet for trout and these tiny crustaceans are blown downwind. The wind direction is arguably one of the most important factors in flyfishing. It dictates so much, like where the food is being blown; where the warmer water is being blown in the cooler months; where the cooler water will be (off bank with wind coming off); which direction surface feeding fish are heading and where insects are likely to be blown off banks and trees etc.
Daphnia will rise to the surface in cloudy weather and is rushed downwind in the rolling waves - so, predominantly, fishing for daphnia feeding fish is often best downwind. Watch the wind direction for several days before fishing, to see where the water fleas are likely to be gathered. Best flies are Orange Blobs and Boobies for daphnia feeders or the Cat’s Whisker fished fast on sinking lines. The rate of the sinking line is dictated by the cloud or sun predominance.
If the lake has a tree line you may want to fish near this bank as insects and terrestrials will be blown on to the water and the fish won’t be far away.
Rising fish will usually travel up against the wind so, if you cover a rising fish, cast several yards upwind of the initial rise. Don’t cast where the fish first rose, it’ll be long gone. If fish have been feeding on adults off the surface then the bank with the wind coming off it is likely to hold more trout as fish travel up there in search of food.
FEATURES – Buoys, towers, moored yachts, submerged trees all offer a food source as insects gather on ropes and around trees for safety.
All sorts or morsels hang around these features with fry and corixa some of the favourites. Cast close to the feature and retrieve past it.
If fish are on fry then try a Minkie on a sinking line and slowly fish it past the feature. Crunchers or Diawl Bachs are great corixa patterns so fish these slowly on a floating line beside the feature. Reservoir anglers catch so many fish consistently fishing around all the buoys across the middle of Grafham Water and the like. Keep moving around them all and eventually you’ll find fish, however, most underwater features will hold at least some fish. During later season, look for moored yachts, jetties and submerged trees for fry feeders. Remember to use strong leader line as the fish know the snags just as well as you do!
SLOW DOWN YOUR DRIFT WITH A DROGUE
1. Having attached the drogue to the boat, open it out before releasing.
2. Throw it in and let the boat open it out like a parachute as it drifts along
3. The open drogue slows the boat’s drift allowing more time to fish an area.
4. Pull in the drogue before motoring around ready for the next drift.
USING AN ANCHOR
YOU may well prefer to anchor the boat in a likely hotspot. Most boats come with an anchor already on board. Lower the anchor quietly. A noisy chain grating against the side of the boat will scare fish. Similarly, when retrieving the anchor don’t drop it in the bottom of the boat as every fish close by will be spooked.
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.
Many trout fisheries are now open all year, but getting the most from these small trout waters when using fly fishing tackle can be quite a daunting prospect for some. Here's how it's done...
As the water temperature starts to slowly climb, natural insect life begins to increase and the trout respond accordingly.
Small waters are usually 10 acres or less. Some will be permanently coloured from the underlying clay soil or surrounding vegetation. Others will be crystal clear due to underground springs or gravel beds.
Each type of water will require a different approach as the season goes on, but in the opening weeks standard techniques will catch you fish.
The water will be freshly stocked for the new season and will contain a mixture of new fish and wiser residents left over from the winter. Many fisheries now offer catch and release giving you the choice of whether to keep your catch or return them.
And do make sure that you have a current rod licence!
The inflow point or stream entry will always attract trout, particularly in warm weather. This area is normally shallow so be cautious in approach.
A stream-fed lake may well support a wild brown trout population. Look for the small wildies in the shallows feeding on nymphs and shrimps
Well-wooded banks provide ideal cover for trout and an easy food source of beetles and terrestrial flies. Search under trees for bigger fish
Many weedbeds no longer die back in winter so remain home to sticklebacks, hoglice and coarse fry. The wiser resident fish will be found here
Trout can’t keep away from clean gravel beds, especially on a warm day when they like to cruise the shallows. This is a good area to try a dry fly or weighted nymph
F. DEEP HOLE
Any resident brown trout will be lying deeper during the day, waiting for evening to rise higher in the water. Target these fish with lure and sinker
Another popular spot for feeding trout as a current is created here. Trout will often lie in position, waiting for any food that about to be sucked down the pipe
H. OPEN WATER
Stock rainbows will cruise the open water in a loose shoal, often circling the lake like a stock pond. Look for fish topping as they move along the bank.
PROMONTORIES: Fish that are running along the bank will have to pass any promontory, point or peninsula. These spots are always the most popular for any bank angler as they give you the opportunity of being able to cover a lot of water. And even if a head wind is a problem, if you are on the end of the point you can turn enough to fish your flies across the wind. Tip: Get up early to bag pole position on the end of the point
DAM WALLS: Most small fisheries were dug out at some time so will invariably have a clay, brick or concrete dam where you’ll find the deepest water. Casting out from the centre of the dam will usually find the deepest spot on the reservoir, particularly if there’s an old submerged stream bed that was originally flooded.
These areas will always hold fish but may also be the most crowded with other anglers. Here you can often expect the fish to be close in to the bank, so long casting is not an issue. Dams are traditionally the place where fish are stocked, because it’s easier to get the stocking lorry down to the water.
Tip: Strip your line into your landing net to avoid snagging any loose bits of grass or twig.
PLATFORMS: Purpose-built wooden platforms offer the angler the chance to fish areas where otherwise it might be difficult to cast because of a high bank behind or thick surrounding foliage. It may pay to keep moving round the lake from platform to platform.
Tip: Watch your line on the woodwork or any wire netting protecting the end of the platform.
ISLANDS: Whether manmade or natural, these features always hold fish, particularly on the shelf leading up to the island. But they may need a good cast to reach them. Islands invariably hold trees and thick undergrowth which, in turn, encourages insects which can drop onto the water. You may need to put your fly as close to the island as possible
Tip: The most awkward spot to reach invariably holds a fish or three.
INFLOWS/ OUTFLOWS:Anywhere there is a current will attract trout. Food is naturally wafted into these areas and the trout will just lie there waiting for an easy meal.
Tip: Look for trout hanging close to the bank in these hotspots.
OLD WEED BEDS: With winters not as cold as in the past, weed beds no longer die away completely. These can be hard to locate visually early in the season, so prior knowledge can be an advantage. These areas will hold food like hog louse, shrimp and fry all year round.
GRAVEL SHALLOWS: On a larger fishery, like a gravel pit, you may find non triploid resident females shoaling in shallow water to try to get rid of their eggs. And on warmer days, all the trout in the lake may seem to be basking in the shallows.
Tip: On warm days in shallow water, try a dry fly.
RESIDENT FISH: These are trout that have been in a fishery for some weeks, or maybe the whole winter period, and will usually be out at long range or keeping to cover such as deep water, old weed beds or overhanging vegetation such as willows. In essence, they become smart and move to areas of the fishery rarely disturbed by anglers. Early season they will typically be out over deep water.
Brown trout may not be in season until April or maybe mid March in some areas and almost always keep very close to the bottom of the lake in early season. This is why you sometimes find them with thin brown leeches on their body. Brown trout seem to take longer than rainbows to get in condition.
STOCK FISH: Freshly-stocked rainbow trout will quickly set off to cruise around the lake to explore their new surroundings. But because they are used to a crowded stock pond existence, they will initially stay together in a shoal.
If it’s windy, stockie trout follow the breeze and end up on the downwind shore. Otherwise they tend to shoal in the deeper areas before the shoal gradually breaks up as the fish go their own separate ways and start feeding naturally as they acclimatize to their new home.
Bigger fish tend to go it alone and will more likely follow the bank quite close in. Rainbows tend to zoom around quickly in midwater while browns skulk in the deeps.
Rainbows can be caught within minutes of being stocked, especially to bright flies with plenty of movement. Browns can be much more reluctant to begin feeding and you will do best with smaller, imitative patterns or maybe a black lure fished slowly along the bottom. However, on larger waters browns when stocked in numbers can initially act very naively and ravenously hit any fly. You may have to move away from them.
When you arrive at the water — try to get there as early as possible — look for any signs of fish moving. These will usually be new stock fish, but there may be some resident fish moving as well.
Pick a swim where the wind aids your casting, particularly if you can cast across the breeze and let your line come round in an arc. It’s unlikely that the fish will be very deep so you can either use your floating line with a longish leader, or a clear slow-sinking intermediate line to bring your fly through the water layers that much deeper.
Probably the most consistent flies around are the goldhead Damsel Nymph and Cat’s Whisker. These will take fish all year round, so they’re great bankers to start the day with. Go for a smallish Damsel Nymph like a size 10 or 12 but make sure it has a long sinuous marabou tail. It’s this movement that provides all the trout attraction.
Choose a Damsel Nymph with a
long marabou tail, providing that allimportant
Tie on the fly with a two-turn water knot or a Grinner knot. Moisten the coils and pull them up slowly to check the knot is firm. Otherwise fluorocarbon can pull free.
Search the water by fan casting. If no takes come, repeat the process allowing the fly to sink deeper on each series of casts until you snag the bottom, or catch a trout.
Vary your retrieve from a slow figure of eight, to jerky pulls, and then long slow strips. But whatever you do, never be in too much of a rush to pull your flies out of the water at the end of the retrieve. Just leave the fly in the water for a few seconds and give any following fish the chance to grab hold.
Similarly after casting out, watch for takes as the fly is falling through the water. The leader or line will shoot out as the fish intercepts the fly.
If the weather is warm enough, it’s likely that some early buzzers will hatch. Capitalise on this by adding a Black Buzzer to a dropper about five feet away from the point fly.
Then if takes come consistently to the Buzzer, switch the point fly for another Buzzer of a different colour.
Fish your Buzzers very slowly so that they imitate the natural pupae ascending in the water.
One popular method is the indicator fixed on the fly line or leader at a set depth above the flies, to keep them at a constant depth.
A successful fly is the Booby with its buoyant eyes. This can be fished on any fly line but is probably at its best on a medium to fast sinking line and short to medium leader.
Stock fish are often quite unable to resist this fly so first make sure that Boobies are allowed by the fishery. And if you are intending to practise catch and release, don’t use a Booby as the trout often just swallow them down. Favourite earlyseason colours for a Booby are black and green, white or orange.
The same early-season colours will work for lures, leading to the success of the Viva and Cat’s Whisker.
The Black Buzzer, particularly the Spanflex or heavy-varnished version, will take fish from the start, as will Hare’s Ear, PTN and Diawl Bach.
EARLY SEASON FOOD
Bloodworm, or midge larvae, are present all year in silty areas of six to ten feet deep leading to the first buzzer hatches when the pupae ascend to the surface to hatch into the adult fly. Alder larvae start their shoreward migration. The fish eat any larvae likely to venture from cover. Pond olive nymphs might be about with hoglouse in deep water.
Stickleback shoals can also get eaten in shallow water where they begin to gather for spawning.
RODS: Action in a fly rod is either fast, middle to tip, or slow. This relates to the bend in the rod when it is under load, either from the fly line or when playing a fish. The best all-round rod for a newcomer is a middle to tip action, which is still stiff enough to create a tightish loop when casting but flexible enough to feel the line loading during the cast. Go for a 9ft 6ins two or three-piece seven weight rod. There are plenty of bargains to be had between £50 and £100.
REELS: At one time, a fly reel was for no more than storing your line. But today’s modern lightweight composite or aluminium reel is much more than that. It will normally have a disc drag, and a large or mid-arbor spool to minimise line memory. You will also need 100 yards of braid backing. Some fly lines are now supplied with a welded loop to attach backing. If not, use a nail or whip-finish knot. Finish off with a dab of Superglue.
FLY LINES: You’ll need a weight-forward floating fly line, and a spare spool holding a clear intermediate slow sinker. It may also be worth investing in a sinktip line. You may find it easier to cast with a fly line one size heavier. This will load the rod quicker.
LEADERS: Buy two spools of fluorocarbon leader material — 6lb for nymphs and 9lb for lures. Your leader length can vary from 12ft up to 20ft, depending on the wind, how the fish are feeding and your casting skills. Try to buy a fly line which already has a braided loop attached. Otherwise you will have to fit one (see Advice Squad).
OTHER GEAR: You will need an extendable landing net; pair of forceps to remove the fly hook or flatten the barb; a pair of polarizing sunglasses, snips or scissors, line sinkant, fly floatant and a hook hone.
CLOTHING: Fly anglers like to look the part on the bank so there’s a huge wealth of clothing to choose from. When it comes to footwear, on most small fisheries you will need no more than a pair of rubber boots. But a pair of breathable chest waders are a good investment for the future.
Compared to the drama of rushing water at the tail or head, the deep middle (belly or body) of a pool can look barren and uninviting, but it is a sanctuary for fish. Often big fish. The middle’s calm surface can be intimidating – a clumsy wader can send ripples far and wide, while the depth of the water can be uncertain – but this depth and stillness hides riches, if you have the patience to observe its character. Take the time to understand the currents, the effect of features such as boulders, overhanging trees and changes in depth, and then carefully consider your tactics and approach. Observation is the key: the more time you can devote to scrutiny, the greater will be your reward…
Resting lies and feeding lies
Trout are seldom faithful to one lie. There are occasions when a prime lie is found, providing enough food and shelter for a fish to take up residence, but it’s rare. More often, a fish has several lies, each serving a purpose. For example, on hot summer days a trout will hold in the deep, shady water, but at twilight it may move to the shallows to feed. Sometimes fish will move to a feeding lie and stay there for the duration of a hatch, before ghosting back to the comfort of a resting lie.
The most difficult places hold the best fish and none is more testing than a back eddy, where the current swings around and heads back upstream into slack water. Foam swirling in an elongated circle is a telltale sign. Take the time to study these areas to determine the speed and direction of the flow.
Sometimes you may have to face directly downstream and cast into a back eddy that is moving towards you. Because the flow is moving towards you (in an upstream direction) the flies will fish back to you in a natural manner.
Difficult wading or access may mean that you have to fish opposite your intended target, ie across the flow. It also depends on the nature of the back eddy. Here, a slack-line cast (see Fishing Downstream, below) will buy your flies a little more time before they drag.
A downstream cast may not be a dry-fly enthusiast’s first choice but faced with difficult access and meandering flows, it’s a useful tactic. You can get a longer drag-free drift by adapting your forward cast: rather than follow through by gently lowering the tip, maintain an elevated rod; the slack line created can be fed out by flicking the rod-tip downwards while simultaneously releasing line; this will create loose coils, which will lead to longer drifts and ensure that the first thing a fish sees is your fly.
When trout are on patrol, the best ploy is to “watch and wait”. You could rest on the bank or, perhaps, try wading into position and waiting for the fish to settle and regain confidence. Be prepared by having enough fly-line stripped from the reel and outside the rod-tip while holding the leader or fly in your non-casting hand.
While the bulk of visible activity may be in the middle of a pool, it doesn’t mean you should race there for your first cast. Whether you intend to cast upstream, or downstream, always fish your way to your intended target. For example, if rises are seen in the pool’s middle and you’re aiming to target them with a dry-fly upstream, quietly enter the water below them (even at the tail of the pool tail) before extending a short length of fly-line. Casts should be aimed where you plan to wade – as if clearing the way. It is imperative to approach calmly, to avoid creating a bow-wave.
If possible, avoid entering the water via steep banks, particularly if wearing felt soles. Although they provide superior grip on the riverbed, on mud or wet grass they can act like skis and could send you hurtling into the water.
I use copolymer leader and tippet because it is extremely supple and has significant stretch. Suppleness allows the flies a freedom of movement while riding the currents and stretch helps to protect against breakages or violent takes when fishing at close range. Forget about refractive index: the important thing about leader/tippet selection is matching it to fly size and circumstances. The finer the tippet’s diameter, the more natural it will behave on surface currents. Obviously, small flies benefit from finer tippets, but casting a dry Mayfly pattern into a niggling breeze on the same delicate leader may result in tangles, in which case think about beefing up the leader.
Increasing your leader length to 14-16 ft will vastly improve your chance of success with dry-flies. A long leader means less fly-line rests on the water and its thin diameter is less affected by the current and so a more natural presentation can be achieved over a greater distance.
Manufactured or home-built tapered leaders are infinitely better than a level section of monofilament in helping to transfer the energy of the cast to a weightless dry-fly. The knots in a tapered leader actually provide a little more impetus, which improves turnover during gusty conditions, or when using ultra-small flies. However, several knots along a leader can easily snag on surface debris, such as weed or leaves, spoiling the fly’s drift.
Nymphs are generally heavy enough to straighten a leader, in which case a slender, level length of mono’ can be used. It will have less surface area than a tapered leader, which has bulkier butt sections, and so will sink more readily and keep you in closer contact with your flies.
To grease or not to grease?
In the turmoil of a pool neck it can be worth greasing the leader to prevent it being grabbed by currents and dragged under when presenting flies close to the surface. But on the smooth surface of a pool belly, a greased leader becomes conspicuous; it leaves an indentation. In which case I think the last 3 ft of leader or tippet is best de-greased so that it sits a fraction beneath the film and is less detectable.
Spiders and wet-flies
Wet-flies or Spiders are not only for fast runs – they are worth trying in slower sections, too. Fish them down-and-across where the water is too deep for wading.
Pitch the flies across the flow with the cast angled slightly downstream. Once executed put either a wet or aerial mend in the line. Whichever you choose, the rod should remain angled upstream so that it can then be used to track the line’s progress downstream, allowing the flies to drift unfettered. Once the initial drift has reached its conclusion, either lift off and re-cast, or let the flies swing round. For longer drifts, pay out a little more line with a vertical rod sweep, which should generate enough slack for the flies to continue their drift. Throughout the process, an elevated rod and slightly tensioned line will help you to detect takes by watching the fly-line.
Paul’s favourite team
While a team of three wet-flies/Spiders is normal, a small weighted nymph occupying the point will help with turn-over and depth. My standard set-up is a William’s Favourite (top dropper), Orange Partridge (middle dropper) and a small beadhead nymph (point fly). Although a little unorthodox this method has proved itself many times with fish hooked at incredible distances that would otherwise have gone unmolested.
If the water’s surface is still and there is sufficient light (the sun behind you), fish can be located and stalked by sight. Trout naturally feel secure close to the bank and under trees, but armed with polaroids and a little stealth, it is possible to approach them on land before dropping a nymph or dry-fly in front of their noses. A little imagination may be needed when it comes to presenting a fly: you might try the catapult cast.
Deep water is often favoured by larger fish which, though dormant for long periods, can be surprisingly active in short spells, even in the middle of the day, when they may be seen rising in quick succession to several insects before sinking to the depths. It may be 15 minutes or even an hour before they show again, but the wait is worthwhile.