Tempting trout throughout the fishing year, bloodworm patterns are a useful addition to any angler’s fly box. Turrall’s Dominic Garnett reflects on a session with Devon guide John Dawson to uncover some ideal tips and tactics, along with a handful of the best bloodworm flies to use on your next trip.
A muddy morning in late winter is admittedly not the most glorious time to enjoy the Devon countryside. As we have an initial wander at Hollies Fly Fishery, near Honiton East Devon, the ground is still frozen solid and icy mist lingers. Nothing stirs and it’s the sort of day when you might wish you’d packed a spare jumper, rather than an extra box of nymphs.
Is this really a day for subtle or imitative fishing? You certainly can’t fault the optimism of Devon guide John Dawson, while fellow fly enthusiast Chris Tucker also joins us.
Testing conditions are not a cue for our anglers to thrash about with lures today, however, and you might say that both these anglers have a taste for blood. Indeed, John is a firm believer in fishing bloodworm patterns slow and deep for winter fish. Long experience tells him this is an excellent tactic, even in the dullest and least promising days of the year.
Where to Fish Bloodworms on Stillwater Fisheries
So what should you look for when seeking bloodworms and the fish that eat them on a stillwater? Aesthetics are a secondary consideration it seems. “It can often be the areas that look least productive,” John admits, “gravelly and muddy areas are ideal.” There is clearly nothing hatching as we take a preliminary walk around the fishery, but John is unperturbed by this. “Overwintering fish will really make the most of bloodworm, especially when other food is scarce.” The fact we’ve seen no trout so far doesn’t worry him either. “You won’t often see the fish” he admits, “they’ll be moving along the bottom.”
He sets up two six weight fly rods, one with a slow intermediate line, the other with a floater. His leaders are around ten feet, although he can always alter these as the day progresses. Each leader starts with a foot or so of coloured mono to aid bite detection. He doesn’t see the need to go ultra fine however, with 6lb fluorocarbon at the business end. “Getting the flies down to the fish is the real prority here, rather than fishing more subtly as we might when presenting flies higher up in the water” he says.
Bloodworm flies themselves vary greatly, and John has a wide selection. Do the fish always mistake these flies for the real deal? “Some are more realistic than others,” he admits. “The bigger marabou and flexifloss patterns must be ten times the size of the naturals, but they do work excellently. Good movement can be all important.”
He starts fishing on the smaller top lake at Hollies, which has a fairly silty bottom and looks ideal territory. In an era where many of our trout pools have become murky carp waters this pretty, tree lined pool presents the opposite story of a coarse pond converted into trout habitat. It is rich in bloodworm too.
John kicks off with a two fly set up: a size 12 goldhead on the point and a subtler, smaller pattern on the dropper. He degreases his leader to help it sink and flips out a series of neat roll casts to explore a few shady corners, letting his leader sink well before employing a slow, patient retrieve.
The objective is to keep the flies deep- although John does throw in the odd twitch to bring out the movement of his point fly. A couple of gentle takes come early on, which John at least spots if he doesn’t quite connect. “You won’t feel a lot of the takes on bloodworms; all you’ll see is a little draw or flick on the end of the line” he says. In his guiding John is quite often surprised just how many takes his clients fail to spot and always advises them to keep a close eye on the end of the line and strike at any movement.
The top lake is still very cold however. Just a few days ago it was a sheet of ice and the takes could perhaps have been little coarse fish mouthing his smaller nymph. Nevertheless, we have our first signs of life.
Chris Tucker is already searching a corner with a flexi floss worm as we reach the main lake. There are still scarcely any signs of cruising fish or insect life though, and so it seems that success must come from the depths if it is to come at all.
John opts for the slow intermediate again and keeps casting with his two fly set up, watching the line carefully and keeping the flies deep. With the action proving hard to come by he knows that chances may not be numerous and he must concentrate.
It can be all too easy to rush the retrieve or keep changing flies when the going is tough, but John proceeds unhurriedly, moving a few yards down the bank only when he has given the water in front of him a fair trial.
Patience Pays Off
Just when we’re wondering where the trout are hiding, a splash on the opposite bank steals our attention. Chris Tucker’s rod plunges over as a fit rainbow grabs his flexifloss bloodworm and hurtles away. He doesn’t rush this first trout of the day but simply keeps the fight in the open and lets the fish run out of steam. Five minutes later a beautifully silver sided two-pounder is in the net and a relieved Chris introduces it to the priest. First blood, you might say.
It’s interesting to note that our first bloodworm trout came close to the bank, at the bottom of the silty near shelf. It’s not the first take for Chris either, which is an encouraging sign. John is soon joining him on this area of the lake, which is also the entrance to a shallower bay where the water changes depth quite dramatically. Sometimes the fish will be anything but evenly spread in the winter and these sudden drop offs, depressions and passing places for fish are always well worth a look.
John thus casts with renewed hope, but his patient approach remains the same. The critical detail seems to be teasing the fly over the shelf at sufficient depth. Eventually, his gold head pattern triggers just the response he’s looking for: a positive draw is met by a quick lift and finally John’s rod jolts into life. The fish ploughs straight out from the bank, but with a 6lb tippet John knows that barring a hook pull, he can pretty much just keep the pressure on and enjoy a good scrap.
Having saved the blank though, it still seems that our anglers must work hard for takes. If nothing else, we’ve sussed out that the fish are hanging deep along the near shelf. Patterns are mixed and changed during the day, but large or small it seems that the fish definitely seem to want a little movement. It’s not easy fishing then, but you might well argue that the process of sussing things out and coaxing the fish to take is a good deal more rewarding than simply hauling them out in double quick time.
The action keeps coming intermittently throughout the afternoon as the anglers slowly but surely contact more trout. What isn’t in doubt is that bloodworms can produce where other tactics fail and our duo’s handful of trout represent quite a fair return in the end. John still rues the loss of a better fish as we call it a day, but he and Chris have proved a valuable point: when the going gets tough, a few bloodworm patterns can prove to be a real ace up your sleeve.
Recommended Bloodworm Fly Patterns
There are all manner of bloodworm flies to try, but it pays to pack a few variants in your fly boxes. It’s probably fair to say that the most natural flies are the smaller patterns. In the Turrall range, the Micro Bloodworm is our tiniest, in a size 18. This pattern was originally developed for coarse fish such as roach, rudd and carp, but also scores well for rainbow trout, especially when a little more subtlety is called for.
Flexifloss bloodworms come next on our list, having caught countless fish over the years. Our Bloodworm Nymph is a simple but deadly example of this, and is highly effective with a slow yet twitchy retrieve:
Less realistic but highly appealing to trout are our larger bloodworm patterns, making the most of marabou and other materials to attract fish. Our Goldhead Bloodworm is always useful when you need to get deeper or a breeze lifts lighter patterns too high in the water. You might argue that it is more like a mini lure than a true nymph, but it tends to work excellently with a very slow figure of eight retrieve rather than using “pulling” tactics:
Should you want even more movement and provocation, our Bloodworm Variation is another great pattern to get a reaction. The added flexifloss and straggle fritz make this one especially useful for grubby water and less than ideal conditions where the more natural flies struggle to get noticed.
For further bloodworm patterns and nymphs to try, see your local Turrall Stockist, or visit one of our online suppliers such as Trout Catchers or Fly Fishing Tackle UK. Should you want to tie your own, Turrall also provide a range of ideal materials, from the best fly tying threads to flexifloss and squirmy worm bodies.
Don’t forget to keep an eye on the Turrall Flies Facebook Page for regular news, giveaways, fly patterns and tips to inspire your fly fishing.
Hollies Trout Fishery, Devon
Located near Honiton, Hollies Trout Farm offers quality year round fly fishing in East Devon. A range of ticket options includes catch and release, while the fishery also offers a smoking and filleting service, lodges for hire and specail fishing breaks. See www.holliestroutfarm.co.uk for more information.
Guided Fly Fishing with John Dawson
John Dawson is a friendly and highly acclaimed GAIA qualified game fishing instructor based near Tiverton, Devon. Whether you want casting lessons or a day’s guided fishing, he caters for anglers of all ages and abilities. Contact John on 01398 331498 or visit his site at www.johndawson.co.uk