Two’s Company: Fly fishing on Devon’s River Otter

When it comes to getting the best from a varied stretch of river, two rods –or even two heads- are better than one. Dom Garnett joined Gary Pearson on Devon’s beautiful River Otter to enjoy some fine dry fly and nymph fishing.

“When we think of most river days in the trout season, most of us tend to take just one rod. This seems logical if we want to travel light, but it can be limiting. After all, the tackle needed to present a dry fly in a shallow, stony run is completely different to that for nymphing in a deep, swirling pool.

Having two setups allows you to fish very different bits of water and get the best from every turn of the river. An even more sociable solution is to fish with a friend and carry a different rod each. It’s excellent fun and by taking a different set up each, you can keep swapping and comparing notes.

I should know- because my recent best ever trout from the River Usk was caught this way; my brother had packed a short, light dry fly rod for the shallows, while I took a much longer rod to handle long leaders and heavy nymphs. Had I just taken one, compromise set up, I wouldn’t have caught that fish.

Today, there is a similar theme as I meet Gary Pearson on the Otter. Our two outfits for the day will be a 3wt Cortland Mk 2 Competition rod of  10’ 6” , along with a slightly shorter 2wt Cortland Mk 2 Competition rod of 10ft. While the former is just the job for long leaders, heavy nymphs and deep swims, the latter is more suitable for delicate presentations, longer casts when needed, and the dry fly.

Gary is a firm advocate of long rather than short rods on the river and has threatened to show me how to approach the small streams on the top of Dartmoor with a 11footer later in the season!  Back to today and the nymph rod has two bugs on it set 2.5 feet apart along with a foot of Cortland bi-colour indicator mono attached to a very long tapered leader with this set up very rarely do you involve any fly line outside the rod top so casting can take a bit of getting use to if you haven’t fished like it before.  The dry fly set up is a much more straight forward 9ft tapered leader down to a 2lb point.

At the business end, on the nymph setup both Gary and I are big fans of the new Cortland Ultra Premium fluorocarbon tippet at the moment. It’s reassuringly expensive, admittedly, but incredibly strong for its incredibly fine diameter. Ideal then, for a small river where you might need some finesse but enough stopping power to land a surprise monster.

Poetry in motion: The River Otter


It’s not hard to fall in love with the River Otter. It’s a meandering and varied water to put it mildly. The poet Coleridge was also smitten by it; although by all accounts he was too busy scribbling verse and frolicking with the ladies to spot many trout.

As the place he learned to fly fish, the river has a special connection to former England international Gary. And while our sport is always prone to the “things ain’t what they used to be” or “you should have been here last week/year/century” comments, he assures me the river is still in good health.

There’s plenty of river to fish, too.  Day ticket guests have several beats to try at the Deer Park Hotel, while locals could also apply to join Ottery Fly Fishing Club. There is also a limited amount of free fishing at Otterton, but do check carefully!

Explore everything

 

One of the things I love about river fly fishing in Devon is the whole “hide and seek” aspect.  When watching an angler like Gary,  one thing you quickly notice is how often he’ll drop into the smaller, awkward or less obvious spots too many of us walk past.

Our first stop today is a point in case. A little swirling crease looks barely worth a cast; but a nymph gets an instant response and a small brownie gets us off the mark. In these rough little pockets, Gary’s long rod and duo if heavy nymphs is ideal.

Wild trout otter

The next little piece of water is similar- not much bigger than a coffee table of turbulent water gushing around a tree stump. I try with the nymph this time; and just where you’d expect, there’s a sudden jolt on the line. I’m surprised to connect with a pound plus fish that wallops the fly but comes adrift seconds later.

Just like the old days? 

Whatever the reasons given, the decline in fly life across so many UK rivers has been glaring in recent years. But is that always the case? “Don’t tell me, the hatches used to be so thick here, you couldn’t see the far bank!” I tease Gary.

However, as we approach mid morning, we keep seeing olives coming off the water. From early dribs and drabs come dozens at a time, in fact, of little pale watery olives, along with odd samples of other species from cinnamon sedge to a lone “proper” mayfly. Out comes the dry fly rod.

Pale watery olive fly fishing

We find a decent colour match in the fly box, but even a size 18 emerger seems large compared to the natural flies. A fun-sized trout lashes out first, but it is the meaty, steady rises a few yards further that really capture our attention.

After a few casts with no interest on a pale fly, Gary switches to a slightly larger, darker size 16 Klinkhamer, which does the trick. After a delicate sip, however, the expected half-pounder turns out to be something much larger altogether. Indeed, the next few seconds are hair-raising and it takes careful handling from Gary, not to be broken.

Gary Pearson Cortland Fly fishing lines UK

When you’re on camera, you don’t want to add any extra pressure, so the best policy is usually to keep your mouth shut and avoid the obvious bits of advice as you snap away.

Gary Pearson specimen trout river otter devon

What a fish it is that hits the net, too! Sixteen inches –or around a pound and a half- of trout is a phenomenal fish for our Devon rivers, where they average less than a quarter of that.

Meandering on…

After releasing the fish, the hatch shows little signs of any let up for a good hour or so. My first dry fly fish of the day could probably be eaten by Gary’s, but every single trout we catch is noticeably fat and well-fed. Whether the river is especially rich at present, or local farming is small scale and not reliant on chemicals it is wonderful to see.

Gary Pearson Turrall fly fishing

Even with flies on the wing slowing down by late morning, what we have seen is categorically the best fly hatch I’ve seen for several years on any English river! Even when it tails off, we keep bites coming by switching back to the nymph rod, which is perfect for deep and more turbulent spots where there are no rises.

The short line/ high rod approach might not be as “pure” as the dry fly, but is such an underused method on our Devon rivers, where classic dry fly or New Zealand style tactics tend to be the way with most anglers.

What’s really noticeable about Gary’s 10ft 6” rod is the feel of the takes too- for anyone who assumed a rod is just a rod, you can really feel the taps and tingles of interest through the competition blank! It’s a lovely way of fishing which, once you get used to it, can really winkle out extra fish and change the way you fish a river.

Mayfly fly fishing

There are odd large mayflies joining the party by lunchtime, although the trout don’t seem to be dining on them just yet. There is also evidence of beavers here, as a well-gnawed and felled tree shows. At first I’m sceptical-but the chisel like tooth marks in the stump could not have been caused by anything else. I’ll let you decide whether this is good news or a bit ominous for our rivers!

Beaver River Otter Devon UK

There is certainly no shortage of variety on the Otter though, as we keep on the move. One minute, we’re high sticking in tumbling water; the next it’s side casting under a shallow, leafy glide. The fish are still here, if a little challenging now.

Dom Garnett fly fishing Devon UK

As we make our way back through the fields, we’re still excited about that large trout and the morning’s biblical scale fly hatch. Having two rods has definitely made a difference, allowing us to search every last corner with the right key for each lock.

Fly Fishing the Hawthorn Hatch

As predicted, Spring almost seems to have been bypassed this year and as we enter early summer, our rivers are  dramatically coming to life.  Chris Ogborne takes a look at the enigmatic hawthorn fly, a species now well on the wing, with some expert tips and recommended fly patterns.

“There are many signs in the countryside that Spring has truly arrived: The swifts soaring and screaming overhead, the first cuckoo call and the first brood of hatched duckling paddling in the margins.  But for me, there’s a humbler and less obvious candidate – the first Hawthorn flies hovering over the hedgerows.

spring fly fishing in Devon
Unless you’re lucky enough to fish a river that has a decent mayfly hatch, these jet black flies are likely to be the first real feast of the season for the trout.  The hawthorns are prolific, for one thing.  They  can generate huge swarms and the fish love them.  Once used to them, they will rise with total abandon often with a splashy rise form more often seen on Irish loughs  at Mayfly time.

Like the mayfly, however, the fish seem to take a week or so to get locked into hawthorns.  It’s almost as though the smaller wild brownies are afraid of their size, or maybe cautious would be a better word. I watched a little fish on the Fowey this week, rising from the river bed as each insect passed over him, but failing to find the confidence to take it.  I’ve seen this behaviour before and even on the big lakes you can sometimes observe rainbows slashing at daddies without actually taking.

Hawthorn fly drowningNot waving but drowning! Temperature change periods are prime.

While you might need some patience, though, once the fish get a taste for hawthorns, there’s no stopping them.  So when do trout take advantage most? Well, hawthorn flies are particularly susceptible to temperature change and if there’s a cold snap or even if the sun goes in for a while, you’ll often see them falling onto the water in large numbers, at which time the fish get well and truly locked on.  Similarly in the evenings, as the days warmth recedes and the cool of evening takes over, there can be a significant fall.

Top hawthorn fly patterns and how to fish them

So which flies are best to imitate hawthorns? That old adage for fishing wild rivers is ‘any fly you like as long as it’s black’ has a lot of truth in it, and I’ll almost always start a days prospecting with the ubiquitous black gnat or an emerger version such as the Hi-Vis Black Gnat (below), one of my favourite barbless river flies.  These small, black flies imitate are readily accepted as a small hawthorne (or any one of many small terrestrials!) even without that characteristic pair of trailing legs.

But there’s  nothing like the real copy and the great thing about hawthorns is that they’re dead easy to imitate at the tying bench. You can exaggerate the all-black body and the gauzy, almost white wings with either a conventional pattern or even a parachute version, which not only replicates a drastically drowning fly, but makes it easy to spot in white water or faster runs.

Whichever pattern you try, fishing it well-drowned is often more productive than presenting it neatly; so think “in” rather than “on” the surface! If you don’t tie your own flies, Turrall produce several effective imitations, including the dry hawthorn (below):

Turrall winged dry hawthorn Enjoy Hawthorn time while  it lasts.  I have  a feeling that we’re in for a long hot summer this year as all the country signs are pointing to it, so make the most of  this early surface sport.”

Chris Ogborne

Small Stream Fly Fishing in Spring

After a rather cold, late spring, the trout fly season is finally starting to pick up on our classic smaller rivers. Dom Garnett reports on a testing yet rewarding start, including a battle with a real monster from a modest West Country stream.

“Although every season in fishing might look similar according to the textbook, things can be so very different in practice. So how did 2018 begin for you? Here in Devon, there was still snow in March; as we begin May, temperatures have varied from heat wave all the way back to winter chill. In short, it still feels like the rivers are two or three weeks behind.

I tend to start every new trout season with optimistic ideas, which quickly tend to give way to more practical realities. I’ve been fishing locally on the urban rivers, and also further afield with Wellow Brook Flyfishers in recent weeks. The fish have responded on each trip, but not as you might have expected.

Moorland or Lowland Streams?

Jig Nymph trout
Although I love the heights of Dartmoor and other wild waters, I actually find that the lowland streams tend to fish better in the early season. In fact, the urban locations are often that bit warmer and more sheltered that exposed, lofty rivers up on the moors and right out in the sticks. And when things are a bit chillier, this is the time to hit them; before the sun lovers and holiday crowds are out in force in our parks and suburbs.

I had a couple of lovely, if testing , recent afternoons on town rivers too, including Tiverton’s River Lowman. Like the fishing in Okehampton and Tavistock, the modest size of the average trout is more than compensated by their brilliant colours. That said, on each trip I struggled to get an early bite.

Usually by this time of year, I would expect to start seeing some fish in shallower water and steady runs of only 18” or so deep. Not so far in 2018. I can’t remember the fish ever being so clustered on these little streams either. Some really juicy little weirs and pools produced two or three fish within minutes; others have been completely luckless. Go figure!

One really useful tip is to increase the depth you present your nymphs if you are really struggling. The usually reliable “duo” or New Zealand dropper is not always the answer, either, once you need the wet fly to fish well down. Better to use an indicator- and with the need to get right down I won’t hesitate to step up the fly size and use quite a large indicator that won’t pull under too easily when it’s trundling the bottom at around at three or four feet.

Best flies for early season on small rivers

off bead nymphs jig Turrall
Perhaps the real revelation this season have been nymphs dressed “jig” style. I’ve been field testing several new “off-bead” flies for Turrall, which are already filtering through to some of the shops . With an up-turned hook point they are superb for deeper presentations and definitely snag less and run through likely spots effortlessly. In a nutshell, this seems to lead to more trout and fewer losses!

It certainly adds confidence when you can bump a nymph through a rocky pool, knowing that you’re unlikely to snag. And for every spot that seemed lifeless, the next or next but one would produce a sudden hit and another lively trout. These fish are still rather skinny after a tough winter, but fit and beautiful nonetheless!

Winning the pools

Of course, trout sitting deep and rivers being rather full are not altogether negative for the angler. One thing you do notice as a bit of a beanpole angler is that you can get much closer to the fish without scaring the spots off them!

I can seldom get so close to the trout, even in a deep pool, when it’s high summer. Again, they seem to have really clustered up lately. You find nothing in the runs and tail of the pool and then, suddenly, two or three from the same small area, usually with extra depth and some cover nearby.

As gratifying as it is to get those first fish, however, there is part of you that craves dry fly fishing. Even a single hatching fly makes you scan the water more carefully. Occasionally, there have been some large dark olives, but alas I must admit that I’ve barely seen a rise in a whole month.

Large Dark Olive fly life
Not for the first early season spell, then, I have finally managed to tempt a fish or two not by matching the hatch at all, but by being a little more provocative. After all, while the shallows seem devoid of fish at first inspection, pocket water and the tumbling stuff around boulders, perhaps with more sanctuary than meets the eye, is well worth testing.

Small river fly fishing Devon
I don’t bother with tiny flies unless there are hatching flies and obvious risers, however. In fact, against your instincts, a big hairy sedge tends to work better in the more turbulent water.

Elk Hair Caddis Turrall
A size 14 Elk Hair Caddis (above) with plenty of floatant was the breakthrough fly this April. I like a sedge to be extra buoyant so I can wake it slightly through tumbling pocket water swims and little corners. It can feel like a heavy handed tactic, until suddenly… wallop!

Dry fly fishing April Devon
My first take or two on the sedge were missed by trout, or angler, or both. Then again, both man and fish were probably a bit out of practise with dry flies as you might expect. Next time there was no mistake though. A small trout, but beautiful and that first dry fly fish of the season is always cause for optimism. Things are sure to get better, too…

A monster from the Wellow Brook

Finally, I was also the guest of the wonderful Wellow Brook Fly Fishers recently. It was a sparkling day, the best of the year so far in face, and is all set to make a special Fishing Club of the Month feature for Fly Fishing & Fly Tying magazine in the next month or two.

Neil Keep, Wellow Brook Fly Fishing
You cannot beat local knowledge and I picked up some fantastic tips and spots to try from club member and fellow South West Guide Neil Keep. In fact, luck was truly with us and we couldn’t have picked a better day.

The local farmer’s ice cream shack opening just as you indulge in some trout spotting was one bonus; but the real highlight was an absolutely cracking wild trout that I hooked in a deep pool. At around a pound and a half, it was really well fed for an early season fish too.

small river, big brown trout
Like on the urban streams, our bites were concentrated in a just handful of spots. The biggest beast took a jig style nymph and really stretched a four weight to the limit! Do look out for the full story, not to mention some fantastic fly fishing tips from Neil Keep, in the article.

In the meantime, let’s hope the temperatures get steadier and hatches increase, because after the winter just gone, we could all use some sunny cheer. Till next time, happy fishing, best of luck and don’t forget to take some bigger nymphs to really search those pools, because you never quite know what you’ll hook next.”

 

Fly Fishing at Fernworthy Reservoir, Dartmoor

With some better weather and fly hatches arriving, the Turrall staff have been back to one of their favourite trout fisheries in Devon, the beautiful Fernworthy Reservoir. Dominic Garnett reports on a testing but excellent day’s fly fishing, along with successful flies, tactics and one or two surprises.

“The arrival of ‘true spring’ is never incredibly exact. This year, more than any other, it has been cold, wetter and later than expected. And with the rivers still high and difficult, it has been a case of getting out onto the reservoirs instead for some sport.

Fly fishing Fernworthy Reservoir
Fernworthy Reservoir is a particular favourite with the Turrall crew. Even so, I wondered whether it would be a little early for the fish to be very active. How wrong was I though, because as Simon Jefferies, Gary Pearson and I set off, there were fish rising everywhere. Very small brownish buzzers seemed to be the culprits, as lots of shucks and hatching adults proved.

Buzzer fly shuck fishing

We tackled up with five and six weight rods, although with the lack of much wind we could have gone a bit lighter, I suspected. All three of us went for long, fairly fine leaders (5lb droppers) of at least 15ft. This is dependent on conditions, but definitely helped us get good presentation in the calm spells, allowing flies to land well away from the heavier fly line.

Flies and tactics for Fernworthy

There was only the lightest ripple on the water as we began, suggesting it might fish hard. I hadn’t fished here in a while, but remembered small loch style flies worked well when there was a good breeze. But with gentler conditions and such small naturals hatching I went small to start with, with spiders and buzzers in sizes 14 to 18 (although even these looked big compared to a lot of the real flies). I had a small, dark wildie right from the off on a Black Spider, but then struggled to get another bite for a while.

The others were struggling a bit too, initially, so it was a case of experimenting until we got it right. Gary mixed it up with some different nymphs and even the odd mini lure, but as before, it was his use of buoyant flies as part of a team of three that I found most interesting about his approach. You always pick up good little edges from these competition anglers- even when they’re just fishing for fun!

Best flies for Fernworthy Dartmoor ReservoirsSome of our fly choices on the day (Starting from far L, going clockwise): Mini Muddler (Golden Olive), Booby Buzzer, Black & Peacock, Quill Buzzer, UV Epoxy Buzzer.

The Booby Buzzer, for example, is a brilliant little fly of Gary’s design. Not only does it fish differently to a normal fly, tending to hang just in the surface film or below, but also changes the way your other flies fish. And when the trout are feeding in the upper layers it will keep your other buzzers higher up in the water too, almost like a mini washing line set up. Yet it’s so much subtler and more natural than the standard Boobies and buoyant offerings. It could just be my new favourite point fly !

It certainly worked for Gary anyway. While most of us use flies that sink and then rise as we pull them, he often uses a fly that is buoyant on the point, which will sink when he pulls. Or perhaps even deadlier, will suspend and just hang there enticingly when he makes a pause.

Whatever he was doing, it earned him the next fish, a cracking stockie putting a good bend in his rod. Probably our biggest on the day it went around 15″ and well over the pound mark. An excellent fish for Fernworthy.

Keeping mobile

Perhaps one of the most common errors for these Dartmoor Reservoirs is to stick to only one or two spots. That’s not to say you shouldn’t loiter if there are several rising fish in front of you, but with the browns quite territorial, it’s certainly good to move.

A quick word of warning here is to approach each new spot carefully, though. Tempting as it is to wade straight in and launch a long cast, quite often the fish were just a few rod lengths out. Hence it’s often a good idea to keep back and cast short for a couple of minutes first.

Fly fishing Dartmoor lakes

With the going tough early on, Simon put in the legwork to get into one or two lesser fished spots and it quickly paid off. He had a manic half hour with two landed, two lost, by doing something totally different though. The tactic that seemed to drive the fish nuts was a Mini Muddler fly, pulled just inches under the surface.

This fly is a favourite of Simon’s from many Fernworthy trips- but usually in a big evening sedge hatch, not late morning! For the record, if you come here in the summer, it’s well worth staying late and pulling a good sized Stimulator or Mini Muddler through the surface, because the fish can go nuts when the sedges are on.

Dartmoor Reservoirs Fernworthy Fly fishing
Gary then managed another fish after trying to provoke them a bit more by switching to a Cormorant. That was the last of the action for a while though, as the skies brightened and it seemed a good time to stop for lunch.

To the Dam…

There is access pretty much all the way around Fernworthy, making it a great venue for anglers who love to roam. We found plenty of space just along the lodge bank though- and with the daytime crowds picking up (and picnicking up), we ventured down to the dam end. The plan was we’d move again bank if no bites ensued within fifteen minutes or so (a good general rule). And so we moved spots towards the dam, looking out for rises.

Luckily for us, the sun that warmed our faces over lunch was more intermittent by now. It certainly felt like every time it got warm, the fish went deeper. But as the cloud came over and we got a slight ripple again, back came the odd rise.

The other notable feature of this area was an absolute mass of breeding toads in the margins. As keen as we all are on our fishing, these distractions are one of the great joys of a day out I guess. In one spot under the bank in particular there must have been about seven or eight all in a scrum, like some kind of Roman orgy for toads!

toads dartmoor
A lesser known fact about these beasts is how long they can live. Ten or fifteen is normal in the wild, but apparently in captivity they can make fifty! What has this to do with fly fishing? Very little… well, until the eggs hatch and the trout very possibly take notice of all the tadpoles! Small black lure in a fotnight, anyone??

Back to the fishing and while sport wasn’t easy, the trout were still willing to look at a small buzzer from time to time, at least when the wind raised a notch and carried our flies better. Just letting them swing across with virtually no retrieve seemed to be the way.


Perhaps the best moment of drama was with Gary, just as his cast landed. Having just nabbed a tiny little native, a much bigger fish gave a crash take at the surface. The hook didn’t set, but my own timing was more fortuitous, as I was perfectly set with the camera just as the surface exploded!

Surface take fly fishing Gary Pearson
I was only getting sporadic pulls meanwhile, but was glad I persisted with the smaller buzzers, because it was swinging these around in the breeze that led to the best wildie of the day. Following a few juicy head and tail rises perhaps a hundred yards before the dam, I was simply letting my flies move genty on the breeze, when the line jolted tight.

I’d assumed it was a “stockie” by the ruckus, but the more slender shape and milky edged fins suggested otherwise. It had dense spotting and an incredible blue sheen to it too. One of the best looking trout I’ve caught in quite a while and at 12-13″, a very good-sized “wildie” for here.

wild brown trout fishing fernworthy dartmoor
It was with reluctance then, besides satisfaction, that I pullled myself away from the lake to pick the wife up from work. Inevitably when you reach for the car keys, the fish begin rising again- and I left Simon and Gary to it.

What a beautiful venue and what excellent sport for our day out. Not easy, but certainly rewarding if you mix things up a little and keep mobile. I’m told the real cream of fly fishing on Fernworthy is on a summer evening when there’s a good ripple and the caddis are hatching. Hoppers and small terrestrials have also worked though. Failing that, however I would take light-ish tackle and fish a long leader with two or three small natural flies; you cannot go too far wrong with classic dark spiders and skinny buzzers.

I hope this little write up has given you an idea or two for your next trip to Dartmoor anyway- and the same tactics certainly work on all our brown trout stillwaters, whether free or day ticket. Here’s to an excellent season for everyone.”

Buy the flies…

For all the flies used in our trip, including all of our favourite fly patterns for Fernworthy and the other Dartmoor reservoirs, see your local Turrall dealer or order at a click from our online stockists, including www.troutcatchers.co.uk, Fly Fishing Tackle UK and FliesOnline.

Rainbows, Snow & Sparctic Trout: Spring Fly Fishing in the South West

After the coldest early spring in years, you might expect a slow start to the new season. However, as Dominic Garnett reports, the fly fishing has been surprisingly productive, not to mention full of surprises. Here are his reflections so far and tips for the coming weeks and months.

“Every time of year has its highlights for an angler, but if anything spring is my favourite phase of all for fly fishing. Why exactly? Well, for a start it always feels like the start of something, rather than the end. Even if rain floods the streams or hatches are sparse, all is quickly forgiven as the days get longer and everything feels more optimistic.

One to the Blob: a great fly for stillwater trout in the opening weeks of the season.

Apart from the British climate then, perhaps the only main headache is picking what to go fishing for! There are certainly plenty of options if you’re open minded. Some are obvious, others less so, but you could do a lot worse than to begin spring with a day on the reservoirs, which is where we start.

Fly fishing at Hawkridge Reservoir

Hawkridge Reservoir Fly Fishing
With snow still lying on the hills, I did wonder whether we had booked a day on Hawkridge a bit early. Nevertheless, hopes were high as I joined Simon Jefferies and Gary Pearson from Turrall for a crack at this pretty stillwater fly fishery in Somerset. It’s a venue I like very much for several reasons. First of all, its size is perfect. It’s big enough to provide space to roam and test your watercraft, but small enough not to be a needle in the proverbial haystack challenge.

As far as reservoirs go, it probably has the best variety of any trout fishery in the South West. A bold claim perhaps, but there are rainbow, brown, blue and gold trout, along with brook trout, tiger trout and even a brand new hybrid species called the “Sparctic Trout”. Actually, as a cross between a brook trout and an arctic char it’s not technically a trout, but we’ll spare you the nit picking.

Trout fly fishing reservoir Snow on the ground and colour in the water, but we were optimistic.

On first inspection, the water looked a little coloured due to recent rain and snow melt. It was kicking up a stiff breeze too, so I reached for a fast intermediate line and a lure. Gary Pearson showed similar pragmatism with a sinking line and bright booby, while Simon optimistically set up a floating line and two buzzers. I admired his optimism. Like the guy who lights up a barbeque and buys a crate of beer the moment the sun comes out in May, I guess there’s always one!

What an electric start it was too. We opted to bank fish rather than hire a boat, and began just to the right of the dock. Within a couple of casts I’d had a nip on an Orange Humungous; moments later another tug and I was locked up with a really strong fish. A supremely fit three pound rainbow was very welcome, but just the start of a surprising session.

Sparctic trout and hanging tactics

If my rainbow was a good stamp of fish to get off the mark, we were all intrigued as to what Gary had hooked next. His rod had taken a serious bend and as it neared the bank, he called across: “I think you might want to have a look at this!”.

Sparctic Trout fly fishing Somerset
It was a Sparctic Trout, no less, at the first attempt. What a creature too: the body is more oval shaped than the trout, with a more pointed, almost salmon-like head too (as you can see from the side by side comparison below). A new breed altogether, the first one ever caught in the UK was only landed in February 2018, making this a real novelty to witness.

Sparctic Trout and Rainbow Hoawkridge Fly Fishing

As bites thinned out, we kept trying different spots down the bank. It was the sinking lines that dominated in the wind, a little predictably, with lures in black or orange doing the damage. For me, the Humungous or  an Orange Blob (“the slag of all flies”) fished with a fast figure of eight worked well. For Gary, it was a small Booby, which he fished on a sinking line, giving two steady draws at a time, with longish pauses in between.

Despite earning some credit for trying natural flies early on, Simon then switched to an intermediate line and a lure too. In fairness, it was probably a bit cold for any significant hatch and the fish were still a bit “green” to be keying in on natural food. But after making the switch, he caught up in a blur- to the point where I was left wondering what trick he might be using to reverse his fortunes.

Wessex Waters Fly Fishing Reservoirs trout
One key on the day was definitely finding the right areas to try; there are various areas of shelter on Hawkridge; little bays and features such as trees sticking out from the bank, where presumably the  water is just that little bit warmer or more settled for the trout to feed.

The other big revelation was just how deadly the “hang” was for Simon, though. Hawkridge has a very definite shelf or drop-off at around two to three rod lengths out. This is a natural patrol route for fish and just the place to pause and slowly lift your flies late in each retrieve.

Fly Fishing the hang reservoir trout tips

As I discussed in my own recent blog on Farmoor Reservoir, most of us hang our flies too quickly. Simon was giving his flies a fairly lively retrieve from the off, but then slowing and lifting right over that critical “shelf”. By doing so fairly patiently each time, he kept his flies right in the take zone for ten to twenty seconds. Time and again it paid off, with a following fish abruptly lunging at the target late in the retrieve! Not only effective, but very exciting.

All the fish fought well, but it was especially nice to see a variety. Having been told that the Sparctic Trout are more territorial and like to hang around features, I fancied we might get another (they also sometimes cluster, apparently, and one angler had four from one spot!), but it wasn’t to be. We did get blues and a gold trout though.

Nor was our species tally over with this, because I even had a small jack pike. Not quite the sparctic I was hoping for, but I couldn’t grumble at all with the fantastic bags of fish we had. My best rainbow went four pounds and a bit and the fish were of such a good stamp I had more weight of trout than I had space for in the fridge (much to the delight of the neighbours).

Other flies and seasonal tactics at Hawkridge Reservoir

All in all it was a great trip then. I’ve fished here odd occasions before, but never so early in the year. If you do fly fish on Hawkridge later in the year though, it becomes quite a different beast. You can see where the drop off is in relation to the bank, because there’s a big belt of weed around the margins. Fish can be caught by dropping flies just beyond this (and waders are also useful) but I tend to prefer the option of the boat.

Early season fly fishing stillwaters UK

On previous visits, the other notable difference has been that floating lines, long leaders and nymphs were very much the way to go. Two or three buzzers or Daiwl Bachs on a 15 to 20ft leader is excellent, in fact, once the stock fish start to tune in to real hatches. A day with a bit of breeze is perfect. In fact, I can’t think of many better trout reservoirs in Devon and Somerset to drift buzzers from a boat, it can be really magical fly fishing. That said, emergers and small terrestrials are also good fun on the right day.

So, if you are in Somerset this year, Hawkridge is definitely among the cream of venues to target for a crazy variety of trout, including the new kid on the block “Sparcticus”. Opening times tend to be from around 9am until half an hour or so before sunset (but varies by the time of year), while ticket prices are £23 for five fish at the time of writing. Do check for further details and contact info here though: https://www.wessexwater.co.uk/About-us/Community/Visiting-our-reservoirs/Hawkridge-reservoir/

Spring fly fishing on the rivers and canals

canal fly fishing
Of course, for many other anglers the main event will be tackling flowing water again from now onwards. Snow melt and heavy rain has made for full waters but difficult fishing so far, although there are several rivers that will be well worth a go as soon as levels drop.

If you don’t mind a little company, there’s some free semi-urban fishing well worth checking out. Just a mile or two from Turrall HQ, there’s the River Okement in Okehampton (try around the castle where there’s public access). In East Devon there’s also the River Lowman in Tiverton; try beside Amory Park. Theo Pike’s book Trout in Dirty Places has loads more ideas too- and you can read more of his thoughts in his guest blog post from our archives.

For pure escapism though, it’s the wild waters that occupy my daydreams. That first day of the season when the fish rise willingly, the water is clear and a whole lazy day presents itself… just perfect. I can think of no better value or variety than the waters of the Westcountry Angling Passport here, with so much fishing from just six quid a day (or half price for juniors!). My favourite bits include the River Culm, not to mention the Little Dart, Little Yeo and many others. See: www.westcountryangling.com

Finally, there are also some other brilliant bits of affordable fishing on the canals of the West Country, which have no closed season. As the days get warmer, you might find a bit of algal discoloration, but this eventually clears and there are a whole host of fish to go at.

Roach and rudd are perhaps the most common and willing on the Grand Western Canal and Bridgwater to Taunton Canal. Both are fishable on a day ticket too (from Culm Valley Angling, just off the M5, for the GW Canal, or online at www.tauntonanglingassociation.co.uk for Taunton AA tickets.

fly fishing for ruddA fly caught rudd: these fish are obliging and every bit as beautiful as trout.

There are of course pike and perch to go at too at this time of year, but do please be mindful that these fish will need time and peace to spawn. They can still be viable targets in March and April then, but as soon as the water gets warmer around May, I would strongly advise not to fish for them on shallow waters, where they can be tricky to release safely in less oxygenated water.

Should you want a guide for any of the above venues, you could always drop me a line (domgarnett@yahoo.co.uk) while my website has further information on days out, along with my various books and fly patterns for coarse fish and trout: www.dgfishing.co.uk.

Wherever you cast a line next, here’s hoping for fine weather and rewarding fishing.”

Read more from the Turrall Flies Blog archives…


For free articles, tips and ideas on a whole range of fly fishing topics, our blog archives have plenty to read! Here are just a handful of topics we’ve covered:

Spider Patterns: 9 Deadly Flies and Tactics to Try

Fly Tying Step by Step: Tie the Perfect Quill Buzzer

Summer Fly Fishing, From Pocket Water Trout to Rudd

Catch more this season with Turrall Flies


For a huge variety of stillwater and river trout flies, not to mention proven catchers coarse fish and sea species, look no further than our award-winning range of fly patterns! For the best value of all, you might also like our FlyPods, which give you a whole stack of reliable flies in a quality double-sided fly box for less than £30! Find these and all our flies as singles at fly stockists across the UK, or order online from the likes of www.troutcatchers.co.uk and fliesonline.co.uk 

 

 

 

Fly For Coarse 2017: Winning catches & stories of the year

In a remarkable fifth year, the Fly For Coarse competition  produced a stronger list of entries than ever, including three specimen barbel, huge pike and over a dozen different species in total, from ruffe to zander. In fact, the judging panel of Matt Hayes, John Bailey and Dom Garnett had a heck of a job ranking them.

“Any one of five or six top entries would have been a worthy winner,” said Dom. “Each year the catches get better and harder to judge while, refreshingly,  the ethos continues to be about fun, initiative and skill, not just weight.”

“It was difficult to decide”, agreed Matt Hayes. “All the fish we considered were superb examples of their species, caught with finesse and thought”. So which catches really fired our imagination  the past year?

Overall Winner: 9lb urban barbel
(Angus MacDonald, River Wandle)


“Off the wall and absolutely inspirational” is how Matt Hayes summed up the panel’s verdict on this amazing catch, taken in a highly public location on London’s River Wandle. It definitely had that special extra something, whether it was the setting or the sheer magic and unpredictability the panel were looking for.

Spotting the fish actively feeding, Angus searched his boxes for a pattern that might work. Settling on a Crazy Charlie Shrimp (a fly usually meant for exotic saltwater species) he frantically tied on a 3X (8lb) tippet. The first three casts were ignored; however, at the fourth time of asking, the fly landed just right and the fish took it emphatically.

Just as remarkably, it was landed on a 4wt Orvis Superfine rod in a battle the captor described as “absolute madness!”.  Playing it right beside a busy road and retail estate, a growing crowd watched on in disbelief with one woman actually screaming to add to the drama!  After weighing the fish at 9lbs on the dot, it was carefully released. The winner gets a very special 7′ 6″ 3 custom made glass fibre fly rod, built with Bloke Rods components.

2nd Place Winner: 13lb barbel (Nick Thomas)

specimen barbel on fly
The biggest barbel ever seen in the competition (just over 13lbs), this fish was reward for the craft and dedication of Nick Thomas, a highly skilled angler who has caught cracking chub, carp and other species in previous competitions too. It was caught on one of his own heavy nymphs on summer opening day (June 16th)- and indeed, the first weeks of the season, when the fish tend to be hungry and active after spawning, are ideal for a crack at barbel.

“A fine capture, and in terms of skill this ticked all the boxes” thought Matt Hayes. All three judges thought it was an amazing feat and only pipped to second by a hair’s breadth. Nick wins a handcrafted wooden framed pair of polarising glasses from Old Youth.

3rd Place: 31lbs River Pike (Matt Roberts)


A fish that might have won the whole contest just about any other year, Matt Roberts had this remarkable fish from a relatively modest-sized section of river. Even more satisfyingly, he tempted it on one of his own tied pike flies in pink and lilac. The largest non-trout water pike ever landed in the contest, the panel were suitably impressed. To cap things off, he also landed a 19-pound fish to make it the session of a lifetime!

“I can only imagine how the water rocked when he set the hooks!” said Matt Hayes. “Seeing that thing loom up from the depths of a small river… it’s a really great story”.  Matt Roberts wins a set of Turrall’s flies for coarse fish and an exclusive Fly For Coarse T-Shirt.

Other prize winning entries

Besides the overall top three, there were some fantastic other catches. Perhaps the predator catches really summed up the difficulties the judges had. For example, Matt Healey’s Lake Windemere Pike of 18lbs 12oz (below, left) was also singled out for praise, and Matt Hayes actually considered it of comparable merit to the huge river pike for sheer challenge. “You don’t hear of many pike on fly from Windy” said Matt, “catching fish on bait isn’t easy but using a fly rod – that takes knowledge and guts.


Meanwhile on the Midlands reservoirs, Paul Monaghan had one of the contest’s best ever zander with a fine double figure fish of 10lbs 15oz, while Thomas Finney caught a lovely perch of 3lbs 13oz on a Humungous (above). For those who dare, these venues have some awesome predators to be targeted on the fly.

Carp were also well represented in 2017. Bobby Wright had the best fish on a natural fly, with an inspired 23lb mirror, while Jason Williams caught the heaviest carp in five years of the contest with a 36 pounder tempted on a deer hair mixer.

Not that entries had to be heavyweight species though. Trevor Dyson’s good-sized canal ruffe on a damsel nymph bought a smile to the panel. Meanwhile, the ever innovative David West-Beale had a specimen roach using Tenkara style tactics in a mill stream.


Other entries were hardly less remarkable, including a cracking 11lb barbel for Martin Smith which may have scooped first place just about any other year! All the top ten entries win an exclusive T-shirt or set of Turrall flies.

Final thoughts and further adventures…

While the panel had a tough time judging the contest then, it was for all the right reasons in 2017. Indeed, if these catches were anything to go by, the future seems bright for multi-species fly fishing in the UK.

“I really applaud all the entrants” said John Bailey. “I’ve always wanted to see the divisions between fly and coarse break down and for more anglers to appreciate the crossovers. Throughout most of Europe, these categories hardly exist and an angler is an angler.”

“It was a tough call, but I’d like to send out a huge well done to all the anglers taking part” agreed Matt Hayes. “We’ve seen some excellent angling- but the spirit of the competition perhaps also demanded that neither pure skill or pure luck should win. There has to be some romance and surprise- and it’s not all about the biggest fish for me, but the adventure and the story. This might not be the biggest branch of the sport, but it’s growing and so important. It embodies the spirit of fishing!”

Dom Garnett, author of Flyfishing for Coarse Fish, who founded the competition in 2013, could only add to the plaudits for all entrants. “All I can add is my thanks to all those who got involved, to our sponsors and the panel. It’s brilliant to see anglers continuing to broaden their horizons. There’s a great community out there now, who continue to surprise us each year. I’m sure 2018 will be no different.”

Join in the fun this year…

Which species do you want to catch on the fly this year? There are still so many venues and targets to try for, wherever you live. One excellent place to join the fun is the Flyfishing for Coarse Fish Facebook Group, a great source of tips, fly patterns and more.

Meanwhile, you can find all the current and past catches, along with handy tips and venues, on the website (www.flyforcoarse.com).

Do also look out for Turrall’s range of Flies for Coarse Fish, which cover many species from chub and dace to predatory fish such as perch and zander. If you’ve yet to read it, the book Flyfishing For Coarse Fish is also an excellent guide to all the main species, with tips, tactics and fly patterns to inspire your adventures.

 

Fly Fishing Challenges for 2018

With the new year upon us, Chris Ogborne takes a hard look ahead at what the coming season may hold for anglers of all disciplines.

***************
“I don’t much like January.  Never have.  Whilst I’m an eternal optimist about pretty much everything in life, it’s hard to escape the fact that January is the coldest, wettest, most miserable month of the year.  It’s grey too as there’s  little colour in the landscape, with short days and long cold nights.  Oh yes, and none of us has any money left after Christmas either.  We should hibernate, like sensible animals do.
Spring on the stream: Still a bit early to daydream about!
But maybe I’m being a little harsh.  The upside of January is that I can spend a lot of time armchair fly tying, in front of the wood burner and probably with a glass of warm red wine at my side (and if tying is your thing, you might also enjoy my blog post from last winter).
With every completed fly that heads to the box I can let the mind wander to a happier time, not so very many months away, when that pattern will be called to action. Whether it’s a sand eel for the beach, a dry for the river, or a hopper for Blagdon – the enduring glory of fly tying is that it takes your mind to warmer days and fishing!
But even daydreaming has a bit of a shadow over it this month, and I’ll tell you why.  It’s not overstating the facts to say that fishing as a sport is under threat, as is our angling liberty, as never before. The trouble this year is that there are clouds on the fishing horizon. Dark clouds. And these are just a few:

What future for UK bass fishing?


In spite of all the talk of “taking back control” and other bluster from all sides, it’s fairly painfully clear how ineffectual our politicians continue to be when it comes to protecting sea bass, still allowing EU bureaucrats to walk all over us.  The worst example of this, by a long margin, is in the new regulations that are laughably supposed to protect sea bass stocks.

In a nutshell, we leisure anglers can’t take a single fish home whilst commercials boats (of ANY nationality!) can land five tonnes each.  Nor does this take into account their ‘personal’ allowance of 15kg a day, or the fact that they throw back dead fish that don’t command the right price at market.  It’s utterly crazy.  There’s a large and coordinated protest day being planned for early summer against this madness – watch this space for more info and do support the Angling Trust, about the only major body directly fighting for angling on this issue.
  

Stillwater Fly Fishing: Use it or lose it!

 It’s not hugely better news on  stillwaters, where the sport that anglers have glibly taken for granted for so many years is under serious threat.  The Bristol waters have won a reprieve (for the moment at least) but the hard facts are that the accountants in the big water companies can’t fail to see that predator, carp and coarse fishing offer a much better financial return than stocked trout fishing.
 
The beautiful Exmoor lake of Wimbleball (above) is now essentially a watersports centre with sailing, rowing and kayaks replacing the old fishing fleet.  BEWL water is now a multi-discipline fishing centre and it won’t be long before Anglian Water take a long hard look at Rutland and Grafham. So many of the sport’s classic venues urgently need our support to continue as we know and love them, as you may have read from my blog on Blagdon. The simple message is plain to flyfishers – use it or lose it.  If we don’t support our fisheries this year and stop moaning about summer weed growth or stocking levels, then we soon won’t have them at all.
 –

Online vs local tackle shops

The shop at Garnffrwd Fishery, Wales. These places are so important to fishing, delivering so much more than bargain tackle!
Another thing we all take for granted is our local tackle shop. Well, the message here is ‘enjoy it while you can’ because tackle retailers, probably more than any other type of shop, are suffering massively from the growth of the online giants.  Far too many shops have already closed. The tackle trade is polarising like never before and if we aren’t careful we shall soon lose the luxury of going into our favourite retailer. As convenient as online ordering is, these dealers cannot offer us local information from knowledgeable staff, getting solid free advice and a hands-on ‘try before you buy’ scenario with tackle.
It saddens me hugely when I hear anglers say that they’ve been into a shop, talked through an outfit of rod reel and line with the owner, maybe even cast the rod as well, only to go home and order it all online for the sake of a few quid discount.  Support your local tackle shop, or you won’t have them much longer!

New Blood Needed

By far and away the biggest threat to our sport of all, however, is the next generation of anglers – or rather, the lack of them.  It seems harder and harder to get young people involved in this great sport of ours, and whilst the elements of costs and availability are relevant, it ultimately comes down to the CURRENT generation of anglers to involve and inspire the next.
fishing charity projects UKYoungsters at an Angling Unlimited event, proudly supported by Turrall. The project does vital work- but we must all do more.
 –
Depending on whose figures you believe, the average age of anglers in the UK is around the 50 to 55 mark, which is a terrible indictment of us all.  PLEASE make one of your New Year resolutions this year to take a youngster fishing, get them into the countryside and off their Playstations, and get them hooked.
This isn’t just a moan, I promise you.  We all need to do our bit at the moment and I’m personally putting my money where my mouth is.  In my guiding business, ALL youngsters under 16 years of age will fish for FREE in 2018.  No exceptions and no conditions, other than the stipulation that they’re accompanied by an adult.
I’m also setting up a tackle recycling scheme, based on the fact that so many anglers upgrade their tackle on a regular basis, often simply discarding old gear that’s still perfectly usable.  That same tackle can be the difference between a youngster being able to go fishing or not.  Again, watch this space for details. If we ALL do our bit, it WILL make a difference.

Optimism and action

In spite of all these challenges, I’m more determined than ever to have a positive outlook and support fishing proactively- as I know many others will. Ultimately, I guess the eternal optimist in me will win out! Lots of small actions can and do make a big difference- so get out there and support our shops and fisheries this year!
 –Early Season Fly Fishing
Next month I start the glorious process of getting my boat ready for the new season, always a pleasure and not a chore.  A good steam clean, polish the gel coat, new deck paint, and maybe new rod holders and she’ll be ready for April.  Thank goodness – Spring, sunshine and days afloat aren’t all that far away, while those suffering the most severe withdrawl could always have a crack at grayling fishing or pike on the fly (both subjects you’ll find covered with lots of tips on the Turrall blog!).
=
Here’s wishing one and all of you enjoyable fishing and a very Happy New Year. Let’s make 2018 a proactive one for supporting angling.”
Chris Ogborne
January 2018

Top Fly Fishing Christmas Gifts & Stocking Fillers for 2017

With frosty nights here and cheesy festive hits on the radio, you know Christmas is creeping up fast. While you’d rather be fishing, the family are getting their gift lists together. If we’re not careful, the result will be aftershave and socks. So instead, here are some perfect Christmas present ideas for fly fishermen and women, whether you’re dropping hints or looking to gift friends or family:

1. Turrall Bamboo Fly Boxes & Fly Selections (From £19.99)

Fly Fishing Gifts Turrall Selection Box

Game anglers tend to collect fly boxes like ladies accumulate handbags. Not all, however, are created equal. These split cane specials are not just practical but beautifully finished. Built to last a lifetime, they have been one of our bestsellers for years.

Find them in various sizes, or for a really special gift we also produce these ready-loaded with a selection of top quality flies, from deadly stillwater patterns to classic salmon, sea trout or grayling flies. Prices start at around £19.99 for the boxes, or £45.99 for the loaded presentation sets. See your local tackle shop, or order online from the likes of Fly-Fishing-Tackle.co.uk

2. Cortland Ultra Premium Flurocarbon Tippet (RRP: £17.99)

Cortland TippetEven the best fly needs a quality leader to present it properly, and from the first trials we gave this new product from Cortland we knew we had something special. At an RRP of £17.99 a spool, it isn’t the cheapest; but this is without a shadow of doubt the best tippet material we’ve ever used. Perfect for competition anglers and demanding situations in river or stillwater fly fishing. Ask your local stockist or buy online from www.troutcatchers.co.uk

3. Peter Cockwill Fly Selection Packs
(RRP: £6.99)

Peter Cockwill Fly Selections
Peter Cockwill needs little introduction when it comes to catching large trout on small stillwaters. We’re delighted to release these cracking patterns, from stalking bugs to damsels and dry flies, as designed and used by the man himself. Click here to order via www.fliesonline.co.uk

4. Peak Vice & Accessories

Peak ViceFor the avid home tyer, the best fly tying vices can cost an eye-watering price. This is where the Peak truly wins! A rotary vice with amazing build quality and a wide range of accessories, it’s brilliant value at an RRP of £169.99. Available from selected stockists, or try www.fly-fishing-tackle.co.uk who also stock the various accessories.

5. Turrall Fly Pod (RRP: £24.99)

Fly Pod by Turrall
Providing a whole selection of top patterns in a quality double sided box for well under £30, this has to be one of the best fly fishing stocking fillers of all time! Take your pick from a wide range of proven fly selections, whether you favour flies for lakes or rivers, loch style or salmon fishing. Click here to visit our friends at www.troutcatchers.co.uk for a great selection of Fly Pods.

6. Lucky Laker Fish Finder (Now under £100!)

Lucky Laker Smart phone fish finderFor those of you who fish large lakes and reservoirs, or try your hand at sea fishing, an easy to use fish-finder can save hours of guesswork. This handy model is not only user friendly, but creates its own WiFi signal to feed directly to your mobile phone. Shop around and you can find one for an amazing price too. Order yours from www.troutcatchers.co.uk for just £89.67!

7. Turrall Drop Shot Minnow Flies (RRP: £6.00)

Dropshot flies Whether you enjoy catching coarse fish on the fly, or like to dabble with lure fishing, here’s a neat solution from Turrall’s Dom Garnett. These are especially useful for drop shot presentations with perch and various other predators.
Click here to order yours from www.dgfishing.co.uk

8. Recommended fishing books

Best fishing books
When the inlaws have left and you finally get some peace and quiet, little beats a good book over Christmas. There are some excellent volumes around at the moment too. George Barron’s At The End of the Line (£25.00) is a fine work for anyone who enjoys wild waters and lough style fishing; while Freshwater Fishes of Britain (£14.99) by Jack Perks is a visual delight for any fish-spotter. Or for out-and-out entertainment value Dom Garnett’s Crooked Lines (£9.99) is a page turning collection of 24 cracking short stories and original artwork.

Catch more from the Turrall Flies Blog…

Action Fly fishing Devon Hollies
Talking of great reading, have you been following our regular blog lately? Providing fresh, lively content every month, it’s packed with great free fly fishing articles, with stunning photography and useful tips from the likes of Chris Ogborne, Gary Pearson and Dominic Garnett.

Take a look through our archives for a wealth of subject matter to read on your laptop, tablet or phone (click on the links for more):

Turrall fly fishing spiders
Finally, you can also get further news, tips and chances to win flies from our award winning range on the Turrall Flies Facebook Page.

 

When the going gets tough

Iffy, unsettled conditions can make the fishing hard for the best of us at times. So what can we do when the going gets difficult? Dom Garnett reports on a couple of tricky recent sessions for grayling and pike with the Turrall team, along with some fly fishing tips for hard days on the bank…

“Did you ever get the feeling you were up against it when out fishing? We all have those days when the conditions seem wrong or the fish just won’t play ball. This autumn has been especially tough so far, for whatever reason. Unsettled or unseasonable weather? Bright skies and low water? Or just bad timing?

In a funny way, I quite like the testing days. You could probably argue that they teach us more than the good times. And when the conditions do change and the fish are really back on it, those little lessons stay with you, making your successes even more satisfying.

Grayling Fly Fishing at Timsbury, River Test

River Test grayling fishing Timsbury winterOne of the great pleasures of winter fishing is the prospect of grayling on the fly, with several famous chalkstreams offering access at a more affordable rate than usual. £25 is great value for a day ticket at Timsbury (timsburyfishing.co.uk) , where I joined Simon Jefferies and Gary Pearson for a session.

From the off, I suspected it might be challenging. Low, clear water and sunny skies are often a tough combination, but if anyone could win a few takes it had to be Gary, who has international experience across plenty of hard waters. Hence I was keen to capture a few shots and see how he might overcome the odds.

The first thing you noticed was just how carefully he approached each spot. We hit the smaller carrier stream first, with Gary really ducking and creeping into each position. It’s no use standing bolt upright or getting too close to the fish when visibility is so high; you will simply spook the fish.

Fly rods for nymph fishing
Also in evidence was Gary’s use of two rods. Part of the reason for this was that he wanted to give the new 10ft 6″ 3wt Cortland Competition Series a run out, but he often sets up another rod where the fishing could be tough. On one he set up with a duo of heavier nymphs, with a size 12 on point, while the other rod used lighter nymphs. Indeed it was the lighter patterns, right down to PTNs and beaded bugs in an 18, that made the real difference in the low, painfully-clear water. Long leaders were also a must.

Turrall grayling nymphs in various sizes, including Pink Shrimp, Juicy Bugs and our off-weight nymphs (top row) to be released in early 2018.

What became especially apparent in the low flows was how much less the smaller nymphs spooked fish. It’s not even necessarily the size of flies in the water, but the splash as they enter (and we saw fish visibly spook at any pronounced plop). With rarely any more than three feet of water in the carrier stream, “point up” jig style nymphs also proved handy to trip the bottom without snagging, and Turrall will be selling these handy designs in early 2018.

The grayling weren’t big on average, but very welcome on a tough day. The best spots were anywhere with a little extra depth on the carrier stream, and often the first sign of a fish would be on the take. These fish are certainly tricky to spot when inactive, as the old English name of “Umbre” (meaning “shadow”) testifies.

Simon Jefferies Turrall Fly fishing
Not to be outdone, Simon was fishing New Zealand style in the shallow water and also keeping a low profile, both with small flies and a careful, crouched approach. After a few early nudges on the wet fly, however, the fish seemed to show more interest in the dry.

The higher the sun got, the more the grayling began to rise- and we were amazed at the amount of fly life coming off the water for late October. The real star of the show was a CDC Dark Dun Sedge in a size 18 (above): very simple, very subtle and convincing on the water.

I often find that sunny days are better for photography than for fishing. I certainly struggled to find a single pike with a couple of hours on the nine weight, while fellow predator angler Matt Healey fared little better. Hence I needed little invitation to rejoin the party on the main river as the afternoon encouraged a few smaller fish to rise.

Little CDC dries remained the way to go and we had a hilarious last hour, striking (and usually missing!) at a whole pack of mostly tiny grayling that were rising over the gravel to midges. They were lightning quick and every fumbled strike led to laughter and jeers as we took turns. Simon’s sardine-sized beastie here was fairly typical- not big, but a good sign for the future to see these in good numbers.

Pike fly fishing on the canal

If you thought catching rising fish on dries was a bridge too far by this time of year, surely pike should have been more obliging? Usually, yes, but they really hadn’t read the script for our earlier session on the canal, out in the sticks not too far from the Devon and Somerset border. Along with Simon, I met with Westcountry Angling Passport manager Bruno Vincent, who was keen to add to his pike tally.


The weed and bankside vegetation were still quite prolific, so I encouraged them to get stuck in, even in tight spots. A lot of anglers only fish the gaps, which I think is a bit of a mistake because the pike really like the awkward spots.

What a tough day it turned out to be though.  We saw several fish in the clear water, but few could be persuaded to follow and even fewer to actually bite. And even when they did so, the takes were very gentle, the fish just mouthing and not hooking themselves.

The moral of the story here is to strike low and hard if you are in any doubt! If you’ve spent the summer trout fishing, it’s against your instinct to give it some wellie on the take. You would obviously risk smashing light tippets with a heavy strike on light line- but with a pike set up (mine is 25lbs fluorocarbon to 20lbs wire) you can really give it some! Given their bony mouths and gentle takes on the day, this was essential.

It’s always great fun pike spotting on very clear waters, but could we fool them?

It was hardly electric then, but we eked out a few chances in the end. My usually successful pint-sized smaller flies got little interest for some reason, so we beefed up and used much bigger 2/0 or even 4/0 flies in shocking pink or yellow (patterns I’m perfecting for the Turrall range next year!). I think these annoy pike into striking at times, even when they’re not ravenously hungry. Whatever the logic, a change of size or colour can sometimes earn a take.


Every chance counts when it’s slow, and we eventually struck into some jacks to put a bend in our rods. We tried various tactics, but a slower retrieve with a few sudden twitches seemed best. I would always try a few casts with a vigorous retrieve just to test things, but when they’re not in the mood you can definitely fish a pike fly too fast. Bruno was first off the mark with a beautiful young fish of two pounds or so (above), but the best of them came in more bizarre circumstances.

I had seen a better fish on the walk back to the car for lunch, sitting right under the bank. It turned lazily and seemed to watch the fly for an age as I gently wafted it along. Cautiously and ever so slowly, the pike looked again,  finally opening wide and inhaling the fly as if to say “I really shouldn’t… oh, go on then.”

It was a skinny fish, with one of its eyes visibly clouded over. Could it be blind on one side? It didn’t seem to have any trouble finding the fly. Had it been plump and well-fed it could have been seven or eight pounds, but I would guestimate it at nearer to five. Very welcome nonetheless. I quickly released it and hoped it might find a good square meal soon.

Apart from one more jack and the odd follow, it was not much easier in the afternoon either. Like our grayling trip, that’s fishing I guess! You can fish well below your best on some days and catch a hatful, while the next trip will take all your skill and focus just to make one or two chances. Curiously, it’s not necessarily the big catches but this frustration and process of tinkering that makes fishing so fascinating.

One final tip to relay from both sessions is how important timing can be. If you have a choice of periods to fish, settled and overcast conditions tend to be easier. If it’s clear and bright, pike often feed best in the first hour or two of light, while grayling may only switch on a bit later, especially if the night has been cold.

I hope your next trip proves to be less testing than ours anyway. The pike were certainly livelier on another session as I fished a friendly fly vs lure head to head recently (and you can read a bit more about this and other recent adventures on my blog at DG Fishing HERE). Every day on the bank is certainly different and every session brings new hope. Here’s wishing you some good sport in the weeks ahead, regardless of what you’re fishing for.”

Further news, tips and more…

Don’t forget to keep an eye on the Turrall Facebook Page for current news, tips, catches and much more, including the chance to win exclusive prizes! This month we’ll be giving away some new fly patterns designed for us by Peter Cockwill, perfect for stalking big fish on stillwaters!

Peter Cockwill fly fishing Turrall

 

 

 

It’s not over yet: Making the most of the late season

The evenings may be drawing in and Autumn with us, but as Chris Ogborne expounds, the fishing season is far from over.

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” I feel a bit cheated this year.  My favourite month of September, normally one of the softest in terms of weather and the best in terms of fishing, was a bit of a washout.
I honestly can’t remember a year when Autumn arrived so emphatically. It seemed that in a period of just a few days we went from summer straight into the next season, with scarcely a pause for breath.  One minute the tourists were here in Cornwall and yet in the next the were all gone, seeming to take summer with them and leave behind only falling leaves.
 
It’s been grey, very damp, and not at all like the long Indian Summer days that we normally enjoy in September.  Half of the members of the boat club have taken their boats out of the water into winter lay-up and the last swallows and Martins have left for warmer climes.  The fishing community is bracing itself for what promises to be a long old winter
But it’s not all doom and gloom.  As I write this in the first week in October there is glorious sunshine outside, with enough warmth to get the thermometer in the garden up into the late teens, and the little trout in my stream are feeding avidly on something I’ve yet to identify.  It’s enough to get me thinking that I might take the fly rod down to the beach for a late Bass this afternoon – from a fishing point of view, the season is most definitely not over yet!
Whilst most trout rivers are closed from October 1st, there are still a host of reservoirs and small stillwaters open for business and after a season that can at best be described as ‘patchy’ the fishery managers will be only too pleased to see you.
Open all year: a cool day at Devon’s Bellbrook Valley Trout Fishery.
Most of the big reservoirs stay open at least till the end of the month, and whilst they don’t stock heavily at this time of year you’ll still have the chance of a top quality residential fish. These quality specimens that have survived the summer will be a real challenge, and in the cooling water they are best sought with subtle tactics.
Floating line and slow retrieves with a team of nymphs are the best way, making the most of the last two hours of the day as dusk draws in.  On warmer afternoon you can even get them to rise to a surface dry fly and a big hopper will rarely let you down.  The fish seem to know that winter is just around the corner and will often lose the caution and reserve they display in high summer.
On the coast, there are even more options.  I’m reminded that last year we had an absolute rock-hopping bonanza in November, which actually turned out to be our best month of the entire season. Using fly or LRF, I just love to go stalking individual Bass that come into the rocks in late afternoon, hunting the last of the sandeels or maybe punching through the kelp for prawns or small pollack.
Bass are still about, but you may need to go a bit deeper.
In recent years, another unexpected turn has been a fair run of Shad in the estuary and whether deliberate catches or otherwise, anglers fly fishing the sea later in the year from  are quite likely to be surprised. Harbour walls, boat pontoons or any rocky outcropwill give you access to the deeper water you may still find bass and pollack, and you never know, perhaps one of these beautiful, enigmatic fish.
Generally speaking then, you’re better off on the rocks rather than the beaches in October and November as you can access the deeper water.  The schoolie bass that give such great sport in warmer days have now gone looking for deeper water, so a bit of rock hopping is our preferred method on the estuaries.  Remember to take a line tray with you – nothing cuts through a fly line like mussel shells and the wave action has a nasty habit of washing the line all over the place if it’s not secured in a line tray
You may even be lucky enough to live near one of the rivers enjoying an Autumn salmon run, like my home river the Camel.  Here, we fish on till mid December and whilst the leaves in the water can be intensely frustrating it’s worth it when you latch on to a late run fish. The same is true in parts of Scotland, where there is still some “extra time” to catch that late season winner.
Running late: Can you spot the salmon in this picture, seen earlier this month?
So don’t give in to winter just yet.  We still have the glorious days of Autumn to enjoy and on the occasional balmy afternoon  when the sunlight sets the trees on fire with spectacular colour, the pull of the fishing rod is irresistible.
Grayling are another good reason not to hang up the rods as things cool.
Wherever you decide to fish, stay optimistic, get out there and you may be pleasantly surprised. Keep an eye on the Turrall Facebook page and blog too, as the team will be looking at flies and tips for various species over the cooler months, from grayling to pike. Frost and snow are just around the corner, so let’s get out and enjoy the countryside while we can.”
Chris Ogborne
October 2017