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.

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