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

Sandeels, bass and opening time for saltwater fly fishing

Looking to fly fish the sea this year? The right time and tides to give it a try are fast approaching, reports Chris Ogborne, who highlights a key change period in the fly fishing year – when saltwater temperatures hit the magic double figures!

This week saw one of the key milestones in my sea fishing year. Our local weather forecast guru told the West of England that sea temperatures had reached double figures. Knowing that the estuary is always a little bit warmer, I took the thermometer down to the beach and sure enough, the magic 11 degree mark is registering.

sea bass on the fly
Along with the sand eels come the bass. Good news for the fly fisher, but you MUST currently release any you catch under law.

It’s uncanny and just a little bit mysterious, but  for a few years now 11 degrees is and has been for years the signal for the estuary to come to life , marking the ideal time of the year to start thinking about fly fishing in saltwater. To prove it I went up to Wadebridge and yes, there are Grey Mullet under the town bridge.  They weren’t there yesterday but now, as if someone had flicked a switch, here they are.
mullet fishing Devon
Mullet are one thing but Bass are another.  There are early bass in the estuary right now and  the numbers build as they come in hunting sand eels all summer long, but even this predictable behaviour has a cycle.  The first to arrive are the little bootlace sand eels, the ones you see in the their hundreds along the shoreline.  They’re here right now, providing food not just for the fish but also for the myriad of sea birds setting up home along the cliffs.  The arrival couldn’t be better timed.

Next in will be the main run of summer sand eels, the staple food item of so many fish and arguably the ultimate bait for Bass and most sport fish.  These eels are between four and six inches long, packed full of protein, and crucial to the survival and breeding success of most sea birds.  They normally show in Cornwall in early May, although with the mild winter and slightly higher temperatures it looks as though this could  be early this year

Sand eels Devon fishing
Early sandeels tend to be the “bootlace” eels. Imitate these with smaller patterns.

Close on the heels of the summer eels will be the fabled Launce, or Giant Sand Eels.  These guys are huge, often well over a foot in length and regarded by serious sea anglers as the ultimate bait for many specimen fish.  Big Pollack love them, as do so many species, and they are a must-have bait for a days boat fishing.  They’re also fun to catch, and we always have a lot of fun with clients catching a supply on feathers at the start of most days afloat.  It also gives anglers that rather satisfying feeling of catching your own bait – it feels that somehow you’re more deserving of the big fish you catch with them!

But of course, for most of you reading this blog, there is only one way to fish once our saltwater predators are on the chase, and that is to try fly fishing with an imitation sandeel! You could get at the vice with a selection of tinsels and fibres to tie some sandeel patterns, or indeed buy some proven ready made fly patterns. Whichever way suits you, Turrall have an excellent range of saltwater tying materials, as well as a range of deadly sand eel imitations in a wide range of sizes and colours (search for these under the Turrall name, or shop online with one of our recommended retailers HERE):

Sandeel flies for sea bass

My advice would be to use the bootlace patterns in the spring and early summer from beach or rocks, and then move up to the summer sand eel fly patterns in a few weeks time.  If you have the chance of some rock hopping over deeper water then bring out the eight weight sinking line and use the Launce patterns from June onward.

One final word of warning about bass however: Current legislation means that it is currently illegal to kill any bass you catch, even if it is above minimum size. We would always recommend practising catch and release tactics anyway, because bass stocks are precious. But please don’t be tempted to take one for the table until the ban is lifted- because it could be a costly mistake.
Naturally, many other species also eat sand eels and these flies work brilliantly for so many other fish.  Pollack, garfish, mackerel and wrasse have all been caught on these patterns, which are just part of Turrall’s selection of brilliant flies for sea fish, so give them a try this year.  There is fantastic sport to be had!

Mackerel on the fly, saltwater fly fishing UK

Chris Ogborne runs guided saltwater fly fishing sessions in Cornwall throughout the summer. For further info see his website HERE.

For more tips, giveaways and fly patterns for fresh and saltwater fishing alike, keep an eye on the Turrall Flies Facebook page.