September Specials: Autumn Fly Fishing Tips & Favourite Fall Flies

On the very cusp of Autumn, Chris Ogborne looks at some flies that will help you make the most of September, an excellent month for fly fishing.

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Well, after a parched summer we did at last get some much needed rain in August and I suspect that the majority of fishermen and gardeners were heartily pleased to see it. Lakes were ridiculously low and rivers have been ‘showing their bones’ for way too long. The feeling is that we were all just a few weeks away from a national hose pipe ban.

However, now things seem to be relatively back on track and with a definite chill in the air this morning, I felt that Autumn was just around the corner. A drop of rain was enough to bring a few sea trout into our rivers here in Cornwall and at long last the flow is looking vaguely normal, not just in terms of levels but colour. For most of this summer, river clarity has been such that it made tap water look cloudy!

reservoir flies for autumn
So what does September hold for us? If you’re an observant angler, you’ll have watched the migrant birds departing and at the same time you’ll see nature stocking up ahead of the long winter months, with the fish being no exception. Evening rises have been prolific after the drought and it’s as if the fish know that this is their last chance of a good feed.

Early autumn always tends to be a good time to fish then, but this year could be even better than usual.  With that in mind, here are a few suggestions on flies that really MUST be in your box this month:

STILLWATERS

It’s Daddy Longlegs time! Morning, afternoon and evening you will see the ubiquitous Crane Fly on the water and you’d be a brave man to leave home without a few suitable patterns in the fly box. These include daddy imitations, but I also like Hoppers.

daddy longlegs flies

Claret and Black are my favourites, depending on cloud conditions, but even on a bright day the Claret Hopper (above left) provides all the silhouette trigger factors that the feeding fish need. Of course, if things are really kicking off, foam bodied daddies (above right) are also great fun and among the most durable flies to use when takes are regular and splashy!  For further tips, our previous blog on fishing daddy longlegs patterns is worth a look.

Stillwater flies for autumn

Following close behind the daddies, though, would be caddis patterns such as the CDC Sedge (above left) . Some good hatches can be had in the autumn and these flies work particularly near dam walls and stone banks. As the weed breaks up, Corixa (above right) will always feature in my fly box, too. Indeed, these bugs  can be quite active all year on large and small stillwaters alike, even as things feel a lot cooler.

Finally, September also provides some of the best buzzer fishing of the year, and for the last hour of the day from either boat or bank it will be epoxy buzzers all the way into darkness.

RIVERS

For the beginning and end of any season, Black is the colour and the ever faithful Black Gnat takes a lot of beating. If you’re fishing one of the rivers where there’s been significant rain, with those sluggish flows turning to white water, then the Hi Vis Black Gnat (below left) will be useful in helping you keep track of the fly in the fast water.

best river flies late season september
It’s also the time of year when Spider patterns come into their own, especially if bank growth has been prolific and brambles and nettles deny you a decent cast. Fishing downstream with a team of Spiders is an art form in itself and it enables you to reach those secret places denied to a conventional upstream cast.

Most of the classics will catch, including the classic Black Spider, Partidge and Orange or Snipe and Purple (above right). While we’re on the subject of classic soft-hackled flies Dom Garnett’s blog on these understated patterns is also worth a read here.

Evenings are drawing in a bit now, so depending on the hatch I also like to give the lighter dries an outing. We get a lot of lighter upwing flies down here, but almost anywhere you can use pale colour in flies to help you keep track of them as dusk encroaches, and the fish won’t mind too much because at this time of day they see more silhouette than colour.

SALTWATER

September has long been my favourite month on the coast, not least because most of the tourists have gone home and the beaches are quieter. This is my time for either a bit of rock hopping or very slow ‘stalking wading’, where I replace my usual two-fly rig with a single sand eel on a very long leader.

best flies sea fishing autumn
The trick is not to cast at all until you actually spot a fish – if you’re casting all the time you just create an exclusion zone around yourself as the big solitary bass that come in close at the time of year are much too wary. Very slow, soft wading is the key and the Turrall Summer Sand eel in olive (above, top right) or blue is top fly for this fascinating style of fishing.  Sometimes the autumn is the best time of year to catch a big bass too, especially after a hot summer with prolific fry like the one we’ve just enjoyed.

At the other end of the estuary, it’s also the time of year when we fish the little channels in the salt marshes, right up at the top of the tidal reach. Solitary bass will prowl in here, looking for mullet fry or baitfish and they’ll be opportunistic, often taking anything that moves! Turralls baitfish patterns will do the trick nicely- and as always the Saltwater Clouser Minnow (above bottom right) is a good all-rounder.

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Whatever your pleasure in September, make the most of this lovely month. The drought denied us all a fair bit of our usual sport this year, so get out there and make some memories to last you through the long old winter, because it’s only just around the corner!

Chris Ogborne
September 2018

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Red Letter Fly Fishing for Sea Bass!

In spite of the recent heatwave conditions, there has been some sensational saltwater fly fishing around the English coast so far this year. Chris Ogborne reports on some phenomenal action with sea bass in Cornwall.

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saltwater fly fishing cornwall UK chris ogborne

“It’s not often that I get really excited about fishing these days. At my age, you tend to temper over-enthusiasm with a little reality and there are few things that still get the adrenalin flowing at high speed.

But last week, I ran out of superlatives to describe the sport we had on one of my favourite beaches here in Cornwall. It was, quite simply, off the scale!

Picture the scene: I was hosting two friends for the week. John Pawson (former England International fly fisher and individual World Champion no less!) and Andy Payne, who although relatively new to the game is already a very accomplished angler. I was therefore understandably a little nervous about how good the fishing would be, especially in the light of the current heatwave, and also because the beach fishing in general hasn’t really switched on yet. In the event, I needn’t have worried.

bass fly fishing cornwall uk

For some reason, which I can only try to explain, there was a higher than usual number of very big bass coming in to this particular beach. This doesn’t usually happen until September, when the tourists have gone home and the big solitary bass come close in prowling.The only explanation I’d offer is that the fishing has been poor out at sea because of a lack of wind – we need a good storm every now and then to stir things up – and because of the heat and continued bright conditions.

Whatever the cause, the schoolies we normally play with have headed up into the estuary and the normally elusive big fish were here in numbers. Big numbers. Every ten or fifteen minutes or so we’d see a huge shape moving through the shallows, mopping up the prolific bootlace sand eels that are everywhere at the moment. And if you can spot these feeding fish, you can catch them.

I was using the new Cortland line which is proving a real delight to fish with. Supple in cold water and easy to handle even within the demands of saltwater flyfishing, where you constantly need a mix of long and short casting and lightning quick responses when you see a fish. The water was full of bootlace sandeels so our imitations were simple – the Turralls bootlace eels in pink, chartreuse, and blue, depending on water conditions. To clarify this point, you need the pink and chartreuse in any kind of brackish or ‘low tide’ water, whilst the blue and grey artificials are perfect when there’s a high degree of clarity in the water.

Sandeel flies specially designed by Chris. Find these from various UK suppliers including www.troutcatchers.co.uk

John and Andy were visibly excited when we spotted fish almost immediately, and I have to confess that I was too. If you don’t get a buzz when you see fish up to and beyond double figures in casting range, then you’re in the wrong sport!

John’s very first fish of the trip turned out to be his lifetime best sea fish, a stunning Bass of around 7 1/2 lbs. We spotted it, he covered it perfectly with around 20 feet of forward lead and we both gasped out loud when it turned and surged towards his pink sand eel. With an almighty swirl it took the fly. A full fly line then disappeared in seconds!


Such was the power and pace of the fish that he had to literally run through the waves to keep up with the monster that was heading for the Doom Bar at about thirty knots! Two grown men were giggling like school children – well, why not!! It took nearly twenty minutes to subdue, and a further five minutes to relax the fish before releasing it. The high five was a bit special!

Although I initially thought that this would be the high point of the trip, if anything it just went on getting better. Andy had never caught a Sea Bass before, so his first fish the following day which touched 4lbs or better, was a real moment. The pictures here show the quality of the fish we caught, but of course nothing quite compares with seeing them in real life. The pure silver flanks, the beautiful eye and the sheer power of them, all this makes it a genuine pleasure to release them back to the sea. The Bass is a stunning. fish and arguably the greatest challenge you can get on a fly rod, so these were memorable days.

Whether you fish by bank or boat this summer it certainly bodes well for the summer. Should you want to book your own special trip and make some memories, do take a look at my site.

boat fishing cornish bass on fly

In the end, I guess it’s a combination of factors that makes a top fishing experience. The tackle was perfect and performed faultlessly, the flies were exactly right and we just happened to hit on a unique set of water and weather conditions. Whatever the analysis, these were some red letter days with some special friends in a special place, and they will live in the memory for a very long time.”

guided bass fly fishing cornwall uk

Chris Ogborne
July 2018