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.

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 

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

Top 5 Fly Patterns for the New Reservoir Trout Season

That most eagerly anticipated time of the stillwater fly fishing season is already upon us. It might still feel a tad chilly, but fly anglers all over the UK are busily sorting out their gear and booking boat and bank tickets for an exciting start to the reservoir trout season. But which flies should you bank on to get those first pulls of the season? Turrall fly designer and top competition angler Gary Pearson has five proven patterns to put a bend in your rod in March and April. Here are his must-have reservoir flies and his own thoughts on successful presentations:

“I have two basic approaches for fishing this time of year. The first is a floating line with the Heavy Black Buzzer (size 10) on the point with the Quill Buzzer (size 12) on a 6 inch dropper 7ft above it with another 6 to 8ft of nylon to the fly line. 
Black buzzer fly
Simple but deadly: the Black Buzzer

 Given a good ripple and active fish in the upper layers, this is the nicest way of all to catch. As with all buzzer fishing, retrieve sparingly, just keeping in touch with the line and watching for pulls, which are not always dramatic.

Quill buzzer Turrall fly pattern
The Quill Buzzer- one of Gary’s favourite dropper flies for the early season.
In an ideal world, I could happily fish a floating line with buzzers all day- but on those early season sessions you might need to be pragmatic and try something louder and more obvious! Hence my other approach is to switch to lures and use a Di3 slow sink line with 10ft between two flies and a overall leader length of 18ft.  It’s vital to find the level the fish are cruising at, and with this set up I count the line down to different depths each cast until I locate the fish. I prefer to do this with the Di3 because the line is so versatile. 
Cats Whisker, reservoir fly patterns
The ever dependable Cat’s Whisker, ideal for the first few weeks of the season.

I start the season with a size 10 Cat’s Whisker on the point with a Blob on the dropper. The Cat’s Whisker is one of those classics that seems to work every new season. Being a competition angler though, I do quite like a slightly smaller fly in a size 10, which can lead to fewer tail pulls and more full-blooded takes.

Blob fly, Turrall
The deadly Blob- cracking as a dropper fly to draw fish with a dash of colour.

The infamous Blob, on the other hand, is a newer addition but too effective to ignore (my starting choice is a Hot Orange Blob, size 10). Even when you’re not catching on it, that dash of bright colour will draw fish to your other flies.

As with any fly fishing, however, you can’t always depend on the same fly or formula each trip. Stock fish get a little wiser and conditions change, so as March turns into April, the Cats Whisker tends to get replaced with the Fab Cormorant (size 10). This is my own variant on a proven pattern, which has scored very well on Blagdon Reservoir in particular. I would fish this pattern with confidence on any reservoir though, and if the fish are particularly fussy I will sometimes fish two Cormorants.

Fab Cormorant, Turrall stillwater fly patterns
Gary’s Fab Cormorant. Ideal for keeping the takes coming when the fish get more picky in April.

My other advice would be simply to get out there and fish, rather than waiting until the warmer spring days. With the introduction of new stocks and longer daylight hours, early season sport can be fantastic. Do keep an eye on the catch reports and keep active to find the fish, because the fresh stockies won’t always be evenly dispersed. You’ll often catch from the bank, but boat fishing can be even better and you can always compare notes and depths with a friend until you hit on the right formula.

Happy fishing and do share any great catches on the Turrall Flies Facebook page!”

Gary Pearson British Fly Fair Fly tying
Gary is an avid fly tyer and former England international angler with a keen eye for detail; his expertise can be found in many of Turrall’s range of stillwater fly patterns.

Stock up now for the 2016 fly fishing season

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Our range of top flies, materials and accessories is always growing, while our team of experts at Turrall aim to bring you tips, fresh ideas and more throughout the season. Keep an eye on the blog and our Facebook Page for the latest news.

Turrall BFFI 2016

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