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

 

 

 

Fishing Tips & Fly Patterns for Pike

Turrall angler and fly designer Dom Garnett has been getting stuck into pike this month. Here are some recent tips and favourite fly patterns, with photography by John Deprieelle. 

“With autumn arriving quite late this year, it’s only in the past fortnight that I’ve been actively targeting pike once again. Many of my friends are already kicking off with bait and lure fishing. But I’m not about to get out the pike bungs yet, because of all the ways to catch them in the autumn, the fly gives me the most confidence.

Not that autumn fishing is always easy. There can be a lot of debris in the water too, with drifting leaves and the summer weed growth yet to die back. Conditions and temperatures fluctuate and the pike are not always where you expect them. But the fly is a stealthy way to search a lot of water and little beats that sudden moment of connection with an angry, powerful fish.

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Peak Hours

Whether you like it or not, your weekend lie in could cost you your best chance of a big pike. Early morning is so often the prime hunting period for predators. That early phase of half light is when pike are at their most alert and prey are at their most vulnerable. Being on the water at the right time is key, so be prepared to rise early or warn the wife that you might be late home.

Find features or Prey?

Finding the pike can be another challenge in autumn. Should the angler seek out features and snags, or prey fish? Both strategies can work, but don’t always expect pike to be sitting right by the shoals of roach, rudd and bleak. They’ll often lurk a few yards away but will only predate actively for a couple of short spells in any one day.

Killer Retrieves

How fast you move the fly for pike is a matter of personal choice, but it definitely pays to mix it up. Quite slow retrieves can be surprisingly effective and one of the biggest advantages the fly has over a typical lure is that it will work at much slower speeds.

When pike are seen hitting shoals of prey or are in the mood for a chase, by all means haul that fly in. But at other times a good general rule would be to keep your retrieve lively but don’t rush it. Several times I’ve had pike hit the fly when I have been doing nothing whatsoever; just looking over to a friend or resting the rod. Even at a near standstill, that fly breathes.

It’s always worth fishing and concentrating right to the end of every retrieve too. Leave it to hang over those final few yards, don’t rush and give the fly a final twitch or three.

pike_flies_turrall-9Fish on! This one took close to the bank, late in the retrieve.

Putting the Miles In

Pike might be aggressive, and even easy to catch at times. But remember these are also wild creatures. They can move quickly or become hard to catch in areas where anglers and poachers hang around. In recent fishing we’ve also had unexpected guests such as an adventurous seal, pushing well up the river to take salmon and pike!

It is absolutely key to stay on the move to catch pike consistently on the Somerset Levels, Fens or anywhere you find them on large freshwater systems. The more water you search, the more you’ll find, it is that simple.

dsc_1810 John Deprieelle joins the morning shift on the Somerset Levels. Pike fishing here is all about mobility. 

Pike Fly Tackle

The strength and condition of pike can vary greatly between venues and seasons. But in the early and late season, a pike of just eight to ten pounds will give you serious battle so it’s vital that you set up tough.

I tend to pick a nine-weight outfit and tough leaders. Mine are seven feet or so of 20lb fluorocarbon, followed by a wire trace which I make from a rig ring, 16” of Authanic Wire and a durable snap link.

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Pike fly fishing definitely takes its toll on your gear- and a lively fish will quickly find any weakness in your tackle. Do remember to test your knots and check everything at regular intervals. I like to tie my traces a little on the long side too, so that if the ends of the trace get kinked or worn, I can cut and carefully retie. You’ll also want a large, dependable landing net and unhooking mat for your pike fishing.

Pike Fly Patterns

So what are the best pike flies to use season round? They come in various styles and colours and can be quite daunting if you’re new to the game. Some are general fit patterns, but others are especially suited to different depths and types of venue.

For those with less experience of casting large flies, many of the bigger pike specials are rather cumbersome. So for a lot of my guiding I start people on smaller alternatives, such as the Frost Bite (below) or Tango. These are ideal on small waters such as canals and drains, where most pike are small and you might drop to an eight weight. Don’t believe for a minute that you need a huge fly to catch a big pike, because these have landed plenty of doubles.

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Next, we have our most versatile artificials, our slow sinking, mid-sized pike flies. Many of these are made using layers of synthetic fibres or hair in a baitfish profile, such as the Stupid Boy (below, in Grey and White), although traditional materials and simple designs such as the Black Pike Bunny also produce a lovely wiggle and pulse, although they get heavier to cast.

pike_flies_turrall-2

Surface pike flies are another interesting diversion, perfectly suited to spring and autumn fishing. Many come from bass bugs and other creations, which have proved equally deadly for pike. Mice, frogs and even ducklings are possible.

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Perhaps the best tip for fishing these is to try them in the last hour of light, or even into darkness if your nerves will stand it, and I like a black-coloured surface lure, whether it’s night or day.

This style of fishing isn’t associated with the cooler months usually, but curiously we’ve continued to get surface takes well past the end of summer this year. It seems to work particularly well in the final hour of the day, when the pike are seen busting up shoals of roach and bleak.

Fast Sinking pike flies finish our list, but can be the most useful option of all. Aimed at getting down on deeper and flowing waters, weighted  patterns such as our Depth Seeker Predator Flies are very handy on rivers, getting down to the fish even in the push of the current. They also work well on deeper stillwaters, where they can allow you to get flies down a good depth without resorting to super fast sinking lines.

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Or tie your own…

Of course, the other great thing to do as we prepare for the winter months is to tie your own pike flies. They are quite straightforward to make, with a little practice. All kinds of materials will work to create bait fish patterns too.

Savage Hair is an excellent value option at under £2 a packet, and can easily be combined with tinsels such as UV Multiflash to create plenty of movement and shimmer. Keep an eye out for more on the subject of pike patterns, with chances to win both flies and materials on the Turrall Flies Facebook Page and in this month’s Total Flyfisher Magazine.

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Read Tangles With Pike

Dom Garnett’s book of pike fishing stories is available now in collectible hardback at just £14.99. Covering various methods in all seasons, it is packed with interesting articles and great photography. Find it at www.dgfishing.co.uk

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