Fly fishing for chub and trout with terrestrial patterns

As we approach the late summer holidays, there’s no better time to try a spot of fly fishing with larger terrestrial flies. Dom Garnett reports on some exciting recent sport.

“For any angler who doesn’t relish using tiny flies and the finest tippets, mid to late summer needn’t be all about the small stuff these days. In fact, some of the best days of all are to be had when things get really bushy and overgrown on the rivers, and land-borne insects are at their most prolific.

In the past, I would raid smaller trout streams with flies like the classic Coch-y-Bonddu or perhaps pick off a few fish with flying ants at this time of year. But these days, the real cream of the terrestrial season is on mixed waters as far as I’m concerned, and this means chub as much as trout.

Taking cover

River Tone Fishing Taunton Angling
An intimate, feature-packed summer river. Ideal habitat for terrestrials.

Find dense cover, or even riverbanks bordering on open meadowland, in July and August, and you will find a rich stock of “accidentals” that find their way into rivers. With the possible exception of flying ants, you are unlikely to find one particular “hatch” right now, but beetles, weevils, grasshoppers and other prey are all regular casualties. That said, it has been a very prolific year for wasps; which are more popular with chub than humans it must be said.

Our starting point, then, should be not so much to find the perfect insect to copy, but to find any suitable spot where the fish might expect to nab fallen insects. Trees, bushes and any overhangs are prime areas; but then again, even steep, open and earthy banks tend to be worth a shot.

Grasshoppers seem to be especially prolific this year, which remind me of a recent guiding client on a Devon trout river. We’d endured a slow afternoon trying to trick fish on small traditional flies, when we saw a huge swirl under a steep bank that bordered lush open meadows. I hadn’t seen what the fish had risen for, but recommended a grasshopper imitation from the fly box. Going from a size 18 to an 8 raised my guest’s eye-brows, but the fly was immediately  snaffled by a big mouth! The fish raised hell for perhaps thirty seconds before flipping off the hook. A little unlucky, but it proved a point.

Summer chubbing

river chub fishing
Trout might be fun to catch on terrestrial flies, but I have an equal regard for the chub and the fishing on my local rivers (usually the Culm and Tone) can be excellent.

The chub is a fish to break many of the usual fly fishing rules, making it a refreshing target. Given a choice, I would tend to start with a fly no smaller than a size 10-12, with trailing legs and good buoyancy. The Chopper is a point in case; black knotted legs and a floss body stand out a mile under the surface film, but a generous deer hair wing makes it very buoyant and easy to locate.

Even more fun though, not to mention useful for uneven currents and fish that need waking up, is my grasshopper pattern. Indeed, my normal first attempt at a sighted chub will be to drift a fly with the current and little interference. Sometimes this is enough!

However, where you have perhaps already hit or missed a fish, or they have rather too long to study the fly, you sometimes need to provoke these fish a little more. This is where a twitch or two come in. You can try twitching a fly like  my foam grasshopper several yards- but often the best way is to let an inquisitive fish approach and give the fly a little movement just as the gap is closed, to warn your quarry that dinner might escape.

Flies Fly Patterns for Chub

All these flies are available to order online, from the likes of Troutcatchers, Flies Online or my own website www.dgfishing.co.uk (where you can also order the book Flyfishing for Coarse Fish).

Tight spots and risk taking

Fly fishing for chubAt close quarters, it can be important to keep a low profile.

Successful fly fishing with terrestrial patterns is often about taking a gamble. Chub and trout are both at their most confident around cover, where we can’t get at them so easily. For this reason, you can’t always get the rewards by playing it safe! You’ll often find that chub sitting close to cover will hit a fly instantly, in fact, but only if you land it right in the mixer!

Of course, a few other rules also apply in these situations. One is not to risk an overly light leader. I don’t go much lighter than 5lbs around cover- and the thicker tipped also helps avoid twisting and weakening with a larger fly. I also insist on fully debarbing my fly. Should disaster then strike, and a big fish take you into sunken snags and break you, it is almost certain that the fish will soon lose the fly.

As for tackle, a short rod may be essential for wading, but I most often find a long rod to be best for bank fishing, along with an extra long landing net. One classic chub trick is to fight sluggishly at first, before plunging right under the near bank- and the longer the lever you have to keep it out, the better. These fish don’t fight as hard as trout, but they do fight dirty, so be ready.

Cheap, thrilling fly fishing

When you stop and consider just how cheap and accessible chub fishing is compared with the classic chalkstreams and other venues, it’s a little surprising these fish are not more popular. After all, if I told you there were rivers you could fish for a fiver a day where the typical catch averaged over a pound and a dozen in a session was possible, you might either think I’d been drinking or that such sport would cost a fortune. But this is normal chub fishing!

Chub on flyA typical small river chub. Net-sized fish like this are common.

Who cares if the fish don’t have spots? The smaller samples will provide lots of action, while a large, wily chub is a truly worthy adversary and much smarter than a stocked trout. In fact, many if not most of the same trout fishing rules of watercraft apply to these fish; approach with care, keep low and cast upstream.

Perhaps the major difference is the size of fly they like best and the greater success rate of the “induced take” when a dry fly is waked across the surface. It’s terrific fun, and two-pounders are not “fish of the season” material on most rivers but fairly common. Great summer sport in anyone’s book!

Moving Upstream

Yet again our British Summer weather is proving to be fickle and variable, impacting on even the best laid fishing plans.  Chris Ogborne takes a look at one way aspect of our sport that is almost immune to the weather – small river fishing.

Cornwall Fly Fishing Chris Ogborne
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With summer holidays in full swing, I actually find myself feeling sorry for the thousands of tourists who head for the West Country at this time of year.  They come with expectations of beach fishing, boat trips or kayak fishing, only to find that the weather has conspired against them and that wind or sea conditions make their plans impossible.

But the good news is that they can still go fishing.  It’s a little known fact that there are literally hundreds of miles of moorland streams, small rivers and tributaries inter-lacing the counties of Devon and Cornwall.  It’s even less well known that such water can be fished for an incredibly small sum of money and that £6 will still buy you wild brownie fishing in true wilderness conditions, surrounded by spectacular scenery and wildlife.

Devon Brown trout

In fact, the choice is endless.  The Westcountry Rivers Trust still operate their excellent ‘passport’ system, where you can purchase a book of vouchers online that will give you access to over 100 venues, ranging from tiny brooks through to stretches of mighty rivers like the Tamar or Dart.

Many are stocked but almost as many rely on natural regeneration, and the fish you catch will be as wild as the wind that brushes over the moorland heather.  With the excellent passport project you can have a full days fishing for under a tenner, yet feel as though you’re just as privileged as the Hampshire chalkstream angler who would need to add many zeros to his fishing bill!

It’s also a really user friendly scheme, where you simply buy tokens to fish and post these on the day. See the site for further details and to buy tokens online: westcountryangling.com

Another great source of where to fish information, along with the right flies and that all important local knowledge, is to visit one of the many tackle shops.  Most shop owners will either be able to sell you a day or a week ticket, and even if they can’t I’d bet that they will direct you to someone who can.  On my home River Camel, the Bodmin Anglers Association will happily let you have a day ticket for £15. (It’s actually a 24hiur ticket so you can split afternoon and morning if you like) and this gives access to some 15 miles of stunning river fishing, the likes of which are the stuff of dreams.  Canopied pools for nymphing, long glides for spider or wet fly, moss covered rocks carried here by ancient glaciers where you can sit and watch Kingfishers or Dippers, and sparkling runs that just beg to fished with dry fly.

EscapeFromDartmoor_Dart

For those who find themselves further East in Devon, Dartmoor is also well worth a try if the conditions have been unsettled. As Dartmoor’s rivers begin life high up in the hills, they seldom ever get badly coloured. Various spots offer prolific wild trout fishing and cool, clear water even when rivers such as the Exe, Taw and Torridge run brown.

Turrall have a whole range of flies to cover all these conditions, with classics such as our emergers and nymphs always worth having in your box. Classics such as the Klinkhamer, Black Gnat, PTN and Copper John continue to catch every season. Or if you prefer you can buy one for their excellent selections, which take away all the guesswork for you.  My own range of Barbless River Flies cover pretty much any set of weather or water conditions you’re likely to come across.

DSC_0970

So don’t despair this year if you happen to find yourself in rain-soaked West Country.  Look on it as a bonus and take yourself up-river.  It could be the start of a life-long love affair with the stunning rivers in this amazing part of England.