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.
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
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!”.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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 (firstname.lastname@example.org) 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…
Catch more this season with Turrall Flies
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