Fly fishing for chub: Mixed fortunes on a rising River Tone

Coarse fish are great fun to catch on the fly throughout the summer. But what do you do if your chosen river is on the rise? All is not lost, if you’re prepared to be brave and mix up your flies and approach! Dom Garnett reports on a surprising recent trip to the River Tone.

You know how it is in July and August. Every year, you expect blue skies and picnic weather as a given, but the British climate has other ideas. Such is the mood on a muddy River Tone, as I meet with Turrall boss Dylan Ponisch and Ollie Jefferies for a shot at some coarse fish on the fly.


This stretch of river is fantastic value, with a real mixed bag of species and day tickets at just £7.50 online from Taunton Angling Association. Usually in the summer it’s sparkling and clear. Rewind a few weeks and you only had to scan a few yards to spot lumbering chub, striped perch and hordes of dace and bleak. But today the mineral water has been replaced with an out-of-date smoothie.

Very frustrating, but what can you do about it? Which fly patterns should you use and, more to the point, exactly where on earth should you aim them when visibility is foggy? We are about to find out.

Fly fishing tactics for muddy water

Rule number one with any murky river is not to be put off, but to work at it and experiment from the off. One great way to start if you have company is to mix it up and compare different tactics.

My feeling today is that a dark streamer could still work, for perch as well as chub, especially in near bank slacks. With it being so mild, though, there may still probably be fish willing to rise. So Ollie starts on a big foam dry fly, while Dylan begins with a smaller floating pattern.

My opening choices for a muddy river with chub the main target (L to R): Black Woolly Bugger, Kicking Hopper, Jasper, Death Wish Ant

The initial battle with such water is confidence! It can look so unappetising. For the first half-hour, I can’t win a bite on a Black Woolly Bugger, but I still fancy the fish must be in these type areas to be close to cover, keeping out of the main flow.

Encouragingly, Dylan starts to get some small fish to rise. It’s good to see the boss out in the fresh air and away from the office, it has to be said. Although he now has to walk the walk and catch a fish! There are definitely some smaller chub and dace about- and the good news is that they can still pick out a fly! Nor are they in very deep water; any reeds or dangling branches seem likely places.

It’s also a great chance to try out some new and existing dry flies from the Turrall range. I’m quite tempted to put on something huge, but for now, we just need a fish to win our confidence back. Hence I start smallish on a 12.

Everyone is now getting the odd take and a small chub comes first, hooking a small Red-Legged Hopper. A busy little dry fly with Klinkhamer style post and kicking rubber legs, it’s certainly easy to spot for fish as well as angler in the muddy water.

It’s amazing what that first fish in the net can do, anyway, and this is suddenly looking a lot more encouraging.

Drag, snags and big mouths

As encouraging as our start is, this is challenging fishing on a brown river. A few things quickly become apparent. The chub are clearly hanging off the main flow, at the edges of cover. Sometimes the water is still very shallow- but because of the colour they feel quite comfortable even tight to the bank in inches of water. You do have to drop your fly close, though, if you want a fish to look.

Drag is also a problem at times because with any cast to the far bank, the fly line still gets taken by the faster current in the middle. Mends can help, but another good solution is to throw a bit more slack or a bit of an “s” shape into your cast. This way, you can buy yourself that extra second or two of decent presentation, before the fly drags unnaturally.

That said, on occasion a bit of draft seems to provoke the chub, which are always such a contradiction of caution and greed! They really are fascinating, surprising fish.

I’m so relieved just to see fish rising, the next little encounter takes me by shock. The fly lands close to reeds on the far bank, when a larger shape looms into view and gulps it down in one effortless motion.

They’re not as dramatic fighters as trout, but the fish gives me a good run in the current, churning hard and trying to find the weedy bottom. Even with a fish of just a pound or two, I’m grateful for a long-handled landing net and sensible tackle. Today’s set up for me is a 10ft 4 weight, the others are using the Cortland Fairplay in a 5/6 weight, and we’re all on 5lb tapered leaders.

Go big or go home?

The action then slows again- and seemingly there are little spells of activity before the fish go off again. After the last, slightly better chub, though, I’m keen to go larger.

I’d have no hesitation about using any of my usual chub flies, which tend to range from sizes 6-10. Today, though, I can’t resist trying the ridiculously named Chernobyl Ant. Anything but subtle, it gives a little splat on entry, with spindly black legs to add to the effect.

The next mouth that comes up is bigger again. As frustrating as it is not to be able to locate fish by plain sight today, the chub we are getting seem quite decisive! This one gives a lovely slow-motion take, before bolting out of sight. I bully it a little on the near bank, fully aware it knows the snags here better than I do. Another nice fish.

As far as surprises go, though, there’s something much crazier still to come. It starts as Dylan hooks a small chub on the far bank. He takes his time playing it, and as the fish passes the middle of the river, it suddenly feels heavier.

For several anxious moments, the rod curve builds deeper. I’m assuming he’s either weeded up, or it’s a jack pike, but neither is the case. The two-ounce chub he thought he was playing is attached to a large, mean-looking perch!

I can’t remember the last time I saw this. With pike, it happens every season that fish are stolen and you occasionally catch the culprit. Dylan still does well to guide it to the net, with weed around the line and the small fish still flapping in its jaws! Amazingly, both fish stay hooked as I manage to sink the net.

It’s a fabulous perch- and the sort you’d kill for if you were fishing by design. On a muddy day like today, though, we’ll take any fortune we can get!

Summing up

By lunchtime, we’ve had a surprising tally of fish, with that cracking perch joining several chub of different sizes. And to think how little we fancied it when looking at the river just a few hours ago! We might easily have written the session off, which just goes to show that it’s always worth a try.

Tips from our session

  • When the river is up, it might be tempting to go with fast sinking flies or try the deeper water. If anything, the opposite was the case on our trip. With extra murk, the fish were quite comfortable in shallow water, away from the main flow.
  • Be as accurate as you can. On any high river, the fish will be condensed into smaller, tighter places- and they won’t move as far when the current is strong.
  • Use sensible, strong tackle. Fish in a rain-swollen river are less likely to be tackle shy- and a large fish can still present a danger when there are stronger currents and debris in the water. With modern copolymer lines, you still get good presentation with 5lb leaders and tippets.
  • In terms of fly choices, don’t be afraid to go larger and more obvious. Black patterns were best for us, and those with rubber legs seemed to work especially well for chub.
  • Be brave and give it a go! You might need to work at it, but keep on the move and find the spots where fish are sheltering and you still have a great chance of success.

Fly fishing in a flat calm, and other John Horsey heresies!

It’s always refreshing when you meet an angler who doesn’t do things by the textbook. But when that angler happens to be one of England’s most finely-tuned competitive brains, you just have to sit up and listen! Dom Garnett joined John Horsey and Turrall’s Gary Pearson for a fascinating, testing session on Chew Valley Lake, along with some great tips for summer fly fishing.

Whether we subscribe to them or not, every angler has heard the clichés of the sport a hundred times. The fish bite best when the wind is in the west; sunny weather causes trout to go deep. Oh, and forget about fishing in a flat calm, because you may as well be on the beach with an ice cream.

“A dead loss?” says John Horsey, as we look across an eerily smooth Chew Valley Lake. “No way! Calm, sunny conditions can be great. It’s the anglers who tend not to be confident. I actually love it when it’s like this!”

chew valley fly fishing

As with so many chunks of angling lore, the general rules tend to be plagiarised wholesale through the generations. The danger is that they’re either slavishly adhered to or applied completely outside their original context. Which is what makes today’s encounter so refreshing.

We’re also here to film some useful tips videos on stillwater fly fishing with cameraman John Deprieelle. But without wanting to steal his thunder, it’s too good an opportunity not to scribble some notes. After all, how often do you get to pick the brains of one of England’s all-time great international anglers?

This is one of the brilliant things about fishing. Unlike other sports, the stars are available to everyone (and you can book a day with John at johnhorsey.co.uk). We’re truly lucky in this respect. If you don’t believe me, try getting a coaching session with Pep Guardiola or a kickabout with Marcus Rashford next weekend.

Embracing your calmer side…

So why might a flat calm be anything but a calamity? Are we all thinking about windswept lochs and terrestrial flies? Or perhaps many decades ago, anglers needed a good ripple to disguise the comparatively crap lines and leaders of the day? As any seasoned angler will tell you, clichés and generalised advice can be lethal.

“In a flat calm, trout can see the surface perfectly- and pick off food with ease” says John. “They’ll move across the whole lake when it’s still. Hatches tend to be good- and in fact what you don’t tend to want is a combination of sun and stiff breeze.


With everything rather late and out of kilter this season, however, his local knowledge could also prove invaluable. Hotspots and hatches can change by day, and it’s this instability that makes Chew such a fascinating, challenging place to fish.

Just this week, the fish he has spooned have contained everything from bloodworm and baby leeches, to buzzers and grass seeds. So where the heck do we start? Well, one of the benefits of flat calm is that we can see moving and rising fish quite easily. And so, we make our way quickly towards Heron’s Green Bay where, contrary to the handful of boats already out, we avoid the ripple and get into the glassy stuff!

Ghost tips and subtle takes

 While I’m quick to set up a floating line, I’m interested to see that both John and Gary both go for sink tip. They’re both fans of the new Cortland Ghost Tip line, which is, in essence, a short head of clear intermediate line, with a floating body line.

Cortland’s Ghost Tip 3 fly line proved a great choice for our session, comfortably outfishing standard floating line.

So why the fuss? Why not just go for an intermediate? “Well, the simple answer is control and take detection” says John. “A sinking tip tends to ‘anchor’ your flies at your chosen depth. But with the floating main body of line, you still get excellent take detection- which you simply don’t on a full intermediate line.”

The subject of takes in itself is a fascinating one. We’re all told to watch the line closely, but how many of us actually read what’s going on? John and Gary are constantly on the lookout for flickers of interest on the line. When nymph fishing the movements can be small- just a quick flick upwards is common.

Don’t rely on touch alone; watch that fly line like a hawk!

“It doesn’t matter how many times you tell most anglers,” says John, “a lot just don’t watch the line closely. Sometimes I’ll see someone get several takes without detecting a thing- that’s because you won’t feel a lot of them at all!”

As a professional guide and a guy who generally wants his fellow anglers to succeed, he admits it can be a sticky subject- nobody wants to be a smart arse, but it’s hard to bite your tongue when fish are being missed!

All of us can up our game instantly, however, by paying close attention to the line. Unlike in lure fishing, where we might point directly at the fly, the best rod position for nymphing is with the rod tip slightly higher, so that there is a very slight loop of slack. A taking fish will instantly lift this forward. You’re basically waiting for this to lift and hold (a bit like an old-fashioned coarse angler’s swing tip).

“Only two things make the fly line lift up and hold,” says John, “a fish or a snag”! He also points out that you’ll get little flickers on the line that are tiny nips and pulls you can’t strike at. “If you see a smaller pull that doesn’t hold, then you keep going. There is every chance that fish will take properly soon- and if you got a small indication early in the cast you may have 20 yards to get it to commit!”

With a proper pull and hold, he then advises to pull back the fly line and feel for resistance- any sense of a presence there and it’s a case of lift the rod to strike, fast! For the record, both of our anglers are using Cortland’s Mark II Stillwater Competition rod in a 10ft 7 weight- which is a cracking all-rounder for boat fishing.

Cortland’s MkII Stillwater Competition Rod is a great all-rounder for boat or bank fishing.

The tricky bit to get used to is judging takes by sight alone. “A lot of the takes, you just won’t feel,” he says. “For so many anglers, the vast majority of fish they catch are the ones that virtually hook themselves- because they will only strike by touch.”

Other interesting lessons quickly emerge from this. One is that you’ll tend to get better, firmer hook holds when you spot the take and strike properly, rather than waiting for a fish to hook itself. Another is that as soon as trout get some angling pressure or settle onto natural food, the takes can become far less brutal.

“Some anglers you can tell ten times and they won’t get it,” smiles John wryly. “I can still remember when the penny dropped in my own fishing- and you think to yourself ‘bloody hell- how many takes have I been missing?’ “

In a competitive arena, this obviously becomes critical, because if you’re only detecting the most obvious takes you’ll never catch as many fish as the best anglers! Unsurprisingly, takes can be far subtler from keyed-up fish, for example in the aftermath of several intensive practice days.

Even for the pleasure angler, though, this can be incredibly important. On tough days, or fish that are simply keyed into natural food or seeing a fair bit of pressure, takes will quickly get more subtle. Not tuning in with gentler indications could mean a dry net when you might have caught a handful of fish.

Best flies for calm conditions

I have to hesitate slightly as we discuss flies and leaders for a calm, sunny day- in part because both John and Gary believe in keeping it simple. “With most anglers that’s all they’ll ask –‘what fly are you using?’ “ John laughs. “Why is it never how deep or what speed you’re fishing them?”

When leading the England Fly Fishing Team, John would actually ban the opening of fly boxes in team briefings – purely because the various patterns could become a colossal distraction away from the more important questions of where, when and how flies were being fished.

 

Suffice to say, though, you won’t go too far wrong with staples like Diawl Bachs and Buzzers on Chew Valley and Blagdon, as well as dry flies at times- such as Hoppers, Bobs Bits and the Big Red and Big Claret.

I’m also interested to see how our competition anglers set up their leaders. For nymph fishing, it’s a 15 ft leader in three sections of 5ft. In flat calm conditions three flies can be better than four, as well, because the fish are that bit warier of having too many droppers around them. 8lb fluorocarbon dominates, because these are powerful fish and John thinks that with quality materials the fish really don’t detect it easily.

Opt for quality materials and don’t fish too fine if you want to land almost every fish you hook!

For dry fly fishing, the leader is an even simpler 13ft and usually two or three flies. One thing John insists on, however, is a copolymer tippet rather than fluoro. This is not only because of its sinking tendencies, but the way it tends to “dig” the flies in at the surface, not to mention landing and lifting off less cleanly. Another useful tip he adds is to use one line class up on dry fly tackle, to help speed and accuracy of casts needed to cover sighted fish quickly.

A slow start

 As we start our session around Moreton Point and Heron’s Green, it quickly becomes evident that this could be a tough session. There’ll be a little boat hopping today, so I’m at least get some different perspectives on what our anglers are doing. While I’m ready at the camera, however, I’m also going to have a try.


One instantly noticeable thing about both our anglers is the methodical nature of what they do. On casting out, both Gary and John will give a couple of pulls to straighten fly line and leader out, before counting down meticulously.

Top competition anglers are always hot on this- but it’s something mere mortals can also benefit hugely from. By counting consistently (one-and-two-and-three etc) you can accurately gauge when takes are occurring and how deep the fish are occurring. It sounds so simple, but it’s so easy to overlook this or, my own worst habit, completely forget what you were doing in the excitement of hooking a fish.

Another early lesson is to keep a straight line in front of the boat. This greatly aids bite detection, because as attractive as the angle might be if you cast sideways from a drifting boat, you’ll quickly get a little more slack line and lose some directness.

I also notice how quickly we move spots when things are not working. Our anglers are hotter on this than ever in calm conditions, too, especially in any areas where a few boats congregate. After all, angler presence will be that much more noticeable when the water is smooth and our movements are more obvious. Tellingly, after an early couple of pulls, the fish quickly switch off in an area where five or so boats are clustered. It’s time to move.

First contact!


Just as we’re wondering where the fish are, John finally gets a take and hits into a fish. It battles gamely but is the smallest rainbow he’s had in several months! Interestingly, it has taken the top dropper, which suggests the fish might be higher in the water than expected.

Gary is next off the mark, also on a Diawl Bach. Looking at his size 10 imitations, it’s duly noted that my piddly little flies might need stepping up a bit! The one thing I don’t have with me, though, is a sink tip line. I can’t help feeling it’s costing me takes, but why should that be? And couldn’t I get away with an intermediate fly line?

chew valley rainbow trout
As Gary puts it, it’s not just getting flies a bit deeper that is the key to a top notch ghost tip line. The sinking tip also “bites” a little better, giving more control than a floating line, which also tends to bounce around more given any ripple. Additionally, because you also have that running line after the head that floats, bite detection is not sacrificed either.

As in all my fishing and writing, I never mind taking a bit of a kicking as long as I’m learning things that will improve my game in future! I finally get a take when I switch to a heavier point fly, therefore, and watch the line like a hawk. It doesn’t stick, unfortunately- although I’m a bit more useful with the camera when John hooks the next fish about forty yards away. These Chew fish really do fight like demons!

Ghosting ahead

 With filmmaker John Deprieelle swapping places with me to get some different angles in the can, it’s a great opportunity to fish shoulder to shoulder with John Horsey to finish our session.

Sometimes when you get these chances- and the same rings true across any fishing!- it’s almost a bit of a waste to fish yourself when you could be watching them and asking questions. What always strikes you about John Horsey is his unquenchable thirst for the latest knowledge and those little edges that help him put his guided guests onto the fish or give him a competitive edge.

Tune into subtle takes and you’ll get a bend in your rod far more often!

Perhaps the single biggest thing I’ll take from the session is the whole art of detecting and hitting takes. One huge tip from John in particular is a bit of a game changer here. “I’d always hit those subtler takes with a line strike” says John. “If you strip strike at a lift, and there’s nothing there, you can always keep going and you may well get another chance. But as soon as you make a big strike by lifting the rod, you’re dragging your flies several feet up, and often away from the fish!”

As intensely as he fishes, there’s a bit of a contradiction with John, however, because even in a match he’s a highly sociable angler. The cameraderie is one of the things he loves about the competitive scene, in fact, and these days he runs a lot of competitions around the country (not least of all the Cortland Team Championships, which you can read about in our blog archives

You need to have a serious passion for angling to put in the shift he does every season! We might enjoy discussing our thoughts on England’s chances at the Euros, or the time John saw David Bowie live in his Ziggy Stardust days, but his mind seldom ever completely switches off fly fishing. The level of observation on these huge stillwaters he lives and breathes is mind-boggling, whether it’s intimate details of what the fish are eating at any given time, or the exact locations worth trying.

The latter can literally change by the day, which is what makes Chew such a challenging and interesting water, perhaps in a way that small stillwaters can’t match.

Sadly, we can’t add a final, big grown on fish as we try Herriot’s Bay for a last fling- but by this time, he’s had five fish on a day plenty of others- myself included- have struggled badly.

Next time, I promise myself to watch the line like a hawk and to move spots more often, to name just two big lessons. Furthermore, I simply must treat myself to one of the new Ghost Tip Lines- because it’s fairly clear that my regular setup hasn’t quite cut it today. In terms of refining my understanding and tackle choices, though, it has still been a fantastic day out.

Catch more from Turrall Flies and Cortland this season!

For more news, tips, competitions and more, check out our Facebook page and blog archives! We have stacks of free fly fishing articles, from river trout fishing to action with everything from summer carp to saltwater bass!

Don’t forget, you can track down our award-winning range of flies and accessories, as well as Cortland fly lines, rods and more, at all good Turrall stockists across the country.

Spring and Summer Pike Fly Fishing: Top tips and fish care essentials

With the climate as unpredictable as ever these days, traditional fishing seasons don’t always add up. It’s not unusual to catch dry fly trout in March, or predators in May and June. But if we do choose to chase large yet sensitive fish like pike, what are the ground rules? Turrall’s Gary Pearson and Dom Garnett have some excellent tips to ensure that both you and your quarry thrive!

Is it still ok to go pike fishing in spring and summer? When are the best times and locations?

Pike are best suited to cooler waters- you only have to look at their natural range to see this. Not only can they be lethargic in warmer temperatures, they are deceptively fragile, too. So our first question should never be whether we want to catch them, but whether we can do so safely in the first place.

If you are to continue fishing beyond the traditional winter season, it’s imperative to take extra with your catch, regardless of size.

Only you can make that call, but it’s up to all of us to protect our catch. Here are some rough guidelines around waters once temperatures get higher. These are not hard and fast rules, but sensible starting points:

Safer pike waters

  • Large reservoirs
  • Deeper natural lakes where fish have access to cooler water year-round.
  • Bigger rivers with decent flows and cold water

Venues to avoid

  • Canals- and especially the shallowest, where water can get very warm.
  • Drains and fens, especially those lacking any deeper water.
  • Small or shallow lakes
  • Slow flowing rivers
  • Venues where pike are under intense angler pressure
  • All venues once the warmest weather sets in, especially in July and August!

Shallow canals and drains might be excellent in winter- but get too hot for safe pike fishing in the summer. 

 Actual water temperature is another matter for debate- but suffice to say the higher temperatures get, the less dissolved oxygen water will hold. As soon as water temperaturess get up into mid to late teens, danger is greatly increased. Nor is fishing early or late going to make a huge difference, because water temperatures are far less changeable than air temperatures.

Keep tackle strong and battles brief

Using strong tackle helps to keep pike battles short but sweet!

Of course, it’s not just water temperature that’s the main issue with pike. It’s also a case of how we tackle up and how much stress we put on them. At any time of year, it’s important to use tackle that will allow us to apply plenty of pressure and land pike quickly, because a long fight can exhaust them and make recovery harder. Since these fish are not tackle shy, we’d never suggest less than 20lb leaders, along with a robust wire trace.

As for rods and setups, a nine-weight should be seen as a minimum at these times of year. For larger waters with the chance of big fish, a ten is even better in the summer. Tackle up so that you can bully fish in quickly and you won’t go far wrong. Pike will fight like fury on warmer days and gone are the days of playing these fish for an age on light gear.

We’ll discuss more on fish care shortly, including equipment and safe practice.

Mix up your tactics and be prepared to go deeper!

A well-conditioned spring fish, taken along a steep drop-off. It took a Turrall gold Pike Flasher- an excellent choice to get down to fish fast.

One especially notable trend as temperatures start to rise is that pike are less tightly concentrated. Once spawning is done and prey fish disperse, pike will start to move away from the shallows and can be quite unpredictable in their whereabouts. There’s no guarantee October or December’s hotspot will still produce.

Quite often you’ll find only small jacks in the margins, as inviting as they look. The better fish might not be miles away- but are likely to drop down into areas of ten feet and greater. As the temperatures rise further, they’ll retreat even further to where the water is cooler.

One important tool in your arsenal is therefore a fast sink pike fly line. The market has never exactly been saturated with these, which is why we’ve been delighted to see Cortland’s special Pike and Musky fly line coming to the UK.

best sinking pike fly line

This is not a general fit line, but a highly specialised tool to cast large flies and get them down quickly to where the fish are. It’s an excellent choice for any venues where you need to go deep- and especially those where you might regularly find productive depths of 10-20ft.

The only drawback with fast sink lines is that their sheer weight means that you may find hooking into fish slightly harder. If you get any bite when a lot of line is out, there’s likely to be a bit of “belly”- so it pays to not only strike with the line, but also lift the rod hard, to tighten up as efficiently as possible.

Be meticulous and methodical

As much as any time of year, pike fishing from April to June is about being rigorous in your approach. We’ve just mentioned that you may need to fish deep- but pike won’t always be nailed to the bottom. Trying different depths and retrieves makes sense here, to cover different levels- but be really fussy about this.

One must is to count down to different depths and log this mentally, with a slow “one-and-two-and-three…” etc. Even with a fast sink line, you might be counting to ten, fifteen or twenty on a deep water!

Be similarly methodical with drifts, too. You’ll cover far more water on a drifting boat with a drogue than you ever would at anchor. Try different distances from the shore, paying close attention to this. Picking out markers on the bank is a good tip, and making a mental note. If you get takes, you can then repeat the drift!

Finally, concentration is also key, especially on days you may only get a handful of pulls. With sinking lines, especially, few fish will hook themselves, so be ready to react fast and firmly!

Choose your flies with care

 For whatever reason, fly colours seem to be more critical in the spring and summer than at any other time of year. This could be because the pike have already seen pressure right through the winter on a lot of waters. It could also be because flies often need to be fished at greater depths- and the later in the year it gets, the more algae develops, creating a greenish tinge.

There’s a very good reason the Turrall range includes several black pike flies!

Experimentation is very much the way to go. However, if we had to pick one colour at this time of year it would be one of the least fashionable: black!

On our most recent reservoir session, it was a black or black and copper coloured fly that definitely seemed to get most attention. At various intervals we tried other colours- but dark flies stood out a mile, in perhaps more ways than one.

Don’t forget to check out Turrall’s range of pike flies. We stock over two dozen of the best flies for pike these days- with plenty of colour choices. We only tie ours on top quality, extra strong hooks. The only other recommendation we’d make is to crush the barbs down on your flies to ensure quick removal- it’s much kinder on the fish.

Handle with care- and release every pike safely!

 Last but by no means least, please, please, please take extra care with pike if you must continue fishing into the summer. You owe it to the fish. Consider that a 15lb pike can lay around 500,000 eggs per year and you quickly see it only takes a small number of careless anglers to have a big impact on a fishery.

Gary Pearson carefully releases an excellent stillwater pike of 26lbs. Fish like this demand complete respect.

Above all, it’s about good organisation and common sense. We’re not going to tell anyone how to fish, but it’s up to all of us to respect pike – and this means putting their needs before our own preferences.

Here are some sensible fish care guidelines to follow:

  • Always use strong tackle and keep fights as short as possible.
  • Keep your fish wet wherever possible. At the end of a hard fight, give pike a few seconds in the water, in a submerged net, to reduce stress.
  • Have all your gear ready, from forceps and scales to camera. Every second counts in warmer weather. Well organised anglers put less stress on pike.
  • Don’t skimp on the essentials. Have quality long unhooking tools and an extra large soft-meshed net and unhooking mat ready. These are long fish, so trout and salmon sized gear is not sufficient.
  • If you want to take a picture or two, be as quick as you can. These are amazing, living creatures and not Instagram trophies!
  • Never simply let a fish go after an intense fight. Support it carefully, upright in the water, until the fish is clearly ready to swim off. This could take a minute or two if it has battled hard, so look after your catch.
  • Working in partnership with another angler makes a lot of sense with pike. On a boat, for example. One of you can move any clutter out of the way- and set up a sling, for example, to weigh a large fish. Communication is key here, so be clear and decisive.
  • If you find yourself in heatwave conditions, or the fish migrate very deep, give the pike a break. Even if you were still hell-bent on catching them, they tend to go very deep and become quite lethargic in these conditions. And we have the whole autumn and winter to come, after all!

Happy fishing- and do respect those pike!

 

Dream Trout on Dry Flies!

The meandering rivers of Devon might have a reputation for holding small but numerous trout. But with some local knowledge and one or two truly special venues, however, there are some surprising monsters lurking way out west. Turrall’s sales manager Gary Pearson just loves targeting these creatures with light tackle and big sedge flies, as Dom Garnett found out on a summer evening session.

It’s not every day you hear about “big” wild trout down here in Devon. Most of the season, anglers spreading out their hands to describe their last fish are treated with an extra large pinch of salt. After all, our rivers are famous for their small size and beautiful, lightning-fast fish rather than the sort of creatures that require any landing net.


It was for this very reason that my ears pricked up when Gary Pearson showed me some catch pictures in quite a different league. Because while I wouldn’t change our gorgeous Devon rivers for anything, it’s always nice to dream of that net-filling fish. As a well-travelled former England international, Gary isn’t one to overhype any fishing- and even more impressively, many of his best fish were coming on dry flies. Did I fancy having a look at what he was up to? Silly question!

A late start

The first notable feature of our trip to the River Torridge was that I didn’t need to bust a gut to be early. So much of his success has been late in the day. Sometimes very late, as the light is all but gone. Not only interesting, but very handy for me as a family man these days.

What a beautiful river we found on that late afternoon, too. The Torridge was sparkling with health. Sunlight was dappling the water and there wasn’t another soul for miles. It’s a fair sized river by Devon standards, and perhaps the wilder countryside of North Devon helps contribute to better hatches and habitat?

As we tackled up, my first surprise was just how light Gary would fish. I half expected to see a six weight and some extra welly in the leader. Not a bit of it! To my surprise he produced a 10.5ft, three-weight Cortland Competition Mk2.

“The bigger fish might be powerful, but they aren’t daft” says Gary. “A light line like a three weight lands so much more gently than a five or six- and I find that a longer, softer rod also protects leaders and tippets better.”

Unsurprisingly for an angler who honed his skills on the competition circuit, he carries various leaders of 10 to 14 ft ready to go on foam spools. Tippet strength was quite high, however, albeit with diameters still quite low even at 5.7lbs thanks to Cortland Ultra Premium Fluorocarbon- which isn’t the cheapest, but has incredible strength for its finesse.

Lesson number one in tracking down the better trout from this river was to stay mobile. Gary thinks nothing of walking a couple of miles in a session and will cover all the likely spots on a beat in a session, even when they’re well spread out.

With the magical last hour of light not even close, however, there was plenty of time to get our eye in and get off the mark. So, while dry fly would be the way to go later on, especially if we found a sedge hatch, we would kick off with French Leader tactics.

Long leaders and steady runs


In no time at all, we were prospecting some lovely runs between knee and waist deep water. While a lot of Devon rivers are a bit small and bushy for a long rod and leader approach, the Torridge is perfect, with heart currents and stacks of tempting runs and pockets to search.

Also notable, as we waded upstream, were hordes of tiny fish- another great staple for bigger trout. While this article isn’t about the mechanics of Euro Nymphing, the tactic was a great way to pass a happy couple of hours before the hatches really got going. Indeed, you’re better to have some fun and wet the net a few times at first, rather than going and disturbing the real prime lies too early. That said, there’s no rule against trying the really tempting lies more than once in a day on any river, provided you allow time for the fish to settle again.

In no time, we were picking up some smaller trout on nymphs dressed “point up” on jig-style hooks. The majority of Gary’s river nymphs are dressed in this style these days, and they seem to snag the bottom less and perhaps even hook more fish than traditional nymphs. I’m guessing it’s for this reason he leaned heavily on the ownership at Turrall to develop more of this style of nymph!

I say “small” trout with reservation, of course, because fish of 6-8” are par for the course in most of Devon and even at this size they are a joy to play on a light rod. For my part, I also like the confidence boost that comes from just getting into the action; with the blank well and truly beaten there is less pressure when it comes to targeting their big brothers and sisters.

Big fish territory

As evening began to beckon, it was then time to roam further to some spots where Gary had landed bigger trout. In almost every case, these areas had that special extra something. Whether it was an undercut far bank, or a great big drowned tree with the current running under it, most of the locations were fairly obvious with a little watercraft. The best of the lot also tend to be a long walk from any access point- and this is true of any river!

The next surprise was that Gary used almost exactly the same setup for dries that we’d been using for Euro Nymphing. He’s even left a little section of indicator mono in place, in fact, but added a slightly longer tapered leader to deliver the dry fly.

Two of Gary’s sedge patterns, new to the Turrall range this year. Cortland Ultra Premium is his tippet choice: not the cheapest, but incredibly thin for its strength!
Top picks for evening fishing were heavily sedge-themed- and Gary has been especially keen to add his own caddis designs to Turrall’s range, including some lovely CDC patterns.

The first thing you notice about the way he tackles the bigger fish lies is not instant pinpoint delivery, but a measure of restraint! In any new spot, the first job is to watch what’s going on and get into position slowly and stealthily. His experience quickly tells with rise forms, too, as I point out a splashy take. It looks meaty, but on closer inspection appears to be a small trout.


“There’s often a danger that if you hook a small fish in a hot spot, it can put down anything bigger in the area” says Gary. In fact, he will sometimes simply not strike when a tiny fish grabs the fly, for fear of it panicking and spooking any larger relatives nearby!

It’s one of those enduring truths of fly fishing that big fish can also give very gentle rises- perhaps because if you’re a pound or bigger even a decent-sized insect is a small mouthful. Hence, Gary never makes assumptions with subtle rise forms.

Generously (or foolishly!) he lets me have equal dibs on the best spots. No pressure there then? It’s a reminder for me to be patient and controlled, it must be said. As tempting as it is to get the fly tight to a far bank feature, a much better approach is to take a breath or two and cast shorter first, to get your eye in

Big hatches for big fish?

The areas we fish are all tempting looking, it has to be said, but where are the trout? For now, at least, things are rather quiet. Admittedly, some of the formula for success is beyond the angler’s control, but Gary is adamant that to hit the best fish you often have to find the best hatches.

On the Torridge, not to mention many other rivers, the window of opportunity can be quite small. This is another great reason to take your time and not spend the whole day flogging the water- and then finding yourself short of enthusiasm when things really get interesting later in the day.

Aside from mayfly season, it’s the sedges that tend to give Gary most confidence on the Torridge. When hatching in numbers, these are meaty flies to get even the best trout excited. Furthermore, with their boisterous hatching antics and the lower light levels in the evening, you can expect some solid takes.

Sedges feature heavily in Gary’s boxes where bigger trout are concerned.

While we manage to get occasional interest, though, it seems that the big event is just not quite happening this evening. All the same, it seems almost silly for Gary to be saying “sorry it’s not really been ‘on’ today” when we enjoy several lovely little browns of 6-8”.

Looking through Gary’s pictures, the big fish pictures tend to be on mild evenings, rather than sunny daytimes, and there are some impressively mean trout! He’s had a number of two-pound plus fish from both the Taw and Torridge and admits readily to losing one or two that might have been even bigger, and all without a heavy nymph or streamer in sight.

The quality of fish can be fabulous if you get it right!

It just goes to show that there are indeed better, bigger trout here in the far southwest of Devon and Cornwall. It’s just that they’re never evenly spread; and nor do they feed all the time or care a jot for our convenience. Even without that net-filler fish for the album, it has been an informative day with plenty to scribble down in the notebook that could help any angler net their best fish of the season.

Five ideal fisheries to try for bigger trout in Devon!

Should you fancy a crack at bigger trout in the South West, it really does pay to choose your spot wisely! Here are five of the very best rivers and stillwaters in Devon and Cornwall to try fly fishing for much bigger than average fish!

Little Warham, River Torridge: Our location for this feature, it is a beautiful and secluded bit of river with wild trout to over 3lbs. Also open to guests at £40 per day. More info at littlewarhamfishery.co.uk

Rising Sun Inn waters: Spectacular views and some gorgeous water near Torrington, which is no pushover, but has good numbers of wildies of up to and over the 2lbs mark. Contact the Inn for more details: https://www.risingsunumberleigh.online/

Culm at Champerhayes: One of the best waters of all for numbers of pound plus fish. A mile of underfished water with excellent hatches of olives, especially Pale Wateries and BWO. Available on the FishPass app via the Westcountry Angling Passport. More details here: https://westcountryangling.com

Roadford Reservoir: locals get them to 3lbs + each season, but they’ve been recorded to more than double that! The real monsters tend to take streamers, but the water does get good buzzer and sedge hatches. Try a big fly on a breezy evening- and don’t tackle up too light! More to read on Dom’s recent blog post HERE

Colliford Lake: This 900 acre Cornish brown trout fishery offers traditional fly fishing for wild and stocked trout. Grown-on fish of over 2lb are caught frequently, with fish up to 5lb caught occasionally. The largest fish recorded is a 9lb 8oz Brown caught in 2018. Further info HERE.

Live session: Fly vs lure for pike!

Have you ever fished side by side with a friend to compare different approaches? It can be an interesting exercise to compare and contrast methods.

If we take fly and lure fishing, each has some distinct advantages over the other, especially where pike are concerned. While lures can be cast further and have more vibration, fly fishing for pike has its own distinct benefits.

Why this should be the case is down to several factors, not least of all the huge current popularity of lure fishing! Not only does a fly offer something very different, it also offers a much slower, subtler presentation for tricky days or fish that are not in attack mode.

The proof of the pike is in the catching, however, so this month we thought we would have a friendly fish-off between the two. Each of our anglers uses both methods, it’s fair to say. But for the sake of our day out, Ollie Jefferies chose to fish lures while Dom Garnett tried his favourite the fly approach. But who would prevail on a hard-fished Exeter Canal?

8:30 Dad duties have ruled out a crack of dawn raid for our duo, but conditions look reasonable. There’s a lovely mist on the water and a bit of breeze, while the water is reasonably clear with just a slight greenish tinge. Our anglers are hopeful anyway!

8:40 Straight into the action, Dom kicks off with a weighted silver tinsel fly from Turrall. The thinking is that this will get down fairly fast, allowing him to get down to mid-depth (and this canal is 12ft deep in the centre) in no time. A fast intermediate line will also help search these deep waters.

Turrall pike fly silver flasher
Turrall’s Silver Pike Flasher: a fast sinking fly that goes heavy on the tinsel!

Meanwhile, Ollie starts off by throwing a jointed swimbait. The key with so many canals and drains is to get your lure or fly to the right level, often just above the weed where predators can see it.

Both our anglers are taking no chances with tackle, with 40lb braid in Ollie’s case and 30lb fluorocarbon leader for Dom, besides wire traces. This means no risk with a bigger pike, besides more lures and flies safely retrieved from bushes and snags!

9:00 With no takes forthcoming, it’s a case of keep moving and casting. The lads cover water fairly quickly yet methodically. Rather than throwing for the distant far bank at 30 odd metres, a better policy is often to cast diagonally along the near bank. Pike especially love the “shelf” on each side, where at about two rodlengths out, the depth plummets from three to four feet to double that.

9:30 Ringing the changes always makes sense when piking. When the going is slow, Dom often switches to a black fly. Not only does this show up brilliantly from below, it’s also something a bit different purely because it’s a colour very few other anglers use.


Ollie, meanwhile, is also mixing up his options. A “Real Eel” certainly looks the part- and this canal has always had plenty of eels in it that pike must surely eat? It’s also refreshingly different to the usual brightly coloured shads and jointed plugs the pike see so often. Over to you, pike.

10:20 Well, it’s taken well over an hour, but finally the first fish is spotted. After changing flies and casting along the margin, Dom sees a fish of 2-3 lbs snake along after the fly. Frustratingly, it just won’t bite! Dom tries switching to a smaller fly, but it seems this fish is just curious rather than ravenous.

10:35 It’s Ollie’s time to get some attention now. There is a sharp rap on his rod tip as he brings the lure across the near shelf. Unfortunately, it doesn’t stick! Damn it…


10:45
In the next few minutes, two more pike are spotted. It’s curious that the jacks seem to bunch up in late winter- perhaps they are gathering to spawn in the next few weeks? Regardless of the reason, they seem willing to have a look at a lure or fly but just won’t open wide.

Another fish then literally noses the fly but doesn’t find the hook. While Dom has not always been a fan of stinger hooks or tandem flies (below) for pike, an exception might need to be made for these picky predators.

11:15 With the sun now high and the cloud clearing, conditions are looking tough. For the next hour or so, we see very few signs of life. That said, this is common for a big, deep canal. Unlike a shallow drain or narrowboat canal, you will only very rarely see fish jumping clear when a pike attack takes place. This can make finding the fish harder! We do spot a couple of big fish in the margins as the light increases, but unfortunately they’re not pike- one is a ghost carp of 10lbs plus!

12:30 After a quick bite to eat, it’s time for a rethink. Our anglers head towards Lime Kilns, along with some different lures and flies. Ollie decides to try a few casts with a topwater lure, while Dom switches to one of Turrall’s large tandem flies in black. There are definite days here when the fish are reluctant and you have to annoy them into taking or try something completely different.

13:05 Oooh! So close. The black fly is followed by a slightly better fish, this time 5-6lbs. The tail fibres of the fly are virtually tickling the predator’s nose on this occasion, but he just won’t inhale. They definitely seem to be curious rather than hungry today- all we can do is keep trying.

Slower retrieves are often the way when pike aren’t in feeding mode- and it’s also interesting to see that more lure anglers are now trying furred and feathered artificials. In fact, one really neat way to fish a fly using a lure rod is simply to attach one to a Cheb weight, as above. This way, any fly can be turned into a jig!

13:40 Another curious aspect of the fishing today is where most fish are found. While the margins can be good this time of year, it’s slightly further out that most following fish are found today. Whether a couple of frostly nights have sent them into deeper water, who can tell? A good general rule is that you’ll find smaller jacks all year in any marginal cover, but the real net-fillers of 8lbs plus tend to come from down the “shelf” at least 2-4 rodlengths out.

14:10 Success at last! Just when things looked really bleak and it seemed a no score draw would be the final outcome, everything changes. Shortly after changing to one of the biggest home-tied flies in his box, Dom manages to tempt a fish. Predictably, it hits the fly down the shelf, 3-4 rodlengths out. Initially, it thumps wildly, before revealing itself as merely a small pike with a bad temper! Never mind, it’s a blank saver.

15:00 As our anglers pack up, it has been a tough old day on what can be a tough venue. At this time of year, the fish have certainly seen a lot of lures and baits thrown at them!

In the next few weeks, of course, it will also be time to give the pike a break. How long can you fish for pike in spring is a debate in itself! Once the water is warmer, not only does the weed grow with a vengeance, Dom won’t fish the canals for pike much later than mid April (and obviously on rivers you must stop mid-March) on as a general rule, simply because it isn’t fair on the pike.

On the whole, it has been a tricky season with covid restrictions, but a few better fish have shown for our anglers. One definite trend for Dom has been the value of digging out the fly rod on hard-fished venues! In fact, he’s had five pike in the last three fly fishing trips, compared to zero in four sessions on bait. Proof, if it were needed, that fly fishing is not just an eccentric bit of fun but often the best way to fish for pike!

There are still some bigger pike out there, as this lockdown fish from Dom shows, and with increased angling pressure the fly is often the best way to tempt them!

Read more from our team…

Don’t forget to follow Turrall Flies on Facebook and keep an eye on the blog for further articles, news and more. In previous posts we’ve covered some great tactics for all kinds of flyfishing adventures, from static buzzer fishing for trout, through to tackling perch and chub on the fly in urban surroundings.

Tarpon Fly Fishing in Mexico

Planning a big fly fishing holiday in 2021, once things return to normal? Of all the places and species you might tackle, one real bucket-list favourite has to be the Tarpon- and Mexico offers some excellent adventure fly fishing, as Turrall’s Rodney Wevill recalls.

It already seems a distant world, but before the dramatic winter covid spike and lockdown III, myself and some friends from the Team Fluff Chuckers – Fly Fishing Fanatics  Facebook group were like kids on Christmas Eve, setting out for Mahahaul in Mexico.

Our aim was a bit of assisted DIY fly fishing on the open coast, before heading to some of the inland lakes. Our mission was to fish the coast for permit and jack crevalle, with the added thrill of going for tarpon, which could be an especially good option on inland waters if the weather at sea wasn’t kind.

Indeed, so it proved that after six days of great weather and plenty of action on the beaches, the day finally came when the cloud was thick and the sun didn’t shine. Under the guidance of   Nick Denbow, the main man down in Mahahaul, we decided to go for the tarpon.

It was a real no-brainer to book Nick, because his knowledge of the area and salt water fly fishing is second to none having lived in the area for nineteen years. So, it was load his boat on the truck and off to a lake that he had not fished for over 12 months.

Tarpon paradise!

A tight spot! Our destination wasn’t exactly easy access…

Just getting there was going to be a real challenge, as the entrance to the place was going to be overgrown and it would be a matter of cutting our way through the mangrove and being bitten to death by hungry bugs. Nor did it end there, because just as we had nearly cleared our pathway,  the trusty machete we where using got dropped overboard! Even though we were safe in the boat, no one was going volunteer to jump overboard and take a swim with the crocodiles to retrieve the machete, so it was a very difficult final few yards into the lake!

Finally, we had broken through to the most stunning hidden lake, which was an average of five to eight feet deep, carrying a bit of a tinge to the water from recent rainfall.

Our first step was to set out to find one of the two deep-holed entrances of the cenotes (the term for Mexico’s rocky, natural freshwater sources) that feed the lake from the open coast. These fascinating natural features are a network of underground caves that connect these inland lakes to the sea.

Well, we were in for a surprise once we got there, because in the distance we could already see lots of disturbed water and fish breaking the surface all around the entrance of the first cenota! With nerves jangling, we maneuvered within casting distance and started to thow our tarpon flies at the broken water, encouraged by the sight of fish breaking the surface.

The next hour was going to be crazy! We had just joined the tarpon party, with cast after cast, missed takes, fish on and jumping for freedom, double hook ups and more. These fish are notoriously good at throwing hooks, but we managed tarpon from 12lb to 20lb to the boat.

I really cannot fully explain the excitement in words alone, suffice to say that these fish are just incredible fun on a fly rod! We were using Orvis Helios 3d 10# rods and they gave us a merry dance, pulling hard and making searing runs and insane leaps that just left you laughing and physically shaking!

Cold beer and a change of location

After an hour or so the fish finally disappeared into the deep hole and it was time to catch our breath and move on. For a few minutes we just sat on the boat and enjoyed a cold beer, before moving onto the second cenote on the same lake.

As we arrived, the scene of predatory activity was similar to tthe previous cenote.  Another large shoal of fish were rolling on the surface and we could hardly get going fast enough! We anchored the boat and started to cast and, once more, all hell broke loose.  These fish hit the fly insanely hard, instantly jumping high into the air and sometimes throwing the hook on the first leap. It was breathless stuff, with cast after cast leading to hook ups, fish on and off,  and yet the tarpon party still wasn’t yet over.

Best tarpon flies, fly lines and recommended tackle

We had a further hour of madness and more fish to the boat before things finally fizzled out. There are various flies for tarpon that will work, but for us the Blue Macleod tarpon fly was the one doing the most damage, although chartreuse patterns were a good backup.

 

It goes without saying these fish need tough tackle. Our preferred setups where Cortland Compact Floating Lines with a short leader (5-6ft / 2m) of 50lb fluorocarbon leader.

If that sounds rather heavy, it’s worth remembering that these fish have incredibly hard mouths and can rub through lighter leaders very easily, hence 40lb is a sensible minimum. Even in these strengths, one good tarpon fishing tip is to keep checking the leader after every hook up for signs of damage!

 

Last orders at the tarpon bar!

Once again the fish disappeared into the deep, so we fished around the lake’s mangrove margins for the rest of the session. While the action wasn’t quite as crazy as before, we hunted down a couple more hard-fighting fish before heading back home.

All in all then, it was an adventure I’ll never forget. We had perhaps taken a chance fishing this hard to access lake, but it had paid off. The lesson here is to listen to local expertise, and when a guide as experienced as Nick Denbow has a hunch, you would be a fool not to take up the challenge! Negotiating the thick mangroves and multiple bug bites was a small price to pay for the immense fun we had at this tarpon party!

Let’s hope that as life returns to normal and travel is possible once again, we can plan more great adventures in 2021 and beyond. Should you fancy planning an amazing saltwater fly fishing trip in 2021, Nick Denbow’s “Catchafish” Guiding service comes highly recommended for anyone who fancies a taste of the incredible sport Mexico can offer.

Don’t forget to also check out Turrall’s range of special saltwater flies and fly tying materials, including some ultra-tough patterns and hooks for catching tarpon, GT and other exciting species on your next adventure.

 

Live session: River fly fishing for chub and perch

For those who enjoy variety in their autumn and winter fly fishing, perch and chub offer some exciting and highly affordable sport. Following the success of last month’s pike angling feature (thanks for your feedback!), we thought we’d bring you another “warts and all” session with Dominic Garnett and Gary Pearson. This time, we catch the two for a short session on Somerset’s River Tone.


winter fly fishing chub perch River tone             

8:00 Our anglers meet early on the outskirts of Taunton to have a quick look at the water. The Tone here has all manner of species, including a few grayling, but they’ll mainly be looking for chub and perch. These species offer cheap as chips fishing for anyone who fancies some variety. This is no exclusive game angling river, but a £7.50 day ticket, available online from www.tauntonanglingassociation.co.uk

8:15 Conditions don’t look perfect, although with rain forecast later in the week they could be a lot worse! The river is a little higher and more coloured than summer levels- but this is quite normal for the autumn and winter. While we wouldn’t advise fishing when the water looks like milkshake, it seems quite fishable today, and the flies can be seen even a foot or so under the water.

Gary’s set up for chub fly fishing is a Cortland 10ft 6in Competition Nymph rod in a 3 weight. He uses a long, French-style leader, with a short length of coloured mono to help indicate bites. He’ll try a pair of flies, with a jig style tungsten bead nymph on the point and a spider on the dropper, about 24”/ 60cm above. It’s exactly the same sort of set up you might use for grayling.

For the record, he uses Cortland Ultra Premium fluorocarbon for all his nymphing these days, which has incredible knot strength and reliability for its thinness. Unless he’s trying for very highly pressured fish he uses 5X (5.7lb) and 6X (3.9lb) strains for his leaders and droppers, which tend to be around 6″ in length.

Gary swears by Cortland’s Ultra Premium for top presentation. Most of his river nymphs are dressed “point up” like these off bead patterns from Turrall.

Dom’s set up for perch fly fishing is a 9ft 6 weight rod and a very simple setup with 8ft of 8lb fluorocarbon leader and one of his jig style perch flies, which Turrall also product these days. He’s picked a bright yellow version, to help cut through the murk. With only the odd small jack pike in these waters, he won’t need a wire trace today- although he does debarb his flies, so they are easily shaken free should an unexpected pike steal one.


8:40  It has been a slow start so far. Gary has mostly been targeting steady runs and creases on the river. These include a series of small weirs that look especially tempting. Using a high rod, he steers his nymphs through likely looking water, much as he does when looking for grayling.

After a gentle take, he then manages to hook a fish. It looks like a dace, but alas, we’ll never know because it manages to twist free as he brings it to the bank. Incidentally, our anglers are not wading today, simply because there is little need here.

8:50 Meanwhile, Dom has been a bit surprised by the lack of action with perch. With the river a little higher than usual, they can usually be found hugging any slacks and obstructions, from posts to reedbeds. In fact, his first bite comes after switching to a pink streamer and trying a longer cast into steadier water. It’s only a small chub, but it fights gamely.Chub on fly

9:20 Switching back to a yellow perch fly, Dom finally starts to find his target species. Perhaps they needed some sun on the water, following a very cold night? They’re only small so far, but gorgeously marked and at least they appear to be waking up!


9:55 It’s been a slower start for Gary, in spite of him thoroughly searching a lot of promising looking water. All of a sudden, though, this changes as a delicate take leads to a solid hook up and a thumping presence on the other end. It’s no dace this time, that’s for sure!

He has to play it fairly gingerly on light tippet. For a few seconds, Dom wonders if he’s milking it, but the curve in the rod suggests otherwise! It’s a lovely chub, well over the pound mark.

Gary pearson fly fishing chub turrall Cortland
10:10
In spite of that bigger chub and the odd “wasp” perch, the action doesn’t pick up in the next half hour or so. Gary and Dom keep moving spots to try and find fish that are interested, which is always sensible on a small river. You can waste a lot of time flogging a spot that isn’t producing, while just one shot in the next location can be enough to hook a fish. Just like they would approach a trout or grayling session, they keep moving and casting upstream.

10:30 Fly choices are another way to try and pick out a fish or two if you’re struggling and today, both anglers go through the card. As well as existing favourites, they are also trying some new patterns. For Gary, switching to two well weighted flies allows him to fish deeper and slow his presentation down- this can be vital when the water is very cold and the fish are really glued to the riverbed. Interestingly, the chub took a new red-tagged nymph pattern that will join the Turrall range in 2021.

Dom, meanwhile, has a few casts with a hefty snake fly of his own concocting. This has a well-weighted head, a few rubber legs and a flexible wire link to the hook, rather than mono. He is semi-amazed not to at least find a jack pike on this. Perhaps a sign that the fish are not really switched on?

Snake fly

10:50 After finding a lovely, bigger slack area, Dom finally finds a better fish. After switching back to a yellow perch jig, he tries bumping the fly rather slower, letting it sink right to the bottom. All of a sudden the leader pulls tight and the six-weight thumps over. The head-shakes suggest a decent perch. Agonisingly, though, just as it comes to view, the hook shakes free!

Perch fly fishing tips

10:55 Not to be deterred by the lost fish, Dom loiters for a few more casts in the same spot. After all, perch are rarely found on their own. He tries the same fly and a carbon copy slow but jerky retrieve. Again, a fish hits when he lets the fly sink right to the bottom, before using it a twitch-twitch-pause type retrieve.

It’s another good fish- and this time there is no getting away. It’s a beautifully marked river perch of about a pound. These fish really are underrated on fly tackle.

perch on the fly Dom Garnett

11:30 Again, the lads have to switch spots and keep patient to get more bites. Gary is getting the occasional, very gentle take, but the chub are proving frustrating. Far from being daft or inferior to game species, chub can be wily and challenging fish to catch. On reflection, Gary also ponders whether he might return with some more mobile worm patterns on another day. Perhaps a squirmy type sinking fly might be worth a go? That’s for another day.

Dom, meanwhile, manages to keep the perch tally ticking over. They are not large fish, or very clever, but they give plenty of tantalising nips and are fun to catch. The real eye-opener today is just how close to the bank they can be found. In the summer, he was catching them right in the flow, darting in and out of the streamer weed. In today’s more barren-looking, cold river they’re keeping well out of the beefy main flow.

12:00 With the clock showing midday, we reluctantly call time on our short session. While the Tone can be much more cooperative, it has certainly been an interesting session- and while bites were sometimes hard to come by, each of our anglers has had a proper “net” fish.

Perhaps the main lesson has been that with the river level a little high and the water cold, the fish wanted quite a slow, careful presentation. Not that the way we fished is the only way to proceed. Streamers can also be tried in the faster water, for example, for the chub.


Dry fly tactics can also sometimes work, even so late in the year. In fact, there were some dimples at the surface in a couple of spots- most likely from dace and bleak. Not the biggest species, but these can add welcome variety. In fact, there are at least eight main species you could find on a fly here depending on the season (roach, dace, chub, perch, pike, grayling, trout, bleak). Great value fishing on a day ticket from Taunton AA.

Stay posted for more great articles, tips and top fly patterns!

If you enjoyed this article, do keep and eye on our blog and Facebook page for more action this season! Our blog archives have lots of great features on all manner of fly fishing topics, while our range of flies and equipment is always expanding, from top fly patterns, to tying materials from Hemingways and superb fly lines and rods from Cortland.

Live session: Stillwater pike fly fishing with Gary Pearson and Dom Garnett

As the cooler months kick in, many fly anglers will be turning their attentions to pike. For a real net-filler, big lakes have great potential but can be a daunting prospect! So how do the experts go about finding and catching the fish?

Rather than the usual “tips” article, we thought we would follow coarse fish on the fly fanatics Dom Garnett and Gary Pearson in a blow-by-blow session on a large stillwater.

08:30 Our session begins with tackle assembled and lifejackets donned. The water we are fishing is large and rarely fished for pike. In fact, there are only a few permits each year- so part of the battle is getting on the list and saving a boat. Not that an underfished water guarantees results!

Both anglers are tackling up with nine weights today. Tackle is robust to minimise any risks to the pike, with 30lb fluorocarbon leaders and wire traces. A whole variety of pike flies are taken, including some old favourites and new patterns that Turrall are looking at.

Turrall blog pike fishing tips
09:00 Hopes are high but the weather is diabolical on setting out! Our anglers are already getting soaked by the time they reach their first drift. On these larger lakes, drop offs are a prime area to try, and Gary knows a nice long bank section where shallow margins quickly drop away to 12-15ft of water. Ideal for a bite?

09:30 No bites are forthcoming as the lads try different lines and flies. With two anglers it pays to mix things up and compare notes. Gary has a di-3 line and a natural looking fly, while Dom has gone for a fast sink line and a big, glittery pattern.

10:15 At last, there’s a knock on the line and Dom gets a solid hit, right at the end of another drift. It’s only a small jack, but a good confidence booster. However, there’s no guarantee the bigger pike will be in such shallow water- quite often they are further out among shoals of bream and roach.

Jack pike fly fishing
10:45 With no further action on that side of the lake, a move is in order. At least the weather is brightening up a little too! Generally, the only reason to stay in one place is if you’re sure there are pike present, or you’re getting hits regularly.

Pike fly fishing how to
11:05 One interesting bit of watercraft today is studying water clarity. With heavy recent rains, water levels are well up. Also noticeable is how prevailing winds have blown a lot of sediment to one end of the lake. While this murky area doesn’t look great for fly fishing, there is a visibly clearer “band” of water just behind it that looks ideal for any hunting predator to dash in and out of.

11:10 Ooohh! So close. Gary has a near miss as a solid looking double charges his fly down right by the boat, but there is no hookup. Unlucky on this occasion. Even so, with another following fish shortly afterwards, it’s a clear sign that the lads should repeat the drift.

The fish seem to be a particular distance from the shore, but not in overly deep water here (10ft).  With this sort of depth, rapid sink lines can be a bit OTT, so Dom now switches to a fast intermediate- which leads to less weed and more bites.

11:45 The spot promises much, but there could be another factor in the amount of tugs we’re now getting: trout! Tellingly, a few minutes later, one of these leads to energetic resistance in the form of a rainbow trout. In any normal circumstances we’d be thrilled with a four-pounder. But on pike tackle, it’s not quite what we came for!

Trout on a pike fly
12:15 With only another jack pike to show for their efforts, it’s time to move on again. Along with local advice, it’s always good to trust your gut instinct and explore as much as possible.

Water depths are a point in case. While bigger pike tend to like deeper water, there are obvious exceptions- such as early or late in the day when they might be persuaded to come to the margins to hunt, or indeed late in the season when they gather up before spawning.  The moral of the tale is to be nosey and get local advice where you can- but also be prepared to follow your nose instead.

12:25 Gary has forgotten his lunch, so we’re hoping the pike will be as hungry as him in the next spot, up by a dam wall. This looks ideal- again we aim for the drop-off, but will search methodically, trying one drift on the “shelf” where the weed ends, followed by a drift farther out, where the water gets much deeper, to 15-20ft.

13:00 Success! It’s amazing what a change of time and location can do. In the space of mere minutes, we catch another two modest pike. Again, not proper “Reservoir Dogs” but very welcome.

Gary Pearson fly fishing Turrall Cortland UK

Does the colour of the pike fly matter? Do eyes make a difference? These are questions that always get debate started, but both our anglers think colour is important. Curiously, having tried a few patterns, it’s a big pink fly that is getting all the attention for Dom!

His theory is that pike don’t see many pink flies, because pike anglers tend to be too manly to cast something as pink as Barbie’s skirt! Joking aside, what a fantastic colour pink is for so many species- trout, grayling, roach… why not pike too?

Best flies for pike
13:15 Now that’s a bigger bend in the rod! Dom manages to hook a fish that feels like very little at first- but then suddenly decides it won’t cooperate once the pressure increases. This is a different stamp of fish altogether! With two anglers, it now becomes a case of teamwork. Gary brings the drogue in, while Dom is forced to switch sides as the fish goes on a steaming run. It’s moments like these that you’re grateful you weren’t stepping on any fly line!

Dom Garnett fly fishing for pike coarse fish
13:20
As hair-raising as a larger pike can be, we don’t want the fight to last all day. This is the benefit of using strong tackle- the angler has full confidence that they can lean into a fish if required and not be broken off. It’s soon subdued and cradled over an unhooking mat. At 14lbs it’s a fine fish. No record breaker, but just the sort of pike that makes these big waters appealing- on the local canal this might be a once-a-season encounter!  She is gently released with a minimum of fuss after a quick snap- these fish are fragile and demand respect.

14:00 The same drift, just a little further out, keeps producing bites. One very notable trend, however, is the depth the pike tend to hit. All day, our anglers have been counting down with different lines. Both of them settle on fast intermediate to mid sink lines in the end- even in 15ft or more of water, the bites come quite early, with no more than a six-second countdown. This suggests that the pike are either sat well off the bottom or more than happy to race up and nail a fly! Don’t always assume the pike are glued to the deck.
14:30 It’s great to keep getting bites, but apart from the odd fish that comes adrift, the size doesn’t grow bigger. This is partly why a solid 9 weight outfit is ideal for most of our piking; while it will easily subdue a big fish, there’s still sport to be had with the jacks. And let’s face it, even on the best pike waters, small, scrappy fish will heavily outnumber the giants. While it’s nice to dream then, we also want to get maximum sport with “normal” sized pike.


15:30 There are definite feeding spells at play on most pike waters, and so it shows today. The afternoon proves excellent for numbers of fish- although there are also now a lot of trout showing and even a big perch that comes from nowhere to grab a pike fly! Unfortunately, it misses the hook, leaving Dom and Gary to drool at how big it might have been.

15:40 It doesn’t seem to matter where we now try on the lake, there are bites to be had. Gary is next to get a good whack, only to see a lively trout attached where he hoped there would be a pike!

Pike fly fishing Blagdon
16:00 As our day draws to the close, it’s as if we’re on a different lake! What began as a blustery inland sea is now as tranquil as a mill pond. As nice as it is to be dry, it does few favours to the fishing. It’s almost impossible to get a decent drift going and the bites tail off.

On pretty much any pike water, this is often the case. Very bright, still conditions tend to be less productive. Whether they make human presence more obvious, or pike find it easier to hunt in low light and a good ripple, they are conspicuous by their absence for now.

Nevertheless, it has been an enjoyable day with around a dozen pike and that one lovely net-filler. And of course, if we can get back here for another visit some day, we’ll now know some productive areas to try. Naturally, with any water, experience will help you suss things out and it’s tough to get the best from just a quick hit. By keeping a diary and noting productive drifts, times and flies, you can get a bit of a head start- and even tough days will then help your longer-term success.

Top flies for pike…

We produce a great range of pike flies here at Turrall, which can be found from various retailers and online stockists. We’ll also be adding to our range shortly, with some excellent new flies on the way! Check out our blog archives for a guide to selecting the right fly for your next trip, along with further pike fly fishing tips!

Turrall best flies for pike Just some of the new patterns we’ve been testing with great success for pike! Keep an eye on Turrall stockists in the coming months.

Of course, you could also tie your own and we have just the materials to do it. Our tinsels and UV enhancers are loved by many of the top pike fly tyers in the business, while our durable, lightweight and eye-catching “Savage Hair” is one of the best value pike fly materials on the market at just £1.99 RRP per pack!

Here is the pattern Dom enjoyed the most success with on our day out:

PROUD BOY

Proud Boy pink pike fly
Hook:
Turrall Pike, 4/0
Thread: Black Kevlar
Body: White/ pink Savage Hair, plus light pink UV Enhancer and pearl Crystal Mirror Flash.
Cheeks (optional): Jungle cock
Eyes: 3D self-adhesive eyes, secured with epoxy resin.

Simple to tie and very effective, if you dare to get in touch with your pink side! Dom ties this pattern partially down the shank, which helps avoid the dressing spinning round the hook on the cast. The jungle cock is decadent for a pike fly to put it mildly- but why not? The bigger, split feathers that are a bit too large and messy for salmon flies are ideal. A hint of UV enhancer and tinsel is also a must.

Winning teams, flies and tactics from the 2020 Cortland Team Championships

With a massively disrupted competition calendar, the Turrall and Cortland sponsored 2020 Team Championships were more keenly anticipated than ever! Staged on Chew and Blagdon, the event drew a strong attendance and some great catches this year, with 168 anglers relishing their return to competitive fly fishing, with brilliant seven fish average.

With the fish hungry and high in the water, the majority used floating lines, making the most of the early calm to get off to a flying start. Favoured patterns included FABs, mini Boobies, crunchers and Diawl Bachs. More on the winning patterns and tactics shortly…

Top rod on day one was Tom Bird taking 17 fish for 33lb 11oz. At this point, Stocks Falcons were in the lead, with Cortland second, closely followed by FASNA and Airflo. It was to set up a tight finish on the second day, with favourable conditions holding, but slightly more challenging fishing.

It was Stocks Falcons who prevailed in the end (above). The team successfully replicated tactics that had been very successful during practice, fishing a Foam Daddy on the point, along with two Mini Cormorants, plus a Sparkler on the top dropper. Their total of 117 fish for 244lbs took them three clear of FASNA, to claim victory.
Team FASNA claimed second.

Blagdon Fly Fishers earned a hard-fought third.

The winners were richly rewarded by the sponsors, with a cheque for £1000, Cortland fly lines and Turrall fly boxes to go with their trophy. Second and third teams also won top quality fly lines, fly boxes and other Turrall goodies, along with cash prizes for an excellent match. Meanwhile, individual crown went to Team FASNA’s Tom Pitchford (below) , whose 31 fish haul over two days won him a Cortland Mk2 Competition Series rod.

Huge credit also has to go to John Horsey and the team at both waters, for their excellent job of hosting and keeping everyone safe with the extra measures needed due to Covid.
FINAL TEAM STANDINGS

1. Stocks Falcons 117 fish, 224lb 2oz
2. Team FASNA UK 114 fish, 235lb 1oz
3. Blagdon Fly Fishers 107 fish, 223lb 7oz
4. BRFFA Team Cortland 103 fish, 221lb 13oz

  1. Team Vision 92 fish, 194lb 6oz
  2. CWM Flyfishers 93 fish, 193lb 6oz
    7. Hungry Trout 89 fish, 189lb 4oz
  3. Welsh Wizards 84 fish, 180lb 1oz
    9. Team Airflo 86 fish, 179lb 1oz
    10. Team Snowbee 69 fish 151lb 5oz
    11. Tannahill Raiders 71 fish, 145lb 6oz
    12. The Peregrines 65 fish, 136lb 13oz
    13. Trout Ticklers 62 fish, 132 lbs 7oz
    14. West Country Crunchers 52 fish, 112lbs 0ozFINAL INDIVIDUAL STANDINGS

    1.HF Tom Pitchford 31 fish, 63lbs 12oz
    2. CE Alun Williams 29 fish, 59lbs 14oz
    3. HE Sean Jones, 28 fish, 56lbs 9oz
    4. LF Paul Bond 27 fish, 55lbs 8oz
    5. EE Bob Fitzpatrick 24 fish, 51lbs 1oz

Winning flies and tactics

Along with several regular favourites, the fishing threw up some surprises this year. Perhaps most notably was the success of a Foam Daddy Longlegs as a point fly. These worked very well on a Washing Line set up, with mini Diawl Bachs or Cormorants on the droppers.  Obviously competition anglers have to limit their flies to strict dimensions, but for a pleasure session on the lakes, you could easily opt for one of our award-winning full-size dry flies, like the Dark Foam Daddy.

Of course, there are other successful point flies that will work a treat for the Washing Line on point, whether you go for floating or intermediate line, and these include the various FABs and small Boobies, both of which put out lots of commotion, while drawing fish to your smaller flies.

One good tip, though, is not to fish these flies too fast. Quite often, especially with trout that have seen lots of bright flies, you’ll get more hook-ups by using slower retrieves and pauses.


Finally, don’t rule out the natural approach either as autumn arrives! Buzzers will continue to catch, as will Diawl Bachs and Crunchers, not to mention dry flies such as Bob’s Bits and Hoppers, such as the easy to fish Maraflash Hopper (below). Find all these patterns at Turrall stockists including Trout Catchers and FliesOnline right now.

With ex England International and Team Cortland angler Gary Pearson currently at Turrall Flies, we’re also going to be refining and expanding our range of top class stillwater fly patterns in the coming months! Don’t forget to keep an eye on our website and the Turrall Flies Facebook page for the latest flies updates.

Carp and catfish on the fly

With a new target species and some new toys to play with, the Turrall lads have been back on the bank this week. Even appalling weather couldn’t stop them from tangling with some impressive coarse fish on the fly, but could they tempt a wels catfish? Dom Garnett met up with Turrall’s Gary Pearson and Rodney Wevill to take up the challenge.

 Rodney Wevill Fly Fishing turrall

After the trials of both a virus pandemic and an insanely dry spring, it seemed fitting enough this week to be embarking on an extremely strange fly fishing mission. Think of the “gentle art” of tricking fish with artificial flies and the wels catfish has to be the last fish on the list. Even for the bloke who wrote a book that featured barbel and bream on the fly, it seemed a bit nuts. Possible, yes. Sensible, no.

Of course, it has now been done in the UK. With heavy streamer tackle, the likes of Ben Bangham and last year’s Fly For Coarse runner up Stuart Watson have managed to get their string pulled by some serious catfish without the need to get on a plane… or psychiatric help.

Fly fishing for wels catfish UK
Catfish on the fly are now a realistic target in the UK- as this fish from Stuart Watson shows.

So, when it transpired that a fishery not too far from our base here in Devon might let us try for one, it wasn’t just my ears that pricked up. We also managed to tempt down Rodney Wevill- a keen all round fly angler who’s just become part of our team of fly and kit testers and developers. A huge fan of pike on the fly, this should be right up his street.

If you plan to do this on any fishery, however, you will often have to book out a whole lake, we should point out (so as not to annoy carpy regulars). And you’d also need an XL net and unhooking mat, as these are seriously long fish. But who knows, perhaps this could be the next big thing for fly anglers looking for the ultimate battle in freshwater in the UK?

Two of the hardest fighting UK fish to catch on the fly…

If the plan to catch a wels catfish sounded a big ask, another great reason to head for a coarse fishery was to get stuck into some summer carp. With this branch of fly fishing growing massively, we were also keen to test some new fly patterns and tackle.

Having two species to go at also made perfect sense, though, because it meant that we could switch when the going was slow. And with catfish having quite short feeding spells, it would be a case of picking our moment with care rather than flogging the lake to death and losing the will to live.

So what tackle might you need to catch these species? As I explained in my book Flyfishing For Coarse Fish you don’t need specialist gear for carp. You can have great sport with “fun-sized” fish on tackle as light as a four to six weight. On our fishery for the session, though, with fish averaging 8-12lbs and snags present, this would be rather light.

Simple patterns will do fine for carp and cats: Peter Cockwill’s carp flies are excellent. For the catfish, you don’t need huge flies. In fact, all our takes came on sensible sized pike flies, preferably with a bit of pulse and throb to them. Turrall produce several that fit the bill perfectly- such as the basic Black Pike Fly (L).

 

Gary opted for an 8/9 weight Cortland Fairplay set up. Part of the reasoning was that we simply wanted to give it an uncompromising trial with some strong fish! At under £100 for rod, reel and fly line, this setup really is the best possible value for carp on the fly, but would also be a cost effective way to tackle up for bass, pike or other species too. An 8lb leader and a selection of carp flies and we were good to go.

tackle and catfish flies UK

On the catfish front, we would need far more specialist tackle (above). 10 and 11 weight rods are the minimum to consider, along with thick pike style fly lines and a minimum of 40lb leader to put up with a brutally strong fish armed with a mouth full of abrasive little teeth. It really isn’t worth compromising on materials here either- yes, quality fluorocarbon isn’t cheap. But for a fish that could be as long as you are, you don’t want to be taking any chances!

Carp on fly capers

After a preliminary look round the lake, it seemed carp were our best opening bet. Having bait fished for cats before, I can vouch for the commotion when they’re active and feeding! From huge eruptions of bubbles to heaving patterns at the surface, they are not the most subtle species. But for now, it was already approaching late morning and we were seeing nothing.

By the time we’d tackled up it was also slamming down with rain, which would barely stop for the next entire day and a half. Even more reason to break up the session into two species and take breaks. With shelters up, we were at liberty to take cover as required and time our fly fishing attempts carefully.

Carp were the first species to show, as Gary found fish moving in a shallow back channel on the lake. Despite the horrible weather, they began taking a bit of loose feed off the top. Much as I love to try and catch carp on natural flies, perhaps a majority of our commercial fisheries see a lot of bait, and so the most reliable route is to get them going in this way.

It took a fair time to get the fish to play, even with bait, it must be said. They’d come up to sneakily take a morsel or two of feed, then disappear again. These are wily fish, too, and easily missed- especially where they know what anglers are like. One good tip here is to keep trickling feed in just three or four pieces at a time, and be patient, rather than showering in freebies and jumping straight in.

You can’t help feel the fly rod, with no bubble floats or other casting weights, is ideal for cagy fish, because of the minimal disturbance. And it proved third time lucky for Gary, after two missed attempts he hooked a solid fish.

Gary’s first carp of the session gave a titanic fight!

The Cortland outfit stood up well. Ok, so you’re not going to get super fine or fussy performance at £70- but the powerful forgiving action of the rod was spot on. Nor was Gary milking it for my camera- it was a really strong specimen! Looking at the abuse dealt with (the rod, not just Gary!) this would also make an ideal starter outfit for pike fly fishing for anyone on a tight budget.

Weighed at 15lbs 8oz, it was a new PB carp on the fly for Gary and an impressive test for the rods and gear! I should also mention that Gary was testing some new carp fly patterns, which are on the way from Turrall.

Back she goes, after a brief argument with a fly rod!

Catching up over a cast or three hundred…

Delighted as we were to see that carp, the main event was still to come with the catfish. But it turned into a gruelling session. For one thing, the cats have quite short feeding spells, as I knew from bait fishing for them. We would not only need persistence, but regular breaks to keep our energy and enthusiasm levels up.

Between downpours, though, it was good to get properly introduced to Rodney, who is a keen fly angler and tyer with a broad taste when it comes to fish species. He’s particularly drawn to the predators in fresh or saltwater, with some impressive specimen pike on the fly to his name.

That said, his most recent obsession has been mullet on the fly. Easier than catfish perhaps, but also a test of patience and tackle! Good results have been coming on small nymphs and other mullet flies- and at some stage we’ll have to twist his arm to writing a blog post for us.

Shelter from the storm: Bivvies were very handy to keep us from drowning in rain, although interestingly I only had one carp on bait with two rods out overnight. Hour for hour, the fly was more effective!

The late show

 It’s one of those curious facets of any angling that it’s often just when you’re tired and confidence is waning that fortune suddenly changes. On our trip, it had been a long, wet day and we were soaked and feeling a bit dour by the evening. That said, the last spell of light is so often a time for catfish and other predators to wake up and feed.

Commotion can be regular on smallish lakes- but most of it will be carp. Catfish tend to make huge swirls or release enormous patches of bubbles as they stir!

We were also seeing the occasional sign of fish that didn’t look like carp. Either a big swirl at the surface or a sudden huge patch of bubbles erupting can be signs of catfish stirring.

Behind one of the islands on the fishery, I had just such a cue as the water churned. Two casts later and I had a sudden knock on the line. Was this a cat? It didn’t exactly slap me in the face those first seconds. In fact, whatever it was just plodded lazily at first. Could it be one of the smaller “kittens” in the lake, rather than grandma?


As I increased the pressure, the change was startling. The fish suddenly “grew” in size and fury, putting yards between us in seconds. It seemed to take a small eternity, but the whole episode must have been only a minute or so. The fish made an angry bolt for the near bank and, try as I might to keep up, it got wedged.

For many anxious seconds, I kept the pressure on, but could feel nothing. My slightly mangled looking barbless fly eventually pinged free, but I suspect the fish had long gone. Round one had gone to the catfish.

About two hours later, just after nine o’clock, Rodney then got his turn to hook one. Casting space is always an issue at non- fly fisheries, but he’d proved just how close in the catfish must roam with a bite right in the margin.

Rodney bends hard into a catfish- these creatures have incredible power!

With an even stronger rod than the one I was using, I thought he might have a better chance, but the fight was a carbon copy of mine. If anything, he got a slightly longer ride before being thrown off the horse! Again, after a few seconds of battle, the fish plunged for the near bank and everything went solid. He got the fly back, too, but that was the end of it.

The school of hard knocks!

As I write this, the questions are still echoing through my head. Were we unlucky or just not firm enough? Were the fish even properly hooked? Looking at the mouth of the wels, there are only two “sweet spots” at each corner of the mouth, where a hook up is likely. Find the crushing, sandpaper like “pads” and you can forget it. This is why a firm line strike, low and hard, rather than a lift would seem to make sense.   It’s also why you probably need a bit of luck.

As for flies for catfish, we also learned by trial and error. I tried many casts with large poppers, thinking the cats would love this. While you sense these might help wake the fish up a bit (and you could even splosh one about before trying a sinker in the same spot?), I didn’t have any attention on them.

Nor did the big pike flies get any attention. In fact, all takes came on very ordinary looking mid sized pike flies of 3-5″, and bucktail headed patterns seemed a good bet, because of the wake they create. All takes were had midwater or nearer the surface, too, interestingly. In spite of the cat’s bottom hugging profile, it seems a hungry hunting wels is often prowling the margins or right off the lake bed in open water!

The dirty antics of the catfish also need some adjustment- and I think you have to accept you won’t apply the brakes on these creatures in the early stages, regardless of your rod choice. However, it’s worth using extremely strong leaders and being up for a serious fight and unusual tactics. In hindsight, I should not only have run along the bank earlier to keep up with my fish, but got the rod tip well under the water to keep the line free of snags and hopefully keep itclear. Experience is the best but most ruthless teacher in any sort of fishing, I guess!

Gary had his own chance the following morning, but this time the fish bumped and was gone, without any fireworks. But this was the total of our efforts. It might not make the happiest conclusion to our story, therefore, but it was certainly an educational trip and we’ll be better equipped for a future rematch. Even with just curse words and a dry landing net to show for it, the fight alone and that lost fish was one of the most visceral experiences I’ve ever had on a fly rod!

Other things we learned were the value of each packing a shelter on a horrible day, not to mention the value of having another species (carp) to go at in the slower parts of the day (and while never topping Gary’s specimen, we did add to this tally). Other than this, timing seems everything for the cats. It’s a game of commitment, concentration and few chances, so rather than flogging the water for hours and hours, it made sense to take regular breaks and hit hard during the peak times of early morning and late evening.

Salmon fishers would probably understand the right mentality; you’re fishing for probably just one or two takes in a session at most and it calls for a quiet, calm determination and inner readiness. I also sense you might need to lose a fish or two in order to learn how best to play them. Lots of lessons learned, then, and there’s always the chance of revenge next time.

Watch this space and keep an eye on our Facebook page for more updates this summer, with patterns and tips for all kinds of fly fishing.