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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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?
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!
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!
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.
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:
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
With the late start to the current season, river fly fishers will be as eager as ever to get back to what they love. Turrall blogger and fly tyer Dom Garnett has some excellent hacks to help make the most of your time on the water this month.
“With such a long layoff before this year’s river fly fishing season, it’s been a rough time for many. Obviously there have been far more important things than fishing at stake, but the enforced absence should also make us cherish our sport more than ever.
I’ve missed hosting guided fly fishing trips almost as much as my own fishing this spring. But, if nothing else, there has been time to tie extra flies and sort the gear out properly. While doing so, it struck me that while I so often write about the joy of fly fishing in Devon and Somerset, I don’t often commit as many words to the practicalities of tackle, flies and some of those useful dodges that get overlooked.
So, this month, I’m going to take a closer look at how to fly fish small rivers- or at least how I do it!- in terms of the tackle and some of the practical aspects I try to impart in my guiding over many years here in the South West.
Start small and keep it local
Throughout the country, there is affordable fly fishing these days- but many are put off by the price and exclusivity of more expensive waters. And in the digital era there’s also the endless stream of huge trout and orgasmic looking river shots on social media. All I can say is don’t worry about what others are doing, because with some local homework and a look at fisheries like suburban rivers and fishing passport schemes, there’s some excellent fishing to be had for peanuts. Nor should anyone be travelling hours to fish in the first place right now!
One thing I love about stream fishing is how simple the tackle is. Anglers can get obsessed with the best fly rods and reels, but basic, practical tackle is all you need . For my small stream fishing, I am still using a 4 wt rod bought for £50 in a sale 10 years ago. My reel looks smart, but is just a cheapie. Partly because my last slick looking number from a big brand fell to bits!
Fly lines are similarly dazzling to many anglers. Yes, for a big river, specialised tactics or very fussy fish you might want to invest a bit. But for the streams, where there’s seldom the space let alone the need to cast more than 10-15 metres, a solid basic line from a decent brand is fine. For me, the Cortland Fair Play series is ideal. The performance marginally better on a £50 line, but would I even notice while flicking a fly out ten yards on a stream?
Sort out your leaders and tippets!
When I first started river fishing I made the mistake I see many newcomers repeating today; they get through endless leaders in a season and pick tippet materials that are either mediocre quality or too thick. My approach tends to be the opposite; an ordinary reel and fly line, combined with top quality tippet materials!
Find a reliable tapered leader for starters, and extend its life by adding a tiny leader ring on the end to attach your tippet. This will save you many quid in the long run, as you won’t keep shortening leaders until they are useless.
In terms of leader length, a 9ft tapered leader plus 2-3ft of tippet is a very useable typical length. I would only bother changing this if the stream was especially tight- in which case I occasionally chop down to 7ft of tapered leader plus tippet.
The actual tippet is possibly the most vital part of all . Does it really matter to the fish whether you use 5lb or 3lb tippet, or whether you use the posh stuff? In a word, YES! This is especially true for dry fly fishing. There is a world of difference between say bog standard 3-4lb mono and a really top class material.
The best of them will give you a fantastic presentation with just under 3lb of leader strength at just 0.10mm of diameter. Flies just behave more naturally with thin, supple tippet, it’s as simple as that. Why is it that we will pay over £100 for a reel, but consider anything over £10 as outrageous for really top notch fishing line?
For the record, I also find low diameter fluorocarbon perfectly fine for dry fly fishing. Yes, I know others will disagree and say “no, fluorocarbon sinks” but in finer diameters it seems fine. It will still stick to the surface tension or, at worst, just-about-sink. Perhaps this is to our advantage, as it makes those final few inches harder to see?
90% of the fish on just 5 flies
My favourite 5 (L to R): Klinkhamer, Elk Hair Caddis, F-Fly, CDC Quill Emerger, Beaded Hare’s Ear.
Ok, so it’s the pub debate that never ends. But if you could pick just a minimum of patterns, what would you take? Well, with the right choices would still catch plenty of fish on any small stream. You can experiment with stacks of realistic flies and beautiful designs, but in truth simple is best (especially when trees will always confiscate some of your work).
So, while I always like the odd curveball, I keep coming back to the same flies time and again for a reason. They do the job and are either easy to tie, or cheap to buy for those who don’t roll their own. With the dries, I love a simple Klinkhamer Emerger (size 16-18) or Elk Hair Caddis (12-16), especially for broken water with the latter. For subtler presentations and smoother water, CDC patterns tend to rule, such as a Quill Emerger (16-18) or basic F-Fly (16-22). All of these will be tied barbless or debarbed (and a pair of quality forceps that will crush a barb easily is another must have fly tying accessory).
For wets, I’ve tried so many but rarely do I feel that I’ll catch any more fish than with a simple beaded Hare’s Ear, (usually with a size 16 being optimum and these days usually tied on a “point up” jig hook). In fact, I remember one season when my brother made incredible wet flies- spectacularly realistic in every detail, from legs to gills. And yet the basic, tie-in-five-minutes-flat hare’s ear still caught more fish! Sorry realistic fly tyers; I still love your patterns but on any small river where much of your work will only decorate trees, I’ll save your creations for more spacious venues.
One final tip here for the guides is to stock up in bulk on the flies you use most. Sure, so you might have time to tie dozens of emergers and nymphs; but a much quicker solution is to find commercially made patterns you trust, get a trade account and order by the dozen! The same goes for tapered leaders and other basics; order in bulk and it’s so much cheaper (and knowing how many flies are lost and leaders tangled in a season you just know you’ll use them!)
Really damned simple nymph tactics
Talking of leaders and leader or “rig rings”, this tapered leader to rig ring to tippet set up also makes it a cinch to fish nymphs on smaller rivers. Ok, so I would always rather catch on the dry fly- but if it’s a cool day, nothing is rising, or the fish are in the deeper pools, why make life hard for yourself?
The same leader set up is just fine- and the leader ring makes an ideal stopping point to keep a basic, fold-on foam indicator in place. Yes, it’s very basic- but with a gold bead nymph it’s an incredibly effective, hassle free set up. Don’t get me wrong here; French leaders are great on big rivers and fussy fish, it’s just that on a cramped little river they are needless. Long rods and vast leaders are just impractical on bushy little streams.
Line and fly management
Meeting lots of anglers of all levels every season, I can vouch for the fact that they love their little containers. Some anglers have more containers than Gandalf’s cellar! Nothing wrong with any product if it does the job for you, but my advice is always find a simple selection and stick to it.
Beyond a bit of fuller’s earth to dull shiny tippets or help nymphs to sink, my entire selection is simply Mucilin, dry fly grease and a bit of dry fly revive powder.
As you can see from the state of my containers (above) these last a long time- and they fix a multitude of little sins. One common fault that drives me to ruin with guests, for example, is seeing floating fly lines sinking and scaring fish; it’s so simple to fix; just smear on a bit of Mucilin on the final few feet.
As for dry flies, just a tiny rub of floatant is all that most need. For rough water and patterns that need extra buoyancy, like the Elk Hair Caddis, a good tip here is to apply floatant twice- once at home, followed by a second time on the water.
As for the more delicate side of things, I do love CDC patterns- but they can be as brittle as Premier League footballers, tending to crumple in a heap when bitten. A bottle of dry “fly revive” powder is like the “magic sponge” of the physio, quickly perking them back into action, hence it also finds a permanent home in my pocket.
All waders leak, but there’s a way to stop hating them and buying more!
Now we come on to one of my pet hates: waders. There, I’ve said it. I hate them! It’s bad enough trying to find any pair when you have size 14 feet (yes, I know I am a freak), but I once found getting them to last more than a season or two impossible! You know the score- regardless of whether you paid £40 or £200, they start to leak. Finding the right pair that lasted longer than a Happy Meal almost got to the point of war.
So what’s the answer, when the whole industry (even the posh brands) produce these items quickly and cheaply in the far East? Well, I’d still invest a bit more for comfort. Things like tough knees are important, given how much time I spend kneeling to keep my lanky frame off the skyline. But as soon as there is even the hint of a leak, send them away to a chap called Diver Dave’s Wader Repairs. He’ll not only eradicate that sudden chilly sensation around your knees, but treat and re-glue all the seams, joins and other vital bits on your waders so they are not so much “like new” but better than new!
As a final point, there will also be the hottest days of summer when anglers ask “do I really need waders at all just to go fly fishing?” Well, strictly speaking, no. An old pair of sports type sandals or “flats sneakers” or any Croc-type shoes with decent grip are fine. Just don’t try it for winter grayling, unless you want to sound like the Bee Gees.
Other really useful fly fishing gear
Ok, so there are other things that are not especially sexy, but so indispensible you would file under “really bloody useful kit”. First of these is polarising glasses. So much nonsense is spoken about these! Perhaps it’s because I’m tight, or clumsy enough to break them, but I’ve never felt the need to spend more than £30. You’re welcome to spend £300- just don’t lend them to me, whatever you do. I like an amber lens, too, best of all.
Next comes a means of keeping your valuables dry. Ok, so you can store your keys etc under your waders- but a phone is something you want to hand at all times (in fact, with the risk involved, I’m less and less inclined to take a digital SLR camera). Find yourself a waterproof phone-sized pouch and neck lanyard and you’re in business (also essential for anyone who kayak fishes!).
Next there’s your hat. Baseball caps never suit me and leave me with a neck looking like I come from Kentucky. A wide brimmed hat is probably even less stylish, but just so much more practical and the fish don’t care if I look like a dad on a Eurocamp holiday.
On the subject of not getting your face burned, I find sunblock vile stuff that inevitably stings your eyes and makes you look like someone who has just experienced tragedy. So get yourself a purpose made face protector cream (the Body Shop or Bulldog do the best ones). Yes, they cost a bit more, but I would rather risk looking a bit metrosexual than have horrible cheap sunblock stinging my eyes (which happens EVERY BLOODY TIME I use regular sunblock on a hot day).
Last but not least, I would not be without my stick on rod holder for the car? Why exactly? Because I once smashed a friends rod clean in two by propping it against the car; before it slid down and got caught in the car door, mid slam! For £15 the Sportsman Bumper sticks magnetically to the car and avoids all risk of the sort of accident that could cost a small fortune and ruin your day. You have been warned! Google it and buy one, because they are absolutely indispensible.
Guided fly fishing and more to read from South West guide and author, Dom Garnett
Dominic Garnett is author of Flyfising for Coarse Fish and a regular blogger and writer for various titles. He’s also a qualified coach offering guided fly fishing near Exeter and right across Devon and Somerset, from trout to pike and other coarse species.
Read more from him at dgfishing.co.uk
In late winter, or any tricky day, it can be a tough job to get trout to cooperate. But canny presentation and the right flies can a biteless session into a success! Dom Garnett watched Gary Pearson like a hawk at Devon’s Simpson Valley Fly for a fascinating lesson in how to tempt elusive fish.
Have you ever had one of those days on the bank when the fish just don’t seem interested? It could be a fishery we like and flies we have full confidence in; but what happens when the fish won’t play ball?
This blog article starts with a confession: we’d booked a day on the excellent Simpson Valley Fishery’s Skylark Lake, but the fish hadn’t read the script. This article could have been about using mini lures or even hoofing great snake flies, but that would have required an act of fraud! The truth is that the trout just wouldn’t look at them, and so after forty minutes of biteless head scratching, it was time to a rethink.
With a nice ripple on the water, between spots of hail, my immediate thought was to try gently drifting some buzzers. But with Gary’s background in competitive angling, I was curious to see what his answer would be. To say I was in for a bit of a surprise is a bit of an understatement.
A different take on the indicator and buzzer combo…
While I drifted two buzzers in the ripple, still not getting so much as a nip, I spied Gary setting up a 15ft leader and team of three, along with a conspicuously bright “Thingamabobber” strike indicator. Even more unusually, he was fishing quite close in at the other end of the lake- and not retrieving at all.
Within the next few minutes, the curse word that floated along the bank told me he’d missed a take. Moments later, though, there was no mistake at his second chance as the rod thumped over. What on earth was his trick? And why on earth were my buzzers being flatly refused while he was tempting fish on the same flies?
Setting up for static buzzer fishing
When it comes to fishing buzzers almost at rest, a bit of clarification should perhaps be made first. While fishing these flies with almost no retrieve but letting the breeze do the work is commonplace, here we are talking about a different line of attack: letting the flies settle so that they are not moving at all!
Gary’s set up is a 15ft leader, with a red bead head buzzer on point. This helps to get the leader straightened fairly quickly for a tidy presentation. This fly will be on the bottom much of the time, serving to anchor the rest in place. Some three foot up from this, we have a lighter buzzer pattern (a black size 14 today) with another buzzer above it.
His indicator is not the foam type, but a Thingamabobber. Now, these look quite big and obvious, I’ll grant you, but they are easy to spot and very durable. Faff-free compared to a lot of the alternatives. Yes, some traditionalists will spit (usually while they watch the end of their fly line as a very obvious brightly coloured indicator!) but it does the job beautifully.
The total distance between indicator and point fly can be varied. You could try drifting the flies, but for a completely static presentation you’ll likely need the point fly right on the bottom (about eight feet is about right today).
I should also say something about Gary’s droppers. Now, I am as guilty as the next man of making mine too short and using whatever tippet material I have to hand. Not best practice! By making them around a foot long and using a nice supple, high quality material (Gary is really impressed with the new Cortland Ultra Supple- which is very strong but still quite thin in 7.2lb strength) you get much better presentation.
Blank saving tactics!
Just to prove it’s no fluke, Gary’s soon into his next fish. At about a pound, it’s a typical Skylark rainbow and is released without touching the bank at all. Good practice for these rather fragile fish, which shouldn’t be messed around with if you are to release them safely. I’m now rather relying on my catch and take ticket if we are to get some reasonable photos.
I’m not getting anywhere by drifting flies, so it’s time to follow suit! Generously, Gary lets me pinch a beaded buzzer, while I add another lighter pattern on the dropper. A size 14 or even 16 might look small, but for fussy fish on a lake where some of the fish have been tricked before, subtlety can be a big help.
Fishing only around twelve yards out, as the water deepens, it doesn’t take long to get some interest. The first take is so gentle, however, I wonder if it’s a take at all. I let my flies settle completely still and seconds later, the indicator gives the merest little dip. I tighten up almost out of pure curiosity and am surprised to feel a fish kicking away hard. From almost two hours without a bite, the change of tactics has worked within minutes.
From a pretty lousy day out, the bites now start to come regularly. Mrs Garnett will appreciate a couple of trout to eat, no doubt. Also joining us a bit late are my dad and brother. Tellingly, they have a slow start on their usual favourite flies and tactics before I advise them to shamelessly copy Gary’s static buzzer trick.
Most of the fish seem to want the middle dropper fly, a small black or red buzzer in a size 14, although I seem to be getting most of mine on the point fly. Presumably this must be hard on the bottom most of the time and some bites only arrive after several minutes, perhaps suggesting that the trout are very deep today and not at their most active.
Equally interesting is trying to get John Garnett to catch a fish. It’s not every week I can wrestle him away from the twin horrors of gardening and test match cricket, so I’m eager to see him net something. So far though, in spite of using very similar flies, it’s a blank.
The main difference, however, is that his leader seems a bit (how do you say this to your old man?) thick. It’s constructed from fairly robust Maxima line (which I don’t want to knock because I love this stuff for my coarse fishing) and the droppers are on the short side. While he has a sandwich break, I quickly insist on switching him to the Cortland tippet material and making those droppers and his final tippet longer.
Indications soon follow, but I fancy that he’s not always identifying the quite small nudges as bites. The simple rule here is that you should strike at even a slight sign of a fish; you lose nothing by doing so and if it’s a slow day the fish won’t always rip that line away.
Soon enough, we’re all catching a few fish. Smiles are back on faces and a trout supper is finally on the cards. It’s also a big lesson on the value of this simple but subtle and deadly tactic, however. My strong suspicion is that we Garnetts would have caught absolutely nothing without taking a leaf from Gary’s book and trying the static buzzer.
Granted, it isn’t the most romantic way of fly fishing. It does take some patience and attention to detail, too. But tell me- would you rather blank than do something a bit different? But how many of us would do just that before announcing that stocks are low or that the cormorants have paid a visit?
Out of sheer curiosity, I try a small lure again. It’s fairly bleeding obvious now that there are good numbers of trout in the lake because we’re finally catching them. The result? Not a single pull in the final hour, while the others continue to pick up the odd fish. The moral of the story is duly noted: unless you enjoy a dry net, the static buzzer is a must have plan B for your next tricky day out.
Further info: Top buzzer patterns and great value fly fishing at Simpson Valley, Devon
All the patterns used in this feature are available from Turrall stockists. Particularly deadly on this occasion were smaller flies, beaded patterns and our Holographic and UV buzzers, which blend lots of attraction with a lovely skinny profile. Try your local fly shop or shop online at retailers including www.troutcatchers.co.uk and www.fliesonline.co.uk
Set in a pretty woodland setting in North Devon, Simpson Valley has a welcome variety of coarse and fly fishing lakes. We fished Sky Lark, which offers excellent value at £20 for a C&R ticket or just £10 for two fish at the time of writing. See www.simpsonvalleyfishery.co.uk for full details
Has the sun already set on your saltwater fly fishing this year? With big bass still a mouthwatering possibility, you might just want to reconsider! Chris Ogborne still finds plenty of encouragement to launch his boat on the Camel Estuary. Here, he tells us the story of an Autumn day’s bass fishing on one of those special rare days between the Autumn storms.
Well, the crazy and ill-advised Bass regulations have at last been relaxed, and from 1st October we leisure anglers can fish again with the option of retaining a Bass for the table.
Or put another way, we can once again exercise our rights as part of our national and marine heritage. Whether the draconian imposition on our sport for most of 2018 will have had any effect on fish stocks is debatable, and in fact will probably never be proved one way or the other. With commercially licensed boats taking five tonnes each, I severely doubt that the quantities taken by leisure anglers would have had any impact at all, but doubtless the politicians will find a way of making the numbers read the way it suits them.
Regardless of this, at least we still have the rest of this lovely autumn in which to enjoy our fishing. Besides, if things don’t get too cold in a hurry, I’m hoping the back-end sport will be at least as good as it was last year. These days, of course, you can enjoy fishing bass year round, although timing is key. So what are the best conditions for bass on the fly?
Glorious autumn fly fishing for bass
I took the boat out this week on a glorious day and was reminded for the millionth time why I love living in this special part of the U.K. The estuary looked stunning. Autumn colours were blazing in the sunshine, skeins of geese were flying overhead as I left the mooring and a huge mixed flock of Curlews and Oystercatchers exploded from the salt marshes as I cruised past, on route to sea. I thought, as indeed I think every time I take the boat out, that life doesn’t get a whole lot better than this!
The fish were in a good mood, too. Last week’s storms had stirred things up nicely – we need a good blow now and then to liven up the water and move the food around for the fish – and the extreme water clarity of summer had changed to a very slight green haze, which is exactly what we want for Bass fishing.
Best fly colours and fly lines for late season bass
I stopped off at several estuary marks on the way down channel, taking a couple of schoolies at each one on the fly. The Turrall sand eel patterns in chartreuse and pink are just right in the brackish water, as the fish can see them more clearly than the neutral, grey or blue colours that we use in clearer water.
I tend to use intermediate lines almost exclusively at this time of year, as the fish can be a touch lethargic when the water cools down from summer temperatures. Retrieve rates are slower too and the ultra fast stripping of high summer is replaced by slower, staccato movements which give you the opportunity for more variety in each cast.
Conditions were as near flat calm as I’ve seen for a while, so I headed out to sea for a bit of prospecting around the islands. Sport on the fly was good, but I had to switch to a fast sinker on some of the marks, just to get down quickly.
Fish were feeding well in the running tide, and I positioned the boat in the down-tide lee of the island to fish the seams effectively. As high tide approached I just let the boat drift off across the rocky reefs that circle the island, taking fish between two and four pounds from around 15 feet of water. Brilliant sport, made so much better by the near-calm conditions that allowed the rare luxury of perfect control on the fly line.
Plan B: From fly casting to lure fishing
As often happens a breeze picked up after the tide changed, so I had to adjust tactics. For anyone sniffy at doing this, there’s no shame in casting lures when the need arises. As much as we’d love to catch every fish on the fly, lures can be a brilliant backup weapon that could save you a blank afternoon should the fly become difficult or impossible to fish.
On this occasion, a light LRF spin rod and 25gram soft baits enabled me to find the depth and if anything the sport just got better. I headed back inside the estuary to explore a couple of favourite marks inside the headland and they didn’t disappoint. I found a good pod of fish, all in the 3 to 4 pound class that gave a great account of themselves on the LRF tackle. There were still a few mackerel around too, to I dropped a string of feathers down to pick up a few for supper – the humble mackerel is still one of the most delicious fish to eat when it’s this fresh.
Time and tide…
All too soon it was time for home. I keep my boat on a mooring that gives me around 3 hours either side of high tide, so I have to make sure I’m back in time before the water disappears. Get it wrong, and you and your boat are stranded for ten hours or more!! Only once in thirty years have I left it too late to get back on the mooring – lesson learned! It wasn’t dangerous in any way, but the embarrassment factor was off the scale and I didn’t live it down in the boat club for many seasons! These days, no matter how good the fishing is, I always err on the side of caution! Or maybe that’s old age for you!
As is a part of my boating ritual, I stopped off on a little shingle beach about a mile from the mooring to gut the mackerel. In the flat water, I couldn’t help but notice a spray of tiny fish (probably baby Mullet) which were obviously being chased by something bigger.
It happened again about twenty yards away with an accompanying swirl so I quickly dropped the filling knife, reached for the fly rod, and put a fly down near the last disturbance. Three seconds later I was into a beautiful bass that must have been close to five pounds and he lead me a right old dance around the beds of wrack before I subdued him in the shallows. A spectacular end to a very special day and I admired him for a few long moments before slipping him back into the water.
Whatever your sport, get out and enjoy these final weeks of the season. The legacy of the summer heat is that we have a stunning array of autumn colour this year, but all too soon this will turn into the inevitable grey of winter and, as we all know, it’s a long old time till spring!”
For further reading on bass and saltwater fly fishing, check out our blog archives. Previous posts include:
Perfect fly lines and saltwater fly patterns for bass…
Looking for the best flies to catch bass and other saltwater predators this autumn? Look no further than Turrall’s own range of proven fish catchers. Designed and tested by Chris himself, our various sandeels and baitfish designs are spot on for bass. Chris recommends the brighter colours for later in the year, especially following disturbance and less than gin clear water. Find them at your local Turrall stockist or order online from the likes of Troutcatchers.co.uk or FliesOnline.
As for fly lines, an intermediate or fast intermediate is perhaps the most useful tool later in the year, with slower retrieves. Tough and long-casting, Cortland Lines come especially well recommended for the job. Find all the best Cortland products from fly stockists across the UK.
With busy lives, not to mention a summer of weird weather, it’s not always easy to get as much time on the river as you’d like. What a godsend grayling are, therefore, to take fly fishing into “extra time” on running waters everywhere! Dominic Garnett reports on a session of contrasting flies and tactics, with the Turrall gang and the Westcountry Angling Passport‘s Bruno Vincent.
“Although Devon and Cornwall are not exactly synonymous with grayling, there’s a surprisingly good selection of rivers where you can find the species. Nor is it all private, “members only” water. In fact, the excellent Westcountry Angling Passport scheme provides excellent fishing from as little as £6 a day.
Perhaps the first priority for our trip, given unusual current conditions (still very low water, after the bizarre summer of 2018), was to get some local advice. So I was quickly in touch with Bruno Vincent, who is a fellow writer for Fallon’s Angler as well as the current manager of the scheme, for some up to date information. Not only was he incredibly helpful, but we managed to tempt him out for a couple of hours on the water. Also joining me were Simon Jefferies and Gary Pearson.
Instant grayling fishing with the FishPass App…
In an angling world that isn’t always tech savvy, it’s great to see day ticket fly fishing moving with the times under the Westcountry Angling Passport. Today, I’m able to download the app, pay for tokens and digitally deposit these within minutes. Job done!
With water levels still low, Bruno’s advice is to fish Beat 22 (Ham Mill), near Launceston, which has a stretch of the Tamar, along with water on the Ottery, a lovely tributary.
“The Tamar always has a bit of colour, as do it’s main feeder streams the Ottery, Cary and Kensey” he advises. The Launceston area in general is excellent, with a cluster of beats all quite nearby (20, 21 and 25), for anyone in East Cornwall or West Devon.
“If the rivers are filling with rain, though, the Rivers Lyd and Inny are moorland fed and tend to colour up less- although that seems wishful thinking at present!” adds Bruno. “For those nearer Exeter, Tiverton and Barnstaple, Westons (beat 1) offers lovely grayling fishing too, on a tributary of the River Exe on Exmoor, and is well worth a visit.”
Install the free app for yourself or find out more at westcountryangling.com and there are stacks of waters to go at, with several open well into the colder months for grayling fishing.
Grayling leaders and flies for small river fishing
While long rods and even longer leaders are all the rage these days for grayling, I must admit that I’m a relative latecomer to such antics. Part of it is the fishing on my typical home patch; Devon and Cornwall have lots of diddy little streams with clear, shallow water. Beanpole anglers, such as yours truly, scare fish easily at short range here, while beanpole rods can be more of a danger to trees than trout and grayling! Nor have I done too badly with shorter rods and the classic New Zealand duo or nymph plus indicator route.
Today though, there’s a definite argument for mixing and matching. Like several beats, we have the welcome choice of a narrow, bushy tributary along with a larger more open river at Ham Mill. The 7.5ft 4 weight wand I’m rigging up should do for the former, while Gary, Simon and Bruno’s long rods are ideal for the latter. With lots of room to play with, we should all have space to do our thing (well, let’s hope some whipping match doesn’t break out because I’ve got the shortest rod).
With Cornwall’s rivers still so low, our initial challenge today is simply locating fish. The shallows are looking bare and often bereft of current, so it seems a safe bet that the fish are less evenly spread out than usual. It quickly becomes apparent that the deeper, faster water is the place to be.
Bruno misses some small early fish in a nice looking steady run with three feet or so of depth, which is encouraging at least. As with so many beats that contain both a main river artery and a smaller tributary, however, the confluence of the two looks especially tempting. In this case, there’s a lovey seam where coloured main river and clearer stream water meet.
Gary is straight in with the long rod. It’s a bit deeper here, but with reduced flows, one of the lighter off-bead nymphs is his pick, coupled with a soft hackle fly on a dropper. With weaker flows, heavier flies just wouldn’t move through the swim freely enough.
Indeed, the weight of flies you use is important; in deep rushing water you might find two dense bead heads best, but today’s low flows require less mass. Gary uses a 10ft 2wt Cortland Competition series, with an extra long leader (around 20ft) with a section of indicator mono to help spot bites.
Just watching an experienced nymph angler “high sticking” is instructive. I always feel like casting more line out, but this isn’t the right idea. Instead, the fly line stays in the guides and a short, curt flip forward delivers the flies. By holding the rod up and out, with the tip high and the angler really pivoting and reaching (the sequence below gives a better sense), you can cover a surprising amount of water with each cast. You can see why he likes a very light reel for the job, too. My cheapies would give you arm ache:
Getting this right is about good habits and watching an expert always helps. I tend to want to lift the flies out too quickly when they’re heading downstream; whereas if you leave them for longer you’ll be surprised how close to your waders you can catch fish- and how many fish come across the current or even a bit below you. Obviously careful wading helps- and grayling tend not to be as spooky as trout.
Sometimes the bites happen right at the end of a delivery, as the flies start to lift. Again, holding on that extra second, when the flies have passed us, takes a bit of reprograming for those taught the logic of “upstream good, downstream bad”. It’s not rocket science, but it takes poise and control. Watch Gary and it looks easy!
Nor is it all posturing or techny knowlegd, as he shows by striking into something pretty solid early on, a fish that really thumps the light rod. Size of fish is always relative in any angling, but this looks a belting Cornish grayling. Anything of over a pound can be considered an excellent Westcountry specimen. It’s absolutely beautiful and around 15″ long:
Hide and seek
While some of the more cramped spots on the Ottery look ideal for my short rod approach, it seems that the low water is the killer today. Spots that would usually be nice glides of water have shrunk to scrawny little pockets and at first can only graze a single accidental trout, which is quickly released.
So far, so not going to plan then. Until I join Simon in a slightly deeper, more susbtantial flow on the Ottery. Rather than argue over it we share a rod, which is always a nice way to fish. Here, a longer cast is useful- and the combination of a pink-tailed off bead nymph and an indicator set at around three feet seem to be just right.
In no time, we’re winning some takes. These are quite gentle, but we each manage to connect with fish, including a lovely half-pounder. That’s a bit more like it!
Other than that, the main challenge is not getting your leader ravaged by biting winds or getting hit in the head by acorns. Yes, it sounds harmless but in the bigger gusts they really smash down into the water and could do a man’s face some mischief. Perhaps there’s something unlucky about this stretch for me? One of the few other times I fished it was with a stinking, self-inflicted headache, as recounted in the Crooked Lines story “Hangover Blues”.
Late dry fly fishing
Spurred on by our change of fortunes, we decide to explore further up the tributary after lunch. Bruno takes his leave, although not before kindly earmarking a couple of deeper runs and pools. Again, the low levels have rendered some of the sections between these areas a bit thin. Gary keeps saying just what I’m thinking: “If only there were another six inches of water, this run would be perfect.”
It’s still utterly beautiful though. Well, apart from a dead sheep. Those always give me the heebie jeebies. This is perhaps the price of watching too many low budget horror films.
As much fun as the afternoon is, we don’t manage to improve on Gary’s earlier net-filler. In fact, Simon’s next grayling is one of the smallest we’ve ever laid eyes on. However, as the afternoon gets milder things pick up nicely. In fact, contrary to expectations, there are odd rises forming in the slower flowing waters.
Casting a dry fly on a 10ft Czech Nymph type rod and ultra long, fine leader isn’t exactly cricket, but is exactly what Gary resorts to. It’s not the most elegant way to fish, but with pretty much no fly line at all on the water, he achieves a very subtle presentation.
The grayling are not window shopping, but buying, anyway. CDC dries down to 18s and 20s get delicate-yet-positive rises, bringing the grayling tally higher still, although no one spot seems to produce bite-a-cast sport. If you do intend to try for some dry fly fishing, though, it certainly seems that afternoon is the time to try, as this is the only time we spot any rises.
I stick to the nymph fishing for grayling. Just out of interest, I compare some of the other, more conventional flies in my box at intervals; there is a definite difference between “point up” designs on jig hooks or off-bead styles, compared to old fashioned nymphs.
It’s no rigid survey, but there’s definitely a marked difference, especially with all the autumn debris in the water. With the modern nymphs, I spend more time fishing rather than unhooking twigs and branches.
With summer already feeling like a distant memory, I’m just grateful to have caught grayling as well as unwanted bits and pieces. After all, conditions have been hard: a stiff wind, along with very low water. In fact, the fishing has been just balance of challenge and reward by the time we decide to call it a day.
Turrall flies are available across many UK retailers, both in stores and online. To order our new Off Bead Nymphs, as used in this feature, CLICK HERE.
The Westcountry Angling Passport offers amazing value fly fishing across South West England, for locals and visitors alike. With their excellent new Fish Pass App, you can now buy fishing tokens and get cracking at the touch of your smartphone! Trout season might be done and dusted for now (October 2018), but grayling fishing is still available across several beats to extend the season further. For full details and a list of fishing beats, see: westcountryangling.com
On the very cusp of Autumn, Chris Ogborne looks at some flies that will help you make the most of September, an excellent month for fly fishing.
Well, after a parched summer we did at last get some much needed rain in August and I suspect that the majority of fishermen and gardeners were heartily pleased to see it. Lakes were ridiculously low and rivers have been ‘showing their bones’ for way too long. The feeling is that we were all just a few weeks away from a national hose pipe ban.
However, now things seem to be relatively back on track and with a definite chill in the air this morning, I felt that Autumn was just around the corner. A drop of rain was enough to bring a few sea trout into our rivers here in Cornwall and at long last the flow is looking vaguely normal, not just in terms of levels but colour. For most of this summer, river clarity has been such that it made tap water look cloudy!
So what does September hold for us? If you’re an observant angler, you’ll have watched the migrant birds departing and at the same time you’ll see nature stocking up ahead of the long winter months, with the fish being no exception. Evening rises have been prolific after the drought and it’s as if the fish know that this is their last chance of a good feed.
Early autumn always tends to be a good time to fish then, but this year could be even better than usual. With that in mind, here are a few suggestions on flies that really MUST be in your box this month:
It’s Daddy Longlegs time! Morning, afternoon and evening you will see the ubiquitous Crane Fly on the water and you’d be a brave man to leave home without a few suitable patterns in the fly box. These include daddy imitations, but I also like Hoppers.
Claret and Black are my favourites, depending on cloud conditions, but even on a bright day the Claret Hopper (above left) provides all the silhouette trigger factors that the feeding fish need. Of course, if things are really kicking off, foam bodied daddies (above right) are also great fun and among the most durable flies to use when takes are regular and splashy! For further tips, our previous blog on fishing daddy longlegs patterns is worth a look.
Following close behind the daddies, though, would be caddis patterns such as the CDC Sedge (above left) . Some good hatches can be had in the autumn and these flies work particularly near dam walls and stone banks. As the weed breaks up, Corixa (above right) will always feature in my fly box, too. Indeed, these bugs can be quite active all year on large and small stillwaters alike, even as things feel a lot cooler.
Finally, September also provides some of the best buzzer fishing of the year, and for the last hour of the day from either boat or bank it will be epoxy buzzers all the way into darkness.
For the beginning and end of any season, Black is the colour and the ever faithful Black Gnat takes a lot of beating. If you’re fishing one of the rivers where there’s been significant rain, with those sluggish flows turning to white water, then the Hi Vis Black Gnat (below left) will be useful in helping you keep track of the fly in the fast water.
It’s also the time of year when Spider patterns come into their own, especially if bank growth has been prolific and brambles and nettles deny you a decent cast. Fishing downstream with a team of Spiders is an art form in itself and it enables you to reach those secret places denied to a conventional upstream cast.
Evenings are drawing in a bit now, so depending on the hatch I also like to give the lighter dries an outing. We get a lot of lighter upwing flies down here, but almost anywhere you can use pale colour in flies to help you keep track of them as dusk encroaches, and the fish won’t mind too much because at this time of day they see more silhouette than colour.
September has long been my favourite month on the coast, not least because most of the tourists have gone home and the beaches are quieter. This is my time for either a bit of rock hopping or very slow ‘stalking wading’, where I replace my usual two-fly rig with a single sand eel on a very long leader.
The trick is not to cast at all until you actually spot a fish – if you’re casting all the time you just create an exclusion zone around yourself as the big solitary bass that come in close at the time of year are much too wary. Very slow, soft wading is the key and the Turrall Summer Sand eel in olive (above, top right) or blue is top fly for this fascinating style of fishing. Sometimes the autumn is the best time of year to catch a big bass too, especially after a hot summer with prolific fry like the one we’ve just enjoyed.
At the other end of the estuary, it’s also the time of year when we fish the little channels in the salt marshes, right up at the top of the tidal reach. Solitary bass will prowl in here, looking for mullet fry or baitfish and they’ll be opportunistic, often taking anything that moves! Turralls baitfish patterns will do the trick nicely- and as always the Saltwater Clouser Minnow (above bottom right) is a good all-rounder.
Whatever your pleasure in September, make the most of this lovely month. The drought denied us all a fair bit of our usual sport this year, so get out there and make some memories to last you through the long old winter, because it’s only just around the corner!
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