Stealth, simplicity & war on leaky waders: River fly fishing tackle tips with Dom Garnett

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.

Dom Garnett fly fishing

“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

Guided fly fishing Devon Somerset
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!

Here in Devon, what the small rivers lack in huge fish, they more than make up for in beauty and the stacks of gorgeous, greedy little trout. And who can complain at fishing as little as six quid a day or even free? Two sources I’d highly recommend are the Westcountry Angling Passport and Theo Pike’s book Trout in Dirty Places.

Simple, affordable tackle

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?

Correct, it costs a little more, but invest in the best tippet material and you’ll trick more fish!

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.

Best dry fly floatant
My very basic selection of treatments for flies and fly line (L to R): Mucilin, Fly Revive powder, Dry Fly Floatant.

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

Fly fishing essentials polarising glasses hat
Forget the rockstar accessories; for me it’s basic polarising glasses and a wide brimmed hat to spot fish and stop me literally becoming a redneck (in that order).

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).

Sportsman bumper fishing rod holder car

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

How to fish the static buzzer: The ultimate fly fishing tactic for fussy small water trout?

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.

Gary Pearson fly fishing South West UK
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…

Best buzzer fly patterns Turrall

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.

Gary Pearson fly fishing in Devon

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.

red buzzer fly fishing

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.

Dominic Garnett fly fishing
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.

Copy cats!

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.

Simpson Valley fly fishing

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?

Simpson Valley Skylark Lake

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

Turrall UV buzzer
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

 

 

 

 

Late Season Bass Fishing Tips, with Chris Ogborne

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.
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boat fishing bass Cornwall winter autumn tips
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

Bass fishing cornwall fly boat
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

Bass fly fishing tips lines colours sandeels
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.
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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.
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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.
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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!
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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!”
Fishing_sunset_cornwall
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For further reading on bass and saltwater fly fishing, check out our blog archives. Previous posts include:
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Bass and Saltwater Fly Fishing Tips

-Beyond Bass: Saltwater Tips from Garfish to Grey Mullet

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.

Sandeel flies for sea bass

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.

Grayling on the Fly: Patterns and Tactics for Autumn Fishing

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.

River Tamar fly fishing grayling

“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…

Fish Pass App fly fishing day ticket Devon Cornwall

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).

Best grayling flies nymphs off bead jigs
Regardless of rods and leaders, though, we’ll all be starting fishing with off-bead nymphs today. Not long released by Turrall, these flies give a jig-style presentation, to get them right down to the take zone without snagging up every other cast (you can find them here at just £10 for 12 brilliant grayling flies!).

Long leaders and location issues

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:

How to fish french leader czech nymph fly fishing
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:

Big grayling cornwall Devon fly fishing

Hide and seek

Short fly rods jungle fishing
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.

River Ottery Cornwall fly fishing trout grayling
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.

Baby grayling

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.

How to avoid flies snagging

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.

Further information

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.

Turrall Off Bead Nymphs grayling flies

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

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September Specials: Autumn Fly Fishing Tips & Favourite Fall Flies

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.

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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!

reservoir flies for autumn
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:

STILLWATERS

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.

daddy longlegs flies

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.

Stillwater flies for autumn

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.

RIVERS

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.

best river flies late season september
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.

Most of the classics will catch, including the classic Black Spider, Partidge and Orange or Snipe and Purple (above right). While we’re on the subject of classic soft-hackled flies Dom Garnett’s blog on these understated patterns is also worth a read here.

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.

SALTWATER

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.

best flies sea fishing autumn
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.

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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!

Chris Ogborne
September 2018

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Best flies for Fernworthy Dartmoor Reservoirs

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Fly fishing for chub and trout with terrestrial patterns

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

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

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

Taking cover

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

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

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

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

Summer chubbing

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

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

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

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

Flies Fly Patterns for Chub

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

Tight spots and risk taking

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

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

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

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

Cheap, thrilling fly fishing

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

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

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

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

8 Top Tips for the Early Stillwater Trout Fishing Season

As the big chill recedes, Chris Ogborne allows himself to think about the start of the new season. Here are eight great ways to get ready and put more fish on the bank on stillwater opening day and the early season.
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“Well, the first day of Spring was hardly what we expect down here in Cornwall! We normally get birds singing and eggshell blue skies – instead we had a foot of snow and temperatures more like Siberia.
 chew early season fly fishing
But as usual with such extremes in the UK, it didn’t last long and with temperatures returning to seasonal norms I’m allowing myself to think that maybe Spring really IS just around the corner. The milestone markers for me are the Cheltenham Festival, the start of the F1 Grand Prix season – and opening day on the big stillwaters!
This has always been a ritual for me, with that glorious sense of expectation that you get ahead of a new seasons fishing.  Any moment now we will be happily wading in our favourite lake or river, with that spring in our step that a whole six months of sport stretches away ahead of us.
reservoir fly fishing trout action shot
So if you’re still suffering from the cold, here are a few early season fly fishing tips to help you get going.  There are also some nice little jobs to do that will take the mind away to warmer days and fish in the net.  Hopefully some of these will strike a chord with fellow anglers!

1. Get your fishing kit checked!

Take some time to steadily check through all your fishing gear.  Be ruthless about it, too. A bit like spring house cleaning, it’s time to say goodbye to any bits and pieces that aren’t up to it any more- and dust off and organise the rest.

If in any doubt, Club Cortland is a good scheme just starting up this year. The idea is that you can take your gear to selected tackle dealers who will give your stuff a free health check and MOT at the same time. There are some neat offers and events for members too, making it a great way to increase your fly fishing enjoyment this year. Click here to sign up!

2. Fly lines: keep or change?

When to change fly line
Be honest: how well do you look after your lines? If you clean them periodically and are careful, they can last a good few seasons. But everything has its limits. So when should you change a fly line? Cracks, discoloration and poor performance (like a floating line that won’t float) are all signs that time is approaching.

Don’t kid yourself that the line you bought six years ago is up to the job! It’s a simple fact of life that a new fly line adds massively to your angling pleasure, and in the overall scheme of things they cost little more than a days boat fishing.  It’s a false economy to hamper your efforts with poor gear, so treat yourself and replace it!

3. Flies and Fly Boxes: It’s substitution time!


It’s fairly obvious when a line has gone past its sell by date, or a rod needs repairing or binning, but what about your flies? How long do typical patterns last? And when does a fly need changing or replacing, exactly?

Go through your boxes with a keen eye, for starters, and remove any hooks that show even the tiniest sign of rust.  Few things are worse than losing a good fish because the hook has given out at the barb, due to rust.

Other flies can sometimes be rescued by means of a hook sharpener; if it’s seen even a couple of busy trips, the chances are that the point is no longer as keen as it should be.

Do sharpen up before you start missing fish.Get the flies into order in the box as well, with sections for dries, nymphs etc.  We all let our boxes get a bit chaotic at the end of the year, and I’d bet that yours will be less than ordered if you’re honest!

4. Waders: Should I repair or replace?

Always check your walkers properly – you truly don’t want a leak of icy water in March or April!  Few pairs seem to last for season after season these days, so a quick test might be in order. If it’s a single, slow leak, it might be a relatively simple and an easy DIY job ahead of the big day (most waders come with a basic puncture kit- or you could try some “Zap-a-Gap” or other fishing glue).
If it’s a more serious job though, should you bin the darned things? If it’s a posh pair of waders, the man to send them to is Diver Dave Wader Repairs. This chap lives in Scotland and not only uses his own testing pools to go over them from top to toe, but will redo the seams and other trouble spots to give them a new lease of life! Click here for Diver Dave’s services.

5. Think before you Wade!

Colliford lake fly fishing CornwallWaders can be handy, but do have a cast or two short before you plunge in!

Talking of waders, please DON’T wade straight up to the tops of your waders on opening day!  This not just a safety thing, but a case of watercraft. Always fish the margins first.  Find a spot away from the crowds and you’ll find un-spooked fish that have had five months of peace and quiet. They can be closer in than you think and are much more likely to take a fly than those in the hot spots, where every man and his dog are splashing about at maximum wade depth.

6. Best flies for stillwaters in early season?

Fab Cormorant, Turrall stillwater fly patterns
 The thinking angler these days will tend to look to the floating line first, before moving through the sinking line densities as the day progresses or the fish become more spooky.
Any large body of water can take a while to warm up, and the rule of thumb in cold water conditions is to fish SLOWLY. Try gentle retrieves at first, rather than over-fast pulling.  Trout are cold-blooded after all, and can be pretty lethargic at this time of year, meaning they’re less likely to chase a fly for any great distance.
Nymphs, epoxy buzzers, and darker colours are always in my first line of attack. Turrall’s heavier buzzers are spot on, while you could also try some classic lures, such as the Cat’s Whisker or the excellent Kennick Killer.

7. Stay mobile to find the best stillwater fishing spots


Avoid the temptation to plant your landing net in one place and fishing the same spot all day.  Have that first hour in your favourite place by all means, but come mid morning you’ll almost certainly be better off to move around. The only major reason to stay in any spot is if you’re regularly seeing or catching fish!
If you’re bank fishing, be sure to explore the shallows, especially if there’s been a bit of sunshine in recent days. The easy-fishing spots will probably have been taken, but the remote areas will still be un-disturbed and well worth investigation. Fly fishing is meant to be a mobile sport and the more you look, the more you’ll often find.
 

8. Pack something warming

Never mind trout spoons, gadgets and gizmos and he most important fly fishing accessory me on opening day is the coffee flask! My happiest memories of opening days are sitting on a bench on Blagdon’s North Shore, and sharing a flask of coffee with my Dad.  In his case, it would have been fortified with a small libation from the hip flask as well!
We’d take time to watch out for the first migrant birds too, and it would always be a bit competitive to see who could spot the first Sand Martin or Swallow.  There is more to fishing than catching fish as they say! So take a break from the fishing, admire the first trout in the bass bag, and relax in the feeling that the whole season lies ahead of us! Happy fishing.”

Read more on the Turrall Flies blog & Facebook page…

Blagdon reservoir fly fishing spring 2017
Are you new to the Turrall blog? If so, take a look through our listed archives (left) for a whole stack of great posts! There are tons of excellent tips and flies to learn about, whether you want to tie the brilliant Humungous lure, or take a look at spring options for saltwater fly fishing in the UK.

Meanwhile, you’ll find inspiring tips, catches, news and exclusive giveaways on the Turrall Flies Facebook Page.

When the going gets tough

Iffy, unsettled conditions can make the fishing hard for the best of us at times. So what can we do when the going gets difficult? Dom Garnett reports on a couple of tricky recent sessions for grayling and pike with the Turrall team, along with some fly fishing tips for hard days on the bank…

“Did you ever get the feeling you were up against it when out fishing? We all have those days when the conditions seem wrong or the fish just won’t play ball. This autumn has been especially tough so far, for whatever reason. Unsettled or unseasonable weather? Bright skies and low water? Or just bad timing?

In a funny way, I quite like the testing days. You could probably argue that they teach us more than the good times. And when the conditions do change and the fish are really back on it, those little lessons stay with you, making your successes even more satisfying.

Grayling Fly Fishing at Timsbury, River Test

River Test grayling fishing Timsbury winterOne of the great pleasures of winter fishing is the prospect of grayling on the fly, with several famous chalkstreams offering access at a more affordable rate than usual. £25 is great value for a day ticket at Timsbury (timsburyfishing.co.uk) , where I joined Simon Jefferies and Gary Pearson for a session.

From the off, I suspected it might be challenging. Low, clear water and sunny skies are often a tough combination, but if anyone could win a few takes it had to be Gary, who has international experience across plenty of hard waters. Hence I was keen to capture a few shots and see how he might overcome the odds.

The first thing you noticed was just how carefully he approached each spot. We hit the smaller carrier stream first, with Gary really ducking and creeping into each position. It’s no use standing bolt upright or getting too close to the fish when visibility is so high; you will simply spook the fish.

Fly rods for nymph fishing
Also in evidence was Gary’s use of two rods. Part of the reason for this was that he wanted to give the new 10ft 6″ 3wt Cortland Competition Series a run out, but he often sets up another rod where the fishing could be tough. On one he set up with a duo of heavier nymphs, with a size 12 on point, while the other rod used lighter nymphs. Indeed it was the lighter patterns, right down to PTNs and beaded bugs in an 18, that made the real difference in the low, painfully-clear water. Long leaders were also a must.

Turrall grayling nymphs in various sizes, including Pink Shrimp, Juicy Bugs and our off-weight nymphs (top row) to be released in early 2018.

What became especially apparent in the low flows was how much less the smaller nymphs spooked fish. It’s not even necessarily the size of flies in the water, but the splash as they enter (and we saw fish visibly spook at any pronounced plop). With rarely any more than three feet of water in the carrier stream, “point up” jig style nymphs also proved handy to trip the bottom without snagging, and Turrall will be selling these handy designs in early 2018.

The grayling weren’t big on average, but very welcome on a tough day. The best spots were anywhere with a little extra depth on the carrier stream, and often the first sign of a fish would be on the take. These fish are certainly tricky to spot when inactive, as the old English name of “Umbre” (meaning “shadow”) testifies.

Simon Jefferies Turrall Fly fishing
Not to be outdone, Simon was fishing New Zealand style in the shallow water and also keeping a low profile, both with small flies and a careful, crouched approach. After a few early nudges on the wet fly, however, the fish seemed to show more interest in the dry.

The higher the sun got, the more the grayling began to rise- and we were amazed at the amount of fly life coming off the water for late October. The real star of the show was a CDC Dark Dun Sedge in a size 18 (above): very simple, very subtle and convincing on the water.

I often find that sunny days are better for photography than for fishing. I certainly struggled to find a single pike with a couple of hours on the nine weight, while fellow predator angler Matt Healey fared little better. Hence I needed little invitation to rejoin the party on the main river as the afternoon encouraged a few smaller fish to rise.

Little CDC dries remained the way to go and we had a hilarious last hour, striking (and usually missing!) at a whole pack of mostly tiny grayling that were rising over the gravel to midges. They were lightning quick and every fumbled strike led to laughter and jeers as we took turns. Simon’s sardine-sized beastie here was fairly typical- not big, but a good sign for the future to see these in good numbers.

Pike fly fishing on the canal

If you thought catching rising fish on dries was a bridge too far by this time of year, surely pike should have been more obliging? Usually, yes, but they really hadn’t read the script for our earlier session on the canal, out in the sticks not too far from the Devon and Somerset border. Along with Simon, I met with Westcountry Angling Passport manager Bruno Vincent, who was keen to add to his pike tally.


The weed and bankside vegetation were still quite prolific, so I encouraged them to get stuck in, even in tight spots. A lot of anglers only fish the gaps, which I think is a bit of a mistake because the pike really like the awkward spots.

What a tough day it turned out to be though.  We saw several fish in the clear water, but few could be persuaded to follow and even fewer to actually bite. And even when they did so, the takes were very gentle, the fish just mouthing and not hooking themselves.

The moral of the story here is to strike low and hard if you are in any doubt! If you’ve spent the summer trout fishing, it’s against your instinct to give it some wellie on the take. You would obviously risk smashing light tippets with a heavy strike on light line- but with a pike set up (mine is 25lbs fluorocarbon to 20lbs wire) you can really give it some! Given their bony mouths and gentle takes on the day, this was essential.

It’s always great fun pike spotting on very clear waters, but could we fool them?

It was hardly electric then, but we eked out a few chances in the end. My usually successful pint-sized smaller flies got little interest for some reason, so we beefed up and used much bigger 2/0 or even 4/0 flies in shocking pink or yellow (patterns I’m perfecting for the Turrall range next year!). I think these annoy pike into striking at times, even when they’re not ravenously hungry. Whatever the logic, a change of size or colour can sometimes earn a take.


Every chance counts when it’s slow, and we eventually struck into some jacks to put a bend in our rods. We tried various tactics, but a slower retrieve with a few sudden twitches seemed best. I would always try a few casts with a vigorous retrieve just to test things, but when they’re not in the mood you can definitely fish a pike fly too fast. Bruno was first off the mark with a beautiful young fish of two pounds or so (above), but the best of them came in more bizarre circumstances.

I had seen a better fish on the walk back to the car for lunch, sitting right under the bank. It turned lazily and seemed to watch the fly for an age as I gently wafted it along. Cautiously and ever so slowly, the pike looked again,  finally opening wide and inhaling the fly as if to say “I really shouldn’t… oh, go on then.”

It was a skinny fish, with one of its eyes visibly clouded over. Could it be blind on one side? It didn’t seem to have any trouble finding the fly. Had it been plump and well-fed it could have been seven or eight pounds, but I would guestimate it at nearer to five. Very welcome nonetheless. I quickly released it and hoped it might find a good square meal soon.

Apart from one more jack and the odd follow, it was not much easier in the afternoon either. Like our grayling trip, that’s fishing I guess! You can fish well below your best on some days and catch a hatful, while the next trip will take all your skill and focus just to make one or two chances. Curiously, it’s not necessarily the big catches but this frustration and process of tinkering that makes fishing so fascinating.

One final tip to relay from both sessions is how important timing can be. If you have a choice of periods to fish, settled and overcast conditions tend to be easier. If it’s clear and bright, pike often feed best in the first hour or two of light, while grayling may only switch on a bit later, especially if the night has been cold.

I hope your next trip proves to be less testing than ours anyway. The pike were certainly livelier on another session as I fished a friendly fly vs lure head to head recently (and you can read a bit more about this and other recent adventures on my blog at DG Fishing HERE). Every day on the bank is certainly different and every session brings new hope. Here’s wishing you some good sport in the weeks ahead, regardless of what you’re fishing for.”

Further news, tips and more…

Don’t forget to keep an eye on the Turrall Facebook Page for current news, tips, catches and much more, including the chance to win exclusive prizes! This month we’ll be giving away some new fly patterns designed for us by Peter Cockwill, perfect for stalking big fish on stillwaters!

Peter Cockwill fly fishing Turrall

 

 

 

Grayling Fly Fishing Tips and Tactics

As the trout season draws to an end, river fly anglers turn their eyes to the Grayling. Chris Ogborne offers some top tips on how to tackle this enigmatic and beautiful fish.
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“Grayling were probably designed to keep fanatical anglers like me sane in the winter months.  The trout season seems a fading memory as we head for winter, but with winter fly fishing for grayling available all over the UK there’s absolutely no need to put the river gear into mothballs just yet.

Grayling fin detail close upGrayling add a dash of beauty to the ugliest winter day.

Contrary to popular belief, the prolific grayling is also far from being confined to the aristocratic chalk-streams of Hampshire and Wiltshire. They abound in rivers as diverse as the Tamar in Cornwall, the Welsh Dee, and as far away as the most Northerly waters of Yorkshire and over the border into Scotland.  It’s also far from being expensive and it’s easy to find a days fishing at a good less than you’d pay for a bank ticket on many stillwaters.

So let’s dispel some more of the myth and mystique.  Here are my top tips on how to get started and for getting the best out of winter Grayling:

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1. Don’t write off dry flies

Start with dry flies for grayling, simply for the pleasure of it!  Grayling will respond to the sparsest of hatches and are always looking ‘up’ for their food.  They will rise even in appalling conditions and there are a host of stories of them coming up for snowflakes in mid winter.  If nothing is showing, try a bit of general prospecting with a Black Gnat, Red Tag or any dark up-wing pattern, but otherwise it’s a case of match the hatch with your nearest imitation.

Kilinkhamer Grayling fishing turrall

2. Try the deadly suspended nymph

This method is an absolute banker.  Use a big dry fly almost as a float, and suspend your nymph beneath it.  The leader length obviously depends on the depth of water you’re fishing, but  this method works even in very deep runs and holes. Crucially, it sharpens up your reaction time and turns plucks into takes!

3. Watch the water

It goes without saying that if you want to suss out how to catch grayling consistently, watercraft is as vital as with any fish. But it also pays to be aware of how and where they feed.  Grayling are shoal fish, so where you find one you’ll almost certainly find another  Walk the banks with caution and ALWAYS have your eyes on the water.  Polarising glasses are essential

wales_river_irfon Ben Garnett fishes the River Irfon, one of the UK’s best grayling waters.

4. Pecking order

Within the pools and runs you can usually find the bigger fish at the front of the shoal, at which point  they have first choice on food items brought down in the flow.  There’s a very obvious pecking order!  So make sure you have a good look in the pool rather than just casting blind, as this could give you a shot at a specimen fish

5. Weighted nymphs

Grayling will often hold in deep water so you’ll need some heavyweight nymphs to reach them.  In basic terms, you need to get the fly down to the fish so plenty of upstream ‘forward lead’ is called for.  A good tip to remember is that in clear water the fish are almost ALWAYS deeper than they look. If you’re struggling it can often pay to change the depth rather than changing your flies.

Beads, hooks graylingFor keen tyers, our range of brass and tungsten beads provide critical mass at great value.

6. Leader materials.

I use fluorocarbon for 90% of my grayling fishing. On occasion you may need to go fine if they’re being fussy, but for most of the time I’m happy on 5X for dries and most light nymph work, and maybe 4X for deep nymphs. In many of our smaller West Country rivers, you would struggle to work with much more than 10 feet of leader. On larger waters, however, French leaders are well worth trying in order to achieve greater depths and finer presentations.

7. Downstream spiders

For some strange reason, spider fishing seems to have gone out of fashion these days (although we have an exclusive blog on tying and fishing these classic flies on the way in the coming weeks!). This is a shame because it’s a fascinating and absorbing method.

Spiders for Grayling fishing

Downstream spider fishing is delicate, non-intrusive, and can help you reach pools that are unavailable with a more conventional cast.  Don’t be afraid to fish a team of spiders; it’s not uncommon for me to use three or even four on a cast, with the heaviest fly on point.

8. Wading is a must

As a general rule, I like to wade when I’m grayling fishing.  This avoids any skylining, because while not always the case they can be the ultimate in spooky fish on some days. But the real essence is that it puts you right down in the angling environment with them.

9. Don’t be a drag

Talking of wading, it can be hugely advantageous to position yourself so that flies track true and fairly straight between angler and fish. By this, we mean giving the flies a natural drift in the current, with plenty of time to sink to the optimum depth. The more awkward the cast and the more the flies are inclined to drag across the flow, the more reluctant the grayling will be to take.

10. Never fear the cold

Don’t let the weather put you off! Some of the best grayling fishing I’ve had has been on days when most sensible anglers have stayed at home!  They don’t mind the cold, they can positively relish rainy days, and I’ve taken loads of them when the snow has been lying on the ground.

River Itchen GraylingFortune favours the cold! This River Itchen fish took in spite of bitter easterly winds

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Turrall have a superb range of flies for all the methods outlined above, whether you pick and choose individual flies or go for a superb FlyPod or boxed collection of grayling specials (find them at quality fly stockists or order from one of our recommended online retailers)

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One last thing I’d stress is to take care of your catch, because grayling deserve respect. Crimping down your barbs and going barbless if at all possible makes total sense, as you’ll be releasing all the fish you catch.  Do also release them carefully, especially where they have fought hard. Support them in the water and be patient if they need a few seconds to recover and swim off. Do also note that while they provide great sport right through the winter, the grayling fishing season ends on March 16 in most areas; should you accidentally catch a fish in the spring when trout fishing, do release it quickly and carefully because it could be quite close to spawning.

For anyone who misses river fishing in the cooler months though, these fish are a godsend. If you haven’t yet been tempted to try the grayling, make a resolution to have a go this year.  Once you’ve caught one of theses lovely fish I guarantee that you’ll be hooked and it will re-define your thinking on what constitutes the closed season!”

Chris Ogborne
October 2016

(Additional images: Dominic Garnett)

Top Fishing Travel Tips

Taking the long haul trip to a new fishing destination brings excitement, but also fresh challenges from picking a guide to getting your rods and tackle safely through checkout. This month’s guest blogger Jon Clark, from No See Um Lodge, Alaska, is your guide to making the most from your next fishing adventure.

Female fly fisher rainbow trout

  • How to Travel with Fishing Rods – The Dos and Don’ts

    “There’s not much to packing a rod, but there’s a little more to landing in
    Alaska with your favorite fly fishing gear intact and ready to go. As long as you stay organized, get along with security and don’t lose any luggage, how hard can it be?

    Keep It Simple

    It’s always best to stick to trusted, simple tackle when travelling. Limit yourself to one or two at most if you can and do protect them. Your rod’s best traveling buddy doesn’t have to be expensive. High-end cases ring all the bells with very cool features, and they practically whistle while you pack. Reel dividers and spill proof pockets are always handy if you can afford luggage.

    That said, we’re still good with tubes. They’re easy to handle, bundle well and usually fit in the overheads.

    Fishing Rod Tube Tips and Tricks

    We like tubes because they give you grab-and-go access when you hit the lodge. They almost always get your fly fishing rods to your destination in the appropriate number of pieces too. With a little modification, they become pretty smart traveling accessories. With a few good tips, they re easier to haul around:

    -Wading socks in the top and bottom of your spey tubes help cushion the trip

    for big rods.

    -Tubes sporting waterproof fabric coverings often have an easier time through check points.

    -A compact rolling duffel packs plenty of tubes with minimum weight.

    -Snowboard bags offer padded protection for rods as well as fragile gear like

    fly boxes and reels.

    -Just let your rods wear their socks for the flight, but bind them together

    for collective strength.

    fishtec-journey_newMulti-section travel rods are a great shout for the travelling angler- but do be prepared to pay a little more to get good quality. (Image: Fishtec)

    Really Bad Ideas

    Dealing with customs and airport staff depends a lot on common sense and being prepared and polite. We find big differences in how airport staff deal with things like rod tubes and fishing equipment. By packing well and stowing any sharp or specialised items in your hold luggage, you will give them less to be wary about. But it should also go without saying that being courteous and helpful goes a long way. Here are some things not to do:

    -Never intentionally aggravate security folks, who are just trying to do a thankless job.

    -Pack forceps, pliers, knives, nippers and corkscrews in carry-ons, jackets or pant pockets (keep these in your main luggage!)

    -Ignore the idea that a gel flotant anywhere besides checked luggage will

    probably cause trouble.

    -Cram tons of stuff into a carry-on so that it explodes when unzipped for

    inspection.

    -Try jamming a Spey rod tube into the overhead while ignoring the fact that it fits in plane cabin’s closet.

    -Assume that all rod tubes deserve special attention from overworked
    attendants.

    How much fishing gear should I take?

    Travel fly fishing

    This is always a difficult question. The first thing is to consider the type or types of fishing you will be doing. It also depends on your destination: will it have tackle shops and other supplies? Dropping a line to the fishing lodge or guide is a great idea. Often guides can help with tackle and flies, so you can bring a little less gear. The chances are a good guide will have exactly the right gear.

    The two-rod rule is also a sensible one. Stick to one or two methods if you can and life gets a lot easier. You may however need accessories such as waders, a net and other gear that will get wet. Do make sure you’re covered for a reasonable weight of hold luggage- and include large, waterproof bags and outers for gear that is heavy or could get wet.

    Flies, lures and accessories are always another crucial point. What do you take and what do you leave behind? The best rule is always to have all the fundamentals (flies, leaders, forceps etc) but not bring the kitchen sink.

    Fly choices can be a particular headache, but two to three fly boxes containing hundreds of patterns take up very little space. Double-sided boxes are also well worth a look, as are cost-effective fly collections. The Turrall Flypod provides double the space of a regular fly box, along with a with a whole selection of proven fly patterns, whether you are after a holiday’s worth of Scottish Loch style flies, or fly patterns for salmon or Grayling.

    Fly Pod by Turrall

    Really Good Ideas

    We’d love to take credit for this next list, but honesty prevails up here at

    No See Um. We learn a heck of a lot from our guests, who come from all over the world. Here are some the best tips and ideas for any fishing journey:

    -Never be afraid to enlist in the services of a guide. They’ll know exactly where to get going and what to bring. Even if you’re an experienced angler, there’s no substitute for the local knowledge of a guide.

    -Always make a checklist before you start packing rods and gear, and yes,
    double-check it.
    -Airport security systems favor plastic tubes over metal and fiberglass, but
  • mileage can vary.
    -If you re traveling with a buddy, split up rods and gear between you in case

    something gets lost.

    -Print and carry any documents outlining allowed gear so that you can
    politely argue with security if necessary.
    -Call the different airlines that you ll be flying, and check their specs

    just to be sure.

    -If you have cameras or technology, take great care. Plain old bubble wrap is great for packing cameras and other delicate equipment, and stops small and fragile parts getting shaken or damaged.
    no_seeumred-salmon-fishing

    Saving You a Place on the Kvichak River

    Whether you navigate the skies with an upscale, double-layered waterproof rod
    case or wing it with a homemade PCV tube,  we welcome all anglers at the No See UM Alaska Fly Fising Lodge. We have some of the best fishing action and most spectacular scenery on the planet, with fantastic sport for many kinds of salmon, trout, grayling, pike and much more! If you’ve spent time with us here at No See Um, you know what we re talking about. Either way, we re saving you a place here on the banks of the Kvichak River.”

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