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

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

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


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 But today the mineral water has been replaced with an out-of-date smoothie.

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

Fly fishing tactics for muddy water

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Drag, snags and big mouths

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

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

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

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

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

Go big or go home?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Summing up

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

Tips from our session

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

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

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

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

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

chew valley fly fishing

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

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

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

Embracing your calmer side…

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

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


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

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

Ghost tips and subtle takes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Best flies for calm conditions

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

A slow start

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


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

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

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

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

First contact!


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

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

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

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

Ghosting ahead

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Catch more from Turrall Flies and Cortland this season!

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

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

Dream Trout on Dry Flies!

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

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


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

A late start

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Long leaders and steady runs


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

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

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

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

Big fish territory

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Big hatches for big fish?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Five ideal fisheries to try for bigger trout in Devon!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Live session: Fly vs lure for pike!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read more from our team…

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

Tarpon Fly Fishing in Mexico

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

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

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

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

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

Tarpon paradise!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cold beer and a change of location

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

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

Best tarpon flies, fly lines and recommended tackle

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

 

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

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

 

Last orders at the tarpon bar!

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

Blagdon Fly Fishers earned a hard-fought third.

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

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

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

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

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

Winning flies and tactics

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

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

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


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

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

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!

Two’s Company: Fly fishing on Devon’s River Otter

When it comes to getting the best from a varied stretch of river, two rods –or even two heads- are better than one. Dom Garnett joined Gary Pearson on Devon’s beautiful River Otter to enjoy some fine dry fly and nymph fishing.

“When we think of most river days in the trout season, most of us tend to take just one rod. This seems logical if we want to travel light, but it can be limiting. After all, the tackle needed to present a dry fly in a shallow, stony run is completely different to that for nymphing in a deep, swirling pool.

Having two setups allows you to fish very different bits of water and get the best from every turn of the river. An even more sociable solution is to fish with a friend and carry a different rod each. It’s excellent fun and by taking a different set up each, you can keep swapping and comparing notes.

I should know- because my recent best ever trout from the River Usk was caught this way; my brother had packed a short, light dry fly rod for the shallows, while I took a much longer rod to handle long leaders and heavy nymphs. Had I just taken one, compromise set up, I wouldn’t have caught that fish.

Today, there is a similar theme as I meet Gary Pearson on the Otter. Our two outfits for the day will be a 3wt Cortland Mk 2 Competition rod of  10’ 6” , along with a slightly shorter 2wt Cortland Mk 2 Competition rod of 10ft. While the former is just the job for long leaders, heavy nymphs and deep swims, the latter is more suitable for delicate presentations, longer casts when needed, and the dry fly.

Gary is a firm advocate of long rather than short rods on the river and has threatened to show me how to approach the small streams on the top of Dartmoor with a 11footer later in the season!  Back to today and the nymph rod has two bugs on it set 2.5 feet apart along with a foot of Cortland bi-colour indicator mono attached to a very long tapered leader with this set up very rarely do you involve any fly line outside the rod top so casting can take a bit of getting use to if you haven’t fished like it before.  The dry fly set up is a much more straight forward 9ft tapered leader down to a 2lb point.

At the business end, on the nymph setup both Gary and I are big fans of the new Cortland Ultra Premium fluorocarbon tippet at the moment. It’s reassuringly expensive, admittedly, but incredibly strong for its incredibly fine diameter. Ideal then, for a small river where you might need some finesse but enough stopping power to land a surprise monster.

Poetry in motion: The River Otter


It’s not hard to fall in love with the River Otter. It’s a meandering and varied water to put it mildly. The poet Coleridge was also smitten by it; although by all accounts he was too busy scribbling verse and frolicking with the ladies to spot many trout.

As the place he learned to fly fish, the river has a special connection to former England international Gary. And while our sport is always prone to the “things ain’t what they used to be” or “you should have been here last week/year/century” comments, he assures me the river is still in good health.

There’s plenty of river to fish, too.  Day ticket guests have several beats to try at the Deer Park Hotel, while locals could also apply to join Ottery Fly Fishing Club. There is also a limited amount of free fishing at Otterton, but do check carefully!

Explore everything

 

One of the things I love about river fly fishing in Devon is the whole “hide and seek” aspect.  When watching an angler like Gary,  one thing you quickly notice is how often he’ll drop into the smaller, awkward or less obvious spots too many of us walk past.

Our first stop today is a point in case. A little swirling crease looks barely worth a cast; but a nymph gets an instant response and a small brownie gets us off the mark. In these rough little pockets, Gary’s long rod and duo if heavy nymphs is ideal.

Wild trout otter

The next little piece of water is similar- not much bigger than a coffee table of turbulent water gushing around a tree stump. I try with the nymph this time; and just where you’d expect, there’s a sudden jolt on the line. I’m surprised to connect with a pound plus fish that wallops the fly but comes adrift seconds later.

Just like the old days? 

Whatever the reasons given, the decline in fly life across so many UK rivers has been glaring in recent years. But is that always the case? “Don’t tell me, the hatches used to be so thick here, you couldn’t see the far bank!” I tease Gary.

However, as we approach mid morning, we keep seeing olives coming off the water. From early dribs and drabs come dozens at a time, in fact, of little pale watery olives, along with odd samples of other species from cinnamon sedge to a lone “proper” mayfly. Out comes the dry fly rod.

Pale watery olive fly fishing

We find a decent colour match in the fly box, but even a size 18 emerger seems large compared to the natural flies. A fun-sized trout lashes out first, but it is the meaty, steady rises a few yards further that really capture our attention.

After a few casts with no interest on a pale fly, Gary switches to a slightly larger, darker size 16 Klinkhamer, which does the trick. After a delicate sip, however, the expected half-pounder turns out to be something much larger altogether. Indeed, the next few seconds are hair-raising and it takes careful handling from Gary, not to be broken.

Gary Pearson Cortland Fly fishing lines UK

When you’re on camera, you don’t want to add any extra pressure, so the best policy is usually to keep your mouth shut and avoid the obvious bits of advice as you snap away.

Gary Pearson specimen trout river otter devon

What a fish it is that hits the net, too! Sixteen inches –or around a pound and a half- of trout is a phenomenal fish for our Devon rivers, where they average less than a quarter of that.

Meandering on…

After releasing the fish, the hatch shows little signs of any let up for a good hour or so. My first dry fly fish of the day could probably be eaten by Gary’s, but every single trout we catch is noticeably fat and well-fed. Whether the river is especially rich at present, or local farming is small scale and not reliant on chemicals it is wonderful to see.

Gary Pearson Turrall fly fishing

Even with flies on the wing slowing down by late morning, what we have seen is categorically the best fly hatch I’ve seen for several years on any English river! Even when it tails off, we keep bites coming by switching back to the nymph rod, which is perfect for deep and more turbulent spots where there are no rises.

The short line/ high rod approach might not be as “pure” as the dry fly, but is such an underused method on our Devon rivers, where classic dry fly or New Zealand style tactics tend to be the way with most anglers.

What’s really noticeable about Gary’s 10ft 6” rod is the feel of the takes too- for anyone who assumed a rod is just a rod, you can really feel the taps and tingles of interest through the competition blank! It’s a lovely way of fishing which, once you get used to it, can really winkle out extra fish and change the way you fish a river.

Mayfly fly fishing

There are odd large mayflies joining the party by lunchtime, although the trout don’t seem to be dining on them just yet. There is also evidence of beavers here, as a well-gnawed and felled tree shows. At first I’m sceptical-but the chisel like tooth marks in the stump could not have been caused by anything else. I’ll let you decide whether this is good news or a bit ominous for our rivers!

Beaver River Otter Devon UK

There is certainly no shortage of variety on the Otter though, as we keep on the move. One minute, we’re high sticking in tumbling water; the next it’s side casting under a shallow, leafy glide. The fish are still here, if a little challenging now.

Dom Garnett fly fishing Devon UK

As we make our way back through the fields, we’re still excited about that large trout and the morning’s biblical scale fly hatch. Having two rods has definitely made a difference, allowing us to search every last corner with the right key for each lock.

Fly Fishing the Hawthorn Hatch

As predicted, Spring almost seems to have been bypassed this year and as we enter early summer, our rivers are  dramatically coming to life.  Chris Ogborne takes a look at the enigmatic hawthorn fly, a species now well on the wing, with some expert tips and recommended fly patterns.

“There are many signs in the countryside that Spring has truly arrived: The swifts soaring and screaming overhead, the first cuckoo call and the first brood of hatched duckling paddling in the margins.  But for me, there’s a humbler and less obvious candidate – the first Hawthorn flies hovering over the hedgerows.

spring fly fishing in Devon
Unless you’re lucky enough to fish a river that has a decent mayfly hatch, these jet black flies are likely to be the first real feast of the season for the trout.  The hawthorns are prolific, for one thing.  They  can generate huge swarms and the fish love them.  Once used to them, they will rise with total abandon often with a splashy rise form more often seen on Irish loughs  at Mayfly time.

Like the mayfly, however, the fish seem to take a week or so to get locked into hawthorns.  It’s almost as though the smaller wild brownies are afraid of their size, or maybe cautious would be a better word. I watched a little fish on the Fowey this week, rising from the river bed as each insect passed over him, but failing to find the confidence to take it.  I’ve seen this behaviour before and even on the big lakes you can sometimes observe rainbows slashing at daddies without actually taking.

Hawthorn fly drowningNot waving but drowning! Temperature change periods are prime.

While you might need some patience, though, once the fish get a taste for hawthorns, there’s no stopping them.  So when do trout take advantage most? Well, hawthorn flies are particularly susceptible to temperature change and if there’s a cold snap or even if the sun goes in for a while, you’ll often see them falling onto the water in large numbers, at which time the fish get well and truly locked on.  Similarly in the evenings, as the days warmth recedes and the cool of evening takes over, there can be a significant fall.

Top hawthorn fly patterns and how to fish them

So which flies are best to imitate hawthorns? That old adage for fishing wild rivers is ‘any fly you like as long as it’s black’ has a lot of truth in it, and I’ll almost always start a days prospecting with the ubiquitous black gnat or an emerger version such as the Hi-Vis Black Gnat (below), one of my favourite barbless river flies.  These small, black flies imitate are readily accepted as a small hawthorne (or any one of many small terrestrials!) even without that characteristic pair of trailing legs.

But there’s  nothing like the real copy and the great thing about hawthorns is that they’re dead easy to imitate at the tying bench. You can exaggerate the all-black body and the gauzy, almost white wings with either a conventional pattern or even a parachute version, which not only replicates a drastically drowning fly, but makes it easy to spot in white water or faster runs.

Whichever pattern you try, fishing it well-drowned is often more productive than presenting it neatly; so think “in” rather than “on” the surface! If you don’t tie your own flies, Turrall produce several effective imitations, including the dry hawthorn (below):

Turrall winged dry hawthorn Enjoy Hawthorn time while  it lasts.  I have  a feeling that we’re in for a long hot summer this year as all the country signs are pointing to it, so make the most of  this early surface sport.”

Chris Ogborne

Small Stream Fly Fishing in Spring

After a rather cold, late spring, the trout fly season is finally starting to pick up on our classic smaller rivers. Dom Garnett reports on a testing yet rewarding start, including a battle with a real monster from a modest West Country stream.

“Although every season in fishing might look similar according to the textbook, things can be so very different in practice. So how did the season begin for you? Here in Devon, there were heavy frosts in early March; as we begin May, temperatures have varied from heat wave all the way back to winter chill. In short, it still feels like the rivers are a bit unsettled.

I tend to start every new trout season with optimistic ideas, which quickly tend to give way to more practical realities. I’ve been fishing locally on the urban rivers, and also further afield with Wellow Brook Flyfishers in recent weeks. The fish have responded on each trip, but not as you might have expected.

Moorland or Lowland Streams?

Jig Nymph trout
Although I love the heights of Dartmoor and other wild waters, I actually find that the lowland streams tend to fish better in the early season. In fact, the urban locations are often that bit warmer and more sheltered that exposed, lofty rivers up on the moors and right out in the sticks. And when things are a bit chillier, this is the time to hit them; before the sun lovers and holiday crowds are out in force in our parks and suburbs.

I had a couple of lovely, if testing , recent afternoons on town rivers too, including Tiverton’s River Lowman. Like the fishing in Okehampton and Tavistock, the modest size of the average trout is more than compensated by their brilliant colours. That said, on each trip I struggled to get an early bite.

Usually by this time of year, I would expect to start seeing some fish in shallower water and steady runs of only 18” or so deep. Not so far in 2018. I can’t remember the fish ever being so clustered on these little streams either. Some really juicy little weirs and pools produced two or three fish within minutes; others have been completely luckless. Go figure!

One really useful tip is to increase the depth you present your nymphs if you are really struggling. The usually reliable “duo” or New Zealand dropper is not always the answer, either, once you need the wet fly to fish well down. Better to use an indicator- and with the need to get right down I won’t hesitate to step up the fly size and use quite a large indicator that won’t pull under too easily when it’s trundling the bottom at around at three or four feet.

Best flies for early season on small rivers

off bead nymphs jig Turrall
Perhaps the real revelation this season have been nymphs dressed “jig” style. I’ve been field testing several new “off-bead” flies for Turrall, which are already filtering through to some of the shops . With an up-turned hook point they are superb for deeper presentations and definitely snag less and run through likely spots effortlessly. In a nutshell, this seems to lead to more trout and fewer losses!

It certainly adds confidence when you can bump a nymph through a rocky pool, knowing that you’re unlikely to snag. And for every spot that seemed lifeless, the next or next but one would produce a sudden hit and another lively trout. These fish are still rather skinny after a tough winter, but fit and beautiful nonetheless!

Winning the pools

Of course, trout sitting deep and rivers being rather full are not altogether negative for the angler. One thing you do notice as a bit of a beanpole angler is that you can get much closer to the fish without scaring the spots off them!

I can seldom get so close to the trout, even in a deep pool, when it’s high summer. Again, they seem to have really clustered up lately. You find nothing in the runs and tail of the pool and then, suddenly, two or three from the same small area, usually with extra depth and some cover nearby.

As gratifying as it is to get those first fish, however, there is part of you that craves dry fly fishing. Even a single hatching fly makes you scan the water more carefully. Occasionally, there have been some large dark olives, but alas I must admit that I’ve barely seen a rise in a whole month.

Large Dark Olive fly life
Not for the first early season spell, then, I have finally managed to tempt a fish or two not by matching the hatch at all, but by being a little more provocative. After all, while the shallows seem devoid of fish at first inspection, pocket water and the tumbling stuff around boulders, perhaps with more sanctuary than meets the eye, is well worth testing.

Small river fly fishing Devon
I don’t bother with tiny flies unless there are hatching flies and obvious risers, however. In fact, against your instincts, a big hairy sedge tends to work better in the more turbulent water.

Elk Hair Caddis Turrall
A size 14 Elk Hair Caddis (above) with plenty of floatant was the breakthrough fly this April. I like a sedge to be extra buoyant so I can wake it slightly through tumbling pocket water swims and little corners. It can feel like a heavy handed tactic, until suddenly… wallop!

Dry fly fishing April Devon
My first take or two on the sedge were missed by trout, or angler, or both. Then again, both man and fish were probably a bit out of practise with dry flies as you might expect. Next time there was no mistake though. A small trout, but beautiful and that first dry fly fish of the season is always cause for optimism. Things are sure to get better, too…

A monster from the Wellow Brook

Finally, I was also the guest of the wonderful Wellow Brook Fly Fishers recently. It was a sparkling day, the best of the year so far in face, and is all set to make a special Fishing Club of the Month feature for Fly Fishing & Fly Tying magazine in the next month or two.

Neil Keep, Wellow Brook Fly Fishing
You cannot beat local knowledge and I picked up some fantastic tips and spots to try from club member and fellow South West Guide Neil Keep. In fact, luck was truly with us and we couldn’t have picked a better day.

The local farmer’s ice cream shack opening just as you indulge in some trout spotting was one bonus; but the real highlight was an absolutely cracking wild trout that I hooked in a deep pool. At around a pound and a half, it was really well fed for an early season fish too.

small river, big brown trout
Like on the urban streams, our bites were concentrated in a just handful of spots. The biggest beast took a jig style nymph and really stretched a four weight to the limit! Do look out for the full story, not to mention some fantastic fly fishing tips from Neil Keep, in the article.

In the meantime, let’s hope the temperatures get steadier and hatches increase, because after the winter just gone, we could all use some sunny cheer. Till next time, happy fishing, best of luck and don’t forget to take some bigger nymphs to really search those pools, because you never quite know what you’ll hook next.”