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.

Live session: River fly fishing for chub and perch

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


winter fly fishing chub perch River tone             

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Snake fly

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

Perch fly fishing tips

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

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

perch on the fly Dom Garnett

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gary Pearson fly fishing Turrall Cortland UK

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Top flies for pike…

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

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

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

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

PROUD BOY

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

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

Carp and catfish on the fly

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

 Rodney Wevill Fly Fishing turrall

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

tackle and catfish flies UK

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

Carp on fly capers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Catching up over a cast or three hundred…

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

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

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

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

The late show

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

The school of hard knocks!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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