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.

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

In late winter, or any tricky day, it can be a tough job to get trout to cooperate. But canny presentation and the right flies can a biteless session into a success! Dom Garnett watched Gary Pearson like a hawk at Devon’s Simpson Valley Fly for a fascinating lesson in how to tempt elusive fish.

Gary Pearson fly fishing South West UK
Have you ever had one of those days on the bank when the fish just don’t seem interested? It could be a fishery we like and flies we have full confidence in; but what happens when the fish won’t play ball?

This blog article starts with a confession: we’d booked a day on the excellent Simpson Valley Fishery’s Skylark Lake, but the fish hadn’t read the script. This article could have been about using mini lures or even hoofing great snake flies, but that would have required an act of fraud! The truth is that the trout just wouldn’t look at them, and so after forty minutes of biteless head scratching, it was time to a rethink.

With a nice ripple on the water, between spots of hail, my immediate thought was to try gently drifting some buzzers. But with Gary’s background in competitive angling, I was curious to see what his answer would be. To say I was in for a bit of a surprise is a bit of an understatement.

A different take on the indicator and buzzer combo…

Best buzzer fly patterns Turrall

While I drifted two buzzers in the ripple, still not getting so much as a nip, I spied Gary setting up a 15ft leader and team of three, along with a conspicuously bright “Thingamabobber” strike indicator. Even more unusually, he was fishing quite close in at the other end of the lake- and not retrieving at all.

Gary Pearson fly fishing in Devon

Within the next few minutes, the curse word that floated along the bank told me he’d missed a take. Moments later, though, there was no mistake at his second chance as the rod thumped over. What  on earth was his trick? And why on earth were my buzzers being flatly refused while he was tempting fish on the same flies?

Setting up for static buzzer fishing

When it comes to fishing buzzers almost at rest, a bit of clarification should perhaps be made first. While fishing these flies with almost no retrieve but letting the breeze do the work is commonplace, here we are talking about a different line of attack: letting the flies settle so that they are not moving at all!

Gary’s set up is a 15ft leader, with a red bead head buzzer on point. This helps to get the leader straightened fairly quickly for a tidy presentation. This fly will be on the bottom much of the time, serving to anchor the rest in place. Some three foot up from this, we have a lighter buzzer pattern (a black size 14 today) with another buzzer above it.

red buzzer fly fishing

His indicator is not the foam type, but a Thingamabobber. Now, these look quite big and obvious, I’ll grant you, but they are easy to spot and very durable. Faff-free compared to a lot of the alternatives. Yes, some traditionalists will spit (usually while they watch the end of their fly line as a very obvious brightly coloured indicator!) but it does the job beautifully.

The total distance between indicator and point fly can be varied. You could try drifting the flies, but for a completely static presentation you’ll likely need the point fly right on the bottom (about eight feet is about right today).

I should also say something about Gary’s droppers. Now, I am as guilty as the next man of making mine too short and using whatever tippet material I have to hand. Not best practice! By making them around a foot long and using a nice supple, high quality material (Gary is really impressed with the new Cortland Ultra Supple- which is very strong but still quite thin in 7.2lb strength) you get much better presentation.

Blank saving tactics!

Just to prove it’s no fluke, Gary’s soon into his next fish. At about a pound, it’s a typical Skylark rainbow and is released without touching the bank at all. Good practice for these rather fragile fish, which shouldn’t be messed around with if you are to release them safely. I’m now rather relying on my catch and take ticket if we are to get some reasonable photos.

I’m not getting anywhere by drifting flies, so it’s time to follow suit! Generously, Gary lets me pinch a beaded buzzer, while I add another lighter pattern on the dropper. A size 14 or even 16 might look small, but for fussy fish on a lake where some of the fish have been tricked before, subtlety can be a big help.

Dominic Garnett fly fishing
Fishing only around twelve yards out, as the water deepens, it doesn’t take long to get some interest. The first take is so gentle, however, I wonder if it’s a take at all. I let my flies settle completely still and seconds later, the indicator gives the merest little dip. I tighten up almost out of pure curiosity and am surprised to feel a fish kicking away hard. From almost two hours without a bite, the change of tactics has worked within minutes.

Copy cats!

From a pretty lousy day out, the bites now start to come regularly. Mrs Garnett will appreciate a couple of trout to eat, no doubt. Also joining us a bit late are my dad and brother. Tellingly, they have a slow start on their usual favourite flies and tactics before I advise them to shamelessly copy Gary’s static buzzer trick.

Simpson Valley fly fishing

Most of the fish seem to want the middle dropper fly, a small black or red buzzer in a size 14, although I seem to be getting most of mine on the point fly. Presumably this must be hard on the bottom most of the time and some bites only arrive after several minutes, perhaps suggesting that the trout are very deep today and not at their most active.

Equally interesting is trying to get John Garnett to catch a fish. It’s not every week I can wrestle him away from the twin horrors of gardening and test match cricket, so I’m eager to see him net something. So far though, in spite of using very similar flies, it’s a blank.

The main difference, however, is that his leader seems a bit (how do you say this to your old man?) thick. It’s constructed from fairly robust Maxima line (which I don’t want to knock because I love this stuff for my coarse fishing) and the droppers are on the short side. While he has a sandwich break, I quickly insist on switching him to the Cortland tippet material and making those droppers and his final tippet longer.

Indications soon follow, but I fancy that he’s not always identifying the quite small nudges as bites. The simple rule here is that you should strike at even a slight sign of a fish; you lose nothing by doing so  and if it’s a slow day the fish won’t always rip that line away.

Soon enough, we’re all catching a few fish. Smiles are back on faces and a trout supper is finally on the cards. It’s also a big lesson on the value of this simple but subtle and deadly tactic, however. My strong suspicion is that we Garnetts would have caught absolutely nothing without taking a leaf from Gary’s book and trying the static buzzer.

Granted, it isn’t the most romantic way of fly fishing. It does take some patience and attention to detail, too. But tell me- would you rather blank than do something a bit different? But how many of us would do just that before announcing that stocks are low or that the cormorants have paid a visit?

Simpson Valley Skylark Lake

Out of sheer curiosity, I try a small lure again. It’s fairly bleeding obvious now that there are good numbers of trout in the lake because we’re finally catching them. The result? Not a single pull in the final hour, while the others continue to pick up the odd fish. The moral of the story is duly noted: unless you enjoy a dry net, the static buzzer is a must have plan B for your next tricky day out.

Further info: Top buzzer patterns and great value fly fishing at Simpson Valley, Devon

All the patterns used in this feature are available from Turrall stockists. Particularly deadly on this occasion were smaller flies, beaded patterns and our Holographic and UV buzzers, which blend lots of attraction with a lovely skinny profile. Try your local fly shop or shop online at retailers including  www.troutcatchers.co.uk and www.fliesonline.co.uk

Turrall UV buzzer
Set in a pretty woodland setting in North Devon, Simpson Valley has a welcome variety of coarse and fly fishing lakes. We fished Sky Lark, which offers excellent value at  £20 for a C&R ticket or just £10 for two fish at the time of writing. See www.simpsonvalleyfishery.co.uk for full details

 

 

 

 

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.”

 

Fly Fishing at Fernworthy Reservoir, Dartmoor

With some better weather and fly hatches arriving, the Turrall staff have been back to one of their favourite trout fisheries in Devon, the beautiful Fernworthy Reservoir. Dominic Garnett reports on a testing but excellent day’s fly fishing, along with successful flies, tactics and one or two surprises.

“The arrival of ‘true spring’ is never incredibly exact. This year, more than any other, it has been cold, wetter and later than expected. And with the rivers still high and difficult, it has been a case of getting out onto the reservoirs instead for some sport.

Fly fishing Fernworthy Reservoir
Fernworthy Reservoir is a particular favourite with the Turrall crew. Even so, I wondered whether it would be a little early for the fish to be very active. How wrong was I though, because as Simon Jefferies, Gary Pearson and I set off, there were fish rising everywhere. Very small brownish buzzers seemed to be the culprits, as lots of shucks and hatching adults proved.

Buzzer fly shuck fishing

We tackled up with five and six weight rods, although with the lack of much wind we could have gone a bit lighter, I suspected. All three of us went for long, fairly fine leaders (5lb droppers) of at least 15ft. This is dependent on conditions, but definitely helped us get good presentation in the calm spells, allowing flies to land well away from the heavier fly line.

Flies and tactics for Fernworthy

There was only the lightest ripple on the water as we began, suggesting it might fish hard. I hadn’t fished here in a while, but remembered small loch style flies worked well when there was a good breeze. But with gentler conditions and such small naturals hatching I went small to start with, with spiders and buzzers in sizes 14 to 18 (although even these looked big compared to a lot of the real flies). I had a small, dark wildie right from the off on a Black Spider, but then struggled to get another bite for a while.

The others were struggling a bit too, initially, so it was a case of experimenting until we got it right. Gary mixed it up with some different nymphs and even the odd mini lure, but as before, it was his use of buoyant flies as part of a team of three that I found most interesting about his approach. You always pick up good little edges from these competition anglers- even when they’re just fishing for fun!

Best flies for Fernworthy Dartmoor ReservoirsSome of our fly choices on the day (Starting from far L, going clockwise): Mini Muddler (Golden Olive), Booby Buzzer, Black & Peacock, Quill Buzzer, UV Epoxy Buzzer.

The Booby Buzzer, for example, is a brilliant little fly of Gary’s design. Not only does it fish differently to a normal fly, tending to hang just in the surface film or below, but also changes the way your other flies fish. And when the trout are feeding in the upper layers it will keep your other buzzers higher up in the water too, almost like a mini washing line set up. Yet it’s so much subtler and more natural than the standard Boobies and buoyant offerings. It could just be my new favourite point fly !

It certainly worked for Gary anyway. While most of us use flies that sink and then rise as we pull them, he often uses a fly that is buoyant on the point, which will sink when he pulls. Or perhaps even deadlier, will suspend and just hang there enticingly when he makes a pause.

Whatever he was doing, it earned him the next fish, a cracking stockie putting a good bend in his rod. Probably our biggest on the day it went around 15″ and well over the pound mark. An excellent fish for Fernworthy.

Keeping mobile

Perhaps one of the most common errors for these Dartmoor Reservoirs is to stick to only one or two spots. That’s not to say you shouldn’t loiter if there are several rising fish in front of you, but with the browns quite territorial, it’s certainly good to move.

A quick word of warning here is to approach each new spot carefully, though. Tempting as it is to wade straight in and launch a long cast, quite often the fish were just a few rod lengths out. Hence it’s often a good idea to keep back and cast short for a couple of minutes first.

Fly fishing Dartmoor lakes

With the going tough early on, Simon put in the legwork to get into one or two lesser fished spots and it quickly paid off. He had a manic half hour with two landed, two lost, by doing something totally different though. The tactic that seemed to drive the fish nuts was a Mini Muddler fly, pulled just inches under the surface.

This fly is a favourite of Simon’s from many Fernworthy trips- but usually in a big evening sedge hatch, not late morning! For the record, if you come here in the summer, it’s well worth staying late and pulling a good sized Stimulator or Mini Muddler through the surface, because the fish can go nuts when the sedges are on.

Dartmoor Reservoirs Fernworthy Fly fishing
Gary then managed another fish after trying to provoke them a bit more by switching to a Cormorant. That was the last of the action for a while though, as the skies brightened and it seemed a good time to stop for lunch.

To the Dam…

There is access pretty much all the way around Fernworthy, making it a great venue for anglers who love to roam. We found plenty of space just along the lodge bank though- and with the daytime crowds picking up (and picnicking up), we ventured down to the dam end. The plan was we’d move again bank if no bites ensued within fifteen minutes or so (a good general rule). And so we moved spots towards the dam, looking out for rises.

Luckily for us, the sun that warmed our faces over lunch was more intermittent by now. It certainly felt like every time it got warm, the fish went deeper. But as the cloud came over and we got a slight ripple again, back came the odd rise.

The other notable feature of this area was an absolute mass of breeding toads in the margins. As keen as we all are on our fishing, these distractions are one of the great joys of a day out I guess. In one spot under the bank in particular there must have been about seven or eight all in a scrum, like some kind of Roman orgy for toads!

toads dartmoor
A lesser known fact about these beasts is how long they can live. Ten or fifteen is normal in the wild, but apparently in captivity they can make fifty! What has this to do with fly fishing? Very little… well, until the eggs hatch and the trout very possibly take notice of all the tadpoles! Small black lure in a fotnight, anyone??

Back to the fishing and while sport wasn’t easy, the trout were still willing to look at a small buzzer from time to time, at least when the wind raised a notch and carried our flies better. Just letting them swing across with virtually no retrieve seemed to be the way.


Perhaps the best moment of drama was with Gary, just as his cast landed. Having just nabbed a tiny little native, a much bigger fish gave a crash take at the surface. The hook didn’t set, but my own timing was more fortuitous, as I was perfectly set with the camera just as the surface exploded!

Surface take fly fishing Gary Pearson
I was only getting sporadic pulls meanwhile, but was glad I persisted with the smaller buzzers, because it was swinging these around in the breeze that led to the best wildie of the day. Following a few juicy head and tail rises perhaps a hundred yards before the dam, I was simply letting my flies move genty on the breeze, when the line jolted tight.

I’d assumed it was a “stockie” by the ruckus, but the more slender shape and milky edged fins suggested otherwise. It had dense spotting and an incredible blue sheen to it too. One of the best looking trout I’ve caught in quite a while and at 12-13″, a very good-sized “wildie” for here.

wild brown trout fishing fernworthy dartmoor
It was with reluctance then, besides satisfaction, that I pullled myself away from the lake to pick the wife up from work. Inevitably when you reach for the car keys, the fish begin rising again- and I left Simon and Gary to it.

What a beautiful venue and what excellent sport for our day out. Not easy, but certainly rewarding if you mix things up a little and keep mobile. I’m told the real cream of fly fishing on Fernworthy is on a summer evening when there’s a good ripple and the caddis are hatching. Hoppers and small terrestrials have also worked though. Failing that, however I would take light-ish tackle and fish a long leader with two or three small natural flies; you cannot go too far wrong with classic dark spiders and skinny buzzers.

I hope this little write up has given you an idea or two for your next trip to Dartmoor anyway- and the same tactics certainly work on all our brown trout stillwaters, whether free or day ticket. Here’s to an excellent season for everyone.”

Buy the flies…

For all the flies used in our trip, including all of our favourite fly patterns for Fernworthy and the other Dartmoor reservoirs, see your local Turrall dealer or order at a click from our online stockists, including www.troutcatchers.co.uk, Fly Fishing Tackle UK and FliesOnline.

8 Top Tips for the Early Stillwater Trout Fishing Season

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

1. Get your fishing kit checked!

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

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

2. Fly lines: keep or change?

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

4. Waders: Should I repair or replace?

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

5. Think before you Wade!

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

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

6. Best flies for stillwaters in early season?

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

7. Stay mobile to find the best stillwater fishing spots


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

8. Pack something warming

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

Read more on the Turrall Flies blog & Facebook page…

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

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

9 Deadly Spiders: Top fly patterns and fishing tips

Traditional, understated and so often underused, spider patterns are a must for any fly box. Turrall’s Dom Garnett provides a host of traditional and modern favourites and tips for river and stillwater fly fishing.


There are so many reasons to recommend spider patterns. They are simple to tie, yet so effective for various species. Thanks to their subtlety and excellent movement, they also work in tricky conditions and so even if I don’t start fishing with one, there are always a few ready in my box.

A small water rainbow is hooked on a spider fished just inches deep.

So what exactly is a spider? Traditionally, it is a fly consisting of little more than a thread body and a sparse, mobile hackle. In fact the Americans simply call them “soft hackles”. Flies that date back to the earliest fly fishing.

They are fished wet and tend to work well with very little retrieve. There is such natural movement in the “legs” made of hen, pheasant, starling or any various soft feathers, that they often need little manipulation from the angler. In fact they are a godsend in flat calm conditions, or where there is little movement in the current. I like them for days when the streams are running low and clear, and also for stillwater fishing when there is little wind.

Classic spider patterns

Traditional Spider fly patterns Turrall

For the ultimate in simplicity and traditional good looks, we should start with some of the basics. The Black and Peacock, Greenwell’s Spider and Black Spider (above) are three to have in any fly box. The Black and Peacock is probably my most used fly of all time, not just for wild trout for me, but large rudd, roach and even carp.

spider patterns for trout(Above): This rainbow was tempted just beneath the surface with a small spider.

The Black Spider is another classic and about as simple as it gets: A black thread body, a hen hackle and that’s it! It remains an extremely versatile fly though. Fished in the top foot or two of water, it’s a great little fly during a buzzer hatch on lake or river.

Moving on to other spiders, some traditional patterns are more colourful and less realistic, such as the Partridge and Yellow (above L). These flies are useful in stained water or to ring the changes when drab flies won’t work.

Along with the traditionals, we also have some newer flies in the mix at Turrall, to target different species. Chris Ogborne’s Moorland Spider (above middle) is ideal for smaller streams, while my own Dace Ace is a tiny bead head to try for coarse species.

Spider fishing tips

River fly fishing Devon

  • You don’t need to impart a lot of action into a spider. The movement is already there, so try fishing these flies with minimal retrieve. Fish at dead drift on the river, or as you’d fish a buzzer on stillwaters.
  • Besides being fished wet, small spiders are also excellent fished in the surface film. Try applying some floatant and present a small dark spider on a fine leader; this can be a real frustration saver when fish are rising to tiny insects and bushy dry flies don’t work.
  • You can fish them singly, but spiders also work well as part of a team. Try two or even three in different colours to see what the fish want. Because they are so light and sparse, they are not always suitable as a point fly.
  • Don’t expect every take to be a line wrencher. Spiders are incredibly easy for fish to inhale and you may get quite subtle bites. Be ready to strike at anything suspicious.

  • Spiders are among the best patterns of all to try for different species. I love small dark spiders for roach, rudd and dace. That said, brighter colours are also great fly patterns for bluegills, crappies and other US “panfish”!

 

Three spiders to tie and try yourself…

Because they are so easy to tie, spiders are also fantastic to make and fill your fly boxes without spending weeks at the vice. That simplicity also makes the style of dressing hugely versatile, whether you tie large or small flies, or want to add your own twist. Here are three I’ve had great success with recently.


(
Three spiders to tie yourself. L to R: Spider sedge, JC Midge & Beaded Black and Peacock)

Spider Sedge

This is my ultimate wet fly for chub. Not what was originally intended though, because Spider Sedges are a very old pattern, originally tied in larger sizes and winged to be fished wet or just sub surface.

Hook: Nymph 10-12
Thread: Brown
Rib: Gold wire
Body: Olive Alpaca Dubbing
Thorax: Peacock
Wing: Woodcock slips
Hackle: Grizzle Hen

JC Midge

Adding a sparse hackle to your favourite buzzer patterns is a great trick for stillwater trout and this is a good fly when rainbows are feeding in the upper layers. Be sparing though; you just want a hint of legs so just one turn of hackle is usually more than enough. For coarse species or hatches of tiny midges, you can also try these right down in size 16 or 18.

Hook: Turrall Barbless Grub 12-16
Thread: Black
Rib: UV Multiflash
Body: Partially stripped peacock herl, fine.
Cheeks: Jungle cock
Hackle: Black cock (one turn only)

Beaded UV Black & Peacock

I just love this fly for coarse fish. Large rudd and roach are usually the target. The usual spiders also work, but for windy days, or when the bigger fish hold a little deeper and you have to get down to them, this is the daddy. It’s also the pattern responsible for my 2lbs 3oz PB rudd, caught this summer.

Hook: Turrall barbless grub
Bead: Metallic Red 2mm
Thread: Black
Tag: UV multiflash (pearl or red)
Body: 2 strands peacock herl
Hackle: Black hen (two turns max).


Spiders are fantastic for rudd; this canal fish took a beaded spider.

Fly tying tips for spider patterns

– Less is always more with spiders. This is especially the case with hackles. The old masters of river flies recommended two to two and a half turns of hackle, but modern feathers are so dense, one turn might be enough.

-Standard nymph hooks are ideal for spiders, but they also look great on short shank hooks- or even a curved pattern such as grub hook.

-A few basic feathers will set you in good stead. Whole capes are brilliant for getting a wide variety of fly sizes, but a few smaller packs of feathers makes a cheaper starting point. Hen is perhaps the easiest to find and use, closely followed by partridge. Traditional materials like woodcock and starling are also excellent and cheap if you can find them.

-The same is true with body materials. Keep dubbings sparse, so as not to lose that slim spider profile. That said, you can also add some special effects with just a hint of embellishment. A fine UV rib works well, while it’s no coincidence so many classic spiders have a touch of peacock.

– If you like to secure your materials with plenty of turns, a lighter thread is excellent for smaller spider patterns. It’s especially important to avoid bulk and not clog up the hook.

-To some extent, proportions are subject to taste. But spiders tend to have slightly short bodies (finish above hook point or barb), but if anything hackles tend to be slightly long.

– Try to tie your hackle feather so that the fibres point out at a lively angle, splayed out, like the spokes of an umbrella. Tied like this, they’ll really breathe, so avoid pinning them back or trapping with thread.

Further Reading

For anyone interested in tying the huge range of traditional patterns, or indeed the history of these classic flies, some other books are well worth a read:

A Guide to North Country Flies and How To Tie Them: 140 Flies with Step by Step Photographs (Mike Harding)

The North Country Fly: Yorkshire’s Soft Hackle Tradition
(Robert L. Smith)

Be sure to keep an eye on the Turrall Flies Facebook page for our latest news, tips and the latest fly patterns.

 

 

The Magic of Spring Fly Fishing

Are you pining for spring? Do trout have spots?!! Turrall’s Chris Ogborne looks forward to sunnier times and the most optimistic time in the fly fishing calendar…

“That magical date of March 1st is with us.  Yes, it’s officially the first day of Spring and although in many parts of the UK it may feel as though winter still holds us in its grip, things are slowly changing.

Every day we get another few minutes of daylight.  In early morning and late evening the tentative calls of birds are heard, as though they are rehearsing for the rich dawn chorus that is so much a part of the coming season.  Temperatures are rising, green shoots are in the hedgerows and the sequence of Spring flowers is underway.  Snowdrops will turn to primroses, then daffodils and finally bluebells in a blaze of colour that brings the British countryside back to full vitality.


But perhaps most delicious of all is the glorious sense of anticipation keenly felt by fishermen up and down the country.  The over-long winter is passing and we all have our own version of opening day to look forward to.  So where would you choose?


Many stillwaters open in March and a lot of rivers and streams will be available come April 1st.  We need to wait a little longer for the sea fishing, but it’s worth the wait and after Mayday I’ll be starting to think about wet wading on the beach, or a bit of rock- hopping for the early bass.
 
My Dad used to say that it was sometimes better to travel than to arrive, and his thinking was that this long period of anticipation was something to be savoured.  There’s wisdom there and quite often the best of the fishing is a little further down the line.

Still, there’s no time like the present to get the tackle boxes in order, to arrange all the new flies in perfect rows in our fly boxes, and to get the lines off the reels for a pre-season stretch.  It’s a fact of life for most of us that our gear will not look the same come summer – those orderly rows of flies will have lapsed into the inevitable muddle and the perfect order in the tackle bag will be chaos and confusion again, just as it should be!  But just for this moment in time, everything will be ship-shape and precise.

A tempting spot on the stream; spring daydreams are made of this!

The best moments for me are those when I prep my fly boxes ahead of the first trip up to the river.  It will be too early for olives I expect, and up on the moors the old adage about ‘any colour you like provided it’s black’ will probably hold sway.

Skinny Black Gnat Fly

The usual suspects will be on the front row, with Hi-Vis black gnats and hawthorns being the default choice.  Natural Hawthorns were early last year and the weather meant they had a shortened season, but I’m hoping for better things this year.  When I see the unmistakable shapes hovering over the hedgerows, trailing those long legs beneath them – that’s when I truly believe that Spring has arrived.

On the lakes you’d be well advised to look at the old favourites to start the season.  Black and green is always a top combination and remember that a fly with plenty of life in it will be a safe bet.  Early season trout can be reluctant to chase a fly for any distance in the cold water and patterns like a black tadpole or anything with a marabou tail will enable you to give ‘life’ without too much speed in the retrieve.

My beach fishing will probably start with a bit of rock hopping, at least until the water warms up a bit for wet wading on the beach.  The bootlace sand eels are perfect for Spring as the natural eels will arrive ahead of the larger summer sand eels.  It will be intermediate lines to start with as well, until we reach for the floaters once the beach sport starts in earnest. The bigger bass are not always around at this time, but find the schoolies and you’ll still get some fine sport.

Whatever your pleasure, enjoy this magical time of year.  Spring is a season of hope and optimism, a time of year when everything is waking and growing, and life and fishing are in the ascendancy.  And the best bit of all is that we have the full angling year stretching ahead of us, with all its hopes, expectations and challenges.”

Chris Ogborne

Further Information:

For a range of guided fly fishing in Cornwall, Chris runs a range of sessions from small stream angling to reservoir and saltwater trips. Click here for more details.

Don’t forget to keep an eye on the Turrall Flies Facebook Page for further news, fly patterns and top giveaways as we head into the new season!

Bloodworm Fly Patterns & Fishing Tips

Tempting trout throughout the fishing year, bloodworm patterns are a useful addition to any angler’s fly box. Turrall’s Dominic Garnett reflects on a session with Devon guide John Dawson to uncover some ideal tips and tactics, along with a handful of the best bloodworm flies to use on your next trip.

A muddy morning in late winter is admittedly not the most glorious time to enjoy the Devon countryside. As we have an initial wander at Hollies Fly Fishery, near Honiton East Devon, the ground is still frozen solid and icy mist lingers. Nothing stirs and it’s the sort of day when you might wish you’d packed a spare jumper, rather than an extra box of nymphs.Hollies fly fishing in East Devon
Is this really a day for subtle or imitative fishing? You certainly can’t fault the optimism of Devon guide John Dawson, while fellow fly enthusiast Chris Tucker also joins us.

Testing conditions are not a cue for our anglers to thrash about with lures today, however, and you might say that both these anglers have a taste for blood. Indeed, John is a firm believer in fishing bloodworm patterns slow and deep for winter fish. Long experience tells him this is an excellent tactic, even in the dullest and least promising days of the year.

Where to Fish Bloodworms on Stillwater Fisheries

So what should you look for when seeking bloodworms and the fish that eat them on a stillwater? Aesthetics are a secondary consideration it seems. “It can often be the areas that look least productive,” John admits, “gravelly and muddy areas are ideal.” There is clearly nothing hatching as we take a preliminary walk around the fishery, but John is unperturbed by this. “Overwintering fish will really make the most of bloodworm, especially when other food is scarce.” The fact we’ve seen no trout so far doesn’t worry him either. “You won’t often see the fish” he admits, “they’ll be moving along the bottom.”

Bloodworm rainbow trout Hollies Fly FisheryDon’t expect to see clear signs of bloodworm feeders; they tend to be deep.

He sets up two six weight fly rods, one with a slow intermediate line, the other with a floater. His leaders are around ten feet, although he can always alter these as the day progresses. Each leader starts with a foot or so of coloured mono to aid bite detection. He doesn’t see the need to go ultra fine however, with 6lb fluorocarbon at the business end. “Getting the flies down to the fish is the real prority here, rather than fishing more subtly as we might when presenting flies higher up in the water” he says.

Blood Samples

Bloodworm flies themselves vary greatly, and John has a wide selection.  Do the fish always mistake these flies for the real deal? “Some are more realistic than others,” he admits. “The bigger marabou and flexifloss patterns must be ten times the size of the naturals, but they do work excellently. Good movement can be all important.”

Best bloodworm fly patterns Turrall UKIf you don’t tie your own, Turrall produce various, proven bloodworms to try.

He starts fishing on the smaller top lake at Hollies, which has a fairly silty bottom and looks ideal territory. In an era where many of our trout pools have become murky carp waters this pretty, tree lined pool presents the opposite story of a coarse pond converted into trout habitat. It is rich in bloodworm too.

John kicks off with a two fly set up: a size 12 goldhead on the point and a subtler, smaller pattern on the dropper. He degreases his leader to help it sink and flips out a series of neat roll casts to explore a few shady corners, letting his leader sink well before employing a slow, patient retrieve.

Hollies trout fishery Devon
The objective is to keep the flies deep- although John does throw in the odd twitch to bring out the movement of his point fly. A couple of gentle takes come early on, which John at least spots if he doesn’t quite connect. “You won’t feel a lot of the takes on bloodworms; all you’ll see is a little draw or flick on the end of the line” he says. In his guiding John is quite often surprised just how many takes his clients fail to spot and always advises them to keep a close eye on the end of the line and strike at any movement.

The top lake is still very cold however. Just a few days ago it was a sheet of ice and the takes could perhaps have been little coarse fish mouthing his smaller nymph. Nevertheless, we have our first signs of life.

Chris Tucker is already searching a corner with a flexi floss worm as we reach the main lake. There are still scarcely any signs of cruising fish or insect life though, and so it seems that success must come from the depths if it is to come at all.

Fly fishing retrieveRetrieves tend to be very slow, to keep flies deep.

John opts for the slow intermediate again and keeps casting with his two fly set up, watching the line carefully and keeping the flies deep. With the action proving hard to come by he knows that chances may not be numerous and he must concentrate.

It can be all too easy to rush the retrieve or keep changing flies when the going is tough, but John proceeds unhurriedly, moving a few yards down the bank only when he has given the water in front of him a fair trial.

Patience Pays Off

Just when we’re wondering where the trout are hiding, a splash on the opposite bank steals our attention. Chris Tucker’s rod plunges over as a fit rainbow grabs his flexifloss bloodworm and hurtles away. He doesn’t rush this first trout of the day but simply keeps the fight in the open and lets the fish run out of steam. Five minutes later a beautifully silver sided two-pounder is in the net and a relieved Chris introduces it to the priest. First blood, you might say.

Action Fly fishing Devon Hollies
It’s interesting to note that our first bloodworm trout came close to the bank, at the bottom of the silty near shelf. It’s not the first take for Chris either, which is an encouraging sign. John is soon joining him on this area of the lake, which is also the entrance to a shallower bay where the water changes depth quite dramatically. Sometimes the fish will be anything but evenly spread in the winter and these sudden drop offs, depressions and passing places for fish are always well worth a look.

John thus casts with renewed hope, but his patient approach remains the same. The critical detail seems to be teasing the fly over the shelf at sufficient depth. Eventually, his gold head pattern triggers just the response he’s looking for: a positive draw is met by a quick lift and finally John’s rod jolts into life. The fish ploughs straight out from the bank, but with a 6lb tippet John knows that barring a hook pull, he can pretty much just keep the pressure on and enjoy a good scrap.

John Dawson Fly fishingHard-earned, but very satisfying on a cold day.

Having saved the blank though, it still seems that our anglers must work hard for takes. If nothing else, we’ve sussed out that the fish are hanging deep along the near shelf. Patterns are mixed and changed during the day, but large or small it seems that the fish definitely seem to want a little movement. It’s not easy fishing then, but you might well argue that the process of sussing things out and coaxing the fish to take is a good deal more rewarding than simply hauling them out in double quick time.

The action keeps coming intermittently throughout the afternoon as the anglers slowly but surely contact more trout. What isn’t in doubt is that bloodworms can produce where other tactics fail and our duo’s handful of trout represent quite a fair return in the end. John still rues the loss of a better fish as we call it a day, but he and Chris have proved a valuable point: when the going gets tough, a few bloodworm patterns can prove to be a real ace up your sleeve.

Recommended Bloodworm Fly Patterns

There are all manner of bloodworm flies to try, but it pays to pack a few variants in your fly boxes. It’s probably fair to say that the most natural flies are the smaller patterns. In the Turrall range, the Micro Bloodworm is our tiniest, in a size 18. This pattern was originally developed for coarse fish such as roach, rudd and carp, but also scores well for rainbow trout, especially when a little more subtlety is called for.

Small bloodworm fly Turrall
Flexifloss bloodworms come next on our list, having caught countless fish over the years. Our Bloodworm Nymph is a simple but deadly example of this, and is highly effective with a slow yet twitchy retrieve:
Flexifloss bloodworm nymph

Less realistic but highly appealing to trout are our larger bloodworm patterns, making the most of marabou and other materials to attract fish. Our Goldhead Bloodworm is always useful when you need to get deeper or a breeze lifts lighter patterns too high in the water. You might argue that it is more like a mini lure than a true nymph, but it tends to work excellently with a very slow figure of eight retrieve rather than using “pulling” tactics:

Marabou Goldhead bloodworm Turrall
Should you want even more movement and provocation, our Bloodworm Variation is another great pattern to get a reaction. The added flexifloss and straggle fritz make this one especially useful for grubby water and less than ideal conditions where the more natural flies struggle to get noticed.

Bloodworm variation patterns
For further bloodworm patterns and nymphs to try, see your local Turrall Stockist, or visit one of our online suppliers such as Trout Catchers or Fly Fishing Tackle UK. Should you want to tie your own, Turrall also provide a range of ideal materials, from the best fly tying threads to flexifloss and squirmy worm bodies.

Don’t forget to keep an eye on the Turrall Flies Facebook Page for regular news, giveaways, fly patterns and tips to inspire your fly fishing.

FURTHER INFORMATION:

Hollies Trout Fishery, Devon

Located near Honiton, Hollies Trout Farm offers quality year round fly fishing in East Devon. A range of ticket options includes catch and release, while the fishery also offers a smoking and filleting service, lodges for hire and specail fishing breaks. See www.holliestroutfarm.co.uk for more information.

Guided Fly Fishing with John Dawson

John Dawson is a friendly and highly acclaimed GAIA qualified game fishing instructor based near Tiverton, Devon. Whether you want casting lessons or a day’s guided fishing, he caters for anglers of all ages and abilities. Contact John on 01398 331498 or visit his site at www.johndawson.co.uk

Fly For Coarse: 2016 Winners & Tips for 2017

After another year of impressively varied catches, we are thrilled to announce the winners of the 2016 Fly For Coarse competition. A judging panel including Matt Hayes and John Bailey had another tough task on their hands. Flyfishing for Coarse Fish author Dom Garnett reports on another exciting year, along with some fresh tips and fly fishing trends for 2016

“While 2016 was a fairly bonkers year on many levels, at least in the fly fishing stakes it was exciting for all the right reasons! For those newer to the Fly For Coarse contest, this was set up in 2013 to provide a different sort of challenge. Bored of the usual “size is all” contest, we wanted to create an event to focus on the “how did you catch it?” rather than purely “how much did it weigh?”

Everything from Tenkara to kayak fishing featured in 2016!

Each year the contest brings fresh surprises and some awe-inspiring catches. 2016 was no exception, with a field of entries perhaps as strong as we’ve ever had! In particular though, it was a year for the rivers, with stunning chub, pike, dace and no fewer than three barbel to our adventurous anglers. So, without further ado, here were our top entries:

Overall winner: John Tyzack (Barbel 12lbs 8oz)
I’m always keen to stress to fly anglers that barbel are well worth targeting. Not easy, but rewarding and the sheer power of a hooked fish is something you’ll never forget. Fishing guide John Tyzack will be known to many of you as a highly  accomplished angler- but even his heart must have been thumping with this beast!

Barbel on the Fly John Tyzack
Caught on a five-weight outfit, it was tempted on a Scruffy Hare’s Ear, well-weighted and specifically designed to trundle the bottom. John had spotted a “big, dark shadow on the gravels, moving about slowly” and recalls that it “looked huge”.  Testing his nymph to get the right speed, he took aim. “It seemed to move in the direction of the fly and pause. I lifted and all hell let loose!” Grateful of tackling up with a robust leader, he managed to beat the fish after five hair-raising minutes. Wow!

John Bailey, himself an avid barbel on fly convert, remarked that the catch “shows that big barbel can be targeted on the fly with magnificent results. This is the perfect antidote to the stereotypical brain dead approach to barbel we see today!” Easy now John… we take your point though. Much more involved than sitting behind bite alarms!

**John’s catch wins a fantastic Peak Fly Tying Rotary Vice (RRP: £169.99). In our opinion the best value quality vice money can buy!

Second Place: David West Beale: Tenkara caught canal pick ‘n’ mix!

While it’s great to see bigger fish, the competition is also all about variety, skill and innovation. David West Beale is certainly no stranger to specimens (he catches some huge perch and was runner up in 2015), the judges loved his experimentation with Tenkara tactics on the Grand Union Canal, an often murky waterway that is perhaps not the most natural choice of fly fishery.

Tenkara fishing canal coarse fish
Nevertheless, using his own fly designs, including classic looking flies but also his so-called “Enterprising Worm” tied from Squirmy elastic, he has caught a real assortment of species. Perch and bream are favourites, but he even had a ruffe. And with only short casts required, his Tenkara antics seem perfectly matched to canal fishing. Conventional? No. Fun and effective? Yes!

Tenkara fly fishing perch
In fact, David’s catches were first choice for Matt Hayes, who is very much a fan of fly fishing for innovation and pure enjoyment, rather following “the PB and big fish at all costs mentality that is blighting coarse fishing.” He comments: “This angler is not targeting record breakers, but his all-round success and application of a game fishing technique to a completely different environment is fantastic and makes him the stand-out entry in my book.”

Other highly commended entries:
It is almost an injustice for me to describe the other entries as “runners up” because they were all winners as far the the judges were concerned. Every one of them deserved special credit in its own right- as did many other entries that didn’t quite make it (thank you to everyone who took part). So where do we start with the rest?


We see cracking fly caught chub every year now, but this lovely fish of over six pounds (above) from the River Taff must have given Nick Thomas a heck of a scrap. Very well-angled indeed.


Meanwhile, we were also delighted to see more young anglers getting out and taking to fly fishing. Ashley Mould was another impressive barbel captor (above), while Bobby Wright deserves special credit not only for his own whiskered specimen, but for a hat-trick of solid barbel, carp and chub (below) all on fly. Great all-round performance!

Fly fishing for chub Bobby Wright
On the subject of carp, we had some absolute belters in 2016. Dutch entrant Filipe De Clerk claimed a 22lb beauty, while our youngest winner Abbie Fielding had a real fight on her hands with a belter of 18lbs 12oz.

Specimen carp on fly


Size really isn’t everything though, and the 2016 list also includes a wonderful dace or Geejay Aitch (below) and some excellent roach and bream from Rutland Reservoir for the Abbott family of John, William and Harry. The panel especially liked Harry Abbott’s emerger-caught roach, which also features on the shortlist of winners.

Dace on the fly
Here’s a table summing up the best entries. Don’t forget you can see pictures of all the other entries at flyforcoarse.com


Each of our entries wins their choice of a set of flies from the special Turrall Flies for Coarse Fish range (which includes proven patterns for perch, chub, pike, roach, rudd and dace) or a limited edition Fly For Coarse T-shirt!

Further tips, trends and fly fishing lessons for 2017…

Finally, just to whet your appetite for the coming months, here are just a few tips and things to take on board for the coming season:

1. Anything is possible, but only if you try!
How often do most of us leave our comfort zone as fly anglers? It is a good thing to do every season for so many reasons. Not only does it improve our skills, but adds welcome variety to our fishing. The only reason more fish like barbel, zander and even tench are not caught more regularly on the fly is that few people try in the first place.

Mick Chater had this tench on a rubber-legs daddy in 2016.

Some challenges are easier than others, but for just a taster of what can be done with a positive attitude,  just look at the Fly For Coarse galleries!

2. Tie your own and try modern materials
Some folks get super fussy about using only traditional, classic materials for their flies. That’s a personal choice, but why miss out? I doubt very much whether the old masters would have turned their noses up at the fantastic materials we are lucky enough to have at our disposal today!

UV materials and special synthetics are all worth a look. But if there is one material that has both caught silly numbers of fish and divided opinion in 2016, it has to be the “squirmy” body material. It’s your call, but squirmy worm style dressings have accounted for many fish of all species, from perch to grayling.

Squirmy body materials might not appeal to the purist, but are excellent for coloured water and adding extra wiggle. We stock three deadly colours.

3. Adjust your timing and pick the best times to go fly fishing
More than ever, we have been getting impressive catch pictures with something noticeably different about the backgrounds. The light is often hazy, soft or downright murky! This is not pure coincidence. The best time to go fly fishing for coarse species -or any fish!- is not when you feel like it, but when they are feeding. Unless it’s overcast or you’re targeting sun-loving fish like rudd,  the middle of the day is often not the key time. Experiment on your patch, but do try early or late if you are not getting many takes!

4. Try Tenkara for Coarse Fish!
Modern foibles aside, one of the most noticeable recent fly fishing trends sure to continue into 2017 is the Tenkara bug. Indeed, stacks of fly anglers are enjoying this classic Japanese line-to-hand style of fishing. It’s simple and effective so why restrict your adventures to trout? Fish like chub, roach, rudd and dace are all highly catchable and light Tenkara rods make even small fish fun.”

Fly For Coarse continues in 2017…

With all to play for and so many possibilities, the competition is already on for 2017, with more great Turrall prizes lined up and no doubt more surprises in store. To view all of last years entries and find tips, venues and more on how you can get involved, see www.flyforcoarse.com

Further news and updates throughout the year can also be found in Flyfishing & Flytying Magazine,  while fly fishers of all abilities can join the fun on our Flyfishing for Coarse Fish Group Page.

Don’t forget to keep an eye on this blog and the Turrall Flies Facebook page for regular news and tips, besides top quality fly patterns, materials and accessories in 2017!

 

Grayling Fly Fishing Tips and Tactics

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

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

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

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

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1. Don’t write off dry flies

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

Kilinkhamer Grayling fishing turrall

2. Try the deadly suspended nymph

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

3. Watch the water

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

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

4. Pecking order

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

5. Weighted nymphs

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

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

6. Leader materials.

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

7. Downstream spiders

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

Spiders for Grayling fishing

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

8. Wading is a must

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

9. Don’t be a drag

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

10. Never fear the cold

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

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

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

bam02_grayling_selection

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

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

Chris Ogborne
October 2016

(Additional images: Dominic Garnett)