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.

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!