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.

Spring and Summer Pike Fly Fishing: Top tips and fish care essentials

With the climate as unpredictable as ever these days, traditional fishing seasons don’t always add up. It’s not unusual to catch dry fly trout in March, or predators in May and June. But if we do choose to chase large yet sensitive fish like pike, what are the ground rules? Turrall’s Gary Pearson and Dom Garnett have some excellent tips to ensure that both you and your quarry thrive!

Is it still ok to go pike fishing in spring and summer? When are the best times and locations?

Pike are best suited to cooler waters- you only have to look at their natural range to see this. Not only can they be lethargic in warmer temperatures, they are deceptively fragile, too. So our first question should never be whether we want to catch them, but whether we can do so safely in the first place.

If you are to continue fishing beyond the traditional winter season, it’s imperative to take extra with your catch, regardless of size.

Only you can make that call, but it’s up to all of us to protect our catch. Here are some rough guidelines around waters once temperatures get higher. These are not hard and fast rules, but sensible starting points:

Safer pike waters

  • Large reservoirs
  • Deeper natural lakes where fish have access to cooler water year-round.
  • Bigger rivers with decent flows and cold water

Venues to avoid

  • Canals- and especially the shallowest, where water can get very warm.
  • Drains and fens, especially those lacking any deeper water.
  • Small or shallow lakes
  • Slow flowing rivers
  • Venues where pike are under intense angler pressure
  • All venues once the warmest weather sets in, especially in July and August!

Shallow canals and drains might be excellent in winter- but get too hot for safe pike fishing in the summer. 

 Actual water temperature is another matter for debate- but suffice to say the higher temperatures get, the less dissolved oxygen water will hold. As soon as water temperaturess get up into mid to late teens, danger is greatly increased. Nor is fishing early or late going to make a huge difference, because water temperatures are far less changeable than air temperatures.

Keep tackle strong and battles brief

Using strong tackle helps to keep pike battles short but sweet!

Of course, it’s not just water temperature that’s the main issue with pike. It’s also a case of how we tackle up and how much stress we put on them. At any time of year, it’s important to use tackle that will allow us to apply plenty of pressure and land pike quickly, because a long fight can exhaust them and make recovery harder. Since these fish are not tackle shy, we’d never suggest less than 20lb leaders, along with a robust wire trace.

As for rods and setups, a nine-weight should be seen as a minimum at these times of year. For larger waters with the chance of big fish, a ten is even better in the summer. Tackle up so that you can bully fish in quickly and you won’t go far wrong. Pike will fight like fury on warmer days and gone are the days of playing these fish for an age on light gear.

We’ll discuss more on fish care shortly, including equipment and safe practice.

Mix up your tactics and be prepared to go deeper!

A well-conditioned spring fish, taken along a steep drop-off. It took a Turrall gold Pike Flasher- an excellent choice to get down to fish fast.

One especially notable trend as temperatures start to rise is that pike are less tightly concentrated. Once spawning is done and prey fish disperse, pike will start to move away from the shallows and can be quite unpredictable in their whereabouts. There’s no guarantee October or December’s hotspot will still produce.

Quite often you’ll find only small jacks in the margins, as inviting as they look. The better fish might not be miles away- but are likely to drop down into areas of ten feet and greater. As the temperatures rise further, they’ll retreat even further to where the water is cooler.

One important tool in your arsenal is therefore a fast sink pike fly line. The market has never exactly been saturated with these, which is why we’ve been delighted to see Cortland’s special Pike and Musky fly line coming to the UK.

best sinking pike fly line

This is not a general fit line, but a highly specialised tool to cast large flies and get them down quickly to where the fish are. It’s an excellent choice for any venues where you need to go deep- and especially those where you might regularly find productive depths of 10-20ft.

The only drawback with fast sink lines is that their sheer weight means that you may find hooking into fish slightly harder. If you get any bite when a lot of line is out, there’s likely to be a bit of “belly”- so it pays to not only strike with the line, but also lift the rod hard, to tighten up as efficiently as possible.

Be meticulous and methodical

As much as any time of year, pike fishing from April to June is about being rigorous in your approach. We’ve just mentioned that you may need to fish deep- but pike won’t always be nailed to the bottom. Trying different depths and retrieves makes sense here, to cover different levels- but be really fussy about this.

One must is to count down to different depths and log this mentally, with a slow “one-and-two-and-three…” etc. Even with a fast sink line, you might be counting to ten, fifteen or twenty on a deep water!

Be similarly methodical with drifts, too. You’ll cover far more water on a drifting boat with a drogue than you ever would at anchor. Try different distances from the shore, paying close attention to this. Picking out markers on the bank is a good tip, and making a mental note. If you get takes, you can then repeat the drift!

Finally, concentration is also key, especially on days you may only get a handful of pulls. With sinking lines, especially, few fish will hook themselves, so be ready to react fast and firmly!

Choose your flies with care

 For whatever reason, fly colours seem to be more critical in the spring and summer than at any other time of year. This could be because the pike have already seen pressure right through the winter on a lot of waters. It could also be because flies often need to be fished at greater depths- and the later in the year it gets, the more algae develops, creating a greenish tinge.

There’s a very good reason the Turrall range includes several black pike flies!

Experimentation is very much the way to go. However, if we had to pick one colour at this time of year it would be one of the least fashionable: black!

On our most recent reservoir session, it was a black or black and copper coloured fly that definitely seemed to get most attention. At various intervals we tried other colours- but dark flies stood out a mile, in perhaps more ways than one.

Don’t forget to check out Turrall’s range of pike flies. We stock over two dozen of the best flies for pike these days- with plenty of colour choices. We only tie ours on top quality, extra strong hooks. The only other recommendation we’d make is to crush the barbs down on your flies to ensure quick removal- it’s much kinder on the fish.

Handle with care- and release every pike safely!

 Last but by no means least, please, please, please take extra care with pike if you must continue fishing into the summer. You owe it to the fish. Consider that a 15lb pike can lay around 500,000 eggs per year and you quickly see it only takes a small number of careless anglers to have a big impact on a fishery.

Gary Pearson carefully releases an excellent stillwater pike of 26lbs. Fish like this demand complete respect.

Above all, it’s about good organisation and common sense. We’re not going to tell anyone how to fish, but it’s up to all of us to respect pike – and this means putting their needs before our own preferences.

Here are some sensible fish care guidelines to follow:

  • Always use strong tackle and keep fights as short as possible.
  • Keep your fish wet wherever possible. At the end of a hard fight, give pike a few seconds in the water, in a submerged net, to reduce stress.
  • Have all your gear ready, from forceps and scales to camera. Every second counts in warmer weather. Well organised anglers put less stress on pike.
  • Don’t skimp on the essentials. Have quality long unhooking tools and an extra large soft-meshed net and unhooking mat ready. These are long fish, so trout and salmon sized gear is not sufficient.
  • If you want to take a picture or two, be as quick as you can. These are amazing, living creatures and not Instagram trophies!
  • Never simply let a fish go after an intense fight. Support it carefully, upright in the water, until the fish is clearly ready to swim off. This could take a minute or two if it has battled hard, so look after your catch.
  • Working in partnership with another angler makes a lot of sense with pike. On a boat, for example. One of you can move any clutter out of the way- and set up a sling, for example, to weigh a large fish. Communication is key here, so be clear and decisive.
  • If you find yourself in heatwave conditions, or the fish migrate very deep, give the pike a break. Even if you were still hell-bent on catching them, they tend to go very deep and become quite lethargic in these conditions. And we have the whole autumn and winter to come, after all!

Happy fishing- and do respect those pike!

 

Dream Trout on Dry Flies!

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

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


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

A late start

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Long leaders and steady runs


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

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

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

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

Big fish territory

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Big hatches for big fish?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Five ideal fisheries to try for bigger trout in Devon!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Live session: River fly fishing for chub and perch

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


winter fly fishing chub perch River tone             

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Snake fly

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

Perch fly fishing tips

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

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

perch on the fly Dom Garnett

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gary Pearson fly fishing Turrall Cortland UK

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Top flies for pike…

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

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

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

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

PROUD BOY

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

Rainbows, Snow & Sparctic Trout: Spring Fly Fishing in the South West

After the coldest early spring in years, you might expect a slow start to the new season. However, as Dominic Garnett reports, the fly fishing has been surprisingly productive, not to mention full of surprises. Here are his reflections so far and tips for the coming weeks and months.

“Every time of year has its highlights for an angler, but if anything spring is my favourite phase of all for fly fishing. Why exactly? Well, for a start it always feels like the start of something, rather than the end. Even if rain floods the streams or hatches are sparse, all is quickly forgiven as the days get longer and everything feels more optimistic.

One to the Blob: a great fly for stillwater trout in the opening weeks of the season.

Apart from the British climate then, perhaps the only main headache is picking what to go fishing for! There are certainly plenty of options if you’re open minded. Some are obvious, others less so, but you could do a lot worse than to begin spring with a day on the reservoirs, which is where we start.

Fly fishing at Hawkridge Reservoir

Hawkridge Reservoir Fly Fishing
With snow still lying on the hills, I did wonder whether we had booked a day on Hawkridge a bit early. Nevertheless, hopes were high as I joined Simon Jefferies and Gary Pearson from Turrall for a crack at this pretty stillwater fly fishery in Somerset. It’s a venue I like very much for several reasons. First of all, its size is perfect. It’s big enough to provide space to roam and test your watercraft, but small enough not to be a needle in the proverbial haystack challenge.

As far as reservoirs go, it probably has the best variety of any trout fishery in the South West. A bold claim perhaps, but there are rainbow, brown, blue and gold trout, along with brook trout, tiger trout and even a brand new hybrid species called the “Sparctic Trout”. Actually, as a cross between a brook trout and an arctic char it’s not technically a trout, but we’ll spare you the nit picking.

On first inspection, the water looked a little coloured due to recent rain and snow melt. It was kicking up a stiff breeze too, so I reached for a fast intermediate line and a lure. Gary Pearson showed similar pragmatism with a sinking line and bright booby, while Simon optimistically set up a floating line and two buzzers. I admired his optimism. Like the guy who lights up a barbeque and buys a crate of beer the moment the sun comes out in May, I guess there’s always one!

What an electric start it was too. We opted to bank fish rather than hire a boat, and began just to the right of the dock. Within a couple of casts I’d had a nip on an Orange Humungous; moments later another tug and I was locked up with a really strong fish. A supremely fit three pound rainbow was very welcome, but just the start of a surprising session.

Sparctic trout and hanging tactics

If my rainbow was a good stamp of fish to get off the mark, we were all intrigued as to what Gary had hooked next. His rod had taken a serious bend and as it neared the bank, he called across: “I think you might want to have a look at this!”.

Sparctic Trout fly fishing Somerset
It was a Sparctic Trout, no less, at the first attempt. What a creature too: the body is more oval shaped than the trout, with a more pointed, almost salmon-like head too (as you can see from the side by side comparison below). A new breed altogether, the first one ever caught in the UK was only landed in February 2018, making this a real novelty to witness.

Sparctic Trout and Rainbow Hoawkridge Fly Fishing

As bites thinned out, we kept trying different spots down the bank. It was the sinking lines that dominated in the wind, a little predictably, with lures in black or orange doing the damage. For me, the Humungous or  an Orange Blob (“the slag of all flies”) fished with a fast figure of eight worked well. For Gary, it was a small Booby, which he fished on a sinking line, giving two steady draws at a time, with longish pauses in between.

Despite earning some credit for trying natural flies early on, Simon then switched to an intermediate line and a lure too. In fairness, it was probably a bit cold for any significant hatch and the fish were still a bit “green” to be keying in on natural food. But after making the switch, he caught up in a blur- to the point where I was left wondering what trick he might be using to reverse his fortunes.

Wessex Waters Fly Fishing Reservoirs trout
One key on the day was definitely finding the right areas to try; there are various areas of shelter on Hawkridge; little bays and features such as trees sticking out from the bank, where presumably the  water is just that little bit warmer or more settled for the trout to feed.

The other big revelation was just how deadly the “hang” was for Simon, though. Hawkridge has a very definite shelf or drop-off at around two to three rod lengths out. This is a natural patrol route for fish and just the place to pause and slowly lift your flies late in each retrieve.

Fly Fishing the hang reservoir trout tips

As I discussed in my own recent blog on Farmoor Reservoir, most of us hang our flies too quickly. Simon was giving his flies a fairly lively retrieve from the off, but then slowing and lifting right over that critical “shelf”. By doing so fairly patiently each time, he kept his flies right in the take zone for ten to twenty seconds. Time and again it paid off, with a following fish abruptly lunging at the target late in the retrieve! Not only effective, but very exciting.

All the fish fought well, but it was especially nice to see a variety. Having been told that the Sparctic Trout are more territorial and like to hang around features, I fancied we might get another (they also sometimes cluster, apparently, and one angler had four from one spot!), but it wasn’t to be. We did get blues and a gold trout though.

Nor was our species tally over with this, because I even had a small jack pike. Not quite the sparctic I was hoping for, but I couldn’t grumble at all with the fantastic bags of fish we had. My best rainbow went four pounds and a bit and the fish were of such a good stamp I had more weight of trout than I had space for in the fridge (much to the delight of the neighbours).

Other flies and seasonal tactics at Hawkridge Reservoir

All in all it was a great trip then. I’ve fished here odd occasions before, but never so early in the year. If you do fly fish on Hawkridge later in the year though, it becomes quite a different beast. You can see where the drop off is in relation to the bank, because there’s a big belt of weed around the margins. Fish can be caught by dropping flies just beyond this (and waders are also useful) but I tend to prefer the option of the boat.

Early season fly fishing stillwaters UK

On previous visits, the other notable difference has been that floating lines, long leaders and nymphs were very much the way to go. Two or three buzzers or Daiwl Bachs on a 15 to 20ft leader is excellent, in fact, once the stock fish start to tune in to real hatches. A day with a bit of breeze is perfect. In fact, I can’t think of many better trout reservoirs in Devon and Somerset to drift buzzers from a boat, it can be really magical fly fishing. That said, emergers and small terrestrials are also good fun on the right day.

So, if you are in Somerset this year, Hawkridge is definitely among the cream of venues to target for a crazy variety of trout, including the new kid on the block “Sparcticus”. Opening times tend to be from around 9am until half an hour or so before sunset (but varies by the time of year), while ticket prices are £23 for five fish at the time of writing. Do check for further details and contact info here though: https://www.wessexwater.co.uk/About-us/Community/Visiting-our-reservoirs/Hawkridge-reservoir/

Spring fly fishing on the rivers and canals

canal fly fishing
Of course, for many other anglers the main event will be tackling flowing water again from now onwards. Snow melt and heavy rain has made for full waters but difficult fishing so far, although there are several rivers that will be well worth a go as soon as levels drop.

If you don’t mind a little company, there’s some free semi-urban fishing well worth checking out. Just a mile or two from Turrall HQ, there’s the River Okement in Okehampton (try around the castle where there’s public access). In East Devon there’s also the River Lowman in Tiverton; try beside Amory Park. Theo Pike’s book Trout in Dirty Places has loads more ideas too- and you can read more of his thoughts in his guest blog post from our archives.

For pure escapism though, it’s the wild waters that occupy my daydreams. That first day of the season when the fish rise willingly, the water is clear and a whole lazy day presents itself… just perfect. I can think of no better value or variety than the waters of the Westcountry Angling Passport here, with so much fishing from just six quid a day (or half price for juniors!). My favourite bits include the River Culm, not to mention the Little Dart, Little Yeo and many others. See: www.westcountryangling.com

Finally, there are also some other brilliant bits of affordable fishing on the canals of the West Country, which have no closed season. As the days get warmer, you might find a bit of algal discoloration, but this eventually clears and there are a whole host of fish to go at.

Roach and rudd are perhaps the most common and willing on the Grand Western Canal and Bridgwater to Taunton Canal. Both are fishable on a day ticket too (from Culm Valley Angling, just off the M5, for the GW Canal, or online at www.tauntonanglingassociation.co.uk for Taunton AA tickets.

fly fishing for ruddA fly caught rudd: these fish are obliging and every bit as beautiful as trout.

There are of course pike and perch to go at too at this time of year, but do please be mindful that these fish will need time and peace to spawn. They can still be viable targets in March and April then, but as soon as the water gets warmer around May, I would strongly advise not to fish for them on shallow waters, where they can be tricky to release safely in less oxygenated water.

Should you want a guide for any of the above venues, you could always drop me a line (domgarnett@yahoo.co.uk) while my website has further information on days out, along with my various books and fly patterns for coarse fish and trout: www.dgfishing.co.uk.

Wherever you cast a line next, here’s hoping for fine weather and rewarding fishing.”

Read more from the Turrall Flies Blog archives…


For free articles, tips and ideas on a whole range of fly fishing topics, our blog archives have plenty to read! Here are just a handful of topics we’ve covered:

Spider Patterns: 9 Deadly Flies and Tactics to Try

Fly Tying Step by Step: Tie the Perfect Quill Buzzer

Summer Fly Fishing, From Pocket Water Trout to Rudd

Catch more this season with Turrall Flies


For a huge variety of stillwater and river trout flies, not to mention proven catchers coarse fish and sea species, look no further than our award-winning range of fly patterns! For the best value of all, you might also like our FlyPods, which give you a whole stack of reliable flies in a quality double-sided fly box for less than £30! Find these and all our flies as singles at fly stockists across the UK, or order online from the likes of www.troutcatchers.co.uk and fliesonline.co.uk 

 

 

 

When the going gets tough

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

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

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

Grayling Fly Fishing at Timsbury, River Test

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pike fly fishing on the canal

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Further news, tips and more…

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

Peter Cockwill fly fishing Turrall

 

 

 

Top 5 Fly Patterns for the New Reservoir Trout Season

That most eagerly anticipated time of the stillwater fly fishing season is already upon us. It might still feel a tad chilly, but fly anglers all over the UK are busily sorting out their gear and booking boat and bank tickets for an exciting start to the reservoir trout season. But which flies should you bank on to get those first pulls of the season? Turrall fly designer and top competition angler Gary Pearson has five proven patterns to put a bend in your rod in March and April. Here are his must-have reservoir flies and his own thoughts on successful presentations:

“I have two basic approaches for fishing this time of year. The first is a floating line with the Heavy Black Buzzer (size 10) on the point with the Quill Buzzer (size 12) on a 6 inch dropper 7ft above it with another 6 to 8ft of nylon to the fly line. 
Black buzzer fly
Simple but deadly: the Black Buzzer

 Given a good ripple and active fish in the upper layers, this is the nicest way of all to catch. As with all buzzer fishing, retrieve sparingly, just keeping in touch with the line and watching for pulls, which are not always dramatic.

Quill buzzer Turrall fly pattern
The Quill Buzzer- one of Gary’s favourite dropper flies for the early season.
In an ideal world, I could happily fish a floating line with buzzers all day- but on those early season sessions you might need to be pragmatic and try something louder and more obvious! Hence my other approach is to switch to lures and use a Di3 slow sink line with 10ft between two flies and a overall leader length of 18ft.  It’s vital to find the level the fish are cruising at, and with this set up I count the line down to different depths each cast until I locate the fish. I prefer to do this with the Di3 because the line is so versatile. 
Cats Whisker, reservoir fly patterns
The ever dependable Cat’s Whisker, ideal for the first few weeks of the season.

I start the season with a size 10 Cat’s Whisker on the point with a Blob on the dropper. The Cat’s Whisker is one of those classics that seems to work every new season. Being a competition angler though, I do quite like a slightly smaller fly in a size 10, which can lead to fewer tail pulls and more full-blooded takes.

Blob fly, Turrall
The deadly Blob- cracking as a dropper fly to draw fish with a dash of colour.

The infamous Blob, on the other hand, is a newer addition but too effective to ignore (my starting choice is a Hot Orange Blob, size 10). Even when you’re not catching on it, that dash of bright colour will draw fish to your other flies.

As with any fly fishing, however, you can’t always depend on the same fly or formula each trip. Stock fish get a little wiser and conditions change, so as March turns into April, the Cats Whisker tends to get replaced with the Fab Cormorant (size 10). This is my own variant on a proven pattern, which has scored very well on Blagdon Reservoir in particular. I would fish this pattern with confidence on any reservoir though, and if the fish are particularly fussy I will sometimes fish two Cormorants.

Fab Cormorant, Turrall stillwater fly patterns
Gary’s Fab Cormorant. Ideal for keeping the takes coming when the fish get more picky in April.

My other advice would be simply to get out there and fish, rather than waiting until the warmer spring days. With the introduction of new stocks and longer daylight hours, early season sport can be fantastic. Do keep an eye on the catch reports and keep active to find the fish, because the fresh stockies won’t always be evenly dispersed. You’ll often catch from the bank, but boat fishing can be even better and you can always compare notes and depths with a friend until you hit on the right formula.

Happy fishing and do share any great catches on the Turrall Flies Facebook page!”

Gary Pearson British Fly Fair Fly tying
Gary is an avid fly tyer and former England international angler with a keen eye for detail; his expertise can be found in many of Turrall’s range of stillwater fly patterns.

Stock up now for the new fly fishing season!

Our award-winning flies can be found at various fly fishing shops, or ordered at the click of a mouse through various online fly stockists. Besides individual flies, we also sell quality fly selections, including beautifully presented boxes of every type of fly from barbless river flies to stillwater classics. Unlike many cheap flies to order, our entire range uses tough, razor sharp Japanese hooks and top quality materials. Insist on the best and ask for Turrall by name!

Our range of top flies, materials and accessories is always growing, while our team of experts at Turrall aim to bring you tips, fresh ideas and more throughout the season. Keep an eye on the blog and our Facebook Page for the latest news.

Turrall BFFI 2016

Fly stockists and tackle shops can easily start an account at www.turrall.com where you’ll find all our bestselling flies, tools and accessories. We offer quality at a fair price- and larger fly selections also come with a free compact display unit, perfect to get your customers browsing without taking up acres of space. All enquiries: flies@turrall.com