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.

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.

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