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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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!
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.
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.
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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.