Some of my earliest memories of fishing are of evenings spent at Arlington Reservoir, a pretty, medium-sized water nestled in the South Downs. I have a very clear image of feeling a fish buck and bounce on the end of my dad’s line, the sun setting to our left – I must have been around four or five at the time and couldn’t hold the rod by myself. The reservoir also played host to a pair of black swans that you had to pass if you wanted to get onto the bank, and I remember Arlington was where I saw my first osprey.
A trip was overdue, and I thought a session on the bank would make the perfect start to my season. I’d read that it was fishing well, too, so my hopes were high as I bought my ticket, had a chat with a ranger and tackled up.
To the left of the hut is a stretch of bank known as The Bay, and this seemed the obvious place to start. After wading through more mud than my walking boots could cope with – wellies next time, I think – I reached a spot that was suitable to make a start at. My setup was uncomplicated and suited for the bank: a Di3 40+ Expert line, a 12lb fluorocarbon leader, a booby on the point and a blob on the dropper, eight feet apart and 10 feet to the braided loop to allow for line changes. I would fan cast trying different retrieves and depths until I either did or didn’t catch a fish, at which point I’d either stay and test the successful method or move another 50 metres up the bank and repeat the process, in either case allowing 20 to 40 minutes between swim changes.
It wasn’t long before I’d hooked into something – a tree on a back cast. There is limited casting room along much of The Bay, and the wind blowing across my casting arm wasn’t helping. If anything, this mishap came at the right time because I’d decided that I’d be better off on a Di5.
After a quick reset I was back fishing, and around 10 minutes later I had a trout in the bass bag. Another followed three casts later and I was pleased that I was beginning to figure out what the fish wanted. Both had taken my Cutthroat Cat Booby as I had stripped it back.
That fly brings back memories. It was tied by Phil Longstaff at some unearthly hour of the morning in hurried preparation for the youth international at Llyn Brenig the next day. So long ago now...
Half an hour and a swim change later, disaster struck. The bank had taken offence at something I’d said to it – “Why can’t you just be flat?” – and had decided to make my running line its next victim. As I sat, catastrophic tangle in hand, I was left wishing for the smooth, snag-free hull of a boat. I could do nothing but make the tangle worse, so I wound up my line and decided to take (another) 10 minutes to soak in my surroundings. It was approaching noon. The sun was at its zenith and the wind was beginning to pick up, blowing clouds in from over the downs. I had been joined on the bank by another angler who’d leapfrogged me as I was concentrating on the tangle. He’d brought a seat with him – more on that later.
By the time I’d changed my line back to the Di3 and sorted out a new leader – after the fight with the tree I’d been left with only one fly – the angler had moved on. I hurriedly marched round to where he had been, a section of The Bay with a decent amount of casting room. As I arrived a fish rolled on the surface. They were closer to the top than might be expected on such a bright day and soon I had another on the bank. It too had taken my fast-moving flies mid-water, proving my approach worked.
For the rest of my time fishing I stayed in that spot, save a quick gander to a shallower area. I caught there too, twiddling a Woofta and black and green Fab across a shelf and, despite losing a couple, larger flies stuck better than smaller ones.
By 1.30pm I’d caught my six-fish limit. Is there a better feeling in fishing than knowing you’ve got your method right? I’ve yet to find one. I certainly could have caught my fish quicker, but sometimes it’s nice to make things last, especially when confident with your approach and fishing catch-and-kill. If only our sport could be that satisfying all the time!
Walking back to the lodge I encountered a number of anglers who had journeyed round from another part of the reservoir. Like the gentleman with the seat, they would cast their lines out, put their rods on the floor and wait for a fish to take an interest. I believe they were using boobies with sink-tip lines. The three anglers had five fish between them, I believe, and they had all been caught with a lot of patience in The Bay.
In the car on the way home I was left pondering whether that type of fishing can possibly be enjoyable, that inactive sit-down-and-wait strategy. My joy that day had come from the fact that I’d worked out where most of the fish were, what flies they wanted, at what depth and with what retrieve. I’d actively hunted the fish and figured out how best to catch them, taking my time to enjoy the experience and the setting in the process. Where do the inactive anglers get their joy? Is it from the catching, rather than the fishing? Is it simply from the experience?
Maybe next time I’ll ask them. Arlington is clearly very well stocked, and although small the fish fight hard and are in good condition. The pricing is very reasonable too, especially for under 25s, who enjoy a substantial discount on tickets. It’s certainly a venue I’d recommend to a friend, regardless of how they might want to fish it, and once the trout have turned their attention to buzzers I’ll be back on the bank, rod in hand, ready to forge new memories of that most wonderful of reservoirs.