Photography by Pauline Dunning
David Heseltine teams up with fly fishing legend and former Wychwood team-mate Brian Peterson to sample the tranquillity and quality fishing offered at New Haylie Loch.
To really get a ‘feel’ for the history of this picture-postcard corner of the world I’d have to be heavily clad in old tartan, topped off with a Viking helmet. But here I stand to do battle of an altogether gentler nature, armed only with rod and line, spending a few minutes to fully admire the lovely backdrop of sweeping craggy hills that conveniently fall away and open wide to spectacular views of the isles of Bute and Arran.
Originally known as The Slopes, this is Largs, in Scotland… and I can see the sea from here!
New Haylie Fishing Loch
Contact: 01475 676005
New Haylie Fishery is tucked in beautifully at the coastal edge of Largs, on the Firth of Clyde. And it’s so, so inviting, I can virtually smell the TLC so willingly applied by owners Senga and George Murray. But then of course, when your water is manned 24/7 and open for business every day, including Christmas Day, this is not just a job but a complete way of life.
Haylie is a small hillside loch of some 3.6 acres and as I already know the water’s head of wild browns is well pumped up with rainbows, blues, tiger trout and more browns, who could ask for anything more? But yes, just for once I do… and there is.
Tackling up for the day ahead as David (left, Brian (right) and Alan all opt for floating lines.
A Venue For All
On my brief ‘all our yesterdays’ tour of the west of Scotland (God’s own country as they call it, being just a wee ferry ride across the Clyde) I’ve stopped off here for a day with my old friend and mentor, Brian Peterson. I’ve seen the pictures and heard the stories of this place. And now that I’m actually here for the proof of the pudding, one single word seems to cover all: Quality – the surroundings, the peace and quiet, the warm welcome and of course the water itself. And to think my old Wychwood team-mate lives just a hop, skip and jump away!
My twinge of envy is already present because now I get it. I understand why a thoroughbred Scot with a top-drawer fly fishing CV as long as my leg comes here every week. And the other guys wandering the shoreline can be anyone from a couple of beginners to a bunch of the Scottish national men’s, ladies or youth team. They all come to this tiny pocket of water within the hills for a little tranquillity and seclusion.
I can hardly wait to put my line out, but before diving headlong into the fishing itself, I must say I’m learning another lesson already. My first lesson in these parts many years ago was to realise that a ‘mad’ (unknown) Scot attaching a couple of maggots to his fly during a very hard day (on another hill loch), wasn’t so mad after all. And now, probably as per many flyfishers no doubt, I must admit I’ve previously screwed up my face a little when presented with a trout fishery that also permits bait fishing. But here we have it for very good reason, with both methods living in perfect harmony. The bait fishing here is ‘contained’ within a small corner of the loch and it’s really for the kids, says George. “They come for a little dabble in their school holidays and after watching the big guys, many of them soon turn to fly fishing.” Now is that forward thinking or what!
The loch also stages various fund-raising events, always on a catch and release basis, in support of all national fly fishing sectors.
Flies For Haylie - Black Sussy Fly - It's not pretty but it's very effective; Brian's Black Sussy!
Dries are the way as this stunning box of dry flies tied by local expert Alistair Murphy shows.
Dry Fly Throughout The Year
This water invites all styles of fly fishing, from lures to buzzers and nymphs, to excellent dry fly. We have depths ranging from two feet, shallows to 20 feet, the deepest area of the loch around the L-shaped dam wall, and there are more than enough small bays with tidy little peninsulas and platforms to make for a very interesting and comfortable day. The waterside lodge is also permanently open to provide refreshment and a ‘square slice’ (yummy Scottish sausage) so obviously I tested that too.
The natural fly life at New Haylie is of a certain quality also. There’s the all-year-round black midge, so buzzer fishing is high on the list, but the water also gives up an abundant supply of pond olives, and then come the varied terrestrials including plenty of daddies. All of this natural mix encourages dry-fly fishing throughout the year, even during the seriously cold winter months.
But to be clear, New Haylie isn’t a ’doddle’. No, this is not one of those over-easy waters where almost any old fly will do. Some small fisheries do get the balance just right with a sensible stocking routine and constant effort – this is one of them. Although catch and release is permitted within a sensible day-ticket structure, New Haylie has a good regular turnover of fish so George likes to stock on a weekly basis with fish averaging 2lb plus, and the occasional injection of biggies.
While hoping not to hear those twisted words of wisdom “You should have been here yesterday…” I am genuinely listening, talking and watching all at the same time; listening and talking to Brian and George while watching over the loch. Noticeably no doubt, my concentration wavers a little each time I see a good fish rise. So in no time at all the conversation is in complete disarray as the residents with fins start showing here there and everywhere.
A local guy hits into a good fish on the opposite bank and then, among all of this distraction, I spot the unusual posture of another man I know only too well. My regular fishing mate, Alan, is already set up and sneakily waddling off to a likely spot. The temptation of rising fish versus polite conversation is no contest for him.
Brian makes a start with his Black Sussy Fly...
Flies For Haylie
The favourite recommended flies for New Haylie include small CDCs and Sussy (Suspender) Buzzers in sizes 16 to 14, and many local anglers really favour the exquisite quality of the patterns produced by local expert Alistair Murphy. So it’s of little or no surprise that a box of this man’s perfected flies can fetch up to £250 at a fund-raising event.
But it’s not entirely about tiny stuff. Brian, being Brian, swears by his Sussy Rabbit, which (in English terms) is a rabbit (zonker) strip tied on a size 10 with a ‘sugar lump’ of foam at the head. This lure works like a single-breasted booby (which are wisely banned), sitting right in the surface with its tantalising tail pulsating gently away just below. The occasional tweak is all that’s required to bring the fish up for a solid hit.
I think the fly is as ugly as a baboon’s bum but that misses the point and I’d still put money on it. I’ve experienced this Brian Peterson scenario a few times before.
On To The Fishing
... and it's not long before a 3lb rainbow makes it to the net.
Although I never ignore local advice from the guys that know (and I make sure I have a couple of Brian’s Sussys in my pocket), my thoughts are elsewhere, but while I’m pondering over my fly box Alan is quick to take the first fish of the day.
I watch my line and keep an eye on Brian at the same time. He knows what he’s doing and the magic touch certainly hasn’t deserted him just yet, as his black Sussy is taken with a stonking big wallop at the surface. This rainbow believes it’s a fresh-run salmon and fights like a bull at a gate for some considerable time, and although I catch a glimpse to see a 3lb fish that simply oozes health and fitness, after such a lengthy battle Brian is anxious for a quick revival and return to the water undamaged.
Meanwhile, Alan has spotted a few hefty fish, including a sizeable tiger trout, sauntering right in at the edge of the dam wall but the call for lunch postpones our intentions of a little stalking – mistake! Unfortunately, having allowed my belly to overrule my brain, although I returned to the hotspot three times, the bigger specimens were nowhere to be found.
So after hooking (and losing) a couple of fish on Brian’s Sussy, and because I keep on seeing fish cruising the top level of this slightly brackish but clear water, I just have to switch to small flies. A small CDC eventually takes two fish and while I’m still not entirely happy with my success rate against so many rising fish, this leads me to switch again to another of very similar dressing.
My new Olive Cruncher Quill (see the September 2016 issue) has produced fairly rapidly at home on Draycote and once again this little beauty did the trick for me. But at the end of the day, I have a feeling that fish numbers are far from the main vein of this loch.
Most mature flyfishers are wonderers by nature and every now and then, purposely or incidentally, we happen upon a real jewel in the crown. Well, this quite unique tiny dot on our planet is within that minority list of places: fisheries that we sincerely hope and pray never change, because of course, we want to come back and do it all again and again. But at least my real haggis from the local butcher and (yet another) special bottle of single malt will help see me through, until the next time.
With the Firth of Clyde as the backdrop, is there anywher more scenic to cast a line?
With the Irish loughs closed for another year, Tom ‘Doc’ Sullivan heads to Adaire Springs, one of just a few stocked small-water trout fisheries in the Irish Republic.
Over the last couple of years I became aware of a fishery that was beginning to make waves and be talked about in fly fishing circles here in Ireland. Word was that we had a top-quality small stillwater that catered for the big-fish hunter. The pictures doing the rounds on social media confirmed this; big rainbows and big browns were popping up in various posts. Unlike the rest of the UK, we don’t have a large amount of these fisheries, particularly in the Republic, so naturally I was very interested in paying it a visit.
At last year’s International Fly Fair in Galway I bumped into Ned Maher, who owns and runs Adaire Springs. A chat in the bar with him only whetted my appetite even more. I told him how hard it was for me to get away during the fishing season, seeing that I am quite busy on the Western loughs. He told me they are open all year around and some of their best fishing is to be had when the big loughs are closed. A lot of double-figure fish are caught then. My fishing bucket list has long ago exceeded one page, so Adaire Springs was added to it.
You won't go far wrong with small nymphs, with Diawl Bachs catching their fair share of fish!
So it was in early September this year that my fishing buddy, Mike Shanks, bit the bullet and gave it a try and off we set for Kilkenny on a grey misty morning. The fishery is located outside the village of Mooncoin and from thence is well signposted, so we had no problem getting there.
On arrival, as we got out of the car in the heavy damp drizzle, a completely becalmed Adaire Springs looked back at us. The telltale rings of large fish breaking the surface gave us that lovely feeling of anticipation that all us anglers enjoy when arriving at a new piece of water!
Ned developed this fishery from a green-field site five years ago. You can see pictures at the lodge of what he started with and what was done in the excavating and making of the lake. There has been a lot of work undertaken. The fishing lodge is a timber structure that blends in really well in the countryside environment of the rich farmland.
The well-equipped lodge looks out over the lake. The perfect place to tackle up with a brew!
We walked into the lodge and there was Ned to greet us with the best greeting you can get: “Howye lads,” he said. “I’ll put the kettle on.” So we had a welcome cup of tea. The lodge is very impressive, spacious with good seating, a well-kitted tackle shop and, importantly, a fine selection of flies for sale. The walls bear testament to the quality of the fish on offer, with pictures of beaming anglers cradling impressive trout, both rainbows and browns! Outside the lodge, there is a covered veranda complete with decking, tables and also a barbecue, which gets good use in the fine weather. This is a perfect spot to tackle up, as long as the sight of rising fish doesn’t cause you to rush and make a mess of things.
So after our welcome cuppa, Mike and I kitted up. We got advice from Ned as to what to use. Diawl Bachs had been fishing well, he said, but with the amount of fish moving, the dries would have to be considered. I set up my 9ft 5-wt with a single dry and set up a 10ft 6-wt for the nymphs. Mike set up two rods as well. ‘English Jim’ joined us in the lodge. Originally from London, he has made his home in the southeast of Ireland and is an Adaire regular. He was setting up with nymphs because that had been the killing method for him over the last week or so. We were like coiled springs, loaded and ready to go, especially with the fish moving.
So Mike and I went over to a corner of the lake where we had seen quite a number of fish moving on the calm surface. We had our minds made up that dries were to be the opening armoury. We covered a couple of fish with size 12 Klinkhamers but to no avail; we had a couple of swirls but no definite takes. A closer look around us and we could see that the only fly hatching was quite a small buzzer, size 16, not many but enough. So I switched to a Crippled Midge pattern and bingo! The first fish I presented it to took it with the certainty that it was just another natural. This was a real eye-opener because I was convinced beforehand that it was just a case of chucking anything over these trout and they would take them with gusto; that certainly wasn’t the case. The fish had locked into a definite size and that’s what they wanted!
I picked up a couple more fish with the dry but at this stage the mist began to lift and there was a change in the weather and with this came a change with the trout.
Ned had joined Jim on the far shore and with both of them fishing the nymphs they suddenly started to have action; interestingly it was the browns.
With the fish vacating the surface it was apparent that we had to change tactics too. Mike switched to his nymph rod and within a matter of minutes he was buckled into one of the bigger fish. After a hectic battle, a quick snap and release he was fishing again and within two casts was buckled into another.
“Same fly again,” he said.
One of his Diawl Bachs, which he kindly passed my way to try. I put it up on my nymph rod and gave it a throw. After 15 minutes with no response, and Mike landing another trout, I asked him: “How are they taking the nymph?”
Before he could answer I felt the tap, tap, lunge as my rod went heavy in my hand and I connected into a fish. I then had good sport on nymphs for the rest of the morning, picking up another four fish on Mike’s Diawl Bach.
The day had brightened up considerably and at 1pm we called a halt and had our lunch in the lodge.
English Jim with a quality Ardaire brownie!
Enticing The Big Boys
Ned joined us and we discussed the chances of getting into one of the double-figure fish. He said it was worth giving the snakes a go on a sinking line because this tactic can very often entice the bigger boys. He gave us a couple of patterns from his impressive selection of flies on sale. Initially I was apprehensive about using snakes for catch-and-release purposes until I saw these. The top hook is clipped and the rear hook is barbless.
So after lunch we decided to give them a rattle. The main body of the lake has depths to 15 feet, so Ned told us we could use any array of sinking lines. I switched to a Di5 Sweep and set forth. I varied my approach at first to see how the fish wanted it and it became apparent that the best way was to cast the full line and bring the fly back with a medium figure-of-eight retrieve. The response was fantastic and the fish wanted it at two stages, initially when the fly was diving and then when it was lifting towards the bank. The Sweep line did the trick here.
The takes were amazing, with the fly getting repeatedly hit, and you could witness this in the really clear water. I picked up about half a dozen fish on this method but none of the big ones. I also found that the snake nearly always came out of the fish’s mouth in the net, allowing for a quick release and allaying my earlier fears.
Something that almost pulled the rod from my hand and into the lake did hit me; it was something very big! I never saw it, though, and it left me wondering. Mike had adopted the same tactics and also had success. He was unlucky, though, because he did hook one of the big boys. He brought it to the surface, where it thrashed around and then was gone. In his estimation it was a double-figure fish.
A Date With A Double
After a while, the takes dried up on this method and I reverted to dries. I picked up a couple of fish on a beetle that Ned had recommended. Some very big fish started to move on the surface and I got to cover a couple of them. One turned on my fly and boiled underit but didn’t take it. I thought it was going to be my first double-figure Irish rainbow, but not this time!
While the doubles didn't want to play there were plenty of great looking stock fish to be caught on a range of methods.
We wrapped it up at 5pm because we had a long drive ahead of us. We’d had a fantastic day and had experienced sport on quite a number of methods, from matching the hatch with small dries in the morning, to tweaking nymphs back and having great fun pulling with lures. Between us, we reckoned we had more than 24 trout up to 6lb.
So I’ve found one of my destination spots for this winter; Mike and I will be back when the Corrib closes. I have a date with one of Adaire’s doubles and don’t want to stand her up! I look forward to returning to fish one of the best small fisheries in Ireland!
Flies For Adaire
Hook: Medium-gauge, size 12
Thread: Glo-Brite No5
Tail: Red game fibres
Butt: Red tying thread
Body: Peacock herl
Rib: Gold wire
Throat hackle: Red game fibres
Head: Red tying thread
Hook: Light-gauge, size 12-14
Body: Peacock Glister
Back: Strip of black foam
Sighter post: Pink Antron
Crippled Midge (Fulling Mill)
Hook: Light-gauge, size 14-16
Tail: Stub pearl holographic
Body: Black seal’s fur sub
Rib: Fine pearl Lurex
Hackle: Black hen
Okay, so this is a bit of a beast! However, it does work. It is dressed tandem style with front hook clipped at the end of the shank.
Hook: Wet fly, size 10
Tandem Line: 12lb mono
Body: Blue Glister
Zonker Strip: Rabbit dyed chartreuse. Attached to both shanks. It is marginally shorter than the mono link.
Ardaire Springs Angling Centre
Arderra, Co. Kilkenny, Ireland
Tel: 086 812 8937
Tom 'Doc' Sullivan offers a guiding service on loughs Corrib, Mask and Carra
Wychwood’s Mike Low goes back to his roots as he returns to the River Calder to show us how to tackle small rivers…
Even at the age of 30, I remember the only opportunity as a teenager to see exotic fishing destinations was in books, magazines and sometimes TV. Not now, though; in an age of the internet and social media, we are constantly bombarded with videos and photographs of huge fish and all the excitement that these faraway destinations promise in the glossy ads and beautifully edited films.
Destination fishing, be it for trophy trout or big game on the fly, is a growing market, but why? Sometimes we don’t realise what we have in front of us and this is more often than not true with fishing.
Each year masses of English anglers retreat to Wales, Scotland and Ireland, while Scottish anglers head to the other countries in the UK, and so on. But why is that? Why are we obsessed with searching out what we think will be the next best thing?
A number of years ago I was salmon fishing in Scotland and met an angler who was one of the party. It turns out this guy owned a farm on the banks of a very well known Midlands reservoir – I thought to myself: “Wow, what a lucky man!”
“Do you fish it much?” I asked him, and what he said next flabbergasted me: “Nope, never.”
I couldn’t quite believe it, but in hindsight, I have been guilty of that very same mentality.
Back To My Roots
The charm and character of the River Calder. Among the urban debris is an oasis of trout-holding lies!
We seem to be constantly seeking that next big thing, that bigger fish, more fish, better scenery and want everything to be bigger and better than the last time. By my own admission I am like this too, a thrill seeker if you will, but sometimes we need to stop and look at what is around us and, more importantly, what we have much nearer to home.
In my case, I have been fortunate enough to fish some amazing rivers across the world, but on a recent trip back to visit my parents just a few miles outside the centre of Glasgow I decide to have a cast on the river where I learnt to fish. This river isn’t grand, far from exclusive, doesn’t hold massive fish or large numbers but what it lacks in the aforementioned qualities it makes up for in charm and character.
Yeah, there are a few shopping trolleys to be seen and footballs bob along with the gentle flow, but what a place to fish and what a place to have on your doorstep. The truth is, most of us have a fishing oasis of some sort on our doorstep but just how many of us actually use it?
The Magical River
The Calder is a dream to fish for the modern-day flyfisher. It is full of pockets, holes, fast-flowing pools and slower glides. Granted it relies heavily on rainwater to ensure a healthy flow, but when it is on form it can provide some exceptional sport. The fish aren’t huge but trout of 2lb are not uncommon and stories of bigger ones getting away are told every year!
My learning curve on the River Calder was not with a fly rod but with fine line, small weights and a wriggly bait of either worm or maggot on the end. It is really interesting that the manner in which we fished these baits is essentially the same way in which we Czech and French nymph our flies nowadays. Making small casts, bouncing the bait behind rocks, through runs and into holes was always the best method with a spinning reel, and so today, many years on, I will be trying to fish my flies in that same way and through those same runs that I have done before, hopefully with success.
Long light rods are one option for small rivers because these allow you to high stick your nymphs!
The setup for this kind of river is extremely simple. There are two options: either a long, light nymphing rod or a short 6 or 7ft rod. These will fundamentally fish the flies in the same way but the only difference is one will be cast and the other ‘high sticked’. Now the chances are that simply by reading this article you are aware of what high sticking and ‘euro-style nymphing’ is, but if you are completely new to river fishing and want to tackle your local river in a more ‘conventional’ manner then it is very simple to do.
A short, lightweight rod can be set up and very effectively fish nymphs in all sorts of water. The presentation and bite detection is inferior to the euro nymph setup but the flexibility and ease of fishing with a short rod and short leader is fantastic for the beginner.
As mentioned, for these small rivers it is best to fish a small rod, something along the lines of 6six or seven feet is ample and the leader should be around the same length. With rods of this size, you can expect to marry them up with a 3wt line and there is no better for this style of fishing than the Feather Down floater.
With a matching rod, reel and balanced line setup we can look at the business end, and there are a couple of options here for nymph fishing. Of course, if you are fortunate enough to have a hatch of flies on the river and the fish are rising then this setup can easily be adjusted to fishing dry fly, and the small size of the rod lends itself nicely to casting under trees and getting in all of those awkward places that fish tend to lie!
The nymph leader setup could not be any simpler for approaching a small river like this. Either a small nymph under a dry fly or two nymphs fished on a leader approximately the length of your rod, with the flies spaced equally apart. Both approaches can both be fished from the same leader setup, ie six to seven feet for leader, and dropper tied at three feet. Now I know you maybe think that this seems short and not exactly stealthy, but if fished correctly and with the help of a delicate fly line it is more than capable of catching fish.
As mentioned, the River Calder is made up of varying types of water and with each move upstream you will constantly fish the new and varied water. The leader setup lends itself well to this type of river, as with a quick change of one fly you can fish fast anything from pocket water to slower glides.
How To Approach Small Rivers
Deep Holes And Pocket Water
Depending on just how deep the water is and whether it is pushing through or not, I would say that the double nymph is usually the best approach for these small holes.
There are two approaches to fishing this water:
Firstly, fish the flies on a short line, holding the tip of the line lightly off the water, or secondly, put a small cast up to the head of the flow and let your flies flow back. With both methods keeping firm contact with the line and taking up slack is so important.
‘Streamy’ water can be classed as the ‘nice’ flow that comes into a pool or the streamy water that flows along a river from one pool to the next. The latter is what I have seen more anglers than I care to remember walk past, or even worse wade through without actually fishing it.
This steady flowing water is more often than not home to lots of fish as they like the medium current. It’s usually a good feeding station and invariably the fish have somewhere to move should they encounter a predator.
There are two approaches for this water, and these are determined purely by the depth of the streamy water you are fishing. If you feel it is shallow or of only medium-paced flow then the nymph under the dry is always the best approach. It offers so much versatility and in this type of water fish often look up for their food, so bonus fish on the dry are highly likely.
When casting and approaching this water it pays to try and cover the water methodically. Look for large stones, bulges under the water’s surface or anything that would suggest a feature, as more than likely fish will sit behind or around them so try and fish your way around these holding areas.
If you think the water is deeper or a little too fast flowing for the duo then the double nymph approach can be adopted. Again, like the duo, fish this type of water methodically. Make small casts upstream and either take up slack or lift the rod to assist in doing so. Also, don’t be afraid to cast across and swing the nymphs round – on its day this can be absolutely deadly, but the most important thing is to experiment.
Slow glides and deeper slow pools are usually the most difficult types of water to catch fish from. The fish often feed on the surface and with the slow-moving current have plenty of time to inspect the offering which you are putting out to them. It is best to approach these pools with a dry fly if fish are feeding or the duo if nothing is to be seen on top.
Tips For Tackling Small Rivers
Keep On Moving
For a new river angler this is probably the most valuable bit of information you can be told: don’t stay in one spot for too long. In fact, don’t stay in the same spot at all, keep on moving.
There are exceptions to this rule if you are casting to fishing fish, stalking a big fish or you have located a shoal of grayling, but your instinct would tell you not to move!
But seriously, try to be constantly on the move; if it’s not happening in these small pools then move. Usually within five or six casts you have either caught the one or two fish that live in that pool, spooked any fish that were there or covered all the hotspots you need to and the fish aren’t playing – move on!
Change Flies – Often
The Calder offers a mix of habitats from slow smooth glides to fast streamy water
The very nature of the River Calder and many like it means that from one small pool or run to the next you are met with completely different water. This could be made up of five metres of streamy water or a pool with two big holes and then a slow glide.
Change your flies on a regular basis, focusing on the weight and sixe of your flu for the water you are fishing
Basically, for each little part of the river you need to consider the fly choice and more specifically the weight and size. As a rule of thumb the deeper and faster the run, the heavier the fly.
Blend in with your surroundings. You areafter wild, educated fish!
It is important on small rivers to keep yourself low, well hidden, and move carefully from one pool to the next. Try to use what is around to hide yourself from these wily fish. You will, with time and knowledge of the river, begin to learn where these fish are most likely to lie and this positioning yourself is easier as you approach each pool, but when learning I would say stay as stealthy and hidden as possible.
There is a certain feeling of not doing it correctly when it comes to fly fishing for mackerel, the days should be warm and sunny, the hotter the better, often you will hook them just a meter or two from the tip of the rod, and they attack your fly with almost a stupid type of vigour. Basically, the opposite of what regular saltwater fishing along the coast is. It's a fish that's great fun on a fly rod and a fish that will fill your days when it's too hot to fish for anything else with endless fun.
Flyshing for mackerel is not hard, it's easy, so easy in fact that during the right conditions you can hook and land over a 100 fish in one afternoon of fishing. They patrol the edge between the shallows and the deep continuously searching for their next meal so standing on the cliff and casting will always result in a fish or two. Me, I have a more relaxed way of approaching the mackerel. I live 5 minutes from the sea, mackerel has been a part of my life since i was a small child and I tend to fish for them a bit differently than most. I use the same gear, 7 wt rods, 7-9 foot leader and small baitfish and shrimps flies. it's my attitude towards it that differs. you can catch the mackerel all day long if you want to, but I prefer waiting, waiting for the spectacular moments that only mackerel fishing can bring, and you'll probably have one or two per hour during the right conditions.
First priority is seeing a lot of small baitfish in the water close to shore and second is to wait. Massive shoals of mackerel patrol the shorelines and once they find the baitfish they turn into a stampede, a feeding frenzy of epic proportions turning the mackerel crazy, making them bite after everything. Tens of thousands of fish making the surface boil. that's what we call them 'mackerel boils'.
So I wait, rod on the cliff, line and leader pulled out and prepared, sitting back with a coke in my hand and my ears alert and waiting for that sound that will make my heart go from slow to fast in a millisecond, on edge and feeling the reserves of adrenalin just waiting to kick in. It starts with the panicked sounds of baitfish fleeing in the surface, more and more of them, then the sound of thunder starts to build, by this time I'm searching along the shoreline from my vantage point and i spot the boil, 300m up shore from me and slowly coming towards me. the trick is to fish the edges of it. not the middle as that will almost always result in either no fish at all or foul hooked fish, fishing the border, the fish will select your fly and target it.
It's getting closer and I stand ready, casting my fly out just beyond the boil, a good 15m out, stripping as fast as I can I hook and land the first of the forerunners, 2 minutes later the shoal is upon me and I've already landed 5 fish and released them, fishing along the edges of the frenzy I land another 5 fish before the shoal slowly moves off and I follow it, catching another four stragglers I decide to release all but one., watching the mackerel move off beyond my casting range I sit down once again, start a small fire out of drift wood, smoking my freshly caught mackerel over it, letting the smoke, salt and smell of seaweed give taste to this gift from nature. I enjoy the rest of my coke while eating my dinner on the cliffs of the Swedish west coast. In the distance I hear the sound of panicked baitfish fleeing for their life, and the sound is getting louder. My rod and line are laid out on the cliff in front of me, prepared.
Bio: Photographer, writer, professional fly tier (though first and foremost) a fly fisherman. Ilias was born and raised on the west coast of Sweden. I grew up chasing sea run browns in the salt and pike in the fresh. When I am not writing and chasing fish on the fly I run a small hobby company, Apex Flies
Facebook : https://www.facebook.com/ilias.karanzas
David Wolsoncroft-Dodds heads out to sea in search of the powerful rod-bending pollack that sit deep on the Cornish kelp beds…
The water off the Cornish coast is clear, blue and beautiful!
For many flyfishers, saltwater sport is all about fishing for bass – and more lately mullet – from the shore, with a floating line. For many years I have enjoyed such sport but felt that I was missing out on some different, potentially very productive fishing.
Bait and lure fishers have long been catching hard-fighting pollack and bigger bass while fishing over fairly deep water from a boat. Last year, at The UK Saltwater Fly Fishing Festival, I heard an expert voicing his opinion that this sport wasn’t a realistic option for flyfishers. I didn’t get the chance to state that this was a misconception, but hopefully I can demonstrate through this article that you can enjoy fabulous sport over deeper water with your fly rod.
The Marine wildlife takes some beating!
I spent July 2014 working at the splendid Gangler’s Lodge in Northern Manitoba. As in previous years, I caught an impossible number of jet-propelled pike from the shallow weedy bays. However, I had spent many hours musing on the region’s stunning lake trout and how to catch them with a fly rod. The conventional methods of fishing for them were deep-water trolling and vertical jigging with heavy lures. Neither of these tactics appealed to me but I recognised that lake trout were splendid fish and warranted my attention. The rod-caught record stands at 78lb from Great Bear Lake but the untapped potential is enormous. My musings were translated into some successful results. Extremely fast-sinking lines and techniques that let me work my fly deep had produced a succession of rod-bending double-figure fish.
The rugged Cornish coast provides a stunning backdrop to your fly fishing adventure!
Reaching New Depths
I enlisted help to work out how to tackle deep-water fish in the salt. Simon Gawesworth, the RIO line designer and casting maestro, applied his brain to the problem and between us we settled on a line based on a T11 head, customised to match it to my Sage Salt 8-wt rod. RIO’s level ‘T’ heads use tungsten dust for density rather than lead; as a result, they are supple and sink like bricks. T11 uses 11-grain weight of tungsten per foot. The T11 head was the highest density option that worked with an 8-wt rod. T14 or T17 meant that the head would be too short to handle like a fly line.
This line setup cast like a missile. In theory, it would let me cast far enough in front of a drifting boat and sink quickly enough to let me fish my fly deep.
My first trip out armed with my new kit taught me some lessons. I fished with my friend Nick Mackrory, who runs Bass Go Deeper, from his boat Fulmar. We headed out from the boat yard to a mark off the coast of South Cornwall. Nick knows where the pollack live. He set up the boat to drift over water that was around 50 feet deep over rocks and kelp beds. My new tackle setup worked and pollack were caught. However, Nick knew that the results weren’t really matching the potential of the mark. Most of the fish that had taken the fly were quite small – around 2lb. A solitary double-figure fish that Nick caught convinced me that we were undergunned with 8-wt rods. We were also struggling to get the flies deep enough – the tackle and the technique needed some refining.
A session this April, armed with 10-wt rods and customised T17-head lines, convinced me that we were making progress. Despite the fact that we were fishing before we could expect frantic sport, we had a creditable number of pollack. On that occasion, Nick’s weighted Clouser comfortably outfished my skinny sandeel pattern.
10-wt’s The Way
A 10-wt rod and reel with a sealed drag are ideal to cope with the Pollack and the saltwater conditions.
Did we have it cracked? The fast-sinking head, thin monofilament shooting line and weighted or skinny fly meant that we could fish deep. The rig could also be cast a huge distance in front of the drifting boat, which enabled us to fish a decent distance at depth. Bear in mind that the combination of wind and current means that a boat drifts much faster on the salt. I had made plenty of measured casts of more than 30yards while demonstrating at various game fairs in the preceding months. This year’s sessions have proved the point. We have been able to consistently catch beautiful, rod-bending pollack. I certainly haven’t felt overgunned with a 10-wt rod. Of course, there is the added satisfaction that comes from catching truly wild fish.
The 10-wt tested to its limits! The power of the Pollack means anything less and you might be undergunned!
It’s well worth having an 8-wt rod set up with an intermediate or floating line. You may well see bass swirling on the surface as they harry small baitfish. When this happens, the bass are very catchable and you have every chance of connecting with a heavyweight.
Fishing That’s Good for The Soul
To set out from a secluded Cornish boat yard, leaving the holiday crowds behind is good for the soul. The stunning rocky coastline and clear blue water is a perfect backdrop against which to enjoy some really productive fly fishing. You will also have the chance of seeing some fabulous wildlife. Dolphins and porpoises are much more plentiful than most people realise. The bird life is stunning and diving gannets will often help you to pinpoint the location of baitfish shoals. The combination of an effective tackle setup and Nick’s ability to put us on the fish have made for some exciting sport. The first crash dive of a double-figure pollack gets the adrenalin surging! You will utter a silent prayer that your knots are sound and that your fly rod will survive the stress of being slammed into an impossible bend. It’s productive fishing. Even on a slow day you will catch pollack. On a good day your biceps will hurt as a succession of crash-diving heavyweights test your tackle to the limit!
Nick Mackory's boat, 'Fulmar'
If your conscience has forced you to embark on a family beach holiday in Cornwall, instead of a self-indulgent fishing adventure, take heart! Pack a rod in the luggage – surely you will be able to slip away for a day and enjoy some supremely entertaining fly fishing?
A Small Aside...
I freely confess that I like to take an occasional fish for the table. At the moment, I am happy to take a middle-size pollack. Eaten fresh, they are absolutely delicious and the stocks seem sustainable. I don’t feel so comfortable taking bass, which are far less abundant than when I first fished for them nearly 50 years ago.
While stock of Pollack seem to be sustainable, so taking the occasional fish home to eat us acceptable, Bass should be returned!
A simple, sparse baitfish streamer with heavy dumbbell eyes, tied Clouser style to fish with the hook point up to avoid it getting 'rocked'.
A skinny sandeel from Andy Elliot of Chasing Silver.
A shop-bought skinny sandeel by Selectafly.
Canal trout? You’re kidding, right? England international angler Ben Bangham finds some brownies down on the cut…
We all fish for trout in rivers, small stillwaters, reservoirs, brooks and suchlike, but canals? Surely not! Well, we are in the unusual and fortunate position in Newbury that we have trout in our canal system.
The Kennet & Avon Canal is linked with the River Kennet, which runs into it a couple of miles up the road. It is from here that the trout have entered. It is, however, still very canal-like here and the trout even move between the lock systems. I have actually caught them in the locks themselves!
The quality of the fish from the canal was unbelievable. Check out the tail on the mayfly feeder.
Locating Canal Trout
If you ask the local lure anglers they will tell you there are trout all over this part of the canal and they have caught fish throughout this stretch. However, it isn’t until the mayflies come out on the canal system that you see the full truth. There are vast numbers of brownies here and they are also pretty big. You also see just how established they are in the canal and how far they have travelled from where the River Kennet runs in.
You can take them on any method really, including nymphs, lures and dries. You can catch them throughout the season, although far and away the best time is around the mayfly.
I think that for most of the year they are pretty much solely predatory and feed on the thousands of small coarse fish that are there. As a result they are harder to catch on our traditional fly techniques, as they are not really looking at flies and nymphs as a legitimate food source, apart from early summer when the mayflies stream off the water.
At this time they start to see insects as a food source again, really only due to the fact that there are so many around, and they are worth the effort of eating.
Due to the size of the fish in the canal I tend to fish with heavier equipment than I would normally fish on similar sized waters. If I am fishing Streamers then I look to use a 5 or 6-wt rod and match the line to the conditions. I always take a floater, an intermediate and a sinker with me on these sessions. I like a rod of about 8ft 6in or 9ft length as some of the casting can be a bit tight and anything longer can be counterproductive.
A round of applause and cheers from onlookers at the Slug and Lettuce public house ad Ben netted his third canal brown!
For dry fly fishing I use a 4-wt rod again nine feet in length or shorter for casting reasons. Obviously, a floating line is the only choice, but I tend to go for something like a Rio Gold as it has a slightly heavier head to help me shoot the line, as the back cast is normally very limited.
For nymphing the really lightweight rods are put away and the heftier 10ft 4-wts come out to play. I am not too concerned about the length of my rod as most of the fishing I do when nymphing is under the rod tip, so casting is not so much of a concern. The extra beef of the rod helps me cope with some of the bigger trout there.
Other things need to be thought of as well, such as not being able to use my usual net as I can’t reach the water most of the time due to the height of the banks, so a net with a longer handle is beneficial.
Fishing The Canal
I have fished the mayfly time on the canal over the last few years with great success and look forward to it every year. These are two weeks of the year when I know the trout show themselves and put a huge bend in the rod.
A long-handled net is essential for being able to safely net the fish...
Followed by a careful release back to the water watched by Lulu, Ben's dog!
There is no way of predicting when this happens, but as I live very close to the canal I can keep my eye on it for any signs of movement from the resident browns. We tried to get this feature shot the month before, but the great British weather put paid to this. I thought that we had missed our opportunity for this year as I hadn’t seen or moved much after the failed attempt.
However, a couple of days later as I was going to the post office early one morning I saw a few rises and a couple of swirls where I would expect to find the trout. I got straight on the phone to Andy Taylor asking if he could make it down after work as I thought this would be the last chance that we had to get the article done this season, even though we might still be up against it.
Well, it couldn’t have started better really, although after setting up and heading down to the canal, it looked absolutely dead! Had we missed the boat?
As we stood there, looking at the lifeless water, I saw a boil further down on the inside, which I thought could well be a trout. Armed with the dry-fly rod I got into position and flicked a big sedge to where I saw the boil. The fly sat there for a few seconds and then disappeared in a big splash. First cast, first canal trout!
The big fish didn't show but six stunning browns in a couple of hours was pretty good going from a town centre canal!
As usual, it fought like a demon and the highlight was Andy’s face as he took in the fact that I had just caught a brown trout from a canal in the centre of a town!
With these fish for the most part being such a good size and really having a diet that is mostly made up of fish, you have to tempt them with something big and worth moving for. Hence I tend to use mayflies and sedges as dry flies, big 4in lures and large nymphs with bright hotspots.
Unless you are using the Streamers it is pretty ineffective to blind cast for these trout. I wanted to stick to the dry flies (generally my preferred method) and so it was a case of keeping on the move and looking for any movement.
Big dries targeting rising fish was the main line of attack. However, Streamers and nymphs with hotspots or tages will also work when the fish don't rise
Waiting For The Rise
I stayed in the area for a while, looking for any other signs of life, but nothing rose. I moved slowly down the canal keeping my eyes peeled, but it wasn’t until we got to an area that I had caught a few from this year that I saw signs of trout in the form of a splashy rise. It took a bit longer to catch this one but eventually I tempted it up with a big mayfly pattern, obviously making it think that it was a latecomer to the party. It was another good fish and brought a smile to my face.
The next hour or so were pretty fruitless and I covered a lot of water, all the way down to the lower limit of the free stretch of the canal. As I came back up I saw two rises opposite one of the canalside pubs. The drinkers didn’t pay any attention to me until I managed to hook one, so amid drunken cheers I landed the third fish of the evening, not your average response to landing a fish, but much appreciated!
This turned out to be a real hotspot, as when I was playing the first trout another rose in the same area. I got the fly floating again and pretty much straightaway had another in the net. I had four in about 10 minutes from the spot, then with nothing more happening it was time to call it a day.
Still, with six trout to the net in under two hours from a canal I wasn’t disappointed. I didn’t latch into any of the lumps that I had been catching a few weeks before, but I think that they had gone back to their cannibalistic ways as the hatches had slowed, so there was less to tempt them back to the surface
So back to the rivers for now, until next year…
Angling guide David Wolsoncroft-Dodds experiences ‘jawsome’ sport as he tackle’s shark on the fly off the UK coast…
Some years ago, while on a boat fly fishing for pike, my friend Tim Westcott and I mused on the possibilities of pursuing even larger and toothier beasties with our fly rods. We joked about chasing tope and even blue sharks with huge baitfish streamers. At some point these deranged musings changed from mindless prattle into serious discussions as to how we could go about it.
Andrew Alsop's White Water charter boat... a little different from thos we use on the Midlands reservoirs!
Tim researched knots and tackle requirements, I investigated (with help from the good people at Guide Flyfishing who import Sage and Redington kit) rods and reels. We looked at engineering flies that would both appeal to the sharks and survive being chomped.
It wasn’t long before we had sorted out the equipment issues and Tim proceeded to book us onto the White Water charter boat skippered by the redoubtable Andrew Alsop. His reputation as the top man for catching sharks out from Milford Haven is legendary (and wholly justified). We discovered that you need to book more dates than you want to fish because the weather gods seem to delight in frustrating the plans and ambitions of flyfishers. Over the last three years, more than half the dates we have booked have been blown off. The ‘unusual’ extreme weather that we have experienced of late can no longer be regarded as unusual!
Blue Shark Bounty
Tim flew solo on the first trip in 2014 – some serious health issues meant that I was in hospital. His results were mind-bogglingly good. He brought nine blue sharks to the boat with his 14wt fly rod and spent the following few days in a euphoric haze, nursing pains in muscles he hadn’t known existed.
Eventually, I managed to join in the fun and we enjoyed phenomenal sport. Our catch rates were far beyond any reasonable expectations. If anyone had eavesdropped on our conversations in the bar, they would have assumed we had drunk too much or were completely bonkers! Twenty sharks to the boat on every session meant that we experienced frantic action. A blue shark heading for the horizon puts a serious bend in a 14wt fly rod and makes your reel fizz! After my first take, Andrew asked if I had felt the shark mouthing my fly. I replied: “No – it just tried to rip my arm off!” Make no mistake, these beasties are seriously strong and battling them, one on one with a fly rod and a direct-action reel, is a severe workout! Blue sharks (like all sharks) have to swim all the time. They don’t have a swim bladder so, if they took a rest, they would sink through the depths and drown. This means they are supremely fit and need to be played hard to keep them moving. If you take a rest to ease your aching biceps, the shark will recover faster than you and you will never bring it to the boat. Smaller fish of 60 to 80lb are reasonably straightforward but larger beasties (we had them to well over 100lb) take some lifting if they have dived under the boat – we were fishing water that was more than 300 feet deep.
David Wolsoncroft-Dodds looks worried as a probeagle charges away! Is there enough backing on the reel?
Your tackle has to be completely sound and reliable – it’s going to be severely stressed! There can be no excuse for leaving a 10/0 hook in a shark trailing several yards of heavy wire. Every blue shark we hooked (other than the occasional one that dropped off) was brought aboard via the tuna door and expertly unhooked and released by Andrew. I have often been asked how we cope with unhooking these beasties. I put on an outrageously posh accent, wave my hand dismissively and explain that ‘our man’ takes care of such mundane matters.
David feels the burn as a powerful blue shark heads for the horizon while Tim Westcott winds his line in as fast as he can.
The action can be pretty frantic! On our trip last August, Andrew drove the boat hard for a couple of hours. He turned us broadside onto the drift and heaved the chum container over the side of the boat (this is a plastic carboy with holes to slowly release a trickle of oily mashed mackerel mixed with bran to attract the sharks). I had the first hook-up just 10 minutes into the drift. The powerful blue stripped out all of my fly line and my big Sage reel purred as the backing peeled off and shot through the rings. Andrew was alarmed – did I have enough backing on my reel? I reassured him that 500 yards of Gigafish Microfilament was loaded on my recessed spool – if that wasn’t enough, we had real problems!
From then on, the sport was fast and furious. When someone first hooks up, the other chaps reel in. The first runs are high in the water, fast and long. Later the blue dives and you slug it out with the shark deep below the boat. At this point the others can get their flies back in the water. Throughout the five-hour fishing session, we had a shark on virtually all the time and often we had a double hook-up.
The sport was amazing – so too was the wildlife experience. We had a pod of minke whales surface around the boat and saw more dolphins than anyone would believe – a pod came and danced in and out of our wake when we were heading back to the boat yard. There is also every chance of spotting fin whales. It is good for an Englishman’s soul to experience this other world off our coastline.
Tim and I felt we had got a grip on catching blue shark with our fly rods. Could we take flysharking to an even more extreme level? We had to give it a go and decided that we would target the larger, altogether meaner, porbeagle shark. We knew that they visited shallow water off the coast of north Cornwall in spring where, we reasoned, they would be a more realistic proposition than over deeper water. We found a skipper who specialised in catching these beasties (with conventional tackle) and set about persuading him to take us out.
Jerry Rogers of Fastcats understands porbeagles. He is a hugely knowledgeable skipper and can put you on the fish at the right time. He was highly sceptical about us using fly rods. He didn’t think our experience with catching blue sharks was adequate preparation for the much larger and much more powerful porbeagles. I explained that we had more robust rods than were generally available in the UK.
The 18wt Sharkmaster
A 16wt had been shipped in for me from the USA and my friend Mick Bell of Bloke Fly Rods had built me a ‘tool for the job’. Mick had been intrigued when he heard that Tim and I were determined to tangle with porbeagles. He rang me up and we talked at length about the characteristics that would be required in a rod suited to such a task. We agreed that lifting power would be far more important than casting finesse. A few days later a tube arrived containing the first ‘Bloke Sharkmaster 18wt’ – a 7ft, three-piece rod fitted with some serious lined rings.
Tim Westcott with our biggest blue shark of 2015. Caught in September, it weighed 151lb and (at the time of capture) was the biggest blue from the Welsh coast that year.
As of May 12th, 2016, to the best of our knowledge, the biggest fish taken from British waters on a fly rod was a porbeagle shark of 194lb. It had completely trashed the rod!
On May13th, Tim and I set out with the redoubtable skipper Jerry Rogers to a mark off the coast of north Cornwall. We had agreed that if our fly rods weren’t up to the job we would stop or use Jerry’s conventional tackle.
380lb Of Porbeagle
Ten minutes into the first drift, Tim had a take. The battle that followed was brutal! The Bloke Sharkmaster was bent into a hoop and the backing fizzed through the rings despite the full drag on the reel. Tim went through the pain barrier. Sweat poured from him. We passed him opened bottles of water and offered sympathy and encouragement. After almost an hour he was victorious – 380lb of ‘jawsome’ porbeagle shark was brought to the boat, measured and expertly released by Jerry.
Shortly afterwards, Tim had another take. He shook his head and silently handed me the rod. That fish got off after a few minutes. Later in the session, I brought a smaller porbeagle to the boat (hardly an anticlimax!).
A month has passed – I’m far from sure that Tim has recovered! Jerry is convinced. He has ordered a Sharkmaster rod and we are plotting the downfall of even more jawsome beasties in spring 2017.
Flysharking is not for the faint-hearted! When Tim and I got back to the boat yard after our August blue shark trip, we brewed 50 shades of Earl Grey tea to try and get back to normality. Neither of us could hold a cup! Every sinew felt as if it had been stretched by the Spanish Inquisition! Easing my battered body out of bed the following morning, I felt as if I had gone 15 rounds with Mike Tyson.
Flysharking is not for the purist. Aesthetically pleasing casting isn’t possible with several yards of heavy wire bite guard and rubbing leader. The sharks are attracted in by an oily, fishy chum slick. We will even resort to attaching a lask of mackerel to the hook. It may not be pretty but it is muscle-wrenchingly exciting. We are fishing clear blue water and often see the shark come rocketing on to the fly. We aren’t using fighting chairs or harnesses – it’s a simple, one-on-one duel.
I’m looking forward to more adventures throughout this summer chasing yet more blue sharks. I will try to keep my impatience under control waiting for next spring and the chance to connect with jawsome porbeagles...
Hook – 10/0 Cox & Rawle Meat Hook Extra (these are supplied by Fishing Matters)
A huge baitfish streamer tied on a tube.
This is then mounted on a bite guard of AFW 49-strand shark trace (400lb) of around five feet, finished with a crimped Flemish loop.
This is attached (via a heavy-duty snap link) to a rubbing leader of AFW 49-strand shark trace (275lb) of around 12 feet. Sharks have skin like sandpaper, which would destroy a less robust leader. This is finished with a heavy-duty snap link that is attached to a short 100lb nylon link attached loop-to-loop to the fly line.
This allows the skipper to detach the hooked shark from your line and rod, reducing the risk of carnage and damage!
The fly line is a RIO Leviathan intermediate. This is built on a 70lb core. I’m not aware of any other fly line that is up to the job. I make a loop at the business end with three, eight-turn nail knots tied with 30lb fluorocarbon.
Lots of backing! I now use Gigafish Powerline Plus 80lb. It’s incredibly skinny and I can fit 500 yards on my reel.
A 14wt saltwater fly rod will cope with most blue sharks. I will be using my 16wt Sage Salt later in the season when they are at their heaviest. The Bloke Sharkmaster 18wt is the only fly rod I am aware of with the ‘grunt’ to tackle porbeagles.
Your reel needs to have a drag that would stop a Porsche! This, combined with strong leader, line and backing, will let you exert enough pressure to tire the shark. I use a Sage 8012 Pro.
One of Tim Westcott's big baitfish tube flies. Big flies for big fish
One of David's big baitfish tube flies. The big sage reel has a drag that can stop a Porsche and the 16-wt rod is perfect for the heavier, late season blue shark.
The big baitfish Streamer is tied on a tube. This means that it rides up the heavy wire trace and isn't trashed by the first shark that chomps it.
Every blue shark we caught in 2015 was brought aboard, expertly unhooked and properly released by Andrew Alsop
A full-time guide and writer, for many years David has been pushing the boundaries of fly fishing. He is best known for catching pike with a fly rod but is also an avid saltwater man. Recently he has been fly fishing for pollack over deep reefs and kelp, using tackle and techniques developed fishing for the huge lake trout in Northern Manitoba.
Big-fish fanatic Malcolm Hunt has bagged 502 doubles in less than 10 years. Could he make it 503 on a recent trip to Avington?
For me, the world of fly fishing started when I was a mere 11 years old, when I was given a day’s fly fishing at a local stillwater in Dorset. From that day I switched my allegiance from coarse and sea angling, cycling to my local lakes after school to help out and get pointers from the local anglers.
Having spent five years working part-time at the fishery, I was lucky enough to meet and observe the likes of Peter Cockwill, Charles Jardine and the legend that was Bill Sibbons. In fact, I blame these three for my ongoing obsession the quest to stalk specimen trout. It led me to study Fishery and Fish Farm Management at Sparsholt College and, 28 years later, I am still working in the industry I love, as a fishery manager and fish farmer.
Having reached my personal goal of catching every size double, from 10 to 20lb, in both rainbows and browns, I had allowed my passion for river and loch-style competition fishing to take over in recent years. However, the urge to catch big trout is still there.
Malcolm's biggest brown to date, a stunning fish of 20lb!
Location, Location, Location
As far as my achievements in catching big fish are concerned, I put this mainly down to my location. Living in Wiltshire, I have on my doorstep some of the best chalkstream-fed stillwaters in the UK. Most of these are famed for stocking specimen trout and I felt it rude not to take advantage of their close proximity. There is also the fact that, being a fish farmer, I am constantly watching the reactions of fish on a daily basis. This gives me an advantage as I am able to deduce if a fish is hungry or not, therefore not wasting my time on those fish that just aren’t interested.
Notable Big Fish Catches (BOX OFF)
502 double-figure trout since 2007.
Biggest rainbow trout 22lb 4oz from Amport Trout Fishery.
Biggest brown trout 20lb from Lechlade.
Best four-fish bag limit consisted of 22lb 4oz, 18lb 6oz, 16lb 4oz and 12lb 7oz from Amport.
Most memorable catch includes a 19lb brown trout while filming a promotional video at Lechlade, plus 10 other doubles that day!
Over To Avington
The venue had to be somewhere I knew well as, apparently, there was, and I quote: “No pressure, but a double would be required, and don’t be late!” These were the words from the editor! Now, I don’t mind admitting that the thought of catching big fish to order and being photographed doing it filled me with dread so, with this in mind, my venue of choice had to be the famous Avington Trout Fishery. Situated in the stunning countryside of Hampshire and fed by the clear waters of the River Itchen, Avington is, as most of us know, famed for being where the big-fish craze started. As I had caught many a double from here in the past, it had to be the perfect venue.
At 7.30am (yep, I was on time) we arrived and were greeted by my good friend, and fishery owner, Bob West. Then, from the depths of the on-site shop, I heard the familiar voice of Dorjee Chorak, fishery manager and one of life’s wonderful characters. After an hour of chewing the fat with these two gentlemen about our wonderful industry and, more importantly to me, which lake is holding the biggest fish, we finally made the walk down to Lake One. The conditions the days before were not ideal. The previous few days had been hot and sunny with the trout likely to be lethargic and less likely to feed. Thankfully, the day was overcast but still warm and humid.
The water was gin clear and, with my eyes firmly fixed to the margins, we soon spotted plenty of good-sized fish. At this point there were no obvious doubles to be seen and so we moved on to Lake Two, following the earlier advice of Dorjee, who had informed me that there were some very nice double-figure browns in there.
As soon as we reached Lake two, I saw numerous rainbows, from 5 to 8lb, lazily swimming near the inlet. Suddenly, from the far bank, one of the potential target double-figure browns made an appearance, swimming directly towards me. As you can imagine, setting up was rather more frantic than normal after spotting this huge fish
My first fly of choice was the Holo Bug, a Fulling Mill pattern. This particular fly has given me, approximately, a quarter of the doubles I have caught to date. For this reason, it is my go-to fly at the beginning of a day. Its slim, lightly weighted natural appearance is my gauge for subsequent fly choices, based on the reaction of the fish to those first few casts. If the fish swim a mile, they are either resident fish – ie they have been in that water for a long time – or it’s just not what they want. In this instance, the brown reappeared but showed no interest in the fly.
After several casts I decided to leave this fish and move on as it was clearly a long-term resident that had got to the stage that it could probably tell where you had bought your fly!
Moving round Lake two, having seen a vast array of quality fish, the pressure of finding the elusive double was beginning to show. Two hours had passed and I had only managed a handful of casts. Having changed my fly to a weighted Tan Shrimp, from Flash Attack Flies, I spotted a fish about a foot away from the bank. Peering through the reeds, I cast to it a couple of times, missing it once and it turning away on the second time. The third cast proved successful, and after a spirited fight, a cracking 8lb rainbow graced my net. At this point we decided a coffee was in order.
Spending time watching and observing fish is the key to
success. Nothing the trout's depth, patrol routes and their
reactions to different flies is as important part of stalking
Having walked back past the browns situated at the inlet to Lake two, I carried on up the right-hand bank of Lake one towards the lodge. I noticed a promising looking rainbow trout circling an area of overhanging tree branches. This was the moment I realised that the fish I had been looking for was within my grasp. The coffee had to wait.
The location caused some casting issues, reducing my available cast choices to either a bow and arrow cast or a roll cast. Using a red Stalking Bug, I cast towards the fish a couple of times but failed to get its attention. Changing to a Holo Bug, I tried again. Each time, the rainbow came tantalisingly close to taking my fly, but then turned away at the last moment. Frustrated, I changed my fly again, this time going back to the Tan Shrimp. I also, very carefully, went around to the other side of the tree and, due to the limited casting and playing area, bow and arrow cast approximately two feet in front of the fish.
At this point the fish obviously saw something it liked as it nailed the bug. Then followed a frantic fight to get the fish into my net as soon as possible, as I knew the fish would try to go up the lake, and with trees in the way I would never be able to follow it. With as much pressure as I dared I persuaded the trout into my net. The rainbow was fin-perfect and, on getting it on to the bank, I knew that this was job done. A quality Avington double tipping the scales at 12lb 9oz, double number 503!
After a well-earned coffee I returned to Lake Two and caught another two rainbows, one of 7lb and one of 8lb, on the Tan Shrimp to give me a great four-fish bag by lunch! I may have been away from the big-fish scene for a few months but the excitement of stalking big fish is still there.
Why do I love it so much? It’s the challenge of trying to outthink these wise old big trout! If I find a fish I really want I won’t give up on it even if it takes all day or even a few days. It’s my competitive side. I know I will get it eventually, those big Avington browns best watch out!
Techniques and Tackle BOX OFF
My personal choices for stalking are simple, effective and standard for any small stillwaters throughout the UK.
To stalk big fish, I personally think that walking around the water looking for the fish is the best way to go. Big fish have patrol routes, which will include margins, and working these routes out is key to being able to land that big fish.
You also need to know the sink rate of the flies being used. This is so you can gauge when and where to cast your fly to be able to intercept the fish at the right point. For example, if your chosen fish is swimming quickly and your fly is slow-sinking, the fish will pass underneath your fly without even noticing it. Too heavy a fly and you could scare the fish.
The choice of fly will be determined by the fish's initial reaction. The need for dull, general patterns may be required for those wise, resident fish.
There are also those frustratingly picky fish that don’t want to know anything. With these, it may be worth dropping the fly to the bed of the lake, then slowly raising it up to the fish as it passes. They are so used to seeing things drop in front of them that the change in direction may just make them take notice.
I will always take three rods with me wherever I go and then decide upon arrival which to take out after seeing the weather conditions on site, which I feel is important. Firstly, my trusted and well-used Greys G-Tec 9ft 5-wt rod combined with my favourite reel, acquired for me by a friend from New Zealand on his last trip, spooled with a Loop Opti 5-wt line. Secondly, my Orvis Helios 9ft 4-wt rod and Hardy 4000DD reel filled with the Charles Jardine Presentation line and then finally, my 9ft 6-wt G-Tec, a powerful yet forgiving rod perfect for windy conditions, combined with a Snowbee Geo reel and either CJ Presentation or Loop Opti 6-wt line.
Playing the fish on the reel avoids the problem of line getting caught up in the bankside vegetation; a worry if that double bolts off quickly!
Almost every guide and seasoned angler will tell you the reel is the least important part of your setup, and as a rule I totally agree. However, when targeting big fish I always play the fish on the reel. This reduces the risk of losing the fish from standing on the line or getting it caught up in the ground vegetation. This gives you more control over the playing of the fish rather than worrying where your line is. Therefore, having the need for a robust and reliable drag system is my main priority when choosing a reel.
Second in importance only to my reel choice will be my choice of polarised glasses. For any angler wanting to target specimen fish, polarised glasses are an absolute must. Without them, the chances of being able to catch a glimpse that ever-elusive double-figure brown will plummet. My personal choice for glasses will always be Costa Del Mar. I always carry two pairs, one for low light conditions such as in wintertime and heavily overcast days, and another with amber lenses for general light conditions.
Leader choice. Well, I only have one. It has served me well and has never, and I do mean never, let me down. Drennan Sub-Surface Green in 6lb and 8lb. I can hear the comments now – “Why aren’t you using fluorocarbon?” Good point! My reasoning is a simple one, fluorocarbon doesn’t stretch and these high doubles tend to fight in high-powered bursts, thus the need for the extra forgiveness when they do. Sub-Surface Green ticks all the boxes for knot strength and being extremely forgiving in line abrasion. Big fish, when hooked, will tend to head for cover. This generally means weed, tree roots, overhanging branches or anything else that could potentially snag the line.
A point to remember is brown trout, especially 10lb plus, have incredibly sharp teeth, more so than rainbows, and as a result have a habit of catching fluorocarbon and weakening the leader, resulting in lost fish. I am not discounting the use of fluorocarbon, as I occasionally use Orvis Mirage in 7lb and 9.2lb when only targeting rainbows.
A few other things I will always make sure I have are a weighty priest, a peaked hat and a really good pair of walking boots. The walking boots are a necessity as I am constantly on the move. These fish don’t stay in one place so neither do I. I have been known to walk round a fishery 10 times in the pursuit of that big fish before even making a cast.
Getting the fishery staff’s information on fish, locations and whether these fish are residents or newly stocked is vital to my day’s approach. The more knowledge you have, the more armed you are for the day ahead, increasing your chances of finding that specimen trout.
Double delight! A stunning 12lb Avington rainbow, reward for parience and observing fish during the course of the day.
Small Streams – Timing It Right
Scottish international angler and Greys ProTeam member Martin Stewart reveals his tactics and flies for tackling small rivers.
I’m not shy of fishing the big freestone rivers that we have in Scotland. The quality of the fishing really does spoil us on rivers such as the Tweed, Clyde, Tay and Tummel. However, one of my passions is fly fishing small streams. There is a huge difference between the approach and skill set for smaller streams compared with big rivers.
When approaching a big river you tend to head straight to the sexy-looking water with nice boulder-like features that you know will hold fish, or you are mostly looking for telltale signs of a big, expansive, medium-paced stretch for rising fish. The only things that might possibly get in your way would be the water level, wind or possibly a high bank behind you. Smaller rivers, however, have a lot more obstacles and features to get in your way!
Your approach to a smaller river has to be different from fishing larger freestone rivers. Fish will be more aware of your presence and the chances are that most of the fish, depending on location, are completely wild and have never been fished for. So, effectively, fishing becomes hunting and with this in mind stealth plays a massive part in success on these rivers.
My approach is always from a downstream position, fishing upstream so as not to spook fish. It’s amazing how close you can get to brown trout or grayling by sneaking up behind them. I believe that the downstream approach, unless that is your only option for better presentation, only limits your chances of catching fish in these types of surroundings.
Travelling light and having everything at hand will help when it comes to releasing the fish. Note that the net
magnet, spools leader, forceps and fly patch are all close to hand
The use of camou has its advantages but you don’t need it. Just make sure that you blend into the background with drab colours. The use of kneepads comes into play big time. Not only do they save your knees but they come in handy when there are areas with lower water levels that hold fish, or streams with overhanging branches that require you to get low to avoid spooking fish. So fishing on your knees will give you a higher chance of success. Also knee and shin pads, like the motocross ones that I wear, protect your waders from bankside vegetation.
In terms of rods used, I do like my 9ft or 10ft 2-wt but I can’t seem to shy away from the Greys Streamflex Plus in a 3-wt where I can use the setting at 9ft 6in for almost everything. If I feel that I need that extra reach for nymphing I can add the extension, taking it to 10ft.
I tend to fish everything off the fly line with a 15ft leader. You might think that 15 feet is a bit lengthy for small streams, and in some cases it is, but it means I can vary my techniques. I attach a micro ring at the end of the leader where I can attach tippet for dry-fly and duo fishing. If I reel the fly line onto the reel then the leader can perform as a French nymphing setup, where a coloured indicator can be added from the tippet ring if I need to. If I feel that nymphing is going to be the main technique then I will use a Hends Camou French leader. They are fantastic for fishing light weighted nymphs. I would also opt for the 2-wt rod with the Camou leader because they perform better with the softer action.
Locations And Methods
A stealthy approach from downstream working your way up to the likely fish-holding area will help avoid
spooking the trout
For me, small streams are all about pocket water. Where there’s a feature there are fish. I tend to go with a Stimmy setup first of all. For those who don’t know what Stimmy nymphing is, it’s almost like the Klink and Dink method (a dry fly with a nymph underneath), but I tend to use a large Stimulator-type dry with a small nymph underneath (I keep my coloured indicator on so that I can quickly change to double nymph). The method is to drop your flies into the pocket without having any of your leader on the water in a high-sticking action. The only thing that should be on the water is the dry. I tend to make the dry hit the surface to get a reaction out of the fish. I also have the flies in the water for no more than three seconds at a time, trying to induce a take. It can sometimes take a couple of casts in behind or around boulders to get a reaction.
If I feel that more fish are coming to the dry then I can fish double dry fly, and if everything is coming to the nymph I can take the dry fly off and go to a double-nymph setup. All this is performed off the leader with no fly line used.
Sometimes fish won’t be in those sexy-looking pockets, though. It all depends on the weather conditions and fishing pressure. You might find that if the temperature increases, the fish will move up into the neck of the runs where the flow is really hard with very little depth (often inches deep). This water is very often overlooked but I can assure you that fish can lie there quite comfortably. I would stick with double nymph in these areas, with a heavier nymph on point to get you down to the feeding depth straightaway.
Any other areas on the river, such as longer glides, I would be fishing the duo with a small nymph underneath a sighted Klinkhamer or Balloon Caddis.
The best times to fish small rivers are a few days after rain when the river is still slightly high and holding
colour. The fish won't have fed properly and will be keen to take a well-presented fly.
When it comes to flies for small streams you don’t have to be an aquatic expert to catch fish. I go to these types of rivers knowing that the majority of rivers in the British Isles will hold some form of caddis and baetis. If you go with variations of Caddis, Olive and Pheasant Tail Nymphs tied up in different sizes and weights you won’t go far wrong. I tend to fish the Pheasant Tails tied in sizes 16 to 20. Weighted beads are important with these small nymphs. If it’s a size 16 I will use a 3mm bead, size 18 a 2.5mm and size 20, 2mm and 1mm beads. I also change the bead colour in areas that might have been fished prior to your trip or you know it’s a river that gets fished regularly. I have found that spooky fish will go for Pheasant Tails tied with white/ black or rainbow-coloured beads when gold/copper or silver aren’t working. It does pay to have a variation to your nymphs. It’s just a case of persevering on the day.
The last thing to persevere with is the presentation, especially while fishing nymphs. You have to figure out if the fish want them totally dead-drifting or if they want movement. Most of the time when nymphing on small rivers I fish totally upstream at a slight 45-degree angle to the left or right of me. When trying to create movement I induce the nymphs by striking for a recast before they reach my position in the water. About 80 per cent of fish I catch in these pocket water areas come to the strike or lift of the nymphs. It can be absolutely deadly.
General-purpose nymphs should be all you need for success on the small rivers. Give them a go this season!
Finally, you can fish small streams at any time of the year in all conditions and still catch fish. However, the most exciting rod-bending days I have had on the smaller rivers have been a couple of days after heavy rain, where there still tends to be a couple of inches in it above average heights. It sometimes doesn’t matter which dry or nymph you have on in these conditions. These fish haven’t fed properly for a couple of days and they tend to act suicidal to a well-presented fly. Also, if there is still a hint of colour in the water, fish your flashier flies. One nymph that stands out in these situations is a Hare’s Ear Nymph tied with Angel Hair in as a tag. It can be devastating on the induced take!
Instead of hanging up the rod for the day after heavy rain, why not give the tributaries to your normal river a shot? I think you might be surprised at what you could catch.
The Flies -
Hook: Dry fly hook, sizes 16 to 20
Bead: 2mm Tungsten bead
Tail: Red cock hackle fibres
Thread: Red nano silk
Body: Cock pheasant tail
Rib: Copper wire (match colour to bead colour apart from white)
Thorax: Hare's ear
Hook:Curved nymph hook, size 16
Bead:3mm tungsten bead
Thread: Brown Nano silk
Body: Tan or green rabbit
Rib: Black or brown small wire
Hackle: Brown partridge
Thorax: Hare's ear mixed with peacock dubbing
Hook: Dry fly hook, size 10 or 12
Thread: Brown Nano silk
Tail: Elk hair
Body: Orange rabbit
Body Hackle: Red game cock feather
Rib: Small red wire
Wing: Elk hair
Thorax: Hends No45 Spectra Dubbing
Hackle: Grizzle cock feather
Hare's Ear Jig
Hook:Jig hook, size 16
Bead: 2mm tungsten bead, gold or silver
Thread: Brown Nano Silk
Tag: Violet Angel Hair
Body: Orvis hare's ear Ice Dub
Rib: Small Red Wire
Thorax: Hends Spectra Dub - No45
Greys ProTeam and Scotland Team Member
M: 07456 499897
“Flick the paintbrush Ieva, paint those walls, splash them” – words that will be with me forever. I was very lucky to have a professional fly fishing instructor to teach me everything from A to Z; now I can say: I had it easy.
A while back I met a fishing guide, someone who was entirely different from everyone I knew; it wasn’t until later that I realised why and how someone can be so relaxed, so peaceful and so in touch with nature. I will always hold him responsible for this new addiction of mine, called fly fishing. Andy has challenged me on learning how to fly fish and I will be forever grateful for it.
For somebody who had never held a fly fishing rod in their hands and had zero knowledge about this method, I was surprisingly keen on having a go at it! Perhaps it was overconfidence? Third fly fishing video on Youtube in, I thought to myself how easy it all looks. In my head it was something along the lines of “go to the bank, wave the fly line in the air and you have yourself a fish.” Little did I know…
So there we were, Andy, Simon – a good friend of ours – and me, putting waders on and heading to the banks of the River Dove.
Five minutes into walking and I was already getting negative about the day ahead; I think it’s safe to say that the question “Hhow far we have left to go?” was asked more than once!
I already knew that this day was all about me getting a grip on how to use the ‘French leader’ – words that at the time didn’t mean anything to me, but it didn’t stop me, of course, from asking questions and questioning the knowledge of my two companions, because after all, I did watch a dozen videos about it.
Once we were on the stretch that my instructor was happy enough with, my life changed. I was so impatient to catch my first fish that I couldn’t wait for him to finish showing me the demonstration and the step-by-step instructions (I’m not very good with listening and following instructions). It didn’t take very long for me to catch my first fish, a beautiful, tiny grayling. I don’t think I ever have smirked as much as I did then. The sound of the river and that first tug on a line was enough to push any stress, any worries, far from the mind and it was just what I needed!
The anxiety that I had every day disappeared like magic; I felt free, I felt like I’ve been reunited with nature for good.
So I kept casting, striking and landing fish after fish. Insanely happy and proud wouldn’t even describe it, it truly was magical, but it wasn’t until my first fish on a dry fly that I truly fell in love with fly fishing and wild brown trout.
I waited patiently for Andy to let me know when it was the ideal time to go and catch a fish on a dry fly instead of the French leader, and when the time came, it all started. I was standing in the middle of the river watching the fish rising around me, there were hundreds of them! The difficulty for me was which one do I go for?
I missed take after take and got frustrated with myself; my casting became worse, which made me even angrier, I was winding myself up with every poor cast that I made. Andy requested that I go to the bank and relax for a few minutes (I think he was either scared for his life, or he didn’t want me to thrash the water so badly that there would be no fish left!), so I sat down, had a glass of wine and thought about my casting lessons in the field with him.
I remember him trying to explain to me about how I needed to not be so aggressive with the rod, but instead be delicate and use it as a paintbrush – he told me to splash the walls in front of me and behind of me, how I have way more time while the fly line is in the air than I think. I remembered all of it, calmed down, and went back to the same spot where I was just 30 minutes ago in the hope that the same fish would rise again. Sure enough, I saw this wonderful swirl in the water that made me make the best cast of the day. And both fish and I were hooked.
Fly fishing is not about catching the fish for me any more; it’s a therapy. A day on the river gives me a sense of freedom and an emotional release. I can now happily say that I am truly in love with both fly fishing and the person who taught me.