Farmoor is a man-made reservoir split into two lakes. It covers a total of 400 acres and sits in the heart of the Oxfordshire countryside. Split into two by a long causeway, F1 is the ‘catch and release’ water, most noted for its specimen-sized rainbow and brown trout. The majority of fishing here is from the bank, but there are now three boats available which opens the lake up considerably. F2 is the ‘kill’ water, which produces some extremely good overwintered fish that are classed as some of the hardest fighting fish in the country!
With the freezing temperatures of late I was Inspired to book a boat on F1, hoping the cold weather would force the fish deeper in the water column. This usually means the heavy sinking lines and large flies would come into action – A method many hate, but one I personally love.
The night before I sat down and rattled out a selection of boobies ready for the day ahead… If I’m honest, I’m not very adventurous when it comes to fishing deep… I use 3 flies and stick by them all day, changing my top dropper as I see fit between a cat booby and a pink and white booby whilst keeping the Fulling Mill KJ Fenton Cat on the point. The thing is with fishing in the winter is finding the fish, to me, flies aren’t really that important, it’s fishing them in the correct place that makes the difference.
The Small Fulling Mill Xtreme fly box is ideal for anglers who use a lot of large flies, the foam is well spaced to keep your patterns away from each other, boobies especially as it keeps the foam from crushing, and deep enough to keep light and dark flies together without the colours running and ruining a box of flies.
My leader set-up varies depending on the depth of the fish – A good rule to stick to is to use a shorter leader when the fish are deep and a longer leader when the fish are higher in the water, rather than swap and change lines. Although not strictly true, fish caught in the morning tend to be deeper and raise in the water when the temperature rises. A good indication of the fish coming up in the water column is hitting fish on the drop, rather than at full depth – The time to change to a longer leader… The longer tippet will allow your flies to fish high in the water.
When fishing deep a slow retrieve is usually best – A slow figure-of-eight or a gentle roly-poly will allow your flies to swim perfectly smooth through the water, whilst maintaining the depth of the fly line. If your retrieve is quick, often you raise the fly line in the water column and lose the depth, not great when the fish are close to the bottom.
Hugging the bottom is easier said than done when it’s windy, so a shooting head style fly line is the ideal line to use – the heavy sinking head will fall quickly whilst the running line holds high in the water. By the time you’ve retrieved the running line, the head is holding at a great depth, out in front of the boat… straight fly lines will sink throughout the length of the line, forcing the line to sink under the boat so you lose control and may miss takes. However, If you’re anchored or the wind is light, a straight line is perfect – It’s worth having two in your tackle bag if you’re a serious winter angler!
When retrieving, many of the takes will come as the line is lifting up from the bottom – A good indicator of this is when you feel the weight of the line come through the rod, much of the time there’s a slight variation as you retrieve all of the slack and hit the tungsten head. When you feel the weight, a quick, sharp pull can often tempt a fish into taking as the flies lift up from the bottom quickly, or even set the hook into a fish that’s already taken and you’re unaware of. The combined weight of the line and fish can often feel like you have hooked a lump which is quite often the case on F1. Just check out the bend on that 8# rod above!
The Fulling Mill KJ Fenton Cat is a great fly when fish are feeding on Daphnia, the tri-colour combination will tempt recently stocked and resident fish, hense why it’s almost always on my cast. Regarding flies when fishing deep, it always pays to have a few of each pattern, as the buoyancy in the booby eyes can sometimes deteriorate after catching a few fish – I like to change my fly every 4 or 5 fish depending on the state of the eyes.
Farmoor 1 and 2 (more-so 1) are notorious for their big fish population, with many often turning to fry in search of a substantial meal later in the season. This year however they have been fry feeding right through the winter, so finding structure is key. A floating pontoon is the perfect ‘hunting’ ground for a large trout – pontoons usually hold an abundance of fry for them to ambush. Unlike F2, F1 has very little structure other than the main boat pontoon, but, however, has a large inlet the far side of the lake – When the pump is on and there’s fresh water coming into the lake, this is an ideal area to fish near in hope of some feeding fish.