Early or late season fishing on a small still waters and large reservoirs is all about doing the simple things well, patterns and tactics won’t differ much at all from venue to venue, but ensuring you’re fishing deep, will catch you more fish. With the majority of the fish holding close to the bank, usually 20 – 60 yards out meaning that a boat is not always necessary.
It’s a fact that we will be exposed to cold northerly winds and low temperatures at this time of year. Meaning that fish will be usually holding in the bottom third of the water column, especially first thing in the morning when the day is at its coldest and there may have been an overnight frost. Nothing will be hatching and the water often has a touch of colour in it, from recent rain or runoff meaning nymphs will not be an option for me.
The fish will be lethargic and unwilling to chase a brightly coloured lure, I play the percentage game and use a fly that ticks all the boxes, a pattern that will induce the take through movement and disturbance, has a colour and silhouette that will stand out in the coloured water or when fished at depth and most importantly won’t scare recent stock fish or resident fish.
Personally, I usually fish a single fly at this time of year, it gives me better presentation and makes any fish I present my fly to compete for a single food source, the result is usually a more positive take.
Simplicity is key to success and this equates to a fast sinking Di-7 line, a short 5 – 8ft leader of 8 – 10lb Fluorocarbon and a single booby or snake with my preferred patterns – a 5cm Black & Green Snake booby or a 5cm White and Green Snake booby. (or if boobies are banned on the water you are fishing then a standard 5cm Mini snake in Black & Green)
Simply cast as far as possible and leave the fly and line to sink to the bottom and pop up. The most common mistake with anglers at this time of year when fishing deep is not letting your flies sink for long enough.
To begin with I always methodically work the depths. I start with a count of 20 seconds before I begin my retrieve, if I catch weed I reduce my count by 5 seconds until my retrieve is weed free… If I don’t catch weed I count longer, up to 30 seconds until I eventually hit the bottom – usually this is with a count of 80 – 90 seconds on a deep reservoir like Farmoor. I then concentrate my efforts in the bottom third of the water column.
I always start my retrieve with a single 3ft hard pull, this basically pulls the booby right to the bottom and creates a huge underwater disturbance with the booby eyes getting the attention of any nearby fish, a slow steady figure of 8 will be all that’s needed to get takes. Occasionally you will experience a tap-tap-tapping as the trout mouth’s the tail, you should just keep retrieving until everything goes solid often the fish will come back time and time again before actually taking the fly.
Often the change of speed or angle in the retrieve that will induce any following fish into the take, it’s a natural reaction as the fish thinks the food (your fly) is about escape. When fishing deep with boobies you should aim to get the “majority” of your takes when half the fly-line is retrieved this will mean you catch those fish that are slightly higher in the water (at the start of your retrieve) and deeper in the water at the end of your retrieve, fish do not all hold at exactly the same depth and move up and down in the water during the day.
Fishing Deep with Boobies at Farmoor
Reservoirs can be a daunting place for any angler, where do you start? Background checks and reports on the water are essential as is talking to the reservoir wardens who are the best source of up to date information. If however you simply can’t glean any useful information I suggest a boat in the first instance rather than a bank session. A boat gives you flex-ability, it allows you to move around the reservoir quickly and easily, often fishing secluded areas not favoured by bank anglers (who don’t like long walks!) an additional advantage is that you don’t actually need to cast very far.
Most reservoirs don’t stock after September, so fish stocks are reduced making it even more difficult for the angler. From November onwards Farmoor I and Farmoor II reservoirs in Oxfordshire offer the best reservoir sport through the winter months the main reason is that fish are still stocked ever month even through the depths of winter. For me Farmoor provides the absolute best winter sport year on year – Check out their Facebook Page for up-to-date fishing reports.
Early and late season I find it better to fish from an anchored boat, the fish tend to shoal and are usually within 40 – 85 yards of the bank, in around 20 – 30ft of water. The perfect scenario would be to anchor the boat 60 yards off the bank and cast along/parallel to the bank (and the underwater ledges at Farmoor).
When setting the anchor, you want a long rope out so the anchor chain is on the bottom holding the anchor in place – and the angle of the rope is pulling along the bottom, rather than straight up to the boat – This will allow your anchor to hold in even quite strong winds – I’m amazed at how many anglers do not understand how to set an anchor.
As December came to a close, I headed to Farmoor 1 with my wife Samantha, we started the day fishing the far end of the reservoir by the “Pumping Station” (the furthest point from the lodge) after 15 minutes we’ve had nothing not even a follow to show for our efforts; if there were fish here we would have had some action. With the cold wind chilling us to the bone we decide to head back across the reservoir to the shelter of the Lodge and Sailing Club/
As we arrive we see two other boats leaving the area and signaling they hadn’t caught anything… We did, however, notice their peach coloured lines and assumed they must be fishing floating or intermediate lines and therefore too high in the water.
Related article: Fishing deep at Farmoor with Kieron Jenkins.
We again position the boat some 40 yards off the bank and begin to count our lines down. 85 seconds we feel is the correct length of time to ensure we are fishing deep in the bottom 5ft of the water column. Literally, after just 2 casts I feel a slight resistance; I’m not sure if it’s weed or a fish, I pause for 5 seconds to let my booby rise in the water and to clear any weed, as soon as I begin my retrieve again everything just locks up. The first fish of the day is hooked, a feisty rainbow of around 2 lb that gives a spirited account of itself before being netted.
Samantha then immediately has a take, and her rod arcs over, only to watch it spring back as the fish escapes, it’s a cue for the banter to begin.
How ironic it was then that the next 3 fish I hook I also loose… much to her delight!
We reason the reason for our losses is that the wind is creating a bow in our line, this bow will absorb any takes and mask the fly-line movement (it will straighten/lift when a fish takes) as we were not in direct contact with our flies it seems logical that we are not setting the hook correctly or even feeling some takes.
We decided to simply dip our rod tips under the water in an attempt to keep a tight line and direct contact and simply feel for takes. It had an instant effect…Samantha felt a little tap… paused then lifted into a fish as everything locked up, after 5 minutes we had still not seen the fish, could it be an overwintered rainbow… eventually, the reason became clear – a 4 lb overwintered rainbow that was clearly not happy at being disturbed and was showing it’s disapproval by holding at depth, refusing to come up in the water.
Over the next 5 hours we steadily catch a mixture of recent stockfish and some well-mended fish left in the water from last season, the best a rainbow of just over 4 lb by Samantha. It fell to the charms of a 5cm Black & Green Snake booby in total we boated 29 fish between us which is remarkable sport for a dreary day in late December.
We also concluded that the choice of spot is very important at this time of year as its cold the fish won’t come to you – so you must find them! If you don’t catch in 30 minutes then I suggest you move – if there’s fish in the area you usually get some interest in the first dozen casts or so.
Concrete bowls like Farmoor are not featureless – there are two underwater ledges at approximately 25ft and 40ft along with a host of towers, buoys, and pontoons. You can significantly improve your chances by fishing these features first.