Everything you need to know about Targeting Trophy Trout
I have caught at least one “grown on” double-figure trout from all on the Anglian Water reservoirs. I’m often told this is a unique feat and that I’m “very lucky”. Well the golfing legend Gary Player, coined one of the most quoted aphorisms in sport “the harder I practise the luckier I get”. And while I accept that all angling requires a certain degree of “fortune” we can all take steps in order to be more successful.
I will attempt to explain in detail my methods and thought processes, and how anyone can catch a large resident trout at the “back end”. It’s not difficult once you change your mind-set and set yourself realistic targets.
Catching an 8lb plus trout from a reservoir is extremely difficult simply because statistically they are so few of them, but catching fish of 4 – 6 lb is well within anyone’s capabilities. I consider that most of my success comes down to planning, the right tackle (and flies) and responding quickly to the opportunity or fry feeding activity at a reservoir as and when it happens.
Traditionally the “back end” of the fly fishing season in the UK is October and November, the water starts to cool down, weedbeds are established and the pin fry that hatched in early June are now around 1.5 – 3” long.
Your first step is to disregard your normal mind-set. Accept that this is no longer a numbers game and you aren’t trying to catch 6 or 8 stock-fish in a day. Consider that just one 4 to 5 lb fish is acceptable and any more is actually a red-letter day. When targeting a single fish margins are fine and blanks must be expected. The long hours test your patience and your thought process as an angler and you often question if your quest is achievable or actually worth it.
But think positively, the cumulative stocking on all the reservoirs and low catch rates (due to high water temperatures in the summer months and a distinct lack of anglers on our waters) has meant that there are now more fish than ever in our reservoirs; many of them have simply hidden away for months in the cooler depths, gorging themselves on daphnia, shrimp, fry and often only feeding at the extremes of the day (first and last light). They are now in peak condition and the ultimate prize.
With temperatures dropping it’s like nature has flicked a switch, the grown on resident fish know they must leave the sanctuary of the reservoir depths to hunt the high protein food source that is “fry”; that often congregate in the margins of our reservoirs, usually around the boat jetty or weed-beds. It gives them one last chance to really pack on weight before the baron winter months.
Your first challenge is to identify a reservoir where fry-feeding will potentially occur or is already occurring. The angling press portrays fry-feeding as an annual event. In truth, it’s not!
I am very fortunate as living centrally in the Midlands allows me access to 8 reservoirs, all within an hour’s drive. Each year fry feeding will occur on just 2 or 3 of these waters. There are many reasons for this, water levels, water temperature, predation, etc… On Rutland and Grafham, we usually see good fry feeding once every 3 or 4 years on one of the waters.
Like everything to be successful, you need to put in some effort, do a little reconnaissance – visit the water beforehand, see if there are fry in the margins, grebes and gulls working the water if the answer is “yes” then there is a good chance that fry feeding will occur at some stage. Now is the time to identify where the fry are holding in vast numbers, and which areas will provide you with the best opportunity to catch. I try and find 3 or 4 good areas that are holding fry, then on my chosen day I know exactly where to fish and target my efforts – I’m not wasting time searching the water.
I also feel it’s vitally important to stick with tried and tested methods. I never use anything other than the following lures; Snakes flies, Suspender Minkies and Hummungus’s. Fish gorging on fry will not feed continually all day, often for just short periods of time 30 – 45 minutes. You must be ready to take advantage of these short spells of activity and have a fly on that is proven fish catcher.
Dave Barker a Grafham legend was responsible for the creation of the Minkie, which was basically a variant of a rabbit fur “Zonker” only Dave tied the pattern with a mink fur that was even more mobile than rabbit in the water. The pattern had the correct profile and enticing movement even when fished with an ultra-slow figure of 8. In 1992 Dave used the pattern to great effect when he captured the still current Grafham Rainbow of 13 lb 13oz on a Minkie from the Harbour.
I personally feel that the “Snake” is a better pattern, it’s a natural evolution of a tried and tested style of fly (zonker – minkie – snake). Although relatively a modern pattern it has taken both the small water and reservoir scene by storm over the last few years. It first became mainstream some 10+ years ago in 2005 when it was responsible for a number of double figure browns at the top of Rutland’s South Arm in a matter of days.
My favourite snake colour schemes are based on modern classics (the Cats’ Whisker and Hummungus) basically a Black and Silver Snake and a Green & White Snake fly They are the perfect patterns for big Rainbows and Browns all season long but particularly when targeting fry feeders. These patterns tick all the boxes to induce the take, movement, silhouette, target point, disturbance, colour etc… what has also become apparent is that the snake is also deadly for recently stocked fish, and wised up pressured fish… in fact, any predatory fish will take the lure from a Trout to Zander if it is presented correctly!
The snake will work on any line from a floater to a Di-8 – it really is that versatile. However, I find there are a number of distinct retrieves that allow you to get the best out of the pattern, and you should consider them all on any given day.
1 – The Roly Poly: Slow, Medium or Fast paced it will work, especially on the weighted or booby versions, the fly will undulate through the water and literally look alive. Personally, I find that this continuous retrieve works best in the summer and autumn months (June – November) when the fish are on the fry and willing to case.
2 – Medium or Fast figure of 8: Absolutely deadly when using the booby version along the bottom or the neutral density version midwater, The figure of 8 still allows you to impart so much movement into a fly at low speeds, its an essential tactic on hard fished waters or in cold weather or in coloured water. Best results for fishing the figure of 8 retrieves are November – June.
3 – Short 6” Strip: A retrieve that’s best suited to the weighted version, as the short hard pulls will get the fly to “duck & dive” in an exaggerated motion effective all year round.
There is no better feeling of being on the bank at first light, the surge and splash as a fry feeder breaks the surface charging in to stun the fry, before carefully returning to sip them from the surface. The waiting, the anticipation of not knowing when or what you are going to hook next… will it be a 4lb silvered up rainbow or a record-breaking brown… it sends shivers down my spine.
This year there has been an explosion in the roach and bream population in Rutland and their fry are everywhere, around the harbour arms, sailing club moorings, boat jetty’s in Whitwell Creek etc.. They are so numerous the water surface is constantly dimpling, so much so you think it’s light rain until you realise it’s the fry feeding just under the surface.
While I was tackling up the odd fish crashed through the thousands of fry that were hugging the stones around the harbour and the boat pontoons, after the initial explosion of activity the water would settle and the injured fry would turn on their side and float to the surface stunned by the large fish crashing into them. As they reached the surface the trout would them slowly swim up and pick off the injured before returning to the depths leaving the water still and almost lifeless.
This was the perfect opportunity to fish a “Suspender Minkie”, a pattern that represents an injured or dying fish perfectly. The activity is just 10 – 15ft from the bank out so I quickly tackle up with a floating line, 9ft leader of 10lb Masterclass Flurocarbon and a suspender minkie. A short cast is all that’s required followed by 2 or 3 hard strips, to “pop the fly” and literally pull the fish to your cast. I then just sit and wait crouching down in order to keep the smallest possible profile.
20 seconds later and there is a huge swirl and my fly disappears.
I lifted into the fish firmly and it instantly took off heading for the open water at the entrance to the harbour, the rod doubled up as I applied the pressure. Unfortunately, the hook hold wasn’t good enough and the fish won its battle for freedom as the constant pressure on the hook caused it to pull free.
The sudden commotion seemed to spook the fish and for the next hour as there was a period of inactivity, but I expected this anyway and just sat down on my box away from the water’s edge so not to disturb any fish that would return to the harbour.
I used this time to set up my additional rod with an intermediate line, an identical leader and a 5cm green & white snake.
The long build of inactivity intensifies the senses and suddenly all hell breaks loose, fish start crashing into the fry again, any time now I expect action…My friend Cameron Neil has arrived and picks up the intermediate line & snake combo, I stick with the suspender Minkie.
Cameron flicks the intermediate around 25 feet and begins a slow roly-poly retrieve, I watch his line lift as there is resistance and he instinctively speeds up to set the hook in what appears to be a huge brown well into double figures. With a flick of its tail and in an instant it’s 50 yards away and shaking its head, I follow him along the bank as he guides the fish expertly into open water, away from any obstructions, it’s then just a case of not rushing, eventually I managed to net his prize a brown well into double figures and his 3rd of a truly remarkable season.
Following a quick photo, the fish was released.
We decided to move location and opted to try Whitwell Creek close to the boat moorings and pontoons that were holding a lot of fry. The next 3 hours brought a succession of takes and fish to Cameron and I, we finished with 5 rainbows for 19 lb and a number of large browns that were released.
When fishing for big fish around obstructions (boat jetties and marker buoys) you need the correct tackle and technique if you are going to be successful. Cameron and I were using stiff #8 our leader was 9 to 10ft of 12 lb Fulling Mill Masterclass Flurocarbon. The most consistent area tends to be around the obstructions, such as the jetty or chains hanging from the marker buoys. When you hook a fish in these area’s you simply cannot give them an inch, it’s just “Hook N Hold”…. clamp down on the fish and apply the pressure and turn it into water away from the obstructions if you let it start to run you’ve lost the battle as chances are you’ll never stop it before it wraps you around the obstruction. I’d estimate that 30% of fish hooked will be lost as you must apply so much pressure initially. If you use inadequate tackle or let them run then the figure will be much higher and in my opinion, you simply don’t have an option.
General Top Tips on Catching Large Trout
1. Expect long periods of inactivity then sudden action. Fish will hunt in shoals and leave the deeper water to hunt the fry then return to the safety of the deeper water once they have fed.
2. A 7 or 8 weight rod capable of turning over large bulky patterns and coping with the powerful runs of big fish is essential.
3. Your leader material should be strong 10lb minimum with 12lb preferable.
4. Be mobile, a single fly box with all of the necessary patterns – tied on good quality hooks that will not bend out when playing a fish.
5. After each big fish thoroughly check your leader… it can become frayed by the razor-like teeth of a big brown, or on underwater obstructions.
6. Fish a single fly only – knots mean weakness and droppers can snag on weed-beds, boats or other structures etc. two fry feeders hooked at the same time means breakages even on the strongest leader material.
7. A large landing net is essential.
8. Try and plan what you intend to do once you hook a big fish – ie where is best to land it, can you steer it away from any obstructions. Try and visualise you potential problems and more importantly plan your solutions.
9. Match the size of the fry in the water – fish patterns that accurately “match the hatch”.
10. Be quiet and the fish will come to you try not to wade at all and defiantly do not repeatedly go in and out of the water (have all your kit in a pocket such as flies, fluorocarbon tippet and priest)
11. Hook and Hold if necessary – clamp down on the fish and apply the pressure and turn it into water away from the obstructions if you let it start to run you’ve lost the battle as chances are you’ll never stop it before it wraps you around the obstruction and breaks you.
12. Watch closely fish will often patrol a route along a weed-bed or round the harbour, simply put a fly in their path.
13. Polarised Glasses and Hat are a must to see your quarry.
14. Short leaders 13ft max with a preference of 10ft will ensure the turnover of large bulky flies
15. Cast at activity, fish often hunt in shoals so where there’s one there’s more, there also they like to charge through the fry crippling them then coming back to gently sip down the dead/distressed fry.(You also get a few foul hooked fish for this reason)
16. Long casts are defiantly not essential most of the action happens within 20 yards of the bank, if you cast further you may just be fishing dead water.
17. Fry feeding can occur at any time of the day
In my opinion, the best reservoirs to try for fry feeding trout are:
- Farmoor (1 and 2)