The Best Is Yet To Come
The start of the season has been and gone, and although we’ve missed arguably the best buzzer fishing of the year we must be thankful that there will be other opportunities in the season’s to come, it’s really not a big deal in the grand scheme of things.
Rather than dwell on the days lost on the water and what might have been, I’m now being positive, focused on looking forward and planning my future fly-fishing adventures. If the last couple of months have taught me anything it’s be grateful for the simple things we once had and took for granted. Rather than just turning up at my local water I’m now intending to make my trips more exciting and more adventurous – weekends away on different waters, targeting different species on the fly i.e. Carp, Bass and Barbell. A step into the unknown with the intent to make things more challenging and spending quality time with my family.
However once we are allowed back on the banks it’s the large reservoirs that I will initially concentrate on. To say I’m excited about the prospect is an understatement. Draycote, Rutland, Grafham, Chew etc… Were all fishing exceptionally well just before we were placed under “lockdown”. A warm start to the season and low angler numbers meant that there was little angling pressure on all my local midlands reservoirs. Those of us who did venture out were treated to overwintered fish and well mended 3lb+ silvered up fish in every bag.
Those same fish have now had an additional 10 – 20+ weeks feeding on daphnia, buzzer, shrimp and other high protein foods without ever having even seen a fly. They will have been packing on weight and condition in these exceptionally warm spring months. In addition the majority of the larger reservoirs operated by Welsh Water, Thames Water, Anglian Water etc.. Have continued to be stocked, even during lockdown. As their stock fish are ordered and paid for 6 to 12 months in advance, stocking densities in the majority of our reservoirs will be at levels never imagined or seen before. We therefore have a unique opportunity to target supersized, super conditioned almost wild fish right on our doorsteps.
I’m often reminded by the older anglers just what the fishing was like on Grafham following its opening in July 1966. It’s constantly pointed out to me that “Back Then in the Early Days” the fishing was considerably better, free rising well mended fish with average size of 2.5 – 3lb, with a good sprinkling of 4lbers. Remember this was at a time when anglers didn’t have the advantage of modern tackle and all methods were still in their infancy. In essence the late 1960’s and early 1970’s was the birth of Stillwater reservoir fly- fishing and it opened up the new world of fishing to the average man. (Or woman)
I honestly believe that after such a long layoff (currently 10 weeks and counting) the fishing on our return will be totally unprecedented, better even than the so called “early days” that I feel to a certain extent are viewed through “Rose tinted glasses“. I’m convinced that 4 and 5lb fish will be caught by almost every angler venturing out in those first 2 or 3 weeks once restrictions are lifted. Even better is that there is the distinct potential for some even bigger fish to be caught in the 6 to 10lb range……fish of a lifetime.
However I do think we should to some extent protect these grown on fish, it’s a resource that is not infinite, and if we want our sport and fisheries to thrive then we must return them. Take 1 for the table but no more, really how many 4 or 5lb fish can you eat??……you can only catch them once if you kill them!
On that note, as a seasoned match angler, I feel that the new path competition fishing is taking is extremely detrimental to our fisheries. In my opinion All matches should be restricted to kill the first 2 fish then C & R another 8 so a maximum of 10 fish caught in total and then employ a time bonus of 2lb per hour. If not the reality is the reservoirs will be heavily fished and returned to normal after just 3 or 4 weeks. We will then again become reliant on fresh stock fish to maintain a satisfactory rod average of around 3 fish per angler…..Reservoirs even as large as Rutland cannot handle 100+ top class anglers practising for 2 or 3 days – then a match day…..it ruins it for the everyday angler who wants to pleasure fish.
Going back to when our reservoirs re-open, although the fishing will undoubtedly be amazing I do advise some degree of caution. All anglers will come into contact with some very large, strong, hard fighting fish. You simply must use appropriate tackle and leaders, there simply is no excuse for being snapped. I would strongly advise a minimum of 8 lb leaders, and a maximum of just 2 flies – even when fishing methods such as the “Washing Line” where generally 3 or 4 flies is the accepted norm. Anglers using 3 or 4 flies will frequently hook 2 or more fish at once, these strong grown on fish will often swim in opposite directions resulting in a lot of broken leaders and lost fish. Even if you increased your leader to say 15 – 16lb you would most likely still be snapped if you hooked 2x 4lb+ fish at once.
We all fish for our enjoyment, the natural surroundings, the tranquillity, and if we are honest with ourselves we all like to actually catch fish. For many of us this means our starting point each day is to “get a couple in the bag”. The threat of failure and a blank somehow overrides our main aim to enjoy the actual day. I used to adopt this same philosophy “I must catch” – on went the snakes on a fast sinking line and with a fast retrieve I invariably caught. However over the last couple of seasons I’ve matured as an angler, I no longer have to catch at all costs, or feel that I have to prove myself. The most important thing for me is enjoyment…….I now aim to catch fish the way I want, in a way that gives me maximum pleasure. That is invariably imitating the food the fish are feeding on, and fooling the fish rather than inducing a take through movement, colour, and change of direction or aggression. I guess I’m becoming older.
Small imitative nymphs and dries is undoubtedly the most enjoyable style of reservoir fishing, even if it is not always the most successful. Takes are more confident, and the actual fishing style is more leisurely allowing you to really appreciate your surroundings. I fully accept other methods i.e. “2 boobies popped across the surface on a Di-3 sinking line” will usually generate more interest in the form of follows and takes from exactly the same fish, but is it really more enjoyable? It’s hard work making long casts all day and stripping the flies back as fast as is physically possible. I am going to use the remainder of the season as an opportunity to really challenge myself, to enjoy some top of the water sport with smaller more imitative patterns on lighter rods of around # 4 or #5 weight. The runs from hooked fish will be spectacular it will be a real test of skill and will hopefully produce some unforgettable moments that I can remember for years to come.
I’ve been using my enforced absence from the water to tie more imitative patterns, especially targeting for Grafham’s Shrimp feeders in the margins, I’ve concluded that I want a good strong reliable hook that won’t bend out under pressure from quality fish that when hooked in shallow water that have only 1 instinct…to get as far away from me as fast as possible – I’ve opted for the Fulling Mill Competition Heavyweight size 12 and 14.
For me the best shrimp patterns are all based on the simple “Hare’s Ear”, it provides the right colour, and a rough hare’s ear body creates the correct “leggy” silhouette, add in a holographic gold tinsel body and you have a segmented effect body that catches the sun. I simply added some hopper legs to give the pattern more universal appeal and some tiny 3mm booby eyes to keep the flies sink rate to a minimum, hopefully neutral density. It’s my intention to use this pattern on a floating line with a 15ft co-polymer leader, with a single dropper at 9ft a hare’s ear emerger type pattern that again will be taken for a shrimp or perhaps a snail or hatching buzzer.
The purpose of this blog, was simply to give everyone something to look forward to. To think about your local fishery and its ecosystem and perhaps encourage you to try fly-tying – There is honestly nothing more satisfying than creating a pattern (and catching on it) specifically for fish that you intended to target. It promotes innovation and forward thinking and the only way methods and patterns progress, once you start it’s as absorbing as fishing – your mind wanders and you think about things differently.