‘If you’re going to keep a trout and want it to look nice, then kill it right away and lay it flat in the boat covered with a damp cloth. If the fish touches anything, it will go blotchy,’ advises Bob.
- By car Grafham Water is conveniently located just south of Huntingdon, near the A1. From this road, take the B661 west to Perry and then look for signs to Grafham Water. From the M11 west of Cambridge, take exit 13 and drive east along the A1303 until you get to the A45. Take the A45 west until you join the A1.
- By train The nearest British Rail station is in Huntingdon.
Bob strongly recommends that you use a drogue when drift fishing – it slows the boat’s speed in windy conditions. Attach it to a 1m (3ft) rope, and tie the rope on the side of the boat. You can buy drogues in most tackle shops. Moving towards the shore near Gaynes Cove in the afternoon, Bob slowly works his lure hard along the reservoir bottom.
If the trout don’t have to work too hard you can certainly tempt them to feed!
Top, left to right: Silver Invicta (sizes 8-14); Partridge & Orange Nymph (4-12); Damsel Nymph (6-14); Jack Frost (6-10); Cat’s Whisker (6-10); White & Perl Zonker (6-10); Dog Nobbier (6-10); Appetizer (6-10); Bottom, left to right: Red Tag (12-16); Suspender Buzzer (10-14); Claret Midge (10-14); Green Biot Nymph (10-16); Hawthorn Fly (10-14); Iven’s Green and Brown (10-14); Black Chenille (6-10).
Using a large-faced, extendable net, Bob secures a rainbow trout after a patient battle. After a long hard winter, March and April produce some really keen trout anglers. Early jitters and jerking are responsible for many lost fish – if you hurry the fight, the fish can break the line, or the lure can sometimes rip from the trout’s mouth. Bob uses a marrow spoon to investigate what this brown trout had been feeding on and finds several roach.
Rich in aquatic insects (such as midges, daphnia and shrimps) and coarse fish (roach and perch), Grafham Water has been stocked with both rainbow and brown trout since 1965.
In April when the fish are usually near shore and the water is still chilly, use very fast sinking line and fish slowly right on the bottom. Many anglers use a short leader with a Booby nymph (it floats just above the bottom).
Summer is the season of floating lines and long leaders, when the fish may be in really deep water. Use a leaded nymph or fry lure on the point to take the leader deep. Two nymphs on the dropper help you cover a range of depths. Dry flies are useful for evening rises.
Autumn is the time for big craneflies, and late summer strikes. Use a 12ft (3.7m) leader of at least 6lb (2.7kg).
He’s written many books on game fishing and fly tying and is renowned for his reservoir prowess. Grafham and Rutland are two of his favourite watersA rainbow trout puts a healthy bend in Bob’s rod. Notice how he controls the line with his left hand while his right traps it – providing a secure grip
This 1.6kg lip-hooked, overwintered brown trout is a typical Grafham Water fish. Early season bites can be subtle compared to summer smash takes. Detecting shy bites requires extra sensitivity, careful attention and lightning-fast reflexes when striking.
Bob double hauls about 30m (33yd) of line on every cast. He is convinced that distance casting is crucial to success on reservoirs. As the sun is beginning to go down, Bob displays an excellent day’s bag before packing up: four rainbow trout and a 3 1/2 lb (1.6kg) brown trout.
An air of dejection dampens the early season euphoria of trout anglers in the Fishing Lodge Restaurant at Grafham Water. It seems that every conceivable technique and pattern has been tried since dawn – but with little result.
Bob Church walks in, orders a cup of tea and then begins discussing flies and fishing tactics with a visiting German angler whom he’d never met before. Amiable (and confident despite the disappointed faces), he thinks that we’ll be all right today. We finish our drinks and then assemble a mountainous heap of gear.
A chill north wind is blowing and the sky is grey with a few small patches of blue poking through. Bob threads a very fast sinking WF8 fine through the rings of his 10/4ft(3.2m) rod. Then he attaches a 2m (7ft) length of 6lb (2.7kg) line to the butt section (a 2fiV60cm section of 18lb/8.1kg line connecting the fly line to the leader, with a loop at the end so Bob can change the leader very quickly). Finally he takes another 2m (7ft) section of 5lb (2.7kg) line and joins the two with a four-turn water knot, leaving a dropper of about 15cm (6in). ‘Large nymphs and mini lures which have fluorescent green or orange usually do well in the early season. You have to fish them slow and deep, but not too deep.’ On the point Bob ties a Black and Green Tinhead (size 10) while on the dropper goes an orange lure (10).
There’s one thing that Bob isn’t short of-and that’s flies. He’s got box after box of every shape, colour, style, variation, texture and imitation of everything that swims, flies or walks the earth on six or eight feet. ‘It pays to come prepared,’ he jokes, half seriously.
We take the boat out about 50m (55yd) to check on the water conditions. Bob sticks the tip of his rod into the water to assess its clarity. ‘Wine bottle green,’ he says, ‘with about 15cm (6in) visibility. ‘Most people fish too deep in early April,’ Bob says. ‘Where we’re going now, there’s a 3-3.6m (10-12ft) shallow ridge.’ Just off Gaynes Cove he puts out the drogue to slow the drift of the boat, and begins fishing off the downwind side towards the shore. ‘Don’t put too much line out for the drogue; any more than lm (3ft) or so and the boat begins to swing.’ He casts, quickly recovers the slack line produced by the drift, then places his rod tip straight in the water, so there’s a direct line to the fly, and setting the hook is a simple lift of the rod. ‘Some people give up hope too quickly and get disillusioned, and then won’t come again. Patience is crucial in this sport,’ he stresses.
Bob began fishing Grafham Water in 1966. The reservoir was stocked in 1965 with 1lb (0.45kg) rainbow trout. By 1966 they had grown to an average of 1.6kg. Daphnia (water fleas), midges and other insects — and the abundant coarse fish – sustain a large population of trout. weren’t catching. There’s got to be a reason for everything.’ In conditions like these -where the fish can’t see the lures easily -Bob opts to go to the fish, covering a large area instead of waiting for the fish to come to him.
We drift about 25m (27yd) from shore where – according to Bob — there’s a rocky bottom, littered with twigs and branches, and he hooks a rainbow trout. The fish slaps the water, walks on its tail and swings its head back and forth to try to shake the Tinhead which is deeply lodged in its mouth, a sign that the fish was hungry and meant business. It turns out to be a two pounder (0.9kg).
After the fish has been netted, we move away from the shore, back out to make another drift. Bob’s careful not to motor over the intended drift area, so he swings wide and then positions the boat. ‘It’s often said that you don’t have to cast very far on reservoirs; that’s simply not true. The farther you can cast, the more likely you are to catch fish.’ On every cast Bob empties all the fly line plus a few yards of backing.
He believes that in conditions such as these the fish stick to the perimeter along the shore; they don’t move too far out. Not many other anglers are drifting; most ‘anchor over nothing.’ As he said earlier, ‘It’s a day when the fish aren’t coming to you, so you have to go to them.’
A few more casts results in another strike. This time a big overwintered rainbow surfaces near the boat before it makes a deep-diving run, breaking Bob’s leader.
The sun makes an appearance, and the wind is much calmer. Overall, it’s fairly mild. Bob peers into the water and sees a big buzzer (midge pupa) on the surface near the bow of the boat. This is an encouraging sign, for it may prompt trout to feed.
Occasionally his line gets hung up on some debris. But he continues to fish slowly along the bottom until a rainbow hits the orange lure. It’s a small 1lb (0.45kg) fish which he lands easily.
Bob uses the double haul cast to put all of his fly line out; then he waits a minute or so to let the lures sink. As he begins retrieving line, a fish hits, and Bob hooks it firmly. The trout runs towards shore, taking out even more line. Fish caught with a lot of line out are certainly fun to play, but it takes patience not to bully the fish in too quickly and risk losing it.
With assembly-line timing the rod goes back, the net is prepared and the rainbow slides into the net and is stowed away.
The wind picks up again, and Bob decides to shorten his leader by about 60cm (2ft) and change the lure (on the dropper) to a yellow Cat’s Whisker. Although a long leader distances the fly from the fly fine, it’s hard to cast when the wind kicks up. Because the water is cloudy green, leader length doesn’t matter as much as it would in the summer. The shore anglers are packing up, probably tired of thrashing uselessly against the blustery wind.
Bob fishes along the bottom slowly, and again his lure proves too tantalizing. An overwintered brown trout takes it and races away. Bob allows it line, palming the reel to increase tension. It’s a slow struggle which the fish eventually loses. One last run and it tires out and glides into the net – it’s a 1.6kg brownie.
Bob investigates the stomach contents of the fish with a marrow spoon; he finds several small half-digested roach. He thinks that the bigger trout have realized it doesn’t take as much energy to feed on one fry as it does on 25 tiny insects.
It’s time to move on. ‘You can over-fish or wear out an area. If there are any fish down there, they are probably spooked.’
The sky is overcast once more. To try a different technique, Bob decides to anchor on the side near Sludge lagoon. There are many boats in the area, a few anglers catching fish. Bob thinks a shoal offish is concentrated nearby.
He retrieves, focusing tightly on his rod tip. The slightest of slight tugs and he lifts the rod up quickly, setting the hook. It takes concentration – and years of experience – to spot such tiny bites.
A rainbow trout of around 0.7kg takes the lure. The fish refuses to surrender, swimming over and away from the net. Bob gives it some line, lets it tire itself out and slips the net under it.
We fish for another couple of hours, but with no further success. The early season winds hammer us on the large expanse of water, and with a good bagful in spite of the conditions, Bob calls it a day.