Catching Specimen Trout

Specimen trout are seldom caught by day-trippers whose attitude is to ‘get into’ the shoals of recently stocked rainbows. Such ‘stockies’ are easy to catch because they cruise around in shoals near the surface, unaware of the perils that fishermen represent. But the possibility of connecting with a specimen among the shoals is slight, and the chance of landing one remote.

The first step towards catching a specimen trout is to decide to fish two or three waters on a regular basis. In this way, you will learn how to fish the waters effectively in all weather conditions throughout the season. You will soon adapt your techniques to each water, learning from experience and other anglers.

Typical waters

I live near Watford and the selection of trout waters available to me is fairly typical. My regular waters are the Queen Mother Reservoir at Dat-chet, a boat-only concrete bowl of 475 acres opened in June 1976, and Latimer Park Lakes, two small lakes of eight and four acres set in pic-turesque Hertfordshire countryside. I also pay regular visits to Grafham Water, which I have fished since it first opened in 1966.

The first impression you get of large reservoirs such as Chew, Grafham and Rutland, is of their vastness. Even though they may contain many hundreds of thousands of trout, a novice could spend a day there and never see a fish!

Tens of thousands of brown and rainbow trout weighing 1-1 lb are introduced into these large waters during the season. These are the fish which give the day-tripper his sport. The larger fish, however, are mainly those which have survived for one or more years. They have changed from members of a shoal of surface-feeding trout into solitary, deep-lying predators with their own ter-ritories. Most of their life is spent 10-60ft below the surface and they do not venture to the surface or into the shallow margins unless a substantial quantity of feed becomes available there.

You should concentrate your efforts on deep water, but keep an eye open for signs indicating that the big fish have moved elsewhere. For example, big fish come to the surface to feed on large batches of small creatures.

Specimen size

Most stock fish are taken before they reach double figures, so 5 lb is generally a specimen weight for trout taken from reservoirs. The selectively bred trout can reach weights of 20 lb-plus.


Fast sinking, lead-cored shooting head with 100yds of backing (deep water). Floating line (fry-feeding trout, and nymphing)


Leader 8ft (dam fishing) 9ft (fry-feeding trout) 12-15ft (deepwater)


Various wet and dry patterns, nymphs, spinners.

Flies, such as sedges, or individual large flies such as daddy long legs. On calm days in late summer and autumn they also move into shallow bays to feed on fry – a sight to see. At the end of the season, they gather into pairs or small groups in creeks and bays with spawning in mind. Finally it is possible to find big fish in shallower, warmer bays at the start of the season, especially where the banks see few anglers.

Dam fishing

Usually, however, the specimen hunter must fish deep water. The most common access to deep water for the bank fisherman is from the dam of a reservoir. Dam walls slope steeply, so a 10 yard cast should put your fly in 10ft of water. But most dam walls continue to rise behind you, making casting difficult.

For dam fishing, I favour a good quality reservoir fly rod of 9 -10ft. I use two different lines, a full-length fast-sinker and a lead-cored ‘shooting head’. Both have at least 100 yards of backing. Leaders are of 8 lb and 1ft shorter than my rod.

In deep water, colours become dulled and movement and shape become more important, so my favourite flies are not brightly coloured. They include various forms of Black Lure, Black Chenille, Ace of Spades, White Lure, Appetiser and variously coloured Baby Dolls and Muddler Minnows (black, white, brown, yellow, green and grey). I mainly use them dressed on a long-shanked single.

When starting to fish, I first work out how long an average-length cast takes to sink the fly to the bottom. This can be done by counting or by timing with a watch. Sometimes a fly is lost in the process, but timing enables me to fish close to the bottom. If the bottom is weed-ridden or full of snags, I use a buoyant Muddler Minnow on the point with a second lure (if allowed) on a dropper, so that both flies ride just above the bottom during the retrieve.

I do not believe that fish on a particular day are solely ‘on’ black, white or yellow. I have confidence in black flies, so usually start with them, but change to a different colour if there are no results after a couple of hours. Where two flies are allowed, I often tie an attracting fly, such as a Whiskey Fly (orange) or White Lure, on the dropper, followed by a black fly.

The frantic retrieves practised by so many reservoir fishermen always amaze me. Sometimes they seem to be retrieving faster than a trout can swim. You should start fishing with very slow retrieves and then speed up by degrees. If nothing bites, whatever the rate of retrieve, change the fly and start the process again.

The slow retrieve is especially useful in cold weather. The 1978 Press Day at Datchet was a freezing, very windy pre-season day in March. Being a ‘boat-only’ occasion, all the boats were anchored close to the reservoir wall for shelter and most people were stripping (retrieving fast) just to keep warm. There was no sign of a trout on the surface, but I found some good fish only feet from the edge of the wall – almost in the ‘surf. The only way they would take was to cast an Ace of Spades into the surf and inch it back. I bagged a limit which included fish of 3 lb and 4 lb before lunch.

Weather in general and wind in particular can always be a problem on large expanses of water. I am happy to fish into the wind from a dam as long as I can cast 10 or 15 yards. A shooting head casts well into wind, especially if it is short. But remember – dams are dangerous places in the best of weather, par-ticularly when you have hooked a specimen. I use a large, long-handled, V-shaped net, and never try to net a fish until it is dead-beat, lying on its side.

The principles of dam fishing also apply to fishing deepwater from the bank. But lure-fishing for invisible fish in deep water becomes tedious, so I am always content to fish on the surface when there is a chance.

You can often find a good tranquil spot to fish if you make the effort to walk round a large reservoir. If possible, avoid wading, because large fish are easily frightened and because perpetual wading in shallow water destroys the insects and fry which attract them in the first place. For every yard you wade, cast an ex-tra three to compensate.

Large trout feeding on fry are easy to spot. Fry reach an edible size in late summer or autumn and then large shoals of them often bask on the surface of a sheltered bay. All is quiet and peaceful, then suddenly there are two or three violent swirls as large trout and fry scatter all over the place. The large trout seem to hunt in swiftly formed ‘wolf packs’.

To catch fry-feeding trout, I use a 9ft 6in-10ft reservoir rod with a floating full-length line, or a shooting head for long distance casting. I use my regular 8 lb b.s. Cast and a 9ft leader. My favourite flies are Sweeney Todd, Perch Fry, Dog Nobbier or Muddler Minnow, fished very slowly just under the surface. To do this, grease the leader to within 6in of the fly.