It’s hard to find a reservoir in England more scenic than Blagdon Lake or nearby Chew Valley Lake. Both are surrounded by lush Avon farm country. With proof in hand, Jeremy insists that lure fishing is just as much an art as nymph fishing.
He secures another 2lb (0.9kg) rainbow in his wide-rimmed trout net .
By car From Bristol take the A38 or A37 south until you see signs for Blagdon Lake. You can purchase your day ticket in the morning from Blagdon Lodge, located on the south side of the reservoir near Home Bay. (It may be closed in the afternoon.)
By train The nearest British Rail station is in Bristol. From there you can get a taxi.
Jeremy brings to hand a small brown trout . He releases it into the water straight away , preferring to catch brownies again and again.
- Black with fluorescent green Good general colour; use these lures on stock fish.
- White with fluorescent green Best overall colour in overcast conditions.
- Fluorescent orange This is the colour to use when the sun is out.
- Yellow works well in dirty water.
- Pink is excellent in heavily fished waters
The fish were a long way out on this day, so long casts were the order of the day to catch those tail-walking rainbow trout . His retrieve was a key to success. Jeremy imagined a fish was following his lure and ‘fooled the trout about’. Jeremy Herrmann, top bank angler, with five superb Blagdon rainbows.
After this photograph was taken, he went on to catch a few more.
Along the North Bank of the reservoir Jeremy begins on a point, although it’s already occupied by three other anglers. They are quite friendly and don’t seem to mind if he fishes nearby. With his multicoloured pullover serving as a handy place for storing flies, and his cheerful, good-humoured face, he looks harmless enough -perhaps he could even do with a few lessons in trout-catching.
The reservoir is well up. Just a week ago Jeremy could stand 10m (11yd) farther in. Long casts are definitely going to be the order of the day.
Looking like static parts of the landscape, bank anglers stand hip-deep in Blagdon’s clear, cold water. Fuelled by just a bar of chocolate, Jeremy surveys the conditions and begins fishing near Peg’s Point. After a dozen or so casts he winds in, unsatisfied with the feel of the place. The whole reservoir looks like a giant mirror, reflecting the bright cloudless sky — conditions couldn’t be worse.
He puts his rods in the car and shoots off along the gravelly road towards the North Bank. (‘We hadn’t even finished putting our hip boots on.) ‘He drives a lot of people crazy,’ said photographer Peter Gathercole. ‘He’s constantly on the move until he finds trout.’
For all of his bank fishing Jeremy uses a 10ft (3m) rod with a WF8 floating line and a 1054ft (3.2m) rod with a home-made (shooting head in a medium-fast sinking line 9 weight. By cutting a DT9 in half and attaching 30lb (14kg) mono, he makes his own shooting heads. They are longer than the shop-bought ones and cast better. His leader is about 20ft (6m) long.
He attaches a size 8 Orange Tadpole to his leader of straight 5lb (2.3kg) line and begins with the medium-fast sinking line.
At about 25m (27yd) out, Jeremy’s lure gets a beating. He continues retrieving as his lure is plucked and tapped, and the first rainbow of the day commits itself and is subsequently banked. At 1lb 10oz (0.74kg) it’s ‘a sardine’ – according to Jeremy.
He spoons the trout, more out of habit than necessity. But spooning can tell you if the trout has suddenly changed its feeding habits. For example, if this trout had a dozen or so big black buzzers in it, Jeremy would switch to an imitative technique. (Food items at the base or back of the spoon are the most recent victims.)
He finds a gutful of orange daphnia and a few midge pupae. (The sun has pushed the daphnia down to the bottom of the lake.) Matching the general colour of the lure with the colour of the daphnia increases the lure’s effectiveness. This is not a fail-safe method for success, but it can help.
Jeremy’s convinced that there are more trout out there, but since there’s not even a ripple on the surface now, he lays his rod down and stays on the bank. ‘I’ve done this in matches, right,’ he says, looking around. ‘Get a good spot and only fish under the best conditions. Stay out of the water when the surface is flat and the sun is out. Catch a fish, and get out of the water again. I’ve won matches that way. There are fish in front of anglers, but too much casting keeps the trout away. When you stop, the trout move back in again.’
He tries the floating line and a big Montana (variant) nymph. A week earlier the floater and nymph proved to be more successful than the lure. But after a few casts, he reverts to the medium-fast sinking line and Orange Tadpole.
The rod suddenly springs to life as a small brown trout tries to bore out to deep water. It’s soon brought in and unhooked. Jeremy usually releases all the brown trout he catches, but unfortunately this one is deeply hooked and bleeding, so it must be killed. He would prefer to catch them again and again.
He tries the floater again with buzzers on the droppers, but then switches back to the medium-fast sinker. ‘With the sinker, you get a flat retrieve track just above the bottom. You can pull the lure fast, and it stays down. Often you can annoy the fish into taking it. If you’ve got a trout following and you feel a tap, then speed up and play with the trout, and the fish will hit it. ‘With a floating line and big nymph you are trying to persuade a trout that it’s going to eat something by bumping the fly off the bottom. You’re not trying to annoy it in any way. The trout either picks up the nymph and eats it – or else leaves it well alone. ‘The nymph was productive for me last week — probably because the fish had seen many lures being stripped back, and I wasn’t concentrating as much as I should have been.’
Cotton-wool clouds move across the sky and bring along a constant, mild wind which ripples the surface of the reservoir. Jeremy switches to a size 8 Cat’s Whisker and hurls it out 36m (40yd) with only two backcasts – he keeps the lure in the water, not in the air. ‘The angle at which you cast makes an enormous difference to your retrieves. Fish directly across the wind; you can feel the tension in the line with a floater, and you can feel it go tight. Bang. It’s all feel. It’s all in your hands. You’ve got to see with your hands. You can feel the tension in the line as the wind arcs it across the surface. Even with a sinker, always cast straight across.
With nymphs just let the wind take the line while you gather the slack.’
His rod tip is pointing down, about 15cm (6in) above the water. After a tap, he speeds up the retrieve when the fly is just past the ledge, and a trout nails it. After a long, explosive fight, he banks a 3lb (1.4kg) rainbow. And almost immediately he’s back in the water again, eager for more. Soon he catches yet another rainbow, weighing in at around 2lb (0.9kg).
Jeremy casts out and then props the rod under his arm. The show begins: he pulls slowly, constantly, hand-over-hand. Then stops momentarily. Continues at a moderate pace. Stops. Speeds up. Grinds to a halt. Plucks the line like a guitar string. Pulls quickly. Gets a tap. Pulls slowly. Plucks the line. Gets another tap. Pulls continuously. Stops. Pulls. Stops. Pulls. Pulls. Pulls. Stops. Pulls. Pulls. Pulls. Pulls. Pulls. Bang! The trout hits the lure to keep from going completely insane.
Jeremy stresses that fishing with lures isn’t just pulling a fly back thoughtlessly. It shouldn’t be conceived as dull, assembly-line work – cast, strip, strip, strip. Cast, strip, strip, strip… He sums up his idea of lure fishing with the letters FTA. It simply means ‘Fool Them About’.
Trout often ‘fool about’ with a lure -they’ll follow it, play with it, tap it a few times – but many times they won’t commit themselves and take it. ‘What you have to do is fool them about. Use your lure to annoy, provoke and tantalize the fish. Trout are aggressive. If you speed up your retrieve, and it looks as if it’s going to get away, the fish often take it.’
Lures with marabou or rabbit strips have built-in allure with their pulsating movement, allowing you to ‘fool trout about’ much easier than with hair lures.
There are no hard and fast rules about retrieves. Experiment to discover what works on the day. Jeremy uses several types: slow, constant pulls, short irregular strips to make the lure dance and wiggle, fast hand-over-hand retrieves, and countless combinations of these.
After another brown trout Jeremy moves on to an unoccupied point near the Island, where again, after a few casts, he’s in again with the biggest rainbow of the day – a 3lb 10 oz (1.6kg) fish, taken on a Yellow Blakeman’s. The trout followed his lure right up to the very end of the retrieve – and then hit it as it was being pulled slowly towards the surface. Spooning it he finds some yellow daphnia.
Making reservoir bank fishing look deceptively easy, he catches a recently stocked fish before deciding to move just around the corner. Two anglers are fishing in a bay. Once more he asks politely. They agree. But for once in his life, Jeremy doesn’t catch.
Undaunted and fuelled by the momentary defeat, he’s back on the point. A dozen or so casts and he catches a 2lb (0.9kg) brown trout. A stockie rainbow follows soon afterwards. We’ve now lost track of how many fish he’s caught – it must be at least ten, though he has kept only seven. We leave him there on the point. As we walk back to the car park past the tangled mass of shrubbery along the bank, we can hear his fading voice, ‘One more cast, I promise. Just one more cast…’