As we clear the causeway and motor slowly towards the west side of the reservoir, the grey sky and choppy water make a perfect backdrop for loch-style fishing on this mild September morning.
Consider retrieval speeds at all times while you’re in a drifting boat. The trout may prefer flies stripped back ultra fast. At other times they take when you retrieve just faster than the speed of the boat.
- By car: Leave the M1 at junction 15. Take the A508 north towards Northampton. Carry on past the town of Pitsford until you see Brixworth. Turn right, and drive towards Holcot. The Fishing Lodge is signposted and is located on your left.
- By train: The nearest British Rail station is Northampton.
Brian contends the issue with the first rainbow trout of the day. Notice how high he holds his rod as he plays the fish. There were countless takes throughout the day – as if the fish weren’t serious about feeding – but few solid hook-ups .
This trout was about average – in the 0.45-0.7kg weight range.
Late in the afternoon Brian tempts his last rainbow trout of the day from deep water. It sees the net and darts off. Brian with six typical Pitsford rainbows. Though very demanding, loch-style fishing can pay off when all other tactics are a waste of time.
Along with his 3.4m rod and floating WF7 line, Brian has a 24ft (7m) leader of straight 6lb (2.7kg) double-strength mono. His four flies, a mixture of bright and drab size 12 wets, are positioned every 1 -1.2m (3-4ft). The point fly is a Dunkeld, followed by a Mallard and Claret, a Pearly Wickham and a Soldier Palmer as the bob fly. ‘I normally pick the flies by their weight or by the size of the insect that happens to be hatching,’ he says. ‘With big waves, use large flies to make sure that they’re seen.’
The water level of the long, multi-armed Northamptonshire reservoir is well down, exposing the gravel-lined banks. On making our first drift, we spot a few anglers nearby fishing at anchor. ‘There’s no need to anchor under these conditions,’ Brian says. ‘The rougher the water is, the higher up the trout move. They also become bolder. The only time I would anchor is when the fish are feeding on nymphs a long way down or off a weedbed or something of that nature where you need to be absolutely still and quiet.’
A few other anglers move near the dam, a consistently popular place all year round. What about the dam? ‘It is near the deepest water, but I never look to the deepest water in conditions such as these. If any flies are going to hatch, they don’t hatch from very deep water. It’s too deep and too cold. But when the water has been very cold over the winter, the trout tend to lie there.’
A northeasterly wind drives us towards Bog Bay, where rudd boil at the surface. They certainly aren’t rising to aquatic insects – perhaps the odd land-borne cranefly. On this morning not an olive is stirring, not even a midge. Close scrutiny of the shoreline reveals a similar tale.
Brian fishes the first few drifts without feeling a pull or seeing a trout. Still on the move to find the fish, we motor upwind for another drift over a new area.
Brian casts and controls his four-fly rig without trouble. He makes short casts in wide loops about 10m (11yd) in front of the moving boat. Then he works his flies back quickly – the bushy bob fly ploughing through the middle of the waves and creating a show on the surface.
Brian doesn’t use a drogue on large bodies of water. ‘The only thing about a drogue is that it might take you twice as long to find out you’ve wasted your time.’
Drifting towards Gorse Bank a trout hammers Brian’s point fly just before he was about to recast. It’s a 0.7kg rainbow. About 50m (55yd) out and across from the bank a rainbow slices through the surface, chasing Brian’s bob fly for a few feet before taking it and turning down. But the excitement ends much too quickly: the trout comes off a few seconds later. Photographer Peter Gathercole is then in with a decent rainbow. We have found a large shoal. And then Brian hooks one solidly and lands it. The trout, however, makes a nasty mess of his four-fly leader.
Brian motors us upwind of the trout for another drift through the shoal. ‘I’m not convinced that these fish are feeding. There hasn’t been any fly life coming off as such,’ he says. The rainbows are probably hitting the flies more out of curiosity than anything else.
Before the shoal moves off, Brian has one more trout out of eight takes. Converting the takes into solid hook-ups is a taxing problem. In practice there isn’t a lot you can do to increase the odds – except perhaps move up in hook size (but this may dissuade the trout from taking the fly in the first place).
In calmer conditions an intermediate line might also help because the flies fish on the surface for the first few pulls then descend just below the surface. When a trout takes, it usually doesn’t miss and get a mouthful of air (as is sometimes the case when using a floating line).
With rough water and large waves, however, it doesn’t really matter if you use a floating or intermediate line: for the most part the flies are carried on the waves, and trout sometimes miss them. With a slow sinker you can’t work the bob fly attractively across the surface.
The sun’s untimely and unwelcome arrival at about 1:00pm puts the trout down. We drift for nearly two hours without a sign oft fish. Many anglers start heading back to base, calling it a day, fed up with the difficult conditions and lack of trout.
After two more hours Brian catches on more trout which rises from deep water to take the point fly.
Although the day started with promise the discovery of virtually no insect activity and sunny, windy conditions later on made the fishing very difficult. But with four rain bows to his credit (and two for Pete Gathercole), he isn’t complaining. On the way up to the car park, the only thing we can think about is finding a decent restaurant as soon as possible.