Paul Canning at Bewl Water in Kent

Dry fly fishing from a moving boat is a truly visual method of taking trout in the reservoirs of southern England — more especially if you’re targeting individual fish. But the ticket price to this entertaining style of fishing is expensive: you need many skills to catch regularly.

First you have to spot the trout moving on top – not easy – then anticipate which way it’s moving and finally cast quickly with pin-point accuracy. From the time you see the trout, you generally have less than four seconds to cover it. There is no time to relax – you’re constantly moving, watching and on the alert. Casting thoughtlessly in front of! a moving boat and stripping line unconsciously are definitely out. It’s the top-of-the-water tacticians who excel at this sport.

Paul customized his Leeda LC80 spools by removing a small section of the cage where the fly line can remain extended. The line doesn’t have to be wound on all the way, so he saves some time when changing spools. This is, of course, crucial in competitions.

Bewl rainbow trout

Paul unhooks a Bewl rainbow . An Orange Shipman’s, presented quickly and accurately, caused the downfall of the fish Despite the deep water, he took two rainbows on dries, proving the method works whenever the trout are in the upper layers of the water. clip_image004 Before lifting off, Paul twitched the flies to imitate a fleeing insect. This may just provoke a trout to take. The fish can often surprise you by venturing close to the boat in pursuit of a meal. clip_image006 clip_image008

Ian loads his gear into the boat and begins to set up while talking about his equipment.

Attention to detail in everything from tackle to techniques distinguishes an exceptional angler from an ordinary one.

He mainly uses a hand-built 10ft (3m) Loomis IM6 blank for competition angling. “If we could, we’d carry six rods – all for different jobs. But we’re not allowed to do that. So we have to find one rod that does everything-this Loomis is it.”

A spacious box seat, properly organized, allows Paul to stow all his gear safely away from the elements, yet when he needs something it’s all neatly at hand.

Competitive anglers require many lines to meet any condition. But for general boat fishing, a floater, intermediate, fast sinker and Hi-D are all you really need.

The sun shone in the afternoon. In autumn the sun doesn’t climb as high in the sky, so light doesn’t penetrate into the water too far, encouraging trout to rise.

Some of Paul’s favourite dry flies include the following in sizes 10-16: Haystacks, Shipman’s Buzzers, Suspender Buzzers, Grenadiers, Bob’s Bits and Hoppers. Black, claret, ginger, olive, yellow, orange and red are all effective colours to have. Hare’s Ear Emergers work well too.

Peaked hats and various shades – items normally overlooked by casual anglers – can make a tremendous difference when searching for trout. Along with your flies, rod and lines, don’t leave ‘ome without ’em!


Small green emerging buzzers were the main food item in this trout (which was taken in front of the fishing lodge).

Buzzers are an excellent source of protein, essential for trout to pack on weight and become fully finned, overwintered specimens.

clip_image004 Paul twitches his flies before lifting off.

If the fish won’t take static flies, try dibbling them slightly just before you lift off to recast.

clip_image006 Arranging your flies by type and colour helps you find the right one quickly. After using a fly, allow it to dry completely before replacing it – this helps to combat rust.


A long-handled net with a wide rim enabled Paul to land fish well away from the boat – though the farther from the boat you go with the net the more degree of control you sacrifice.

Before slipping any net under a trout, make sure the fish is well tired.


Spotting trout consistently and casting accurately are integral to successful dry fly fishing. These five shiny Bewl rainbows, all caught on dries, demonstrate the effectiveness of the technique.


On the subject of lines, Ian is equally definite. “My line weight system for reservoir boat fishing is based on a 6-weight, but I’ve got 5s, 7s and 8s as well. The general rule is that the deeper you’re fishing the higher the number line you should use. A DT5 is good for presenting dries delicately. “If I’m using a Wet Cel I, for example, then I tend to use a WF 7. For a Hi-speed Hi-D, I use an 8. Distance casting isn’t necessary – getting down quickly is the aim. “Trout respond quickly to changes in light, so you need to be able to follow them up or down just as fast. Most of my lines have a permanent loop whipped on on the end, so I can change lines rapidly.”

Though Ian has many reels, he uses a Leeda LC80 for most of his competitive fishing because spare spools are inexpensive.

With everything set up, Ian outlines his plan for the day. “I’ll try to catch trout on dry flies – craneflies included – but if there are any fry-feeding fish about, I’ll switch to a big lure. The dry flies play a minor role in catching and aren’t as important as how you present them,” he says.

A cold northeasterly wind is shuttling a wall of greyish clouds across the sky. We motor out towards the dam where the deep water is a noted trout hold-up all season. Ian cuts the engine, and the boat slowly ploughs to a halt.

He maintains that in the later months of the season you won’t see trout tracking for midges – moving just under the surface while feeding on emergers. Instead the fish come up, take a terrestrial or midge then go straight down again. In other words, you have got to cover trout quickly if you are to catch consistently “There are two ways to fish dries on reservoirs,” Ian says. “The first is to fish blind -you can’t see the trout topping, but you expect that they’re nearby and will rise to your flies. The second way is to spot topping trout near the boat and quickly cast the flies to them. This is by far the more exciting method of catching. “I think you need different leader set-ups for those two situations. Since I’ll fish blinc to start with, spreading the flies as far apan as possible increases the chances of a troui seeing a fly. If you fish your flies only three feet from one another, you’ll be covering about half the band of water that a twentj foot leader would cover. And casting across the wind slightly increases the probability of a fish seeing a fly, for a trout usuallj moves upwind in search of food.”

For fishing blind, the overall leadei length should be about 20ft (6m) long. Foi moving fish, Ian advises the use of a 15fi (4.5m) two-fly leader. ‘You need to pick uj and roll cast quickly – a three-fly rig tangle; too much. The two-fly set-up is perfect fra fast work around the boat. “Start with droppers 25cm long because you use nylon when changing flies,” he says “and for both leaders 6lb double strengtl nylon is sufficient.”

With a cranefly on the point, Orange Shipman’s in the middle and Fiery Browr on top, Ian casts into some rippled water The size 10 cranefly is the sight fly because it rides above the surface film, making r easy to spot in rippled water and ever among large waves.

As we drift slowly downwind, he gather: the slack line while watching the flies assid uously. Once the flies are near the boat, hi pulls them a little to incite a take (if then are any following trout), lifts off and re casts about 15m (16yd).

The wind off the dam sends water currents spiralling haphazardly across the surface. Just out of casting range a few trout make irregular rises. Ian switches to a shorter two-fly leader (with a Shipman’s on the point and a Haystack on the dropper). We wait until the wind pushes us closer.

Perched high on his boat seat, he casts about 12m (13yd) out. Fishing at medium range, he can lift off and cover a rise instantly when he spots a trout. If you’re fishing too far out, the trout is gone by the ;ime you can pull line in and cast.

Soon we enter the realm of fast-draw fly fishing. Ian begins by marking a top-water fish. “There’s a trout,” he says. “Fifteen yards and moving right.” He lifts off and :asts, the size 10 Shipman’s Buzzer landing iust to the right of the rise.

The fish sucks in the big buzzer and kirns down. At once Ian lifts the rod smartly. ‘Zzzzzzzzzzzzz,” his reel screams, as the trout runs 30m (33yd) just under the surface in one long, frenzied burst. After that, it more or less glides in steadily, its energy spent. He brings in the 2lb (0.9kg) rainbow and nets it with a long-handled net.

Ian has taken another trout, again on the Shipman’s. The fish are beginning to show Dn top more regularly because the tempera-sure has warmed up, encouraging flies to latch. Most of the clouds have gone. ‘We’ve had some really bright, hot summers lately. It’s essential to get comfortable for a long day in the sun – this is especially important in the summer, so I carry a selection of peaked caps to keep glare away. “Polaroid sunglasses also make fish spotting easier — use dark, smoke-coloured ones for bright days, light brown or amber ones for overcast days.”

Just past the lodge, we drift towards the fish cages, where a pack of boats is anchored. The water is rippled now, and seeing the trout rise among the waves is exceedingly difficult — especially to the untrained eye. Ian recommends looking for any irregularities in the pattern or rhythm of the waves — these may be trout showing their noses or flanks for a brief moment. If you’re not sure if it’s a fish or not, cast to it anyway, he recommends.

He also suggests you practise casting even when you don’t see a trout on top. Picl out a small wave or ripple and cast the poinl fly at it. You may not hit your target at first but by turning every cast into an opportu nity to practise, you should improve youi skills and acquire confidence fast.

The closer trout are to the surface, the smaller their windows of vision are. If yov. don’t get your fly 30cm (1ft) from a trout ai the surface, for example, the fish may sim ply not see it, never mind reject it.

Ian casts out about 15m (16yd). But at he’s retrieving slack line he sees a troul move 5m (6yd) from the boat. He roll casts quickly, pulls in line and then casts, drop ping the fly in front of the moving trout Unconvinced, it doesn’t take.

He lifts up and recasts to exactly the same spot, this time pulling the flies ver; slightly. The fish whirls up and devours the point fly. When it feels the hook, it steams off parallel to the surface then goes deep Eventually the fish tires, and Ian slips the net under it. ‘The Lee Wulff Triangular taper is excel lent for this sort of fishing,” he comments ‘This taper allows you to cast far if needec and present the flies with delicacy. You cai also roll cast easily to re-adjust your cas and hit short range targets.”

He comments about the line he is using “Some people prefer a WF taper for the dis tance they can get. Others like a long belb so they can lift at long range, and pitch on I fish as it’s moving. You can’t do that with E WF as well as you can with a DT. I like a Dl sometimes because you can lift a long wa; from the boat. But a triangular taper is < good compromise between the two.”

The area around the fish cages produce: two more trout for Ian, one a cock rainbov which fought like a caged bull. With five o his six-fish limit, he decides to return homi early. Though the dry fly is best suited fo late April to early September, he has prove you can still catch late in the season if thi weather is mild and your skills are honed.