The vast expanse of some reservoirs can seem as daunting as an inland sea—and as featureless. But with the right tackle and by using the right tactics you will enjoy great sport.
The reservoirs of Britain are all large expanses of water, averaging around 800-1,000 acres, with Grafham Water at 1,600 acres and the giant Rutland Water 3,200 acres.
With such large areas, the first problem is finding the fish. Not only might they be concentrated in a fairly small area, they could also be feeding at the surface, on the bottom, or somewhere in between.
When starting to fish any reservoir, the first consideration is the weather. If the wind has been blowing in a particular direction for several days previously, it is safe to assume that there will be fish around the windward bank. If the day is cloudy and overcast fish are more likely to be at the surface than if the day is bright. These clues will help you choose the method and place to fish.
When boat fishing, you can use a rudder or drift-controller if the reservoir rules allow. The method then would be to set the rudder so that the boat drifts along the bank, and to cast at right-angles to the boat. Allow the line to sink, and when it has gone through an arc and is straight behind the boat, retrieve your fly. Takes very often occur just as the fly is passing through the bend of the arc, because at this point it suddenly speeds up, and any fish following will often be fooled into taking it rather than let it escape.
If rudders are not allowed by the reservoir rules, one can control the rate of drift with a drogue—an attachment similar to a parachute in appearance—suspended in the water behind the boat to slow down the rate of drift. Similar tactics may be used with the drogue as with the rudder.
With both of these methods it is possible to cover a great deal of water, and if fish are not contacted within a reasonable space of time, it is advisable to change and fish at a different depth. This is achieved by using either a slower or faster sinking line or allowing more or less time for the fly to sink.
Floating line tactics
If fish are seen to be rising or feeding just under the surface, it is obviously sound tactics to use a floating line and a team of nymphs or wet flies. These are fished very slowly, across the wind, with no movement whatsoever, except the movement given by the drift of the boat. Fish moving up wind are very susceptible to this method, and if none are caught quickly when you know you have covered them, change the fly, or grease or de-grease the leader in case you are not fishing at their depth.
If the boat is drifting fast, it is advisable to anchor in an area where fish are, and fish across the wind, again not retrieving.
Recommended flies are the Tiger Nymph, Buzzer Nymph, Black and Peacock Spider, Amber Nymph, Sedge Pupa, Greenwell’s Glory, March Brown, Butcher, Dunkeld and Invicta. Of course there are others, but these flies usually score well almost anywhere and in most conditions.
If you do not often fish at anchor, it is a good idea to do so if the fish are obviously on the bottom or concentrated in a small area. On these occasions you will find that a small lure worked slowly through the water works well. Flies such as the Appetizer, Black Chenille, Church Fry, Baby Doll, Whisky Fly, Jack Frost, Matuka, and Sweeney Todd are very effective.
These methods work very well from a boat but can still be adopted if you are restricted to bank fishing. Make for the windward bank, and if there are bays there, so much the better. Standing on the point of a bay it is possible to cast across the wind with a team of nymphs or wet flies swinging round, as described previously.
If the water is deep from the bank, use a sinking line which will enable you to retrieve slowly without snagging, or a floating line with a long leader. That is, of course, if you need to fish deep. Use the same flies as you would when boat fishing.
One spot from the bank might be fished very thoroughly, so if nothing is contacted, it often pays to move along. When the wind is blowing on-to the bank, the wave action varies according to the depth of the water. In shallow water, more of the bottom is stirred up, which might attract feeding fish. This is something always worth considering, so try all depths of water possible from the bank until you start catching.
As you will never know all about every reservoir you fish, consult local anglers when fishing a new water—it can save time.
As the back end of the trout season approaches during early September, it is time to watch out for fry feeders—trout which become pre-occupied in feeding on coarse fish small fry. Stripping in at arm-aching speed works well only sometimes, often with very fit aggressive rain-bows, but the method seldom works with good sized brown trout at this time of year.
Lures like Appetizer and Jack Frost, which incorporate a long white marabou wing, should be retrieved much slower. This soft, fine wing really makes the lure come alive when worked intelligently. Cast out along the sides of weed beds where fry shoals are visible with a floating or sink-tip shooting head, as long-range tactics are quite likely to be needed.
For deeper water, such as close to valve or aerator towers, a Wet Cel Hi-D or lead impregnated sinking head is best. The days of long fast drifts on rudder with lead-core trolling line heads are now far less productive.
Bank fishing or anchoring while boat fishing produces the best results as the water temperature begins to drop at this time of year. In general, the mood of everything beneath the surface begins to slow down, so you need to fish your lines accordingly.
The best way to fish in such conditions is to use a static floating lure, which works very well if fish are seen to be attacking the fry. When trout use these bulldozing tactics they charge into a thick shoal of perch or roach fry, catching one and swallowing it down and stunning perhaps four or five more, leaving the stunned fry feebly flapping on or near the surface.
Of the many reservoirs in England, Rutland Water is certainly to be recommended. The fish there are fast-growing and hard-fighting, with a high average weight, and will come to all methods. After Rutland, Grafham must still rate highly in everyone’s estimation because there is always the chance of a record-breaker, while Pitsford is very scenic and produces some beautiful brownies to nymph fishing tactics.
Chew is a large water with great potential, and neighbouring Blagdon is well established and pic-turesque, with some very good fish. Both Chew and Blagdon can prove to be very difficult indeed, but are superb when going well.
Ravensthorpe is small but pretty, and some big fish have been caught there in the past, although good fish are rare now. Other reservoirs to recommend are Ardleigh and Hanningfield. These reservoirs tend to be favourites but it is also a good idea to visit others each season.