Drift-fishing for big Stillwater trout

Catching specimen trout, especially from a vast reservoir such as Rutland Water, is not easy. It calls for a range of methods designed to shorten the odds of what would otherwise be a hit and miss affair.

Large brown trout, not rainbows, are the main quarry because they’re predictable and can often be found along specific deep-water marks for most of the season. Big rainbows of over 5lb (2.3kg) are all but impossible to locate in numbers. They are far more elusive and occur much more randomly – though you can still catch them when drift-fishing.

Where to begin?

Confronted by a vast area of open water, you may wonder where to start. Begin with a map of the Stillwater, and locate landmarks such as towers in deep water. If there are two towers on a piece of water, they are often connected by a pipe allowing the transfer of water. This lies just off the lake bed and is an attractive fish-gathering feature, offering shelter and working in much the same way as a reef draws marine fish. Other good features include dam walls, holes in the lake bed or points with deep water nearby.

Point-first drifting

Once you decide on likely fish-holding areas, you need a way to present the fly at the correct depth. Although anchoring is a good way of getting the imitation down to the fish, a more effective technique is to allow the boat to drift with the breeze. This enables you to cover large areas of water at a reasonable pace.

Chasing big brown trout is often a frustrating game — but it’s made a little easier if you can drift over as much fish-holding water as possible.

When you are drifting side-on to the wind in the classic loch-style technique, the boat’s movement is usually quite slow (in moderate winds). For this type of drift-fishing to be consistently effective, you must move quickly. With the point of the boat travelling downwind, you can achieve good speeds. However, even if you begin drifting in the correct position, the boat will quickly swing side-on.

So, to give adequate torque to alter the boat’s course, a rudder with a large blade is essential. Most of the boats available for hire on the reservoirs have outboard motors without rudders — you have to provide your own. You can either buy one or make your own. ‘Flies’ for big browns.

To be fair the term fly is somewhat inexact. What you need for big reservoir trout is something really meaty. Although normal longshank or leadhead lures can succeed, large tandems are particularly effective when the trout are hitting coarse fish. Tube flies up to 10cm (4in) long are also hard to beat. They may be tied either with a wing of feather or scintillating mobile tinsels such as Flashabou (in gold or silver) or Crystal Hair.

One contentious but deadly pattern for big brown trout is the Waggy. Developed by big fish specialist Fred Wagstaffe, the lure uses the seductive wiggle of an artificial sandeel added to the back of a tinsel-winged tandem. This ‘fly’ has taken a great many double-figure brown trout. Remember, attach a minimum of 10lb (4.5kg) b.s. leader to whichever fly you use.

Lines to tame the depths

Virtually all the techniques for catching a monster brown trout require the use of various sinking lines. If the fish are down deep, a heavily weighted fly and floating line just won’t reach them.

For fishing mid water to the surface, Wet Cel II is the standard choice. This dark green line was once the main fast sinker for boat anglers, but with the development of higher density, faster sinking lines, game anglers now consider it to be only a medium-fast sinker. We now have the Hi-Speed Hi-D, Di line and lead-impregnated lines which sink fast enough to fish water up to 9m (30ft) deep.

For very deep water you can even try lines with a lead core. Though rather unresponsive to use, they sink extremely fast — perfect for getting down to the effective level quickly and staying there to keep your fly in the ‘killing-zone’ as long as possible.

Lead core lines, originally developed for trolling the Great Lakes in the USA, come in 90m (100yd) lengths. They are THE lines to use when the fish are hard on the bottom, and they may be used whole or in shorter sections. A favourite method is to make the lead-core line into a 9m (10yd) shooting head. This allows you to cast a long way.

Which line do you use?. There are two points to consider. The first is the level at <frr which the fish are lying — and this can only be determined by experimenting or from experience. The second, and perhaps less obvious, is the speed at which the boat is drifting. The stronger the wind, the faster the boat drifts. And the quicker the boat moves, the higher the line is pulled in the water. Moving quickly is great for covering large areas of water, but it does mean that you need to use faster sinking lines than when there isn’t too much wind.

Two techniques to try

There are two main ways of drift-fishing using the rudder. Both of them are suited for fishing alone or with a partner. (Of course, it always helps to have a partner to help manage the boat.). The curve. This is a deadly technique for both rainbow and brown trout at all depths. To allow the line to sink freely while the boat is drifting, cast at a right angle to the boat and then pay out some 10-20m (11-22yd) of backing. Your partner should do likewise on the other side of the boat. (Shooting heads are perfect for this style because you can cast a long way to produce an effective curve.)

The lure covers a 30m (33yd) curve either side of the boat – which causes the fly to swing, then lift in the water as the line tightens. A good comparison is the classic downand-across wet-fly method used on rivers. Rather than the current moving the flies, the drifting boat causes the flies to swing around.

The pay-out. The other method to fish really deep water — and keep the flies there – is simply to pay out lengths of ultra-fast sinking line. Some anglers use lead-core trolling line (which changes colour every 9m/10yd to show how much is out). Others use two 25m (27yd) lengths of high density fly lines spliced together. Obviously lines such as these cannot be cast; they are merely put out over the back of the boat while drifting.

Retrieving the line

A final consideration is retrieval rate. It may be as varied as you want — indeed it’s a good idea to alter the speed and vary the pauses until you find a method which works for you on the day.

Big browns are fickle creatures — what works one day may well be totally useless the next. Try a slow, steady series of pulls followed by three or four quick ones, or long strips as fast as you can pull. This speeds up the lure, and a response may come suprisingly quickly. Be versatile — browns get used to a particular style quite quickly and it pays to ring the changes.

Who knows, you could easily find yourself connected to one of those lovely big, tackle-testing browns.