Finding wily winter rainbow trout

With over 20 acres of water to explore, Lakedown is large enough to cater to dozens of anglers, but few dare to brave the wintry weather.

Admittedly, some winter conditions pose problems for prospective trout anglers. On very cold, windy, rainy days under 2°C (35°F) or so the fish are down deep and reluctant to move. Pulling a fly past their noses brings little response. Your chances of catching in these conditions are slim.

Yet on a mild, sunny day it’s not unusual to see trout up in the surface layers of the water looking for hatching midges. The fish may respond to imitative nymphs, lures and even dries. Winter fly fishing is never sasy – even at a stocked fishery. But to increase your chances of catching, fish on :he warmish days. The trout are much more active then.

Mobility is the key

People bring a bag and a second rod with them when fishing places such as Lakedown, says Paul, and they set up camp in one spot instead of coming prepared to walk. To get the most out of a fishery I think you’ve got to travel light and walk around a lot. And that’s exactly what he does, as he begins looking for signs of life on and beneath the surface of the lakes.

On a still, misty day such as this, I’m looking for trout feeding on small dark midges. Hatches mainly occur during the warmest part of the day – usually in the early afternoon. And if there wasn’t a sharp frost the night before you’ll probably have a good chance of seeing plenty of flies.

Is the imitative approach necessary at a trout fishery? Trout seem to acclimatize very quickly. They take advantage of food items a few days after going in, and they usually get into a pattern. Obviously you can catch trout on lures, but that’s not my choice. I prefer to use small nymphs or even dries.

Midges, shrimps and nymphs are the dominant food items at this time of year. The trout may also feed on corixas in the margins or among decaying weeds, and fry also feature in their diet.

The clarity of Lake Four

Recent rain has drowned the countryside -Lakes One, Two and Three are coloured, making it difficult for the trout to spot the flies. For this reason, Paul decides to try the last lake which has remained much clearer than the others.

The back-end flats At the far end of the lake there is a large open area of water where Paul spotted a few trout breaking the glassy surface to take hatching midges. The depth tapers gradually to reach about 2.4m (8ft) or so at 15m (16yd) out.

This is where he starts fishing. He says that some trout mount cyclical patrols at regular intervals and may come close to the weedy, reedy margins in search of food.

Most anglers tend to cast out thoughtlessly to the middle of the lake instead of trying the margins first. Fish just off the bank; if anglers haven’t disturbed it too much, the trout will be cruising just along the sides.

As the days and weeks go by the trout get used to anglers fishing on one side of the lake, and during the day they move over to the quieter side.

The island Paul crosses a wooden bridge which provides access to the small tree-covered island (there’s a well-worn path surrounding the feature). Fishing off the island allows you to cast to areas too far to reach from the banks. The trout may also hold near the bank in the deep water off the north-west side.

According to Paul, if nothing is moving, the island is a good mark to fish from – a short cast puts your flies over water 3-4m (10-13ft)deep.

Very often you’ll find people fishing where access is easy and comfortable – the open end of the island, for example. They can set up camp in an obstruction-free area and use the overhead cast for maximum distance. Picking a difficult spot, such as near the trees on the northwest side, may mean you’ll have to roll cast and fish close in, but little fishing pressure generally means the trout won’t be too far out. This is also useful to remember if other signs of fish are few and far between. The points There are four main points on the lake, but the one north-east of the island appeals to Paul because he’s caught here before under difficult conditions.

The water is deep close in. He points out three good fish-holding areas: the deep weedy margins along the base of the point the patrol routes of the channel directly ou from the tip and the open expanse north east of the point.

Weeds cover the bottom, and you can set the remains of tall brown reeds lining the margins. A casting platform is sited on the very tip of the point.

Paul begins fishing off the base of the point, standing well back from the water -about a rod’s length away — just in cast there are trout in the margins.

It’s common for an angler to see the plat form and immediately begin fishing on ii without considering that trout may be onh a rod’s length out. The fish, becoming awart of his presence, move out to deeper water decreasing his chances of catching.

Since nothing is showing on the surface Paul works the area off the tip of the point There’s an underwater lip which extends I rod’s length out. The depth then drops of steeply to reach a maximum of 3m (10ft) oi so. The shelf usually gathers trout.

It’s best to begin fishing along the mar gins and then work your way out towards open water. You may just connect with E hungry winter trout on patrol. (It may follow your fly all the way in because the watei is deep, so don’t just lift off at the end of the retrieve. Pause for a few seconds; then speed up before picking up the line tc recast.)

It can’t be stressed enough, says Paul: foi any winter fishing, pick a mild day and don’t waste time and money fishing under cold, windy conditions; and always look for fish showing on top. winter, making them reluctant to feed and move about a lot.

In October and November there’s still residual warmth in the land and water. Temperatures don’t really drop below 45 °F until you get prolonged frosts in December and January. And when the water temperature drops down below 40°F, grayling become extremely sluggish and reluctant to take a fly. Catching fish is tough then.

Oliver begins well downstream of the run

Day tickets on the nearside bank, working the slower water with two nymphs attached to a Roman Moser Bottom Bouncer braided leader. He makes a short cast up and across and then follows the nymphs with the rod as they drift downstream.

Hebden Suspension Bridge

There is another good stretch for winter grayling upstream of Hebden Suspension Bridge. Oliver heads downstream, past Righyni’s Pool, named after the famous grayling angler Reg Righyni. Deep and ultra-slow moving, it’s another possible fish-holding venue, but Oliver reckons the deep glides upstream of the bridge will fish better. Since nothing is moving on top to encourage him to stay at Righyni’s, he moves on. Light is in short supply in winter and there simply isn’t time to fish all over the place. Only a couple of options exist.

Nevertheless this pool triggers a memory of a very big Wharfe grayling. He recounts: On the first Rivers National [a fly fishing competition] this is the beat I drew. I waded from the opposite bank and fished under the trees along the nearside bank [parallel to the Dales Way].

Small dark olives were hatching. A lot of fish started to rise, and they drove me absolutely mad because they kept rejecting my flies. In desperation I went down to a size 20 emerging nymph. A fish took the third drift through, and my heart was in my mouth because I needed to catch. The fish powered uncontrollably upstream, making several long runs, but eventually I landed it – a sev-enteen-inch grayling – and got a trophy for the biggest fish.

Focal point

Well upstream of the bridge there is a grove of woods on the side opposite the Dales Way. Oliver recommends the whole stretch from the grove all the way downstream to the bridge.

There’s a pool about 200m (220yd) upstream of the bridge. Marked with nearby fallen timber in the shallows, it is the central point of the stretch and is about 1.8m (6ft) or so deep. Upstream and downstream of the pool the depth decreases gently to an average of about 1.2m (4ft). Oliver points out several places where the grayling could be – the slow water upstream or downstream of the pool, for instance, or even in the deepest part.

He wades in upstream of the pool at the edge of the woods – his strategy is to start at the top and work downstream to the bridge. If a fish were rising to midges, he’d go for it immediately. Even a sporadic riser is worth having a try for.

In winter, he reckons, it’s crucial to fish the flies directly along the bottom to tempt the fish; for grayling are often not willing to move up in the water for food. Fishing the pool effectively is not easy — especially from the other bank. To present your nymphs along the bottom, you must make numerous mends in the line. Any drag causes the flies to lift up off the river bed and out of effective range.