No soaring mountains or even handsome hills surround Grafham Water. Set in the ‘big sky’ Cambridgeshire flatlands, its horizon a narrow strand of green or distant housing, it is a featureless place, yet it is also a fine example of beauty being more than skin deep. For Grafham’s visual splendour begins to emerge the moment there’s a bend in your rod.
When the fish responsible reaches your net, chances are you’ll understand fully why so many anglers from the northern uplands happily forsake their glens and valleys to make the occasional pilgrimage south. Put it down to killer shrimp if you want but whatever Grafham’s trout are on, they are thriving on it. If all you’ve known are dark rainbows from peaty northern stillwaters, their gleaming chrome counterparts from just south of Huntingdon will be a revelation.
Not Just Trout
Not that the fishing experience ends with trout. Stunning zander, bream, pike and numerous other coarse fish have emerged from these depths in their time, the fact that they have all taken flies a testimony to the rich menu of aquatic life in this 1,600-acre water. Those who maintain that there are several species records still swimming around down there are no mere wishful thinkers.
The brown trout that began the day for Rob Edmunds and Nick Elliott last month might not have been quite so grand but at six ounces shy of five pounds it was still a classic reminder of what makes Grafham so enduringly popular.
Clearly overwintered, with a long, muscular body and a sharp trapezoid tail, it was in peak condition and on the other side the camera,I was delighted that the sun was shining,to do full justice to its gleaming flanks.
“Worth a hundred stockies,” Rob asserted. “Overwintered fish are increasingly rare and prized simply because the fly-fishing season is now longer [Grafham’s close season now lasts little more than a month] and fewer fish are being stocked in reservoirs these days. Lots of early season rainbows mend very quickly and are often confused with overwintered fish.”
The brownie had taken one of the Buzzers with which Rob and Nick were depth charging the water around them. For what seems the simplest of patterns, there’s a lot of thought goes into certain Buzzer dressings and my boat partners today believe they have hit upon another ‘tweak’. After Crunchie wrappers and crisp packets, say hi to anti-static bags.
Often used for packaging sensitive computer parts that might otherwise be vulnerable to electrostatic discharges,the anti-static materialwas incorporated in Buzzer patterns designed by Midlands tyer Alex Ferguson some years ago. He placed a thin strip of the material on the back and front of the hook shaft leaving the sides ofthe shaft exposed,revealing the black thread and red ribbing that make up the rest ofthe dressing.
The effect is to give a ‘gassy’, reflective appearance to the front and back of the fly in the water, with a black stripe showing down each side,which Ferguson felt gave the pattern added realism beneath the water. Buzzer naturals coming to the surface have a silvery appearance, ascribed to the gasses they produce within and around their bodies to help them rise. Nick sent me a photo of a submerged natural two days after our Grafham session which certainly lent weight to this argument. An Internet search for “Electro-static Buzzer”will yield a link to a step-by-step tying procedure.
On the subject of weight, heavy wire hooks were also employed at Grafham. Not only is their strength essential if there’s any chance you might encounter overwintered fish, but they will also sink faster to the correct depth and hold there, being less vulnerable to underwater currents.
Their chunky aspect fit the morning’s game plan perfectly, as Rob and Nick were looking to fish deep, plumbing the depth at each stop around the reservoir with a small lead weight, so that they know exactly how deep the Buzzers need to be.
“The cold start to the season has meantthe fish are holding very deep,” Rob explained. “They’ve stayed where they were in the second half of last year, when thewaterlevel dropped significantly and the resident fish were just 10 yards out from the shore. Graf ham’s now full again, though, so the fish are now more like 60 or 70 yards out, in 18 to 30 feet of water.
“Once you know the depth you can concentrate you efforts in the bottom third of the water.”
To that end, he and Nick fished 26 feet of water with three extra-heavy Buzzers on 18 feet of 10-12lb leader (such heavy-duty leader isn’t so obvious to fish when employed in deep, wind-disturbedwater) attached to a six-foot mini-tip fly-line. Not only does the latter give the set-up added depth but it is also preferable to a floating line on breezy days like this particular day, as the sinking tip enables the line to ‘bed in’, whereas conventional floating lines tend to be blown by the wind, compromising that essential direct contact with the Buzzers.
It must be said that windy conditions can have a greater impact on your fishing at Grafham, which lacks the hiding places available at somewhere like Rutland, for example, with its arms and numerous bays.
Rob and Nick concentrated their efforts around structure, such as the orange marker buoys denoting the edge of the Nature Reserve, where they took that bumper brownie. The chains beneath these buoys accumulate a wrapping of weed that provides an ideal source of food, such as buzzers and shrimps and while the Nature Reserve is off-limits to anglers, any fish venturing outside it to plunder the buoy chains are fair game.
With the Reserve undisturbed by anglers or sailors, what’s more, there’s the chance that some of those fish may be sizeable long-term residents.
The Buzzers were fished static or ultra-slow and Rob stressed the importance of fishing them right back to the boat.
“Many takes often come on the vertical lift at the end of the retrieve: the change in speed and angle as the flies are lifted vertically can often induce the take. When you do get a take on the lift, you have to strike hard. The normal act of lifting into a fish is fine when the fly-line is out and you’re using an ultra-slow retrieve, but when you’re giving the Buzzers that slow, vertical lift atthe end ofthe retrieve, you’re lifting the rod to the 10 or11 o’clock position behind you and letting the flies hang, perhaps dropping the tip an inch and raising it again before recasting.
“That trick is deadly and can often mean the difference between failure and success but should you get a fish with your arm in that position,the take will be absorbed by the rod tip bending over orthe leader straightening. That won’t set the hook because you’re not in direct contact with the flies, so you must strike firmly and fast in order to make sure that the hook connects.
“Yes, you might miss 50 per cent of your fish butif you were to lift slowly into a fish in that position, you’d feel it for a couple of seconds and it would be gone.”
With perfect timing, it is that same vertical lift that claimed the day’s best fish, as that solid brownie was spurred by the Buzzers’ upward movement to pounce on the middle dropper. Testament both to the deep Buzzer method and to Grafham’s place at the forefront of British stillwaters.
Address Grafham Water Fishing Lodge, Perry, Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire PE28 0BX
Contact 01480 810531
WEB www.anglianwater.co.uk (mouse over ‘Leisure’ for Grafham link)
Broad Oak Trout Lakes are found in the shadow of the Malvern Hills in some of Worcestershire’s most beautiful ‘Elgar country’. The backdrop is complemented by the mature oak trees around the lakes, which are fed by Malvern spring water.
The fishery was designed by experienced fly anglers and comprises lakes of three acres and one acre, all offering ample casting room.
There is a tackle shop on site, with an extensive range from leading brands plus a selection of appropriate flies, and also a comfortable log cabin-style fishing lodge selling refreshments and offering a home-from-home retreat for visitors, complete with a log burner for those chillier days.
The fishery often has a selection of pre-owned tackle available at very competitive prices and for those fishermen wishing to try before they buy, there are matched rod/line sets for hire.
Once by the water, anglers make the most of a variety of bank profiles and depths. With between 12 and 15 feet of cool spring-fed water the trout are able to maintain their superb condition through the seasons.
The lakes host a wealth of aquatic insect life providing quality natural food for the trout and as the natural flora continue to develop the ‘stalking angler’ will be able to practise his art.
Both lakes are stocked with rainbow and blue trout from around 2lb, along with some browns. All the fishery’s facilities are designed to cater for disabled anglers.
Beginners and experienced anglers alike can pre-book casting instruction at Broad Oak, either on a group or one-to-one basis and the fishery also welcomes corporate bookings. Alternatively, enjoy one of Broad Oak’s “feather and fin” days, with clay pigeon shooting in conjunction with the nearby South Worcestershire Shooting Ground.
ADDRESS Gilvers Lane, Hanley Castle, Worcester WR8 0AT
CONTACT 01684 311499/07717 627951 firstname.lastname@example.org www.broadoaktroutlakes.co.uk
OPEN Tue-Sun (and BH Mondays) all year except Christmas Day, 8am till earlier of dusk or 9pm
PRICE RANGE £22-£33
SOME WHERE TO STAY Old Street B&B, 35 Old Street, Upton upon Severn, Worcs WR8 0HN
A reservoir in the heart of central Scotland, Millhall Reservoir comprises eight acres of fly-only water surrounded by natural woodland.
Run by Avonbank Fishing Club, the fishery accommodates both bank and boat anglers, who fish for rainbow, blue and brown trout, the latter featuring both stocked and wild fish, not to mention the occasional ‘double’.
The average rainbow taken at Millhall, meanwhile, exceeds 2lb and double-figure trout up to 15lb are not uncommon.
This Troutmasters water is easily accessed by foot and vehicular transport and there is ample parking space for all anglers, with disabled parking spaces close to the jetty.
The homely lodge offers free tea and coffee to visiting anglers and bookings by visiting clubs are always welcome. A tagged fish competition is run throughout the season for the benefit of all anglers, with prizes going up to £100.
Prices have been held from last season and there is a £2 reduction in full day ticket prices for senior citizens on Mondays.
ADDRESS Millhall Reservoir, Old Polmont, Falkirk FK2 0YA
CONTACT 01324 714190 email@example.com millhall-reservoir.co.uk
OPEN 9am - closing time varies subject to daylight.
PRICE RANGE £13-£21 (boats £6)
SOMEWHERE TO STAY Ashbank Guest House, 105 Main Street, Redding, Falkirk FK2 9UQ
Blakewell is not only one of Devon’s premier fly-fishing venues but also a place with something to offer all the family, especially lovers of water gardens.
Anglers enjoy a five-acre lake, lush with surrounding trees and vegetation, a place to lose yourself when everything is in full leaf. Established 30 years ago, the fishery is fed by spring water from the Exmoor hills and is full of insect life.
Visiting anglers come from far afield to hunt full-finned trout that go to over 21lb. The lake has varying depths and numerous bays, peninsulas and margins. Huge amounts of damsels, olives and sedges will be found in the shallows, making nymphs essential for any angler’s fly box. However, Hoppers and Daddy Longlegs are also proven with small gold heads, Cat’s Whiskers and Muddler minnows being effective in autumn and winter.
Despite the leafy surrounds, ample casting space is maintained and anglers fish for trout reared on-site. The fishery’s current record is a 22lb 13oz rainbow and a brownie of 13lb 2oz. Catch and release fishing is not permitted at Blakewell.
Any anglers needing tackle can hire it for £10 (£30 deposit) while flyfishing tuition can be arranged at £35 per hour with all tackle provided. Blakewell also has an extensive tackle shop with rods, reels, line, flies and other items.
Blakewell gift vouchers can be purchased, should you seek a welcome gift for any flyfishers you know. Non-anglers, meanwhile, can take advantage of Blakewell’s Water Garden Centre in finding help with the design and maintenance of their garden ponds and lakes and of course all their necessary products, plants and fish supplies.
There is also a farm shop on-site, family fishing for children and refreshments for visitors. Youngsters can also feed trout and see the fish farm in action.
ADDRESS Muddiford, Barnstaple, Devon EX31 4ET
CONTACT: 01271 344533 firstname.lastname@example.org www.blakewell.co.uk
OPEN 9am-5pm all year, except Christmas Day
PRICE RANGE £26-£60
SOMEWHERE TO STAY The Spinney Country Guest House, Shirwell Road, Shirwell, Barnstaple, Devon EX31 4JR www.thespinneyshirwell.co.uk