Did you ever get the feeling you had entered a purple patch in your angling life? Just as there are phases you can’t seem to do anything right, there are other times when you can’t do much wrong.
I’ve endured plenty of those times when the angling gods seem to have scorned me. Or perhaps, to be more honest, I’ve just fished badly. Whatever the case, it’s with a special relish I’ve been enjoying better luck recently. What do I put this down to? Well, some slightly embarrassing speculation on that shortly, but I suspect it might just be a certain item in my possession.
Suffice to say, fortune has favoured me in both recent coarse fishing matches, not to mention fly fishing exploits- and a fair bit of lady luck has also been rubbing off on my guided fishing guests, which is even better.
Fly fishing at Roadford Lake
Talking of luck, the one venue type where an angler perhaps needs this most is on a huge expanse of water. Even if you have an inkling of where to fish and what to do, it can feel like a needle in a haystack job.
Roadford Lake is a place I used to fish quite a lot. I like the scenery and the fact it’s stocked with brown trout rather than rainbows. It also has some welcome mystery with its sheer size and the odd much bigger grown on fish. I also like the fact it’s one of those venues that allow kayak and float tube fishing (although you’ll need to check the rules and inform them if that’s your preference!).
On this occasion, though, we would be bank fishing and all the omens looked a bit wrong. I’d agreed to meet up with Lee Armishaw- but he had a nightmare morning with his car and was going to be very late. Hearing that it fishes best early and late, this didn’t bode so well. Nevertheless, I tackled up in hope. The forecast was sunny, but also for gusty winds of 20mph and more. Not the nicest for casting, but preferable to flat calm.
I tackled up with a seven weight outfit, mainly to combat the breeze. Usually I’d go lighter and use three flies, but today I decided simple, slightly more robust gear made sense. I set up a leader of 15ft, to fish two flies: a Black Hopper on the point and a Bibio on a dropper. I also carried a few Diawl Bachs and Buzzers to mix and match if need be.
The fish here tend to like terrestrials and it’s a lovely spot to try loch style tactics, especially with a good ripple. That said, I tend to tie my flies smallish- we’re not far from Dartmoor, after all, and it’s quite barren up here. I tend to think a size 14 is better than a 10 or 12, for both terrestrials and buzzers alike, although I will occasionally try something like a big Sedgehog, Muddler or dark streamers.
On the move
Rule number one on these large West Country lakes is to be mobile. Set up too near the various car parks and you can guarantee the fish are more pressured. I tend to stay fairly impatient and employ a cast and step routine, therefore. By casting and then taking two or three paces before the next shot, I cover a lot of water and don’t keep pulling my flies through the same area close to the bank.
Another must is to wade with care and always cast short first. Visitors tend to look at the vast expanse ahead and try to shoot out twenty yards of line instantly. So often, you’ll spook the margins like this- so I will always flip a short cast just beyond any marginal weed or snags first.
On this occasion, such a modest shot paid off, as I landed a cast no more than ten yards ahead of me as I made my way from the activity centre to the right hand bay and within a second of touchdown, there was a splashy rise. The rod kicked over and I’d already beaten the blank. A lovely fish, too, not as heavily spotted as a “wildie” by birth, but still gorgeous.
Easy access fly fishing?!
With just one take in two hours, it was a relief to hear that Lee had arrived. Like his father, Keith Armishaw, who runs River Reads, he’s very much an all-rounder who just loves to fish regardless of whether the fish are big or small, or whether its with fly, bait or lure. Could his luck change? The fishery cat seemed to like him anyway!
Before going on a bit of a hike, it only seemed right to get a bend in the rod and cheer him up, so we agreed to fish right by the boat access first. Usually, this would be busy with kayaks and sails, but with it being a cold weekday, we had it all to ourselves, save from a slightly forlorn bloke whose kayak had blown off into the great beyond!
I’d fancied the spot for perch, and we were soon getting regular whacks from aggressive little fish. Not everyone’s cuppa, but I enjoy them. I notice that the South West Lakes fishing guide to Roadford suggests that the angler should immediately move if they find perch. I would like to edit this to “if the angler finds perch… stick around, crack open a beer and grin like an idiot for the next 40 minutes or until your streamer is destroyed”.
It was great to see the smile back on my friend’s chops anyway- because we’ve all had one of those mornings when the car won’t start or life throws us a cowpat instead of a Frisbee. We could have caught perch all day- but as pretty as they were, they weren’t getting any bigger and we had to remind ourselves that we were meant to be fly fishing for trout.
While it would be great to say “fish this bit and this bit” with Roadford Lake, the truth is that the fish can be far-flung. Bites were hard to come by, as well, although we tried various traditional and modern wet flies. Most odd, because as bright as it was, there were decent waves and plenty of natural flies, notably hawthorns and tiny greyish green buzzers, on the wing.
Eventually, I’d had enough and tied on a streamer. These have saved the day a few times for me on lakes like Roadford, especially those of a dark-with-hint-of-flash variety. I fancied the look of a Hothead Woolly Bugger I’d tied only the night before, which had already taken lots of perch.
If I’m honest, the real breakthrough was a bit of an accident. I’d been retrieving with a fair bit of vim when my fly line became tangled. Muttering a few curse words, I’d let my fly sink to the bottom while I unpicked the knot. Moments later, I restarted my retrieve and received an instant whack on the line!
It fought gamely to say the least, as I held on slightly disbelieving! Had it been lying on the bottom? Or perhaps it had seen the fly drop and waited nearby, seizing it as it came back to life? In the early stages you could have fooled me that it was double its actual weight. Not that it was small by Roadford standards. A fine specimen at around a pound and a half, I would imagine (there’s a good reason we keep fish like this wet and tend to measure rather than weigh!).
After this little episode, our hopes were lifted once more. Lee also tried a dark lure, and we skipped round the shoreline to explore some of the bays. Bites were still few and far between, but I landed another fish, a bit smaller at 12”, and hooked another that leapt clean out to shake the fly free!
It didn’t seem to matter too much. We’d broken the hoodoo and figured out what they wanted. A dark lure, allowed to sink a little further. Or was it something else?
I managed a third decent fish of around 12″, in the end, to make it a satisfying day in testing conditions- and although Lee didn’t get anything spotty, he did have a few more funny looking “stripy trout” with spiky fins to amuse himself.
All in all, a rewarding session. The only other thing I ought to share are the two fly patterns that worked.
The Bibio (above) is always worth a go on Roadford, or indeed the other brown trout lakes in Devon and Cornwall, such as Colliford, Fernworthy and Meldon. However, I feel that a few little tweaks make a much better fly than most shop bought versions. I tend to use black hen, rather than cock, for better movement. I also add a dash of Turrall’s red UV straggle fritz instead of standard dubbing- a bit bling, but it’s much more attractive. Lastly, with a lot of moorland insects being small, I much prefer a size 14 to the usual 10 or 12.
My other favourite fly for Roadford over quite a few years is the Black Woolly Bugger. Again, though, I mess around a bit with mine. As you can see above, I like a hothead bead in red or orange. I also replace the usual body dubbing with a green UV tinsel, which catches the light better. I also tend to tie mine in a size 10 rather than a hoofing great size 6. It’s still not exactly subtle- but it’s a great fly for big brown trout. I also bump the barbs down, because I like to release most of my fish, even where catch and take is permitted.
Should you want to get a head start on this scenic Devon venue, or indeed learn the art of fly fishing here in the south-west, do check out my guided fishing page for details.
Match fishing at Little Yeo Fishery
Another keenly anticipated avenue to my recent fishing have been some local matches. And ever since covid restrictions have meant just one person drawing all the pegs, I seem to have been in a rich run of fortune!
I especially like the smaller “Gaggs Pond” at this fishery. Mainly because it suits my skills better than the adjacent, mainly carp affair, Bobs Lake. Hence it was a big stroke of luck to draw Gaggs twice. With a more traditional species list, including roach, rudd, skimmers and crucians, it definitely suits lighter rigs and old school baits.
Peg number 2 was mine, the very spot the previous match here was won. To make things interesting, though, there were a lot of very good anglers also nearby, including the previous two years’ league winners, Bruce Hunt and Mike Edwards, plus Baz Barrow, who was topping the table at kick-off.
It fished a lot harder than last time, when I managed over 4KG of skimmers and bits to finish second. Even with it tougher this time, I fished a fairly busy match, using four different lines over the six hours. Plumbing up carefully was critical, because right out in front to my right at 11m or so was a good 6″ deeper than just a few yards to the left. With a hard frost the night before (strange for May!), I really fancied the deeper water for most of the fish- although I also set up to tackle the lilies both at 13m and just beyond the margin to my left.
It was a nervous first hour. I concentrated at 9m and 11 m at first, trying a cup of groundbait and a bit of chopped worm on one line, and regular loosefed pinkies at the shorter distance. Most of the anglers seemed to pick up small bits, and I at least put a few in the net by fishing double fluoro pinkie on a size 20, but the better skimmers were absent when I tried a worm section on a 16.
I then hit a fish on worm after a strange bite at 11m, and my elastic really plunged out. Five seconds later I felt a grating on the line and it was gone- I suspect it was a foul hooked skimmer. Undeterred, I kept fishing quite positively, using a small pole cup to tip 20p sized nuggets of groundbait and tiny helpings of pinkie or chop on the two lines. Nothing earth shattering came my way for a good two hours- but I landed a nice roach of about 12oz and regular bits and pieces.
On about half time, I then managed a better skimmer on a worm and maggot cocktail at 11m, and this really made it an even match. Mike had also had a good net-sized fish, while nextdoor, Les Lloyd managed to lose his own and Baz on peg one was regularly getting small stuff. Other than that it was a slow match- and the top lake was brutally hard, according to the grapevine!
As things got even slower, I decided to try other lines. The nearby lillies looked good, and I found a nice hole to present a bait, but other than the odd tiny flicker I couldn’t buy a proper bite on worm or maggot. Seeing some fish topping way out by the lillies in the middle of the lake, though, I’d started catapulting maggots across and also cupped in half a dozen worms and some groundbait.
For the next several put-ins I had searing bites- that all turned out to be tiny rudd, even on worm. I persevered, but my pole is pretty crap at 13 metres plus its mini extension. Much as I love match fishing, I cannot justify silly money for a really classy pole, and the wife would probably murder me, so that’s just life.
Luckily for me, just as my arms started telling me to give it a break at 13 and a bit metres, I had a solid bite right over where I’d cupped in some worm, and a big fish was on! Bizarrely, it then decided to do a trout impression and leap clear of the water, before slowly coming into netting range. A lovely big skimmer of about a pound and a half.
The rest of the match was pretty crap, and I suspected I would get a decent placing but would be beaten to top spot, as Bruce Hunt opposite was latching into some good fish after a slow start. He also landed a tench of perhaps two pounds. Perhaps the pivotal moment, though, was a big skimmer he hooked in the last hour and managed to lose- easily done it has to be said, and you need some luck in these tight matches! It’s weird at times being a club match angler- you feel both sorry for one of your mates (because you know that feeling too!) but also a bit relieved, all at the same time.
In the end, he’d had more big fish, but my greater number of roach and small skimmers had just about tipped things in my favour with 2.74kg in the net (about 6lbs in old money). I’d won the lake by less than 200g- phew! And with other results going my way, I was now top of the league with 27 points from a possible 30.
Early days yet, then, but this sets up the rest of the season nicely. It’s way too early to think about actually winning, but just being top of the league is a new achievement for me. Whether or not it will last, we’ll have to wait and see, but it’ll certainly add some added pressure and excitement to the next fixtures.
The true secret of my success?
Ok, so you’ve heard some of the technical side of my recent fishing- and hopefully, if you’ve bothered to read this far you might even have picked up something useful. But could the true secret of my good fortune be a lucky item?
Lee Arishaw definitely thinks that having the world’s campest lunch bag has been the difference (“hmmm…. My mum would love that” to quote his exact words). Less kind remarks have been spoken about this item, “borrowed” (i.e. stolen) from my wife.
The trouble is, even as the least superstitious person ever, I feel that I now have to take it wherever I fish. Actually, I’ve taken particular amusement in taking it into the most masculine of environments lately, such as a deep-sea fishing trip. It’s always funny to see the looks you get when you to take out a really girly bag in the middle of a boatload of hairy, swearing blokes, pitching waves and the stink of diesel!
I like to wait until someone has just put a large predatory sea fish out of its misery with a big stick, or used toe-curlingly bad language, before abruptly coming in with a slightly uncomfortable: “I think it’s time for some light refreshments. Has anyone seen my lunch bag? It has lots of little owls on it.”
Suffice to say, my technicolor owls worked a treat once again on the Charter Boat “Sowenna” of Looe, as we enjoyed a whole stack of thumping great pollack on lures and a bloody wonderful day out. But to read more about that little jaunt, you’ll have to read my next Angling Times column.
Other than that- you might also enjoy my recent reports for the Angling Trust Lines on the Water, including a superb volunteer effort on the River Exe and Exeter Canal that included some genuine surprises- but that’s all I’m going to say! Catch it here.
In the meantime, tight lines and stay lucky! Or steal a really camp lunch box off your wife.
And if you enjoy this blog, do bag yourself some enjoyable spring reading. Crooked Lines, my greatest-hits-style collection of fishing tales, is still only a tenner.