It’s one of the great pleasures of writing and hacking away a living through fishing that I meet so many fellow anglers. At times in the summer holidays, it can feel as if I spend as many days teaching others to fish as doing it myself. But in six years of running guided fishing trips in Devon, Cornwall and Somerset I’ve yet to find a guest I didn’t enjoying meeting.
There are tangles along the way and always a surprise or two. And just as with fishing, no two days are exactly the same. You might be teaching kids to fish on the canal one day, taking someone fly fishing for a seventieth birthday present the next.
It’s not always easy being a guide, but I still think it’s probably the best way to go for anyone who would like to earn some income from fishing. But when your focus is someone else’s success you have to be really well prepared; often far better prepared than for your own fishing!
Even with the best preparation in the world though, there are things that can trip you up. You trust the weather, or the facilities, at your peril in fishing. Nor can you magically make fish bite, although you will spend plenty of time smiling pleasantly to your guests, while on the inside desperately willing the fish to stop playing silly buggers and cooperate.
Neil Fletcher was my guest for a session on Hawkridge Reservoir last week, celebrating his birthday. A good choice of venues this, because while it has plenty of water to go at, it is not one of those gigantic reservoirs where fish location can completely bamboozle you.
And we saw signs of life pretty early. There is a band of weed from the shallows of the lodge side bank, beyond which is an inviting corridor of water- although I always fancy the fish here will be eating natural food and not the daftest or easiest to catch.
Aside from teaching Neil the basics of the double haul cast, I wanted to show him how to fish longer leaders and more than one fly with confidence. He was quickly picking up a few pointers, but the fish were not willing to take- and after a fruitless start he went onto an intermediate line and had an instant charge.
Fairly well-sunk blobs and small lures seemed to be the way to win odd bites for the time being, at least until the afternoon when the rise forms and leaping fish became more and more common.
Back on the floating line and long leader, I encouraged Neil to try a duo (UV Buzzer on point, along with a Black Diawl Bach on the dropper). He had used a rod’s length of level fluorocarbon for most of his fishing. So I set him up with my own simple two fly set up consisting of a 9ft tapered leader, along with an extra 6ft or so of 6lb fluorocarbon.
Besides a better presentation, I’m convinced it is the greater depths your flies reach that account for the success of long leaders. The bites can be subtler- and you don’t get the savage pulls and sudden lock-ups of lure fishing. But there is something lovely about seeing the end of the fly line slide covertly away.
It was a hard won victory in the end, but a very sweet finish with the last two of his four fish coming to the buzzer. The final catch was right on last cast and a fitting reward for taking just a few extra minutes casting practise at the end
An equally enjoyable and more testing day was lined up next at Litton Reservoirs, Somerset. Run by Bristol Water, these are two lakes that can be privately booked. As such they are ideal for group fly fishing sessions, hence the choice by a stag party who wanted to give the groom a decent send off with some trout.
It is a bitch of a fishery to find, I must say, with no signs whatsoever. I guess this is to keep it safe. No fear, I was very early. But the next not so nice surprise was discovering from the neighbours that you have to drive to Woodford Lodge on Chew Lake to get the keys! Here’s a hint, Bristol Water Fisheries- this would be nice to know when you book, as might an email or anything at all to explain the set up!
That said, Litton Lakes themselves are pretty, especially the first of the two you come to. Everything is a little like Fort Knox, so it was as well the stag group were a little late so I could get set up. The boys were a little worse for wear on arrival (Bristol vs Exeter rugby match and a late one the night before), but got the basics of casting valiantly in a fairly stiff breeze by the dam- the best open space I could find to get them throwing loops and bark some directions and encouragement.
The next stumbling block was the equipment. Locks on everything- and even once in, we only found four life jackets for six, or seven with the guide (it is mostly boat fishing, with three available). So While two slightly more experienced heads go to check out the top lake, we set out on the lower in two boats and I go without a jacket. I also discover a missing rowlock as I steer out- a sodding great big that won’t stay in place is always a great way to pick up some bruises, I find.
There weren’t many fish showing, but watching the group get into the swing of casting out and letting the flies sink well before twitching them in, I felt that somebody had to break the deadlock before long. A decent sized fish was hooked and lost on our boat, but it was the stag, Jack, who hit the net first with a nicely conditioned two-pound rainbow. Should make him popular with the wife-to-be…
The first fish always takes the pressure off a little. So does a hair of the dog, a few laughs and some lunch by the fishing shelter on a warm afternoon. The group were getting a few bites, and the most reliable patterns seemed to be small lures in either yellow or black with a bit of sparkle,but so only two fish had stuck. Perhaps the colours that stood out best in the slightly greenish water. My favourite fly for newcomers tends to be the Kennick Killer these days- not only is it well weighted and with plenty of movement, but the weight is partly concealed in the dressing, set back a little from the eye. This not only gives it a tidy profile, but prevents the gold bead smashing into the fly rod at high speed.
The flash of a kingfisher seemed a good omen as we finished lunch and switched boats. We also received a bit of a lifejacket lecture from the bank from Bristol Water- and I’m not ashamed to say I gave them a real earful about the state of their set up and lack of any welcome or guidance. But there were way more important things than regulations to deal with. We had but a few afternoon hours to improve our tally.
Bites continued to tease us but remain sporadic. The one spot that continued to show signs of life was the fountain of water at the end of the first lake. A brown of three quarters of a pound was a welcome surprise, while the edge of the pool also yielded the best of the day to Ben, who had a really epic fight with a fish that seemed intent on either snapping him off or going for the anchor rope.
The really satisfying thing was how well he learned from earlier in the day, when he’d played a fish for over a minute, before it snapped him on a hard run. This time, he gave it an extra yard of line and didn’t force the fight. A very well earned fish.
Back in my own world, I’ve been doing more with Turrall Flies, including a visit to their new base in Okehampton. How brilliant it is that the office is now just a short distance from the River Okement too, a lovely trout stream with some decent fly fishing.
I found a healthy push of autumn water and tried both classic spiders and larger dry flies, after seeing hatching caddis. Challenging water and some testing wading, but I managed to get amongst a handful, including a nice one of around 9-10″. Pretty fish too, with large heads and dark gold colours. And as always, what a shame the trout season is so nearly over.
It has been an exciting time for me, actively helping the company to develop their fly range and add my words and photography. Do take a look at the Turrall Flies Blog and Facebook Page for current content.