Chasing the Chew buzzers Fly fishing for trout in U.K. reservoirs
I’d always had a resistance to reservoir fishing. I guess because my first initiation was to a horrible concrete bowl, situated smack under the flight path of London airport! I found it noisy and soulless, devoid of charm and greenery and in my ignorance, tarrrd all reservoirs with the same brush. That is until last year when the much missed Chris Dawn introduced me to classic, October fry bashing on a gloriously sunny day at Rutland water. And to the pleasures I’d missed out on for the last fifteen years. Unfortunately, it was only bank fishing - no boats available.
I tried Bewel Water a few months later, and although the day somewhat paled in comparison to my Rutland experience, the added dimension of being afloat went a long way to squaring the circle of experience. I was finally hooked.
And now I was excited at the prospect of fishing what is considered by most to be the daddy of all reservoirs – Blagdon. I’d heard much about its beauty, history and iconic status. But on this dreary, grey October morning, the waters bereft of fisherman and a melancholy air of resignation among the few who were tackling up, my spirits dropped. Thankfully my funk was quickly disabused by Martin Cottis, ex England international and now Bristol waters guide who was my mentor for the day.
It seemed Blagdon hadn’t been fishing well recently, but Chew Valley was currently fishing up a storm. So in expectation of a good day we left Blagdon behind us and set out on the fifteen minute journey to Chew.
What used to daunt me about reservoirs (and now excites me) is the thought of constantly searching for feeding fish in vast amounts of water. But I’ve come to the simplistic conclusion it’s the same as small still water fishing, only scaled up, and with the added bonus of boat. It may take longer to move between likely spots but there no area you can’t cover, or trees to tangle your back cast. Magic!
Thankfully, conditions were good. The day may have been grey and depressing but it was more than warm enough to encourage the hatch and little more than a gentle breeze to disturb your cast. After a quick chat with the locals in Chew’s impressive clubhouse, we chugged from the harbour in search of signs.
Martin eschewed the boat-littered hot spots and concentrated on finding his own angler-free zone. You can do that with so much water at your disposal and it’s infinitely more satisfactory (and educational) to find your own. He’d been searching for calm patches, amongst the vast expanse of ripple, and populated by birds swooping on a hatch. Feeding fish are more evident on a flat and allows better to judge their direction of travel to make your next cast.
At our first likely sighting we motored over cautiously for a look, and sure enough, found feeding fish in an unruffled calm. The drift set, we were off and running.
If my trip to Rutland had been all about fry bashing, this was an eye opener to the thrill of buzzer fishing. No ‘chuck and chance it’ method this, to the middle of fry-feeding carnage, but the skill of constantly re-targeting to one specific fish among many. Speed, accuracy and quick reactions, taking precedence over luck.
Martin had me fishing dries all day; unusual for me as I normally fish buzzer patterns just sub surface. His tyings were killers: simple but enticingly fashioned, with the lightest of greasing to set them nicely in the film From a cast’s length, it was impossible to differentiate his flies from the armada of genuine articles. The fish were just porpoising: contently souping in natural after natural, never hesitating to choose Martin’s from amongst the real thing. (what price now your Fancy Dan fly that looks good in a box and fails on the water).
The takes were slow and confident, coming from all angles, near and far. What a great experience to (successfully) cover so many moving fish, which I think, pound for pound, the finest still water fish I’ve had the pleasure to meet. Powerful, immaculately formed and most important, taking the fly without hesitation.
The morning’s catch were mainly Browns (which rather irked Mike) who loves the more spectacular fight of a leaping Rainbow. But being more of a Brownie man, I was well chuffed with my morning’s haul; particularly a five pound-plus Brown with vivid colouration, my prize of the morning.
I asked if we could pass by the favourite hotspot before lunching at the clubhouse (wanting to experience the inside of a melee) On first sight it looked like a loony tunes cartoon on fishing mania: battalions of thrashing, flailing arms on a chaotic flotilla of boats, drifting relentlessly forward in battle to the martial chorus of their whistling lines. I’m sorry, I couldn’t stop laughing. But they were catching fish!
At lunch time, I drooled over a photo of the record 13lb 4 oz Brown caught the previous week and now pride of place on clubhouse the wall. Then Martin served up a good bottle of Rioja and monster rib eye steak sandwiches with all the trimmings (cooked on his clever, briefcase-sized portable barbecue - must get one).
Again, the afternoon was spent chasing the buzzer hatches. Constant cell calls to other anglers providing up to the minute information on local sightings. And for a three late afternoon hours, the action was frantic. I’d never covered so much water and so many fish in such little time - and with so much success! And in proof they were selective, only claret and ginger tyings seemed to work. Also, I’ve never seen such colour variation amongst species. We took Brownies from the deepest hues to the lightest, likewise with Rainbows. I could understand it if the variations were coming from different waters and habitats, but to get that kind of diversity in one location seemed strange. Then again, what do I know.
The only problem with October days, is they’re too short! We were fishing well into the gloom, and by now, my droppers were tangled, the leader was twisted and it was too much effort set up a new one. But Martin fished on for a while, and with success.
In all, we took well over two dozen fish between us (I love catch and release) It had been a fabulous experience and one I can’t wait to repeat.
So, if like me, if you’ve been intimidated by the thought of reservoirs – don’t be! Choose your nearest water, book yourself a friendly local guide and reap the benefits of one of the most exciting branches of the sport. So, thanks for the great day Martin – Blagdon next?
Words and pictures
Arkadi de Rakoff 2008
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