2016 has been the first year through which I have managed to fish consistently and often. There have been some highlights and lowlights but generally its been a much more successful fishing year, in terms of number of fish caught. I know that for many anglers, me included, numbers are not the be all and end all but they are a useful indicator of whether I am getting better and learning from experiences.
This has also been the first year that I’ve managed to fish one place (Farmoor Reservoir) consistently and keep a record of each fishing trip. I appreciate that every water is different but looking through my notes there are some clear trends which I thought worth highlighting.
Find the fish!
Okay, I know it sounds obvious but this has, I believe, made the biggest difference to my success this year. Rather than simply go to the nearest spot to the car or the easiest position and stay there all day trying different flies (yes, I used to do this), I have deliberately kept on the move this year, both in terms of position and depth.
This has been by far the biggest determining factor this year in catch rates. Those days where I have found the depth of fish have been very successful. My approach has been very simple; I have three lines (floater, intermediate and slow sinker), a combination of weighted and unweighted flies and I count, a lot. Once I’ve found the depth of the fish, I can then hit them consistently. Obviously, fish feeding depth changes through the day, so I have found I need to start again if I stopped catching.
My general observations about depth are nothing new, and are repeated somewhat below, but worth noting:
Spring – this is probably the season where the fish feeding depth has ranged the most, from deep down early on, when the weather is still cold, to just a few feet below the surface on balmy spring days. I have found success fishing an intermediate with a weighted lure on the point and a lighter nymph or blob on a dropper early on. As buzzers start to hatch, I will switch to a floating line with a team of three flies: large, heavy buzzer on point, lighter buzzer on middle dropper and a diawl bach on the top dropper. I had a memorable day at Eyebrook in May with Beardy Paul where we had no success with a washing line approach (expecting the fish to be higher up) but eventually had 20 to the boat all on large, black buzzers fished static and deep, around 10-15 feet down. Equally, I had a good day at Farmoor in April on a warm sunny day catching on the above mentioned floating set-up, on each fly as the fish moved up the water column.
Summer – this is often the easiest season from a depth perspective as you can generally see where the fish are. Generally, the fish are higher in the water and/or feeding off the top unless it gets too bright and hot. A washing line approach, to keep nymphs higher in the water, or specific dries have been the best for me this year. 2016 was an excellent year for dry fly fishing; there were some occasions where the trout at Farmoor just wouldn’t take anything unless it was sitting on, or in, the surface. Generally, on very hot or sunny days, fish deeper during the day and move up as the sun goes down. I say generally as its not always the case. I had one session at farmoor which was bright sun and about 28 degrees, where I caught half a dozen very quickly about a foot below the surface!
Autumn – in many respects, Autumn is similar to spring in terms of fish feeding a very different depths. However, the Autumn fry feeding offers a good opportunity for sport; find the fry, find the fish.
Winter – generally, fish will go deeper as the weather gets colder but again this is only a rule of thumb so the countdown method continues to pay dividends.
I’ve heard and read lots of theories about where the fish will hold given certain wind directions. Through 2016 the following held true for me:
Spring – the bank with the wind blowing into it generally offered the best fishing, particularly on buzzers/nymphs. Presumably, this is due to the wind pushing the food source downwind. Now, fishing into the wind is not always easy but keeping an eye on the weather report can pay dividends. I had a few days where the wind was westerly for several days and then southerly on the day, allowing me to fish across the wind but into a fish holding area.
Late spring – wind seemed to matter less but I generally found fishing with the wind across was best, allowing the line to drift when fishing nymphs.
Summer – 2016 might be an odd year given the amount of dry fly fishing but I generally found fish holding where the wind was at your back. This may be due to the major food source blowing off the bank.
Autumn/winter – early autumn I still generally found fish with the wind at my back but I could discern no obvious pattern through the winter months.
Interestingly, I found no obvious differences between wind directions from a compass perspective. I caught equally well in easterly and northerly winds as southerly or westerly.
Keep on the move
I have been guilty in previous years of sticking to the same place and just trying lots of different flies. However, this year I was determined to keep on the move until I found fish. Most of the time this worked well and helped me to increase catch rates and see the patterns noted above. However, I’ve also found that a little move just 10-15 yards down the same bank can be successful; no idea whether this just puts you in front of fresh fish who haven’t seen your flies or just luck but it seems to have worked this year.
I appreciate that flies are an emotive subject, fisherman have their own favourites, and that many venues have particular flies that work well. So the following is what I’ve found worked well for me throughout the year at farmoor:
March/April – Black and green lures, orange blob, large black buzzers fished deep.
May/June – black buzzers, black diawl bachs, emergers
July/August – Sedge, emergers (CDC and sugar cube), light buzzers, claret diawl bach, pin fry imitations (small floating fry, pearly pheasant tail).
Sept/Oct – Claret diawl bach, fry imitation (white minkie, popper minkie, white humungous), orange blob.
Nov/Dec – fry imitations and back to black/green lures.
Tying my own
This year I have predominantly tied my own flies. It’s difficult to say for certain but I have the impression that tying my own has contributed to better catch rates. I doubt this is due to quality, as I’m still learning. However, I think it may be that I’ve been tying throughout the season, specifically for what may be catching at the current conditions. This means I’m thinking a lot harder about what might work, how it should look, how it should be fished and, crucially, I’m a lot more focussed when I get to the water. Either way, its great fun and very satisfying to catch on your own flies!
Here’s to a pleasurable and successful (however you measure that) 2017! Tight lines.