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When The Takes Dry Up

When The Takes Dry Up

Wychwood Game consultant Tim Joyce explains the tactics he employs when the takes dry up on an early spring visit to Chigboro Trout Fishery in Essex.

The start of our 2019 season here at Chigboro in Essex has seen some of the most settled weather I can remember for many years. January remained cold, chilling the water nicely, but not too cold as to cause freeze ups on the lakes. February has been stunning with temperatures rising regularly in the high teens, light winds; the fishing has been nothing short of ballistic.

Like most UK small waters the fishing is often at it’s easiest in the winter. Temperatures are low, food is in short supply and the lakes are stocked to a high density due to the available saturated oxygen. This makes for perfect conditions for the fly angler, lots of very hungry, very active trout, willing to entertain all sorts of fly patterns and methods.

Busy Fishery

My clients this year have been making the most of the superb sport, enjoying multiple catches, as have the rest of the visitors to the lakes. Walk around the waters and you will commonly hear “Cat’s Whisker, “Yellow Dancer”, “Gold -Head Damsel” and for the more adventurous “Apps Bloodworm” and “Pink Squirmies” … all great winter flies.

It’s been a real treat to arrive at Chigboro and see the carpark buzzing with all sorts of set-ups on display from fast sinker Di lines to floaters and bung rigs. Anglers are able to enjoy great sport on their favourite ‘go to’ methods. A busy fishery is a healthy fishery, money is coming in for the owners, fish stocks are being turned over and the word soon spreads.

But what happens when you turn up to your favourite local water and after weeks of great sport the fishing has ‘gone off’! When suddenly those same anglers that have been catching regularly for weeks are failing to connect; whispers of lack of stock, cormorants had them all, all the fish have moved to the middle of the lake, the list is endless.

The clear water in Rook Hall Lake at Chigboro.
The clear water in Rook Hall Lake at Chigboro.

Blank To Red-Letter Day

Or is it something else, something closer to home? Have we fallen into a rut, a routine, forgotten our watercraft our angling instinct? Lulled into a false sense of security after being spoilt by many weeks of pretty easy and at times explosive sport, have we just forgotten to pay attention to the details? Such a day happened to a client and myself just a couple of weeks ago. And this is how we turned our day from a blank to one of those red letter sessions.

I met my client Doug at the usual time in the carpark. A mid-February morning, light winds still a little chill in the air, moderate cloud cover. Perfect fishing conditions. After a cup of coffee and a catch up we decided to start our day on Rook Hall, a medium size lake of about seven acres with depths to about 14ft. Expectations were high, especially after the previous weeks clients enjoying catches of 15 or more fish each!

Doug’s set up was my standard go to winter small water approach, 10ft 7wt Wychwood RS rod, Rocket floater and 15ft of 10lb Wychwood Lure mode fluorocarbon. I use strong leader because these winter fish are not put off by thicker fluorocarbon and because we would be catch and releasing our catch. It’s best to land the fish quickly, releasing them with plenty of energy left. A single fly is my favourite approach when using larger lures. We opted for a Hot-Head Olive Lure. There is plenty of movement in the fly and after previous visits olive had definitely been the colour of the moment.

As we approached the water I counted eight other anglers on the lake, three of which were playing fish, a great sign, sure to put a smile on a clients face and get that adrenalin pumping!

The water was flat calm and as we got closer it was noticeably gin clear, as if it had been filtered over night!

Early success for Doug. But soon the takes dried up.
Early success for Doug. But soon the takes dried up.

Early Success

A few fish were moving on the near bank quiet close in. The water was flat calm and as we got closer it was noticeably gin clear, as if it had been filtered over night! I positioned Doug 6ft back from the edge as to hide our silhouette’s, he dropped the lure in the margins and stripped enough line to make the cast. First chuck after counting for 10 seconds his line shot off, the lure had been intercepted on the drop. Excellent start! After a lively scrap a nice silver fish of almost 3lb slipped into the net. Now that’s the kind of start we all hope for. Next cast and ‘bang’ another solid hook up, this time about half way back on a figure-of-eight retrieve, another big plump fish, again not a mile away from 3lb. What a start, right area, right fly, right approach. Then nothing for the next two hours!

We moved up and down the bank, tried a variety of retrieves, pulling, slow figure-of-eight etc. We counted the fly down 5, 10, 15 nothing. Changed lures, tried white, tried black, tried orange… Nothing. Just the odd half-hearted pull or quick rattle as the fly was hung. Odd. And we weren’t alone the other anglers were scratching their heads, rods had stopped bending, fly boxes were being rummaged through, all the favourites lying wet and spent in the bottom of fishing bags. Lots of head scratching, looking up to the skies, shoulder shrugging. The fish had gone off! Or had they?

Take Time Out

In my years of competition fishing this is something that happens only too often. You are on the method. Unstoppable. You have it cracked. Then the brakes go on. Everything grinds to a halt. What you are doing stops working. I commonly see anglers carry on regardless; get their heads down and try and tough it out. I have been there many times myself. But in recent years I have found the best cure is a time out. A cup of coffee, remove yourself from the situation, take a step back and re assess your approach. This is exactly what we did.

As we had a bit of time out over a coffee and watched the lake and the other anglers a few things became apparent. We were both by now standing in shirts sleeves, the temperature was probably near mid-teens and the sun was high in the sky. From our slightly elevated position we could see plenty of fish cruising about at only a foot or two under the surface in the crystal clear water. The other thing I noticed was every other angler had gone into ‘pull’ mode. If you cant get a take, pull it harder and faster! So after our coffee, I decided we would do the exact opposite to everyone else!

When the takes dries up Tim switched to three Diawl Bachs and finer leader material.
When the takes dries up Tim switched to three Diawl Bachs and finer leader material.
A switch to finer leader and three Diawl Bach’s brought instant success.
A switch to finer leader and three Diawl Bach’s brought instant success.

Go Natural And Go Fine

The fish hadn’t gone deep; they certainly hadn’t got out and walked away! But they had had enough of seeing three inch lures pulled repeatedly over their heads!

Diawl Bachs are right up there as some of my favourite go to patterns. A little fly that’s suggestive of a whole host of possible food items on a trout’s menu, from buzzers to pond olive nymphs and even pin fry. It is equally as good being fished static under the bung as it is being fast twiddled in a big ripple. It’s a fly that is rarely off my cast most of the season.

The clarity of the water was telling me that we had to scale our leader down too. Off went the Lure Mode and on went 15ft of 8lb Ghost Mode. This is nice and supple and at only 0.02mm just the job for fishing the nymphs. I also treated the last 3ft of the floating line with Mucilin to make it really stand up in the water. I spaced out a couple of droppers and we tied on three size 12 red holo rib Diawls. I love a fly with a little red holo tied in it in bright conditions!

With renewed enthusiasm we headed back down to the water. I told Doug to shorten things up a little to help turn the flies over and also so we could watch the leader and the fly line properly. No need for distance casting on these lakes, for me the take zone has always been the drop off, that step in a man-made lake that is often no more than a rod or two’s length from the bank. The change in contour allows a predator to ambush its prey from the cover of depth.

We moved up and down the bank, tried a variety of retrieves, pulling, slow figure-of-eight etc. We counted the fly down 5, 10, 15 nothing. Changed lures, tried white, tried black, tried orange… Nothing. Just the odd half-hearted pull or quick rattle as the fly was hung. Odd. And we weren’t alone the other anglers were scratching their heads, rods had stopped bending, fly boxes were being rummaged through, all the favourites lying wet and spent in the bottom of fishing bags. Lots of head scratching, looking up to the skies, shoulder shrugging. The fish had gone off! Or had they?

Watching The Leader

Doug popped a lovely straight cast out, everything turned over nicely. And we waited, letting the nymphs settle, watching the leader slowly sink. As if on demand the leader sprang tight and zipped out of sight! “Strike” I shouted! I still get way to excited! But it caught Doug off guard and the strike came too late. “Not to worry” I said, I had a feeling it wasn’t going to be his only chance.

Next cast and again we watched the leader slowly cut through the flat calm surface. After about 15 seconds it had disappeared, no take, so I suggested a long slow three foot draw on the fly line. This lifted the flies and allowed them to sink back through the depths. This time the end of the fly line snaked under smooth and confidently. Doug didn’t need reminding and immediately lifted into a fish that tore off across the lake. After a few minutes we subdued a nice plump rainbow, the Diawl firmly locked in the top of the mouth. This pattern was repeated for the rest of the session. We soon worked out that the fish either wanted the nymphs on the drop or with a twitchy figure-of-eight retrieve just over the drop off.

The renewed activity didn’t go unnoticed and soon other anglers were strolling around to find out what lures we were using. On explaining and showing them our flies we were met with mixed reactions of disbelief , curiosity , and the classic .. the fish won’t see those?! It didn’t stop the guys from emptying my fly box of spare Diawls!

So by paying attention and thinking a little about our approach we turned a tough day into 17 hard fighting Chigboro torpedoes. It does highlight how fishing changes with the conditions, and also with angling pressure. What worked yesterday might not work today. It’s an old mantra but worth having at the back of your mind when you plan your next trip out. Don’t be in a hurry to set out your stall, remain open minded and adaptable, and you will be ‘that’ angler on the lake that everyone is talking about!

When the takes dries up Tim switched to three Diawl Bachs and finer leader material.
When the takes dries up Tim switched to three Diawl Bachs and finer leader material.

Tim Joyce

Tim Joyce is an Essex based qualified fly fishing coach and guide. Tim is a multi capped England International Loch style angler.
Tim specialises in bespoke beginners and improver days at Chigboro Fisheries in Essex, he also guides on the midlands reservoirs.

http://www.flyfishing-essex.com
Tel 07734739125

Chigborough Farm

W: www.chigboroughfarm.co.uk
E: chigborofisheries@gmail.com
T: 07702 244440

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