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Craig Barr believes that it doesn’t matter how large the water is that you fish, just stay mobile and you’ll catch.

The choice of venues available to stillwater trout anglers these days is as broad as it is long. Day ticket Fisheries range from Worcestershire’s Broad Oak complex and its two small lakes of one acre and three acres, to mighty Rutland Water and its sprawling 3,300 acres.

Many anglers take one look at the expanse a reservoir such as Rutland covers and are too daunted by the prospects of venturing on to such a vast water. For anyone wishing to try their hand at taming these bigger venues I feel it’s a good idea to first cast a line on what I would call a halfway-house fishery. These are venues that are large enough to give you a taste of what tackle and tactics are needed before taking on the ‘big boys’.

Elinor Trout Fishery, near Thrapston in Northamptonshire, is one of these venues when it comes to size. Visitors are faced with 50 acres of spring-fed gin-clear limestone water, which, thanks to the alkaline content, has an abundance of natural food making the trout grow fat and fit.

It is the perfect setting, the ideal stepping stone to larger waters. Once you have the confidence to cope with a fishery of this size making the next move will seem easy. I always tell myself a trout is a trout, which just needs catching wherever it swims. If anything, I believe that the bigger the water, the easier the trout can be to catch. It can be like a game of cat and mouse. On small waters they can become more elusive, but with a little lateral thinking you should be able to work out where the trout should or could be.

This can be done by looking for features in the water, points and promontories, dam walls, weed beds, deep holes, and the like. I have fished some small waters where people almost know the trout by name as they have been in there for so long and caught so often. These fish have seen every fly imaginable and become almost impossible to catch, so you really need to make every cast count. However, one of the most important aspects of fly fishing, no matter what the size of water, is to stay on the move.

During my visit I ditched the 8-wt rod I would normally use on reservoirs and opted for my 6/7-wt rod. Distance casting isn’t always needed on this size of lake, in my opinion, presentation becomes more important on smaller lakes. With regular fishing activity the trout can become smarter a whole lot quicker, compared to those on large reservoirs. Before I put any flies on my cast I noticed that the grass was full of daddy-longlegs after the recent rains, and with a brisk wind blowing it was a ‘no-brainer’ that one had to go on my cast. It turned out to be a wise decision. As I approached the water by the dam, I saw two trout splash no more than three feet from the bank, and judging by the commotion they were certainly hitting the daddies. On closer inspection the inner shoreline was littered with these clumsy-looking insects.

I always like to give the fish a variety of flies to choose from, so opted to fish three flies; a Daddy on the point, a Cruncher on the middle dropper and a size 12 red holographic Diawl Bach on the top dropper. A three course menu will always look better than a single offering! This is also more or less what I would do on a large water, as a team works very much in your favour.

Within 30 seconds of my flies hitting the water everything tightened up and I was into a fish. It had to have taken the Daddy, or so I thought. In fact, it had taken the Cruncher. It was soon netted but not a big one, about 1½lb. I just can’t seem to connect with anything big at the moment! With plenty of other trout continuing to move close in I presented my flies time and time again, thinking that I would emulate my instant success. Sadly, to no avail.

Move On

After several swirls, and a couple of plucks at the flies I knew it was time to move on because these trout were simply not playing ball. I have found that it’s often better to move on and try to find a taking fish rather than waste precious time trying to coax an unwilling specimen on to the hook. Fishery manager Ed Foster had advised me that the top left-hand corner of the lake was producing a good number of fish. Sadly for me, though, he’d also told plenty of other anglers, and when I reached the spot a handful of locals were already in position with a stack of fish rising right in front of them. I positioned myself 20 feet to the left of the last angler and, with great expectation, cast out my line. The water in front of me was deep enough to hold fish so there was no need to wade as a bank of nearside weed, and the food secreted within, was bound to attract them.


I have to say it is not often that I am stumped when fishing, but for the first time in many years I was left scratching my head as my two neighbours caught fish after fish. I had one pull in an hour! And they were using plain Crunchers and Diawl Bachs too! Frustration was getting the better of me and it was time for another move. I found a sheltered corner of the lake, and as I settled in I saw several fish move on the surface. Looking through my fly box I opted for a Big Red, an old faithful dry fly and a real reservoir favourite that works equally as well on small waters. I attached a new leader, of 6lb breaking strain rather than the 8lb I’d started with, and now fished the single fly as the shallow water dictated, to minimise disturbance and allow me very accurate presentation.

The change of tactics brought a brief bit of interest when I lifted into a reasonably good-sized rainbow, only for it to quickly throw the hook! With still only one fish to show for my efforts the question that was bugging me was: where was I going wrong? It was obvious the fish were very high in the water, as I would often see a dorsal fin break the surface as a trout cruised just underneath.

A Hard Dose Of Reality

As I’ve said, fishing on small waters can be tricky and these fish were no fools; in fact they were very smart. They’d ignored everything I’d thrown at them! I took some time out to gather my thoughts and try and figure out what to do next. Then the anglers I’d watched catching all those fish earlier packed their stuff away and walked by me. I chatted to two of them and discovered they’d taken a staggering 28 fish between them! Either they were doing something extraordinary or they just happened to be in exactly the right spot at the right time! The moment of truth was about to be revealed as I moved on to the area they had occupied all morning.

Fast And Furious Action

As I stood in the hotspot it became amazingly apparent that the trout seemed to be literally within an area of 10 square metres. I laid my rod down and just sat there, mesmerised. During my 10-minute break sitting on the bank and surveying the water, I counted 19 rises all within this remarkably small area. It was truly incredible how many fish were in this small part of the lake. Whatever was holding them here had kept them there all day. I had been fishing just yards to the right of these fish earlier and yet only managed one pull in an hour – incredible!

We all have our favourite fly, and I am no different. The Blue-Flash Damsel is my banker and after tying it on I vowed that if it failed, then I would head home with my tail between my legs. Well, I only went and caught five fish in five casts! Too good to be true? Not really, as I then switched to a Sunken Daddy and my catch rate continued at the same unprecedented rate! To be honest, I don’t think it would have mattered what was on the end, I’m sure I would have caught on it in that spot. I could have continued, but what was the point? It’s never that good when you catch all the time.

Holding Area

So what had I done right or, more importantly, what had I been doing wrong? In this particular instance a weed bed, a big one at that, which must have held a huge bounty of food was clearly visible 15 yards from the bank. This is what was holding a massive shoal of trout in the confined area. This little episode highlights the need to keep on the move if you’re not catching any trout. Smaller waters can be very popular, especially at the weekends, and many times I have seen anglers enjoying hectic sport one minute only for it to stop the next! This is when we start to evaluate why this has happened – is it because the sun has come out, the fish are full or they have gone down?

We have all at some point used any of these reasons for the slowdown in rod-bending action, whereas more often than not, after all the casting and catching, the fish may have simply moved further along the shoreline. In the early days of fly fishing anglers were armed with a rod, a shoulder bag and a pair of thigh waders, so they could easily keep on the move when one area failed to produce. Nowadays we seem to go with everything but the kitchen sink, making it more difficult to up sticks and move once all your gear is laid out on the bank.

The key to successful sport on medium to large waters is to stay on the move!