There are times when you’ll phone a fishery, just to see how it’s fishing, and you’ll be met with words of woe: “It’s been dire… no-one seems to be catching just now… it’ll pick up but I wouldn't bother coming tomorrow… it’s just not worth it…” ...if you are ‘pencilled in’ to go fishing then you need to go.
Most of us don’t have the privilege of being able to nip off here, there and everywhere. If we've a local water nearby then, even if it’s not fishing well, we’ll often take a day there over a day of ‘doing chores’. I know would! Just because a water is not on form, it doesn't mean you can’t have good day; far from it, as there’s always a way, a method, a style or a fly that can be employed that will see you do well, even on the most frustratingly miserable days imaginable.
Just recently I was headed off down to Rib Valley Fishing Lakes, in Hertfordshire, for a day on the water with a close friend of mine. We chose this venue, as it was central to both of us – my mate, Lewis Hendrie, lived three hours away, as did I! A very long drive for both of us but we were there to have a fish and a catch-up, and it saved one of us a six-hour drive to see the other!
I know many of the local chaps who fish the water and each one I had spoke to said that the fishing had been patchy in the last week. I could live with that, but he also mentioned that when it was bad it was really bad, with most guys blanking! “What were they fishing with?” I asked. “Everything!” was his reply. Great!
When Lewis and I arrived, we went to the tackle shop to get our tickets. It’s packed to the rafters with all manner of tackle for all manner of fishing disciplines. Here we met up with part owners Neil Pinnington and Jan McLean, who share the business with Mike Gill, and they gave us the lowdown. They were both very helpful and very busy, as it’s a popular shop, telling us which areas of the lake to try and also the flies we should be using. They also told us that yesterday’s rod average was one fish and, worse, it had been busy too – most anglers had blanked! We bought some flies, App’s Bloodworms in various colours – red, olive and yellow at their suggestion – together with our day tickets and headed off out the door, full of optimism… NOT.
It was cold, very cold, as it had been all over the country for about a week, so we both wrapped up warm then threaded fly lines through our rod rings, me with a floating line and Lewis with a Slow Glass. I chose to start with a team of nymphs – it’s how I like to fish – and Lewis went with a Red App’s on a long leader. Millennium Lake is around five acres with some deep water up to 14 feet in places, so we had plenty of water to go at. We stuck close by each other, so we could chat and see how the other was getting on. After a whole hour fishing on the west bank of the water, without a single touch between us, it was time for a move, so we headed round to the east bank just to the left of the boat moorings. The water here is as deep as it gets, and I was hoping that my team of three nymphs would get some interest. They didn't, and neither did Lewis’ App’s, nor his Damsel, nor his Cat’s Whisker! Given the fact that I was fishing a small water I was reluctant to come off the Floater, as it allows me to fish my flies slowly at any depth, but it clearly wasn't working. Off it came, though, and on went a Di5 Forty Plus sinking line, 10ft leader and a single fly, a black and green lure – simple fishing.
The line is one of my competition lines so I have floss whipped on the line at three 10ft intervals back from the tip. This means that when I’m boat fishing I can ‘hang’ the flies at specific depths at the end of the retrieve, clever eh?
Sadly, it seemed that the same process was repeating itself on the east bank, cast out, pull it in and catch nothing. We were both getting pretty fed up! I cast again, although this time after casting out I laid the rod on the platform and turned away from the wind to light a cigarette. Given that there wasn't much in the way of gas in my lighter this took longer than usual. Eventually, however I managed to get it lit, turned back into the wind, picked up my rod and started to retrieve the line. I only managed to get a few feet of the line in when I felt some dogged resistance on the end. No way, surely not a fish? I lifted the rod to put some tension in the line and sure enough the rod started to buck away – there was life on the end, I’d hooked one! After two hours of hard slog, my little fag break had provided the opportunity for me to fluke one!
I netted the fish and it was a little beauty of around 2lb, clean, silver and full of life. After removing the hook and releasing the trout back into the cold water, I walked over to Lewis to give him the lowdown on what had happened. “So you fluked it then, John,” he said. What could I say? I had. “Well you say that,” I replied, “but I bet you I can get another one.” “Doubt it,” said Lewis.
I walked back over and cast out again, as long a line as I could manage. I let the whole lot sink to the bottom and gave it a good minute, just to be sure. When everything was on the deck I started the retrieve, a series of small, steady pulls on the line, about a foot at a time. It must have taken me a good four or five minutes to get the fly back to my bank. Sadly, though, during the entire retrieve I never experienced any takes. So, loading the rod I cast again. Again I gave it a minute or so before I started to retrieve, this time a lot slower, with a steady figure- of-eight. I knew my fly was on the deck as I could feel it pulling through the dead weed. As the first floss marker, 30 feet from the tip of the line, came into view, I felt a rattle on the end of the line. It felt like the kind of take you’d get when Booby fishing, a quick rattle and then nothing. I flicked the line, a quick pull in, probably moving the fly no more than a foot, and the fish took again. A little rattle, then the line went tight and the thing was on! Lewis looked over in disbelief as the rainbow, again around 2lb, came to the surface in a welter of spray and foam. “There you go, Lewis. I told you I’d get another!”
As I unhooked the fish, he wandered over to stand next to me. “How the hell did you get that?” “Simple really, cast out with a sinking line, let it all settle on the bottom and retrieve the fly very, very slowly,” I said. “But are you not finding the fly gets stuck on the bottom?” “The weed is dead and, as a result, very little is sticking on the hook. If it feels too tight when retrieving I just pull the line sharply and it pulls through. You should try it.”
I forget to mention that Lewis is more familiar with river fishing, and as result didn't possess a fast-sinking fly line. “I have a Fast Glass in the bag, use that, it may take longer to sink but it’s faster than the line you’re using. You should still be able to copy what I'm doing, it’ll just take a little longer.” Soon enough we had Lewis set up with the Fast Glass line and a short leader. He chose to fish a weighted Minkie tied in Cat’s Whisker colours. As I was casting my line out he did the same. After everything had settled I began my retrieve. I had two taps as I retrieved but soon enough, I had my first, second then last marker on the line in through the rod tip, without a fish to show for it. Lewis was still halfway through his retrieve when his line locked up tight. “There you go John, I'm in!” “ Didn't you get any rattles first before that thing took?” I shouted over. “Nope, it just locked up.” “It must be the line you’re using, it’s a Sixth Sense one. There’s no stretch in it, unlike my old Di5.” Unbelievably, he’d caught a brown trout. I say unbelievably as there aren't supposed to be any in the water – they don’t stock them here. It was a little beauty too, though, and in great condition. Within another couple of casts, Lewis was in again, whereas I had experienced that familiar rattle on two occasions but without any fish to show for it. It seemed that the non-stretch line was making all the difference, as he was getting no taps but just lock-ups!
I set up my other rod with a Slow Glass line; after all, I couldn't just ask for my line back, could I? This was also a Sixth Sense line, so I felt happy that I could hit and hook everything that took my fly. It worked a treat too, I took a trout on my very first cast with the non-stretch line! Granted it took far longer for my line to sink, but given that I was fishing from the bank I could just cast out and let it take as long as required for it to get down on the lake bed.
We’d cracked it. It had taken a long time – a whole morning in fact – and a great deal of luck, but finally we had a method. For the last few hours we both managed to catch quite steadily. Nothing startling but certainly far more than any of the locals were catching. I ended up with eight fish, none of them big, and Lewis had six, including the miraculous brown trout. Not bad going, especially when you consider that the rod average the previous day was one!