IN SEARCH OF RAINBOWS

Wimbleball Lake high on Exmoor has earned a reputation as one of the West Country’s Premier Fly Fishery’s with its hard fighting full tailed rainbows and immaculate wild browns attracting anglers from far and wide. This recent upturn in fortune has been delivered by Mark Underhill his wife Trudi and their family team who continue to build on the venue’s attractiveness as an angling venue.

I was fortunate to join with Snowbee Ambassador Jeff Pearce and Angling Journalist Dominic Garret at Rainbow Valley Trout Farm prior to a day’s fishing. The farm situated beside the pristine River Exe supplies quality rainbows to Stillwater trout fisheries across the UK including Rutland, Grafham, Pittsford numerous South West lakes including Kennick and of course Wimbleball.

The Trout Farming industry has had a difficult decade or so as market forces, the challenges of climate change and ever increasing demand for water has increased the need for legislation.

I arrived at the trout farm fifteen minutes or so before time and it was appropriate that a faint rainbow arched across the valley as the morning sun illuminated the scene.

I chatted with Mark about future plans and life in general for a few minutes until Jeff and Dom arrived. We then embarked upon a brief and fascinating tour of the trout farm. The first impression was of the cleanliness of the incoming water flowing in through a fast flowing leat. Within this swam an impressive number of rainbow trout that were destined for stocking out into Wimbleball. The trout are kept here for a while in a sort of strength and conditioning period ensuring they are fighting fit before stocking out. Mark tossed trout pellets into the water where they were eagerly devoured in a swirling frenzy.

We walked slowly around the stew ponds listening intently to Marks fascinating explanation of fish rearing and its many complex issues. An in depth understanding of the environment was apparent as we discussed the challenges posed by invasive species such as signal crayfish and Himalayan balsam. Whilst the numbers of trout were considerable the stew ponds were large and the fish in superb condition.

The four of us could have spent many hours discussing the world of angling and beyond but the sight of the trout and the call of the lake was strong.

The journey to Wimbleball required us to take a scenic route as a result of numerous road improvement schemes across the area. A trio of anglers took a ride through the twisting and turning roads of Devon and Somerset. Pretty hamlets and villages, trees in blossom and glimpses of streams and ponds brought thoughts of future explorations that will probably never see the light of day.

We assembled on the Wimbleball shoreline where we were joined by Dom’s friend Charles Halliday, who runs the Fishwish angling coaching business. a keen kayaker who had agreed upon the comfort of boat for this day afloat. We eagerly and loaded our gear into the boats deciding that we would all head for the Bessoms end of the reservoir and hopefully catch a few rainbows to start the day.

Early in the season bank fishers often out fish the boats if they can locate the fish. The big advantage with the boat is that you can cover plenty of water by drifting over a wide area. If this fails to work you can completely relocate to a different area of the lake within a short time.

There was a cool wind blowing into the bay as we drifted and conditions seemed perfect so it was surprising when the fish proved elusive. For an hour we all failed to get even a pull but persistence eventually paid off when we saw Dom’s rod bending as a fighting fit rainbow dashed about on a tight line.

Jeff and I continued to search the water varying fly choice and depth. Jeff persisted with a floating line and team of imitative patterns. We both had a couple of tugs at the fly before Jeff was in action the rod hooping over in a pleasing sign of success. A rainbow of around 3lb had got us off the mark.

Confidence is key especially on a hard day and I tend to stick with a small selection of flies and lures that I have confidence in. I often wonder how many casts are made during a long day on the water my guess is that it must be close to five hundred meaning that the  actual ratio of success is comparatively low. On our day on the lake with four of us fishing we probably made upwards of two thousand casts and actually boated a dozen trout losing around the same number. if you have been casting flies long enough with occasional success there comes a belief that each cast will bring that magical connection. It is undoubtedly that second of delightful connection that keeps us hooked. The bent rod and the singing reel are just the confirmation of success and the netting of the fish the sealing of the deal.

Days fishing always fly past at an alarming rate and this day is no exception. We move around fishing several areas of the lake. Taking in the splendid scenery of rolling farmland, wooded valleys and an ever changing vista of sky and water the light changing as clouds drift high above on the cool North West breeze.

Swallows and martins dart to and fro across the water a sign that warmer days are on the way. Fresh buds are bursting forth on trees and shrubs all around the lake. Whilst mid-April can be cold and a little bleak there is promise in the air that those warmer days of May and June are on the near horizon. The trout will then be feasting on the surface sipping in dries and buzzers.

These early days of the season can bring bumper bags of trout whilst some days can be harder going. The beauty of these bigger waters is that the fishing is not always easy. The fish are earned and success has a greater value because of this. Whilst I enjoy the occasional day on smaller Stillwater’s there is undoubtedly a deeper sense of satisfaction to be found from these vast sheets of water.

The trout of Wimbleball are undoubtedly a worthy prize their full tails giving long searing runs. In addition to the stocked rainbows there are also a good head of wild brown trout some of which have reached an impressive size feasting upon the rudd fry that abound. It would not come as a surprise if someone hooks a double figure wild brown. What a prize that would be!

I look forward eagerly to my next day searching the water with good friends and building upon those tales to tell on future days between fishing forays.

Many thanks to Jeff Pearce and Dominic Garnett for allowing me to share their excellent images on this page.

See Dominic’s enjoyable feature below.

https://dgfishing.co.uk/fly-fishing-on-wimbleball-lake/

A BLAKEWELL BRACE

A week ago it was like summer today, it is like winter as I walk out to the Lake at Blakewell! Hail and snow flakes are driven by the icy North West Wind. A few moments later the sun is shining and the world looks a less hostile place.

I have a two fish complimentary ticket from the Christmas Competition and had not got around to using it as a result of COVID and the lake being closed so I was pleased that Richard & John allowed me to use it after several months. I had a plan to wander around the lake casting to individual fish seeing if I could spot one of the lakes doubles. The water was crystal clear but the gusty wind frequently riffled the surface making spotting fish tricky.

I fished several spots around the lake and failed to get a touch. I tried several patterns without success but did manage to spot a few trout cruising in the bay. A black bead headed lure on a long leader resulted in a twitch on the tip of the fly line. Next cast the line zipped tight and a spirited tussle followed before the fish came adrift! I checked the hook point and all was well. Next cast and again the line zipped tight….off came the trout. Third time lucky I thought when I hooked the next a couple of casts later…off it came. Still at least I had found the right fly and tactic. Ten minutes later the brace was in the bag.

Its always good when you find the right answer and yet I always wonder if the trout had simply switched on for some reason. This thought is reinforced as I walk away and notice that one of the other anglers has a well bent rod. Its mission accomplished anyway with trout for tea and spring proper on the way.

A Gold and Crimson Reward from a sparkling stream

A brilliant blue cloudless sky and a North-East wind are never good for fishing but  despite this it was delightful  exploring this small clear water stream with a New Zealand style set up. This was challenging fishing with no manicured banks and plenty of branches and brambles to snare the flies. As I worked up stream flicking the team of flies into the deeper pockets and riffles it was both frustrating and encouraging to see plenty of trout darting for cover as they caught sight of me trying to be stealthy. I feel sure this will be easier in the evening when the sun is lower in the sky.

Two tiny trout succumb to a dry fly, images of perfection in the clear water their flanks a mixture of gold and crimson spots. It is also encouraging to tempt a small salmon par an indication that salmon have successfully spawned in this water during the winter.

The river weaves its way through woodland, fallen trees, lichen draped branches and wild flowers. Deer footprints in the muddy river side. A squirrel scampers across branches watching me warily. Marsh marigolds, primroses and the smell of wild garlic, Is there a better place than beside a trout stream in early spring?

Out of Lockdown Trip to Wimbleball

I took advantage of the partial easing of lockdown on Monday and travelled to Wimbleball Reservoir high on Exmoor in search of the venues hard fighting rainbows. On arrival a cool breeze was blowing and mist shrouded the hills, with sunshine forecast later in the day it was likely that the best sport would come early in the day. The water was certainly cold as I waded out to begin searching the water. A floating line and long leader with small black lures proved effective and soon brought a few pulls before I eventually stayed connected to a hard fighting rainbow of around 3lb. This was followed by two more similar sized fish before midday when the sun broke through as forecast.

The lakes surface reflected the blue sky and shimmered brightly, birdsong reverberated all around, buzzards soared high above and a pair of greater crested grebes flirted in the spring sunshine. The croaking of toads drifted across the water and fresh buds where bursting out from the tips of the bankside trees. There is far more to this fishing lark than catching fish!

As expected the fishing went quiet for a while but a change to an intermediate line in late afternoon brought further action with a wild brown trout and a brace of superb rainbow the biggest estimated at over 6lb.

Throughout the day I changed my flies several times in search of the correct pattern for the moment. I often ponder upon the value of changing patterns and its actual impact on results. The six trout I tempted were tempted on the following patterns; black wooly bugger 2,  Blue flash and olive Damsel 2, black buzzer 1 and orange blob 1. It is important to remember that there are many other factors to take into consideration beyond the choice of fly/lure including feeding depth, light values and rate of retrieve. It is also worth asking the question as to whether we are trying to imitate natural food that forms part of the trout’s diet or trying to stimulate a reaction? Generally early season I tend to go for black or olive and probably had  a black lure of some type or a damsel on the point throughout 95% of the day and fished a team of 3 flies throughout. The biggest fish of the day fell to the orange blob yet I only put this fly on late in the day when I had swapped to an intermediate line and speeded up the retrieve. Most decisions are made on the basis of an educated hunch and for most of my fishing I stick to the tried and trusted though this has changed over the years as patterns have come in and out of vogue.

It is this continual search for the answers that keeps us fishing the fun part is that each day has a different set of questions and different answers.

Beside A Clear Water Stream

Beneath the Bridge

Turning off the busy main road I follow a narrow lane flanked with primroses and fresh green growth. Several old farmsteads are nestled in the valley and it is exciting to be exploring new ground even though it is less than 10 miles from home. I park close to the bridge and walk up to take a look at the clear waters below as the sun shines into the deep clear water.

As I set up a light-weight nymphing outfit buzzards circle high above silhouetted against a blue sky with high white clouds drifting in the brisk westerly wind. I walk slowly up river searching the deeper runs and riffles with a pair of weighted nymphs. It is a delight to be out wading in the cool water and I am sure I will hook at least a couple of small wild browns before the morning is out.

A Clear Water Stream

I flick my flies searching the water exploring each run and riffle. Dippers flit up and down the river, pheasants take off in alarm as I push up through the valley. A sudden movement catches my eye as two deer gallop across the field opposite entering the river fifty yards above where I am  fishing. For a moment they stand transfixed in mid river before dashing away in a flurry of spray to disappear into the woods.

The tree fish steal a couple of flies whilst the trout are elusive, the morning evaporates all too quickly and I send a text to say I will be an hour late home. I catch a fleeting glimpse of  electric blue as a kingfisher flashes past. The occasional fly hatches from the river. Its’ going to be good here in the late spring and early summer. The clocks spring forward tonight and lighter evenings beckon.

As I return to the van a skien of Canada geese fly-overhead their distinctive call echoing across the valley. Half a dozen buzzards are riding the thermals.

Return to the River

It was good to once again wander the river bank and swing a fly in the hope of a spring run salmon. The seasons come and go so quickly and it is hard to believe that twelve months have flashed past. Once again the wild daffodils are decorating the banks as natures calendar turns its pages.

The water is cold and fairly clear  running at a perfect height. Several years ago on March 7th I netted a fresh run Springer of around 9lb so I am optimistic that success could come with any cast. I drift the Fly across familiar water and on one cast there is a brief tightening of the line followed a second later by a heaviness. Too gentle to be trout it could be a snag in the river. Repeated casts over the same spot rule this out so I change my Fly and cover the lie again. There is a brief tug and a flurry of spray as what was a good sized trout shakes the hook free. Im not convinced that it was the trout that intercepted the fly first drift. Salmon takes can be so subtle at times feeling like a drifting leaf has brushed the hook. I contemplate what might have been and fish on content that I have a full season ahead.

Blakewell Features in Trout & salmon

I always tend to associate Spring with trout and salmon fishing so when picking up the Tesco shop I indulged in the April Edition of Trout and Salmon Magazine. Browsing through its pages of pleasing images I was delighted to come upon local fishery owner Richard Nickell’s familiar smiling features.

The magazine has another excellent feature on trout fishing on Dartmoor with local cane rod builder Luke Bannister.

A pleasing brace of doubles taken on my last visit to Blakewell back in December.

Salmon Season Starts

March 1st is the first day of the salmon season on North Devon Rivers and both the Taw and Torridge are looking good running high and clear.

I took my rod the bottom of the Taw at midday and had a few casts to greet the new season. This was on the Barnstaple Club Water and I suspect any fish that have moved in will have pushed up river with plenty of water and big tides. It was good to wade out into the cool water once again and flex the rod. I can remember the river on opening day when I started fishing for salmon back in the late seventies when club members would have been out in numbers hoping for that first fish off the season. Sadly the number of anglers have dwindled along with the spring salmon. Another major factor is the mandatory catch and release that is now enforced along with a spinning being discouraged despite being legal for the first month of the season.

I  am always fascinated at the amount of debris brought down by the winter spates. It is hard to imagine the ferocity of the waters that carried this so high onto the bank. It is also fascinating to see how the river changes each year as nature moulds its path to the sea.

Big Bulldog Browns

It’s an exciting time of year as winter passes with new fishing adventures on the horizon. Today was the last day of winter yet at this time of year the seasons seem to fluctuate from day to day and even from morning till night.  There was frost on the grass when I looked out of the bedroom window as the moon sank beneath the tree line and the sun rose from the opposite direction illuminating the fields as the frost  melted away in a warm dawn glow.

I was fishing at Bulldog fishery which is less than five miles from my home so truly local. The lane to the fishery winds down through woodland and between the remains of the old Lynton to Barnstaple Railway. The Fishery is located beside the Barnstaple Yeo that was running high and clear its sparkling water flowing into the  top of the lake. I have been meaning to pay the fishery a visit for sometime after seeing some stunning images of its big brown trout.

I set up and walked the fishery bank peering into the clear water. The shaded far bank proved an ideal vantage point with the sun behind me I could see clearly into the lake. The downside of course was that my shadow could also be cast onto the water alerting the fish of my presence.

The trees would hopefully break my silhouette. Half way down the Lake I glimpsed two very large trout just a couple of rod lengths from the bank. I pulled a few yards of line from the reel and wetted the damsel nymph in the margin. The line was carefully flicked out in front of the trout; my heart was in my mouth the fish turned towards the fly eyeing it with intent for a moment before turning away showing disdain at my offering.

Such chances are often fleeting but it was an exciting start to the trip. I moved along the bank and put a long line parallel to the bank. After a couple of pulls the line drew tight and a trout pulled back. An impressive brown trout its spotted sides showing clearly in the gin clear water. The trout close to five pounds was certainly a great start to the day.

A few casts later a rainbow chased the olive damsel nymph close to the bank where I saw its mouth open and engulf the lure.

With two trout on the bank I was pleased to take a break from fishing and chat with the fishery owner Nigel Early about his exciting plans for the fishery. The trout lake is due to be considerably enlarged to provide far more bank space making it an ideal venue for visiting clubs or small groups of anglers. This is an intimate Stillwater trout fishery that contains some huge brown trout up to 15lb that are undoubtedly wily and worthy targets. The fishery policy is for all browns over 5lb to be returned carefully to the water preserving a valuable asset and ensuring that visiting anglers have the chance to catch the fish of a lifetime. There are two day ticket options; four fish £30 or five fish £35. Large returned browns do not count as part of this bag.

Nigel is no stranger to big trout and was proud to tell me that he had provided stock fish from the trout farm that have set English, Scottish and Welsh records Including rainbows of 26lb 9oz (Welsh) and 24lb 6oz ( Scottish).

Another project underway is a carp lake of several acres that has been stocked with ten carp over thirty pound and another 120 carp ranging from low doubles to mid twenties. There will be ten swims on the lake that should open in early May and will undoubtedly provide some exciting fishing. I feel sure that the lake will mature nicely over the coming years to bring a valuable carping venue close to Barnstaple.

After leaving Nigel to continue his work I returned to the trout lake where I managed to spot another huge brown trout that once again frustrated my efforts swimming at my nymph before turning away and disappearing into the depths of the lake. Several good sized fish were showing near the inlet and followed my olive damsel before turning away. With the sun beaming down from a clear blue sky it was undoubtedly time for a little finesse. A bead headed nymph was flicked out and the lines tip twitched. A 4lb plus rainbow was added to my bag. With Sunday dinner waiting I reeled in and headed for home thoughts of big browns etched on the minds eye.