Fathers Day At Wimbleball

Willie Waterston with a 10lb + fish yesterday which took him into the backing 3 times. 

With reports of stunning rainbows to over 10lb and trout feasting on beetles I was keen to get back up  to the beautiful Wimbleball lake again and do battle with its full tailed rainbows. Our son James was entering  a Motorbike Enduro event a few miles away so it seemed a good excuse to meet up for a Father’s Day Picnic combined with a few hours fishing!

I commented to Pauline as we enjoyed the journey across Exmoor’s summer landscape that the fish often went off the feed around midday. An ominous comment as I would probably manage my first casts for around 11:30.

I left Pauline reading her book in the car and hastened to the waters edge looking for  a place that would offer a little shelter from the brisk breeze along with a good chance of fish. Conditions were ideal and I soon found the perfect spot with the breeze blowing right to left. A few fish were rising just off the weed bed at the waters edge.

I tied a beetle imitation on the point, a diawl bach on the middle dropper and a black zulu on the top dropper. I waded carefully out and started searching the water. It wasn’t long before the line zipped tight; a pleasing 3lb plus rainbow was battling on a tight line. Ten minutes later a brace  were secured and tea secured for the next night!

It was now catch and release time. I wandered back to the car to see if Pauline was ready to join me and take a few pictures whilst enjoying the warmth of the day. On arrival back at the waters edge it seemed the spell had been broken as my first couple of casts resulted in a minor tangle and the rhythm seemed to have deserted me. It soon returned however but it seemed my prediction had proved right for takes became few and far between.

James and Sophie arrived and enjoyed a tasty picnic; Social distancing of course. Several trout rose within casting range and I was soon back casting a line. Rising trout really are not good for my social skills! Despite several chances I failed to connect and at around 6.00pm we headed for home.

It will not be too long before I get back for a more serious fishing session ensuring I get there well before the fish have their  afternoon siesta and perhaps hanging on for the evening rise as well!

Wimbleball – Beneath a Cloudless blue sky

I had been itching to get back to Wimbleball after lockdown and booked half a day off work mid-week hoping it wouldn’t be too busy. It probably wasn’t the best day to have chosen; the hottest day of the year so far with a cloudless sky. Despite this I arrived full of optimism despite the conditions and headed for Rugg’s bay where there was plenty of room to fish and maintain social distance.

The far bank was full of families and young people soaking up the sun and whilst at first this seemed a little concerning I deemed that several groups may well be from single households. In any case the sounds of fun and laughter drifting across the water was welcome after months of doom and gloom. I am growing increasingly tired of the bitching and blaming that has manifested itself as the COVID crisis has unfolded. Apply a bit of common sense follow the rules and accept that there is always a bit of risk in life.

The walk to the lake along a buttercup lined footpath with young lambs playing in the fields was a delightful start to the afternoon and it was truly good to be alive and out in the English countryside.

I set up a floating line and a team of imitative patterns, a gold-head PTN on the point, a buzzer on the middle dropper and a diawl bach on the top dropper. I was surprised just how far the reservoir had dropped since my last visit back on opening day on March 1st when the lake was full to the brim.

Wading out into the cool clear water I extended the line across the water. Paused to allow the flies to sink a little and started a slow figure of eight retrieve. I expected a pull at any second as I settled into the session. Swallows and martins swooped over the water and birdsong resonated all around.

I kept an eye on other anglers around the lake and caught sight of the occasional bent rod and flurry of foam as a fish neared the net. After about an hour starting the line zipped tight and a hard fighting rainbow of around 3lb posed for the camera.

I fished on optimistically changing the flies from time to time but sticking to the slow imitative approach because that is what I had expected to work.

Slowly as the afternoon slipped into evening I began to lose some of that early confidence. Whilst the occasional fish rose further out it was clear that the hoped for evening rise was not going to happen.

I should perhaps have changed to slow sink line and gone deeper with a lure but on this occasion I had perhaps become too content just enjoying the day going through the motions of fishing the fly.

I drove home as the sun set over Exmoor thinking of my return to the lake in the not to distant future.

Wimbleball in fine Spring Form

Mark Jones and his brother enjoyed a cracking day at Wimbleball where Mark boated a personal best rainbow of 8lb and and another fine rainbow of 5lb 10oz.  Marks fish plus another four over 4lb were tempted using dial bach’s and buzzers. Marks brother boated a 5lb rainbow first cast! The venue is certainly providing some superb sport despite the inclement early spring weather.

WIMBLEBALL – OPENING DAY – MARCH 1st 2020

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Wimbleball is a good hours drive from our house North of Barnstaple but it’s a drive I always enjoy winding across Exmoor’s wild landscape. A wintry dusting covered the moors on the high ground yet signs of spring were all around with daffodils already blooming and the snowdrops already withering.

I had been looking forward to Opening day with anticipation since my last visit to the venue on the close of the season last November. Storm Jorge had forced the cancellation of the boat launch and undoubtedly deterred all but the hardiest of Fly Fishers. I had arranged to meet Fishery Manager Mark Underhill and his wife Trudi for a chat before joining former England International Matt Kingdon at the lakeside. Mark and Trudi have transformed Wimbleball over the past two seasons stocking the lake with large numbers of fighting fit full tailed rainbows and introducing an enlightened catch and release option that enables anglers to enjoy a full day on the bank.

Mark and Trudi Underhill

Early March is not for the faint hearted as it can be bracing. A cold wind was driving across the lake as I walked down to greet Matt who had been fishing for fifteen minutes without a touch. I had set up an intermediate Snowbee Fly Line with a gold headed black lure on an 8lb b.s leader. I never go below 8lb b.s as the trout at Wimbleball have smashed up many an angler’s tippet as they seize the lure.

I waded out into the cold water and put a line out allowing the fly and line to sink a couple of feet before starting a slow erratic retrieve. The cold wind and icy water tingled on the fingers. I settled into the rhythm of casting and retrieving, relishing the ever changing vista of the lake, hills and sky. Dark clouds threatened bringing showers of sleety rain.

Suddenly the line zipped delightfully tight and the rod hooped over as a feisty rainbow lunged and powered away causing the reel to sing pleasingly. Matt grabbed a couple of pleasing images of the battle. The full tailed rainbow was well over three pound and a great start to the day.

A few moments later Matt cursed as a vicious take smashed his 9lb point! Ten minutes or so passed before another rainbow hit my lure and gave an aerobatic display on a tight line.

An hour passed with a couple of fish coming adrift for both Matt and I. The hectic sport we had hoped for was not forthcoming though neither Matt nor I mind having to work for our fish.

When it goes quiet a move is often a good idea as the walk warms the body and the change of location brings an injection of fresh hope. The move brought two hook ups in quick succession with both fish coming off after a few seconds.

An angler appeared at the point to my left and immediately hooked into a trout his line singing tightly in the wind, rod hooped over forming a pleasing image against the horizon.

Matt suggested a move to some deeper water and so we set off once again in search of rainbows. The ongoing search inevitably brought connection for Matt as his black lure was intercepted. The next hour saw us catch a further four trout all cracking thick set rainbows of between 3lb and 4lb.

Dark clouds hastened towards us and icy droplets of  wind blow rain beat upon the face and hands. It was close to 3.00pm and we both were pleased to have had enough for one day. We walked back to the cars chatting eagerly of the season to come and more days beside the water.

With frogspawn in the shallows, hawthorn in bud and the soft grey of pussy willow tipping the branches spring was on its way and days of warm sunshine undoubtedly just a few weeks away as winter inevitably gives way to a new season.

Calling in to fill in our catch returns revealed that other anglers had also enjoyed some great sport with plenty of five fish bags, one individual catching fifteen trout on a catch and release ticket ;all on snakes and lures.

The return journey across the moors to the soundtrack of Johnny Walkers Sounds of the seventies was a fitting end to the days fishing. The poignant sound of Terry Jacks; “Seasons In the Sun” reminded me of a  work colleague whose funeral I attended a couple of days ago. A prompt to savour these precious spring days.

Storm Jorge delays boat launch but there’s still a chance to cast a fly

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A serve weather warning for gale force winds as forced the postponement of the boat launch at Wimbleball but Opening day still has the promise of some exciting bank sport at Wimbeball. Hope to meet a few of you on the bank where I will be fully armed with rod and camera.

Try a black lure on a slow sinking line for some exciting opening day action.

Last casts of the Wimbleball season

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It always seems difficult to fit in enough time for fishing trips so with the season at Wimbleball drawing to a close I was keen to have one last trip at this rejuvenated water. The last two years have seen this large reservoir return to form after a sterling effort by Mark and Trudi Underhill and their team. Regular stocking of full finned hard fighting rainbows has ensured that a building number of Fly Fishing enthusiasts are visiting the lake.

It seemed a good idea to visit the lake on the last day of the 2019 season on Saturday, November 30th. I contacted my good friend and Snowbee Ambassador Jeff Pierce to see if he fancied joining me. He too was keen so we agreed to meet up at 9.00am and take out a boat giving the freedom to explore a larger area than bank fishing.

I am not so sure either of us thought it was such a good idea when we set out at dawn with a bitter east wind and a forecast of temperatures of 5 degrees C. it was certainly a bitterly cold late November day with slate grey skies and a cutting Easterly wind that anglers dread. We have all heard that old saying, “ when the wind is in the East the fish bite the least”.

The only way we were going to enjoy today was to make sure we would keep warm. I had togged up with my full Chillcheater thermals, with a fleece trouser and top. On top of this I wore leggings and a Chillcheater waterproof smock. So suitably wrapped up we climbed onboard the boat and steamed out onto the cold expanse of water.

There were several other anglers braving the elements on the bank all fishing in the Bessom and Rugg’s area of the lake. This area gave some shelter from the wind and had been producing plenty of rainbows in recent weeks.

We both opted to start using sinking lines and a team of flies. Typically, a lure on the point a small imitative pattern on the middle dropper and blob on the top dropper. This was a combination I was to stick with all day.

We dropped anchor and extended our lines searching for fish in keen anticipation. It was great to be out despite the chill conditions and we chatted enthusiastically about past and future fishing forays.

After half an hour neither of us had so much as a pull and decided to make a move. On arrival at our new destination Jeff spotted a fish rise which gave some optimism. I heard a curse from Jeff  who had just cast out letting the line sink as he retrieved a drink from his tackle bag. The rod tip had surged over, loose line zipping tight. A momentary connection followed before the fish shook itself free from the barbless hook. A few minutes later Jeff saw another rise and cast hopefully immediately connecting with a hard fighting rainbow that had seized a tiny diawl bach as the flies hit the water. The rainbow would have weighed around 3lb and was carefully released at the side of the boat.

We fished on in this spot for a while before moving again and again in search of elusive trout. We saw that the bank anglers were enjoying some success with their rods bent and reels screaming in protest. To our surprise they seemed to be catching on floating lines despite the conditions.

Jeff worked hard as always changing his lines from sinking to intermediate and to a full floater. I persisted with the sinking line approach believing that most fish would be down deep. What I did do was change the tip fly on a regular basis and vary my retrieve. Slow and steady, fast and erratic. Sometimes letting the line sink deep and on other casts commencing the retrieve as soon as the fly hit the water.

Eventually the line zipped delightfully tight as something hit a damsel nymph beneath the boat. The fish fought deep swimming in circles with no long fast runs. To our surprise it was beautiful spotted brown trout  of round 2lb that appeared at the surface.

Jeff grabbed a quick picture of the fish at the side of boat and I let the out of season fish swim away into the chill water.

It was now early afternoon and we fished on relishing the challenge buoyed by some success. We both agreed that we looked forward to a return in the spring as swallows swooped low over the water, buds were breaking on the trees and trout were lazily sipping buzzers from warm waters caressed by a gentle breeze. Despite thoughts of spring and summer there is still something beguiling about this bleak winter landscape.

We continued to make regular moves hoping to locate a pod of fish. Once again my line pulled tight and another fine brown trout was brought to the side of the boat.

We watched the bank anglers continuing to enjoy some success which spurred us on to fish ever harder expectant of action with every cast. Jeff had several pulls that he failed to convert.

When my line again drew tight I was convinced I had hooked a big rainbow. The rod took on an alarming curve and line was ripped from the reel. For a minute or so the fish had the better of me causing a few anxious moments as it threatened to take the line around the anchor rope. Relishing the battle I piled on the pressure hoping Jeff would capture the bent rod as the fish tested my tackle. It was undoubtedly a very good fish as we caught a glimpse of its flanks in the clear cold water. Eventually the pressure told and a beautiful brown trout that must have been closer to five pounds than four broke the surface. The fish was drawn into Jeff’s rubber meshed net and carefully unhooked before a quick picture above the water. A stunning fish that would make this a day to remember.

We fished on for another hour moving a few more times but my arm was starting to ache. I suggested to Jeff that another ten minutes would do for me and I don’t think he was too disappointed at my suggestion. It was after all close to 4.00pm by the time we had moored the boat back at the launch pontoon.

We vowed to return in the spring at the start of a new season. It promises to be a good one if this season is anything to go by.