Taking up trout fishing

Over the last few weeks, the Rib Valley trout have been feeding on various different flies close to or on the surface. This photo shows the stomach contents of one fish – midge pupa, mayfly, honey bee, a small black fly I can’t identify and a couple of buzzer shucks:

Trout stomach contents

At times it has been difficult to know what fly to use. I have had a few trout on this floating pattern which resembles a number of different natural insects:

Dry sedge

The suspender buzzer, representing a midge pupa hanging at the surface, has also been effective:

Suspender buzzer

Even when the trout seem to be preoccupied with natural prey, they will still sometimes take non-imitative lures like the black and green:

Black and green lure

Dan and James had signed up for my fly fishing course because they wanted to try something a bit different after years of coarse fishing. When it came to their fishing session, conditions were ideal with an overcast sky and a decent breeze:

Fly casting

Using the black and green lure, it didn’t take long for James to connect with his first ever trout, which he duly landed:

James's first trout

After 20 minutes, nothing had shown any interest in Dan’s damsel nymph, so with fish moving in front of us it was clearly time for a change. I rigged him up with a suspender buzzer on the point and a normal sinking buzzer on a dropper. This is the ‘washing line’ rig which keeps the dropper fly fishing close to the surface. It was soon proven to be the right choice, with this nicely marked rainbow taking the sunk buzzer:

Dan's first trout

Dan could probably have had a couple more fish; he missed one due to slack line, and I saw another take his point fly, but he didn’t realise.


The next day Louis came for the second part of his fly fishing course, having done the initial casting lesson a few weeks back. The morning was a brief escape from work for him, as he was due back in the office later on.

Conditions were a bit different now – bright and warm with virtually no breeze – so I thought we might struggle.

We rigged up the washing line and started fishing in stealth mode, staying back from the water’s edge in case the fish were close in:

Close range fly fishing

Trout were indeed rising occasionally just a short distance out, sometimes very close to the flies:

Close range fly fishing

After about ten minutes there was a heavy boil where I thought Louis’s point fly was. He did not react at first so I shouted out “it’s you”, prompting him to strike. It is very easy to miss these surface feeding fish, but luckily he connected:

Louis's first trout

Louis had no more action after that, but he was happy to have caught his first trout and would no doubt be daydreaming about it later on, back at his desk!

Reservoir rainbows

Another trout fishing excursion with my friend Rich, this time to Bewl Water in Kent, a large reservoir. It was formed in the 70s by putting a concrete dam across the River Bewl:

Bewl Water

Having never been there before, the first thing on arrival was take advice from the tackle shop as to where best to start. Their top tip was the corner of the dam, so that’s where we headed (never ignore local info):

Rich at Bewl

As we climbed over the dam wall and crept into position, we were glad to see a gentle breeze blowing left to right, ruffling the surface. This would attract the trout by concentrating food items in front of us, and help us catch them by disguising our lines somewhat. On my first cast, a fish boiled at the flies as I lifted them off to recast. On the next, another fish rose but again with no contact. By now I was expecting a hook up at any second, but the moment passed. Minutes later though, the line suddenly jerked tight while I was sorting out a tangle, catching me by surprise. Fish on:

Playing a trout

A streamlined rainbow on the same black and red buzzer that has been working well recently at Rib Valley:

Bewl rainbow

After a couple of hours with no further action we decided on a move. We jumped in the car and went to explore the far end of one of the arms of the reservoir. It was easier casting there, but we only saw a couple of fish move in the now flat calm conditions. It was a good opportunity to sit on the grass, enjoy the scenic surroundings and grab something to eat.

Lunch over, and with no evidence there were any fish in front of us, we made the obvious move – back to the less attractive but more fishy environment of the dam, which should hopefully be catching what little wind there still was.

As we arrived back, my spirits soared at the sight of wavelets across the whole area. I felt we were back in the game. Sure enough, I bumped a trout on each of my first two casts, then finally got one to stick. By the time this photo was taken, the breeze had died again:

Fish on at Bewl

Another one for the black and red buzzer:

Bewl trout

Most of the lake was now like a mirror, but heavy cloud gave us reason to hope that conditions might change again:

Bewl flat calm

I went for a bit of a wander and found these unusual looking flowers growing on the bank:

Bewl flowers

Towards dusk, the ripple returned and I was confident we would get more takes, but it was not to be. Unfortunately Rich did not hit one fish all day. Hard to say why, although he was using a shorter leader than me which might have made a difference. We were probably both guilty of not varying our flies and tactics a bit more.

When I checked the stomach contents of my fish the next day, they contained some small green buzzers about 5mm long plus various other insects even smaller:

Bewl trout stomach contents

I will definitely try some smaller patterns next time.

Learning fly casting

The satisfaction we get from fly fishing is hard to put neatly into words. It comes from studying the feeding behaviour of the trout, choosing an appropriate artificial fly and then feeling the line tighten when a fish takes it. It also comes from fly casting itself, which is sometimes effortless, sometimes challenging.

First you have to learn to cast, of course, which takes a bit longer than it does with coarse fishing equipment. Most people will be good enough to go fishing after one or two lessons and a bit of practice. They often find the learning process to be much more rewarding than they expected.

My fly casting lessons have been continuing this April at Rib Valley in Hertfordshire and Broomfield Park, London, N13. We start off on grass before progressing to the water. This makes it easier to build up the cast through a series of simple exercises. I take pictures and video clips to share with my students after the lesson, to help them see what is going on.

To introduce some pictures from recent sessions, this is what we want to see at the start of a cast, the rod starting to bend under smooth acceleration:

Start of fly cast

We then need to stop the rod, creating a loop of line that unrolls in the air:

Open loop fly cast

The narrower the loop, the better:

Narrow loop fly cast

A pause allows the line to rolls out smoothly behind (ready to be sent forward again, over the water):

Fly cast pause

The main value of video clips is that they help us identify and correct faults. Here, we have a good narrow loop, but waves and slack in the line indicate that the cast is underpowered:

Wavy line back cast

Here is a similar thing on the forward cast:

Wavy line forward cast

All this analysis may seem a bit dry and technical, but at the end of the day, it helps you catch more fish:

Rainbow trout
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