The depths of winter

A recent fly fishing session at Rib Valley got off to a slow start, despite odd fish moving in front of me. I tried imitative patterns such as bloodworm and buzzer on a floating line, then lures on a sinking line, with no sign of a take as far as I could tell.

Moving to the other side of the lake, I started fishing by the floating cage which holds trout yet to be stocked:

Trout cage at Rib Valley

This cage seems to have a strong attraction for the free swimming fish, maybe because they associate with the shoal inside. After a few attempts I dropped my fly inches from the woodwork. I was using a black goldhead:

Black goldhead trout fly

As the fly sank, the nylon leader moved slightly, indicating a take. My strike hit solid resistance but a split second later the rod straightened and the line fell slack. The fish was gone. Ten blank minutes later, my attention started to wander. As I turned to speak to a nearby angler, I felt the line twitch and managed to connect with a decent rainbow:

Rainbow trout

After a while I started using a “bung”  – a small plastic float – to suspend the flies. One advantage of this method is that it provides good bite indication. I rigged it up with a bloodworm pattern set to fish about eight feet down:

Bung and bloodworm fly

Having never used a bung before I was pleased eventually to see it drag beneath the surface – a bit like those barrels in Jaws! Sweeping the rod back I could feel a trout thumping away deep down, and soon had it in the net:

Trout on bloodworm

It took a while to get a third fish; a crosswind was catching the line, dragging the fly sideways and upwards, which is much less effective than a static, deep presentation. When I persuaded the bung to come to rest against the cage, it disappeared again. A switch back to a lure brought a fourth fish to the bank and the session to an end.

Two days later I was accompanied by my good fishing mate Rich. With strong winds blowing we were glad to find the cage moored on the sheltered side of the lake. Rich got off the mark quickly, albeit in an unconventional manner. A trout picked up his fly a couple of feet from the bank after he had thrown it in by hand before casting. They all count I suppose:

Rich and trout

I was fishing bloodworm again, but on a long leader without a bung. The idea was to get the fly deep without sinking the end of the fly line, and to watch and feel the line for indications of a take.

With this approach, concentration is key. After casting, you watch the point where the leader cuts under the surface, while taking up slack line. Any abnormal movement could be a fish stopping the fly, or you may feel a very slight increase in tension. Either way, you need to tighten up quickly. Sometimes you find yourself striking without really knowing why. I had a burst of action with three fish on the bloodworm, plus a couple missed.

Rich meanwhile had been plugging away to no avail, other than one fish hooked and lost. He broke the deadlock with this fish on a lure which he had cast out, allowed to sink well down and then retrieved slowly:

Rich with a trout

As dusk closed in we moved to the downwind side of the lake where other anglers were doing well. With our sinking lines and lures we quickly had a fish each, and missed a couple. The trout were close in; one dashed at my fly right under the rod tip. They were probably searching for insects and other food items pushed in by the breeze.

January fishing lessons

In the first half of January the weather was good for fishing: not too cold and not too windy. I like the winter. It is much quieter on the bank, with fewer people about, and this enhances the feeling of getting away from it all.

Curt came for a lesson. One of the first things he learned was how to bait the hook:

Baiting the hook

We were using pinkies for bait, a type of small maggot, half the size of the usual ones. When the water is cold, the fish aren’t as hungry and smaller baits can be more effective. Soon Curt was fishing, with just me and a swan for company:

Winter lake fishing

The fish were a bit elusive to start with, but eventually he caught his first ever fish – a small perch:

Curt's first fish

Next I showed him how to set up the rod and reel:

Setting up the rod and reel

After a casting tutorial, he was able to fish further out into the lake, and after missing a few bites, caught this roach. Not big, but it indicated he was starting to master the skills of casting, line control, striking and retrieving:

Curt's roach

Beth and Dan were looking to take up fishing as an outdoor activity they could do together. I started them off whip fishing and they both caught roach and perch. Here is Dan with a perch:

Dan's perch

We moved on to the rod and reel, where there is quite a lot to learn including assembling the tackle, adjusting the drag and how to bring a fish in. Learning to cast is quite easy:

Learning to cast

It is crucial to learn how to undo the inevitable tangles around the reel and wind the line back on neatly, as Beth is doing here:

Fixed spool reel line control

For the last 45 mins we went back to fishing. As the light started to go, we had a bit of a magic spell during which Beth caught several good sized perch on the whip, while Dan was getting a bite every cast with the waggler float on the rod and reel. It is quite common at any time of year for the fish to start biting more freely as dusk approaches.

Matt and his son Seb had never fished before but hoped it might become a shared interest in the future. I got them to work together where possible, for example, threading the line through the rings of the rod:

Father and son fishing

They both caught a few fish:

Matt's roach

Seb was surprised at how hard even a small perch can pull! He also learned that you have to concentrate on the float at all times, as otherwise you miss the bites. As the session drew to a close, Matt was in the zone:

Winter lake fishing

When the whiting are biting

Over Christmas I was in Devon with family, so of course I took some fishing tackle with me. After a couple of days of turkey, mince pies, drink etc I was ready for some fresh air, so I headed out for a spot of rock fishing.

I wanted to check out a potential new fishing location (or ‘mark’ in sea angling parlance), in Plymouth. In the event I didn’t like the look of it, so it was back to Torbay to a mark I had fished before.

By the time I got there it was low water, about half past two, so I would be fishing a rising tide with the light gradually fading. This is often a good set of circumstances for sea fishing.

I cast out quite a long way, beyond the rocks onto clean sand. It was then a matter of putting the rod onto a tripod, tightening up the line and watching for signs of fishy interest.

Rock fishing

It didn’t take long for the rod tip to twitch, signalling that somewhere out there a fish had located my worm bait on the bottom. I soon caught a dogfish, then a bit later, a nice whiting:


After it got dark, I started holding the rod, keeping the line taut over my fingers. Fishing like this, you can feel the line pulse and twitch when the fish attack the bait. It’s a rather weird sensation, especially in the dark when your sense of touch seems to be heightened.

By the time I packed up at high tide, I had caught several good sized whiting and some pouting (smaller than whiting, but members of the same cod family). All the whiting came at long range while the pouting where close in, by the rocks.

The next day my brother-in-law converted the whiting into fish and chips. He is a dab hand in the kitchen (no pun intended). Served up with some sea beet he had foraged, they were good eating, quite delicate.

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