Category: fly fishing lessons

Trout at Thornwood Springs

Thornwood Springs is an interesting trout fishery not far from Epping tube station. It offers year round fly fishing for trout in peaceful surroundings:

Thornwood Springs trout lake

Jan came along for a fly fishing lesson, accompanied by Tim, a previous customer of mine. We started off with some dry land casting practice, followed by a discussion of fly fishing tackle and tactics.

While this was going on, Tim caught a couple of fish on a hare’s ear nymph (a traditional pattern that has been catching trout for hundreds of years). When Jan started fishing we tried a couple of different patterns to no avail. After 30 mins or so we shamelessly begged Tim for the magic fly, and it soon did the trick:

Jan playing a trout

Jan’s first ever trout was duly landed by Tim:

Landing a trout at Thornwood springs

I was back the next day for more lessons. Taking a walk round the lake beforehand I encountered some interesting insect life. This is the shuck left behind after a dragonfly nymph emerged from the water, climbed up a reed stem and hatched out into an adult fly:

Dragon fly nymph shuck

A cinnabar moth:

Cinnabar moth

My customer Leigh was getting ready for a forthcoming trip to Iceland. He had already had a casting lesson on grass and it was now time to try and catch a fish. It took a little while to get the casting going again; after that it was all about keeping the rod tip low and the line straight so as to be able to feel if a fish took. Eventually one did:

Leigh with his first trout

We had a look at the other lake after that, but we had no further action. The casting was flagging a little now, but that is quite usual when you are learning. With some short practice sessions I would expect Leigh to make rapid progress.

Fly fishing at Thornwood Springs

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!

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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