Trying everything in the box

Have you ever tried “everything in the box?”  Now that I am lucky enough to manage Exe Valley Fishery I guess I interact with anglers more than ever and this phrase seems to pop up all of the time.  Of course I have heard it before, many, many times but over the last few weeks it has been seriously interesting to watch at very close quarters how anglers approach the venue.  Granted, Exe Valley is hardly the worlds most difficult fishery, but people do still blank and I think I know why.  They head out to the waters edge and then have a session of tying knots and choosing flies!  This means that their flies are not in the water and …. you know the rest.

That paragraph may seem like hypocrisy coming from a tackle shop owner with several hundred fly patterns on display but the point is that all the flies known to man will work at sometime or another.  But rather than always fixating on flies why not use a little water craft?  A few days ago I watched a bloke heave out a fast sinking line into the middle of the lake while just a few yards from the bank a decent Rainbow was minding its own business, almost begging to be cast at.  The gentleman in question had the right approach, he was fishing deep and in the flat calm, bright sunny conditions this was sensible.  But he was struggling and a brief discussion revealed he was changing his flies frequently trying to find the “right” pattern.

Exe Valley Record Brown Trout

Keith Ratcliffe with the record Exe Valley Brown Trout of 12lb 4oz taken on a #14 Black Buzzer

Just to prove a point check out this stunning fish taken a few days back on nothing more than a #14 Black Buzzer … perhaps one of the most simple of patterns.  The grinning captor is Keith Ratcliffe who is always in amongst plenty of fish and seems to winkle out more than a few specimens.  His approach is generally simple (which is often best), a longish leader, small imitative flies and a slow retrieve.  I have rubbed shoulders with many anglers that use these simplistic techniques observing carefully how deep their flies are fishing and the speed of retrieve they are using … rarely do they end the day with a blank.  A fly with that little extra “je ne sais quoi” may help the process but often this is nothing more than a Buzzer with an interesting wing bud!

Or why not try a dry if conditions allow?  Over the weekend I was guiding Robert Cleave who spent the morning working on his casting before we transferred to a stunning lake on Exmoor, stocked with Brown Trout.  Robert had never hooked a fish on a dry and was intrigued by my opinion that this deadly technique is so simple.  Helping to tackle up (while becoming increasingly excited by the fishing popping up all around!)  I explained all about how the hatching insects were becoming trapped by the tight surface film present on this beautiful spring day and the fact that these fish living their life at high altitude would now be eagerly hunting after the hard winter.  Carefully “Ginking” the fly and degreasing the leader Robert used his new found casting skills to good effect unrolling our tapered leader perfectly, a #14 Harry Potter dry positioned enticingly amongst a group of rising Trout.  It did not take long to fool our first feisty Brown!

Exmoor Brown Trout

Rob Cleave with an Exmoor Lake Brown Trout

In all honesty it was like taking candy from a baby and yet we were fishing with ancient tactics based around nothing more than a little observation and some understanding of where the fish would be hunting for their food.  To prove a point a breeze picked up periodically and killed the surface action, so we rigged up with a Black Buzzer under an indicator instead.  I set this at around 3 feet …. and nothing happened …. was this a time to change to fly?  It may seem like the obvious answer but we had just been catching on the surface and were seeing Buzzers hatching, so an imitation pupa was the obvious choice.  Instead we set the fly to fish at 2ft and instantly Robert was hooked up to a really lively fish, one of the original Loch Leven stock fish which have inhabited the lake for several years.  After a quick photo it was returned safely and we set about discussing the importance of depth over fly choice.  It is well worth thinking about, especially during the incredible run of fine weather that we have been experiencing recently.

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