Saturday 4th March, 2017
Back at Ellerdine Lakes today for a spot of winter fly fishing. Despite a temperature of just 4-5°C, it felt a lovely day with bright sun, a very gentle breeze and the start of that "spring" feeling, including the first signs of blossom on the trees.
We got started on Meadow Lake and were fishing a mixture of FNF Ellerdine Enigmas on the intermediate line, or blobs and buzzers beneath the indicator. While we didn't get a touch, we did see a few other anglers into good fish.
Opposite us, Welsh International fly fisher Lewis Rumble hooked into a double figure rainbow of 12-13 pounds, which put up an excellent fight. The usual hot spot at the bottom of Meadow also resulted in a couple of smaller rainbows for another angler.
Around lunchtime we got to watch some stocking, which rarely happens at the weekends. The fish being added were quite spectacular, being mainly large hen and cock tiger trout. The hens were very chunky and robust fish, but it's the males that look best. At sexual maturity they develop bright colouration, a massive kype and a weird wrinkled dorsal surface.
However, for us it proved to be a really tough day. Despite changing methods, flies, depths, retrieves, lakes and spots constantly throughout the day, we really struggled to get a bite.
The best we managed was a couple of rises to our dry flies on Lakemoor, after we watched a succession of fish rise to feed on something small and black that was hatching by the reeds. By 1pm we'd decided to call it a day and head home defeated with a blank each.
On the plus side, this week I had not been beaten by a child. Every cloud...
Final score: Nil-Nil draw.
Friday 10th March, 2017
An invite to fish the beautiful River Ribble in Lancashire with my friend Pete meant a rare day off during the week. We were fishing the Mitton beat of the Ribble which is run Ribble Rivers Trust and can be fished on one of their day tickets.
The village is beautiful, the beat and the parking are on the main road, there's a pub nearby and the river is stunning. The beat is long and varied, with about a mile of left bank fishing covering a variety of habitats, from glides and riffles to deeper pools.
The river had been a metre or more higher in the previous days, and was still running 20cm higher than usual, so the water was clear and the bottom flushed clean of debris.
I spent the first hour or two doing some French nymphing, while Pete was trotting maggots through the runs to search for the grayling. He caught a small grayling early on, then a couple of nice trout from a slower, deeper stretch, but the best I managed was a pull from a tiny fish, and then a rise to my dry fly later on.
To locate where the fish might be, we kept moving downstream, fishing as we went. By early afternoon, as we headed towards the junction where the River Hodder flows into the Ribble, we found the fish.
There was plenty of wildlife in this area and we managed to watch some dippers diving under the water, got a few glimpses of kingfishers and heard their mating calls, and even spotted an egret or two.
I lost a small grayling in a run of faster water, while Pete returned one from the same stretch. However, it wasn't until I put down the fly rod and tried my hand at trotting that things really picked up. Trotting was a totally new thing to me, so I needed a quick lesson to get me started.
We were fishing long 14' specialist trotting rods and closed-face or centre pin reels with "Bolo" floats and olivettes for weights. This is rather different to what I usually fish with, and the Wallis and Nottingham casts required take a bit of learning. However, it was fairly easy to get the hang of and I managed two grayling in the first run, and missed many more.
After the bites stopped in this faster run, we moved further down past the junction to a slower deeper stretch with some back eddies. Pete described this as "chub city" - and it would appear he was right. After a few minutes of fishing the run, I felt the heavy weight and characteristic thumping of an angry chub.
After a tough fight it was in the net and quickly returned after a quick snap. The same technique brought me a couple of nice browns from the same stretch, while Pete had several more trout and more grayling.
It was a really enjoyable day in superb surroundings and it made a change to fish with something other than a fly rod.
Final score: Pete - three grayling, three brown trout. Matt - two grayling, two brown trout, one chub.
Saturday 11th March, 2017
With only a half day spare for our regular weekend fly fishing trip, George and I opted to head over to Chirk Trout Fishery to enjoy the mild and spring-like weather. We had a warm welcome and plenty of tips from the owner, as well as the entire place to ourselves!
The trout at Chirk aren't massive, averaging about a pound, but they are superb quality and fight really well on light gear. They're certainly no less fun than the slightly bigger fish stocked elsewhere. The scenery and tranquility at Chirk is also fantastic - it's a beautiful little fishery.
The sport was excellent and the fish were biting well. They appeared to be hunting for food today and in the mood for chasing lures and George was into a nice little rainbow within the first few minutes.
The lake here is spring fed so the water is fresh and crystal clear and we could see the trout cruising around in the top 12 inches of water, just above the weed beds.
Darker flies, nymphs and anything natural or static seemed to be getting ignored and I couldn't even tempt anything to rise for an F fly.
The killer technique, George quickly discovered, was to cast out a small pale coloured bead-headed fly - he picked a cat's whisker, but I used a white dancer - let it sink for five seconds and then pull it back in short six inch strips.
With good eyesight and polarised glasses, you'd often spot one of the fish turn and start to follow the fly. Speed up the retrieve to make it think the prey is getting away and - fish on! Within the first half hour he was 3:1 up on my efforts...
The clear water made it possible to actually watch the fish chasing down the fly and engulfing it. It was astonishing quite how many fish chased the fly and slashed at it from side to side, without any tug being felt or movement in the fly line being observed.
After lunch the fish went off the feed a bit, and the pulling method stopped working and the fish wised up, so we wandered around the lake to see what else was moving. We found a few fish in the inlet at the top of the lake where the water flows in from upstream. Among these were some stunning little perch with very pale bodies and dark bold stripes.
Unfortunately, we couldn't persuade these to take our flies, so headed round to the far side and tried the lures again. The move did the trick and we were both into fish after a few minutes. The one I hooked was a much bigger fish, but unfortunately it decided to plough into a weed bed and the line snapped. George though, managed to land his.
Final score: George 6, Matt 5.
Saturday 18th March, 2017
George picked Llandegla for today's expedition as he figured the wet and windy weather would mean we'd probably have the lakes to ourselves. He was right. All the sensible fly fishers had stayed indoors in the warm and dry, but in doing so, they'd missed out on some excellent fishing.
George was fishing his #5 Echo Distance Competition fly rod today and had teamed it up with a Barrio GT125 line and picked an FNF Collosus Tequila Blob he'd stolen from my box while I wasn't looking. I went for the two rods approach, with the Orvis rigged up with a Barrio GT125 floater and the Loop with a Barrio SLXi intermediate.
I was first to hook up, after a very strong rainbow took my orange fritz fly in the margins of the middle lake on the Barrio SLXi. It only stayed attached for a minute, before slipping the hook. Moments later, another was attached, which did the same thing. Then I lost a third and a fourth fish. Blaming the cheap hook used, I switched over to my FNF Jelly Fritz version of the Ellerdine Enigma and finally had a secure hook set and the first fish in the net.
While I was getting plenty of action - and landed several fish - on the intermediate line, George was sticking at it with his floating line and soon had a couple of fish to his (or my) tequila blobs.
By lunchtime the windy and rain had become really unpleasant, so after a warming drink in the cafe, we decided to face into the wind and fish the margins. This was hard work but definitely did the trick, with both of getting loads of follows, pulls and several more fish.
The killer technique of the day was to cast out your lure, count it down for 5-10 seconds and then pull fast in short six inch strips so the fly pulsated in the water. A pause here or there and the all important hanging of the flies at the end of the cast, would often result in the flies being grabbed, if the fish didn't smash them on the way in.
The more sheltered lower lake didn't fish as well as the windswept upper lake, which showed that it was worth braving the elements to find the trout which had followed the food into the windiest corner of the lake. With a dozen fish between us, and easily as many lost on the way in, we'd had a great day on the banks.
Final score: Matt 8, George 4.
Saturday 25th March, 2017
Ellerdine Lakes looked beautiful today, with a hard frost and some lovely spring weather. Sadly, the lack of wind and the bright sunshine meant it would be a tough day fishing wise, but it was definitely great for being outdoors.
At the lodge we were told that dries had been working well when the wind had been blowing, so we figured the fish might be looking up and more active in the surface layers, so George put on a CDC F fly while I went for a suspender hopper and a pair of crunchers on the droppers.
While we didn't get any interest, regular Eddie Guest took a lovely near double figure hen tiger trout from the top of Meadow. It was a very deep and solid fish and in great condition, and amazingly, he followed it up later than morning with another just like it.
For me, the most interest to my flies was paid when I switched to the intermediate. Apache lures seem to be popular at Ellerdine at the moment, so I tried some I'd tied earlier this week. These flies are made from a tail of thick white marabou and have a body made from white mink wrapped around the shank. A collar of coloured UV dubbing finishes the fly off.
After a few minutes I was into my first fish, but it managed to slip the hook very quickly. Moments later, another pulled the same trick, then another. And so, my day became one of losing fish, rather than catching them. I'm not sure why. I've recently switched to new Fulling Mill Competition Heavy Weight hooks, so maybe that's why. They seem mega sharp but perhaps the fish can slip them more easily than the debarbed Kamasan's I used before.
At least we were getting pulls, though. The sunny weather was making it tough for most people, so catches were lower than usual for Ellerdine. George eventually gave up on the trout and fished for the roach and rudd that we could see below the surface on most of the lakes.
He had a nice little rudd first cast, and followed it up with lots more, so this kept him entertained. He also managed a couple of medium sized roach too, so he's crossed off another couple of species from his tally for the year.
A move to the back end of Cranymoor Lake led to another lost fish for me, this time on an FNF Colossus Orange blob with a long marabou tail. It did at least stay attached for a few minutes, though. Five minutes later I eventually managed to hook and land a fish, narrowly avoiding a blank.
Final score: George 6 (rudd and roach), Matt 1