How to fish Fewston Reservoir, North Yorkshire

Fewston Reservoir is one of the most beautiful places to fish in the Yorkshire Dales, if not the UK. Here are our fly fishing tips for this venue.

How to fish Fewston Reservoir, North Yorkshire
© Fly and Lure
How to fish Fewston Reservoir, North Yorkshire
Picture copyright © Fly and Lure
How to fish Fewston Reservoir, North Yorkshire
Estimated reading time 11 - 18 minutes

Where is Fewston Reservoir?

Fewston Reservoir lies in the middle of the Washburn Valley, a short drive from Otley, Skipton and Harrogate in the stunning Yorkshire Dales National Park.

Although a man-made reservoir, Fewston feels a very natural place and the atmosphere is much like fishing in the English Lake District. It's really just a stunning place to fish and visit.

Fewston lies alongside Swinsty Reservoir, which is also a fly fishing venue, and is downstream of Thruscross Reservoir, which is a wild brown trout fishery. You can fish all three of them on the same day ticket. Both Fewston and Thruscross are fly only, but you can coarse, lure and fly fish on Swinsty.

How big is Fewston Reservoir?

Fewston is pretty big at 155 acres, so it can feel a bit daunting the first time you fish it. Moving from one side to the other to avoid the wind can involve a 20-30 minute walk, so it's important to choose your spot carefully upon arrival.

I tend to do quite a bit of walking when I fish Fewston and can easily cover a few miles during the day exploring the banks looking for fish moving or rising.

What fish are present in Fewston?

Fewston holds a good head of wild brown trout, as well as stocked rainbows and the odd blue trout. There are also some coarse fish present - mainly perch, roach, dace, chub and bream, but no pike.

Aside from the perch, the coarse fish in Fewston don't seem to take a fly quite so readily as those in Swinsty, where you can catch quite large numbers on the fly at times.

The perch in Fewston are plentiful and love to take a fly.

How big are the trout in Fewston?

The wild browns tend to be fairly small - often around the 8-12oz size. However, I've had a few nice browns here that have topped a couple of pounds and they're stunning things, especially the cock fish.

The rainbows are stocked every few weeks between spring and autumn and are typically in the pound to pound and a quarter size range, so not huge. However, they pull hard for their size and there are generally some larger over-wintered fish present, some of which get to over six pounds.

The wild browns in Fewston are fairly small but very pretty.

Can you fish from the bank or by boat?

Despite the large size, you can't fish Fewston or Swinsty from a boat. It's strictly bank fishing only.

Do I need waders to fish Fewston?

Waders are essential if you're fishing Fewston. There are very few areas where you can fish right off the bank without needing to get your feet wet.

Some areas require wading to get out to deeper water, but generally you'll need to wade in order to give yourself sufficient back casting room.

In most places the wading is fairly safe, but there are places where there are very steep drop offs formed by the river cliffs of the River Washburn which flows through. There are also a number of cavernous holes into which unsuspecting fly fishers can inadvertently step. I've been down at least two of them!

There are only a few spots on Fewston where you won't need waders.

What are the conditions like at Fewston?

The water is clear at Fewston but the surrounding pine trees and vegetation along the valley mean that the water is heavily stained with tannic and humic acids, so although clear you won't see much below the surface.

As it's open to the elements and situated high up in the Dales, it can bear the brunt of foul weather. It's lovely on days when it's still or there's a gentle breeze, but strong winds can make fishing tough when the weather is bad.

Where can I escape the wind?

Wind sweeps along the length of Fewston, with the prevailing winds travelling up the length of the reservoir towards the dam. If you want to seek shelter from the wind, there are a few spots on the right hand side of the reservoir nearest the car park in which trees provide shelter.

However, if you can handle casting in the windier spots, this is where you'll find most of the fish. They tend to follow the wind and feed where the food has been blown, so fishing towards the dam wall can pay off if you don't mind battling the wind.

Few fisheries look as amazing as this.

How easy is the fishing?

Like most large upland reservoirs, the fishing at Fewston can often be quite challenging at times. During the summer months when the water is warm and the water levels drop, it becomes an exceptionally difficult place to crack.

However, if you pick the right day and find the fish you can really catch lots of fish here. I've had a few days where I've topped 20 trout - browns and rainbows - on natural nymph patterns, emergers and dries.

Is it suitable for beginners or children?

Fewston was one of the first places I fished when I started fly fishing. I liked it because I could practise without embarrassing myself with my poor casting, however, there are definitely easier places to fish.

If you're a novice and live in the area you're probably better off trying a smaller, less intimidating stillwater like Kilnsey Park Fly Fishery, Raygill Lakes or Helwith Bridge Fly Fishery before you take on Fewston.

George has fished Fewston with me several times but has only caught perch. As he's too small to wade, he's struggled to get his flies out far enough to reach the trout, so Fewston isn't the best place for junior fly fishers. Swinsty next door is a better bet. 

Are there any known hotspots?

As with any large stillwater, you can catch fish anywhere, and as Fewston is so big and doesn't get a lot of fishing pressure, there are places that probably don't get fished for weeks or months at a time. Having fished it a few dozen times, there are a number of places I tend to try first:

Dam Corner South is worth a try if you want to escape strong winds.

Dam Corner North

The northern corner of the dam at Fewston sits near the house at the side furthest from the car park. To access the corner you need to follow the road over the dam, walk past the house, go up the steps into the woods, follow the path round and hop over the style.

The prevailing wind blows debris and food into this corner so it often harbours fish. I tend to wade out a few metres (it slopes off a little quicker here) and then cast towards the corner. In the summer months you may see a couple of large koi basking here too!

Dam Corner South

Dam Corner South is by far the most heavily fished part of Fewston, mainly because it's the spot nearest the car park. The first bay here sometimes fishes OK, especially when fish are rising for dries.

You can wade out a little way to give yourself more backcasting room, but you need to look out for walkers, dogs and cyclists as the paths are nearby. Be careful not to wade too far here. There's a massive hole you could fit a car into and you'll go under if you step into it.

By far the most productive area is generally the shallow area in front of the overflow that trickles into Swinsty when the water level is high. The water here is only a few feet deep and you can wade out quite a long way to find fish. If you walk over the dam, you'll often see wading anglers hooking up here.

Stocking Lane

The side of Fewston near the Stocking Lane used to replenish the fish stocks can be a very good place to fish during the spring and summer. The bank here drops off sharply in some places so, depending on where you're fishing, you could be over deep water - so wade with caution.

Though I have never experienced it, I'm told that in the days after trout are stocked, they often hold in this area so it's a popular one with the locals. Again, watch out for dog walkers. They often come into the area marked "anglers only" and don't understand the danger in which they're placing themselves, so watch your backcast.

River End

River End is at the very far end of Fewston. It takes a good 30-40 minutes to walk down here, which is hard work in waders. However, there's another car park on the main road if you don't fancy the walk.

As the name suggests, this is the end of Fewston and where the River Washburn enters, bringing with it lots of nutrients and invertebrate life from the river valley above. The terrain varies from weedy and muddy to steep rocky drop-offs, so again you need to take care when wading.

During the summer it can be brilliant for dry fly and nymph fishing here and you'll often find some good browns lurking in the deeper spots, as well as plenty of rainbows. Hardly anyone makes the effort to fish this end, though.

What gear will I need?

It depends on the weather. In windy conditions a six or seven weight rod will be needed to get your flies out, but when it's calmer and you're being stealthy and tackling the trout with dries or nymphs then a four or five weight rod is ideal.

In the spring, summer and autumn, a floating line is all you'll need, but an intermediate is really useful in the winter months, as you'll often find that the fish are out further and down deeper.

What flies are most effective at Fewston?

The trout in Fewston are little different to those elsewhere and they'll take most flies. During the spring there are often lots of small black flies around, so make sure you have some similar dries in your box.

Buzzers tend to work pretty much all year round, with a good tactic being to fish them either beneath and indicator or washing line style with a foam hopper, FAB or booby on the point.

Nymphs can be excellent at Fewston, especially slightly bigger ones in the size 10-12 range. Take plenty with you as the rocky shores of the reservoir love to steal these from you.

Lures are also worth trying. Black and green tends to work very well, but so do brighter colours such as pink and orange, so work your way through your fly box until you find what's working.

There are some very friendly locals who fish here, so if you're stuck they'll only be too happy to give you some pointers or even a fly to try.

Can you fish all year round?

Fewston Reservoir is open for fishing all year round. However, during the winter months when the resident browns are running up the Washburn River to spawn, fishing is restricted to weekends only.

Fishing at Fewston tends to best in the spring and autumn and on summer evenings. It's tougher in the winter and can be very challenging when the weather is hot. In fact, unless you either go early or late during the hottest part of the summer it's probably not worth the bother.

A typical Fewston rainbow taken home for tea.

Does it get busy?

Fewston can get very busy with walkers, but it's not heavily fished by anglers. Many times I've had the place to myself - all 155 acres, all day. At most you might find a dozen other fly fishers sharing the reservoir with you. There's plenty of room to avoid people if you like the solitude.

What facilities are there?

Virtually none. There's a car park with free parking and there are some toilets, but that's it. You'll need to bring a flask and some lunch with you if you're staying for the day.

How much are fishing tickets?

Tickets to fish at Fewston Reservoir are very reasonably priced at just £20 for a day, which includes four fish. Juniors fish free of charge at Fewston, which is great.

You can buy tickets to fish at Fewston from the ticket machine in the fishing office at the Swinsty Moor car park which lies on the corner of the dam between Fewston and Swinsty. Andrew, the warden, will be worth speaking to for helpful tips before you start.

If you like the sound of Fewston, you might also like to read our guide on fishing Swinsty Reservoir, which is just the other side of the dam wall. 

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