How to fish Swinsty Reservoir, North Yorkshire

Swinsty Reservoir in the Yorkshire Dales National Park is a beautiful location for a spot of fly fishing and one of the few places in Yorkshire where you can go spinning for trout.

How to fish Swinsty Reservoir, North Yorkshire
Picture copyright © Fly and Lure
How to fish Swinsty Reservoir, North Yorkshire
Picture copyright © Fly and Lure
How to fish Swinsty Reservoir, North Yorkshire
Estimated reading time 12 - 20 minutes

Where is Swinsty Reservoir?

Swinsty Reservoir is one of the three reservoirs in the Washburn Valley area near Otley, not far from Harrogate in the Yorkshire Dales National Park.

It's separated via a dam wall from Fewston Reservoir and is situated a few miles down the River Washburn from Thruscross Reservoir.

It's an exceptionally beautiful place to fish and is where George and I both started our trout fishing passion and developed a love for fly fishing.

It's a nice place to fish if you want a bit of solitude. Your only company is likely to be walkers.

There are perimeter walks around both Swinsty and Fewston, which are 3.5-4 miles long, so they're great places to go if you want to fish and the rest of the family wants to go for a walk.

The River Washburn flows through Swinsty and is exposed when water levels drop. It's a great place for fly fishing for coarse fish.

What methods are allowed?

Oddly, for such a beautiful fishery, Swinsty isn't fished that much and in the past couple of years the wardens have worked hard to attract more anglers.

Initially it was a fly only water, but the adjacent Fewston Reservoir was generally more popular. In the winter months they used to allow spinning, but in about 2013 they opened this up all year round.

Henry with a lovely lure caught perch.

You can also fish for Swinsty's plentiful coarse fish here but you're not allowed to groundbait (the previous worm only rule has now been relaxed). That said, it's a great place for fly fishing for coarse fish.

What's the fishing like?

A few years ago Swinsty Reservoir used to be stocked with rainbow trout and blue trout, but these days it's no longer stocked.

However, there's a reasonable head of wild brown trout present, as well as a good few rainbows which make it down the overflow from Fewston Reservoir above.

We've had some memorable days fishing here where we've caught 20 or more trout - rainbows and some wild browns - on fly and lure. Though these days the size of the trout catches seems smaller.

There is also very good head of perch - mainly 15cm or so in size, with the odd larger fish. There are tons of roach, lots of bream, some dace, roach-bream hybrids and some cracking chub which are all excellent sport on a light fly rod.

Bank access can be a bit tricky at Swinsty for fly fishers and waders are essential.

Does it get busy?

Fishing wise, it's generally very quiet. On many trips here we've been the only anglers fishing so have had the entire 156 acres all to ourselves. All day!

At most there's been perhaps half a dozen other anglers fishing - mainly coarse anglers at the bottom end. I've only ever met a handful of other anglers fly or lure fishing here. Most fly fishers flock to Fewston, which is stocked and therefore easier.

However, Swinsty and Fewston Reservoirs are both very popular with walkers and if you arrive on the weekend later in the day you may struggle to park, especially when the weather is good or if it's a bank holiday.

On Fewston there are designated areas where only anglers can go, but there are none of these on Swinsty, so sometimes walkers can encroach on your fishing area - often with their dogs - so you do need to be mindful of this when backcasting.

Unfortunately, lots of walkers take their dogs to Swinsty for a swim and they seem oblivious to the fact that they're ruining your fishing...

There are plenty of coarse fish to keep young fly fishers entertained when the trout aren't biting.

What is bank access like?

When the water levels are high, bank access on Swinsty can be limited. It's probable that you'll need to walk a long distance around the reservoir to find a spot in which you can fish comfortably, as most of the shores are tree-lined making back-casting difficult.

It's not a place that I generally attempt to fish without waders. There are only a few spots you can fish without waders, and even that depends on the water level of the reservoir, which can fluctuate week-by-week, so always make sure you've packed them.

Most of the roach are of a decent size.

Is it suitable for children?

George learned to fly fish on Swinsty at the age of six. In retrospect, it wasn't the easiest place to pick, but it does have the benefit of being secluded and seldom fished, so the chances of disturbing others with splashy casts are limited.

During the summer months, when the water level in Swinsty is often much lower, the old Washburn River bed is sometimes revealed. Parts of this are shallow and rocky and contain running water, so it's safe for youngsters to fish there.

Armed with a four weight and a box full of dry flies and nymphs, George has caught dozens of perch, roach, dace, brown and rainbow trout here in a single session! Fishing elsewhere on Swinsty though tends to be tougher for kids.

When it's dry, not too windy and the water levels are slightly higher, there's an area in the old nature reserve where you can fish from the dam walls over water from three to five feet deep. You do need to keep a very close eye on your children and be careful not to slip!

You can catch some lovely roach on dry flies at Swinsty.

What are the water conditions like?

Swinsty and Fewston both have clear, but heavily peat stained water, so you won't really be able to sight fish here. Depending on where you fish, the bottom ranges from very rocky to muddy, but there's rarely much aquatic plant growth.

Are there any hot spots?

There are a few spots on Swinsty that can fish well, if you're happy to take a long walk. However, there are two car parks - one at the top end near the Fewston dam wall and one at the bottom end, over the dam and down past the village of Fewston.

A lovely lure caught perch from Swinsty.

The old nature reserve

Situated at the top end of Swinsty near the Fewston dam wall, the old nature reserve is often flooded and there are submerged trees that hold lots of perch and chub, as well as trout.

This area fishes best when the water level is lower, when you can often see the old River Washburn river bed exposed, as there's generally a constant trickle of water down the sluice from Fewston reservoir above, which brings food and oxygenated water which attracts fish.

It's a great place for summer dry fly fishing, but you'll catch far more roach and perch than you will trout, although there are often some nice wild browns in here, and the odd escapee rainbow from Fewston.

Stack Point Bay

Stack Point Bay is the huge bay on the bottom end of Swinsty, near the dam wall which separates Swinsty from the disabled lake.

There's a car park here and it attracts lots of dog walkers and children who often throw in bread for the ducks and geese, which I'm sure helps bring in the fish towards the end of the day when the tourists have left.

It's relatively shallow here so you can wade a reasonable distance and there's plenty of back casting room. Lures, especially paler ones, tend to work well here.

Swinsty Hall

The Swinsty Hall corner near the bottom dam wall can hold trout in the areas around the weeds. It's often sheltered from prevailing winds here, but the banks can be slippery and wading isn't always easy, so it's not the best of places to fish.

Buzzers and nymphs can work very well here. During the colder months, lures fished on an intermediate line can also put you among the trout.

What gear should I take?

In summer the fishing at Swinsty can get very tough. The fish move out into deep water where they are out of range. However, you can often find fish in the moving water near the old bed of the River Washburn. Here a light rod, like a 3-4 weight is perfect in good weather.

At other times a six to seven weight rod is a good idea, as you'll often need to cast a good distance to find the fish.

Waders are a must, as bank access is often very limited at Swinsty.

Rainbows are no longer stocked in Swinsty, but a few make it down the sluice from Fewston above.

What is the lure fishing like?

The lure fishing isn't as good as it was, since Swinsty is no longer stocked. Most catches will consist of the plentiful small perch present, but you may come across the odd chub, rainbow or larger wild brown trout.

A lure caught Swinsty chub.

However, if you find the fish, you can have some great action on ultra light lures. At times we've fished little lures here and have had almost a fish a cast for hour. Granted, none of them were particularly big, but it's still great fun.

What lures work best?

There seem to be few larger fish present in Swinsty - or if there are I've not yet managed to find them. As a result, smaller lures seem to catch better.

The Savage Gear Fry crankbait has been by far my most successful lure and has taken hundreds of perch (to about a pound), rainbows to a few pounds (big for a reservoir rainbow), browns to a couple of pounds and a few chub, including a six pound brute.

After that, I'd say a classic Mepps spinner is probably going to be most productive.

What flies work well at Swinsty?

Of course, this varies according to the time of the year and the current insect life. If you go into the fishing office you'll find the catch return tickets from other anglers pinned to the wall, which can give you some current pointers on the right fly patterns to use.

The warden, Andrew, is also a keen fly fisher and will be happy to offer his advice on the flies to use on the day, as will the friendly regulars who fish Swinsty.

Dries, especially small black and brown ones can work brilliantly early in the season, especially for the wild browns. Nymphs, buzzers and small lures also work well for the rest of the year.

What facilities does it have?

Aside from some toilets in the main car park and free parking there are no other facilities at Swinsty. You may want to use the loo before you start, because Swinsty is massive and you'll be a long walk from the toilets once you're fishing. However, there's often an ice cream van in the car park if you want some refreshment.

George's first fly caught rainbow was caught at Swinsty.

What fish are present in Swinsty Reservoir?

We've fished Swinsty dozens of times over several years and have caught: rainbow trout, wild brown trout, perch, chub, roach, bream, roach-bream hybrids and some good dace.

Given its size and age you'd expect it to contain pike, but we've lure fished there numerous times and have never caught one, so I'd surprised if they were present. I've never seen a report of any angler catching a pike from either Swinsty or Fewston.

George with a hefty chub caught on a nymph on a four weight - quite a scrapper.

When is the fishing best?

Spring and autumn are definitely the most productive periods and there can be some great sport, especially early and late in the day. It's typically very tough in the winter and summer months as the fish move out deep and are often out of casting range.

Is it open all year round?

In the winter months Swinsty is open for fishing only at the weekends. The fishing office opening times also change depending on sunrise and sunset times, so check the opening and closing times on the wall when you visit the fishing office.

Where do I get tickets?

There's a car park style ticket machine in the fishing office which is located in the car park which lies between Swinsty and Fewston Reservoirs, not far from the village of Timble, just above the road which goes over the dam wall.

George with a lovely Swinsty rainbow.

While the machine takes cards or cash, the mobile signal it uses to authorise payments is sometimes dodgy, so it's wise to take some cash. If the machine is down, you'll need to either pay the warden if he's there, or put the money through his office letter box in a money bag with your fishing ticket details.

A day ticket for fly fishing costs a reasonable £20 and includes three fish. Juniors fish for free here, so it's also cost effective if you're fishing with little ones. The ticket allows you to fish at all three Washburn Valley reservoirs - Swinsty, Fewston and Thruscross - for a day, so you can move to a different water if you fancy a change.

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Swinsty Reservoir

North Yorkshire, England

Swinsty Reservoir
Picture of Swinsty Reservoir, North Yorkshire, England.

Swinsty Reservoir is one of the most beautiful stillwaters in North Yorkshire, if not the whole country. It offers good, but challeging fly fishing for anglers of all ages, including those who want to fly fish for coarse species or lure fish for perch, chub and trout. We highly recommend it.

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