For the last two years the big East Anglian reservoirs have opened in early September and for two years they have fished badly. Coincidence? I don’t think so.
This year, as with last, the weather was hot with bright days and water temperatures into the teens. Not great predator fishing conditions but the lure of being out on a big water was too much to resist and so off we went to begin our annual campaign. As expected, the fishing was tough, very tough in fact with hardly anything caught. It was hard fishing and in the end I decided to cancel my boat for the remainder of opening week and catch up on some work instead. Earning some extra time when conditions would hopefully improve in a few weeks’ time.
You really need some strong winds and falling temperatures to turn the water over in big, deep stillwaters and to encourage the fish to start moving around. Why flog away when conditions are so against you? These lakes are hard enough when the fish are interested in feeding!
Wye Valley Adventures
September through to late October is the time of the year to fish for River Wye barbel and at this time of year the fish are fully recovered from spawning and look fighting fit. The river should be carrying a bit more water and a touch of colour too, bringing the fish onto the feed right through the day.
Finally, and often most importantly, the canoe traffic will have died away to almost nothing once the kids go back to school. Now I have absolutely nothing against canoes, in fact I think it is a lovely way to go off and explore, but the explosion in canoe numbers on the Wye in recent years, has a serious impact on the fishing. I don’t want to dwell on this, but very often fishing from 10am to 5pm can be a frustrating and fruitless exercise during the summer now.
I now only guide anglers on the Wye during the autumn, as results are pretty much guaranteed. Even though reports from the river this year have been very mixed indeed, if you know where to find a few fish then they can be caught and a good day can be had once the boat traffic has finished for the year. A couple of very pleasant days were spent on the river with customers during September and the fish obliged as usual. We were a little unlucky with the size of the fish, as I had chosen a stretch where there was a good chance of a double, but action was the main thing, and we had plenty of that.
Tactics were very simple. Straight leger rigs with 12lb line to 12lb fluorocarbon to a size 14 hook. Hookbaits were normally 8mm halibut pellets with a PVA stick of mixed size halibut pellets tied to the lead.
This set-up works so much better on the Wye than a feeder. In rocky and snaggy swims the straight lead wins hands-down, minimising tackle losses but if you still have problems then try tying the lead on with 5lb mono; this is strong enough to withstand the cast (more of a lob normally), but it allows the lead to break free should it become snagged.
I did try maggots for a morning but struggled to get through the silver fish, such is the richness of the Wye, and so it was back to pellets. One trick that drives the Wye barbel crazy though, and which can often bring a bite within seconds, is to bait drop in some hemp upstream of the baited rig. The sudden cloud of bait passing down the swim will get the fish grabbing at any food they can and it often brings an instant bite in an otherwise lifeless swim. I always bait drop now just before I plan to recast – and the results speak for themselves.
Pupil for the Day
I have been inviting my old mate Luc Coppens over the to the UK for several years now but for one reason or another we had never managed a day out – until now. Luc is one of the top lure anglers in Europe, regularly competing in and finishing highly placed in the seriously competitive European lure competitions and suffice to say he really knows his stuff!
We decided on a day on one of the big reservoirs, a venue that would suit him down to the ground, even though he was rather amused about how restrictive our predator fishing was – the European guys are used to having their own seriously fast and amazingly-kitted-out boats on tap, a bit different from our loch style boats!
I must admit I had a real interest in letting Luc loose on a reservoir, for although he had never fished in the UK before I was sure I would learn an awful lot from him. In addition the trip out would repay a day I had spent with him zander fishing in Holland a couple of years back. As it turned out, I learned more than I had bargained for!
The day was perfect weather-wise with a brisk westerly wind putting a fair chop on the water and as the ressies always fish better with a good blow on, and so I was confident of some action.
Not long after starting Luc had a cracking pike of about 16lb, then we went off to explore some of the deeper areas of the reservoir in search of zander. This proved less productive, so a move back up the lake for the last couple of hours of the day was called for, and soon we were getting more action. By the end of the day Luc had landed two pike and a zander, whilst I had exactly the same tally of bites, but not a single fish in the boat – all of mine having either just bumped or snatched at the lures. I learned loads though, and it was certainly very interesting to compare our styles of fishing. I will put much of what Luc showed me into practice over the coming weeks; the next stage of my lure fishing apprenticeship has begun!
A Chance Discovery
I cannot leave the big reservoirs alone for long and so as the month drew on I decided to head back for a day, even though it was likely to be tough. Joining me this time out would be ‘brother in arms’ Andy Black.
As predicted the fishing was indeed tough, but we are used to that and just kept plugging away in the hope of a hit or two. With our arms almost dropping off from casting big lumps of plastic all day with no reward, Andy finally hit a tentative pluck and was into a fish. ‘Trout’ was my prognosis, as the fish had taken the lure high up in the water column and on the heavy pike gear Andy simply wound the fish in. It surfaced right next to the boat and left us both gob-smacked as it didn’t have spots, it had stripes! I netted the perch that was now laying beaten on the surface and after a few snaps the gorgeous fish was returned.
We swapped to smaller lures and fished on with renewed vigour, but that was it. One bite had changed our plans for the coming weeks though, as here was a chink in the reservoir’s armour that we could exploit.
Several more trips followed over the rest of the month with more perch coming to the boat, including some crackers to over 4lb. It was brilliant fishing, although hard work as we constantly had to try and pin down the small pods of fish. Often an 11-hour day on the water would bring just a couple of bites, but when they came they were spectacular. We quickly refined our techniques and swapped to deep water jigs and large drop shots to sort out the bigger perch and as the month came to an end the hunt for more perch continued.
With such a volume of water we had only just scratched the surface and would be back for more…