I have been fishing a few sessions on small waters in recent weeks, mostly in preparation for some local matches but also as a welcome change to the intense programme of river matches I have been fishing, but catching on small waters at this time of year can be challenging, and often means you need to keep changing tactics when the takes dry up.
This is a challenging time of year on many fisheries, however great sport can be had with a bit of hard work and willingness to change to keep showing the fish something different. At this time of year most catch and release waters have a good head of resident fish as well as the more recently introduced stock fish to go at.
The one thing which I have certainly noticed recently on almost every trip is that changing tactics regularly has kept me catching fish. Whilst I have caught fish on a wide variety of methods I have not been catching lots of fish on one single method! I think that this comes from a number of factors, particularly at this time of year.
Firstly the fish have a wide variety of food items available, they have a wide choice of surface and subsurface insects, they also may have found a depth to feed at which they feel more sure, particularly if they are subject to heavy angling pressure.
Secondly the fish are spread through the water column, in varying temperatures. For instance, hot summer or cold winter months, fish tend to hold at a certain depth and if you can find the depth with either the appropriate sinking line or indicator (if the fish prefer a static fly) you can have consistent success and often only need to make the occasional change of fly pattern to keep the takes coming. However, this does not seem to been the case so far this year, as on recent trips the fish have been caught right off the surface and close to the lake bed!
Finally there are usually a variety of fish in the water in terms of experience – freshly stocked fish, residents and everything in between. Stockies will be more prone to hitting lures out of aggression or hunger, whereas the more resident fish are often leader-shy, and feed more naturally because of the amount of pressure they have had since their introduction. This mix of fish means that your approach will need to change regularly…
Recently I have caught fish on some pegs on fast sinking lines whilst also observing fish cruising in the top foot of water. This has led to me adopting a highly varied approach and having 3 rods ready to go so that changing tactics can become less of a chore.
Pulling rod – Lures
To ensure you maximise your chances I find it best to use a countdown method, even on small lakes. Fish will rarely change depth to take a fly so it’s important to find the correct level. If the water is clear a damsel pattern will take some beating and there are plenty of excellent options available such as the Fulling Mill Blue Flash Damsel and the Fulling Mill Hot Head Damsel.
The retrieve can be quite fast at this time of year as the water temperature is usually quite high. The faster retrieve often makes the fish choose quickly between taking or not and can result in a solid take rather than a follow. Don’t go too light on your leader – I usually opt for 7lb Fulling Mill Fluorocarbon – a strong tippet that is great for hard takes.
Indicator and Nymph rod
When you have establish a few successful depths, try setting a pattern such as a buzzer, egg or apps worm at a similar depth under an indicator. This will often catch a few fish which are not looking for a moving pattern and then in turn, keep you catching!
When takes dry up on the lure and indicator methods I have been quickly changing to target fish with nymphs, these may be educated fish which will not take lures or are feeding naturally. If fishery rules allow more than one fly I will opt for 2 or 3 nymphs on a long leader. If the water’s deep I will use weighted nymph or buzzers on the point to get the flies fishing at different levels. I fish a floating line and light leader to hopefully fool the resident fish which will be feeding on a natural food source. I like to fish Fulling Mill fluorocarbon in 4lb (or sometimes 3lb) and the best flies are usually a team of buzzer, crunchers and diawl bachs in size 14 or even 16. Cast out and fish the flies almost static.
Dry Fly rod
Finally I have been using dry fly to keep me catching, and at times it has been the only method which will work on some pegs. In a ripple Fulling Mill hoppers and Shipmans have worked well and will often pull fish up blind if there’s nothing rising. At other times I have observed resident fish moving to small naturals and I have been fishing fine and light to catch these fish. I described the detail of this approach in my last stillwater blog, READ HERE. Recently I have found myself going down to fine river tactics on some trips as the fish have demanded ultra-fine leaders and micro dries.
Using these methods and frequently changing tactics is hard work but at this time of year it can really bring rewards in terms of the numbers of fish you catch. If you are prepared to experiment and change tactics, you’ll certainly get more takes. Don’t get fooled into sticking with one method or fishing at a set depth as many do. Constantly changing tactics and approach will often bring more fish and give great satisfaction at the end of a challenging day.