Early Season Reservoir Boat Tactics (The best bagging methods)
As we begin the return to fishing in the coming weeks here in the UK after a wet and wonderful winter, I thought I’d take a moment to write a few tips on how to bag up in those challenging early Spring weather conditions. I recently fished Farmoor Reservoir in mid-February and enjoyed some great sport in favourable conditions catching on my two favourite methods. These have proven very effective for me over the years and something I’ve grown confident doing and I hope they prove equally fruitful for you in the opening weeks.
Early Season Conditions
Most fisheries open in the first week in March, although in recent years many remain open all year round for those brave enough to endure the weather! But at this time of year the water temperatures are still in the single figures (Celsius), and with the short periods of sunlight the shallow areas near the bank are still not warm enough to draw the fish in close. To that end, most of the fish can be found shoaled tightly into the deeper areas of the reservoirs and can only by accessed from a boat. Fish can often be found near steep drop offs or even in the deepest holes where the water temperatures are more stable.
As ever when fishing large reservoirs and lakes finding the fish and depth they are feeding is the key to success and this is no different in the colder months. With bowl type reservoirs its fairly simple process as the centre of the reservoir will normally hold the biggest concentration of fish at the deepest part. Other waters with more features may prove more challenging, but this is where the drifting boat will always prove more effective to help find those shoals. But rest assured, that once you find them they will rarely migrate and you can enjoy some fantastic sport.
Deep Down Deeper & Down
As previously identified, achieving the correct depth for the maximum period of retrieve will be a critical factor in bagging fast. To achieve this we need the correct equipment used in a specific way to ensure that depth, control, power and reliability are considered. For this time of year I’d recommend a fast action 10ft 7/8wt rod coupled with some good quality fluorocarbon in a higher breaking strain and stiffness than you would traditionally use to deal with those hard fighting fish and windy conditions. I prefer Seaguar Grand Max in a 3X 9.5lb which is bomb proof, but similar options will suffice. You will also need a broad selection of lines to deal with differing drift speeds, wind, conditions, profile of retrieve and depth – more on that later. Don’t forget plenty of warm and waterproof kit and a flask of tea!
Get Your Pulling Rig On
I have 2 main methods for this time of year, firstly and foremost pulling lures on fast sinkers. This method will be most effective for finding fish through the depths and for antagonising less actively feeding fish onto the hook. I prefer a 2 fly cast as double hook ups can be very common (hence the tough leader material), they will also prove much easier to cast in extreme wind. I like to have 7ft to the first fly and 10ft to the second, remember that the top dropper will normally fish the deepest of the two. In terms of flies I like to use a lot of black or white coloured patterns, so Humungus are a great example, I also like tying variants with our Upavon Holographic Straggle Hackle and use them to devastating effect on numerous waters.
If tying your own, make sure you also use strong hooks such as the Dohiku HDS or WSL heavy gauge barbless as the hits can be hard enough to straighten cheap hooks. Minkies and Snakes can also work extremely well on their day so don’t be afraid to give them a go. If you plan to dredge the bottom of the reservoir then look at booby options, but consider this depending on the speed of drift, the quicker you’re moving the faster you need to get the flies into the catching zone.
Anglers often think this method is easier or less challenging than more traditional ones, however, I disagree when fishing in winding conditions at depth. This is where line selection is most important, for example if drifting quickly but need to get down deep and the fish want a slow retrieve how do you stop the line going under the boat? In this example rather than opting for a ‘straight’ Di7 sinker I’d opt for a fast sinking head line like the Airflo Booby Basher or the exceptional Cortland Compact Di9 (casts like a dream and far less tangles).
These lines act like a shooting head and I can really get some distance with them as a bang average caster. This is critical as those extra yards allow time to let the flies sink to depth without sacrificing so much time in the catch zone. They also feature a intermediate or floating running line which sits higher in the water and is less likely to sag and get pulled under the boat, I also like to slow figure of eight while it sinks to keep the line straight and in case I get a take on the drop. You will still achieve that enticing steep terminal retrieve to the boat, so concentrate until the flies are on the surface to ensure you don’t miss any on the hang! Finally, due to the length of line, depth and profile it can be common to drop fish on the take. The key here is to continue the retrieve until the line straightens out and goes solid, then lift. Striking into the fish when you fell a bump only adds the bend of the rod into the equation, thus amplifying the lack of tension on the line resulting in poor hook sets.
Match The Hatch
Even during the colder late February and early March period nymphs will still hatch from UK waters, all be it more sporadic and short lived. But the fish clock onto these patterns and are primed to feed hard when the hatch begins. The second method I like to employ uses sink tip lines with a static retrieve to hang more natural patterns in the taking zone. For this method I’d stick with the heavy leader for the same reasons, but I’ll apply 4 flies to a 20ft leader. I normally couple this with the consistent Snowbee Buzzer slow or fast sink tip line depending on the depth I want to achieve. The key to this method is to sink the flies rapidly to the catching depth and keep them there for as long as possible. For example, when using a fast sinking Buzzer line which has a 10ft tip sinking at 1.7ips coupled with a 20ft leader I can achieve a depth from 20-30ft given time to sink almost vertical. I’ll let you do the maths, but the key point is to count the flies down with a watch and remember what you counted when you start hitting fish, depth is key and don’t forget to check your flies for weed.
For this method I like to use black and red buzzers with a weighted fly on the point which could be a beaded nymph, Apps Worm or a Cat Bug for attraction and to act as an anchor for the Buzzers. DO NOT MOVE THE FLIES, at all, never, until they are near the boat and then start moving them up the layers to induce a take. This method is best employed in the middle of the day, particularly during periods of warner sunshine so have the rigs tied up or a second rod ready for when you see that first Buzzer pop off the surface – it will out fish the lures while it lasts!
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