The impact of Covid-19 meant that Beardy Paul and I had not managed our annual fishing trip to the midlands reservoirs in May since 2019. We’d had a few days out together (at Bewl and Grafham) but it’s not quite the same as getting away. As the 2021 lockdown started to be withdrawn and it was looking like we would be vaccinated, we found some accommodation and booked four days fishing Pitsford, Rutland, Eyebrook and Grafham at the end of September.
We’d deliberately booked for the end of September so we would have the opportunity of some good surface sport on daddies or other dries as well as a chance of hitting some surface fry feeders on popper hoppers. With a few weeks to go it was all looking perfect; we’d had a cooler summer than the last few years and reports were showing good returns with daddies featuring heavily and fry feeders starting to come on. Unfortunately, the fishing gods had other ideas. For the two weeks before we were due to go, the weather warmed up and by the time we went we were faced with four days of bright sunshine, temperatures of more than 25 degrees and mostly strong winds. Needless to say, it wasn’t quite the fish fest we had been hoping for.
Day 1 – Pitsford
We met early following long drives and were out on the water by 9am. The weather started off cloudy, which gave us hope, but the wind was strong after several weeks of calm conditions. The reports and a chat with the ranger suggested that fish had been high in the water and had started to spread out from the dam. So we motored up to the far end and set our first drift from the middle of the water towards the pines.
Beardy Paul had set-up with a floater and washing line (blob and a couple of nymphs) while I had the same but on a midge-tip. Within the first five minutes I had my first fish on a black diawl bach but we had nothing else on that first drift. In fact, we only had one more rainbow to show for a hard morning (Beardy Paul had it on a blob) despite setting up drifts right across the water, using floating and sinking lines and a wide variety of flies and tactics, from twiddling to pulling. From what we could see from other boats there was the odd fish coming out but not much action generally.
We decided to stop for lunch by anchoring in the lee of the dam where we were sheltered from the wind. As we were eating we started to notice signs of fish moving around us; it was sporadic but at least there were signs of life and the fishing was easier. We had the odd follow to a popper fry and a few swirls to a daddy before Beardy Paul picked up his second rainbow of the day to the blob again. Not long after, I netted my second on a claret hopper but as the afternoon wore on, the takes and signs of fish dried up. We drifted our way back down the reservoir without luck.
It was a slightly disappointing day but, as we sat back with a couple of beers in our house for the weekend, we knew we still had three days ahead of us.
Day 2 – Eyebrook
Eyebrook Reservoir is one of our favourite places to fish. That may be because we’ve been fishing there the longest or due to the many good days we’ve had, but Eyebrook is also a good size, big enough to cover lots of water without being overwhelming; has good insect life, which suits our natural fishing preferences; and its stunning to look at. So, regardless of the bright sun and quickly warming temperatures, we were excited at the potential for a day on this lovely water.
Again, the local information suggested the fish were high in the water and feeding on daddies and small nymphs. We both set-up with a floater; Beardy Paul had a standard washing line with a FAB while I had a couple of nymphs and a foam daddy. The wind was coming from the west so we set up a drift from the Leicestershire bank going across the open water to the netted bank. There were signs of fish and we both had taps or swirls high up in the water but no proper takes. Keen to find a good concentration of feeding fish we tried a few different drifts in different areas but there was almost no sign of fish anywhere else.
After lunch we decided to drift where we had started the day but a little closer to the dam. Beardy Paul picked up the first fish of the day to a FAB on the hang and then his second on the next drift. I had swapped and changed my flies a lot but couldn’t buy a take, even using the same FAB. Eventually, I put a foam daddy back on and started to get some interest but it was sporadic and tentative regardless of whether the daddy was fished dry or pulled under. Eventually, when I was least expecting it, the rod was nearly pulled from my hands by a violent take on the daddy for my first, and what turned out to be my only, fish of the day.
We had many follows and nips during the rest of the afternoon and Beardy Paul managed another two, which came to a Blob and FAB, but it was tricky fishing. We had managed 5 to the boat which seemed a bit poor but after checking the results on signing out it was about average.
As we sat with a few more beers later that night, discussing our tactics for the next day, disappointment slowly turned back into hope and excitement.
Day 3 – Rutland
We’d done our homework for Rutland and knew what we were going to do; we were going to try in the main basin first to try and find a good concentration of fish and also try for fry feeders next to the weed beds. We motored out towards the dam and set-up a first drift close in to the Normanton bank (by the blue pipes). It didn’t take long for the sun to come out and there was very little wind so we drifted without the drogue. Beardy Paul had some early interest in a popper fry but without getting a proper take. I was fishing a washing line on a midge tip with a FAB/Blob and nymphs but spent the first hour with no interest. We moved a bit closer to the dam and saw a few more fish moving but had no takes. After this, we moved across the basin where we could see a bit of ripple and drifted into the north corner of the dam. Beardy Paul managed to get our first fish to the boat using a white Humongous but that was the extent of the interest, despite many changes of tactics.
There were a few boats catching the odd fish but there didn’t seem to me much action so we decided to go for the weed beds. We motored down to the south arm and started drifting into the bays, fishing popper fry and minkies on floaters. Unfortunately, as we went further into the south arm the wind died until the water was like glass, the sun was high and hot, the air felt heavy and there was absolutely no sign of fish. We had a quick go next to the sailing club before deciding to head back to the dam.
We went back to the drift where we had at least seen some fish and switched lines to a fast intermediate and a DI3 to get down a little deeper due to the sun. Eventually, I got my first take and managed to get a rainbow into the net, which took a small natural minkie early in the retrieve, so still quite high up. Not long after Beardy Paul had his second on the white humongous but on the hang, high up in the water. We thought we may have found the approach then but we had nothing after that despite setting several similar and different drifts. In desperation we tried close to the dam with DI5 and DI7 lines, fishing as deep as we could. Beardy Paul almost landed what felt like a beast after leaving the line in the water for several minutes while we were having a chat but this tactic didn’t produce anything else.
Finally, as we were about to motor back in for an early finish we passed the boils which were on and empty. We had a last half an hour fishing in the boils and Beardy Paul managed two lively rainbows on the humongous.
Chatting to the ranger on the jetty, it seemed to have been a tough day for most people but there was a group of welsh guys, one of whom had managed 7, fishing minkies on an intermediate by the dam.
Day 4 – Grafham
We arrived at Grafham to an overcast and slightly misty morning. We had decided on our tactics the night before so we motored quickly over to savages. Beardy Paul had a popper fry with a couple of nymphs and I started with dries; a foam daddy and a hares ear sugar cube (to mimic a snail). We drifted from open water down towards the weed beds and managed one follow to the popper fry. I swapped to a washing line with a blob on the point and a couple of nymphs and we set a second drift a bit further out with no luck.
We quickly shifted to plan b and moved round to drift into the north shore points. We both set up rigs focussed on shrimp feeders. We started around Harts bluff and then moved onto Hedge End where we saw a few fish rising splashily. The wind was perfect and we managed to drift parallel to the bank. The wind had picked up by now and the sun was shining through cloudless skies. I switched the point fly to a beaded hares ear to get it down quicker and shortly after hooked into my first fish which had taken the point fly. We set the drift again but had no action so moved on to try the points further down. We hit all the points down to G buoy, focussed on shrimp feeders but had no further interest. Eventually, drifting past G buoy onto the bank Beardy Paul hooked into a rainbow on a blob. We tried the drift again but had no further interest.
It was hot, sunny and windy by this point, not the best conditions. We decided to motor across to the south shore and have a drift across open water in front of the dam. The wind was less of an issue here and we had a few delicate nips before Beardy Paul managed a decent rainbow on a popper fry. Again, just when we thought we might have found some fish, it went dead.
We tried a drift out of Gaynes Cove and then an open water drift across to G buoy with no sign of fish. Finally, we retraced our steps, hitting some of the points and bays across the north shore before ending up back at Savages. There was the odd sign of interest or nip but nothing concrete despite changing tactics and depth. Eventually, with long drives home ahead of us, we admitted defeat and called it a day.
It had been absolutely amazing to spend four days fishing the midlands reservoirs and even better to spend some time together after the last eighteen months. Unfortunately, the fishing was nothing like we had hoped for. Everytime we had had some interest or caught a fish and thought we’d cracked it, it dried up. It was the same pattern on all the waters; you had to move to find the odd fish, there didn’t seem to be any concentrations of feeding fish and lots of the interest was very tentative – lots of follows without any bites. This seemed to be down to the weather as other anglers seemed to have struggled as well but at least we had managed to avoid a blank.
We did decide on one change for next year though; we would fish two reservoirs but spend two consecutive days on each, treating one day as a practice to try to figure out the best places and tactics and then the second day, hopefully, making hay!