I’ve always found winter fly fishing difficult, particularly on reservoirs. Figuring out what the fish might want to eat/chase, how to retrieve or just finding the fish in the first place; it all seems a little more tricky in the winter. Fortunately, I live reasonably close to Farmoor Reservoir which is open all year so I decided to give it a better go this year.
I managed to get out a few times over Christmas with mixed results. The first day I managed a couple on white minkies, fished mid-water on a DI3. The second time, I managed a bit fat blank despite trying a whole range of different lines and depths, retrieves and flies. Not exactly a positive start and certainly not the practice I had been hoping to get for the annual Fur & Feather match at Farmoor early in January.
I don’t do much competition fishing and had not entered this event before but I thought it might be a useful day to measure myself against other fishermen in similar conditions. I also knew that if I was to stand any chance of fish, I would need to bite the bullet and fish boobies. Now, I’m not against lure’s but given the chance I’ll always fish natural imitations. I do, however, have an issue with the practice of chucking a booby out as far as possible and then just waiting till a trout hooks itself. Each to their own but for me this is not what I want out of fly fishing. However, I reasoned to myself that fishing a booby on a retrieve is no different to any other lure, it just helps keep the flies in the right zone, just off the bottom.
So, armed with some boobies, I set off for the competition……and blanked! I tried all sorts of boobies, and other lures, constantly changing depths and retrieves and had just one nibble all day. To be fair, lost of other anglers struggled as well with quite a few blanks and many others having just one or two fish. The winner had 5/6 which he caught relatively quickly in the morning on coral boobies (yes, I had used those as well). I read an article in Fly Fisherman shortly afterwards which suggested that catching a fish deep on boobies can cause the silt to move as the fish fights. Rather than putting other fish off, this can lead them to pool in one area as they look for dislodged food. What was clear though was that there were few fish within my casting range off the bank.
So, for my next visit, later in January, I decided to get a boat and try back-drifting, something I have never done before. If you don’t already know, back-drifting is a method to get the line down deep from a boat. Rather than casting in front of the drifting boat and retrieving, you face behind and let the line out which gives time for it to sink to the required depth. I set-up with a DI7 and two boobies on a short leader; a cats whisker booby just 3 feet from the line and a coral booby on point another four feet away. I motored down to the south of the reservoir and set up my first drift from the middle towards the eastern bank; the wind had been blowing this way all week so I reasoned the fish might have drifted this way as well. It took me a while to get the hang of the method and the depth but I eventually had a few delicate nips on a 90 second count, with almost all of the line off the reel. A couple of casts later and I had my first fish, to the coral booby. I re-set the drift, getting my flies down deep earlier this time and had several fish. By 3pm I’d had eight fish to the boat, all on the coral booby and all at a similar depth, with plenty of nips and missed takes in-between. I was also pleased to see that they were all caught with the fly right in scissors, none of them deep hooked.
By the middle of February, I was back again. This time I decided to fish the bank as the weather had warmed noticeably and I assumed the fish might be higher in the water and closer to the bank. I assumed wrong! I did eventually have a couple on an orange blob and black and green lure using a DI3, relatively close in, but it was probably too early still for bank fishing, especially at Farmoor where it seems to take longer for the water to warm up.
So, all in all, a very mixed experience. But there was one key point to remember – fish where the fish are! If that means getting on a boat with a sinking line and boobies, then so be it.