In praise of variety
Jonathan Tomlinson catches blues, rainbows and a British record equalling tiger trout all from one lake
IN an era when f isheries are closing down rather than opening, it’s refreshing to see what’s been going on at the Sportfish Game Fishing Centre in Theale, Berkshire. A fter acquiring the two-lake f ishing complex adjacent to their superstore a little over a year ago, the location has been redeveloped in a big way, creating two incredible f isheries. First, they fixed the main lake (which we’ve covered in a previous issue), gutting and refitting the lodge, putting boats on the lake for the ver y f irst time, installing aerators, introducing catch and release then stocking with fabulous quality fish up to high double-figures. The lake now has a ver y healthy following and many regulars that visit weekly. But it wasn’t long before anglers asked what was going to happen to the smaller lake at the complex.
The new lake
Hobby Lake is around five acres and was previously used for catch and release only. Neglected and unloved it truly needed some well-earned care. Jonathan Randall and his staff were tasked with its redevelopment and they really “went to town” with it. A huge amount of bank work was just the beginning of what was to be a huge undertaking. A jetty was created so the two new boats could moor up right next to the purpose-built f ishing lodge full of amenities including a fantastic new BBQ. Beautiful views now greet anyone who visits here. This fisher y is not your ever yday venue though. Hobby Lake can be booked out on an exclusive basis for parties of up to four anglers and will not be fished on consecutive days to allow it to be rested so that ever yone has the best opportunity to catch. Several species now reside in its cr ystal-clear waters – rainbows, browns, blues, tigers and golden trout up to doublefigures. A grand slam is a real possibility.
Photographer Peter Gathercole and I meet up at 9am and head straight up to the lake, driving all the way to the lodge. A week of very mixed weather leading up to today had us a little worried, but for once the weather gods are really feeling kind towards us. Conditions are warm and overcast with a hint of a breeze – all the key components for a potentially great day ahead. The plan of attack is to target the tigers first from the bank. This brook-brown hybrid is thick-set, powerful, aggressive and territorial and will give you a seriously good work-out once hooked. With
“The tiger trout is thick-set, powerful, aggressive and territorial and will give you a seriously good work-out once hooked.”
extremely sharp teeth stepping up in breaking strain tippet is a must and I opt for my ‘go to’ Riverge Grand Max in 9.5lb. A simple one-f ly cast on a 10 -foot leader is all I use at first – the prospect of hooking into two fish at once is something I want to avoid. My favourite 9ft 6in 6wt rod is then teamed with a Rio Perception f loater as the fish have been high in the water all week. Buzzers and pond olives hatch all around and fish begin steadily sipping down adults with ver y pleasing head-and-tail rises. We start at one of the small bays, where a long cast with a Black & Silver Humungus followed by a steady f igure-of-eight retrieve allows maximum movement of the large marabou tail. Just a couple of casts in and a really solid take results in one of the stunning blues coming to the net – the barbless hook dropping out easily before its return.
If you hire the f isher y for the day, the four anglers will each be able to keep four rainbows or blues. But the browns, goldens and tigers must be released. It’s a great star t to the day and things are on the up. Twenty minutes later – and a couple of plucks missed – ever y thing goes solid. A few big thrashes on the surface and we can see straight away that it’s one of the tigers. Now the f ight begins. Like a brow nie, these f ish pull your string and don’t give up, boring down, leaving huge oily patterns on the surface and f ighting until the ver y end. A huge f ish of 10lb w ith a paddle for a tale sets a new personal best for me and a dream start. Needless to say, I have a rather large smile at this point!
On the move
We fish on a short while longer before moving. Staying mobile has always been my ethos on stillwaters. If the takes dr y up or you’re struggling then tr y a move – all too often anglers set up camp for the day in one spot, never moving. We head to a bay at the other end of the lake and continue with the same method. The water is so clear that if any f ish gets within 10 feet of the f ly there’s a ver y good chance that they’re going to see it. A few casts in and I get another thump. We’re into the second tiger of the day and at around 6lb it’s one of the smaller f ish, but the beautiful mottled markings make it no less impressive or pleasing to the eye. A couple of hard-f ighting rainbows join in on the act and a grand slam is achieved in just the first hour. What a day much to mine and Peter’s relief! Trust me when I say that it doesn’t always go to plan as well as this.
We’re both aware that f ish are rising and a trip out in one of the boats is our next attack. But I have a few more casts before heading to the lodge to retackle and wallop… I get hit by what can only be described as a “freight train”. A quick thrash on the surface and we both realise this is a ver y big f ish and another tiger. I tr y to keep hold as the f ish heads off to the horizon before stopping just short of my backing knot. Five minutes later and we have it in the net. It’s another double but how big? The scales fall to 11lb 8oz, another personal best and it equals the British record weight. I know that there have been bigger tigers caught in the UK before but the off icial record does stand at the same weight. I’m chuffed. What’s more, there may well be even bigger specimens still in there that haven’t been caught yet!
Try the boat
We grab a drink and head to the lodge to have a change of tactics. A 16-foot leader is set up with one dropper eight feet from the point. A marabou-tailed Flashback Hare’s Ear on the point gives a nice crossover between a true nymph and a mini lure but offers a fantastic ‘sighter’ for
the f ish to hit on. A Diawl Bach f inishes the cast and off we go to our boat. Drifting is allowed but we just edge ourselves out to an area of high activit y and drop the anchor. Flies continue to hatch and the water is alive with movement. Trout hunt down emerging adults as they break through the surface. It just screams f ish and you can’t help but feel that it isn’t going to take long to hook up – and it doesn’t! A slow f ig ure-of-eight retrieve and just three casts in, the tip of the line disappears before the take is felt – nonstretch lines allow for so much feeling and take detection particularly when f ishing at any kind of distance. A cracking rainbow of around 6lb comes to the net. I swiftly remove the f ly on the unhooking mat that’s provided before releasing the f ish f it and well. Several more fish come in quick succession including another couple of stunning cobalt blue trout. We have a close encounter with one of the goldies but sadly no luck. But the f ishing is so good I take a rest and Peter is quick to get in on the action. First cast…a rainbow, second cast and a rainbow takes the dropper before Peter inadvertently hooks a blue on the point f ly while playing the f irst f ish. T wo casts and three f ish to the boat – not a bad performance! The next hour or so continues with both of us losing count of how many fish come to the nymphs. We call it a day and head back to the shop, bumping into staff member Simon Bedwell who informs us that the first party since its opening had been on yesterday. They had left by 3.30pm as they were exhausted from catching fish and that they had more than 60 fish between them up to double-figures!
Expect superb action and an aching arm at the end of the day. Another vivid cobalt blue trout is released to the water. Beautiful markings - that’s the hallmark of a tiger trout. A selection of Jonathan’s nymphs that worked well.
The rainbows were in terrific feeding mood on the day. Nymphs worked well as insects hatched throughout the day. Jonathan has the look of an angler who may have a British record! Another rainbow is carefully released back to Hobby Lake.
A quick weigh tells Jonathan that it’s 11lb 8oz – equal to the British record tiger. Hobby can only be booked by four anglers at a time. A reminder to dispose of leader responsibly. Explosive rainbow action from the boat on the new Hobby Lake. Jonathan strides past the new lodge at Hobby Lake.
“We lose count of how many fish come to the nymphs.”