Have your best early season!
Hot early-season small water tips from England world team member Phil Dixon
Top early-season tips for small waters from England world team member Phil Dixon
SET in the stunning Cheshire countr yside Westlow Mere Trout Fisher y is back on the way up after a couple of bad years. The fisher y has had some negative press in the past but this is where I started my f ly-f ishing career so I’m eager to see if I can get the best from the water today. The 18-acre gin-clear venue supports plent y of f ly life throughout the year, giving anglers so many f ishing options. The water is effectively divided into two sections – one known as ‘The Deeps’ to the north has depths up to 27 feet and provides the f ish with cool, highlyox ygenated water all year round, while the ‘Shallows’ offers depths to 11 feet.
Make yourself at home
A new, spacious centrally-heated f ishing lodge offers free tea and coffee plus a microwave and makes a great refuge when the weather turns for the worse or you just want to talk f ishing with fellow anglers. The f isher y runs a free f ly-t y ing class ever y Friday so please drop in. Standing at the top of the hill with a cup of tea brings back great memories of watching the f ish rise and the boats spin in the wind. I’ve fished Westlow for 20 years now and, in my opinion, it’s one of the best f isheries available with a good mixture of f ish ranging in size to high doubles and stocked monthly.
Set up two rods
As with all my fishing, I glean as much information from the f isher y staff before setting up a rod. The staff spend time on the water and will always tell you the best places and f lies to f ish. A nglers have been catching well on various lures, nymphs and even the odd fish on dr y f ly when the weather settles down and the temperature rises a little. A rmed with this information, I set up two rods, one with a sinking line (fast glass) and the other with a f loater with a team of nymphs. The back cast has always put a few anglers off f ishing the far side of The Deeps. But if you use the 40 -plus lines you can shoot the line out rather than holding it all in the air and catching the banks behind you.
Starting with the intermediate and my favourite White Leech lure, I set about tr y ing to f ind the depth of the f ish and the best area. I normally use the lure rod to do this as it covers the water and the depths ver y quickly. I always say, never be too quick to bring your f ly back. Let them sink and f ish them on-the-drop, especially on this water because the f ish tend to hold out off the bank. A fter working my f irst spot for no takes, I fish my way down the bank following the wind. I tend not to change my f ly as I feel that, if I’m over f ish, then a White or Black Leech will tempt them. After 40 minutes’
fishing and only one fish briefly hooked, I question my theor y. But at the bottom of the wind I see an angler catch a couple of trout. This makes me think I haven’t been over the f ish and they could be at the bottom of the wind.
Into the action
On waters where there’s plenty of natural food, the best spots will usually be at the bottom of the wind or the ver y top. Now with the wind blowing right into my face and the angler next to me playing another f ish, my line tightens as I let the f ly sink. Rather than striking and risk pulling the f ly out of the f ish’s mouth, I simply start stripping the line back to set the hook. The f ish will always pull hard in the clear water and sure enough the trout dives down, making the most of the depths. A fter a couple of minutes it safely nestles in my net – a stunning brown trout of around 2lb 8oz. Landing another two rainbows quickly, I was just about to change rods – as I had seen a few f ish moving – when again it all locks up and I’m attached to what feels like a ‘lump’. You can usually tell the better f ish as the head shakes vigorously, and the f ish tend to go on long, slower runs using their weight. With the cr ystal-clear water and my Polaroids on, I can see a decent-looking f ish around eight feet down. A fter
“It all locks up and I’m attached to what feels like a lump.”
getting the trout to the net on two occasions, I manage to slide the net under a stunning rainbow, weighing 6lb 1oz!
Wind drops, so nymphs
The wind has been easing all morning and now I’m confident of being over plenty of fish and change to my f loating line. I choose to fish a size 10 Diawl Bach on the top dropper, six feet away from my braided loop, then a 007 Diawl Bach five feet down, then another five feet to a size 10 Red Buzzer. I always fish with the heaviest f ly on the point to help the cast to turn over. With a team of f lies, I always like to cast with good turnover, so never tr y to cast too far and let the line hit the reel at the end of ever y cast. Sometimes, down on the windward bank, the fish can be ver y close to the shore, right under your feet. Before I can even straighten my line, my reel starts spinning and I’m into another f ish. A f ter giv ing a f ine account of itself, I net another f in-perfect rainbow, which has taken the Red Buzzer on-the-drop. When nymph fishing, I like to fish slow or even static with long draws to lift the f lies through the water. With the takes dr ying up I change area and fish what’s known as the Beach
“After a few casts with no takes and watching my floater as close to the end of the fly line as I can, the loops in the line pull away...the fish is hooked.”
alongside a large reed bed. A fter a few casts with no takes and watching my f loater as close to the end of the f ly line as I can, the loops in the line pull away. Sharply lifting my rod, the f ish is hooked. It seems to spend more time out of the water than in, eventually throwing the hook, as do the next two f ish.
I’ve started to f ish more barbless hooks and Westlow insist on their use, but I don’t feel I lose any more f ish because of this. I land another three f ish in quick succession, all taking the 007 Diawl Bach on the middle dropper and the last one being a blue trout. A ll I’m waiting for now is a tiger trout to get the f ull set. The fishing has been at its best today. I’ve caught on both methods and there’s been a good variety of fish showing as well.
Making anglers of the future
Westlow Mere does its best to encourage beginners, with free tuition and loan of equipment, and free f ishing for all under 16s. A ll learners can f ish for free until they catch their f irst trout. The f isher y also has boat f ishing in The Deeps, which – during the warmer months when the fish push out into the deep, cooler water – can be excellent to deepny mphing and sinking lines with lures. It’s a great place to start for any angler who doesn’t want to step right into a boat at the larger Rutland or Graf ham. It’s great to see Westlow back at its best. I’ve learned a lot of methods here, which I now use all over the world when competing for England in the world championships. The fishery has every thing from dries to deep-sinking lines and you can’t say that about many small water UK fisheries.
High banks can snag back casts so punch out with 40-plus lines.
Phil’s 6lb 1oz early-season rainbow from Westlow.
This rainbow fell to a Red Buzzer – a great early-season nymph.
Hook: Two size 12 hooks. Clip first hook at bend and link via length of backing braid Thread: White UTC Tail: White zonker strip with a red thread butt Body: White zonker dubbed on White Leech
007 Diawl Bach Hook: Any size 10 or 12 Thread: Red Uni thread Tail: Natural light hen fibres Rib: Silver wire Body: Natural light pheasant tail fibres Back: Silver holographic tinsel Throat hackle: Same as tail
Hook: Any size 10 or 12 Thread: Black Uni thread Tail: Black hen hackle fibres Rib: Silver wire Body: Black pheasant tail fibres Thorax: Red holographic Throat hackle: Same as tail Cheeks: Jungle cock Black Diawl Bach
Phil carefully releases a rainbow back to its watery abode.
It’s always satisfying when a trout is hooked in the scissors.
There’s deep water close in at Westlow, indicated by high banks.
A beautiful brown is admired before releasing.