Iain Barr crouches low to target Grafham’s shrimp-feeders with his new flies
GRAFHAM Water was once famous for its prolific daphnia blooms and excellent fishing through the open water. Nowadays, it is more well known for its shrimp fishing around the margins, as epic swarms of these killer crustaceans mass around the edges. As a child, I would go there with my dad, and the banks, especially the Graf ham dam, would be full of anglers: memories that came to mind today. It might not be quite so rammed with anglers but there are 13 of us, nonetheless, lining the south side. I arrive just before 5am and let another angler’s car through the gate behind me. We meander up the season-ticket holders’ path in our cars, to find another vehicle already parked and its owner casting away. A good sign: three mad anglers fishing at daft o’clock? It must be fishing well…
Adding CDC to Shrimps
I’d been keen to arrive early, given the recent heatwave, as the early morning always offers your best chance of some sport. Rumour has it that a few days of cooler weather and thunderstorms have freshened the top layers of water, putting fish on the feed. Over the last few years, I’ve created some deadly shrimp patterns for this place, notably my original Graf ham Swimming Killer Shrimps, which helped me win two Bob Church Classic titles and be England’s top rod in a Home International here. I’ve now taken this pattern further and created some other little killers! Fishing in the World and European Championships since 1998, I was exposed to many river patterns and, while not a regular river angler, I noticed many had CDC added to them. Obviously, dry flies have CDC to keep them afloat but many of these goldhead nymphs had hackles of CDC, to create movement. With this in mind I’ve added CDC to some of my Killer Shrimp patterns, tying it under the body, to act as legs. I’ve also added CDC to my foam-back shrimps: as they drift around in the wind, the CdC flutters, adding some more ‘natural’ movement. Lending out some of my boxes of barbless river flies recently, prompted me to take a look at my river shrimp patterns, many of which were tied with partridge hackles to imitate the little legs. With this in mind, I tied my new G Buoy Killer Shrimp (a nod to where it was
tested…) in three sizes, from 10-14, and on one version, the partridge hackle has been replaced with CDC. Each has its time and place but the pattern generally is so lifelike and has been a favourite for me and my competition team-mates. Armed with my new flies, on this occasion I’m targeting the shrimp feeders which often patrol the concrete dam, as its paved slabs offer crevices in which the shrimps can take cover.
Take a seat
I’ve noticed that the army of anglers who now fish Graf ham’s dam sit perched on little seats, as much for comfort as for a low profile. Standing on concrete all day takes its toll on your feet and back and this is aggravated by the sloping surface exerting unnatural strains on the body. I don’t have a seat with me this morning so I sit or crouch, keeping a low profile to avoid ‘sky lining’ (having my head and casting arm jutting above the dam wall parapet behind me, like the proverbial sore thumb). Occasionally I stand and cast, just to stretch the leg and back muscles. Casting isn’t as efficient when you’re sat down but there’s usually no need to cast far as the fish are cruising just a few feet out. Today, though, they lay a little further off the dam than usual, with most fish taking seven to 10 yards out. Indeed, I hook a small branch off the bottom, 10 yards out, which is covered in shrimp. The margins’ temperatures are possibly too much for them this summer, so they, too, are lying deeper, just as the trout have been. It’s important to keep your flies in the range of the fish for as long as possible, so instead of casting straight ahead, I cast along the dam at an angle, to keep my flies at that seven to 10 yard range. In less exceptional temperatures, when fish are even closer than today, it’s also critical to maximise those last few feet of water. When lifting off, it’s natural for you to raise your rod vertically, yet this motion could see you miss out on the last 15 foot or so between your fly and the water’s edge.
“Keep your flies in the range of the fish for as long as possible, so instead of casting straight ahead, I cast along the dam at an angle.”
Instead, when lifting off, tilt your rod to one side and over the bank so that the flies come through the last few feet of water towards you, to within inches of the shoreline. That way, you fish your flies to the very end. By 6.30am, I’d landed just one fish and missed several subtle takes, but I then hit a purple patch, landing three or four quickly and dropping several at the net, while trying to oblige photographer Peter Gathercole! I had positioned myself with a good 100 yards of ‘free’ dam space either side of me, allowing room for the fish to feed close and within range. A tall angler in light-coloured clothing fishes upright to my left, so I keep a wide berth to make sure he doesn’t spook my fish. When he eventually winds in and picks up his kit, he drops his net just 12 yards or so downwind of me. He stands high and therefore casts while silhouetted against the sky behind him. I had taken some very quick fish with plenty of offers, yet it’s telling that in the 30 minutes after this ‘skyliner’ entered my airspace, I didn’t get another offer. With another dozen anglers around him, clearly staying low, I’m sorry that he doesn’t take the hint.
Small flies in clear water
I move a further 100 yards along, to give myself some open water, to which the fish will hopefully return, and it soon pays off, as I take five more fish, thanks to a size 14 Hedge End Hare’s Ear (another pattern named after a Graf ham landmark), CDC Shrimps and G Buoy Killer Shrimps. The water is very clear and it’s noticeable that the fish prefer the size 14 flies, with a couple taking the size 12s, while none took the size 10 that I had placed on the point. In clear water or against fish that have been caught and released, the smaller size flies will bring you more rewards. I opted for 8lb fluorocarbon in this situation or the supple 8.4lb Airflo G5, which allows the tying of a smaller knot, especially on the size 14 and 6s. Another angler is also catching well and I learn he’s gone one smaller than me by fishing a team of three, size 16, sparsely-tied Shrimps. At the other end of the size scale, ‘skyliner’ has apparently taken a bit of a shine to me, moving along the dam and once again dropping his gear no more than 10 paces away from me. I hope it isn’t just me who notices the immediate halt in action that follows his arrival. Often, bank fishing is all about casting large distances, at places like Farmoor, for example, where casting range is at a premium if the bank angler is to have any success. When the Graf ham shrimp arrive, on the other hand, it’s the angler who stays low and concentrates his flies in the margins who enjoys more success. The new flies certainly did their job and I’ll continue to modify them as I watch and learn more about these little Graf ham critters. Tie some up and see how they work for you!