Former world champion Iain Barr gets excited about the prospects of a bumper fry time as we approach the back end of the season
Why this could be a terrific late season
THIS time of year offers fly-fishermen the opportunity of a fish of a lifetime. After a long hot summer, water temperatures are finally tumbling and the starved trout are back on the feed! With such a hot summer, the end of season fry frenzy could still be going into December and January as temperatures stay above normal in our lakes and reservoirs. One or two fish are showing signs of feeding on fry and a recent trip to Draycote had many fish with small perch fry in them. Rutland is stuffed with fry and it’s only a matter of time before the fish turn on them. Rutland's last two seasons have boasted arguably the best late-season brown trout fishing in the UK. I've fished Anglian waters for 35-plus years and never had a double-figure fish but I have had two in the last 12 months. I was lucky to sneak a few hours one afternoon last October and take a 10lb 2oz brown on a White Humungus from the Harbour Wall and this is the first bit of advice I will offer. Where to fish?
Look for structure
“The fisheries are behind... so see November, December and January as September, October and November.”
All the large reservoirs have harbours to hold their boat fleets. This is man-made cover for the hordes of fry that appear now. The pontoons offer refuge for the fry and they’ll gather in their millions. Last year the Rutland harbour was black with fry and the assaults on them were coming from all angles! Seagulls bombed from above like RAF jets while the large trout, often browns, charged them from below. It was like watching an Attenborough episode of killer whales hurtling at the sea lions! Trout would go deep and swim to the surface at speed and cartwheel through the fry! Stunning to see. Like the killer whales, last year I'd watch several large browns in a pack, chase the fry into a frenzy! Chew Valley has two parallel pontoons and fry in their millions are attracted here. It’s a spectacle as trout, perch and pike send these innocent juveniles into a panic! Last year at Draycote while guiding a client, we parked the boat just a few feet off the pontoon and I flicked a dry Snake off my rod into the water and a rainbow of near 5lb took it dry, right off the top with just my leader out the rod tip. Like the fry, it was taking cover under the pontoon waiting for the fry to pass. Structure is important when targeting fry. Fry need cover – pontoons, rocky outcrops, large weedbeds, sailing yachts and moorings, anything offering a chance of escape and cover. Fry offer a large, nutritious meal and you'll often find that trout feed in a frenzy for short periods and then disappear with the odd one still willing to feed. First and last light offer a good chance of big fish. As the sun rises and sets, the fry appear on the surface and trout and other predators seem to know this. It makes them easy targets as the fry unwittingly jump freely on the surface and are bombed by gulls and trout alike! The trout are often attacking silhouettes and this makes them vulnerable but how do you make them take your artificial with so many naturals? Your offering simply has to stand out. At first and last light a surface pattern can be the best choice. The old favourites like a Minky Boobies, Humungus Boobies or my new Mini Snoobies ripped across the surface are sure to get their attention.! By bouncing these across the waves you're sure to get an attack. Rainbows often chase before taking but you'll find that large browns simply intercept them with a ferocious onslaught in one hit. You have to be ready for this immediately, as your fly lands and don’t shy away from strong leader tippet. I always use 13.1lb Airflo G5 fluorocarbon for fry feeders. It’s very strong and not too thick for all my fry patterns and you don’t want to be snapped on that large fish you’ve strived to catch. Often after an onslaught the trout return to pick up stunned and injured fry. This is when you turn to a Floating Fry or the popular Popper Minkies. These are designed to sit in the film and fish will take them as subtly as they do a dry fly. A fish taking a static fry off the surface needs a firm lift of the rod as opposed to a hard strike. If the fish hasn’t connected when you lift they'll often chase the fry as it skims away from them. If the fish swirl at your fly, a short pull can trigger the take you’ve been waiting for.
Fish deeper when action stops
Once the frenzy ends, usually an hour after sunrise, this isn’t the last of the action. Trout have to pack on weight to get through the winter so won’t ignore a small fry going past their territory. As soon as the surface activity stops, fish a little deeper. Just like the surface patterns, they can be ripped fast or fished dead slow or static! My 10lb 2oz brown from Rutland Harbour last October took a White Humungus lure static. I’d cast out three Humungus lures, undid a tangle for 45 seconds or so and after reeling up the slack the line went tight. Don’t be obsessed by ripping the fry patterns back too fast. I use my range of Snakes a lot now and catch more fish using a figure-of-eight retrieve than I do ripping them back. The Humungus is hard to beat at fry time and it's best fished with short two to three-foot short pulls to give the marabou maximum tail movement. Probably the most popular sunken fry pattern is the Leaded Minky. A slow figure-of-eight retrieve is best for these, and be prepared for more subtle takes. Beef up your tackle. I’ve discussed leader strength but you need a powerful rod to drive that hook home as well as cast some of the larger patterns. In loch-style competitions I watch anglers ‘bounce’ fish off as they pull lures fast. Some are fishing 6/7wt rods and, in my opinion, these are not made for pulling lures fast and aren't ideal for big fry feeders. In my opinion, a 6/7wt rod has too much give for a large trout taking your fly. The rod buckles and doesn’t have the backbone to set the hook. You may get away with it on surface patterns but just think of the fish you have ‘bounced’ on sunk fry lures when it rips out your hand and there’s nothing there. I opt for my original Airflo Enigmas and the Airlite V2. Lightweight and powerful casters and strong enough for fry. The fisheries are behind in terms of conditions and water temperatures so see November, December and January as September, October and November.
Iain Barr: Has fished for England 24 times across World, European, Loch-style and Rivers International Teams.