Hunt­ing with the Big Red

Al­ter­na­tive tac­tics help An­drew Fl­itcroft catch Dray­cote Water’s pro­lific sur­face-feed­ers

Trout & Salmon (UK) - - Contents - PHO­TOG­RA­PHY: PETER GATHERCOLE

Boatcraft and a deadly dry-fly help An­drew Fl­itcroft on Dray­cote

WWHICH ENGLISH RESER­VOIR of­fers the most con­sis­tent dry-fly sport? Let’s look at the contenders. Could it be Chew Val­ley and Blag­don, which are gen­er­ally shal­low and warm quicker than most? They have a rich his­tory of dry-fly fish­ing and must surely be on the podium. Grafham would be up there, too. De­spite its of­ten green-tinged water, if the fish aren’t ris­ing – which they fre­quently do – they will come “blind” to a dry-fly. Eye­brook is also good, although its most pro­duc­tive, shal­low ar­eas can colour eas­ily in a strong pre­vail­ing wind or if the brook is in flood. No, if I had to stick my neck out, I would ar­gue that the most con­sis­tent water is cur­rently Dray­cote, where an­glers come from far and wide to en­joy tremen­dous sum­mer sur­face sport. I know of friends from Ire­land that visit Dray­cote every year and their teams of float­ing flies rarely fail. Every sea­son rods wait for news of the first ris­ers on Dray­cote be­cause when the trout are up, the fish­ing can be ex­cep­tional. I’d got wind of big fish com­ing to sur­face meth­ods last July and headed off with a box of dry-flies and a five-weight to fish with up-and-com­ing an­gler and Dray­cote ranger Tom Bird, who had been catch­ing fine fish on dry pat­terns. Tom has a de­gree in Fish­eries Man­age­ment and Aqua­cul­ture from Sparsholt Col­lege and aged only 24 al­ready has an impressive track-record on reser­voirs and rivers, in­clud­ing twice fish­ing for his coun­try. Given that he’s a guide at Dray­cote I needn’t worry about find­ing fish.

“It was the per­fect dry-fly day: bright with a fair bit of cloud cover and a slight breeze”

It was the per­fect dry-fly day: bright with a fair bit of cloud cover and a slight breeze – enough to muster a rip­ple ev­ery­where but the lee shore. That’s where we headed, to the top of the wind, a point be­tween the In­let and Dray­cote Dam known as Flat Stones. It forms a small oa­sis of veg­e­tated bank with dams (of which there are many at Dray­cote) on both sides. The water here is shal­low and of­ten at­tracts grown-on fish from the deep­est part of the reser­voir around nearby B Buoy when the shal­low’s weedbeds and their as­so­ci­ated food are es­tab­lished. I’d caught trout here be­fore. In the early ’90s, when I was a fledg­ling reser­voir an­gler, I re­mem­ber fish­ing for Trout Fish­er­man mag­a­zine with a chap called Bob Wallinger, who tar­geted Dray­cote’s huge grown-on trout. The “deeps” were (and still are) one of Bob’s hotspots and the tales he told of huge fish fol­low­ing his flies to the boat have stayed with me. Bob fished with huge lures on cus­tomised su­per-fast sink­ing lines, but know­ing that big trout like this area and must oc­ca­sion­ally en­ter the shal­lows around Flat Stones has al­ways drawn me to it.

No sooner had we set the drift than we saw fish ris­ing. Tom was in first, net­ting a stockie of around a good dry-fly day. If fish are ris­ing first thing, the This day promised to be no dif­fer­ent. The the­ory: it’s bet­ter to fish two flies well than

says that Dray­cote fish move quickly and tend to cover more water be­tween rises than on most

apart on 8½ lb Rio Flu­o­roflex Plus fluoro­car­bon. He chooses fluoro­car­bon be­cause it will sink into the sur­face a lit­tle, of­fer­ing dis­guise, but his flies are not on the water long enough for them to be dragged down. He fan-casts on a short line, keep­ing his flies close to the boat so that they are eas­ily seen. In calm, sum­mer con­di­tions such as those we ex­pe­ri­enced that day, trout tend to switch from feed­ing on as­cend­ing pu­pae to those emerg­ing at the sur­face. This is a dry-fly fisher’s dream. I like it be­cause fish seem to rise bet­ter in a flat calm, pick­ing off trapped tit­bits that in a rip­ple or wave would hatch and take to the wing more quickly. But Tom’s fish had been eat­ing snails, which would ex­plain the leisurely rises in front of the boat. Snail-feed­ers can be ex­tremely picky, but there is a fly for every even­tu­al­ity and to­day it was the Big Red. This pop­u­lar reser­voir fly has a para­chute hackle rather than a nor­mal col­lar hackle, mean­ing that the hackle sits on a hor­i­zon­tal rather than a ver­ti­cal plane and un­like a stan­dard col­lar hackle, all the fi­bres are di­rectly in con­tact with the water’s sur­face. If you look at a natural adult buzzer sit­ting on the water, its legs form a cir­cle from a point be­hind the tho­rax. The hackle style on the Big Red mim­ics this foot­print, which along with its low pro­file is one of its key at­tributes. Be­cause all the fi­bres touch the water it also means that fewer turns of hackle are needed to sup­port the fly, which in turn gives the pat­tern sparser, more natural-look­ing char­ac­ter­is­tics. The Big Red may closely im­i­tate an adult buzzer, but its low-rid­ing pro­file also makes it a good pat­tern to try for trout graz­ing on the snails that mi­grate in the sum­mer months, hang­ing up­side­down in the sur­face film. If there is a down­side to this deadly fly, it is that it sits so low in the sur­face that it’s dif­fi­cult to see, but if you must choose be­tween a fly that’s eas­ily seen or one that will catch you more fish, I know which one

“If you must choose be­tween a fly that’s eas­ily seen or one that will catch you more fish, I know which one I’d pick”

I’d pick. Luck­ily, the fly is big – as its name sug­gests – and for some rea­son when it comes to the Big Red, big is best. A size 10 is stan­dard and there is rarely the need to go smaller than a size 12 on reser­voirs. This and the fact that they are bright red (other colours can be tied, but are not as con­sis­tent) means that they are easy to see at close range. If you are not used to keep­ing track of a fly at dis­tance it’s worth hav­ing a high-rid­ing “sighter” fly in the team. This pat­tern is of­ten sac­ri­fi­cial and will be only 4 ft-5 ft from the in­vis­i­ble Big Red so should any­thing rise or swirl near it you can as­sume the Big Red has been taken. A great way to make the Big Red more vis­i­ble is to add turns of thread un­der the poly yarn tags at its front and rear (see ty­ing se­quence, p12). This makes the tags stand more up­right but does not com­pro­mise the fly’s low-ly­ing at­ti­tude. Tom had to leave us at mid­day by which time we had shared half a dozen trout, al­most all to the Big Red, dur­ing a lovely morn­ing of cast­ing at ris­ing fish. Af­ter lunch, I no­ticed sev­eral trout mov­ing up and down the dam within feet of the stones. Luck­ily, the flat calm would keep the boat close enough for me to am­bush them. Now fish­ing solo, with Peter tak­ing the pic­tures, I was able to re­fine my ap­proach. When tar­get­ing fish within a few rod lengths, you must be stealthy. In Ire­land and es­pe­cially on Cor­rib, I’ve fished for sur­face-feed­ers un­der the guid­ance of Larry Mc­carthy and Den­nis Moss, two mas­ters of the hunt. They in­sist you keep low. There is no place for boat seats, which make you stand out like a tower block. They even point the bow at fish to re­duce the boat’s vis­i­ble bulk. These things make a huge dif­fer­ence on Cor­rib, but are not even con­sid­ered by reser­voir an­glers. Kneel­ing in the bot­tom of a boat may not be as com­fort­able as sit­ting on a comfy seat, but it will scare fewer fish. I rea­soned that if I kept low, the fish would con­tinue to run be­tween the boat and the dam, not 30 ft away. If I sat on the seat, they would spook. If I kept low, the only move­ment they would see is the rod – any body move­ment would be hid­den. It worked. I was able to cover fish that would oth­er­wise have been put down and by mid-af­ter­noon I’d lost count of the trout I’d boated. Al­most all took the Big Red – so many that at least two flies fell apart. Stealth, con­stant de­greas­ing of the leader and set­tled con­di­tions had brought suc­cess. Tom had caught the biggest fish in the morn­ing, a fish of around 4 lb, but we’d seen big­ger. Dray­cote’s pro­lific sur­face sport is tes­ti­mony to its stock­ing pol­icy. This sea­son the own­ers will stock

34,000 trout in the 600-acre reser­voir. That’s a hell of a lot more trout stocked per acre than some well-known English reser­voirs and one of the rea­sons fly-an­glers flock there. Young Tom also cred­its its dry-fly sport to its se­ries of sunken is­lands or “shoals”. At nor­mal sum­mer level, Croft shoal lies 7 ft be­neath the sur­face while Mid­dle and Mus­bor­ough are 15 ft down. These plateaux spread their bounty of food down into the deeps that Dray­cote’s big over-win­tered trout call home. When you drift over them, just keep that thought in your head – imag­ine a mon­ster por­pois­ing over a Big Red, its tail wag­ging down­wards into the depths…


Am­bush­ing fish that pa­trol the dam at Dray­cote called for a stealthy ap­proach. Kneel­ing in the bot­tom of the boat put down fewer fish.

Dray­cote war­den Tom Bird uses a five-weight rod for dry-fly fish­ing.

Tom with the best fish of the day – a 4 lb Dray­cote beauty taken on a Big Red.

ABOVE One from open water, where pulses of fish kept com­ing to the boat.

ABOVE The fish were feed­ing hard on snails.

BE­LOW Proof of the pud­ding.

A big red adult buzzer – the rea­son for the Big Red ar­ti­fi­cial. LEFT

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