The beast of Bodmin
Toby Coe and friends hunt big trout at a moody Colliford Lake in Cornwall
Toby Coe and friends hunt big trout at Colliford Lake in Cornwall
BODMIN MOOR: IT always seems a sullen, dreich place, its rock tors glowering under grey gloom. The wind never stops blowing and if the sun appears, it sneaks out, before being hurried away by the clouds. Perched on top of the moor is Colliford Reservoir, completed in 1983 and impounding the St Neot River, a tributary of the River Fowey. The reservoir is a key component of Cornwall’s potable water supply. There is both direct abstraction from the reservoir, as well as releases of water to the River Fowey, where it is then abstracted further downstream near the tidal limit of the river at Restormel. The creation of the reservoir and the management of the water in it has had a significantly detrimental effect on the St Neot. The reinstatement of the hatchery at the base of the dam, described in T&S December 2017, is an effort to reverse this impact and supplement the diminished natural reproduction of salmon in the river. Above the hatchery, on the other side of the dam, the reservoir often reflects the bleak feeling of the surrounding moor, with scarcely a tree to break the wind on the shoreline. Old, crumbling stone walls run down the shore and into the lake; the fields they once surrounded patrolled by trout rather than sheep. Until a couple of years ago, it was a water I had always meant to fish, but never managed to – rivers local and afar typically winning the competition for my time. Stories from good mate and guide Duncan Raynor of big brown trout caught on the surface finally piqued my interest and I’ve fished the reservoir a few times with him since. By design rather than bad timing, my trips generally coincide with exactly the kind of weather that reinforces my impression of Bodmin. Colliford’s trout seem to respond well to the wind and rain and the fishing is often better in conditions that would typically see many anglers abandon any plan to cast a line. The advantage of Colliford is that it has an irregular shape, with several long arms stretching in different directions. This gives the prospecting angler the chance of finding at least one stretch of shoreline where the wind will be blowing from behind them. It therefore pays to check the forecast and head to a stretch of shore-line where the wind will be your ally, rather than your enemy. It is a tough place to fish, in part due to its size – 900 acres – but also because the density of trout is low. A couple of thousand fish around 10in long are stocked into the reservoir each year and these, combined with resident wild brownies, grow to around 1½lb. However, trout of 3lb-4lb are caught every year and Duncan swears blind he has hooked and seen significantly larger fish. For the angler who enjoys solitude, the relative difficulty of the fishing means the pressure on the reservoir’s inhabitants is light. Walk away from the car parks and you will often have several miles of shoreline to yourself, alone save for the wind and intermittent croak of ravens.
“The fields they once surrounded patrolled by trout rather than sheep”
The reason for the size of some Colliford trout is probably due in part to the low density of fish, but also the relative abundance of food. In addition to aquatic and terrestrial bugs, there are plenty of fry in the reservoir and the trout feed heavily on them. There are populations of carp and ruffe in the lake, the latter being numerous and often quite small: the perfect snack for a hungry brown trout. The “hatch” of daddy long-legs, which emerge in numbers from mid-august, can lead to excellent fishing. Given their relatively poor flying skills, they are often blown on to the water presenting an easy meal for a cruising trout. When walking the banks towards the end of summer and early autumn, keep an eye out for their gangly outline in the air and on the surface of the water. It helps that, for obvious reasons, the best bank to look for them is the same one that makes casting easier. It was the prospect of surface sport, as well as pictures of the trout encountered on my few trips to the reservoir, that lured Andrew, Richard and James from T&S to Colliford last year. Nipping down to the reservoir for a couple of hours after a day spent chasing salmon on a nearby river, we arrived on a rare evening when the surface was bewitchingly calm. While the fishing was slow, a couple of big trout moved several times beyond casting range, their big shoulders pushing a tell-tale bow-wave. The next day, we met Duncan, our guide for the day, who stressed the need to cover lots of ground. A fireman, Duncan is pretty fit, and once tackled up, he strode off into the distance. I watched Andrew (not a 30-year-old fireman) follow behind in a scene reminiscent of one from a Tolkien novel. To cover as much water as possible, while Andrew and Duncan headed up the bank, James and Richard held back, effectively splitting up the shoreline. Advancing along the shore between casts, each took care to cover key holding areas like points, changes in angle of the shore, the drop-off and any obvious structure. A couple of 10in trout rewarded Richard’s
early efforts before Andrew hooked something more sizeable while fishing a rocky near an old fence which extends into the water. He saw the fish move and covered it. Running over to photograph the action, I watched a big fish lunging beneath a very bent rod before Andrew finally slid 3lb or more of pristine brown trout over the rim of the net. A pale shade of brown and gold, with a few big spots, this was a true West Country trophy trout. A beast of sorts among its smaller brethren on Bodmin Moor. Minutes after we watched it swim away, the weather turned and a cold wind pushed increasingly dark clouds our way. Fishing on for a while, the teams of flies were ignored until we decided to call it a day.
One of the small, pretty, wild fish. This one took a black Spider.
Colliford is dauntingly large and desolate. You must walk and cast to find the fish.
Andrew's heart is in his mouth as one of the lake's bigger fish fights under the rod tip.
This drone shot clearly shows the drop-off. It's much harder to see at ground level.
Dusk is a great time to see the lake's monsters move. The adrenaline flows...