The beast of Bodmin

Toby Coe and friends hunt big trout at a moody Col­li­ford Lake in Corn­wall

Trout & Salmon (UK) - - CONTENTS -

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...

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