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Things that go bump

Last week while camped out on Poolburn alone, I managed to spook myself. It doesn't happen very often, but it does happen. I don't know about you but when I feel uncomfortable somewhere, anywhere, I split. Maybe there was someone hiding in those eerie rock shapes – Poolburn is quite literally Earth upended, and it is spooky. Hell maybe it was just the place; some spots just make you want to get up and run.

I know one thing, as soon as I'm spooked it's very difficult for me to think straight again. It must be like that for trout when they see one of Sean's flies. So I left Poolburn and drove to Benmore taking a very complicated route via Dunedin. For those of you who are – like me – unfamiliar with New Zealand geography, not many people would have done that.

Wading at night is particularly creepy. You can almost guarantee that something will bump your leg. It's probably just an eel of course, but what if it's a corpse? What then? Catching an eel is bad enough.

So I tend not to wade at night, apart from which I'd probably fall down a hole. In any case, it's often unnecessary since the trout come into the shallows to feed.

I've been extremely lucky in my life as a flyfisher. For ten years or so I worked on Ardleigh Reservoir, which in its day was an excellent trout fishery.

For the rest of the world, unfamiliar with the concept of “put and take” fishing, Ardleigh was a stillwater created in the early 70's for water consumption. At 110 acres it was big enough for fish to get lost, grow on and do their own thing. Most of the UK flyfishing is put and take trout fishing. Regularly stocked, in this case weekly, with fish averaging just over a pound with a sprinkling of artificially big fish to over ten pounds, this is fairly common.

The fishing used to cost something like 14 pounds for a day plus another 9 to hire a rowing boat. Season tickets were the most economical means of fishing the place and a season ticket cost about 400 quid. The bag limit when I fished here was eight. After this you either had to stop fishing or buy another ticket. Catch and release was unheard of up until about only fairly recently.

In general something like 70,000 trout would be stocked into the lake and slightly over half would be caught. The rest were either eaten by cormorants, pike, poached or else evaporated. Sounds easy right?

In actual fact this was the most technical, most interesting flyfishing I have experienced. In its heyday Ardleigh would see around 50 anglers each day, maybe more. In fact on opening day (last Saturday in March) the fishery would see over 200 anglers! It doesn't take long for a fish to figure out that not everything in life is real – it took me much longer for example.

Anyway this isn't a discussion about the merits of put and take fisheries. If you are interested, I'm against small put and take fisheries, stocking wild self-sustaining waters, competition angling, compulsory catch and kill and a whole bunch of other things which I've written about in the past and would be far too tedious to write about here.

Ardleigh was an 8 'o clock to “one hour after sunset” water. Only in its final years did they allow fishing from first light. But unlike every other UK stillwater I've fished, they were not strict on finishing times. Take Hanningfield for example, if you are boat fishing on this water and just look like being back late and man from Hawaii 5-0 chases after you and tells you to bugger off. Hanningfield would probably be quite a good fishery if you could be there when the fish were feeding on anything but daphnia.

So fishing late and getting the entire evening rise in, was never an issue. However for me, I was particularly lucky, being the only bailiff who actually fished, and in fact only doing the job so that I could fish, I had pretty much free-reign of the place. It was in fact the cushiest job in the world. I'd work 14.45 to 18.45 Mon to Fri and 6.45 to 18.45 Sat and Sun. It's also the only job I've ever had where I could sleep by the way.

One weekend instead of making the very long walk home, I decided to “fish through”. You know that I'm going to tell you it was fantastic, right? You are probably thinking, “Yeah and he probably caught lots of browns”. Well it was fantastic and I night fished for many subsequent years, I still live on those sleeping patterns in fact and caught hundreds, probably thousands, of night time rainbows and very, very few browns.

Summer nights in the UK, and in particular East Anglia, have a distinct pattern. In the early evening the wind drops and the lake turns into a mirror. This is obviously the time to fish dries and the rise – all being well – should be spectacular, although as the summer progresses it becomes more subdued. Then, just before dark, a breeze springs up and ruffles the water. This breeze is almost always in the reverse direction to the daytime one. Of course it has to be; the land mass cools and the winds change.

At this point most anglers have either already packed up or else do pack up. This is a well-documented time for fishing the black lure and hopefully picking up a couple more fish.

This time for me was always a little quiet, sure you could score a fish or two but you felt like they were going off, and they were. I used to take about another hour for that wind to drop and we are now passing midnight. This is when I encountered a second period of feeding activity. At first I assumed we'd be talking sedges and spent buzzers. But autopsies also revealed fry.

When I first started there was little to go on, so I used seatout flies: Peter Ross, Black Pennel, Teal Blue and Silver and they worked and worked well in that hour or so. Later I tried muddlers and these were very successful too, as you'd expect with sedges and fry in their diet.

In the darkest hours another breeze would spring up. This was a very weird time; the air temperature would drop, fish would stop their sporadic rising, and you suddenly felt that there were big fish around. And there were. I regularly caught three and four pound fish in this time as well as a handful of brutes, one of which would undoubtedly still be the biggest trout I have ever hooked – I lost it.

I would usually finish my fishing between 2 and 3am although every once in a while I'd fish straight through. On those occasions that I did, there would be another surge of activity just before dawn. The dawn rise used to be spectacular in June, but almost non-existent in August and that's because it was all over an hour before.

Not many people know this. It probably wont help you unless you can talk your fishery into allowing night fishing. I would love to fish Rutland at night for example. But I found it interesting. And much of what I learned at Ardleigh holds true in the rest of the world.

Cheers, Paul

For the record Ardleigh shut its doors as a trout fishery some five years ago. The fishing had declined and gone off. We may be seeing the same thing occur at Rutland. That's what happens when you fertilise your farms with no thought for tomorrow.

Ardleigh Reservoir, where I grew up

Essential Bush Skills

The start of any flytying good flytying sequence involves squirting The Light of Apgai on your polyprops
Both alarm and curiousity set in when the polyprops start melting
Putting the lid back on the jar to stop *that* happening again
The flytying proper is underway
Notice the composure, that's true class that is
A difficult bit, you can tell that from the vacant expression
Essential bush skills: the third hand
Notice my hat here, it's quite daring
Snip, snip
I'm not quite sure what I'm doing here, but it's cool
Trimming an oversize hackle that appears to have become trapped in the whip finnish manoevre
Delicate precision work, the hallmark of any good flytyer
A sexy catch...

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