Jonny Muir heads to Rutland Water on a solo mission to get reservoir trout fishing back on his radar, but he finds it tough going.
Last year I didn’t do as much reservoir trout fishing as I would have liked, spending far more time exploring rivers for trout and grayling, coastal waters for bass and, most notably, trying to crack one of our most challenging chalkstreams – the urban River Wandle in south London. Despite catching some decent chub, dace and roach on the fly, as well as one or two trout, I can confirm that, for me at least, the Wandle remains distinctly un-cracked.
This season however, I’m determined to get back in a boat to see what our large reservoirs have to offer. I have so many great fishing memories from when I regularly used to fish Rutland, Grafham, Ravensthorpe, Pitsford and Eyebrook but for one reason or another they have dropped off my radar in recent years. The 2018 opening weekend at Rutland Water, surely the king of English reservoirs, seemed like an ideal opportunity to get back into it.
I set off from London at about 6.30am and, with quiet Sunday morning roads and a breakfast pit-stop, arrived at Rutland by about 8.45am. As I neared the reservoir, evidence of our recent extreme winter weather was still apparent and despite the temperature reading 9°C a few solitary piles of snow remained beneath the hedgerows, reminding me this was still very much early season fishing.
Going from the catch returns, opening day on Friday 9th March had provided great sport, particularly for the bank anglers. A chat with Andy in the tackle shop confirmed this was the case when he informed me that the fish were holding very close to the bank. I could have taken the decision to give up the boat I had booked and position myself on the shore, but I was yearning for the freedom that comes from being afloat so I made my way onto the pontoon, located my assigned boat and loaded my gear ready for the off.
A dense layer of fog hung over the reservoir that morning and, as a result, boat anglers were delayed until 9.45am when it had lifted sufficiently for us to depart safely. I decided that my first location would be the south shoreline, so I set a drift from east to west down from the ‘blue pipes’ towards Normanton Church and as I set off I could already see bank anglers getting stuck into a few fish, confirming the fish were moving very close in.
After a couple of drifts I rather disappointingly had nothing to show for my efforts. I’d seen one or two fish being caught from the boats, but It was clear that those fishing from the bank had a distinct advantage. Not wanting to encroach on the bank anglers by getting too close, and without being able to anchor anywhere suitable, catching a fish was proving trickier than anticipated. The east wind was also blowing boats slightly away from the south shoreline, making it a challenge to control the drift at the right distance from the shore.
Just as I was planning on pulling in the drogue and changing location, a nice brown trout of about 3lb followed my Black Booby right to the edge of the boat as I fished ‘the hang’ but it turned away at the last second. I hoped that wasn’t going to be my only chance of the day.
By afternoon I was staring a big, fat, embarrassing blank in the face. Some anglers were pulling in fish after fish while others, like myself, were struggling. It was apparent that the fish were shoaled up in various hotspots and finding one of those was going to be the key to success. A change of scenery was desperately needed, so I motored over to the north shore and set a drift from the dam down towards Whitwell Creek.
Having tried everything in the morning from a full floater and buzzers to a Di7 and lures, I elected to set up with a RIO InTouch Deep 5 fly line, a 15-foot leader of 8.5lb RIO Fluoroflex Plus and three flies. On the point was a big white and silver Minkie Booby, in the middle a Jelly Blob, and on the top dropper a small Black Cormorant. My thinking was that the Minkie would appeal to any grown-on fry feeders, the blob to recent stock fish and the cormorant was there to entice any fish wanting a more natural-looking mouthful.
At long last my fly line went tight and I had a fish in the boat – a recent stock fish which took the Jelly Blob. Just to prove it wasn’t luck, I soon after had another fish in the boat, this time on the cormorant.
I had obviously happened across a shoal of fish, as I had another couple of tentative plucks, but I decided to keep drifting down the shoreline rather than go back and drift over the same spot again. The image of the brown trout that had followed my fly to the boat earlier was still stuck in my mind, so I decided to drift further down the North Arm in the hope of hooking something a bit more special.
A look at my watch showed the time to be 5pm – time for a few last casts before I had to return the boat. I cast out my line and counted it down to what I thought to be about 12-15 feet. Strip, strip, strip, thump. This one felt more solid and I instantly knew I hadn’t hooked another recent stock fish and, after a couple of minutes of the fish staying deep, I saw a glimmer of gold shining up from the depths – it was a big Rutland brown!
The fish had taken the Minkie Booby and as it rolled on the surface, I could see that It was barely hooked. After struggling all day, my heart was well and truly in my mouth but I managed to slip the net under it and the fish was finally mine! Not wanting to mess around too much I didn’t weigh it, but snapped a quick photo before sending it back home. To say I was chuffed is an understatement!
It was a challenging day where others bagged-up but I never seemed to be in the right place at the right time. It did, however, end more perfectly than I could have imagined as I had landed a grown-on Rutland brownie – that’s what reservoir fishing is all about!
I headed back to the dock, not having caught many fish, but satisfied that perseverance and tactical thinking had finally paid off and I had been rewarded with a truly memorable fish. My reservoir trout fishing season was off to a flying start!