Fly Fishing: Small Water Success

Fly Fishing

Ben Bangham,fly fishing guide and Tom Leslie, owner of Fin and Game, both fishing fanatics, reflect on their day at Manningford Fishery, providing some insights into their success and the best kit for fishing small waters …

Small still waters for fly fishing have probably always been the most popular part of our wonderful sport. Like most fishing it has had a bit of a resurgence during the pandemic. Talking to some fishery owners that I know they have seen record months, month after month.

This is fantastic, it’s great to see and is a good indicator that there are new people coming into the sport, or just finding it again. Now obviously these numbers will tail off as the world normalises a bit, however I don’t think it is unreasonable to think that we will keep some of these people. It is also safe to assume that as they grow in confidence and the bug takes hold that they may spread their wings a bit and try out other things on offer such as rivers and reservoirs. So, this is definitely a positive step for our industry.

I think the main reason that small still waters have stood the test of time and are now growing in popularity is threefold really:

  1. Primarily it is an access thing. Small still waters are a lot more numerous than fly fishing rivers and reservoirs when you look at an overview of the country.

2. Price, a two fish ticket or a catch and release ticket is normally relatively cheap for a day’s entertainment.

3. Thirdly the chance of catching is high. This is not to be underestimated, we fish to catch fish, and small still waters offer the best catching consistency of any areas of our sport. They tend to be stocked regularly for precisely this reason, to keep the fish coming out and the fishermen coming through the doors.

With all of this in mind Tom and I headed down to one of the top small still waters in the country, Manningford Trout Fishery. It’s a beautiful and well maintained still water in the heart of the Wiltshire countryside, being maintained and run by Malcolm and Fen. It has a catch and kill lake as well as a smaller catch and release lake that you can move to once you have taken your fish from the main lake.

What do you need to fly fish on small waters?

Equipment. When I fish these small still waters you can generally use a variety of kit to tackle them. I either use my 7# rods which are primarily my reservoir rods and can chuck a long line with ease. The other advantage is that I have a multitude of lines that I can use with this set up, everything from floaters to booby basher lines. Although such an array is rarely needed on such waters, it can be nice to have.

Normally though I opt for what I call my heavy river set up, which consists of a 9ft 5# sage X rod and a sage trout reel. On this I have a RIO Premium Gold 5# line and in the bag on a spare spool or another reel I will normally carry a Airflo Sixth Sense Intermediate 5# line. You can always carry more lines and have more, but these are normally my two main lines of attack when fishing a small Stillwater. If I was to have a third line in the bag as well which I sometimes do then it would be the RIO Midge Tip.

Leader wise I won’t go into too much depth here as it is probably an article by itself, but I have used the RIO Fluroflex. It’s very thin in diameter for its breaking strain, lovely and supple and has yet to let me down. I tend to use the 6lb and 8lb breaking strains for this type of fishing. With nymphs and more delicate flies going on the 6lb and lures etc going onto the 8lb.

I would say don’t get too bogged down with kit in this type of fishing. As with most fishing, most kit will do. It may not do the job as well as specific kit will do but don’t let it stop you getting out there. As long as you don’t damage the fish and have fun then it’s fine.

How the fly fishing on small waters session went …

We started moving around the lake fishing small lures on either the intermediate or floating lines varying the retrieve. The lake is generally shallow most of the way around, so we didn’t need anything more than an intermediate. It was a surprisingly slow start with only a few plucks to keep us going. There was the odd fish moving so they were obviously moving and feeding.

We moved to the far end of the lake using the same tactics, and it paid off. We managed a couple of fish on the lures. However, it still didn’t feel as though we had found the right tactic. The majority of anglers where fishing in the deeper water near the lodge as it seemed that most of the fish were stacked up there. They were catching consistently through the morning; however, it was starting to slow for them. Having fished Manningford a fair bit over the years I know that if the fish are being pressured they can push up to the islands. There is some overhanging cover for them, and it is out of reach of most casters. This means that they feel comfortable and safe there so move there when the fishing pressure increases.

So, with this in mind I moved to a peg that covered the island near the deeper water. I changed set ups as well. I put the floater on the rod, attached to this I had 3ft of the 6.1lb fluroflex to a Fario bung and then a further 4ft to a single tequila blob. I went to the bung as I wanted to keep the fly next to the island as long as I could without having to move it out of the area I thought the fish would be in. A single blob sinking slowly can be deadly on small and large waters alike. I tend to fish it under a bung on small waters so I can control the depth better. On reservoirs I will fish it on a very long leader with nothing else. It worked, the fly was only in about 15 seconds on the first cast before the bung gave a twitch and then slid away. A few more hard fighting rainbows graced my net in a short period of time. It really shows that if you get it right and find the fish the action can be frantic.

Tom stuck with a moving fly trying to find one of the bigger browns that had been stocked the week before. Sometimes a bigger meal being moved can attract the attentions of the larger fish. His perseverance paid off, eventually hooking into what would turn out to be the fish of the day in the form a very decent brown. He had moved into the deeper water with an intermediate line and fished the lure close to the lake bed.

We called it a day after this as we had bagged up. It was an interesting day in that the moved fly produced far less fish than the bung, however the better stamp of fish definitely fell to the moved lures. This could be because we effectively fished after everyone else that day so the fish were clued up on the perils of a moved fly. It had paid off to switch tactics for me though and having both tactics available meant that we caught pretty consistently throughout our time fishing.

Kit used to fly fish on small waters:


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