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Charles Jardine: Still waters run deep

"A trout from a still water is not a second class citizen", says Charles Jardine, Director of The Countryside Alliance Foundation's Fishing for Schools programme, in this article from My Countryside magazine.


During the 1960s, Britain went through several ‘revolutions’, some visible, some lasting, some under the radar. One of the more enduring revolutions has been the opening of the larger reservoirs for trout fishing. 

Suddenly, what was once perceived as elitist and ‘tweedy’ came within the remit of the working man in the great swathes of the industrial Midlands. The consensus would suggest Grafham Water in Huntingdon was the catalyst, then the enormous 3,000 acres or so of Rutland Water; both truly shaped the sport’s departure from a river-centric environment. 

There were many reasons for this reservoir boom time: greater availability of personal transport, fibreglass fly rods that were easier to carry, plus greater free time to devote to hobbies were all important factors, as was the introduction of rainbow trout that thrived in the fertile waters. These all melded together to shape an upsurge that witnessed thousands of new devotees coming into fly fi shing via reservoirs, bringing with them a whole new outlook based on coarse fishing nous and very different solutions to overcoming practical fishing problems. 

Of course, large expenses of trout fishable waters existed before these Midlands juggernauts, but many – like the West Country’s jewel Blagdon, the Northampton Ravensthorpe and the delightful Eyebrook just outside of Corby – were modelled on Scottish lochs. It is these lochs where so much of still-water fly fishing for indigenous brown trout had been codified by both a classic loch-style tradition or quasi-river fishing approach. 

Worth a mention is Chew Valley Lake; the shimmering 1,200 acres, nestling just outside of Bristol in the lush green folds of the Mendips. Created in the 1950s, this scintillating fishery should have shaped things further afield and in the same way as the Midlands waters. Oddly it didn’t spark a revolution as much as a minor rebellion. The lake certainly shaped styles and approach but not quite in the dramatic way that the Midlands waters did. 


Starting small 

So why does all this matter? Well I guess it doesn’t; but even today there is a feeling that the only trout fishing worth the name is conducted on rivers. Bunkum. 

To catch a trout from these waters requires tactical nuance and angling versatility that makes river fishing, whilst not banal, then comparatively simple. Just consider where to start your day with 3,000 acres of water to explore. Simple? 

Luckily, there is a halfway house. The smaller still-water. 

Rising to prominence almost immediately after the reservoir boom of the 1960s, came gravel pits, purpose dug lakes fuelled by springs. These small still waters have a pH that can sustain a healthy population of trout and have offered a growing band of fly fishing opportunities throughout the British Isles, catapulting fly fishing further towards an eager and growing audience with its own specialist bands, niches, devotees and styles. 

The smaller water is by far and away one of the best introductions to our sport you could wish for. These more intimate waters are our version of a shooting school and clays… or an equestrian centre with a riding instructor. The smaller still water offers a less overawing backdrop and a far greater opportunity for success and yet does not patronise your efforts: a trout from a smaller lake is as equally prized and as hard earned as one from a river or larger water – and, in some instances, easier. 

Broaching tactics and gear and all the other elements which encompass this wide area of sporting fascination would be logistically foolish in such a short space of time… almost irresponsible. Suggesting places too would be fraught with minefields – and choices are always subjective in any case. 

The whole essence of this piece is to highlight the extraordinary sporting potential that still waters encompass. No: they are not rivers. But look at them differently in the same way one might driven game shooting against walked up game. 

Also, I would suggest that trout caught in a reservoir is no lesser being, in fact once you have hooked a fully silvered grown-on rainbow from a large water like Chew, Grafham or Bewl Water, you just might think that you are fishing for grilse sea trout or small salmon. 


A beauty all its own 

I have always loved the almost Rubik-cube complexity of fishing a still-water; a vast three-dimensional game of chess with fly rods, depths, fly lines and estimating where the trout might be – and so satisfying when you get it right: electrifyingly so. 

And then there is always the hushed, breathless excitement of hunting rising trout and easing their way through the surface. Their fins cutting and gliding, their noses denting an oily surface, hungrily sipping and grabbing trapped insects. Or that savage wrench on the hand and rod tip as an unseen trout slashes at a subsurface fly... 

Still water second fiddle to river trouting? I don’t think so.

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