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Martin James award-winning fisherman consultant,broadcaster,writer


A Cotswolds Trout Fishery

The western sky was all shades of pink, the last rays of the setting sun reflected on the calm surface of the lake. My suspended buzzer in the surface film fifty feet from the bank disappeared, I was left with just a slight dimple and the rippling rings where my fly had been. I quickly tightened into a good trout.

I first learnt about Watermark Fisheries some months ago when Chris Leibbrandt joined me on the River Kennet. As we sat trying to catch a pike Chris told me his son Philip had been made assistant fishery's manager in the South Cerney area of Gloucestershire, known as the Cotswold's. He said "Philip helps look after several gravel pits, containing very big carp and pike, also quality tench, roach, rudd, perch, bream and trout". I was familiar with the area as back in the 1970ís and 80ís I had fished several of the waters catching double figure bream, roach of 2-7-0, rudd 3-3-0 and tench of over 8lbs. In those days Bridge Pool was my favourite water.
All the Watermark Fisheries are mature gravel pits with lots of bird and insect life, various species of butterflies can often be seen in good numbers. There are plenty of trees and bushes which offer cover and make the waters more intimate. One of the major problems in these days of thieving and drug taking, is to find a fishery with secure car parking, during my visit to the fishery, I was more than happy with the parking arrangements. Of course we should never leave valuables on view, if you keep your rod in a tube make sure the potential thief can see there is nothing inside the tube if its displayed in the back of your vehicle.
For most anglers April 1st is looked upon as the start of a new trout fishing season, though in Lancashire the start is March 15th and Yorkshire the 25th. In late March Philip called me to see if I wanted to fish Watermarks new trout fishery. I quickly said "Yes please" I then made arrangements to travel down to the fishery. I said to Philip "Is there any accommodation in the area? He told me about the various houses Watermark had for rent, either for two days, two weeks or two months or whatever you the customer wanted. I asked Phillip to book me in for a couple of days.
It was a pleasant 4 hour drive south from Lancashire with no hold ups, on the M6 M5 junction. Checking in at the Watermarks office in South Cerney couldnít have been easier. I was greeted by a very helpful assistant who gave me a set of keys and directions to my accommodation, pointing out the gym and restaurant. Even the security guard was a pleasant smiling gentleman. My self contained accommodation was certainly the best I have ever experienced, there was milk, tea or coffee that meant I could have a brew. Even towels, soap and shampoo were provided. It was a perfect set up, which any family would be happy to live in. It was certainly top quality accommodation. After making a mug of tea, I sat down in a comfortable armchair to sort out my fly boxes then have some dinner.
It was just after 9 oíclock in the morning when I crawled from a comfortable bed, after showering, I pulled back the curtains to see it was a bright sunny morning. A light breeze ruffled the surface of the lake in front of my house. In the far corner I could see an angler who was no doubt fishing for tench. I had certainly chosen a beautiful day for my trout fishing in the Cotswoldís. Having finished breakfast of porridge, toast and two big mugs of tea, I washed and tidied up, before collecting my fly fishing vest, cameras, tape recorder and rod tubes. Then it was off to Watermark Trout Fishery a five minute drive. On the way passing the famous and legendary Ashley Pool on my left. As I drove into the car park I could see Chris Leibbrandt sorting out some tackle. Getting out of the car I said "Good morning Chris and Philip" Good morning Martin would you like a cup of tea or coffee" said Philip I declined with thanks. Chris said "Good morning mate a few buzzers are coming off should be a good day" Overhead a B52 was gaining altitude I could hear some geese calling as they flew into a nearby field. On a hawthorn bush I could see a Peacock butterfly.
Chironomids Are My Number One Imitative Patterns
Two thirds of the lake were ruffled by a light wind making it perfect for fishing Chironomids or buzzers as they are commonly called, the water sparkled in the bright sunshine. A couple of fish swirled on the surface, and then a Great Crested Grebe surfaced from its underwater hunt for a small fish. I decided to make up two outfits, fishing imitative patterns such as buzzers I chose a 9 foot 4 weight Thomas and Thomas LPS model with a Joan Wulff signature floating line and 12 foot long tapered leader to which I added 3 feet of 3lb Frog Hair fluorocarbon tippet. Ignore those who say you don't need a tapered leader.
My other outfit was a 9 foot 7 weight Thomas and Thomas Helix model with a Wulff triangle taper sinking line with a 9 foot tapered leader with 3 feet of 6lb Frog Hair fluorocarbon tippet. This outfit was for fishing the deeper water with nymphs, either Pheasant tail, Gold Ribbed Hares Ear, Damsel or Richard Walker Mayfly. I chose to start fishing the shallows at the bottom end of the lake. As I made my way down to the shallow end, I had the gin clear sparkling River Churn on my right; peering intently into this beautiful crystal clear river I could two nice chub.
Sitting at the waters edge I watched the surface of the lake for signs of moving or feeding fish, after a few minutes I watched a fish head and tail. A typical rise, so reminiscent of trout feeding on buzzers. Within five minutes I had seen several more rises, a few pupa shucks floated on the surface. Buzzers or to give them their right name of chironomids, are a non biting midge and one of the most important flies in both still and flowing water. In Ireland they are known as the duck fly. The pupa can be used with confidence all through the season, which come in various colours black, green, red, olive and cream. The life cycle is in three stages, first as the larva commonly known as blood worms which lives in the mud and silt at the bottom of the river, stream, pond or lake. As bait itís often used by coarse fishers on canals. In the second stage of its life it becomes a pupa which slowly makes its way to the surface. In a keen anglers fly box you will often see a dozen or more imitations of the pupa in various colours and materials including beaded pupa which I have used with great success. The pupa on reaching the surface film is known as the emerger, where it will stay suspended while it gains strength before bursting through the film and into an adult buzzer. Itís at this last stage when its most vulnerable.
Buzzers move slowly they donít dash about
The secret in fishing chironomids in either the larva or pupa form is make sure you move them very slowly. These creatures do not dash around. Take a look in a water butt or garden pond and you should see the larva wriggle about on or just off the bottom, you will also notice the pupa will move extremely slowly as it makes its way to the surface, I am told they can take several hours to reach the surface when they are in deep water. Your imitative pattern needs to move just as slowly for the best success. When fishing a suspended buzzer I will often take 15 minutes or more between casts, I let the suspender drift naturally with the surface movement. Its a very relaxing style of fishing and extremely exciting when fish are taking emergers.
Quality Brown Trout
Having seen enough activity from trout taking buzzers it was time to fish, I tied on a size 14 black suspender then made a long cast, as the buzzer settled on the water I gave a quick long foot pull on the line to straighten the line and leader, unlike many anglers I didnít stand at the waters edge, but sat on the bank. I suppose I had been watching the buzzer for ten minutes, suddenly there was a boil. The line moved, I gave a strip strike and lifted the rod all in one smooth movement. The rod tip was pulled downwards the reel grudgingly giving line. I had my first hook-up of the day. For several minutes it was give and take as the fish powered away taking several few feet of line. Then I would get it back, at no time did I feel I would lose the fish. After a while I had the fish coming towards the bank where I was able to net a lovely brown trout about 3lbs.
Unhooking the fish I could see its mouth was full of black buzzers. I had certainly chosen the right colour. In the next five casts I missed one take, hooked and landed three fish two rainbows and a brown. I then lost a fish which broke me off on a dead branch in the water. Further up the bank Chris had been fishing a team of buzzers with a small dry fly as an indicator catching ten or more rainbows and browns. As Chris told me over lunch "Those fish are certainly in good nick". I had to agree I had never seen better quality fish in stillwater.
During the afternoon session, the fishing slowed down as the wind increased creating quite a chop. It was time to go down stair. Picking up my Thomas and Thomas Helix 7 weight with the Wulff sinking line. I started fishing a Pheasant Tail nymph, in the next hour I changed to three other different patterns of nymphs. On my second cast with a size 8 Mayfly I had a very aggressive hit connecting with a super fast fish which quickly had several yards of line off the reel. For several minutes I had some real excitement as man and fish fought it out. The well balanced tackle eventually proving the winner as I pulled a big rainbow over the flooded marginal reeds. Its was a fin perfect rainbow of about five pounds. After slipping out the barbless hook, the fish gave a swish of its tail then it moved off strongly to the deeper water. I had five more fish during the session all on Mayfly nymphs. At 5 oíclock it was time for a break and a mug of tea.
The Perfect Evening
Finishing tea I made my way to the waterside to find the wind had dropped away, most of the lake surface was flat calm with lots of dimples and the occasional boil. It was a perfect evening to fish the buzzer. I suggested Philip should have a session while I shot some photographs. Using my Thomas and Thomas 4 weight LPS Philip cast a nice line and was quickly into his first fish a rainbow about three pounds. In the next hour he caught five fish including a very big brown estimated between seven and eight pounds. Meanwhile Dad Chris was in action taking a succession of good fish on nymphs and buzzers.
One Last Cast
The western sky was all shades of pink, the last rays of the setting sun reflected on the calm surface of the lake. My suspended buzzer in the surface film fifty feet from the bank disappeared, I was left with just a slight dimple and the rippling rings where my fly had been. I quickly tightened into a good trout.
Several yards of line were immediately taken off the reel as a fast moving, hard fighting fish moved from right to left. It was some five minutes later when I was able to draw a beautiful brown trout of about three pounds over the submerged weed and rushes. Bending down I remove the size 14 buzzer, then giving the trout a gentle push I watched it swim off strongly untouched by hand. It had been a great day with nice company on a clear water gravel pit catching fish which were in perfect condition. I could make the long drive north in a peaceful frame of mind.
Further Reading
There have been many books published that discuss fishing the chironomid, such as Charles Jardine Small Water Trout Fishing, Stillwater Trout Fishing Bob Church with Charles Jardine Trout From Small Stillwater's Peter Cockwill, John Goddard Reflections of a Game Fisher. One of the best books on the subject is Midge Magic Don Holbrook and Ed Koch published by Stackpole books. ISBN 0-8117-0996-5 What is impressive about this book is it covers all aspects of fishing Chironomids in rivers and streams. On page 74 there is a fascinating chapter on Elk River 32s. Itís a book for all anglers who are interested in fishing the chironomid, especially the river and stream angler. The Watermark Fisheries Horseshoe Lake South Cerney Gloucestershire GL7 5UZ are a group of trout and coarse fishing waters including the river Churn which can be fished on a day or season ticket basis. E-MAIL Telephone 07711513462

Martin James Fishing