Chasing Rainbows – Stalking Large Stillwater Trout

I’m a coarse angler by choice, particularly fond of rivers, but have no problems whatsoever finding other alternatives to feed my cravings during the river close season. Later on in the Spring I hope to have a few sessions targeting Tench and Crucians, but the last few years have also seen me chasing trout, double figure trout that is!

It’s fly fishing but perhaps not as most people recognise it. There are some venues that virtually guarantee you will go home with a double figure trout, perhaps even a 20lber. You just need a very deep wallet and an ability to switch off any thoughts that it’s fishing related. One particular venue even provides a wheel barrow to transport the fish back to the car!

Each to their own but I’ve not quite gone down that route. My main focus of attention has been directed to the historic Avington Fisheries set in beautiful surroundings in central Hampshire. The three mature lakes are fed by the River Itchen which normally results in crystal clear water and an abundance of luxuriant weed. Avington typically buy in their own stocks at the fingerling stage and rear them through a range of holding tanks and ponds, eventually stocking them into the lakes at very regular intervals. The majority of fish are stocked at 5lbs/6lbs+ together with a fair few nudging the 10lbs mark.

But it is their even bigger brethren that occupy far too much of my time and effort! You will not see dozens of double figure trout but all three lakes hold a few of them to make the challenge a tough one. Of course, finding them is one thing, but getting them to show a bit of interest and actually hooking them is another. Sure, you can stumble upon one of these giants and it will hit your fly straight away, but in my experience, that is a very rare exception.
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So how do you go about landing one of these leviathans? Well the first thing is to totally ignore the run of the mill stock fish. It takes a kind of madness to watch superbly fit 6lb+ rainbows parade before your eyes and not even consider casting for it. I try and tell myself they’ll still be there later on in the day! It is not unusual for me to go for several hours without even casting. Even when I do cast to my chosen target, the odds are I might have to deliberately abort the effort as a “smaller” stock fish attempts to sabotage my efforts.

Good eyesight aided by polarised glasses is an absolute must and, it may sound obvious, the ability to actually spot a fish is crucial! I’m often amazed that some people just can’t distinguish a big trout patrolling the depths. Sometimes they are hidden from plain view, but more often than not, you’ll just see something a little different that develops into a “fishy shape” that with a bit more study, becomes a very big fish indeed.

I find it helps considerably if you generally try to scan a reasonable area of water rather than concentrate on a specific spot. After a short period I’m able to “see” when something different happens. A shadow moves differently or a light patch materialising in a previously dead area, will usually be the first indications that get my attention.

There seems to be two main schools of thought about stalking at Avington. “Stand, watch and wait” or “wander around until you find one”. Both have considerable merit. Dick Walker preferred the former and a couple of his letters describing his methods are displayed in the tea room.

I tend to prefer the latter and will walk for miles and when I’ve found one, I’m more than happy to spend hours watching and hopefully, eventually fooling it. For the most part these big trout tend to patrol a given route. That might be a very small area or could be half the lake. The main point is they will be back (usually!)

I consider Avington to be a “margin venue”. Time and again I have found really big trout right down the side against the reeds or in amongst the roots. Certainly my best at 18lb 12oz was inside a rod length tucked away between some roots. It took me nearly two hours to eventually persuade it to take!
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Having found your target, you need to get your fly down to its level. The water clarity makes depth perception quite tricky and the biggest mistake some make is to cast only to find the fish long gone. Practice will tell you how your fly and leader react but learn the lesson well. Sometimes you have to present the fly right on their nose, or raise it from the bottom as you intercept their patrol.
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Tackle is all about personal choice and preference. What may suit one angler, may well be a complete disaster for another. The key is to have a balanced set up and be comfortable and confident when using it. You don’t need a ‘stiff as a poker’ chunk of carbon fibre to land these big Avington rainbows, but you will need to be familiar with your gear and know its strengths and weaknesses

I favour a 9ft 4 piece 6weight rod. It happens to be a Guideline model that some kind soul in Sportfish sold to me. Others favour 7weight or even 8weight rods that may give them a bit more power. Whatever you choose, for the most part, you won’t be casting any great distances; a lot of the “work” is at close quarters.

I was very much of the opinion that any old fly reel will do, it’s only there to hold the line. But having experienced the sheer speed and acceleration of some of the Avington residents, I have now changed my mind! A reel with an effective drag system is invaluable when trying to control these fish. My weapon of choice is one of the Orvis Wide Arbour Battenkill range. Setting and adjusting its drag via the dial system is easy to use and very effective.

The line obviously needs to be balanced to the rod! But this may take a bit of experimentation to get right. I have several different 6weight lines and they all perform differently on the rod. Typically you won’t need anything other than a floating line; you can effectively fish at the required depths with a weighted fly and sinking leader material. My personal preference is a Loop Opti Weight Forward 6F.

Ordinarily you won’t have a need for the advantages of a tapered leader, no need for the leader and fly to roll over in beautiful arc. You may not even have to cast in the conventional sense at all! So, I employ a short 9ft leader of Kryston Incognito fluoro straight through. Minimum leader strength at Avington is a sensible 6lbs so I use Incognito in 7lbs (0.25mm) and 9lb (0.28mm). The relatively short leader length really does help when targeting a specific fish. I occasionally use other fluoro or nylon leader material but have tremendous confidence in Incognito.

Personal preferences are definitely in play when it comes to fly selection. There are several variations, clearly successful for other anglers that I’ve found next to useless! For me it is all about confidence and my own personal favourites are various Stalking Bugs and Buzzers, usually size 12 or 14:
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There is a sign in the Avington Shop “Is Your Net Big Enough?”. My landing net has a label “Large Sea Trout” (works fine for other trout!). It’s lightweight and extends to a decent length.

Don’t wait until you try and get that 15lber into your standard trout net only to find out it won’t fit.

About Neil Maidment 2 Articles
I’m 59 years old and have been an angler since I was a kid in short trousers. Rivers, lakes, coarse or fly, I love it all.

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