Thursday, 12 April 2012

Gouthwaite Grayling

Nidderdale's Gouthwaite Reservoir was built in the 1890's to provide compensation water for the River Nidd, because of the planned impoundment of its head waters with the building of Scar House and Angram reservoirs. Those of us who fish the River Nidd appreciate the influence it has on the Nidd, by maintaining a decent flow in times of low rainfall and holding back flood water after heavy rain.

Gouthwaite's main claim to fame from an anglers perspective is the fact that it is the only lake in England to contain grayling. Obviously when the River Nidd was impounded they were trapped in the lake, other than to migrate upstream to spawn. Much as I enjoy wild brown trout fishing in lakes, it was the grayling population that attracted me to Gouthwaite, though, as with grayling in the rest of the Yorkshire Dales, their numbers have declined drastically over recent years. There is one clear reason for this - predation by cormorants. I have fished Gouthwaite for about 5 years now, but the grayling have always eluded me, which I can't complain about as I only fish it 2-3 times a year.

Gouthwaite Reservoir has held a fascination for me ever since seeing it in a flyfishing video in the early nineties. I think it was presented by Arthur Oglesby, who used to fish the River Nidd hereabouts. Whoever it was they surprised me, because although they could see grayling rising by the dam wall, they ignored them to search for wild brown trout elsewhere in the lake. Soon after this I went to look at the lake and as I looked over the roadside wall there were fish moving and rising with a distinct kissing sound all down the western shore. How I didn't set up a rod and poach the place I've no idea! After that I always longed to fish Gouthwaite.


A lot of years were to pass before I met anyone who fished at Gouthwaite. It was through my dealings with Nidderdale Angling Club that I met the late Norman Greenwood, who had fished the lake for many years and he knew the lake like the back of his hand. After many hints at taking me fishing to Gouthwaite, Norman finally got the message and took me one hot Saturday afternoon in August. Not good fishing fishing conditions, but I think I caught 2 trout. He was to take me a few more times before he finally put my name forward to join the select few who were allowed to fish Gouthwaite's hallowed waters. It was in that same year that Norman unfortunately passed away and I still miss him and is distinctive chuckle today. I think about him every time I fish there and as I drive past where he had his static caravan - "Trout Lodge".
Gouthwaite Reservoir, Nidderdale
Gouthwaite Reservoir, Nidderdale

Gouthwaite is not an easy place to fish; it's inhabitants are not tolerant of wading anglers and they are pretty discerning in their tastes. The way to fish Gouthwaite is to keep moving and keep out of the water. The late Herbert Harris, a well known local angler and Gouthwaite expert, and one of a group of friends (including Oliver Edwards) who were/are very skilled anglers had a saying, "break wind before water at Gouthwaite"!

I find that small and black works well, and I also like small traditional flies such as Black Pennell, Blae and Black, Connemara Black, etc. I now prefer a 2 fly cast when bank fishing for brown trout, I find it gives better presentation. I usually use a 9 foot/4lb, tapered leader to the first fly, with my point fly about 6 to 7 feet away, usually on 3-4lb fluorocarbon. This I like to fish on a light rod such as a 9' #4.

One of the main frustrations of fishing Gouthwaite is that it lies roughly north to south, meaning that with our prevailing westerly wind it rarely gets a nice wind/ripple running down the bank which you can fish your flies across. The lake is also in the bottom of a steep sided valley, so it is also quite sheltered. Wind and ripple make stillwater wild brown trout fishing so much easier!

In the past I have timed my visits to Gouthwaite to coincide with the mayfly hatch in early June. Gouthwaite and the River Nidd get a decent mayfly hatch and the gulls in particular gorge on them. The trout take them, but I have found fishing a mayfly imitation quite unproductive. I usually opt for the flies named above which seem to work better. I have also fished the lake in September, but until today, never early season.

Of late I have been reading articles in Flyfishing & Flytying, and Trout & Salmon, about wild brown trout fishing in lakes, lochs, loughs, llyns, duckfly hatches, large trout, wet flies, etc, etc and this had got me chomping at the bit for some local stillwater action. The weather forecast was perfect for midge (buzzer or duckfly) hatches: quite cool, cloudy with intermittent sunny intervals and a decent breeze from the NW. This would give a ripple down the lake allowing the flies to be cast across and retrieved in a curve - perfect!
It might be small but it's my first stillwater grayling!
It might be small but it's my first stillwater grayling!

I pulled up on the dam wall for a preview and the conditions were indeed perfect. The air was thick with buzzeers and I saw what I thought was a fish rise just off the dam wall. I drove up the road side, parked up, climbed the wall and began fishing round a point into a bay. There were fish moving off the point on the other side of the bay so I quickly fished my way to them, but, despite covering every rise, they wouldn't take my offerings. Then, out of the blue, there was a sudden snatch of the flies and as I struck a small fish came skidding across the surface to me. Small trout I assumed, but no, on closer inspection it was in fact a small grayling, my first from a lake and I was on cloud nine.

Grayling duck broken I was back in the car looking for more productive water. I stopped at the point where the River Nidd flows into Gouthwaite, hoping there might be a hatch of olives in the fast water. There wasn't, so I moved to the eastern shore and had lunch looking for fish activity. There was no obvious activity so I just fished a likely looking point and round into a bay with a red headed Diawl Bach on the point and a size 14 Black Pennell on the dropper. As I lifted to recast the line locked up and I was into a good trout that gave one hell of a scrap. It was slightly above average, somewhere in the region of a pound in weight. Another smaller trout was to follow and then I lost a decent fish. It also took the fly as I went to recast and set off in the opposite direction so fast that the line made a ripping noise as it cut through the water. It was short lived though. Everything just stopped and I thought the fish had gone to ground, but he had snagged me on a sunken branch and snapped the dropper off.

A good Gouthwaite trout
A good Gouthwaite trout
And it was time to head for home after an enjoyable 3 hour session. I'd like to say I'll be back to Gouthwaite soon but there's just too many places to fish and not enough time to do it!