During a short holiday in Lancashire Stewart Wallace and Tam Campbell decided to try out a couple of highly rated fisheries both run by the same management team and at both ends of the fishery spectrum. Bank House, a small, secluded, beautifully set out fishery surrounded by trees and shrubbery and Stocks Reservoir situated in a high moorland setting, wild and windy and at the mercy of the elements not a million miles away from a Scottish highland loch.
A quiet corner of Bank House fishery
Day one and we arrived at Bank House Fishery just off junction 34 on the M6 near the village of Caton. Not knowing what to expect we were pleasantly surprised to find what looked like someone’s back garden, albeit a large one with a magnificent water feature in the middle of it. You would never guess that Bank House was only two and a half acres and has space for a maximum of sixteen rods due to the twelve islands located throughout the fishery. It doesn’t matter where you decide to stop to have a cast; it seems that you’re in your own private corner at all times. After deciding on a four hour sporting ticket and getting some sound advice regarding patterns from the well stocked lodge we made our way up the steps to the fishery to set up.
Stewart’s father-in-law Neil who at 70 had never caught a trout or cast a fly had come along to see what all the fuss was about so while Stewart set up a rod and gave some basic instruction I headed to the next peg to have a look around. Small black dries we had been told so following fishery advice the first fly that went on was a size sixteen black suspender buzzer on a long leader, second cast, only a matter of feet from the side, up came a rainbow in the clear water and............ So the first trout was missed, typical.
Fish were very easy to spot and it became apparent that you could target any blue trout in casting range but for whatever reason nothing interested them while rainbows tended to at least come up for a look. Time and again a tell tale swirl would appear just under the fly only for the offering to be refused but eventually a confident response would come and the fish would drown the fly. However hooking up was a different matter and after missing four in a row without even feeling the weight of any of them it was time for a change of method and on went a small black buzzer suspended about a foot and a half under a Klinkhammer. This method did not bring the expected result, in fact it brought no result at all so although it had been very frustrating back on went the dries.
Stewart casting towards one of the many islands
An added bonus for anyone spending a few hours at Bank House is the variety of wildlife that calls the fishery home. From the peg that I had chosen a pair of long tailed tits flitted back and forth feeding a hungry brood in a bush just to my left. Goldfinches and chaffinches also had nests nearby while on the water mallards and waterhens looked after tiny chicks. There was a small furry mammal that caught the eye now and again as it swam between islands, an unusual sight in Scotland as mink have decimated anything living near water, but it moved so quickly it was difficult to positively identify it. No matter where you looked there was something of interest going on but I suppose if I had spent more time concentrating on my fly I might have had a fish in the net by now but I didn’t have to wait too long.
A few casts later and my first Bank House rainbow was on. The small black emerger came to rest under an overhanging branch on the island opposite me and without hesitation was sucked under the surface by a very fit fully finned two pounder. Moments later it was in the net unhooked and released, hopefully to give someone else the satisfaction of fooling it next time. Stewart who was on the far bank was also having a frustrating time and as he retrieved cast after cast two and sometimes three trout would follow inches behind his small lure but no matter what he tried he could not entice a take from any of them. He too was casting to a small island and a change to a Hawthorn pattern brought the desired response. Immediately after hooking his rainbow he unselfishly handed the rod to Neil who now had his first experience of playing a fish on a fly rod. He handled the situation like a pro and once again the fish was quickly given its freedom. Sadly for Stewart his successful pattern ended up stuck on a tree minutes later.
Neil gets to feel what playing a fish is all about
As we came to the end of our session the four hours had flown past but there was just enough time to land another fish apiece, and miss a couple more before we had to head back to the lodge and call it a day. This was one of the most entertaining sessions I have spent on a small fishery, targeting fish in clear water where it seemed reasonable to expect a take on every cast and all this in delightful surroundings. Locals are fortunate to be able to fish Bank House on a regular basis and if you are in the area I recommend you give this superb little fishery a look.
Stewart nets his first stocks brownie
A couple of days later and we decided to pay Stocks Reservoir a visit, this time on a full days sporting ticket. Stocks is more like the large Scottish lochs we learned our trade on and I personally feel more comfortable fishing. Plenty of room to roam the banks looking for that point or bay where you know fish are waiting to ambush any careless beetles or other terrestrials unfortunate enough to be blown onto the water, but as with most forms of angling our plans suffered at the hands of the weather. Arriving in the car park we discovered a very strong, cold north easterly blowing and we could already see from our vantage point that this would limit our opportunities on the bank severely.
In the lodge came the disappointing news that the wind had been blowing in this direction for a few days, fish were feeding on a tiny black midge and were proving very difficult to come by. We were pointed in the direction of Hartley’s between Barn Quarry and Bell’s Point as this was the only section of bank that offered some shelter but we could see that there was already four other anglers fishing there so it would be crowded to say the least. Anyway we had travelled quite a distance to get here so we would just have to find a little space and get on with it.
A lovely Stocks brown trout
Neil who had obviously enjoyed his first experience of fly fishing decided to come along despite the warnings of “being exposed to the weather” and “it would be a long day”, etc, etc. Stewart managed to kit him out in 5mm neoprene’s and a good jacket and hat to keep off the cold, a simple rig of floating line, eight feet of fluorocarbon and a brightly coloured Booby completed the set up. With the wind behind him it was hoped this would aid his limited casting and the Booby would make enough disturbance to bring a fish up for a look. I decided to brave the elements a little and fish back towards the boat jetty with a floater and a cast of two traditionals with a small black lure on the point. With the big wave it seemed it would only be a matter of time until a brownie would come crashing down on my Clan Chief as it bounced enticingly across the surface. Three quarters of an hour later and my early enthusiasm was waning slightly, no interest at all, perfect conditions for brownies but someone had forgotten to tell the trout that.
A sharp whistle alerted me to the fact that Stewart was playing a fish, I was too far away to ask what it had taken or even see which line he was using but it looked like a nice fish, at least one of us was off the mark and not long after this he was into another. Two nil and I had only managed a swirl at one of my flies so it was off to see what the successful method had been. Stewart had changed to a Ghost Tip line and both fish, nice stockie brown trout, had taken a Green Pea on the point, I didn’t need to be told twice and changed to a similar set up only I chose a Black Woolly Bugger for my point fly. A few moments later and the change of depth worked when a nice blue grabbed the lure and proceeded to try every trick in the book to escape.
Tam with another quality brown trout
What followed after this was a long barren period when the reservoir seemed devoid of any fish and the local anglers began to leave or head to the lodge for a break. We ended up having the whole of Hartley’s to ourselves and after finding a sheltered spot for a quick bite to eat it was back to the business of the afternoon session and this time the trout did not disappoint. Quiet spells were replaced by bursts of activity with a few solid takes, the first resulting in a brown around the two pound mark. This trout took a Soldier Muddler on the top dropper and like all the fish at Stocks was in excellent condition. One or two fish could now be seen breaking the surface although it was hard to tell if they were feeding as no insect life was in evidence but things were certainly looking up. A rainbow soon followed and this time a small Black Fritz lure was responsible on a slow figure of eight retrieve. We were now getting lots of interest with pulls and knocks coming on a regular basis and with the wind easing slightly conditions were also improving.
An old favourite from Mentieth, the Peach Muddler had gone onto the top dropper and this fly accounted for the best fish of the day. Stewart and Neil were taking a break on the bank directly behind me and as the Muddler came bouncing across the surface I had time to alert them to the large bow wave directly behind the fly and only a couple of feet from the bank the fish finally nailed it and headed off for the safety of deeper water. After a couple of good runs a nice brown of over three pounds came to the net, a lovely deep fish with large red spots. Neil who had been plugging away improving his casting as the day wore on brought a fish up from nowhere and it followed the Booby before turning away without taking the fly. This was an encouraging sign and shortly after the cries of “I’m in” signalled that his first ever trout was well and truly on. Cast to, hooked and played to the net without any help whatsoever, it was smiles and handshakes all round as the rainbow was released after a couple of photos, proving you’re never too old to learn to cast a fly.
You never forget your first trout
A most enjoyable day came to an end with a total of ten fish caught, admired and returned and we were completely blown away by the quality, especially the brown trout. Back at the lodge it was a pleasant surprise to find that we had performed really well with most of the other anglers struggling to find fish even from the boats. It is always satisfying when you do well on a new water, more so when conditions are difficult and you have to work that little bit harder for any success that comes your way. I would love to return to Stocks and have a crack at some dry fly sport on a warm summer’s night; I’ve got a feeling that a ginked up Balloon Caddis would work wonders on some of the larger residents.