By Robert McLay, Guideline Ambassador UK

With spring comes the start of the stillwater season for many of us on U.K stillwaters.  An unpredictable season at best with regards to weather and climate, particularly over the past 10yrs in the UK .  Whether global warming is playing a role in this (possibly), whatever the reason, these days we can find fisheries bathing in 20’c sun and heat, or frozen solid in a snow storm when it comes to March/April. This ever changing climate means as anglers, we have to be prepared for every eventuality on the water when it comes to our tackle setup.

Having spent the past 10yrs competing in national smallwater events, I’m a great advocate of saving time on the water, and in this regard, I will always begin by setting up 2 outfits:  a floating line setup, and a sinking line setup. Before establishing the exact setups in terms of leader, flies etc – I always assess the water and the conditions. Too many anglers arrive and simply setup their “go-to” setup. Always assess the conditions; the wind strength, are their signs of fish? What are the fly-life conditions? There are often many clues which can help get you off to a good start, simply by using observation.

Early season floating setups

There’s no denying a straight-line nymphing setup is one of the most effective setups in stillwater fishing. The patterns themselves are, to the best part, realistic to what the fish are feeding on, such as buzzers and small nymphs. For this setup, a good floating line, or midge-tip line is required. If there are signs of buzzers in the water, I’ll opt for a buzzer team, usually consisting of 2x size 12 dropper flies, and one size 10 buzzer on the point. There are no strict rules for this setup – always fish what you are comfortable using (and casting) – whether that be 2 or 3 flies. If you aren’t getting a touch using natural patterns, it’s often worth adding a FAB on the point as an attractor pattern. This ‘washing line’ concept is extremely popular on boat venues – but can also be productive on smallwater fisheries.  

Floating Setup – Buzzer Teams

Line: Guideline Fario Distance or 4-Cast F/S1

Leader Setup: 18-20ft – 6,2lb breaking strain Guideline Power Strike leader.  If fishing dries, I’ll opt for a lighter 15ft 4lb Power Strike leader. 

Flies: 2x Size 12 buzzers (black or olive are usually my go to).  I will often opt for a brighter fluo cheek pattern on the top dropper. In terms of buzzer style – my favourite are quill buzzers. Point Fly: FAB (optional) – or a high-floating CDC point fly, should fish be showing on the surface.

Floating Setups – Nymph Teams

The Diawl Bach has been the No.1 generic nymph pattern over the past 10yrs and has spawn numerous variants and styles.  From plain to attractor versions such as hotheads, winged diawls, JC diawls, flashbacks, weighted diawls, the list is endless – but it is, in my opinion, an essential style of fly and one which most stillwater anglers will have an entire box dedicated to.

Line: Guideline Fario Distance

Leader Setup: 18-20ft, 6,26lb breaking strain Guideline Egor FC leader 

Top dropper: size 14 hothead diawl

Middle dropper: size 12 flashback diawl or cruncher.

Point biscuit Fab/CDC if the fish are high, or a brandlin worm / gold head nymph.

Floating ‘Indicator’ (bung) Setup

The bung or ‘float fishing’ method has grown massively in the bank fishing scene over the past 20yrs and is often a controversial method.  Some would argue it goes against the spirit of fly-fishing and is merely ‘float fishing’. Nonetheless, it’s a highly effective method, and if I’m being honest, I find it quite a fun method.  It certainly has it’s place in fly-fishing and in competition angling.  

Indicator Setups

  1. A size 12 mitt Chartreuse/orange, cat bug or weighted squirmy worm
  2. An attractor buzzer such as an okey dokey on the dropper, with a weighted blob on the point

Leader Setup for ‘the bung’

There are different approaches, and length will usually be determined by the venue and its depth.  For fishing deeper stillwaters one method is to start deep, using a 12-15ft leader, with droppers positioned at key points eg, 3ft, 6ft etc. Or, for shallower venues, you may wish to start with an 8ft leader, again with droppers positioned at the key depths 3ft, 6ft to help establish the fish depth.  It’s also not unusual to fish shorter leaders 3-5ft if the fish are higher in the water. Simply adjust your leader accordingly once you’ve established the fish depth.  I’ll usually fish 6,26lb leader when fishing the bung – the Guideline Egor, which is a superb high-strength/low diameter fluorocarbon.

Pulling rod/Lure setup

The most versatile line for pulling lures is often a slow glass intermediate, as it will allow you to cover a range of depths, simply by adjusting the retrieve rate. Two key lines I’d highly recommend are a slow & fast glass line, these two lines can help you cover a range of depths effectively.  

Setup 1 – An unweighted blob (sunburst or Fl Yellow preferred) on the dropper with a weighted cat lure on the point. My favourite point flies are cat’s whisker variants or Black/Olive hotheads such as an ‘Ally McCoist’ lure.  

Setup 2 – 2 unweighted size 10 cormorant patterns, with a weighted point lure.

Setup 3 – Hothead Diawl Bach on the top dropper, Cormorant middle dropper, and a Candy Booby on the point. 

Using two different rod setups allows you to ‘chop and change’ setups very quickly, which will allow you to work out the winning method on the day quicker, this is especially useful when fishing competitions. As I mentioned above, when it comes to spring, you have to be prepared for every eventuality, and no two days on the water are ever the same. Be prepared for all setups ;  from dries to pulling lures, and everything in between. Pictured above are some of my favourite patterns to give you some ideas and inspiration. 

Recommended U.K Trout Fisheries

For those looking for great stillwater fishing in the UK, listed below are some of my favourite venues, across the U.K :  

Rutland Water (England): The home of UK international fishing competition and one of Europes best stillwaters.  It sports a range of species with excellent bank and boat fishing. https://anglianwaterparks.co.uk/rutland-water-park/fishing

Loch Leven (Scotland): Arguably the world’s most famous and iconic brown trout venues in Scotland:  http://www.fishlochleven.co.uk/

Lake of Mentieth (Scotland): Scotland’s Premier Trout Fisheries, and the home of international competition Angling in Scotland.  https://www.menteith-fisheries.co.uk/ 

Llyn Clywedog (Wales): The home of international competition in Wales.  A superbly run and organised boat venue with incredible fishing in stunning surroundings.  http://www.clywedogtroutfishing.co.uk/  

Loch Insch (Scotland): One of Scotland’s premier smallwater fisheries.  Based in Aberdeenshire, Loch Insch is a venue on the International Bank Fishing circuit. 

Lochter Fishery (Scotland): A premier smallwater fishery that has played host to the International Bank Fishing Final in recent years, this man-made venue features 3 unique lakes and is stocked with quality trout.  http://www.lochter.co.uk/ 

For more information, tips and advice, follow us on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/Guidelineflyfish

Flytying Materials – All materials were kindly supplied by Flybox & TEXTREME.  Materials are available from www.flyboxdirect.co.uk and Flybox Stockists across the U.K


Robert McLay
Guideline Ambassador (UK)

Leave a Reply