England international Charlie Abrahams recalls the exceptional winter bank fishing at Grafham Water (Cambridgeshire, UK) where good bags of fin-perfect fish became the norm
I am fortunate enough to have Grafham as my closest major reservoir but, while I have often spent a lot of the loch-style season on it, I have historically reverted to my small water roots in the winter, where there are plenty of competitions, which I enjoy.
In 2017, having heard so much positive vibe about the winter bank fishing I was determined to give it a real go, and the addition of a five match series run by senior ranger Mark Haycock gave it added appeal. What I learnt was that it is indeed fabulous fishing, especially through till the year end, with fin-perfect powerful fish aplenty from a number of spots that really only vary depending on the wind direction and that methods are simple – in my opinion you only really need to consider two.
Method 1 – “Shrimping”
Grafham fishing has been revolutionised by the invasion of the killer shrimp which are the reason why the bank is so good in winter. The shrimp live in the rocks with which the shoreline, especially on the North side, has been piled and so fish come in close to feed – this means that when you can catch them on shrimp (which this year was through November) they are very close to the shore, sometimes even behind you and the best methods involve nymphs and a floating point fly, either a buoyant shrimp pattern or a candy FAB. The only line for this method is a floater and the best retrieve is none at all – just move the flies up in the water with a three foot draw on the line and then let them settle. Rinse and repeat and you will find something pulls the line out of your hand pretty savagely as a confidently feeding “shrimper” heads for the horizon.
Fly choice is not that important but strangely, given the size of the naturals, smaller is usually better with size 12 or 14 my favourites. I usually start with a Hare’s Ear and a red rib Diawl Bach on the droppers and let the fish decide for me, which will be better on the day. If you have no qualms about “ground baiting” then walking backwards and forwards about five yards in between casts will certainly kick up some naturals and increase your chances!
Method 2 – Snakes
It is ironic that Mark called his series “Shrimp Masters” but after the first round hardly a fish was caught on shrimp. While in October and November the above method was a killer, in the December and January matches (and it got a lot harder in January as stocks thinned out) pretty much all the fish were caught on lures and the stand-out fly was an olive snake, weighted or unweighted depending on retrieve. I usually start on olive and found it the most successful but I’m quick to switch colours to white, black, natural and grey as the colour changes often keep takes coming.
For this approach I favour slow glass and fast glass forty-plus lines, the big benefit being that the running line on both floats, meaning I do not need a line tray and the short headed version allows me to get a good line out without having difficulty with piled banks behind. Other successful lines used by others are floaters and various mini tips, especially the Airflo 12ft slow tip. A variety of retrieves can be used from quite quick on the fast glass when the water was warmer, to a slow roly-poly when it went really cold. Lots of taps and nips are experienced and it is really important to stop and hang the flies with lots of lock-ups coming with less than six feet of line out of the rod tip.
As I said at the start, the wind direction largely determines where you can fish as it is not only tough to fish into a strong wind on Grafham due to its size, but the water also ‘muddies’ up quickly. This means you need to find an area fishable for any given wind and be prepared to move if you do not get a fish or pull within 20 or 30 minutes. Essentially, be prepared to get in the car, with rods made up and relocate if nothing is working – I have often fished two or three different areas in a morning until I have found fish.
In general, because of its rocky construction, the North shore pretty much always holds more fish, although the average size on the South is probably bigger
West Or South-West Wind
There are a small number of places you can fish on the North shore if the wind is due West or there is a bit of North in it – the Rectory side of Deep Water Point and the Long Bank into Church Bay being the best two but generally a prevailing South or South Westerly drives us to Plummer’s which is well sheltered, or the Lodge area and both sides of the harbour were pretty good this year, especially the short stretch between the Lodge and Perry Point. Sailing Club Bay and the Seat both fish well in this wind but are a 10-minute-plus walk from the car park so offer less flexibility if you don’t find fish there.
North Or North-East Wind
This opens up all of the North Shore which is really the easiest for bank fishing due to the larger shrimp population. All of the area from the dam to Pylon Point was prolific last season with the area right in front of G Buoy and the Willows being two of my favourites. The Stumps was also successful during the latter part of the year when the wind was kind and it does let you fish without standing in freezing water.
East Or South Wind
This really suits the dam, which was excellent in October and November 2017 but seemed to be completely devoid after that, as well as being more slippery. Fish hold very close to the dam when they are on the shrimp, so long casting is not needed and the nymph approach is more likely a winner.
Game Plan For Grafham
The actual fishing is not complicated – it is just a question of locating fish – so be prepared to be mobile. I would only give it a maximum 30 minutes in a given spot and then move maybe 100 yards, if still no response I would either be on the phone to friends who I knew were on the water or consider getting in the car and trying a new place altogether. There are enough fish in the water to get a response to one of the methods pretty quickly.
Finally a reminder that the water is cold in winter so either neoprene or thermal long johns and the thickest socks you can get are essential, or you will find yourself having to take breaks every hour for your legs and feet to thaw out! But do give it a go this year, Grafham Water offers some of the best bank fishing in England.
For the last fifteen years Charlie has been an active stillwater fly angler. He became involved in the competition scene about ten years ago, applying many of the principles learnt in his earlier years. He was part of the England Loch Style team that won gold on Lough Leane in 2016 and the Bank team that won bronze at Garnffrwd in the same year. He will fish for England again in 2018.