Hanningfield Reservoir, Chelmsford, Essex by Andy Lush
Why do I travel north from my home in East Sussex where I’m surrounded by excellent trout fisheries to cross the Thames to go fly fishing?
The reason is the chance of catching grown on ‘fin perfect’ trout, these bars of silver are not the usual flabby stockies with scruffy tails that adorn the pages of fishing magazines, a grown on trout from Hanningfield is our target and because of this its somewhere my friends and I have been visiting over the past few seasons.
Hanningfield is large, with over 600 acres of fishable water; it's situated just south of Chelmsford off the A130. The trout here feed heavily on naturals with an abundant supply of Bloodworm, Midge Pupae [Buzzer], Sedges, Damsels and Daphnia. With such a diverse food supply available the successful angler has to adopt an open mind regarding where to start fishing and with what style of flies to use. I prefer to go afloat, adopting a mobile approach from a drifting boat, searching the water in order to locate fish.
If the conditions are conducive, overcast with gentle breeze, I’ll start my drifts close to the up wind banks expecting the trout to be cruising up wind searching for emerging or adult flies, what can throw this plan into disarray is the possibility that the fish could be feeding on Daphnia, if this is the case then the food is likely to be in the bottom half of the reservoir towards the downwind shore.
Daphnia is very sensitive to light if overcast the they will be high in the water close to the surface going deeper as the light intensity increases, I’ll use a variety of sinking lines from Intermediate through to Di7 to keep in touch with the depth at which the trout are feeding, which is dependant on the light levels. Its worth mentioning that bright orange, peach, coral or pink flies are very successful when fished on sinking lines, the choice of sink rate is critical to enable you to retrieve your flies through the right depth band this is further complicated by the strength of wind if drift fishing as the line has to deliver your flies to the right depth quickly enough to allow the maximum length of line to be retrieved horizontally and to provide speed control.
On my recent trips I've been experimenting with some new nymph patterns, my team for drifting consisted of Orange Superglue Buzzer on the point, Black Superglue Buzzer with orange cheeks on the middle and a Diawl Bach with Red holographic rib and fluorescent orange thread head on the top dropper, leader material was my usual 9.5lb Grand Max fluorocarbon, this team is perfect for the "static nymph" method, allowing the nymphs to fall naturally down through the water, while taking up the slack line as the boat drifts towards the flies, takes are usually vicious.
My second team of flies were for fishing ‘ultra slowly’ while at anchor in ‘Inlet Bay’ these consisted of Black McKay on the point, Red holographic Diawl Bach on the middle with an Orange Snatcher on the top dropper, I caught quite a few fish on this combination while hanging the flies at the end of the retrieve.
Fishing the ‘bubbles’
This is a prime location for catching trout that are feasting on a mixture of daphnia, nymphs and fry that is forced up towards the surface. Anchor as close to the bubbles as possible cast onto one of the whirlpools, I use a floating line with a long 15’ to 20’ leader and a team of small nymphs, cast towards the centre of the bubbles allowing the flies to be swept back towards the boat all the time retrieving enough line to keep in contact with my flies as they drop through the surface layers, this ‘dead drift’ tactic can be devastatingly effective, I first saw this method used at Hanningfield by one of the local anglers who taught me a lesson that day, the takes are solid rod wrenching affairs which are hard to miss, the beauty of this method is that your flies search all layers as they descend in the most natural way.
My last two visits have produced 6 fish over 5lb 8oz for me, the best weighing 6lb 8oz, on both occasions my boat partners have enjoyed similar success. Our top spots have been the 'Bubbles', 'Middlemead' and 'Inlet Bay' where the incoming water has drawn large numbers of fish of all sizes.
The fishery has some unusual initiatives in operation designed to encourage new anglers to visit the water and to keep them coming back for more. The last Wednesday of every month is a 'spinning day' where non fly anglers can try their hand at catching some spotties on spoons, spinners and plugs, this has been a great success getting younger anglers fishing for trout for the first time and everybody seems to be having a lot of fun!
Over the last two seasons 2,000 4-7lb fish a year have been released to supplement the already ample trout stock this coupled the recent 'Catch and Release' policy will see many of these fish growing on to become double figure specimens.
P.S. This article was first published in 2005 please contact the venue for up to date rules and prices.
Hanningfield Fishing Lodge Number: 01268 712180