Reservoir Fly Fishing – How to Start

Starting Fly Fishing

About Reservoirs

In the UK we are now blessed with many huge expanses of water created for the main purpose of water supply, which have in recent decades proven to be a fabulous trout fishing resource open to everyone. In many cases other species of fish are available to anglers, however we will concern ourselves with brown and rainbow trout in this piece. Reservoirs are not the best venues for beginners, the sheer size of many is daunting to some seasoned anglers and the need to often cast further and locate trout mean smaller waters are more likely to bring success until you have a good grasp of the basics.

Fly fishing reservoirs is practiced from both bank and boat, with techniques varying widely, requiring the serious angler to have more variety in their equipment than when fishing smaller lakes or rivers. Perhaps the greatest challenges facing anglers starting to fish reservoirs are the size of waters, magnified effect of weather on waters and fish and locating trout. All of these factors have implications on equipment, hence the need for greater flexibility. Lets take a look at a good starting selection on which to build.

Equipment for Reservoir Fishing

  • Rods – Generally 6-8 weight.
  • Large arbor fly reels plus spare spools designed to take appropriate lines.
  • Weight forward fly lines 6-8 weight floating, sink tip, intermediate, medium sink and fast sink.
  • Leaders for fishing subsurface should be 6-8lb and 12-20 feet long. When fishing dry fly use a tapered leader of 10-15 feet.
  • A large tackle bag is useful for carrying everything whether fishing boat or bank.
  • Nets should be of the long fixed handly variety with a large net which is also deep, you never know what you may hook on reservoirs
  • All the usual accessories such as floatant, sinkant, forceps, snips, leader material, priest, bass bag and fly boxes
  • A drouge to slow the drift when boat fishing. Anchors are generally supplied with the boats at reservoir venues though you may prefer to obtain your own for serious boat fishing
  • Flies – our recommended core fly selection is a great starting point. You can then build your selection from here

This will give you a great starting point which you will develop as you gain experience, learning what suits you and the reservoirs you fish. The outfits listed above will allow you to handle all conditions from strong wind using the heavier rod/line combination to calm hot or frosty days when a light outfit offer a delicacy of presentation that brings rewards when all else fails.

Having looked at equipment and safe in the knowledge that having this means that with good technique and knowledge you can handle any safe weather conditions, lets look at our last key point, fish location.

Locating Trout in Large Stillwaters

OK you arrive at the reservoir, look at the water and think “where do I start?”. Like fishing anywhere watercraft is an essential skill that will guide you to the fish or at least significantly improve the odds of locating them. If you have learnt watercraft skills on small stillwaters, they translate very well to reservoirs. By this I mean the same features attract trout regardless of lake size and these are a good place to start. If it helps, visually break down the reservoir into smaller pieces of water, concentrating on each individually, learning the features as you go. This will help build your knowledge of a water and with time you will develop you own water map, so note donw your findings on each visit. Also note down weather conditions, how and where you fished and what flies you used. Over time you will build a fabulous reference and knowledge for each venue you fish regularly, which will also bring increasing confidence and success!


Remember the key points of watercraft, weather and equipment selection for tactics on any given day. Don’t fall into the trap of fishing the same thing all the time, base your approach on facts you see on the day, you will learn more and become a better angler. Many reservoirs have clubs formed by like minded anglers who regularly fish there. Joining a club on your local reservoir and learning from others is a great way to learn and meet new friends.


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