Fishing: Minkies, buzzers and savage casts the choice for reservoir rods

Annalisa Barbieri on fishing
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HAVING confessed, three weeks ago, that reservoirs put the very fear of God into me, I decided to visit the biggest of them all: Rutland Water in Oakham, Leicestershire - 3,100 acres, and 17 miles of fishing bank. Big. So big that one to a boat is forbidden as it is deemed too dangerous - you have to take a companion. Hambleton, scene of some pretty horrific murders a few years ago, sits in the middle so that the reservoir has two "arms" to it. Later this year Rutland will host the House of Hardy Flyfishing International Championship (the final is 14 to 17 September); 19 July sees the England Youth Championship taking place there and on the same day there is the International Championship for the Disabled.

Rutland was pretty and so vast that it could not be scary, it just looked too natural and it is the synthetic aura of reservoirs that I find disconcerting. The Lodge at Rutland is big and well equipped, but a little impersonal. A nice log fire, a cigar humidor and a few leather armchairs would not have gone amiss, something like the facilities at Roger Daltrey's fishery, Lakedown at Burwash. Downstairs from the eating area was the fantastically stocked tackle shop where I got chatting to a helpful chap who was obviously fascinated (in the way that some folk are) that I should voluntarily choose to fish, being a woman and all. He told me that when he first fished at Rutland, he did not catch anything for weeks because he was too proud to ask for help with what lines and flies to use. But when he eventually did ask someone, he started hooking fish. This seemed like a ridiculous waste of time: I always go straight in and ask loads of questions.

It was a freezing cold day and I decided to accompany my friend Nicki in a casting lesson under the auspices of warden Nigel Savage. But Nigel proved to be anything but. He took Nicki and I on to a large piece of grass and, tying wool on to the ends of our lines, we started casting under his expert tuition. I had been there many times before - casting bits of wool on grass but I always think you can't have too many casting lessons. For an hour I diligently perfected my overhead cast while rain and wind and sleet lashed my face (despite being clad in Clinique's Weather The Elements environmental cream, which I thoroughly recommend to avoid that slapped in the face look that nature can give you). Nigel was too macho to take up the offer of a blob of cream, preferring to go for the "Rutland Blush" instead. But after 90 minutes I had to go for hot chocolate as I was bored with wool. In the Lodge we discussed how to keep your hands warm when you fish (Patagonia bunting gloves) and why wellingtons never keep your feet toasty (don't wear so many socks). I had to ask Nigel two questions that I am always obsessed with when I visit a reservoir: how deep is the deepest part (about 110 feet) and has anyone died there in recent times (yes: one by drowning from a sail boat, one by having his fishing rod hit by lightning).

Then news reached us that one of our other fishing buddies, Pete, had caught his first reservoir brownie in Whitwell Creek, near to the dam where he was fishing with Mick from the Angling Times and wee Alan from Glasgow. I was very excited for him and so we joined up with them at Stockie Bay. We gathered round Pete's 3lb brownie, which just met the minimum 14-inch proviso that Rutland insists on for brownies. It had gone, he told us, to a Minkie on a size 12 hook, so called because it used to be made of mink. This is quite a queer little fly, big and uncouth out of the water, but with a fair old wiggle about it once submerged. Minkies are well used in Rutland, especially in the spring when fish are feeding on fry. We had barely settled in when Pete, the bastard, hooked another fish. This time a rainbow on a turbo Viva, size 12 hook.

After netting the rainbow, Pete gave his golden spot to Nicki, who had never caught a fish before. We fished quietly for a while until, 20 feet up the bank, I saw Nicki's line go tight. She had a fish on, her first. I was hooked on the bottom and was desperately trying to get free so I could join in her moment of glory; but sadly, she lost it. Joyously however, just five minutes later, her line tightened again and this time she landed a handsome rainbow. At last Nicki could understand the thrill of a fish on your line. I think she had been starting to wonder what all the fuss was about.

Immediately, I had to have the fly she had, so Nigel put a 16-turn leaded (16 turns of a leaded thread to weigh the fly down) Chironomid/buzzer on a size 10 hook for me. Because this was a heavy fly, and quite difficult for me to cast, Nigel cast for me. All afternoon. This was utter bliss as it meant that I could fish without getting into a sulk (remember readers, that casting takes years to perfect). And Mr Savage cast just about as far as anyone I've ever seen, the showoff, so that I could fish with lots of line. But nothing took. Nevertheless, I fished until the gentlemen politely said it might be time for lunch. It was tea time.

After scoffing a warming baked potato and sausage, Nigel took us to our last beat of the day, at Barnsdale Creek. Alan gave me the smallest bottle of whisky in the world (doll's house size) as a consolation prize for having forgotten my hip flask that I usually keep full to bursting with some nice malt. On this stretch, Nigel diligently alternated my leaded buzzer with a Minkie. I got two glorious pulls but alas I was too slow to hook them. I had to content myself with the memory of the near-takes, which I mentally replayed over and over and over in the sad way that fishermen do. We ended the day at six, everyone but me with Rutland Blush.

Orvis are having a rod demonstration today at Syon Park Fishery, Brentford, from 10am, where you will be able to try out new rods, see new products and have expert casting instruction.

Rutland Water Reservoir: 01780 686441.

Syon Park Fishery: 0171 494 2660.