In this day and age it is quite refreshing to hear of a new small Stillwater trout fishery opening its doors, rather than yet another one closing down or turning into a coarse fishing water.
In an exclusive ‘first visit’ Airflo’s Tim Hughes and Ceri Thomas sample a new brand water in Gloucestershire called Sandford Pool.
I first heard of Sandford Pool just a few months ago. The word was, that an established, gin clear water where sight fishing ruled had opened its doors in the picturesque Forest of Dean. Finding a new trout water, let alone a genuine stalking venue is a bit of a rarity these days, so myself and Tim set a date to sample the fishing at the nearest opportunity, with a first ever feature on the fishery in mind.
We were hoping for clear skies, sunshine and calm wind for the feature – the best conditions for visual fishing. Typically, the UK winter weather let us down. As we headed up the A48 from our Brecon HQ, we were greeted by drizzle and grey cloud, far from ideal for stalking and photography. Nevertheless, we decided to go ahead with the feature and found the fishery fairly easily, just off the main road.
Situated just outside Lydney, in the historic and beautiful Forest of Dean region, Sandford Pool appeared to be something rather special. Our first glimpse of the lake was down a recently made wood chipped track, into a deep hollow where the pool sat, surrounded by mature trees.
We were greeted warmly by Sami, the Fishery manageress, who explained that the lake was once completely neglected and forgotten, the surrounding land like a jungle and the pool itself almost fully choked with weed. We could see that immense time, effort and dedication has gone into making the venue fishable – careful tree cutting, new paths and sturdy, well laid out wooden platforms surrounded the lake. A portaloo toilet, wooden hut, picnic tables and a robust looking otter proof fence completed the picture. Everything looked tidy and well kept, with nothing to spoil or clash with the original secluded charm of the venue.
Sandford pool only opened in April 2017 and is stocked regularly with quality rainbows and blues supplied by Exmoor fisheries, ranging from 2lb to 7lb in weight. The pool also holds a head of natural wild brown trout that have been there as long as anyone can remember.
Completely spring fed by groundwater flows, the acre or so pool was indeed crystal clear – and despite the poor light we could see plenty of fish to cast to, as well as tree roots and submerged weed. With depths up to 12 foot, the venue is fishable all year even in hot conditions due to the cold, oxygenated water that you can actually see bubbling up from the lake bed in some areas.
Tackle up for stalking
I favour a lighter approach to this sort of fishing – a 9’ #5 is perfect for accurate short and mid range work, with the added benefit of being great fun when you hook into a fish. Far too often have I seen anglers turn up on small fisheries with 10’ #8 weights – vastly overgunned and much harder to fish with delicacy. I set up with an Airflo Airlite V2, Switch Pro reel and 5 weight Airflo Bandit fly line, a stealth line with the added benefit of offering take detection by watching its brown banded tip.
Tim has set up with an Airflo Streamtec 9’ #4/5 and a WF5 Forge Fly line, which again is nice and subtle for stalking with its olive head section.
One essential that we both need today are yellow tinted Polaroid sunglasses. Yellow is the best colour for low light, which today is very poor indeed. With these on we can pick out a quite a lot of detail in the clear spring fed waters of the pool, allowing us to spot and target fish.
As we rig up Sami offers us a most welcome cup of coffee – complementary for any visitors to the fishery! Bacon rolls are also available on site, for a very reasonable cost.
Where to start
There are about a dozen pegs to choose from, I pick a peg right in front of me, where I can see a submerged weedbed about 20 yards out. I add a clear 5 foot polyleader and 10 foot of 6lb G3 fluorocarbon tippet to my fly line. The floating Airflo polyleaders have been vastly improved in recent times. Now glass clear, they have no memory with improved welding technology, perfect for improving your presentation and turnover – so important if you are stalking!
To begin, I opt for a more natural pattern. I tie on a weighted gold bead damsel and make a few exploratory casts. Despite the pegs being surrounded by trees, there are lots of gaps for you to make casts, with side and over the shoulder casts being possible, allowing you to cover the water from all angles. For me the trees added to the challenge, causing me to slow down and think about where to direct my back casts rather than just blast the line out.
Into the action
In front of me I can see the odd dark shape ghosting over the weeds. Almost straight away I feel a bump through the line, and see a broad form materialise behind my fly. The water is so clear that I can see every follow. And believe me; it’s happening almost every cast! It becomes apparent that these fish are inquisitive but also wary. I try fishing slow but that seems to be totally ignored. Speeding up the fly up causes them to chase, but as soon as I stop the retrieve or hang the fly they turn away.
The fish are here, so surely it’s just a case of cracking the code: fly choice, depth, and retrieve. As I mull over this, the banded tip of my Bandit fly line jags forward and a feisty little wild brownie come to hand. Underneath him, I spot a pair of nice blues that have come to take a look at the commotion – a clue perhaps as to what they want?
Meanwhile, between camera shots Tim has rigged up with a bung. First with an Apps bloodworm and then with a tiny nymph beneath it. He gets fish looking but no takes. He also has a dabble with dries, casting CDC’s over cruising fish. But again, they ignore the offerings. These fish are pretty wised up and perhaps need to be induced into taking.
I move to another peg and tie on a lure – a favourite pattern of mine, a black tadpole featuring a 3.8mm tungsten bead. It is a fly that has worked well for me on both rainbows and wild browns. First cast, a fish follows it back to my feet. I start to mix up the retrieve finally the line locks up with a feisty rainbow attached. What has worked is a very jerky, erratic figure of eight that seems to trigger an attacking instinct. The heavy tungsten bead makes the fly jiggle up and down quickly, an action that seems to be irresistible. The weight of the bead is also keeping the fly in the taking zone for longer, about two foot below the surface.
From there on sport is pretty frantic, with lots of nice blues and rainbows coming to the net. Numerous times I spot fish, cast the lure at them and start the figure of eight immediately to grab their attention. Almost invariably they follow, with a good number charging at the fly then turning away with it in their mouths.
It has to be said that the fish here fight particularly well and are in superb condition, with a noticeable silvery sheen to them. This must be due to the pure unpolluted spring water, which provides abundant oxygen. I get taken to the backing by a particularly feisty blue – something I haven’t had for a while!
Tim has also switched to a leadhead mayfly nymph and begins to catch in abundance from his side of the lake. Between us we have captured well over 20 fish, in just a couple of hours angling. Great sport and at £10 for 4 hours catch and release a genuine bargain.
Although small, Sandford Pool offers a very enjoyable and engaging experience. Due to the trees and spring fed water, it has a different feel to it than your typical ‘hole in the ground’ venue and seems a lot bigger than it actually is. The fishery is well run, facilities good, management friendly and the quality fish fight hard. What more could you want from a new fishery?
Fishing on Sandford Pool
Sandford Road, Alvington, Lydney GL15 6PZ
Open 8am – 6.30pm year round, Tuesday to Sunday
Contact tel: 07931115301
Catch & release:
£15 All day
£10 Four hours
For more information and ticket options visit: www.sandfordpooltroutfishery.co.uk