Small is beautiful: Why it’s time to hit your local trout fishery

They provide accessible sport in all weathers for young and old. Many of us will catch our first and our last fish at one of Britain’s many small fly fisheries. So why are these venues struggling? Across so many of our intimate, smaller trout waters, the message is “use it or lose it” says Dominic Garnett.

Autumn leaves or spring frost, your local day ticket trout fishery provides consistent sport.

Autumn leaves or spring frost, your local day ticket trout fishery provides consistent sport.
Image courtesy of Dom Garnett

Like many fly anglers, my first ever catch was at a small stillwater trout fishery. As a youngster, it represented a very different experience to the local coarse fisheries. The water was beautifully clear, for one thing. Spotting the fish and attempting to ambush them with what seemed a pathetically tiny fly was intoxicating stuff.

The casting was an uphill battle, but thankfully there was plenty of space to practise. Somehow or other I convinced a trout to grab my Hare’s Ear. The way the rod came alive was thrilling. I was a fly fisher from that day onwards – and the money I’ve spent on day tickets, fly fishing tackle and the rest since would reach well into the thousands of pounds (or hundreds, possibly, if my wife is reading this).

Sadly, the venue in question, Watercress Farm, has long since closed down. Like so many others across the UK, the owners called it a day. But this is nothing new; in fact, it’s happening right across the UK.

Small water survival

Action at Devon’s Bellbrook Valley, a typically intimate small fishery.

Action at Devon’s Bellbrook Valley, a typically intimate small fishery.
Image courtesy of Dom Garnett

If the fishing at small waters is incredibly consistent, the same cannot be said for the visiting anglers, or indeed the economy as a whole. Cost can be prohibitive for some, but obviously fisheries have to charge enough to maintain themselves. Many venues have closed as they’re simply not sustainable. Others went the way of the carp bug, the owners realising there was more money to be made with coarse fish.

Some anglers can be sniffy about fishing smaller stocked waters, too. This seems a little unfair, because many of them are special, intimate places that deliver reliable fishing through thick and thin. When the rivers are flooded, the season is over, or friends and family want a day out, these places are a godsend.

The best small waters aren’t crude fish factories – they balance natural habitat with fishing needs. With rich fly life and trickle stocking to allow fish to acclimatise, they can also provide more natural sport. From buzzer and sedge hatches, to margins heaving with sticklebacks and hog lice, there are lots of possibilities.

Coming into their own

Some fisheries offer limited catch and release, if you prefer not to have a fridge full of trout.

Some fisheries offer limited catch and release, if you prefer not to have a fridge full of trout.
Image courtesy of Dom Garnett

It’s right now, in the autumn and winter, that small waters are at their very best. This fact often seems lost on the summer crowds, who try their luck in the toughest, brightest conditions. Once the days are cooler, the trout are much more comfortable and hungry. You might be in a farmer’s back yard in Hampshire or Cornwall, but remember that the rainbow trout is a fish of northerly climes and countries like Canada and America. It can hardly get too cold to catch them here in the UK!

It’s as the weather cools that the venues need your support most, too. £20 might seem a fair pinch for a typical day of fishing, but it’s good value when you consider you could easily take home five kilos of fresh trout, or more. Even if you don’t eat them all (one fish is usually enough to feed me and the wife), nothing endears you more to neighbours and workmates than a fresh trout…

For the all round angler, perhaps the idea of bopping a trout on the head is too strange to contemplate. In which case, you might find catch and release options at some fisheries. The clever ones have managed to mix a limited amount of this alongside put and take, although trout can be brittle and not everyone is a fan.

Treat yourself this autumn and winter…

A typical “stockie”. While not wild, they’re certainly beautiful and quickly adapt to natural food.

A typical “stockie”. While not wild, they’re certainly beautiful and quickly adapt to natural food.
Image courtesy of Dom Garnett

Granted, we’ve never had it better in terms of variety in our fly fishing. I’ll spend this winter targeting everything from grayling to pike. But I’m not one to turn my nose up at a bit of day ticket trout fishing. On the contrary, when conditions are hard, or I simply fancy a straightforward day out with plenty of takes, a local stillwater is the place.

There’s nothing to say you have to fish it with lures or try and hit a limit in a couple of hours. The level of challenge is up to you. Quality, not quantity, is a good attitude to take here, whether that means trying small, natural flies, or stalking fish where clarity permits.

If it’s been a while since you went to your local trout fishery, now’s the time to make a return. You’re almost guaranteed some good sport. Chances are you can also try your favourite tactic, whether that means picking them off with emergers or pulling lures.

Last but not least, these fisheries are the perfect place to take friends and family, which is the single best thing you can do to help the sport you love. My father is a classic example. He doesn’t really do wading or tight swims these days. Which is fair enough, because he’s not as nimble as he once was. In fact, without small waters to cast a fly, his fishing season would be a lot more limited, full stop.

So, if you don’t want to lose these waters, the message is perfectly simple – support them! Get out there and have a great day. Better still, share it with a friend and please celebrate your local fishery, because like a favourite local pub, we always miss them when they close down.

Top tips for fly-fishing on small waters this winter:

Keeping active and locating hotspots is key to cold water fishing. At Simpson Valley (above) the fish were in the deep water around the stone “monk”.

Keeping active and locating hotspots is key to cold water fishing. At Simpson Valley (above) the fish were in the deep water around the stone “monk”.
Image courtesy of Dom Garnett

  1. Use light, balanced tackle. With typical small water trout averaging a couple of pounds, you don’t need to go crazy with tackle. A five weight fly rod is perfect for getting plenty of drama with “fun sized” trout. Leaders of less than 6lbs are not usually necessary, unless you want to try fishing dry flies.
  1. Go natural: Lures might bring quick results, but for more involved fishing, do take a look at what’s hatching. You’ll find creatures like buzzers, midges and corixa in just about any pond or lake.
  1. Watch closely: As most small waters are spring fed and colder nights help to clear the water, sight fishing can be capital. Rather than simply setting up and casting, have a sneak about and see what you can spot. With practice, this is also a great way to single out the bigger trout.
  1. Stay mobile: Just because the spot by the car park is available, it doesn’t hurt to have a wander. In fact, the only time to loiter in one place is if you’re regularly getting bites.
  1. Find the hotspots and follow the breeze: Even on man-made waters, there will be good spots and leaner spots. Look for springs and inlets, deeper dam areas and any corner the wind is blowing into. Trout will often follow the breeze.
  1. Two’s company: The best way to fish a small stillwater is with a mate. Whether it’s some friendly competition or a case of comparing notes, these venues are great for a social day out. You win bonus points for taking a complete beginner or someone who hasn’t been fishing in ages!


Young Welsh international fly angler Medi Treharne plays a lively fish at Garnffrwd Fishery.

Young Welsh international fly angler Medi Treharne plays a lively fish at Garnffrwd Fishery.
Image courtesy of Dom Garnett

We couldn’t hope to cover all the best day ticket fly fishing in this short blog, but here’s a dozen fantastic small waters to try over the coming months.


Bellbrook Valley Trout Fishery (Near Tiverton, Devon)

For those who like intimate fishing, this series of cute lakes provide a lovely setting to stalk fish at close quarters. The lakes have a nice natural feel, too, with flies like damsels and corixa working well.

Simpson Valley (North Devon)

There’s a great choice of tickets at this pleasant Devon fishery. These include catch and release options in the cooler months. The £10 two fish ticket on Skylark Lake is the best value you can get to take a beginner fly fishing!

Manningford Trout Fishery (Wiltshire)

Within a short drive of Swindon, Chippenham and Andover, Manningford is one of the best run fly fisheries I have ever visited, period. Two lakes offer quality fishing for prime rainbow and brown trout, whatever the weather. Also a great place for tuition, or to try river fishing on the Upper Avon, which the fishery also offers.

Duncton Mill Fishery (West Sussex)

Four sparkling, spring fed lakes make for superb fly fishing here on the South Downs. An onsite tackle shop and club room make this a civilised day out regardless of the season! It’s also an events venue at times, so do check the website before setting out.


Garnffrwd Fly Fishery (Near Llanelli)

You’d hesitate to call this a “small” stillwater. It’s a good size, with stacks of fishy features to explore. The size and quality of trout, along with an excellent and friendly onsite shop, make it one of the best day ticket trout fisheries in Wales.

Ringstead Grange Trout Fishery

Family run and open right into December, Ringstead offers lots of space and superb value (just £16 for three fish currently). At 36 acres, it’s a venue suited to the slightly more experienced angler perhaps, and an ideal place to try boat fishing. It also has good disabled access.

Woolaston Court Trout Lakes (Gloucestershire)

A great location within easy reach of Gloucester and South Wales, Woolaston has three lakes and trout that run well into double figures. Open every day except Tuesdays all winter.


Black Dyke Fishery (Norfolk)

Excellent fly fishing in the Norfolk countryside, with prices starting at just £18 for a 2 fish plus catch and release ticket.

Chigborough Farm (Maldon, nr Colchester)

Three trout lakes of differing sizes offer a suitable challenge from beginner to expert. There are also options for catch and release, too, once you’ve caught a fish or two.


Mere Beck (Lancashire)

Situated near Southport, but also within half an hour of Wigan and Preston, this attractive site offers productive year round fly fishing in Lancashire. With some flow to it, it’s also rather unique as a not-quite-stillwater! Cracking rainbow, brown and blue trout are all here to catch, with a good choice of tickets.

Roxholme Trout Fishery (Nottinghamshire)

Within easy reach of South Yorkshire, this family run fishery has rainbow, brown and blue trout in peaceful surroundings. Ideal whether you want that first bend in a beginner’s rod, or a shot at a real brute of a trout (they have been caught over 20lbs here!)

Danebridge Fisheries (Cheshire)

Fed by the River Dane, this venue’s rich fly hatches make it a favourite for the purist in need of a winter fly fix. The fish are superbly fit, too, thanks to the quality of the water. A special junior ticket at £6 per hour is also a useful addition for families.

If you’ve got a great small water fishery in your area that we haven’t mentioned, please give it a shout over on our Facebook page.

More from our blogger…
You can read more from Dom Garnett every week on the Angling Trust’s “Lines on the Water” blog, as well as his Angling Times column and various books, which include Flyfishing for Coarse Fish and Crooked Lines. See