Wild And Free by Stuart Minnikin
Imagine a stillwater full of wild Trout. Add to that image stunning surroundings good transport links easy access and a tourist honeypot and you might expect to have to jostle for position pay an arm and a leg for a day's fishing or join a long waiting list before getting chance to fish there. Well such a place does exist only it won't cost you a fortune in fact it won't cost you a penny! Neither will you have to join an endless waiting list nor is it overfished...
Ullswater in the Lake District National Park is just such a place; possibly the most scenic of all the large lakes in the National Park it is a completely wild fishery containing a good head of wild Brown Trout. The lake is completely free to fish and only sees a few anglers every year (you do of course need to be in possession of an Environment Agency Rod Licence).
Ullswater is a formidable piece of water at about 9 miles long but like so many of the lakes in the Lake District it is quite narrow. The crystal clear water is surrounded by some of the highest fells in the country such as Helvellyn Fairfield and High Street which provide a stunning backdrop and the varied shores range from open fields to rocky outcrops woods and reeds to tourist honeypot villages and large country houses. There can't be a more scenic place to fish in England; add to that free rising and accommodating Trout and what is there not to like?
I must point out that I am not writing this proclaiming to be an Ullswater 'expert' or with vast knowledge and experience of the lake but I have fished Ullswater often enough to know that it can offer outstanding fishing and I have had some great days there. Ullswater Trout don't run large by stocked Rainbow fishery standards - probably averaging 10 - 12oz with the odd very exceptional 2 - 4lb fish appearing from time to time. They are however stunningly beautiful creatures perfectly formed with pin sharp fins and magnificent colour.
Ullswater fishes well from March through to June with good hatches of Midge (buzzers / duckfly) lake Olives and Mayflies. As you would expect it also gets good numbers of terrestrials e.g. Hawthorns and Black Gnat. From mid-June onwards Ullswater has a reputation for 'going off' with conventional fishing become nearly impossible. Though I have no experience of it I would however suspect that fishing in deeper water with sinking lines and a team of mini-lures would produce good results during this period. Late season is another good time and with the return of cooler temperatures shorter days and better hatches September can be a fine month particularly around the feeder stream mouths as Trout start to think about spawning in running water.
By far the best way to fish Ullswater is from a boat. This gives access to areas that are impossible to reach from the bank and allows much greater freedom of movement allowing the angler to cover more water and consequently more fish. Unfortunately boat fishing opportunities are limited. As I said above the lake is lightly fished and there just isn't enough demand for a fleet of fishing boats although there are places where rowing boats are hired by the hour to tourists and there is no reason why these couldn't be used for fishing but be warned that it would be expensive! However on the south end of the lake near Glenridding is St. Patrick's Boat Landing run by Jared who has two motor boats available for fishermen. This is the best option for boat fishing certainly in the southern end because Jared's boats are clean well kept drift well and have reliable powerful engines (and the little cafe on site sells the best bacon butty I have ever had!)
Ullswater boat fishing can be split into two types: fishing open water and fishing features close to shore. The former can only really be practiced in the north and south ends of Ullswater where the lake is shallow. These areas produce excellent buzzer hatches in the first half of the season and are full of feeding Trout making the most of the offerings. It is possible to drift these places all day catching Trout steadily throughout although I have found it to be essential to keen the bottom in sight to ensure success. Last season while out fishing the southern end with my good friend Tony we would start our drifts from tight into the bank just far enough out to pick up the wind. With the bottom clearly visible in shallow clear water we would start catching immediately and this would continue as we drifted across the bays. It didn't take long to realise that the takes would dry up as soon as we lost sight of the bottom and got into deeper water. Takes would resume when the bottom came back into view or we got close to the bank. These buzzer feeding fish were there in big numbers taking ascending and ecloding pupae and adults from the surface in water no more than about 12' deep. Drifting out over deep water was fruitless and futile.
The other approach when boat fishing is to set off down the lake keeping tight into the bank looking for features on or just out from the bank. This method will find solitary fish or fish present in ones and twos and they are often a tad bigger than the fish you find in numbers over shallow water. Fish holding features to look for are overhanging bushes and trees (particularly those that appear to be almost growing out of the water) rocks and rocky outcrops drop-offs fence posts bays inlets etc. It is important to keep drifting new water constantly looking for the next fish holding feature. This often requires quite a bit of work for the angler on the motor who will regularly have to adjust the drift but it is essential to keep the boat relatively close-in so that you can pick off any features that you spot.
Ullswater can fish well from the bank though some areas of the shore are private and should not be entered - fortunately the road along the western shore makes this side of the lake much more accessible than the eastern side. There are many lay-bys and areas to park but frustratingly there are also long sections of bank that look perfect for fishing but lack anywhere to leave a vehicle. My advice would be to adopt a mobile approach: starting at the northern end of the lake drive south along the western shore pulling in where it is possible and safe to do so. Fish each area before jumping back in your car and moving to the next pull-in. Just be sure to wear waders because although the Trout are often close in much of the western shore is bounded by trees and wading allows a little more room for your backcast; and don't forget to fish the angles so that you don't fall into the trap of just casting straight out at right angles to the bank this will also give extra room for your backcast.
Most of the eastern bank is inaccessible but one delightful way to fish this bank is to utilise the Ullswater Steamer from Glenridding at Ullswater's southern end. Alighting the steamer at Howtown it is possible to fish your way back to Glenridding along the lakeside path. Some sections of this bank are private or inaccessible but there is a wealth of fishing opportunities on this pleasant walk to Glenridding though be warned it is a distance of some six miles!
With so many areas where you can get your car right to the water's edge Ullswater is perfect for float-tubing. Wind direction will have a great bearing on where you can fish safely but whatever direction the wind is blowing from there is usually a sheltered area or bay where it will be possible to get out. St. Patrick's Boat Landing mentioned above is a perfect place to launch your float-tube with good parking a gently shelving entry to the lake and a sheltered bay full of Trout right on the doorstep (just don't forget the bacon butties!)
I fish Ullswater (and all Brown Trout lakes / lochs) with what I consider to be the ultimate rod and reel for such fishing boat or bank: a Hardy Zenith 10' #5 matched to a Hardy Ultralight 5000 CLS Reel. Extremely light powerful enough to throw a long line and play large Trout but forgiving enough to feel the pulls and twists of even small Brown Trout - perfection.
Ullswater flies are best on the small side 12's and 14's. I've had success with Diawl Bach's (black and natural) Black Pennell (and variants) Sedgehog's Kate McLaren and many other small traditional wets. I never find Ullswater Trout too fussy match any hatch where possible but go small dark and traditional and you won't go far wrong.
Ullswater isn't the only gem in the area next month I will describe some other places that will make it well worth extending your stay in this beautiful area.
Customers in the UK can purchase Hardy products mentioned in this article online on the Hardy website.
Stuart Minnikin is a member of the Hardy & Greys ProTeam. An England International fly fisher having fished in the 2004 England Rivers Team and is a member of the Game Angling Instructors Association.
Stuart is a leading fly fishing instructor in the Yorkshire Dales being both APGAI (Advanced Professional Game Angling Instructor) Level 2 CCA qualified and an England International.