Blob, Sweat and No Tears

Post-argulus, Westlow Mere is open for business again, even on the hottest of days, as Phil Dixon demonstrates…

FOR ONCE, I’m with the fish. As irrationally peeved as I sometimes become when hot weather sends my quarry into hiding, today I know only too well what it is they are trying to escape.

I have had a sinking feeling of my own this morning, as the hottest day of the year so far got into its stride and the grim realisation dawned that my hire car’s air conditioning wasn’t remotely equal to the task. Much as the nostalgia-lover in me enjoyed reacquainting myself with old-school air conditioning, or ‘opening the windows’, as it was known, the effect was largely the same: hot air, only faster.

By the time I unpeel myself from the driver’s seat at Westlow Mere, to be informed that the fish have gone all Status Quo – down, down, deeper and down – it’s all I can do not to wade out and join them. The shame is, were I here for any other reason, the place would be paradise.

It’s six years since I last visited this 18-acre converted sand quarry and its arboreal splendour has only intensified. That Congleton town centre is less than a mile away seems utterly implausible.

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Must we fish…?

Beneath a cloudless sky, the fishery’s deep water is a rich blue, fringed by the sandy shades of the margins, shimmering inches beneath the water. So many places offer the perfect combination of leafy shade and delightful views, finding the best of them would have been half the fun, had I come with a good book and a bottle of chilled white wine.

Alas, I’m here with a camera and an angler and the need to get a decent fish between the two of them at some point in the next few hours leaves more hedonistic pursuits firmly on the back burner.

I feel bad about it now but I’m slightly crestfallen to see Phil Dixon in shorts. Cranky and emotional after my five-hour mobile sauna, this strikes me as some sort of white flag – “I’ll catch nowt today, so I might as well work on a tan”.

This, I acknowledge, is a groundless reproach on a man whose focus and determination have never wavered in all the features we’ve worked on together, but so used am I to seeing him in fly vest and lightweight waders, that the Dixon Summer Collection has thrown me somewhat. In fairness, he has far more cause to be cranky with me.

A bank feature had been my idea: had Phil had his way, we’d have been afloat on Llyn Brenig now, 1,200 feet above sea level on the Denbigh Moors, all cool and optimistic.

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Boats beckon

fadHe’s not ruling out commandeering a Westlow boat before today’s out. Bank anglers can catch on even the hottest days, if only they ‘bookend’ the worst of the heat by fishing either the early morning or late evening, when fish return to the margins. With noon just two hours away, however, we’ve missed that particular bus.

“We need deeper, cooler water, so I think I’ll have to take the boat out in the middle eventually, but I’ll at least give the bank a try,” Phil tells me.

Westlow’s former use, after all, means the bank angler has access to deep water, courtesy of the lake’s steeply sloping sides. Against this, however, is the stuff they once quarried here – sandy soil, one of the regulars informs me later, is notorious for retaining heat.

Phil starts with Buzzers fished from afloating line, but even with big, heav y grub Buzzers on the point, the breeze keeps pulling his line round and lifting the flies. Not good when depth is so crucial: even if swimming through the equivalent of hot tea wasn’t deterrent enough, the sheer glare from the relentless sun has turned the upper levels into a no-go zone for any respectable trout.

Phil switches to a Di-3 line, to help him cast further (“The further you can cast here, I find, the more fish you get”). Fishing a solitary Sunburst Blob on just five feet of 7lb fluorocarbon leader, he adds floatant to keep the Blob off the bottom. An encouraging, tentative enquiry results, but he still doesn’t feel he’s fishing sufficiently deep, so puts on a Di-8 40-plus. The next take is more long-term but the fish breaks free while being played near the surface.

Success at last

Keen to maximise what limited opportunities he may get from the bank, he brief ly tries two Blobs (one of them black because he doesn’t like to put too much in a fish’s face when water is very clear) but it is a very temporary arrangement. Even when he trims the leader from 18 feet to 12 feet, with six feet between the Blobs, Phil still suspects that the point f ly is floating too high above fish parked on the lakebed.

He reverts to his original one f ly set-up and we are rewarded with a rainbow which this time thankfully stays with us all the way to the net. “As you’d expect, they don’t put in quite as much of a fight in this weather,” says Phil, “although ironically, they perk up when they get nearer the top, probably because they’re irritated by the warmer water.”

With local Derek Howard also netting a nice rainbow on the next peg, a morning that started with much shaking of heads has ended on a rather more positive note but Phil is clearly itching to get out into the middle where he believes the fish are holed up. It’s quite a landmark moment as he pushes off from the jetty and leans into the oars – the first time a boat has been out in anger here since Westlow finally got to grips with the argulus outbreak that put the place off-limits to the public for almost a year.

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Different

Once parked in the centre, it’s as if he is fishing a different lake, with pulls becoming a routine response to his two-f ly set-up of a Damsel and a Blob on the dropper. The former accounts for one fish but with too many others just nipping at its tail, Phil eventually fishes two Blobs instead, from a Di-8 fly-line.

Varying his countdown, today’s magic number is 15, which he estimates leaves the f lies about 10 to 12 feet down, at which point he commences a steady figure-of-eight retrieve, with the occasional speedier tug in between. In warmer weather, he explains, he finds a mainly continuous retrieve tends to work better than more jerky versions.

“I like to fish long as I can but I’ve cut down to a 12-foot leader here [see diagram], just to hold the depth more and keep the f lies closer to the bottom where most of the fish will be.”

Aside from that Damsel capture, all the other fish he claims today fall to the Blob. It won’t be music to some ears but there are some days when you just have to cut your cloth to match conditions. An hour into my homeward journey, after all, hot air and intimidating motorway noise assailing me from all sides, the niceties of Soldier Palmer and Snipe.

Yellow were the last thing on my mind, yet had you repeatedly dangled a yellow and orange sphere in my eye line, you would have seen my aggression response triggered to a degree that even I might have found alarming. Like I say, today I was with the fish.

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