Interested in big Brown trout on the fly? Then check out Graeme’s “Vintage” article that could have you reaching for your fly rod. Several fisheries are getting back in to the big Brown scene, and you had better have the knowledge if you want a chance at one. . . …Of course once hooked you’ll probably go….Spotty Potty!!

A truly magnificent Brown trout

How many anglers have now pushed their personal best trout over the double figure mark. Hundreds? Thousands? Tens of thousands? Thanks to the intensive technology of the modern fish farmer the latter figure is probably closer. Articles on specialised targeting of big trout have doubtless increased the catch rate, and some big fish men now only target 20 pounders. Unimaginable even a decade ago, but now the cult is expanding further. The super fast growth rates achieved by rainbows allow anglers a great chance of success,  yet even the giant rainbow is starting to take a back page on the hit list of trouty “twitchers”. For the latest in the Kudos stakes you must be able to have taken big browns. Not the sporty aristocrats of the demure chalk streams in the south. Or the wild brownies of a pound in the Scottish lochs. You need to get serious with a big brown. In excess of 61bs?  Certainly. Into double figures??? Even better. Over 20pounds? …..  Now you’re talking. The rainbow has long held pride of place as being the British “big” trout, but now the man responsible for the production of the Dever stock in Hampshire, Niall Staig is pumping out browns with regularity. It has long been held that browns were not really viable as a regular stock fish. They were slower growing than their American cousins. They were expensive to rear. And of course they were almost impossible to catch. Yet further research revealed the browns were popular with anglers, not as the bonus catch to a day rainbow fishing, but as the main target, the ultimate on the small Stillwater scene. I contacted Niall and put the question to him. Were the browns taking over from the rainbows???

A big Dever double safely in the net

                Niall- “They won’t take over, but I see no reason they could not be pushed to achieve a similar weight, but of course all this takes time. I have plenty of Browns on line, of these many are already into double figures. Several are over 20lbs.These big fish are about seven yeas old. I use HP 21 feed, which means the pellet is High Performance with an oil content of about 21%. But it is not just a case of cramming them with feed. If you overfeed, they actually stress up, so I have modified the diet to provide a good balance. I still have to stock more browns to get them caught, as they definitely react to a poorly presented fly. However, I find I have quite a few customers specialising in catching them. I suppose it’s the extra challenge. I like the Browns, which is why Dever Springs is so popular. At least 20 over 20lbs have been recorded, and we had eleven over that weight coming in one season alone”.

               I contacted Jerry Rothman, previous holder of the 4-fish limit of Rainbows, and a man always in the know where big trout are concerned. Jerry used to specialise in stalking big Rainbows, with a personal tally in excess of 100 double figures, so turning to Browns would be a natural progression. “I like the extra challenge” said Jerry,” The Brown is our traditional trout and I catch a lot of them on the River Test. Less gullible than the Rainbow they require a dedicated approach. Quite a few anglers are now intent on tackling the species seriously, and my own catch statistics bear out the fact that if you approach them carefully they are not as uncatchable as you think”.

             Big fish stalker Neil Perry thinks along the same lines. Neil is the Company Director of an Engineering firm in Stourbridge, and his own stats include many double figure Rainbows, personal best -25lbs6ozs! Now the Browns are on his hit list, and he has netted dozens by careful presentation. Jerry Rothman’s Brown total runs to over 20 double figure Browns, largest 18lbs 12ozs, and he was the previous British record holder of the Brook trout to 6lbs. He may also have taken the heaviest four-fish limit of Browns, with specimens of 12-14,13-12,13-14 and 15lbs.While he lives within easy reach of Dever Springs, Neil Perry thinks nothing of driving 125 miles down to appear in front of Dever’s gates at 6am !

                            Further research revealed an even bigger enthusiast of the jumbo Brown. A man prepared to travel even further than Neil. Mark Bakker is a fishing dentist who travels all the way from Gouda in Holland to spend a week at a time stalking jumbo spotties.With a total of twenty doubles in the Rainbow stakes, his passion for something different has seen him slide his net under a number of Browns from 12lbs up to an incredible 22lbs. Interviews with all three on the banks of Dever Springs revealed it is not just the tackle that needs to be changed in order to take on the big Browns, but the approach and presentation. All three used the same outfits that had given them success of Rainbows. Jerry used a 9-foot Hardy Sovereign rod and matching reel, coupled to a weight forward 7/8 line. He also uses a Hardy double tapered line for quieter presentations. One of his top flies is a heavily leaded shrimp that gets down fast to the Brown’s feeding depth.

Brownie anglers are a dedicated bunch 

                         Neil Perry favours an 8-foot Shakespeare President, 4-weight rod, a 3” diameter System 2 reel, and a Cortland Fairplay weight forward line. His favoured fly is the Stalking Buzzer tied for him on a short shank size 14 wide gape hook, by Sid Knight. The Dutchman Mark Bakker uses an Orvis Power Matrix 9-foot rod, Ari-Hart reel, and a 6-weight Scientific Anglers line. Three different outfits from three successful anglers. So why do they have so much success with this species?

                         Neil Perry-“I fish where the big fish are.Dever Springs, Avington, Patshull, Astbury Falls. But Dever has the biggest concentration of large fish. Browns rarely come out on the first day of stocking and soon get fussy, especially if they are pricked. Should an angler fight one, and have the misfortune to break it off, that fish could then be almost uncatchable.I use a lot of lead on the hookshank to get down fast as they often remain static on the bottom. An overdressed fly will mask the hookpoint, which is why I use the Kamasan wide gape, to take that extra lead. They lie still on the bottom, and many anglers walk right past them. You can spot the Rainbows as they are constantly on the move, but you need to have good “fish-eyes” to spot a static Brown. Then you need a long leader, say ten feet. I use double strength, mist-green Kamasan, 6lb breaking strain, straight through to the fly line using a leader loop. Get the fly right in front of the Brown’s nose, and watch the fin movement. Watch for the white mouth to open and close, set the hook, and hang on!”


                      Jerry Rothman also uses a double strength leader, this time 6lb Drennan, also ten feet long, the reduced diameter letting the fly sink quickly. “Keep a low profile as any Brown you spot, even though on the lake bed, can see you. Use horizontal rather than vertical casts to reduce rod flash. With a fish lying on the bottom, put the fly three feet in front of his nose and let it sink right to the bottom. Leave it here for a minute, then pop it up and down. The Brown’s fins will bristle as he spots it, and then if he starts to move towards it, speed up to induce the take. Strike only when you see the mouth open and close. Remember to clear the loose coils of fly line around your feet. The Browns take off harder than Rainbows “.

The markings on this brown are captured by the camera


                       Mark Bakker reckoned perseverance was the key. “I spotted my big Brown at 8am. I then stayed with him the entire day, ignoring all other fish until it eventually inhaled my size 14 Yellow Chomper.Well worth the wait at 22lbs. You need a more careful approach with them. Don’t make early casts until you can see the direction and speed the fish is heading. They swim slower than Rainbows, are territorial, often returning to the same spot. Better to wait for him to settle in one place than chase him all over the lake. If the Browns are up to 6lbs and moving then I like to use my Marcus Warwick 4/5 weight outfit. It throws a weight forward 5-weight floating Mastery nymph line, and I just extend the leader length to get down. The point to consider with Browns is Depth. They love to keep near the bottom, so your fly must be on the same plane, right in front of their nose. I just love to watch the take!”


                          A point worth noting for all you anglers about to go “Spotty Potty” is that all three of the aforementioned angles don’t quibble about having a blank session. They could easily take a limit of stockies, but they make the challenge for themselves. I watched four of them fish together at Dever Springs, and with Neil’s pal Richard Hill as the fourth “musketeer” they pooled information on the whereabouts of fish, and how each might be caught.

The British love their Browns

             Fishing alongside them I found it quite difficult to ignore a 7lb Rainbow cruising with mouth opening and closing rapidly at unseen insects. But….they all targeted and caught Browns to 10lbs. At about 4pm they all left, but tipped me off about a big Brown lying in the mud on the bottom of the small lake. Said Jerry,” They often like to get their belly right in the mud. Maybe it’s a cold spring coming in, or just the cool feel of the lower temperature. Try working that fish. There’s a chance it might take”.


             After the 500th presentation of a White Chomper, the “log” moved, the leader twitched and the strike saw an entire fly line go out as the Brown weaved its way under other angler’s lines. I felt like a commuter pushing through a crowd as I wound down on the fish. “Excuse me”….”Sorry about this”….”I can’t do much I’m afraid”.  The fight was fast and dogged. Eventually I slid the net under a beautiful gold-bellied Brown, those big dots standing out on its flank in the late afternoon sun. I was at the opposite end of the lake to where I had hooked up, and my hands were shaking slightly. A long time since a trout had done that. At 6lbs it was a good fish, and I started thinking about the British record for the species. FOUR TIMES AS BIG? Now that really was a fish. Or am I just going “SPOTTY POTTY”?


Factfile-Dever Springs Fishery. Manager Niall Staig.Barton Stacey, nr.Andover, Hampshire.


Open all year. Holds a four-fish limit of big Browns at 55lbs 8ozs.

And don’t forget to look out for our fly tying section where you can see expert Tyer Sid Knight’s top patterns.


COPYRIGHT- Graeme Pullen.All Rights Reserved.