23 - Top Tips - Early Season Bloodworm Fly Fishing


Tempting trout throughout the fishing year, bloodworm patterns are a useful addition to any angler’s fly box. We look at how best to use these deadly patterns on a seemingly quiet Stillwater on a cold winters day.

 A cold and muddy morning is admittedly not the most glorious time to enjoy the countryside, and as we have an initial wander at Hollies Fly Fishery, the ground still feels frozen and a thin mist lingers. Nothing stirs and it’s the sort of day when you might wish you’d packed a spare jumper, rather than an extra box of nymphs.

Is this really a day for subtle or imitative fishing? You certainly can’t fault the optimism of Devon guide John Dawson, who is a firm believer in fishing bloodworm patterns in slow and deep water for winter fish. Long experience tells him this is an excellent tactic, even in the dullest and least promising days of the year. Testing conditions are not a cue for anglers to thrash about with lures, however, you might say that us anglers have a taste for blood today.

Where to Fish Bloodworms on Stillwater Fisheries

So what should you look for when seeking bloodworms and the fish that eat them on a stillwater?

Aesthetics are a secondary consideration it seems. “It can often be the areas that look least productive,” John admits, “gravelly and muddy areas are ideal.” There is clearly nothing hatching as we take a preliminary walk around the fishery, but John is unperturbed by this. “Overwintering fish will really make the most of bloodworm, especially when other food is scarce.” The fact we’ve seen no trout so far doesn’t worry him either. “You won’t often see the fish” he admits, “they’ll be moving along the bottom.” Sometimes fish will be anything but evenly spread in the winter and sudden drop offs, depressions and passing places for fish are always well worth a look. In our case the fish will are hanging deep along the near shelf.

The Set up

Time to set up. Two six weight fly rods, one with a slow intermediate line, the other with a floater. The leaders are around ten feet, although these can always be altered as the day progresses. Each leader starts with a foot or so of coloured mono to aid bite detection. John doesn’t see the need to go ultra-fine however, with 6lb fluorocarbon at the business end. “Getting the flies down to the fish is the real priority here, rather than fishing more subtly as we might when presenting flies higher up in the water” he says.

The Flies

Bloodworm flies themselves vary greatly, from weighted to leggy to small and thin. Do the fish always mistake these flies for the real deal? “Some are more realistic than others,” John admits. “The bigger marabou and flexifloss patterns must be ten times the size of the naturals, but they do work excellently. Good movement can be all important.”

Using a two fly set up: a size 12 goldhead on the point and a subtler, smaller pattern on the dropper, the lines are ready to go. Degreasing the leader is a nady tip and will help the leader to sink to where it needs to be.

Recommended Bloodworm Fly Patterns

There are all manner of bloodworm flies to try, but it pays to pack a few variants in your fly boxes. It’s probably fair to say that the most natural flies are the smaller patterns.

Flexifloss bloodworms are a must on our list, having caught countless fish over the years. Our Flex Tail Bloodworm is a simple but deadly example of this, and is highly effective with a slow yet twitchy retrieve.
Less realistic but highly appealing to trout are our larger bloodworm patterns, making the most of marabou and other materials to attract fish. Our Goldhead Bloodworm is always useful when you need to get deeper or a breeze lifts lighter patterns too high in the water. You might argue that it is more like a mini lure than a true nymph, but it tends to work excellently with a very slow figure of eight retrieve rather than using “pulling” tactics.
Should you want even more movement and provocation, our Bloodworm Flexifloss Variation is another great pattern to get a reaction. The added flexifloss make this one especially useful for grubby water and less than ideal conditions where the more natural flies struggle to get noticed.
In the Fliesonline range, the Micro Bloodworm is our tiniest, in a size 18. This pattern was originally developed for coarse fish such as roach, rudd and carp, but also scores well for rainbow trout, especially when a little more subtlety is called for.

The Technique

We start fishing on the smaller top lake, which has a fairly silty bottom and looks ideal territory. It is rich in bloodworm too. Try Flip out a series of neat roll casts to explore a few shady corners, letting the leader sink well before employing a slow, patient retrieve. The objective is to keep the flies deep- although do throw in the odd twitch to bring out the movement of the point fly.

A couple of gentle takes come early on, which John at least spots if he doesn’t quite connect. “You won’t feel a lot of the takes on bloodworms; all you’ll see is a little draw or flick on the end of the line” he says. In his guiding John is quite often surprised just how many takes his clients fail to spot and always advises them to keep a close eye on the end of the line and strike at any movement.

Takes could perhaps be little coarse fish mouthing the smaller nymph. Nevertheless, this is promising and is our first sign of life. There may be scarcely any signs of cruising fish or insect life, success will come from the depths if it is to come at all.

Retrieves tend to be very slow, to keep flies deep.

John opts for the slow intermediate again and keeps casting with his two-fly set up, watching the line carefully and keeping the flies deep. With the action proving hard to come by, he knows that chances may not be numerous, and he must concentrate. It can be all too easy to rush the retrieve or keep changing flies when the going is tough, but take your time, try moving a few yards down the bank only when you feel you have given the water in front of you a fair trial.

Patience Pays Off

Just when we’re wondering where the trout are hiding, a splash on the opposite bank steals our attention. The rod plunges over as a fit rainbow grabs a flexifloss bloodworm and hurtles away. Fight the instincts and don’t rush the fish but simply keep the fight in the open and let the fish run out of steam.

Five minutes later a beautifully silver sided two-pounder is in the net and a relieved Chris introduces it to the priest. First blood, you might say.

Patterns are best used mixed and changed during the day, but large or small it seems that the fish definitely seem to want a little movement.

This time of year it still seems that we must work hard for takes, but you might well argue that the process of sussing things out and coaxing the fish to take is a good deal more rewarding than simply hauling them out in double quick time. When the going gets tough, a few bloodworm patterns can prove to be a real ace up your sleeve.   

Hard-earned, but very satisfying on a cold day. For further bloodworm patterns and nymphs to try, see our bloodworms.