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Barrow Tanks are three Bristol Water reservoirs to the southwest of Bristol on the A38. They're also known as Barrow reservoirs, the Barrows, or just the tanks. Due to the close proximity of the famous trout fishing on Chew and Blagdon reservoirs, they don't often get a mention, but regulars on those two waters will be familiar with them, and many will have gained their first taste of trout flyfishing there. The Barrows are a lot smaller than their illustrious neighbours, the biggest, No.3, being only around 60 acres. No.2 is around 40 acres, and No.1 under 30 acres. Fishing is from the bank only, and as these are generally artificial, with gradients around 1:3, there's no need for wading -- in fact in most areas it's impossible, and against the rules, anyway.
Smaller fish are stocked than on the waters at Chew and Blagdon, but even so, once the season's under way the fish soon put on weight. The regular Bristol Water stocking policy of recent years also means fresh fish are going in every few weeks, and again as the year progresses the size of those stockfish increases due to them having had longer to grow in the stockponds. Barrow fish are generally between one and two pounds, compared to two to three pounds on Blagdon, for example. To reflect this ticket prices are less expensive. From a personal perspective, the fish size doesn't bother me; I'd rather catch half a dozen at a pound, than a couple at three. Although I appreciate for some this is an issue, as is the concrete bowl nature of part of the Barrows. Again, that's never really bothered me as it is surrounded by pleasant countryside, and as Bristol Water only charge £10 for an afternoon ticket (2008 prices) you can hardly complain. Hell, you'd pay more for carp fishing these days!
The Barrows are postioned either side of the A38 as shown on the sketch on this page. The car park and ticket kiosk are to the south west of No.3, with access to No.1 and No.2 by crossing the A38. Be careful, it can be a fast road. It's possible to walk around the complete perimeter of all three tanks, and it's all fishable, unless the weed's bad later in the year, or the levels have been drawn down exposing the clay bed. Travel light, and you can take advantage of all the available bank space; it's a water that responds well to roving tactics. The usual reservoir gear will suffice as although they are smaller than Chew and Blagdon, they aren't exactly ponds. They are very exposed, and if it's windy you'll need tackle to handle casting against it. One difference is perhaps in line strength as the fish are smaller. You can get away with a lighter leader to the fly, and when the fish are playing hard to get in the summer this can work in your favour. The same applies to fly size, and for nymph patterns I'd use 14s as standard going to down to 16s when things are tricky. I have used 18s in high summer on 2.5lb points. This can put fish on the bank when all else fails, but it takes some courage!
I'll quickly describe two favourite tactics of mine that have caught me lots of fish over the years. The first involves lure fishing with a weighted fly like a dog nobbler. I tie these on a size 8 medium-shank hook in white or black with a tail about the same length as the body that incorporates some flashy material (used to be called flashabou) along with the usual marabou. These are fished deep on an ultra-fast sink 9 shooting head. You can put this out 40yds+ with the wind on your back and let it sink for thirty seconds before retrieving. In the summer when they're cruising high in the water you can do the same with a neutral line and watch them bow-wave after the lure -- the faster you pull the better.
For a more subtle approach I use a WF7 floater for rising fish, or with leaded nymphs from the shallower natural banks on No.2, or close in from other areas. When fishing the weighted fly I prefer a leaded 12 or 14 Black & Peacock with a small red tail on the point, and a 12 or 14 Ke-he on the dropper. When fishing high in the water I keep the same dropper fly on and use a size 14 buzzer on the point, or maybe a gold-ribbed hare's ear nymph later in the year. If a lot of fish are showing and that doesn't get pulls then suspender buzzers are often worth a try. Of course everyone has their own favourite method, but those are just a few ideas to get started.
I'll quickly run through a few features of each of the three waters at this point. I'll start with No.1. Perhaps the most obvious feature to the newcomer will be the valve tower and the weir on the opposite side (if it's flowing). Years ago if you got this outfall spot on the first few days of the season a limit would be guaranteed as it would draw stockies like a magnet. These days although it's certainly worth more than a few casts, it's not such a hotspot. This is the shallowest end of the reservoir, although I think it's still getting on for 20', with the deepest water infront the valve tower opposite at over 30'. Those figures are just from memory as I once did have some plans with the depths on.
The banks generally continue below the water at the gradient they do above, until they level off at what I presume was the natural ground level prior to construction. One point of note is that the concrete apron on the north bank has a distinct ledge a short distance out where it finishes and the clay bed starts. This is repeated over on No.2 and does provide a distinct patrol route for the trout. No.1 used to provide excellent surface sport, but like all the Bristol reservoirs it's not like it once was. However, because of the generally clear water fish will move from depth to the surface to intercept an obvious meal, so even if nothing's showing it's always worth putting out a dry fly to see if anything's willing to take. Lures can be good, too, and you may notice shoals of sticklebacks in the margins, which perhaps accounts for their effectiveness.
A final note on No.1, and something applicable to all the Barrows, is that your backcast will often be obstructed by hedges or walls. Most of these obstacles you can just about get a backcast over, but you do need a fairly stiff fast-action rod. You'll be at a distinct disadvantage with a sloppy through-action one, as you won't be able to get the height to clear obstructions on certain banks.
As you walk on to No.2 from the steps leading up from the A38 you'll see the natural bank opposite which extends around to the east and joins the concrete apron you're stood on in the northeast corner. The valve tower is over to your right, and is the deepest part of the water at around 40' at maximum water level, I think. The water shelves into that corner from the shallower natural banks where you've probably got around 10' 25 yards out. In the southwest corner you've got water entering via a submerged pipe, the turbulence you can see when it's flowing. This does draw anglers, but I've never caught much from this spot even back in the good 'ol days. At one time you could see some huge roach here that would come into the flowing water after spawning, but No.2 has been drained several times recently, and I expect it'll be a long time before they're back at the size they once were. Whilst reminiscing, I'll mention the large perch that used to be in No.2, as well. I once had over a dozen over two pounds in a few hours, along with two over three. They were hitting fry, along with the trout, over by the valve tower late in the season, and lures fished deep were providing some great sport. Although that's all in the past, I think the coarse fish get in from the water that flows from Chew or Blagdon via an underground pipe, so don't completely write-off the prospect of some late season action with fry-bashers in years to come.
The natural banks on No.2 allow you to use something like normal lake or reservoir tactics as the water depth is more modest. You can fish leaded nymphs on floating lines and get them down near the bottom, not dangling 20' above as on most parts of the other Barrows. If it's windy don't be too concerned if you're not casting too far, as there's no wading disturbance and the fish will come very close in to feed on nymphs living within the broken stone that lines the bed. In fact it can sometimes pay to fish the fly right in until the leader is nearly in the tip ring.
The biggest feature on No.3 is the pipe. It's the peninsula that sticks out from the south bank that you can see in front of you as you first walk onto No.3 from the car park. The actual pipe is submerged at top water level, but you can see turbulence if it's flowing. It's always worth a few casts into the flowing water, and occasionally stockies will take up residence, although I think that's more to do with them often being tipped out of the tank of the stocking trailer at this point. The corner at the access point is more of a stockie magnet, and the water here is relatively shallow compared to the rest of No.3. I still reckon it's over 15', though.
As on the other tanks, the valve tower here is infront the deepest water at around 60', I think. There's a huge amount of bank space to try and it's all fishable. I reckon if you divide the perimeter into 20m sections I've probably caught a trout from every one! However, late in the season weed can cause problems on all the tanks, and this might restrict where you can fish. A long handled net can be useful here, as you're often fishing from on top the stone walls that surround the water if the level's high.
No.3 is a little different to the other two tanks in that none of the banks can be said to be even remotely natural. They're all stone with vertical retaining walls around 5' high around most of the perimeter that retain the perimeter access track. Below this you've got stone aprons that run at various gradients into the depths. The further from the bank you go the greater state of disrepair they fall in to, and the more potential they hold for sheltering trout food like nymphs and snails. At various places these aprons are at a gradient that make them good vantage points to fish from. The most noteable are "Crawfords" to the south east, and "the platform" on the west bank. The gradients change subsurface, as well, and you really need to take a look when levels are drawn down.
I've not mentioned several popular Barrow tactics like boobies because I just don't use them. You'll need to dig around elsewhere to get information from others with experience of those methods. Although I don't fish the Barrows as often as I once did, I still try and have a few trips every year. It usually turns up the goods, and the eight trout in the photo below were taken during a morning session in spring 2008 at about the time I wrote this.