A Guide to Fishing Burrator Reservoir

Introduction

Burrator is probably the most picturesque of all the reservoirs in the South West Lakes Trout fishing portfolio.

In the heart of the Dartmoor National Park, and only half an hour’s drive from Plymouth, it is popular with walkers and cyclists who enjoy the 4 mile road circuit around the reservoir. Despite the crowds on the public roads that surround the water, the fishing can be remarkably secluded and quiet and you could be forgiven for believing that you were a hundred miles from civilization.

Burrator on opening day 2019

The reservoir was completed in 1898 to provide water to the city of Plymouth. Its capacity was increased in the 1920’s when the surface of the reservoir was raised by about 10 feet. Burrator is fed by the river Meavy, along with the two smaller streams of Narrator Brook and Newleycombe Lake. It is also filled by some of the overspill from the Devonport Leat which carries water over the moor from the River West Dart.

The feeder streams of Burrator and the old perimeter reservoir wall (submerged below the surface of the expanded reservoir) are two of the keys to unlocking the potential of the water, whether you plan to fish from the bank or boat.

Burrator has a bit of a reputation for having limited bank fishing access when the water level is high. To ensure that there is plenty of open bank for visiting anglers of all abilities, a large part of the shoreline of Longstone Point has been set aside for fishermen. However, around the rest of the reservoir, some of the very best bank fishing spots are also easily accessible by foot and are close to convenient roadside parking.

Because the demand for water in Plymouth is so high these days, the water level frequently drops to below 70% of capacity and much further in dry years. This opens up large areas of the remaining shoreline, particularly on the northern bank.

But the best way to access all of what Burrator has to offer is by boat. There are two boats available to members of the Burrator Fly Fishing Association and membership is open to anybody with an interest in fishing this fascinating water for the modest price of £20.00 per annum.  More information can be found at https://www.burratorffa.org/

Burrator is stocked with both rainbow and blue trout but there is also a good head of wild brown trout. The brown trout average about 6 to 8 ounces, but much larger fish are freely spread around the reservoir and a number of 3 to 4 pound fish are caught each year. There is a large population of the invasive signal crayfish in the reservoir and it is thought that many of the naturally spawned brown trout grow large on these.

All of the water feeding Burrator flows over granite bedrock and is therefore slightly acidic in nature meaning that the reservoir is frequently very clear and low on natural fly life. During the summer months particularly, some of the best top of the water fishing can be had when there is a large fall of terrestrial flies on the water. Hawthorn and heather flies, coch-y-bondhu beetles, shield beetles and daddy long-legs can all provide exceptional sport when there is enough movement in the air to transport them from the open moorland onto the water.

Another key to finding the fish at Burrator are the patches of detritus and silt that accumulate where water flows into the reservoir. These become relatively fertile areas in what is generally an infertile water, so this is where the aquatic life congregates – closely followed by the trout!

Most conventional reservoir techniques will be effective at Burrator but the key to consistent success is making the most of the many underwater features and contours that determine where the fish prefer to congregate. The fish can be so tightly shoaled that fishing from a drifting boat is usually a poor second to anchoring up at one of the reservoir’s many hotspots. Indeed several of the best hotspots can only be reached from a boat. However, bank anglers need not worry – there are plenty of similar hotspots that are within easy casting range from the shore!

This guide will take a look at some of the most important fishing areas, heading clockwise around the water and starting from the boat slipway close to Burrator Lodge.

Fishing Locations

Discovery Point.

Boat & Bank.

A very popular early season boat mark! There are plenty of contour changes around Discovery Point including the route of an old road that disappeared beneath the waves when the reservoir was first flooded. About 15 yards from the high water mark is a sharp drop off along the line of the original reservoir boundary wall and the fish seem to follow this contour and the shoals of moving fish are concentrated around the point itself.

You can fish from the bank by walking through the grounds of the Discovery Centre, although there are occasional restrictions when activities are taking place. When fishing from the shore, be very careful with fast sinking lines as they have a tendency to get caught in the cracks of the old reservoir wall which usually means the loss of your flies and cast and occasionally results in damage to your fly line.

From the bank, this is a great place to drift a team of buzzers and if the fish are not there when you first arrive, a shoal will soon be passing by!

Discovery Bank.

Boat only.

The bank below the Discovery Centre is heavily wooded and is not easily fished from the shore when water levels are high.

There is deep water all along this bank. Anchor off the bank at the limit of your casting range and get your flies as close to the bank as you can. This can be an extremely productive area in an onshore wind when the surface is broken and the water slightly discoloured.

The Field.

Bank Only.

The bay along this part of the shoreline looks very inviting for a quick drift into the shore. But beware! The bay is quite shallow and it is very easy to find yourself grounded on the rocky bottom.

By contrast, this a great place to fish from the bank in the evening with the wind behind you. Plenty of terrestrials are blown onto the water from the meadow that gives this bay its name and there are often a large number of rising fish. At the extreme left of this stretch of shoreline, in the wooded corner, there is an overspill inlet from Devonport leat and the silty bottom creates an ideal habitat for chironomid larvae.

Lowery Point.

Bank.

The shoreline to the right of Lowery Point is wooded and you will probably need to wade out from the bank to be able to cast easily. Wade cautiously and gently as the water is quite shallow and the fish spook easily. There is a sharp drop off along the line of the old reservoir wall.

The original reservoir wall looking north to Lowery Point

To the left of the point is a very steep drop off and deep water can be found within a few feet of the edge at all times. Lowery Point often puts the bank angler in easy reach of the wind lanes that can set up in northerly or south westerly winds.

This is a great place to cover a wide range of water without having to move very far.

The bank between Lowery Point and Pines Bay is difficult to fish when the reservoir is full and the lake bed is very rocky and undulating. In the summer, when the water level has fallen considerably, this area transforms to some easily accessible and excellent dry fly and traditional wet fly fishing. Keep well back from the bank as fish can be quite close in

Pines Bay.

Boat only when the water level is high. Bank fishing becomes possible as the water level drops.

One of the major overspills from the Devonport Leat runs into Pines Bay and creates a large silt bed which is an excellent holding point for trout. Depths change abruptly in this area and a fish-finder or a plumb line will help you work out the best position to anchor depending on the wind direction. Like many other parts of the reservoir, the fish can be quite tightly packed, so make sure you cover the area well before giving up and moving on

The underwater topography of Pines Bay is clearly seen in this photograph which was taken when the reservoir was 50% full.

 

 

Bennet’s Lawn (The Lawns).

Bank.

The closest bank location to Pines Bay when water levels are high, but you will have to wade and get all of your line in the air to cover the silt bed if the water level is anything but very low. But if you can’t cover the absolute hot spot, don’t worry, there are plenty of travelling fish to be found directly in front of you and your back-cast couldn’t be easier!

From here to the head of the reservoir is excellent brown trout water. When the water level is high you can move north along the bank by wading close to the shore and casting under the branches of the overhanging trees. A team of traditional flies including a beetle imitation will usually produce a fish or two.

In high summer and low water, start here at first light and work your way towards the river Meavy. Keep well back from the water and don’t be afraid to cast across large areas of dry land to get your flies within a few inches of the water’s edge. The brown trout fishing at this time can be outstanding. By the time the first dog walkers appear, it’s time to pack up and go and get some breakfast!

The Head of the Reservoir & Narrator Bank.

Bank (and Boat when water levels permit)..

The very top end of the reservoir is a nature reserve and fishing is prohibited. However, in dry summers, the water level retreats back into the permitted fishing area and it is sometimes possible to fish at the point where the river enters the reservoir. There is deep mud around here and if you wish to cross over to the south side of the water, you would be well advised to return to your car and drive round.

The bottom of the reservoir at this end of Burrator and all along the Narrator Bank is littered with rocks, some of them the size of small cars, so fishing from a drifting boat in this area at times of low water is fraught with risk. A fish-finder is an invaluable aid to picking your way through the maze of rocks and if you are not prepared to pick your way slowly and carefully, then it may be better to leave this part of the water to the bank anglers.

A large and lean Burrator Brown that fell to a Kate McLaren fished on the top dropper of a traditional cast of 3 wet flies

From the bank you will generally be casting over shallow water to rising fish, so keep moving – cautiously and quietly. This can be a challenging part of the reservoir to fish successfully which makes the fish that you do catch all the more satisfying!

The Longstone Peninsula.

By far the most popular bank fishing location on the reservoir, most of the bank around Longstone Point is preserved for anglers. There are numerous areas where the vegetation has been cleared to allow easy back casting. If you are in any doubt about where to fish on Burrator Reservoir or how to set up for the prevailing conditions, start at Longstone Point where you will be sure to cover fish holding water and where you will invariably find another local angler who will be happy to give you some advice.

At most times of the year, but particularly early in the season, a glass intermediate line and a marabou tailed nymph such as a damsel pattern will get you amongst the fish. Be patient and let everything sink slowly through the water levels. Retrieve just enough to keep everything straight and to stay in touch with your fly. Newly stocked fish are particularly prone to taking the fly on the drop. Then vary your retrieve and keep on the move if the fish still don’t show.

The Longstone Peninsula accommodates almost every wind direction, whether you like casting into the teeth of a storm or prefer to fish with the wind at your back.

Members of Burrator Fly Fishing Association are given an access code for the gate which will allow them to park their cars well away from the public highway.

 Back Bay.

Bank and Boat.

This is a wide and relatively shallow bay that affords good shelter when strong winds are blowing from the south. Cautious wading by bank anglers will allow them to cover good fish holding ground with every chance of hooking a decent brown trout.

Longstone Point.

Bank.

The western end of Longstone Point will allow you to fish over a steadily shelving bottom that concentrates travelling fish within easy casting range for anglers of all abilities. There is often quite a bit of competition for the best spots, so don’t be afraid to start early! The bottom is mostly clean, so fast sinking lines can be used from the bank without too much risk of snagging underwater rocks – unlike some other parts of the water!

A concentration of fish by the drop-off close to Longstone Point

Boat anglers should note that there is a steep drop off down to much deeper water about 40 to 50  metres south of the most westerly point of Longstone and a good concentration of fish can usually be found close to it.

Another important tip when boat fishing at Burrator is to fish the hang. The water can be very clear and you would be startled to know the number of times fish will follow your flies to the boat and not register a take. Regularly let everything hang for up to a minute before you lift off. You will be surprised at the number of takes you can get this way! In very hot weather it is often the only way to get a fish.

 

Pig Trough Bank.

Bank.

Some regular Burrator anglers find this the most productive part of the water and the fish that are stocked in the corner close to the gateway onto Longstone certainly seem to stick around in the vicinity. There is a fence running into the water about half way along this bank and most of it is submerged and not visible when the reservoir is full. Both bank anglers and boat fishermen close to the shore have been warned!

In early season, strong south westerly winds will tend to concentrate fish in the corner by the entrance and boat fishermen anchored just over casting distance offshore can often find themselves amongst large numbers of feeding fish. The rest of this bank shelves gently out and is best covered from the bank rather than by boat.

Sheepstor Bank & Sheepstor Dam.

Bank & Boat.

This is a shallow part of the reservoir with deep pockets of fertile silt amongst numerous rocks. As a consequence there are often rising fish along this bank when the rest of the water seems dead. A slowly drifting boat and a light dry fly or nymph rig can produce fish when other anglers are struggling. Being shallow water, the fish can spook quite easily though and it pays to be quiet and move softly in the boat.

Deeper water can be found from the bank by the corner to the west of Sheepstor Dam, but as you continue along the bank to the west, the water is fairly shallow. Although there will be occasional fish travelling along the this shore, usually just out of casting range, your time will probably be better spent in some of the more productive areas of the lake.

Essworthy Point.

Boat.

From the corner of Essworthy Point around to the remains of the foundation block of the temporary bridge structure (dating from the construction of the reservoir), there is deep water right up to the bank. Whilst it is possible to find the odd spot to cast from on the bank (and these can be very productive), the best fishing is to be had from an anchored boat close to the large oak tree that can be found on Essworthy Point.

The main bowl of the reservoir has depths of over 60 feet and other than in extremely hot conditions, the fish will tend to stay close to the banks in water depths of 20 feet or less. There are no anti-stratification measures deployed in Burrator so the deeper water tends to be lacking in oxygen and devoid of trout.

Boats using fish finders and drifting close to the large black boom that protects the Burrator Dam may appear to pick-up large concentrations of fish at all levels of the water. But do not be deceived! These are reflections from the metal grills that hang below the boom and also from the remains of the anti-torpedo traps from WWII that still lie on the bed of the reservoir.

The Waterfall.

Boat.

Although its name may appear rather grand for what appears to be a modest flow of water into the reservoir, higher up the hill the water shoots out into the air in spectacular fashion from the overflow pipe of Devonport Leat. This highly oxygenated water can prove to be a god-send in hot weather when oxygen levels in the rest of the water can dip. At other times of the year, the silt and detritus that accumulates on the bottom close to the Waterfall provides another fertile patch that concentrates aquatic fly life and therefore attracts a resident population of trout.

In a southerly biased wind, a drift from close to the boom by the concrete building, across Waterfall Bay about 15 to 20 metres from the bank will cover the best of the fish holding water. If you are new to boat fishing Burrator, a couple of drifts across Waterfall Bay  followed by a time anchored close to Discovery Point should mean that you can start your session with the confidence of an angler who knows that they have been covering fish.

Safety

The geology of Burrator means that there are few areas of deep mud around the reservoir but wading still requires care in some areas. The main issues are rapid changes in depth, particularly where the earlier reservoir boundary wall runs, so it is not recommended that you wade deeper than thigh depth. There are also numerous large boulders on the reservoir floor that represent a trip hazard, particularly along (but not confined to) the shore from Lowery Point to Bennet’s Lawn.

Make sure you wear a wading belt (if in chest waders) and tell someone where you are going, as you would in any fishing situation. There is almost no mobile phone signal around the shore although you might pick up the occasional text message when fishing from one of the boats.

Fishing Map

The fishery map shows all of the locations referred to in this guide and can be found in the permit room at the Discovery Centre or on our website. The map also includes where there is parking to access the lake.

Click here to expand the map

Weekly catch reports

During the season weekly catch reports are produced for Burrator so you can see how it’s fishing, what flies are working and which locations have produced fish. The locations on the weekly catch report also correspond to the fishery map and this guide. The weekly catch report is posted in the permit room, on the Burrator page of the website and on our Facebook page ‘Trout Fishing South West Lakes Trust’.

Please take the time to submit your own catch return after your visit. It’s really important to let us know if you have caught or not as this can influence our decisions on future stocking and development for the fishery.

You can do so by filling in the form on your permit, or by submitting your catch return online here.

The Burrator Fly Fishers Association

Burrator has a friendly, active and helpful fly fishing club, the Burrator Fly Fishers Association. The club meets regularly at the Discovery Centre and is a great place to learn more about fishing this beautiful water. The BFFA has regular competitions and social events and welcomes new members. Membership is open to anyone with an interest in fishing the reservoir and full details can be found at https://membermojo.co.uk/burratorffa

We hope that you enjoy your fishing at Burrator – it’s a spectacular place to wet a line.

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