Stillwater fly fishing for wild Brown Trout at Malham Tarn, in the Yorkshire Dales, is the best you will find in England! Quite a statement that, but I'd go further and say that nothing even comes close! In fact you'd be hard pushed to find anywhere in the UK with the unique quality of fish and fishing of Malham Tarn - a truly world class Wild Brown Trout fishery! Malham Tarn is capable of producing Wild Brown Trout in excess of 3lb on every visit, with a distinct possibility of fish well in excess of this. Note that I underlined "capable", because it can, but it is far from certain! Guided fly fishing at Malham Tarn is boat fishing only, catch and release, for Wild Brown Trout of the highest quality.
Malham Tarn is a glacial lake above the village of Malham in the Yorkshire Dales National Park, owned by the National Trust. Malham Tarn is situated 1,237 feet (377m) above sea level, making it the highest lake in England! It has a pH of between 8.0 & 8.6, making it 1 of only 8 upland alkaline lakes in Europe. This combination of altitude and alkalinity have created a lake that has an unusual geology, flora and fauna.
"The Tarn" is also the source of another great Yorkshire Dales river: the River Aire... water flowing out of the southern end of Malham Tarn disappears underground and reappears as the River Aire at the foot of Malham Cove, some 1.5 miles away.
Malham Tarn has a surface area of 150 acres. It is a shallow lake with an average depth of only 8 feet and a maximum depth of just 14 feet. This combination of altitude, high pH, shallow water, surrounding limestone rock, glacial marl substrate, extensive weed beds, etc, results in a very fertile lake with prolific populations of aquatic flies, including Midges, Caddis and Lake Olives. So we have a lake that is basically a 'food factory' for its inhabitants, but that is only half the story where the trout fishing is concerned...
It is well known that where good spawning habitat exists you get lots of small trout, typical of many Scottish lochs. Where the spawning habitat is poor you get fewer trout that typically grow larger (roughly same amount of food to feed fewer trout). At Malham Tarn there is a severe lack of good spawning habitat, so there is poor recruitment of trout. You can see where this is heading... we have a small population of Wild Brown Trout that have a vast, well stocked, larder, to feed upon, resulting in the fastest growing Brown Trout in the UK!
Results from scale samples found Malham Tarn Brown Trout to be some of the fastest growing in the UK at nearly 250% above the UK average annual growth rate. The fish are thought to spend the first year of their life in the feeder/outflow becks where they hatched, before entering the tarn where their growth rate rockets. A 4lb Malham Tarn Trout is likely to be only 4 years old! Though I've yet to hear of one 'The Tarn' probably contains a double figure trout! It is generally agreed that there are two distinct strains of Brown Trout in Malham Tarn, which will be evident if you look closely at the fish in my gallery.
And now for the negatives (it couldn't be all good!). Malham Tarn is without doubt a world class trout fishery, producing fish of a size and quality that are second to none, however, fishing on the tarn is certainly not easy. Blanks are to be expected. Long periods without sight or sound of a fish only then to miss an almighty pull are common. Full days without even a sniff at your fly aren't unusual. Are you getting the picture? You really must head to Malham Tarn expecting to blank, anything else is a bonus. You must be prepared to slog it out for long periods, work hard and stay positive. The rewards can make all this worthwhile - it's a place where one fish can send you home satisfied, smiling from ear to ear.
I have fished Malham Tarn regularly for many years, often coming away quite dejected when conditions seemed perfect and yet the fish didn't agree. Conversely I've fished there when conditions appeared hopeless only to do quite well. I have fished there enough times now to feel that I can at least read the conditions to some degree and swing the odds slightly in my favour. Success on Malham Tarn depends on your ability to read the conditions and then...
- Select the correct drifts
- Drift the correct speed
- Employ the best line to fish at the desired depth taking into consideration the drift speed
- Use a team of flies suitable for the conditions, depth, time of year, etc.
- Use the correct retrieve rate for all the above
Malham Tarn is one of those places you have to fish before you die. But be warned: one visit is often enough to get you under its spell, intrigued and wanting more. Luckily for me Malham Tarn is virtually on my doorstep, just 12 miles as the crow flies!