Wednesday, 7 October 2015

Wading into Trouble

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Not for the first time, I have stepped over a line or two this past week, spilling a few maggots in the process. The feedback and hit count on my last blog post "Fishing Media in Crisis?" was quite a surprise. I’m glad most of you enjoyed the piece anyway. My only slight annoyance is that it takes something more incendiary and, to some, offensive in order for people to actually get reading and talking about some home truths.

But for now I’m going to take cover, leave that particular bundle of ragworms in the fridge and hope my other half doesn’t notice the smell. Because there are casts to make and other things to get on with.

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Lately I’ve been rediscovering my love of lure fishing on rivers and canals, but with some pretty dodgy spots involved. The banks of so many of my local club waters are in a rough old state these days, decorated with Himalayan Balsam, nettles and, in more than one case, the detritus of takeaways and supermarkets.

But if you’re prepared to be brave, make a fall or two and get stuck in, there is some fantastic water to explore. Perhaps the best tip I could give any angler frustrated by a lack of underfished water is to get yourself a pair of waders. Find the rough bits, get used to the feeling of cold water up to your bollocks and I guarantee you will find water that is seldom ever touched. Like the lovely swim I found down a six foot drop.

Tackle has to reflect the need to travel light and unimpeded through tight spots, so for me it is almost always a straight up choice between lure and fly gear. My latest toy is a seven-foot nothing ultralight lure rod that will cast tiny lures, dropshot rigs or even flies.

I don’t really miss bait on these excursions either, because most species can be caught between these methods: pike and perch readily take the lures, while flies will always catch chub and dace. But it is the perch that have really captivated me lately. And autumn waters have been littered with fry, minnows and bleak. When you see this sort of thing you just know you’ll locate predators too:
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Things are so different once you’re actually in the water! Usually we hover several feet above it, but for those who don’t wade often I can only describe it as a sensual experience. You can actually feel how strong the current is. You get a much better idea of depths too- and often I’m amazed to discover how what looked like inches of water right by the bank is actually a nice depth of three feet or more.

The other great thing about wading is that you can tease a lure or fly into small gaps that were inaccessible from the bank. I am finding small, soft lures absolutely deadly for the perch. Nor is it rocket science- and for all the dazzling array of lures and Formula one style outfits of the modern lure angler, it can be a devastatingly simple and easy method.

With tiny jigs, I have been using quite slow retrieves but really shaking and twitching the rod. Smaller perch throw themselves at the lures and a light rod makes every one of them good fun. Bonus chub really spice things up too- but tend to like a steadier retrieve higher in the water:
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The light tackle approach is really delightful and when you’re in the water, the rod really smashes around and a better perch looms up, you think “bloody hell, it’s… not as quite as big as I thought.”
No matter, I think for any true angler it is virtually impossible not to be happy catching perch. And once they’re a pound or more they really fight gamely.
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I’ve also been fishing with my pal Russ Hilton, who is about the most modest, least assuming character you could meet, but a very adaptable and extremely capable angler indeed. We quite often fish different methods and it’s fun comparing notes (for the record, his Tales From the Towpath blog is always a nice read).

Wobbling is something he does a lot of in the autumn, and it proved as effective as ever for the pike. Those of you who have a copy of Tangles with Pike will know how much I rate the method. Perhaps the nicest thing of all is fishing the method in clear water. Quite often the pike will follow but not take, and you then have the fun of watching the fish approach it static, daring to make another twitch. We both stood and watched this one take- interestingly, Russ's bait was lying right in the weed and we saw it casually suck it out. Had we not been watching, the line would barely have moved- a sobering thought for deadbait anglers:
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We hopped from drain to river to canal, losing count of the number of jacks and perch we caught, but perhaps the most interesting and bizarre spot of all was a tiny ditch we came across.

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Despite being no more than eighteen inches deep, there were several small chub at the surface and a small lure was immediately whacked by little perch. Even the General caught one, that looked suspiciously bigger than mine. Small things entertain small minds I guess.
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Saturday, 3 October 2015

Fishing Media in Crisis?

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The warning signs are already in place: Dwindling readerships and spiraling print sales have left the mainstream fishing press with all the vitality of last night’s kebab. Another fishing magazine is about to go under, I am reliably informed, while at least two others are on the brink. Meanwhile, the survivors scrabble for market position like seagulls picking through a bin. Somewhere in England’s damp turf, Izaak Walton is spinning three-sixties in his grave.

Am I being overdramatic here? No, not a bit of it. But I do feel it is time to give a frank, truthful assessment of the current malaise. A decade ago, when I switched my written skills from film journalism to the world of fishing (an enjoyable road, but in financial terms a daft move), things were already slightly ominous. The fact that 99% of us did it for “love not money” was already a running joke. Writing copy for as little as £20 a page while others did it just to get free tackle. But since then, things are no rosier, with sales for the main weeklies and monthlies dropping astronomically, by over a third across the board. At present, it is a survival narrative for pretty much every title.

Fishing as a whole could be healthier, but I am unconvinced that the sport itself is in the same Shit Creek scenario as its print media. So where did this vicious circle begin? Who is to blame? And perhaps more importantly, is there a remedy?

Digital dominance?

The Internet is cited as perhaps the key reason for terminal decline. If you want to learn a method or get the latest news, you don’t reach for print these days, you ask Uncle Google. The net is awash with free fishing content, tackle companies promoting their wares and, yes, blogs like this one. Sure, a lot of the content you read online is amateurish or a blatant marketing exercise, but you don’t pay a penny for it.

Rather than respond to this by upping their game with better quality reading material however, many of the titles have been caught in a vicious circle. As circulations drop, funds disappear. And with tighter budgets, there follows a double whammy from increasingly disgruntled advertisers and the lure of “free” content. You already know the sort: articles that are loaded with brands and product placement but low on any discernible entertainment value. But the lure is there: Why pay someone to write for you when you can get a free article, contributed by a tackle company?

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It has happened to me personally many times and continues to happen; in spite of being touted as “Britain’s most promising angling writer” (not my words, but those of Angling Times), on many occasions my work has been rejected because an editor can get a sponsored angler to write for nothing. Never mind the fact that it is pedestrian, poor quality copy (even when the editorial team have had to correct or even rewrite whole chunks of it because the standard is so pathetically low).

I can understand the economics, but it does not produce quality writing- and I am not the only one being short changed by this proliferation of drivel. “Like filling space, nothing more” is how one former editorial staffer described the process. The coarse fishing titles are far more culpable here than the fly fishing media, it must be said. Why that should be I cannot say- but perhaps the better pay of game fishing titles encourages a higher standard of writing, and a better diversity of contributors than a handful of sponsored specialists.

For anyone who can tell the difference between well-crafted writing and horse shit, the free content strategy is of course a false economy. The British public, for all their foibles, can be a cynical bunch- and with good reason. All but the daftest can spot weak content a mile off- and if you populate magazines with the type of articles you can read for zilch online, why is anyone going to buy your weekly or monthly?

I rarely vent my spleen in this blog, but frankly some home truths need telling.

Are fishing blogs partly to blame, or the answer?

Others would also blame bloggers for giving away their stuff for nothing and providing a free alternative to print. But I’m not convinced. I believe blogging has been great for fishing because it allows a much more open and unrestricted space for content. People’s personal journeys can be fascinating and the blogger is uncensored by what the editorial team (i.e. The corporate bastards behind the scenes who in many cases really run the show) deem acceptable, interesting or popular. Their loss, and if you think I’m wrong read the Idler’s Quest or Fallon’s Angler blog and tell me you can find better writing in the weeklies.

If you ask me, more of the best bloggers should be releasing traditional or digital books, rather than giving it all away for zilch. Because otherwise, like buskers who never get any tips, many will eventually get fed up and piss off. There are some great current little known writers, but the sad truth is that the mainstream is not interested.

And here lies the true fault with many of the current magazines and papers- in the search for ever more cost effective solutions they have abandoned the one thing most of us bought a magazine for in the first place: material that is worth reading. Articles that entertain, make you think or tell the reader something they hadn’t read a dozen times before. But no, instead you get some semi-literate bellend from a carp company, flogging glow in the dark boilies. But in true British style, we grumble and in many cases stop forking out, but never actually tell the editors how we feel.

The world of the sponsored Angler

Perhaps another key area of the current debate is the path angling writers take. In fact for any angler asking the question "how do I become a professional angler?" the most established answer seems to be to hook up with a tackle company and produce content for them. But is it any viable route for an aspiring writer, let alone someone who hopes to achieve some degree of professionalism?

My own experience has been “mixed” to put it mildly. Most of these companies want cheap advertising and digital savvy anglers. And as great as a title like “Angling Consultant” might sound, the majority are totally unpaid. They get free tackle in exchange for doing x, y and z to advertise their wares.

My couple of seasons with Hardy Greys were eye-opening in this respect. They were keen to take free blogs, photography and all the rest, but not prepared to provide anything other than a modest tackle budget in return. In truth, the whole “it’ll be good for your profile” spiel soon wears thin as the unpaid work stacks up and you start to wonder who really benefits from the arrangement. Nor am I ever keen on having my words constantly dotted with tackle references- and I’m quite sure that most readers would feel the same.

Perhaps the tipping point was my appearance on National Geographic’s King Fishers series. Huge fun, but huge pressure, this was the biggest single week of my fishing life. I was hosting in England and needed tackle to supply the home leg of the event. Could Hardy Greys supply three fly rods, given that the show was going out to an audience of some 60-80 million worldwide? No. I was still waiting for the punch line as they said they didn’t have the budget. Maybe that was the punch line? You can provide us with content, photography and all the rest, but you can’t have three of our finest Korean made fly rods.

In some ways, I was relieved to be able to crack on with what I love without any obligations. But closer to home, I must say I have found Turrall Flies a much better company to work with. For all the posturing about tradition and trust from Hardy, here is a company that actually embodies those values. They have staff who are have been tying flies in Devon for decades and are more interested in keeping their customers (and consultants!) happy than the hard sell. They are also prepared to support youth events and projects such as Fly For Coarse (which Hardy Greys were not). Even more shockingly, Turrall actually wanted me to help design and test products, rather than just plug their wares, and give me backing with more than just a bit of free tackle. What a world of difference!

To cut a long story short, I would advise any aspiring angling writer to be very, very careful about hooking up with a company. There are some good guys out there, who do have a better ethos rather than pure sales figures. But tread cautiously, because many will simply chew you up, use your profile (rather than the other way round, ironically!) and simply spit you out, like a carp ejecting a shit-flavoured boilie.

In the wider debate though, you have to ask: where is the way in for the next generation of writers? Will they simply be salesmen and unpaid bloggers? Does anybody actually give a damn? The real loser in all of this will ultimately be the reader if we're not careful.

Kill or Cure?

So is there any future for anyone who wants to write about fishing for a living? Not for the first time lately, I have been viewing my role as an angling writer and the fishing media a bit like a landed bass. After my initial delight I now have a tough decision: do I let it live, or just knock the bastard on the head and move on?

For now at least, I want to keep that flame alive. I might be able to earn twice the money in half the time as a copywriter, but writing about fishing is not just a job, but a passion. And besides, there are at least a couple of reasons to be cheerful.

One of these is the rise of independent media, perhaps best represented by indie fishing quarterly “Fallon’s Angler”. When I use the term “indie” you might think about a garage band type outfit, but there isn’t a more beautifully written or produced UK fishing title in existence currently. Totally free of advertorial content, it champions the classic fishing story, with a who’s who of the best current fishing writers- almost all of whom are conspicuously missing from the mainstream (including some young chancer by the name of Chris Yates). If you value great stories and entertaining writing in any shape or form, I would urge you to buy it (click here for the Fallon’s Angler site).

The other stalwart of the fishing scene, quite surprisingly, is the traditional fishing book. There is still a market for these. People still collect them and treasure them- even those who no longer buy a regular paper or magazine (which is a staggering proportion of anglers). If nothing else, this demonstrates that British anglers still love a good read.

Talking of books, my next title “Crooked Lines” is now well on the way (out this November). It does not contain any recycled blog posts, but lots of new and untold stories. Many of the tales in the book are the “ones that got away” if you like. Pieces that were never published either because I opted to save them rather than get the “here’s £50, now f**k off” speech, or they simply didn’t fit with editors who were about as bold as the Liberal Democrats when it came to leaving the safe centre ground or doing anything a bit wild, different or outspoken. For the record, many of these missing pieces also represent my very best and most daring work.

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It has also been an absolute pleasure working with Sheffield illustrator Lord Bunn with the artwork.which matches the style of the book perfectly. You’ll find miscellaneous tackle, bottles of booze, tangled flies, worms and even a copy of the Compleat Angler with a slightly sleazy fishing postcard sticking out of it. Someone has already labeled Crooked Lines as a “hipster fishing book”, which I’m not sure whether to take as a compliment or not.

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A book is hard graft then, but also liberating because you are not constrained by the straitjacket of “popular taste” (something directed by the money men to cash in on everything from pop music to cleaning products). Suddenly there is no demand to censor or water anything down, or to clip to format. The work can finally breathe and find its fullness. Amen to that anyway, and here’s to a better, more independent angling media, whichever form it may take.

Sunday, 27 September 2015

Autumn Fly Fishing

The last few weeks in September are a little bitter sweet, when time catches up with you and you realise that there are scarce days left to fly fish for trout. So ignoring the to do list, I snuck a rod in the car and hit an urban stream as I took my other half to work. The Sunday drivers had my fingers tapping the wheel, and it took a while to get there. It’s funny, because I rarely get stressed by traffic when driving to work, but when I’m fishing all the Sunday drivers seem to be on the road at once. Slow bastards.
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Still, the river looked lovely. With a warming sun, you could almost kid yourself it was still summer. But there wasn’t much hatching. Even so, I decided to be positive and start with a fairly big dry fly, a daddy long legs.

These small Devon streams are interesting places. The better pools get invaded by dogs on the more public areas, but by wading and scrambling to the tighter, less accessible bits you can access some nice water.

One thing past seasons have taught me on these small rivers is to never ignore the small “pockets” of water. A trout only needs inches of depth to make a little lair, or take up a feeding station. And where the water tumbles, they are bold. You don’t have to mess about with minuscule dry flies. You can use a hopper, sedge or in my case a daddy longlegs.

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The fish were slow to respond at first, although I had a brutal take and lost a half decent fish that came from a pothole just a foot deep and smashed the fly. It never did come back.

Pragmatism won in the end, as I attached a little goldbead shrimp on a dropper attached directly to the dry fly. One slashed and missed on the next pool, before I connected with the next bite. It charged around frenetically on the light gear (an 8ft four weight is about all I use for these small, craggy streams). Could the season end on a big high?

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It fought bigger than its weight in the end, but a half pound trout is always a welcome fish on a small stream, and their bold markings never fail to impress. Every one is different, but few fish have better autumn colours than a wild brown trout.

I caught a few trees besides trout as I scrambled to further bends and pools. Without much flow in the glides, the fish seemed to have abandoned these areas for the sanctuary of broken water or the deeper pools. Even so, it was silly just how many times the smaller trout made a sudden attack on a large dry fly. Both daddies and an Elk Hair Caddis worked as the trout came on in the afternoon. Strangely enough, I only saw two or three natural rises all day- but all were quite splashy takes, beneath cover.

It’s hard to pack away when you know you won’t be back until the spring. But it’s also good to miss the river. You don’t want to rise every fish, or know exactly how big the one that you lost might have been.

Plus, there is always the predator season coming up. Perch excite me as much as pike at the moment, whether on fly or dropshot tackle. This is the reason I have been developing some special drop shot flies for Turrall .

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These patterns have been working with both presentations, on some urban, less than perfectly clear waters too, which bodes well. You can find more news on the Turall Flies Facebook page- and do look out for the new website for further news, blogs and more.
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Monday, 21 September 2015

From the Thames to the Towpath

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Last week I had the rare pleasure of a rather different road trip with two extremely different fishing days and a fishing show thrown in for good measure. This is almost becoming a bit of an annual tradition, as I make the most of the long haul from my home in Devon to the PAC Convention.

First stop was the Thames near Pangborne and a long awaited meeting with Garrett Fallon and Steve Roberts, who runs a very different kind of guided fishing service on the Thames in the form of River Days.
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In an age when the soul of fishing seems to have been put in a headlock, punched a few times and then kicked in the nads for good measure, how refreshing to see a professional guide offering something completely different, with soul, style and substance (take a peek at: . Steve is a man who lives and breathes classic fishing; who injects new life into old methods and believes that vintage tackle belongs not in glass cases but on the water catching fish.

That said, I couldn’t resist the temptation of my new toy- the first rod I’ve bought in several seasons in the form of a lovely, stupidly light lure rod. And right from the off I caught perch on small jigs, whole tribes of the little buggers on the attack and the gnome style rod convincing me they were bigger.
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It was simply one of those days when you can’t help but feel good to be alive and forget about the bullshit that gets in the way. Three men in a boat, a glorious, rushing weirpool and plenty of perch and pike. Heck, the boozer we hit for lunch even had one of my favourite IPAs on tap, while the day was eventful throughout.
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I’m not going to spoil too much of the surprise, because it’ll make a great feature in the near future (and unfortunately I have to do inconvenient things like eat and pay the rent), but it was inspiring stuff. It was the first time, for example, that I have ever used split cane for pike; and although these old school rods aren’t exactly light, there is something beautiful about cane that goes well beyond nostalgia. It really heaves and throbs with a decent fish.

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Garrett had the best of the day, also on the cane, like me reveling in the sort of day’s fishing that is too often denied by a manic workload. But perhaps when we are at our busiest, we savour the fishing even more.
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We packed up late, enjoyed a tactical debriefing in the pub and I arrived in Kettering late for an early start at the Pike Angler’s Club Convention early the next day. Always a great event, but the bugger about being a one man show with a stand to keep and wares to flog is that you don’t really get to enjoy the talks and the rest. But these events are great all the same, if for no other reason for the strange family feel you get from meeting with other anglers. It’s always nice meeting folks who read your work, and I tend to learn as much from them as perhaps vice versa.

The General came with me too and as I said hello to fellow predator enthusiast Ian Petch, the tiny military bastard met his equally small match with Jed I Knight, another silly but entertaining miniature fishing star, for a face off.
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The curse of fishing writing is that it has shag all money- but perhaps that’s partly why folks like Barry McConnell, Paul Garner and Sam Edmonds are no prima donnas, but just bloody nice, down to earth guys who do what they do for love rather than fame or money- because let’s face it, celebrity anglers are lower than celebrity gardeners in the glamour stakes. And probably have even dirtier finger nails.

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Talking of dirty, my next assignment was on the somewhat-less-than-beautifully-clear Coventry Canal, with ace Idler’s Quest blogger Jeff Hatt and his pal Martin. For those who don’t know Jeff, he is one of the unsung heroes of fishing; a chap who tackles those less fashionable fishing mysteries such as the towpaths of the Midlands.

Zander fishing is always a rare treat for me, with the species being non existent in Devon and Somerset. But even a guy who fishes for them regularly can get foxed from time to time, and it was to be an interesting, if slightly grueling, day of fishing.

Jeff’s use of large single hook rigs and float tactics is interesting in itself, besides his observations on this fickle species. Recently, he has had some encouraging results in the wake of passing boats, which you suspect not only stir up the bait fish, but actually smash a few of these up on waters that teem with millions of them. But could we make contact on a Sunday with regular traffic?

I have only dabbled previously with the method, but I tried drop shotting besides tiny jigs in an attempt to catch some fish, while Jeff tried little skimmer sections. The perch were about all I could interest early on though. They weren’t especially big or clever, but once again the toy rod made them thump quite pleasantly.

Just two days ago Steve of “River Days” had given some sage advice- that if you’re frustrated when fishing, you should breathe deeper, turn around and appreciate your surroundings. I love this sentiment, but it takes a different kind of resonance on an urban canal, which can be curious for several of the wrong reasons.

Early on, for example, we came across a bloke and a woman with a voice like a chainsaw, camping on the bank. They had caught a few bream but also, we later discovered, left a trail of tinnies, shredded rizla packets and black bags to decorate the bank. Living the dream. Twats.

The boats themselves and their inhabitants are also an interesting community. Their gardening efforts, random signs and pets sit on these boats and the whole boat living model would appear to attract quite a strange crowd.

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Meanwhile though, we were pretty stumped on the zander front. Martin lost one on a worm, of all baits, while I narrowly missed a General sized zed that didn’t hook properly. Even Jeff couldn’t fathom their lack of interest, as we exchanged theories and hopped swims.

I had really been hoping to land a nice zander on one of my special prototype dropshot flies, which are in the process of being refined for Turrall. The murky water didn’t prevent me from earning a nice hit beneath a boat when I made the switch, but it was another perch rather than a zander.

I was creaking by close of play and none the wiser, admittedly, but learned quite a lot. Thank God for perch is all I’ll say.

Sunday, 13 September 2015

Autumn Fishing, from Stream to Sea

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The cool of the late summer brings a certain added intensity to the keen fisherman. Time is running out on warm weather fishing- and you suddenly realise you haven't fitted in anything like as much fishing time as you'd hoped. I had been trying to drag Simon Jeffries from Turrall out fishing for some time, but with both of us being relentlessly busy it hadn't quite happened. But with word from Chris Ogborne that there'd be a chance for both trout on the River Camel, and afternoon bass fishing near Rock we could resist no longer. Stuff the office, we we were headed west.

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The Camel looked absolutely sparkling on our arrival, improved only by a drop of homemade sloe gin. Watching Chris work the stream was an education in itself, working nymphs downstream or side casting a little dry fly into tight corners. The downstream nymphing was especially interesting- hardly casting, but simply feeding line into the current and changing the rod position to work a weighted fly under the bank or into the flow. And while I'd hate to spoil the surprise just yet, we also tested several of Chris's set of barbless river flies, soon to be made by Turrall. The idea is a set of simple but effective flies that will catch just about anywhere. The barbless hooks should really appeal to catch and release anglers, while these new patterns also have the nice, sparse dressings so often lacking in commercially made flies (below are some of the dry flies and emergers).
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There were odd insects hatching by late morning and the hits and misses began in earnest, but it was a test to say the least. I also captured some nice autumn footage of this pretty Cornish trout stream in the process- watch this space for a short film.

After a quick lunch, we were all set for the very different challenge of the open coast. We had both fly and lure tackle, but with a brisk wind picking up, the latter looked the safer bet. We hopped aboard local boat Optimus Prime (yes, we loved the name too).
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It was to be a thrilling afternoon, jumping between some epic looking rocky features, with crashing waves and the odd seal thrown in. Skipper Rodney Keatley made light of the wind as we threw soft lures on light gear. There was action throughout, but Simon had the first action, catching a cracking bass and a three pound ballan wrasse in the first hour.

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I don't do enough sea fishing, frankly. Feeling the hits, or seeing fish flashing after the lures in the clear waters off Rock was a magical experience. I caught two, releasing one but keeping the other. But it was Chris who really stole the show with a four pounder which kicked so hard I was convinced he had hooked a double. This is the joy of light tackle.
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Perhaps the only slight drawback was that fly fishing was only possible for a short while- and while Chris tried valiantly in the wind, we only really scratched the surface with his beautifully tied saltwater flies. The potential is massive however, and not just for bass. Mackerel, garfish and pollack like this cracker are all catchable and don't half thump on a fly rod:
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It was a long eventful day for the three of us, but a really enjoyable one- and I'm going to enjoy working more with Chris. For all the goings on at Turrall (our new website is now up and running, while you can also find news, flies and more on the Turrall Flies Facebook page). For anyone who fancies a spot of guided fly fishing in Cornwall, Chris can also be found at while you can book a day's boat fishing aboard Optimus Prime here:

The other big (and until now slightly cagey) news is of my next book. It's now written: two dozen stories and plenty of fresh work, representing some of the wilder detours and more unlikely stories I've covered in my writing. There'll be everything from urban fly fishing, to wild carp and strange monsters from Central Park to Torquay harbour. The title will be "Crooked Lines", but this is new work, not scrapings from the rather rushed content that is my regular blog! The artwork from Sheffield illustrator Lord Bunn (whose usual work is anything from city signs to murals) is also looking really cool. Here's a preview of the cover:
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Sunday, 16 August 2015

Fly For Coarse Weekend 2015

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I type these words tired, but enthused after an epic weekend of fishing in great company, after the first ever Fly For Coarse summer bash. The idea was a footloose two days on different venues, with lots of species to chase. Which is why, slightly fuzzy headed from parts as far away as Sussex, we were gathered by the canal, early enough to draw some funny looks from the locals.

Which is where we come in really. With David West Beale, getting a bit of lip from a lady on a boat with a face like a disappointed teabag. He had spotted a solid perch in the central track, and was about to cast.
"You're not allowed fish within forty feet of my boat."

David was polite, bless him. I think I'd have pretended not to hear her, and got at least one cast in, before taking the piss out of her. But we saved the hassle and kept walking, and it didn't seem to matter because the whole canal was a picture. There were shapes everywhere- of roach, rudd and jack pike, occasional bream or tench, but also a steady breeze.

For the sake of the visitors though, I was mainly just glad to see the canal so clear. Among the faithful were fly enthusiasts Ian Sheridan, John Maskell and Andy Field. We mixed and matched tactics, with most starting on small wet flies. Among several hits and misses we landed roach and rudd, including one or two quite big ones, with small spiders and bead heads working best.

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The Bridgwater to Taunton Canal can be fascinating for this- with miles to explore the next thing you see could be a shoal of small perch or a three pound chub. But I had also predicted we would find good perch. It's great fun fishing with mates, because you can chop and change methods, swap rods and spot fish for each other.

David West Beale had brought along some lovely perch flies and a light predator fly outfit, so I was quick to point out a good perch I had spotted in the main track of the canal. But until he cast, I hadn't noticed the other three fish in the swim, all a decent size. He put out a cautious, short cast first- but even though the biggest perch was some three or four metres away, he came hustling forward. With a single twitch the lips flared open, and with a careful haste, David had guided her into the net.
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Wow! It was a really mean perch, an ounce over two pounds and a true canal specimen. The grin didn't leave his face for several hours I think- while the others all got plenty of bites and caught further roach, rudd, hybrids and bream.
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Silver bream also followed, while the only hooked pike was one that had snapped at a small roach I was playing in, before letting go.
We walked for miles over the two days, to give everyone their dues. There were some great wise cracks, and some healthy needless competition between Ian and John, who are the sort of close friends who show their brotherhood by relentlessly taking the piss out of each other.

But perhaps what I like most about these gatherings is the exchange of enthusiasm and ideas. You get to have a cheeky look in other people's fly boxes, chew the fat and drink in some late summer sunshine.

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After a long walk on the Taunton Angling Association waters, we were hot and really enjoyed that first pint. Some made their long way back, but for me and Dave there was still time for some late action on the canal. Fearing that the light was dying, we could still make out some silhouettes just under the surface. Chub!

I tried a flick with a small fly, but it just didn't register with the next fish I cast to. So instead, I reached for probably my favourite canal chub fly- the Spider Sedge (a long shank hook, soft mobile hackle and also a traditional feather wing). I lost sight of the fly but saw the chub I had cast in front of rise a little, and white lips gobble.

These chub are not exactly common on the canal, but always welcome and often a decent size. This one must have been a couple of pounds of thereabouts.
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In fact, that late action, and the likely muddy state of the River Tone, sealed it for us. So David and I headed to a different bit of canal the next morning.
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To cut a long story short, we added more miles and a few more fish to the bargain. Frustratingly though, I just couldn't find the shoals of better rudd, although roach obliged and I also caught both hybrids and a solitary silver bream. Nice for variety if nothing else. David also got bites, but struggled to tempt much of size- although perch and the odd pike would follow, they just weren't quite crazy for it. No fear- because he had a long journey back.

With a couple of hours to kill on the way home though, I decided to have a quick look at another bit of river alone. Actually, I'm glad it was just me, because the banks were horrible. Such is the way with good chub fishing. But here I'm talking nettles, brambles and all too often that horror of horrors: Himalayan Balsam.

I had been walking on an overgrown bank when the next step took me sliding abruptly into a seven foot drop, right in thick nettles and muddy reeds. It's lucky I'm tall really. Otherwise I might have been stung far worse- but it was one of those nasty moments. And there then follows the horrible process of trying to clamber up the bank, up to your armpits in stinging nettles.

Thoughts run through your head in these testing moments: "You idiot, what are you doing here?! You're stung to shit and the river is too coloured…"
But crazily, from my new position I started to see rises upstream. Worth a go?

The stings were tedious, but I decided to get wadered up and be bold- I had already been humiliated by almost falling in, so what the hell? Better prepared this time, I managed to get myself into two or three decent positions, using the reach of my ten foot four weight to reach out over the foliage.

Because of the high, still fairly muddy water I went big and bold with fly choice, fishing my wasp pattern, the "Jasper" or some grasshoppers I've been tying lately. The fish were surprisingly keen to rise, given the murky condition of the water. A missed a good solid fish beside an overhanging bush, before tempting one of his shoal mates to come up and gulp. I can think of more glamorous places to spend your Sunday, but this chub was worth it:

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Wednesday, 5 August 2015

Catching up, but not growing up

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A crazy summer so far, with hardly time to stop for a pint and a fish, or even to do this lousy blog- for which I apologise I've been a bit slack with. But I've been secretly busy. I've enjoyed the company of lots of new anglers with my coaching days and with Turrall at the recent CLA Game Fair. We had an amazing weekend teaching youngsters how to tie flies. Do check out Turrall Flies on Facebook and the current blog for lots more pictures, news and all good things fly fishing.
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Talking of childish things though, I also recently had a great little adventure with Mark Everad in search of some smaller coarse fish. Some of you will already know of "Fishing with the General", but what you might not know is that Dr Mark first gave me the idea.
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We had this idea of a crazy mission to hop venues and catch many smaller species- but I felt that someone as big and clumsy as me holding a gudgeon or minnow just wouldn't cut it. So I hired the General, for 20p at a car boot sale, and the rest, as they say, is military history.
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We had a really fine time of it anyway, jumping around small streams, village ponds and finally the very pretty Kennet and Avon Canal where it meets the Somerset Coal Canal. We had lovely ruffe, gudgeon and other species. The Doc also caught a lovely hybrid, while the General fought with Mark's 1960's Dalek and also landed some utter monsters. Proper fun fishing, with bleak, canal dace (a real rarity), perch, bream, eels and roach also joining the party.

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To be honest with you, sometimes I crave some simple bread and butter fishing. And closer to home, the canal is so near me I don't need much of an excuse to go and waste an evening. You know, a cheeky couple of hours that turns into four, perhaps with a pint thrown in. You can't easily fish down at the Double Locks, because the pub get funny, but take a little walk and there are swims that hardly ever get fished.

I also love it because I used to fish here as a kid, watching the bream roll on a summer evening. To my pretty amateurish approach at the time, they seemed like amazing, elusive fish. I caught far more eels than I ever did bream if I'm honest; writhing things that give you a satisfying fight but really bugger up your hook lengths.

This time I had no eels, but still tackled up tough on the pole (6lb rig, size 12 hook and strong hollow elastic), half fancying a tench or bream. I prepped the swim with four decent tangerine sized balls of ground bait laced with caster, chopped worm and a little hemp, and fished over it into some 12 feet of water just into the central track of the canal. Exeter Canal is bloody deep, for those who don't know it.

I had a string of perch first, before roach arrived. I'd already had a couple when the next fish started behaving strangely on the way in, suddenly pulling sharply towards me. I soon saw the reason why- it was panicking at the large pike following it. In a split second I saw a real alligator head lash out and the fish went plunging away into the middle of the canal, elastic absolutely streaming after it.

I never play the prima donna when fishing, preferring to let passers by get on with their cycle or dog walk or whatever. But over the course of about six tense minutes, a small crowd started to loiter, paralysed by the sight of the stretched elastic and wickedly bent pole. There were some proper football crowd noises from a bunch of rowers including the terrible advice to "reel it in" (what, on a pole?). There was an audible "oooohhh!" when the fish came off, but I was almost relieved.

That killed the swim for a bit, predictably. But after a top up with some chopped worm, I really fancied the last hour of light for a bonus fish of some description. A head hooked worm on a twelve led to a better stretch and something nice and weighty.

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A very nicely proportioned bream of four pounds or so anyway, and that all important bend in the rod. Sadly though, these evenings are not so common at present as I chip away on my next book. It'll be a collection of some wild new stories, along with the very best bits and some secret gems from the past decade or so of words. I also have Sheffield artist Lord Bunn collaborating on the artwork. Here's a sneak preview with an early draft of the cover:
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