Wednesday, 3 February 2016

Reservoir and Gravel Pit Pike Fishing

While I can always wax lyrical about catching pike on the small waters near my home, I've also been lured by the bigger waters lately. Longer journeys mean bigger risks but also bigger rewards. The very nature of writing means that I have to be nomadic and cover as many stories and experiences as possible. But hit and hope doesn't always pay off. You need a bit of local knowledge, or at least some luck.

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Or you need a local nutter, like Polish angler Seb Nowosiad. We were once thick as thieves fishing on the gravel pits. We fished many of these waters and the trips would take up whole weekends. It was survival at times, besides hunting down pike. We camped out, fished and sometimes damned nearly froze together.

My article in the current Fallon's Angler brought it all back. His wild enthusiasm for pike fishing. His daft superstitions. Seb thinks shaving is terrible luck on the day you fish. He also thinks bananas will lead to disaster if you are fishing on any kind of boat.

Our original aim was to go pike fishing on Llangorse Lake, but trying to get any information, let alone a boat for the day was like trying to contact the dead. So instead we headed north to Farmoor Reservoirs, an imposing concrete bowl of immense size where the likes of Paul Garner and Andy Black slay big pike for fun, while the rest of us slowly freeze and stare.

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With the sun on your face it was nice just to be out searching the lake though. The structure looked good, I have to say. Classic features here for big perch and trout, and perhaps I should have brought the fly rod. But instead we were hurling big, bold jerk baits and soft lures for the pike. We fished aggressively and covered a lot of water, but the only brief excitement came from the trout. This one hit a lure of 4.5 inches and for all of five seconds fooled us that it was a pike.

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With the gales heavy by three o'clock, however, we thought it would be best to find a more sheltered spot for the next day, and so it was off to try pike fishing on the gravel pits. We had to stop on route just to stock up on supplies, get all the usual bloke stuff- beer, bacon, backy. And because Seb had forgotten to bring any kind of sleeping bag.
"Nah mate, I'll be okay," he says. I virtually have to insist on him buying a blanket. He is a tough but silly bastard sometimes.

Our spot on the pit is only reached in cover of darkness, thanks to the traffic. But it's here the adventure starts. Putting up a bivvy under the headtorch. Feeling the first bite of the wind as you bundle your gear in for the night. I'm convinced our best chance of action will be first light, but once we're set up we also put a rod out each.

I have mixed feelings about night fishing for pike. You do have to be attentive and quick off the mark. You have to stay close to your rods. Big baits also help at night, because even a large pike won't swallow them instantly. So it was a whole sardine for me, and a half lamprey for Seb. And for us, a pan of curry and some IPA.

Seb Nowosiad is hilarious. He's the sort of bloke who will open a can of beans with a machete, start singing or even drop a conspiracy theory on you, after he's had a third shot of Jagermesiter.

Even though this was our first long trip in quite a while, the camp was fairly well organised. Just as well, because the wind lashed out all night, while not very much happened. At one point we had to hold down the corners to stop the bivvy being levered up from the ground by the wind. Rough stuff, but we laughed at the madness of it and at perhaps two or three in the morning things finally calmed.

It was a little after first light that my first run arrived. The bait had been positioned on the near shoulder of a bay on the pit. It had been half an hour or so after I'd just recast a fresh bait, chopping up and ground baiting with the old one. The clip fell and the line pinged free. It kicked steady but only really felt big as it came towards the net. I'm always eager to hook them cleanly and net them quickly. But you can rush them too, especially when it looks like the biggest pike you've seen in some time.

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Just a shade over seventeen pounds and beautifully proportioned. And then, for pretty much the whole morning, it was Seb's turn. The next two were good doubles- and at one point I had to help with one fish while the other rod also went off! We had brought plenty of bait too, and built up the area by repeatedly throwing in old baits and chopped pieces. It's also good practise to keep recasting baits. With a lot of weed present, it also seemed sensible to pop the baits up.

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We had also tried lures at intervals and hopping swims, but in the end it was the same area that kept producing. It's not my preferred fishing style, but by sticking to one area you will certainly intercept moving fish at intervals. You'll pick up different pike at different times of the day too, as they become active and roam the pit.

It was Seb who predicted the best fish would come later, in the afternoon, and he was correct when I got a really brutal run. It almost seemed that the fish had hooked itself, such was that first rush. It seemed to take a tense age to get within range. I then saw the length of it and things became serious. Big fish!

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A lovely pike, it was exceptionally long and went 22lbs 2oz. She was well behaved for a quick snap too. I do like to get into with wellies or waders these days, and hold the fish over the water for that final shot or two. You won't harm your catch at all, even if you were to drop it, and the water itself makes a nice light background.

It must have taken me a good couple of days just to properly thaw out and feel normal. I quite often sleep little- or sleep irregularly- on overnight fishing trips. But the fire is burning again, and I'll be back out soon.

Don't forget, if you enjoy my blog do look out for my angling books. Tangles with Pike has further pike fishing articles and adventures, and you can also buy it together with Crooked Lines for just £20 right now.

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Saturday, 16 January 2016

Floodwater Piking and Flounder on Lures

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I’ve always loved unusual fishing and the sport’s capacity to spring a surprise, but even compared to my oddest adventures, my one day mission this week was bonkers. To be brutally honest I wondered whether I was on a hiding to nothing as I sped towards Dorset and saw trickling streams rendered into gruesome, muddy flows.

I was looking forward to catching up with Nathan Edgell, but fancied that even with his knack of catching specimen river pike we would need a big slice of luck, or our brains testing. Along the access path to the fishery alone, we were up to our thighs- and perilously close to that annoying leak in my waders, just around “Crown Jewels” level. And then it was tricky to see where the fields ended and the river began.

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Now, I’m not going to give away the whole story in this hasty blog, but if I can give you any inkling as to how Mr Edgell catches so many pike it has nothing to do with fancy tackle or secret tactics and everything to do with his willingness to be mobile and get stuck in. He is like the Heineken of pike anglers- the one who gets to the parts others don’t reach. By which I mean he gets stuck into the bits most of us walk right past or take one look at and think “no way.”

Not only did he winkle out a pike on the day, but he did so on a lure and the fish was absolutely cracking! There’s a great article there, with some revealing dodges anyway. More to follow...

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It was only later in the day when I managed one of my own. With takes at a premium, I decided to put my final efforts into an hour or two with a sardine in a tempting looking slack. I managed to trip and almost totally fall in just getting into a position where I could fish properly. Boy was it cold. I was starting to shiver when the float started to take a walk- and in a split second all discomfort was forgotten and it was just man against pike.

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It was a pretty and hard-fighting fish too. It fought harder than some much larger fish I’ve caught. Nothing like as big as Nathan’s, but hey- that’s a pretty normal state of affairs for anyone who follows his exploits! I didn’t bother to weigh it, but it looked like a scraper double. It also had the top of its tail missing- perhaps an otter attack, but I couldn’t say. Perhaps one of you blog readers might be able to enlighten me? It looked well healed and the fish was fit.

I was literally shaking with cold as I left for the coast to catch up with another fishing pal I hadn’t seen in a while. I last met up with Andy Mytton on a towpath zander fishing trip (hence his appearance in my Canal Fishing book). Ever since then though, I’ve been staggered by the sheer variety of sea fish he catches on lures. Unless, like a goby, you’ve been hiding under a rock, you can’t have failed to notice how Light Rock Fishing or LRF is getting increasingly popular. And having done a lot of recent fishing with light lure gear for perch, a visit to the sea was overdue.

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One species not usually associated with lure fishing had particularly piqued my interest however. Flounder are a childhood favourite that I’ve always had a soft spot for. They look almost comical, but if you are a shrimp or crab these are mass murderers. Even so, I expected it to be a tough challenge to tempt one on a lure. If anyone could help me it was Andy and his pal Ricki Hill, who are real specialists when it comes to fishing the salt with small lures.

While the river that morning had been a scene of millionaire’s houses and the Green Wellie Brigade, the Dorset town where we met was a world away. On exiting the warmth of the car I saw a rat running along a wall and the police speed past. Some poor homeless chap was hunkering down for the night in a sleeping bag and the waters looked eerie.

Again, I can’t spoil the whole surprise here, because Andy’s tactics and observations were fascinating deserve a proper article later this year, not a filleted blog entry, to do justice. But By working tiny worm style lures low and slow close to features we managed to draw the odd bite.

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Ricki had just caught a little school bass when my own chance came. I’d had a suspicious pluck already, when a few casts later the little rod went bouncing over. I was instantly transported to being twelve again with a cry of “I’ve got one, I’ve got one!” And yes, it was a flounder!

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I cannot quite convey just how chuffed I was with this fish. Perhaps it’s because I’ve tried and failed to catch these fish on flies. I now know it’s possible without bait though, and the fly rod will make another appearance this year- no doubt aided by Andy and Ricki’s fascinating tactics and observations on the species.

Beyond flounder there are a whole galaxy of species to target with the light gear too. Ideal for the “toy” rod I’ve enjoyed using so much for perch lately. Delightful and unusual fishing, with both a world of detail and quite specialized stuff but also perfect for big kids. Right up my street- and I can’t wait to experiment further with both tiny lures and flies this year.

Otherwise, it looks like winter might finally be here. Anything but more rain I say! I wish you tight lines in the meantime anyway and should you fancy some more reading I've also updated the Turrall Flies Blog and received another incoming report from The General that you can read here. Keep warm and be lucky!

Saturday, 9 January 2016

Rough Rewards

Strange and often grim weather has been the challenge of recent fishing. Sure, you can stay in and just look out of the window with dread when the winds hit home and rivers rise. But quite often, braving rough conditions seems to result in good fishing.
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To be brutally honest, I think I’ve got it wrong on quite a few days this season. I’ve chickened out in the gales and sat it out with baits. But the weather has been so mild this winter, you get the feeling that the pike are often still more willing to chase than pick up a static bait.

On slow pike fishing days, I start to think Exeter Ship Canal should be renamed Exeter Shit Canal. The rumours start to spread, about cormorants and poachers and tackle shy pike. I fished for two blanks on the trot with bait, before I got restless and tried a spot of fly fishing.

The weather looked absolutely foul that morning, as I hit the water I for first light. I could just about make the fly out as it returned to my feet. I snuck into a cramped little spot and tried the margin, just a few yards along the bank. Even the margins on these ship canals can be quite deep, so it’s important to let the fly sink and not retrieve too fast.

On this occasion, I tried a nine-weight set up and the monstrous pink fly my mate Dave West Beale calls The Gay Assassin. I’ve said it before, but pink is so underrated for pike and predator flies. It really stands out in almost any conditions. In this case I also add an obscene dose of flash too, with a generous pinch of UV tinsel such as Multiflash:

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Encouraged by reasonable clarity, I had only made a couple of casts when something whacked the fly. A rush and then gone. Perhaps it hadn’t felt the hook or had some sort of prejudice against pink though, because the next take was even more savage.

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Four or five pounds of lean, fit pike. And so it continued for about an hour, with four other, similar sized and smaller jacks providing plenty of hits. Pete Wilkins also joined me, putting a flatwing pike streamer through the margins and getting followed by the best we saw on the day, of perhaps seven or eight pounds, that watched with a beady eye but just wouldn’t open wide.

When the weather got really foul, Pete’s camper van also came in very handy to drink coffee, have a catch up and and discuss Exeter’s FA Cup tie with Liverpool. I think you could survive the apocalypse in this vehicle, which also provides an ideal den for Rocky, a giant, hairy and delightfully dopey Alsatian.

I’ve spent too many weeks fishing solo, if at all, of late though. Writing for a living can do that to you. So it was also pleasure to speak to the Somerset Pike Anglers’ Club lads at their January meeting and catch up with so many familiar faces. That said, I had spent Monday morning feeling a bit like a pike myself, after a hospital procedure involving a camera on a long tube and my throat. They were sporting enough to release me afterwards, but it wasn’t pleasant.

Among other topics were my use of single hooks for pike, whether it comes to fly, lure or bait fishing these days. The deadbait rig has been working a treat in fact, ideally with nice soft baits such as sardine. A lot of the drains and canals in both Devon and Somerset are muddy at present, so I do also tend to groundbait. Yes, it is a little extra bother, but I think it’s worthwhile. Rather than just getting a quick run, you can almost build the swim. This is especially worthwhile where you find spots with a lot of small fish topping, and you fancy there might be several pike. I use nothing fancy- just brown crumb and chopped fish. Works for me anyway; this was the best of three fish, at just over sixteen pounds.

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Of course, pike aren't the only fish to target at this time of the year. Trout fishing continues right through the roughest weeks of winter. For any of you who enjoy fly fishing, my recent Turrall blogs are worth a look:
Whatever you fish for in 2016, I wish you crooked lines and happy hunting.

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Saturday, 19 December 2015

Pike, Poles and Post

Hello, humbug, bloody hell and that. It's fifteen degrees and pissing it down here in Exeter, yet it's only days till Christmas. It has been an exciting but busy time for me. I've been making an absolute nuisance of myself in the local Post Office, with piles of books that make queues form and customers curse. Thanks to all of you who've bought Crooked Lines. Many of you will have to wait till Christmas itself to read it, of course! Still enough time to order for the big day, if you're quick! Do enjoy it and let me know what you think.
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Balancing books, a day job and other bits can be challenging, but I also managed to grab a rare full day off in the week to head north for a spot of pike fishing on the Somerset Levels. The idea was to have a roam a couple of rivers and drains in the morning, before meeting up with Marcin Kwasniewski, a very useful lure fisherman with a surname that I'd imagine the Somerset locals have all sorts of fun with. A really good bloke anyway, who's also bailiff in Somerset, protecting his local waters from poaching.

Torrential rain had put the dampness on things a bit. You all know my mania for fly fishing, but I'm also pragmatic when it comes to pike fishing methods and do spend some time bait fishing each season. So I packed a couple of rods, some sardines and mackerel.

I tend to catch much greater numbers of pike on lures and flies than I do on dead baits, but in muddy water you sometimes need all the help you can get. I started on the West Sedgemoor Drain, which appropriately rhymes with rain. Conditions felt reasonable as I got there as it was barely light. I put a few yards between myself and the access point, before casting two dead baits out at intervals, spending little more than 20 minutes in each spot. It's a method that has served me well in the past, but today I simply could not buy a bite. I tried everything, but somehow it didn't look right. These little drains do switch on and off. Sometimes they get badly poached, or suffer from pollution or severe weather patterns. I guess that's both the joy and the gamble of fishing the Levels. Last years best fishing spots are today's duds, while elsewhere the reverse is true.

So off I went, taking one look at an even higher river, before trying another drain. This time I found better water clarity- not perfect, but better. There were immediately plenty of smaller fish showing. A really good, and cheap, predator fishing tip I can share from a few recent sessions is to take some left over bread with you. Or just buy a cheap white loaf. If you fish any water with a good head of silver fish, this can be a huge help to draw predators. You can easily mix it into ground bait on the bank too. Just pop three or four slices of bread in your landing net head and dunk into the margins. You can then just mash it up in your hands.
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I quite often bait a couple of spots with a ball or two. I'll then fish elsewhere for a bit, but return after and hour or more and cast close to the feed. It works staggeringly well to draw in the tiddlers- and many of our Westcountry drains and canals have lots of small roach, skimmers and also invasive sun bleak aka "motherless minnows" in Somerset. If you can get these swarming, it creates a chain reaction. I know it's a fishing tip my good friend and fellow blogger Russ Hilton also swears by and besides groundbaiting for pike, we've also used this trick to catch big perch.

Another thing I've been doing for the past few seasons is trying single hook rigs for pike. Could these be a more pike friendly, long term alternative to treble hooks? I definitely think so. I feel that too many pike anglers don't really give single hooks a proper chance. We lose a fish or two and abruptly decide it's not for us. But if you persevere, they really do work well- or at least, I haven't noticed a big increase in fish not getting hooked or coming off.

Two things you must do, however, with single hook rigs. First, do use a large, wide gape hook (I tend to use Cat Master hooks in sizes 1 to 2/0). You must also adjust your baits a little. Chunks of lamprey or mackerel will work, but avoid big, tough baits that impair the strike. In fact, my favourite offering is sardine, which comes off easily with a firm strike, to let the hook penetrate. I also hair rig the baits on my single hook pike rigs, just to avoid losing them on the cast.

I was struggling at first but the clearer water in the second spot made me more confident. An hour in without a bite, I dropped straight onto my bread spot. Through my polarising glasses I could see little shapes turning and there was still a little white of the mashed bread on the bottom. I tossed a sardine just to the side of this and as I watched the bait flutter to the bottom, I immediately saw a decent fish move in and scoff the bait. It went nuts, but the single hook found its mark and I netted a reasonable pike without too much fuss.
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What I really like about the large single hook is how perfectly it hooks fish, right in the side of the jaw- no getting fouled up with gills like small trebles. Removing the hooks from pike is so much easier with just that one single too.
The fish looked like it should go eight or so pounds with any kind of girth, but still very welcome at a lean six or so I would guess.
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I tried a few different tricks on the day. Another was a small drifted roach, a method those of you who've read Tangles With Pike will know I also favour well. But it was a simple, static presentation that worked for two further jacks, both on a sardine and a single hook rig. There's a feature in it at some point, but for now suffice to say that single hooks are working well for me.

Just as the drizzle picked up, it was time for me to shift again, and drive a few miles further to meet Marcin out on the Levels. I'm going to be writing a little feature on his approach to lure fishing and life, for early 2016. We only had a couple of hours proper light, but I got some great shots and some really interesting lure fishing tips too. He catches a lot currently on little SpinMad lures- ingenious little hybrid lures with a tremendous kick and vibration. A little taste below, but watch this space for the full story.
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Anyway, I wish all of my blog readers a great Christmas and hope you get some fishing in. If you've yet to treat yourself or a friend to a copy of Crooked Lines there's still a little time to order at and I promise to send all subsequent orders first class. YOu'll also find it at the evil empire of where it can also be bought as a £4.99 E-Book, as can Tangles With Pike
With so many of the current celebrity fishing books retailing for £25 or more, that has to represent good value. But another benefit of independent publishing is that I can keep prices affordable. Don't forget, you can also buy both of my most recent books for just £20 at

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Saturday, 12 December 2015

Casting into the Wind

It’s a curious phenomenon that brutal storms and weather patterns are given names these days. We’ve had Desmond, Eva and there might even be a Nigel on the way. But I’ve had some other, less pleasant words lately for the type of high winds that tangle lines and send the lids of your bait tubs sailing off like kites. None of my recent trips have been easy. I enjoyed (or endured?) a mad, wild and windy Christmas match with Tiverton Angling Club. Amazingly, there was a fifty strong turn out on a day of 40mph gusts and rain.
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So how did I do? The far bank line was written off for most of the match, as fishing any great distance with the pole felt lethal. So I started by fishing bread punch down the middle, a method that works so well on our fairly clear Westcountry canals. But I also fed a couple of chopped worm lines as backup.

Keeping the bait still was a huge problem. Small roach still bit avidly at the start, but it was a battle to tempt the fussier, better fish. Perhaps my keenest memory is of looking across at the bloke in the next peg, the wind howling and both of us just shaking our heads and laughing at each other, as if to say “yes, this is ridiculous and we must be a bunch of twats.” The onslaught of wind got even stronger, if anything. At one point I swung in a one ounce roach that suddenly accelerated towards my head at about 50mph.

But there was also just a minute of chilling drama. I’d switched to a heavier rig and a larger piece of bread when the float dipped, the elastic plunged and I could feel a good bream nodding away on the bottom of the canal. If anything, perhaps I was too eager to try and net it early. Whatever the truth, it was just coming up to the net when something went ping, the rig flew up in the air and I was left with a tangle and that sinking feeling.

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That was about the only chance of glory I really got, although the chopped worm lines produced some late bites and a nice hybrid. Enough to take me over the pound mark for a hard fought 520g. Never mind, it was a great event and excellent to see all the local angling characters out in force. Only five anglers managed above 5lbs, with Ali Robinson the winner with 3.560 kg a very good net, given the wretched conditions.

But I had happier returns at one or two of my perch spots elsewhere. After fishing a match, it’s great to be able to choose your spot and fish exactly how you please. You’d wait too long between bites, for example, fishing something like a whole prawn. But I’ve been trying these over chopped worm, both in obvious perchy bits of cover, but also straight down the middle of typical canals and drains. The best of these two went 2-11.

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It was also perch I was hoping for with a visit from my excellent friend David West-Beale, who has been developing a real habit of catching big perch on the fly. His tactics are fascinating, with rods as light as a three weight used to tame fish to over three pounds from his own local canal (as you can read on his splendid recent blog post "Fly Fishing, Perch and Eternal Youth")
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I’m sure he found our waters clearer for one thing. But we had some very bright conditions at first, as we had a quick go at the river. I’ve been really enjoying drop shotting recently, with a real toy rod, a 7ft wand that casts 2-12g. Not with soft baits though, but flies. You can use all sorts of small streamers and trout lures, but I’ve developed my own alongside Turrall Flies using drop shot hooks and a blend of traditional and new materials.
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It was mucky work, among all the winter wreckage, but I like a crisp little set up to test little slacks and holes, many of them right by the bank. Bites were hard earned, but after a missed pull, I managed to wangle a nice hand-sized perch from the reeds.
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With clarity not ideal on running water though, I fancied we’d do better on a more sheltered stretch of canal. A bright sun really seemed to put the fish off however. We tried gamely for the perch, but they just wouldn’t budge. David searched meticulously with his light streamer set up, with some fascinating tactics (I’m going to feature him very soon in the fly fishing press). But on this occasion, even the little jack pike we spotted were tentative.

As the afternoon wore on, we eventually had to have a rethink and both tackled up for pike. We tried various fly patterns, but in the end success was more about the light. As soon as the afternoon grew a bit darker and dirtier, the pike appeared. And as the wind dropped a little, we could watch them attackers materialise.

We tangled with the jacks for a while, but really fancied there had to be a bigger one somewhere. It’s all relative I guess, and on many of the small drains and canals I fish a 6-pounder is a good one and a double is a specimen. But I’m totally addicted to sight fishing these little places.

My favourite pike fly at the moment is a dirty big pink thing with lots of flash. Not exactly natural, but it really draws fish. I’m not sure what Dave thought of the fly he described as the Gay Assassin. But the pike loved it, or perhaps hated it enough to want to shred it to bits?

The best of the day came from the central channel and there was no half-arsed follow, no warning, but just a big angry lunge. There was a tension and a thump, thump, thump as if to say “you and that pink thing can f*** off.”It proved to be a very decent small water pike, in the 8-10lb bracket.

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I had to walk her down the bank a little, because being me, I’d snuck into quite an overgrown spot. If there’s one tip I can offer anyone who wants to catch more pike from small waters, it’s to get stuck in and fish the hairy bits. The majority anglers will just stop at the open bits, the cutaways and worn swims. It’s also a case of judgment because you have to be able to land the fish cleanly. A mate and a long-handled net often come in handy.

We had a few others too, including a few that wouldn't look out of place held by The General. But it was all good fun and in spite of the tough perch fishing, there were some real lessons and surprises. Now that the book is done and dusted I'm really looking forward to writing more features and yes, a little more method to follow the madness.

I'll be penning a special feature on fly fishing for perch very shortly for Fly Fishing & Fly Tying Magazine, while the new issue has my piece on fishing for winter brown trout in Devon. There's also a short film on the subject on YouTube: Winter Fly Fishing at Bratton Water.

Otherwise, Crooked Lines has been well received so far and is shifting well! You can read Jeff Hatt's verdict HERE for another angle on the book too. Like me, he has been an avid blogger in angling for a long time and shares many of my own typical joys and woes. If my own blog has been well received for a while(typically 4,000 reads per month currently), Jeff's has topped the 10-12,000 figure at times! With many magazines struggling to get these figures, it does make you wonder and I think he should definitely make an Idler's Quest book... I've already been twisting his arm anyway. Of course, books also put bread on the table and give writers the backup they need to continue, whereas blogs like this one are enjoyable but ultimately hard to sustain at no cost.

A huge thanks to all of you who have already ordered the new book so far. Keep an eye on for some exclusive sample pieces and also the chance to pick up both the new book plus Tangles with Pike for just £20. We're down to the last 300-400 copies or so of the pike book, so a second print run looks likely. Snap up a first edition while you can, because the value is only going to go up!

Saturday, 28 November 2015

How (not) to write a fishing book

I am an extremely relieved man this week, with the final arrival of Crooked Lines the book! For all of you regular blog readers, this is a chance to get hold of two-dozen of my best ever stories in a collectible format, accompanied by original artwork from Lord Bunn and a foreword by Mr Matt Hayes. You won't find scribblings from this blog (which tend to be my least polished writing!), but a mixed bag of twenty-four original pieces, including plenty of new and unpublished work.

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The last few days and weeks (or make that months) have been "interesting" to put it mildly. Not least a lengthy delay due to the increased security with recent turmoil in Europe. I'd like to thank everyone who ordered early for their patience- as you can imagine, I was tearing my hair out. The printing of the book is a story in itself. It was printed by Tallinn Book Printers, Estonia, who are honest and excellent people to deal with. My last book Tangles with Pikewas also printed by them, via a company in London who dealt with admin and puling a few strands together. But I was later to learn that the Estonians were never paid! Hence I wanted to go directly to them this time and make sure they got my business and full payment (and show them that not all Brits are dishonest!). Amazingly, they were trusting enough to deliver the books without demanding an advance, on a pay on delivery basis. Good karma, I felt, and the finished item is fantastic quality. It just took an age to travel across Europe.

But this is merely the end of a long and yes, crooked, journey. The idea of the book had been long in the making. Regular readers may already know of some my frustrations as a fishing writer. Even pieces that had appeared before were often only a shadow of the original, once they were clipped and squeezed to short format. "A War of Worms" (pictured below) is a classic example. While I wanted to describe various highs, lows and downright hooky bits from a long, wet winter, the article that went to press was chopped to less than half length (rather like a worm?) and retitled something like "CATCH YOUR BIGGEST PERCH EVER THIS WEEKEND!" in a classic bit of editorial hack'n'slash.

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But the beauty of independent self-publishing is that you have nobody to say "you can't do/say/publish that." This digital age is a battle, quite simply, to cut through the noise and get your message out there. But it is also empowering because you can blaze your own trail without having to compromise, or follow someone else's agenda or the usual formula. A great freedom, because with this book I wanted to be daring and make it something original and totally different in its design and feel. I wanted to tell the hidden story of fishing with all the grubby, interesting bits left in.

The artwork and design would be critical, but I had a strong gut feeling that Sheffield artist Lord Bunn would be perfect. His standard fare is anything but standard, with signs, murals and even band artwork very much his usual thing rather than fishing (I had met him through encounters with friends of his, the excellent post-rock band 65 Days of Static, but that's another story).

It took a lot of inspiration and perspiration from both of us to get things just right, especially with the cover. Creative types grow through being outside their comfort zone though- and I just loved his take on the different fish species. He gave each its own personality and the detail blew me away (I especially love the eel, hiding in the beer bottle).

As for the internal illustrations… you'll just have to get the book! There are lots of great black ink pieces, including flies, worms, hooks and even the odd stray fag butt. He also produced the most beautiful ink lettering, to provide chapter titles that were bang on. Each is a continuous, crooked line in itself, perfectly suited to my own slightly anarchic sensibilities.

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As for the writing itself, it took several months and was laden with coffee and expletives. There are several completely new and exclusive pieces in the book and others I had been saving up, while I also revisited other favourites and partially published stories, sharpening them up and fleshing out the juicy bits to hold nothing back. Compared to this blog and many previous articles, it's like looking at a finished gallery rather than a sketchbook.

The actual writing is the fun part, but the process of hammering it into a finished book can be painful. Garrett Fallon was my right hand man to provide design and layout. Above all else, we wanted to give the traditional angling book a kick up the arse and produce something edgier, funnier and more entertaining. But his editorial skills were also hugely valuable, because as the author you do reach a point where you are so steeped (and jaded) with your own work it is difficult to see the wood from the trees.

Several nasty little dramas were negotiated as it was proof read and refined. But you also reach the stage where you have to stop tinkering and correcting, and leave it the hell alone. Because this way madness lies and, after a certain point, you can end up making it worse.

With the introduction, however, I just couldn't feel satisfied. It was pedestrian and lacking in bollocks. Then, at the eleventh hour, it came together. I was up late one night with the flu and suddenly the right words came flooding out- or so I thought. Bloody predictive text almost put paid to that! I had written about the essence of the book, the nutters and strange places I had enjoyed the most. But modern autocorrect doesn't like angling terms. I hate autocorrect. It is lethal. It wants to change "tiddler bashing" to "toddler bashing" and my website address ( to "dogfighting uk" (I shudder to think what such a website would be like). But the worst was yet to come. My line about "the camaraderie of the bankside" was automatically changed to "the camaraderie of the backside!" A very different message- and typing this blog the same has just happened.

Jesus Christ on a bike, this was a disaster, because the files had already been submitted! I tried to solicit a little sympathy from family and friends but mostly just got howls of laughter. My line about the brotherhood of fishing had been changed to some sort of statement about fishermen bumming each other (whatever floats your boat I guess?). But mercifully, after frantically trying to contact Tallinn, we managed to correct this line before they pressed print. Some of you may of course be sadistically wishing it was left in, but I am relieved in the extreme. I had had visions of having to hand-correct 2,000 books.

So perhaps you can understand my titanic sense of relief in the project even more now. The even longer road will now be selling the thing, to ensure I'm not permanently in debt after financing the project. With independent publishing you take all your own risks- but my aim is always to be read rather than make stacks of money (wishful thinking in the fishing world!). Too many angling books are hoofing great coffee table ornaments, aimed at collectors and sold for anything up to £40 or more a copy. Sure, some of them are truly lovely, but to my mind, this isn't affordable for most anglers so I wanted mine to be available for a tenner. The margins become smaller, but I want as many readers as possible to enjoy my work, not just a handful of book collectors. It's always nice to sell books, obviously, but I much prefer signing scruffy well-loved copies of my work at events, rather than pristine and unread editions, probably destined for Ebay in the year 2050. Dare I say it though, collectors could always buy one to use and abuse, and another to collect?

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You can get the book directly from my website (CLICK HERE) or also as an E-book from Amazon UK for just £4.99 (CLICK HERE). You can also buy the real thing from Amazon, but please use my own site, because Amazon nick about two quid from every book sale. They also pay bugger all in UK taxes- but are a necessary evil I am afraid.

After months of work, I am now looking forward to actually going fishing again on a regular basis! If nothing else though, I'm getting savvier at making the most of small windows of opportunity these days. I had a fantastic canal session for perch on the fly recently, with a lovely fish of two pounds and six ounces to a new fly pattern (you can read more on the blog I currently produce for Turrall Flies- CLICK HERE).

Otherwise, my next stop will be the Tiverton Angling Club's Christmas match. I don't fish many contests these days, but this one is always a good day out and very well attended. Even the poorer pegs produce lots of bites from small roach- although I seem to have a knack of drawing right by the car park. Please let this be the year that I draw a flier! I'll let you know how I get on.

Saturday, 21 November 2015

How can we help protect our fishing?

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More book and fishing news on the way this month, but for today's blog, I wanted to tackle an issue that every single angler should be concerned about. Because while activities like fish theft and pollution make blood boil on Facebook, a lot of us don't really know how we can act. Virtually every person reading this will have some experience of the dodgy or downright criminal activity that blights fishing. But with so much fire and smoke on Facebook, forums and the rest, the facts and our own part can be unclear.

Too many of us, myself included, can be tempted to jump into the fray when illegal nets, sewage or a pile of dead fish are staring at us. These topics are highly emotive (just read George Monbiot's latest Guardian piece, for example, and tell me you're not alarmed). But it's easier to vent your spleen than educate yourself on what can be done.

In this social media driven world however, expressing indignation or clicking a share button seem to be how many of us "take action". But just as with the government, the national football team and everything else, growing incandescent and ranting is no substitute for action. And so rather than add yet another load of opinions, I wanted to list a few things that any of us can do to actually make a little difference. So here goes:

1. Always report illegal activity: So many times, anglers will see illegal fishing or blatant poaching and grumble without actually acting. The answer is to be active and willing to report. Every angler should have the EA Emergency number stored on their phone (0800 80 70 60), while there is also an excellent guide to reporting environmental offences on the Angling Trust Website. If there is one sure way to ensure the authorities ignore us it is not to report what is going on!

2. Get smart and get it recorded. Observation is key and neither the EA or police can act without intelligence. Reporting that you saw two dodgy people taking fish won't cut it. What did they look like? What was the exact time and location? Did they have a vehicle? What equipment did they have? Information is power. Don't confront people or put yourself at risk, but do take notes and pictures if it is safe to do so.
So often I hear the claim that "the EA/Police won't do anything." You're damned right they won't do anything if you can't be bothered to supply them with any information!

3. Volunteer as a bailiff. The EA has some excellent bailiffs who are keen to help, but they are only a few pairs of eyes and legs in each region. Imagine if every one of us acted to help them! Why not become a bailiff for your local club? It is not a vast time commitment, and will often just be some basic training and checking tickets when you are out fishing or walking the bank. Better still, you could contact the Angling Trust about their Voluntary Bailiff Scheme, which is already making big strides to protect the sport. For those in the South West, there will be a volunteer bailiff induction day in late February. Contact if you would like to be there and help protect your fishing!

4. Join the Angling Trust: Angling has over three million participants but only a tiny fraction are members of the sport's most important organisation. Other groups, such as the RSPB, have enormous clout by comparison. Why? Because their much larger memberships give them a much greater funding and influence at all levels! There might be a few things you don't quite agree with the Angling Trust on, but this is no reason not to join. Do your sport a huge favour and sign up today at the Angling Trust website.

5. Be savvy with social media: I have done it myself: venting frustration about a situation that has occurred. At best this will start yet another debate, but it could also be counter productive when it comes to catching offenders. A recent example was the barbaric nets found on the Thames. Had this development been kept hush hush, authorities could have waited for the offenders to return, rather than simply causing outrage and tipping off the offenders in the process. By all means express opinions, but be careful with what you share on social media.

6. Broaden Awareness! Facebook rants might be one thing, but another useful role anglers can play is in widening public awareness of the issues our waters face. How many of the general public, for example, have no idea that it is illegal to remove most freshwater fish (and will gladly ask you "have you caught your tea?")? Similarly, they think of environmental issues in terms of carbon, but have no idea of the pollution of fisheries. Anglers have specific knowledge that they can share and even non-anglers are interested in the life of our waterways.

There are various other things you can also do to support and protect fishing, but slagging off immigrants and venting on Facebook have no impact at all, other than reinforcing a sort of impotent anger and the popular lie that we are powerless and unable to help.

Major progress is being made however. Ok, so they might not grab the limelight like a record fish or the latest hilarious YouTube fishing clips, but things are changing. The Angling Trust's Fisheries Enforcement Team, led by ex police professionals including Dilip Sarkar and Nevin Hunter, have made big strides by taking fisheries protection to the highest level with government and police forces. Here are just some of the great things happening:

Project Trespass is a joined up initiative specifically aimed at tackling poaching. This is a far reaching, multi-agency approach that works with landowners, farmers, the police and other sources to tackle environmental crime. You can find out more here: HERE.

Operation Traverse has taken the issue of illegal fishing to highest level, garnering support from the Association of Police Officers and National Wildlife Crime Unit. It rightly points out issues such as the threats to livelihoods in the countryside caused by illegal activity, as well as working with European police forces to share information. Thanks to current efforts, the police are now identifying activities such as poaching as serious criminal activity and working closely with the EA and Angling Trust. After a successful pilot project in the South East, it is now being rolled out across the whole country.

Building Bridges is a scheme that looks to integrate and educate, rather than simply slag off anglers who migrate to the UK from other parts of Europe. It does this through action such as social events, competitions and also producing and sharing information in other languages, so that Poles, Romanians and nationals of many countries have the facts about fishing in the UK. We might tend to tar them all with the same brush, but there are now Poles and other nationalities actively patrolling our waters and playing their part, such as my friends Seb Nowosiad (below) and Marcin Kwasniewski.

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There are many more projects and initiatives both in place and being developed (find a handy summary of these is on the latest Angling Trust Fisheries Enforcement bulletin). Another great place to keep up with developments is Dilip Sarkar's excellent Angling Trust Blog. Knowledge is power!

Regardless of your take on the current threats to fishing, the very least any of us can do is join the Angling Trust and be willing to report and share information with the EA, Angling Trust and Police. Because the alternative is to address problems via internet forums and pub style rants; activities that produce plenty of rage but do absolutely nothing to protect the sport we all love.

Besides the challenges faced by fishing at present, there is a huge opportunity to protect the sport with the new initiatives and smarter ways for us to act. But whether we secure a positive future for fishing in the UK depends on more of us taking action and being a part of that change.