Wednesday, 15 June 2016

Marriage, Wrasse and Wreckage

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Regular readers of this blog will have heard, or been warned about Norbert Darby. He is as wayward as they come, and so I wasn't surprised when he turned up two hours late to my wedding by the Double Locks the other night. It's a pub I've had previous with, and a great place to have a wedding bash on so many levels.

So in his customary fashion, Norbert arrived rather late, half cut on a BMX and not especially smartly dressed. I was even more shocked to learn he hadn't been fishing in two years. Seemed odd, because we were once both glued to the banks of the Exeter Canal fishing for carp (as recalled in Crooked Lines). And so, in that drunken way that you do, we hatched a plan to go kayaking fishing on the South Hams.

From the off, you could probably file it under "seemed a good idea at the time." Lashing waves. A small boat. Norbert's love of adventure and warped sense of humour. I didn't sleep that well the night before. When you've just got married, it's not a great time to go missing or die. But Norbert was insistent, after another tin of cider, that he had done loads of kayaking in his younger days, when not driving uninsured cars and chasing barmaids.

So anyway, we faced a foggy start to the next day, weaving through backroads and laughing at the lack of civilisation and directions. Low tide was mid afternoon, which didn't seem so ideal but left us with some time. Or enough to fritter away in what looked like a garage-come-shop, but turned out to sell a whole heap of fishing tackle, local tat and all the rest. Norbert left with a four pack of Strongbow, some crisps, weedless bass lures and a 3D postcard with pigs on it, which he thought was the best 99p he'd spent in his life. But this is Norbert. He is permanently acquiring things, only to lose them.

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We reached our sheltered mark around midday and got sorted with kit. This takes some discipline with kayak fishing, because when you're out there, everything can get wet or misplaced, so you have to be organised. I put my lure boxes in a fly vest for security. We also wore buoyancy aids for safety. Really bad early 1990's buoyancy aids, to be specific.

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We took the plunge right from the beach, getting well out into the little bay quickly. The tide seemed quite reasonable, although the spot we were heading for seemed to channel the currents.

It is an eerie, exciting feeling travelling over rocky, kelpy ground in a kayak. It was great to see a mark I've fished since childhood from a totally different angle too. The odd larger wave would sometimes creep up and give you butterflies, but Norbert was a dab hand at steering the boat.

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We headed for a large rock that I must have looked and wondered at from the shore for the last twenty years. Now we could get to it! We'd packed three rods between us. Two lighter lure fishing outfits, along with a more no nonsense set up. I tried the heavier set up first with a Texas-rigged worm. I fished it tight to the bottom, jigging quite patiently and feeling for the bites. I got two early plucks, then nothing. But as we reached a really deep, fishy looking spot, I switched to weedless Black Minnow. I'd just cast some fifteen yards from the kayak and given a couple of pulls, when the rod absolutely thumped over. A pollack? A decent wrasse?

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It turned out to be a lovely ballan, not far off three pounds I would guess. Norbert's pictures were pretty shaky, but at least he kept us both alive.

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And I'm hardly joking, because after a break and a bite to eat, it was a very different sea we found. The incoming tide and an onshore breeze had kicked up quite a swell. It was tricky just to get into the sea without shipping lots of water. Not a huge issue, because modern sit on kayaks for fishing are very stable, and act like a giant air-chamber. But it's a pain when you have things like lure boxes and a camera on you, regardless of whether you have a dry bag.

Some of the waves on the return journey were large to say the least. The big ones would just pick you up like a toy. It was good practise, although fishing was often out of the question. You have to constantly anticipate and watch for currents and bigger waves. If you head directly into the waves, you get shoved up and down, but in safety. Whereas if you catch a big wave side-on, this is the biggest risk of the kayak rolling and getting pitched into the sea.

Eventually, we had to admit defeat and fish from the shore, since it had seemed way too risky to get into the rocky parts we really wanted to fish. It got pretty rough though. We started to get a battering and the General nearly got washed into the sea. A little disappointing, but there were still fish to be found from the shore, doing a spot of rock hopping and casting lures into the gullies.

I must say, the wrasse have been excellent fun this year but also quite a sharp learning curve. Having a session or two with Andy Mytton has really opened my eyes to the detail here. It is such brilliant, and surprising, fishing too. The trick is to fish lures right amongst it, in the rocks and kelp, hopping across the bottom foot or to with a degree of patience. The challenge for someone more used to freshwater fish, is the patience required. With the smaller fish, you have to let bites develop. But when a better wrasse arrives, the decisiveness of the take can be formidable.

A wrasse of two or three pounds can be too much for the lightest tackle, which explains why I was relieved to land another recent fish of that stamp from a different rock mark. Curiously this was on another more testing session where the larger lures didn't score- and the best of the day took a small 3" section of worm, rigged weedless. Luck had it that the shelf below was quite open and I was able to keep the fish from burying itself. Even so, the battle on an ultralight rod and 5lb hook link was hair-raising, thrilling stuff! A long-handled net came in handy once again too.

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Which is enough excitement for a bit. Because it might be June 16th tomorrow, but it's absolutely lashing it down outside. Although you can catch more from me in both the Angling Times and the Turrall Flies blog shortly...

Sunday, 29 May 2016

Tackle Reviews & Blanking Blues

How often do you read a fishing article about somebody blanking? Not very often, I would bet. With getting on for 250 articles in print, I've only managed to succeed in getting ONE published. It's an article I won't ever forget, because despite the frustration endured I got one of those shots that perfectly captures the madness of angling, with a grey mullet swimming literally right round the back of the fishless angler, coming within inches of his wading boots.

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This past week though, the joke has been on me. Most recently with a whole night and a beautifully misty morning (above) which, although nice to look at, I would have gladly traded for the carp I was after. I'm not about to tell you that I love catching nothing, but as a long term addict of fishing you learn to accept this.

Think about it for a minute and contrary to the idea that top anglers never blank, the reverse is often true- certainly where the biggest fish are concerned. And yes, a few chastening experiences each season add extra sweetness to those days when your luck turns.

Another thing you learn to accept is that you don't always get the performance that you paid for at the booking office. And in truth, whether or not you are grateful for what you actually get depends on your outlook as much as anything else. Like the moment your rod is nearly yanked in and the huge carp in your imagination transforms into a three pound tench, as happened on my other not-entirely-successful recent trip to a small, private lake. Most of the time, I would prefer to see the pond as half full rather than half empty I guess? Tench are like perch for me- even if it was a fluke, it is virtually impossible not to be pleased to catch one.

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Win, lose or play out a goalless draw that spills over into a pointless spell of extra time watched by nobody where there is no referee to call time, that is fishing. So perhaps I should continue this blog on another note. In fact, I wanted to cover something I very rarely mention here at all: my favourite items of tackle! Other bloggers write whole entries on rods, reels and rigs; I do not. Perhaps I'm too cynical about the tackle trade and the world of sponsored shenanigans. But I know that some readers do find it interesting, so I thought this week I would give you a few recommendations of the kit I have enjoyed recently, or for a longer spell of abuse. It's something to talk about while I remain biteless, anyway. So here goes:

1. Spro Micro Game Rod (70M)
So many rods exist these days, but this is the first I have bought for several years. After a few months I have taken it everywhere from Devon harbours to Amsterdam. It packs down into an absolutely silly length (38cm) and still performs really nicely. Hook an eight ounce perch and it bends like it shouldn't; hook an eight pound pike and, amazingly, it still survives without smashing to bits. I'd call that a very dependable light rod. My model is rated 5-15g, but this is way out. It feels right at home with 3g jigs, or my various dropshotting experiments with small jellies and flies. What can I say? I love this little rod, even if it is almost unbefitting of a large bearded man.

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2. Lone Angler Unhooking Mat/ Stalker Seat
What a brilliant little piece of kit this is! So portable, great to sit on too, but also very functional. Folds into three and slides into the back pocket of my fly vest, yet big enough to protect a barbel or zander. Not quite pike size, but you can't have everything- and this is a great compromise for fishing small waters for fish like perch and chub when you don't want to be lugging a vast mat around. Could also save you from the horrors of "Farmer Giles" on the derriere.

3. Daiwa LRF Net Handle 5.9m
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Another cracking piece of kit for the roving angler, why didn't someone come up with this years ago?!! Totally portable, it folds down neatly to some 70cm odd and has a shoulder strap. Yet when you need it, you have a whopping 6m, or near enough, of reach! I particularly like the fact that a net head can be attached through the bung, which prevents all the sections from sliding out willy-nilly when you don't want them to.
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So bloody useful! I'm already making a hitlist of spots such as harbour walls that this net will now allow me to land fish from, where previously I wouldn't have dared. Ruddy useful kit!

4. Turrall Barbless River Flies
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Ok, so I like to tie my own flies where possible. Time is a killer these days though, so it is extremely darned useful to have reliable patterns tied properly on barbless hooks that look and fish the part. After all, so many cheap barbless river flies feature rubbishly cheap hooks and are sold more overdressed than Lady Gaga (and just as tasteless). Not these designs, personally selected by Chris Ogborne with a competition angler's eye for detail. Granted, I am one of the Turrall team these days, but I like these so much I've been fishing them all season and now also stock them in my own shop HERE. Do grab a set before I use them all myself!

5. Orvis Forceps
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Ok, so this is not a new tackle accessory by any stretch. When you own an item for the best part of ten years, however, and it's still going strong you know you're onto something good. These are top drawer, meriting that "reassuringly expensive" Orvis price tag, I must say- and I'm pretty attached to mine. Literally- they never leave my fly vest. Not just great for removing the hooks from fish, they are also good at debarbing flies while that little spike is genius- just the thing for clearing the eye of a fly when you're struggling to pass the leader through. Damned near indispensable in my book.

Ok, that is about as techy and tackle orientated as I'm about to get for a while. Now go and fish. Heck, do one better than me and actually CATCH SOMETHING!

Wednesday, 11 May 2016

New horizons and old haunts

Does anyone else suffer from false-dawn syndrome each and every spring? The yo-yo temperatures and random seasons don't half mess with the moods of both fish and anglers at times. And this applies whether you're lure fishing a cove in South Devon, or tackling one of Cornwall's wild fly fishing lakes. Which is why I write this week's blog with some relief after some tricky fishing and hard won catches.
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I had promised visiting angler Jim Sutherland a suitably mixed trio of outings, in fact, for what would be an unusual mission for me. The idea was three days of very different predator and fly fishing, adding a different twist to my usual guided fishing trips in Devon and Cornwall. Besides brushing up on casting skills and discovering some new fishing styles, he wanted to fish alongside me to produce an article.

A refreshing change for me, because by and large I do not fish when I guide. Aside from demonstrating the odd technique, I think it's poor form. Equally, as many articles I've appeared in, I can probably count those written about me by someone else on the fingers of one hand. As often as not, I tend to cover what others are doing, tending to agree with the saying that there's no telling what can be achieved if you're not fussed about who gets the credit. This way you get a much broader pool of knowledge than your own limited perspective. But this time it did make a nice change not have to do all the running and note-taking!

We started with a spot of lure and fly fishing in the rockier extremities of South Devon. If you can be bothered to walk, there are some stunning secret beaches and coves here. It's especially lovely to return to some of these spots you remember from childhood armed with more "grown up" fly or lure fishing tackle. The only slight hitch was that it had been a couple of years since I'd been to this particular spot, hence we slalomed through poky lanes and, on one occasion, popped into a local village hall where a makeshift polling station had been set up, just to ask for directions.

On this occasion, I intended to start with the lure rod, like Jim, because I desperately wanted a lure-caught wrasse. However, my usually reliable Shimano reel then decided to have a meltdown, with the spool no longer locking in place. Usually I cannot fault these reels, but I guess nothing lasts forever and twelve odd years had taken their toll. A bit embarrassing, to say the least, to be left with a tangle and a bust reel!

It was to be a curious quirk of fate though, because I soon got into the rhythm of casting a sandeel style fly pattern and began getting bites. A small pollack came first, before I wondered if I was seeing things. On a couple of deliveries I thought I had spotted long, silvery shapes chase the fly. And then I had my answer- a garfish took hold! My first garfish on the fly ever in fact (I've often seen them chase, but never got one in). The only slight regret is that I didn't get a better picture- but the sun was right in Jim's face and I decided I wanted to avoid excessive handling and let the thing go.

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We had a testing, sometimes gruelling day after that. I was certain the bass and pollack would arrive on the rising tide, but they just wouldn't appear. And so eventually, we turned our attention back to the wrasse. In my case, I eventually tore myself away from the fly as Jim let me borrow his spare lure outfit (although I spent the day getting ribbed about "hire charges"). I broke my duck later in the day, but it was Jim who really earned his stripes with an absolute cracker that fought like fury. I'm going to be a party-pooper here and only show my own, more modest effort, because I don't want to steal his thunder for the full write up.

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In the process of a really interesting three days we covered miles in the end, tackling Cornwall's Colliford Lake in pursuit of its stickleback-clobbering browns, not to mention a jaunt on the local canals. The latter, I think, really floated Jim's boat. Like me, he is a confirmed sight fishing addict with somewhat itchy feet, which was probably for the best given how many yards there were to cover over three days.

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We had action packed hours and slow hours, but it was all interesting fishing. Perhaps the highlight was a foray into shallow waters with the fly. We had seen bream on the verge of spawning, but for the first time in the year I also spotted numbers of roach and hybrids sunbathing. They were willing to rise too, although they wanted quite small flies- larger bugs were flatly ignored, while a size 16 to 18 spider was sucked in gingerly by several nice samples.

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We also played with the pike and perch- in my case, using my own dropshot minnow flies (which you can now find on my site). The perch were tricky, but in the clear margins it was possible to sight fish and use fluorocarbon rather than wire, to earn more takes. A little split shot or two and you can work these beautifully on the fly rod- but they'd also cast on a light lure set up.
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I'm always torn with this kind of fishing. I'm reluctant not to use wire, but with fluorocarbon you tend to get more takes from perch, while you'll also land the typically small pike that take a shine to the minnow. It almost goes without saying that you should also debarb the fly/lure so that if there is a mishap the thing will come out easily once the tension is gone.

When it comes to "prospecting" with the fly and areas where you can't spot pike and take evasive action however, the only option is a wire trace. This was just one of several fish we shared on small lures and bigger pike flies:

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Again, I'm reluctant to reveal all because no doubt Jim will produce a cracking write up and I have no desire to steal his thunder. Nor is this anything new, because it's fair to say that there's always a lot more between and behind the lines with what I write here. I just cannot include everything. Don't get me wrong, I love the blog as a kind of quick-fire diary. But I cannot give away everything for free and nor would you want me to- unless you're keen on the idea of a fishing landscape almost devoid of "real" books or magazines.

I've been as critical as anyone in the past about the fishing magazines, but it is as vital as it has ever been to support the print media. To give you some inside perspective from my own world, the balance of my income from print writing to digital content has swung totally in favour of the latter in the past three years. Part of this is because I write blogs for hotels and tourism these days. But in fishing the same is steadily happening. And while we all have to embrace change, we could be left with a world devoid of printed words if we're not careful, which would be a huge shame. Remove the rewards and standards will drop with the world of advertising holding all the ace cards, it's as simple as that.

It has been almost an ironic twist, therefore, that having written for the fishing press for over a decade now, I finally have a weekly column in the Angling Times! Yes, I know I've been outspoken once or twice before, but to their credit they have freshened things up with the new look magazine and even found space for an oddball like me. The Far Bank looks set to be a lot of fun. My remit is a sideways glance at the funnier and stranger aspects of the sport. This week's topic, for example, is all about the lure of dicey spots and dodgy casts.

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I have lots more hot, strange and thorny topics to come in the months ahead, but if there's anything that amuses, perplexes or bothers you that you would like me to get my teeth into, do get in touch with me or drop the Angling Times a line!

Thursday, 5 May 2016

Lure Fishing & Cold Lessons

There come times for most anglers where you get rather out of your "comfort zone." It's extremely healthy to learn new things, even if that sometimes comes at the price of a fall or two. It also means taking a few risks and casting where you never thought of doing so before- and that can be a confidence tester. Most recently for me, I've been well and truly tested but also highly taken by two challenges- one totally new (kayak fishing) and one I've returned to only to find a total revolution taking place (saltwater lure fishing).

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Looking back, I think some of my better articles have come from this sort of leap of faith. It can be exciting if you shed this idea that "I have to be world champion/ highly experienced to write about this." Because in reality, it is only by jumping into something new that you can see things with a fresh perspective. Once you've done a method a thousand times, you forget all the seemingly daft questions you had and challenges that other anglers also face, not to mention the sheer excitement of it all. And yet this idea prevails: the writer has to be a total expert on everything they cover.

Here's the secret though; I am not. My writing and general fishing skills may have slowly developed, but there are still areas where I am like that kid in the tackle shop, peering at all the strange bits of kit in wonder. This is a great position to be in. Such has certainly been the way on recent lure fishing missions to the coast, where I've been scaling right down and watching experts like LRF wizard Andy Mytton with a keen eye, and more than once a sense of total bafflement.

Close control using cute rods. The neatest and freakiest of little lures. Bonkers presentations involving special split shot rigs, dropshot weights and knots I'd never seen tied before. I've thoroughly enjoyed lure fishing for most of my life, whether it's casting for pike or bass. But I've been blown away by the current light lure fishing scene- what is happening currently is little short of revolutionary and incredibly exciting. You can read some of my musings on the "joy of the diddy rod" in my Angling Times slot this week- but suffice to say there is a lot more to come and I am enjoying feeling like a kid again.

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Perhaps my favourite recent catch, in fact, has been one of the smallest in the form of this sea scorpion. I'd both enjoyed and endured a cold spring session with the tiddly lures with Andy and the sight of this critter brought back great memories of childhood fishing off the rocks. Circa 1991, I was afraid to touch these fish. But they are quite harmless. Furthermore, if you are brave enough to place one in the palm of your hand you could get quite a surprise. Not only do they go all puffed-up and defensive like perch; they actually vibrate. I thought this had to be b****it at first, but it's perfectly true- it's like holding a fish that has swallowed a mobile phone! Must be a defence mechanism?

Other lessons from my trips are also stacking up quickly, whether it is a timely reminder that evening and night fishing are often better than daylight in the salt, and that it is well worth fishing low and even dropping tides for different species.

I guess you appreciate the smaller stuff even more when sport proves slow- but that's the great thing about lighter tackle: everything fights energetically, even a tiny pollack!
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More to follow in print and online on various topics shortly, but suffice to say that at the moment it's very much a case of "the more I learn the less I know" on reflection. And I love it that way. Because I don't have to be a world expert to enjoy it and write about it any more than you do to try it as well. And the only way any of us gains real "expertise" in any area of fishing is to have fun, experiment, ask other people and generally get stuck in. The same has been utterly true of kayak fishing- where I'm still testing the water, not to mention my limits and balance, quite literally. Another dunking for me this week I'm afraid (note to self- while standing on a kayak is possible, it is highly advisable to stay sitting on your arse when casting!). Even so, I broke my duck with two Wimbleball rainbow trout in a short tester session! More on the Channel Kayaks site and blog shortly, along with listings for special kayak fishing days on the lake.

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The only other news of note was a talk at the 2016 Barbel Society Show, where one of my main topics was this concept of new ground in fishing and putting yourself in the position of a learner. This was certainly the case for much of my experience with coarse fish on the fly, particularly the unusual species- including barbus barbus naturally. It's still one of the most exciting and tricky things I've ever done. But while I wouldn't advise the newcomer to start with barbel or zander or one of the other oddballs, they are all catchable.

In fact, perhaps my favourite backhanded compliment about Flyfishing for Coarse Fish of all time was a rather spiky review from a guy who wrote "anyone with a bit of experience could have done this." Totally. That was the point, wasn't it? To try new things and enjoy your fishing. Otherwise it's just an ego trip for the author.

It was a great show in the end, even though I felt a bit off-colour on the morning. I'd already had a bit of man flu, but also I partly blame Garrett Fallon for that "quiet pint" the day before which, in that wonderfully mysterious way, materialised into six, complete with a rambling converstaion on angling, politics and the meaning of life. We had a lovely afternoon's fishing on the Oxford Canal too, where he used a vintage cane rod for a spot of (I kid you not) dropshotting! The results we had were a big shock to say the least- but more on that another time. For now I'll leave you with a little glimpse of a classic canal and a rather classic rod:  photo Blog_May_2016 - 5_zpsphpd9ygy.jpg

Thursday, 28 April 2016

The Bounder, Buller and Current Fishing Reads

I’m having an eventful time of things lately to put it mildly, with life approaching the sort of chaos usually reserved for my tackle box. Fishing time is tricky- although I keep squeezing in short sessions with lures. I've also been busy at the desk this month for two quite big developments: Firstly, I have a column in the newly revamped Angling Times (now in magazine format). Needless to say, after a decade of working at it I'm thrilled to bring my slightly unhinged take on angling to the table on a weekly basis.

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But equally, I'm also proud to be a part of issue six of the superb quarterly Fallon's Angler, which happens to be a special tribute issue to the late Fred Buller. Indeed, besides losing several too many music and comedy icons this year, fishing has also had a rough ride, with Jan Porter also passing this week. Both he and Buller really got the mind ticking over in my formative years as an angler. Perhaps for different reasons, but both were true one-offs who took quite unconventional ideas and made them mainstream.

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Talking of mavericks, my main task this week is to give you my verdict on infamous angling character Mike Daunt’s rather intriguing book The Bounder, which I have just completed. Not for the faint-hearted, this autobiography follows the madcap life of not just an angler, but a soldier, philanderer and hedonist supreme, from London to Kenya and back, via the River Tweed and the jungles of Borneo. For better or worse, no punches are pulled or details of any kind spared. There is fornication as well as fishing. And for those prudish types who didn’t like the occasional curse words of my own recent work “Crooked Lines” this is a whole different level of “colourful”. But it is certainly compelling.

It is this candid, open-as-a-fridge-with-the-door-ripped-off nature that I love best about the book. It’s rather like eavesdropping on that fascinating bloke in the corner of a waterside pub. You know, the one with the "caught it, drank it, shagged it" look on his face, who speaks about theatre in Cold War Berlin one moment and tench fishing the next. The one who, at any minute, is capable of revealing some outrageous detail to make the whole boozer fall silent and sane mortals whisper to each other “Jesus Christ, is this guy serious?” Whether it is the sordid details of “swinging” London in the sixties and seventies or the sudden appearance of a man’s severed finger, it’s all in the mix.

The fishing adventures are a constant, but tend to form the subplots in the book alongside Daunt’s unfailingly mad-as-a-box-of-frogs life. So this is not a fishing book per se, but the sport is quietly prominent in its own way. His first ever fishing trip is beautifully rendered, for example, in the midst of a turbulent childhood and perhaps the most mismatched mother and father in the history of parenting (the one a kind-hearted but fallible bohemian, the other an emotionally retarded dictator).

As a kid who went to state school, with its well-meaning but downbeat teachers and leaking temporary classrooms, I always find tales of how “the other half” live as fascinating. But I’m never sure I envy the “privilege” of bullying, endlessly stupid rules and having to watch out for the school letch with a taste for young boys. There is a delightful mischief, but also moments of genuine misery, in the section on school days. Innocence and depravity are both present. Catching secretive common carp is one thing; catching two of your teachers hard at it in the bushes is quite another.

Forbidden from joining theatre school, the author is then dispatched to the army where, in spite of a rebellious streak, he manages to not only fit in but thrive. The adventures with the Headhunters of Borneo were among the most fascinating in the book, complete with the most eye-opening and astounding details. Depending on your tastes, the warts-and-all details will make you laugh out loud or wince (or in my case sometimes both on the same page).

Curiously in fact, The Bounder features some very famous names (Chris Tarrant, for instance, writes a foreword that declares both a deep fondness and sense of the absurdity of the author's life, while he also fishes and boozes with screen legends) but you suspect it is “Daunty” who has probably had the wilder ride. And while some readers might find leaps between subjects and eras a bit of a jolt, this pattern is perhaps only an appropriate reflection of the random, hedonistic rollercoaster of his life.

Perhaps the quality I didn't expect with a book of this title were the sudden moments of fragility. Whether it's a tragic family secret or an untimely disaster, beyond the bravado and the hedonism The Bounder is also unexpectedly touching.

As for the fishing side of things, the keen angler will perhaps enjoy the latter stages of the book best of all- and in particular the keenly-observed relationship with the late Hugh Falkus, an enigmatic man who is by turns funny and kind, rude and cantankerous. No spoilers here, but there are some great moments of mischief and more than a dash of controversy along the way. A small world too, because of course Falkus co-authored the classic Freshwater Fishing with Fred Buller, who has just passed away.

Whatever your own take on Mike Daunt's wild life then, The Bounder is a risky, unrepentant but never dull romp. For my money, I'd compare it to a bottle of high-proof India Pale Ale: Rather strong and more than a little fruity for some tastes, but if you like this kind of brew you'll find yourself happily sipping away until the whole bottle is gone. You'll can find it for £7.99 at John Blake books HERE.

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More news and views to come shortly from me anyway, along with recent adventures in lure fishing; the sea is calling once again and while the fish have been small enough for "The General" (below) to hold thus far, there is some hugely exciting sport on the way.
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Sunday, 24 April 2016

Kayak Fishing Lessons & Cool Spring Days

April has been a massive hectic, month for me in terms of both passing on experience and learning some new skills. One of the great joys of fishing is that there is always new knowledge to pick up as well as pass on. Sometimes it's a gradual thing- but in my case lately it has been more a case of jumping in.

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My current leap in the fishing world is perhaps one of the biggest I’ve ever made, however, as I’ve decided to try kayak fishing. It’s something I’ve had my eye on for several seasons if the truth be told. Regular readers will know that I’ve enjoyed a fair bit of float tubing in the past; it’s a cheap, highly mobile way of getting afloat. But limited in other respects, particularly when it comes to sea fishing.

So why go the kayak route? Well, for those of us without the income or space to buy a big scale fishing boat, a kayak is a realistic option to get the freedom of boat fishing without the silly sized bill. So when fishing oriented specialists Channel Kayaks approached me with the offer to use one of their craft for a year and review it, I jumped at it. I mean, why the hell wouldn’t you? I live 25 minutes from the sea, not to mention some nice lakes that allow boats, such as Roadford.

Regular readers will already know I’m honest and skeptical about tackle and kit, having had mixed experiences with companies in the past to put it mildly. So I hope in the coming weeks and months I’ll be able to give you a warts and all account of my journey into kayak fishing- the bits I like, the bits I don’t like and, in a nutshell, whether I take to it or not. I mean, what's the worst that can happen? Actually... the worst that can happen is that you can drown but we'll get into that a bit later.

Anyhow, it should be interesting stuff and I want to record my experiences. Not in the style of "look at what an expert I am" (quite the opposite!), but as the guy figuring out the various aspects of how to go kayak fishing and, who knows, perhaps asking some of the dumb questions and making mistakes so others among you don't have to...

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How (not) to start kayak fishing
So, after the initial feeling of “Wahey! These idiots are going to lend me a kayak for the whole summer!” I had to make the thorny decision of which model to go for. A tricky one really, because while I might well be flying (or paddling?) solo, I also liked the idea of a two person kayak for fishing trips (secretly hoping they could help with elbow grease when I get knackered).

Does such a thing as a versatile one or two person kayak exist then? Turns out it does with the Tandem Bass kayak that was recommended to me; you can fix two seats on board, or convert to just one in the middle.

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A big win? Um, sort of. Once you’re in the water, yes. When you have to hoist the thing onto your car, not quite so much, because this means you have more weight to lift. It is doable though and as far as a suitable compromise goes, this seemed the best option. If you're flying solo, the lighter one man "Bass" kayak would be more sensible (and cheaper too, at just shy of £400). All include comfy seats and rod rests too, which is a big bonus- you can see these are designed by anglers (as opposed to just being marketed for anglers). Granted, it's not peanuts- but the last time I engaged in fishing kayak reviews (in Flyfishing & Fly Tying Magazine), the craft were well over a thousand just for a basic model- too much for me, while the inflatables and cheap versions often look duff or outright scare me to death (note to my Devon friends: please don't go shark fishing in an inflatable dinghy again. I'd rather not be at your funeral).

Basic kayak safety & skills
On one level, I never quite grow up with fishing related stuff. Give me new kit and I just want to get out and fish. But when you’re dealing with tides, waves and the elements you do have to take a reality check and be prepared. So quite sensibly, Byron from Channel Kayaks recommended me a session on Clevedon Marine Lake for a crash course in kayaking basics. Probably sensible, because if I were to drown on my maiden voyage, not only would my folks be upset, there wouldn’t be any kind of review. Unless you consider a police/coastguard report a “review”.

Joking aside, fishing can be a dangerous sport (statistically you're more likely to die on a fishing trip than in a rugby match or even a skydiving trip!). Just because you have a life jacket and can swim, it doesn’t mean you are invincible. There is risk and to be unprepared is stupid, hence I wanted a kayak starter session with no fishing involved, at least initially.

Kayaking looks easy when you watch others do it. But there are various little skills and safety bits you really ought to learn before you’re ready to venture out properly. I didn't want to get too bogged down on this blog- but I've written on the basic skills and things like what to do if you fall in on a guest slot for the Channel Kayaks blog, after they very kindly have me a training session to get me started. You might want a look just for the entertainment value of seeing me fall in and then demonstrate how to clamber back into a kayak (CLICK HERE).

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Fishing from the Kayak
Having completed my paddling and safety basics, it was time for the more fun part- testing the kayak for fishing and in two person mode! Heck, even I can only concentrate for so long before I start thinking about fishing. I know what you're thinking: there can't be any fish in Clevedon Marine Lake, right? It looks nothing more than a big and fairly lifeless concrete swimming pool, for goodness sake.

It actually turns out I was wrong here. Sitting right by the Bristol Channel, it gets a fresh influx of sea water on big tides. Fish, shrimps, crabs and the rest come in, but not all of them remember to leave. Non anglers have seen sea fish topping and moving, including the odd flatfish or dogfish, while the crabbers get the occasional blenny in their nets. I'm not saying it's prolific- but it could just be a quirky spot to have a cast (when it's quiet and you're not annoying swimmers or canoeists obviously!).

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Anyhow, purely as a test I had brought along a light fishing outfit, just to see how it felt fishing from the kayak. Impressively stable, is my honest impression. Last time I fished from a kayak was in Finland; it was an ancient Canadian thing and the slightest movement made it veer all over the place. But these "sit on" kayaks are so different to the "sit in" versions. I am not a light human being nor one with a low centre of gravity, to put it mildly. And if I can sit on the edge, with my feet in the water, and fish, virtually anyone can. Furthemore, the new, hollow-bodied boats are very tough and virtually unsinkable. And yes, I tried during my trial. Just like with my fishing gear I like to see where the weak points are BEFORE, not during the event.

I had a little go with LRF type lures, anyhow, for no longer than half an hour admittedly, because it is April and you appreciate just how cold the water still is when you've been in it several times. I caught nothing- but then again, even the dad and lad crabbing in the corner blanked, which probably tells you it's too early. For the novelty alone though I may well come back.

Fish or no fish, I was pleasantly surprised by the kayak as a fishing platform. Built in rod holders are snug too and you get several, plus two posher kayak rod mounts, as standard. Another thing a lot of kayak anglers surely must ask though, is "what happens if I drop my rod or paddle?" If you are unlucky, the answer is " it disappears and you never see it again." Which is why I would recommend buying a leash or three:

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These are made for retaining paddles- and very sensible too because you're not going anywhere other than the proverbial sh** creek without a paddle. But they also provide one of the best ways to avoid losing rods when kayak fishing.

Kayak fishing sessions to come
So, having completed my crash course in kayaking, it shouldn't be too long until I hit the water for a day out. I'll let you know how I get on. The sea is an obvious target, but I also get the feeling that this would be great fun on lakes- if you can only get past the health and safety Nazis. Permission can be a sod (it's the same issue with float tubing). But there are a few freshwater options I'll be exploring over the summer.

One of the most exciting of all options this summer is a series of kayak fishing days on Wimbleball Lake, also being run by Channel Kayaks. Hats off really, because permission is the main barrier to trying. With kayak and gear hire plus a fishing ticket for under £100 these look just the ticket and I've already wangled a place on the event taking place on June 1st. Grab a look at the event details HERE for more info- but if you ever wanted to try kayak fishing without risking a fair sized investment, this is very much the way to do it and from what I've seen so far this looks great (Chris Ogborne is one of the guides on these days, who is not only a great host but a former international angler of huge knowledge!).

Guided Fishing Update
The other thing I am hugely looking forward to hugely this summer is taking more visitors out for guided fishing trips in Devon and Cornwall. There have already been some lovely highlights in the spring- not least of all teaching two intrepid brothers Oscar and Austin to fish at St. Tinney Farm with their father.

Now, a lot of boys of this age just want to get fishing and casting and, as much as I love their enthusiasm, a lot of what I say tends to go in one ear and out the other. Not with these two though. You could tell they have a school teacher in the family with mum, because they sat, watched and listened ever so well to learn how to set up a float, how to plumb the depth and all those other little basic angling skills that are so important.

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The result of listening (for adults and kids aike!) is obvious; you catch more fish! They fished the margins very stealthily and effectively indeed. Best of all was when both hooked into fish at the same time. I think I was as thrilled as they were- hopefully a day they won't forget in a hurry!

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In other guiding, I've also given recent pike and trout fishing lessons in East Devon and beyond. Whether it is a holiday activity, or a fiftieth birthday treat, I am always happy to oblige if I can. Sometimes I can take bookings at short notice too, but the diary does get crazy in the summer so it's usually best to give me plenty of warning and ask about dates; all the details are on my site HERE.

Fishing Blogs and Articles on the way...

Last but not least, you may or may not have seen some of the other bits I've been producing, editing and writing lately. Not so long ago, the digital world was a totally unpaid minority of what I did as an angler. But in perhaps just three years, that has all changed. And while I always will be a devotee of books and print media, blogging is becoming just as vital. Here are some recent entries that really stood out, both from me and a couple of others:

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Top 5 Urban Fly Fishing Tips: A fantastic little blog from my good friend and keen urban angler Theo Pike

Lake District Tarn Fishing: Beautiful artwork and reflections from artist and Cumbria based angler Scott Winstanley.

Fly Fishing in Muddy Waters: My own recent blog for Turrall, with some sound advice and hard-learned lessons on catching when our streams and rivers are fickle.

Otherwise, you'll find more musings, fishing ramblings and nonsense from me in the newly revamped Angling Times (collectible first issue in the new format out on Tuesday 26th April 2016), Fallon's Angler Issue 6 (which features a fishing trip in Cold War Berlin with the General) and various places elsewhere. I've also been back at the mini species and LRF fishing, with mixed results to say the least. Life has just got too busy to post it all on the blog quite frankly, but do keep reading and watch this space for more...

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Thursday, 7 April 2016

Fly Fishing in Poland: A Dunk in the "Protein River"

Although my trips to Poland are not strictly fishing affairs, I’m always keen to test the waters of Silesia, where my other half’s family live. It isn’t always easy to balance inlaws and angling, but there is some fascinating fishing in this area of Southern Poland, with both lowland “coarse” rivers and lakes, along with some lofty and very beautiful fly fishing destinations.

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The journey to Poland was an interesting one, crammed with three other voyagers into the confines of a small Fiat. Not exactly the vehicle of choice for the tall guy, but we survived and had some fun along the way, passing through no fewer than four countries on the 24 hour journey from England to Poland (France, Belgium, Holland and Germany).

I won’t subject you to a full report on Easter in Poland (something which is taken extremely seriously, from fasting to feasting and Catholic Mass). But suffice to say it always brings a smile to my face after the experience I had in 2014, which spawned one of the more bizarre fishing stories I’ve ever written (you could always grab a copy of Crooked Lines, for the complete yarn, which involves a rather miraculous resurrection that might confirm any brother of the angle's faith).

The real adventure began after the Easter weekend, however, as we met with Polish fly fishing enthusiast Arek Kubale and his good lady Agneiszka for an adventure in the Silesian mountains. Admittedly, it would be a fleeting and opportunistic visit rather than a meticulously planned fishing session. But I was looking forward immensely to trying the River Bobr (or “Beaver River”), considered one of the finest places to go fly fishing for trout and grayling in Poland.

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As I’ve explained before on this blog and in my writing, I believe there are a heck of a lot of misconceptions about fishing in Poland. Favourites include “they eat everything” quickly followed by “fishing in Poland must be terrible.” On the contrary, in fishing terms I believe Poland is a sleeping giant. There is a heck of a lot of water, space and variety here. Furthermore, it is ridiculously cheap in comparison to so many other EU fishing destinations (a pint of beer is about £1.40, a stay in a quality fishing lodge well under £20 a night).

There is a huge diversity of fishing and slowly but steadily the country is getting its act together. Like many other fisheries, the Bobr is now strictly catch and release fishing, for example, and better protected than ever thanks to Poland’s younger generation of predominantly catch and release fly fishers.

The journey itself was both beautiful and slightly jaded. Poland is a country where you’ll see a line of ramshackle sheds and a faux-Greek mansion in the same road. Where one guy owns a BMW and the next has a clapped out old banger and a bottle of moonshine.

And along with big inequality come the other issues. Arek and Aga pointed out one or two unfortunate ladies they refer to as “mushroom pickers” to more sensitive guests (in reality, rural based "women of ill repute" from the Ukraine and other desperately poor nations). It must then be a battle to keep a straight face as other inevitable comments follow ("she looks rather underdressed for the season...").

We then had the delight of stopping in the amazing mountain city of Jelenia Gora ("Deer Mountain" in Polish) to stock up on supplies and enjoy local delicacies, including fabulous local doughnuts and some of the best Chinese food I've ever eaten at the "Shang Hai" restaurant. One of the joys of being a Brit in Poland is that you can enjoy the best of everything and still spend a heck of a lot less than you would at home. Unsurprisingly I also sampled several delicious Polish craft beers.

Unlike beer brewing, angling Tourism isn't hugely developed here just yet. I was in stitches, in fact, at some of Arek's tales of early fishing businesses trying to gain a foothold. One local guide clearly illustrated the dangers of Google Translate by using it as the sole means to reach English speakers on his site, only to be referred to as a certain "Mr Bastard" offering trips on the "Proteins River". Hmmm... sounds both offensive and nutritious!

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I was still chuckling on the water, asking my host whether the trout on the "Protein River" were as fast growing as the name suggested. I wasn't chuckling for too long once immersed in the very cold waters of the River Bobr, however. Spring arrives quite late here and it was cold, with currents that threatened to knock me off balance as I searched near bank lies with a six weight streamer outfit borrowed from my host. I couldn't buy a bite, sadly, although the ice cool waters were perfect for cooling down a couple of ales that went down a treat with the juicy, smoky Polish sausages we barbequed. If there was a sausage World Cup, Poland would be Germany or Brazil.

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With only an hour of light left to use, we then went to a huge dam and fished near the Tartak Fly Fishing Lodge. A great looking place this, and with the river cleaner than it has been in some time, not to mention well-policed catch and release rules, this is a fly and lure only fishery with big potential.

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My timing was fairly terrible though, as I simply never received that tell tale whack on the streamer. Heck, the lesson here is that you cannot always combine a social trip with fishing and hope the fish will cooperate for you in the few hours you find to have a try. Just because I do this for a living, it doesn’t grant me any God-given right to turn up anywhere and catch. The fish don’t give a damn and on this occasion my name may as well have been Mr Bastard, with a permit to fish the Protein River.

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Ironically, my only fish of the trip came from the briefest of sessions fishing on a flowing urban canal in Wroclaw. Last time I visited, this channel was totally dry and undergoing maintenance. It seemed bizarre to revisit and discover quite an inviting channel, with roach, chub, perch and even the odd giant catfish present! A small chub took pity on us in the end, gulping down a Goddard Caddis, and I'm not sure I've ever been so happy and relieved to catch such a modest fish.

The rest of the trip is hazy, having gained about half a stone in cured meats and vodka. The Poles are the best of hosts, but I am seriously considering becoming a vegetarian tee-totaller.