Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Jack-a-nory

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After a fairly lengthy bit of toil, I can finally breathe out again and give news that my next book project is imminent. A collection of past favourites and current work, “Tangles with Pike” represents a decade of writing. Well, strictly speaking that would be more like every year since the age of about thirteen being hypnotised, thrilled, baffled and sometimes just a little obsessed by Pike. We're aiming for a late November release, with both a full colour hardback and a special e-book. And while you wouldn't always judge a book by the cover, I'm thrilled to have a David Miller special gracing the front.

Pike are still my favourite fish on the planet. I think this is for several reasons. One is the fact that even twenty-two years since my first, they still have that ability to jam my heart into my mouth and feed me that irresistible cocktail of excitement and adrenaline.

Nowadays, I tend to think pike are one of the easier species to catch. At least, if they're hungry they will tolerate line you'd never dream of using for say tench or perch fishing. But I didn't always think like this. In the very beginning, my dad would occasionally bring a bung float and sprats to the bank and I can remember thinking "this is never going to work!" Compared to my roach pole, it looked like shark tackle.

My first success was lure fishing in fact. Which is spooky, because an exact replica of the first pike plug I ever cast (below) was recently given to me by Garrett Fallon (the book designer and editor of Fallon's Angler). It was fairly shocking, to be frank. Yes, it wiggled frantically enough to be grabbed by my first ever pike, but then in mid battle it came apart in the middle. And disaster was only averted when… (I'm going to be a sod here and just say look out for the book!).
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Actually, this makes me think just how much better tackle is today. Those things I regarded as the height of sophistication in about 1990 (springy line, hooks with huge barbs, crappy fibreglass rods) were actually pretty dodgy.

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Anyhow, the tackle might have got way better, but I'm still after pike with varying degrees of success so many years later. Having dreamt of opening the 2014 pike season for a while but tied up with the book, it felt like a full circle effect to take my dad (above), the very person who first started me pike fishing. These days neither of us is that partial to a bung float and a bag of sprats. We catch way more these days with a fly rod in fact than we ever did in those early days.


The Grand Western Canal looked beautiful, if a bit weedy still. Nor were the pike massively hungry as we walked for perhaps two or three miles, watching and searching. I'm pleased to report that even on a Sunday, we also didn't spot any of our illegitimate friends with plastic bags in place of landing nets. Funny, but in the midst of all the current paranoia around poaching and the business of "naming waters" it seems to me that the sport could actually do with more not fewer legitimate pike anglers on the bank. That, and having people willing to talk to those in the wrong and report things rather than just whinge.
It's very easy when you're having a slow day to make excuses on the level of "this place has been poached!". But the answer usually lies with the angler or the conditions. On this occasion, it was just way too bright for the first two hours. We barely even saw a pike, other than a tiny thing that launched itself at my fly- and missed.
Pike fishing is so often a case of either drama or disappointment, with not much in the middle. And so it was on this occasion; just as evening arrived, all the fish appeared, as if some conjurer had magically restored life to a dead canal. I caught two little pound-or-so devils on my eight weight, before a well-aimed shot under a bush let to a slightly better class of carnage with a lively fish of about four pounds which I watched trailing the fly before rushing in for the kill:
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All good fun, even with modest sized fish and after so many years of piking. In fact the one thing I perhaps feel less need to do these days is to slog for hundreds of miles in the hope of something huge. I will definitely be dreaming of a monster from one of the larger lakes or rivers this winter, but actually just being there is often enough. Best of all, I just love the game of hide-and-seek that the small, clear waters can offer. These have fuelled my writing as much as the more famous places and big pike I was lucky enough to catch. But I hope that as well as a few monsters, "Tangles with Pike" will do justice to an extremely varied catch of absorbing and entertaining stories, rather than the standard "here are a load of big pike and here's how I caught them" affair. The aim is definitely to capture the atmosphere, besides the figures. And I want to entertain people, not just make them think "you lucky XXXXXXX".

Saturday, 18 October 2014

Miracle on Flood Street

This week's blog begins with a major shock. The picture below is no hallucination, although I'm still in a state of utter disbelief. Yes, this is a Devon river roach of 2lbs 2oz. Not so much a slice of good fortune as something I never thought I would see in my life. After all, this is Devon, not chalkstream country. I love our little corner of England, but when it comes to wild specimen fish it is Plumbing Spares Cup rather than Premier League.
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How did I manage such a feat? With a bit of legwork and an even bigger slice of luck, is the honest answer. To be perfectly blunt, I've been seriously unsure whether to give the catch any publicity. But in this case, it's not just my ego but a not-for-profit organisation that could benefit in the long run. I owe the capture in no small part to Scott West, who suggested we fish some prospective water on River Culm, which is being considered for the Westcountry Angling Passport scheme. For those yet to try it, this is a fantastic idea to open up fishing water in the south west. Fly fishing has dominated so far, but there are some excellent prospects for coarse fish as well as trout, and the scheme gains more water every season. Nor is it "upper crust only" at prices from £5 per day. Watch this space for more info.
The fish itself however, came in less than textbook fashion. A bizarrely sunny afternoon with a muddy river following heavy rain are not your classic roach conditions, to be blunt. We'd had just a smattering of bites and were thinking of packing up when I decided to have "just a quick final chuck" in a pool at the start of the beat I liked the look of. I was on the feeder and bread approach and, more out of optimism than anything else, had been trying a big pinch of flake. It fought like a chub before almost giving me a heart attack as it came up. The fish was absolutely thick round the middle! I was sure Scott had jinxed it by announcing something along the lines of "that's a bloody big roach!" But my luck held. I've enjoyed roach fishing for quarter of a century in Devon, but never had I seen anything quite like the fish that lay in the net. A one off? Who knows. There is more unexplored water here and hopefully more of it set to open up to day ticket anglers.
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Otherwise, life has been a fair old slog trying to balance my new job with fishing activities. The Tackle and Guns show was very positive though, which I attended with Turrall. The sight that really caught my eye was near our stand, where a huge tank of predators was on display (above). Great to get such a clear view of these pike and perch. They seemed fairly indifferent to lures various reps were aiming at them- but you did fear for one or two of the little jacks once their bigger relatives grew hungry.

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We might be able to contact anyone at the click of a mouse these days, but you can't beat actually meeting up with folks in person. In two frantic days I met various people in the trade. Perhaps most encouragingly two of these were newcomers launching businesses in Devon. One was a chap starting a tackle shop in the Torrington Area, another was a representative from "Devonshire Reels"- a company looking to make top drawer, beautifully crafted fly reels (Mr Hardy eat your heart out). Brave initiatives these days, but I hope both enterprises succeed. Also at the show was artist Maria Gonzalez displaying some really fine work. It's tough as an independent trader, trying to stand out as a small fish in a big river so to speak, but her prints and designs are truly excellent- do take a look at her site MayFly Art (which has perch, carp and other beauties as well as game fish and fishing flies).
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Talking of which, I have also been busy sourcing art for my next book project, which will be a collection of great pike fishing stories. Under the working title is "Tangles with Pike", my cover image will be by none other than wildlife artist David Miller, whose fantastic work has recently graced a set of Royal Mail stamps. It promises to be a fun but hectic time pulling all the strands together.

Thursday, 9 October 2014

Autumn Gifts

Sometimes in fishing it pays to... well, not pay anything. If I can make it, find it or tie it myself I generally do. This not only saves you a few quid but adds a certain satisfaction to the sport. I love catching on my own, home-rolled flies, for example. I also like swapping and receiving freebies from fellow anglers. As a fishing writer you have to make the most of these perks because, aside from the big stuff like books, much of the time you get the feeling third world child labourers are paid better.
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This lovely perch was one of several taken on some cracking "Martin's Minnow" flies sent to me by Martin Smith (keep an eye on www.flyforcoarse.com for a step by step in the next few weeks- plus a link to order from him). I'd vowed to give them a swim ages ago but got snowed under with work. At long last though, I managed to take an evening stroll on the Grand Western Canal near Tiverton. Having located a shoal of fish under a bridge, I was happily wrestling one after another in on the flies- each as greedy, and small, as the last. I fancied a bigger one but thought nothing of it as I wandered onwards. However, on the way back to the car at the end the light was going and I had that gut instinct that makes many an angler late for dinner which says "I think I'll have just one more crack". I hooked the fish virtually on the bottom and it gave a nice deep, lolloping if unspectacular fight. With bits of dorsal fin missing and worn scales it had that retired, punched too many times boxer look. I love perch though- and at 1lb 13oz this was a good one for such a small canal.
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Equally appealing to my cheapskate side was a trip to Creedy Lakes today using bait that cost only some work with a garden fork in the compost heap. Call me tight, but finances are only one reason for this decision. Boilies are not only expensive but overrated on busy fisheries, in my humble opinion. 95% of visitors must use them- and as often as not blank on them. Why such a stranglehold? Simple- the whole carp fishing world is full of anglers who get free bait in exchange for saying "you must use this to catch." It is of course utter horse manure, designed to separate pound coins from pockets. Yes, boilies have their uses and I have also been a bait field tester in the past- but I detest dishonesty. As I've explained before, I'll often use boilies for less pressured waters- but if everyone is using them, carp will become extremely suspicious and there are much more effective baits. Worms are one of them.
Anyway, I digress but the main lake at Creedy proved tough. Strange because I really fancied the end where a mild wind had been pushing in all week from the same direction. Nobody on the lake was catching anything. I had a couple of small "pasties" on the worm but just couldn't hook anything bigger, so I tried baiting with some chopped worm right in one of the craggy corners, where the bivvies steer clear. I didn't fish it immediately, but kept returning for a look. A swirling tail pattern told me all I needed to know a little later. Within five minutes of lowering in a double red worm bait, direct to a size 10 hook and 10lb line, I was in:
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The fish ran like stink in the confines of a very tight swim. It was absolutely beautiful too, really long and strong for its' weight of fifteen and half pounds. When I think of how much tackle I had brought with me, it seems crazy that the only things actually involved in the capture were one rod and reel, a net, the most basic of float rigs and a handful of bait that cost absolutely nothing. Always a sweet, slightly guilty pleasure at a fishery where anyone not using three identical rods hurled across the lake is led to feel like they are some kind of lunatic.

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Capital fly fishing and Coventry zander

There are few things I like better than a fishing styled road trip. Great fun but also a necessity if you live in one of England's more obscure corners. These missions tend to begin with a list of postcodes and a lot of random supplies. I don't so much try for two birds with one stone, but aim at half the flock.
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First priority on my list this time was to track down Garrett Fallon, the plucky Irish writer and creative brains behind the exciting new quarterly title Fallon's Angler (which has a great new site where you can get a preview and order: fallonsangler.net).

What is the best part of being involved in books and publications? I think opening a box of newly produced material, with that wonderful smell of fresh print, has to be close to the top. You don't get that from an e-zine. Issue one looks fantastic. But even more importantly, it's a bloody treat to read the stories (you remember, those old fashioned things called "words" that sometimes distract you from the adverts and pictures of blokes with fish?).
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A day on Walthamstow Reservoirs seemed the perfect way to celebrate the launch and we had pike in mind. A roving session took us all around the upper complex of Higher and Lower Maynard at first. We chopped and changed swims, lures and flies, having a good walk and comparing notes. The place looked so pikey that even without early bites, there was a keen anticipation in searching around cover and imagining what might suddenly dash out at any given second.
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Also in fine condition was the Coppermill Stream (above). It looked clear, beautiful and for much of the way devoid of any living thing. That said, we did spot some thick-shouldered carp and one hulking great barbel. Like two skint shoppers, I think we agreed that there is a certain pleasure in admiring the goods through a window, even if you don't have the hard currency to make any purchase.

The current state of fishing literature, future plans and what exactly those bloody pike were playing at all made for some lively dialogue over a pint at lunchtime. The pike of past stories made up for a lack of action, including a monster Irish fish for Garrett that was played over thirty five minutes involving a broom handle rod, a broken reel and screaming runs along a sandy shore. But if you want more tales on pike and other topics you'll just have to buy a copy of Fallon's Angler.

After lunch we rallied our spirits for a crack at Reservoirs one and two, with Garrett bravely opting to have a crack at fly fishing for pike. After a bush or two, the perch pattern I'd lent him found the water with more and more regularity, but the pike were still not impressed. I would love to relate how his rod suddenly became possessed with a ten pounder, but it was not to be. Perhaps our Indian Summer had put too much warmth and greenish bloom in the water. Anglers write things off too quickly at times though and I think in a month or two these reservoirs will be well worth a shot for pike.


The saving grace was in fact a quick change of plan. With fly rods already set up, we decided a crack at the trout was a must (a good ploy at Walthamstow Reservoirs, because a two-fish ticket can quickly be grabbed: Further fishery info HERE). It had started as we spotted some nice rainbows cruising around close to the bank on reservoir No. 5. I took one look at my big pike flies and wondered how we would get any joy. The answer, I have to admit, came from my own messiness and multiple pockets. As A.A. Milne put it "The beauty of being disorganised is that one is always making surprising discoveries". In this case, my fly vest produced two buzzers, a Hare's Ear and two scruffy little trout lures.
Only after ditching the thick fluorocarbon would the trout launch an attack. With a slowish, jerky retrieve I got that first gratifying whack on the fly line. Trout number one came off, but the next assault came good with a decent rainbow.
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When you've been fishless all day, the simple joy of something kicking on the line cannot be understated. And with fish swirling on the surface and even leaping clear, I was sure we would strike again soon. I added another before Garrett struck into a nice fish:
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As enjoyable as it had been to have a very sociable ramble around the lakes, those rainbows were very, very welcome after our tough start.
Less welcome was the traffic I encountered on what was meant to be a two hour journey to Coventry to load in for the PAC Convention. Listening to Jack Kerouac's "On the Road" on cassette made the journey just about bearable, although there is a certain painful irony in hearing tales of open roads and mountains as you watch the arse of some dull people carrier while tail to tail in midlands traffic. I arrived in the nick of time to deliver a cargo of books, t-shirts and other stuff, including a whole shoal of pike flies:
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Always a fun event, the show was as friendly as ever and a great chance to run into old mates and share some goings on. But what I was really looking forward to was a crack at the Coventry Canal with Jeff Hatt. Staying at his gaff, we discussed the current fishing world as eight cocker spaniel puppies played tug of war with shoe laces and each other.
For those unfamiliar with Jeff's "Idler's Quest" blog, the guy is funny, always original and invariably worth reading. He's also a contributor to the first Fallon's Angler with similar hopes and fears about the current state of fishing to my own as it turned out.
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Perhaps the best place to mull things over was on a trip to the local towpath in search of zander. An eye-opening jaunt it was too. And while I must save much of the meat and bones for a proper feature, there were some key lessons to note. Firstly, that float fishing is excellent for the species. Jeff's home made wagglers beat my feeder set up hands down. Unless action was forthcoming we spent no more than fifteen minutes in each spot, using roach sections on some really big hooks. I was amazed at the size of these size 1 or so wide gapes- they looked crude, but by God did they work well for hooking the fish. Far better than my smaller versions, which produced mostly thin air on the strike.
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Perhaps I should have taken a leaf from his book in fact, because I just couldn't get amongst them. In my impatience, I kept trying the fly rod with jig style artificials, but other than a small perch and a lost zander it never quite happened for me.
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Meanwhile, the self-styled Chris Yates of Coventry kept up a decent strike rate. In spite of pressure here and the inevitable Eastern Europeans stealing fish to eat (some of these people need eating themselves), the zander seem to be doing pretty well.

I could never tire of exploring canals such as the "Cov". There are all sorts of species and stories present, and the day was great fun. And what better place to put the world to rights than at a classic looking waterside boozer where you can enjoy a pint while still actually fishing? In between sips of bitter I managed to hook and lose my third zander of the day. It might have been rather bad luck, but the next time I'm here, I'm definitely going for a large single hook and a float set up.
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I believe the biggest crime of all is that Jeff has yet to be commissioned for a properly paid regular column or book deal, in spite of producing much better writing and having attracted arguably more readers (some 15,000 a month in previous times) than many of the monthly fishing magazines.

But here's the rub: stacks of people have enjoyed Jeff's blog, but if he doesn't get paid a penny for creating it, could you really expect any writer worthy of the name to keep the words coming? Unsurprisingly, his output has slowed right down. My own present dilemma is similar: I really enjoy writing about fishing, it is my first love in fact. But I can make twice the wage in half the time in my present role writing copy on tourism and other subjects.

Nevertheless, I believe that things can and will change. The sales of many titles are falling badly as their corporate masters tie editors' hands and neglect the single most important commodity of all: well-written, original stories about fishing. In the end it will be the independents who win as readers get bored of sponsored drivel and repetitive, poor writing. In any profession though, the only way to beat mediocrity is to reward those who produce good work.

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Good Omens

This month begins with a note or two of that quality quite often lacking from your finger pointing armchair angler: genuine optimism. First and foremost this is because great angling writing is about to get a much needed shot in the arm with the birth of "Fallon's Angler" later this month.
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A fresh title that celebrates the best in original writing on the sport is long overdue, and with Chris Yates and Tom Fort heading the list of contributors it's wonderful to be part of the project. Why does it matter? Because in so much of the angling media only the technical, and often sponsored, writing seems to get a look in at present. I don't wish to rant here, but we need to support independent writing that is worthy of the sport's rich heritage (and yes, that actually means paying for it sometimes).

I live in hope though, as perhaps all anglers do at heart. Besides, it's difficult to feel dour when a little bonus summer time arrives and things seem to be improving. With recent commitments including a new part time job as a professional copywriter (sometimes I actually get paid to blog!), fishing time has been slightly limited. But there's always the prospect of sneaking off for some urban fly fishing while my girlfriend goes on her Saturday shift.
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I've spoken before of the surprisingly awesome fishing town spots can produce and this time of year can be amongst the best, almost as if the fish know harder times are ahead. Weirdly, conditions were more like high summer for my latest jaunt: low, clear water and fish that seem like a piece of piss to catch if only you can avoid scaring them to death with your size fourteens (I'm not even joking about my feet).
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Small beaded nymphs worked a treat once I'd got the hang of really gentle wading and making longer casts with a fine leader, but the real surprise was the dry fly sport. In several spots I'd had a mere bite or two in the shallow water, before the rest disappeared. But the really meaty little weirs and areas of rushing water were another story, with faster and more broken water. With rise forms picking up in the early afternoon I couldn't resist whacking on a nice Balloon Caddis. Not an enormous pattern on this occasion, but a size 14 (hook, not foot size) got some phenomenally juicy takes around boulders and bottlenecks of faster water. The best was a foot long beastie whose whole head and shoulders came out on the take, before a little wrestling bout involving my petrified nerves, pacy water and some ugly rocks:
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So, even with time limited, quite an action packed three or so hours were enjoyed. Otherwise, more good omens were sighted on a trip to the city of Bath with my significant other, where I went and visited… a bath. A great big Roman bath to be clear. We had a fascinating time examining ancient relics, coins and even Latin curses, while I hope the watery deities pictured will bring me some angling luck in the testing, colder months ahead. Pictured are watery Celtic Goddess "Sulis Minerva" and a mysterious Neptune-like "King of the Deep". Bloody hell I must be getting desperate:
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Despite the obligatory killjoy "No Fishing" signs, the Avon looked beautiful through the city, while I also found a rather dapper painting of a Georgian "Angling Party" at the Victoria Gallery to make my girlfriend yawn. Looking at their stylish attire and the fact that there's even an actual woman without facial hair fishing in the image, I can't help think that we've gone backwards these last 200 years. That's culture for you.
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Saturday, 30 August 2014

The Wye with Friends/ Fly Fishing for Chub

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As the saying goes, it's better to do something late than never. You say to yourself "I really must have a crack at X this summer," but with rain clouds and autumn threatening you still haven't done it. Actually, the scale of delay was even more dramatic in the case of the Wye. My pal Russ Hilton had arranged a trip for him and his dad with me on this great river last Christmas, but owing to terrible weather in early 2014 it never happened. So there we were, hitting the road in late August for what must be one of the most overdue festive gifts of all time.
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Still, after a daft o'clock meet up we started with a bang. We would have got the Wye even earlier, had my directions been up to scratch. Why oh why do two different places within 6 miles of one another both have to be so unoriginal as to go by the name of "The Red Lion"? Needless to say, we went to the wrong one first, before I got my bearings. Luckily there was no mistaking my favourite swim for feeder fishing. Russ and Dave were raring to go by this time, but we played it sensibly, baiting positively and letting the fish settle for over an hour before casting in. And patience was rewarded as Dave Hilton kicked off in style with a chub of over 4lbs. It wasn't fish a chuck, but the barbel also came along in dribs and drabs over the course of the afternoon and next morning. The chaps also got a special visit from Bob James, much to their surprise, who was on hand to provide tea, cake and some timely fishing tips (you can read more on Russ's blog "Tales from the Towpath"):
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Even if it's for mates, a guide's main priority should be to get their guests catching before all else. I barely fished on day one, but enjoyed netting barbel and some terrific chub for my friends- or just soaking in the peaceful flow of the river during the lulls. Nevertheless, there was time for a cast on the second day. In contrast to "bait and wait", the fly can work instantly. You won't catch the numbers in one spot you will with bait, but there is nothing I love more than roaming about and casting a fly. Bob even snuck back for a go with some small lures as we spent a pleasant hour or two fishing side by side and comparing notes.
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Bob was quickly into a couple using tiny spinners, before he had to depart while I got into action on the flies. A couple of fish came quickly after a good walk with polarising glasses as I kept a close eye on little weed rafts on the near bank. Approach is everything with these fish; usually a case of carefully sizing up each spot before approaching from a safe distance and presenting a good sized dry fly cast well upstream. As is often the case, anything big and juicy seemed to get them going. I got a little overexcited and pulled a Black Cricket right out of the gaping mouth of a cracker that looked four pounds plus! The next two fish were barely half that size but I made no repeat of this mistake. I might have got even more takes with a lighter leader, but 5lbs was as light as I was prepared to go around the rough stuff.
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Fly fishing for chub is certainly not for the lazy on river like the Wye. Steep banks and tight spots must be negotiated, while I always feel the right way to proceed is to spend at least as long just looking for fish as you spend actually casting.

With a large perch sighted in one area, I also tried a few catapult casts with a tungsten bead streamer- but disappointingly I just couldn't get this lovely fish to make a grab:
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There were other treats too: I lost a fine trout on a daddy longlegs, while I also spotted a cracking pike sunbathing in barely eighteen inches of water. While I would have loved to go for it, my seven weight rod and fluorocarbon leader would have rendered such a a feat virtually impossible, not to mention irresponsible. So I just caught her with the camera instead:
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After that, perhaps the most interesting fly fishing of the day was with streamers. I've done a fair bit of this for chub, but the trip really emphasised the value of fishing downstream. In several spots it was the only way to cast towards a snag only accessible from one side. Casting downstream has big benefits: you can not only fish the fly much slower (often getting a strong pulse by little more than just holding the fly against the flow), but you also get really positive whacks and a high rate of hook ups, because you have no slack line to pick up. The size of fish seemed to increase too, with a Black Woolly Bugger doing more than its' fair share of the damage:
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Ok, so such tactics aren't quite as tantalising as watching fish rise, but streamers seem to catch in a wider range of conditions. Even cool winds and a spot of rain didn't seem to stop the chub launching some gratifyingly brutal attacks. There is no need to fish too fine with streamers- and I often fancy the method for bigger fish, hence my set up was to fish straight through with 8lb fluorocarbon. They don't always fight super hard but rather fight dirty, lunging for snags, getting into the main river flow or trying to wrap you in weed. I was glad I used robust tackle anyway:
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Why did I leave it so late this season to have a crack at the Wye? It beats me. I really wasn't keen to leave. I was even less willing after catching up with Russ and Dave in the afternoon, who had started getting bites from barbel again. It felt warmer too, and after a whole morning on my feet I fancied an hour on my backside I couldn't resist having a cheeky cast with the feeder in the main swim they'd been steadily baiting. It suddenly felt warmer too and after a lot of earlier climbing up and down banks and wading it was great to lose the coat and waders and sit on my backside. The rod didn't so much rattle as wrench over with my final bonus fish, while the lads added three others:
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A few "last casts" were inevitable, before we remembered that human beings need things like food and water. I think my pals were as knackered and starving as I was anyway, and on the way home we devoured fried chicken like men who hadn't eaten for a week. Like our Wye trip I guess you could say we left it rather late. For anyone who still fancies a crack at this great river, there's still time to drop me a line though and the fishing can still be very good in the autumn. For details of our two-day "From Float to Fly" trip, as well as juicy, purpose made flies for chub, check out my site: www.dgfishing.co.uk

Monday, 25 August 2014

Summer Fishing School

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Who are the most important people in fishing today? The answer is simple: those youngsters who will form the next generation of anglers. Their first trials and tangles with fish are the first precious steps on the road to success. But in every case a friendly helping hand, not to mention someone to take them fishing in the first place, are essential.
This is exactly the reason why I've been so keen to set up some proper fishing sessions for youngsters this summer and I'm delighted to report a roaring success. It takes energy and organisation, as well as coaching badges and pints of maggots, but it is also one of the genuine highlights of what I do. That grin that says "I just caught my first fish" (as demonstrated here by young Tyler Billing) is absolutely priceless.
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Can you actually teach the art of fishing in just four hours? The honest answer is that there's no way on earth you could cover it all in that time. But what you can do is to coach some basic yet vital skills such plumbing the depth, loose feeding, striking and safely releasing your catch. The vital thing is not so much to catch fish, but to catch that spark of enthusiasm that every true angler has.
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Some old heads will tell you "it's about fishing, not catching," but I believe it's important for beginners to have some degree of success quite early. Which is why West Pitt Farm proved the perfect venue to take our new crop of young anglers. It's also a great place to learn one or two vital lessons: Firstly, that if you keep feeding small amounts of bait accurately, you'll catch a lot more fish. But equally, I'm always keen to show that you don't need to cast miles to catch- and many of the fish on small lakes are right by the bank.
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By using simple tackle (margin poles or waggler set ups) and fairly light gear (4-5 pound line to size 14 barbless hooks) everyone caught plenty. Not all beginners are fans of maggots, so sweetcorn was probably the most successful bait and we got through pints of the stuff, while loose feeding small pellets too. The species list was quite varied from the very first hour, with various carp (common, mirror and ghost) joined by roach, rudd, bream and some interesting hybrids.
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I just love the enthusiasm and imagination of kids- probably the part I miss most about being an English teacher in a former life. Young minds don't set limits and will always come up with crazy questions and ideas. Without any prompting, for example, we had various experiments with baits going on. On day one we had fish going nuts for broken Pringles, while I still have a grin on my face from cheeky chappie Nathan White who used a Haribo sweet on his hook to catch a carp! Is he a nut case, a genius or a bit of both?
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As well as the smaller fish we also had some real whoppers on the bank too, especially once the sun came up and we could target fish on the surface with baits like bread and cat biscuits. The biggest of the lot was landed by Josh Fawcett and expertly netted by his sister, Pip (you can see the beastie at the top of this blog entry). In one sense I was relieved because Josh had played an absolute monster for about ten minutes before losing it earlier that day. The best fish on day two was landed by fifteen year old Sofia and was well deserved; while the boys were all talking a good game she quietly got the better of a cracking common carp, which was so long she got younger brother Finn to hold one end of it for a picture. What a catch:
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All in all it was a brilliant two days and I left shattered but happy. Perhaps the perfect ending was to see Josh Fawcett playing a carp as we left. Having enjoyed the sessions earlier he had returned to the fishery to fish solo, landing a real belter of a fish with the skills he's learned, no coach now required!
It had been a great success then, but one that in no small part was thanks to two individuals in particular. Suzanne, who runs West Pitt Fishery, showed great kindness and support in letting youngsters fish the sessions for free as well as donating tackle and other bits in the process. I think this speaks volumes about her attitude to young anglers and I only wish every fishery had someone with such a good heart. I'd also like to thank Glynn Mansell too, who donated a boot load of seat boxes, nets, rods and other things which were invaluable over the two days. If every fisherman passed on tackle to the next crop of girls and boys so willingly, we could arm a whole generation of would be anglers. If there's any such thing as karma, you deserve to win the lottery Glynn!
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So, a huge thanks to all who attended- and for any Exeter based youngsters, we also have an event running at South View Farm this coming Thu/Fri 28/29. Just call me to book: 07804 240986. If it's half as much fun, it'll be a blast.
Not that coarse fishers have had all the kicks this week though, because I've also been starting others on a similar journey at fly fishing. Even given that keen lads Harry and Alfie Keyes and their dad Danny already go coarse fishing, I was impressed at how quickly they picked the basics up at Simpson Valley Fishery.
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I often like to start things off without the distractions of fish and water until newcomers can perform a decent cast. I've spent a long time on occasion suring up someone's basic cast, but after just an hour or so on grass all three of the new recruits were putting out a tidy loop of line. In fact I'd go so far as to say that young Alfie is one of the most natural fly casters I've ever taught.
Nice looking casts don't guarantee you trout though. Even on a prolific fishery, hot weather can make catching harder so I was dreading the bright weather we'd been forecast. Carp on small stillwaters might like a warm summers day, but rainbow trout are actually far more catchable in cool weather, right into the winter. Using nymphs such as Hare's Ears and Buzzers however, we received some good early takes before it got too warm and all three got a bend in their rods. Thrilling and satisfying stuff, because as much as I like to help as a guide I cannot make the fish take your flies.
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A two fish ticket at Simpson Valley is sensational value at just £10 (and also helps me keep a guided session for three really affordable!), and our anglers had five fish between them to reward a great first crack at fly fishing. No lures in sight either, with the best fly on the day a size 14 Hare's Ear slowly twitched where fish were showing. Well played lads!
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So, I'm really satisfied after a hectic week of coaching, but very much looking forward to an afternoon off with (you never thought I'd say this) no fishing for a change. Phew.