Sunday, 13 April 2014

Spring Fly Fishing

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Ah, spring. Don't you just love it? The sun has been up. The fish are rising and you can venture out with only a t-shirt on your back and possibly a fly rod. Not that spring fly fishing is always easy. I've had mixed fortunes, but some encouraging results for both coarse species and trout this week.

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 photo DSC_0165_zps53978639.jpgAiming wet flies at rudd and roach was today's treat. My usual little spiders and "rudd bugs" came to the fore on the Grand Western Canal, but it was a case of walking and looking hard for the better shoals of fish. Only the really tiny ones seemed willing to touch flies on the surface, but by presenting slow sinking wets I had two net sized rudd in quick succession and even the smaller ones that followed were beautiful.
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The roach wanted a fly presented rather deeper, and with the wind sometimes blowing smaller flies off course I opted for slightly heavier patterns to try and get amongst them. A size 16 Tan Shrimp or Roach Grub worked well for these, although the takes were sometimes really cute. The job was made much easier in the sunshine, as I could sight fish. I even had a crack at a surprise tench that wandered through the swim, but failed to get the grub fly directly into its path. Never mind, here's one of several roach that intercepted a falling nymph:
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It hasn't been all plain sailing however. A trip to a different canal was more testing, with coloured water and debris making it tough to spot fish and cast to them unimpeded. What should the angler do if they can't easily spot the fly? An small indicator was the answer, to suspend small flies in the top two feet (and I prefer the foam, stick on kind, which you can even snip in half for a really cute little indicator). With fish hard to spot it was usually a case of scanning the water for rise forms and moving fish. They weren't big, but I had three species in order: rudd, roach and bleak.

The trout fishing has also steadily been improving on my travels too, and I had the great pleasure of a day on the River Rea with my publisher, Merlin Unwin. A pretty stream this one, lost somewhere in the Shropshire countryside and full of twists and turns. I was a bit muddy on our arrival and little was rising, so we went for nymphs.
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A handful of pretty browns were hard won on the day, but I loved exploring this new river. There were lambs everywhere in the fields. We found otter tracks and there are even the ghostly remains of an old railway platform out here.
 photo DSC_0078_zps144de897.jpgAnd it was great to hear some of Merlin's stories: of fishing with the Mr Crabtree author Bernard Venables, or the summer that Ludlow was flooded with mayflies. And we also celebrated the coming of my new book with a beer. Stocks of "Canal Fishing: A Complete Guide" will be in very soon.

Wild rivers are one thing, but the fish have been bigger in semi-urban locations recently. Not that the water quality is in any way lacking in many of our towns. Is there anything nicer than a shallow, stony river where you can sight fish for wild trout? We have free fishing in several Devon locations- (Theo Pike's book "Trout in Dirty Places" is a great resource).
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A quick wander with a four weight was great fun. No dry fly takes on this occasion, and the trick was to get a nymph down to the fish. A hare's ear worked in the slightly deeper bits, or a PTN in some lovely shallow runs where trout were sitting in just a foot or so of water. This was the best of them, at 13" or so but very lean.  photo IMG_20140412_152918_zps73644e2d.jpg

Thursday, 10 April 2014

Digging for Victory

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The beauty of being an angler of varied tastes is that there is always something to go for. I must be honest- my first choice on a spring day might have been very different to legering for carp. But take a really grotty day and persistent rain, and you have a much better recipe for action on a carp lake than on a trout stream, for example, that has been transformed from pure gold to pure filth.

Creedy Lakes are a place I hop across to once or twice every season. I also like to experiment with baits, largely because the place sees so many boilies I always suspect the carp are sick of getting caught on them. Bread and maggots both feature high on my list, but I really fancied giving worms a try and spent the best part of an hour gathering several hundred from the compost heap. Hard on the back, but completely free bait. They can be a pain to feed at distance, so I went for a spomb to put plenty of chopped feed at around thirty yards out.

As for presentation, I went with one running rig, and one semi fixed. With plenty of clay-like, sticky mud with the bait I even tried a rather gruesome method set up. No additives or gimmicks whatsoever here- just plenty of natural bait and very dirty hands. But was it to work?
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It didn't take too long before the running rig was getting twitchy, and then a full blooded run and a fish of ten to twelve pounds. I then added a smaller one and an eel into the bargain, before things went quiet and I added more feed. And the day tended to follow a similar pattern- the fish would come on, then only return after re-feeding with quite generous amounts of worm. The next one fought really hard on my standard Creedy tackle (1.5 TC rod, 10lb line) and was absolutely solid around the middle at 16.08lbs:

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Two tench added further variety, before I eventually got fed up with the rain and went back for a hot bath. Mission accomplished I guess, and a decent return for a really crappy day of weather. It literally didn't stop raining for a second until about four in the afternoon and perhaps not surprisingly Creedy was less busy than usual. Not that I was grumbling- and I enjoyed the company of this little chap for most of the day, and he even got a few free worms into the deal:
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Thursday, 3 April 2014

Last Orders and New Beginnings

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To some extent fishing has become like so much of modern life, tailored to human convenience. Call me old fashioned, but I sometimes think this is a shame. There is a time for everything each year, and both anglers and fish need seasonal changes. They give us welcome variety, while our quarry gets a rest.
Perch fishing, to take just one example, is generally something I do in the winter and then cease as spring proper kicks in. I've really not tried hard enough for perch this winter past, so it was a case of one last crack to try and get one or two more good ones before they think about spawning and I think about something else.
Shillingford used to be a cracking perch venue, but I've found the big ones get rather trickier the last two seasons. No surprise, because angling pressure can have this effect- and it's also true that predators are shorter lived than other fish, hence the fishing can be cyclical and you can find a dip as well as a rise in form each year. I persevered with prawns on a day ticket session, but struggled initially on the middle lake which I once found so easy. Well, I say struggled, but the carp were there in spades. They are a nuisance on perch tackle- one took me the best part of ten minutes to get in.
A switch to a neighbouring pond was just the job though. All the ingredients looked wrong: bright sun, middle of the day, not many bites. Suddenly though, after returning a half pounder, I hooked a much better one on the very next cast. A really plump fish this, and a nice finish at a little over the two pound mark:
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I then also spent a casual hour or so casting flies at the carp. In several places there were fish basking under trees, so I tried a black hopper gently landed in their sight. On four separate occasions I watched a fish mouth the fly, before it was either blown out or I struck too early! I left mildly cursing my lack of composure- but there'll be plenty of chances ahead this summer, and it does go to show that carp will inspect natural flies as well as the usual bait imitations.

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My next short trip was also with a fly rod, but this time in search of trout on a mild spring day. I'd been itching to have a go with a selection of flies I'd been tying over the winter. With rain fed, slightly murkier than expected water however, it looked like slightly larger and brighter flies would be the best solution.
I'm certainly a fan of semi-urban locations (and for anyone keen to sample free fly fishing I'd highly recommend Theo Pike's book "Trout in Dirty Places"). It was great fun to try a little suburban stream with Scott Cooper on this occasion- a keen all round angler I'd met before at Anglers Paradise. We fished some open parkland, but also some real poacher's spots, complete with brambles and less than simple access. Great fun nonetheless:
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In the end it was the nymphs that won out- fairly large, bright coloured flies in particular. Some of the deeper pools looked delicious, but I got the feeling there was just too much colour in the water. Whenever I fish on rivers that are a little murky with the fly, I always believe your best chance is to find shallower runs, where the trout can at least see your offering. And so it proved. I took three lovely wild browns on a size 14 gold bead caddis nymph, and even added a fourth on dry fly- my first off the surface this season! Great sport considering the conditions. They went well too, these fish, no doubt eager to feed after a grim, flooded winter.
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Friday, 28 March 2014

Mixed Pickings

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No matter how much or how far I travel in my fishing, there's something incredibly endearing about smaller adventures closer to home. I shudder to think how many interesting (and usually cheap) waters there must be in my own surrounding area, let alone the country.
The Ilminster Canal is a particular oddity I've wanted to try for a while. It was my right hand man on the forthcoming Canal Fishing book, Russ Hilton, who tipped me off about the place- and joined me for a cast yesterday. Remarkable for it's tiny size, the history alone is curious: a colossal failure in commercial terms, the Chard Canal was a case of poor timing and bad investment. It was meant to stretch for many miles, but after severe decline, the two hundred yards or so of water known as the Ilminster Canal which you can see today are all that remain.
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Not that this is so unusual. There are various little isolated remnants of canal dotted around Britain- many of which feature in the new book. For the angler, a these little dead ends also have advantages: with no boat traffic and effectively no joining waters for fish to go missing, fishing clubs can and do have some real fun with fish stocks. The Ilminster is no exception, holding carp, goldfish, tench and even chub. It was the roach and perch we were after on a morning session however.
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It was a cold day in the end. The bigger fish weren't active, although I started to make up a tidy little net of roach on maggots. Russ comfortably must have doubled this on bread however, catching plenty in just a few short hours. Actually, it's always interesting comparing notes with a pal on an unfamiliar water. In hindsight, I rather went for broke trying to catch some different species- but just couldn't find many bonus fish, even trying chopped worm or corn. Even so, this handsome perch gave me an epic tussle on delicate tackle intended for roach:
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Other highlights included the rather friendly park cat, Sam. A bit of an attention seeker this one, he's so popular with the locals I reckon the old devil probably eats about five dinners each day:
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Considering it was bitterly cold at times -and we also had a dose of thick hail- this was a really enjoyable little session. But for the sake of variety we also hit Dillington Pond in the afternoon:
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This is another good looking venue with a genuine surprise element. Russ set up lighter tackle and tried tares for the roach and rudd while I went rather less classical, using a stepped up pole rig to tackle the snags with large baits including worms and prawns in the hope of a bonus.

Nor did it take long to arrive! My rig would give Bob Nudd nightmares: a large dibber float, five pound line straight through and a forged size six hook. Going for broke with a whole king prawn, I hooked something strong that needed wrestling from cover in no uncertain terms. Imagine my surprise when a three pound plus chub surfaced!
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Otherwise the fish were in slightly iffy mood. Nor can you blame them- the perch, in particular can't be too far off spawning, although I had a couple around the pound mark for good measure, while soaking in the slightly regal surroundings. The stately home here looks so old time, you half expect the Adams Family to emerge from the front door as the light goes:
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I do love spring. If the temperatures are still a bit fresh, so are the colours! And we still have the whole summer to waste in style. My friends will readily tell you, I'm not really a target-setting angler, and my main aim this year is simply to soak it all in and find some fun detours. Talking of which, you can read about "Britains Secret Canals" in my current Angling Times series, which features the Bude Canal this week.

Monday, 17 March 2014

A Change of Attack

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It's never a bad idea to have a plan B when it comes to a fishing trip. Especially a slightly speculative one, where you're not quite sure if conditions will be right. The original plan on my last outing was to target some large perch on Upper Tamar Lake in the company of Mr Garnett Senior. It probably had more to do with pure optimism than anything else. And we nearly didn't fish at all when on arrival one of the staff immediately decided to play the dreaded health and safety card: "people don't fly fish here, you can't do it" etc. Sadly you still get those at fisheries who are curiously anti-fly fishing. But after a long drive I wasn't about to give up. There were no rules stating this. Ironically enough we then asked to speak to his boss on the phone, who was a fly fisher himself and very keen on the idea of attracting more fly fishers to try for the coarse fish! Anyway, it was resolved- and out came the perch flies. And no member of the public died of shock or was impaled by a wayward cast (although we were in Cornwall, and the excitement might have been welcome).
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It turned out to be a beautiful morning, but probably too early still for perch. The water was still chilly and there were very few signs of life close to the bank: the only guy getting bites on the lake was casting a good sixty yards. Even so, we tried a few places and options for a good four hours. Sunk lines and lures seemed the obvious way to tackle big depths, but I also tried a booby where snags threatened to catch our lures. It was pretty dead sadly- and the only perch I spotted was one of about four inches nibbling the tail of the fly at the end of a retrieve. A case of right place but wrong time? I think probably yes; a big volume of water needs time to warm up I guess, and bring the small fish and the perch who chase them into shallower water within double haul range. I would love to try boat fishing- but god knows what health and safety nightmare that could instigate. The universe might collapse. God forbid, someone might actually try something different or risk having some fun. There must be a rule about it somewhere.

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So, what to do with a very pleasant but perchless afternoon? Simpson Valley were very friendly when I gave them a bell- and a catch and release ticket got our vote. A great shout because the conditions were wonderful: proper spring weather but with just enough of a breeze to ruffle the water and present a buzzer to marauding trout, which we could already see taking something at the surface.
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Amidst the strange t-shirt weather, we found the fish quickly. As is so often with buzzer fishing, if you find the fish and get the flies to the right depth it's easy. Light patterns seemed to work best, and the fact that bites tended to come quite early after casting suggested the fish were shallow. Lightly dressed buzzers and skinny wet flies worked best, the real standout being a red ribbed Daiwl Bach:
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We finished with fifteen fish between us, averaging perhaps a pound but very fit. You do have to be a little careful with releasing rainbows, so none of them was taken onto dry land, but all unhooked in the net. Plain sailing you might say, although as the wind dropped and it got disarmingly warm the fish did go deeper and we found the flies needed to be sunk a little better to keep catching. All good fun in the end and a lot of willing takers- perhaps with the exception of this little customer sitting in the margin, who sat there motionless:
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Saturday, 8 March 2014

Taking Stock

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As the first signs of spring start to flirt with us, I've been busy gearing up for some hopefully better conditions with some new arrivals. Priority number one has been my site ( which has undergone a revamp thanks to Marc Hogan (, who comes highly recommended for any of you who, like me, are not the most technically minded. Do take a look! There are new things to order, but also some great free content including some more features from the archives. Perhaps the one that makes me smile the most to this day is "Gudgeon at Ten Paces" - a piece that the late Kev Green took on. Some editors would probably have ruled it out as a bit daft, but Kevin was of that scarcer type who can also laugh at fishing and embrace something quirky.
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Also on the updated site are some more of my photos from the past couple of seasons. I don't think any keen angler ever regrets taking too many pictures- and recently I got a couple of favourites beautifully rendered as canvas prints from Canvas Design (
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I'm quite blown away by the quality- and in fact looking at them sitting on my wall I'm wondering why I didn't do this earlier! I've also been in touch with Conrad at Canvas Design and they can also offer a discount for any anglers and photographers reading this- just use the code "fish15" for a very cool 15% off. Why not treat yourself?

Otherwise it's time to make some new memories soon by sorting out the horrible tangle that is the garage and filling some fly boxes with ammunition for the warmer months. The Southwest Fly Fair at Roadford lake was a great event to get the ball rolling, and I was proud to be on hand with Turrall to tie some of my predator flies that feature in their new range of "Flies For Coarse Fish". When you use flies time and again you get real confidence in them, but I did also like the set up displayed by our neighbours the Arundell Arms, who had a neat little "test tunnel" to show how your flies move in the water! Very cool- here's a pike special tied by Pete Wilkins, captured in motion:
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Also at the show were various other stands and personalities from the region- but it was a particular pleasure to meet wildlife and fishing artist Robin Armstrong. He has such a personal connection to nature and our rivers and it was a pleasure seeing him at work. In fact my only regret is that I didn't take along my copy of "Dartmoor River" to be signed, which is an absolutely beautifully illustrated angling book.
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Spring is undoubtedly my favourite time of year in fact. Everything feels optimistic and no matter how poor the weather might prove in march or April, there's still the whole summer ahead. And while the rivers close shortly, I can't wait to get onto some still waters and canals in particular. This time of year can be brilliant for big perch in particular, but it's also not too long before a little sunshine will encourage fish like rudd and roach to come up for flies on still waters. Time to get tying- or indeed just grab some flies from my site, they're virtually all in stock now on my site. Ok, sales pitch over. Feel free to shoot me, but just make sure you go fishing and drink in the spring.

I'm going to do exactly that, while I also drink in this rather splendid bottle of Californian IPA, a gift from my globe-trotting girlfriend Paulina Mroczynska. What can I say? Perfect fisherman's booze. I'm one lucky bloke and you know my style:
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Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Pike, perch and prawns

Unlike other sports, one of the really fantastic things about fishing is that it appeals to all ages. If you get the bug, it doesn't matter whether you're six or eighty six. What is the best age to be an angler? There is something magical about taking youngsters fishing. It always takes me right back to my own childhood, so it was my great pleasure to host for Michael Pryor and his son Raphael at the weekend for a spot of pike fishing. A hearty walk was in order, with flies and lures dropped into every likely corner.
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I loved their enthusiasm, which was certainly called for on a testing day, not to mention Raphael's laughter and endlessly entertaining questions (typical example: "Could a pike of 100 pounds eat one of 99 pounds?"). It turned out to be one of those days where we only had a few chances- and some dodgy luck, especially with a nice fish of around five pounds lost at the net for Raphael. If anything, this only seemed to fuel his enthusiasm even more. By the close of play he was casting like a pro and still marching on in search of bites. If one day I have a son of my own I only hope he is half as keen and such great company as this.
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Otherwise, I've been back on the trail of perch. I had an enjoyable session with Russ Hilton at Simpson Valley, which seems a great little mixed fishery at the moment, if a bit of a drive on the backroads. I'm doing an increasing amount of mixing methods, by which I mean putting a pole to good use, but stepping tackle up and using quite big baits. Prawns are one offering I've never really given a fair trial, so I persevered with them this time.
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Usually in February, I'd be trying the deep water on a small lake- but with it being so mild lately, the perch have been turning up really close to the bank, or typically just where the water deepens. It was to be a fun session, but also another one of near misses. I was getting so many false bites at one point, I switched to just a small piece of prawn and the culprits were revealed. Not only did I bag a three pound bream and one or two nice roach, but this rather handsome hybrid. Not a monster perch, but some very welcome variety:
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After enjoying some good bites I then threw down the gauntlet a little and fed heavier, with chopped worm and prawns. The real regret was a solid perch that fought well and came off just when I was getting the upper hand. Russ fared rather better than me with a brace of two pounders (I'm sure he'll enlighten you on his excellent "Tales from the Towpath" blog shortly if you take a peek). My best fish was somewhere round a pound and a half- but was at least proof that prawns have more uses than cookery. Actually, it was an absolutely perfect looking creature, a real pin up of a perch! I think the day I get tired of seeing these is the day I give up fishing:
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As for the most random sight of the day, I'm still rather puzzled as to this rather strange use of a gentleman's neck tie. Is this of significance to someone? Perhaps a marker for an angler's favourite swim? Is it art? Or did someone simply find it lost and helpfully hang it on a tree for its owner to find? I have zero idea. Not really my colour though.
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