Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Singles Success & "Fly For Coarse" Winners

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A few bits of current news to round up in this edition of "Crooked Lines", including the results of the competition. But we will start with some encouraging recent pike fishing. Those of you who regularly read the blog and my work in general will know I'm not always a huge fan of twin trebles for pike fishing. They make a right mess of landing nets, jumpers and just about anything else come to think of it, including occasional fingers and (yes, I've said it) pike.

For a while now I've been dabbling with different rigs, but hair rigging using a size 1 or 2 Catmaster hook seems a very good ploy. You can't easily use a huge bait, but with a long baiting needle it's easy to hair rig something like a lamprey section or half a sardine, with a little foam section to gently lift it off the bottom where it won't get lost from view or weeded up (just buy a block of foam and cut it up, rather than being ripped off by one of the tackle companies). This also seems to ensure that the popped up end heads for the throat first, rather than the hook end. I also seem to be using feeders more and more, partly due to the wet winters we are getting and the resulting muddy water. And that is about as technical as I'm going to get outside the realm of a proper article.

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The above was a very welcome second on a bitterly cold day of biting wind and murky water. A nice result and not a treble hook in sight. Can the single hook really hold its own you ask? With a smallish bait, there can't be much in it. Unless you use the 19th Century method of virtually waiting until the pike has digested the bait, you will always lose the odd fish. I never, ever delay the strike personally, but it has now been several pike on the trot without loss- until I wrote this sentence and probably jinxed everything.

Seriously though, almost every fish I've had on the singles has been neatly hooked in the scissors and been a piece of cake to unhook. And even if I were to lose the occasional extra fish, isn't this a small price to pay for cutting out not only accidental damage, but the additional time out of water that inevitably follows a thrashing pike and two potentially awkward trebles? Feel free to debate this, but please use words and reasoning rather than bile and excrement. For now though, I'm sticking with singles.

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Other experiments are also afoot with flies in 2015, as above with these new "Drop Minnows" intended for either fly or drop shot tackle as takes the user's fancy. So far so good, at least where local perch are concerned. Hopefully my next trip will coincide with nice clear water so I can get the fly rod out and try some further prototypes.

In essence, this process of experimentation is a lot of the fun of fishing. Because where exactly is the fun in doing it the same way every week or just copying someone else? In my own meandering fashion, I enjoy every little test whether it is a new fly or lure to field test, or trying a new method on an old favourite venue. Because apart from the law, regulations printed on pieces of paper or fishery signs, THERE ARE NO FIXED RULES! Enjoy turning over this liberating concept for a few seconds, before you make your 500th trip to your favourite peg with the same set up you used last week. Only robots and morons never deviate from the instruction booklet.

Talking of adventure and experimentation, it has been another cracking year for "Fly For Coarse". While the meat and two veg weeklies continue with headlines such as "CATCH YOUR OWN BODY WEIGHT IN MASSIVE FISH NOW!" or "FREE DISGORGER!" we've had an astonishing year of adventure, surprise catches and novel ideas once again. It was a royal headache for Matt Hayes, John Bailey and myself to split some hugely impressive entries, but the one that squeaked home in the end was Fergus Kelley's metre long grass carp. What a fish to catch on a classic Adams dry fly:

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Fergus wins a Turrall goody bag worth over £100 quid, featuring some of their brilliant UV tying materials (superb for pike flies!) and the full range of "Flies for Coarse Fish" in a split cane box.

Meanwhile, in joint second place were rising star Sam Edmonds and another promising young blade Matt Roberts, with a 30lb 12oz pike and 4lb 2oz perch respectively. I know what you're thinking… fly fishing only catches small fish. The contest also produced dace, rudd, chub, carp and even a tench among loads of other catches. Read more about it in the Fishing Magic news roundup here, or better still have a peek at the official website

Do also keep an eye out for details of the 2015 contest, with more prize categories, a grand day out and some exciting spoils from our friends at Turrall and Snowbee well worth battling for!

Friday, 9 January 2015

Festive Fishing in Poland - Świąteczne wędkowanie w Polsce

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Greetings, fishes and a Happy New Year to all of you. We have a different type of blog this time, written in both English and Polish to describe my recent trip to Poland and to celebrate fishing and the spirit of friendship in both countries.

Serwus! Wielu rybek oraz Szczęśliwego Nowego Roku wszystkim Wam życzę!
Tym razem przedstawiam Wam inny rodzaj bloga w języku angielskim i polskim, aby opisać moją ostatnią wyprawę do Polski i żeby uczcić wędkowanie i ducha przyjaźni w obydwu krajach.

If Christmas in England is about turkey, port and television, the Polish version is a story of carp, vodka and Church, although not necessarily in that order. Slightly different, yes, but what generous, welcoming hosts the Poles are. If you are ever invited to celebrate with them, say yes but be warned- there is probably no place on earth you will eat and drink more.

Jeśli Boże Narodzenie w Anglii to indyk, porto i telewizja, polska wersja tego święta to historia karpia, wódki i kościoła- choć niekoniecznie w tej kolejności. Trochę innymi, ale jakże hojnymi i serdecznymi gospodarzami okazują się być Polacy. Jeśli kiedykolwiek dostaniesz od nich zaproszenie, by z nimi wspólnie świętować, przyjmij je, ale ostrzegam – prawdopodobnie nie znajdziesz miejsca na ziemi, gdzie zjesz i wypijesz więcej niż w Polsce.

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Are the stories of Christmas carp true? Absolutely. But the fish are not yanked from a local river but farmed in their thousands. These days the supermarkets sell them on ice- although Christmas is now the only time of year you can still buy them live, and as in times past these fish are sometimes kept in the family bath and few for a few days! Would my British fisherman’s ethics let me eat carp flesh though? More on this later.

Czy historie o świątecznym karpiu są prawdziwe? Oczywiście. Jednak ryby te nie są wyłapywane z miejscowej rzeki, ale sztucznie hodowane w tysiącach sztuk. W dzisiejszych czasach supermarkety sprzedają te ryby na platformach lodowych, chociaż Boże Narodzenie to jedyny czas w roku, kiedy możesz kupić je żywe. Tak samo jak w przeszłości karpie trzymane są w rodzinnej wannie przez kilka dni. Ale czy jednak moja etyka brytyjskiego rybaka pozwoliłaby mi na spożycie mięsa karpia? Więcej na ten temat dalej w blogu.

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It might have been cold in Wroclaw over the holidays, but I still went fishing in the River Odra and Paulina, my girlfriend, was brave enough to join me. The last time we met up with Mateusz Perlinsky was on a mild spring day, but this time it was a much colder trip, fishing for zander.

Podczas świąt we Wrocławiu było całkiem zimno, ale pomimo tego poszedłem łowić ryby nad Odrę a Paulina, moja dziewczyna, była wystarczająco odważna, by do mnie dołączyć. Ostatnim razem spotkaliśmy Mateusza Perlińskiego w łagodny wiosenny dzień, ale tym razem była to znacznie zimniejsza wyprawa. To był połów na sandacza.

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On route I had to scribble on official looking papers and pay 40 zloty (About £8) for a visitors fishing license. We also stopped at a huge tackle shop, so I could waste more strange currency on jigs for the zander. Never mind, because the prices in Poland are cheap. In the measures important to fishermen, beer is 6-7 zl (about £1.20-£1.40) per pint and a dozen soft lures and jig hooks will set you back less than ten quid.

Po drodze musiałem podpisać oficjalnie wyglądające papiery i zapłacić 40zł (ok. 8 funtów) za kartę wędkarską dla obcokrajowców. Zatrzymaliśmy się również w ogromnym sklepie ze sprzętem wędkarskim, co bym mógł przepuścić więcej kasy na przynętę na sandacza. Mniejsza z tym, bo ceny w Polsce i tak są niższe. Według miar ważnych dla wędkarzy piwo kosztuje 6-7 złotych (ok. 1.20-1.40 funta) za jedną pintę (ok. 568ml) a tuzin miękkiej przynęty i haczyków będzie Cię kosztować mniej niż 50zł (10 funtów).

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In biting winds we crossed industrial looking bridges and sticky mud. Mat showed me a great looking spot for winter fishing; a deep junction on the Odra where the water fell dramatically to over 20 ft (7m) deep. We tried to ignore the cold, bouncing the lures across the bottom, but I received only one suspicious nip in three chilly hours. A few teeth marks but no fish on this occasion, but it was great to see Mat.

W przenikliwie zimnym wietrze przeszliśmy przez przemysłowo wyglądające mosty i kleiste błoto. Mateusz pokazał mi świetnie wyglądające miejsce na zimowy połów ryb; głębokie połączenie kanałów na Odrze, gdzie woda spada radykalnie ponad 7 metrów (20 stóp) głębokości. Próbowaliśmy zignorować zimno odbijając przynętę wzdłuż dna rzeki, ale w czasie tych trzech mroźnych godzin miałem tylko jedno podejrzane branie. Oprócz kilku śladów po zębach zabrakło ryb przy tej okazji. Jednak dobrze było zobaczyć się z Matem.
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Then came the great carp tasting. How would I feel about this? I could imagine a muddy flavour, inferior to the other superb Polish dishes: pirogi (small dumplings) beetroot soup and bigos (a slow cooked stew of cabbage, smoked sausage and whatever the cook can find). The reason for eating carp is down to religion as well as Christmas tradition. On Christmas Eve in Poland, it is forbidden for Catholics to eat meat or drink alcohol. That festive carp is a convenient loophole though.

Następnie przyszła wielka degustacja karpia. Jak miałbym się wobec tego czuć? Mógłbym wyobrazić sobie błotnisty smak gorszy od innych wspaniałych dań polskich; pierogów, barszczu czerwonego i bigosu. Spożywanie karpia sprowadza się do religii i tradycji bożonarodzeniowej. W Wigilię w Polsce katolicy nie mogą jeść mięsa ani pić alkoholu. Jednak ten świąteczny karp jest wygodną wymówką.

In truth the carp wasn’t bad. Quite sweet tasting, if a little bony. Not that I would dream of doing it in England- and as I sometimes tell confused older Poles, you could be arrested.

W rzeczywistości karp nie był taki zły. Dosyć słodki w smaku i ościsty. Nie że śniłoby mi się zjeść go w Anglii a jednak czasami mówię zdezorientowanym Polakom starszego pokolenia, że można być za to aresztowanym.

Carp aside, the English and the Poles do have many similarities at Christmas. One is that they love a drink. The main difference are the sizes of the measures. A single whisky or vodka in the UK is a stingy measure compared to a Polish helping. Friendly people, but never try to outdrink a Pole!

Zostawiając karpia na boku, jest wiele podobieństw między angielskimi i polskimi tradycjami bożonarodzeniowymi. Jednym z nich jest upodobanie do trunków. Główną różnicą są wielkości miar. Pojedyncza whisky albo wódka w Wielkiej Brytanii to skąpa miara w porównaniu do polskiej porcji. Przyjaźni ludzie, ale nigdy nie próbuj stawać w zawody w piciu z Polakiem!

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Perhaps I wondered what I had been drinking later in the week, when my second fishing trip was with a man who might be my Polish alter-ego. Arek Kubale is a thirty-something fishing writer, editor and photographer with a similar taste for odd fly fishing. He also shares the beard and a love of alternative rock music.

Być może zastanawiałem się, co takiego piłem w tygodniu, kiedy moja druga wędkarska wyprawa odbyła się z kimś, kto mógłby być moim polskim alter-ego. Arek Kubale jest trzydziestokilkuletnim pisarzem wędkarskim, redaktorem i fotografem z podobnym upodobaniem do łowienia ryb na muszkę. Łączy nas również broda i zamiłowanie do alternatywnej muzyki rockowej.

The weather was bitterly cold, so we spent part of the day drinking coffee, destroying some amazing local cakes and talking fishing. Wroclaw has some fascinating urban fishing, it turns out. There are good sized chub, pike and asp here on some curious canals. One of them would look quite fishy- if it contained any water! Arek explains that it was recently drained and repaired. A minor tragedy because he openly admits that he moved to this exact area for the canal fishing (well, that and the awesome local cake shop).

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Było przenikliwie zimno, więc część dnia spędziliśmy pijąc kawę, zajadając się przepysznymi lokalnymi ciastkami i rozmawiając o łowieniu ryb. Okazuje się, że we Wrocławiu występuje fantastyczne wędkarstwo miejskie. Dobrych rozmiarów klenie, szczupaki i bolenie pływają tu w ciekawych kanałach. Jeden z nich wyglądałby na dosyć zarybiony, gdyby tylko płynęłaby w nim woda. Arek tłumaczy, że kanał ten został ostatnio osuszony i wyremontowany. To dla niego mini tragedia, bo przyznaje on otwarcie, że przeprowadził się do tego rejonu dla wędkowania w kanale (no i jeszcze dla rewelacyjnej cukierni).

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The other pleasant surprise is that young Polish anglers are now predominantly catch and release, in spite of the older heads. “You still get a few old folk who think just about any bream or horrible tasting fish is edible, if you only stew or smoke it long enough,” Arek explains, “but for the young, catch and release is becoming normal.”

Następną miłą niespodzianką jest to, że młodzi polscy wędkarze w głównej mierze łowią ryby metodą złap i wypuść (catch and release), pomimo praktyk starszego pokolenia. „Nadal spotykasz starszych wędkarzy, którzy myślą, że leszcze albo inne okropne w smaku ryby są jadalne, jeśli tylko odpowiednio długo będziesz je dusić albo wędzić” wyjaśnia Arek, „ale dla młodych metoda złap i wypuść staje się normą.”

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The fishing is bitterly tough with a pike fly rod, although I’m intrigued by strange urban waters and shoals of bleak that sometimes dance at the surface, even in these below freezing conditions. We enjoy a few casts, and it is nice seeing a pike fly dance in the cold water. But nothing is willing to bite, so it’s home time.

Łowienie wędką muchową na szczupaka jest niezwykle trudne, choć jestem zaciekawiony dziwnymi wodami miejskimi i ławicami uklei, które czasem tańczą na powierzchni wody nawet w tych lodowatych warunkach. Kilkukrotne zarzucanie wędki sprawia nam przyjemność a także miło jest zobaczyć muchę szczupakową, jak tańczy w zimnej wodzie. Ale nic nie chce brać, więc czas iść do domu.

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I would love to have caught a winter pike or zander from one of the city’s cold canals, but what can I say? The truth doesn’t always make the perfect story or a great ending. But I will certainly return to visit my friends in Poland in warmer times. Contrary to myth here is some fascinating, undervalued fishing here. Asp are a unique predatory fish; in other parts you also find rivers with huchen: a giant, carnivorous relative of the salmon. Thanks go to my Polish friends and my hosts, Paulina and her family. I will return when it is possible to feel warm without the aid of vodka.

Naprawdę bardzo chciałem złowić zimowego szczupaka albo sandacza z jednego z miejskich kanałów, ale cóż mogę powiedzieć? Prawda nie zawsze stanowi idealną historię albo wspaniałe zakończenie. Na pewno jednak znów odwiedzę swoich przyjaciół w Polsce w cieplejszym okresie. W przeciwieństwie do panującego mitu występuje tu fascynujące i niedocenione wędkarstwo. Bolenie są unikatowymi rybami drapieżnymi; w innych częściach kraju znajdziesz także rzeki z głowawicą; ogromnym mięsożernym krewnym łososia. Składam dzięki moim polskim przyjaciołom i gospodarzom, Paulinie i jej rodzinie. Powrócę tu, kiedy to możliwe, by poczuć ciepło, ale już bez pomocy wódki.

Saturday, 20 December 2014

Black clouds and perch

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With so much "homework" involved in getting the latest book finished, it recently dawned on me that I hadn't been perch fishing for ages. Another sustained effort at catching some good ones on the fly had been in the back of my mind for months- and with a rare day off I decided to ignore the horrible weather and make a Wednesday trip.

Actually I would hesitate to call such weather "horrible" when it comes to perch fishing."Ideal" comes closer. The perch definitely hunt more actively on days of low light on these clear waters. It's only the angler that minds the drizzle.

My initial plan was to hit the drains, but with rain hitting the Levels this week my chosen destination looked more like a sewer. So I headed to the more sheltered waters of the canal, where the bridges and snags can usually be relied upon to hold a few greedy perch.
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I used jig flies, the very sort Turrall now make for me. These sink well and are really attractive, tweaked around cover. Expecting jack pike as well as perch, I tried an eight weight outfit with floating line and a tough, 20lb fluorocarbon leader about eight feet in length.
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The initial problem was the sheer greediness of the local jacks. A couple had grabbed the fly before I even saw a perch, also hungry in these dank conditions. I could easily have switched to a much bigger fly and wire trace, with every chance of a better pike showing up. But I was even keener to see a big perch.

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Actually the fluorocarbon stood up well. Not ideal, you might think? But the small, barbless flies are usually only of interest to the little jacks. And I wanted that perch.

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The first couple were not exactly two pounders, but very welcome. I'd spotted several in the near edge, along with the hordes of tiny silver that loiter in the canal. Clouds of "motherless minnows", or sun bleak, are a curious feature of Westcountry waters. You can easily imitate these prey with a small streamer fly- patterns like the Minkie, Appetiser or my own Perch Special are readily snapped up. That said, you can also scale up a bit bigger for perch- even a two ouncer finds a size 4 fly easy to suck up.
The problem was that these mouthy buggers kept charging in:
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For the first few seconds you sometimes kid yourself that it's a big perch or even a chub, before the line tears off. Another jack!
But you do start to suss out where the perch are hiding eventually. It's different to pike fishing too. For one thing, I think you have to search cover and the hot areas more thoroughly. Like zander fishing, you also find that it's worth returning to spots at key times, even if they didn't produce earlier in the day for you.
One such spot earmarked for a return was where I had caught a couple of nice little perch and saw a much better one, which followed twice but stayed deep and just wouldn't take the fly. It's better to be proactive and move if you're not catching though.

This can and often will involve a walk of several miles, so my other essentials like a net and mat must be portable. Like faithful servants these.

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The net is actually a Norwegian made salmon net. I've stood on it innumerable times and it still works fifteen years on. A sling type unhooking mat contains the net and sits on the shoulder easily. A decent mat is also useful for fly fishing because you can use it as a clear space to drop your fly line while casting and retrieving.

Anyway, I digress but I kept fishing hard for those perch. Resisting the temptation to put on a big ugly pike fly and trying to keep things methodical. The stamp of perch seemed to get steadily better in the last hour of fishing too, some nice hand-sized fish going really well on the fly rod. And even as the light was properly starting to go at about half past three, I fancied one last crack where I'd seen the big fish earlier.
Time, and the light, were running out quickly though and it was one of those winter afternoons where it looks like midnight by 5pm. On the third or fourth cast in that spot, I got a good knock on the fly line, struck and was connected to something decent. No jack either, I could feel something less flighty and more solid on the line. It was a perch and a good one too. Really thick around the middle:

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At an ounce over two pounds, it was a great way to end a damp afternoon I'd say. But of course, nothing out of the ordinary in what has been a brilliant year for those fly fishing for perch. The joke is, even if I could enter the competition at the beastie above would not even make the top three perch in 2014. Do take a look at the site for the best of 2014 and if you had a special catch on the fly this year, do let us know! There's still time yet.

Meanwhile, one competition I have been able to enter in 2014 was for the Angling Times "Fishing book of the Year" award. Unsurprisingly, AT's main columnist Martin Bowler got the top spot, but I received the silver for "Canal Fishing: A Practical Guide". A good finish anyway- and my thanks to everyone who voted for me and bought the book.

In the meantime, it's a very Merry Christmas to you. Have a great one, and see if you can sneak some fishing in.

Sunday, 14 December 2014

Piking with Pals

With life fairly fiercely busy at present, chances to fish have been limited to say the least. Which is why it was such a pleasure today to meet up with angling friends old and new, from both Devon and Somerset, for a friendly match followed by a pint and book signing at the Double Locks Inn.
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I've been really buoyed by the turnouts to this years winter fishing competitions and this event, well organised by Somerset PAC RO Alan Buckingham, was no exception. Sixteen fishing from early morning, plus a few extra visitors and latecomers through the day, represents a very sociable gathering considering the cold and iffy conditions.

For the early hours it was very much a case of enjoying the company and a beautifully misty morning rather than any hectic action. Save for a couple of fish taken on dead baits at Lime Kilns, the handful of intrepid lure anglers plus me with a fly rod really struggled for any interest. photo IMG_20141214_084737194_HDR_zpsaafb1ad2.jpg
With the banter flowing however, not to mention a bottle of whiskey awaiting the angler with the biggest pike, levels of enthusiasm remained high. Who would prevail? I must say I rather fancied the bait fishermen for the big one, although I hoped one of our lure anglers would prove this wrong as we took a long walk right down to Turf Locks. I had only one nip and a cautious follow in the entire first three hours. But to be honest I was just enjoying being out on the bank and fishing rather than writing about it or daydreaming of pike. And while everyone was keen to win, there was a nicely laid back sense of fun to the contest, which was fished in the best possible spirit.
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Exeter Canal can be a tough water at the best of times, but eventually our perseverance did bring some action. Funnily enough, my first hook up wasn't in one of those nice open swims where you might be able to unleash a long cast, but in a pokey little gap in the reeds where I could only pitch a short throw with a large perch themed pike fly. With no joy ripping my patterns gingerly through the margins, I had been counting the fly well down in the main channel before tweaking it to life. Even so, it must have been cast number one hundred and something when I finally got a decent knock on the line and a well conditioned jack. Take that Exeter Canal, you fickle slag!
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Slowly but surely, the odd further bit of activity arrived. I decided to spend the last couple of hours sitting with the bait rods and managed another jack to a small roach donated by a pal. However, my stamp of fish was never in danger of beating Alan Buckingham to the bottle of malt, which was well earned not just for a splendid double figure fish but for his extra mile as the event organiser.

Last but not least there was also time to celebrate the arrival of new book "Tangles with Pike" with a drink and dish out some signed copies. I fished the whole event with a sense of pure relief and relaxation in fact, after the long slog of getting it finished and on sale. Slightly ironic, but this business of being a fishing writer can really eat into your fishing time! Suffice to say it was lovely to celebrate with a pint and get back on the canal for the day.
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I would also like to give a big personal thank you to everyone who has bought a copy of "Tangles with Pike" so far. I'm not going to lie; every book is a risk and when you've put not just your heart but your investment into a project, it doesn't half put your mind at ease to see those first copies winging their way to readers all around the country (and if you've yet to grab yours, the best place is where a signed first edition hardback will set you back a very reasonable £15). I hope it provides some enjoyable reading for you and that all readers and fellow anglers have a great Christmas.

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

A Testing Week

Book news and a date for your diaries to come in this week's blog, but first I'll start with a couple of recent trips from rapidly cooling waters both close to home and further away.
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The onset of winter brings either some of the best fishing of the year or a sense of foreboding, depending on who you ask. One of the winter optimists among my fishing pals is Will Barnard, who asked if I might like a cheeky day on the Test for coarse fish. What a silly question.

No prizes for guessing the species I was after from the above image. Grayling represent an occasional treat as far as I'm concerned. We're not exactly blessed with them in Devon and I couldn't wait to reacquaint myself. I usually fish with a fly rod and some heavy nymphs, but with the river pushing through fast and full I decided to spend the lion's share of the day trotting this time.

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In no time at all I was getting bites but succeeding in losing a lot of these fish as they turned in the current. My running water float fishing skills were a little rusty if I'm honest, but one little piece of advice I took from Will was to add a swivel between mainline and hook length to counter that notorious twisting which grayling are famous for. It worked a little better, and while I couldn't quite get amongst the really big ones I had loads of bites and the odd roach, dace and accidental trout into the bargain, besides some pretty samples of my target species:
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It was great to escape for the day, but rather frustratingly every man, monkey and their relatives seemed to want to call me to divert my attention from the beauty of the river. When you're waiting on a possibly life changing call you can't turn the damned thing off- although at one stage I wanted to chuck the mobile into the river.

Will was a better influence though, with some novel ideas and fairly unrepeatable jokes to keep my sanity intact. What is it with Mr Barnard I wonder? You could call the guy a true angler or an eccentric, as whenever I fish a session with him he seems to avoid the obvious. Last time out, he was looking for big eels. On this occasion though, he was fishing for dace by throwing a cute feeder set up into the little holes and corners most anglers walk past. And he was definitely onto something, because the silvery beasts he caught were some of the biggest dace I've ever seen. The best went 12 to 13oz and were quite breathtaking in their own little way:

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As always, the worst part about fishing the Test is that you don't want to leave. With or without that fish you dreamt of, it grabs at your heart. You pretend it isn't getting dark; make ten last casts until you can barely see the float tip. Still, the journey home was cheered up by listening to my beloved Exeter City FC score three goals in a vital away win on the drive back West. Like one of the dace then, the dark end of the day had a very silver lining indeed.

Somehow I even managed to squeeze in the rare current luxury of a second trip in a week just three days later in the Tiverton AA Christmas Match. This is a quite superb event. A whopping 55 of us made it onto the Grand Western Canal with good spirits and high hopes. It was a beautiful morning, but similarly to last year, the draw bag just didn't do me any favours as I was pegged right by the cars on a fairly nondescript peg. Even so, it was just great to be fishing and enjoying the fresh with so many fellow anglers, including some faces I hadn't seen in too many months.

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So how did I fare? The good news was that there were hundreds of fish in my peg; the not so good news was that most were tiny little roach of perhaps half an ounce. I caught steadily on the pole, fishing two punched bread lines and some chopped worm to cover, but struggled to hook any proper "net" fish. Even so, it was thoroughly enjoyable. I winkled out some perch from cover, and also lost a pike that might just have seen me climb the pecking order a little (they count in these matches). At the final whistle I was strangely satisfied in fact, because 3lbs 13oz wasn't a bad weight at all considering the peg. If only I'd drawn one peg further along, the other side of the bridge where Paul Elworthy had the turning bay to go at, I might have finished much higher. Not that you'd take anything away from Paul for skilfully putting together a winning double figure net of bream and skimmers. Next year perhaps!

Last but not least, I also bear news today. In spite of a slight delay at the printers, my new book "Tangles With Pike" is due any day this week. Apologies to anyone who has already ordered, but rest assured it'll be with you very soon. You could order it at Amazon (and a Kindle edition will follow too), but to be honest with you the cut they pinch from an author is scary. Besides, buy it at and I'll sign it for you personally.

To celebrate I'm also planning a little meet up a week on Sunday (the 14th). The Somerset Levels PAC branch (region 12) have a fish in that day, so it'll be a fun combined event. A day of fishing and good company (meet 7am at Lime Kilns), followed by some ales and a book signing party at the Double Locks for 5pm. Do come and join me if you get the chance, whether it's to have a cheeky cast or just to chew the fat on a Sunday afternoon. It's been way too long since I've seen many of you and it would be great to catch up over a cold jar.

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Thursday, 27 November 2014

Late Browns

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In the world of day ticket fishing it's always refreshing to find someone doing something a little different. Our native species quite often miss out when it comes to stocking policies, whether it comes to filling lakes with carp or rainbow trout. Hence it was a welcome return to Bratton Water Fishery, near Barnstaple, today where the focus is now firmly on brown trout. Indeed, the river season might be long gone, but you can still have a go for the triploid browns here, which are cracking fish that run from a couple of pounds to the low teens.

In the company of Neil Edgar, who took some snaps and film clip into the bargain, I began with a quick net dip. Brownies might be catchable on lures but at a fishery with such abundant invert life it seemed a shame not to start in more natural fashion. The margins were crammed with corixa (water boatmen, to the layman) and freshwater shrimp, so I began testing the edges with either a small corixa or size 16 Tan Shrimp (my own pattern originally tied for roach and now made by Turrall).

It had been such a cold, foggy morning I was slightly taken aback to feel the first little pluck after just ten minutes or so in. I lifted the rod and a small explosion took place! These browns fight every bit as hard as rainbows. It might have been me, but if anything I found them more willing to come to the surface and thrash.
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Brownies do have a few differences to rainbows, and as owner Mike was telling us, they can prove a little more challenging- not always such a bad thing to my mind, because fishing can be dull when it's too easy. These fish were well keyed into natural food and certainly responded well to small natural patterns. Great fun teasing these to life by counting down and employing a "picky" but not overly fast figure of eight retrieve.
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Another feature of browns is that they don't cruise in quite the same manner as rainbows. Sure, they will move areas to feed, but they are definitely more territorial. This is why it pays to move spots quite regularly and I found that quite often if I wasn't getting bites, a change of areas quickly led to a response.
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Ok, so these browns might not be wild river creatures, but it really shows that these fish are raised on site with TLC here. Powerfully built and beautifully marked, these are beasties to give the brownie addict sport right through the winter. They're more fussy in terms of raising and more expensive to farm due to their slower growth, but £30 for a 5 fish ticket is still pretty good value and I think I actually prefer them to rainbows.

Talking of rainbows, it was perhaps inevitable that we found one or two of them. I had switched to a Black Woolly Bugger, partly out of sheer curiosity, and after two further browns had launched themselves at it I hooked something that went on an absolutely searing run. I have long since avoided gossamer thin tippets for fisheries that hold big trout and on this occasion I was supremely glad to be on six pound fluorocarbon as I held on for dear life. A great way to round things off, this fish was absolutely stunning. Just the one rainbow then, but a fabulously coloured six pounder:
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A very enjoyable day at a great little fishery overall; this place comes highly recommended for anyone looking for a good days fly fishing in North Devon. More details here:

In other news, I'm also thrilled to see that "Canal Fishing: A Practical Guide" has made the shortlist for the Angling Times "Angling Book of the Year" award. The winner is decided by a vote, so you know what I'm going to ask you next: please, if you value what I write then be a sport and give me your vote in the following survey:
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I cannot put it any more blatantly than that. Please. Pretty please. I'll buy you a pint and let you fish my favourite swim with illegal bait. Nor do you need to vote on every single thing in the survey, just the bits that you're interested in. Do such accolades matter? Well, it would partly make up for the omission of "Flyfishing for Coarse Fish" in the same awards list of two years ago, left out on the grounds that the title contained the words "fly fishing" presumably.

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Cutting Loose

There are only so many hours in the week to cram everything in these days, but this last week or so I at least managed to cram a couple of fun outings in. The bigger plans and more critical things are all well and good, but the most enjoyable trips are often those cheeky sessions, squeezed in when you probably should be doing something else. Like a morning on the canal, just because it's not too far away and you have a loaf of bread and fancy a couple of hours.
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I roped my dad into it this time, as we hit the Tivvy canal earlyish for a crack at some bread punch fishing not far from Tidcombe Bridge. It is here the Tiverton Christmas match usually takes place, although I'm still wondering if I'll make that particular date. If our quick session was anything to go by, and temperatures stay mild though I bet it'll be a belter.
On this occasion we each kicked things off with a ball of finely liquidised bread a little smaller than a golf ball, cupped in for accuracy. Expecting small roach and bits I was on a Preston Chianti float taking just five or so strung out number 10 Stotz and an 18 hook.
I had a little chuckle at my old man's idea of a "small" hookbait, which made a size 12 look small. However, his slightly heavy handed start was almost instantly rewarded with a nice bream of 2-3 pounds.

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In the next 10 minutes I added one of my own, before claiming six roach in as many bites, making it the sort of start to a session that a match angler dreams about. I tend to save this sort of outrageous fortune for those lazy trips when I didn't even have the foresight to bet a quid on the outcome. Never mind though, it was bloody good fun. The bites just kept coming and there was little discernible slowdown in the whole of our two hours and a bit of fishing. We caught roach after roach, along with the odd skimmer, for a very enjoyable session. About the only step needed to keep bites coming was the introduction of a small ball of bread after the hour mark. I experimented with bigger pieces of punch, but it seemed to make little difference- stacks of roach, with perhaps eight out of ten in the 1oz or less class. This also bodes well for the future of the canal. Suffice to say, a really tidy net of fish was shared and we were still back in time for lunch and the avoidance of "where the hell are they?" style conversations from the womenfolk.
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I get the feeling the Christmas contest could be a belter this year with double figures required to take the top spot. Winning is a tall order though, because there are many useful local anglers who are well versed in pole and punch fishing on the cut. It's always a fun day though, and I might just have to fish it and see!

Besides wasting a Saturday morning and a perfectly good loaf of bread in one swoop, another short, sneaky session was also enjoyed with pike on the fly in the company of Pete Wilkins. The idea would have seemed laughable that morning as gales battered my windows. But by two o'clock things had died right off and we hopped off to the cut. Local knowledge really can get you out of jail when the weather is horrible, because you can head for those sections which haven't been totally flooded or churned up by excess rain. Such sections on most canals tend to be those higher up points, rather than the parts where rain water messes everything up.
Perhaps I went too big and ambitious on this occasion because my extra large pike fly, which I fancied for a bigger pike, was flatly ignored while Pete Wilkins cleaned up with three fish on a rather smaller yellow and red pattern. You could tell it was his day from the off, when within three seconds of his very first cast a jack lashed out! Well fished that man:
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These lazy, leisurely sessions are the total opposite to the pressure and pitfalls of trying to catch for the camera. There's probably a very good reason you don't see too many TV angling shows that feature zander, given their enigmatic, sometimes frustratingly elusive nature. But my task for the Sky Sports crew was to winkle some of these predators out of the Birmingham and Fazeley Canal.

 photo MidNov_20145_zps89da07f2.jpgWould I catch or just get very cold and bored trying? It was a testing day in the end, but not without some drama… but why would I want to spoil the plot for you? Watch this space for further show info.