Thursday, 23 May 2013
The best place to wax lyrical about the "glorious unpredictability" of fishing is the pub, I'm starting to believe, as opposed to a chilly waterside where you sit there perplexed as to why sport is slow. Lately I seem to be putting in about double the effort to make any passable catches. And although taking a bit of a piscatorial kicking can be educational, I'm still longing for that day of effortless enjoyment to mark a new summer. Still, the tench have been conspicuously bubbling and rolling- as the dawn picture above shows.
The anglers have been somewhat better company than the fish and I particularly enjoyed sitting alongside Dave Sellick (above) to see how he gets to grips with tench on the Exeter Canal. One factor is his skill as a pole fisherman. Another is his adaptability- with the water level well down on our trip, he knew instantly that the fish would be further out in the safety of deeper water. His other secret weapon is his bicycle and trailer to reach remote spots. He took a cracking net of tench and bream, while stopping quickly to become "Bicycle Repair Man" (anyone remember the Monty Python sketch?) and sort a puncture:
I managed two decent bream in the end, but only by fishing at maximum reach with my 13m pole. I also took a tip off Dave to try his favourite hook bait. All the old angling books tell you dead maggots are only useful for eels, but they are a great bait for tench and bream too. The beauty of dead grubs is that they stay put. They're easy for any self respecting bream or tench to suck in and won't wriggle into weed or silt. "Three dead red" is Dave's mantra. It's probably the only hook bait you need for these bonus fish.
A long way further down the road, I also had the pleasure of an escape to Norfolk to meet with Bob James. The mere we fished was absolutely to die for in terms of setting, but also proved a real challenge.
With northerly winds and distinctly chilly evenings, my night fishing for carp drew a big fat blank. A shame, because the odd fish we spotted looked solid and beautiful things. Night fishing for me is one of the great undescribed areas of angling. It can be a murky, dense and thrilling experience; or something more akin to psychological warfare over cold biteless nights. Why is it that most angling writers say so little about it? Perhaps they lack the bravery to describe the despondency of insomnia and inevitable blanks, while the successes are reduced to statements like "I was over the moon" "it was scale perfect" etc, etc. It's a bit like when you see the winning goal scorer interviewed on cup final day who says "I've hit it first time and luckily it's gone in the back of the net." Why do they never say: "I absolutely lashed it into the goal. It nearly ripped the bloody net out. I thought my heart would explode!" Answers on a bream.
No sudden explosion of joy for me on this trip where the carp were concerned. Thank goodness for other species in fact, because otherwise it would have been a very long trip for not a great deal. The mere I fished with Bob was delightfully peaceful, with kingfishers, owls and a staggering amount of insect life. I also caught this slow worm relaxing by the path:
Bob's little terrier Cassie also noticed the rustling in the grass, and is popular with the land owner for her skill at removing moles. A safer quarry than the badgers she also likes to pester in any case:
The tench were especially receptive in the morning. Bob uses little else for them than 10mm boilies and pellets these days, with liberal helpings of groundbait to prime an area. In fact, it wasn't exactly Mr Crabtree tenching. He favours fairly deep areas rather than directly in those tempting looking margins, as the tench can then be persuaded to extend their feeding well into the late morning.
We also had a try for bream and I put my "Bait Factory" testers hat on once again to lay down a good bed of feed. You might have had to force me at gunpoint to use a spomb and introduce lashings of particles not so long ago, but I'm beginning to see the value of accurate, fairly heavy baiting these days.
I don't know what it is about bream, but as with pike they just seem to agree with me. And unless it happens to be three in the morning I'm always happy to catch them. I even like the rather sleepy, ponderous way they fight on light tackle.
Monday, 13 May 2013
Chaos with the seasons or otherwise, I remain convinced that May is arguably the best fly fishing month of the year. Things start to hatch. You can (sometimes) take a walk in shorts. The weather has good surprises as well as evil and spontaneous little trips crop up. The rivers are out of bounds for coarse fish, but finally the roach are starting to respond better to flies on still waters. I've been having some joy at least on spiders, bugs and even small emerger buzzers. Little gold heads can be handy too, although I find larger versions can spook the fish. Pick a size 16 hook and a tiny 2-2.3mm bead however and you'll find for every fish or two that turn their noses up, the next will do an impression of a very small hoover. Bingo!
I had several to about half a pound in just a couple of hours on the cut, as well as this tiny surprise pike that took a slightly bigger goldhead I was idly teasing at the edge for a perch. What can I say? Pike just like me. Even when I'm not fishing for them, I find them. They nick my worms when I pole fish, they pinch my flies when I tackle perch or trout- although this must be the smallest fly that I ever tempted a pike with.
Other than that, further adventures have been scribbled rather than carefully planned. I half hoped to tackle a stillwater midweek with fellow fly angler Pete Wilkins. But with a windy, unsettled day in prospect I fancied a small, sheltered stream instead (beat 12, South Yeo, on the Westcountry Angling Passport). Complete with Indiana Jones hat, Pete was game for the challenge too. Although more used to stillwater fishing, he quickly got into the habit of keeping low and making short, tidy casts.
The weather turned sour pretty quickly for us unfortunately, making nymph fishing our main attack. For all those who have an inner fear of the manifold fly patterns that we confuse ourselves with, you could happily catch on these streams all season with simple hares ears and spiders.
A merciful bit of sun in the afternoon and we even saw a bit of a hatch. The odd rise came, as well as swooping birds making the most of the little olives coming off the water. It never really exploded to life, but we both managed to pick off a handful of cute brownies.
Never mind, things are looking up and even the stocked waters seem to be alive with hatches at the moment. Definitely the case at Simpson Valley where I fished a buzzer hatch with my brother, dad and other half for a Bank Holiday trip. It wasn't the heavy versions the fish wanted either, with plenty taking in the upper layers or off the surface.
In fact, I had started with two flies, but all may bag came on the fly I used on the dropper, a Black Flexi Spider. A bit like a cross between a buzzer and a classic soft hackle, I've tied up several of these on size 10 and 12 hooks, but will also be casting some down to 16's and 18's for roach this summer.
It's a pretty easy tie- so I thought I'd provide a short step by step. Materials are very common too:
Hook: Size 10-18 Classic nymph (could also use a light buzzer hook)
Body: single strand of black flexifloss
Thorax: Peacock Herl
Hackle: Black hen (or could try starling)
Start by running a few turns of thread on your hook (leave a little gap for the head).
Now catch in a piece of flex-floss on top of the shank.
Once you've trapped it firmly, you can pull on the strand to make it thinner, giving you a slim body. Stop above the barb, before returning the thread evenly to about 4mm of the hook eye.
Form your body out of even wraps of flex-floss. Leaving a slight gap between turns will give you nice buzzer like body. Secure with 2-3 tight wraps of thread and trim off excess.
Now catch in a single strand of peacock herl.
Make three or so turns of the herl to produce a thorax:
Tie in a piece of black hen of a size to match the hook.
Make two turns (no more!) of black hen before tying off. Whip finish and varnish the head.
Give it a cast!
Thursday, 9 May 2013
The sums still seem nuts as I weigh up a week long road trip. 950 miles. About seventy quid's of worms, casters and maggots. A selection of random B&Bs. And all for the love of... well, the unexpected. I wanted to stop at a whole stack of those places you usually pass by thinking "that looks interesting", but never actually making a cast. There's a certain irony that in our age of information overload places such as urban waters and canals offer a good deal more mystery than the really "classic" destinations. And on this note, I was pleased to be in the company of Russ Hilton, who shares my taste for the sort of fishing detours you don't often see in tourist brochures. I can see it now: "Come fly fishing for roach with a series of bus shelter lunatics in a small town you've never heard of!" It wasn't all grim though. The Monmouth and Brecon Canal was just one overdue stop off. So many times, I'd seen it and wished I had a day to kill when headed for the Usk or the Wye. A good move, because in its own quirky way it has a beauty all of its own. Along with local angler Ray Minty and fishing author David Overland, we had a really varied day. As well as urban stretches, there are miles of canal with a leafy backdrop of hills and mountains. Little surprise that the place was the inspiration for parts of David's beautifully illustrated book "Fishing with Emma", which has just been released: We had plenty of bites and an eventful day. The roach responded well to bread, but the fish probably weren't quite as big as the one David is describing to this young angler, who caught a beautiful little perch and then proceeded to tell us he was going to catch "a hundred" more: I genuinely enjoy budget travel. It forces you to get stuck in and leave the script behind. Aside from a stop off of comparative luxury with Merlin Unwin, our overnight haunts were crazily varied. Homely B&Bs at one end, closer to Bates Motel at the other. The sort of places you find a hundred chipped ornaments and little stickers providing dire warnings about crimes you hadn't even considered. "Setting off the fire alarm will result in a fine of £1000!" or my personal favourite: "Strictly no more than one person in the shower at any one time." Yeah, because that's the obvious thing to do in Bradford isn't it, have a four person romp in a shower. Appearances can be deceptive however. Far cosier than its rather grim frontage was "The Noose and Gibbet" in Sheffield, the scene of the last public hanging in England: I have to say that some of the best fishing of all came in the most unexpected places. Such was the Steel City. We'd really just stopped for a walk and a few pictures, but slap bang in Sheffield you have both the River Don and the Sheffield and Tinsley Canal. The latter was crawling with roach, which were there for the taking with just a waggler rod and a few maggots, as well as some surprise sacks and bits of broken stereo. The trip was like this throughout in fact, with the sort of surprises that made you go "wow!" and others that you prayed would drop off your hook before you had to handle them. I can only scratch the surface in my scribblings here. There are enough clues, twists and turns to give Hercule Poirot a headache. Some big fish, some small fish, others in the "you bloody couldn't make it up!" category. All will be revealed in due course, but it's amazing what you find when you were looking for something else entirely. Such as a pub where you can still buy two pints of amazingly good bitter, a massive pie and a gut busting sandwich for little more than seven quid. Or a local character who still cycles to his favourite spot at eighty years young, having fished there as a boy during World War Two. The trouble is, I now have a notebook crammed with raw material to be hammered into a form less chaotic than the recesses of my brain. I have many anglers to thank for their kindness recently, with both planned and totally spontaneous encounters. Not least of all Neil Williams and the brilliant members of GUGGS (The Grand Union Gudgeon Society). Having received an entertaining email from them after my piece "Gudgeon at Ten Paces" in Improve Your Coarse Fishing, a meet up was essential. With the motto "Size Doesn't Matter" GUGGS (www.guggs.net) epitomise the fun-loving essence that is missing from so much in today's fishing scene. We had a lot of laughs tackling gudgeon with the lads, aiming for a specimen "Thirty" (yes, a thirty gram gudgeon). That's another story altogether, but having winkled out some beautiful whiskery blighters, both myself and Russ Hilton are now proud, card-carrying members. Converts even get their own GUGGS name (the first two letters of your surname, followed by first name, making the two of us "HiRu" and "GaDo"). Russell perhaps loses a few brownie points however, for switching his attention to what GUGGS refer to as "nuisance fish"- in this case bream. A fine catch to end a fun and fascinating week:
Sunday, 21 April 2013
This blog starts with a drum roll as we kick off a brand new site and a unique competition. "Fly For Coarse" is now up and running- a contest that I hope will epitomise the values of a growing community of those tying flies and hatching plans to open up a new fishing landscape. Our ethos is one of fun and creativity. The thrill of the take is more important than the number on the scales. Just ask Matt Hayes, who we're honoured to have on our panel. "I love this competition!" he writes. "Pursuing your favourite species using a completely different technique presents a new adventure... This is the true spirit of angling." We really couldn't have been blessed with a better spokesman. I'm also grateful to Charlie Hancock, who has set up the new site at www.flyforcoarse.com in the midst of running a business and being a new father, and also Alex Garnett for the neat, perchy logo. Do have a look- and get plotting! Anything from a rising dace to a nymph caught barbel could win you a great prize, and appropriately enough another fishing legend, John Bailey, is also involved as a "Fly For Coarse" supporter. I've already heard accounts of some brilliant early action in the contest, including a giant carp lost at the net, whose big lips had sucked in a damsel nymph. My own recent fishing has been more modest, admittedly. I'm slowly building an arsenal of flies however, mixing new experiments in with tried and trusted favourites. Spiders are especially useful all rounders, and those tied on smaller hooks can be deadly for roach, rudd and dace: In all honesty, the canals are still a little cool and coloured. I took a walk on a sunny afternoon with Jo Bliss, my other half, and inevitably a fly rod just happened to leap out of the boot. The roach were rather apathetic still, perhaps reflecting a lack of insect life on our stroll. I tried everything from a gold bead nymph to tiny size 20 buzzers to no avail. Things will pick up soon though, I'm certain- and some cruising rudd were more willing to grab a fly presented in the upper layers. A red bodied spider seemed the best fly in rather coloured water: It has been a fly obsessed few days in fact. Another enjoyable trip was to join Duncan Keir to find out more about his "Kennick Killer", a special UV damsel style lure that really lived up to its' moniker. No surprises as to where we went for a fish. That'll be Kennick Reservoir: Now produced commercially by Devon fly specialists Turrall, this is a must have pattern on the stillwater scene. With a seductive wiggle, smart colour combinations and UV materials, the rainbows needed little encouragement to chase and seize it. I had sporadic joy fishing a team of buzzers, but Duncan had the lion's share of the action, including a much bigger fish that leapt clear of the water twice before shedding the hook. After a long winter, it felt great to be out with the sun on your back again- and there are days when I honestly get as much pleasure from snapping away with the camera as I do fishing. One of the biggest pangs of all I feel over a long winter is for spring fly fishing on a small river however. That first day of sunlight and rising trout in the season is like a cold beer after a ten hour shift. It was especially exciting to head for the upper Culm with Ian Nadin. This prettiest of Devon rivers is a nostalgic place for me, having formed a happy part of my childhood. I've never crept so close to the source however, where the waters narrow and become stonier and faster flowing. This idyllic part of the Culm is available on the Westcountry Angling Passport scheme for a ridiculously good value £5 a day. It was also a happy return for the smallest fly rod I own. Measuring only an inch taller than me at 6'6", it's like fishing with a toy rod and goes bonkers when you hook even a small brownie. We caught more trees than trout for the first hour, and a small gold bead Hare's Ear was the best fly. By the afternoon however, a hatch of small olives erupted right along the river and it all went crazy. By the end of play, trout were rising everywhere; the nymphs were ditched and we had some cracking dry fly sport and over a dozen of the most beautifully marked trout between us. Days like this remind me why I love fishing. A setting to die for, wonderful fish and good company. New corners were explored- and we even coined a new piece of fly fishing slang: to "Thatcher" a cast, i.e. to send the fly too far to the right wing of the river, as in "bloody hell, you really Thatchered that one mate."
Wednesday, 17 April 2013
Crikey... it's bloody mid April and I'm only just updating this blog. I have to confess, my ramblings here are not always strictly chronological. At best I can offer snapshots from my fishing, written in haste. It's a quandry for a writer. I have to sketch here, rather than steal the thunder of things coming up in the printed press. But at the same time, blogging is great to explore in all the interesting/weird/unscripted parts that escape the confines of your typical magazine article. One of my strangest recent exploits has been to discover the thrill of fishing in Norway. Ice fishing is absolutely nuts. So vastly different to anything I usually do. Think garden gnome rods, snowmobiles, 1000ft mountain lakes, sod-off big drills and you're only part way there. When you come across a huge sheet of snow, you think someone's bullshitting you when they say "this is it- we're standing in the middle of a lake." And if the setting is unreal, the fish themselves are little short of a miracle. Arctic char are probably the most incredibly marked fish I've ever seen. Like trout dreamed up by an artist on drugs. Sparkling green and burning orange. Unfeasible somehow. But no more so than drilling through a metre of ice or snacking on a reindeer's heart. The full story gets the Angling Times treatment soon- and I also hope to feature more of my Norwegian host Geir Sivertzen (aka "Dr Hook"), a globe trotting angler and Mustad designer regarded as the world's foremost expert on fishing hooks. For more on Northern Norway and the amazing arctic destination of Skaidi, you could also try www.skaidihotel.no, who run guided trips here year round. Ice fishing runs well into May, but the lure and fly fishing on mountain lakes can also be spectacular in summer.. In a funny way, I almost think the fish under ice were hungrier than the ones back home. Things are just warming up, but lately I've been catching on little more than a hook bait. I'm not exactly a weekly visitor in search of carp on commercials- but that said, find one with nicely conditioned fish and using classic tackle is great fun. In fact, I just don't get why these places tend to be stacked with rod pods and shelters these days. Playing "fun sized" carp is great sport on light tackle, but on a 2.5 test curve rod? It's a bit like hunting rabbits with a rocket launcher; pretty messy on the whole, and over very quickly. I've also been enjoying testing gear for The Bait Factory. Other than being a "Beer and Ale Consultant", which will never happen, I can't think of many more entertaining field testing areas to be involved with. Various pastes have been especially good- and perhaps the biggest surprise is how well a decent lump of super-potent stuff can work, with no loose feed whatsoever. I looked like a chain smoker at the end of a trip to South View Farm, but the stuff was dynamite literally dropped within inches of the bank (thanks to photographer Andrew Pym for current carpy pictures).