Tuesday, 27 December 2011
After my detour with some surprising "commercial" pike, I've returned to some more flippant, down to earth canal fishing. And very welcome, after some days of festive gut ache and several enquiries over the small water twenty in the past week, which I'm informed has already been recaptured within a matter of days! This is one of the thorny issues with piking in general- but especially where small waters are concerned. The fish don't have much space to hide and whilst you can't begrudge anglers wanting to catch fish, you do worry about the condition of specimens repeatedly targeted. Pike can't suddenly switch to vegetarianism, and I guess ultimately it depends on how careful each captor is.
Back to the fishing itself though, and Boxing Day was an absolute blast on Tiverton Canal. Accompanied by my brother, sibling rivalry soon kicked in. I made the usual mistake of lending him my pike fly box- and a yellow fly proved the real destroyer, standing out well in the water even where it was carrying some extra colour. Was I to be defeated using my own weapons? It didn't seem to matter a whole lot while takes with all the finesse of a car accident kept occurring.
Had this fishing trip been a Boxing Day footy match it would have been one of those games that ends 4-4, with a penalty, three sendings off and a pitch invasion. Brilliant fun on light tackle, even if the pike were typical Tivvy specials, the biggest scarcely troubling the three pound mark. Ben ended up winning 10-9 in the catch stakes, although play was interrupted as a deer jumped into the canal! No joking, I'm not still sozzled from Christmas Day, someones dog spooked it and we watched the thing swim across and jump through the hedges to freedom. The other feature was swarms of Jackdaws- twenty strong mobs soaring over the trees.
It's great to see the canal so much healthier too, the rains having taken it from drought levels and back to health. Had there been a big freeze rather than rain, a fish kill could have occurred- and my fellow Pike Angler's Club RO Ian Nadin deserves credit this year for really sticking his neck out with the angling club and canal trust.
Aside from catching up on eating and sleeping, the Christmas break is also a good time to catch up on other fishing related homework- such as tying up a selection of flies for the new year. One current project is trying to use all sorts of household junk, odds and sods and flotsam to use for fly dressings. Christmas is great for this, as there's always lots of sparkly debris. Inspiration can come from anywhere though- most lately, the pet cat, Belle. She asks for it really, always jumping onto my lap whenever I'm busy at the vice.
She certainly sheds plenty of hair- and it's not bad quality either: fine, good colour and easy to dub! A little goes a long way too, so no need to pull it all out just yet! This cat is so tolerant, you could probably saw one of her legs off and she'd carry on purring. Here's a "Belle" Nymph:
In other news, I also have a long awaited shipment from Finland. We may have missed the Christmas rush, but I am now fully stocked for 2012. These are the hand carved perch and pike key rings (www.dgfishing.co.uk):
Wednesday, 21 December 2011
On a list entitled "likely places to catch a sodding big pike", you'd expect small, manmade lakes to be near the bottom. A shame, because the potential is there if you can only find the ones with pike. I've tried several club lakes and day ticket commercials over the past few seasons, with mixed results- but also the odd genuine surprise, like today!
It's true that their usual carp related muddiness does limit water clarity for fly or lure fishing, but there are other advantages. One of these is that rather than sitting there shivering, you can fish a float while waiting for that monster to bite on a second rod. Quite often I plonk a dead bait right alongside the line I'm feeding for smaller species- often enough, this activity will draw predators in. If not, then I can think of worse ways to spend a day than watching a float and picking off roach, skimmers and carp.
After several mediocre to downright poor sessions on the river and canal around Exeter, it was fun just to be getting bites again and spend an overdue day with my Dad- pike or no pike, we hadn't been fishing together in ages. The lake in question hasn't the biggest head of pike, but they're growing fast- strangely enough, the fishery boss also insisted "no publicity please" -a decision I fully understand, and in some ways refreshing in that it shows that the condition of the fish is the priority rather than just flogging tickets (and no, sorry folks, the lake isn't the pic above- just a nice wintery shot from Frazer McBain).
Anyhow, back to the fishing and the script was uncanny. Two hours in I exclaimed "funny, lots of silver fish, but where are the pike? Not a sniff so fa-" and before I could finish the sentence, the drop off signalled a take. The first pike went just under fifteen pounds, gratifying enough. I would have gone home happy enough, until the next run produced an even more solid presence, a gentle take followed by a bottom hugging fight. With the fish only lightly snared on barbless hooks, it was a case of bundle it into the net as fast as you dare. "Bloody hell" was my old man's verdict. The fish was an absolute barrel- incredibly well fed and thick round the middle. Once the scales were zeroed, she yanked the needle round to very healthy 20lbs 4oz. After several tough recent trips with most of the drama provided by gales and heavy rain, this was a very sweet catch. Thank you pike, and merry bloody Christmas to you all!
Friday, 9 December 2011
I am a total mash of different emotions at the moment. 2011 will have been perhaps the busiest year of my life, with two books now in their final proofs and design stages. There's still a while to wait for publication in each case, but it's exciting already just to see "Fly Fishing for Coarse Fish" now listed on Amazon to preorder! I am especially proud of the cover shot- one of the best of some 20 000 taken in the last twelve months. Behind one glossy book cover is a campaign of muddy, long haul trips and endless planning and writing- some disappointments but also some remarkable catches I hope.
The real thrill will perhaps be to contribute something of a permanent reference point in angling. Magazine features are great, but they're there and then they're gone. A hardback with over 200 pages of my best words and pictures is very different. On the home straight, my feelings are mixed to say the least- relief, trepidation, pride, a hint of exhaustion. If nothing else, I hope plenty of fellow anglers enjoy "Fly Fishing for Coarse Fish" and give something new a try. Some of the chapters took real determination (tench, zander), but other species are just so perfectly suited to fly fishing I can't quite fathom why we're not already flyfishing for chub, rudd, carp etc in our droves.
Text is one thing, but I also wanted to show the methods in practise with a DVD of the same title, which includes roach, rudd, carp and last of all pike, which I've just finished filming with Steve Lockett. Film work is a very different pressure- juggling different camera angles with a loose script and the need to catch in a limited time frame. A slow start on the Levels didn't help, with rains really stirring up my chosen drain. Having taken just one tiny pike, plan B was an afternoon on the Taunton to Bridgwater Canal.
A smart move as it turned out, because the water was much clearer and although hardly on fire I managed a further five pike to around 5lbs. The best fly seemed to be a pink number, which really stood out and was also, interestingly, the only colour to get any response in coloured water early in the day.
Credit is also due to film maker Steve Lockett, my partner in crime for the DVD. From the footage you might guess there were several cameras- when in truth it's just one intrepid camera man- scaling banks, dodging casts and getting up to the armpits in cold water. You'll have to watch this space for a trailer- but most of the project save some fly tying sequences is now finished.
Sunday, 27 November 2011
With so many current stories of rivers being threatened, it's always nice to find a positive angle. The River Wandle, which topped this year's list of most improved river habitats, isn't so much a tale of recovery as a minor miracle. I met up with fellow angling scribe and Wandle conservationist Theo Pike to witness the surprising beauty of this former chalkstream for myself. It was to be a mission which neatly combined areas that each of us have focussed on lately- coarse fish on fly gear and urban angling.
Surrounded by supermarkets and fast food joints, it's a curious buzz to cast a line here. We felt a bit like naughty schoolboys as we were ticked off by a lady in a Marks and Sparks outfit for fishing on a bridge. A little further on though, we found plenty of good looking water to try with both nymphs and dry flies. I began on Czech Nymphs, but a pink shrimp was the stand out pattern- a mixed shoal of chub and roach darting out from a raft of debris to grab the thing. At the back of the shoal was a gold fish! Here's a chunky chub:
There are now so many kinds of fish in this once dead river, you could try any one of several methods- which we did. Further downstream Theo pointed out where barbel and trout can be found. Legering was a pain with all the drifting leaves, so I decided to trot a nice, deeper pool with a pin and stick float. Lovely fishing- with chub, dace, roach and even a rare Wandle perch. A day of plenty of action, as well as some fascinating info on this great little London river, rescued thanks to the work of those like Theo and groups such as the Wandle Piscators. It's also very democratic- free fishing for much of its length.
Sunday, 20 November 2011
With autumn so mild, I've been having a rethink of late and getting back to the fishing I love best. Or, to give you the other side of the tale, I've grabbed the fly rod again after getting bored stiff with dead baits. On short sessions on the canal I haven't seen my float drift away so much as my life drift away. The ensuing boredom and car smelling like a fishmonger's dustbin spelled time for a change. The right move, as a couple of enjoyable sessions have proven. Lots of hits, lots of fun and on today's bash at the Levels a lovely double figure pike that was a riot on a fly rod and reminded me exactly what I've been missing.
Joining me for this one was fellow pike angler Dave Smith, who also had a series of smash and grab hits from pike on both the Bridgwater to Taunton Canal and River Tone. The early morning was electric- and interestingly the fly proved king in clear water at the start, while it was Dave's lures which came out in front later on in slightly more coloured water.
Either way, we were both as happy as pigs in muck and when the action slowed we were just as captivated by the glorious autumn colours.
Natural beauty is a phrase that wouldn't apply to todays best flies though- the fish seemed to like loud best, a dash of hot pink to be precise. Slow sinking flies are spot on for the canal, but moving on to the river later on it was a clouser style, dumbbell head fly that did the honours- just one of several designs that will feature in "Fly Fishing for Coarse Fish". This "jig fly" pattern fishes really deep, ideal for teasing just off the bottom when the pike are sitting tight. It's also a great zander weapon.
Talking of the Tone, we had a great session but a bit of a sour start. I'm not one to turn the other cheek with rule breakers and the sight of an angler tackling steep banks with no net or mat (and a friend with a plastic bag) really got my goat. I asked this idiot how he ever hoped to land a lively pike on sheer banks- no answer, so I asked him to pack up and leave, which he did. I'm not even a Taunton bailiff- but until all of us start challenging such poor practise the result will be dead and damaged fish. Anybody turning up to a carp fishery with no net or mat would be sent packing- and the same should be true of pike anglers.
My little rant over, the afternoon was simply beautiful looking across the huge plains of Somerset. The pike gave us some big hits and the skies were so vivid I spent the rest of the day torn between fly rod and camera. The Levels really are at their finest in the autumn, the reddish land and golden last light such a stirring combination. Stunning scenery, great sport and a day to savour.
Monday, 7 November 2011
Some of our rivers represent a bit of light hearted diversion- a couple of cheeky hours with a stick float or fly rod, if you like. Others, like the mighty, muddy Severn are formidably large, unpredictable beasts. You might describe the river's zander in the same terms. They seldom get caught by accident and so I was grateful to be in the company of Worcester angling mates Dicky Fisk and Jim Smith.
Frustrating they might be, but I find zander a unique challenge. With the river fairly coloured, it seemed fly and lure fishing were off the menu and so out came the bait fishing gear. Rather than go with scaled down pike gear however, the boys have been catching well on quiver tip tactics, complete with swimfeeders and groundbait. When you think about it, it makes perfect sense. Fishy ground bait offers a potent scent trail, drawing in not only predators but fodder fish, whilst a sensitive tip is perfect for spotting bites from these finicky predators, which don't give the full blooded runs of pike.
The Severn itself was glorious in the autumn sunshine- concrete pilings and rusting cranes blending with golden willow leaves. We struck early to take a zander each not long after first light. Nice, involved fishing too- no back droppers and alarms involved but a keen focus on the rod tip- with quite gentle bites common. "Schoolies" of three or four pounds are more numerous here, but there is also the tantalising possibility of something monstrous. Jim's double figure zander that day was still several pounds short of his biggest, taken on a lure.
With bites at a premium however, it became a whistle stop tour of steep swims, deep corners and the odd local boozer. All was set for one final showdown on Sunday evening, but the going was slow after a cold snap. Which made it all the more satisfying to finally connect with a better zander- a twitchy bite, a healthy bend in the rod and a beautiful fish getting on for seven pounds.
Credit is mostly to Dick and Jim for putting me on the spot- and ensuring a few jars and a fun weekend. Who knows, we may have had another fish or two had I not kept getting the camera out and issuing orders! Pictures don't take themselves any more than fish catch themselves though, and these days I'm just as keen to capture the mood and surroundings as the fish. How's this for a frame buster?:
Friday, 28 October 2011
A long leap from recent drain hopping days, Llangorse Lake in south Wales is a beast of a water. A test of not only tackle and tactics, but resolve and wet weather gear. When the bites arrive here, you sense that anything might happen; during other long, fruitless hours spent bobbing around in the drizzle it can suck the very marrow out of you. Like the lakes of Ireland, the only consistent feature here seems to be rain.
Still weed choked around the edges, myself and Seb Nowosiad made our way around the drop offs, daydreaming about monsters. After a little jack that took a spoon on perhaps only my fifth cast of the day, things were decidedly slow. In the course of two days we seemingly tried every trick in the book to earn takes: lures and flies, static and trolled baits, herrings and roach. In the green tinged water I even tried some brightly dyed baits to eke out a response.
Even the purist would be well advised to take a fish finder on a Llangorse adventure. The place feels like an endless chasm of nothing-much-in-particular when the action is slow, but gradually we found that the pockets of fish seemed to favour those banks quickly dropping away to three or four metres. Predictably enough, one of Seb's Kopyto shads was eventually mauled by a gold dashed seven pounder.
The sky had been threatening a bit of a punch up for a while, and once we'd set up camp for the night the rain came- and the drizzle never stopped from then until we left. Planning our counter attack we kept our hopes up with cups of brandy spiked "pirate tea" and dodgy jokes. In the morning light you could hardly make out the hills, and by lunch we were sodden, grudgingly accepting that damp feeling like you're sitting on a pile of used tea bags.
Eventually we also found something of a hot spot, with several takes to float fished roach and something big which shook its head and parted company with my lure. Still, when you've been wiping rain off your face all day any fish feels like a gift and we added another four pike, all in the five to six pound bracket.
The other great spectacle was a swarm of several thousand starlings wheeling overhead. This was absolutely fantastic, until they flew right over the boat and discharged an almighty volley of bird shit all over the water. By pure fluke, neither of us was hit. Great sight all the same, to cap off a testing trip. Sadly my top notch camera was kept out of the drizzle in the safety of the car for this spectacle, but I did get a nice shot of one of the lake's rocket powered pike giving Seb the runaround:
Saturday, 22 October 2011
Lure fishing doesn't get much cuter than an ultra light outfit and a box of pint-sized special lures. The little works of art certainly catch anglers as well as fish- but when it comes to tempting a wider range of species such as chub, perch and trout, besides the usual pike, these little devils really come into their own. I had been meaning to grab the camera for a trip with Ian Nadin for a while now to capture the fun of an ultralight session.
The handmade Polish specials he imports (above) are about as appetising as they come. For my money they just cried out to be used for chub and so he took up the challenge of a bash at the River Tone on the outskirts of Taunton. In many ways it is perfect ultralight territory here: narrow, clear waters with a good number of chub in the 1-3lbs bracket, as well as other surprises in the form of pike, perch and even trout. It's rather urban looking, but in some places if you squinted you might fancy yourself out on a little chub stream in the sticks; until you spot the shopping trolleys and the concrete bypass that is.
You could run a stick float through much of this and catch all day, but somehow lure fishing -like casting a fly- offers visual kicks and a special thrill. The big issue with small lures is always how the heck you cast them and do them justice. The only answer for little plugs and spinners that might weigh only a couple of grams is to use a fine, tippy rod and light braid of around 10lbs strength. You do wonder if you might catch more without one, but with jack pike present a light wire trace is essential.
In the streamy, cold waters it proved real cat and mouse stuff. The chub are certainly interested in lures, but painfully easy to spook. A little Mepps earned some action with smaller chub, but the better ones seemed to favour the dive and wiggle of a baby plug on this occasion. It was totally absorbing watching the fish tailing the lures- often switching on when a little burst of movement was added. Is this a feeding response or pure aggression? Like Ian, I believe it to be more a mean streak than a feeding response. After several near misses and spooked fish, a lean two pounder gave Ian's little lure a mouthy response and his 1-5g rated rod smashed over.
Conspicuous by their absence were the pike however, although Ian later added a pretty jack. Aside from this we saw all sorts- nosey perch, a trout, roach, dace and even the odd grayling. Perhaps the strangest happening was Ian's capture of a minnow however, hooked fairly in the lips on a tiny spinner! A predatory minnow- what next? The fish may not have been big, but I could happily spend every weekend fish spotting and casting a lure when the fun is so instant and so visual. Chucking about small lures in clear water is basically pure play -as fishing should be. For those curious about Ian's devilishly cute little lures and ultra light lure tackle, take a look at his site (www.microbaits.co.uk) or see the links section at www.dgfishing.co.uk
And on the subject of exciting, visual fishing I hope some of you can join us on Tuesday for the PAC meet at 7pm, Mill on Exe. I'm doing the first talk, and the focus will be exactly this- the thrill of close quarters fishing with a special emphasis on flies. Besides the actual fish, I spend much of my time trying to capture inspiring images and I hope to share plenty of unseen highlights on the night.
Back to the fishing itself, apart from a lost pike on the canal, the only other action of late has been at Exe Valley Fishery. The fishing was funny- slow in much of the lake, but absolute dynamite in one or two "hotspots". Along with four solid rainbows, I also took a grayling of about a pound on a buzzer! I'm not in the habit of cooking them, but this tasted pretty good.
Thursday, 13 October 2011
A long slog over the last two days have left me with creaking legs and aching shoulders, but plenty of enjoyable fishing. The Somerset Levels have been especially beautiful, in their own muddy kind of way. I might make loose plans with fishing and writing, but so often it's the little detours that entertain most. As is the case on the fish filled, "flat as piss on a plate" Levels, the more you look, the more you find. Supplying sketchy directions and even sketchier banter was Bridgwater's own piking Pole, Seb Nowosiad (who is also popular with cows).
I've often teased him in the past about his dogmatic loyalty to fishing his special jigs to the exclusion of other lures, but on this occasion I also learned the danger of letting him dip into my own box. Armed with a Kuusamo spoon, the bugger proceeded to hook and land three pike in the first forty minutes of the day! Not bad going.
We began by drain hopping then, but things only got really exciting as we approached a little, unnamed channel however. It was certainly pretty; one of those many, cute and weedy little culverts, just like somebody dug a boggy channel, chucked a load of fish in it and then time forgot it even existed. What started as a cheeky cast quickly became an adventure in it's own right. The first encouraging signs were clouds of fry, amongst sporadic weed growth and no more than three feet of water. I decided to get revenge and poach one of Seb's lures and on the very first cast, a little jack pike walloped it from under the far bank.
The next hour or so was utter havoc- pike bulging everywhere in the shallow water, slashing at the lures, missing the lures, sucking in the lures, cartwheeling clear of the water. The biggest of the lot from this Lilliput sized drain was probably not much more than four pounds, but I can't remember the last day I had so much fun.
There's just something special about shallow, clear water that makes everything a little more thrilling, more direct. The fish can't plunge deep when hooked, and so simply fly off along the bank, shaking and jumping like maniacs. You also notice the difference when fish are seldom bothered by anglers- unlike the "one hit wonders" of pressured waters, these critters will attack repeatedly. In the course of just one cast and retrieve I watched one jack grab at Seb's lure just after it landed, then nip it again, before following another few metres for an epic final grab, destroying the thing in a blur of gills and teeth!
We finished the day exhausted from about six miles of mud, hundreds of casts and a stack of trigger happy pike. The stand out lure of the day by a Somerset mile was a Kuusamo Fat Professor spoon, which has a beautifully lazy wobble, finishing the day rather more toothmarked than at the start of play.
If only other types of fishing were as guaranteed to quicken the pulse- but alas, it was not to be with my other trip, in search of a late season salmon, on the Lynher. My brother Ben is well and truly addicted, but I can't make my mind up yet: is life too short to fish for salmon, or too short not to fish for salmon? A bit of rain should have helped us, but only one fish was spotted, a grilse of around 5lbs which was unimpressed when we turned up, both flies and spinners drawing a big fat blank.
In spite of their idiosyncrasies, pike really are comfortingly predictable by comparison and I'm looking forward to the winter, with night fishing a current area of interest- if only to squeeze the odd session in around other commitments. Organisation is a must in the dark though, and bite indication can be tricky- hence I've been testing some of Greys LED Nite Floats- I'm no tackle tart, but these are great fun to watch.
I've been enjoying playing with the camera for dusk photos as much as the actual fishing of late- and a "Pike Fishing by Lamp Light" style Angling Times feature is on the way soon.
Sunday, 2 October 2011
A great place for the pike angler, a bad place to bring a full wallet- such is the annual PAC Convention. This was my first ever trip to the event, a real Alladin's cave of lures, books, artwork, flies, but most of all a meeting place for that singular breed, the pike angler. When not on sales duty I had a grand time looking around and meeting so many great people. Indeed, beyond new things to cram into tackle boxes and bookshelves, it seems an event all about the fun and friendship the sport brings. As well as the wares of established companies like ET Tackle and Fox, it's always great to meet those smaller but highly individual companies that make fishing what it is. Such is the case with Alex Prouse at Zoota Lures, who makes hand poured soft jerkbaits with alluring titles such as Gangsters and Wobbly Bobs. I can't wait to try out a couple of his Wagtails (like the jack version below) in the coming weeks.
Definitely a place to grab those hard to find items then, as well as those hard to grab anglers and the event was like a who's who of pike fishing. I couldn't resist dipping into the kitty for signed copies of work from John Watson and Graham Booth- and also grabbed a brilliantly moody pike print by Karen Sakar to ponder whilst I tie more flies this winter, one of a gallery of great works:
There are too many great things to list here- I had to virtually tie my hands behind my back around all the lures, and some of the more unusual detours such as the sub zero fishing equipment on display from "Esox on Ice" also caught the eye. Keep an eye on my links page at the usual site (www.dgfishing.co.uk) where I hope to add a range of highlights shortly. As for my own stall, it was a case of unexpected success, with the Finnish soft pike quickly selling out! For those who missed them, I hope to get more stock later in the year.
In the midst of a hectic week before I was also pleased to make a successful return to the Somerset Levels. Accompanied by Seb Nowosiad, it was a fun day hopping between the canal, the rivers and the drains. It started with some nice roach and rudd. The fish were quite spooky in the bright conditions, but still catchable on a small buzzer or spider.
Perhaps the best sport of the day however came on a weed choked stretch of water little bigger than a ditch. Seb was first into the action, catching a really classic looking perch just shy of 2lbs. Predictably enough, it fell for his usual choice of lure: a Kopyto Relax shad. I still tease him about staying glued to just one lure type, but when it works this well why switch?
It felt stupidly hot for summer, and after another detour we stopped for a cold pint, the barman taking pity on our tired faces and combined total of £5.33 to provide two pints of ice cold beer. Better refreshed, I quickly ditched the four weight and spent the last part of the day slinging small pike flies about on a heavier outfit, losing a a good fish but managing to get amongst the jacks. For all they lacked in size, each one was happy enough to give the fly a smash and go like the proverbial shit off a shovel.
What will the new season bring? I have no idea, but if each day out is as much fun as this we're in for a ball- as well as many, many soggy miles walked.