Monday, 29 August 2011
This week has marked a very welcome first for me. Magazine articles are great, they are my bread and butter. But to submit my first book manuscript is something special. "Fly Fishing for Coarse Fish" has been a real labour of love- hundreds of miles, many fish and many waters. Flies that look a million dollars and flies that ended up in the bin beneath my work bench. And so it was a real thrill, not to mention something of a relief, to visit the good folks at Merlin Unwin in Ludlow with a first draft and two hundred or so images. It's a real honour to be working with the publishers whose other output includes the work of Chris Yates and "BB".
As well as work, I had time for some play on the river slap bang in the middle of Ludlow. A very pretty bit of water, with huge overlapping sheets of stone and trout lurking in the shadows. Several vividly marked brownies dashed out to grasp a little nymph:
As for the book itself, set for release early next year, I can only hope that readers will enjoy it as much as I enjoyed the adventure of writing it. Some of the escapades in its pages will strike a chord with those who keep an eye on the blog and magazine work- but there are also plenty of surprises I've done my best to keep back, including a whole string of original and adapted flies for rudd, pike, carp, zander... you name it, I've been feverishly experimenting with it. Some of the coarse species are more willing takers than others it must be said, but I'm relieved to have ticked all the required boxes. There have been times that the tench, for example, have had me wracking my brains for answers. Here's a hard won tinca from the Grand Western Canal:
Perhaps I haven't always taken the conventional route with my fishing and writing. But the reassuring development so far has been that many editors and readers are more than willing to give something different a try. There is so much more to fishing than the technique of beating those around you, or becoming obsessed with huge fish. And on that note, this week's Angling Times will feature a place low on the list of most specimen hunters- but close to my heart. The little millstream on the Exe is the setting for my piece on escapist fishing for dace and chub, a case of stony water and cute fish. Talking of cute fish, I've also been revamping my site and online shop, including these beautifully detailed Finnish fish. You'll also find a lunking great pike on the site, big enough to eat this lot!
Monday, 22 August 2011
Sea trout fishing has its cliches just like any other branch of the sport. You go at night, with big surface-waking flies right? Not necessarily. My brother has been enjoying some good day time sport around Devon's quieter corners. The Lynher in Cornwall is especially tempting; fairly close to the sea, with plenty of dark, shady holes for these creatures to shelter and it's also a very affordable ten quid a day on the Westcountry Angling Passport scheme.
It was to prove an interesting exchange of ideas. Whilst my previous few seasons have been focussed on coarse fish on the fly, Ben has developed a real obsession with salmon and sea trout. These little rivers are stirring places- and the sea trout can be tempted on small goldhead bugs in daylight hours. Basically it's like using stepped up trout gear and trying to get an aggressive response from sheltering fish. Like salmon they don't feed in freshwater but sometimes react to the flash and movement of a fly. We had to work for it though, with lots of tiny brownies plus a party of canoeists not exactly helping us creep up on these shy fish.
After many yards of careful wading we began to spy tantalising signs of life- the ripple of a phantom fin near the bank; a sudden beam of silver turn in the current. A 12" fish finally took my goldhead bug, giving a fine scrap on light tackle- light, metallic sides soon identified this one as a sea trout. Not a big one, but beautiful.
Sunday's trip was in the less wild setting of the town centre by Mill on Exe. Joining me was Chris Gooding, who spent many happy days as a boy catching fish of all kinds here- and has lost none of his enthusiasm. With balls of steel, he decided to take up some precarious trotting positions right on the edge of the weir! A flashback to mispent youth perhaps- where back in the less health and safety obsessed 80s he once ran across these slippery spots with a rod.
We tried the classic offering of silkweed for roach- which were sadly absent, although plenty of dace and even a small trout fell to maggots. Fellow city slicker Ian Nadin also managed a trout on a small jointed plug and a beautifully marked one too:
After a quick pint at the Mill we pushed on for a spot of wet wading, this time with a fly rod. Chris and I had a great fun hour or so casting at (and usually missing!) schools of flashing, fast biting dace. Proper Sunday afternoon fun and there was also a bonus in store. I'd spotted a reasonable sized chub earlier, prowling under branches near the bank and a a carefully presented goldhead nymph got an instant response from this scrappy city two pounder, whose big mouth truly dwarfed my little nymph:
Monday, 15 August 2011
What could be better than a mega Euro-road trip? A road trip with a selection of fishing tackle sneaked into the car, of course. This years break was a long, long drive. Five countries, various bizarre food stuffs and a frightening total of 16 different beds slept in- most on the low budget end of creaking cabins and campsites. Our eventual destination was Finland- via Holland, Germany, Denmark and Sweden in that order. Where do I even begin?
Sweden is somewhere I want to return to. We whistled past perhaps the biggest lake I've ever seen on the way out, and had a stopover on a little campsite with a lake. Predictably, I had some cheeky casts but the fish were elusive in the scorching hot weather and only the odd little jack pike proved willing to bite. Nevertheless, I loved it. Above is a typically traditional Swedish scene near Gripsholm castle, not far from Stockholm.
A ferry across the Baltic Sea came next. What a place! Countless islands and little hideouts, a real playground of the rich (like so many beautiful and secluded areas!). The ferry was fun too. Tacky cabaret bands, general lounging and gypsies gambling on the decks. A mixture of excess sleep, coffee and high cholesterol foods saw us roll on into Finland late- another day, another campsite, another random look at stacks of passing rivers and lakes.
Finland was, unsurprisingly, beautiful as always. My other half wanted to visit in the balmy weather of August this year- great for catching some rays, not so great for catching fish. It gets bloody hot and they tend to switch off or go deep. In fact, try as I might, I struggled at first to grab more than the occasional jack. Jigging over deeps was little better for sullen, sleepy zander. The trick was to try the less sociable hours of the day with lures and flies which resulted in a good few zander in the end, along with perch and pike. They were nothing huge, but I always find it a thrill to connect with this perplexing, challenging species.
Random catch of the holidays was to arrive in the shape of this bream to a Rapala plug. It felt for all the world like a zander. Sadly absent were the other unusual species I've managed to catch on previous visits, such as ide and whitefish. Never mind- the lakes were beautiful and there's nothing quite like a hot sauna and chilled beer when you're cld and tired after an evening paddle in a float tube. The tube is an absolute must here, with access tricky and boats and guides for hire fairly scarce.
It is with a tinge of sadness that I think back now on Finland- with property for peanuts out here, we had invested in a little summer house, hence my annual visit to Finland. With harder times and more places on the hit list though, it was time to settle up and move on. The old haunts were as beautiful as ever- albeit devoid of big pike this year. For anyone thinking of a Scandinavian trip I woudn't recommend August, May and June have been miles better for fishing. Nevertheless, the place has a stark beauty and is as much about freedom and true wilderness as anything else. I spent as much time with a camera as fishing, just trying to capture the feel of the place. Below is the Great Woodpecker- a more perfectly primitive pike lake I may never find in my life time:
Even with the fishing slow, it's always fun to go lure shopping in a fishing mad country. The market in Mikkelli, central Finland, is always an eye opener for local, home made specials along with the world famous Kuusamo and Rapala classics. I also like the fact that the market seller has his own tank allowing you to see each seductive wiggle in action for yourself!
creations range from the deadly to the brash to the downright bizarre. Fancy catching a pike on a mermaid?:
The hand made, home rolled lures are a particular joy and I was keen to track down some intriguing central Finnish specials which combine the wiggle of a plug with the fluidity of fly materials. The main man for these in the area is now dead (as indicated to me by locals with the international finger drawn across throat "kicked-the-bucket" gesture). Time to stock up on some of these beauties- now a (very) limited edition you might say:
Our long road trip thus made a mazy route back across Scandinavia. Stopping south of Stockholm, I was again taken away by the granduer of the Baltic sea, a place where pike rub shoulders with prawns and herring. The biggest pike I saw in the whole trip followed a lure I cast into a boat yard on a morning stroll. A great sight, and I only wish I'd stayed longer. On any travel though, it's the unscripted experiences which you remember best. Like meeting Aussie artist John Dullaway- who uses techniques inspired by native Oz to create authentic works. As an angler, fish are a real focus and I felt that the shape of the pike went perfectly with his primal, bold paint schemes- so much so that I now own one of John's great pike canvasses! When i get hold of John's new site address I'll post on my links page so you can see more of his work.
The beauty of a road trip is thus that you see so much; the disadvantage is that you never stop long enough in one place to really get your teeth fully into whats around, although I now have no shortage of interesting leads for next time! We tried a Danish trout fishery on the way back, but alas with baking hot weather the fishing was poor again. A shame, because I thought I had stumbled on possibly the ultimate in crazy mixed fisheries- a trio of interconnected lakes containing trout, zander, salmon, pike, roach, perch and carp! Only roach resulted from trying every trick in the goddamn book.
More gratifying was the Netherlands. In fact I loved it there. I've always had a bit of a thing about canals and so I felt right at home- plus the Dutch are such civilized, laid back, great people. I caught pike and perch in a little rustic river, before trying one of the canals in Rotterdam. Surprisingly beautiful: birds nesting below motorway bridges, bicycles everywhere, house boats among highrises. Strangely stirring.
Last Euro stop of all was Amsterdam. No fishing this time, but what a great city. Rather than get wasted or trawl the sleazy end, I enjoyed some of the interesting bits and, you guessed it, more gorgeous canals. A great place- we have city foxes, the Dutch have city herons!:
Meanwhile in blighty, we'd been informed by various European neighbours that London was ablaze with riots, looting and general chaos. Not what you want to hear when you're stopping in... London, shortly. In fact, ever since departure abroad it seemed the world had gone mental- shooting in Norway, Amy Winehouse dead, then the riots. What next? I decided to escape the madness in London Aquarium for the afternoon. Well worth a visit- if only to test your photography skills against the fiendish combination that is dim light and subjects which refuse to keep still. A worthwhile exercise, and some terrific displays of British sea and coarse fish too I might add. Great displays: