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?: