Sunday, 29 July 2012
Once upon a time in the summer holidays, my folks warned me that if I went fishing every day I would get bored stiff. They were wrong, which is just as well given the way things have turned out this summer, with stacks of outings having to be crammed into those rare settled days. The part of my brain which should say "ok, time to do something else" is missing. Perhaps the title of my current piece for American quarterly "The Flyfish Journal" sums it up best: "It Takes a Different Kind of Idiot". In defence of all angling fanatics however, fishing must be the most varied sport in the world. Unlike those who throw darts, or row boats, or play football as a way of life, there are an almost infinite array of settings, methods, species and stories waiting to be explored. Sometimes you focus your efforts like a laser beam on just one outcome- but an equally fascinating exercise is to see just how many different species and swims you can tackle in just one day. My midweek mission was just this, partly out of sheer curiosity and partly because of the need to scout out a whole host of locations prior to a filming session for the "Tight Lines" show on Sky Sports. I feel honoured to be approached, as well as relieved to have given what I hope will be a fun demonstration of catching coarse species on the fly. I won't spoil the outcome for you- the footage goes live on August 10th. Perhaps the only slight drawback was that the inevitable biggest fish of the lot arrived when the cameras had already departed, in the shape of this cracking fly caught canal chub: The fish nipped at a small trout lure I had tweaked through the home patch of a shoal of these fish. I'm not sure it was a feeding response, but more an aggressive reaction to something loud invading their home turf beneath a bridge on the Taunton to Bridgwater cut. If there's one thing I love about summer fly fishing with coarse species in mind, it's the fact that you always have a chance of good sport, even in the middle of a hot day when conventional bait fishing is often rubbish. The total reverse of a session at Anglers Paradise, where daylight hours were a great chance to share a cold beer and make new friends with the carp nuts of the 5Cs, but action on the rods only arrived in the cool of the night. 3am to be specific, but worth a poor nights sleep for this lovely common carp from the main lake: It's great to get amongst bigger fish now and again, but at heart my favourite fishing still has less to do with figures than wasting time in wild places. The Little Dart near Witheridge is just such a location, and I had the great pleasure of a day out with Russ Hilton scrambling through cover, flipping low casts in awkward swims and totally absorbed in this beautiful lost stream, part of the great value "Westcountry Angling Passport" scheme. For my money these are fish that defy the cliches of the sport, that bring you closer to the childlike joy of fishing for the sheer hell of it. These trout are modest in size but unsurpassed in beauty- little painted savages that challenge your skills and thrill the senses more than overfed stock fish fifty times the size. With sedate fishing on tap it seems virtually nobody is fishing for them, but what experiences there are to be had on our wild streams. This half pounder was just one of many equally striking wild browns.
Saturday, 21 July 2012
I've finally experienced it. Walked and cast it. Enjoyed that day of summer heat and rising fish I've waited so long for. The canals have been calling me back for lengthy walks and hours spent squinting at the clear water looking for fish. They might not be the most illustrious waters for big fish, but I find the whole process so utterly absorbing. You really never know what you'll see or catch next. Peter Higgins, who took the picture above, found this out by catching a chunky rudd on a small streamer aimed at perch. I almost returned the favour by catching a perch on a tiny wet fly. Dour weather doesn't make fly fishing impossible- but it becomes so much easier to spot the fish when it's bright. When the sun suddenly comes through the clouds, it's rather like someone flicking the light switch in a dim room. Fish start appearing everywhere and you can study them at leisure. The behaviours of roach and rudd are seldom written about in much detail, but I find them fascinating viewing. The fish in the above picture were hanging around clumps of floating debris and literally pulling it apart. They make great sucks and then twist backwards to tear off pieces to eat. One small fish in this scene went swimming off with a piece of weed it's own length. Undoubtedly they also devour any small creatures dislodged in this grazing activity- indeed sometimes there are little flurries of excitement as the fish spot something amidst the salad!- and a fly placed gently on the edge is often grabbed instantly. With the fish so high in the water, I simply had to try small dries- and a size 16 Beacon Beige proved successful. I caught several and missed several, walking for miles in the process and switching flies every so often. I'm easily distracted you might say. I tried and failed to hook a bream feeding right under my feet. I spotted what looked like a lovely 2-3lb hybrid only to strike too early and pull the fly out of its mouth. I might have just written a book on fly fishing for coarse species, but I'm still always learning whenever I stop to observe fish. The bigger roach can be especially challenging, as they hang deeper than their shoal mates. I've been picking out a few by using gold beaded flies- albeit 16s and 18s. One common roach behaviour is to see them tilted downwards at an angle, just hanging there. Are they dozing? Trying to look inconspicuous? They look apathetic, but if a tiny gold bead shrimp or similar tweaked gently on their eye level sometimes makes them snap out of their temporary slumber. This beautiful fish of a pound and a quarter did exactly that- unable to resist the sudden appearance of a wet fly teased past:
Thursday, 12 July 2012
While most of us today fish just for sport, the story was very different in our not so distant history. To our ancestors that fish on the line was not just a fun detour, but the difference between eating and going hungry. Does the game change when you depend on catching to eat? Massively! I'm not about to revert to hunter gatherer status, but came pretty close in the mountains of North Wales recently. Accompanied by Frazer Mcbain, whose shots from "up in the gods" you can see here, we took up the challenge of surviving for a couple of days with only the most basic supplies to see if we could live just by exploring and catching trout to eat. Above Blaenau Ffestiniog, the gods had it in for us. The rain lashed and hissed up in the Welsh mountains, the very paths becoming streams as we climbed steep paths in search of the areas fabled, high flung lakes. It was an eerie place in the rain- the mist only adding to that feeling amidst ruined houses, abandoned works and great piles of slate. Never mind catching a trout or two for dinner, for the initial climb I wondered whether we'd even find the lakes. How do you decide which gear to bring when everything must be stored an carried up hundreds of yards? With difficulty is the answer, and an eye to taking a basic but lightweight outfit. Fly gear is ideal for this, because apart from the rod, you can easily stow a reel, line and a box or two of flies in the pockets of a fly vest. If only the rest of our hiking kit was that light! When it's catch or go hungry, fly selection becomes dominated by the patterns you have most confidence in. There is perhaps no wild lake in Brtain I would want to arrive at without flies like the Bibio and Daiwl Bach, while so far this summer the Sedgehog is an absolute must have when it's rough- and it was this the trout really wanted to batter most! The weather alternated between thick fog and gruesome downpour most of the trip, but in spite of this we got by. My catch and Frazer's fire building skills combined to make us a warm meal- how he got it going with mostly damp firewood is beyond me. And does fresh trout ever taste better than up a mountain when you're knackered and really hungry? We ate no monsters or really small fish, but a trio of decent ones made for a good supper. Sadly we never found it up to the utmost heights and the loftiest of these lakes, but with a decent slog we caught fish and lived to tell the tale. Otherwise, the rain continues to screw up a summer that was meant to be spent by sunny rivers and drains casting flies. Instead my efforts have been focussed on saltier waters lately, like Brixham Breakwater. I tried but failed to catch a wrasse on the fly on this occasion. A couple of small ones harried a bright streamer, but I couldn't hook one. However, I did connect with mackerel, small pollack and one or two other mini species- like this odd herring-like fish that took a bloodworm! Anyone know what this one is? There was no mistaking the mackerel though- as they charged through prey at the surface and sometimes came within a short cast of the wall I also made the most of one less drenched afternoon to spin for mullet on the Exe with Darren "Easybourne" Ketteringham. This looked a lost cause on first inspection of the mud-stained water, but the baited spinner is a method I have a lot of faith in: I'm grateful to catch anything the way conditions are at the minute, but rest assured I will soon be back out with the fly rod. The last fish I took on fly was about a week ago now, this strange what looks like a rudd/bream hybrid near Bridgwater. For those keen to see some fresh footage of coarse species on the fly, my DVD is now available too, which has action with carp, rudd, roach and pike. See for yourself at the usual site, which also has a trailer: www.dgfishing.co.uk
Tuesday, 3 July 2012
New experiences, whether humbling or hair raising, have been what this summer have been all about so far. One of the biggest challenges of my angling life so far was a survival trip to the Welsh Mountains. Armed with basic camping gear but little in the way of food, the idea was to survive on wild trout and our wits alone! More to come on this in due course as soon as I've leafed through some of co-survivor Frazer Mcbain's warts and all photos. Things were hardly less hair raising in Devon though, with the honour and trial which form the rite of passage to join Zyg Gregorek's "5 C's" at Angler's Paradise. Plunging off a rope bridge to swim around the lake's island was just the final straw. In the meeting beforehand, I fulfilled the other traditions of gritting my teeth as ice was put down my trousers and I wore this rather fetching wig of pondweed: All good, madcap fun and I can't wait to try some of the lakes here for a longer visit. The Sunday 5C's match saw the carp reluctant to feed- with this solitary orfe the winning fish- but what a beautiful fish: If ice on your nether regions was one humbling experience however, a more honourable one was signing books and spreading the word on "Flyfishing for Coarse Fish" at the British Fly Fair International (BFFI). The feedback has been terrific- and meeting like minds is a real confidence booster. The way I see it, I'm just one person- a cheerleader if you like. With so many enthusiastic anglers out there however, I think over the next few seasons we'll begin to realise the huge potential for fly rod sport with new species. One reason I love the BFFI is the sheer number of inspiring people you meet there- the tyers row was as awesome as ever. When trading yourself you try to put your "don't spend any profits!" head on, but to no avail as usual. Never mind, these kicking grasshoppers look well worth a cast for chub just as soon as summer arrives! I feel like my book has been just one part of a very exciting year however- and a truly excellent one for inspired reading. Joining me at the show as a fellow scribe for Merlin Unwin Books was Theo Pike, whose new tome "Trout in Dirty Places" is set to be the bible as far as urban fly fishing is concerned. From a Westcountry point of view it's also a great reference work- with Tiverton, Tavistock and Taunton all given chapters to whet the appetite of any Westcountry rod looking for exciting, often free fishing. I also must mention Chris Sandford's work. For those more familiar with Chris's passion for vintage tackle and fishing history, he also turns out beautiful and deadly flies. A host of current "must have" patterns are explained blow by blow in typically lucid style in his new booklet and DVD set "Mayflies & More": With little sign of summer on the way, a bit of reading and viewing material certainly doesn't hurt. Here's hoping it settles down soon.