Thursday, 26 April 2012

Rain stops play?

DSC_0031-2 The downpour continues this week. A nightmare keeping the camera dry, but the fishing has been really interesting with both bait and fly. I've been itching to find the canals clear for some fly sport, but to no avail just yet. I might be a bit of a romantic, but there's little point casting flies into chocolate coloured water- and some old school bait tactics were just the trick with fellow canal fan Russ Hilton. Using casters on the Grand Western, we found some formidable bream. The old stager I caught wasn't the prettiest, but awesomely dark and ancient looking. Being a male fish bang on 6lbs, this one was probably at least 15 years old. DSC_0069 Russ did even better with the pole, taking a bream hat trick for a combined weight in excess of 15lbs! They fight more like tench than the usual sleepy old timers here too- just look at that long tail fin and you get an idea. One of the finest bream I've ever laid eyes on: DSC_0020-3 The rivers are looking muddy too, but I still got my fly fix at Bratton Water near Barnstaple. A pretty water as it happens. Lacking the vast turnover of the really busy fisheries, the rainbows and browns here get well acclimatised and really key in to natural food. We saw a few sedges and buzzers hatching- including a real beast of a fly that a trout swirled at and missed twice. Ian Nadin was first to catch and the fish he took was spooned to reveal loads of caddis. My dad also made it out and was soon into a fish while I was busy missing them: photo-8 Strange really, you go through the card and look for that killer fly- and in the end it's one of the simplest buzzers in your box that does the damage. I had my whole three fish bad all on buzzers fished across the breeze. Rocket powered fish they were too- and not bad with mustard sauce later on! photo-7 So, rain has foiled one or two fly fishing plans, but you can always spend a rainy day at the vice. My arsenal for the season is already looking really varied. First up, I've been tying loch style flies for a short break to Scotland coming up: PhotobucketPhotobucket Stacks of enquiries on "Flyfishing for Coarse Fish" -and I've been blown away by the enthusiasm, support and questions sent. One common theme is which flies make the best all rounders for coarse fish. If you like dry fly sport (and it's not pissing it down with rain) you really can't go wrong with a little black Klinkhamer or emerger. This one's a size 16, tied in the parachute style- very practical, easily spotted and easily stolen by any self respecting roach, rudd or chub: DSC_0088-1 Buzzers are another universal for so many fish species- but again, smaller is better for roach and rudd. This one's more trout scale at a size 10, destined for an afternoon on Chew and -touch wood!- some trout cruising the upper layers: DSC_0085-1 For those who don't tie, or want to leave the hassle with someone else, don't be afraid to give me a shout. I seem to be tying more and more pike and coarse fish flies, especially in the sizes and patterns the shops don't sell.

Friday, 20 April 2012

Red Letter Crucian Fishing

Photobucket There's a lot to love about crucian carp. You've all heard the cliches- the naff "bars of gold" descriptions, which is why I wanted to start this blog with a simple picture of one of these unique fish. They're cheeky, dainty mouthed creatures- or at least the little Devon runts I'm used to are. At Marsh Farm however, they take on a different character altogether. On arrival, conditions looked more suited to rounding up animals and building a sodding ark than spring crucian fishing. After about an hour without a sniff I was already steeling myself for a long, damp wait when the tip flashed under. The fight was funny- a circling, almost fluttering feeling through the blank. After seeing a rounded, yellow-gold fish roll, I knew it was a crucian- a big one! Photobucket Bloody hell, it looked big. Over three pounds? The scales settled on 3lbs 7oz exactly and I approached something approaching delirium. "It's like a crucian, only bigger!" were my exact words I think. With the pressure well and truly off, it was time to party. The weather was horrible, but by gently yet regularly feeding two lines, the bites slowly increased. Tench arrived too, like this thunderous Tinca just three ounces shy of six pounds. Photobucket Now, any of you who know me well will also know I am to the world of specimen hunting what Emile Heskey is to quality finishing. I find multiple rod fishing using up excessive amounts of time and bait is not only boring, but quite soulless. I could get used to this "ultra light" specimen fishing however, with one rod, fine presentation and careful feeding. For perch, roach, rudd and crucians you can't beat a bit of classic, light float fishing with baits like worm, caster, hemp and pellet. I love a long rod for this, a 15ft Hardy Marksman to be precise, along with a centre pin and fine pole float set up. It takes me back to my match fishing days in fact, and I always learn from anglers like my pal Russ Hilton, whose pole fishing skills seemed tailor made for the fishery. Any fool can pile in bait and sit on three rods- it takes real skill to coax a peg to life and build a mixed net. I'm not sure I've ever witnessed one angler slay a swim for so many tench as Russ on wednesday afternoon. Even with the fishery insisting we emptied keep nets at four hourly intervals, there were some impressive bags. Russell also added his own specimen crucians, taking two over three pounds like this cracker: Photobucket Some glowing crucian pics don't tell the whole story however. Like the 4am departure from Exeter, or sheltering for dear life under my father's green 1970's umbrella, a piece of kit older than I am. And then there are the fish. Crucians are wily things at the best of times- but old, cagey fish well accustomed to fishing pressure are even more so. A lot of them seemed to be "one hit wonders" -a quick dip or lift on the float, a missed strike and a long wait until the next knock. But I ramble; and I'm saving all the other twists and turns for an Angling Times special on this delightful species. One last twist in the tale could be yet to come however. When the rain finally abated, we noticed several good crucians roll on the surface- and one or two gulping. We also spotted dozens of hatching buzzers. Shucks like this littered the surface at one point. Photobucket Could this be a rare recipe for crucians on emerged style buzzers or dry flies? My instincts tell me it's possible- although perhaps more tenable on a clearer fishery. Perhaps next time! I also wanted to thank all regular followers and friends for their recent support. I've been absolutely blown away by the response to "Flyfishing for Coarse Fish"- with orders coming in from as far afield as Finland and Canada. I'm already running out of first edition copies in fact, so if any of you had your heart set on a signed copy do give me a shout (or an email at

Sunday, 8 April 2012

Bonus Time

Photobucket Fishing is always such a subjective pastime as far as results are concerned. Weights, for example, are such a relative and often poor measurement of enjoyment. Would you rather catch a stack of fish from a heavily stocked water, for example, or a hard earned net of more realistic specimens from somewhere fairly wild? Canals are a point in case- unpredictable, fascinating places where it still represents some kind of achievement to winkle out a nice bag of fish. Russ Hilton, another big fan of more traditional waters, would no doubt agree. I had intended to take him fly fishing, but we decided to drop onto the Grand Western Canal for the morning first. We tackled up with bonus fish in mind, with relatively cute tackle and baits like caster, worm and hemp on the menu. Russ decided to use the pole, I went for a light waggler outfit. Photobucket Sport was hardly hectic, but by feeding regular little helpings of bait several nice bonuses came our way. I usually feed a maggot line to keep me out of mischief, while letting a "bonus" line settle further out with regular doses of caster and chop. After some fun with small rudd down the middle, I was instantly rewarded casting a worm over my far bank line: Photobucket I'm wondering if we should have weighed this perch in fact- it hardly matters, but it was a cracking fish for a little canal. Surprisingly the bite was quite slow and shy. It seemed to be worm that the better fish wanted, although it was such a cold start the swim had to be coaxed to life carefully rather than bombarded with bait. Russ was next to strike with a tench, also to worm. Photobucket I wouldn't call it a red letter morning of fishing, but it was great fun and a typical slice of canal sport. The odd local chatterbox, twitchy rudd bites and some bugger's dog jumping in to finish off a swim that was already waning by midday. Bringing up the keepnet, I perhaps had a few more fish than I thought, not masses of bites but what was there was good quality. Photobucket After an all day breakfast and a strong coffee to wake us up again, the second half of the day was spent fly fishing on the Lowman. A good decision it seemed, because after a quick casting lesson for Russ, we spotted several wily little trout and even some hatching olives. It's always a great pleasure to introduce another angler to something you enjoy so much yourself, and in no time Russ was pitching a dry fly into little runs and pools. A Beacon Beige or Klinkhamer brought them up a treat for some lively takes on the top and a stack of lively little trout, along with missed bites and the odd bit of tree. Photobucket It took me right back to last season in fact, and my trip with urban fishing fanatic Theo Pike. The same spots were just as alive with trout and, lo and behold, the shopping trolley that features on my cover shot for Theo's new book is still exactly where it was before! With several entries on Devon waters, "Trout in Dirty Places" comes highly recommended for any of you looking for low cost (or no cost!) fly fishing. Photobucket

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Gudgeon Death Match

Photobucket If you want my definition of a true angler, it would be someone capable of seeing the beauty of small things. Like the corner of an old pond. Like the speckled blue and gold lines of that schoolboy's favourite, the gudgeon. Sometimes a flippant diversion becomes a bit of an obsession however. Fresh from his capture of a mega sized 3oz fish, Chris Lambert threw down the gauntlet and challenged me to a gudgeon match. Pole tackle on running line was our approach, with simple baits and nuggets of ground bait to draw the whiskery little buggers in. And what a splendid fish a gudgeon is from a sunny, undisturbed pond. Speckled scales of gold, silver and a lovely platinum blue. By the time I'd had my first, Chris was landing his third, an epic "gonk" of all of two and a half ounces. It was excellent fun fishing bite for bite, but our gudgeon king gradually kept them coming. How's this for a pretty bag of fish?: Photobucket I found only four gudgeon, and so had to concede defeat in the Gudgeon match. Nevertheless, I connected with some terrific rudd and roach as a consolation prize, a few samples nudging the pound stamp. Photobucket We've had a very up and down spring though, truth be told. I spent a picturesque but bitterly old night on Exeter Canal two days earlier in the hope of a carp. Photobucket My intended target never showed up, but along with a bream two tench fell to popped up tiger nut baits. Amazingly, the second tench bit at 5 in the morning, when my net got frosted to the bank! Photobucket You might think the surest way to catch a good bag would be to use a net. I met with Environment Agency staff to attend a netting survey on the Grand Western Canal. I always find these an interesting process. Photobucket Great to see a good head of fish- and just as importantly a good range of year classes, from one ounce roach and skimmers to pound plus fish, a stray eel, jack pike and a tench. Photobucket How can the EA determine year classes? Scale samples are the answer, along with a careful measuring and weighing process. Here's an interesting point- clove oil is used by staff as a natural anaesthetic to keep retained fish calm: Photobucket So, wintery weather or not, we really don't have it so bad at present. Devon is alive with pretty little still waters and canals. Hope you're out enjoying them too.