Saturday, 29 June 2013

Flies on the Towpath

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Whenever the unthinkable happens and it actually looks like summer at this point in the year, I start to crave clear water and canal fishing. It's remarkable how quickly our beautiful rural cuts are dismissed as "unfishable" in the Westcountry. Sure, you might struggle with a pole rig. But that rich, abundant weed is absolutely teeming with life- and the rudd, my absolute summer favourite on the canals, will eat both the green stuff as well as the things hiding in it, not to mention the bug life hatching in and around the towpath. A dry or slow sinking fly can be presented in the slightest gap in the undergrowth.
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On the Taunton to Bridgwater Canal, I must have walked six miles or so with Russ Hilton, who opted for free-lined bread in the weedy spots while I cast flies. I cannot stress enough how important it is to be mobile if you want to find the interesting spots and better fish here. A 10ft 3/4 weight rod, long handled net and fly vest are all I need to fish (and in fact the heaviest part by a mile is my Nikon camera plus lenses!).

It was Russ who made the quicker start using bread- although I missed two really positive takes from chub where I watched the line pull away before striking my Spider Sedge right out of their mouths. I really should learn to wait another split second! Not to worry though, because the beauty of this fishing is that there's always another chance a few yards on- and I was soon adding roach to the cute rudd I was getting on my wet flies:
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Incidentally, when it comes to fly choice I still rely heavily on either my "Rudd Bugs" (basically soft hackled flies with buggy, loose dubbed bodies that sink really slowly) or the good old Black and Peacock. To cater for different conditions I tend to tie the favourites three ways: totally unweighted, with a glass bead or with a tiny gold bead. If there's a steady breeze or tow on the water, beaded flies offer better control. The tip of using lighter beads made of glass and other materials is something I borrowed from my friend urban fly angler Theo Pike. These sink slower than brass or tungsten, but still cut through surface movement well. After all, canals are changeable. The fish, especially roach, cannot always be persuaded to nick the fly in the top few inches and finding a steady tow is not uncommon at all. At other periods of the day, a small buzzer or bloodworm also worked for the roach.
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Perhaps the biggest surprise of the day was the capture of a silver bream (above) of around 6oz. These take a fly well, but are usually much smaller. It took a gold beaded spider, fairly well sunk down. It was a great day for visual fishing in fact. Winds were gentle and visibility improved greatly once the sun came out. Fish like rudd turn the usual "fish early and late" logic on its' head in fact; a sunny afternoon is an excellent time both to spot and tempt them on flies.
It was a day of top viewing pleasure in fact. We saw everything from tench and bream to a few pike. One of these jacks stole a rudd directly from Russ as he played it and we watched the thing sit there with jaws working and a tail sticking out of its' mouth! He also has this happy knack of catching a fish I've just missed. I'd had my eye on a vividly coloured golden rudd but managed to miss the take when it sucked my fly in. About two minutes later the swine had it on a piece of bread. Bah! (To give Russ his dues, he also had the best rudd of the day at around a pound and a quarter- which I'm sure you'll see soon on his "Tales From the Towpath" blog).
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When it got too hot to play we also enjoyed the shade of one of the "pill boxes" dotted around. These were built as air raid shelters during WW2 I believe. Not exactly sure why the Luftwaffe would want to bomb the canal, but there you go. Our own raids continued in the sun, We both had plenty of takes and missed some other really chunky fish. For anyone keen to sample a day on the fly in these beautiful locations, I can offer guided days and half days which include a set of "canal special" flies to take home with you. Can't say fairer than that! I've yet to have a guest who didn't finish with several quality roach and rudd.

Monday, 24 June 2013

Back at the BFFI

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Certain events in the year, even those where you don't wet a line, get you really enthused to try new ideas and make new connections. The BFFI (British Fly Fair International) is one of them. I took my stall of books, flies, prints and the rest for the weekend and had a blast. You find yourself talking to a midlander about chub on the fly one minute, Italian and Icelandic fly fishers the next. The only trouble is the sheer range of fly tying products that always tend to put a dent in my profit margin!
As a fly tyer, you couldn't ask for a more vast selection. It's a bit like being a chef browsing the world's greatest food market. The basket quickly fills, but here were a few things on my list:
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First up, I'm seriously beefing up my predator flies at the minute. "Foxy Tails" make some fantastically coloured materials that add serious presence to any pattern. I'm going to have some fun with these samples. Almost as much fun as my cat Harry, who is currently kicking seven shades out of an off cut of the same material that Jo, my other half, brought back for him.
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Next up we have Deer Creek. I'd given Bristol tyer John Horsfall a lift to the show and was soon mesmerised by their stall. They make eyes to die for- loved by jerk bait makers as well as tyers. I'm also keen to play with their articulated pike fly mounts- which I'm going to make some big, hinged beasties out of. The barred zonker strips (above) look great too- can see the mackerel colour working wonders for bass flies.
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Still on the predator front, I'm also a fan of Funky Flytying. There's been some rivalry with the Deer Creek boys, but the way I see it there's room for everyone. I use their dumbell heads for lots of my pike and zander flies, while I also love their big, glitzy tinsels- a single strand of "Lateral Scale" tinsel makes a cracking "lateral line" on a big fly for a beautiful extra dose of flash.
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When it comes to the smaller stuff, the options are even more infinitely varied. I love stripped peacock bodies on so many of my flies. How do I get a perfect result? I cheat! It's a fiddly job at the best of times- and the "Polish Quills" sold by Fly Tek are so much easier. A beautiful material and a real time saver.

To be honest, it's a good job I have a stall to man at this event. Otherwise I'd need a trolley, not a basket! It's nice to make some impulse buys too, and just have a good rummage for materials that might make your next killer fly. Cookshill Fly Tying are superb for the traditional stuff- top quality for a lot of the hackles I use on my spiders especially and loads of the flies that feature in "Flyfishing for Coarse Fish".
There are many stalls to name however- and I got some seriously good value bargains through having a good rummage. Bargain of the show had to be this beautifully marked section of hen- for the princely sum of 80p this will make one hell of a lot of soft hackled flies:
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To my shame, I've yet to get back on the rivers for coarse fish just yet. I must get after the chub again soon. Give me a sunny afternoon, a big dry fly and I'll be a happy man. Do keep me posted with your own catches at "Fly For Coarse" ( too- I'm betting we see some cracking dace and chub now it's open season for these fish. I've also written a special article on fly fishing for Dace for next months "Fly Fishing and Fly Tying" magazine.
My own bestsellers for this years show though, were the new soft fish we have in stock. Joining the pike, perch and trout we now have some terrific looking char, salmon and grayling. I'll post some pictures as soon as I manage to add them to the site at

Sunday, 16 June 2013

Sleepless in Paradise

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It's June the 16th. Which must be why it's raining relentlessly. And I didn't even go to the river. Instead I've been back to Anglers Paradise for a long overdue return. Two nights of fishing in the excellent company of Chris Lambert have yielded everything summer fishing should be about: screaming runs, some genuine surprises and lily infested swims discussed over glass or two of cider. I just love the main lake here. The next bite could be anything- like this terrific 4.12lb golden tench I took on maggots yesterday.
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My approach to fishing these lakes is simple at the moment. I tackle up one rod with a large bait for big fish, while the other line is aimed solely at earning bites. I have a lot of faith in feeder tactics and dead maggots at present. For the price of four pints, you get one heck of a lot of bait. Preparation is easy- I riddle the maggots and replace the dust with a potent ground bait. Any strong smelling stuff is ideal, and I'm currently getting excellent results with the Bait Factory mixes I'm testing.
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I feed my swim much like a match angler, continually adding small amounts and regularly recasting a small method feeder crammed with sticky, matching ground bait. The beauty of a decent bunch of maggots is that you'll catch fish of all sizes- and with persistent feeding, the bigger fish tend to show later as you build the swim. On my previous night session, maggots accounted for this fine 19lb linear mirror:
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I must admit, I never sleep brilliantly when night fishing. You get into a kind of "half-sleep" mode of relaxed readiness, and I usually spend the following afternoon knackered. Especially when big fish make raids in the wee silly hours as they have been lately. Chris had a sensationally long cat fish last time out (do check out his "Fish Tales" blog for a fun read and ramblings on Everton FC). Last night was my turn to hook one- and spend the twenty minutes heaving, holding on and cursing. Strangely, it hadn't gone for a meaty bait this time but picked up a Fennel and Hemp boilie (vegetarian catfish?!!). The reel sounded like it was in pain in the pitch black. Bats were circling the rod as drag strained. Even with a pretty robust carp set up, these fish try and almost succeed in pulling your arms out of their sockets. It was pretty intense, but Chris was cool as you like in scooping her out. Wow!
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While I wouldn't describe cats as beautiful, they're certainly beautifully designed for their job as nocturnal killing and scavenging machines. After the most dirtiest, most gut wrenching battle this cat of 32.12 was surprisingly well behaved on the mat. Slimy, but very docile. Nor was the cat our last surprise as Chris landed a grass carp at dawn.
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There really is a terrific variety of sport at the complex, whether it's pleasure or specimen fishing. The trout lake is also very interesting and I'm hoping to provide future visitors with tuition on the fly.
In other news, I'm also raring to go for the BFFI (British Fly Fair International) next weekend. I hope to catch one or two of you there for the event, which I always find fantastic for finding new materials, ideas and like minded nutters. Plenty of homework before then however, tying up flies. For any of you keen to get your hands on coarse fish patterns, do remember I can offer a bespoke service. Here's a box of traditional spiders tied specially for a customer in the USA:
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Thursday, 6 June 2013

Highlands and Lows

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Decidedly mixed feelings crowd my head as I sit and type this, slightly cranky from a long drive. Enthralled on the one hand from some beautiful and unexpected fishing in Scotland; gutted on the other with a car repair bill that nearly made me faint. What looked like an affordable holiday quickly got expensive when my car blew a head gasket on the trip up. Just before Stoke, the other half commented that the engine sounded funny- a bit like there were a gang of Chileans under the bonnet playing pan pipes. Five minutes later and I was looking at a horrible mixture of steam and oil. A total mess; it looked someone had massacred Thomas the Tank Engine. I guess we do use and abuse our fishing vehicles.
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We might have abandoned our trip there and then, but I thought sod it. Cramming supplies into a rental car, we were on the road again, getting to Fort William decidedly late. The right decision, because when your head isn't in a good place there's nowhere better for the soul than the Highlands. Loch Morar is so beautiful it makes you gasp, even on a return visit.
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It was also great to see Loch Superintendent Viv de Fresnes again, who was there with a smile and a cup of coffee, ready to take on Morar. Fishing was challenging at times, but Viv took me to some fabulous looking areas of the lake. Perhaps the biggest surprise is that on two visits I've never seen another fly fisherman on the Loch.
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Viv's approach is classic, pulling meaty traditional flies through a rolling wave to stir up aggressive wild brown trout. Well, that was the plan- sometimes the weather was just too still and sunny. I like a guide who gives it to you straight- and Viv is not one of those who'll waste your time and money when conditions are all wrong. Instead, we held fire and returned for better periods when a proper breeze was kicking up.
 photo DSC_0171-1_zps0c7da613.jpgEven when the fishing was tough, the crack was great. Viv was as keen as I was to raise a monster "troot", and without his relentless optimism and knowledge of Morar I would have been on a hiding to nothing. The tactics were smart and varied too- which I'll detail at greater length in an article, along with more on the fascinating character of this magical place. Each time the line went solid I was enthralled by the savage power of these trout, with even the half pounders throwing severe temper tantrums on a seven weight. (Grab a look at for more info on great value guided fishing).
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The other real bonus in Scotland is the huge variety of hill lochs. I tackle these with a float tube where possible. Lazy fishing it is not. The walk is often like hell, the fishing like heaven. Jo and I battled the hillside carrying supplies to find a good sized upland lake totally new to me. She fished from the shore, while I took the tube.
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Puffing the bloody tube with air is pretty character building after a steep hike, but once you're set up it affords you endless freedom to hit areas that simply never see a fly line. I had a dozen splendidly marked fish to around the pound mark. Last year I battered them on the Sedgehog- a fly I've been slightly fixated with ever since my pal from the Shetlands, artist Paul Bloomer sent me a little bundle of them. This time, they seemed to pick of the other flies in the team more often (although I always feel the "wake" of the hog helps draw fish to your other flies). The "Heathen" is my latest experiment. To all extents and purposes it's like a traditional hackled wet fly crossed with (gulp!) a blob. The trout loved it:
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When you're in the middle of a wild lake, the wind on your face and hits coming thick and fast, it's impossible not to feel like the world is a better place, hefty vehicle bill or not. I absolutely love it here.
 photo IMG_0152_zps1a6558ac.jpgAnd the fun wasn't quite over on the way back either. We stopped in Glasgow, of all places, to have a cast on the local canal. Beguilingly pretty it was too, and contrary to the cliches, all the locals we met were incredibly friendly. The fishing wasn't easy, but there were some cracking fish showing. In the space of an afternoon session we saw pike, roach and even a carp. It was the roach that really excited me. Some of them looked huge.
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I started with the fly rod, but with a combination of heavy tow and a fierce cross wind I found a convincing presentation impossible. Tempting them on bread flake under a waggler didn't seem much easier- some fat roach taking a look but proving totally suspicious in the clear water. I finally managed a cracker of a pound and a quarter, but the rest spooked and with the tow picking up I felt like I'd have been better off with a stick float and centre pin. Plan C was a quiver tip. I kept feeding mashed bread and, relieved to see some seriously large roach still milling about, stuck with a big piece of flake. My set up was rather unusual to say the least- but it worked! In fact I think I may have stumbled upon something really useful, largely by the accident of only having limited tackle at my disposal. More on this at some other juncture- necessity is indeed the mother of invention!

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The best of the bag (above) was ridiculously broad. It looked like it had swallowed that Glasgow delicacy, a battered Mars bar. This was a truly giant canal roach, and a bit like my car repair bill, darned near priceless!