Thursday, 27 November 2014

Late Browns

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In the world of day ticket fishing it's always refreshing to find someone doing something a little different. Our native species quite often miss out when it comes to stocking policies, whether it comes to filling lakes with carp or rainbow trout. Hence it was a welcome return to Bratton Water Fishery, near Barnstaple, today where the focus is now firmly on brown trout. Indeed, the river season might be long gone, but you can still have a go for the triploid browns here, which are cracking fish that run from a couple of pounds to the low teens.

In the company of Neil Edgar, who took some snaps and film clip into the bargain, I began with a quick net dip. Brownies might be catchable on lures but at a fishery with such abundant invert life it seemed a shame not to start in more natural fashion. The margins were crammed with corixa (water boatmen, to the layman) and freshwater shrimp, so I began testing the edges with either a small corixa or size 16 Tan Shrimp (my own pattern originally tied for roach and now made by Turrall).

It had been such a cold, foggy morning I was slightly taken aback to feel the first little pluck after just ten minutes or so in. I lifted the rod and a small explosion took place! These browns fight every bit as hard as rainbows. It might have been me, but if anything I found them more willing to come to the surface and thrash.
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Brownies do have a few differences to rainbows, and as owner Mike was telling us, they can prove a little more challenging- not always such a bad thing to my mind, because fishing can be dull when it's too easy. These fish were well keyed into natural food and certainly responded well to small natural patterns. Great fun teasing these to life by counting down and employing a "picky" but not overly fast figure of eight retrieve.
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Another feature of browns is that they don't cruise in quite the same manner as rainbows. Sure, they will move areas to feed, but they are definitely more territorial. This is why it pays to move spots quite regularly and I found that quite often if I wasn't getting bites, a change of areas quickly led to a response.
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Ok, so these browns might not be wild river creatures, but it really shows that these fish are raised on site with TLC here. Powerfully built and beautifully marked, these are beasties to give the brownie addict sport right through the winter. They're more fussy in terms of raising and more expensive to farm due to their slower growth, but £30 for a 5 fish ticket is still pretty good value and I think I actually prefer them to rainbows.

Talking of rainbows, it was perhaps inevitable that we found one or two of them. I had switched to a Black Woolly Bugger, partly out of sheer curiosity, and after two further browns had launched themselves at it I hooked something that went on an absolutely searing run. I have long since avoided gossamer thin tippets for fisheries that hold big trout and on this occasion I was supremely glad to be on six pound fluorocarbon as I held on for dear life. A great way to round things off, this fish was absolutely stunning. Just the one rainbow then, but a fabulously coloured six pounder:
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A very enjoyable day at a great little fishery overall; this place comes highly recommended for anyone looking for a good days fly fishing in North Devon. More details here:

In other news, I'm also thrilled to see that "Canal Fishing: A Practical Guide" has made the shortlist for the Angling Times "Angling Book of the Year" award. The winner is decided by a vote, so you know what I'm going to ask you next: please, if you value what I write then be a sport and give me your vote in the following survey:
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I cannot put it any more blatantly than that. Please. Pretty please. I'll buy you a pint and let you fish my favourite swim with illegal bait. Nor do you need to vote on every single thing in the survey, just the bits that you're interested in. Do such accolades matter? Well, it would partly make up for the omission of "Flyfishing for Coarse Fish" in the same awards list of two years ago, left out on the grounds that the title contained the words "fly fishing" presumably.

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Cutting Loose

There are only so many hours in the week to cram everything in these days, but this last week or so I at least managed to cram a couple of fun outings in. The bigger plans and more critical things are all well and good, but the most enjoyable trips are often those cheeky sessions, squeezed in when you probably should be doing something else. Like a morning on the canal, just because it's not too far away and you have a loaf of bread and fancy a couple of hours.
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I roped my dad into it this time, as we hit the Tivvy canal earlyish for a crack at some bread punch fishing not far from Tidcombe Bridge. It is here the Tiverton Christmas match usually takes place, although I'm still wondering if I'll make that particular date. If our quick session was anything to go by, and temperatures stay mild though I bet it'll be a belter.
On this occasion we each kicked things off with a ball of finely liquidised bread a little smaller than a golf ball, cupped in for accuracy. Expecting small roach and bits I was on a Preston Chianti float taking just five or so strung out number 10 Stotz and an 18 hook.
I had a little chuckle at my old man's idea of a "small" hookbait, which made a size 12 look small. However, his slightly heavy handed start was almost instantly rewarded with a nice bream of 2-3 pounds.

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In the next 10 minutes I added one of my own, before claiming six roach in as many bites, making it the sort of start to a session that a match angler dreams about. I tend to save this sort of outrageous fortune for those lazy trips when I didn't even have the foresight to bet a quid on the outcome. Never mind though, it was bloody good fun. The bites just kept coming and there was little discernible slowdown in the whole of our two hours and a bit of fishing. We caught roach after roach, along with the odd skimmer, for a very enjoyable session. About the only step needed to keep bites coming was the introduction of a small ball of bread after the hour mark. I experimented with bigger pieces of punch, but it seemed to make little difference- stacks of roach, with perhaps eight out of ten in the 1oz or less class. This also bodes well for the future of the canal. Suffice to say, a really tidy net of fish was shared and we were still back in time for lunch and the avoidance of "where the hell are they?" style conversations from the womenfolk.
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I get the feeling the Christmas contest could be a belter this year with double figures required to take the top spot. Winning is a tall order though, because there are many useful local anglers who are well versed in pole and punch fishing on the cut. It's always a fun day though, and I might just have to fish it and see!

Besides wasting a Saturday morning and a perfectly good loaf of bread in one swoop, another short, sneaky session was also enjoyed with pike on the fly in the company of Pete Wilkins. The idea would have seemed laughable that morning as gales battered my windows. But by two o'clock things had died right off and we hopped off to the cut. Local knowledge really can get you out of jail when the weather is horrible, because you can head for those sections which haven't been totally flooded or churned up by excess rain. Such sections on most canals tend to be those higher up points, rather than the parts where rain water messes everything up.
Perhaps I went too big and ambitious on this occasion because my extra large pike fly, which I fancied for a bigger pike, was flatly ignored while Pete Wilkins cleaned up with three fish on a rather smaller yellow and red pattern. You could tell it was his day from the off, when within three seconds of his very first cast a jack lashed out! Well fished that man:
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These lazy, leisurely sessions are the total opposite to the pressure and pitfalls of trying to catch for the camera. There's probably a very good reason you don't see too many TV angling shows that feature zander, given their enigmatic, sometimes frustratingly elusive nature. But my task for the Sky Sports crew was to winkle some of these predators out of the Birmingham and Fazeley Canal.

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Monday, 10 November 2014

First Casts and Final Pages

Can you remember the first fishing experience you ever had? Did you start young, or come to the sport later by accident I wonder? Was it a eureka moment or did it take more patience to convert you?
The first memory I have of anything in my life, full stop, is of a fishing trip. Or more accurately, sitting in the back seat of my Dad's silver car and crunching up mints, the pieces dissolving smaller as the river got nearer. Why this moment I'm not sure. For some reason I remember putting the fish back (my favourite part of the trip as a small boy), better than actually catching them in these early trips.
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But if my own first casts are all but lost in time, the kids who I take fishing these days will have a better record. As can be seen with young Luke and Zack (5 and 7), who I took to South View Farm with their dad for a first ever try at fishing (above). I love this picture. Just look at that expert, double handed grip by Luke, and the look of fierce concentration glued to both faces. Perhaps true anglers are born, not made?
Easily said, but what is the best age to start a child fishing? This is not always an easy one. Fly or sea fishing take greater levels of coordination and safety awareness, and tend to suit older kids of ten or more best I think. But take the simplicity of a pole on a small lake and you have a light and largely tangle proof way to have some fun.
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Setting the lads up with a top 3 pole kit each, it didn't take long to start learning and catch some fish, starting with a cute perch (above) for Luke. "It's called fishing, not catching" is wisdom you'll often hear from old heads. But when you're very young the catching part of the deal is vital. It gives you that taste of success- and after even a small early fish you'll find even the biggest fidget finds the patience to wait for that feeling again.
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Luke was next, with a perfect and not-so-little gudgeon. Is there a more appropriate small boy's fish? And from these humble beginnings we began to refine things; like striking before your float has travelled half way across the pond, and bringing the fish in steadily and gently rather than giving it a flying lesson.

A few things begin to dawn on me the more I take kids for fishing lessons in Devon. Firstly, that all children are naturally interested in water and fish. We talk as if it's a battle to get kids fishing, but actually you just have to get them out on the bank. I have yet to meet a boy or girl who didn't ask loads of questions or didn't want to inspect, hold or release their first fish. The other notable thing is how meticulously they will count and record what they catch. Kids love to compete with each other and to loudly announce "that's ten now!" or "That one was the biggest wasn't it?"

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Sometimes they have a case too. Because on this trip Luke seemed to catch the most fish, but Zack took the biggest between them with one or two really nice roach (above). You can tell kids they're "about the same" in the catching stakes and they don't believe you; you can also tell them the size doesn't matter. And it doesn't, until younger brother catches a bigger one.
Here's a news flash: kids want to go fishing. There might be more distractions these days, but they are no different to kids ten or thirty or a hundred years ago; curious and fun-loving if you can only give them your time. Or maybe it's the other way round and they give us their time, because it's one of the most fun things you'll do in a season and worth every minute.

By the close of play we had ticked just about every box for a first fishing session, apart from the runaway monster. Matt, the two boys' dad, nearly provided this in dramatic style as he tried the same margin the boys had been fishing and spent a full ten minutes playing a ghost carp that looked eight pounds or so. Eventually, after we had formed a little rogues gallery of spectators, the hook came out sadly. But perhaps it doesn't hurt to have something to aim for next time? I get the feeling Matt will now feel like he has unfinished business with carp.

In other news, there is little fishing to report just of late, largely because "Tangles With Pike" has been in production at the expense of everything else. In fact, without the expertise and assistance of my designer Garrett Fallon I would most likely have lost the plot. Anyhow, suffice to say that on cold days so far, the closes to fishing I've got has been a spot of fly tying.
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Perch are always popular, not to mention fun to tie. The above is a future addition in my current "Predator Fly of the Month" series for Pike and Predators magazine.
Such things will have to suffice for now, because most of my recent fishing has been done in the recesses of my memory. It is only when I look back at all the many pictures, articles and notes that I realise just how much work has gone into my stories- and by "work" I mean perhaps a minority of actual fishing time. To any of my friends who wonder what I'm doing buggering around with a tripod, tutting to myself and switching lenses while you're happily fishing, perhaps the new book will be enlightening.
Not long now until "Tangles with Pike" will be ready to order at, but in the meantime, here are four of my favourite pike fishing "selfies" of all time, achieved using a tripod, a timer switch and usually several attempts separated by bad language. I tell you what, if any blog readers can successfully name all four of these waters (answers in the comments box please) I will put your names in a hat and the first out will win a copy of "Tangles with Pike". Over to you:

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Here's a hint: They're all in south west England