It’s a curious phenomenon that brutal storms and weather patterns are given names these days. We’ve had Desmond, Eva and there might even be a Nigel on the way. But I’ve had some other, less pleasant words lately for the type of high winds that tangle lines and send the lids of your bait tubs sailing off like kites. None of my recent trips have been easy. I enjoyed (or endured?) a mad, wild and windy Christmas match with Tiverton Angling Club. Amazingly, there was a fifty strong turn out on a day of 40mph gusts and rain.
So how did I do? The far bank line was written off for most of the match, as fishing any great distance with the pole felt lethal. So I started by fishing bread punch down the middle, a method that works so well on our fairly clear Westcountry canals. But I also fed a couple of chopped worm lines as backup.
Keeping the bait still was a huge problem. Small roach still bit avidly at the start, but it was a battle to tempt the fussier, better fish. Perhaps my keenest memory is of looking across at the bloke in the next peg, the wind howling and both of us just shaking our heads and laughing at each other, as if to say “yes, this is ridiculous and we must be a bunch of twats.” The onslaught of wind got even stronger, if anything. At one point I swung in a one ounce roach that suddenly accelerated towards my head at about 50mph.
But there was also just a minute of chilling drama. I’d switched to a heavier rig and a larger piece of bread when the float dipped, the elastic plunged and I could feel a good bream nodding away on the bottom of the canal. If anything, perhaps I was too eager to try and net it early. Whatever the truth, it was just coming up to the net when something went ping, the rig flew up in the air and I was left with a tangle and that sinking feeling.
That was about the only chance of glory I really got, although the chopped worm lines produced some late bites and a nice hybrid. Enough to take me over the pound mark for a hard fought 520g. Never mind, it was a great event and excellent to see all the local angling characters out in force. Only five anglers managed above 5lbs, with Ali Robinson the winner with 3.560 kg a very good net, given the wretched conditions.
But I had happier returns at one or two of my perch spots elsewhere. After fishing a match, it’s great to be able to choose your spot and fish exactly how you please. You’d wait too long between bites, for example, fishing something like a whole prawn. But I’ve been trying these over chopped worm, both in obvious perchy bits of cover, but also straight down the middle of typical canals and drains. The best of these two went 2-11.
It was also perch I was hoping for with a visit from my excellent friend David West-Beale, who has been developing a real habit of catching big perch on the fly. His tactics are fascinating, with rods as light as a three weight used to tame fish to over three pounds from his own local canal (as you can read on his splendid recent blog post "Fly Fishing, Perch and Eternal Youth")
I’m sure he found our waters clearer for one thing. But we had some very bright conditions at first, as we had a quick go at the river. I’ve been really enjoying drop shotting recently, with a real toy rod, a 7ft wand that casts 2-12g. Not with soft baits though, but flies. You can use all sorts of small streamers and trout lures, but I’ve developed my own alongside Turrall Flies using drop shot hooks and a blend of traditional and new materials.
It was mucky work, among all the winter wreckage, but I like a crisp little set up to test little slacks and holes, many of them right by the bank. Bites were hard earned, but after a missed pull, I managed to wangle a nice hand-sized perch from the reeds.
With clarity not ideal on running water though, I fancied we’d do better on a more sheltered stretch of canal. A bright sun really seemed to put the fish off however. We tried gamely for the perch, but they just wouldn’t budge. David searched meticulously with his light streamer set up, with some fascinating tactics (I’m going to feature him very soon in the fly fishing press). But on this occasion, even the little jack pike we spotted were tentative.
As the afternoon wore on, we eventually had to have a rethink and both tackled up for pike. We tried various fly patterns, but in the end success was more about the light. As soon as the afternoon grew a bit darker and dirtier, the pike appeared. And as the wind dropped a little, we could watch them attackers materialise.
We tangled with the jacks for a while, but really fancied there had to be a bigger one somewhere. It’s all relative I guess, and on many of the small drains and canals I fish a 6-pounder is a good one and a double is a specimen. But I’m totally addicted to sight fishing these little places.
My favourite pike fly at the moment is a dirty big pink thing with lots of flash. Not exactly natural, but it really draws fish. I’m not sure what Dave thought of the fly he described as the Gay Assassin. But the pike loved it, or perhaps hated it enough to want to shred it to bits?
The best of the day came from the central channel and there was no half-arsed follow, no warning, but just a big angry lunge. There was a tension and a thump, thump, thump as if to say “you and that pink thing can f*** off.”It proved to be a very decent small water pike, in the 8-10lb bracket.
I had to walk her down the bank a little, because being me, I’d snuck into quite an overgrown spot. If there’s one tip I can offer anyone who wants to catch more pike from small waters, it’s to get stuck in and fish the hairy bits. The majority anglers will just stop at the open bits, the cutaways and worn swims. It’s also a case of judgment because you have to be able to land the fish cleanly. A mate and a long-handled net often come in handy.
We had a few others too, including a few that wouldn't look out of place held by The General. But it was all good fun and in spite of the tough perch fishing, there were some real lessons and surprises. Now that the book is done and dusted I'm really looking forward to writing more features and yes, a little more method to follow the madness.
I'll be penning a special feature on fly fishing for perch very shortly for Fly Fishing & Fly Tying Magazine, while the new issue has my piece on fishing for winter brown trout in Devon. There's also a short film on the subject on YouTube: Winter Fly Fishing at Bratton Water.
Otherwise, Crooked Lines has been well received so far and is shifting well! You can read Jeff Hatt's verdict HERE for another angle on the book too. Like me, he has been an avid blogger in angling for a long time and shares many of my own typical joys and woes. If my own blog has been well received for a while(typically 4,000 reads per month currently), Jeff's has topped the 10-12,000 figure at times! With many magazines struggling to get these figures, it does make you wonder and I think he should definitely make an Idler's Quest book... I've already been twisting his arm anyway. Of course, books also put bread on the table and give writers the backup they need to continue, whereas blogs like this one are enjoyable but ultimately hard to sustain at no cost.
A huge thanks to all of you who have already ordered the new book so far. Keep an eye on www.dgfishing.co.uk for some exclusive sample pieces and also the chance to pick up both the new book plus Tangles with Pike for just £20. We're down to the last 300-400 copies or so of the pike book, so a second print run looks likely. Snap up a first edition while you can, because the value is only going to go up!