Sunday, 27 September 2015

Autumn Fly Fishing

The last few weeks in September are a little bitter sweet, when time catches up with you and you realise that there are scarce days left to fly fish for trout. So ignoring the to do list, I snuck a rod in the car and hit an urban stream as I took my other half to work. The Sunday drivers had my fingers tapping the wheel, and it took a while to get there. It’s funny, because I rarely get stressed by traffic when driving to work, but when I’m fishing all the Sunday drivers seem to be on the road at once. Slow bastards.
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Still, the river looked lovely. With a warming sun, you could almost kid yourself it was still summer. But there wasn’t much hatching. Even so, I decided to be positive and start with a fairly big dry fly, a daddy long legs.

These small Devon streams are interesting places. The better pools get invaded by dogs on the more public areas, but by wading and scrambling to the tighter, less accessible bits you can access some nice water.

One thing past seasons have taught me on these small rivers is to never ignore the small “pockets” of water. A trout only needs inches of depth to make a little lair, or take up a feeding station. And where the water tumbles, they are bold. You don’t have to mess about with minuscule dry flies. You can use a hopper, sedge or in my case a daddy longlegs.

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The fish were slow to respond at first, although I had a brutal take and lost a half decent fish that came from a pothole just a foot deep and smashed the fly. It never did come back.

Pragmatism won in the end, as I attached a little goldbead shrimp on a dropper attached directly to the dry fly. One slashed and missed on the next pool, before I connected with the next bite. It charged around frenetically on the light gear (an 8ft four weight is about all I use for these small, craggy streams). Could the season end on a big high?

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It fought bigger than its weight in the end, but a half pound trout is always a welcome fish on a small stream, and their bold markings never fail to impress. Every one is different, but few fish have better autumn colours than a wild brown trout.

I caught a few trees besides trout as I scrambled to further bends and pools. Without much flow in the glides, the fish seemed to have abandoned these areas for the sanctuary of broken water or the deeper pools. Even so, it was silly just how many times the smaller trout made a sudden attack on a large dry fly. Both daddies and an Elk Hair Caddis worked as the trout came on in the afternoon. Strangely enough, I only saw two or three natural rises all day- but all were quite splashy takes, beneath cover.

It’s hard to pack away when you know you won’t be back until the spring. But it’s also good to miss the river. You don’t want to rise every fish, or know exactly how big the one that you lost might have been.

Plus, there is always the predator season coming up. Perch excite me as much as pike at the moment, whether on fly or dropshot tackle. This is the reason I have been developing some special drop shot flies for Turrall .

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These patterns have been working with both presentations, on some urban, less than perfectly clear waters too, which bodes well. You can find more news on the Turall Flies Facebook page- and do look out for the new website for further news, blogs and more.
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Monday, 21 September 2015

From the Thames to the Towpath

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Last week I had the rare pleasure of a rather different road trip with two extremely different fishing days and a fishing show thrown in for good measure. This is almost becoming a bit of an annual tradition, as I make the most of the long haul from my home in Devon to the PAC Convention.

First stop was the Thames near Pangborne and a long awaited meeting with Garrett Fallon and Steve Roberts, who runs a very different kind of guided fishing service on the Thames in the form of River Days.
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In an age when the soul of fishing seems to have been put in a headlock, punched a few times and then kicked in the nads for good measure, how refreshing to see a professional guide offering something completely different, with soul, style and substance (take a peek at: . Steve is a man who lives and breathes classic fishing; who injects new life into old methods and believes that vintage tackle belongs not in glass cases but on the water catching fish.

That said, I couldn’t resist the temptation of my new toy- the first rod I’ve bought in several seasons in the form of a lovely, stupidly light lure rod. And right from the off I caught perch on small jigs, whole tribes of the little buggers on the attack and the gnome style rod convincing me they were bigger.
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It was simply one of those days when you can’t help but feel good to be alive and forget about the bullshit that gets in the way. Three men in a boat, a glorious, rushing weirpool and plenty of perch and pike. Heck, the boozer we hit for lunch even had one of my favourite IPAs on tap, while the day was eventful throughout.
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I’m not going to spoil too much of the surprise, because it’ll make a great feature in the near future (and unfortunately I have to do inconvenient things like eat and pay the rent), but it was inspiring stuff. It was the first time, for example, that I have ever used split cane for pike; and although these old school rods aren’t exactly light, there is something beautiful about cane that goes well beyond nostalgia. It really heaves and throbs with a decent fish.

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Garrett had the best of the day, also on the cane, like me reveling in the sort of day’s fishing that is too often denied by a manic workload. But perhaps when we are at our busiest, we savour the fishing even more.
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We packed up late, enjoyed a tactical debriefing in the pub and I arrived in Kettering late for an early start at the Pike Angler’s Club Convention early the next day. Always a great event, but the bugger about being a one man show with a stand to keep and wares to flog is that you don’t really get to enjoy the talks and the rest. But these events are great all the same, if for no other reason for the strange family feel you get from meeting with other anglers. It’s always nice meeting folks who read your work, and I tend to learn as much from them as perhaps vice versa.

The General came with me too and as I said hello to fellow predator enthusiast Ian Petch, the tiny military bastard met his equally small match with Jed I Knight, another silly but entertaining miniature fishing star, for a face off.
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The curse of fishing writing is that it has shag all money- but perhaps that’s partly why folks like Barry McConnell, Paul Garner and Sam Edmonds are no prima donnas, but just bloody nice, down to earth guys who do what they do for love rather than fame or money- because let’s face it, celebrity anglers are lower than celebrity gardeners in the glamour stakes. And probably have even dirtier finger nails.

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Talking of dirty, my next assignment was on the somewhat-less-than-beautifully-clear Coventry Canal, with ace Idler’s Quest blogger Jeff Hatt and his pal Martin. For those who don’t know Jeff, he is one of the unsung heroes of fishing; a chap who tackles those less fashionable fishing mysteries such as the towpaths of the Midlands.

Zander fishing is always a rare treat for me, with the species being non existent in Devon and Somerset. But even a guy who fishes for them regularly can get foxed from time to time, and it was to be an interesting, if slightly grueling, day of fishing.

Jeff’s use of large single hook rigs and float tactics is interesting in itself, besides his observations on this fickle species. Recently, he has had some encouraging results in the wake of passing boats, which you suspect not only stir up the bait fish, but actually smash a few of these up on waters that teem with millions of them. But could we make contact on a Sunday with regular traffic?

I have only dabbled previously with the method, but I tried drop shotting besides tiny jigs in an attempt to catch some fish, while Jeff tried little skimmer sections. The perch were about all I could interest early on though. They weren’t especially big or clever, but once again the toy rod made them thump quite pleasantly.

Just two days ago Steve of “River Days” had given some sage advice- that if you’re frustrated when fishing, you should breathe deeper, turn around and appreciate your surroundings. I love this sentiment, but it takes a different kind of resonance on an urban canal, which can be curious for several of the wrong reasons.

Early on, for example, we came across a bloke and a woman with a voice like a chainsaw, camping on the bank. They had caught a few bream but also, we later discovered, left a trail of tinnies, shredded rizla packets and black bags to decorate the bank. Living the dream. Twats.

The boats themselves and their inhabitants are also an interesting community. Their gardening efforts, random signs and pets sit on these boats and the whole boat living model would appear to attract quite a strange crowd.

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Meanwhile though, we were pretty stumped on the zander front. Martin lost one on a worm, of all baits, while I narrowly missed a General sized zed that didn’t hook properly. Even Jeff couldn’t fathom their lack of interest, as we exchanged theories and hopped swims.

I had really been hoping to land a nice zander on one of my special prototype dropshot flies, which are in the process of being refined for Turrall. The murky water didn’t prevent me from earning a nice hit beneath a boat when I made the switch, but it was another perch rather than a zander.

I was creaking by close of play and none the wiser, admittedly, but learned quite a lot. Thank God for perch is all I’ll say.

Sunday, 13 September 2015

Autumn Fishing, from Stream to Sea

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The cool of the late summer brings a certain added intensity to the keen fisherman. Time is running out on warm weather fishing- and you suddenly realise you haven't fitted in anything like as much fishing time as you'd hoped. I had been trying to drag Simon Jeffries from Turrall out fishing for some time, but with both of us being relentlessly busy it hadn't quite happened. But with word from Chris Ogborne that there'd be a chance for both trout on the River Camel, and afternoon bass fishing near Rock we could resist no longer. Stuff the office, we we were headed west.

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The Camel looked absolutely sparkling on our arrival, improved only by a drop of homemade sloe gin. Watching Chris work the stream was an education in itself, working nymphs downstream or side casting a little dry fly into tight corners. The downstream nymphing was especially interesting- hardly casting, but simply feeding line into the current and changing the rod position to work a weighted fly under the bank or into the flow. And while I'd hate to spoil the surprise just yet, we also tested several of Chris's set of barbless river flies, soon to be made by Turrall. The idea is a set of simple but effective flies that will catch just about anywhere. The barbless hooks should really appeal to catch and release anglers, while these new patterns also have the nice, sparse dressings so often lacking in commercially made flies (below are some of the dry flies and emergers).
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There were odd insects hatching by late morning and the hits and misses began in earnest, but it was a test to say the least. I also captured some nice autumn footage of this pretty Cornish trout stream in the process- watch this space for a short film.

After a quick lunch, we were all set for the very different challenge of the open coast. We had both fly and lure tackle, but with a brisk wind picking up, the latter looked the safer bet. We hopped aboard local boat Optimus Prime (yes, we loved the name too).
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It was to be a thrilling afternoon, jumping between some epic looking rocky features, with crashing waves and the odd seal thrown in. Skipper Rodney Keatley made light of the wind as we threw soft lures on light gear. There was action throughout, but Simon had the first action, catching a cracking bass and a three pound ballan wrasse in the first hour.

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I don't do enough sea fishing, frankly. Feeling the hits, or seeing fish flashing after the lures in the clear waters off Rock was a magical experience. I caught two, releasing one but keeping the other. But it was Chris who really stole the show with a four pounder which kicked so hard I was convinced he had hooked a double. This is the joy of light tackle.
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Perhaps the only slight drawback was that fly fishing was only possible for a short while- and while Chris tried valiantly in the wind, we only really scratched the surface with his beautifully tied saltwater flies. The potential is massive however, and not just for bass. Mackerel, garfish and pollack like this cracker are all catchable and don't half thump on a fly rod:
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It was a long eventful day for the three of us, but a really enjoyable one- and I'm going to enjoy working more with Chris. For all the goings on at Turrall (our new website is now up and running, while you can also find news, flies and more on the Turrall Flies Facebook page). For anyone who fancies a spot of guided fly fishing in Cornwall, Chris can also be found at while you can book a day's boat fishing aboard Optimus Prime here:

The other big (and until now slightly cagey) news is of my next book. It's now written: two dozen stories and plenty of fresh work, representing some of the wilder detours and more unlikely stories I've covered in my writing. There'll be everything from urban fly fishing, to wild carp and strange monsters from Central Park to Torquay harbour. The title will be "Crooked Lines", but this is new work, not scrapings from the rather rushed content that is my regular blog! The artwork from Sheffield illustrator Lord Bunn (whose usual work is anything from city signs to murals) is also looking really cool. Here's a preview of the cover:
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