Saturday, 19 December 2015

Pike, Poles and Post

Hello, humbug, bloody hell and that. It's fifteen degrees and pissing it down here in Exeter, yet it's only days till Christmas. It has been an exciting but busy time for me. I've been making an absolute nuisance of myself in the local Post Office, with piles of books that make queues form and customers curse. Thanks to all of you who've bought Crooked Lines. Many of you will have to wait till Christmas itself to read it, of course! Still enough time to order for the big day, if you're quick! Do enjoy it and let me know what you think.
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Balancing books, a day job and other bits can be challenging, but I also managed to grab a rare full day off in the week to head north for a spot of pike fishing on the Somerset Levels. The idea was to have a roam a couple of rivers and drains in the morning, before meeting up with Marcin Kwasniewski, a very useful lure fisherman with a surname that I'd imagine the Somerset locals have all sorts of fun with. A really good bloke anyway, who's also bailiff in Somerset, protecting his local waters from poaching.

Torrential rain had put the dampness on things a bit. You all know my mania for fly fishing, but I'm also pragmatic when it comes to pike fishing methods and do spend some time bait fishing each season. So I packed a couple of rods, some sardines and mackerel.

I tend to catch much greater numbers of pike on lures and flies than I do on dead baits, but in muddy water you sometimes need all the help you can get. I started on the West Sedgemoor Drain, which appropriately rhymes with rain. Conditions felt reasonable as I got there as it was barely light. I put a few yards between myself and the access point, before casting two dead baits out at intervals, spending little more than 20 minutes in each spot. It's a method that has served me well in the past, but today I simply could not buy a bite. I tried everything, but somehow it didn't look right. These little drains do switch on and off. Sometimes they get badly poached, or suffer from pollution or severe weather patterns. I guess that's both the joy and the gamble of fishing the Levels. Last years best fishing spots are today's duds, while elsewhere the reverse is true.

So off I went, taking one look at an even higher river, before trying another drain. This time I found better water clarity- not perfect, but better. There were immediately plenty of smaller fish showing. A really good, and cheap, predator fishing tip I can share from a few recent sessions is to take some left over bread with you. Or just buy a cheap white loaf. If you fish any water with a good head of silver fish, this can be a huge help to draw predators. You can easily mix it into ground bait on the bank too. Just pop three or four slices of bread in your landing net head and dunk into the margins. You can then just mash it up in your hands.
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I quite often bait a couple of spots with a ball or two. I'll then fish elsewhere for a bit, but return after and hour or more and cast close to the feed. It works staggeringly well to draw in the tiddlers- and many of our Westcountry drains and canals have lots of small roach, skimmers and also invasive sun bleak aka "motherless minnows" in Somerset. If you can get these swarming, it creates a chain reaction. I know it's a fishing tip my good friend and fellow blogger Russ Hilton also swears by and besides groundbaiting for pike, we've also used this trick to catch big perch.

Another thing I've been doing for the past few seasons is trying single hook rigs for pike. Could these be a more pike friendly, long term alternative to treble hooks? I definitely think so. I feel that too many pike anglers don't really give single hooks a proper chance. We lose a fish or two and abruptly decide it's not for us. But if you persevere, they really do work well- or at least, I haven't noticed a big increase in fish not getting hooked or coming off.

Two things you must do, however, with single hook rigs. First, do use a large, wide gape hook (I tend to use Cat Master hooks in sizes 1 to 2/0). You must also adjust your baits a little. Chunks of lamprey or mackerel will work, but avoid big, tough baits that impair the strike. In fact, my favourite offering is sardine, which comes off easily with a firm strike, to let the hook penetrate. I also hair rig the baits on my single hook pike rigs, just to avoid losing them on the cast.

I was struggling at first but the clearer water in the second spot made me more confident. An hour in without a bite, I dropped straight onto my bread spot. Through my polarising glasses I could see little shapes turning and there was still a little white of the mashed bread on the bottom. I tossed a sardine just to the side of this and as I watched the bait flutter to the bottom, I immediately saw a decent fish move in and scoff the bait. It went nuts, but the single hook found its mark and I netted a reasonable pike without too much fuss.
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What I really like about the large single hook is how perfectly it hooks fish, right in the side of the jaw- no getting fouled up with gills like small trebles. Removing the hooks from pike is so much easier with just that one single too.
The fish looked like it should go eight or so pounds with any kind of girth, but still very welcome at a lean six or so I would guess.
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I tried a few different tricks on the day. Another was a small drifted roach, a method those of you who've read Tangles With Pike will know I also favour well. But it was a simple, static presentation that worked for two further jacks, both on a sardine and a single hook rig. There's a feature in it at some point, but for now suffice to say that single hooks are working well for me.

Just as the drizzle picked up, it was time for me to shift again, and drive a few miles further to meet Marcin out on the Levels. I'm going to be writing a little feature on his approach to lure fishing and life, for early 2016. We only had a couple of hours proper light, but I got some great shots and some really interesting lure fishing tips too. He catches a lot currently on little SpinMad lures- ingenious little hybrid lures with a tremendous kick and vibration. A little taste below, but watch this space for the full story.
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Anyway, I wish all of my blog readers a great Christmas and hope you get some fishing in. If you've yet to treat yourself or a friend to a copy of Crooked Lines there's still a little time to order at and I promise to send all subsequent orders first class. YOu'll also find it at the evil empire of where it can also be bought as a £4.99 E-Book, as can Tangles With Pike
With so many of the current celebrity fishing books retailing for £25 or more, that has to represent good value. But another benefit of independent publishing is that I can keep prices affordable. Don't forget, you can also buy both of my most recent books for just £20 at

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Saturday, 12 December 2015

Casting into the Wind

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.
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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.

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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.

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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")
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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.
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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.
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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.

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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 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!