Sunday, 29 May 2016

Tackle Reviews & Blanking Blues

How often do you read a fishing article about somebody blanking? Not very often, I would bet. With getting on for 250 articles in print, I've only managed to succeed in getting ONE published. It's an article I won't ever forget, because despite the frustration endured I got one of those shots that perfectly captures the madness of angling, with a grey mullet swimming literally right round the back of the fishless angler, coming within inches of his wading boots.

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This past week though, the joke has been on me. Most recently with a whole night and a beautifully misty morning (above) which, although nice to look at, I would have gladly traded for the carp I was after. I'm not about to tell you that I love catching nothing, but as a long term addict of fishing you learn to accept this.

Think about it for a minute and contrary to the idea that top anglers never blank, the reverse is often true- certainly where the biggest fish are concerned. And yes, a few chastening experiences each season add extra sweetness to those days when your luck turns.

Another thing you learn to accept is that you don't always get the performance that you paid for at the booking office. And in truth, whether or not you are grateful for what you actually get depends on your outlook as much as anything else. Like the moment your rod is nearly yanked in and the huge carp in your imagination transforms into a three pound tench, as happened on my other not-entirely-successful recent trip to a small, private lake. Most of the time, I would prefer to see the pond as half full rather than half empty I guess? Tench are like perch for me- even if it was a fluke, it is virtually impossible not to be pleased to catch one.

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Win, lose or play out a goalless draw that spills over into a pointless spell of extra time watched by nobody where there is no referee to call time, that is fishing. So perhaps I should continue this blog on another note. In fact, I wanted to cover something I very rarely mention here at all: my favourite items of tackle! Other bloggers write whole entries on rods, reels and rigs; I do not. Perhaps I'm too cynical about the tackle trade and the world of sponsored shenanigans. But I know that some readers do find it interesting, so I thought this week I would give you a few recommendations of the kit I have enjoyed recently, or for a longer spell of abuse. It's something to talk about while I remain biteless, anyway. So here goes:

1. Spro Micro Game Rod (70M)
So many rods exist these days, but this is the first I have bought for several years. After a few months I have taken it everywhere from Devon harbours to Amsterdam. It packs down into an absolutely silly length (38cm) and still performs really nicely. Hook an eight ounce perch and it bends like it shouldn't; hook an eight pound pike and, amazingly, it still survives without smashing to bits. I'd call that a very dependable light rod. My model is rated 5-15g, but this is way out. It feels right at home with 3g jigs, or my various dropshotting experiments with small jellies and flies. What can I say? I love this little rod, even if it is almost unbefitting of a large bearded man.

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2. Lone Angler Unhooking Mat/ Stalker Seat
What a brilliant little piece of kit this is! So portable, great to sit on too, but also very functional. Folds into three and slides into the back pocket of my fly vest, yet big enough to protect a barbel or zander. Not quite pike size, but you can't have everything- and this is a great compromise for fishing small waters for fish like perch and chub when you don't want to be lugging a vast mat around. Could also save you from the horrors of "Farmer Giles" on the derriere.

3. Daiwa LRF Net Handle 5.9m
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Another cracking piece of kit for the roving angler, why didn't someone come up with this years ago?!! Totally portable, it folds down neatly to some 70cm odd and has a shoulder strap. Yet when you need it, you have a whopping 6m, or near enough, of reach! I particularly like the fact that a net head can be attached through the bung, which prevents all the sections from sliding out willy-nilly when you don't want them to.
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So bloody useful! I'm already making a hitlist of spots such as harbour walls that this net will now allow me to land fish from, where previously I wouldn't have dared. Ruddy useful kit!

4. Turrall Barbless River Flies
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Ok, so I like to tie my own flies where possible. Time is a killer these days though, so it is extremely darned useful to have reliable patterns tied properly on barbless hooks that look and fish the part. After all, so many cheap barbless river flies feature rubbishly cheap hooks and are sold more overdressed than Lady Gaga (and just as tasteless). Not these designs, personally selected by Chris Ogborne with a competition angler's eye for detail. Granted, I am one of the Turrall team these days, but I like these so much I've been fishing them all season and now also stock them in my own shop HERE. Do grab a set before I use them all myself!

5. Orvis Forceps
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Ok, so this is not a new tackle accessory by any stretch. When you own an item for the best part of ten years, however, and it's still going strong you know you're onto something good. These are top drawer, meriting that "reassuringly expensive" Orvis price tag, I must say- and I'm pretty attached to mine. Literally- they never leave my fly vest. Not just great for removing the hooks from fish, they are also good at debarbing flies while that little spike is genius- just the thing for clearing the eye of a fly when you're struggling to pass the leader through. Damned near indispensable in my book.

Ok, that is about as techy and tackle orientated as I'm about to get for a while. Now go and fish. Heck, do one better than me and actually CATCH SOMETHING!

Wednesday, 11 May 2016

New horizons and old haunts

Does anyone else suffer from false-dawn syndrome each and every spring? The yo-yo temperatures and random seasons don't half mess with the moods of both fish and anglers at times. And this applies whether you're lure fishing a cove in South Devon, or tackling one of Cornwall's wild fly fishing lakes. Which is why I write this week's blog with some relief after some tricky fishing and hard won catches.
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I had promised visiting angler Jim Sutherland a suitably mixed trio of outings, in fact, for what would be an unusual mission for me. The idea was three days of very different predator and fly fishing, adding a different twist to my usual guided fishing trips in Devon and Cornwall. Besides brushing up on casting skills and discovering some new fishing styles, he wanted to fish alongside me to produce an article.

A refreshing change for me, because by and large I do not fish when I guide. Aside from demonstrating the odd technique, I think it's poor form. Equally, as many articles I've appeared in, I can probably count those written about me by someone else on the fingers of one hand. As often as not, I tend to cover what others are doing, tending to agree with the saying that there's no telling what can be achieved if you're not fussed about who gets the credit. This way you get a much broader pool of knowledge than your own limited perspective. But this time it did make a nice change not have to do all the running and note-taking!

We started with a spot of lure and fly fishing in the rockier extremities of South Devon. If you can be bothered to walk, there are some stunning secret beaches and coves here. It's especially lovely to return to some of these spots you remember from childhood armed with more "grown up" fly or lure fishing tackle. The only slight hitch was that it had been a couple of years since I'd been to this particular spot, hence we slalomed through poky lanes and, on one occasion, popped into a local village hall where a makeshift polling station had been set up, just to ask for directions.

On this occasion, I intended to start with the lure rod, like Jim, because I desperately wanted a lure-caught wrasse. However, my usually reliable Shimano reel then decided to have a meltdown, with the spool no longer locking in place. Usually I cannot fault these reels, but I guess nothing lasts forever and twelve odd years had taken their toll. A bit embarrassing, to say the least, to be left with a tangle and a bust reel!

It was to be a curious quirk of fate though, because I soon got into the rhythm of casting a sandeel style fly pattern and began getting bites. A small pollack came first, before I wondered if I was seeing things. On a couple of deliveries I thought I had spotted long, silvery shapes chase the fly. And then I had my answer- a garfish took hold! My first garfish on the fly ever in fact (I've often seen them chase, but never got one in). The only slight regret is that I didn't get a better picture- but the sun was right in Jim's face and I decided I wanted to avoid excessive handling and let the thing go.

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We had a testing, sometimes gruelling day after that. I was certain the bass and pollack would arrive on the rising tide, but they just wouldn't appear. And so eventually, we turned our attention back to the wrasse. In my case, I eventually tore myself away from the fly as Jim let me borrow his spare lure outfit (although I spent the day getting ribbed about "hire charges"). I broke my duck later in the day, but it was Jim who really earned his stripes with an absolute cracker that fought like fury. I'm going to be a party-pooper here and only show my own, more modest effort, because I don't want to steal his thunder for the full write up.

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In the process of a really interesting three days we covered miles in the end, tackling Cornwall's Colliford Lake in pursuit of its stickleback-clobbering browns, not to mention a jaunt on the local canals. The latter, I think, really floated Jim's boat. Like me, he is a confirmed sight fishing addict with somewhat itchy feet, which was probably for the best given how many yards there were to cover over three days.

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We had action packed hours and slow hours, but it was all interesting fishing. Perhaps the highlight was a foray into shallow waters with the fly. We had seen bream on the verge of spawning, but for the first time in the year I also spotted numbers of roach and hybrids sunbathing. They were willing to rise too, although they wanted quite small flies- larger bugs were flatly ignored, while a size 16 to 18 spider was sucked in gingerly by several nice samples.

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We also played with the pike and perch- in my case, using my own dropshot minnow flies (which you can now find on my site). The perch were tricky, but in the clear margins it was possible to sight fish and use fluorocarbon rather than wire, to earn more takes. A little split shot or two and you can work these beautifully on the fly rod- but they'd also cast on a light lure set up.
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I'm always torn with this kind of fishing. I'm reluctant not to use wire, but with fluorocarbon you tend to get more takes from perch, while you'll also land the typically small pike that take a shine to the minnow. It almost goes without saying that you should also debarb the fly/lure so that if there is a mishap the thing will come out easily once the tension is gone.

When it comes to "prospecting" with the fly and areas where you can't spot pike and take evasive action however, the only option is a wire trace. This was just one of several fish we shared on small lures and bigger pike flies:

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Again, I'm reluctant to reveal all because no doubt Jim will produce a cracking write up and I have no desire to steal his thunder. Nor is this anything new, because it's fair to say that there's always a lot more between and behind the lines with what I write here. I just cannot include everything. Don't get me wrong, I love the blog as a kind of quick-fire diary. But I cannot give away everything for free and nor would you want me to- unless you're keen on the idea of a fishing landscape almost devoid of "real" books or magazines.

I've been as critical as anyone in the past about the fishing magazines, but it is as vital as it has ever been to support the print media. To give you some inside perspective from my own world, the balance of my income from print writing to digital content has swung totally in favour of the latter in the past three years. Part of this is because I write blogs for hotels and tourism these days. But in fishing the same is steadily happening. And while we all have to embrace change, we could be left with a world devoid of printed words if we're not careful, which would be a huge shame. Remove the rewards and standards will drop with the world of advertising holding all the ace cards, it's as simple as that.

It has been almost an ironic twist, therefore, that having written for the fishing press for over a decade now, I finally have a weekly column in the Angling Times! Yes, I know I've been outspoken once or twice before, but to their credit they have freshened things up with the new look magazine and even found space for an oddball like me. The Far Bank looks set to be a lot of fun. My remit is a sideways glance at the funnier and stranger aspects of the sport. This week's topic, for example, is all about the lure of dicey spots and dodgy casts.

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I have lots more hot, strange and thorny topics to come in the months ahead, but if there's anything that amuses, perplexes or bothers you that you would like me to get my teeth into, do get in touch with me or drop the Angling Times a line!

Thursday, 5 May 2016

Lure Fishing & Cold Lessons

There come times for most anglers where you get rather out of your "comfort zone." It's extremely healthy to learn new things, even if that sometimes comes at the price of a fall or two. It also means taking a few risks and casting where you never thought of doing so before- and that can be a confidence tester. Most recently for me, I've been well and truly tested but also highly taken by two challenges- one totally new (kayak fishing) and one I've returned to only to find a total revolution taking place (saltwater lure fishing).

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Looking back, I think some of my better articles have come from this sort of leap of faith. It can be exciting if you shed this idea that "I have to be world champion/ highly experienced to write about this." Because in reality, it is only by jumping into something new that you can see things with a fresh perspective. Once you've done a method a thousand times, you forget all the seemingly daft questions you had and challenges that other anglers also face, not to mention the sheer excitement of it all. And yet this idea prevails: the writer has to be a total expert on everything they cover.

Here's the secret though; I am not. My writing and general fishing skills may have slowly developed, but there are still areas where I am like that kid in the tackle shop, peering at all the strange bits of kit in wonder. This is a great position to be in. Such has certainly been the way on recent lure fishing missions to the coast, where I've been scaling right down and watching experts like LRF wizard Andy Mytton with a keen eye, and more than once a sense of total bafflement.

Close control using cute rods. The neatest and freakiest of little lures. Bonkers presentations involving special split shot rigs, dropshot weights and knots I'd never seen tied before. I've thoroughly enjoyed lure fishing for most of my life, whether it's casting for pike or bass. But I've been blown away by the current light lure fishing scene- what is happening currently is little short of revolutionary and incredibly exciting. You can read some of my musings on the "joy of the diddy rod" in my Angling Times slot this week- but suffice to say there is a lot more to come and I am enjoying feeling like a kid again.

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Perhaps my favourite recent catch, in fact, has been one of the smallest in the form of this sea scorpion. I'd both enjoyed and endured a cold spring session with the tiddly lures with Andy and the sight of this critter brought back great memories of childhood fishing off the rocks. Circa 1991, I was afraid to touch these fish. But they are quite harmless. Furthermore, if you are brave enough to place one in the palm of your hand you could get quite a surprise. Not only do they go all puffed-up and defensive like perch; they actually vibrate. I thought this had to be b****it at first, but it's perfectly true- it's like holding a fish that has swallowed a mobile phone! Must be a defence mechanism?

Other lessons from my trips are also stacking up quickly, whether it is a timely reminder that evening and night fishing are often better than daylight in the salt, and that it is well worth fishing low and even dropping tides for different species.

I guess you appreciate the smaller stuff even more when sport proves slow- but that's the great thing about lighter tackle: everything fights energetically, even a tiny pollack!
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More to follow in print and online on various topics shortly, but suffice to say that at the moment it's very much a case of "the more I learn the less I know" on reflection. And I love it that way. Because I don't have to be a world expert to enjoy it and write about it any more than you do to try it as well. And the only way any of us gains real "expertise" in any area of fishing is to have fun, experiment, ask other people and generally get stuck in. The same has been utterly true of kayak fishing- where I'm still testing the water, not to mention my limits and balance, quite literally. Another dunking for me this week I'm afraid (note to self- while standing on a kayak is possible, it is highly advisable to stay sitting on your arse when casting!). Even so, I broke my duck with two Wimbleball rainbow trout in a short tester session! More on the Channel Kayaks site and blog shortly, along with listings for special kayak fishing days on the lake.

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The only other news of note was a talk at the 2016 Barbel Society Show, where one of my main topics was this concept of new ground in fishing and putting yourself in the position of a learner. This was certainly the case for much of my experience with coarse fish on the fly, particularly the unusual species- including barbus barbus naturally. It's still one of the most exciting and tricky things I've ever done. But while I wouldn't advise the newcomer to start with barbel or zander or one of the other oddballs, they are all catchable.

In fact, perhaps my favourite backhanded compliment about Flyfishing for Coarse Fish of all time was a rather spiky review from a guy who wrote "anyone with a bit of experience could have done this." Totally. That was the point, wasn't it? To try new things and enjoy your fishing. Otherwise it's just an ego trip for the author.

It was a great show in the end, even though I felt a bit off-colour on the morning. I'd already had a bit of man flu, but also I partly blame Garrett Fallon for that "quiet pint" the day before which, in that wonderfully mysterious way, materialised into six, complete with a rambling converstaion on angling, politics and the meaning of life. We had a lovely afternoon's fishing on the Oxford Canal too, where he used a vintage cane rod for a spot of (I kid you not) dropshotting! The results we had were a big shock to say the least- but more on that another time. For now I'll leave you with a little glimpse of a classic canal and a rather classic rod:  photo Blog_May_2016 - 5_zpsphpd9ygy.jpg