Tuesday 26 July 2011


Typing this on a bumpy Scandinavian B-road, there's just enough time to reflect on an eventful trip so far. From the flat lands of Holland (a bit like Somerset, but with added windmills) through to Denmark, Sweden we now hit Finland. It's sweltering hot. I have about two dozen mozzy bites and a beard.

The image above, hastily taken on the phone, could be any one of the hundreds of beautiful, often untouched lakes out here. I've also been marvelling at strange foods and the odd corker of a mullet hair cut.
Trouble is, the fishing has been rock hard. It's just too hot for much except jack pike. Last night was a minor breakthrough though.
Zander are the real target out here- but they tend to frustrate. Just when I manage to tempt one and think I've cracked it, they play silly buggers. The locals all say I should be trolling with about six rods- but this is not my idea of fun. Plus, the lack of a boat doesn't help. Failing this then, I've been jigging over deep holes with the float tube. Thus is where the Zander lurk in the day, albeit thoroughly bored and not especially hungry. The theory is good then- the Practise lacking. Until I got bored and decided to try the edges of the lake on a couple of hot evenings. With the water cooling a little, the predators come to the edges to hunt. Bingo! some Zander at last, to small pike flies and lures!
The other fun of the tube is the looks you get from locals; you know that not quite convinced smile that says "you're really quite fucking mad aren't you?" to which I doff my hat and speak in broken Finnish.
The only other remarkable fish spotted was at the "Ripleys Believe it or Not" museum in Copenhagen. Above is a strange, fur covered trout. It was thought these cold lake fish had developed little coats to keep warm. The original freak trout generated so much interest that later on tourists spotted one Scot putting a little fluffy jacket on a trout! Weirdness seems to follow me out here though- including a nutty Swedish lady convinced that nuclear subs are hiding all over Europe, releasing brain washing chemicals into the atmosphere. If that's true, then I'm a Viking.
Well, on that bizarre note I should sign off before the data roaming charges leave me broke. Later on I will have the unfamiliar pleasure of eating a Zander that I kept for the table. Feels weird for a Brit, but so very different out here with some 180 000 lakes and no shortage of fish! Still, I'm not about to fish like a Tiverton laborer and swap my landing net for a Tescos bag and a blunt object.

Sunday 10 July 2011

From chewing on flies, to flies on Chew

Boundaries continue to blur in recent fishing, with more coarse fish on fly tackle. One thing's for sure- the fish don't give a piscatory toss which category the tackle falls into. Rudd and roach continue to inspire, and it has been a great thrill not only to keep catching them but to see others also testing the waters with success. From my older brother the salmon fanatic to regular fishing mates Norbert Darby, Ian Nadin and Steve Moore, everyone seems to be enjoying some exciting fly fishing for coarse species.
I like this sharing of fishing and ideas (and usually friendly insults). Definitely what fishing should be about, rather than secretive spots, meaningless figures and clashing egos. You learn so much more by being relaxed and sharing info- and certainly, the hotter it gets the more active the roach and rudd seem to be (unlike trout!).
I've also been linking up with film maker and fellow writer Steve Lockett to capture the action in both still and moving pictures. More on this later, but it has been productive fishing with wet flies singling out some delightfully chunky rudd. Spiders seem to work best- either a black and peacock or a red bodied spider in sizes 12-14 especially useful. For the Tiverton or Taunton to Bridgwater canals, I would recommend a long walk with a light rod, but also a long handled landing net to reach over the reeds and other obstructions. Parts of the Amazon probably offer easier water access! The roach and rudd can be tricky to hit, but the bigger mouthed and better sized fish are less rapid biting, hence somewhat easier to hook:

For a very different experience I also headed out for a day in the company of Steve Moore to Chew. We began in search of trout, but with warm, dry weather very little seemed prepared to feed. We needed little invitation to switch to pike, a sensible move. Whilst not exactly hectic, we enjoyed some good sport and stonking battles on fly tackle.
Pike are sometimes strange creatures. You hook the jacks and they go ballistic, making you think you've hooked a monster. And then you hook a fish that feels lacklustre- before it suddenly remembers it's a brute and says "sod this, I'm off!" I was connected to something big just before lunchtime, which not only gave me a near heart attack beside the boat but then proceeded to put twenty yards between us and stick it's gruesome chops out of the water.... before ridding itself of the fly with a shake of the head. I couldn't help but keep playing it over in my head with those fatal words- "if only." We both managed to boat pike later on though, topped by this nice double. For Chew, nothing to necessitate a change of underwear- by any normal angler's standards, a bloody nice fish.
Steve enjoyed his day too, until developing casting-related cramp in his hand next day. Compared to trout fishing it is hard work slinging big flies around I guess, but glad to report Steve was on the mend when I ran into him on the Exe. I had hoped for bream, but basically came nearer to swans on a slow Saturday evening in the town. When you've been fly fishing it can seem a bit dull to sit behind rods. The fly fever is catching with others too and my other half Jo also did herself proud with a rainbow trout on a Kennick "learn to fly fish" day. Learning to cast is a bit like learning to drive I guess- not best done with a lecture from your partner! So much for gender stereotypes then- she caught it, I cooked it in mustard sauce.
In other news, I'm about to embark on a well earned holiday- just as soon as I've killed off the 101 jobs on my "to do" list. Expect a short break then, with possibly some random updates from Sweden and Finland to follow on my travels.

Saturday 2 July 2011

Wandering the Wye/ Barbel on the fly

Britain may be a small island in the grand scheme of things, but sometimes you forget just how fantastically diverse our waters are. The River Wye couldn't be a more grand contrast to my favourite little streams of the Westcountry. It's also home to some phenomenal shoals of chub and barbel. I had been itching to return, in particular to try with a fly rod for the barbel. If anyone could put me on the right trail- or indeed explain the timeless fascination of this great Welsh river- it was Bob James.
Bob has fished here as long as I've been alive- and while modern specimen type tactics work, he's an even bigger fan of more intimate methods. Clear water and a pair of waders make anything possible- trotting, touch legering, free lining or you've guessed it, a fly rod. In fact the early season is ideal for a moving bait or fly, as the barbel are still highly active. What really surprised me was Bob's talk of just how aggressive these fish are- not only will they literally barge chub off a bed of feed, they will actively predate on minnows. Needless to say, with a good dose of loose feed it didn't take long to connect with some solid fish.
With the river looking beautifully sunny and wild, I knew this was going to be as good an opportunity as I'd get to tempt a barbel on a fly rod. The sheer size and pace of such a big river can be a challenge- and I found even heavy patterns needed an extra pinch of tungsten putty to trundle the depths.
But at last, here was a river not hopelessly high or muddy, but dropping and looking bang on! I could see fish moving in knee deep water and doing that classic rolling movement near the bottom. Could this actually be game on for a change? After all my maddening attempts previously, I was praying my luck might finally change.
It was to prove a nerve-wracking afternoon to put it mildly. I had a couple of fish refuse- or simply not see the fly- point blank, and was wondering exactly what it might take. YOu also have trouble with currents, fishing trout style and trying to get the fly well upstream- far better to get close and aim across or even slightly downstream.
Eventually, I managed to guide a heavy Walker's Mayfly nymph into the path of the next fish, literally stumbling over the bottom. This time, the fish slid across to look. The nymph was gone, I struck and everything went solid. Fish on!
When you finally manage to hook one, you might be forgiven for wondering what's going on with such fish. These barbel are downright stubborn fighters- hugging the bottom one moment like an immovable object, powering off the next!
The fight must have lasted a few minutes but felt like longer. Bob came with the net, but each time the fish got closer, it seemed to rage off again.
A barbel on the fly of almost dead on seven pounds is an absolute dream come true! What can I say, other than that I am still in shock!