Thursday 29 March 2012

Fishing for Answers...

Photobucket It’s complex, confusing and loaded with jargon. We describe it as both a sport and a hobby, a science and yet also an art. It is as complex as the female psyche. It attracts both casual devotees and total fanatics of every age and background. Jesus did it- but then again, so did George Bush. I am of course talking about fishing. From the outside looking in, we probably resemble a state of chaos on a par with the back of the a fisherman’s garage. From a long list of categories and subcategories, complete with strangely named tackle, our world can be a confusing one. Many of own early lessons came from dated, techy volumes in the school library- by God how we could have done with a starting point that had less dust on the cover and diagrams that looked less like torture diagrams done in biro. Quite how anyone might attempt to encompass the fundamentals of coarse, sea and fly fishing all in one neat volume is a mystery, but that has been my exact task working on “Fishing For Dummies”. It might seem a bit like trying to fit a lion, a gorilla and Arsenal reserves all into one toilet cubicle, but we’ve had a bloody good crack. Photobucket The best selling US version provided a great basis to start from but as you might imagine, British angling has some big differences. Wagglers and boilies are as alien to the Yanks as bluegills and bobbers are to your average Brit. An American angler doesn’t “blank”, they “get skunked”. They call multipliers “baitcasters” and their monster fish are not specimens but “trophies” or “lunkers”. Stateside, a “fishin’ pole” is exactly that- a piece of wood with line tied to the end, as opposed to thirteen metres of carbon fibre. Perhaps the biggest and funniest culture clash of all comes with carp however. We spend days trying to catch them, treat them to exotic baits and even give fish names; to the Americans they are an invasive species likened to “giant goldfish.” Would hopping a hugely successful book across the pond be a devilish task on that basis? Not necessarily, because so many other parts of fishing are universal. The ability to find trout on a river, for example, or the art of plug fishing for pike. Or understanding watercraft and fish behaviour. Hence I’ve tried to keep all the wisest words from the US book, while giving the whole work a distinct UK bias. What does this encompass? Anything and everything from shotting a waggler, to picking sea fishing baits or casting a fly. “Dummies” is an affectionate term rather than a derogatory one, and in fact we take the reader to some places which are anything but village idiot grade. With the rise and rise of carp and predator fishing, for example, I felt I had to give the reader a friendly grounding here. Nor is the book strictly a “beginners only” volume. If you’ve spent the last decade drowning maggots, you might want to try tackling a trout stream with flies? If you’ve always fancied a crack at sea fishing, you’ll find the whole scoop from ragworms to wrasse. As my other half knows through hard experience, there’s always another fishing trip to make, another rod or species to try. Fishing for Dummies is thus a friendly grounding for any reader- rather like having a mate explain things clearly and give you a laugh on the way, so you don’t end up leaving the fishing shop with a pile of random tackle and a vacant look. Actually, that will probably happen anyway, but you get my drift. “Fishing for Dummies” is out now from Amazon and all major bookstores. Photobucket In fact the whole process has taken me back to my earlier days as an angler, and in particular some forgotten ponds I once cast into as an eager novice. The single biggest change since has been the sheer proliferation of commercial fisheries. Great news if you want a reliable source of bites or are a parent looking for somewhere safe to take the kids. Sometimes we sanitize things too much however, and I miss the way some of those old ponds once were. I miss sitting under the trees on Feneck Ponds and listening to carp suck at the lilies. I miss dangling bits of sandwhich under a bush and catching ridiculously cute and tiny tench and crucians. In the name of easy access and convenience fishing, we’ve done our best to hack everything back it seems. In doing so, we not only remove natural beauty, but the bug life fish thrive on. Personally I can live with the odd lost float- but I don’t want to live in a world where lakes are devoid of trees, water lilies and kingfishers. Photobucket Nevertheless, the fish still bite on a sunny morning at Feneck. Crucians are one of my all time favourites for so many reasons. For the games they play with a float tip. For the way they wiggle and turn bumping circles in the fight. For the sheer cute cheekiness they possess. They remind us why we fish- to retain that childlike joy at seeing something beautiful appear where there was just a float tip moments earlier. Photobucket More idyllic summer pictures are also on the way at my newly revamped site along with a whole range of other bits and pieces to enjoy. Whether you’re a fishing “Dummy” or already a fanatic, I hope you enjoy it. Do also keep an eye on the Angling Times in the coming weeks for more on the joy of old school pond fishing and some surprise catches.

Saturday 24 March 2012

Perfect Pond Fishing

Photobucket There's always something about quiet farm ponds that takes me back to boyhood. It's refreshing to find that off the beaten trail of the better known commercials, cute little backwater fisheries still exist. The sort of diminutive, secluded waters where the next bite could be anything from a pretty roach to a giant perch or golden carp. Flanked by craggy trees and rusting farm machinery, I had a good vibe about this trip. Photobucket Along with fellow pond hopper Chris Lambert, I was off to a swift start by fishing match style today, feeding a selection of my favourite baits for big perch, roach and carp in the form of casters, chopped worm and pellets. It was hardly a push over, but fishing fine and building the swim carefully the perch soon showed. We didn't see many average sized samples- most were either tiny or absolutely solid. Disaster then struck as I hooked a substantial carp on the pole line. For five or six minutes battle continued before the top two cracked! The fish was gone by the time I regained control- damn it, I have a hunch it was a big fish lost. Sport then continued on the centrepin and long float rod, while Chris began to get interest on tiny fish baits. The next perch gobbled up a worm and caster bait before plunging away strongly. This one was really feisty- and it wasn't short on spirit. We had weighed it quickly at alb 14oz, but to our surprise this one looked even fatter after a couple of hours in the keepnet. We strongly suspect it snaffled one or two of the baby perch, roach and gudgeon also present- and later the same perch went 2lbs 2oz when the weight was checked again! Photobucket This is the joy of pond fishing on a secluded water. Where stocking levels are sensible, you get some real quality fish. Unexpected specimen of the day was arguably the surprise enormous gudgeon Chris caught. At 3 oz this was a titanic little beastie, not to mention splendid looking. Photobucket It was a testing day overall, where cute presentation and regular feeding worked best. The last fish was another sweet surprise in the form of a cracking roach. Uncanny how the best always seem to show as the light goes and at 1lb 6oz a very respectable pond roach. A great day on a cute water and for my money, pond fishing takes us back to the simple joys of the sport- the jagging fight of those perch, the warm spring sun on your back. Photobucket

Sunday 18 March 2012

Spring Breaming

Photobucket We now enter that undecided phase of the season when your next trip could resemble a fine spring day or a greying fragment of late winter. When it comes to the closed season I usually spend at least a handful of days on still waters with a mixed bag in mind. I don't retire my centre pin reel either, and love to fish pole style with a long rod of 15ft. I had hoped for a mild day at Viaduct fishery, but it turned out to be a cool, misty affair. The fishing was hardly instant and fine tackle seemed a sensible choice. Photobucket It turned out to be quite a challenging, cat and mouse game with the fish not really going madly on the feed. Enjoyable, nonetheless, to try and winkle out a decent net by carefully feeding a swim. Once upon a time I really enjoyed match fishing with a pole- and whilst I no longer fish to compete with others, some good habits have stuck. A slim tipped pole float and feeding two or three different lines is a lovely, subtle way to catch fish like skimmers. I was quickly into a few bites on a maggot and pellet line, but kept flicking in a few casters elsewhere to hopefully hold the interest of a few bigger residents: Photobucket Plenty of tiny roach and a couple of perch arrived with the skimmers on maggots and small pellets, before I made the switch to the caster line. Sadly the carp just didn't want to know, but some pretty solid bream made for an interesting session nonetheless. Seb Nowosiad grabbed some nice misty images too- makes a change from me capturing his antics netting pike! Photobucket A handful of proper slabs joined the skimmers in the end, but no matter whether I tried chopped worm or bigger pellets I just couldn't get many other species interested. A reasonable catch then, but not the most varied ever- although I always have a soft spot for bream, fish I spent hours trying to catch on the canal in my teens. If nothing else they teach you how to present your bait with some subtlety. Even on a commercial so many of the bites are tiny movements or suspicious little lifts. Paradoxically, it's this frustration which makes for fun, reflex testing angling. Photobucket Who know's what the fishing will be like next week then- will it be more scratching for bites, or a beautifully mild afternoon casting a fly? It's anyone's guess, but I can't wait to try for trout again on a cute stream somewhere. For any regular blog followers interested in catching some totally wild fish for beer money, I couldn't recommend the "Westcountry Angling Passport" scheme (see the link on my site) highly enough for this game. The streams are beautiful, full of trout and you come away with the great feeling that all your ticket money (£5-£10 typically) goes to improving and protecting some of our prettiest rivers. It's still a bit cool at present, so I'm currently tying up my spring arsenal rather than having an early cast. Here's a Beacon Beige- a deadly little classic dry fly born and bred in Devon, on the River Culm to be specific: Photobucket

Tuesday 13 March 2012

The Big One

Photobucket They weren't lying when they titled angling's huge annual show "The Big One". Having already attended events that might be titled "The Fairly Small One", "The Not Quite so Big One" and "Five Blokes in the Basement of a Pub" this felt like the real deal. It also stressed just how dominant carp anglers are in the demographic of today's fishing world, with enough bargain boilies present to cover Belgium in Tutti Frutti and Fishmeal. Nevertheless, it was great to meet a lot of anglers interested in something different- and a reassuring number thumbing through the first preview copy of "Flyfishing for Coarse Fish." The one that really took me by surprise was none other than Matt Hayes! It's no secret that Matt is a passionate fly fisher himself, but to have him at the stand looking through the book was a fantastic surprise- and what a true enthusiast the guy is. "I'll grab a copy once it's out" was the verdict. Erm, ok?!! Photobucket The cased flies got some interest too, with virtually every pattern from the book now in a display case- the above is a micro sized hopper, a leggy little special for surface browsing rudd, roach and chub. Could it be the start of something exciting? Judging by the number of visitors bored with specimen angling and carrying mountains of gear, there is reason to be optimistic. It seems plenty of anglers are already dabbling with carp and pike on the fly, and thoroughly enjoying it. It was a long weekend, but one with lots of highlights as it turned out. My other half enjoyed stalking Jeremy Wade, while we were also honoured to have Bob James on the stall (who I've covered grayling fishing in this week's Angling Times), dishing out some great anecdotes and fairly unrepeatable jokes. Photobucket In other news, I'm also in the process of getting a new site done. My own effort has just about sufficed for a while now, but you can't beat getting a pro to do the job. In my case that means my old mate Dave Campbell, now a successful Ultimate Fighting proponent, who spends his time as a University head of web design when not battling in the ring. Watch this space for more details: Photobucket I've also teamed up with Seb Nowosiad to bring some new treats into the bargain for shows and web orders. I've long been a fan of the fantastic soft lures made by Relax, better value than many of the bigger brands and their pricey, heavily marketed offerings, and I have yet to find a better lure for catching big perch, zander and pike. Expect some great colours at very reasonable prices on offer very soon! Photobucket

Friday 2 March 2012

Gold on the Grand Western

PhotobucketWhat an utterly beautiful place the Grand Western Canal can be. We all have our favourite places as anglers, but for me this perfect little cut has been the scene of so many great days. It's such a fabulously intimate water, the clear water making it perfect to spot fish. It's almost time to switch species from pike to roach and rudd here, but we thought it was worth a good final bash with the prospect of the Devon Baits Pike Match. As it turned out we had a disappointing attendance, despite promoting the event far and wide and even getting a sponsor to offer free bait. The canal itself didn't produce too many fireworks either, and it soon became evident that one decent fish would probably win the match. Gary Blackmore stole a march early on with two fish, including this six pounder. Photobucket Very clear, very sunny conditions made the going slow for just about everyone. In my own case, I tried every trick in the book. Suspending a small roach or sprat at mid depth is usually a reliable way to snare a jack or two here, but I had one missed run and that was about it. The highlight of the match by far in fact, was the appearance of a rather striking guest, a beautiful grass snake. Photobucket He sunned himself on the path before slithering into a fishing carryall, owned by Patrick Sanders who was fishing next peg along to me! Never have I been so close to a wild snake. Along with low soaring buzzards, the wildlife provided more than enough entertainment to make up for the slow fishing. Gary was still way ahead at the final whistle and picked up his trophy along with the winner's prize of a great big stack of bait. I think the look on his face was delight mingled with the thought "What am I going to tell my wife when she opens the freezer?" Photobucket Typical isn't it, when you're not fishing in a match, the fish come easier. I had a cracking afternoon on my birthday, catching jacks like this five pounder. So much for the complexity of fly fishing, I saw him, dropped the fly just ahead and -wallop- instant pike! Photobucket On the fly fishing front I also enjoyed our hands on session at the final PAC meet at the Mill on Exe. Some excellent first attempts at flies, including Adam Moxey's spangly creation now known as the "Gary Glitter". I tie a few unsavoury beasts myself, but many of my favourites are relatively small flies. These are effortless to cast and you really can't beat a nice light outfit (usually an 8 weight) and a few bite sized patterns for canal and drain fishing. Here are a few home-rolled specials: Photobucket In the meantime, the other work also gathers pace. I'm to be hoiked from Devon to a London book signing at the release of "Flyfishing for Coarse Fish" along with various other stopping points to promote the book. Also hot from the printers are more of John Dullaways beautiful fish prints, which I will be selling at events this year. This one's a trout- watch this space for more as gets an overhaul in the next two weeks. Photobucket