Monday 28 May 2012

Bloody Fishing

DSC_0049-2 What have a size 20 dry fly and a lump of sickening offal got in common? The answer is that both have been cast in the last few days in search of fish. Another example, should any be required, that fishing is insanely varied, even in the space of one county. The offal forms the start of a new experiment in search of a reel screaming monster. I'd remembered Richard Walker's accounts of offal being dumped into pools that was devoured by carp and other scavengers- and liver, kidneys and even hearts have a history with species like catfish. Chris Lambert scored a few kilos of pure, blood drenched horror from a butcher and so this line of enquiry begins. Add white coats and clipboards and it could be a scene out of "Reanimator". So far, this is the main type of cat that has been attracted by the stench, the loveable old moggy of Town Parks fishery known as "ginge", -but watch this space to see how the trials progress: DSC_0072-1 Actually, the fishing has been fairly tricky in the heat. The end of May has seen an explosion of plant and insect life however, and so the fly rod has been put to good use. A quiet revolution continues with coarse anglers grabbing fly rods- and fresh from the butchers, Chris grabbed the fly rod to bank a first on game tackle in the shape of this canal perch, which barged through the roach to grab a pink shrimp: DSCF6215 We also nipped out for my Dad's birthday to seek further kicks with rising coarse fish on both small nymphs and dry flies. The fish are already gathering prior to spawning and not entirely focussed on eating- although sport was reasonable. photo-10 Perhaps the best fun of all was taking roach off the surface at Westleigh, with takes falling to either a size 18-20 F Fly or a ginked up spider presented in the surface film. DSC_0078-2 A few Sunday boats then coloured the water- and sight fishing got harder thereon in. Do you need to see the fish and takes to catch roach on the fly? Not necessarily- you can watch for rise forms or use an indicator. But in truth, it's a bloody big help to spot your fish, as is having flies that show up well, whether that means a black fly for light backdrops, or a light tan, pink or hares ear coloured fly to stand out against darker backgrounds. Goldheads have also been surprisingly decent for roach and rudd- albeit only in pretty small sizes (16-18). And that's fly fishing- whatever the species, a little change can be the difference between fish and frustration. Good luck to everyone casting a fly this summer- lots of absorbing sport to look forward to.

Sunday 13 May 2012

A Highland Fling

IMG_0035 Having never been to Scotland before (shame on me), I was more than a little excited to be heading north of the border last week. Until I saw the weather forecast. Not very typical May conditions, even up in the highlands. But what you find as you break through the tower blocks of Glasgow, regardless of the weather, is a landscape of grand, wind-blasted beauty. Mountain heights and huge valleys; trickling streams and huge lochs. Other than staggering amounts of space and natural wilderness everywhere, the other startling discovery is just how sparsely populated the landscape is, comparable to Scandinavia in fact. Here is one end of Loch Shiel- a site which, if it were in Devon, would be packed with parked cars and tacky gifts: DSCF6130 The approach to Loch Morar, our destination, was hardly less beautiful. Not sure I've ever seen whiter sands as by the river mouth here. DSCF6128 The loch itself is deep. Spectacularly so in fact, as Britain's deepest lake, with black descents to rival parts of the North Sea. Much as I love to explore, you can't beat a local guide when faced with this kind of expanse of water, so we met with Viv, the local ranger (google "Loch Morar Fishing" and you'll find details easily enough). Twenty years experience seemed a safer bet than twenty hours in this case: DSCF6133 It's always fascinating to try a big mysterious water and hear the local lore. Morar has it's own secrets- hulking ferox trout and even its' own monster "Morag". From his cautious smile I got the feeling Viv didn't want to pour cold water on that particular legend. From the sheer size of the place there must be hidden monsters, was his verdict. Maybe not prehistoric beasts though- but huge eels. DSCF6135 Our more modest aim was a brown trout, for which the loch is well known. Classic "team of three" tactics were employed in the face of a stout Northerly breeze. I love the sheer variation in fishing tactics you find when travelling and this was no exception. In total contrast to the painfully slow -or non existent- retrieve of the southern softie fishing buzzers, these lochs demand a healthy pull to present bushy flies through a rolling wave. It was cold work, but with Viv's experience we covered some fantastically rocky, fishy looking reefs and bays and after a couple of hit and miss takes, the rod eventually thumped over. An average specimen for Morar, but what a fresh looking and powerful trout: DSCF6139 Amidst other days out in the nearby wilderness and the romantically named Isle of Muck, I also really fancied a day or two in the hill lochs. These are destinations not for the casual visitor, with hearty walks, boggy land and an icy breeze to contend with. Worth every step for their high flung grandeur and sense of totally wild seclusion however. DSCF6114 A real sucker for punishment, I even dragged my float tube over these rocky, wet climes to search near virgin water. I'd be lying if I said it was easy, comfortable fishing- but what I found will stay with me forever. In a brisk chop, I opted for classic, bushy flies to draw trout from the waves. The initial hits were from small fish- but what amazing colours. Is there a fish as varied, or beautiful, as the brown trout? DSCF6155 The real secret weapon proved to be the push and presence of the Sedgehog however. Shetland based artist and angling pal Paul Bloomer sent me a little selection that proved absolutely deadly. There's only one thing better than a really effective method- and that's an effective method high on visual thrills and spills. These bushy flies float like cork, making a wake across the surface which wild trout react to with explosive force. I would almost compare it to popping for pike, such were the savage hits, misses and airborne fireworks of hooked fish. Breathtaking sport: DSCF6123 I saved the best for my last little foray however, when blown across the bitter expanse of a larger hill loch in the tube. I'd been buffeted up and down in the wind, then treated to hail. Was this any time to be float tubing? The take on the Sedgehog was brutally hard, before the fly line plunged deep under the waves. The tube span round; I lost my left flipper. I started laughing as the wind stung my face, the float tube travelling in circles and a good fish leaping clear of the water. At around 15" it was a fine wild "troot"- and an outstanding fighter. DSCF6160 What a final day it was too, with more trout in the tube. A case of hauling your sorry backside to the far shore of the loch each time, before letting the wind take the tube across acres of rocking water casting as you go. Cold but thrilling work. When you've walked about six miles complete with chest waders and a float tube, you really feel it in your legs and arms. Never have a hot shower and a tin of beer tasted so good. A satisfying end to my Scottish trip then, but the surprises didn't end there. DSCF6187 Sitting in the shadow of Ben Nevis, the Caledonian Canal was a welcome stop en route as we headed back to England. The canal anorak inside me was intrigued by "Neptune's Staircase", the crazy series of eight consecutive locks at the Fort William end of this waterway. No time for a cheeky cast, but this looks a fascinating water for another time. A fantastically clear canal with brown trout in it you say? Only in Scotland. DSC_0045-2 In fact, the only expected ingredient missing from the week was a hooked pike. There are none in Morar, but I enjoyed a close encounter with the beauty above in Loch Lomond Aquarium, which also has a whole host of other native species on show including perch, bream, tench and sea fish. The drive back was epic in itself- but I must say, the time passed much quicker amid the highland scenery than it did on England's motorways. The ludicrous petrol costs were about the only pricey bit of our stay too, with a week's permit for Morar just £30.

Friday 4 May 2012

Soaking Safari

DSCF6106 Sometimes the most important part of your kit is not a special fly, bait or anything similar, but an umbrella! With my main shelter now more pock marked than a gangster's face, my unfashionable 1970's special has been a life saver. Even the most imaginative at the Met Office couldn't have produced a more spectacularly off kilter 2012: tench in January, heatwave in March, stinking start to May. Most of my fishing has been confined to methods and waters where the rain can't fully kill things off. The canals have been bloody hopeless for fly fishing sadly- but float fishing with bread is also a very pleasant method and I thoroughly enjoyed a spot of waggler fishing and putting the world to rights with Paul Hamilton. Having a good wander with light tackle, we shared a good catch including Paul's pound plus roach (top) and rudd to 1lb 9oz. Along with the current plight of Exeter City FC, we both agreed the fish never look quite as big when you're a six footer with shovels for hands- but what pretty fish! 1015 The fly rod sport can wait- although I'm not sure I can! If nothing else, one or two little dips have provided fuel for the fly tying vice. You won't find a more rich venue anywhere than the Grand Western Canal either. One clump of weed I netted contained a silly number of species. Damsel nymphs, shrimp, corixa and hog lice are all abundant- and will be informing my fly selections just as soon as the damned water resembles something more like, well- water! DSCF6098 DSCF6101 The news on "Flyfishing for Coarse Fish" has brightened even the dampest, dourest weather though, with suppliers already selling out and the book reaching 2nd in Amazon's current "Fishing bestsellers" list, just behind Hemingway's "The Old Man and the Sea". It has been thrilling to hear from so many anglers from coarse and fly camps alike who are enjoying my take on this exciting area, and already setting out on new adventures. My next port of call, however, will be on the trail of highland trout as I take a quick break in Scotland. One of the best parts of flyfishing is the exchange of ideas and flies between enthusiasts. And in this digital age, you can't beat the joy of receiving a bundle of home rolled flies and a hand written letter. Shetland based artist Paul Bloomer sent me a brilliant little set of flies and tips for the far north- and I'm especially intrigued by his use of stickleback imitations to slay big loch trout. More on this later- but I have a hunch this could be an especially valuable tactic in the dour present conditions! I'll be casting a few of these flies, along with some other favourite dark lures. Here's a current trial- a combo of the classic Epoxy Minnow with a Minkie style back. photo-9