Saturday 30 March 2013

Surviving "Spring"

 photo DSC_0097_zpsfa5bcf73.jpg This week I want to avoid starting with the usual cliches about cold conditions, closed season, blah blah blah, and salute two absolute stalwarts of the fishing scene: the perch and your local tackle shop. Both are an essential part of the sport. They're always there for you, making that fishing trip possible whether the going is good or bloody awful.
In gloomy times it's refreshing to see a tackle shop getting a revamp. The big mail order companies are all well and good for a quick bargain, but where would fishing be without the local tackle dealer? Who knows the latest scoop on your neck of the woods? Who makes sure you have fresh bait? Who gets you the right ticket, puts you onto the fish with that personal touch? Someone on a mail order line 200 miles away? Didn't think so. Which is why it's great news that Cullompton Carp and Coarse has just moved to a new, bigger premesis just off the M5, junction 28. This is also the ideal location for the travelling angler, as it's en route for countless destinations. There are few anglers with a better knowledge of local waters and current form than manager Ian Nadin either, who has worked his wotsits off to transform a bare space into a cracking new shop. Well worth a visit- and for every tenner spent currently you'll also get a free prize draw ticket! More details at:  photo photo-50_zps1a9fd16f.jpg In fact, I hope for the sake of so many people connected with fishing that 2013 is a settled year. Something as simple as the weather has a huge impact on fishing. Sure, the addicts will always fish. But many, many more people fish only infrequently when the weather is poor. A bit of sunshine and suddenly everything looks more appetising. That bloke walking along the river sees a man fishing and thinks to himself "that looks really relaxing, I could try that." A mild month and suddenly new rods are desired, flies and baits are bought; magazines sell and visitors book local guides. Is that really so surprising? Even the die hards are craving some sunshine and milder climes at this point.  photo DSC_0078-4_zpsefda688f.jpg But anyway, enough of my rambling and onto the fishing. Yes, it has been icy. Thank goodness therefore for the obliging species like perch and skimmers that play ball on any given day. Not that they get easier to catch- quite the reverse. Hoping to overcome the elements, I had a testing day's fishing on a remote little stillwater with Russ Hilton. Where exactly you set up is the first sticking point. Usually my first option after weeks of biting cold would be deep water- but on this occasion we avoided the deepest bank as it had been totally lashed by virtually two whole weeks of easterly winds. Two calmer spots offered more sheltered water, but would there be enough depth? On plumbing up, we were relieved to find four feet or so, even close to cover. It was to be a day to demonstrate the value of patient feeding and relatively fine presentation. I really mixed the baits up. I based my attack on three lines: a maggot spot, a chopped worm line and a pellet swim. I also mixed up a large bait tub of groundbait (50/50 mix of Bait Factory Bio Bloodworm/ VDE Supercup) which was carefully riddled to remove the lumps. The beauty of a varied menu is that you always have a plan B and C to fall back on.  photo DSC_0005-4_zps8ec6788d.jpg Careful feeding was the watchword. It's tempting to feed and then stop when things don't take off, but I intended to keep trickling bait on three lines. The maggot line worked straight away- but the pellet line to ok ages and my chopped worm swim seemed to be raided by tiny silvers rather than perch. Nevertheless, every 10-15 minutes in went another little ball of groundbait containing two chopped dendrobenas, using the pole cup for accuracy. A similar feed rate was employed for the pellet line, while I flicked 4-5 maggots into the near side every other minute. I was just starting to wonder if anything better would turn up, when a switch to a 6mm pellet produced the first bream of the day- a better skimmer and a proper pull in the elastic:  photo DSC_0040-2_zps7c024ce2.jpg If ever a day illustrated the value of persistent, light feeding, this was it. Russ started hitting into some better perch, including a 2.06 pounder, but neither of us was really flying. Finally however, well over four hours into our feeding regime, the fishery really woke up. I had a solid 3lb bream on the pellet before my next worm fish really took the pole for a dance- other than the fly rod, there really isn't a more exciting way to play tug of war with fish like this 2.03lb perch.  photo DSC_0129_zpsd4af2b3f.jpg Russ was also now storming away, landing a PB perch, but I don't want to steal his thunder (and his "Tales from the Towpath" blog is always worth a read). So, with literally hours of light, regular feeding the machine started paying out. It begs a question really: were these better fish always right there but not in the mood? Or did they begin to patrol once the water warmed up a little in the sun? To really emphasize the point, I then tried a worm on the inside line at last knockings. I had trickled maggots here for literally the whole damned day. Over six hours after that first helping, the float settled and just kept going. The fish plunged hard on a light hollow elastic, heading for some sunken branches initially, before steady pressure took the fight to more open water. I thought this was a good one, but once in the net it looked especially broad and thick. A very respectable 2.12lbs made this a great finish to the day, not to mention a reward for persistence.  photo DSC_0145_zps4b757343.jpg

Sunday 24 March 2013

Devon PAC Fly & Lure Match

 photo DSC_0012-2_zpsf759a9d4.jpg Spring still felt a long way off for the annual Devon Pike Anglers Club match, held on a day of biting easterly winds. Credit to the intrepid half dozen anglers who fished the event, whose spirits were scarcely numbed by the sort of conditions which could see the Easter Bunny die of hypothermia.  photo DSC_0005-4_zps7db9f65b.jpg Nevertheless, the cut retained a sombre beauty for a roving session. Both flies and lures were permitted- and I always find this an interesting contest of different styles- and you could say the same about the characters fishing! Would the superior vibration of the lures steal the day in less than clear water? Or would the slow, subtle spell of the flies appeal more to pike rendered sluggish by a dip in temperatures? The rules were simple- a main prize for angler with the most pike, plus a pair of little sweepstake awards for the biggest and most pathetically tiny pike on the day.  photo DSC_0007-4_zpsd91c52a8.jpg After about an hours fishing, a more relevant question seemed to be whether we would catch anything whatsoever. Our contestants searched and cast their way undeterred, while canny old fox Peter Higgins nabbed the first fish at the rear of the group, by running a pike fly tantalisingly through those near bank spots the rest of us had forgotten. Soon afterwards, Adam Moxey added a jack for the lure boys, while our 2011 winner Ian Woodason kept getting his spinnerbait whacked without getting any purchase on the jaws responsible. We switched artificials and moved swims. Cold hands were rubbed together. We shared obligatory nods and "bloody cold isn't it?" conversations with passing onlookers. The hits came in little spells, usually when we escaped the muddy stuff and found one or two clearer areas. Perhaps the greatest result of the day was a well earned score by Pete Wilkins and James Sherlock, who both managed to land their first ever fly caught pike. Out of the blue, James then took a shock lead in the contest. From casting practise on the strip of grass outside my flat, he had reached the pinnacle of success... well, sort of. The pike were scrappy little gits but hardly epic sized. "It really works, doesn't it?" were the exact words of our new convert, who I think had previously assumed that fly fishing was just an elaborate way of decorating trees with pike flies.  photo DSC_0054-2_zps2875dea8.jpg So much for your local guide then- I was playing catch up, one of the last to get on the scoreboard with a one pound jack after a series of frustrating hits and misses. It's an interesting phenomenon, but we've had the same thing in previous events where the weather was bitter; pike willing to grab, but perhaps not doing so with their usual aggression and not getting hooked as a result. The unluckiest man of the lot was poor Ian- who got a stack of bites but not one fish hung on properly. That said, he did find this rather fetching gold jerkbait in a tree, which was a real bonus:  photo DSC_0037-1_zps26d4fa5f.jpg Who would prevail in the final hour? It was tight, with James Sherlock making it a hat trick of pike on the fly. I thought my carrots were cooked, before something gave one of my clouser style flies a proper thump as it came up the near shelf. This time the eight weight wasn't so much tickled as walloped over- and a fish of five pounds, the best of the day, hit the net:  photo DSC_0050-1_zps12414cd5.jpg Another little jack for me and the match was tied at 3-3 by the final whistle. An entertaining score draw you might say. It was too bloody cold to play any extra time in any case. It had been a terrific little day out, fished in good spirits and a respectable tally of nine pike overall. The flies had the edge on this occasion, perhaps due to the cold water and less than kamikaze mood of the pike- and a fairly slow retrieve worked best. That said, the lure boys can count themselves a little unlucky not to have stuck a few more in the net.

Friday 8 March 2013

Pike and Publishing

What is it about the River Wye and me? Every time I'd previously launched an attack on its pike population, the very fabric of the world seemed to conspire against me. This week felt little different, as I got held up by a road accident on the way through Hereford, followed by a bridge closure and then, just as I thought I might actually get there, the drizzle began and I was met with more "road closed" signs.  photo DSC_0090-2_zps2637adaf.jpg The river itself looked good though. I came to the spot I'd eyed up before- a great sinister endpoint on a bend, complete with gothic looking, leafless tree branches. As the rain kicked back in, the temptation was to hunker down with a bait rod out for the day. And yet looking into the depths, it struck me that the water was still beguilingly clear, the rain yet to cloud things up. Out came the fly rod; the right decision. With a fast sink tip, a big fly was getting right among the boulders where the bottom dropped away and I had that distinct feeling -as any angler has in their blood from time to time- that something would happen. After losing one fly lodged solid in a snag, I thought the same had happened again when the line stopped dead. This time something began a low, determined thumping across the bottom. It took me a few yards down the bank before I managed to stop the fish. Only by slow turns and what can only be described as an abusive curve in the rod could I bring the fish up. And then I saw it and froze. I had to scramble down a muddy bank on my backside, while the thing wallowed at the surface. She seemed to come in painfully slowly while my wellies gradually disappeared into the bank. Was this finally going to be the moment I put a Wye twenty into the net- or would they just find a pair of wellies and the word "help" scratched into the bank?  photo DSC_0083-4_zps6e30c811.jpg She was bloody heavy. I was elated and yet still bricking it as I took her in the unhooking mat and climbed along the bank for dear life. I just about clawed my way to more solid ground, breathing a sigh of relief as I found a better area to retain her safely for a quick weigh and a picture. At an ounce over twenty four pounds, this was my biggest ever fly caught fish! It took a 6" yellow and black pattern. Finally, after believing the place was just there to provide mud and disappointment on the pike front, I have my revenge on the Wye!  photo DSC_0051-3_zps8442305a.jpg Prettier and calmer waters had met me in Ludlow the day before, as I met with publisher Merlin Unwin. As well as a cheeky trot on the Teme, we were also there to talk books. There can't be many people who have met more characters in the world of fishing and country sports as Merlin. The riverside is always a great place for a conversation and I intend to get some of his reflections together for an article soon.  photo DSC_0056-2_zps4c633607.jpg The grayling didn't disappoint either and trotting with the pin was a lovely way to spend a couple of hours, accompanied by the rush of the weir. Amazingly, much of the fishing is free through the town centre. The biggest fish might just about have troubled the pound mark- but they made short work of maggots and just kept coming. The lines between work and play were pleasantly blurred on this occasion- and we also discussed a new book project for the coming months (but I can't spoil the surprise just yet!). I feel honoured to be backed by the people who've published great writers from Chris Yates to "B.B" over the years- and made "Flyfishing for Coarse Fish" not just a reality but a roaring success.  photo 9a204f77-c0f6-429e-b1f4-fa50df51b060_zpsd7ccb6d6.jpg Will coarse species on the fly ever enter the mainstream of fishing? It's already happening. There are now plenty of anglers as enthusiastic about pike as they are on trout. With the desperately cold temperatures earlier in the week however, I thought I'd have my work cut out guiding Lawrence Heaton-Wright to some decent predator fishing. Never mind the fish, it was a job finding ice free spots at first! At least the cold made for lovely clear water on the stretches of canal I'd picked. The highlight of the day was the sighting of a good fish that at first totally ignored a smallish, realistic pattern. Switching to a big orange fly did the trick though- Lawrence landed the fly perfectly within murdering distance and the pike did the rest, right before our eyes- SLAM! An inspired substitution you might say. Guesstimated at around eight pounds, this one proved to be the best of four well-earned fish on the day:  photo DSC_0024-5_zps120335bc.jpg