Monday 27 May 2013

Flying West

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Back to more active fishing this week. You can only contain me in a bivvy for so long before I get seriously restless. I did finally get into some carp at Darts Farm on another night session, but must have had three of the smallest fish in the lake. I couldn't wait to get back to some more impatient fishing, which started on the Bude Canal (above). This is a crazy little venue; every chance of a flounder amongst the roach. Or indeed a trout, and I had three on maggot or caster.
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I waggler fished most of a short session, catching rudd steadily. With hindsight I should perhaps have spent longer down the track for the bream. It's not the prettiest or most sophisticated method, but a small method feeder was deadly. In fact it can be downright unfair- you can be sat there presenting the bait perfectly on a pole and fine tackle and yet next door someone is hauling fish out on a horrendous chunk of groundbait and 6lb hook length. There is a certain pleasure in watching the tip go crazy I suppose, and I landed a cracking bream and lost another two in perhaps 90 minutes of trying this, although pedalo warfare soon slowed things down. Not a bad catch though:
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I've also been back on the trail of new waters, first up at St Tinney Farm, which has several of the sort of ponds that take you back to childhood- cute, leafy and stuffed with carp, roach and rudd. I took one look before reaching for the fly rod.
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The water was hardly gin clear, so I went for a size 10 black and peacock. The rudd played ball from the off, and I also had some cat and mouse style fun with the carp. I had one suck in the fly without getting hooked, another keep nosing it for several yards and then, finally, a nice mirror bolting off. Just shows, you don't need chum mixers to lure carp. It takes a little more patience, but the fish of mature ponds know exactly what insects are:
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I'm hoping to do more with St Tinney in fact (about 20 mins from Bude). There are lots of great little streams and stillwaters nearby as well as the coarse fish on site. Some nice rudd could also form some great guided trips on sunny afternoons. For today's mission, visitors Karl and son Callum Salmon (great fishy surname) were keen to learn to fly fish, so I took them to Simpson Valley to try a half day session. Well versed in coarse fishing techniques this was something entirely new to try.
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Some anglers take a bit of practise, others are just naturally good with a fly rod. Callum was definitely one of the latter. I always like to start the process on a nice flat space without the distraction of fish, water and trees. After an hour or so of pointers on grass, he was already creating elegant loops on the lakes. Both our intrepid fly casters caught fish and hopefully caught the bug:
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Thursday 23 May 2013

Spring blues, bronzes and greens

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The best place to wax lyrical about the "glorious unpredictability" of fishing is the pub, I'm starting to believe, as opposed to a chilly waterside where you sit there perplexed as to why sport is slow. Lately I seem to be putting in about double the effort to make any passable catches. And although taking a bit of a piscatorial kicking can be educational, I'm still longing for that day of effortless enjoyment to mark a new summer. Still, the tench have been conspicuously bubbling and rolling- as the dawn picture above shows.
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The anglers have been somewhat better company than the fish and I particularly enjoyed sitting alongside Dave Sellick (above) to see how he gets to grips with tench on the Exeter Canal. One factor is his skill as a pole fisherman. Another is his adaptability- with the water level well down on our trip, he knew instantly that the fish would be further out in the safety of deeper water. His other secret weapon is his bicycle and trailer to reach remote spots. He took a cracking net of tench and bream, while stopping quickly to become "Bicycle Repair Man" (anyone remember the Monty Python sketch?) and sort a puncture:
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I managed two decent bream in the end, but only by fishing at maximum reach with my 13m pole. I also took a tip off Dave to try his favourite hook bait. All the old angling books tell you dead maggots are only useful for eels, but they are a great bait for tench and bream too. The beauty of dead grubs is that they stay put. They're easy for any self respecting bream or tench to suck in and won't wriggle into weed or silt. "Three dead red" is Dave's mantra. It's probably the only hook bait you need for these bonus fish.
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A long way further down the road, I also had the pleasure of an escape to Norfolk to meet with Bob James. The mere we fished was absolutely to die for in terms of setting, but also proved a real challenge.

With northerly winds and distinctly chilly evenings, my night fishing for carp drew a big fat blank. A shame, because the odd fish we spotted looked solid and beautiful things. Night fishing for me is one of the great undescribed areas of angling. It can be a murky, dense and thrilling experience; or something more akin to psychological warfare over cold biteless nights. Why is it that most angling writers say so little about it? Perhaps they lack the bravery to describe the despondency of insomnia and inevitable blanks, while the successes are reduced to statements like "I was over the moon" "it was scale perfect" etc, etc. It's a bit like when you see the winning goal scorer interviewed on cup final day who says "I've hit it first time and luckily it's gone in the back of the net." Why do they never say: "I absolutely lashed it into the goal. It nearly ripped the bloody net out. I thought my heart would explode!" Answers on a bream.
 photo DSC_0480_zps72087fc1.jpgNo sudden explosion of joy for me on this trip where the carp were concerned. Thank goodness for other species in fact, because otherwise it would have been a very long trip for not a great deal. The mere I fished with Bob was delightfully peaceful, with kingfishers, owls and a staggering amount of insect life. I also caught this slow worm relaxing by the path:
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Bob's little terrier Cassie also noticed the rustling in the grass, and is popular with the land owner for her skill at removing moles. A safer quarry than the badgers she also likes to pester in any case:
 photo DSC_0182-3_zps44ca3b1c.jpgThe tench were especially receptive in the morning. Bob uses little else for them than 10mm boilies and pellets these days, with liberal helpings of groundbait to prime an area. In fact, it wasn't exactly Mr Crabtree tenching. He favours fairly deep areas rather than directly in those tempting looking margins, as the tench can then be persuaded to extend their feeding well into the late morning.
 photo DSC_0253_zps759ad76b.jpgWe also had a try for bream and I put my "Bait Factory" testers hat on once again to lay down a good bed of feed. You might have had to force me at gunpoint to use a spomb and introduce lashings of particles not so long ago, but I'm beginning to see the value of accurate, fairly heavy baiting these days.
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I don't know what it is about bream, but as with pike they just seem to agree with me. And unless it happens to be three in the morning I'm always happy to catch them. I even like the rather sleepy, ponderous way they fight on light tackle.
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Monday 13 May 2013

Stirrings of Spring

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Chaos with the seasons or otherwise, I remain convinced that May is arguably the best fly fishing month of the year. Things start to hatch. You can (sometimes) take a walk in shorts. The weather has good surprises as well as evil and spontaneous little trips crop up. The rivers are out of bounds for coarse fish, but finally the roach are starting to respond better to flies on still waters. I've been having some joy at least on spiders, bugs and even small emerger buzzers. Little gold heads can be handy too, although I find larger versions can spook the fish. Pick a size 16 hook and a tiny 2-2.3mm bead however and you'll find for every fish or two that turn their noses up, the next will do an impression of a very small hoover. Bingo!
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I had several to about half a pound in just a couple of hours on the cut, as well as this tiny surprise pike that took a slightly bigger goldhead I was idly teasing at the edge for a perch. What can I say? Pike just like me. Even when I'm not fishing for them, I find them. They nick my worms when I pole fish, they pinch my flies when I tackle perch or trout- although this must be the smallest fly that I ever tempted a pike with.
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Other than that, further adventures have been scribbled rather than carefully planned. I half hoped to tackle a stillwater midweek with fellow fly angler Pete Wilkins. But with a windy, unsettled day in prospect I fancied a small, sheltered stream instead (beat 12, South Yeo, on the Westcountry Angling Passport). Complete with Indiana Jones hat, Pete was game for the challenge too. Although more used to stillwater fishing, he quickly got into the habit of keeping low and making short, tidy casts.
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The weather turned sour pretty quickly for us unfortunately, making nymph fishing our main attack. For all those who have an inner fear of the manifold fly patterns that we confuse ourselves with, you could happily catch on these streams all season with simple hares ears and spiders.

A merciful bit of sun in the afternoon and we even saw a bit of a hatch. The odd rise came, as well as swooping birds making the most of the little olives coming off the water. It never really exploded to life, but we both managed to pick off a handful of cute brownies.
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Never mind, things are looking up and even the stocked waters seem to be alive with hatches at the moment. Definitely the case at Simpson Valley where I fished a buzzer hatch with my brother, dad and other half for a Bank Holiday trip. It wasn't the heavy versions the fish wanted either, with plenty taking in the upper layers or off the surface.
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In fact, I had started with two flies, but all may bag came on the fly I used on the dropper, a Black Flexi Spider. A bit like a cross between a buzzer and a classic soft hackle, I've tied up several of these on size 10 and 12 hooks, but will also be casting some down to 16's and 18's for roach this summer.
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It's a pretty easy tie- so I thought I'd provide a short step by step. Materials are very common too:

Hook: Size 10-18 Classic nymph (could also use a light buzzer hook)

Thread: Black

Body: single strand of black flexifloss

Thorax: Peacock Herl

Hackle: Black hen (or could try starling)

Start by running a few turns of thread on your hook (leave a little gap for the head).

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Now catch in a piece of flex-floss on top of the shank.
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Once you've trapped it firmly, you can pull on the strand to make it thinner, giving you a slim body. Stop above the barb, before returning the thread evenly to about 4mm of the hook eye.
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Form your body out of even wraps of flex-floss. Leaving a slight gap between turns will give you nice buzzer like body. Secure with 2-3 tight wraps of thread and trim off excess.
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Now catch in a single strand of peacock herl.
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Make three or so turns of the herl to produce a thorax:
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Tie in a piece of black hen of a size to match the hook.
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Make two turns (no more!) of black hen before tying off. Whip finish and varnish the head.
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Give it a cast!

Thursday 9 May 2013

A Random Road Trip

 photo DSC_0265-2_zpsfcd87a9a.jpg The sums still seem nuts as I weigh up a week long road trip. 950 miles. About seventy quid's of worms, casters and maggots. A selection of random B&Bs. And all for the love of... well, the unexpected. I wanted to stop at a whole stack of those places you usually pass by thinking "that looks interesting", but never actually making a cast. There's a certain irony that in our age of information overload places such as urban waters and canals offer a good deal more mystery than the really "classic" destinations. And on this note, I was pleased to be in the company of Russ Hilton, who shares my taste for the sort of fishing detours you don't often see in tourist brochures. I can see it now: "Come fly fishing for roach with a series of bus shelter lunatics in a small town you've never heard of!"  photo DSC_0585-1_zps12c10ab8.jpg It wasn't all grim though. The Monmouth and Brecon Canal was just one overdue stop off. So many times, I'd seen it and wished I had a day to kill when headed for the Usk or the Wye. A good move, because in its own quirky way it has a beauty all of its own. Along with local angler Ray Minty and fishing author David Overland, we had a really varied day. As well as urban stretches, there are miles of canal with a leafy backdrop of hills and mountains. Little surprise that the place was the inspiration for parts of David's beautifully illustrated book "Fishing with Emma", which has just been released:  photo photo-59_zpsc1faef7f.jpg We had plenty of bites and an eventful day. The roach responded well to bread, but the fish probably weren't quite as big as the one David is describing to this young angler, who caught a beautiful little perch and then proceeded to tell us he was going to catch "a hundred" more:  photo DSC_0206_zps2e3c2f24.jpg I genuinely enjoy budget travel. It forces you to get stuck in and leave the script behind. Aside from a stop off of comparative luxury with Merlin Unwin, our overnight haunts were crazily varied. Homely B&Bs at one end, closer to Bates Motel at the other. The sort of places you find a hundred chipped ornaments and little stickers providing dire warnings about crimes you hadn't even considered. "Setting off the fire alarm will result in a fine of £1000!" or my personal favourite: "Strictly no more than one person in the shower at any one time." Yeah, because that's the obvious thing to do in Bradford isn't it, have a four person romp in a shower. Appearances can be deceptive however. Far cosier than its rather grim frontage was "The Noose and Gibbet" in Sheffield, the scene of the last public hanging in England:  photo DSC_0320_zps99b37666.jpg I have to say that some of the best fishing of all came in the most unexpected places. Such was the Steel City. We'd really just stopped for a walk and a few pictures, but slap bang in Sheffield you have both the River Don and the Sheffield and Tinsley Canal. The latter was crawling with roach, which were there for the taking with just a waggler rod and a few maggots, as well as some surprise sacks and bits of broken stereo. The trip was like this throughout in fact, with the sort of surprises that made you go "wow!" and others that you prayed would drop off your hook before you had to handle them.  photo DSC_0362_2_zps1f3e6df2.jpg  photo DSC_0377_zps5e83a627.jpg I can only scratch the surface in my scribblings here. There are enough clues, twists and turns to give Hercule Poirot a headache. Some big fish, some small fish, others in the "you bloody couldn't make it up!" category. All will be revealed in due course, but it's amazing what you find when you were looking for something else entirely. Such as a pub where you can still buy two pints of amazingly good bitter, a massive pie and a gut busting sandwich for little more than seven quid. Or a local character who still cycles to his favourite spot at eighty years young, having fished there as a boy during World War Two. The trouble is, I now have a notebook crammed with raw material to be hammered into a form less chaotic than the recesses of my brain.  photo DSC_0537_2_zps09f75ed1.jpg I have many anglers to thank for their kindness recently, with both planned and totally spontaneous encounters. Not least of all Neil Williams and the brilliant members of GUGGS (The Grand Union Gudgeon Society). Having received an entertaining email from them after my piece "Gudgeon at Ten Paces" in Improve Your Coarse Fishing, a meet up was essential.  photo DSC_0572_2_zps8b05389d.jpg With the motto "Size Doesn't Matter" GUGGS ( epitomise the fun-loving essence that is missing from so much in today's fishing scene. We had a lot of laughs tackling gudgeon with the lads, aiming for a specimen "Thirty" (yes, a thirty gram gudgeon). That's another story altogether, but having winkled out some beautiful whiskery blighters, both myself and Russ Hilton are now proud, card-carrying members. Converts even get their own GUGGS name (the first two letters of your surname, followed by first name, making the two of us "HiRu" and "GaDo"). Russell perhaps loses a few brownie points however, for switching his attention to what GUGGS refer to as "nuisance fish"- in this case bream. A fine catch to end a fun and fascinating week:  photo DSC_0594-1_zpsbee792eb.jpg