Wednesday 31 July 2013

Carping and King Fishers

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Carp are one of those species that cause heated pub debates between angling factions. My own position? I love them, but I do feel like carp angling sometimes suffers from tunnel vision. There are so many ways to catch carp, and not all depend on multiple rods and multiple hours on the bank. Just ask Dan Sales and Ben Hayward, two anglers with intriguing and very different approaches to their carp fishing.
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First stop on a mini road trip was on some gravel pits for a spot of fly fishing. Ben Hayward is one of those anglers who doesn't just imitate. Or perhaps I should say that's exactly what he does- he imitates fly life! As a Devon angler used to pokey little ponds, the pits are a different world. They're also fertile places when it comes to fly life. There's something rather refreshing about watching a guy with just one rod strolling past bivvies armed with a box of bloodworms, bugs and dry flies as opposed to boilies.
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I'm not going to lay all his cards out here- that's a task for an in depth feature. But what I would say is that Ben is living proof that with some smart thinking and a lot of legwork, anything is possible with a fly rod. He doesn't always imitate specific hatches, but I noticed plenty of large nymphs and dry flies such as Hare's Ears, damsels and daddies in his box. In spite of only fly fishing for three or four seasons, he has picked up some impressive skills. Getting stuck in to tight corners and accurate roll casting play a big part:
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The recent thunder seemed to have made the carp picky, but Ben managed to hook and land a battling eight pounder with the added pressure of my lens on him (and the added pressure of Fly For Coarse organiser Charlie Hancock making lewd comments to try and break his concentration). A great effort- and we didn't see a single fish taken by anglers with two or three rods per man.

Another angler with a refreshingly different approach to carping is Dan Sales. Being a total canal enthusiast I couldn't wait to hit the towpath with him and go in search of some commons and mirrors on his local cut. Again it was mobility and an open mind that stood out. Here's a line you don't hear often from carp men: "I can't stand sitting around in one spot!"
 photo DSC_0564_zpsb1f94467.jpgAnd it paid off. Negotiating ducks, boats and other obstacles, Dan managed to get into the fish on a tough day. Much of his approach is about free-lining bread and other simple baits, which certainly helps beat the crayfish. When ducks are a menace he also zig-rigs bread or slings out simple legered pop-ups. Again, there are too many ideas to pack into the quick scribble of this blog (and I have to save some of the choice bits for articles, because the tinned food is running out).
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The camera has a strange effect on my fishing at times. You can't be an active photographer and a 100% committed angler at the same time, and vice versa. And I wouldn't grumble at this simple fact, because I find getting quality images just as rewarding as fishing itself these days. That said, I did manage to catch a small but scrappy common on a free-lined piece of bread.
 photo DSC_0490_zps11ab809b.jpgSome wise guy said that a fishing adventure is not about the final outcome, but all the things that happen on the way. And so it proved on a sweltering afternoon. We saw quite possibly Britain's oldest female impersonator on a canal barge of all places. And exhibit B was this rather strange llama type thing with really odd mannerisms, which looked like something out of a Kafka story, all swivelling ears and curiously human scratching.
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Talking of surreal experiences, do tune in to "King Fishers" on Monday if you get the chance (National Geographic Channel, 8pm, 5th Aug). From African war dances to humpback whales, it was a fishing adventure I will never forget. Looking at some of the friction in the series so far, I'm also grateful to have been competing against two really friendly (but still slightly nuts!) characters in Gambia's Tony Tabbal and Geir Sivertzen of Norway. These guys are legends. My rivals perhaps, but one of the best bits of the show was making two great friends. I've already been ice fishing since with Geir, while Tony has really taken to fly fishing after the hasty casting lesson I gave him in England. A true exchange of angling ideas and cultures you might say. Enjoy the ride!
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Monday 22 July 2013

Blazing Sport

 photo photo-71_zpse6162ce7.jpgEarlier today, a non fishing mate asked a straight question: "So, is this hot weather any good for fishing?"
I had to hesitate. Truth be told, the heat can make fishing really tough. On a low, clear river the fish can see you more easily. They can also see your line and any mistakes more easily. Then again, for some species (notably rudd and chub) sport can be terrific, especially on the fly. Every time I peruse the "Flyfishing for Coarse Fish" FaceBook group there seem to be more cracking pictures posted- with chub especially well represented.

As for more traditional game species, it can be tougher. Such was the case on the Taw, where I was delighted to meet up with Cal and Karl Salmon once again. Having made a great start to their fly casting (and catching!) adventures on a stillwater, they were keen to try on a river. It was certainly beautiful, but baking hot. I felt they didn't get the results their efforts deserved. This is the trouble with fishing. You can make a dozen perfect presentations, but you can't force the fish to take.
 photo photo-72_zpsda5ad8c7.jpgWe finally saw some activity as the odd fish rose under trees and a willing taker or two. Faster, well oxygenated water is also still worthwhile. The real fluke of the day came in the afternoon though, when this foot long brownie, the day's best, raced to grab a fly that I had raced in with no second thought, purely to get the line back on the reel. Typical really- you bang on about careful presentation and then catch one in the most careless fashion possible!
 photo photo-73_zpsf6c3cd78.jpgI also had the pleasure of a session at Sydenham with Adam Moxey, which is part of the great value "Westcountry Angling Passport" scheme. Moxey was also pretty new to river fly fishing, but acquitted himself well. He was soon catching trout as well as trees after a quick side casting lesson. In spite of the heatwave, I felt that the river here was perhaps a decent bet in the sun as it is so cool and well shaded. The one frustration was the grayling. We could see these clearly enough, but getting them to take was another matter.
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None were willing to rise and they looked decidedly docile sitting near the bottom. The above fish was our only bite from the fish we had to re-christen "fussy bitches of the stream" as opposed to ladies. It took my nymph really eagerly, which is more than you can say for the others. The better news is that this beat, as well as others will be open well into autumn when conditions should be more suitable.
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In other news I was honoured to be a guest of Fly Fishing and Fly Tying magazine at the CLA Game Fair. The aim was to spread the gospel about "Fly For Coarse" - and fittingly enough my article on dace fishing features in this months edition. I also used the allure of some of my soft fish to draw in some unwitting visitors, while Sue Rudge from FF&FT's esteemed Salmon School quickly commandeered the giant salmon:
 photo photo-68_zps8eff97f3.jpgFor anyone who thinks country sports are niche, this event is an eye opener. 150 000 guests in three days is not exactly a fringe event! It's also a great chance to catch up with old friends and some of the real characters of the fishing world. I felt right at home as the Westcountry Angling Passport crew poured me a pint of Dartmoor Jail Ale! It was also great to hear of Des Taylor's adventures from the man himself, as well as meeting up with Dr Mark Everard doing his own book signing with new title "Redfin Diaries". I also notice that this Professor of roach fishing has also been catching them on the fly, a gold bead hare's ear to be specific. I'm hoping to join him on the river later this summer, not for hulking great creatures but the colourful species from his brilliant "Little Book of Little Fishes." Should be fun!
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Friday 12 July 2013

The Lips Have it...

 photo DSC_0192_zpsf04e739e.jpgOf all the places I'm lucky enough to explore with a fishing rod, the Wye has to be up there with the most beautiful of the lot. This week it has been in sparkling condition and equally sparkling form. I had two days to enjoy the place in all its' glory. With Stephen Hall booking a guided trip, my first task was to find the fish. The Wye can be a changeable place at the best of times, but it didn't take long to find visible fish in some glorious looking spots:
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I'm also a relieved man looking at the fine summer weather. I am eternally grateful that so many readers bought the book and have embraced fishing for coarse species on the fly. The last damp summer was a better one for study than practise however, and it's great to see so many people getting out and catching fish. We've had a terrific response to both the "Flyfishing for Coarse Fish" FaceBook group and the contest.
A sunny river certainly helps:
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As for the wide list of species on the current menu, chub would be right up there with the finest of the lot to tempt on the fly. Dries, wets, streamers... you name it, if your presentation is up to scratch they'll gobble it up. I made sure I didn't hammer any one area on my recce, in high hopes that my guest Stephen Hall would enjoy some first rate sport. The river didn't disappoint, but I think even Steve was surprised at just how effective the fly rod proved. Perhaps the best moment of the day was a shoal of chunky fish that came up for floating grasshoppers cast near a weed raft and given a good "Kick"!
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Everything was alive. There were damsels and olives everywhere. And at this time of the year, you just know that the fish will be in the bug infested, well oxygenated shallows where you can get at them.
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We even found flashing barbel, although with a slight algal bloom on this occasion it proved tricky to get them to locate a well weighted Czech Nymph. Waders are virtually essential for this fishing, although it has been so hot I've taken to wet wading in shorts and a pair of "flats sneakers". I still can't believe my good fortune at finding a pair at half price in my own ridiculous shoe size, a 14. They're brilliant- and I intend to take them bass fishing in future too:
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If it's a thrilling event to discover something new yourself, I think I get just as much of a kick from introducing a fellow angler to unfamiliar methods. Steve learned several new tactics- and when takes on the dries, erm, dried up, I advised a switch to streamers. Throwing a Woolly Bugger or Popper into the shade of trees is a great way to excite lethargic fish. It was challenging fishing, but he landed the best of his five chub on a well placed streamer- a fish that pummelled well even on a heavier seven weight outfit. Great catch!
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Sunday 7 July 2013

No place like home

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This week, there are bigger adventures afoot. After weeks on end of secrecy, I am finally able to reveal probably the biggest fishing adventure of my life. As a participant on the National Geographic/ ITV show "King Fishers" I've had an amazing ride- a contest spanning thousand of miles, from arctic conditions to tropical heat. Three weeks of nervous excitement, to put it plainly. Running on minimal sleep, not knowing where you'll wake up next day, or what you'll be fishing for.
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It seems like another life as I type this, a wild dream perhaps. Watching humpback whales surface in Norway. Praying for floods in Somerset to recede. Fishing in a snow storm at -17C in the fjords, or tropical heat. Watching a huge monitor lizard haul its' bulk along a flaky wall somewhere in East Africa. The hypnotic rhythm of drums. "King Fishers" kicks off tomorrow on the National Geographic channel (8pm every Monday). I'm honoured, still thrilled and slightly baffled to be a part of it; with a huge budget and 30 destinations world wide, the series will be a truly international celebration of fishing, competition and camaraderie- but you'll just have to tune in to see how the drama unfolds!
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Back on my local patch, summer has finally delivered on its promise. Far flung destinations are one thing, but actually it's just great to be home. And bloody hell does it feel better to have the sun on your face and clear waters to aim a fly at. I've had a rollercoaster weekend with a truly mixed bag of species.
 photo DSC_0139_zps5c43119b.jpgThe canals are alive with fly life; the fish have switched from tricky to ravenous, a whole range of flies willingly devoured on our rural canals. The usual spiders worked well, but I also scored on little dry flies such as a size 18 flying ant:
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The roach and rudd have come thick and fast in fact. So much for baking hot weather being poor for fishing; on the contrary, the fish have been well up in the water and willing to take. For sheer viewing pleasure, little beats high sun and high visibility and I think I'd get almost as much pleasure from just watching the waters as fishing in these conditions. From playful shoal fish to sinister predators, you get a window on another world:
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 photo DSC_0045_zpsaf7afb0c.jpgPerhaps most bizarre is the appearance, en masse, of those fish that are meant to be bottom huggers. I was absolutely spellbound by a huge shoal of bream in fact, with around fifty fish from around the pound mark to several times that size. All were sat just inches under the surface, but would they take a fly?
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The biggest of the shoal just wouldn't respond at first, as I cast a slow sinking nymph close by. I then missed a clear take from a "skimmer" nearby that intercepted my beaded spider. A handful of casts later, this three pounder gobbled up the same fly and put a decent bend in my four weight:
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What can I say? Having been in this situation before and found the fish tricky, it was a great sensation to pick off one of these basking bream. They might seem apathetic, especially the really large fish- but a delicately cast fly, gently sinking in the eye level of loitering fish is a decent bet. I know one thing for sure anyway, that I would not have caught this fish with traditional methods. The canals are alive with fly life at present. The water is warm and the fish are high in the water. Perhaps it should't be such a surprise that an artificial fly is the key. Appropriately enough, our Westcountry canals are also great places to spot a king fisher or two! I had stacks of roach and rudd as well as my bonus bream, often the better fish in the shoals I spotted, with lots in the half to one pound stamp:
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