Friday 29 November 2013

Ultralight poaching with Peter and Peter

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As far as different branches of angling go, ultralight lures and fly fishing for predators are pretty close cousins. Both are active, intimate methods that suit smaller waters perfectly. They also suit the fidgety angler who constantly wonders if there's a better spot waiting just a little further along the bank. When conditions are tough, as they have been lately, that's no bad thing either. I always fancy if the fish aren't especially hungry my best chance is to simply show a fly or lure to as many eyes as possible.
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Joining me for a couple of roving canal sessions were the two Peters, Wardle and Higgins. It started in pretty urban style as Pete Wardle and I tried around Bridgwater, flipping flies and jigs around likely structures. The fry were present in spades, but the only perch that gave a solid take was a fish of perhaps a pound lured by Pete that came adrift. Other small fish followed or nipped, but it was a bit underwhelming on the whole, a sudden explosion of fry and a rolling pike the most exciting moment. Why is it that these attacking fish quite often seem hard to tempt I wonder? Maybe amidst a mass of living prey fish, a lure or fly is suddenly not so appealing?
Never mind- we soldiered on and ventured out in the sticks to find incredibly clear water and plenty of visible life. We both stuck it out on the really small stuff, because I quite fancied one of us to connect with a decent perch following my pole fishing session on the Taunton to Bridgwater a couple of weeks earlier. The theory was nice, but the fish that came at my fly was more in the small but cute category (what brilliant colours these clear water fish have!):
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With polarising glasses it was easy to spot perch and jacks, but less easy to wake them from their lethargy. Were easterly winds and high pressure to blame? Pete thought it was more a case of clear water and light levels- and the fishing definitely picked up in the last hour. I managed to hook and lose a rocket powered pike after switching to a black streamer, while Pete had the last laugh with this cracking perch guesstimated at around a pound and a half on a tiny soft shad:
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Peter Higgins joined us nearer home the following day for another testing canal session with similarly chilly, clear water and rather lethargic fish. The place looked beautiful all the same- and it's certainly a confidence booster to be able to spot fish, even when you can't always tempt them. I think Pete Wardle, used to fishing busier, murkier cuts, found our canals a very different prospect and swapped the ultra light lures for a fly rod, so that all three of us were fly fishing:
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And so the tricky fishing continued. Even the tiny jacks were a bit nervous or disinterested, sport only really picking up in the afternoon. I kept ringing the changes during lulls, and while the takes didn't exactly come thick and fast a black fly worked best for me- a Black Beast, to be specific, that Turrall will be producing early next year for the new "flies for coarse fish" range. It's not the first time this has been a get-out-of-jail pattern for me by any stretch and also tempted the best fish of the day:
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This was a strange creature, big mouth but not much bulk. The take and ensuing fight were both rather lazy and bloodless too- although it did manage a sudden thrash on the bank as I retrieved the hook, giving me a bloody thumb as a thank you. Mind-blowing fishing it hasn't been of late then, but interesting nonetheless and perhaps what I like about fly or ultralight fishing is that it makes every fish an event: every bite is earned and you don't need to hook anything spectacular to put a decent bend in the rod. After all, fishing should be about fun rather than bragging rights shouldn't it?
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Wednesday 20 November 2013

Bits vs Beasts

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If ever a session illustrated the merit of having different lines of attack, it was my last canal fishing trip with Russ Hilton on the Taunton to Bridgwater. The subtext was getting a few more shots for my canal fishing book and some practice for the Tiverton Christmas match, but I was just looking forward to some fishing as opposed to merely writing or talking about it. At the start it looked like we might catch silver fish all day long on bread punch. And had we so desired, that would have been a distinct possibility, so stuffed was the venue with small rudd and roach. It didn't matter whether you went all cute and fine with a tiny piece, or switched to flake on a fourteen, the hordes descended.
 photo DSC_0041_2_zps4233b472.jpgRuss was definitely catching these quicker than I was, at a fierce old rate on the whip. Makes me think I should dig my old whip out again at some point. A four meter model, with pointless yellow decor on the handle, was the first ever fishing rod I could call my own as a small boy. But in terms of fish caught that crummy length of fibreglass probably represents the best value item of tackle I've ever owned. It was the downfall of many Thames roach, as well as bullheads and bootlace eels. Not quite as posh as this rather sexy Sensas model you'd have to say:
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But I digress. Fun though it is bringing endless rudd to hand, it's always nice to put something bigger in the net too. And the trouble with small baits is that it can take an age to get through the bits and pieces. Luckily enough from my own, slightly disorganised perspective on this occasion, Hilton came up trumps with a ridiculous bag of worms and strict orders that he didn't want to take any of these home.
It's a plan that works so often on canals, but worth reiterating the value of a "feed and wait" line on the cut. A pole cup of chopped worm and caster went across to a tree on the far bank, which not only looked fishy but had good depth under it. Apart from a top up after an hour or so, this was left well alone while I kept out of mischief by pinching more rudd, roach and a solitary silver bream.
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Slipping a redworm minus head onto a size 12 and heavier rig, I eventually made the switch across and the response was pretty instant. After a slightly better rudd, the next fish was a proper head shaker in the form of a much better one, a perch this time. Had it been a match I'd have been cursing because I managed to lose the next two, including what felt like quite a beastie. Meanwhile Russ was taken all over the canal by what we guessed was a carp, which actually turned out to be a rocket powered pike of about four pounds that picked up a worm. In fact we'd seen little fish scatter at the surface a few times and not all of these attacks screamed pike. After another top up and another crack at the rudd, the next fish from the sunken tree stayed hooked. A lovely perch of 1lb 14oz proved the best of the day- and just in the nick of time because I had to leg it back to Exeter.
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In spite of my late, lucky perch Russ must have had the greater weight of fish, with a silly number of rudd and some better ones that showed later on the bread. I wouldn't put it past him to teach me a similar lesson in the Christmas match:
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And on that note I'm really looking forward to a proper winter break, with no deadlines and no place to be on a cold morning. Other than the odd order I've done little fly tying lately, which I must put right. After giving talks to branches of the Fly Dressers Guild on tackling coarse species I definitely have the bit between my teeth. Especially so after seeing the collection of Chris Reeves, which included this rather baroque looking antique pike fly:
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Tying is rather like fishing: always a new trick to learn and another direction to try. I am permanently making little notes and snaffling samples when in the company of fly tying enthusiasts. And at least the long, dark winter provides plenty of time to fill a box or two with new creations.
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Thursday 7 November 2013

Upper Tamar, Untamed

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I've said it before in these ramblings, but more often than not the angler doesn't pick the weather- the weather picks the angler! You get a day or two free if you're lucky and go for it. I mean, why exactly would anyone pick two days of gales to try a spot of perch fishing on a big sheet of water? I was actually really pleased to take a trip in the company of Chris Lambert and Tyrone Norah on this occasion. Not only does it keep your spirits up on a testing session, there is the added benefit of tea and shelter.
 photo DSC_0312_zps00927548.jpg In exchange I bought a tin of beer each for an afternoon tipple- best not to mention where I store my tinnies though eh? (yes, that's right, they also help keep the maggots cool!)
 photo DSC_0291_zps834a3ee6.jpgSpot number one on this wide open lake had to be abandoned, such were the extreme conditions. A shame because bream were stacked up in the "match" pegs. I was getting a skimmer a chuck- although it was literally impossible to stake out a keepnet. You would turn round to see net, fish and all literally being blown clear of the water, such was the wind.
Plan B was to seek more sheltered sanctuary and the fishing, while not exactly hectic, was decent. Perhaps I should have gone for more selective tactics though, because while I caught lots of skimmers, roach and the odd rudd, I was struggling to get through to the perch even on half a lobworm with fish like this about- not that I'd ever regard these as a nuisance:
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Prawns did the damage in the end, at least for the odd better fish. These are a bait I've never really put my faith in, although I love eating them myself. I really should go back to the drawing board because they definitely sort out decent perch. Decent you say? Make that cracking perch- because that's exactly how you'd describe the best fish of the trip at 2-12, taken by Chris:
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It was a fun but testing trip in the end. The British climate has a dark sense of humour I sometimes start to think. On the afternoon of day two everything finally settled and for about an hour it was lovely. The heavy feeder tackle suddenly seemed a bit excessive; the quiver tip kept trembling and the fish kept coming. A slightly better perch of a pound and a half or so also showed up amongst the silvers:
 photo DSC_0326_zps101c0e39.jpgAnd then out of the blue as I was filling the feeder for another throw a little chunk of ice landed in it. Like a fool, I ignored the warning shot before three minutes later the hail pelted down and I got that stinging sensation as I ran for cover. Despite a weekend of natural disaster style weather though I had a nice bag of mostly skimmers and silver bream on each day. No giant perch, but I guess you can't have everything and being a fidget I do like simply fishing for bites. The crappy weather never left on the second evening and at around five it was like God had just flicked the light switch to "off" and announced "get yer coat and bugger off."Next time, I'm coming here on a calm, sunny day- that's for bloody certain!
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