Saturday 20 December 2014

Black clouds and perch

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With so much "homework" involved in getting the latest book finished, it recently dawned on me that I hadn't been perch fishing for ages. Another sustained effort at catching some good ones on the fly had been in the back of my mind for months- and with a rare day off I decided to ignore the horrible weather and make a Wednesday trip.

Actually I would hesitate to call such weather "horrible" when it comes to perch fishing."Ideal" comes closer. The perch definitely hunt more actively on days of low light on these clear waters. It's only the angler that minds the drizzle.

My initial plan was to hit the drains, but with rain hitting the Levels this week my chosen destination looked more like a sewer. So I headed to the more sheltered waters of the canal, where the bridges and snags can usually be relied upon to hold a few greedy perch.
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I used jig flies, the very sort Turrall now make for me. These sink well and are really attractive, tweaked around cover. Expecting jack pike as well as perch, I tried an eight weight outfit with floating line and a tough, 20lb fluorocarbon leader about eight feet in length.
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The initial problem was the sheer greediness of the local jacks. A couple had grabbed the fly before I even saw a perch, also hungry in these dank conditions. I could easily have switched to a much bigger fly and wire trace, with every chance of a better pike showing up. But I was even keener to see a big perch.

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Actually the fluorocarbon stood up well. Not ideal, you might think? But the small, barbless flies are usually only of interest to the little jacks. And I wanted that perch.

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The first couple were not exactly two pounders, but very welcome. I'd spotted several in the near edge, along with the hordes of tiny silver that loiter in the canal. Clouds of "motherless minnows", or sun bleak, are a curious feature of Westcountry waters. You can easily imitate these prey with a small streamer fly- patterns like the Minkie, Appetiser or my own Perch Special are readily snapped up. That said, you can also scale up a bit bigger for perch- even a two ouncer finds a size 4 fly easy to suck up.
The problem was that these mouthy buggers kept charging in:
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For the first few seconds you sometimes kid yourself that it's a big perch or even a chub, before the line tears off. Another jack!
But you do start to suss out where the perch are hiding eventually. It's different to pike fishing too. For one thing, I think you have to search cover and the hot areas more thoroughly. Like zander fishing, you also find that it's worth returning to spots at key times, even if they didn't produce earlier in the day for you.
One such spot earmarked for a return was where I had caught a couple of nice little perch and saw a much better one, which followed twice but stayed deep and just wouldn't take the fly. It's better to be proactive and move if you're not catching though.

This can and often will involve a walk of several miles, so my other essentials like a net and mat must be portable. Like faithful servants these.

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The net is actually a Norwegian made salmon net. I've stood on it innumerable times and it still works fifteen years on. A sling type unhooking mat contains the net and sits on the shoulder easily. A decent mat is also useful for fly fishing because you can use it as a clear space to drop your fly line while casting and retrieving.

Anyway, I digress but I kept fishing hard for those perch. Resisting the temptation to put on a big ugly pike fly and trying to keep things methodical. The stamp of perch seemed to get steadily better in the last hour of fishing too, some nice hand-sized fish going really well on the fly rod. And even as the light was properly starting to go at about half past three, I fancied one last crack where I'd seen the big fish earlier.
Time, and the light, were running out quickly though and it was one of those winter afternoons where it looks like midnight by 5pm. On the third or fourth cast in that spot, I got a good knock on the fly line, struck and was connected to something decent. No jack either, I could feel something less flighty and more solid on the line. It was a perch and a good one too. Really thick around the middle:

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At an ounce over two pounds, it was a great way to end a damp afternoon I'd say. But of course, nothing out of the ordinary in what has been a brilliant year for those fly fishing for perch. The joke is, even if I could enter the competition at the beastie above would not even make the top three perch in 2014. Do take a look at the site for the best of 2014 and if you had a special catch on the fly this year, do let us know! There's still time yet.

Meanwhile, one competition I have been able to enter in 2014 was for the Angling Times "Fishing book of the Year" award. Unsurprisingly, AT's main columnist Martin Bowler got the top spot, but I received the silver for "Canal Fishing: A Practical Guide". A good finish anyway- and my thanks to everyone who voted for me and bought the book.

In the meantime, it's a very Merry Christmas to you. Have a great one, and see if you can sneak some fishing in.

Sunday 14 December 2014

Piking with Pals

With life fairly fiercely busy at present, chances to fish have been limited to say the least. Which is why it was such a pleasure today to meet up with angling friends old and new, from both Devon and Somerset, for a friendly match followed by a pint and book signing at the Double Locks Inn.
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I've been really buoyed by the turnouts to this years winter fishing competitions and this event, well organised by Somerset PAC RO Alan Buckingham, was no exception. Sixteen fishing from early morning, plus a few extra visitors and latecomers through the day, represents a very sociable gathering considering the cold and iffy conditions.

For the early hours it was very much a case of enjoying the company and a beautifully misty morning rather than any hectic action. Save for a couple of fish taken on dead baits at Lime Kilns, the handful of intrepid lure anglers plus me with a fly rod really struggled for any interest. photo IMG_20141214_084737194_HDR_zpsaafb1ad2.jpg
With the banter flowing however, not to mention a bottle of whiskey awaiting the angler with the biggest pike, levels of enthusiasm remained high. Who would prevail? I must say I rather fancied the bait fishermen for the big one, although I hoped one of our lure anglers would prove this wrong as we took a long walk right down to Turf Locks. I had only one nip and a cautious follow in the entire first three hours. But to be honest I was just enjoying being out on the bank and fishing rather than writing about it or daydreaming of pike. And while everyone was keen to win, there was a nicely laid back sense of fun to the contest, which was fished in the best possible spirit.
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Exeter Canal can be a tough water at the best of times, but eventually our perseverance did bring some action. Funnily enough, my first hook up wasn't in one of those nice open swims where you might be able to unleash a long cast, but in a pokey little gap in the reeds where I could only pitch a short throw with a large perch themed pike fly. With no joy ripping my patterns gingerly through the margins, I had been counting the fly well down in the main channel before tweaking it to life. Even so, it must have been cast number one hundred and something when I finally got a decent knock on the line and a well conditioned jack. Take that Exeter Canal, you fickle slag!
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Slowly but surely, the odd further bit of activity arrived. I decided to spend the last couple of hours sitting with the bait rods and managed another jack to a small roach donated by a pal. However, my stamp of fish was never in danger of beating Alan Buckingham to the bottle of malt, which was well earned not just for a splendid double figure fish but for his extra mile as the event organiser.

Last but not least there was also time to celebrate the arrival of new book "Tangles with Pike" with a drink and dish out some signed copies. I fished the whole event with a sense of pure relief and relaxation in fact, after the long slog of getting it finished and on sale. Slightly ironic, but this business of being a fishing writer can really eat into your fishing time! Suffice to say it was lovely to celebrate with a pint and get back on the canal for the day.
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I would also like to give a big personal thank you to everyone who has bought a copy of "Tangles with Pike" so far. I'm not going to lie; every book is a risk and when you've put not just your heart but your investment into a project, it doesn't half put your mind at ease to see those first copies winging their way to readers all around the country (and if you've yet to grab yours, the best place is where a signed first edition hardback will set you back a very reasonable £15). I hope it provides some enjoyable reading for you and that all readers and fellow anglers have a great Christmas.

Wednesday 3 December 2014

A Testing Week

Book news and a date for your diaries to come in this week's blog, but first I'll start with a couple of recent trips from rapidly cooling waters both close to home and further away.
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The onset of winter brings either some of the best fishing of the year or a sense of foreboding, depending on who you ask. One of the winter optimists among my fishing pals is Will Barnard, who asked if I might like a cheeky day on the Test for coarse fish. What a silly question.

No prizes for guessing the species I was after from the above image. Grayling represent an occasional treat as far as I'm concerned. We're not exactly blessed with them in Devon and I couldn't wait to reacquaint myself. I usually fish with a fly rod and some heavy nymphs, but with the river pushing through fast and full I decided to spend the lion's share of the day trotting this time.

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In no time at all I was getting bites but succeeding in losing a lot of these fish as they turned in the current. My running water float fishing skills were a little rusty if I'm honest, but one little piece of advice I took from Will was to add a swivel between mainline and hook length to counter that notorious twisting which grayling are famous for. It worked a little better, and while I couldn't quite get amongst the really big ones I had loads of bites and the odd roach, dace and accidental trout into the bargain, besides some pretty samples of my target species:
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It was great to escape for the day, but rather frustratingly every man, monkey and their relatives seemed to want to call me to divert my attention from the beauty of the river. When you're waiting on a possibly life changing call you can't turn the damned thing off- although at one stage I wanted to chuck the mobile into the river.

Will was a better influence though, with some novel ideas and fairly unrepeatable jokes to keep my sanity intact. What is it with Mr Barnard I wonder? You could call the guy a true angler or an eccentric, as whenever I fish a session with him he seems to avoid the obvious. Last time out, he was looking for big eels. On this occasion though, he was fishing for dace by throwing a cute feeder set up into the little holes and corners most anglers walk past. And he was definitely onto something, because the silvery beasts he caught were some of the biggest dace I've ever seen. The best went 12 to 13oz and were quite breathtaking in their own little way:

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As always, the worst part about fishing the Test is that you don't want to leave. With or without that fish you dreamt of, it grabs at your heart. You pretend it isn't getting dark; make ten last casts until you can barely see the float tip. Still, the journey home was cheered up by listening to my beloved Exeter City FC score three goals in a vital away win on the drive back West. Like one of the dace then, the dark end of the day had a very silver lining indeed.

Somehow I even managed to squeeze in the rare current luxury of a second trip in a week just three days later in the Tiverton AA Christmas Match. This is a quite superb event. A whopping 55 of us made it onto the Grand Western Canal with good spirits and high hopes. It was a beautiful morning, but similarly to last year, the draw bag just didn't do me any favours as I was pegged right by the cars on a fairly nondescript peg. Even so, it was just great to be fishing and enjoying the fresh with so many fellow anglers, including some faces I hadn't seen in too many months.

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So how did I fare? The good news was that there were hundreds of fish in my peg; the not so good news was that most were tiny little roach of perhaps half an ounce. I caught steadily on the pole, fishing two punched bread lines and some chopped worm to cover, but struggled to hook any proper "net" fish. Even so, it was thoroughly enjoyable. I winkled out some perch from cover, and also lost a pike that might just have seen me climb the pecking order a little (they count in these matches). At the final whistle I was strangely satisfied in fact, because 3lbs 13oz wasn't a bad weight at all considering the peg. If only I'd drawn one peg further along, the other side of the bridge where Paul Elworthy had the turning bay to go at, I might have finished much higher. Not that you'd take anything away from Paul for skilfully putting together a winning double figure net of bream and skimmers. Next year perhaps!

Last but not least, I also bear news today. In spite of a slight delay at the printers, my new book "Tangles With Pike" is due any day this week. Apologies to anyone who has already ordered, but rest assured it'll be with you very soon. You could order it at Amazon (and a Kindle edition will follow too), but to be honest with you the cut they pinch from an author is scary. Besides, buy it at and I'll sign it for you personally.

To celebrate I'm also planning a little meet up a week on Sunday (the 14th). The Somerset Levels PAC branch (region 12) have a fish in that day, so it'll be a fun combined event. A day of fishing and good company (meet 7am at Lime Kilns), followed by some ales and a book signing party at the Double Locks for 5pm. Do come and join me if you get the chance, whether it's to have a cheeky cast or just to chew the fat on a Sunday afternoon. It's been way too long since I've seen many of you and it would be great to catch up over a cold jar.

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Thursday 27 November 2014

Late Browns

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In the world of day ticket fishing it's always refreshing to find someone doing something a little different. Our native species quite often miss out when it comes to stocking policies, whether it comes to filling lakes with carp or rainbow trout. Hence it was a welcome return to Bratton Water Fishery, near Barnstaple, today where the focus is now firmly on brown trout. Indeed, the river season might be long gone, but you can still have a go for the triploid browns here, which are cracking fish that run from a couple of pounds to the low teens.

In the company of Neil Edgar, who took some snaps and film clip into the bargain, I began with a quick net dip. Brownies might be catchable on lures but at a fishery with such abundant invert life it seemed a shame not to start in more natural fashion. The margins were crammed with corixa (water boatmen, to the layman) and freshwater shrimp, so I began testing the edges with either a small corixa or size 16 Tan Shrimp (my own pattern originally tied for roach and now made by Turrall).

It had been such a cold, foggy morning I was slightly taken aback to feel the first little pluck after just ten minutes or so in. I lifted the rod and a small explosion took place! These browns fight every bit as hard as rainbows. It might have been me, but if anything I found them more willing to come to the surface and thrash.
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Brownies do have a few differences to rainbows, and as owner Mike was telling us, they can prove a little more challenging- not always such a bad thing to my mind, because fishing can be dull when it's too easy. These fish were well keyed into natural food and certainly responded well to small natural patterns. Great fun teasing these to life by counting down and employing a "picky" but not overly fast figure of eight retrieve.
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Another feature of browns is that they don't cruise in quite the same manner as rainbows. Sure, they will move areas to feed, but they are definitely more territorial. This is why it pays to move spots quite regularly and I found that quite often if I wasn't getting bites, a change of areas quickly led to a response.
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Ok, so these browns might not be wild river creatures, but it really shows that these fish are raised on site with TLC here. Powerfully built and beautifully marked, these are beasties to give the brownie addict sport right through the winter. They're more fussy in terms of raising and more expensive to farm due to their slower growth, but £30 for a 5 fish ticket is still pretty good value and I think I actually prefer them to rainbows.

Talking of rainbows, it was perhaps inevitable that we found one or two of them. I had switched to a Black Woolly Bugger, partly out of sheer curiosity, and after two further browns had launched themselves at it I hooked something that went on an absolutely searing run. I have long since avoided gossamer thin tippets for fisheries that hold big trout and on this occasion I was supremely glad to be on six pound fluorocarbon as I held on for dear life. A great way to round things off, this fish was absolutely stunning. Just the one rainbow then, but a fabulously coloured six pounder:
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A very enjoyable day at a great little fishery overall; this place comes highly recommended for anyone looking for a good days fly fishing in North Devon. More details here:

In other news, I'm also thrilled to see that "Canal Fishing: A Practical Guide" has made the shortlist for the Angling Times "Angling Book of the Year" award. The winner is decided by a vote, so you know what I'm going to ask you next: please, if you value what I write then be a sport and give me your vote in the following survey:
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I cannot put it any more blatantly than that. Please. Pretty please. I'll buy you a pint and let you fish my favourite swim with illegal bait. Nor do you need to vote on every single thing in the survey, just the bits that you're interested in. Do such accolades matter? Well, it would partly make up for the omission of "Flyfishing for Coarse Fish" in the same awards list of two years ago, left out on the grounds that the title contained the words "fly fishing" presumably.

Wednesday 19 November 2014

Cutting Loose

There are only so many hours in the week to cram everything in these days, but this last week or so I at least managed to cram a couple of fun outings in. The bigger plans and more critical things are all well and good, but the most enjoyable trips are often those cheeky sessions, squeezed in when you probably should be doing something else. Like a morning on the canal, just because it's not too far away and you have a loaf of bread and fancy a couple of hours.
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I roped my dad into it this time, as we hit the Tivvy canal earlyish for a crack at some bread punch fishing not far from Tidcombe Bridge. It is here the Tiverton Christmas match usually takes place, although I'm still wondering if I'll make that particular date. If our quick session was anything to go by, and temperatures stay mild though I bet it'll be a belter.
On this occasion we each kicked things off with a ball of finely liquidised bread a little smaller than a golf ball, cupped in for accuracy. Expecting small roach and bits I was on a Preston Chianti float taking just five or so strung out number 10 Stotz and an 18 hook.
I had a little chuckle at my old man's idea of a "small" hookbait, which made a size 12 look small. However, his slightly heavy handed start was almost instantly rewarded with a nice bream of 2-3 pounds.

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In the next 10 minutes I added one of my own, before claiming six roach in as many bites, making it the sort of start to a session that a match angler dreams about. I tend to save this sort of outrageous fortune for those lazy trips when I didn't even have the foresight to bet a quid on the outcome. Never mind though, it was bloody good fun. The bites just kept coming and there was little discernible slowdown in the whole of our two hours and a bit of fishing. We caught roach after roach, along with the odd skimmer, for a very enjoyable session. About the only step needed to keep bites coming was the introduction of a small ball of bread after the hour mark. I experimented with bigger pieces of punch, but it seemed to make little difference- stacks of roach, with perhaps eight out of ten in the 1oz or less class. This also bodes well for the future of the canal. Suffice to say, a really tidy net of fish was shared and we were still back in time for lunch and the avoidance of "where the hell are they?" style conversations from the womenfolk.
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I get the feeling the Christmas contest could be a belter this year with double figures required to take the top spot. Winning is a tall order though, because there are many useful local anglers who are well versed in pole and punch fishing on the cut. It's always a fun day though, and I might just have to fish it and see!

Besides wasting a Saturday morning and a perfectly good loaf of bread in one swoop, another short, sneaky session was also enjoyed with pike on the fly in the company of Pete Wilkins. The idea would have seemed laughable that morning as gales battered my windows. But by two o'clock things had died right off and we hopped off to the cut. Local knowledge really can get you out of jail when the weather is horrible, because you can head for those sections which haven't been totally flooded or churned up by excess rain. Such sections on most canals tend to be those higher up points, rather than the parts where rain water messes everything up.
Perhaps I went too big and ambitious on this occasion because my extra large pike fly, which I fancied for a bigger pike, was flatly ignored while Pete Wilkins cleaned up with three fish on a rather smaller yellow and red pattern. You could tell it was his day from the off, when within three seconds of his very first cast a jack lashed out! Well fished that man:
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These lazy, leisurely sessions are the total opposite to the pressure and pitfalls of trying to catch for the camera. There's probably a very good reason you don't see too many TV angling shows that feature zander, given their enigmatic, sometimes frustratingly elusive nature. But my task for the Sky Sports crew was to winkle some of these predators out of the Birmingham and Fazeley Canal.

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Monday 10 November 2014

First Casts and Final Pages

Can you remember the first fishing experience you ever had? Did you start young, or come to the sport later by accident I wonder? Was it a eureka moment or did it take more patience to convert you?
The first memory I have of anything in my life, full stop, is of a fishing trip. Or more accurately, sitting in the back seat of my Dad's silver car and crunching up mints, the pieces dissolving smaller as the river got nearer. Why this moment I'm not sure. For some reason I remember putting the fish back (my favourite part of the trip as a small boy), better than actually catching them in these early trips.
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But if my own first casts are all but lost in time, the kids who I take fishing these days will have a better record. As can be seen with young Luke and Zack (5 and 7), who I took to South View Farm with their dad for a first ever try at fishing (above). I love this picture. Just look at that expert, double handed grip by Luke, and the look of fierce concentration glued to both faces. Perhaps true anglers are born, not made?
Easily said, but what is the best age to start a child fishing? This is not always an easy one. Fly or sea fishing take greater levels of coordination and safety awareness, and tend to suit older kids of ten or more best I think. But take the simplicity of a pole on a small lake and you have a light and largely tangle proof way to have some fun.
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Setting the lads up with a top 3 pole kit each, it didn't take long to start learning and catch some fish, starting with a cute perch (above) for Luke. "It's called fishing, not catching" is wisdom you'll often hear from old heads. But when you're very young the catching part of the deal is vital. It gives you that taste of success- and after even a small early fish you'll find even the biggest fidget finds the patience to wait for that feeling again.
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Luke was next, with a perfect and not-so-little gudgeon. Is there a more appropriate small boy's fish? And from these humble beginnings we began to refine things; like striking before your float has travelled half way across the pond, and bringing the fish in steadily and gently rather than giving it a flying lesson.

A few things begin to dawn on me the more I take kids for fishing lessons in Devon. Firstly, that all children are naturally interested in water and fish. We talk as if it's a battle to get kids fishing, but actually you just have to get them out on the bank. I have yet to meet a boy or girl who didn't ask loads of questions or didn't want to inspect, hold or release their first fish. The other notable thing is how meticulously they will count and record what they catch. Kids love to compete with each other and to loudly announce "that's ten now!" or "That one was the biggest wasn't it?"

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Sometimes they have a case too. Because on this trip Luke seemed to catch the most fish, but Zack took the biggest between them with one or two really nice roach (above). You can tell kids they're "about the same" in the catching stakes and they don't believe you; you can also tell them the size doesn't matter. And it doesn't, until younger brother catches a bigger one.
Here's a news flash: kids want to go fishing. There might be more distractions these days, but they are no different to kids ten or thirty or a hundred years ago; curious and fun-loving if you can only give them your time. Or maybe it's the other way round and they give us their time, because it's one of the most fun things you'll do in a season and worth every minute.

By the close of play we had ticked just about every box for a first fishing session, apart from the runaway monster. Matt, the two boys' dad, nearly provided this in dramatic style as he tried the same margin the boys had been fishing and spent a full ten minutes playing a ghost carp that looked eight pounds or so. Eventually, after we had formed a little rogues gallery of spectators, the hook came out sadly. But perhaps it doesn't hurt to have something to aim for next time? I get the feeling Matt will now feel like he has unfinished business with carp.

In other news, there is little fishing to report just of late, largely because "Tangles With Pike" has been in production at the expense of everything else. In fact, without the expertise and assistance of my designer Garrett Fallon I would most likely have lost the plot. Anyhow, suffice to say that on cold days so far, the closes to fishing I've got has been a spot of fly tying.
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Perch are always popular, not to mention fun to tie. The above is a future addition in my current "Predator Fly of the Month" series for Pike and Predators magazine.
Such things will have to suffice for now, because most of my recent fishing has been done in the recesses of my memory. It is only when I look back at all the many pictures, articles and notes that I realise just how much work has gone into my stories- and by "work" I mean perhaps a minority of actual fishing time. To any of my friends who wonder what I'm doing buggering around with a tripod, tutting to myself and switching lenses while you're happily fishing, perhaps the new book will be enlightening.
Not long now until "Tangles with Pike" will be ready to order at, but in the meantime, here are four of my favourite pike fishing "selfies" of all time, achieved using a tripod, a timer switch and usually several attempts separated by bad language. I tell you what, if any blog readers can successfully name all four of these waters (answers in the comments box please) I will put your names in a hat and the first out will win a copy of "Tangles with Pike". Over to you:

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Here's a hint: They're all in south west England

Wednesday 29 October 2014


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After a fairly lengthy bit of toil, I can finally breathe out again and give news that my next book project is imminent. A collection of past favourites and current work, “Tangles with Pike” represents a decade of writing. Well, strictly speaking that would be more like every year since the age of about thirteen being hypnotised, thrilled, baffled and sometimes just a little obsessed by Pike. We're aiming for a late November release, with both a full colour hardback and a special e-book. And while you wouldn't always judge a book by the cover, I'm thrilled to have a David Miller special gracing the front.

Pike are still my favourite fish on the planet. I think this is for several reasons. One is the fact that even twenty-two years since my first, they still have that ability to jam my heart into my mouth and feed me that irresistible cocktail of excitement and adrenaline.

Nowadays, I tend to think pike are one of the easier species to catch. At least, if they're hungry they will tolerate line you'd never dream of using for say tench or perch fishing. But I didn't always think like this. In the very beginning, my dad would occasionally bring a bung float and sprats to the bank and I can remember thinking "this is never going to work!" Compared to my roach pole, it looked like shark tackle.

My first success was lure fishing in fact. Which is spooky, because an exact replica of the first pike plug I ever cast (below) was recently given to me by Garrett Fallon (the book designer and editor of Fallon's Angler). It was fairly shocking, to be frank. Yes, it wiggled frantically enough to be grabbed by my first ever pike, but then in mid battle it came apart in the middle. And disaster was only averted when… (I'm going to be a sod here and just say look out for the book!).
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Actually, this makes me think just how much better tackle is today. Those things I regarded as the height of sophistication in about 1990 (springy line, hooks with huge barbs, crappy fibreglass rods) were actually pretty dodgy.

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Anyhow, the tackle might have got way better, but I'm still after pike with varying degrees of success so many years later. Having dreamt of opening the 2014 pike season for a while but tied up with the book, it felt like a full circle effect to take my dad (above), the very person who first started me pike fishing. These days neither of us is that partial to a bung float and a bag of sprats. We catch way more these days with a fly rod in fact than we ever did in those early days.

The Grand Western Canal looked beautiful, if a bit weedy still. Nor were the pike massively hungry as we walked for perhaps two or three miles, watching and searching. I'm pleased to report that even on a Sunday, we also didn't spot any of our illegitimate friends with plastic bags in place of landing nets. Funny, but in the midst of all the current paranoia around poaching and the business of "naming waters" it seems to me that the sport could actually do with more not fewer legitimate pike anglers on the bank. That, and having people willing to talk to those in the wrong and report things rather than just whinge.
It's very easy when you're having a slow day to make excuses on the level of "this place has been poached!". But the answer usually lies with the angler or the conditions. On this occasion, it was just way too bright for the first two hours. We barely even saw a pike, other than a tiny thing that launched itself at my fly- and missed.
Pike fishing is so often a case of either drama or disappointment, with not much in the middle. And so it was on this occasion; just as evening arrived, all the fish appeared, as if some conjurer had magically restored life to a dead canal. I caught two little pound-or-so devils on my eight weight, before a well-aimed shot under a bush let to a slightly better class of carnage with a lively fish of about four pounds which I watched trailing the fly before rushing in for the kill:
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All good fun, even with modest sized fish and after so many years of piking. In fact the one thing I perhaps feel less need to do these days is to slog for hundreds of miles in the hope of something huge. I will definitely be dreaming of a monster from one of the larger lakes or rivers this winter, but actually just being there is often enough. Best of all, I just love the game of hide-and-seek that the small, clear waters can offer. These have fuelled my writing as much as the more famous places and big pike I was lucky enough to catch. But I hope that as well as a few monsters, "Tangles with Pike" will do justice to an extremely varied catch of absorbing and entertaining stories, rather than the standard "here are a load of big pike and here's how I caught them" affair. The aim is definitely to capture the atmosphere, besides the figures. And I want to entertain people, not just make them think "you lucky XXXXXXX".

Saturday 18 October 2014

Miracle on Flood Street

This week's blog begins with a major shock. The picture below is no hallucination, although I'm still in a state of utter disbelief. Yes, this is a Devon river roach of 2lbs 2oz. Not so much a slice of good fortune as something I never thought I would see in my life. After all, this is Devon, not chalkstream country. I love our little corner of England, but when it comes to wild specimen fish it is Plumbing Spares Cup rather than Premier League.
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How did I manage such a feat? With a bit of legwork and an even bigger slice of luck, is the honest answer. To be perfectly blunt, I've been seriously unsure whether to give the catch any publicity. But in this case, it's not just my ego but a not-for-profit organisation that could benefit in the long run. I owe the capture in no small part to Scott West, who suggested we fish some prospective water on River Culm, which is being considered for the Westcountry Angling Passport scheme. For those yet to try it, this is a fantastic idea to open up fishing water in the south west. Fly fishing has dominated so far, but there are some excellent prospects for coarse fish as well as trout, and the scheme gains more water every season. Nor is it "upper crust only" at prices from £5 per day. Watch this space for more info.
The fish itself however, came in less than textbook fashion. A bizarrely sunny afternoon with a muddy river following heavy rain are not your classic roach conditions, to be blunt. We'd had just a smattering of bites and were thinking of packing up when I decided to have "just a quick final chuck" in a pool at the start of the beat I liked the look of. I was on the feeder and bread approach and, more out of optimism than anything else, had been trying a big pinch of flake. It fought like a chub before almost giving me a heart attack as it came up. The fish was absolutely thick round the middle! I was sure Scott had jinxed it by announcing something along the lines of "that's a bloody big roach!" But my luck held. I've enjoyed roach fishing for quarter of a century in Devon, but never had I seen anything quite like the fish that lay in the net. A one off? Who knows. There is more unexplored water here and hopefully more of it set to open up to day ticket anglers.
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Otherwise, life has been a fair old slog trying to balance my new job with fishing activities. The Tackle and Guns show was very positive though, which I attended with Turrall. The sight that really caught my eye was near our stand, where a huge tank of predators was on display (above). Great to get such a clear view of these pike and perch. They seemed fairly indifferent to lures various reps were aiming at them- but you did fear for one or two of the little jacks once their bigger relatives grew hungry.

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We might be able to contact anyone at the click of a mouse these days, but you can't beat actually meeting up with folks in person. In two frantic days I met various people in the trade. Perhaps most encouragingly two of these were newcomers launching businesses in Devon. One was a chap starting a tackle shop in the Torrington Area, another was a representative from "Devonshire Reels"- a company looking to make top drawer, beautifully crafted fly reels (Mr Hardy eat your heart out). Brave initiatives these days, but I hope both enterprises succeed. Also at the show was artist Maria Gonzalez displaying some really fine work. It's tough as an independent trader, trying to stand out as a small fish in a big river so to speak, but her prints and designs are truly excellent- do take a look at her site MayFly Art (which has perch, carp and other beauties as well as game fish and fishing flies).
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Talking of which, I have also been busy sourcing art for my next book project, which will be a collection of great pike fishing stories. Under the working title is "Tangles with Pike", my cover image will be by none other than wildlife artist David Miller, whose fantastic work has recently graced a set of Royal Mail stamps. It promises to be a fun but hectic time pulling all the strands together.

Thursday 9 October 2014

Autumn Gifts

Sometimes in fishing it pays to... well, not pay anything. If I can make it, find it or tie it myself I generally do. This not only saves you a few quid but adds a certain satisfaction to the sport. I love catching on my own, home-rolled flies, for example. I also like swapping and receiving freebies from fellow anglers. As a fishing writer you have to make the most of these perks because, aside from the big stuff like books, much of the time you get the feeling third world child labourers are paid better.
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This lovely perch was one of several taken on some cracking "Martin's Minnow" flies sent to me by Martin Smith (keep an eye on for a step by step in the next few weeks- plus a link to order from him). I'd vowed to give them a swim ages ago but got snowed under with work. At long last though, I managed to take an evening stroll on the Grand Western Canal near Tiverton. Having located a shoal of fish under a bridge, I was happily wrestling one after another in on the flies- each as greedy, and small, as the last. I fancied a bigger one but thought nothing of it as I wandered onwards. However, on the way back to the car at the end the light was going and I had that gut instinct that makes many an angler late for dinner which says "I think I'll have just one more crack". I hooked the fish virtually on the bottom and it gave a nice deep, lolloping if unspectacular fight. With bits of dorsal fin missing and worn scales it had that retired, punched too many times boxer look. I love perch though- and at 1lb 13oz this was a good one for such a small canal.
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Equally appealing to my cheapskate side was a trip to Creedy Lakes today using bait that cost only some work with a garden fork in the compost heap. Call me tight, but finances are only one reason for this decision. Boilies are not only expensive but overrated on busy fisheries, in my humble opinion. 95% of visitors must use them- and as often as not blank on them. Why such a stranglehold? Simple- the whole carp fishing world is full of anglers who get free bait in exchange for saying "you must use this to catch." It is of course utter horse manure, designed to separate pound coins from pockets. Yes, boilies have their uses and I have also been a bait field tester in the past- but I detest dishonesty. As I've explained before, I'll often use boilies for less pressured waters- but if everyone is using them, carp will become extremely suspicious and there are much more effective baits. Worms are one of them.
Anyway, I digress but the main lake at Creedy proved tough. Strange because I really fancied the end where a mild wind had been pushing in all week from the same direction. Nobody on the lake was catching anything. I had a couple of small "pasties" on the worm but just couldn't hook anything bigger, so I tried baiting with some chopped worm right in one of the craggy corners, where the bivvies steer clear. I didn't fish it immediately, but kept returning for a look. A swirling tail pattern told me all I needed to know a little later. Within five minutes of lowering in a double red worm bait, direct to a size 10 hook and 10lb line, I was in:
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The fish ran like stink in the confines of a very tight swim. It was absolutely beautiful too, really long and strong for its' weight of fifteen and half pounds. When I think of how much tackle I had brought with me, it seems crazy that the only things actually involved in the capture were one rod and reel, a net, the most basic of float rigs and a handful of bait that cost absolutely nothing. Always a sweet, slightly guilty pleasure at a fishery where anyone not using three identical rods hurled across the lake is led to feel like they are some kind of lunatic.