Thursday 16 January 2014

A Tough Call

I spoke in my last update of the impossible task of judging a contest which includes a stack of different species, with all manner of sizes and scenarios. Talk about a headache! I had the most supportive of angling stars to help with Matt Hayes and John Bailey on board, both really keen fly anglers themselves and generous in their support. The trouble was, each of us had a different fish in first place, so it was down to second and third slots in the end. A huge well done goes to Geoff Hadley for his first placed bream, which wins a leather bound collector's edition of "Flyfishing For Coarse Fish" worth a cool £150.
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How does a fish of four pounds beat others several times that size? There will be some who disagree, but the whole idea of the competition was about the fun, skill and challenge- not necessarily the figure on the scales. Every one of the panel agreed that to sight fish for bream and pick a fish off with a wet fly was a brilliantly unorthodox catch- and the captor hooked and lost another on the very next cast! Definitely a catch to demonstrate what is possible with a little imagination. So often I feel that the biggest barrier to such fascinating, convention-busting sport is in the angler's brain. But if you don't try something, how do you know it won't work? I feel like we've opened a door already with the "Fly for Coarse" project- and the more people give it a try, the wider this door will be flung open.
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I have to say, I'm a little surprised that one of the huge pike captures didn't win outright. We had both John Machin (above) and Andy Cheetham, each with pike of over thirty pounds! Hugely impressive captures and they will both consider themselves a little unlucky, but at least grab themselves a prize for being high on our list.
The selection was also bolstered by plenty of other great entries. Mr Dorr's five pound plus chub on a dry fly is a wonderful capture too- as were several others. John Bailey's favourite was this double figure carp, caught on a sinking daddy longlegs (below). A fantastic fish, no doubt, and one that I think he wanted to highlight as an inspiration for modern carp anglers to try something a little different:
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Anyhow, the headache of picking a winner aside, the competition has been really refreshing and thought provoking. I hope it at least shatters a few illusions and represents an ethos that's slightly lacking at present. A bit of fun and unpredictability surely can't go amiss? Talking of fun, I've just received the first of several nice mouthfuls intended for chub this summer, which I've designed for Turrall. This one's called the "Jasper" (a wasp, for those not of Westcountry bias):
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And fun was also the main agenda for my last trip as I searched for somewhere not resembling trench warfare to fish. I surprised my old man with a pole fishing set for Christmas, which needed a decent trial. Say what you like about commercials (and most people do) but they do keep fishing regardless of muddy, horrible conditions. I tend to pick the ones that aren't purely stuffed with carp- and Shillingford is never too bad for variety. Even on a pretty cold morning, the first hour was good, although in typical style the very swim I wanted for the perch was bagged by a bloke who turned up at the identical time as us but had the foresight to whack his stuff down to reserve the peg. Never mind, the bites came quick- and the fish, while not huge, were nice hand sized roach and perch, the sort you would happily catch all day any day.
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The carp inevitably made their appearance as we kept trickling the feed in. Dad was thrilled to bits with his new pole, (the romantically named 6m Browning "Pitbull") that provided some fun with the roach on the light top kit, but serious stopping power for some margin carping. The gift was just the thing in fact. When we started fishing as tiny kids, it was he who plonked a fibreglass whip in our hands; quite nice to return the favour three decades later with a more up to date pole!
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Meanwhile, I also enjoyed a bite filled pole session. Why oh why do folks still fish with alarms and bolt rigs for match sized winter carp I wonder? I find it baffling, seeing as you'll catch twice as many on lighter, balanced tackle- and actually enjoy a bit of a battle. Our kit was typically 4lb rig line to a 3.3lb low diameter hook length, followed by a wide gape size 16 hook and a worm or two maggots. A little hempseed didn't seem to hurt either in holding both carp and decent roach in the swim. All good fun I guess, although I am already pining for spring and watching some fish rise so I can break out the fly rod properly.

Wednesday 8 January 2014

A Flood of Pike

 photo DSC_0129_zps835f7562.jpgWhat a less than appetising start it has been to 2014. Downright odd. Today felt like a wet weekend in April, hardly a typical January day for fishing. Bits of the Westcountry are already resembling a war zone, with sandbags piled at villagers' doors and police tape aimed at keeping the public from treacherous flooding. And in the midst of it all, some idiots still want to go fishing. I am one of them.
Why do I do it? I'm reminded of my old head teacher, the late Trevor Green, whose passion was his motorbike. He enjoyed the worst of weathers because secretly, he found it bracing. He liked to take on the wind and rain. Perhaps it scarcely mattered when he was doing that thing he loved. This is the mark of what might politely be described as an "enthusiast". We come in many guises. Whether it's fishing or motorcycles, we need that experience, even if it flies in the face of sensible advice. Perhaps utterly sensible people are to be pitied; they have no strong passions.

But I digress. Flooding is not all bad news, at least for an angler. One benefit is that if you can locate the fish, they're often stacked up in relatively small areas. Sheltered urban spots were the focus today. More and more often in my predator fishing these days, I also like to pay attention to the smaller fish present on any water. It makes perfect sense to establish where these are concentrated and draw them in. Furthermore, a spot of light float fishing also makes a slow day much more entertaining. Within no time, my pal Russ Hilton had silver fish queuing up on the bread. Nor were they all small- as you can see from this chunky rudd:
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It's staggering just how quickly pike or perch will take take advantage of silver fish distracted by free food. It was barely light before the first attackers arrived. My approach was as simple as it gets: a fresh bait on a single treble hook, tossed nearby. Route one fishing, and the first of several pike:
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We played it by ear, moving spots roughly every couple of hours as bites dried up or we fancied a change of scenery. It was a drizzly day and I was grateful for the company. Russ is the sort of angler who never rants about his own ability, but quite often out fishes me, so I must have done something right to take the most pike today. Most bizarrely of all, I caught an afternoon fish of around eight pounds that looked really uncannily familiar. By an unmistakable scar on one side, we identified it as a fish I had already landed three hours earlier, a hundred yards away. One hungry -if slightly daft- pike.
Perhaps the only slight surprise was a lack of perch today. I say this, but bizarrely Russ landed two on bread when a small moving bait had been flatly ignored! Lots of silver bream and roach kept coming to bread too, which also explained why I kept pinching Russ's whip while he wasn't looking, to catch another fish or two.
By early evening it felt weirdly mild, in spite of darkening skies, so we stayed on for a little while. As it happens I'm glad we did, because the last bite of the day was something rather special in the form of this 11lb 12oz pike, which was as beautiful and athletic as any I've caught this season:
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For those curious about technical stuff, you'll also see some of my pike notes in this week's Angling Times. These days I seem to be using fewer hooks in my fishing and also like to present my dead baits well off the bottom. I also much prefer just one rod and like to give it my full attention. A single barbless treble and an instant strike is so much better for the pike: all six of mine today were simplicity itself to unhook and release unharmed and only one fish came adrift all day. It should also go without saying that if you fish anywhere around concrete, you must never fish without an unhooking mat- it isn't rocket science and I really wish I didn't have to shake my head at the lack of fish care shown so often in urban locations.

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Finally, I'm also pleased to say that we'll soon have the final results for the 2013 "Fly For Coarse" competition. It as been quite a surreal experience discussing entries with Matt Hayes and John Bailey this week, two of my all time heroes in fishing! While the judging panel have hardly been unanimous in their verdicts, they've certainly been so in their great enthusiasm. And what all three of us have agreed on is that fishing should be about fun and skill, not just what you catch, but how you catch it. in truth we were given a hard task by the entries: how do you pick between some huge pike, cunningly tricked carp, some phenomenal chub and even a fly caught bream?!! All will be revealed soon. Let's hope the foul weather abates so we can return to some more favourable fly fishing conditions sooner rather than later!

Friday 3 January 2014

Ide and Aspirin

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First things first, I'd like to wish a very Happy New Year to all blog followers and angling friends everywhere. I spent much of the end of 2013 worse for wear sadly. Some of it was self inflicted, granted, but the days after Boxing Day were a bloody misery of pounding head and sneezing. I was just about through it in time to get down to Anglers Paradise for New Years Eve. With all the dreary weather and flooding I fancied this would be a good way to add some colour and cheer to an otherwise dreary holiday season.

After surviving an enjoyable night in Zyg's infamous African Bar, the weather was sadly nothing like as welcoming. With fellow 5 C's members I braved the main carp lake on New Years Day for a friendly match but the only winner was the god of rain, my measly tally of one orfe and a few small carp too small to count. It was a relief therefore to retreat for a hot bath and regroup in better conditions the following day.
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The specimen orfe and tench lake is a rather special treat on the complex, with a mix of several exotic species you're unlikely to match without the use of mind altering drugs. Even in the winter, the orfe here can be spotted cruising well off the bottom, so I opted for a waggler approach. I needed a 5AA model to cut through a steady breeze, along with almost constant, small pouches of maggots catapulted in. With the water pretty clear I didn't want to spook the fish early on, so I fed well out into the lake steadily for quarter of an hour without casting. And what a first bite! The float had barely cocked when it shot out of sight. By far my biggest golden orfe, this one pulled back well:
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A cat and mouse game then ensued. Only by constantly feeding and switching depths did the fish keep coming. Most were around two pounds, although I had the sickening feeling of playing a much bigger fish for perhaps a minute before losing it. What was the culprit? Dogged rather than energetic, I suspect it was an orfe- and one which could have comfortably doubled the size of the one before. I hate that sudden slack feeling after a good fish is hooked. I turned the air blue for a moment before, appropriately enough, catching a blue orfe. The real mother of the lot may have got away, but it's difficult to feel too glum with the rather beautiful and interesting fish here- and this blue orfe was the best of four in the two to three pound stamp (*** I actually stand corrected here after speaking to the head honcho himself, Zyg Gregorek. The fish pictured is not a blue, but a rather rare all white orfe. Bonus! They all look beautiful to me. ***)
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As the wind increased, bites then dried up and I went for a wander. Bizarely I couldn't buy another bite for some time. Were the conditions killing presentation? I tried a popped up piece of legered bread crust for a while, but to no avail. And when I returned to the spot that produced earlier, the maggots only drew hordes of tiddlers. Try as I might, they devoured everything I could fire out, which was bizarre given that the same spot had yielded nothing below about a pound and a half earlier in the day. Hmmm… it might be back to the drawing board with this lake for another visit. But for anyone yet to catch a golden or blue orfe, I'd recommend making the trip- they're a colourful challenge- and you'll also find the species present on the day ticket lakes at Anglers Paradise. A big thank you also goes out to AP visitor Scott Cooper, who was on hand to grab some pics for me and to share some thoughts for the coming season over a pint or three.
 photo DSC_0008_zpsb00016d0.jpgAnd that is about the sum total of my fishing since the last update. I've been sick as a dog though, and the closest I've got otherwise is stocking a few fly boxes. Looking out of the window, I haven't missed any very glorious days on the bank. And other things are also pending- like the tricky task of judging the 2013 Fly For Coarse Competition. I hope our esteemed panel of Matt Hayes and John Bailey find it easier than me to pick through some belting entries, including two absolutely mighty fly caught pike, cracking chub, carp and even a bream!