Wednesday 26 February 2014

Pike, perch and prawns

Unlike other sports, one of the really fantastic things about fishing is that it appeals to all ages. If you get the bug, it doesn't matter whether you're six or eighty six. What is the best age to be an angler? There is something magical about taking youngsters fishing. It always takes me right back to my own childhood, so it was my great pleasure to host for Michael Pryor and his son Raphael at the weekend for a spot of pike fishing. A hearty walk was in order, with flies and lures dropped into every likely corner.
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I loved their enthusiasm, which was certainly called for on a testing day, not to mention Raphael's laughter and endlessly entertaining questions (typical example: "Could a pike of 100 pounds eat one of 99 pounds?"). It turned out to be one of those days where we only had a few chances- and some dodgy luck, especially with a nice fish of around five pounds lost at the net for Raphael. If anything, this only seemed to fuel his enthusiasm even more. By the close of play he was casting like a pro and still marching on in search of bites. If one day I have a son of my own I only hope he is half as keen and such great company as this.
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Otherwise, I've been back on the trail of perch. I had an enjoyable session with Russ Hilton at Simpson Valley, which seems a great little mixed fishery at the moment, if a bit of a drive on the backroads. I'm doing an increasing amount of mixing methods, by which I mean putting a pole to good use, but stepping tackle up and using quite big baits. Prawns are one offering I've never really given a fair trial, so I persevered with them this time.
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Usually in February, I'd be trying the deep water on a small lake- but with it being so mild lately, the perch have been turning up really close to the bank, or typically just where the water deepens. It was to be a fun session, but also another one of near misses. I was getting so many false bites at one point, I switched to just a small piece of prawn and the culprits were revealed. Not only did I bag a three pound bream and one or two nice roach, but this rather handsome hybrid. Not a monster perch, but some very welcome variety:
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After enjoying some good bites I then threw down the gauntlet a little and fed heavier, with chopped worm and prawns. The real regret was a solid perch that fought well and came off just when I was getting the upper hand. Russ fared rather better than me with a brace of two pounders (I'm sure he'll enlighten you on his excellent "Tales from the Towpath" blog shortly if you take a peek). My best fish was somewhere round a pound and a half- but was at least proof that prawns have more uses than cookery. Actually, it was an absolutely perfect looking creature, a real pin up of a perch! I think the day I get tired of seeing these is the day I give up fishing:
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As for the most random sight of the day, I'm still rather puzzled as to this rather strange use of a gentleman's neck tie. Is this of significance to someone? Perhaps a marker for an angler's favourite swim? Is it art? Or did someone simply find it lost and helpfully hang it on a tree for its owner to find? I have zero idea. Not really my colour though.
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Monday 17 February 2014

Happy Returns

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If 2014 might have started in pretty grim, flooded fashion, I'm at least glad to report one or two reasons to be cheerful this week. The BFFI (British Fly Fair) is always an event I come away from feeling more inspired. As usual I had my little stand, my books, flies and the rest. Attendance was definitely up on 2013 and it was a pleasure to meet so many anglers. Whether I make a profit or loss at these events, I'm always totally buoyed by meeting readers who enjoy what I write and keen to have a good discussion. This is more rewarding than any pay cheque I have ever received.

Things were so positive at the show in fact, that I didn't get around as much as I might have. Nevertheless, there was plenty going on in my little corner of the show alone. One thing I love about the event is how friendly people are; you quickly get on with your neighbours and before you know it, you're taking turns to keep watch or go on a quick coffee or beer run after taking requests. I had great neighbouring stand this year with John Fairgrieve (google him!), the modern day equivalent of a taxidermist who makes vivid casts of fish from photos and measurements. There were all kinds of fish on his stand, from salmon to pike. This was my favourite though:
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Perhaps that perch put a message in my head because it had been way too long since I'd done any classic perch fishing- or any serious fishing at all, coming to think of it! Also back on the warpath was Chris Lambert, who was also missing his fishing and keen to make up for lost time. The original idea was a quick stroll on the canal, but it quickly materialised into most of a weekend.
The Grand Western was tough work, but as beautiful as always. The first hunt was not for pike, but simply clear accessible water. Tyrone Norah also joined us through some big puddles in the country lanes- some of which seemed to reach quite high up on the side of his little car! Nevertheless, we made it through and enjoyed a laid back session. I always like the accidental photos from days on the bank- and this one captures the bond between Chris and his faithful hound Pep really nicely. When not picking fights with dogs about six times his size, Pep can be observed watching the water with an excitement he can't quite contain:
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It was great just to be out, even though the fishing was something of a slog. Chris and Ty skipped between small jigs and drop shotting, but even this was hard work on the day. We managed just four jacks all afternoon. A fly fished fairly slowly proved just the tonic in fact. The best fly on the day was my own "Tango". Loud definitely seemed the way to go.
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If that was just a quick cast, we decided to do a proper day at Stafford Moor on the Sunday. With my kit rather disorderly, it was a case of an early start and scrabbling around in the garage to summon what was required. As it turned out I needn't have worried though- it was one of those rare, sunny days out where everything just seems to fall into place.
That said, the perch fishers were out in force and the fishing wasn't especially easy. We tried prawns and small live baits to no avail most of the day, although it was fun to take turns on the pole to pass the time, catching skimmers, roach and rudd.
Ultimately, our winning strategy came from every-helpful fishery boss Andy Seery though, who suggested we have a crack at Pines or Woodpecker lake just after the end of Sunday's match. It sounded ideal- and from experience I know that pike fishing too can be excellent at the end of a match. All those groggy fish, along with free bait dumped in? Just has to be a good time for perch. And so it proved.

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Just as the light started to dip, Chris had an absolute belter at just an ounce shy of three pounds! This was quickly followed by another just a little smaller. With conditions looking perfect suddenly, I ditched my worm rig and opted to pole fish a small live bait. Earlier on I'd caught some tiny roach in the landing net, and using the pole I lip hooked one of these and lowered it right under a fishing platform. After a few minutes of loose feeding pinkies, the float surged under and I struck into a good fish.
 photo DSC_0011_zps74d3f7d3.jpgFish like these are sensational fun on the pole and it was a wonderful battle. At 2lbs 6oz it was the best perch I've caught in a little while, and a great way to rekindle the fire.

Wednesday 5 February 2014

Some like it Wet

My apologies first of all to regular readers of this blog, I know it has been a little while. Must be honest though: I can't think of many winters in living memory that have been less inspiring for fishing. Perhaps it's good to take a breather now and again though, even for a fanatical angler. The last trip I made was about a week ago and was more about stretching my legs and catching up with a friend.
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Central Tiverton is not the most romantic spot at the best of times, but miraculously the river didn't look too bad. Must have been a day or two before the floods kicked back in and tried to drown the whole Westcountry. I'm glad I packed a pretty old, cheap match rod- because somehow I managed to trash the tip section in transit. Russ Hilton was good enough to share the honours though, as we took it in turns to trot maggots and have a good gas about everything.
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Hardly electric I'm afraid, but it was good just to sit by the river again. A funny spot is the Exe in the People's Republic of Tiverton. There are odd dace and grayling here, but I missed the occasional bites I had, while Russ managed to land a couple of stray trout. Not bad ones either- silvery things in decent condition and better than a blank.
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Meanwhile, with every last detail finalised and chapter proofread for the next book ("Canal Fishing: A Complete Guide") I must admit, I've felt like I needed a holiday from both writing and fishing. Is it enjoyable scraping together an existence this way? Bloody hell yes, but you have to treat your passions gently sometimes. Even the things we love most can get jaded, unless you give them some space to breathe. Which is why this flooded, gale force mud-bath of a winter is a perfect time to do exactly that.

Yes, obsession is a trap. There is a world out there beyond the damp corner that is fishing. There are people and beer and friendship and poetry and life. Some of you might envy those guys who seem to live permanently on the water with a rod. I personally don't. I know many editors and hacks in the fishing world who will tell you the hidden story of the most hardcore obsessives- and in many cases it is a lifestyle of loneliness, tinned food and haemorrhoids. What is the unlikely moral I'm trying to drive at? Sometimes LESS fishing actually makes for more enjoyment. Habit is the great deadener- and it's actually meant to be fun, remember?

My favourite recent haunt has been well away from the river in fact. It is Exeter's brilliant new bar, The Beer Cellar, at the top of South Street. Together with some other reprobates, I'm attempting to taste the lot, one bottle at a time if necessary. You've never seen a more outrageously varied selection of fantastic brews in your life, from crisp pale ales to the violently strong "Tactical Nuclear Penguin" (no kidding) at 32% proof. You have been warned. The line between drunkenness and enlightenment can be a fine one.
 photo DSC_0044_zps6922488a.jpgOther than my excursion to the Exe though, the only fishing related arrival has been the new range of "DG Flies For Coarse Fish" made by Turrall. Never in my wildest dreams did I expect to have a range of anything in my own name, so this is a lovely surprise (to be added to my site in the next few weeks- but in the mean time try "Trout Catchers" who have most of the range for sales already). I'll be shooting up to the BFFI (British Fly Fair International) this very weekend to put these on show, along with my usual wares. It should be fun- and when the weather is this shite, having a proper social and meeting up with new and old friends should be just the ticket.
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