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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