Saturday 19 December 2015

Pike, Poles and Post

Hello, humbug, bloody hell and that. It's fifteen degrees and pissing it down here in Exeter, yet it's only days till Christmas. It has been an exciting but busy time for me. I've been making an absolute nuisance of myself in the local Post Office, with piles of books that make queues form and customers curse. Thanks to all of you who've bought Crooked Lines. Many of you will have to wait till Christmas itself to read it, of course! Still enough time to order for the big day, if you're quick! Do enjoy it and let me know what you think.
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Balancing books, a day job and other bits can be challenging, but I also managed to grab a rare full day off in the week to head north for a spot of pike fishing on the Somerset Levels. The idea was to have a roam a couple of rivers and drains in the morning, before meeting up with Marcin Kwasniewski, a very useful lure fisherman with a surname that I'd imagine the Somerset locals have all sorts of fun with. A really good bloke anyway, who's also bailiff in Somerset, protecting his local waters from poaching.

Torrential rain had put the dampness on things a bit. You all know my mania for fly fishing, but I'm also pragmatic when it comes to pike fishing methods and do spend some time bait fishing each season. So I packed a couple of rods, some sardines and mackerel.

I tend to catch much greater numbers of pike on lures and flies than I do on dead baits, but in muddy water you sometimes need all the help you can get. I started on the West Sedgemoor Drain, which appropriately rhymes with rain. Conditions felt reasonable as I got there as it was barely light. I put a few yards between myself and the access point, before casting two dead baits out at intervals, spending little more than 20 minutes in each spot. It's a method that has served me well in the past, but today I simply could not buy a bite. I tried everything, but somehow it didn't look right. These little drains do switch on and off. Sometimes they get badly poached, or suffer from pollution or severe weather patterns. I guess that's both the joy and the gamble of fishing the Levels. Last years best fishing spots are today's duds, while elsewhere the reverse is true.

So off I went, taking one look at an even higher river, before trying another drain. This time I found better water clarity- not perfect, but better. There were immediately plenty of smaller fish showing. A really good, and cheap, predator fishing tip I can share from a few recent sessions is to take some left over bread with you. Or just buy a cheap white loaf. If you fish any water with a good head of silver fish, this can be a huge help to draw predators. You can easily mix it into ground bait on the bank too. Just pop three or four slices of bread in your landing net head and dunk into the margins. You can then just mash it up in your hands.
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I quite often bait a couple of spots with a ball or two. I'll then fish elsewhere for a bit, but return after and hour or more and cast close to the feed. It works staggeringly well to draw in the tiddlers- and many of our Westcountry drains and canals have lots of small roach, skimmers and also invasive sun bleak aka "motherless minnows" in Somerset. If you can get these swarming, it creates a chain reaction. I know it's a fishing tip my good friend and fellow blogger Russ Hilton also swears by and besides groundbaiting for pike, we've also used this trick to catch big perch.

Another thing I've been doing for the past few seasons is trying single hook rigs for pike. Could these be a more pike friendly, long term alternative to treble hooks? I definitely think so. I feel that too many pike anglers don't really give single hooks a proper chance. We lose a fish or two and abruptly decide it's not for us. But if you persevere, they really do work well- or at least, I haven't noticed a big increase in fish not getting hooked or coming off.

Two things you must do, however, with single hook rigs. First, do use a large, wide gape hook (I tend to use Cat Master hooks in sizes 1 to 2/0). You must also adjust your baits a little. Chunks of lamprey or mackerel will work, but avoid big, tough baits that impair the strike. In fact, my favourite offering is sardine, which comes off easily with a firm strike, to let the hook penetrate. I also hair rig the baits on my single hook pike rigs, just to avoid losing them on the cast.

I was struggling at first but the clearer water in the second spot made me more confident. An hour in without a bite, I dropped straight onto my bread spot. Through my polarising glasses I could see little shapes turning and there was still a little white of the mashed bread on the bottom. I tossed a sardine just to the side of this and as I watched the bait flutter to the bottom, I immediately saw a decent fish move in and scoff the bait. It went nuts, but the single hook found its mark and I netted a reasonable pike without too much fuss.
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What I really like about the large single hook is how perfectly it hooks fish, right in the side of the jaw- no getting fouled up with gills like small trebles. Removing the hooks from pike is so much easier with just that one single too.
The fish looked like it should go eight or so pounds with any kind of girth, but still very welcome at a lean six or so I would guess.
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I tried a few different tricks on the day. Another was a small drifted roach, a method those of you who've read Tangles With Pike will know I also favour well. But it was a simple, static presentation that worked for two further jacks, both on a sardine and a single hook rig. There's a feature in it at some point, but for now suffice to say that single hooks are working well for me.

Just as the drizzle picked up, it was time for me to shift again, and drive a few miles further to meet Marcin out on the Levels. I'm going to be writing a little feature on his approach to lure fishing and life, for early 2016. We only had a couple of hours proper light, but I got some great shots and some really interesting lure fishing tips too. He catches a lot currently on little SpinMad lures- ingenious little hybrid lures with a tremendous kick and vibration. A little taste below, but watch this space for the full story.
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Anyway, I wish all of my blog readers a great Christmas and hope you get some fishing in. If you've yet to treat yourself or a friend to a copy of Crooked Lines there's still a little time to order at and I promise to send all subsequent orders first class. YOu'll also find it at the evil empire of where it can also be bought as a £4.99 E-Book, as can Tangles With Pike
With so many of the current celebrity fishing books retailing for £25 or more, that has to represent good value. But another benefit of independent publishing is that I can keep prices affordable. Don't forget, you can also buy both of my most recent books for just £20 at

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Saturday 12 December 2015

Casting into the Wind

It’s a curious phenomenon that brutal storms and weather patterns are given names these days. We’ve had Desmond, Eva and there might even be a Nigel on the way. But I’ve had some other, less pleasant words lately for the type of high winds that tangle lines and send the lids of your bait tubs sailing off like kites. None of my recent trips have been easy. I enjoyed (or endured?) a mad, wild and windy Christmas match with Tiverton Angling Club. Amazingly, there was a fifty strong turn out on a day of 40mph gusts and rain.
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So how did I do? The far bank line was written off for most of the match, as fishing any great distance with the pole felt lethal. So I started by fishing bread punch down the middle, a method that works so well on our fairly clear Westcountry canals. But I also fed a couple of chopped worm lines as backup.

Keeping the bait still was a huge problem. Small roach still bit avidly at the start, but it was a battle to tempt the fussier, better fish. Perhaps my keenest memory is of looking across at the bloke in the next peg, the wind howling and both of us just shaking our heads and laughing at each other, as if to say “yes, this is ridiculous and we must be a bunch of twats.” The onslaught of wind got even stronger, if anything. At one point I swung in a one ounce roach that suddenly accelerated towards my head at about 50mph.

But there was also just a minute of chilling drama. I’d switched to a heavier rig and a larger piece of bread when the float dipped, the elastic plunged and I could feel a good bream nodding away on the bottom of the canal. If anything, perhaps I was too eager to try and net it early. Whatever the truth, it was just coming up to the net when something went ping, the rig flew up in the air and I was left with a tangle and that sinking feeling.

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That was about the only chance of glory I really got, although the chopped worm lines produced some late bites and a nice hybrid. Enough to take me over the pound mark for a hard fought 520g. Never mind, it was a great event and excellent to see all the local angling characters out in force. Only five anglers managed above 5lbs, with Ali Robinson the winner with 3.560 kg a very good net, given the wretched conditions.

But I had happier returns at one or two of my perch spots elsewhere. After fishing a match, it’s great to be able to choose your spot and fish exactly how you please. You’d wait too long between bites, for example, fishing something like a whole prawn. But I’ve been trying these over chopped worm, both in obvious perchy bits of cover, but also straight down the middle of typical canals and drains. The best of these two went 2-11.

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It was also perch I was hoping for with a visit from my excellent friend David West-Beale, who has been developing a real habit of catching big perch on the fly. His tactics are fascinating, with rods as light as a three weight used to tame fish to over three pounds from his own local canal (as you can read on his splendid recent blog post "Fly Fishing, Perch and Eternal Youth")
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I’m sure he found our waters clearer for one thing. But we had some very bright conditions at first, as we had a quick go at the river. I’ve been really enjoying drop shotting recently, with a real toy rod, a 7ft wand that casts 2-12g. Not with soft baits though, but flies. You can use all sorts of small streamers and trout lures, but I’ve developed my own alongside Turrall Flies using drop shot hooks and a blend of traditional and new materials.
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It was mucky work, among all the winter wreckage, but I like a crisp little set up to test little slacks and holes, many of them right by the bank. Bites were hard earned, but after a missed pull, I managed to wangle a nice hand-sized perch from the reeds.
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With clarity not ideal on running water though, I fancied we’d do better on a more sheltered stretch of canal. A bright sun really seemed to put the fish off however. We tried gamely for the perch, but they just wouldn’t budge. David searched meticulously with his light streamer set up, with some fascinating tactics (I’m going to feature him very soon in the fly fishing press). But on this occasion, even the little jack pike we spotted were tentative.

As the afternoon wore on, we eventually had to have a rethink and both tackled up for pike. We tried various fly patterns, but in the end success was more about the light. As soon as the afternoon grew a bit darker and dirtier, the pike appeared. And as the wind dropped a little, we could watch them attackers materialise.

We tangled with the jacks for a while, but really fancied there had to be a bigger one somewhere. It’s all relative I guess, and on many of the small drains and canals I fish a 6-pounder is a good one and a double is a specimen. But I’m totally addicted to sight fishing these little places.

My favourite pike fly at the moment is a dirty big pink thing with lots of flash. Not exactly natural, but it really draws fish. I’m not sure what Dave thought of the fly he described as the Gay Assassin. But the pike loved it, or perhaps hated it enough to want to shred it to bits?

The best of the day came from the central channel and there was no half-arsed follow, no warning, but just a big angry lunge. There was a tension and a thump, thump, thump as if to say “you and that pink thing can f*** off.”It proved to be a very decent small water pike, in the 8-10lb bracket.

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I had to walk her down the bank a little, because being me, I’d snuck into quite an overgrown spot. If there’s one tip I can offer anyone who wants to catch more pike from small waters, it’s to get stuck in and fish the hairy bits. The majority anglers will just stop at the open bits, the cutaways and worn swims. It’s also a case of judgment because you have to be able to land the fish cleanly. A mate and a long-handled net often come in handy.

We had a few others too, including a few that wouldn't look out of place held by The General. But it was all good fun and in spite of the tough perch fishing, there were some real lessons and surprises. Now that the book is done and dusted I'm really looking forward to writing more features and yes, a little more method to follow the madness.

I'll be penning a special feature on fly fishing for perch very shortly for Fly Fishing & Fly Tying Magazine, while the new issue has my piece on fishing for winter brown trout in Devon. There's also a short film on the subject on YouTube: Winter Fly Fishing at Bratton Water.

Otherwise, Crooked Lines has been well received so far and is shifting well! You can read Jeff Hatt's verdict HERE for another angle on the book too. Like me, he has been an avid blogger in angling for a long time and shares many of my own typical joys and woes. If my own blog has been well received for a while(typically 4,000 reads per month currently), Jeff's has topped the 10-12,000 figure at times! With many magazines struggling to get these figures, it does make you wonder and I think he should definitely make an Idler's Quest book... I've already been twisting his arm anyway. Of course, books also put bread on the table and give writers the backup they need to continue, whereas blogs like this one are enjoyable but ultimately hard to sustain at no cost.

A huge thanks to all of you who have already ordered the new book so far. Keep an eye on for some exclusive sample pieces and also the chance to pick up both the new book plus Tangles with Pike for just £20. We're down to the last 300-400 copies or so of the pike book, so a second print run looks likely. Snap up a first edition while you can, because the value is only going to go up!

Saturday 28 November 2015

How (not) to write a fishing book

I am an extremely relieved man this week, with the final arrival of Crooked Lines the book! For all of you regular blog readers, this is a chance to get hold of two-dozen of my best ever stories in a collectible format, accompanied by original artwork from Lord Bunn and a foreword by Mr Matt Hayes. You won't find scribblings from this blog (which tend to be my least polished writing!), but a mixed bag of twenty-four original pieces, including plenty of new and unpublished work.

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The last few days and weeks (or make that months) have been "interesting" to put it mildly. Not least a lengthy delay due to the increased security with recent turmoil in Europe. I'd like to thank everyone who ordered early for their patience- as you can imagine, I was tearing my hair out. The printing of the book is a story in itself. It was printed by Tallinn Book Printers, Estonia, who are honest and excellent people to deal with. My last book Tangles with Pikewas also printed by them, via a company in London who dealt with admin and puling a few strands together. But I was later to learn that the Estonians were never paid! Hence I wanted to go directly to them this time and make sure they got my business and full payment (and show them that not all Brits are dishonest!). Amazingly, they were trusting enough to deliver the books without demanding an advance, on a pay on delivery basis. Good karma, I felt, and the finished item is fantastic quality. It just took an age to travel across Europe.

But this is merely the end of a long and yes, crooked, journey. The idea of the book had been long in the making. Regular readers may already know of some my frustrations as a fishing writer. Even pieces that had appeared before were often only a shadow of the original, once they were clipped and squeezed to short format. "A War of Worms" (pictured below) is a classic example. While I wanted to describe various highs, lows and downright hooky bits from a long, wet winter, the article that went to press was chopped to less than half length (rather like a worm?) and retitled something like "CATCH YOUR BIGGEST PERCH EVER THIS WEEKEND!" in a classic bit of editorial hack'n'slash.

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But the beauty of independent self-publishing is that you have nobody to say "you can't do/say/publish that." This digital age is a battle, quite simply, to cut through the noise and get your message out there. But it is also empowering because you can blaze your own trail without having to compromise, or follow someone else's agenda or the usual formula. A great freedom, because with this book I wanted to be daring and make it something original and totally different in its design and feel. I wanted to tell the hidden story of fishing with all the grubby, interesting bits left in.

The artwork and design would be critical, but I had a strong gut feeling that Sheffield artist Lord Bunn would be perfect. His standard fare is anything but standard, with signs, murals and even band artwork very much his usual thing rather than fishing (I had met him through encounters with friends of his, the excellent post-rock band 65 Days of Static, but that's another story).

It took a lot of inspiration and perspiration from both of us to get things just right, especially with the cover. Creative types grow through being outside their comfort zone though- and I just loved his take on the different fish species. He gave each its own personality and the detail blew me away (I especially love the eel, hiding in the beer bottle).

As for the internal illustrations… you'll just have to get the book! There are lots of great black ink pieces, including flies, worms, hooks and even the odd stray fag butt. He also produced the most beautiful ink lettering, to provide chapter titles that were bang on. Each is a continuous, crooked line in itself, perfectly suited to my own slightly anarchic sensibilities.

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As for the writing itself, it took several months and was laden with coffee and expletives. There are several completely new and exclusive pieces in the book and others I had been saving up, while I also revisited other favourites and partially published stories, sharpening them up and fleshing out the juicy bits to hold nothing back. Compared to this blog and many previous articles, it's like looking at a finished gallery rather than a sketchbook.

The actual writing is the fun part, but the process of hammering it into a finished book can be painful. Garrett Fallon was my right hand man to provide design and layout. Above all else, we wanted to give the traditional angling book a kick up the arse and produce something edgier, funnier and more entertaining. But his editorial skills were also hugely valuable, because as the author you do reach a point where you are so steeped (and jaded) with your own work it is difficult to see the wood from the trees.

Several nasty little dramas were negotiated as it was proof read and refined. But you also reach the stage where you have to stop tinkering and correcting, and leave it the hell alone. Because this way madness lies and, after a certain point, you can end up making it worse.

With the introduction, however, I just couldn't feel satisfied. It was pedestrian and lacking in bollocks. Then, at the eleventh hour, it came together. I was up late one night with the flu and suddenly the right words came flooding out- or so I thought. Bloody predictive text almost put paid to that! I had written about the essence of the book, the nutters and strange places I had enjoyed the most. But modern autocorrect doesn't like angling terms. I hate autocorrect. It is lethal. It wants to change "tiddler bashing" to "toddler bashing" and my website address ( to "dogfighting uk" (I shudder to think what such a website would be like). But the worst was yet to come. My line about "the camaraderie of the bankside" was automatically changed to "the camaraderie of the backside!" A very different message- and typing this blog the same has just happened.

Jesus Christ on a bike, this was a disaster, because the files had already been submitted! I tried to solicit a little sympathy from family and friends but mostly just got howls of laughter. My line about the brotherhood of fishing had been changed to some sort of statement about fishermen bumming each other (whatever floats your boat I guess?). But mercifully, after frantically trying to contact Tallinn, we managed to correct this line before they pressed print. Some of you may of course be sadistically wishing it was left in, but I am relieved in the extreme. I had had visions of having to hand-correct 2,000 books.

So perhaps you can understand my titanic sense of relief in the project even more now. The even longer road will now be selling the thing, to ensure I'm not permanently in debt after financing the project. With independent publishing you take all your own risks- but my aim is always to be read rather than make stacks of money (wishful thinking in the fishing world!). Too many angling books are hoofing great coffee table ornaments, aimed at collectors and sold for anything up to £40 or more a copy. Sure, some of them are truly lovely, but to my mind, this isn't affordable for most anglers so I wanted mine to be available for a tenner. The margins become smaller, but I want as many readers as possible to enjoy my work, not just a handful of book collectors. It's always nice to sell books, obviously, but I much prefer signing scruffy well-loved copies of my work at events, rather than pristine and unread editions, probably destined for Ebay in the year 2050. Dare I say it though, collectors could always buy one to use and abuse, and another to collect?

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You can get the book directly from my website (CLICK HERE) or also as an E-book from Amazon UK for just £4.99 (CLICK HERE). You can also buy the real thing from Amazon, but please use my own site, because Amazon nick about two quid from every book sale. They also pay bugger all in UK taxes- but are a necessary evil I am afraid.

After months of work, I am now looking forward to actually going fishing again on a regular basis! If nothing else though, I'm getting savvier at making the most of small windows of opportunity these days. I had a fantastic canal session for perch on the fly recently, with a lovely fish of two pounds and six ounces to a new fly pattern (you can read more on the blog I currently produce for Turrall Flies- CLICK HERE).

Otherwise, my next stop will be the Tiverton Angling Club's Christmas match. I don't fish many contests these days, but this one is always a good day out and very well attended. Even the poorer pegs produce lots of bites from small roach- although I seem to have a knack of drawing right by the car park. Please let this be the year that I draw a flier! I'll let you know how I get on.

Saturday 21 November 2015

How can we help protect our fishing?

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More book and fishing news on the way this month, but for today's blog, I wanted to tackle an issue that every single angler should be concerned about. Because while activities like fish theft and pollution make blood boil on Facebook, a lot of us don't really know how we can act. Virtually every person reading this will have some experience of the dodgy or downright criminal activity that blights fishing. But with so much fire and smoke on Facebook, forums and the rest, the facts and our own part can be unclear.

Too many of us, myself included, can be tempted to jump into the fray when illegal nets, sewage or a pile of dead fish are staring at us. These topics are highly emotive (just read George Monbiot's latest Guardian piece, for example, and tell me you're not alarmed). But it's easier to vent your spleen than educate yourself on what can be done.

In this social media driven world however, expressing indignation or clicking a share button seem to be how many of us "take action". But just as with the government, the national football team and everything else, growing incandescent and ranting is no substitute for action. And so rather than add yet another load of opinions, I wanted to list a few things that any of us can do to actually make a little difference. So here goes:

1. Always report illegal activity: So many times, anglers will see illegal fishing or blatant poaching and grumble without actually acting. The answer is to be active and willing to report. Every angler should have the EA Emergency number stored on their phone (0800 80 70 60), while there is also an excellent guide to reporting environmental offences on the Angling Trust Website. If there is one sure way to ensure the authorities ignore us it is not to report what is going on!

2. Get smart and get it recorded. Observation is key and neither the EA or police can act without intelligence. Reporting that you saw two dodgy people taking fish won't cut it. What did they look like? What was the exact time and location? Did they have a vehicle? What equipment did they have? Information is power. Don't confront people or put yourself at risk, but do take notes and pictures if it is safe to do so.
So often I hear the claim that "the EA/Police won't do anything." You're damned right they won't do anything if you can't be bothered to supply them with any information!

3. Volunteer as a bailiff. The EA has some excellent bailiffs who are keen to help, but they are only a few pairs of eyes and legs in each region. Imagine if every one of us acted to help them! Why not become a bailiff for your local club? It is not a vast time commitment, and will often just be some basic training and checking tickets when you are out fishing or walking the bank. Better still, you could contact the Angling Trust about their Voluntary Bailiff Scheme, which is already making big strides to protect the sport. For those in the South West, there will be a volunteer bailiff induction day in late February. Contact if you would like to be there and help protect your fishing!

4. Join the Angling Trust: Angling has over three million participants but only a tiny fraction are members of the sport's most important organisation. Other groups, such as the RSPB, have enormous clout by comparison. Why? Because their much larger memberships give them a much greater funding and influence at all levels! There might be a few things you don't quite agree with the Angling Trust on, but this is no reason not to join. Do your sport a huge favour and sign up today at the Angling Trust website.

5. Be savvy with social media: I have done it myself: venting frustration about a situation that has occurred. At best this will start yet another debate, but it could also be counter productive when it comes to catching offenders. A recent example was the barbaric nets found on the Thames. Had this development been kept hush hush, authorities could have waited for the offenders to return, rather than simply causing outrage and tipping off the offenders in the process. By all means express opinions, but be careful with what you share on social media.

6. Broaden Awareness! Facebook rants might be one thing, but another useful role anglers can play is in widening public awareness of the issues our waters face. How many of the general public, for example, have no idea that it is illegal to remove most freshwater fish (and will gladly ask you "have you caught your tea?")? Similarly, they think of environmental issues in terms of carbon, but have no idea of the pollution of fisheries. Anglers have specific knowledge that they can share and even non-anglers are interested in the life of our waterways.

There are various other things you can also do to support and protect fishing, but slagging off immigrants and venting on Facebook have no impact at all, other than reinforcing a sort of impotent anger and the popular lie that we are powerless and unable to help.

Major progress is being made however. Ok, so they might not grab the limelight like a record fish or the latest hilarious YouTube fishing clips, but things are changing. The Angling Trust's Fisheries Enforcement Team, led by ex police professionals including Dilip Sarkar and Nevin Hunter, have made big strides by taking fisheries protection to the highest level with government and police forces. Here are just some of the great things happening:

Project Trespass is a joined up initiative specifically aimed at tackling poaching. This is a far reaching, multi-agency approach that works with landowners, farmers, the police and other sources to tackle environmental crime. You can find out more here: HERE.

Operation Traverse has taken the issue of illegal fishing to highest level, garnering support from the Association of Police Officers and National Wildlife Crime Unit. It rightly points out issues such as the threats to livelihoods in the countryside caused by illegal activity, as well as working with European police forces to share information. Thanks to current efforts, the police are now identifying activities such as poaching as serious criminal activity and working closely with the EA and Angling Trust. After a successful pilot project in the South East, it is now being rolled out across the whole country.

Building Bridges is a scheme that looks to integrate and educate, rather than simply slag off anglers who migrate to the UK from other parts of Europe. It does this through action such as social events, competitions and also producing and sharing information in other languages, so that Poles, Romanians and nationals of many countries have the facts about fishing in the UK. We might tend to tar them all with the same brush, but there are now Poles and other nationalities actively patrolling our waters and playing their part, such as my friends Seb Nowosiad (below) and Marcin Kwasniewski.

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There are many more projects and initiatives both in place and being developed (find a handy summary of these is on the latest Angling Trust Fisheries Enforcement bulletin). Another great place to keep up with developments is Dilip Sarkar's excellent Angling Trust Blog. Knowledge is power!

Regardless of your take on the current threats to fishing, the very least any of us can do is join the Angling Trust and be willing to report and share information with the EA, Angling Trust and Police. Because the alternative is to address problems via internet forums and pub style rants; activities that produce plenty of rage but do absolutely nothing to protect the sport we all love.

Besides the challenges faced by fishing at present, there is a huge opportunity to protect the sport with the new initiatives and smarter ways for us to act. But whether we secure a positive future for fishing in the UK depends on more of us taking action and being a part of that change.

Wednesday 21 October 2015

Angling Books & Current Reads

I should have been fishing today. But instead I find myself sneezing, shivering a little and hoping this is mere man-flu and not something more sinister. But there is at least some consolation in the form of some tempting current reading material to catch up on. So at the very least I can at least go fishing in some of the rivers and lakes conjured up by other anglers.

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First up is "The One That Got Away" from Merlin Unwin Books. Originally released in the 90's, this reissued edition looks cracking- and more importantly, reads just as well. We've all read the books that serve as a catalogue of an angler's CV of big fish. But the premise of this book is that often the ones we lose often create better and more revealing stories. A great line up of writers includes Jeremy Paxman, George Melly and many others who write not of their triumphs, but those moments when time stood still and the line went slack. I won't give too much away, but this is rich, compelling stuff. Chris Yates' chapter alone ("Jilted by the Queen") describes that potent mixture of excitement and fear that a hooked giant brings in spellbinding fashion. The woodcut illustrations are lovely too:

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Otherwise, my current spot of man flu has also given me the chance to properly devour Fallon's Angler Issue 4. Once again, this indie fishing quarterly is absorbing stuff, by turns reflective, funny and nostalgic. Adding to the already rich variety of contributors, the title goes from strength to strength in terms of imagery- taking a cheeky glance into the recesses of anglers' tackle boxes, unearthing haunting old pictures and taking the reader on some enjoyable detours.

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Perhaps what I like best, however, is the way that this title is giving a platform to writers who deserve more exposure. Not only those we already know like old friends, but other anglers who have a cracking story to share but would never get the time of day at the hands of the usual suspects. Matthew Minter is one of them in issue 4, astutely describing the joy of unearthing forgotten fishing books, treasures, odds and ends as we raid our memories and even the odd charity shop. Lovely stuff.

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There is also a nice incendiary piece from Dexter Petley that might well provoke a few carp anglers, on some carp fishing history. Here's a bit of controversy for you: it would appear that the French were using hair rigs well before we little Englanders ever dreamt of them. From the evidence here, I think he's probably correct- but in typical British fashion we love to think we invented everything. All thought provoking stuff anyway.

In fact the only reading material I'm not massively keen on at present is my own work, as I make the very last proofs and tweaks to my new book "Crooked Lines". Like a musician who has played their repertoire a thousand times, you start to lose all objectivity after a point. It takes readers to enjoy what you've done, reading it for the first time and making it fresh again, for the work to mean anything. That said, I'm still thrilled with the artwork by Sheffield illustrator Lord Bunn, which has also been used to make some rather funky bookmarks that will be sent out with future orders. Watch this space for more news anyway. Now where did I hide the Lemsip?

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Wednesday 7 October 2015

Wading into Trouble

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Not for the first time, I have stepped over a line or two this past week, spilling a few maggots in the process. The feedback and hit count on my last blog post "Fishing Media in Crisis?" was quite a surprise. I’m glad most of you enjoyed the piece anyway. My only slight annoyance is that it takes something more incendiary and, to some, offensive in order for people to actually get reading and talking about some home truths.

But for now I’m going to take cover, leave that particular bundle of ragworms in the fridge and hope my other half doesn’t notice the smell. Because there are casts to make and other things to get on with.

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Lately I’ve been rediscovering my love of lure fishing on rivers and canals, but with some pretty dodgy spots involved. The banks of so many of my local club waters are in a rough old state these days, decorated with Himalayan Balsam, nettles and, in more than one case, the detritus of takeaways and supermarkets.

But if you’re prepared to be brave, make a fall or two and get stuck in, there is some fantastic water to explore. Perhaps the best tip I could give any angler frustrated by a lack of underfished water is to get yourself a pair of waders. Find the rough bits, get used to the feeling of cold water up to your bollocks and I guarantee you will find water that is seldom ever touched. Like the lovely swim I found down a six foot drop.

Tackle has to reflect the need to travel light and unimpeded through tight spots, so for me it is almost always a straight up choice between lure and fly gear. My latest toy is a seven-foot nothing ultralight lure rod that will cast tiny lures, dropshot rigs or even flies.

I don’t really miss bait on these excursions either, because most species can be caught between these methods: pike and perch readily take the lures, while flies will always catch chub and dace. But it is the perch that have really captivated me lately. And autumn waters have been littered with fry, minnows and bleak. When you see this sort of thing you just know you’ll locate predators too:
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Things are so different once you’re actually in the water! Usually we hover several feet above it, but for those who don’t wade often I can only describe it as a sensual experience. You can actually feel how strong the current is. You get a much better idea of depths too- and often I’m amazed to discover how what looked like inches of water right by the bank is actually a nice depth of three feet or more.

The other great thing about wading is that you can tease a lure or fly into small gaps that were inaccessible from the bank. I am finding small, soft lures absolutely deadly for the perch. Nor is it rocket science- and for all the dazzling array of lures and Formula one style outfits of the modern lure angler, it can be a devastatingly simple and easy method.

With tiny jigs, I have been using quite slow retrieves but really shaking and twitching the rod. Smaller perch throw themselves at the lures and a light rod makes every one of them good fun. Bonus chub really spice things up too- but tend to like a steadier retrieve higher in the water:
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The light tackle approach is really delightful and when you’re in the water, the rod really smashes around and a better perch looms up, you think “bloody hell, it’s… not as quite as big as I thought.”
No matter, I think for any true angler it is virtually impossible not to be happy catching perch. And once they’re a pound or more they really fight gamely.
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I’ve also been fishing with my pal Russ Hilton, who is about the most modest, least assuming character you could meet, but a very adaptable and extremely capable angler indeed. We quite often fish different methods and it’s fun comparing notes (for the record, his Tales From the Towpath blog is always a nice read).

Wobbling is something he does a lot of in the autumn, and it proved as effective as ever for the pike. Those of you who have a copy of Tangles with Pike will know how much I rate the method. Perhaps the nicest thing of all is fishing the method in clear water. Quite often the pike will follow but not take, and you then have the fun of watching the fish approach it static, daring to make another twitch. We both stood and watched this one take- interestingly, Russ's bait was lying right in the weed and we saw it casually suck it out. Had we not been watching, the line would barely have moved- a sobering thought for deadbait anglers:
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We hopped from drain to river to canal, losing count of the number of jacks and perch we caught, but perhaps the most interesting and bizarre spot of all was a tiny ditch we came across.

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Despite being no more than eighteen inches deep, there were several small chub at the surface and a small lure was immediately whacked by little perch. Even the General caught one, that looked suspiciously bigger than mine. Small things entertain small minds I guess.
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Sunday 27 September 2015

Autumn Fly Fishing

The last few weeks in September are a little bitter sweet, when time catches up with you and you realise that there are scarce days left to fly fish for trout. So ignoring the to do list, I snuck a rod in the car and hit an urban stream as I took my other half to work. The Sunday drivers had my fingers tapping the wheel, and it took a while to get there. It’s funny, because I rarely get stressed by traffic when driving to work, but when I’m fishing all the Sunday drivers seem to be on the road at once. Slow bastards.
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Still, the river looked lovely. With a warming sun, you could almost kid yourself it was still summer. But there wasn’t much hatching. Even so, I decided to be positive and start with a fairly big dry fly, a daddy long legs.

These small Devon streams are interesting places. The better pools get invaded by dogs on the more public areas, but by wading and scrambling to the tighter, less accessible bits you can access some nice water.

One thing past seasons have taught me on these small rivers is to never ignore the small “pockets” of water. A trout only needs inches of depth to make a little lair, or take up a feeding station. And where the water tumbles, they are bold. You don’t have to mess about with minuscule dry flies. You can use a hopper, sedge or in my case a daddy longlegs.

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The fish were slow to respond at first, although I had a brutal take and lost a half decent fish that came from a pothole just a foot deep and smashed the fly. It never did come back.

Pragmatism won in the end, as I attached a little goldbead shrimp on a dropper attached directly to the dry fly. One slashed and missed on the next pool, before I connected with the next bite. It charged around frenetically on the light gear (an 8ft four weight is about all I use for these small, craggy streams). Could the season end on a big high?

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It fought bigger than its weight in the end, but a half pound trout is always a welcome fish on a small stream, and their bold markings never fail to impress. Every one is different, but few fish have better autumn colours than a wild brown trout.

I caught a few trees besides trout as I scrambled to further bends and pools. Without much flow in the glides, the fish seemed to have abandoned these areas for the sanctuary of broken water or the deeper pools. Even so, it was silly just how many times the smaller trout made a sudden attack on a large dry fly. Both daddies and an Elk Hair Caddis worked as the trout came on in the afternoon. Strangely enough, I only saw two or three natural rises all day- but all were quite splashy takes, beneath cover.

It’s hard to pack away when you know you won’t be back until the spring. But it’s also good to miss the river. You don’t want to rise every fish, or know exactly how big the one that you lost might have been.

Plus, there is always the predator season coming up. Perch excite me as much as pike at the moment, whether on fly or dropshot tackle. This is the reason I have been developing some special drop shot flies for Turrall .

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These patterns have been working with both presentations, on some urban, less than perfectly clear waters too, which bodes well. You can find more news on the Turall Flies Facebook page- and do look out for the new website for further news, blogs and more.
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Monday 21 September 2015

From the Thames to the Towpath

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Last week I had the rare pleasure of a rather different road trip with two extremely different fishing days and a fishing show thrown in for good measure. This is almost becoming a bit of an annual tradition, as I make the most of the long haul from my home in Devon to the PAC Convention.

First stop was the Thames near Pangborne and a long awaited meeting with Garrett Fallon and Steve Roberts, who runs a very different kind of guided fishing service on the Thames in the form of River Days.
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In an age when the soul of fishing seems to have been put in a headlock, punched a few times and then kicked in the nads for good measure, how refreshing to see a professional guide offering something completely different, with soul, style and substance (take a peek at: . Steve is a man who lives and breathes classic fishing; who injects new life into old methods and believes that vintage tackle belongs not in glass cases but on the water catching fish.

That said, I couldn’t resist the temptation of my new toy- the first rod I’ve bought in several seasons in the form of a lovely, stupidly light lure rod. And right from the off I caught perch on small jigs, whole tribes of the little buggers on the attack and the gnome style rod convincing me they were bigger.
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It was simply one of those days when you can’t help but feel good to be alive and forget about the bullshit that gets in the way. Three men in a boat, a glorious, rushing weirpool and plenty of perch and pike. Heck, the boozer we hit for lunch even had one of my favourite IPAs on tap, while the day was eventful throughout.
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I’m not going to spoil too much of the surprise, because it’ll make a great feature in the near future (and unfortunately I have to do inconvenient things like eat and pay the rent), but it was inspiring stuff. It was the first time, for example, that I have ever used split cane for pike; and although these old school rods aren’t exactly light, there is something beautiful about cane that goes well beyond nostalgia. It really heaves and throbs with a decent fish.

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Garrett had the best of the day, also on the cane, like me reveling in the sort of day’s fishing that is too often denied by a manic workload. But perhaps when we are at our busiest, we savour the fishing even more.
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We packed up late, enjoyed a tactical debriefing in the pub and I arrived in Kettering late for an early start at the Pike Angler’s Club Convention early the next day. Always a great event, but the bugger about being a one man show with a stand to keep and wares to flog is that you don’t really get to enjoy the talks and the rest. But these events are great all the same, if for no other reason for the strange family feel you get from meeting with other anglers. It’s always nice meeting folks who read your work, and I tend to learn as much from them as perhaps vice versa.

The General came with me too and as I said hello to fellow predator enthusiast Ian Petch, the tiny military bastard met his equally small match with Jed I Knight, another silly but entertaining miniature fishing star, for a face off.
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The curse of fishing writing is that it has shag all money- but perhaps that’s partly why folks like Barry McConnell, Paul Garner and Sam Edmonds are no prima donnas, but just bloody nice, down to earth guys who do what they do for love rather than fame or money- because let’s face it, celebrity anglers are lower than celebrity gardeners in the glamour stakes. And probably have even dirtier finger nails.

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Talking of dirty, my next assignment was on the somewhat-less-than-beautifully-clear Coventry Canal, with ace Idler’s Quest blogger Jeff Hatt and his pal Martin. For those who don’t know Jeff, he is one of the unsung heroes of fishing; a chap who tackles those less fashionable fishing mysteries such as the towpaths of the Midlands.

Zander fishing is always a rare treat for me, with the species being non existent in Devon and Somerset. But even a guy who fishes for them regularly can get foxed from time to time, and it was to be an interesting, if slightly grueling, day of fishing.

Jeff’s use of large single hook rigs and float tactics is interesting in itself, besides his observations on this fickle species. Recently, he has had some encouraging results in the wake of passing boats, which you suspect not only stir up the bait fish, but actually smash a few of these up on waters that teem with millions of them. But could we make contact on a Sunday with regular traffic?

I have only dabbled previously with the method, but I tried drop shotting besides tiny jigs in an attempt to catch some fish, while Jeff tried little skimmer sections. The perch were about all I could interest early on though. They weren’t especially big or clever, but once again the toy rod made them thump quite pleasantly.

Just two days ago Steve of “River Days” had given some sage advice- that if you’re frustrated when fishing, you should breathe deeper, turn around and appreciate your surroundings. I love this sentiment, but it takes a different kind of resonance on an urban canal, which can be curious for several of the wrong reasons.

Early on, for example, we came across a bloke and a woman with a voice like a chainsaw, camping on the bank. They had caught a few bream but also, we later discovered, left a trail of tinnies, shredded rizla packets and black bags to decorate the bank. Living the dream. Twats.

The boats themselves and their inhabitants are also an interesting community. Their gardening efforts, random signs and pets sit on these boats and the whole boat living model would appear to attract quite a strange crowd.

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Meanwhile though, we were pretty stumped on the zander front. Martin lost one on a worm, of all baits, while I narrowly missed a General sized zed that didn’t hook properly. Even Jeff couldn’t fathom their lack of interest, as we exchanged theories and hopped swims.

I had really been hoping to land a nice zander on one of my special prototype dropshot flies, which are in the process of being refined for Turrall. The murky water didn’t prevent me from earning a nice hit beneath a boat when I made the switch, but it was another perch rather than a zander.

I was creaking by close of play and none the wiser, admittedly, but learned quite a lot. Thank God for perch is all I’ll say.

Sunday 13 September 2015

Autumn Fishing, from Stream to Sea

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The cool of the late summer brings a certain added intensity to the keen fisherman. Time is running out on warm weather fishing- and you suddenly realise you haven't fitted in anything like as much fishing time as you'd hoped. I had been trying to drag Simon Jeffries from Turrall out fishing for some time, but with both of us being relentlessly busy it hadn't quite happened. But with word from Chris Ogborne that there'd be a chance for both trout on the River Camel, and afternoon bass fishing near Rock we could resist no longer. Stuff the office, we we were headed west.

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The Camel looked absolutely sparkling on our arrival, improved only by a drop of homemade sloe gin. Watching Chris work the stream was an education in itself, working nymphs downstream or side casting a little dry fly into tight corners. The downstream nymphing was especially interesting- hardly casting, but simply feeding line into the current and changing the rod position to work a weighted fly under the bank or into the flow. And while I'd hate to spoil the surprise just yet, we also tested several of Chris's set of barbless river flies, soon to be made by Turrall. The idea is a set of simple but effective flies that will catch just about anywhere. The barbless hooks should really appeal to catch and release anglers, while these new patterns also have the nice, sparse dressings so often lacking in commercially made flies (below are some of the dry flies and emergers).
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There were odd insects hatching by late morning and the hits and misses began in earnest, but it was a test to say the least. I also captured some nice autumn footage of this pretty Cornish trout stream in the process- watch this space for a short film.

After a quick lunch, we were all set for the very different challenge of the open coast. We had both fly and lure tackle, but with a brisk wind picking up, the latter looked the safer bet. We hopped aboard local boat Optimus Prime (yes, we loved the name too).
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It was to be a thrilling afternoon, jumping between some epic looking rocky features, with crashing waves and the odd seal thrown in. Skipper Rodney Keatley made light of the wind as we threw soft lures on light gear. There was action throughout, but Simon had the first action, catching a cracking bass and a three pound ballan wrasse in the first hour.

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I don't do enough sea fishing, frankly. Feeling the hits, or seeing fish flashing after the lures in the clear waters off Rock was a magical experience. I caught two, releasing one but keeping the other. But it was Chris who really stole the show with a four pounder which kicked so hard I was convinced he had hooked a double. This is the joy of light tackle.
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Perhaps the only slight drawback was that fly fishing was only possible for a short while- and while Chris tried valiantly in the wind, we only really scratched the surface with his beautifully tied saltwater flies. The potential is massive however, and not just for bass. Mackerel, garfish and pollack like this cracker are all catchable and don't half thump on a fly rod:
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It was a long eventful day for the three of us, but a really enjoyable one- and I'm going to enjoy working more with Chris. For all the goings on at Turrall (our new website is now up and running, while you can also find news, flies and more on the Turrall Flies Facebook page). For anyone who fancies a spot of guided fly fishing in Cornwall, Chris can also be found at while you can book a day's boat fishing aboard Optimus Prime here:

The other big (and until now slightly cagey) news is of my next book. It's now written: two dozen stories and plenty of fresh work, representing some of the wilder detours and more unlikely stories I've covered in my writing. There'll be everything from urban fly fishing, to wild carp and strange monsters from Central Park to Torquay harbour. The title will be "Crooked Lines", but this is new work, not scrapings from the rather rushed content that is my regular blog! The artwork from Sheffield illustrator Lord Bunn (whose usual work is anything from city signs to murals) is also looking really cool. Here's a preview of the cover:
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