Thursday 28 April 2016

The Bounder, Buller and Current Fishing Reads

I’m having an eventful time of things lately to put it mildly, with life approaching the sort of chaos usually reserved for my tackle box. Fishing time is tricky- although I keep squeezing in short sessions with lures. I've also been busy at the desk this month for two quite big developments: Firstly, I have a column in the newly revamped Angling Times (now in magazine format). Needless to say, after a decade of working at it I'm thrilled to bring my slightly unhinged take on angling to the table on a weekly basis.

 photo BOOKS_ETC_APR_2016 - 2_zpswxbbqo7z.jpg

But equally, I'm also proud to be a part of issue six of the superb quarterly Fallon's Angler, which happens to be a special tribute issue to the late Fred Buller. Indeed, besides losing several too many music and comedy icons this year, fishing has also had a rough ride, with Jan Porter also passing this week. Both he and Buller really got the mind ticking over in my formative years as an angler. Perhaps for different reasons, but both were true one-offs who took quite unconventional ideas and made them mainstream.

 photo BOOKS_ETC_APR_2016 - 1_zpsoyv78rmm.jpg

Talking of mavericks, my main task this week is to give you my verdict on infamous angling character Mike Daunt’s rather intriguing book The Bounder, which I have just completed. Not for the faint-hearted, this autobiography follows the madcap life of not just an angler, but a soldier, philanderer and hedonist supreme, from London to Kenya and back, via the River Tweed and the jungles of Borneo. For better or worse, no punches are pulled or details of any kind spared. There is fornication as well as fishing. And for those prudish types who didn’t like the occasional curse words of my own recent work “Crooked Lines” this is a whole different level of “colourful”. But it is certainly compelling.

It is this candid, open-as-a-fridge-with-the-door-ripped-off nature that I love best about the book. It’s rather like eavesdropping on that fascinating bloke in the corner of a waterside pub. You know, the one with the "caught it, drank it, shagged it" look on his face, who speaks about theatre in Cold War Berlin one moment and tench fishing the next. The one who, at any minute, is capable of revealing some outrageous detail to make the whole boozer fall silent and sane mortals whisper to each other “Jesus Christ, is this guy serious?” Whether it is the sordid details of “swinging” London in the sixties and seventies or the sudden appearance of a man’s severed finger, it’s all in the mix.

The fishing adventures are a constant, but tend to form the subplots in the book alongside Daunt’s unfailingly mad-as-a-box-of-frogs life. So this is not a fishing book per se, but the sport is quietly prominent in its own way. His first ever fishing trip is beautifully rendered, for example, in the midst of a turbulent childhood and perhaps the most mismatched mother and father in the history of parenting (the one a kind-hearted but fallible bohemian, the other an emotionally retarded dictator).

As a kid who went to state school, with its well-meaning but downbeat teachers and leaking temporary classrooms, I always find tales of how “the other half” live as fascinating. But I’m never sure I envy the “privilege” of bullying, endlessly stupid rules and having to watch out for the school letch with a taste for young boys. There is a delightful mischief, but also moments of genuine misery, in the section on school days. Innocence and depravity are both present. Catching secretive common carp is one thing; catching two of your teachers hard at it in the bushes is quite another.

Forbidden from joining theatre school, the author is then dispatched to the army where, in spite of a rebellious streak, he manages to not only fit in but thrive. The adventures with the Headhunters of Borneo were among the most fascinating in the book, complete with the most eye-opening and astounding details. Depending on your tastes, the warts-and-all details will make you laugh out loud or wince (or in my case sometimes both on the same page).

Curiously in fact, The Bounder features some very famous names (Chris Tarrant, for instance, writes a foreword that declares both a deep fondness and sense of the absurdity of the author's life, while he also fishes and boozes with screen legends) but you suspect it is “Daunty” who has probably had the wilder ride. And while some readers might find leaps between subjects and eras a bit of a jolt, this pattern is perhaps only an appropriate reflection of the random, hedonistic rollercoaster of his life.

Perhaps the quality I didn't expect with a book of this title were the sudden moments of fragility. Whether it's a tragic family secret or an untimely disaster, beyond the bravado and the hedonism The Bounder is also unexpectedly touching.

As for the fishing side of things, the keen angler will perhaps enjoy the latter stages of the book best of all- and in particular the keenly-observed relationship with the late Hugh Falkus, an enigmatic man who is by turns funny and kind, rude and cantankerous. No spoilers here, but there are some great moments of mischief and more than a dash of controversy along the way. A small world too, because of course Falkus co-authored the classic Freshwater Fishing with Fred Buller, who has just passed away.

Whatever your own take on Mike Daunt's wild life then, The Bounder is a risky, unrepentant but never dull romp. For my money, I'd compare it to a bottle of high-proof India Pale Ale: Rather strong and more than a little fruity for some tastes, but if you like this kind of brew you'll find yourself happily sipping away until the whole bottle is gone. You'll can find it for £7.99 at John Blake books HERE.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

More news and views to come shortly from me anyway, along with recent adventures in lure fishing; the sea is calling once again and while the fish have been small enough for "The General" (below) to hold thus far, there is some hugely exciting sport on the way.
 photo General_April_2016_Blog_ - 3_zpsjkyjugol.jpg

Sunday 24 April 2016

Kayak Fishing Lessons & Cool Spring Days

April has been a massive hectic, month for me in terms of both passing on experience and learning some new skills. One of the great joys of fishing is that there is always new knowledge to pick up as well as pass on. Sometimes it's a gradual thing- but in my case lately it has been more a case of jumping in.

 photo CK_April_2016 - 9_zpsag416pq7.jpg

My current leap in the fishing world is perhaps one of the biggest I’ve ever made, however, as I’ve decided to try kayak fishing. It’s something I’ve had my eye on for several seasons if the truth be told. Regular readers will know that I’ve enjoyed a fair bit of float tubing in the past; it’s a cheap, highly mobile way of getting afloat. But limited in other respects, particularly when it comes to sea fishing.

So why go the kayak route? Well, for those of us without the income or space to buy a big scale fishing boat, a kayak is a realistic option to get the freedom of boat fishing without the silly sized bill. So when fishing oriented specialists Channel Kayaks approached me with the offer to use one of their craft for a year and review it, I jumped at it. I mean, why the hell wouldn’t you? I live 25 minutes from the sea, not to mention some nice lakes that allow boats, such as Roadford.

Regular readers will already know I’m honest and skeptical about tackle and kit, having had mixed experiences with companies in the past to put it mildly. So I hope in the coming weeks and months I’ll be able to give you a warts and all account of my journey into kayak fishing- the bits I like, the bits I don’t like and, in a nutshell, whether I take to it or not. I mean, what's the worst that can happen? Actually... the worst that can happen is that you can drown but we'll get into that a bit later.

Anyhow, it should be interesting stuff and I want to record my experiences. Not in the style of "look at what an expert I am" (quite the opposite!), but as the guy figuring out the various aspects of how to go kayak fishing and, who knows, perhaps asking some of the dumb questions and making mistakes so others among you don't have to...

 photo CK_April_2016_002 - 1_zpshdhi1mmf.jpg

How (not) to start kayak fishing
So, after the initial feeling of “Wahey! These idiots are going to lend me a kayak for the whole summer!” I had to make the thorny decision of which model to go for. A tricky one really, because while I might well be flying (or paddling?) solo, I also liked the idea of a two person kayak for fishing trips (secretly hoping they could help with elbow grease when I get knackered).

Does such a thing as a versatile one or two person kayak exist then? Turns out it does with the Tandem Bass kayak that was recommended to me; you can fix two seats on board, or convert to just one in the middle.

 photo CK_April_2016_002 - 3_zps93owxgku.jpg

A big win? Um, sort of. Once you’re in the water, yes. When you have to hoist the thing onto your car, not quite so much, because this means you have more weight to lift. It is doable though and as far as a suitable compromise goes, this seemed the best option. If you're flying solo, the lighter one man "Bass" kayak would be more sensible (and cheaper too, at just shy of £400). All include comfy seats and rod rests too, which is a big bonus- you can see these are designed by anglers (as opposed to just being marketed for anglers). Granted, it's not peanuts- but the last time I engaged in fishing kayak reviews (in Flyfishing & Fly Tying Magazine), the craft were well over a thousand just for a basic model- too much for me, while the inflatables and cheap versions often look duff or outright scare me to death (note to my Devon friends: please don't go shark fishing in an inflatable dinghy again. I'd rather not be at your funeral).

Basic kayak safety & skills
On one level, I never quite grow up with fishing related stuff. Give me new kit and I just want to get out and fish. But when you’re dealing with tides, waves and the elements you do have to take a reality check and be prepared. So quite sensibly, Byron from Channel Kayaks recommended me a session on Clevedon Marine Lake for a crash course in kayaking basics. Probably sensible, because if I were to drown on my maiden voyage, not only would my folks be upset, there wouldn’t be any kind of review. Unless you consider a police/coastguard report a “review”.

Joking aside, fishing can be a dangerous sport (statistically you're more likely to die on a fishing trip than in a rugby match or even a skydiving trip!). Just because you have a life jacket and can swim, it doesn’t mean you are invincible. There is risk and to be unprepared is stupid, hence I wanted a kayak starter session with no fishing involved, at least initially.

Kayaking looks easy when you watch others do it. But there are various little skills and safety bits you really ought to learn before you’re ready to venture out properly. I didn't want to get too bogged down on this blog- but I've written on the basic skills and things like what to do if you fall in on a guest slot for the Channel Kayaks blog, after they very kindly have me a training session to get me started. You might want a look just for the entertainment value of seeing me fall in and then demonstrate how to clamber back into a kayak (CLICK HERE).

 photo CK_April_2016 - 5_zpsr8rbc0e9.jpg

Fishing from the Kayak
Having completed my paddling and safety basics, it was time for the more fun part- testing the kayak for fishing and in two person mode! Heck, even I can only concentrate for so long before I start thinking about fishing. I know what you're thinking: there can't be any fish in Clevedon Marine Lake, right? It looks nothing more than a big and fairly lifeless concrete swimming pool, for goodness sake.

It actually turns out I was wrong here. Sitting right by the Bristol Channel, it gets a fresh influx of sea water on big tides. Fish, shrimps, crabs and the rest come in, but not all of them remember to leave. Non anglers have seen sea fish topping and moving, including the odd flatfish or dogfish, while the crabbers get the occasional blenny in their nets. I'm not saying it's prolific- but it could just be a quirky spot to have a cast (when it's quiet and you're not annoying swimmers or canoeists obviously!).

 photo CK_April_2016 - 16_zpstj6juouo.jpg

Anyhow, purely as a test I had brought along a light fishing outfit, just to see how it felt fishing from the kayak. Impressively stable, is my honest impression. Last time I fished from a kayak was in Finland; it was an ancient Canadian thing and the slightest movement made it veer all over the place. But these "sit on" kayaks are so different to the "sit in" versions. I am not a light human being nor one with a low centre of gravity, to put it mildly. And if I can sit on the edge, with my feet in the water, and fish, virtually anyone can. Furthemore, the new, hollow-bodied boats are very tough and virtually unsinkable. And yes, I tried during my trial. Just like with my fishing gear I like to see where the weak points are BEFORE, not during the event.

I had a little go with LRF type lures, anyhow, for no longer than half an hour admittedly, because it is April and you appreciate just how cold the water still is when you've been in it several times. I caught nothing- but then again, even the dad and lad crabbing in the corner blanked, which probably tells you it's too early. For the novelty alone though I may well come back.

Fish or no fish, I was pleasantly surprised by the kayak as a fishing platform. Built in rod holders are snug too and you get several, plus two posher kayak rod mounts, as standard. Another thing a lot of kayak anglers surely must ask though, is "what happens if I drop my rod or paddle?" If you are unlucky, the answer is " it disappears and you never see it again." Which is why I would recommend buying a leash or three:

 photo CK_April_2016 - 3_zps1jl1zbvk.jpg

These are made for retaining paddles- and very sensible too because you're not going anywhere other than the proverbial sh** creek without a paddle. But they also provide one of the best ways to avoid losing rods when kayak fishing.

Kayak fishing sessions to come
So, having completed my crash course in kayaking, it shouldn't be too long until I hit the water for a day out. I'll let you know how I get on. The sea is an obvious target, but I also get the feeling that this would be great fun on lakes- if you can only get past the health and safety Nazis. Permission can be a sod (it's the same issue with float tubing). But there are a few freshwater options I'll be exploring over the summer.

One of the most exciting of all options this summer is a series of kayak fishing days on Wimbleball Lake, also being run by Channel Kayaks. Hats off really, because permission is the main barrier to trying. With kayak and gear hire plus a fishing ticket for under £100 these look just the ticket and I've already wangled a place on the event taking place on June 1st. Grab a look at the event details HERE for more info- but if you ever wanted to try kayak fishing without risking a fair sized investment, this is very much the way to do it and from what I've seen so far this looks great (Chris Ogborne is one of the guides on these days, who is not only a great host but a former international angler of huge knowledge!).

Guided Fishing Update
The other thing I am hugely looking forward to hugely this summer is taking more visitors out for guided fishing trips in Devon and Cornwall. There have already been some lovely highlights in the spring- not least of all teaching two intrepid brothers Oscar and Austin to fish at St. Tinney Farm with their father.

Now, a lot of boys of this age just want to get fishing and casting and, as much as I love their enthusiasm, a lot of what I say tends to go in one ear and out the other. Not with these two though. You could tell they have a school teacher in the family with mum, because they sat, watched and listened ever so well to learn how to set up a float, how to plumb the depth and all those other little basic angling skills that are so important.

 photo BLOGGING_APRIL_2016 - 2_zpsslmmanby.jpg

The result of listening (for adults and kids aike!) is obvious; you catch more fish! They fished the margins very stealthily and effectively indeed. Best of all was when both hooked into fish at the same time. I think I was as thrilled as they were- hopefully a day they won't forget in a hurry!

 photo BLOGGING_APRIL_2016 - 1_zpsv7uxheng.jpg

In other guiding, I've also given recent pike and trout fishing lessons in East Devon and beyond. Whether it is a holiday activity, or a fiftieth birthday treat, I am always happy to oblige if I can. Sometimes I can take bookings at short notice too, but the diary does get crazy in the summer so it's usually best to give me plenty of warning and ask about dates; all the details are on my site HERE.

Fishing Blogs and Articles on the way...

Last but not least, you may or may not have seen some of the other bits I've been producing, editing and writing lately. Not so long ago, the digital world was a totally unpaid minority of what I did as an angler. But in perhaps just three years, that has all changed. And while I always will be a devotee of books and print media, blogging is becoming just as vital. Here are some recent entries that really stood out, both from me and a couple of others:

 photo BLOGGING_APRIL_2016 - 4_zpsrdzv8jxb.jpg

Top 5 Urban Fly Fishing Tips: A fantastic little blog from my good friend and keen urban angler Theo Pike

Lake District Tarn Fishing: Beautiful artwork and reflections from artist and Cumbria based angler Scott Winstanley.

Fly Fishing in Muddy Waters: My own recent blog for Turrall, with some sound advice and hard-learned lessons on catching when our streams and rivers are fickle.

Otherwise, you'll find more musings, fishing ramblings and nonsense from me in the newly revamped Angling Times (collectible first issue in the new format out on Tuesday 26th April 2016), Fallon's Angler Issue 6 (which features a fishing trip in Cold War Berlin with the General) and various places elsewhere. I've also been back at the mini species and LRF fishing, with mixed results to say the least. Life has just got too busy to post it all on the blog quite frankly, but do keep reading and watch this space for more...

 photo CK_April_2016 - 19_zpszmbwpjba.jpg

Thursday 7 April 2016

Fly Fishing in Poland: A Dunk in the "Protein River"

Although my trips to Poland are not strictly fishing affairs, I’m always keen to test the waters of Silesia, where my other half’s family live. It isn’t always easy to balance inlaws and angling, but there is some fascinating fishing in this area of Southern Poland, with both lowland “coarse” rivers and lakes, along with some lofty and very beautiful fly fishing destinations.

 photo Poland_Easter_2016 - 3_zps48nkj8tl.jpg

The journey to Poland was an interesting one, crammed with three other voyagers into the confines of a small Fiat. Not exactly the vehicle of choice for the tall guy, but we survived and had some fun along the way, passing through no fewer than four countries on the 24 hour journey from England to Poland (France, Belgium, Holland and Germany).

I won’t subject you to a full report on Easter in Poland (something which is taken extremely seriously, from fasting to feasting and Catholic Mass). But suffice to say it always brings a smile to my face after the experience I had in 2014, which spawned one of the more bizarre fishing stories I’ve ever written (you could always grab a copy of Crooked Lines, for the complete yarn, which involves a rather miraculous resurrection that might confirm any brother of the angle's faith).

The real adventure began after the Easter weekend, however, as we met with Polish fly fishing enthusiast Arek Kubale and his good lady Agneiszka for an adventure in the Silesian mountains. Admittedly, it would be a fleeting and opportunistic visit rather than a meticulously planned fishing session. But I was looking forward immensely to trying the River Bobr (or “Beaver River”), considered one of the finest places to go fly fishing for trout and grayling in Poland.

 photo Poland_Easter_2016 - 4_zpsg0nqzaga.jpg

As I’ve explained before on this blog and in my writing, I believe there are a heck of a lot of misconceptions about fishing in Poland. Favourites include “they eat everything” quickly followed by “fishing in Poland must be terrible.” On the contrary, in fishing terms I believe Poland is a sleeping giant. There is a heck of a lot of water, space and variety here. Furthermore, it is ridiculously cheap in comparison to so many other EU fishing destinations (a pint of beer is about £1.40, a stay in a quality fishing lodge well under £20 a night).

There is a huge diversity of fishing and slowly but steadily the country is getting its act together. Like many other fisheries, the Bobr is now strictly catch and release fishing, for example, and better protected than ever thanks to Poland’s younger generation of predominantly catch and release fly fishers.

The journey itself was both beautiful and slightly jaded. Poland is a country where you’ll see a line of ramshackle sheds and a faux-Greek mansion in the same road. Where one guy owns a BMW and the next has a clapped out old banger and a bottle of moonshine.

And along with big inequality come the other issues. Arek and Aga pointed out one or two unfortunate ladies they refer to as “mushroom pickers” to more sensitive guests (in reality, rural based "women of ill repute" from the Ukraine and other desperately poor nations). It must then be a battle to keep a straight face as other inevitable comments follow ("she looks rather underdressed for the season...").

We then had the delight of stopping in the amazing mountain city of Jelenia Gora ("Deer Mountain" in Polish) to stock up on supplies and enjoy local delicacies, including fabulous local doughnuts and some of the best Chinese food I've ever eaten at the "Shang Hai" restaurant. One of the joys of being a Brit in Poland is that you can enjoy the best of everything and still spend a heck of a lot less than you would at home. Unsurprisingly I also sampled several delicious Polish craft beers.

Unlike beer brewing, angling Tourism isn't hugely developed here just yet. I was in stitches, in fact, at some of Arek's tales of early fishing businesses trying to gain a foothold. One local guide clearly illustrated the dangers of Google Translate by using it as the sole means to reach English speakers on his site, only to be referred to as a certain "Mr Bastard" offering trips on the "Proteins River". Hmmm... sounds both offensive and nutritious!

 photo Poland_Easter_2016 - 7_zps37qy91xl.jpg

I was still chuckling on the water, asking my host whether the trout on the "Protein River" were as fast growing as the name suggested. I wasn't chuckling for too long once immersed in the very cold waters of the River Bobr, however. Spring arrives quite late here and it was cold, with currents that threatened to knock me off balance as I searched near bank lies with a six weight streamer outfit borrowed from my host. I couldn't buy a bite, sadly, although the ice cool waters were perfect for cooling down a couple of ales that went down a treat with the juicy, smoky Polish sausages we barbequed. If there was a sausage World Cup, Poland would be Germany or Brazil.

 photo Poland_Easter_2016 - 8_zpszrs1nnz6.jpg

With only an hour of light left to use, we then went to a huge dam and fished near the Tartak Fly Fishing Lodge. A great looking place this, and with the river cleaner than it has been in some time, not to mention well-policed catch and release rules, this is a fly and lure only fishery with big potential.

 photo Poland_Easter_2016 - 2_zps8td3ev3j.jpg

My timing was fairly terrible though, as I simply never received that tell tale whack on the streamer. Heck, the lesson here is that you cannot always combine a social trip with fishing and hope the fish will cooperate for you in the few hours you find to have a try. Just because I do this for a living, it doesn’t grant me any God-given right to turn up anywhere and catch. The fish don’t give a damn and on this occasion my name may as well have been Mr Bastard, with a permit to fish the Protein River.

 photo Poland_Easter_2016 - 1_zpseovhkbq0.jpg

Ironically, my only fish of the trip came from the briefest of sessions fishing on a flowing urban canal in Wroclaw. Last time I visited, this channel was totally dry and undergoing maintenance. It seemed bizarre to revisit and discover quite an inviting channel, with roach, chub, perch and even the odd giant catfish present! A small chub took pity on us in the end, gulping down a Goddard Caddis, and I'm not sure I've ever been so happy and relieved to catch such a modest fish.

The rest of the trip is hazy, having gained about half a stone in cured meats and vodka. The Poles are the best of hosts, but I am seriously considering becoming a vegetarian tee-totaller.