Horrendously wet and windy weather might make fishing hard, but at least the chaos outside gives me the excuse to do some reading. Every Christmas, extended family tend to buy me some quirky fishing material and this year has been no exception, hence a copy of "The Fishing Gazette" from Autumn 1959. Written twenty years before I was born, it is a fascinating little window into a different era of fishing. What can we glean from the past? The tackle and lay out might look dated, with hand drawn diagrams and the cream of rods of the day selling for £7-£10, but in other ways the Angling Gazette displays some nostalgically traditional values. The quality of writing is often a much better standard than today's magazines, I have to say. Writers such as Fred J Taylor seem understated and articulate by comparison. Gone also are those toe curling, lazy cliches; you never feel like slapping the writer for describing a fish as a "bar of gold" or their "prize". Articles also rove freely into other topics such as wildlife and rivers management. The whole feel is far less commercial too. The hard sell is not there. Even the ads are somehow sweetly naive. The other noticeable difference is that the title embraces all types of fishing- sea bass and roach are discussed in the same pages as salmon flies. Could it be that fifty years later we are more narrow-minded in some ways? In total contrast to the regular floods we now face in the UK, the hilariously named correspondent for Devon, Mr Cecil F Plimsole notes that there are "no signs of rain near, and the rivers are extremely low."
Some aspects of fishing in this country never change however, and in this respect I've also enjoyed dipping into Jeremy Paxman's "The English" and "Fish, Fishing and the Meaning of Life." Paxman makes the true statement that anglers are a nostalgic breed, continually hankering for a golden age that probably never existed. You've heard it before: Everything was better twenty years ago. Fishing is continually facing ruin at the hands of (cormorants/ foreigners/ overfishing/ xx insert selected name of perpetual evil here xx). How very, bloody, English.
An even spookier echo of the present is held within the Angling Gazette as a Mr F W Holiday (all 50s anglers are known very formally by initials and surnames, naturally) tries to debunk the myth that fly fishing is some arcane form of art, not for the likes of you and I. "Such a lot of pretentious tripe has been written about fly fishing that many people are afraid to try for fear they will make themselves look silly," he comments, "but the rudiments are learned quickly enough". The same sentiment has been my own message with "Flyfishing for Coarse Fish".
The new collector's edition has been the icing on the cake. From initially being told that the idea was a non-starter by one publishers, Merlin Unwin grabbed the project by the horns and, over 2000 copies later, the doubters have been proved spectacularly wrong. It would be superb to see a softback edition released in the next run to get even more hands on fly rods, but at the other end of the spectrum is the special, leather bound edition. Complete with hand marbled end papers and gilt edged pages, 50 copies really have been given the deluxe treatment (check out the the gold perch taking the fly on the cover). Heck, it's so nicely done I can hardly bring myself to run my greasy fingers over the thing (see www.merlinunwin.co.uk for more info).
Otherwise I have only been out for one days fishing since returning from my travels. With incessant rain and topsy turvy weather still the norm, perhaps I should have anticipated a blank days piking. Nevertheless, fishing is so many things besides catching, like watching the strangely fluid patterns made by mobs of starlings or just catching up with a friend.
Monday, 31 December 2012
Wednesday, 19 December 2012
Phew, is all I can say to 2012. Time for a celebratory tipple. Firstly, an apology to regular followers who may be wondering where I've been for the last three weeks. I can say but little about my recent whereabouts, suffice to say I've been on the biggest fishing adventure of my life, braving some spectacularly varied climates and challenges under the gaze of film cameras. No, I'm not on mind-altering drugs. It seems just as unreal to me at the present moment- but all will be revealed in the new year! In the meantime, I thought now would be a good time to reflect on what has been a momentous, topsy turvy year in all its' muddy, unexpected, magnificent glory. MOST LEGENDARY NUTTER OF THE YEAR Goes to the right honourable Norbert Darby (who else?). A man who arranges to meet for a morning's fishing, only to turn up sleeping in a tent having lost his keys and possibly his mind. Mr Darby, without you the world would be a safer, saner but ultimately far less interesting place. FAVOURITE PICTURE OF THE YEAR There's no place quite like home, and this one's from the heart. I was meant to be photographing kit and bait, but became hypnotised by the sheer beauty of the Grand Western Canal at first light. No filters or tricks needed here- it really was this golden. A delightful place, which leads us neatly on to our next part. "OH S**T" MOMENT OF THE YEAR Gobsmacked hardly describes my reaction to news that in the terrible flooding late in 2012, a whole section of the Grand Western's banks collapsed, sending water pouring into nearby fields. Angler's hearts were in their mouths and local residents temporarily evacuated. Credit due to my pike fishing pal Ian Nadin, among the volunteers, as well as the EA for their efforts to rescue fish and deal with this unforseen crisis. Here's to sunnier times, though they may seem some way off yet. CATCH OF THE YEAR While I am by no means a die hard specimen angler, it is nice to land something breathtaking once in a while. I have Alex Prowse to thank for both his cracking "Zoota Lures" as well as being my host for a day's pike fishing I'll never forget. This one went 27lbs 10oz, and I went to pieces with shock. FREAK CATCH OF THE YEAR It has been a year for some oddball catches on equally unusual methods. Nymphing for bream can be spectacularly challenging, but did turn up this quite bizarre hybrid. I'd have said rudd/bream, but hell, what do I know? It took a little gold bead fly without a second thought. CUTE CATCH OF THE YEAR 2012 has been a year when I reaquainted myself with that buttery beauty the crucian carp. I had some absolute belters at Marsh Farm in the company of Russ Hilton, but perhaps the most memorable fish was this one, caught by Bryony Pym. On her first ever fishing trip, she caught several of them- smiles and sunny afternoons on a pond are priceless things in fishing. GREEDIEST MOUTH OF THE YEAR No, the answer isn't me at an all you can eat for £6 buffet. It is a perch. This one was retained for a couple of hours in a keepnet, where it added a couple of ounces after using the experience to pinch a few of the tiddly roach kept with it! MOST GRUELLING TRIP OF THE YEAR Bloody hell were we up against it in Wales. Half way up a mountain, with only a fly rod to secure our dinner for the night. Accompanied by intrepid photographer Frazer McBain we roughed it and survived a long haul complete with howling winds, lashing rain and steep ascents. PROUDEST MOMENT OF THE YEAR I've accomplished a few things in 2012 I would never have dreamed of not so long ago. Becoming a qualified Level 2 Angling Coach is one of them. Making TV appearances would also be up there. But top of the list has to be the publication of my books, "Flyfishing for Coarse Fish" and "Fishing For Dummies". Signing editions for readers is still quite unreal. What makes me most proud is the sheer number of readers who have responded so positively to "Flyfishing for Coarse Fish" however. You are the ones the hard work was for- and hearing from anglers who have just caught their first ever roach, chub or pike on the fly is absolutely thrilling. I'm as elated as Merlin Unwin books that my first title sold so well- as a result, the next release is a special, collectible leather bound edition of 50 books. All of this only leaves me to say what a great story 2012 has been- for the most part down to the many brilliant, enthusiastic, helpful people I've been lucky enough to call my friends in the fishing world. And as for the odd bad stick who proved unhelpful or made my life harder, I should probably thank you too; without you I wouldn't have worked so hard to make 2012 a special year. Which only leaves me to wish every one of you a very happy Christmas and more great days on the bank for the holidays and the new year. At this point I think I need a lie down and a glass of mulled cider.
Saturday, 24 November 2012
Some things in fishing, you can legislate for. Others keep you guessing. The location of fish is just one area nobody can predict with unerring certainty. Such was the case on a pole fishing trip, where I fancied another crack on breadpunch with Russ Hilton. We picked the wrong pegs at first- there had been fish around Charlton before in this particular area, but we couldn't buy a bite for a whole hour- and punch seems to work quite soon or not at all. Undaunted, we upped sticks and took a walk before deciding on a new area. The banks were horrendous, but we could see lots of silvers and several pike nearby too. It was bite a chuck fishing from the off, but rather a struggle to get anything over about an ounce. The place was absolutely heaving with small silver bream, and in fact the only thing which prevented constant bites was the odd pike boiling in the swim and sending the little buggers scattering. In the end, we knocked the session on the head and grabbed pike tackle. Drifted deadbaits were accepted in no time at all, with several runs in the space of perhaps 90 minutes. The pike were on the small side, as is typical for the cut, but fun nevertheless. Otherwise, It has been a period of hectic sorting things out, including a trip to hospital rapidly followed by the final, concluding day for my Level 2 Angling Coaching badge. The paperwork has been a nightmare- but the course itself worthwhile and I've learned a lot. By the end of it I needed a relaxing day out somewhere, and fancied a bit of stillwater fly fishing. I also caught up with the two Adams, Aplin and Moxey, for whom the whole idea of "catch and take" trout fishing was totally new. A pretty scene at Blakewell it was to, and as well as trout we could spot perch in the margins. Sure these never used to be here- contrary to the wishes of the management to remove them, I like seeing perch in trout lakes. Adam managed to catch one on a damsel nymph, while things started slowly with the trout. The first hits came not on naturals, but by switching to a good old Woolly Bugger: Funny how fisheries can change. Once upon a time, it felt like the fishing was almost too easy at Blakewell. On this occasion things took a bit of sussing- and the fish seemed to want a lure presented nice and slow, rather than stripped aggressively. The real turning point was switching to that purist's nightmare, the blob. With less weight than the goldheads, this fly could be fished much slower without dropping into the weed and it led to a hectic final hour. It's always especially pleasing to introduce others to a new type of fishing too, and it was brilliant to watch Adam Aplin play a first ever rainbow trout that leapt clear three times before hitting the net. A third new species on the fly rod for Adam then- and one very happy camper! On a more sobering final note, the damage to the Grand Western Canal has been a horrible shock. Even to the most ardent fisherman, when folks have to be evacuated, it does put the welfare of fish into perspective. I gather there is now a floodwater lake formed near Greenways. For man and fish alike, let's just pray things settle down.
Sunday, 11 November 2012
Talk about week of many miles and varied experiences. The difference between success and epic fail can be as fine as a fluorocarbon hooklength when it comes to fishing. Perhaps I'm being hard on myself, but it feels like a week of "not quite". I travelled all the way up to Lincoln to give a talk to the Lincoln PAC on Monday- well what can I say, RO Simon Blaydes has a persuasive enthusiasm! I very much enjoyed meeting all the lads from this well supported region, and also managed some fishing while I was there. I did a day for pike and another for perch, but both times encountered a similar challenge: masses of fry, along with predators that were tricky perhaps because they were so spoiled for choice. I managed just the one pike on my first day, but probably should have had more after seeing two or three decent fish repeatedly batter into shoals of diddy roach. Day two was more of the same, albeit on a trout water in search of a big perch, and I'm not sure I've ever seen such thick shoals of fry as I found around inshore structures. However, it was the trout which came close to shore at intervals through the day to hunt- and create the sort of effect you get in a monster movie when a 60ft high reptile comes into view and tiny people scatter everywhere you look. Perhaps I shouldn't feel too disappointed at the lack of perch, because it was exciting stuff and enjoyed some good hits. This mint conditioned brown went like stink and actually coughed up three little roach as I unhooked it, including one which was still wriggling! perch did finally show up, but only for a short feeding window just before dark. Take your pick of excuses- top of the list would be a foul wind making casting and presentation a nightmare, although I'm also going to go back to the drawing board as far as my fry copies are concerned. After a fair bit of effort on predator and fly fishing, I then fancied something a bit different. With the exception of pike events it has been a few years since I entered a match, but with Tiverton AC holding an open on the pretty Grand Western Canal at Tidcombe, I really fancied a crack with the pole. Bread punch seemed the favoured method for bites- but taking a tip or two from friends, I went with a big piece of punch on a size 16 as an opening ploy, and bloody hell did it pay off. Well, nearly. I had two bream down the central track in the first half hour, which fought in a most un-breamlike manner on a number four elastic. Thrilling stuff and for a precious few minutes I was thinking "bloody hell, I might be in with a chance here!" Unfortunately it wasn't quite to be- other anglers also latched into some bream, pushing me down the running order. I fished the peg hard, trying chopped worm, caster and even a single pinkie on a 22, but for little further reward. A lot of effort for perhaps a dozen roach, but that extra bream or two which might have won me some coin were not forthcoming. Never mind, a little under 6lbs for fifth place is probably no disgrace given my long absence from match fishing and I thoroughly enjoyed the day (big thanks to Russ Hilton for the match pics, whose towpath stroll I hijacked). At the risk of making a pretty tenuous analogy, I'd liken my performance to the current plight of Exeter City FC- some decent play, but not quite promotion material just yet.
Friday, 2 November 2012
As anyone who likes to seek out new locations discovers, fishery owners come in all types. I've met some brilliant, supportive characters, as well as some first class nutters! I don't think some of them realise the huge importance they play in the sport- treat your anglers well and they'll be back time and again. The curious part comes when you encounter owners who would almost rather you weren't there. With perch fishing especially though, it's worth seeking out those more hidden places which are hardly promoted and where "fishery management" means a bloke hopping off his tractor and saying "that'll be six quid please". Autumn is invariably the most colourful time of the year. I'm glad in this instance I got Frazer McBain on the case again, who could make even the meekest little pond look elegant and mysterious. I've been doing more pole fishing lately for the perch. The pole is brilliant for getting accurate depths and pushing baits into tight spots- and as well as my favourite chopped worm tactics, I'm also using stepped up rigs to present small roach in perchy spots. It didn't start brilliantly on this occasion though, with a smashed pole section. Just as well the best areas are often near the bank- and this two and a bit pounder took a tiny roach close to cover over a decent helping of chop: Talking of off the beaten trail waters, initial trials have begun with the PAC boys on what could be an exciting little detour. All made possible by the efforts of Adam Moxey- who has done a sterling job sniffing out the place and talking to the owner. I can't name it just yet- although the boys who came to the first PAC meeting of the season at Mill on Exe now have an inkling of where our annual fish in will be held. Top class winter wear from Mox too- he was so well concealed from the cold he looked a bit like an armed robber. I had no pike on this occasion, but managed a perch on a drifted dead roach (an unusual occurrence on this method) and enjoyed a beautiful day in good company. Mox said the fateful lines "Just watch my rod for a minute mate, I'll be back in a few minutes" -and lo and behold, Chris Lambert was on hand to hit a screaming run and land a beautifully well conditioned double. It's been a really sociable few weeks in fact, and I also had a great day out with Mox and Russ Hilton on the Grand Western. We tried wobbling, lures and flies out. All of the methods caught plenty, the place looked as cute as a canal gets and the pike were fiesty if not huge: Definitely a month for predators then, and not only of the fishy variety. I took my other half Jo to Yarak Birds of Prey centre as a birthday treat and had a blast holding and photographing all the different birds, like this eagle:
Thursday, 18 October 2012
Another week of travels for me, this time on blustery waters to meet up with Peter Wardle- a man with a great passion for pike fishing, as well as possibly the largest collection of heavy metal albums in the Reading area. It was also a chance to meet the local PAC lads and do battle with some lovely, if sometimes moody gravel pits. On an eventful two day stint we had a bit of everything in terms of both fishing and conditions: fresh autumn sunshine and a thunder storm, periods of sudden excitement followed by damp lulls. It certainly helps to have local knowledge on your side with these large, imposing waters. Pete had that alright- but not always the smoothest navigational skills when it came to negotiating the roads around Reading! In his defence, Pete doesn't drive- and I'm starting to think the area's highways were planned by sadists. Anyway, he more than made up for this by taking us to a tempting looking bay on a large pit. I started off with drifting tactics, which I always like on windy still waters. I'm also a fan of dyed baits. These might seem a gimmick, but I like a bait which really stands out- and I've found them very useful on both coloured waters and larger lakes where you want the fish to have the best chance to find your bait. Once upon a time I would paint food dyes onto my offerings (and also usually my fingers) before freezing them. More recently though, some clever bugger at Pikepro came up with the idea of little sprays- much easier. Rather than a huge vaned float I tend to go with a smaller dart style float for the job. The scene looked beautiful, but I was anticipating a lengthy wait. A big surprise then, that an hour or so in and both of us witnessed a fin break the surface in the waves. I recast my drifter bait to the spot and within seconds the float slipped under. A quick strike and I felt nothing. Luckily for me, the fish was still interested on the next cast- again, I managed to miss the first indication, but the fish then grabbed hold as I reeled in for another shot. Some days you really do count your blessings. Not only did I get a second and third chance to hook up, but the fish actually came off at the last second. Only a split second movement with the landing net from Pete saved the day! It was a long but pretty skinny low double and a big relief. I do sometimes whether my practise of using just one treble for smallish drifted baits is wise- but perhaps the odd loss is worthwhile payback for an absolute minimum of complications with unhooking? The next run was also slightly fortuitous, as both of us also had a rod out at range at the time. Pete had a sneaky bite that he couldn't quite connect with, before moments later my drop off sounded. The first sight of the fish was a huge head- followed by a long but very skinny body. Don't get me wrong, I love all the pike I catch- but in physique this fifteen pounder reminded me a little of "Plug" out of "The Bash Street Kids". The charges were levelled- "I don't know- you come here, you catch our bloody pike!" But in fairness, I would have been lucky to get a sniff without being put in the right spot for the conditions. I hope to be able to repay the favour should Pete fancy a crack at the Somerset Levels (another great place to get thoroughly lost). The second day was harder, with just one jack and a lot of walking and some phenomenally dour weather- but it was also great to meet the Reading PAC crew and give a talk on pike fly fishing and other subjects. The other real recent highlight has been introducing a friend to pike fishing. Fair play to Adam Aplin for persevering with the fly- and catching his first ever pike on the method. After a previous session looking at safe tackle for pike and casting flies in Heavitree Park, we hit the Grand Western Canal. To his credit, Adam took two fish, also lost a bigger one and now really has caught the fly fishing bug! The pike were certainly obliging for us. I had been talking up the aim of fishing the margins when a cute little jack absolutely hurtled at the fly right under the bank as we watched: The best pattern on the day was a yellow and black baitfish in a size 1. I can't emphasise enough how much easier smaller patterns are to cast when you're starting out with pike on the fly- small waters offer a brilliant introduction on lighter tackle and you can always graduate to beefier rods and bigger flies later on. I was also delighted to see Adam handle pike confidently so early and, quite literally, get to grips with the basic skills: With the Levels so flooded, the Grand Western also formed a perfect plan B for some filming with the Sky Sports "Tight Lines" crew. I had intended to show them some river piking, but that was rendered impossible by Biblical levels of rain. Never mind- you can catch the action on the show this Friday (the 19th)- or on the podcast later on.
Thursday, 4 October 2012
I am an angler of itchy feet. I like fishing a real range of waters. That might seem like stating the bleeding obvious, but it does affect the way you fish. Hopping waters is exciting, but if you make lots of different detours you really have to think on your feet. Sometimes just getting the day ticket is a mission. Like at Shobrooke Lake, Devon- where you hand over your cash at surely one of the most unlikely combined businesses in the land (Ladd's Computers and Guns) for the not incredibly cheap rate of £12.50. "Yeah, I want a day ticket please. Oh, and while I'm here I'll take a Dell lap top and that great big shotgun. Yeah, that one. I'm thinking of an internet fuelled killing spree. Maybe I can chuck the bodies in the lake while I have a crack at some roach on the waggler." And if that seemed a bit unlikely, you'd might also wonder what I was doing lobbing out a spomb packed with hempseed and 10mm boilies. No, I haven't sold my soul to Satan or (xxxx insert Godless tackle company as applicable), I'm just finding these little devices really bloody useful and, dare I say it, good fun to use. You don't need some ridiculous spod rod and the result is a lovely, accurate pocket of bait that doesn't sound like an air strike on Kabul. I intended to fish the long pole with casters for the silver fish, but also put out a bonus rod for bigger roach or carp. Joining me was Russ Hilton, who I'd been trying for a while to drag away from the cricket pitch and back to fishing. A good move, because the lake was beautiful and although all the hardcore carpers had bagged the near bank swims, we found some space at the quieter end with a nice, mild breeze pushing towards us. We both enjoyed plenty of bites, with the odd better roach or hybrid thrown in, the odd one over the pound mark: The really exciting part was when the bonus rod surged into life. Lobbing the pole behind me, I savoured a good scrap from a carp. It happened later on too, with regular little top ups of bait grabbing the interest of a better one. The two carp couldn't have been more different. The first was a bit of a mutant: bug eyed and no pelvic fins of any description. The next was absolutely gorgeous though, beautifully dark gold and well proportioned. It took careful playing on relatively light gear: After such an enjoyable day I felt a real appetite for another trip on a decent sized and leafy lake. Trenchford Reservoir seemed a fair bet for a long walk with some lures. Having no pubs next to it, the place also seemed a good place to take Norbert Darby without fear of distractions such as barmaids and cider. The part I'd forgotten is that the place is harder than the Klitschko brothers. We didn't have so much as a whiff of a pike and even with waders, you just couldn't get to around three quarters of the lake. And the bits you could get to were as dead and depressing as Jimmy Saville. Time for a move then- and the predictable irony was that the most concrete part of the urban Exe showed far more signs of life. The walk was just as long, and just as biteless to begin with, although the graffiti art on show was right up our street. Some great B-Movie monsters and quirky humour, and Norbert took a shine to a big lady: The sun was up, we were laughing and pike were there after all, just not quite where I'd expected them. All we needed was a pint of cider, some jokes in such poor taste I can't repeat them, and a bit of a tactical reshuffle. Best of all, we silenced the town's own "I know everything better than you" character in a moment of pure, poetic justice. He'd been busy telling us that he was the mutt's nuts and declared that all the fish were in deep water; I couldn't help but smile sweetly as he caught a tree the same minute Norbert latched into a nice pike in a painfully shallow swim. It's times like this I wonder if perhaps there is such a thing as divine intervention. Karma is a bitch, ain't it?