Sunday, 1 March 2015

Saved by the Perch

 photo DSC_0009_zps66bya1tj.jpg
I've spoken before of my love for perch, but this week I have more reason than usual to feel grateful for these fish. In simple terms, they are life savers. They give a focus to that fag end of the late season when everything looks flooded, frozen or bordering on hopeless. The bait is often free too, while even the smallest day ticket lake can yield proper net fillers with a bit of effort.

It's funny how our attitudes shift during the season. After lashings of rain and general punishment on natural waters, the very commercial fisheries you weren't so crazy about last month suddenly seem very tempting. Hence after three blanks on the trot with pike, I was relieved to forget the rivers and join Chris Lambert for a crack at Viaduct fishery, Somerset.

Out of sheer naivety perhaps I expected plain sailing as we loaded up my motor. Closed roads and squeaking windscreen wipers removed this illusion before we ever got near the fishery. I'm no fair weather fisher, but even I wondered what we were letting ourselves in for as the wind started to howl and we crossed high, muddy rivers. I was determined not to blank though and we got ourselves well set up for the day. Besides waterproofs and a giant flask of tea, I watched Chris Lambert assemble a lunch with more calories than a Glasgow chip shop.

The fishery itself was wind and rain hit from the off as we skirted round a match on Carey Lake to set up on Campbells, which is opened for only a limited period each year to perch anglers (it's usually match only). Chris was gunning all out for a big perch, hence prawns would be his main attack. I wanted to simply catch before worrying about any figures, so I dug out my pole and a good supply of worms.

I often find the textbook advice is next to useless when it comes to the iffy late season perching. One thing to note is how changeable the typically shallow commercial lakes are. It can be a real game of hide and seek. A cold or warm spell can totally confound expectations too, but my first port of call with perch in an unfamiliar lake is to establish where the deepest and snaggiest water lies. Most of these pools have a "dam" end, often with a concrete structure or overflow which can be a decent feature in its own right. Snags are more misleading in my experience. They can look great, but without sufficient depth beside them they can be mere eye candy (and sadly this is real life, not "Mr Crabtree Goes Fishing").

The session required quite careful feeding and fishing in the end. I fed three pole lines, one with chopped worm and ground bait in the deepest water, plus two marginal swims fed less often with a mix of chopped prawns and worm. Other than nearly getting blown into the lake, the only excitement was with a handful of skimmers.

The margin swims took somewhere in the region of three hours to signal any interest, but I kept switching over to each in turn every so often, just to see if anything was showing. Meanwhile, Chris was busy catching tench that kept stealing prawns intended for perch. He also tried right by the legs of the nearest platform for a bite or two- an often overlooked area for perch.
 photo DSC_0005_zpsmopnus6r.jpg

The weather got so horrible at one point that we seriously considered packing up. I had abandoned my box for parts of the session, if only to avoid a drenching by huddling under Mr. Lambert's shelter. As the weather got a bit less nasty though, I finally managed to hook a fish that clearly wasn't a dead-hearted skimmer but something very possibly stripy and spiky.
 photo DSC_0003_zpsysnvorb5.jpg
By trickling small helpings of chopped worm into the swim I just about managed to keep a few bites coming, finishing with four perch over the pound mark, the best of which I'd guestimate at a little over a pound and a half (above). Not exactly earth shattering fishing, but a big improvement on nothing and an enjoyable day out.

I never like to get too techy in this blog, but a few questions are still swimming in my head. One is the behaviour of perch on really wild days. Does a strong wind put them off I wonder? It's not the first time I've struggled to get a bigger fish on a blustery day. The only thing I can say for certain is that ugly conditions make every job slightly harder. I'm pining for the spring, as it happens, and being able to swap the tub worms for a box of flies.
 photo DSC_0012_zpswrkckqie.jpg


Sunday, 22 February 2015

Rewards after the Rain

 photo DSC_0026_zps3myzqwhw.jpg

Winter fishing can be a hit and miss affair in the changeable late season. But I'm glad to report that in spite of some fairly damp, difficult sessions, the fish at least came out to bite for my recent guided guests, Michael and Raphael Pryor.

I had endured a tough, biteless session on the Wye just before and one or two hard lessons. A rising, increasingly brown river beat me in the end. I found some great looking spots, trying both a large, classic slack and dropping baits close to cover in several flooded holes. But where were those pike?
 photo DSC_0012_zpsdjb7necz.jpg
I'm still scratching my head over that one. An influx of cold water seemed to have put both predator and prey into hiding and I couldn't even get a bite on the worm. My only great consolation in the end was a pint of ale and an evening of live folk music with an old friend in the Black Swan, Much Dewchurch, one of Herefordshire's oldest pubs.


A relief, therefore, to make a weekend return to Somerset with Michael Pryor and his son Raphael (above), whose enthusiasm was undampened by a cool, breezy morning. We fished a cute stretch of canal where I knew there would be sheltered water even on a day when the Somerset Levels would be flooded. Even with a little additional colour in the depths, we found jacks willing to take a shot at a well aimed fly or lure. It's always nice to see old friends as a guide, and it was great to see Raph catch his first English pike at the grand old age of eight, while we also watched others follow or miss the lure.

 photo IMG_0359_zpsjbhfqojc.jpg
We had a great mobile session along the Bridgwater to Taunton Canal, where the pike seemed to really come alive when cloud cover moved in and a breeze rippled the water. On several occasions, we saw sudden disturbance at the surface and fish leaping clear. In spite of a troublesome side wind, Michael kept faith with the fly and after a couple of near misses was also off the mark. It took after he'd slowed down his retrieve a little and fished the fly a bit deeper.

It was to be an eventful little day in the end. Raph spotted a kingfisher, while none of us could miss the clumsy raft being paddled by a bride and hen party, that had a dodgy looking male appendage sticking out of the front! And people think anglers are peculiar.

 photo DSC_0018_zpsaesfdy3g.jpg
Shallow waters such as a classic narrowboat canals really are lifesavers for winter pike fishing. They remain sheltered when other waters flood. We also had a quick glance at the nearby River Tone, but it was hopelessy high and brown for lure or fly fishing. Hence it was back to the canal for a last try with some of my "emergency" sprats, to see if we could find a better fish or two. A wise move, because in the last hour, our duo rounded off a fun day's fishing with two better pike of around six and ten pounds respectively.

 photo IMG_0366_zps3oypv6yg.jpg

The other encouraging sign were several nice roach and rudd showing during sunny intervals, which will be catchable on the fly in a month or so with a bit of luck. Should you want to book a day's guided fly fishing for some late season pike, or indeed a day in search of roach, rudd or trout this spring, do drop me a line: www.dgfishing.co.uk Whether you want to catch a new species, discover some of the best places to fish in Somerset and Devon or just brush up your casting skills, I can provide an enjoyable day out.

Monday, 9 February 2015

A Buzzing Fly Fair

 photo IMG_0059_zpsni4m6drh.jpg

In a sport that can be as solitary as fishing, it's always great to reestablish that brilliant sense of shared enthusiasm that a big meet up brings. The BFFI (British Fly Fair International) is always one of the best of the whole lot. Every year I turn up with boxes, bags and displays but leave with things you cannot put a price on: fresh ideas, new plans and most importantly of all the chance to meet lots of old and new friends.

What was the biggest impression this year? Apart from a show as busy as it's been in a few seasons, I'm struck by a current crop of anglers who represent new blood and ideas. Uplifting stuff, because fly fishing needs it. I hope the golden oldies will forgive me for saying so, but it is vital. A couple of years back at the event I heard a telling conversation between two anglers in the gents at the show: "Decent turn out but let's be honest, it's a bit of a bloody SAGA day out again!" Not so long ago you could have described fly fishing a bit like Frank Zappa described jazz (i.e. "not dead, but it smells funny").

This year felt rather different however. We have thinkers and anglers catching some cracking fish and really making some waves; whether it is young blades like Lewis Hendry and Alex Jardine, or fly innovators like Glen Pointon, Markus Hoffman and Joe Ludkin I got a real sense of optimism. For any sport to be healthy you need youth as well as experience, and progress as well as tradition.

 photo FullSizeRender-3_zpspsy9a97t.jpg

To take just one area, I think I saw more predator and saltwater flies at the event than at any previous occasion. Dougie Loughridge (above) is just one of a new breed going boldly beyond the obvious and traditional. This year I met anglers tackling zander on the canals, bass on the coast, with designs on barbel and all sorts of other targets. How bloody refreshing, is all I can say. I also have to say that in refreshing contrast to the specimen coarse scene, where too often it turns into a "who has the biggest balls/sponsorship deal/ fish" contest, this feels like a community of enthusiasts who are all about creativity rather than competition. Exciting times- but if you couldn't make it, do keep an eye on Glen Pointon's fishing podcast, which will include a cast of various fly fanatics from the show in the next instalment or two.

Even in the traditional world of dry and wet flies for trout and grayling, things are shifting. Just when you start to fear that the old cynics might be right that there is "nothing new in fishing", new ideas and materials emerge. Like cooks bored with the same old fare, fly tyers discover new ingredients. The BFFI is a celebration of this, which is why I always leave with a selection of new things to try. We've never had it so good in terms of materials. From jig hooks to an ever expanding range of UV materials and various heathen rubbers and synthetics, it's all out there. Like John Horsfall, who travelled up to the show with me and now has more spare capes than Batman, I left with a new goody bag with various additions, including some of the "Reel Wings" made by Joseph Ludkin.
Very lifelike, but also practical and designed to not bugger up your leader on the cast, I'm going to have some fun with these.
 photo FullSizeRender_zps26cscpl8.jpg

While I'm on the subject of new and innovative stuff though, one canny fly tyer who has an equal fascination with fishing history is Chris Sandford. I always like to pester him with questions and ponder his curiosities, one of which was this truly novel cased specimen stickleback:
 photo FullSizeRender-2_zpswicziijv.jpg

Perhaps this should serve as inspiration for this year's "Fly For Coarse" contest, where there will be a special mini species trophy (probably a really small but highly coveted one), with some top notch materials to tie the really tiny stuff from Turrall Flies. Watch this space for more details.

In fact, the only thing that wasn't awesome about the weekend was my sneaky morning pike and perch fishing on the Somerset Levels on the journey up. Expecting clear water following the recent freeze, I was instead met my really muddy, crappy looking water on a couple of the drains. Bizarre, but perhaps dredging efforts or opening gates scuppered that particular plan.

 photo IMG_0061_zpscjusjqcp.jpg

On a brighter note though, I'd also like to give a big shout to Fallon's Angler. Issue two is just out and a must for anyone who likes a great fishing story. Or several. There are tales from Ireland to Israel, with carp, crucians, trout, grayling and more making up another cracking issue of what continues to be the most exciting thing to hit the world of fishing writing for some time. The only thing not included is the pint of beer:
 photo IMG_0058_zpsqqbslbbi.jpg

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Singles Success & "Fly For Coarse" Winners

 photo DSC_0071_zpsf9oirzv3.jpg
A few bits of current news to round up in this edition of "Crooked Lines", including the results of the www.flyforcoarse.com competition. But we will start with some encouraging recent pike fishing. Those of you who regularly read the blog and my work in general will know I'm not always a huge fan of twin trebles for pike fishing. They make a right mess of landing nets, jumpers and just about anything else come to think of it, including occasional fingers and (yes, I've said it) pike.

For a while now I've been dabbling with different rigs, but hair rigging using a size 1 or 2 Catmaster hook seems a very good ploy. You can't easily use a huge bait, but with a long baiting needle it's easy to hair rig something like a lamprey section or half a sardine, with a little foam section to gently lift it off the bottom where it won't get lost from view or weeded up (just buy a block of foam and cut it up, rather than being ripped off by one of the tackle companies). This also seems to ensure that the popped up end heads for the throat first, rather than the hook end. I also seem to be using feeders more and more, partly due to the wet winters we are getting and the resulting muddy water. And that is about as technical as I'm going to get outside the realm of a proper article.

 photo DSC_0125_zpswnyfz0qe.jpg

The above was a very welcome second on a bitterly cold day of biting wind and murky water. A nice result and not a treble hook in sight. Can the single hook really hold its own you ask? With a smallish bait, there can't be much in it. Unless you use the 19th Century method of virtually waiting until the pike has digested the bait, you will always lose the odd fish. I never, ever delay the strike personally, but it has now been several pike on the trot without loss- until I wrote this sentence and probably jinxed everything.

Seriously though, almost every fish I've had on the singles has been neatly hooked in the scissors and been a piece of cake to unhook. And even if I were to lose the occasional extra fish, isn't this a small price to pay for cutting out not only accidental damage, but the additional time out of water that inevitably follows a thrashing pike and two potentially awkward trebles? Feel free to debate this, but please use words and reasoning rather than bile and excrement. For now though, I'm sticking with singles.

 photo DSC_0068_zpsi4db0c3i.jpg

Other experiments are also afoot with flies in 2015, as above with these new "Drop Minnows" intended for either fly or drop shot tackle as takes the user's fancy. So far so good, at least where local perch are concerned. Hopefully my next trip will coincide with nice clear water so I can get the fly rod out and try some further prototypes.

In essence, this process of experimentation is a lot of the fun of fishing. Because where exactly is the fun in doing it the same way every week or just copying someone else? In my own meandering fashion, I enjoy every little test whether it is a new fly or lure to field test, or trying a new method on an old favourite venue. Because apart from the law, regulations printed on pieces of paper or fishery signs, THERE ARE NO FIXED RULES! Enjoy turning over this liberating concept for a few seconds, before you make your 500th trip to your favourite peg with the same set up you used last week. Only robots and morons never deviate from the instruction booklet.

Talking of adventure and experimentation, it has been another cracking year for "Fly For Coarse". While the meat and two veg weeklies continue with headlines such as "CATCH YOUR OWN BODY WEIGHT IN MASSIVE FISH NOW!" or "FREE DISGORGER!" we've had an astonishing year of adventure, surprise catches and novel ideas once again. It was a royal headache for Matt Hayes, John Bailey and myself to split some hugely impressive entries, but the one that squeaked home in the end was Fergus Kelley's metre long grass carp. What a fish to catch on a classic Adams dry fly:

 photo Fergus_Kellly_GrassCarp_zps58x6mlk5.jpg

Fergus wins a Turrall goody bag worth over £100 quid, featuring some of their brilliant UV tying materials (superb for pike flies!) and the full range of "Flies for Coarse Fish" in a split cane box.

Meanwhile, in joint second place were rising star Sam Edmonds and another promising young blade Matt Roberts, with a 30lb 12oz pike and 4lb 2oz perch respectively. I know what you're thinking… fly fishing only catches small fish. The contest also produced dace, rudd, chub, carp and even a tench among loads of other catches. Read more about it in the Fishing Magic news roundup here, or better still have a peek at the official website www.flyforcoarse.com

Do also keep an eye out for details of the 2015 contest, with more prize categories, a grand day out and some exciting spoils from our friends at Turrall and Snowbee well worth battling for!



Friday, 9 January 2015

Festive Fishing in Poland - Świąteczne wędkowanie w Polsce

 photo A_IMG_6863_net_zpsf4c7aed0.jpg

Greetings, fishes and a Happy New Year to all of you. We have a different type of blog this time, written in both English and Polish to describe my recent trip to Poland and to celebrate fishing and the spirit of friendship in both countries.

Serwus! Wielu rybek oraz Szczęśliwego Nowego Roku wszystkim Wam życzę!
Tym razem przedstawiam Wam inny rodzaj bloga w języku angielskim i polskim, aby opisać moją ostatnią wyprawę do Polski i żeby uczcić wędkowanie i ducha przyjaźni w obydwu krajach.

If Christmas in England is about turkey, port and television, the Polish version is a story of carp, vodka and Church, although not necessarily in that order. Slightly different, yes, but what generous, welcoming hosts the Poles are. If you are ever invited to celebrate with them, say yes but be warned- there is probably no place on earth you will eat and drink more.

Jeśli Boże Narodzenie w Anglii to indyk, porto i telewizja, polska wersja tego święta to historia karpia, wódki i kościoła- choć niekoniecznie w tej kolejności. Trochę innymi, ale jakże hojnymi i serdecznymi gospodarzami okazują się być Polacy. Jeśli kiedykolwiek dostaniesz od nich zaproszenie, by z nimi wspólnie świętować, przyjmij je, ale ostrzegam – prawdopodobnie nie znajdziesz miejsca na ziemi, gdzie zjesz i wypijesz więcej niż w Polsce.

 photo 10887753_10155155324095121_261599169_n_zps8b4d8ba7.jpg

Are the stories of Christmas carp true? Absolutely. But the fish are not yanked from a local river but farmed in their thousands. These days the supermarkets sell them on ice- although Christmas is now the only time of year you can still buy them live, and as in times past these fish are sometimes kept in the family bath and few for a few days! Would my British fisherman’s ethics let me eat carp flesh though? More on this later.

Czy historie o świątecznym karpiu są prawdziwe? Oczywiście. Jednak ryby te nie są wyłapywane z miejscowej rzeki, ale sztucznie hodowane w tysiącach sztuk. W dzisiejszych czasach supermarkety sprzedają te ryby na platformach lodowych, chociaż Boże Narodzenie to jedyny czas w roku, kiedy możesz kupić je żywe. Tak samo jak w przeszłości karpie trzymane są w rodzinnej wannie przez kilka dni. Ale czy jednak moja etyka brytyjskiego rybaka pozwoliłaby mi na spożycie mięsa karpia? Więcej na ten temat dalej w blogu.

 photo 10922066_10155155340875121_855434345_n_zps80bd6c04.jpg

It might have been cold in Wroclaw over the holidays, but I still went fishing in the River Odra and Paulina, my girlfriend, was brave enough to join me. The last time we met up with Mateusz Perlinsky was on a mild spring day, but this time it was a much colder trip, fishing for zander.

Podczas świąt we Wrocławiu było całkiem zimno, ale pomimo tego poszedłem łowić ryby nad Odrę a Paulina, moja dziewczyna, była wystarczająco odważna, by do mnie dołączyć. Ostatnim razem spotkaliśmy Mateusza Perlińskiego w łagodny wiosenny dzień, ale tym razem była to znacznie zimniejsza wyprawa. To był połów na sandacza.

 photo 10927931_10155155337640121_1098772392_n_zps59432355.jpg

On route I had to scribble on official looking papers and pay 40 zloty (About £8) for a visitors fishing license. We also stopped at a huge tackle shop, so I could waste more strange currency on jigs for the zander. Never mind, because the prices in Poland are cheap. In the measures important to fishermen, beer is 6-7 zl (about £1.20-£1.40) per pint and a dozen soft lures and jig hooks will set you back less than ten quid.

Po drodze musiałem podpisać oficjalnie wyglądające papiery i zapłacić 40zł (ok. 8 funtów) za kartę wędkarską dla obcokrajowców. Zatrzymaliśmy się również w ogromnym sklepie ze sprzętem wędkarskim, co bym mógł przepuścić więcej kasy na przynętę na sandacza. Mniejsza z tym, bo ceny w Polsce i tak są niższe. Według miar ważnych dla wędkarzy piwo kosztuje 6-7 złotych (ok. 1.20-1.40 funta) za jedną pintę (ok. 568ml) a tuzin miękkiej przynęty i haczyków będzie Cię kosztować mniej niż 50zł (10 funtów).

 photo 10877947_10155155324160121_877552554_n_zps86d76f28.jpg

In biting winds we crossed industrial looking bridges and sticky mud. Mat showed me a great looking spot for winter fishing; a deep junction on the Odra where the water fell dramatically to over 20 ft (7m) deep. We tried to ignore the cold, bouncing the lures across the bottom, but I received only one suspicious nip in three chilly hours. A few teeth marks but no fish on this occasion, but it was great to see Mat.

W przenikliwie zimnym wietrze przeszliśmy przez przemysłowo wyglądające mosty i kleiste błoto. Mateusz pokazał mi świetnie wyglądające miejsce na zimowy połów ryb; głębokie połączenie kanałów na Odrze, gdzie woda spada radykalnie ponad 7 metrów (20 stóp) głębokości. Próbowaliśmy zignorować zimno odbijając przynętę wzdłuż dna rzeki, ale w czasie tych trzech mroźnych godzin miałem tylko jedno podejrzane branie. Oprócz kilku śladów po zębach zabrakło ryb przy tej okazji. Jednak dobrze było zobaczyć się z Matem.
 photo 10893410_10155155341130121_1740282822_n_zps8c1104c9.jpg

Then came the great carp tasting. How would I feel about this? I could imagine a muddy flavour, inferior to the other superb Polish dishes: pirogi (small dumplings) beetroot soup and bigos (a slow cooked stew of cabbage, smoked sausage and whatever the cook can find). The reason for eating carp is down to religion as well as Christmas tradition. On Christmas Eve in Poland, it is forbidden for Catholics to eat meat or drink alcohol. That festive carp is a convenient loophole though.

Następnie przyszła wielka degustacja karpia. Jak miałbym się wobec tego czuć? Mógłbym wyobrazić sobie błotnisty smak gorszy od innych wspaniałych dań polskich; pierogów, barszczu czerwonego i bigosu. Spożywanie karpia sprowadza się do religii i tradycji bożonarodzeniowej. W Wigilię w Polsce katolicy nie mogą jeść mięsa ani pić alkoholu. Jednak ten świąteczny karp jest wygodną wymówką.


In truth the carp wasn’t bad. Quite sweet tasting, if a little bony. Not that I would dream of doing it in England- and as I sometimes tell confused older Poles, you could be arrested.

W rzeczywistości karp nie był taki zły. Dosyć słodki w smaku i ościsty. Nie że śniłoby mi się zjeść go w Anglii a jednak czasami mówię zdezorientowanym Polakom starszego pokolenia, że można być za to aresztowanym.

Carp aside, the English and the Poles do have many similarities at Christmas. One is that they love a drink. The main difference are the sizes of the measures. A single whisky or vodka in the UK is a stingy measure compared to a Polish helping. Friendly people, but never try to outdrink a Pole!

Zostawiając karpia na boku, jest wiele podobieństw między angielskimi i polskimi tradycjami bożonarodzeniowymi. Jednym z nich jest upodobanie do trunków. Główną różnicą są wielkości miar. Pojedyncza whisky albo wódka w Wielkiej Brytanii to skąpa miara w porównaniu do polskiej porcji. Przyjaźni ludzie, ale nigdy nie próbuj stawać w zawody w piciu z Polakiem!

 photo 10899834_10155155346465121_1794452042_n_zps7ee7701f.jpg

Perhaps I wondered what I had been drinking later in the week, when my second fishing trip was with a man who might be my Polish alter-ego. Arek Kubale is a thirty-something fishing writer, editor and photographer with a similar taste for odd fly fishing. He also shares the beard and a love of alternative rock music.

Być może zastanawiałem się, co takiego piłem w tygodniu, kiedy moja druga wędkarska wyprawa odbyła się z kimś, kto mógłby być moim polskim alter-ego. Arek Kubale jest trzydziestokilkuletnim pisarzem wędkarskim, redaktorem i fotografem z podobnym upodobaniem do łowienia ryb na muszkę. Łączy nas również broda i zamiłowanie do alternatywnej muzyki rockowej.


The weather was bitterly cold, so we spent part of the day drinking coffee, destroying some amazing local cakes and talking fishing. Wroclaw has some fascinating urban fishing, it turns out. There are good sized chub, pike and asp here on some curious canals. One of them would look quite fishy- if it contained any water! Arek explains that it was recently drained and repaired. A minor tragedy because he openly admits that he moved to this exact area for the canal fishing (well, that and the awesome local cake shop).

 photo 10899770_10155155346545121_110735090_n_zpsd5badd2e.jpg

Było przenikliwie zimno, więc część dnia spędziliśmy pijąc kawę, zajadając się przepysznymi lokalnymi ciastkami i rozmawiając o łowieniu ryb. Okazuje się, że we Wrocławiu występuje fantastyczne wędkarstwo miejskie. Dobrych rozmiarów klenie, szczupaki i bolenie pływają tu w ciekawych kanałach. Jeden z nich wyglądałby na dosyć zarybiony, gdyby tylko płynęłaby w nim woda. Arek tłumaczy, że kanał ten został ostatnio osuszony i wyremontowany. To dla niego mini tragedia, bo przyznaje on otwarcie, że przeprowadził się do tego rejonu dla wędkowania w kanale (no i jeszcze dla rewelacyjnej cukierni).

 photo B_IMG_6859_netcopy_zps37819b0e.jpg

 photo 10912880_10155155347605121_242318715_n_zps6f1ad66b.jpg

The other pleasant surprise is that young Polish anglers are now predominantly catch and release, in spite of the older heads. “You still get a few old folk who think just about any bream or horrible tasting fish is edible, if you only stew or smoke it long enough,” Arek explains, “but for the young, catch and release is becoming normal.”

Następną miłą niespodzianką jest to, że młodzi polscy wędkarze w głównej mierze łowią ryby metodą złap i wypuść (catch and release), pomimo praktyk starszego pokolenia. „Nadal spotykasz starszych wędkarzy, którzy myślą, że leszcze albo inne okropne w smaku ryby są jadalne, jeśli tylko odpowiednio długo będziesz je dusić albo wędzić” wyjaśnia Arek, „ale dla młodych metoda złap i wypuść staje się normą.”

 photo B_IMG_6920_netcopy_zps19c44a99.jpg

The fishing is bitterly tough with a pike fly rod, although I’m intrigued by strange urban waters and shoals of bleak that sometimes dance at the surface, even in these below freezing conditions. We enjoy a few casts, and it is nice seeing a pike fly dance in the cold water. But nothing is willing to bite, so it’s home time.

Łowienie wędką muchową na szczupaka jest niezwykle trudne, choć jestem zaciekawiony dziwnymi wodami miejskimi i ławicami uklei, które czasem tańczą na powierzchni wody nawet w tych lodowatych warunkach. Kilkukrotne zarzucanie wędki sprawia nam przyjemność a także miło jest zobaczyć muchę szczupakową, jak tańczy w zimnej wodzie. Ale nic nie chce brać, więc czas iść do domu.

 photo B_IMG_6915_net_zps3f78a070.jpg

I would love to have caught a winter pike or zander from one of the city’s cold canals, but what can I say? The truth doesn’t always make the perfect story or a great ending. But I will certainly return to visit my friends in Poland in warmer times. Contrary to myth here is some fascinating, undervalued fishing here. Asp are a unique predatory fish; in other parts you also find rivers with huchen: a giant, carnivorous relative of the salmon. Thanks go to my Polish friends and my hosts, Paulina and her family. I will return when it is possible to feel warm without the aid of vodka.

Naprawdę bardzo chciałem złowić zimowego szczupaka albo sandacza z jednego z miejskich kanałów, ale cóż mogę powiedzieć? Prawda nie zawsze stanowi idealną historię albo wspaniałe zakończenie. Na pewno jednak znów odwiedzę swoich przyjaciół w Polsce w cieplejszym okresie. W przeciwieństwie do panującego mitu występuje tu fascynujące i niedocenione wędkarstwo. Bolenie są unikatowymi rybami drapieżnymi; w innych częściach kraju znajdziesz także rzeki z głowawicą; ogromnym mięsożernym krewnym łososia. Składam dzięki moim polskim przyjaciołom i gospodarzom, Paulinie i jej rodzinie. Powrócę tu, kiedy to możliwe, by poczuć ciepło, ale już bez pomocy wódki.

Saturday, 20 December 2014

Black clouds and perch

 photo DSC_0027_zpsdbe0e6d2.jpg
With so much "homework" involved in getting the latest book finished, it recently dawned on me that I hadn't been perch fishing for ages. Another sustained effort at catching some good ones on the fly had been in the back of my mind for months- and with a rare day off I decided to ignore the horrible weather and make a Wednesday trip.

Actually I would hesitate to call such weather "horrible" when it comes to perch fishing."Ideal" comes closer. The perch definitely hunt more actively on days of low light on these clear waters. It's only the angler that minds the drizzle.

My initial plan was to hit the drains, but with rain hitting the Levels this week my chosen destination looked more like a sewer. So I headed to the more sheltered waters of the canal, where the bridges and snags can usually be relied upon to hold a few greedy perch.
 photo DSC_0010_zpsf4d204a3.jpg

I used jig flies, the very sort Turrall now make for me. These sink well and are really attractive, tweaked around cover. Expecting jack pike as well as perch, I tried an eight weight outfit with floating line and a tough, 20lb fluorocarbon leader about eight feet in length.
 photo DSC_0221_zps8b7d8bbf.jpg
The initial problem was the sheer greediness of the local jacks. A couple had grabbed the fly before I even saw a perch, also hungry in these dank conditions. I could easily have switched to a much bigger fly and wire trace, with every chance of a better pike showing up. But I was even keener to see a big perch.

 photo DSC_0023_3_zps51804985.jpg

Actually the fluorocarbon stood up well. Not ideal, you might think? But the small, barbless flies are usually only of interest to the little jacks. And I wanted that perch.

 photo DSC_0002_zps0443ac3a.jpg

The first couple were not exactly two pounders, but very welcome. I'd spotted several in the near edge, along with the hordes of tiny silver that loiter in the canal. Clouds of "motherless minnows", or sun bleak, are a curious feature of Westcountry waters. You can easily imitate these prey with a small streamer fly- patterns like the Minkie, Appetiser or my own Perch Special are readily snapped up. That said, you can also scale up a bit bigger for perch- even a two ouncer finds a size 4 fly easy to suck up.
The problem was that these mouthy buggers kept charging in:
 photo DSC_0005_zpsa101dfdf.jpg
For the first few seconds you sometimes kid yourself that it's a big perch or even a chub, before the line tears off. Another jack!
But you do start to suss out where the perch are hiding eventually. It's different to pike fishing too. For one thing, I think you have to search cover and the hot areas more thoroughly. Like zander fishing, you also find that it's worth returning to spots at key times, even if they didn't produce earlier in the day for you.
One such spot earmarked for a return was where I had caught a couple of nice little perch and saw a much better one, which followed twice but stayed deep and just wouldn't take the fly. It's better to be proactive and move if you're not catching though.

This can and often will involve a walk of several miles, so my other essentials like a net and mat must be portable. Like faithful servants these.

 photo DSC_0009_zps59d21b48.jpg
The net is actually a Norwegian made salmon net. I've stood on it innumerable times and it still works fifteen years on. A sling type unhooking mat contains the net and sits on the shoulder easily. A decent mat is also useful for fly fishing because you can use it as a clear space to drop your fly line while casting and retrieving.

Anyway, I digress but I kept fishing hard for those perch. Resisting the temptation to put on a big ugly pike fly and trying to keep things methodical. The stamp of perch seemed to get steadily better in the last hour of fishing too, some nice hand-sized fish going really well on the fly rod. And even as the light was properly starting to go at about half past three, I fancied one last crack where I'd seen the big fish earlier.
Time, and the light, were running out quickly though and it was one of those winter afternoons where it looks like midnight by 5pm. On the third or fourth cast in that spot, I got a good knock on the fly line, struck and was connected to something decent. No jack either, I could feel something less flighty and more solid on the line. It was a perch and a good one too. Really thick around the middle:

 photo DSC_0038_zps3d335f4b.jpg

At an ounce over two pounds, it was a great way to end a damp afternoon I'd say. But of course, nothing out of the ordinary in what has been a brilliant year for those fly fishing for perch. The joke is, even if I could enter the competition at www.flyforcoarse.com the beastie above would not even make the top three perch in 2014. Do take a look at the site for the best of 2014 and if you had a special catch on the fly this year, do let us know! There's still time yet.

Meanwhile, one competition I have been able to enter in 2014 was for the Angling Times "Fishing book of the Year" award. Unsurprisingly, AT's main columnist Martin Bowler got the top spot, but I received the silver for "Canal Fishing: A Practical Guide". A good finish anyway- and my thanks to everyone who voted for me and bought the book.

In the meantime, it's a very Merry Christmas to you. Have a great one, and see if you can sneak some fishing in.

Sunday, 14 December 2014

Piking with Pals

With life fairly fiercely busy at present, chances to fish have been limited to say the least. Which is why it was such a pleasure today to meet up with angling friends old and new, from both Devon and Somerset, for a friendly match followed by a pint and book signing at the Double Locks Inn.
 photo IMG_20141214_080154142_HDR_zps97eb55a9.jpg

I've been really buoyed by the turnouts to this years winter fishing competitions and this event, well organised by Somerset PAC RO Alan Buckingham, was no exception. Sixteen fishing from early morning, plus a few extra visitors and latecomers through the day, represents a very sociable gathering considering the cold and iffy conditions.

For the early hours it was very much a case of enjoying the company and a beautifully misty morning rather than any hectic action. Save for a couple of fish taken on dead baits at Lime Kilns, the handful of intrepid lure anglers plus me with a fly rod really struggled for any interest. photo IMG_20141214_084737194_HDR_zpsaafb1ad2.jpg
With the banter flowing however, not to mention a bottle of whiskey awaiting the angler with the biggest pike, levels of enthusiasm remained high. Who would prevail? I must say I rather fancied the bait fishermen for the big one, although I hoped one of our lure anglers would prove this wrong as we took a long walk right down to Turf Locks. I had only one nip and a cautious follow in the entire first three hours. But to be honest I was just enjoying being out on the bank and fishing rather than writing about it or daydreaming of pike. And while everyone was keen to win, there was a nicely laid back sense of fun to the contest, which was fished in the best possible spirit.
 photo IMG_20141214_080840889_HDR_zps2e50d82f.jpg

Exeter Canal can be a tough water at the best of times, but eventually our perseverance did bring some action. Funnily enough, my first hook up wasn't in one of those nice open swims where you might be able to unleash a long cast, but in a pokey little gap in the reeds where I could only pitch a short throw with a large perch themed pike fly. With no joy ripping my patterns gingerly through the margins, I had been counting the fly well down in the main channel before tweaking it to life. Even so, it must have been cast number one hundred and something when I finally got a decent knock on the line and a well conditioned jack. Take that Exeter Canal, you fickle slag!
 photo IMG_20141214_165129_zps07047d75.jpg

Slowly but surely, the odd further bit of activity arrived. I decided to spend the last couple of hours sitting with the bait rods and managed another jack to a small roach donated by a pal. However, my stamp of fish was never in danger of beating Alan Buckingham to the bottle of malt, which was well earned not just for a splendid double figure fish but for his extra mile as the event organiser.

Last but not least there was also time to celebrate the arrival of new book "Tangles with Pike" with a drink and dish out some signed copies. I fished the whole event with a sense of pure relief and relaxation in fact, after the long slog of getting it finished and on sale. Slightly ironic, but this business of being a fishing writer can really eat into your fishing time! Suffice to say it was lovely to celebrate with a pint and get back on the canal for the day.
 photo TanglesWithPike_Cover_zpsb7e71b3c.jpg

I would also like to give a big personal thank you to everyone who has bought a copy of "Tangles with Pike" so far. I'm not going to lie; every book is a risk and when you've put not just your heart but your investment into a project, it doesn't half put your mind at ease to see those first copies winging their way to readers all around the country (and if you've yet to grab yours, the best place is www.dgfishing.co.uk where a signed first edition hardback will set you back a very reasonable £15). I hope it provides some enjoyable reading for you and that all readers and fellow anglers have a great Christmas.