Thursday, 5 May 2016

Lure Fishing & Cold Lessons

There come times for most anglers where you get rather out of your "comfort zone." It's extremely healthy to learn new things, even if that sometimes comes at the price of a fall or two. It also means taking a few risks and casting where you never thought of doing so before- and that can be a confidence tester. Most recently for me, I've been well and truly tested but also highly taken by two challenges- one totally new (kayak fishing) and one I've returned to only to find a total revolution taking place (saltwater lure fishing).

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Looking back, I think some of my better articles have come from this sort of leap of faith. It can be exciting if you shed this idea that "I have to be world champion/ highly experienced to write about this." Because in reality, it is only by jumping into something new that you can see things with a fresh perspective. Once you've done a method a thousand times, you forget all the seemingly daft questions you had and challenges that other anglers also face, not to mention the sheer excitement of it all. And yet this idea prevails: the writer has to be a total expert on everything they cover.

Here's the secret though; I am not. My writing and general fishing skills may have slowly developed, but there are still areas where I am like that kid in the tackle shop, peering at all the strange bits of kit in wonder. This is a great position to be in. Such has certainly been the way on recent lure fishing missions to the coast, where I've been scaling right down and watching experts like LRF wizard Andy Mytton with a keen eye, and more than once a sense of total bafflement.

Close control using cute rods. The neatest and freakiest of little lures. Bonkers presentations involving special split shot rigs, dropshot weights and knots I'd never seen tied before. I've thoroughly enjoyed lure fishing for most of my life, whether it's casting for pike or bass. But I've been blown away by the current light lure fishing scene- what is happening currently is little short of revolutionary and incredibly exciting. You can read some of my musings on the "joy of the diddy rod" in my Angling Times slot this week- but suffice to say there is a lot more to come and I am enjoying feeling like a kid again.

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Perhaps my favourite recent catch, in fact, has been one of the smallest in the form of this sea scorpion. I'd both enjoyed and endured a cold spring session with the tiddly lures with Andy and the sight of this critter brought back great memories of childhood fishing off the rocks. Circa 1991, I was afraid to touch these fish. But they are quite harmless. Furthermore, if you are brave enough to place one in the palm of your hand you could get quite a surprise. Not only do they go all puffed-up and defensive like perch; they actually vibrate. I thought this had to be b****it at first, but it's perfectly true- it's like holding a fish that has swallowed a mobile phone! Must be a defence mechanism?

Other lessons from my trips are also stacking up quickly, whether it is a timely reminder that evening and night fishing are often better than daylight in the salt, and that it is well worth fishing low and even dropping tides for different species.

I guess you appreciate the smaller stuff even more when sport proves slow- but that's the great thing about lighter tackle: everything fights energetically, even a tiny pollack!
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More to follow in print and online on various topics shortly, but suffice to say that at the moment it's very much a case of "the more I learn the less I know" on reflection. And I love it that way. Because I don't have to be a world expert to enjoy it and write about it any more than you do to try it as well. And the only way any of us gains real "expertise" in any area of fishing is to have fun, experiment, ask other people and generally get stuck in. The same has been utterly true of kayak fishing- where I'm still testing the water, not to mention my limits and balance, quite literally. Another dunking for me this week I'm afraid (note to self- while standing on a kayak is possible, it is highly advisable to stay sitting on your arse when casting!). Even so, I broke my duck with two Wimbleball rainbow trout in a short tester session! More on the Channel Kayaks site and blog shortly, along with listings for special kayak fishing days on the lake.

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The only other news of note was a talk at the 2016 Barbel Society Show, where one of my main topics was this concept of new ground in fishing and putting yourself in the position of a learner. This was certainly the case for much of my experience with coarse fish on the fly, particularly the unusual species- including barbus barbus naturally. It's still one of the most exciting and tricky things I've ever done. But while I wouldn't advise the newcomer to start with barbel or zander or one of the other oddballs, they are all catchable.

In fact, perhaps my favourite backhanded compliment about Flyfishing for Coarse Fish of all time was a rather spiky review from a guy who wrote "anyone with a bit of experience could have done this." Totally. That was the point, wasn't it? To try new things and enjoy your fishing. Otherwise it's just an ego trip for the author.

It was a great show in the end, even though I felt a bit off-colour on the morning. I'd already had a bit of man flu, but also I partly blame Garrett Fallon for that "quiet pint" the day before which, in that wonderfully mysterious way, materialised into six, complete with a rambling converstaion on angling, politics and the meaning of life. We had a lovely afternoon's fishing on the Oxford Canal too, where he used a vintage cane rod for a spot of (I kid you not) dropshotting! The results we had were a big shock to say the least- but more on that another time. For now I'll leave you with a little glimpse of a classic canal and a rather classic rod:  photo Blog_May_2016 - 5_zpsphpd9ygy.jpg

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.
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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.

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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...

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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.

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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).

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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!).

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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:

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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.

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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!

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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:

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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...

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Wednesday, 16 March 2016

Lure and Dropshot fishing in Somerset

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The back end of the season can be tricky round these parts. By the time the waters of the Somerset Levels are in any state to fish, winter is almost over and time is slipping away. I had hoped to find a dropping River Tone, but instead went for early start on the Taunton to Bridgwater Canal with Russ Hilton.

It's not the easiest venue to find the perch. There are at least 11 miles of it, and it can be hard fishing with a lot of walking required. I'm not even about to start telling you specific locations on this blog (sorry), but suffice to say you need to use your feet and find your own fish. But I'm really enjoying catching on the ultralight gear at the moment. You can fit a whole whack of lures into a box no bigger than a backy tin. You can also change setups quickly, and these days I'm doing a lot of drop shotting with the flies too.

There are plenty of features on these canals, but it's funny how often you'll catch a good perch from a fairly innocuous looking spot. If you can find the wider parts and straights where the smaller bleak and roach are massed, you'll see the tiddlers being chased on cool mornings. As often as not, it's a jack pike. But just sometimes you'll find a perch, or even a gang of them.

I like a tiny, minnow-like lure for these weedy canals. I fished a small 2g head and a little Japanese, split-tail lure to start. Sometimes you can even spot the fish- and when it's like this the fly can be even better. But on this occasion, visibility wasn't perfect and the fish seemed to be lurking in the deeper central track and were hard to pick out. I had just the one good knock in the first half hour, and was connected to a fish that felt weighty but only stayed on for perhaps six seconds. Bugger.

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Then Russ showed up and we hit another spot, covering a fair bit of ground to get well away from the access point. The obvious, snaggy features didn't produce- and instead it was a featureless straight, a little more coloured water, with the takes coming in the middle.

With experience, you often know it's a good perch quite early in the fight. They don't fly off like the small pike. They plod and turn, but it's still quite tense. Even more so when you missed that first chance. You may not get another.

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In late winter, these canal perch are really at their best and fattest. The even more curious thing about lure and fly caught fish is that they tend to push their fins up. It's as if they're still bristling with bad intent, even once you've landed them. This one went 2lbs 10oz and was pictured quickly, before going straight back.

And that was pretty much it for the cut. Next stop, I tried a short session drop shotting on the river. I've been thoroughly enjoying this technique with my own designs for dropshot flies. With a fine rod, you can search all the little slacks and areas close to the bank really accurately.

I rig my flies exactly as you would a standard drop shot soft lure, with a Palomar knot. On this occasion, I quickly stepped up from an 8g to a 12g dropshot weight, just to give a little more control.

Some parts of the river are really mucky and it took some exploration to find the fish. I fooled a couple simply by flicking the fly on the edge of a shopping trolley. Pretty much all the early takers were perch:
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That all changed though, with the rig flicked out in a reedy slack. I'd just bumped a perch, when something a lot more solid pulled back. A light lure outfit is less than ideal for an angry pike, but these days you can get a lot of poke even with "toy" kit. A slightly stepped up fluorocarbon leader also helps when there are odd small pike thrown in the mix:
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So, the short sessions have been fun and useful, and in fact the only full day out I had was a pretty gruelling session fly fishing on Blagdon Lake. It was meant to be a mild day with Gary Pearson, but he was ill, so instead it was John Garnett I subjected to a breezy day after the trout.

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To cut a long story short, bites were hard to come by. We found one point swim where bites occurred, and just after I lost a fish, the old man netted a rainbow on a scruffy but effective home-tied Blob.
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We might have caught a few more, had the wind been less brutal. But after a second fish, we just had to find some sanctuary.
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We caught up with the others in a more sheltered spot, where the locals were hitting odd fish but the the fishin continued to be tough. Simon from Turrall probably deserves most credit for managing a fish on the buzzer, but there wasn't a great deal else to shout about!

Next stop for me is the West of England Game Fair, where I'll be signing books, tying flies and by midday probably hoping that the bar opens early. Wish me luck and hope to see you on the bank soon.

Wednesday, 2 March 2016

Street Fishing in Amsterdam, Holland

It’s probably fair to say that most visitors are not drawn to the Dutch capital by the lure of fish. Vast swathes of tourist attractions, bars and the unmistakable whiff emanating from the legendary Amsterdam coffee shops account for the bulk of map-wielding tourists, looking to enjoy Europe’s most supremely laid back, hedonistic city.

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Those whose main vice is fishing, on the other hand, might also find a lot of reasons to fancy a trip to Amsterdam. A quick glance tells you that the whole city is full of canals, ponds and lakes. Most of them have fish, although with not a huge amount of guidance out there, it can be hard to assess the sport. Some folks will tell you there aren’t many; others will tell you there are species such as perch and zander throughout while the canals are the cleanest they’ve been in 40 years. Well worth a pop with some light lure gear, surely?

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So what are your main considerations to fish there? Cheap flights are readily available and with the Dutch being arguably the most tolerant nation in Europe few areas are out of bounds, with a refreshing lack of those local Hitler types saying “you can’t do that” found on many UK canals. Let’s face it, if you can smoke jazz cigarettes or hire a harlot perfectly legally, nobody is going to be worried about you having a cheeky cast. Being English I actually asked one guy if I could fish all the water, to be told “this is Amsterdam, you can do what the hell you like!”

The whole workings of the city are a thing of wonder alone, which the UK could learn from. Public transport is excellent and cheap; bicycles hurtle around in their thousands. It feels truly multicultural and welcoming too; everyone just seems to get along.

Of course, even a very liberal city has rules. You might already be asking: do you need a license to fish in Amsterdam or Holland in general? It’s a tricky one. The obvious answer is yes, you need to buy the general license. Fortunately there are lots of tackle shops in Amsterdam (here's a handy page where you can get a PDF list of shops) . The fact that only annual tickets are available is a pain, but around 50€ is not desperately steep and allows you to fish a silly amount of water. I should also mention that you are fine to fish with most local guides, thanks to a kind of buddy system where guests can fish for free.

I didn’t have infinite time on my visit, as I didn’t want my girlfriend to freeze or get bored, but tried various locations. I tried the canal basin right where we were staying and also walked the banks of the Slotermeer- a giant urban lake, but the shallow bits within range were too cold to hold much life in the dead end of winter.

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To be honest, it was a struggle and it was probably just as well that I’d booked a proper guided day with my friend Pim Pos, who I’d fished with in Norway previously. Not only is he a staggeringly keen lure angler, but has a wicked sense of humour and the sort of boundless optimism you need when the temperature drops.

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We took a ride aboard his boat, the Dutch Dyke (not really) to explore the huge shipping canal above Central Station. It was an experience to say the least, cruising past huge ocean liners and skyscrapers. When you’re with a local you can also get into those parts that others don’t dare or even know about. Right outside the police station or behind a huge red ship busy loading up. And what a difference a well-organised guide makes. Besides lures and rods to cover every scenario, he also provided a thermal suit for my other half.

We used heavy dropshot tactics (20g sinker, 3-4” lures) in areas of ten metres or more in depth. But while the fishfinder showed signs of life, the fish were decidedly picky. Partly because this time of year is when the big zander are egg-bound and lose interest; partly because it was as cold as a whore’s heart.

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An hour in and we had caught nothing. But another move or three and the knocks arrived. There is a special knack to this form of fishing, and it was instructive just watching Pim in action. Very slight “shivers” on the rod bring your lure to life- or sometimes just subtly raising and dropping a paddle tail lure as the boat gently moves. In competitions, a second “static” rod is often used- and even with only the action provided by the boat, fish are caught. He has a million other dodges too, and I’m keen to spill the beans with an article at some point.

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It took a while, but I managed a nice perch to break my duck and suddenly it wasn’t all doom and gloom. And while the action was never hectic, it was a great lesson in concentrating to make the most of few chances. We added further perch and four very modest zander to provide some welcome action. Not a bad result considering the bitter conditions. This is the value of a guide- and if you want to book with Pim (whose surname “Pos” means “ruffe” in Dutch, rather appropriately) you could always drop him a line at:
Besides the zander, the semi-salty waters around Amsterdam can also produce cod and whiting on lures!

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Much to the relief of my other half, we also did some touristy stuff on the trip. We saw Rembrandt’s house and his famous nudes, while we also enjoyed local food and booze immensely. Dutch pancakes with bacon and maple syrup might sound wrong, but are devilishly good, as are the local beers. It might not be very rock'n'roll, but for me Amsterdam's craft beer bars held more appeal than the many coffeeshops and their notoriously strong weed. Brand IPA was an especially good brew; think punchy IPA crossed with Belgian beer and you get some idea. Paulina enjoyed a glass or two of this more than the fishing, I suspect:
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The Weissbeers are ace too, especially with a few Bitter Ballen- seriously tasty, crunchy savoury little things, eaten with mustard:
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The other notable event I only discovered very late in the day was the Amsterdam Street Fishing Competition. Having had no joy on the smaller canals around the city centre, I headed for the bigger, deeper waters around Central Station hoping for better, or at least a single touch. This is the trouble with having your birthday in February though- you dream up a big adventure but the fishing can be bloody cold and difficult.

I was sort of simultaneously disappointed and reassured to find that the competition anglers were also catching very little. I was also pleasantly surprised to bump into Dan Sales, who had also made the journey to Holland and was busy mucking in with the locals trying to winkle out a fish. Boy, it was tough though, so we continued to the large basin type area by the Nemo centre. Here's a Dutch specialist, trying to lift a perch from underneath Gandalf's arse:
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I tried just about everything in the end. Scaling down my jigs. Dropshot tactics. Praying to the angling gods. Cursing the angling gods. It didn’t do a whole lot of good- and I suspect the whole competition was probably won with a modest perch or two. Not that the day wasn't entertaining. This is one of the more bizarre spots I tried, complete with an upturned pair of plastic legs:

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I’d hate to write off the street fishing in Amsterdam so easily however. The local rods all told me there was decent sport here usually- just not on our visit. The shallower canals will also no doubt produce at other times- you just suspect that many fish move into the deeper channels for winter. The general consensus told me that the best time to visit is probably autumn. Which is when I’m already thinking of a return, because Amsterdam is simply too fascinating not to do so. And I also have that bloody one year ticket to use.

Wednesday, 24 February 2016

Fly Fishing at Simpson Valley, North Devon

If there is one glaring contrast between coarse and game fishing in the UK, it is that of catch and release practise. On stocked stillwaters, certainly, the coarse side is never “catch and kill” (unless you’re breaking the law) while the fly side is almost always exactly this; catch your bag and sling your hook, so to speak.

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Which is why Simpson Valley Fishery makes a refreshing change. There are very few catch and release fly fisheries in Devon, full stop. Owners fear that their fish will either grow wary or they will lose stock anyway, due to the fragility of rainbow trout and (so, shoot me), the not very brilliant catch and release skills of many game anglers. Perhaps this is connected to the lack of catch and release fisheries?!!

But here, at least, in a quiet corner of North Devon, the game changes a little. You don’t have that risk of your day being over in under an hour, effectively, should the fish be too bold and easy to catch. Nor do you end up with four trout in the freezer when you only really needed one (even my trout in mustard sauce loses its charm after a couple of nights). Equally refreshing, as some readers might note with interest, you are free to lure fish here provided you use single barbless hooks.

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A £20 day ticket is decent value for quality rainbow trout fishing, but fisheries such as this, and their stocks, need respect if the owners are to continue offering such tickets. Sensible rules include barbless hooks only and these tickets only running through the colder months, since rainbows suffer much higher mortalities in warm water. Nor should you take the piss, and I can think of little more pointless than catching silly numbers of trout by pulling streamers through the water. No, this is the type of fishery to try a subtle approach and enjoy testing different presentations with smaller flies.

Much as I enjoy getting features and pictures done, I like to keep a good number of sessions for pure pleasure these days. Excessive target setting and deadlines can be the enemy of fun. So I took my dad, a self-confessed fair weather fisher, for a semi-lazy day out.

At first, the trout were a little slow to respond on Mallard Lake. I tried a long leader with a Superglue Buzzer on point, but it was a Diawl Bach on the dropper that got the first take. A pretty fish of about a pound and a half, I barely handled it at all, keeping it wet using the landing net head in the margin. There really isn’t any need to yank these fish out and have them flap on the bank and get stressed.

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But with the lake flat calm for the next hour or so, sport was slow and it didn’t take me long to dig a pike fly setup out of the car. Mallard is unusual in containing pike. Most fly fishery owners wouldn’t dream of stocking any. You don’t suspect there are many big pike in the lake; you tend to see little jacks that probably stay small, because they cannot handle the rainbows and without any coarse fish beyond the occasional perch they probably struggle to kick on. Even so, it’s worth a go for them here in your trout session, because there are almost certainly one or two good fish.

I did a lap of the whole lake in around an hour, running a large pike fly into every likely area. In fairness I did see one, and it was a good twenty…. centimetres. By which time, the breeze was picking up and I felt reasonably confident the trout would respond better.

Such is the way with buzzer fishing. If it’s flat calm, you have to manipulate the flies more. Nothing like as good as casting into a nice ripple and simply letting the flies drift with very little retrieve to speak of. Do nothing is often the best policy- just wait for the pull.

The bites were not always positive on a cool afternoon. With the next bite, the only signal was my leader “sinking” a bit too quickly. This in itself was an indication that the fish were a little higher in the water than I’d expected. In fact, you can tell a lot by the time it takes to get a bite, especially when you’re barely retrieving the flies. If it’s a good minute or more after casting out, you can be fairly sure that the fish are several feet down. Savvy anglers will then switch to heavier or lighter flies in order to spend more time in the “take zone.”
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Pretty soon, the fair weather king also struck. And although we pretend not to keep score on these trips, he hit a run of trout to come from 2-0 down to 3-2 in the lead.

If anything, the action seemed better on the smaller Skylark lake, where the wind was concentrating the fish in one corner. I was getting bites on a Black Superglue Buzzer, but it still wasn’t plain sailing, with many bites quite tentative. Eventually, a switch to a smaller fly worked best- in this case a size 14 Satanic Buzzer, which has to be one of the greatest trout flies never to be commercially produced! Basically it’s a buzzer with two little red flexi-floss horns.

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Could we have cleaned up on lure style flies? I don’t really care, because I love fishing the buzzer, using the elements for a natural presentation and picking out those subtler takes. We finished with a dozen trout between us, every one of them unhooked in the landing net with minimal handling.

A very pleasant and increasingly rare day off I’d say, with twelve trout between us a nice result for a crisp, cold day without a great deal of breeze or insect life! This is a cracking winter fishery and the C&R tickets run through till 1st of April if you’re keen to try. It’s also a spot I’ve used successfully on several occasions for guided fly fishing trips in Devon; do drop me a line if you fancy learning to fly fish, or refining your casting and fishing skills (more details on all my fishing tuition and guided angling here).

Last but not least, do take a look at the current Turrall Flies Blog for more fishing tips and some superb fly patterns. Chris Ogborne recently gave us a cracking little blog post on gearing up for saltwater sport, while the next entry will be focused on catch and release tips that both coarse and fly anglers can learn from. It still surprises me how few words are written on this important subject each season, while we cover tactics, baits and venues to death! To my mind, it’s something even experienced anglers can improve at and learn more about their quarry- myself included. Check out all the blog posts HERE.

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