Sunday, 22 March 2015

Early Season Trout Fishing

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After a fairly indifferent winter for fishing, spring couldn't have come sooner for me this season. A fair weather fisherman I am not, but by early March I've usually just about had my limit of dour days. Perhaps I set some tough challenges of late, but I have to admit I've been unsuccessful with efforts to catch both a big grayling and also a flounder on the fly. Time to move on.

The very thought of a sunny afternoon on a small river awakens a happy sort of naivety in me. I had planned on a trip to a shallow local canal earlier in the week, chasing rudd on the fly. But with the water disappointingly brown and few fish showing, I took a detour to Tiverton's River Lowman instead. It's a place that brings back a lot of happy memories in spite of its location, running through the dog-eared edges of Tiverton. It was here I captured the cover shot for Theo Pike's wonderful book on free fly fishing "Trout in Dirty Places." The curiously named Paradise Fields area also spawned an article for Trout and Salmon. It must be a couple of seasons since I last walked its length however.
I'm always a great one for early season naivety. I kid myself that it'll be warm, the fish will be rising and the water will be clear. But early season trout fishing is more often a recipe for pragmatism. Big insect hatches are not common and I often find that rather than copying nature, the best way to get off the mark is with a nice visible nymph in the right place.
The Lowman was still carrying some colour, making it tricky to spot the fish. But running a gold bead nymph through the tumbling tail of a pool by Amory Park, I had solid take on just my third cast and a pretty trout to open my account.

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One saving grace of fishing in March is that the undergrowth is still quite bare, making it easier to get at those swims that will be a bit of a jungle by summer time. Most of the river can be fished from the bank too, although with a high sun you really have to duck and kneel into position to avoid sending the trout scattering. I've said it before, but there are days I curse being a conspicuous 6'5" tall. In a public setting it's not just down to you however, as there's always the chance that someone's dog will jump into the pool, or a misplaced clearance from someone's kickabout will send the trout packing.
On this occasion, I had the best of the fishing by taking a decent walk and getting beyond a couple of little inflows that were bringing muddy water into the mix. I didn't see a fish rise all afternoon in the end but another handful of trout, all in the 6-9" stamp, intercepted a small Hare's Ear or Copper John and gave some excellent sport on a four weight outfit.

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It was only a couple of days later that I found the first hatch of the year, on a different stretch of urban river nearer to the east Devon coast. I say hatch, but a measly number of large dark olives never seemed to persuade the fish to rise. A beaded PTN fished under a Klinkhamer worked a treat however, anywhere I managed to get a clean cast without spooking the fish.
Quite a low water level and bright sun made them hard to fool at times. Perhaps the best areas were the shady edges of walls and boulders, or simply letting a nymph tumble through the headwaters of each little weir.
I might have had even more hits, had every dog owner in east Devon not decided to let their mutt go swimming. But you can't grumble at six beautifully marked fish from a free stretch of river, including a couple of spirited half pounders that had me convinced something much bigger had taken hold:

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I'm well aware that some blog followers won't be into fly fishing, but if you've yet to try your hand at it I would highly recommend it. It's such an interesting exercise, you don't need much kit and there is a wealth of cheap or even free fly fishing these days. Fishing the fly definitely teaches you use the flow of the river rather than avoiding it. It also teaches you a lot about how to approach fish on clear waters and just how easily they can spook. For the sake of a few quid (my half day sessions for beginners start at just £80, with all the gear and flies provided) it really could expand your horizons. The site has more info:

In other news, I'm also going to be contributing lots of new and exciting material for Turrall this season as part of their online presence, with news, fly patterns, tips and more on the way. Do give them a like and a follow on Facebook and Twitter to get the latest, or check out Pinterest for photographic highlights old and new.

Sunday, 1 March 2015

Saved by the Perch

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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.
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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.
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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.
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Sunday, 22 February 2015

Rewards after the Rain

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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?
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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.

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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.

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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.

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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: 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

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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.

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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.
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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:
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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.

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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:
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Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Singles Success & "Fly For Coarse" Winners

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A few bits of current news to round up in this edition of "Crooked Lines", including the results of the 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.

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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.

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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:

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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

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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).

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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.
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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!

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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).

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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).

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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.”

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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.

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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

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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.
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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.
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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.

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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.

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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:
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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.

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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:

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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 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.