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Well that’s that then. 2012 is entering its death vigil and we have the long dark of January to come. Before that of course there’s Christmas. I’m in the U.S. right now, in Michigan visting in-laws. Not too far away the Steelhead, the evocatively named migratory form of the Rainbow Trout, will be running the freezing rivers. I’ve left the rods at home, but I’ll be back.

I think I have to look back on 2012 as a successful year for fishing. It was the first time I’ve been able to make use of a season ticket, to fish regularly and on the same water. In my opinion I’ve improved no end.

There have been some highs and lows along the way. Blanking on the first day of the season was a difficult moment of doubt, losing a pretty and expensive reel at the end of season was a pain, but in between I caught some lovely trout.

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The Swincombe brownie from the receding flood was memorable, as was stalking the monster of the Cowsic on the high moor with a thunderstorm on the way. I’ve learnt a few things about night fishing on Dartmoor, about alternative casting (over the shoulder, catapult and jump roll), and about the importance of making the most of it while it lasts.

2013 has some big shoes to fill. I’m hoping it will be the year I catch my first Sea Trout. But that season is a long way off from here. January must be negotiated first, and February too, with the bleak frost bitten mornings and brooding gunmetal grey days. Things slow down a bit in winter, but there’s still fishing to be had and though cold the riverbank is still beautiful in its way. I’ll see you out there, in the future.

Until then, Merry Christmas and all that.

Silver Squirrel

This weekend a combination of Christmas shopping, household responsibilities and poor conditions mean that I’m not going fishing. But that doesn’t mean the weekend has to be spent in a blue funk, moping and sulking from one end of the living room to the other, far from it. This weekend is the perfect time to tie some of the flies I’ve been meaning to cobble together. In particular, some Sea Trout flies. I have, for absolutely no good reason (and probably a lot of bad ones), sworn to only fish for Sea Trout with flies I’ve tied myself. Why make a task that is already difficult even harder? Because it’s there. Or something.

I should make it clear at this point that I’m even less of an expert on fly tying than I am on fly fishing. If you’ve come here hoping to learn something useful then I’m afraid you’re in the wrong place. Now that’s out of the way, let’s wrap some thread.

The first fly on the menu is the Silver Stoat, a variant of the Stoat’s Tail Salmon fly that is particularly good for Sea Trout. It begins, as do so many things, with black.

The reason it’s called a Silver Stoat is because the wing is constructed from the hair on  a Stoat’s tail. But first we must tie in the silver, and the Golden Pheasant.

The finished Silver Stoat. Well, as it happens I’ve used Squirrel tail instead. Stoats have very small tails and, perhaps as a reflection on the vicious character of the animal, they’re hard to come by and expensive. So Squirrel it is, which I suppose makes this fly the Silver Squirrel. As I’ll be fishing at night let’s hope the Sea Trout won’t notice the difference.

All the best experiments happen by accident. Except maybe in science, and other things. All my best experiments happen by accident.

Last month I had a good day float fishing on the River Culm. I had wanted to catch some Roach, and catch them I did, using a tip I’d picked up from an old friend, the Internet. Apparently Roach like Coriander, so much so that mixing it with a bread crumb groundbait will lure them in like… And not just Roach either, there were also Dace and Gudgeon drawn to my swim.

It wasn’t Roach I was setting out to catch today. I was after Chub, in particular I wanted to catch a Chub on a lure. Unfortunately it’s November already, though I’m not sure how that’s happened, and it’s cold. Ever the realist I mixed up some coriander and breadcrumb, filled my bait box with maggots, and set off for the river. Halfway there I realised I’d left the mashed bread groundbait at home, and so the experiment was born.

I was going to find out how much of a difference groundbait, and coriander, makes.

The answer, as you may have guessed, is quite a lot. I found myself a good looking spot, where the river’s current was a little slacker and some overhanging trees provided shelter. I rigged up my Allcock’s Lucky Strike and Aerial centrepin, and started fishing.

There is something about fishing with a float that is deeply pleasing. I’m a fly fisherman most of the year but I try to keep alive, in part, some of the spirit of the all rounder. I enjoy the challenge of stalking trout in gin clear streams, but if I did nothing else I fear I’d appreciate it less. There are some who consider fishing with a float to be a lesser thing (is there much difference fishing beneath a float and fishing a nymph beneath a dry fly?). Not for me. A float is borderline magical. It exists partly above, mostly below, the water’s surface. For someone who is fascinated by the underwater world it provides something of a bridge.

When the normal drifting of the float is interrupted and it bobs, twitches, or quivers with the attentions of a fish, hands tighten their grip on the rod. The anticipation builds as you wait to see if the float will dip, slide or disappear. Waiting for the fish to make up its mind. To either take the bait or let it go. And who knows what sort of fish it might be? What species or size? The promise is infinite. That is a moment I could live in.

Today the promise delivered Minnows, and one Dace. I actually like the humble Minnow. They might not grow to any great size but they were the first fish I met close up. None of these fish came close to my personal best. A monster at least 4 inches long, caught on free lined bread and a garden cane.

The bites stopped coming. The Minnows were either full of the free offerings that go alongside the hookbait or something else was at work. The good thing about being an all rounder is that you often come with more than one approach in mind. I switched the centrepin to a fixed spool reel and flicked out a small copper spinner. A Mepps Aglia. I had barely turned the handle of the reel when a Jack Pike grabbed it. I let him recover in the net and think about what he’d done.

The Fly Fisherman In Winter

Although the rivers close for trout fishing on 30th September there can’t be that many anglers who put away their rods until the hard days of March. Fishermen who dedicate themselves to hours at the tying bench and evenings of recollection. Those that do are missing out.

In winter, on the slower moving rivers there are plenty of Chub, which can usually be tempted to take a fly on the milder days, and if its really mild then Perch can be great fun on a fly rod. Of course Pike are the most winter fish, but that requires heavier gear and a wire leader to avoid the teeth that give many small roach their last earthly view. And if your prepared to dabble, as I do, in being a bit of an all rounder, then spinning and trotting a worm help to get you out if the house on days that are too harsh for fly fishing.

On the good days even some trout streams can still be fished, if there are Grayling present. Grayling are beautiful fish and the river in winter colours can be beautiful too.

That said, I don’t know much about grayling– by which I mean I know less about them than Trout. And I don’t know that much about trout. I’m still learning, and I hope to continue. To reach a place where there is nothing left to learn must be dark indeed.

I do know that there are only two river systems in Devon that have Grayling in them, the Exe in the east and the Tamar in the west. The River Lyd on the edge of Dartmoor is a tributary of the Tamar and fishing is available on the Sydenham stretch through the Westcountry Angling Passport. This stretch closes for the winter after 31st October so I thought I’d better try and squeeze a trip in now, just as the clocks turn back.

I’ve caught Grayling before, but not in Devon. The Lyd is quite different to the boulder strewn Dart but the current is just as strong. The upper stretches of the Sydenham beat are suggested as the most likely to hold grayling and I slip into the river at the bridge and work against the flow. The water is freezing cold and there is the threat of rain in the gathering clouds.

I decided, because it worked before when I tried for Grayling, to fish New Zealand style. A Sawyer’s Killer Bug beneath a tan Klinkhammer. On the first cast a fish takes the dry fly. This catches me out. I was just warming up the casting arm and coming round to the idea of being knee deep in river. I miss the take. That’s all right, it was almost certainly a Trout, and they’re out of season. We want grayling, not trout.

Further upstream I startle a Pheasant. In truth we startle each other. They are such ungainly birds and seem to lack any intelligence, but I suppose that makes them easier to shoot. I change my Killer Bug to a Copper John. I cast to cover water, upstream, across, and then draw of some line to cast a little further. Take a step and cast again. There are no rises to target, but as the team of flies drift down towards me, the Klinkhammer disappears. Something has taken the nymph below the surface. It’s a trout, released without fuss or fanfare.

More Pheasants are startled. More Trout are released. Each time the fly disappears and a Trout is the result I move well forward, in a vain attempt not to catch any more. I tempt something like five in total. Which a month ago would be a good day, just not today. There’s not a Grayling to be seen. I wonder where they’ve all gone? My guess is either they’ve read the same information I have and moved into the lower reaches of the beat or they’ve gone up past the upper limit out of the way.

I begin to notice it’s been raining, and is still raining. The river takes on colour and rises. Then I get a bootful of it as I forget I’m wearing thigh waders rather than chest waders. There can be few things in the known Universe that are worse than wet, cold socks. I always keep a spare pair of warm, dry socks in the car to shield me from this horror. There’s also some hot coffee and a sandwich. After six hours with no sign of a Grayling, coffee, sandwiches and dry socks are needed if not deserved. Besides, it will be dark soon.

Before the next attempt I should probably read more books about Grayling. That’s the real beauty of fishing, no matter how accomplished you become there is always a fresh problem to be solved or challenge to accept. Sometimes just the basics can be challenging enough.

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Rutilus rutilus

I’ve learned, since moving to the Westcountry, that I am a person who is driven by a challenge – at least when it comes to fishing. And that I prefer to set my own challenges. Now that the season for Brown Trout is over, rather than pace the living room carpet between now and the 15th March, I find myself interested in some winter fishing challenges. One of these is to catch a decent sized Roach, a fish I’ve not seen since childhood, on the old cane float road and Aerial centrepin that remind me of something from the pages of Mr Crabtree Goes Fishing. Alas, since the trout season ended, there has been nothing but rain.

The River Exe has been a frothing torrent of brown water for several days. My train ride into work takes me along and over it, for the last week I have looked at it with forlorn hope. The fields around are half underwater and the trees and cottages have appeared only half real against grey skies. The whole of Devon looked as though it was a model, the railway a toy – even the cows seemed to have stopped moving.

Heavy rain is a state which prevents any reasonably minded angler from venturing out. Last weekend, in a spell of brighter weather, I ventured. I confess that I’m not a very accomplished float fisher. A lot has been written already about the pleasant nature of watching a float so I won’t try to add too much on the technical side, as you’d be much better off reading a book on the subject than listening to me.

There I was, facing a long Sunday at home. With a full week of work ahead I would be sentenced to three weeks without setting foot on the river bank. The day was bright, the sky blue, so I decided to go anyway. It was threatening to be the sort of day where it is good simply to be out on the water even if the fishing is doomed to failure.

The Exeter and District Angling Association controls a good stretch of the River Culm. The river roughly follows the path of the M5 from Cullompton to Exeter. The land to the east of the Exe is different to that of the west, more pastoral farmland and preparation for Dorset. I arrived at the river to find it thick, brown and bank high. I tossed a ball of mashed bread into the swim and began stringing up my Allcock’s split cane rod. By the time I had completed the task a pair of swans had moved in. I moved on.

I passed through the flooded fields, under electricity pylons and alongside the railway line in search of the right sort of swim. In these conditions you want a spot sheltered from the main force of the swollen river where fish might be. On finding such a spot I baited up and waited. It was about the time I was thinking of moving on to a different spot that I caught a nice Roach.

My lack of patience in staying put is part of the reason I’m not a very good float fisher. A few smaller fish followed, Gudgeon, Minnow, Dace. The bites tailed off and I started thinking of moving on again when the float trembled, dipped and an even nicer Roach came to the net.

This was followed by a few smaller fish again, thoughts of moving again, and a third Roach – the best of the lot and in good condition.

I waited for a fishless hour before taking down the rod and setting back across the flooded fields for home. The sun had started sinking, the light had turned that golden colour of autumn afternoons and the temperature had fallen so that I could see my breath in the air. Even by Mr Crabtree’s standards it was a good day’s fishing.

Fly Tyers’ Dreams

It is the hope and dream of many who tie their own fishing flies that one day they may produce a killer pattern of their own devising. That out of the jaws of their vice may come a new combination of fur and feather that proves an irresistible temptation to fish. This creation they would name in the knowledge that it will live on long after they have passed.

I can announce that I have achieved this dream. I give you The Pollock Fly.

Ahead of a late summer attempt to catch my first bass I tied up a ragged bunch of maribou winged flies. The Teign estuary is far stuffed with Bass, so the legend goes, but I fished two consecutive days and saw only two – both at the end of another angler’s line. I did however raise Pollock after Pollock after Pollock. And I’ll admit that in the emptiness of those bass-less days I was happy to see them. Every one of them came to the silver bodied, bead headed, red thoraxed creation above.

This blog is new…

until it isn’t.

If you’d like to have a look at some earlier stuff then feel free to check out Dartography. You can always come back here later.