I would love to start this post with some uplifting lines about autumn being some kind of fishing nirvana, blah blah blah, but I would be mostly lying. With dicey conditions and even worse timing on my part, it has been a right slog. Some highlights, yes, but some very testing days as well.
I guess all I can do is report honestly on some recent trials, if only to remind fellow strugglers that we are all only human and that at some stage things will get better. So where do I start? I’ve had some “interesting” coarse fishing and match angling, to put it politely, and hosted some fly fishing trips, but perhaps we start with the sea.
Shark Fishing from Looe
While I am no land lubber and enjoy sea fishing by boat, there are limits when it comes to an enjoyable day out. I’d looked forward to a shark trip for ages, though, so decided to meet up again with Keith and Lee Armishaw (above) as planned, in spite of a blustery day expected from Looe aboard Top Cat (at least I think it was that boat, to be honest my brain and stomach were so monumentally buggere up most of the day I could be wrong and this may all have been a dream).
Was this really sensible? Well, for one thing, helping to take care of a young baby is not great for your constitution. I had a sensible breakfast and even a bit of raw ginger to ward of sickness, but sleep deprivation tends to make any man more fragile. And so, I arrived in quite poor spirits, especially once we were chugging along over big waves with the smell of diesel in the air. For about an hour I was ok, distracting myself by catching up with my friends; but as the shore got further and further away, the waves built higher and my stomach was turning. Had you offered me £200 to get back to land there and then, I’d have gladly given it to you. Bloody hell, I’d have kissed the skipper just to feel less dreadful.
Perhaps the trip would have been easier had there been more distraction from other fish species. Alas, after the previous year’s adventure I was quite confident of getting a specimen garfish by presenting a strip of mackerel amongst the rubby dubby. “Any moment now…” I kept thinking, but the gars were nowhere to be seen and nor were the sharks.
By about lunch time I should have been ravenous for a sandwhich, but felt really ropey and devoid of hunger. For yours truly, usually an eating machine not far off shark proportions, this is a sure sign that I am not quite myself. The mind games then begin, as you unwillingly have to accept that you are miles from land and will likely feel sick for another four or five hours.
I’ve never physically spewed up on a boat at sea- but this was possibly the closest I had ever come, with the boat pitching violently and winds relentless. Every so often, I summoned up the courage to fish for whiting to pass a bit more time, but I was feeling green and grumpy. All I could do was try to breathe deeply and focus on the bobbing plastic bottle (“the insert waggler of shark fishing” as I like to call it) that might signal a shark attack. A Brexit deal seemed about as likely.
The sharks didn’t seem to fancy it for hours and it was only when we switched to extreme depths late on that bites arrived. Bless Keith and my other boat mates for giving me the first shark. It was the only thing that could have distracted me from keeping breakfast down and I felt they deserved it more than me. It fought well and lifted my spirits, momentarily at least, before the rough slog home.
Before that, there was still time for one last bit of drama, with Keith and Lee seemingly attached to the same shark! The fact that it came adrift at least spared us a family bun fight- and both saw the funny side.
Returning to Looe, I literally kissed the quay I was so relived to be back on land. I wished them luck for the rest of the week, but apparently the next shark day was even rougher. I can’t say I envied them. Blerggghhh!
Fairer weather and fly fishing
Perhaps the one spell of better weather in recent fishing memory was reserved for a guided day, where I gave Ben Cheeld some pointers on catching coarse fish on the Taunton to Bridgwater Canal. As a local, living just yards from the cut, it made perfect sense too!
At first, it was a case of watching carefully, moving between swims and casting as stealthily as possible to rudd. We found some crackers, too, with a shoal of pound plus fish proving receptive. As per usual, gentle and accurate casts with mimimal retrieve were key. A beaded spider was the best fly on the day- I wondered if we might have left it too late, but clarity was good and the sun encouraged the fish to come up for a slow sinking fly.
In just a half day guided session, Ben also found the roach to add to three proper net-sized rudd. The tactics were similar, although the roach tend to sit a little deeper and can be trickier than the rudd.
At another point we also found a group of five pretty little tench, all around the half pound mark. I felt sure we would tempt one, as the younger fish often seem the more receptive. Whether they were preoccupied with digging up the bottom, or simply too wary, though, we blanked on them. It was fun trying though, and one of my selection of visible, weighted nymphs really should have scored. That’s fishing, I guess- and if Ben carries on fishing on the canal, I’m sure he’ll eventually bag an unlikely bream or tench. It’s just not something you can depend on every time, but more an opportunist catch that one day comes together.
At the other end of the difficulty scale, we also found a few jack pike in the margins and rounded off the day with some fireworks as one lashed out at close range. Lovely sport on an eight weight!
Less lucky on the weather front, however, were the stag party men I helped Chris Guest of Exmoor Fly Fishing to host at Exe Valley Fishery. High, coloured and decidedly soggy it fished tough for our trip- although our crew came on leaps and bounds in their casting and we did manage to catch fish in the end, which was a great result on a tough day.
Cup final day with Tiverton Angling Club
By the time October came round, I had almost forgotten about my qualification for Tivvy AC’s cup final match. This is a great little fixture each season and gives everyone another shot at glory, provided you can finish in the top 10 of the league or win a qualifying heat.
Morchard Road Fishery was the setting once again and although it was milder than the previous year, the winds looked pretty brutal. I drew a decent looking swim at the windy end of the lake with an island to throw at. It was a very exposed spot, however, so I placed my faith in the feeder rather than straining with a pole.
It started a bit slow, with casts tight to the island producing nothing. In fact, only a miscued cast that landed shorter resulted in a fish in the first 40 minutes or so; perhaps they just weren’t willing to come into the shallower water just yet?
Progressively the peg got better, though, and it seemed the more feeders of bait that went in, the more fish were willing to feed. A method feeder and wafter approach kept the fish coming for the next 2-3 hours. Most of the field seemed to be struggling, although my neighbour Anthony Edwards (below) was netting as many fish as anyone.
I tried the pole intermittently, but it was largely a waste of time due to lashing winds and crap presentation. And so I went back to the feeder- and the fish now wanted it tighter to cover. I felt I was still well off the pace with 90 minutes to go, but by switching to a bunch of dead maggots with a pellet feeder (a favourite plan B in feeder matches!) and casting right to the end of my peg, the last hour proved my best of the match. The fish would come in little spurts of two or three, then nothing for a while.
Would it be enough? Well, at the weigh in, I think everyone was happy to call it a day. Those who persevered with the pole were cursing the crappy weather. Sport had been patchy, so while I fancied that Anthony would win overall, I might just make the top few spots. And I was correct!
Anthony had sixty something pounds for top spot, followed by Elliot Fay with fifty or so. My 18.9kg, or forty-ish pounds of carp in old money, was enough for third, not to mention some welcome notes and a tackle voucher for Culm Valley Angling. A very nice way to finish the league season, in fact, which made up for a tricky year in which I’d missed some matches, dropped points in others and never threatened to emulate last years top three finish. The winter will be fun, though, with the canal pairs always a highlight- especially if I can team up with Elliot Fay this time round, because we ought to make a good double act on the cut!
Flooded rivers and fickle fish
Apart from some limited success on my home patch on the Exeter Canal, about the only other big news to report on has been my ill-fated week on the Hampshire Avon. I managed one or two passable days, but not without a lot of graft and, yes, tired legs and a family sized helping of foiled ambition and disappointment. That might sound a bit melodramatic, but when you know you only have one week off free of wife and baby for what promises to be a long time, an entire week of abysmal weather and muddy water is exactly what you prayed to avoid.
That said, there were a couple of stories worth reporting, including one real freak catch. You’ll just have to keep an eye on “The Far Bank” in the Angling Times to get the lowdown, however. Look out for my column, as usual, along with the next edition of Fallon’s Angler Quarterly, which contains a very special satirical column with “The General’s Guide to Brexit” – I guarantee all but the most sour of leavers and remainers alike will have a good chuckle. In fact, I have asked the editorial team to do me an image of the general next to the infamous Brexit campaign bus, alongside the slogan “WE GIVE THE EU £350 MILLION EVERY WEEK! WHY NOT SPEND THE MONEY ON BREAM AND TENCH INSTEAD?” Don’t ask me what I personally think of the whole mess, though, please. I am going with my Swiss blood here, at least publically, and opting for civilised neutrality.
That’s all I’d really like, at heart, an end to all this identity politics and a bit more balance and folks basically not being aggressive towards each other. Is that too much to ask, or is even angling becoming swamped in the current malaise of intolerance? I notice that The Secret Angler has been writing on this topic recently- and while I wouldn’t go quite as far as him, I do think there’s a point to be made about how bigoted and binary quite big chunks of the fishing world are now becoming, which helps nobody. In fact, an entire recent week away from technology has been redfreshing, in spite of the iffy fishing. But I digress.
Last but not least, many thanks to all of you who have bought a copy of Hooked on Lure Fishing so far. I know you can get it cheaper on Amazon, so I really do appreciate the support. Plus, if you get it from me it arrives signed- and in fact the last 30 or so copies I have were just signed by Mr Jack Perks, whose splendid shots feature throughout.
Talking of splendid pictures, do also check out the new Angling Trust photography competition, where you can also win angling books. We’re running this in the South West and North East to start with, but the other regions should follow later; keep an eye on your regional Angling Trust page.