Biting Back

This blog post is going to sound like Groundhog Day, because once again it starts with a trip to the dentist. Three weeks on from the last massacre, I needed another load of injections and drills and a crown putting in. So there I was sat there a second time using my afternoon fishing trip as something nicer to think amidst the injections and the whirring of metal.

Every spring I make so many fishing plans but secretly know I won’t have time for them all. Because life catches up. You lose teeth and things change, people pass away and the weeks get eaten up. And the more it all ebbs away and grows jaded, the more urgently you feel that you should fish because next week or next year or even sooner there may not be the same chance to do so.

But it’s not easy to dream about fishing when you’re on your back and at the dentist’s mercy. As I braced myself for the drill, it felt like the radio was making a compilation album of songs you never wanted to hear at the dentists. Bob Marley’s “Don’t Worry About a Thing” isn’t quite the same when your jaws are wide open and there’s that horrible sucky thing in your mouth. And then just to really rub it in during the worst of the drilling, along comes Queen’s “Don’t stop me now”. I’m having such a good time. I’m having a ball.

No I bloody wasn’t. My Romanian dentist is a sweet talker, but she’s deadly with that drill. I was a relieved man leaving the place. Once I’d escaped and got out into the sun, the canal was waiting for me and looked that bit more perfect because of the stress of teeth and pain. My lower jaw still felt much too big after the injections. I felt like Planet of the Apes extra, unable to talk or eat correctly. But the sun was out on Exeter Canal and I fancied a walk down to Turf Locks. I hoped I might spot out a carp or two, but also took a pike fly rod out. Usually, it’s about now I start to leave them alone, but I do like a day or two on the fly after a dour winter.

I would have done more piking over the winter had I not smashed the tip of my Greys 9#, which has now been replaced by a cheaper Airflo Bluetooth. I’m it finding pretty decent, if a bit lighter. I probably won’t know if it’s really up to the job until I hook a really big fish on it to be honest. I packed a fast intermediate line because its’ a deep old venue- if the fish are down the shelf, the middle of the canal can be getting on for 12 feet deep. I fancied big, flashy flies in the sun too.

I didn’t really care whether I caught, in all honesty. Even Paulina, my wife, felt it sunny enough to come to the canal, which is a rare treat because she’s not usual bothered about fishing. You just have to try and avoid the questions about “how far are we walking” and “when are we going home?”

In just two hours or so, I got a few jacks to snap at my pike flies. The water seemed quite black and a little stained, and I did wonder if they’d respond, but they did. Not huge fish, but the better of two was perhaps six pounds. By which stage, the anesthetic had all but worn off and I really fancied a beer.

I’m always drawn back to the canal at this time of year. It’s a good time to fish it, before summer weed groethI might sometimes curse the difficulty of the Exeter Ship Canal, it’s quite something that it is still a mysterious place after some 28 years of fishing it.

The carp are something that demand time and commitment there, that’s for sure. But every so often, I will plan ahead and try and put a night or three in. Last week was a mad dash after work. You know, that semi-spontaneous trip that comes with keen anticipation, but not always brilliant planning.

I’d just managed to get set up by the time it was dark, by which time it was already getting cold. Two rods out, one at the bottom of each shelf of the canal, feeling for a less weedy spot. I then loose fed and cast each rig out in a solid PVA bag. I pack these with broken tiger nuts and a little salt and gravel, just to protect the hookbait and make sure everything sinks.

There’s always some stress involved when you only have a couple of hours to get everything together and then a survive a night on the canal. But when it’s just you and the moon and the water, and you finally relax it’s with such a sense of relief. You never quite lose the hiss of city traffic, but it’s so beautifully still on a calm night. You can hear the call of birds passing over the Exe Estuary, see the lights of Topsham in the distance.

Once you’ve cocooned yourself in, the night has to be survived. I never get too far from rods though, and will keep the front panel of my bivvy open on all but the coldest of nights. Talking of which, it was another cool daybreak. There was frost on my unhooking mat in fact; the forecast said six or seven degree lows for Exeter, but not out here by the water.

In spite of my city ways, I am used to these trips though. Having everything in its place and resting, ready for a bite without quite sleeping. Keeping warm and fed. The kettle is one of my best companions in the bivvy. So is a Kindle, I have to admit. If I can’t sleep, I dig into a book. So George Orwell joins me in the bivvy at the moment. Also an angler, just by chance.  while the kettle keeps me warm. On the coldest of nights I will literally wait for the kettle to cool a little after boiling and then curl up with it in my sleeping bag.

For my sins, I already know how punishing Exeter Canal can be. You can get lucky with a one night hit, but you can also go a long time between carp bites. I got the strangest little lift of a bobbin just as it was getting light. Then it did it again and the tip of the rod nodded. Was it a fish trying to free itself from the bolt rig? It does sometimes happen, I’m sure- a fish is not properly hooked, but perhaps nicked and is trying to lose the rig. I wound tight and struck. The sudden rush of power I had hoped for wasn’t there, just a dull thump here and there and a kiting sensation.

A very reasonable bream, as it turned out, comfortably six pounds I would say. Not quite what I came for, but worth catching. It was plump and no doubt spawn bound, so I decided to put it back with little rigamorale beyond a quick shot on the mat. Daft fish- you’re not supposed to even like tiger nuts, let alone beat the carp to them.

It won’t be the last time I try for carp on the canal this summer, but there’s no way I could fish for them all the time. I also need quick fix fishing and bites. So with reports of some proper “luck dip” style mixed fishing at Goodiford Mill, near Cullompton, I had a half day session there on Saturday.

There were more than a few surprises actually, but suffice to say for now it was interesting on several counts. I found the better catches only after moving spots to the far end of the Silver Lake, fishing alongside Adam Aplin. There is quite a strong stream inflow at one end, and it had proved surprisingly deep (seven or eight feet in places) and tricky to hold a pole rig still.

Perhaps it is this streaminess that the silver fish and the gudgeon like though? We had tons of gudgeon, in fact, or at least Adam did on a shorter pole, catching some really big ones of an ounce and better! I might even have to revisit for another crack here.

specimen gudgeon

It’s funny, I once taught Adam at West Exe school when he was one of a group of rowdy kids from St Thomas, the spikier bit of Exeter over the river. Several of them are still fishing, which makes me proud.

He hadn’t done any pole fishing before but found it a really successful, taking some good bream and his first ever tench too.

I only had three hours or so proper fishing in the “right” swim in the end, and only that after another accidental twist. I had seen a young moorhen on the far bank, struggling to free itself from trailing branches as it was tethered by line. In the end, I scaled down the bank a little and got to it. The bird panicked at first, but by getting a closer look I managed to untangle things and cut the line to set her free. It seemed to recover well, shaking itself and preening as we watched it swim for the middle of the pool.

And perhaps it was good karma, because for the remaining three hours the new swim produced. I trickled in bait regularly, switching between maggots, meat and worm. I had stacks of skimmers and bream, a good few tench and even managed two crucians early on- although, heart-breakingly, I lost a much bigger one that looked well over two pounds on virtually the first cast. They pulled like trains on a six elastic too!

This was the pick of a big catch, but we put a lot of the bream and tench back, just so we wouldn’t crush the smaller roach, gudgeon and rudd. Actually there were all sorts of species. Adam had perch too, while I had hybrids. There are meant to be some true crucians in here too, which is good news, at least if they can manage weed out the carp!

Goodiford Mill coarse fishing Devon

In other news, I’ve also been enjoyed doing a bit of guiding; warm weather often encourages folks to learn to fly fish in Devon. Chris and Justine from Hampshire came for a day session at the Deer Park, where we had an hour or so casting lesson and then at watercraft, flies and the river itself. The fish were tough, so they could be proud to catch something on the day. It turned out not to be a small trout but a baby salmon in fact, one of several wild fish rising in a tumbling pool. But it was a short, sharp hatch and after the hooked fish we didn’t see another rise the whole afternoon.

Guided Fly fishing River Otter Devon

It was a lovely day all the same, with both casting well and flipping flies into likely places. Christine hooked and lost a trout too, which was unlucky but also a great sign. After all, you cannot make the fish rise, but if you can teach folks to approach the river thoughtfully and make chances, you know that they will catch sooner or later.

Once we’d said our farewells, I couldn’t resist a quick cast in one of the near pools before packing up. After several shots, I really didn’t think the trout were in the mood. But virtually on the last shot, I let the nymph run a bit deeper and it suddenly held in the current. I lifted and there was a solid fish there. One of the stockies I would guess- too fat to be a wild one, but welcome all the same.

River Otter Fly fishing 2017



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