Bream, Dummies and Debates

Greetings, fellow fish botherers. What a funny few weeks I’ve endured lately. Such have been my other commitments, and a bout of sickness, that I’ve only just managed to put this blog together. So I hope I can fill you in on a few scores, even if a lot of it has been less than glamorous or spectacular.

Far from it. A lot of it has just been plain weird. In fact, I’m finding a lot of the Devon coarse fisheries I haunt these days outright strange. The people who run them are odd. The places themselves are odd. In fact my whole career seems like a muddy netherworld at times. You might imagine it is glamorous and wonderful carving out a living largely through words on fishing. But much of the time it’s just a lot of graft for not a lot of return other than a lot of  bloody weirdness. (For the curious I have just written a piece for Fishtec with an honest appraisal of ways to earn an income from fishing– albeit a little clipped compared to my original text).

Kia Ora Fishery pole fishing Devon

Kia Ora Ponds (above) stand as just one random example of the strange world of local fishing. I wanted to get some pole fishing practise and experiment a bit in this case. Partly because I’m keen to fish a few matches this year; partly because a pal suggested it (and then cancelled, unfortunely). But what an odd place. Abandoned fridges. Massive bits of machinery buzzing and chopping the landscape. Bonkers owners. Peacocks. Yeah, peacocks, I absolutely kid you not. Who needs mind-altering drugs when you can just go coarse fishing in Devon?

Perhaps most odd of all are the dummies. There are strange human mannequins everywhere, in dayglo bibs, presumably to scare off cormorants. One even has two old pole sections stuck together to mimic a shotgun. To be fair, I didn’t see any cormorants, which is encouraging (unless they’ve already eaten everything), but these dummies basically make the place resemble a very low budget version of the classic 1973 movie Westworld (anyone remember that? Yul Brynner and friends? Robot cowboys and medieval knights? Totally lost you now?).

Fishing for Dummies!

Anyway, all this is making it sound exciting, as if the outskirts of Cullompton were some kind of sexy, dangerous badlands. But it’s not like that at all and the actual fishing was fairly shit. Well,  it was a very slow start to say the least. I spent an hour in one peg on the silver lake and didn’t even have a bite. Probably my fault for picking a swim purely based on previous match results and fishing reports. That and yo-yoing recent temperatures.

So I went for a stroll round anyway, half wondering if I should have gone pike fishing instead. But after moving my gear to the deeper, dam end things woke up a little. I fished with around 9m of pole, with a small ball of groundbait to kick off, followed by just a light smattering of pinkies.

Eventually, I got bites. The first fish was a fairly weedy little skimmer, but the second stretched the elastic quite pleasantly. Not a bad bream, in fact.

Just keeping the very occasional bite coming after that was testing. I fed tiny bits of groundbait and a small pinch of pinkies after every fish in the end. I also lightly fed an inside line, just down the shelf- but only had a small perch there the whole day. Some of the bites were dead finicky. Skimmers can be like that. Funny little lifts and dips that are hard to hit. Double fluoro pinkie seemed the best bait.

Kia Ora fishing match results

A lot of work for a not incredibly impressive net in the end. Good practice, but I don’t think I’ll be rushing back here unless it’s a match day. Or I fancy dressing up as a cowboy, packing some guns and pretending to be Yul Brynner for an afternoon. Actually, that sounds quite appealing.

In other news, the piking sessions have continued. Nor has it been too bad up on the Somerset Levels, either going solo or in the company of my old friend Russ Hilton. Between us, we must have had several dozen pike this winter, but I would guess that only about 1 in 20 if that has been double figures. Those of you who know me better will also know I take what I can get and don’t worry too much about the numbers. But it is a bit galling when your Facebook pals are pulling out fat twenties left right and centre. I may have to take a long haul trip or two before the season’s out, because I would dearly love at least one “oh shit” fish before close of play. If it never happens I won’t grumble though, because fish like this wild Levels six-pounder are still a delight to catch and this is Somerset, not Norfolk. This is not Premier League, this is AFS Window Repairs Trophy. But it is real and it still has some teeth and I am still willing to love it. If you want some more on predator fishing, and some handy tips on mixing and matching fly and lure fishing, I’m also in the current issue of Pike & Predators.

Somerset Levels pike fishing

Otherwise, where do I begin? I launched my own miniature protest at the prospect of hydropower on the River Exe, which was both a valuable and a chastening experience. I have to be honest, I felt quite wounded and let down afterwards. Basically, nobody at all turned up beyond me plus one other, in spite of my call for support getting about a gazillion shares and likes. People emailed me and kicked up a stink, but then just provided excuses. So much for Facebook as a call to action.

The event itself was surprising though. In fact, the group looking to develop hydropower on Bolham weir turned out to be a friendly, likeable bunch. We might have disagreed, but they killed me with kindness (one lady even brought me out a cup of tea and cake). What can I say? I guess you have to accept that others will have very different views to you and actually, none of us has all the answers.

Perhaps the only regret I have is of a pretty fiercely heated exchange with one local; these issues can be emotive and perhaps we were as bullish and unreasonable as each other on the day. I guess you live and learn though, and I am pleased we have since been in touch and made up. Sometimes debates do this to grown men. Local politics is like road rage. You end up with claws out against someone who you’d probably get on with like old friends in another scenario.

But back to hydropower, you could say I have had “previous” with it. I’ve seen how badly it has buggered up rivers in Switzerland, where it was decided power generation trumped any desire to leave nature alone. Meanwhile perhaps my main problem with the whole issue in the UK continues to be a lack of impartial science. And granted, anglers can be as biased as our opponents. But it is so hard to establish any objective truth when 90% of the evidence on hydropower comes directly from companies that profit from these schemes. Meanwhile, research on the effects on fish and their movements on the Exe, for example, continue to be underfunded and inadequate. Solomon’s study of 1991, still used often as a key piece of evidence on Exe salmon, is nw 26 years old. Meanwhile, I cannot find anything beyond hearsay on the scheme that was passed on the Barle not so long ago. Don’t expect there to be any report soon though, because there’s no money to be made on it.

So what will happen? I have no idea. I still think any development will have some environmental impact; but should it go ahead at least we know the locals are not greedy developers but reasonable, caring people. And while I am still skeptical about the idea of more hydropower on the Exe, I have gained a little light and lost a lot of heat. I’ll keep you posted.

If you do sometimes question whether it’s worth getting involved in politics though, there has been some much better news lately too. For one thing, the Irish authorities have recently bowed to pressure and announced that the culling of pike will no longer be officially sanctioned on the big loughs. I was just one of many who wrote letters and emails and kicked up a fuss- and it paid off. Perhaps in the end messages about loss of revenue and potential visitors not travelling to Ireland in future hit home after all. Perhaps we are more, not less, powerful than we think when we can actually be bothered to act?

Anyhow, that’s about as much political debate as I can stand for the time being. Watch this space for further details and do keep your eyes peeled on my other regular bits and pieces for more to read. And it’s been a busy few days and weeks. I’ve just updated the Turrall Blog with a rather classic article on fishing bloodworm patterns in the company of John Dawson .

Meanwhile my weekly Angling Times “Far Bank” column will have more on various topics, from attempting to catch fish after breaking through ice on the canal with fellow Devon angler Jamie Lee (below), to some totally freaky recent captures including a pike that would put Mick Jagger to shame (no, it didn’t sing or chase females a third of its age. It had massive lips).

For the fly angler, I’m also now writing the “Angling Club of the Month” and parts of the news section for Fly Fishing & Fly Tying magazine. So should you have a story or want your club featured you know who to call! It was been an eventful time to put it mildly and I’ve enjoyed a couple of really interesting recent trips here, not least of all to capture a special feature on the River Frome with Dorchester Angling Club. Keep an eye on the magazine for more, including some crazy history and remarkable grayling fishing:

River Frome Specimen Grayling Dorchester Angling Club


Anyway, until next time I bid you tight lines, ask you to be a bit less bloody apathetic and beg you not to dump any more dented fridges or peacocks around local fisheries. Things are weird and depraved enough already. This is Devon, not a steampunk novel.

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