Fishing against the elements

When it comes to the best or worst weather to go fishing, that can depend on the method and species. Since the turn of the year we’ve had most permutations, to be fair, from torrential rain to subzero temperatures. It was a brutal -10C on a recent return journey from from Hull, having given a talk for the Angling Trust. A few days later, spring flowers and balmy weather could have conned you into thinking we’d skipped a couple of months.

Pike fishing somerset Levels Taunton Angling

With both recent pike angling and a return to the match fishing league, it has been a case of making the best of a bad deal with the weather. Ok, so crappy conditions might rule out a red letter day; but to get out and catch when things are difficult is one of the quiet satisfactions of angling.

My latest trip had the nasty combination of overnight frost along with flooded waters. Not ideal for bait fishing, let alone a crack with flies and lures. Paul Guest was my companion for a roving day, who I last fished with under sunny skies for bass. He opted for lures while I tried the fluff.

Meeting on a small drain that’s usually clear-ish, the murk of the water and a steady and uncharacteristic left to right tow were not quite what I’d hoped for. About a foot of visibility was about it. Would the fly show up enough for fish to take? Quite often, I think it’s all about confidence, because if you can get your offering close enough to a fish there is always a chance. I do favour bold colours in murky conditions, though, such as black or bright pink, with a good dose of flash.

We were well and truly tested for the first two to three hours on Taunton Angling Association waters. I’d wondered whether the access point had simply taken too much hammer from a long pike angling season at first, but even after a good walk we were struggling, with just one nip between us.

I’d had an early clue, however, with a decent fish had spooked right by the bank in just inches of water. Could the pike be sheltering tighter to the bank, given the high water and strong flow levels?

In the end, I suspect this was the case as the only fish of the morning lashed out at a bright silver fly right by the bank. It was one of those funny catches that had defied the form book, too, in a really nondescript spot. I’d just told Paul that it was a crap area that had never produced for me! It was a great take and fight, too, with the pike rushing the fly quite brutally, requiring no strike and putting a sweet bend in the 9 weight.

Somerset pike fishing Levels

After such a dead morning, it should perhaps have been the cue for things to improve, but with no further takes we decided to stop for a bite to eat and move back towards civilization (well, Taunton) and try the Taunton to Bridgwater Canal to carry on fishing into the afternoon.

Sadly, the canal was also pretty muddy and with even less visibility than the drains. But a change of scenery always brings new hope and there were signs of life with little fish topping.

When visibility is poor, a lot of anglers lose confidence. I am sometimes one of them. Paul himself told me he wasn’t sure he’d usually bother to fish lures in such muddy water! Having caught zander on the fly in even more chocolatey canal waters, though, I still felt it was worth a go.

It wasn’t easy, then, but we kept going. Wafting a fly or lure right by the bank is one decent strategy when the water is high and muddy. Pike can and will come right in- and perhaps one rare silver lining to poor water clarity is that you’re less likely to spook the fish.

Tackling up for the canal, I decided on a different fly choice. I’d recently been given some prototypes combining zonker strips with rubber legs- and to me, these looked just the job for coloured water in black or hot pink. Those who’ve read about my fishing for zander will know I have no qualms about pimping flies with appendages such as strands of rubber to add vibration.

I missed a decent nip right under my feet, before the next fish took on the far shelf. It was a curious bite, very gentle, and the fish did little for the initial few seconds. I’d been hoping it was a large perch, until it went rocket powered and it was fairly obvious what was happening. Weird how fish can sometimes behave as if they have felt nothing when hooked, only racing away when we pull harder back.

A very nice canal fish of six-pounds or so, as it turned out, long, lean and pale but otherwise very healthy- I can only assume the light colour is the result of an extended period of high water and poor water clarity.  The successful fly was one of the new zonker style patterns, in hot pink.

In all honesty, this was contrary to my expectations, because I thought Paul’s lures might trump my flies in the even murkier water. His digging out of some rattling lures seemed an especially good idea, but the bites were still not forthcoming.  And so, with only a couple of hours left to play, he tried the fly rod. Quite brave, given the tough conditions and the fact that he had never fly fished for pike before.

I spared him the trial of one of my super-sized pike flies, instead going for a 2/0 sized pike fly in silver tinsel. Bites were still scarce- and the fish ignored the form book once again. This time, we’d both been chatting about the fact that we never seem to catch many canal pike under bridges when, you guessed it, Paul hooked a lively fish right under a bridge.

tinsel pike fly
I think he was quite made up with this! And rightly so, because to catch your first pike on the fly is a great buzz on its own, but to get one in such ropey conditions ranks even better.

Overall, we had to feel pretty happy with our efforts. In fact, we had only had perhaps had five or six bites the whole day and not seen an awful lot of activity until right at the end, when there was a big swirl across the canal. Paul was quick to dispatch the flashy silver fly right on the spot and was instantly rewarded!

Hooked in mid-hunting mode, this fish seemed to be extra angry and gave an excellent display. Six, perhaps seven pounds? It really didn’t matter much, because catching any fish, let alone a couple each, would have seemed a good result.

Apart from trying tight to the bank and using bold and flashy flies, the main tip of the day seemed to be that loudly announcing “this spot/ type of feature/ method isn’t going to work” is an excellent way of bringing better luck! That’s fishing I guess- and the moral of the story is that even in pretty poor conditions, there’s always hope if you are persistent.

I could have done with a fish of even half the size of any of those pike in the first match of the 2019 league calender with the Tiverton lads the weekend before. We’d had similarly tough conditions, this time a combination of gales and hailstones.

Tiverton canal match fishing
It was fairly brutal just trying to keep the float still, in fact, and with only three or four tiny roach in the first hour I gambled on chopped worm. At least my peg had some nice near bank cover, anyway.

Not that it brought me any big result, or the hoped for jack pike. However, a succession of perch, including one slightly better one, at least took me over the pound mark and a few league points. With a busy year ahead and at least two other matches I’ll have to miss, it’s going to be a real battle to get near last season’s third place finish, it seems, although I’ll give it a bloody good go.

Other current stuff…

In other news, if you enjoy what I write there are several other interesting bits and pieces to look out for at present. For regular topical rants and stories from the bank, you can catch up with me every week in the Angling Times (check out the epic gudgeon, below, from my recent trip to London’s River Wandle recently, with Garrett Fallon), as well as in the Angling Trust’s “Lines on the Water” blog. If you’ve yet to subscribe to the latter, it really is worth signing up! Lots of interesting stories to report on from my travels, along with projects and characters guaranteed to restore a little optimism in angling!

Otherwise, I’d also strongly recommend Fallon’s Angler Issue 14 (and not just because I’m in it!). Once again, it provides some superb articles, ranging from man-sized sturgeon to piscatorial notes from Jack Perks and even an encounter with the Headhunters of Borneo, courtesy of the General.

That’s about it for now… here’s hoping the end of the season yeilds one more substaintial pike, like this recent barrel-fat mid double caught deadbait soaking on an urban river. Still time left! The fat lady hasn’t started singing quite just yet, but  hopefully she will accept a fly.

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