So much has happened in the past few weeks I am unsure where to start. Having got married in England, I had a second celebration in Poland last week. The weather was baking hot, and we had a wild time, going into the early hours with beer and vodka and songs.
Hung over and a little jet-lagged returning to England, the travels have continued too. I’ve been up into Somerset and into the midlands for the Pike Angler’s Club Convention, with semi urban places both closer to home and more obscure. The chub have been the real late season revelation. I’ve had lots on the River Tone, but if anything the Taunton to Bridgwater Canal has the bigger stamp of fish. This one went a little over four pounds and accepted a drowned terrestrial fly.
Meanwhile, the rudd and trout have not disappointed either. I also ran into one of those brilliant, weird souls you chance upon now and again. Chris “Hawk” is a curious old eco warrior, with more than a few tales to tell.
We had a good chuckle at the state of the world on the riverbank, where he distracted me fairly successfully from the task of catching trout.
Chris has a hat full of badges, the world over his shoulder and a jacket weathered with the cause, the beginnings and endings of countless pub debates hanging like smoke. And the twang of Devon and the road.
There are fishing conspiracies too, stories of skate and sea trout and bass. He is an actual druid, a church verger and a protester of several decades, once listed as a criminal for his uncompromising position on the environment. He speaks of current projects, the good and the bad old days. But none of this is helping me catch trout.
I nod and miss another take in tumbling water, yards from where the river ceases to be a wild stream and becomes a world of dogs and children and bored townsfolk. Perhaps this is why I love the nutters. We’re also distracted by the dippers, talk of kingfishers and even an old woodpecker’s nest in a fallen tree.
Of course, he knows where there are some bigger trout too. They always do. Upstream the river weaves and tightens. Little fish skitter away in thin, sandy water. But by the next bridge is a deeper pool with better push of water, where a tree casts shadows and a small weir starts.
A Deer Hair Caddis flicked into the corner has the desired effect almost immediately as a shoulder turns and the fly disappears at a gulp. It fights hard in the deep water too, sailing right under the bridge, a fit bright fish.
Back in Somerset, some of the smaller drains have been well worth a look too, before the temperatures cool and the fish go down. The roach, rudd and huybrids have been hungry and willing takers, and knowing where the big rudd are likely to be, I’ve been scaling up my flies to a size 12 or even a 10 with my favoured soft hackled flies. Because while my general advice to simply catch fish is to try nymphs in the size 16-18 bracket, it’s easy to pull a tiny fly straight out of a tiny mouth on the strike. Wide gaped hooks are good for the job.
I also step up tackle slightly with these bigger flies. A chub is always a possibility, or a hybrid (above, caught on a Black Spider) while a big rudd can easily break a fine tippet if he weeds you up. Modern copylmer lines are brilliant for giving a fine presentation without compromising on strength. I like a 4lb tippet, but will go up to 6lbs if it’s snaggy and there is the chance of a good chub or perch. My ten foot four weight rod handles them all, although it’s not the best for casting heavier streamers for perch fishing.
It was addictive, infuriating fishing in the end. The water clarity was just a little too dirty to sight fish effectively. At some periods I could see shoals of good rudd but they were keeping low and it was difficult to track the fly. I dug out some beaded spiders in the end, but it was still a game of anticipation, casting the nymph well ahead of the shoal and watching each passing rudd to turn or rise and gobble.
They are such game fighters on light tackle. Not outrageously fast, but broad sided and energetic fish. I just cannot quite break the two-pound barrier, but caught three fish all of over the pound and a half mark, to 1lb 11oz.
Otherwise, I’ve also been on the road at the Pike Anglers Club Convention, as a guest speaker and with my usual table of books, flies and other things. One fellow bookworm I meet at several of these events is Chris Quinn. He’s a real magpie when it comes to fishing books and owns well over two thousand, collecting them incessantly. He has all of my books, signed and, well, in beautiful condition. He doesn’t read all of the books, because they must be kept in excellent condition, so I should take it as a compliment that he has read Crooked Lines.
And if the truth be told, I am a bit of a bookworm too. I just don’t always get the time, but have been happy to see Merlin Unwin Books again lately. A month ago they were celebrating their 25th Anniversary and so I’ve been only too happy to meet old friends like Theo Pike, and new alike, such as Laurence Catlow.
The Healing Stream is Catlow’s homage to the Rivers Wharfe and Eden, and a life spent both finding and failing to find contentment. It has a rare confessional quality to it, delving into many of the places fishing writers don’t usually tread. Indeed, beyond well-rendered days from Catlow’s best loved rivers, there is a darker narrative of breakdown. It’s about a man’s loss and recovery, spanning decades along running water. And it’s both bleak and beautiful.
The anecdotes from many years fishing are keenly set down and highly entertaining. There are also some interesting thoughts and terse wisdom on flies and techniques. It ranges from lyrical to gut-wrenchingly frank, and sometimes argumentative in the best possible sense . Indeed, I didn’t agree with all of Catlow’s viewpoints. For example, I get the distinct feeling he considers fishing with streamers and gold beaded flies, both methods I use, as heathen as it gets. But he is not a traditional stick-in-the-mud and also goes into rich detail on traditional worming methods, which I found fascinating and quite unexpected. His discussions on catch and release ethics and other topics similarly lively and although I get the feeling we could have quite a long pub debate, I continued to find the author not only eloquent, but likable.
Suffice to say then, The Healing Stream has plenty to both satisfy and challenge any reflective fly fisher. However, it is the darker and more personal side that really sets the book aside. It’s about the river’s permanence alongside the short, fallible span of human life. It is a forthright account of Catlow’s struggles with the bottle, faith and the flow of his whole life. Sometimes uncomfortable but often revealing, I found no shortage of interesting counterpoints, some beautiful prose and plenty to ponder.
Nymphing the New Way: French Leader Fishing for Trout (Jonathan White) is the other current fly fishing release from Merlin Unwin Books and could not be a more different proposition. This is a detailed, excellently illustrated guide to French Leader techniques- or in plain English, the art of fishing with super long leaders. I’m not sure Mr Catlow would approve, but for so many of us interested to see how these methods are used to catch some huge trout and grayling in difficult rivers, this looks a fine book.
It is technically thorough, but lifted from being a very dry topic by beautiful photography, some interesting chapters in fly fishing history and the direct input from several very talented anglers from around the globe, including young England International Oscar Boatfield and others from America to Eastern Europe. Indeed, the little chapters with tips, flies and thoughts from a handful of different anglers at the end are pithy, inspiring and my favourite part of the book.
Will it alter my own fishing? Time will tell. My own local streams are often very small and suited to short leaders, but I will devour the tactics for waters such as the Wye, Lower Exe and Usk. In fact, it is a good shot in the arm for anyone who fishes larger rivers, especially where sport is tough.
Strange really, that I often swear by a long leader on stillwaters, but am considerably less brave on running waters. The French Leader technique is something I intend to try more often after reading this book. The information is incredibly thorough but there are also some inspiring fishing stories and useful bits, from leader construction diagrams to tips on fly fishing for grayling, large trout and even carp. Refreshingly varied and well worth a look for any fly angler I’d say.
Both titles are available from www.merlinunwin.co.uk