After a soaking wet end to summer, it’s been more of the same for autumn with rivers bursting their banks and several cancelled trips. Not that we should be too surprised, because this seems to be the pattern every year now.
As an angler, you have to pick your battles with care! Having canal fishing nearby is a godsend, while even the purist might start to appreciate day-ticket lakes and other settled venues. The alternative is often no fishing at all.
Sea fishing has also provided some fun, though. Making the most of short sessions and brief windows of settled weather, I’ve managed to get out a few times. I had a lovely surprise October session when the beach was swarming with garfish on a family day out, a small spoon doing the job.
while bass fishing has been hit and miss I also managed a lure caught three-pounder from a rocky cove, largely thanks to tagging along with my mate Toby Clayton- who had one at least a pound better. The main lesson has been to pick your moment- and not to be put off if the sea is rougher or more coloured than you’d hoped! I never used to bass fish much beyond September, but perhaps it’s time for a rethink?
Mercifully, the pike season has kicked off successfully (more on this below!) and the canals, especially, have been in decent form. Right now, however, looking at the weather warnings that have buggered up tomorrow’s grayling trip, it’s probably good timing to take a look at some new fishing books.
Song of the Streams by Michelle Werrett
In a year pretty thin on angling books, what a welcome surprise arrived this month. As someone who loves exploring and fly fishing on Exmoor, Song of the Streams seemed like a must-have. Recently published by the Medlar Press, it’s an engrossing ramble across dozens of Exmoor rivers, from the Lyn and Exe to their tiniest, lesser-known tributaries.
The first thing that impresses you is the author’s easy-flowing style and deep connection with the land and water. It is beautifully written, as Fallon’s Angler readers will expect from her work there. The descriptions are as clear and sparkling as the streams themselves, so evocative but refreshingly free of pretence or wordiness for its own sake. Budding angling writers please take note!
The groundwork itself is startling, given the many streams that make up this beautiful corner of England. I must admit, there were waters I’d never heard of, even as a local. Werrett hops between adventures in the here and now, and a real treasure trove of lost history, ranging from classic literature to local folklore, and even the guestbooks of forgotten hotels.
“An hour on a river is a glimpse of heaven” she writes, and we are reminded exactly why. Besides revelling in today’s streams, she also revives a world that is sadly faded, or in danger of disappearing because of human interference. From river monitoring to the spread of invasive species, the book is also an impassioned plea for us all to reconnect and consider our impact on nature.
Does today’s Exmoor pale by comparison to the past? Some accounts of yesteryear fishing might make you wish you had a time machine, admittedly. Fancy getting to the river by carriage, before catching a hundred trout in a day?! Was this possible, even in a simpler age? Or have anglers always been liberal with the truth?
Actually, I much prefer Michelle’s accounts of fishing, which are as relatable as anything I’ve read in a long time. The cricket scores of trout have gone the same way as their Victorian braggarts, but here is an angler who really knows how to savour every rise and glimpse of beauty. And the odd bit of chocolate, which is “the new smoking” to the author!
I found Song of the Streams so captivating, it made me long for the spring. Looking out of my window, next season feels almost as distant as the days when country gents flew around Devon’s backroads by horse and trap! Until next season, though, at least I have this magical book.
Disturbing the Water by Peter Wise
Given angling’s penchant for isolated locations and superstition, it’s perhaps surprising that this is the first book of fishing ghost stories I’ve ever found. Anyone who has ever night fished will have had a few moments when their heart froze. In my case, it’s when mating foxes make a god-awful racket or a rodent makes you jump (anyone else had a vole actually try and climb up their trouser leg?).
It’s a damned shame that M.R. James wasn’t an angler, I’ll say that much. But here, at long last is a serious attempt at some thrills and chills in an angling context. Top marks for inventiveness, too. Peter Wise has taken plenty of artistic licence to come up with an entertainingly mixed catch, ranging from a haunted estate lake to wreck fishing antics over a cursed German U-boat.
I enjoyed all the stories here, which range from genuinely creepy to supremely hammed up. The set-up alone to many of them is great fun. When did you last hear about a haunted cased pike, or a giant carp putting an angler in mortal danger, for instance?
Most of the tales have the classic morality of your time-honoured ghost story. Woe betide those who are rude to the local guide, ignore warning signs or dismiss the supernatural!
Other tales in the collection have more of a contemporary twist, however, such as Lost and Found. In this yarn, which I found the most moving of the collection, Romanian immigrant Pavel encounters a ghostly mother and child who bring up painful echoes of his own abandonment. And yet the story is redemptive as well as genuinely chilling.
All in all, Disturbing the Water is a valiant attempt to take angling into the supernatural chiller genre- not an easy thing to do by any stretch. Furthermore, the stories are a perfect length to dip into at will. In fact, should you have steady nerves, this would be a great book to take night fishing with you!
Floody marvellous coarse fishing…
Finally, should you be keen (or desperate!) enough to get out while the rain is coming thick and fast, you could do worse than to head for the canals right now. The two I rate most highly of all in the South West are the Taunton to Bridgwater Canal and Tiverton Canal. Exeter Canal has bigger fish, it’s true, but is a lot slower going.
I had the great pleasure of hosting two friends, Sal Momen and Mark Peacock, just last week on the “Tivvy” for a mixed session that well and truly defied the elements. The two mixed and matched tactics for plenty of bites. Sal was keen to catch roach, which are a wonderful option in so much of this canal- but especially the rural bits well away from the Tiverton end of the canal. I seldom see anyone fishing for these cracking fish on the cut, but by roving and fishing several spots in a day, you will almost always find some proper “net” fish.
Usually, bread would be my first line of attack, but with lots of extra water and colour, maggot over groundbait seemed the best option. One great tip here is to be really fussy about plumbing the depth! The difference between “that’ll do” and just about kissing the bottom can be huge- and the better fish often bite gently.
Meanwhile, Mark had to wait a bit for his pike, but what an absolute cracker it was! Curiously, the fish didn’t come from a very obvious “hotspot” – the only marker being a shoal of roach nearby. How about this for your first pike, at ten pounds? It fought like fury- but Mark held his nerve well.
Even more importantly, he successfully got to grips with handling and unhooking these fragile fish. I cannot stress how vital it is to be close to your rods and to hit runs early. In this case the hooks fell out in the net- a sure sign of good bite indication and a prompt strike! He added several others later in the day, too, a worthy reward for covering a lot of water.
Should you fancy a day’s guided pike fishing, do hit the link in the menu bar above- lots of options. If it’s fly fishing you like best, I’m also hosting an Orvis pike day shortly.
Hopefully, things will settle shortly and the rivers will be another option. There’s a big grayling with my name on it somewhere! In the meantime, though, don’t forget you can catch my column and regular features in the Angling Times every week.
I’ve also penned a new piece for the Turrall Flies Blog, out very soon. My topic here is winter fly fishing and fly tying with spider style patterns- including some great patterns and a useful tactic for stillwater rainbows in winter!
Tight lines and stay dry.