While fishing can be a solitary pursuit, there are certainly methods where you cover more water and have more fun in good company. So, after a sedentary and completely biteless previous session on Exeter
Shit Ship Canal I was raring to stretch my legs and enjoy some more active fishing this week. And with some friends also keen to try for some pike on the fly I couldn’t think of anywhere more pleasant than the Grand Western Canal.
The hope of a bit more consistency was also a clincher, it must be said. After all, generally iffy pike fishing has been the story of this season so far. It took bloody hours just to get one fish for the camera, during recent filming with John Deprieelle (which you can watch on YouTube). Indeed, when conditions aren’t ideal, a water full of pint-sized “jacks” is preferable to a ball-breaker of a venue. If I wanted desolation every week, I could just watch Eastenders or Waiting for Godot.
Simon Jefferies and Gary Pearson from Turrall Flies met me for a chilly, early start at barely light o’clock. Also joining us was Chris Guest, an Exmoor guide who also fancied a shot at some pike. Having just returned from a bone fish trip, a freezing “Tivvy” canal could not have been a greater contrast!
I’d told them that first light would probably be the key time to fish. As a general rule it’s one I’d stand by, but on this occasion I was completely wrong.
We fished the famous Greenways section first, to no avail, before heading the other direction; but by 10am we were still fishless. Baffling really, but it had been a very cold night. In such circumstances, you can’t make the fish hungry. So, other than keep trying, what can you really do?
Going either very large and bright or scaling right down are two approaches that can sometimes work for fussy pike. I tried the former approach, with a big and bright fly, first (chartreuse or hot pink take some beating in the provocation stakes!). Sometimes I could swear you have to “irritate” a pike into reacting.
A couple of jacks certainly couldn’t resist having a look, but they were just window shopping, like penniless kids looking at sweets they couldn’t afford. Chris had been the only one to get a proper whack on the line, which was about the only encouragement we’d had, with the possible exception of a nip from the hipflask.
With no further interest and the water clarity getting a bit muddier , I tried something that has served me well in the past for pike: a smaller, darker fly (my own black and UV pattern, the “Black Beast”). I also experiment with retrieves when the going is poor; sometimes I like slowing right down- while still injecting a few sudden bursts of life here and there. The fly looked right to me, anyway, and was delightfully easy to cast compared to some of the other monsters.
Just as the water cleared again, I got that first proper hit. Funny how these zones where colours change tend to produce. It was a lovely, solid bite, too, and a very lively fish. Even at no larger than three to four pounds it fought well on the fly rod and was very welcome after the previous biteless hours. Another, smaller fish soon followed, also on the black fly. Interestingly, both fish took right down the dead centre of the canal.
Would it be a change of fortunes, then, or just a false dawn? Gary soon got off the mark with a small pike, but that was it for another hour or so. A little frustrating, but we shared plenty of laughs along the way, catching trees and exchanging banter.
It was only after another move, to semi-urban reaches, that things picked up again and we appeared to hit a little feeding spell. All of a sudden, it was on. Fly choice didn’t seem as important- although bright and shocking pink seemed as good as anything else. The hits and follows continued- and Chris soon broke his duck with a pretty (and thrashy!) jack.
As a pike angler who’s caught some big fish from the Bristol Avon, I had wondered how he would take to the pint-sized waters of the “Tivvy”. He loved the fly fishing and the setting though- it’s not a venue for specimen pike and general willy waving, but is irresistably scenic and intimate fishing.
Who’s turn would it be next? The tension was mounting. Would everyone catch? Would we see one of the canal’s true sharks (of all of five pounds or more)? And would Gary succeed in beating his Tivvy PB of about a pound and a half?
The answer to the last question was no! Gary is an excellent fly angler and a former international no less; but Devon’s little pencil pike just can’t get enough of his flies it seems. But hey, a fish is a fish. Simon got off the mark, too, with two in quick succession on a horrendously loud pink fly. Yes, it was bigger than Gary’s. And yes, predictably, he might have reminded him of this.
Talk about famine to feast. After a pretty sketchy morning, it all turned round and it was as if someone had flicked a switch. That’s pike fishing, I guess. Feeding spells can be intense, but they can also be short and are not always straightforward to predict. This is perhaps what keeps us coming back- and it’s the slow bits that make the hits even more gratifying.
As things slowed again, it felt like an appropriate point to stop and move to one final spot; this time to The Globe Inn, Sampford Peverell! The pint of Dartmoor IPA tasted beautiful. So did my slab of homemade pie. All was right with the world again. Well, until we got to discussing fisheries, conservation and Brexit. That, and the mystery of why hordes of small pike have an uncanny attraction to Gary. Even with the benefit of IPA, I cannot answer that one… revenge will no doubt be his, eventually.
Further details, pike flies and other bits…
Apart from the necessity of packing some flies in black and shocking pink, and stopping at The Globe for a Dartmoor IPA, there are also some quick things to remember if you’re headed for the Grand Western or Tiverton Canal this winter.
One is to grab a day ticket from Culm Valley Angling, just off the Cullompton Junction of the M5. These are only £6 and, yes, are regularly checked- (I am one of several club bailiffs). You should also debarb hooks and bring an unhooking mat. These might be mostly fun-sized pike, but they deserve respect, especially with the spike in interest in pike fishing these days.
Should you want some suitably smaller-sized, easy to cast pike flies that are spot on for the cut, you can find three for just £8 in my online shop. If you fancy some entertaining reading you’ll also find my two most recent books: Crooked Lines (under £10 currently including postage!!) and there are still just a few copies of the hardback Tangles with Pike (£14.99) left. Talking of ruthless predators, Amazon also have them as both regular and Kindle e-books.
In other news, do keep an eye on my Angling Trust “Lines on the Water Blog” (linesonthewater.anglingtrust.net) which has loads of lively content and coverage of some truly uplifting projects across the UK (yes, it’s not all Brexit, otters and awful weather). And, of course, there’s also the Angling Times, where you can catch further adventures and talking points each and every week in my column The Far Bank.
In the meantime, I’d better get tying rigs up for the Tiverton Christmas match. Here’s to a hot peg and one of those ridicuously generous baskets of food from the prize table, so I can spend the festive period happy, drunk and fat.
Tight lines for now and be excellent to each other.