From Canal to Coast

One of the joys of every season as an angler is that, without fail, something completely new or unexpected will happen. Whether it’s the realisation of a long-held dream, a random twist or a stroke of pure luck, fishing keeps us guessing. Just when you think a pattern is emerging or we’re in a spell of good or ill fortune, fate will do a somersault.

One of the great fascinations, for me at least, is that even waters that seem as familiar and  “known” as your back yard can turn up a big surprise. Such has been the case with my fly fishing for rudd on the Taunton to Bridgwater and Tiverton Canals. Isn’t it strange that you can explore for over a decade and suddenly unearth a pod of fish beyond your wildest dreams?

Angling Times cover 2022

As you can imagine, I’m stoked to have made the cover of Angling Times, some twelve years after I first wrote for them, with a large rudd caught on a Jungle Cock Black and Peacock Spider. Most crazily of all, the 2lbs 3oz fish that made the cover wasn’t even the biggest, as I had another of 2lbs 10oz to set a new PB just a few casts later!

Fly fishing for specimen Rudd coarse Dom Garnett
What I don’t want to do here is the usual social media thing of parading a large fish as if it was instant and effortless. The reality is that I’ve been exploring these waters with a fly rod for many years. What’s beguiling is that just when you think there’s no more potential, everything is blown out of the water. This is the magic of fishing and, as the saying goes, the more effort you put in the luckier you get.

I’m not going to spill all the beans with catch details and techy bits here, because you’ll be able to read a special in-depth feature shortly in Flyfishing and Fly Tying magazine. Take a squint at previous blog posts or my book Flyfishing for Coarse Fish and you’ll also get plenty of advice for these wonderful fish. Not that large rudd have been the only surprise so far this summer.

Light lure fishing for bass, wrasse and other surprises

Talking of new finds from old spots, I’ve been back at the saltwater these last few weeks. With all sorts going on with family and work, short sessions have been a godsend and I love the fact that I can set up at home, fit everything I need in a tiny bag and get going within seconds of getting to any beach or harbour.

As technical as this fishing can get, LRF gear is also something you could give to an angler of any age- hence John Garnett has been trying drop-shotting at the tender age of 78! The going wasn’t great at Meadfoot Beach, Torbay, with dad and my Uncle Dennis, but we loved the scenery- and thanks to lighter lures and some weedless presentations, we at least got some wrasse.

LRF torbay Ballan wrasse sea fishing lures LRF

As we approach mid-summer, another enjoyable aspect is wet wading. All this needs is some kayak shoes (perfect for stopping sand and grit getting under your feet), swimming shorts and all your gear in a fly vest to keep it high, dry and to hand. Most recently, I’ve had some great fun on sandy beaches that also go down well with the family. It’s funny- I’ve yomped to some really rocky, remote bass spots in my time, but probably overlooked some far easier locations that held plenty of fish- albeit smaller on average.

My last trip was a big lesson in “matching the hatch” it must be said. One of my big goals for the summer is to catch a 4lbs+ bass on a topwater lure, for the sheer thrill of it, but so often in sunny, shallow water I suspect they want something smaller.

Last time out, it certainly felt like small and slim was what they wanted, as big Patchinkos and poppers were refused. Hordes of sandeels at my feet soon told me it was time for a switch. Within half a dozen casts with an 11g Savage Gear line-thru sandeel (I’m no brand loyalist, but poached a couple in a recent sale!), I then saw a flash of silver ghosting after the lure.

Another couple of casts and I hooked a fish that felt really spirited but came adrift. I was still cursing when I got another whack and this time I got a small bass. Even at this size the fish fight gamely- and I do love fairly light gear. I see little point in going below 20lb braid and an abrasion resistant 15lb leader, but tend to use rods in the 5-20g bracket, only stepping up if I’m fishing snaggy ground.

School bass Devon

Annoyingly, the bass seemed to feed in a half-hour flurry, before disappearing just as I fancied my chances of a better one. However, I then decided to experiment after startling a flounder while wading. Might a flattie take my hard sandeel lure if I fished it stop-start along the bottom?

After several casts, I thought I’d nailed it as I hooked what felt like a small, angry waddling something. Alas, I was totally wrong, because up came a mean-looking lesser weaver! I’ve had these fish on tiny jigged bits of Isome before, but never on a 4” hard bait. It just shows how deadly and capable of devouring outsized prey these sea fish are!

Lesser weaver LRF fishing

Talking of deadly, he also flipped up his poisonous jet-black dorsal fin, making me grateful I’d packed long-nosed forceps! I’m not sure I’d want to swim here without footwear. Sadly, I didn’t get a great picture, because Mr Weaver burrowed his way into wet sand in the blink of an eye.

So far, then, in spite of nothing earth-shattering, I’ve had plenty of variety at sea, including gobies, pollack and even a ridiculously cute and tiny flatfish which was spotted and caught with a fine-meshed net in Plymouth! Great fun, but I cannot wait to get out on the kayak again for some bigger stuff, because I find it unbeatable for getting to better wrasse and bass.

Tiny flatfish sea angling Devon


Devon fly fishing lessons and wild trout

 Last but not least, it has also been a great summer so far for trout fishing. I’ve already been busy showing several anglers the ropes with river fly fishing tuition in Devon and Somerset- and you simply cannot beat that buzz of catching your first “wildie” on the fly!

Ben Thompson was a great example, who was one of a few anglers I co-hosted with my friend and fellow river enthusiast Neil Keep. Ben had a little previous casting experience, having practiced years ago as a kid, but never fly fished a river for trout before, so it was going to be a steep learning curve on the River Otter.

River Otter Fly fishng Devon

From approaching fish stealthily, to avoiding trees and reading the water, we covered a lot in just a few hours. We were soon getting rises, too, but in typical style the smaller trout gave rapid hits and we missed several!  When an angler is creating chances, however, you just know it will only be a matter of time before they take one. It’s a bit like watching a forward on the football pitch- if they’re getting in the right places and making chances, you know they’ll score sooner or later.
fly fishing lessons tuition East Devon Exeter

Most critical of all on this occasion was finding the busy or broken water in low conditions- and getting the approach right in terms of getting close enough to cover the fish but not so close we sent them packing. And what a superb catch to open your trout fishing account! This one bent the four-weight double and leapt like a miniature salmon. Mission accomplished- and to prove it was no fluke, Ben soon added another.

The diary is already full for July, but by all means check out my guided fishing experiences page if you’d like to explore some fly fishing in Devon and Somerset, or indeed any of the angling styles you see on this blog. These days, I spend almost as much time taking folks float fishing, casting flies at coarse fish and even some sea fishing.


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