There are not many pastimes as varied as fishing. It’s not just the locations and the species, but the difficulty setting that is infinitely varied. If football was like this, one week would be 0-0 and the next 17-6. That’s probably a good thing. It means that the same sport can offer quite rapid success to a complete beginner, but also give the confirmed “lifer” a weighty challenge. This late summer has taken me close to both extremes!
Quick bites in the sea
One of the absolute joys of living in Devon is the sheer variety of sea fishing and its close proximity. I only wish I’d had a bit more time and freedom this summer, but short sessions can be rewarding enough, even in highly public locations.
Family days out in Exmouth, Dawlish Warren and Budleigh have all produced fish in as little as an hour-long session (I don’t push my luck too far!). This usually leaves me enough time to at least sink a beer, take 37 photos for the wife (yawn) and bury my daughter in the sand… which sounds like the sort of thing a convict would say but she asks me to do this and laughs her little head off.
For those limited to mostly short fishing sessions, though, the best sea tip of all is scale right down! The surest way to blank is to put on a big lure or large, baited hook. Go down to small lures and hooks and you have infinitely more chance of some fun. On that note, my go to lures this summer have been various metals of 5-20g. A cinch to fish, they cast miles on light gear (I’ve been using a 5-15g rod, 12lb braid and 10lb Fluoro leader- which is a bit heavier than LRF kit, but means I win more arguments against snags and the odd bigger fish).
On my local beaches, what I’m looking for first is sandeels and other fodder. It’s amazing how even an area with swimmers has plenty of these- and the predators that follow them. By no stretch is this big bass land, but they are surprisingly tolerant of swimmers and paddleboards. More often than not I contact a “schoolie” or two and boy are they wonderful fish on the light gear.
With shingle and steeper beaches, I seem to find less bass and more mackerel- while pretty much everywhere I find shallow sand there is another customer: Jackie Weever! In fact, every time I employ another favourite trick- tipping a metal with a bit of Isome worm to bump the bottom- I seem to catch weever without fail. My goodness, these buggers are rife on popular swimming beaches and it is an utter wonder that A) so many beachgoers go barefoot and B) these same people don’t get spiked more often!
Call me a fish nerd, but I find these creatures really cool. Just check out their perfect camouflage jacket. Now, look at the froggy face, big mouth and, oh my, that dorsal fin… the blackest of jet black and more poisonous than the government. One or two onlookers suggested I might not want to put them back. Here’s a better idea: Put some appropriate footwear on, unless you want a ticket to Pain Central!
Better on the bass than mullet…
My other travails in salty and semi-salty water lately have been a lot more mixed, to put it politely. In better news, I have finally got a bit more proficient at getting bass to nab surface-busting lures! Huzzah! I say a bit, because I have had some fairly ambitious and blank-tastic trips along the way. It takes something of a leap of faith to chuck really big floating lures into the surf, especially when most of your life you’ve caught bass on baits and lures that most definitely sink. My catches are getting a bit better anyway! To the sort of size you could just about keep- in theory at least, because mine all go back.
You can read a fuller match report on this exciting method for catching bass in the Angling Times shortly, along with some similarly testing struggles for mullet. Readers of Crooked Lines will know my feelings on thin-lips and thick-lips (or “tw**ts and “****ers” as I classify them) and the skulduggery required to tempt them.
One thing I do know is that if you suck at something, it’s a good idea to hang out with a more experienced practitioner- in this case Rodney Wevill. Watch this space for some awesome video content from John Deprieelle Turrall Flies, which is sure to provide some tips and inspiration for your own crusade against these maddening fish.
From tradition to heresy!
As we come into autumn, I’ve also been dabbling with some more traditional species and approaches in freshwater. Elderberries are one bait I swear by in September- and the last of them are still in the bushes now if you’re extra quick!
They sink very slowly and are easy to fish. Feed them little and often and you will quickly get fish coming up to eat. A slow sinking rig is all you need- and the chances are you will catch most set at no more than 2 feet.
I had an absolutely blissful three hours or so at Goodiford Mill doing exactly this recently- it was a decent roach a chuck for a while and the only slight obstacle was marauding carp! Every so often there would be a bulge in the swim before about half a mile of elastic ripped out of the pole. All good fun, I guess.
The other very late summer highlight has been showing more guided guests the pleasures of fly fishing for coarse fish on the canals and drains of Devon and Somerset. We have some wonderfully clear waters with excellent fly hatches, it must be said- even if there’s barely a trout in sight on such venues as the River Tone and Grand Western Canal.
The hot weather doesn’t always make for easy fishing, however. The fish can be somewhat lethargic in the heat – while you’ll need a long rod and net handle, along with a willingness to get stuck into the bushy areas.
Lawrence Heaton-Wright, my last visitor, found the chub quite infuriating but more than made up for this with some wonderful silverfish sport, including a sublime pound-plus rudd. The best fly on the day was a glass-beaded spider, which gave just a slightly faster sink rate to get past the pip-squeaks and yet not fall so fast it ended up mired in the weed. Good angling- and in kinder conditions, he’d have had a cricket score of chub to join his beautiful rudd.
Peter Nightingale also joined me earlier in the month but chose to focus on the chub, which demanded some persistence and rather smaller flies than usual. Quite often, even in autumn, they will take a big dry fly. But whether they’ve seen a bit of hammer from summer crowds or are just a bit lethargic of late, it was a slightly smaller, darker fly that tended to work best- either a Flying Ant or a Chopper did best, with a brace of pound-plus fish the pick of a tricky bunch. The other trick that sometimes made a difference was to give the fly a quick “skate” as it got close to the target. Strange how the very thing that might send fish packing does the trick the very next trip.
Should you have any questions about this style of fishing, or wish to book a day’s guiding, by all means, get in touch via my contact page or email email@example.com
Otherwise, I wish you happy fishing this autumn and persistence in your challenges. A good angler never blanks, after all, they just run out of time!
Don’t forget- you can read all sorts of news and articles and my “Last Cast” column every week in the Angling Times. Or, if you enjoy this blog, do treat yourself to one of my books. These start at just a tenner for Crooked Lines which is an illustrated collection of 24 fishing stories sure to appeal to all angling tastes.