Massed Whiting and New Writing

After some unnerving days leading up to Christmas, it has taken a while to truly feel a bit more relaxed and put some more attention to fishing. I’ve almost lost count of the number of lateral flow tests I’ve lately done to try and avoid putting family and friends at risk. But at least I’ve been finding a use for the little dessicant sachets found in the test kits (and many of your typical Christmas gifts). These little pillows are ideal for keeping hooks, lures and other bits bone dry, hence they find their way into my lure boxes, hooklength wallets and rig packets alike:

How to stop lures hooks rusting best storage
As for the actual fishing, it’s been limited if I’m honest. Very much a case of back to low key, local trips and celebrating smaller victories. Hence this blog post is about two recent wins: some short lure fishing sessions, alongside some more great fishing books that I’ve been exploring lately (with entries from Tom Fort, H.T. Sheringham and also a new lure fishing book). Because where the heck would we be after another year of covid drudgery, without local fishing and decent books?

Species hunting on light lures

Although I’m rarely one to set concrete targets in my fishing, I have to say that one recent group event has bucked this trend for me. The “Big Lerf Winter League” is basically a straight-up challenge to see how many species can be fooled using only artificial lures in fresh and saltwater (the Facebook group is well worth joining). Run by Ben Bassett, Rich Salter and Joe Mole, it’s  a great way to keep loads of anglers fishing through the colder bits of the year, and more importantly still, keeping in touch with each other.

It’s also a godsend as a working dad, because you can add to your tally whenever time allows, even if the next chance is just a quick hour or two stopoff on a canal or pier. And so it was that I opened my account recently with a quick blast, using some leftover time on the Taunton to Bridgwater Canal and even one or two tiny ditches.

perch fishing somerset levels canal

It’s been a while since I’ve seen these venues so clear- although by the time you read this many will be brown! Obviously the cold and lack of boats had helped before heavy rain came alone. Really eye-opening, too, watching fish in still, cool conditions. A jack pike was the easiest win, smashing into a lure from nowhere. The perch are very much harder! In fact, on my last outing they were decidedly not in the mood for moving lures.

Had I not watched them at close quarters, I might have thought nothing was home in the swims that produced . But by twitching a lure ever so gently along the bottom (a tiny 2″ shad thingy on a 2g jig head) and stopping it dead, I got a couple to commit. Each time was the same- they took the lure completely static on the bottom! An obvious lesson here worth noting for anyone who fishes through the winter, anyway: never be afraid to slow right down and try stopping your lure dead.

LRF coarse fish

I even added some little rudd by using a presentation I’d only usually use in the sea; a very simple couple of squeezed split shot, followed by fine 3lb line, a size 20 hook and a minute piece of Isome. Find a shoal of rudd, give it a twitch and let everything fall and, almost without fail, a small fish would come and have a peck.

I went from zero to three species quite quickly anyway, the only slight frustration being a big shoal of bream that I couldn’t win a take from for love nor money. Even a bigger bit of Isome didn’t work. You can’t win them all I guess.

Small fish violence in “Torbados”

Torbay Torquay LRF fishing

Somewhat less straightforward was getting going in saltwater. Well, beating windy conditions and one very dominant species! It started with a sneaky “chuck a rod in the back of the car just in case” job, taking the wife and toddler out on a Sunday. I had just one hour to have a quick cast off Torquay harbour, where most of the locals seemed to be after squid (which don’t count in the winter league as they are, well…. not fish, obviously!).

The whole “Torbados” moniker feels especially daft when you’re facing icy 30mph winds. Unless they’re on spice, nobody is drinking Malibu in their pants round here. With the arctic conditions, it was probably just as well, therefore, that the bites weren’t subtle. Just about any cast with a drop shot rig or tiny metal resulted in a ravenous whiting making contact. I must have had ten in almost as many casts. A bit repetitive, but very welcome! I did also have a cheeky sea scorpion from under the wall, however, to at least come away with two species.

whiting sea scorpion LRF

Vowing a return, I then came back with Chris Lambert, a mate with a really Catholic fishing diet who I’ve really missed lately. Any angler who can fully embrace LRF fishing, even after a trip to the Canary Islands in search of massive great rays and sharks, can truly call themself an all-rounder.

Following another near lock-down scenario at home and extra work, I’d been getting severe cabin fever and badly needed to get out and fish. Doing so at night is often ideal, because it means I’m not missing work or childcare duties. Just being there with a mate, slinging out lures and eating chips was liberating enough. Although, once again, the whiting were so ravenous it was actually hard to concentrate on dinner.

We’d expected the town to be quiet with all the scares around Omicron B (even for those of us who are boosted), but far from it: panto season was running and the theatres were spilling over with kids and parents. We weren’t going to judge, but neither were we going to stick around!

Down on the front of the harbour, the wind was very light and we got plenty of bites and laughs. Not just from the whiting, but some of my hilariously named recent purchases from top LRF stockists, Chesil Bait N Tackle. Japanese products can have some funny translations at the best of times, but in lure fishing these border on the homicidal.

Who exactly names a product the “Violence Jig Nail Bomb”? Well, the Japanese, obviously. I think it tickled Chris, because for the rest of the evening we communicated like two men doing a really awful job of dubbing a samurai movie, in which every other word was “VIOLLLENNCCE!”

Japanese LRF jigs

There were silly numbers of whiting. Which were gratifying, at least for a bit. We also added the odd scorp and pouting, to at least take the species total to three for yours truly. At times, though, species hunting reminds you of being a kid trying to fill a Panini sticker album. In other words, you do alright but then keep getting stuff you’ve already got. Except you can’t swap fish with a mate.

Nor was it through any lack of finesse I seemed to be missing some extra variety. One eye-opener was that even though Chris used a size 10 hook to my 20, he caught just as much and possibly got more bites. Lots of times we got a fish each at the same time.

LRF Torquay south Devon

In fact, it was his big bit of Yellow Isome on an olivette rig that seemed to get more species than my dropshot setup. Talking of which, though, dropshot is a real session saver for any dicey conditions. As effective as split shot rigs can be, there are plenty of times when you need more weight to keep any reliable “feel” for your lures- and with drop shot, you can fish a sinker of 10g or more and still use a tiny hook and Isome.

Whatever the merits of our setups, however, it was the olivette rig that worked better for the bottom huggers, and Chris had three black gobies to my zero. Serves me right for being too stubborn to change! Even so, I packed up very happy, because you can’t grumble at a cricket score of fish in December, even if most of them are whiting.


Fishing books to look out for this winter

Other angling entertainments in the winter, of course, don’t always require extra layers or a head torch. It’s been a surprisingly good year for books, as it happens, including some old favourites and new names alike. I’ve done my best to include several highlights into the Christmas edition of the Angling Times; others, however, slipped the net or deserve a special mention. So, here we go.

Bait Finesse System Fishing (Paul Gaskell/ Fishing Discoveries)

It’s always good to see independents getting their act together on the publishing front, whether that’s the digital or dead tree variety. Paul Gaskell’s Fishing Discoveries website is always an enticing and user-friendly source of info on various fishing styles, so I was excited to see he had a new book and film project just out.

Bait Finesse Fishing Book

Granted, so Bait Finesse System Fishing doesn’t exactly roll of the tongue or scream “universal appeal”- but it’s done with a lot of love in a way that’s highly relatable. Right from the get go, it’s easy on the eye and welcoming.

In case you were wondering, Bait Finesse is a way of fishing using delicate rods with small, high-quality multiplier reels (better known as baitcasting reels to the lure fishing faithful). My first experience of it came, randomly, in New York, when I once fished with a guy who sent tiny plugs way out into Harlem Meer, confounding my lazily held idea that bait casting set ups were only good for heavy lures.

This is a way of fishing that is not only very easy on the eye (the photography of the book is gorgeous) but great fun and very versatile on any smaller waters. Not least of all the UK’s smaller rivers and canals, where it is an absolutely lovely way of fishing for perch and trout, for example.

First up, then, don’t be fooled by the technical-sounding title. Even if you’re not a lure fishing nut, the approach is easy going and unpacks a lot of the confusing stuff with a very human touch. The photography is pin-sharp, capturing the aesthetic appeal of lures and fish very strongly; and let’s face it, all lure angling addicts are suckers for sexy  lures and locations (please note all images I’ve shown in this review are the author’s copyright!).

Bait casting setup and lures

In fact, the strongest point of the book is Paul Gaskells ability to transmit the joy and culture of lure fishing without getting too bogged down by technicality. It’s only through this light touch he manages to lift quite serious topics far beyond the nitty gritty of hardware, lines and lures (although there is plenty of detail on those things!).

“It almost never comes down to dry, sterile statistics on paper when you’re dealing with fishing” writes Paul. “Satisfaction arrives for many different reasons”- and plenty of these are discussed in the book.  Whether it’s “that internal mile wide grin feeling!” or the explorer’s thrill of chancing on a new local hotspot, (“like discovering a room in your house that you never knew was there”), the book makes a specialist subject refreshingly relatable.

At so many junctures, then, the BFS reminded me of why I love not only lure fishing but the anglers who embrace it. Even as a regular fishing writer, I’d struggle to sum up the joy much better than Paul Gaskell, who describes the intimacy and immediacy of light lure fishing as well as anyone.

What comes across in spades from so many of our current community of lure fishing nuts is not a chest-beating approach, but a love of the actual process and enjoyment, whether it’s wading a small river, or sharing tips and locations with fellow anglers. On the subject of which, thus book has an all-star cast in the book from all over the globe.

I’ve said it before, but light lure fishing is an angling school with a paradox at its heart: it can be obsessively detailed and technical, but somehow retains a childish simplicity. A beautiful method on a beautiful venue is, as Gaskell puts it, “the perfect recipe for happiness”.

Ultimately, it’s not mere lures and reels, but the settings of the book that really capture the reader. We have the original stomping ground of Bait Finesse, for starters, in the fabulous snow melt streams of Japan, with beasts like white spotted char. The insight is fascinating and enlightening.

Sure, some of the talk of functional ranges, drags and drums gets pretty geeky- but for many afficianados, this stuff is also important. Never is the technical stuff dragged far from what’s relatable, either, with Paul recreating the Japanese experience pretty faithfully on British rivers (and the video elements do this really successfully as well, blending some idyllic footage with useful technical input).

Above all, then, this is a a book to take you into other cultures and worlds. We venture to Italy, the USA and beyond, with stars from the global scene and fishy adversaries from snakehead to bass.

Exciting stuff, but there is also plenty of discussion and more than a little philosophy here, whether it’s a look at angling cultures across the world, or thoughts on keeping the flame burning during lockdown.

Talking of culture, the book did make me ponder whether we are lacking a deeper angling culture and shared sense of experience in the UK. Strangely, social media has promised to connect people whilst also making many of them more judgmental and insular than ever.

When you look at the angling culture in Japan, or indeed Scandinavia, the difference is vast. It’s not just about shouting across a lake to wind up Dave and Gary on the other bank, but treating angling like a shared ritual, whether that’s exploring a wild river with friends, or cooking a part-foraged meal on the bank. This is partly why the growing lure fishing scene in the UK gives me hope, because it’s a movement that builds on this shared culture and generosity of spirit.

Whether you are an occasional lure angler or an obsessive, therefore, Bait Finesse System Fishing is an enjoyable trip that’s well worth a look.  The deal includes not only a book, but exclusive video content and a lot for your money.

While an early print run ran out, the good news is that more stock is on the way very shortly for January 13th. Find out more and order your copy HERE.

H.T Sheringham and Tom Fort: New editions of old favourites

H T Sheringham Tom Fort Fishing books

Moving on to some more classic angling in paperback, there are also two recently reissued books well worth a read from Merlin Unwin, both at £14.99. Separated by many decades in angling history, there are nonetheless some key parallels, in fact, between Tom Fort and H.T. Sheringham.

Both, for one thing, reject the traditional snobbery of their peers by embracing all fish species and schools of fishing. Looking at Tom Fort’s collection first, this is readily apparent as he describes winter pike fishing with as much relish as flicking a fly out on an English chalk stream.

Game anglers and Fallon’s Angler readers will already know Tom Fort, but I still feel The Incomplete Angler deserves wider recognition with the broader coarse angling fraternity, as his take on fishing is not only broad but consitently entertaining. The title alone betrays the author’s modesty and mixed fortunes, but is perhaps misleading as this is so much more than a bunch of funny stories about fishing.

Where I found it especially captivating was in the travel writing, with journeys all over Eastern Europe and beyond taking the reader into incredible nether worlds of angling. So many of the trips are littered with funny details, mishaps and characters- and the long and crooked road to success! From horrendous German tourists to the backwoods of Poland and Hungary, it’s all there in grisly, hilarious detail.

Indeed, The Far From Compleat Angler is the perfect antidote to those dozens of know-it-all type books, where seemingly every plan results in success. On this evidence, at least, failure is not only a universal human experience, but infinitely more funny and revealing. In short, this is a brilliant read in so many ways and the sort of book any angler with half a brain is sure to enjoy immensely.

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As for H.T. Sheringham’s An Angler for All Seasons, you might say the author needs little introduction as one of the true greats of angling writing. But if only that was true, because so many of us have never ventured far beyond his better known quotes and the odd compilation. This book, then, is especially welcome as a kind of “greatest hits” album for a classic writer who has aged better than most of them.

Indeed, the more you learn about this giant of early 20th century fishing, the more fascinating and eerily contemporary he becomes. Far from being a self-proclaimed expert, Sheringham fell into angling writing almost by accident and only became more heavily involved with the likes of The Field at the persuasion of friends.

Most impressive of all, however, is his originality of thought and bravery in diverging from the socially conservative attitudes of his times. While fly and game fish only snobs were in their heyday at the time, here was a man who openly embraced coarse fish and a more democratic approach to angling. He waxes just as lyrical, for example about canal tench or chub on the fly as any textbook game fishing experience.

Nor was Sheringham one for the “private members only” fly club. A socialist at heart, he saw angling as a national treasure house that everyone should be at liberty to share. In this respect was well ahead of his time, although I wonder what he would make of today’s world of four-figure syndicates and online willy waving! Perhaps it’s Sheringham’s generous, progressive values and love of all fishing beyond arbitrary confines that makes his writing still fresh and relevant today, so many decades after his contemporaries slipped into rarified obsolescence?

Of particular pleasure are his tales of youth, coloured less by any spectacular success so much as the excitement of skiving off to fish forbidden and forgotten backwaters. You also sense he was ahead of his time in terms of being modest, realistic and perhaps even confessional in his adventures. There is trial and tribulation besides accomplishment- and for this reason he is so much more entertaining than the time-honoured angling braggard.

You can hardly suppress a chuckle at his big carp story, for example, in which he openly confesses to being supremely lucky and describes his reluctance to go press (carp angling gods of Instagram take note!).

As a Westcountry angler, I also loved his evocative look at venues such as Blagdon and the River Exe. In fact, his trip to Dulverton and roving the streams of Exmoor is especially captivating, and perhaps typical of how fishing has both changed beyond recognition but also stayed exactly the same when it comes to the feelings of excitement and escape that every true angler has at heart.

Even if the writing of Sheringham is completely new to you, then, you couldn’t go too far wrong with this great compilation of classic stories from one of angling’s most accessible greats.

E-Books at Just £4.99