From Rubbish Days to Red Letter Fishing

The past few weeks have shown real extremes of form and fortune across the waters I’ve fished. Life has thrown a lot of complications my way recently too, hence the gap between blogs.  But I don’t want to bore you with all that stuff here. Suffice to say, it has been a while since I had a real red-letter day. In fact, the last hatful of trips have been the type of days that make you curse. We all have these sessions I guess, it’s just that you seldom read about them because they get conveniently left out.

I’ve had such a crummy fortnight or so that I’m almost starting to run out of the classic angling excuses at the moment. You know most of them already. Immigrants nicked all the fish. It’s too hot. The moon phase was all wrong. Otters have messed up the entire river. Actually, I hear from closely guarded sources that this is to be the next subject for six-inch military hardman “The General” in Fallon’s Angler Issue 12, out in around a fortnight. Both sides of the debate are parodied and I’m already expecting some backlash; but stuff it, because if we can’t laugh at ourselves we really are lost. And if it takes a 20p car boot sale army man and a plastic otter to get a bit of perspective and some humour into the deal, so be it.

fishing with the general
The General discusses “the otter problem” in Fallon’s Angler Issue 12, out soon.

So what is the real reason for current crap fishing? Whether the autumn has been too mild or unsettled, I can’t say. I must have spent the best part of two entire days on Upper Tamar Lakes and the River Test at Timsbury wondering what the heck I was doing wrong. Testing stuff, but I guess these days teach you some lessons. One of which would be to plan your days on the bank to coincide with the best conditions available if you possibly can! Bright, sunny days off have been somewhere between tricky and attritional lately. Lovely for postcard pictures, pretty crap for fishing.

If it’s your own fishing and it’s just for fun, most of us can perhaps learn to accept things for what they are. Indeed, if you can enjoy the view or the company and cultivate a sort of cheerful “come what may” attitude, it is still possible to end the day feeling content. Not that this is always easy; and nor does a lot of modern angling encourage this sort of patient feeling of gratitude. But it’s always good to be reminded that a lot of things in this life are beyond our control and nature doesn’t bend to anyone’s will just because we have the latest bait or rig.

When it comes to guided fishing trips though, these sessions are more testing because it’s no longer just about your own success. Your guests may only have one day to get a bend in the rod and it’s not a great feeling when the fishing is tough, no matter how understanding they are. Hence it was a relief to see recent visitors get some nice fish on the canals and drains of Devon and Somerset.

The pike, in particular, have been fickle. Perhaps the old boys have a point when they say “it ain’t cold enough yet”? Of course, a guide worth his salt always has a plan B and C in the locker for these days. It was great to see Lawrence Heaton-Wright again, for example, who enjoyed a great day with me some time ago, catching pike to around eight pounds on the fly. This time, they just didn’t want to play, so out came the four weight and some spiders for the smaller species. A wise move, because they were far more receptive than the pike. Several roach and the odd rudd hit the net to around the pound mark, inhaling small beaded spiders in mid-water. The main lesson was to avoid drag from the breeze and to resist the temptation to twitch the fly back too hard.

fly fishing for roach coarse fish

Next up were father and son Dan and Patrick, from the USA. I thought they’d enjoy the cute setting of the Tiverton Canal for a fly and lure fishing session and conditions looked better. But the fishing was still quite testing. The few takes we got were very gentle and hard to strike, hence I was glad to have brought and extra rod with us to try a bit of bait. Quite often, you can plonk a sprat onto the nose of a reluctant fish here turning a follower into a taker. If  it’s my own fishing and I’m on the fly, I rarely bother with this tactic. I can live with the odd refusal. But if you just have one day, it’s often worth an extra couple of fish. And so it was for Dan, who had the best fish of the day at around five pounds on a sprat, which had seen his lure but decided to look rather than bite at first. Both ended up with a nice fish in the end, which was a good result on what was a difficult day, while they also enjoyed the beautiful autumn scenery and a spot of classic pub ale and lunch. A great feeling, because they were excellent company and I would have hated to see them endure a dry net. Should you want to join me for a guided fishing trip in Devon or Somerset this winter, whether you’d like to learn fly fishing or have a crack at some pike or a new method, do drop me a line (see my guided fishing trips page).

No matter whether the fishing is good or rubbish then, I always like give a sense of realism and perspective in these trips. Out of ten days on the bank, the results will vary a lot. Perhaps one day will be sensational; another will be fairly bloody hopeless. The rest will be somewhere in between, from mediocre to productive. A decent guide can improve your chances; he can’t make the fish hungry! Again, we’re back to taking a healthy attitude and an open mind, something quite at odds with the modern angling feature or Facebook post, where every trip results in a PB fish or a netful. But ask yourself, how much would we really learn without those harder days?

Ironically, it seems the best fishing of late has come when I’ve been on a laidback day out with little resting on the result. Whether the fishing is good or indifferent, I thoroughly enjoy a good walk on the Somerset Levels. John Deprieelle (aka “Panto”) is always good company on these missions- an angler who will get up at seriously early o’clock and fish hard, but never at the price of taking things too seriously. His sense of humour is as silly and inappropriate as mine too, which helps (the spot below looked glorious, but proved to be completely dead).

Lure vs fly fishing John Deprielle

We had a great trip in the end too, sharing a catch of some fifteen fish with the fly just about pipping the lure on the day. That said, John had the biggest of them. Not big when you glance at the yearly results from Chew and Blagdon, but as regular readers will know I much prefer the peace and quiet of these wilder waters, no matter if the fish are not huge. They are big enough to put a cracking bend in a fly or lure rod and I am never burdened by a crushing sense of expectation or expense here. And with such a huge amount of water for peanuts, there is always a wonderful sense of freedom and escape.

Pike fly fishing Somerset Levels

Somerset Drains pike fishing

In the grand scheme of things then, my recent fishing has probably been a reasonable balance of failure and success. With some fairly crazy amounts of other work and commitments, I have treasured even the mediocre days though, and the older I get the more I am convinced that true contentment in fishing is not about the clamour for target weights and blind achievement, but a simpler sense of peace and enjoyment. It’s something I often have to remind myself as I struggle to maintain a living from something that is also quite important for my sanity (which has been a challenge for much of my adult life).

Perspective then, is everything, and as far as I’m concerned there are only two certainties in fishing: When the going is good it will always get worse at some point; when it’s rubbish it will always get better at some point. And as much as I have struggled recently, this is just the other side of a coin that was very different not so very long ago, with two trips that will live long in the memory.

One was a mission on the urban River Exe where I finally managed to net a better carp, one of a few fish I’ve spotted in the town several times over the years but never managed to net. This changed with a single bite in a new spot back in September, and a lovely common of 19lbs 4oz. Ironically, I had prebaited and slogged it hard in several places for no reward earlier on, before an adhoc trip and the simplest of tactics worked (heavy groundbait feeder rig and double 15mm boilie). The bite came after less than 90 minutes, with a crazily powerful battle in the current. Sorry for the scattered background, but sadly needs must these days with some sensitive spots and the fact that so many anglers are substituting computer research for doing the legwork themselves.

River Exe carp fishing devon

I also managed to end the sea kayaking in style this season too, following one last crack at the coast not far from Exmouth. I must admit I had struggled to find the bigger bass this year, but finally got through the schoolies in a crazy couple of hours that resulted in two lovely fish, the first at around three pounds, the next a belter of 4lbs 9oz. They wanted a lure ripped quite energetically, on the edge of the scum-line where murky and clear water met.

lure fishing for bass Devon
It has been so long since I had a bass of this stamp, I had forgotten just how hard they fight. It was nothing short of sensational, taking line off a tight drag and I was glad I had stepped up the gear a bit (12lb braid, 10lb fluorocarbon leader). With my landing net falling in the sea in a dramatic fight, we beached the fish for a quick snap before promptly releasing it. With these fish such slow growers and often highly localised, I seldom have the heart to take one and it was carefully released. The right decision, I believe, given that a fish of this size could well be ten years or older and such a thing as Tesco exists to eliminate the need for me to play hunter gatherer. Heck, never mind the blunt object and plastic bag, I was so happy I kissed it on the nose before releasing it as gently as a man holding someone else’s baby.

Will my next session be similarly memorable then, or as rubbish as the last handful? I have no idea and I guess that is why I am still obsessed with this daft sport called fishing. Until next time then, stay happy if you can and enjoy your time on the water, regardless of what fortune delivers… and if you’re keen to read more from me do keep an eye on the Angling Times each week, along with the Turrall Fly Fishing Blog and Fallon’s Angler.

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