At this stage of a decidedly cool, wet British summer I must be one of a small minority thanking the weather gods. “British summer? What is that?” was the summary of the bloke who cut my hair yesterday. But boy did we need some rain after a freakishly dry spring. The other happy fact for most summer anglers is that overcast conditions are so often more productive than beach weather.
This time of year is always my rush hour for work. It’s the season when fishing in Devon and Somerset really kicks into gear and as many as half my annual bookings for guided fishing in the South West fall from June to August! It has been an absolutely brilliant summer so far, too, with some memorable catches for my guests. More on this shortly, including one of the oddest catches I’ve seen in a long time! First up, however, I felt I had to share news of an entertaining new book.
Angling book review: End Peg by Peter May (Merlin Unwin £14.99)
It’s probably fair to say that fishing books haven’t been thick on the ground in 2023. After a couple of years of excellent releases, including hugely entertaining works The Magic of Fishing and Sitting on the Rock of the Bay, there hasn’t been much of note since, apart from Dr Mark Everard’s mini fish series and Paul Gaskell’s commendable The Nature of Fly Fishing.
Are today’s angling names abandoning books for YouTube and social media? Let’s hope not, because there’s something that a great book provides that you’ll never get from Instagram. Being in the hands of a good writer is like taking a slow, warm bath in your favourite pastime rather than a hurried shower.
End Peg is superbly readable from the get-go. Divided into bite-sized chapters that can be read in one sitting, it takes the reader into the world of the keen amateur club and match angler. This is not competitive angling in the sense of next-level detail or headline events, but the far more relatable world of smaller competitions across rivers, lakes and canals. Even if you are not a match fisher, however, this is entertaining enough to appeal. In fact, even if you merely live with an angler, pondering their strange habits and the foul things they sneak into the fridge, it will get plenty of knowing laughs.
Will this book boost your performance with a 16m pole? Probably not. But the array of venues, mishaps and quirky local characters are perfectly drawn. From typical anglers’ jokes to the pranks they play on each other, any fishing club regular will relate. The accounts of each day’s sport, and that curious blend of affection and annoyance between those who fish together, are spot on. What you won’t get is an account of fine-tuning rigs or big-money wins. Instead, we get a warts-and-all account of days throughout every season, from trips where little goes right to those special days when that fancied peg finally comes out of the bag.
The whole book is peppered with great little asides, and the author’s best quality is his ability to weave interesting nuggets into the fabric of the book without ever dropping the tempo. Alongside various fishing contests, you’ll find a treasury of juicy bites of British angling history, and notes on the species and places we love best. There’s some great insight into the Thames, for instance, but the author also delves into common angling mishaps, finer points on gudgeon and even enters a pike match.
The angler’s interactions with the other half and members of the public are particularly well drawn, it must be said, while the book is also embellished with cute pencil illustrations from publisher Merlin Unwin himself. Like a perfectly shotted float, therefore, End Peg is well-pitched, easy on the eye and likely to disappear quite quickly if you enjoyed it as much as I did.
You’ll no doubt find it from giant online stores, but why not get it direct from Merlin Unwin Books (merlinunwin.co.uk)? All royalties will go to charity Alzheimer’s Research UK, which is also a wonderful touch from the author.
Trout, ravers and the world’s strangest eel!
Where exactly do I start with a roundup of recent guided fly and coarse fishing trips down here in Devon and Somerset? These have been wonderfully varied and productive, to put it mildly. The two trips that stick out the most, however, are probably the oddest of the bag.
A trip to Fernworthy for repeat guest Hayden Bennett started in bizarre fashion with police and randomly parked cars all over the edge of Dartmoor. As I soon guessed from the sight of worse-for-wear teenagers and one poor lass barfing in a hedge, this was the aftermath of an illegal rave! Looking at the state of some of them, I don’t miss being young and foolish.
Hayden and a pal had a quick casting refresher session, before we hit the lake. We got a stiff breeze and the odd bit of drizzle, but I was confident these conditions would be good for the fishing. After all, they tend to make the trout active and less fearful of those wading in.
It wasn’t plain sailing, but both anglers managed to put out a decent line. By arming them with a team of two flies, tied to a 15ft leader of 7lb fluorocarbon to avoid tangles, they earned several takes. As for flies, we went with one bushy candidate (a Bibio or Kate Mclaren) and one subtle (a Diawl Bach or Cruncher) to hedge our bets. The absolute highlight of the session came late morning when Hayden hooked his second fish on a Bibio- and from the excited call I knew it wasn’t small!
What a fabulous trout it was, too. Fifteen inches and around a pound and a half, I would guess. Commendably, he chose to release it, choosing a quick snap on a wet net rather than a fish supper. What an absolutely cracking specimen to mark Hayden’s progress from raw beginner to a rapidly improving fly fisher! I’m especially happy for him because since our previous trip he’d been practising on grass to improve his casting- and the homework paid off in some style.
As for the oddest fish of the summer so far, that’s easy. I had the delightful task of taking lapsed angler Rod Latham and his grandson George onto the Taunton to Bridgwater Canal, where we had a fascinating session in very clear water. I’m hoping this is a sign of things to come, because rented motor boats and excessive weed cutting have really churned up this once semi-wild habitat in recent seasons.
I was always confident we’d land rudd, roach and silver bream- but the real star of the show was a pound-plus eel that kept appearing in the swim before slithering away again. Eventually, it took a worm right before our eyes and then pulled for all it was worth. It took a few tries to net it, but once on the bank I couldn’t quite believe what I was seeing!
Most anglers have probably caught a fish with an illness or only one eye. This eel, though, was not only missing an eye on one side, but didn’t even have an eye socket! That side of the head was completely sealed flat. So eerily bizarre! If David Cronenberg made eels…
The rest of the day was bite-filled too, with six species in total and some gorgeous perch and rudd, a few of which we retained briefly for a quick catch picture. Great fishing- and hats off to Taunton AA as well, for their proactive and encouraging stance in giving junior anglers free membership this year.
Should you fancy a guided fishing trip this year, regardless of the season or target species, do check out my guided fishing section or simply contact me to find out more. There is a huge variety of angling here in the South West and it is always my absolute pleasure to share the best of it and help others learn new skills and ideas.