What a brilliant, mixed summer of fishing it has been so far! I’ve done a little of everything in the last few weeks, from carp fishing to fly fishing, along with a couple of matches. I’ve even launched the kayak again to take to the sea, while the guided fishing sessions here in Devon and Somerset just keep coming in.
It really is brilliant to see so many people starting out or returning to fishing. It’s my absolute pleasure and privilege to offer tuition- and I can honestly say I get as much of a kick from others’ success as my own these days. In fact, I’ll gladly take the extra preparation and safety measures of Covid these strange days, if it means more anglers getting a great experience and hopefully the impetus to become successful regulars.
So, where on earth do I start? Well, there have been two fishing matches of totally opposing fortunes and some sea fishing, but first I feel compelled to begin with some truly remarkable fly fishing in Somerset.
A red-letter day of fly fishing for coarse fish!
While I’m always confident that my guided guests come away with a great experience and learn a new trick or three, just occasionally they have an absolute dream session! As host, of course, I cannot make the fish bite any more than I can make the sunshine. But there have been several days recently where everything has just come together beautifully, with the right person in the right locations in perfect conditions.
Most recently it was Charlie Nowlan who had that near-perfect session to remember. Coming from near Bristol, he was after a mixed day of different species, having read Flyfishing for Coarse Fish. And that’s exactly what was in store! The River Tone came first. Fairly cool July conditions and good clarity greeted us- and straight away we were into the chub.
The biggest challenge, in fact, was keeping off the skyline and not overstaying our welcome in any one spot. Generally, the fish took an immediate interest in a large floating fly. It would be hit or miss before they became almost impossible a few casts later.
To Charlie’s credit, he hit the target impressively for someone with only a bit over a year of flyfishing experience! As a guide, I can put people in the right places for the conditions, hopefully. But you still have to catch them. It took just a little coaching on my part to smooth out the finish to his casts and give him some tips on countering the wind and mend the line. Five chub were his, including a corker I’d guestimate at two and a half pounds! Almost all of these took dry flies, too, with my wasp and grasshopper patterns the best of the lot for some tantalisingly bold takes, including one under the near bank that was played out in glorious slow motion right before us.
For good measure, we even added a small perch on a streamer before it was time to hit the canal near Creech. This proved tougher; first of all, slightly coloured water made sight fishing harder, while the incoming grey cloud was like someone hitting the dimmer switch on the place. I was already blushing a bit with that guide’s favourite line: “it’s usually so much better than this!” We added to the species count with a bleak, but just couldn’t locate the better rudd.
There was then a snap call to make. Persevere or move on? I suggested the latter, moving out to the sticks. Although the clarity seemed much better, it was alarming just how busy the boat traffic was! With the recent rush of people looking to exercise outdoors, the new boat and kayak hire place at Maunsell has been spewing out customers! Fair enough, but some have little regard for anglers or wildlife, let alone ability to steer. I also hope that we won’t see mass removal of natural cover to cater for boaters- because it’s this stuff that makes the Bridgwater to Taunton Canal so rich for wildlife of all kinds, not least of all coarse fish.
Nevertheless, I reassured my guest that the fish would soon settle again. After all, paddlers don’t kill water clarity- it’s motorboats which can be a pain. And soon enough, there were shapes looming into view. With the sun refusing to shine, the fish were a bit reluctant to rise, so I gave Charlie one of my little beaded shrimp patterns in a size 16.
Presenting this in the path of cruising fish, the results were dynamite! In the course of two or so hours, he had a solid, pound or so of rudd, some lovely roach and, most impressively of all, a fantastic silver bream! At first, I suspected it was a skimmer, but the large eye and dark fins suggested otherwise… unless it was a silver x bronze bream hybrid? Either way, it fought brilliantly and capped off a really excellent bit of sport with no less than six species and over a dozen catches that needed the landing net!
It’s sessions like this that really make my season as a guide- and it just goes to show that with just a little helping hand, you don’t need to be an angler with decades of experience to get your eye in, hone your skills and catch some impressive fish. Nor does it have to be all about trout, of course, as our session indicated so amply. As the A-Team once said: “I love it when a plan comes together”!
The Jeckyll and Hyde of match fishing…
Another eagerly anticipated fishing detour was my return to the match fishing league with the lads of Tiverton DAC. I love these meetups and had keenly missed them during the lockdown. However, the many weeks’ layoff had left me completely overprepared, whilst having all the match sharpness of a rubber chicken.
This was evident in spades at Avalon Fishery, as you might have read from the full and gruesome report in my Angling Times column. Yes, there were some big laughs on the day and it was great to see the lads… but the biggest laugh was my measly score, tribute to a very average peg and a really poor performance where I tried three or four things badly, rather than just playing my strongest card. Humph.
Nevertheless, with the league points all over the place thanks to Covid, there was still plenty to play for at the next contest, this time at Oaktree Fishery (above). I like this place for match fishing. Not least of all because I had a pleasing result last time here, not only getting third spot on my lake but bagging a splendid bonus perch around the two-pound mark. Give me a big perch or two and I’m happy no matter where I finish in a match!
As it turned out, I got peg twenty on the upper lake in the draw. This offered a shot to the central island, first and foremost, along with some nice open water. Now, commercial feeder fishing is something I’m not bad at. The first hour wasn’t dynamite, but I had two carp and a skimmer off the island, while nobody else seemed to get much at all. Well, apart from a nice perch for my neighbour, Mike Pickford. Seems there are good ones on every lake at Oaktree?
Next, it all went iffy, so it was chop and change. By scaling down with the hook baits and going to a pellet feeder, I winkled out more skimmers and another carp. Then things went dead and I felt that the island was getting that besieged from all sides that the fish were spooking. Next up I tried closer in, with caster over groundbait. Which was conspicuously rubbish. Really odd.
Few carp were being caught, but it was noticeable that several were now cruising around on the top. For several minutes I told myself “don’t chase them around, stick to the plan”. But with nothing doing, I quickly reached for a mugging rig and a bit of bread flake. The next forty minutes or so were agonising. One particular ghost carp got my attention several times, but was impossible to tempt, even with the greatest care! Some of his darker mates were less savvy, however, and twice in that second hour, I got a sneaky, sucky take followed by elastic pinging out at speed. Another welcome addition at perhaps three pounds apiece!
The middle of the match was then fairly rubbish. I hit the island again but to little avail. But while sitting on my hands for the rip round that never came, I was peppering a waggler line with caster and small pellets to see if I could draw some fish up in the water. A great idea, but even after a good hour or so of feeding, they still weren’t confident enough- and the wind was slaying my presentation. Balls.
In the end, it was back to the feeder line, along with dropping some shots a bit shorter and trying dead maggots on the hook, that kept the carp and another nice skimmer coming. I was convinced I’d lost the lead, however, because to my left the two pegs on the dam wall (above) were getting fewer but bigger margin carp. Even so, nobody was making a killing, with the carp seeming not to like the recent unsettled and not very summer-like weather. By the end, I had ten carp, but they must have been only about three pounds on average.
So what a delightful surprise on the weigh-in to discover that I had just about held the lead with about 34lbs of fish, just 3lbs clear of the next man. In the end, those skimmers had been very precious! I was a bit startled, to say the least. This is the thing with match fishing: sometimes you think you’ve done pretty well but finish nowhere, while the next time you sneak right up the rankings while not really thinking you’ve done enough. Very pleasing- and who knows what will happen with two matches still to go and the league quite tight?
Guided fishing at Viaduct Fishery, Somerset
After that unexpected win, it was back to another session to get some new recruits into fishing, this time with some angling lessons at the famous Viaduct Fishery. The last time I was at this place, I was shivering my nuts off trying to catch perch.
My guests on the day wanted to learn some basic coarse fishing skills and hopefully land a real net-filler of a carp. And on that score, I couldn’t have picked a better venue! On the match lake, we had bites galore with simple waggler tackle. Skimmers were the mainstay, along with some pretty F1s. Ideal to get my guests off the mark, coming to terms with the gear and handling the fish safely.
However, that was just a warmup for the afternoon finale on Cary Lake. What a simply incredible venue this is for sizeable carp! Using simple stalking tactics and floating bait, we had an absolute ball in the sun. The carp fought brilliantly and were of an excellent stamp. In fact, all three of my guests had a “double” in just three hours after lunch.
So exceptional was the sport, I simply had to stick around later in the day. I seldom fish myself when I provide tuition or guiding, for the record, aside from the odd quick cast to demonstrate something. But with my guests having their fill, I couldn’t resist an evening ticket. In just two hours, the fish just kept coming, with five more all subdued on simple, balanced tackle of an Avon rod and 8lb line.
All that was needed was regular loose fed mixers and a bit of arm ache on my part! Stunning carp- and I can’t think of many other fisheries that offer such a head of carp with a similarly big stamp of fish. Superb fun, highly recommended and should you want to learn just about any major carp or coarse fishing method, you would have a fantastic day out with me on this excellent venue.
Sea fishing adventures and other angling reads this month…
It says it all about my random tastes and itchy feet that my other big highlight this last month has been sea fishing. I don’t want to give too much away because you’ll be able to read the full warts-and-all account in the Angling Times, but the sea fishing here in East Devon has been nothing short of superb.
I’ve been having some lovely schoolie bass on the fly, not to mention dusting off the kayak, something which I should have done ages ago. Regardless of the species or mark, though, everywhere seems to be on fire right now! The coast around Dawlish, Exmouth and Budleigh has been consistently great, with bass, mackerel and some thumping ballan wrasse, all on lures and flies. Keep an eye on “The Last Cast” for more on that score.
Other than that, you can also read my continuing write-ups for the Angling Trust’s “Lines on the Water” blog, in which I’ve just kicked off a new series on British Record Fish.
Wherever your fishing takes you this month, I wish you the best of luck. Make the most of the summer while you can- and if you can give a newcomer to a taste of angling, make sure you treat them. In fact, the great news on this front is that the excellent Take a Friend Fishing scheme is back this very month and now stretches to October, allowing you to apply for a FREE one day rod licence for a pal.