I should start this blog with a slight apology for not writing sooner. Only the world I live in has gone a bit crazy. Everyone wants words. Bits of news, write ups, blogs. Website text for all manner of hotels. Yes, it’s nice to be busy rather than redundant I guess but in a word, arggggghhhhhhhh! I’ve been a great big ball of stress and, here’s the supreme irony, the professional path I’ve chosen doesn’t always leave a lot of time to actually go fishing! After a certain point your health and sanity start to get a battering.
The times I have managed to fish have been challenging too. At Lake Country House, for example, a hotel I’ve written copy for previously, I had a one day window to go and try and catch grayling. The place has five miles of amazing water on the River Irfon, the water where I caught my largest ever on the fly some seven or so years ago (and a fish of 2lbs 5oz is nothing remarkable for this place! ).
To cut a long story short, there was heavy rain overnight and the waters shot up, turning the colour of chocolate. The Irfon had gone “Willy Wonka” as Bob James would put it. And I’m not sure even he would have caught a grayling. Arse biscuits. I had a few soggy hours on the lake too, which was very pretty but not especially productive. The saving grace was their cracking food and a bottle or two of cracking Welsh IPA, that tasted even better because of my hunger and fatigue. I’ll just have to come back another day.
Sadly, nor did things look great for the next day as I made my way to Garnffrwd Fly Fishery, near Llanelli in South Wales. Here, my task was to award a special prize ( a Peak Rotary Vice) to young fly tyer and angler Medi Treharne, on behalf of Turrall for winning the Big Tie Off competition (which you can find every month this year too in Total Flyfisher Magazine). With the tail end of Hurricane Doris lashing around though, I wondered how we’d cope to be honest. But what a brilliant fly angler this young lady turned out to be!
I knew she could tie a mean fly (her “Medi’s Damsel” will join the Turrall range this year), but casting into a gale, keeping your cool under the camera lens and still catching fish… wow, I could not dream of doing that at 14 years of age. I don’t want to steal the thunder from the main article, which will appear in Total Flyfisher in a month or two, but what a pleasure to meet such a talented -yet modest- fly fishing lady. It was a pleasure to meet her and proud dad Craig- and what a brilliant fishery. Nicely varied and what a warm welcome; manager James Miller has a place to be proud of because this is the antithesis of the “hole in the ground” with so many features to go at. Another place I must return to!
Safely back home, I was shattered. To cut a long story short, I am currently great at saying yes to everything and wearing myself out. And when I finally got a few hours to fish, the conditions were yo-yoing like crazy. I had just a couple of jacks hopping between Exeter Canal and the Somerset Levels. What weird scenes too. You might remember such reflections in my January blog post, but fishing is a sport where you constantly see other worlds that are both pretty and neglected, often at the same time. One moment it’s a beautiful kingfisher; the next it’s a fire-ravaged warehouse or an abandoned car on the outskirts of town. Fancy helping yourself to this?
It was also great to catch up with John Deprielle on the Levels, who always makes me chuckle with his inappropriate jokes and a refreshingly laid back attitude to fishing. Some anglers get deadly serious, I guess, and I sometimes fall into this trap too. Others maintain a happy go lucky sense of fun and John is definitely one of those. And I really valued some laughter after a sudden bout of illness and a trip to the doctors. Those times of stress are when I most need fishing therapy.
The next sessions promised a lot but never quite delivered, sadly. I fished most of a day in a big perch spot on the Bridgwater to Taunton Canal I would have put money on for a fine fish or two. Early morning produced nothing, so I hit the river for just one jack, thinking that my perch hole would surely produce later on. I had one bite on the worm and held my breath as elastic streamed out of the pole. It felt like a really big perch… and then up came a four pound pike. The only other surprise was the local otter as the light got dimpsy. I tend not to think these creatures equate to angling armageddon as some do, but I really hope this one doesn’t have a taste for big perch.
I guess the truth is I had been having a poor start to 2017 though, and feeling a bit worn out and sorry for myself. Perhaps it’s poetic justice, because we angling writers are often guilty of giving a shallow version of the truth. We don’t often speak about our failures and big up our good fortune. How many articles are about blanking? But like any mortal, you can get to that point where you feel worn out and lacking confidence.
“It’ll come good eventually” I told myself on the trip home, although I really didn’t feel like another arduous day out after that, even though I had a free hit with the wife working Sunday morning. But failure is an odd thing. It can make you crave that sweetness of being rewarded even more, even when half of you would rather sit in bed and read a book. But with heavy overnight rain, I really fancied a crack on the local rivers for the pike. Either that or a bag of crack to numb my tired mind.
The next morning was another grueller. My limbs ached and my hands looked like that of a sixty year old. I couldn’t get to the spot I wanted because the roads nearby were all closed. Bugger! I thought about turning and going home, but felt I had to at least try.
Everything seemed attritional, as if I was being taught a lesson. The mud, the rain, the wind. And then, snagging up in an ugly swim I managed to sheer one of the handles on my reel clean off! I’ve never done that before! At least it was one of those double handles.
I was in a weird sleep-deprived state between laughter and frustration at this point. Nothing was biting. I cast out again with my legered bait (a section of lamprey, hair-rigged on a single catfish hook- I seldom now use trebles).
The game felt like it was up a couple of hours later. That golden early dawn had gone and nothing had materialised. Heck, I wasn’t even sitting in the spot I wanted to fish. And then a big fish rolled on the surface. Pike? It looked big enough to be one, but this isn’t very pike-like behaviour and I guessed salmon. Ten minutes later and the line spilling out suggested I was wrong, the alarm blaring (I’m still not a big fan of bite alarms, but I do like one when fishing two rods for pike, so I can watch one and listen for the other).
The fish felt good. Ponderous. Weighty. It did that thing that better pike often do, only really pulling back hard when I applied a bit of wellie. The swim was horribly muddy and snaggy though, and with 30lb braid I was inclined not to mess about at all and bullied it in quite quickly.
Not a super long fish, but my goodness did she have some weight round the middle. She really thrashed on the bank and I was grateful to only have one hook to deal with. Just for curiosity I weighed her. 17 and 3/4 pounds was a great fish! Totally knackered and caked in mud, I returned home happy. The hot bath felt like heaven, although I was so filthy the water looked like it had come straight from the river.
It’s a bit of a cliche, but I guess it all goes to show that “one bite is all it takes”. That is the glory of fishing I suppose. It can all change in seconds. I went to meet with Scott West today and Bruno Vincent today with my confidence restored, to do a little filming in the hope of catching pike and demonstrating some safe catch and release techniques… but that’s another story.
My next stop is the London Fly Fair this weekend, for which I’ve been frantically preparing today. Hope to see a few of you there, but wherever your next fishing trip takes you just remember to hang in there, because even if you’re not quite feeling it, fortune can all change in a few seconds!