Have you ever looked at a brutal weather forecast and thought to yourself: “sod it, I’m still going fishing”? It can be a fine line between braving it or writing off that foul weather angling trip. Sometimes such conditions are better for curling up with a book than drowning maggots- and there are some great angling reads out at the moment which I’ll review later in this very blog post!
Onto the fishing first, though, and last week was a final chance at a late practice session on the canal, with Tiverton AA’s Christmas match coming up.
Whether you have a competitive streak or not, the Grand Western Canal can be a lovely winter venue to fish bread punch for roach and skimmers. Furthermore, my pal Adam Aplin also wanted some practice at getting them on the pole, having taken the plunge and bought a ticket for what would be his first ever match! I felt it was only right to try and give him some pointers and a kind of dress rehearsal for the big day. Hence we fished swims from the match length and even stuck to the same hours as the contest.
By god it was cold and wet! Just setting up was an effort, as we geared up with pole tackle and introduced some liquidised bread on “School Bay”. Blustery rain I fully expected; sleet and then snow came as more of a shock. It probably shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise that it fished pretty hard.
I had a nice roach almost first put in, as did Adam. But the fish just wouldn’t settle on the main line at around 10m. Each time, there would then be a pause, a false dawn of a bite or two and then nothing for quite a while, although I added a nice 12oz skimmer after an hour or so. What was happening?
To feed or not to feed ?
At the crux of our tricky session was whether to encourage the fish or “starve” them a bit more. I am very much in the school of feed regularly rather than dump it in and “fish out” a big helping of liquidised bread. When you watch roach and skimmers in clear water this makes perfect sense; it’s the “snow globe” effect that draws them in and is worth repeating. Bream will stoop and eat everything in time, but with roach a lot of the feed is only very slowly consumed or never actually eaten- they tend to prefer to eat those little fragments that cloud up off the bottom, leaving much of the “carpet” below. Hence I like a modest initial feed (half a small pole cup on a chilly day), followed by a fairly regular 20p sized nugget as consistent attraction.
On this occasion, it didn’t do a whole lot of good! At one point the air was thick with the white stuff. “Don’t worry,” I said to Adam, “the fish are bound to switch on, they must think it’s raining bread!”
The sleet got worse and worse. Pole sections then started to stick with all the moisture and mud- including two of mine that seemed totally fused! Even with the help of a passer by and Adam tapping the join there was no shifting it. This wasn’t getting any easier. I’d bought a couple of tins of beer meant as an end of day celebration for a good session; we ended up drowning our sorrows with these at midday, huddled under an umbrella.
Of course, a great plan B for any canal swim is to try chopped worm. I usually do this by any available feature, but as this was a practice session I tried it well out from the bank, also whacking in some whole and chopped pinkies. I checked it three times in as many hours… nothing!
What was I to do? With the usual skimmers nowhere to be seen, I decided to try a lighter rig and a smaller punch, fished a few inches off the bottom. With another nugget of feed this worked immediately, bringing my dead 10m line to life. I had a nice solid roach, then semi-regular smaller ones. Not enough to make a match winning kind of weight, but at least I was getting the odd fish.
By then adding depth and fishing deeper, I had another roach worthy of the landing net. Amazing the difference made by a finer line and size 22 hook, compared to the 16 on my skimmer rig! If you are unlucky enough to draw a crap peg in one of the winter matches, scaling right down can be a good way to go.
I could (and probably should) have stayed on the little blades, but this being a practice I wanted to try some other ideas- so I did a bit of experimenting. I spent the best part of an hour with a light feeder rod, fishing worm, to no avail. Odd. I also tried the chop line again and an inside line with pinkie. The sum total was one extra perch. Hmmph.
Meanwhile, Adam was trying all sorts too. He also couldn’t buy a bite on worm, strangely. Coming off the bottom with a smaller hook and bait, he had a few more roach, but it just never materialised into much. A bit underwhelming- but good practice and on a better day he would have doubled his catch easily.
My final net (above) can’t have been much above a kilo- not great, even with some leeway for my time spent tinkering. The other unwanted outcome was that my 4 and 5 pole sections remained totally stuck together! We tried everything- pulling, twisting alternate ways, tapping, but in the end my no.4 actually cracked. Even with tools at home, it wasn’t easy to separate the two and I have never had a stuck joint like it. It was as if someone had glued them together!
Thankfully, I found a cheapie no.4 for just £35 on this occasion- it could have been more painful (last time I did this it was £70 for a no.5 section). Let’s hope the match day brings us both better fortune. Either way, it’s an event I always relish, with a big turnout and bristling with colourful local characters and some excellent prizes.
Those of you who like a bit of classic canal fishing might also want to keep an eye on my regular Angling Times column, as I’ve also been trying some stalking tactics on the clearer stretches of the Grand Western- which has some excellent, very lightly fished roach swims to put it mildly. What I’d give for a handful of fish like this in the match!
New fishing books for winter 2019
I Caught a Glimpse by Wayne Thomas
(Little Egret Press, £24.99)
When I’m not fishing or writing about it, I still love a good fishing book. Having produced no fewer than six now (including the latest, Hooked on Lure Fishing) I have a special appreciation of the sheer work it takes to produce one.
Of course, if it’s a book with wide scope, those pages in your hand could be the result of decades of knowledge- which is very definitely the case with I Caught a Glimpse, the new book by Wayne Thomas. Those of you who live and fish in Devon will no doubt already know Wayne as a highly regarded Westcountry angler (as forewords by Charles Inniss and Nick Hart will tell you). He’s also someone who has done a great deal to fly the flag for fishing in Devon – and his North Devon Angling News site should most definitely be on your bookmark list if you live in the South West or enjoy visiting Devon.
The book is a highly personal look at fishing in “Wayne’s world”! But what propels the work far beyond a simple individual memoir is the sheer scope of the history and research in its pages. What I love is that it is all about Devon and the hidden stories of the region- indeed, it’s this regional angle that is so appealing. So much of angling these days, after all, seems to be about the same handful of named venues and even named swims that every specimen angler from Poole to Peterborough seems to salivate over.
Not so for Wayne! Here is an angler with a passion for fishing in his own region, who is intrigued not by yet another named swim on a nationally known venue, but in the mysteries of the old South West and stories seldom told. There is so much to surprise, enlighten and entertain in these pages, too, with tales of well loved and little known venues alike, and a fantastic cast of anglers past and present.
Where do I start with the surprises? Even for a fellow Devonian, there are plenty of these. Who would have thought that our estuaries once produced huge eels, for example, or that the River Taw once produced stacks of specimen roach, including a bag of twelve two-pounders? From shark angling to salmon and sea trout to forgotten carp pools, it’s all in the mix. Besides being a fascinating read, it also seems to me an important book for posterity, because without works like this so many of these amazing records, stories and photographs are lost forever. Rather than offering a typically indulgent fishing memoir for one, Wayne has made the region itself and its endless venues and characters the stars of the show, which is a commendable feat that must have taken a huge effort to put together.
I intended to make a brief start into the book when it arrived, but quickly ended up devouring most of it, albeit in quite a random order. It needn’t be a linear read either, I guess, and the subject matter is so varied it’s ideal for dipping at leisure. Wayne’s style of writing isn’t flowery, but has immediacy and so much experience behind it that it would speak to any angler.
I have to say that I also liked the snippets of verse in the book to top and tail the work, which were another surprise. While it’s widely accepted that half of all angling poetry is fairly duff, the lines that top and tail the work are quite beautiful- and sum up the book’s message quite perfectly (“A hopeful glimpse of what may come/ A fleeting glimpse of what has gone!”).
All in all, it’s a book of surprises and some truly eye-opening records. As such, it is a must for any fishing addict who lives in or visits Devon, not to mention a work you will keep returning to if you love this part of the world. There are only 300 copies from Little Egret Press, at £24.99, so gobble it up while you can.
The Feather Bender’s Fly Tying Techniques
by Barry Ord Clarke (Merlin Unwin £25.00)
While there are those of us who happily get to the level where we can tie functional, attractive fishing flies, others in the angling world take it to the level of an art form. Barry Ord Clarke needs little introduction as one of the best British fly tyers you’ll ever encounter. Straddling classic step by step instruction with clever exclusive online tutorial links, this new book attempts to bring a wealth of Barry’s knowhow to your fly bench.
First impressions are that the production is superb and the photography is beautiful. The step by step flies are not only clear, but inspiring. The level of detail is fantastic- and even with flies you think you know (such as the G&H Sedge or the Peter Storey) you get the author’s helpful nuggets and fresh tweaks and tips to help improve your tying. I also like the balance of patterns, which should give the intermediate tyer plenty of fuel, while also stretching the keener fly tyer with wally wings and other such feather bending feats.
I also like the way the author provides great benchside knowhow for tools and materials you know and love, along with uses for household items to brush up your fly tying in ways you might not have thought of before. In short, I very much doubt there is a fly angler in the country who wouldn’t glean some great tips and ideas from these pages.
Above all, it’s a book which makes me want to get back to my tying bench asap, which is the telltale test of any good fly tying book. This isn’t always easy with a four month old baby, but I’m raring to go now as soon as little miss takes a nap.
Fallon’s Angler Issue 17
Before we finish our roundup of current reads, I should also mention the latest Fallon’s Angler. Ok, so this isn’t a coffee table tome so much as a book-a-zine, but it’s as lovely as ever. What I especially enjoy is the way that this quarterly continues to evolve and find an engaging theme with each issue. The imagery and design are as enticing as ever, too, thanks to the magic of picture editor Nick Fallowfield Cooper.
The “cover star” this time is none other than Del Harding, the wild man who subsists in his own lochside woodlands in Ireland, having fled civilisation. Some may remember him from Matt Hayes’ Mainstream TV show, as the mysterious angler determined to slip away from the madding crowd and live a purer life far from the madding crowd (which always feels like perfect sense in the middle of a general election). Nor does he disappoint, although I find myself with as many questions as answers!
For anyone curious, there is also a cracking recent film featuring their the encounter with Del:
Also included in issue 17 is a lovely piece from Chris Yates on his diaries of angling dreams, not to mention a cracking piece on Derbyshire Wye rainbow trout from fellow fly angler David West Beale, plus a Brexit special from Fishing with the General (to be taken with an almighty pinch of salt. British salt).
All in all, an excellent end to the year for angling literature. Don’t forget to treat yourself or ask your other half for a Christmas gift.
The tightest of lines to everyone and happy reading.