From the Wye to the Towpath

While some fish can take hours or even days to catch, others just require a quick excuse and a few stolen minutes. Today, my alibi was a quick trip to buy a new fishing license and some bits, while I uttered the inevitable words to my wife: “I might just stop for a quick cast along the way too…”

canal fly fishing Dominic Garnett

Actually I stopped in a few spots. Couldn’t help it. Part of it is temptation, but it’s also part and parcel of what I do to be nosy and keep my eyes peeled, both as a club bailiff on the alert for cretins and with guided fly fishing trips coming up. Keeping an eye on spots. Watching conditions. The River Exe was up and totally brown, but what a total contrast I found just a few miles further on, walking the banks of the Grand Western Canal. Out in the sticks just off the M5, it was beautifully clear, with some truly vast shoals of roach. With time precious, I dropped straight behind Minnows Caravan Park for a flick.

I was so eager to get fishing I didn’t even bother taking off my leader from my recent river trout trip, but simply cast out with a size 18 Goldbead Hare’s Ear. I cast to the first cluster of fish I saw and immediately it was nibbled by a couple of fish, which I missed. You get this a lot with roach; you’ll get plenty of tentative takes and fish that close in but then refuse. The one thing I rarely do is retrieve the fly at all; just cast gently and let it sink. Most of the time the fish will do the rest. On perhaps only the third or fourth cast a had a pretty little fish.

fly caught roach

The takes continued to be fast but twitchy and hard to hit, so I switched to a Black and Peacock. Among the many fish showing there were some real crackers in the mix too. These fish can be beguilingly tricky and often hang a bit deeper than the tiddlers, but persevere and you will eventually see one take the fly in full blooded fashion- and then the fun starts!

fly fishing for roach

The weather was all over the place. It was hard to spot takes when cloud came in; but for perhaps twenty minutes of glorious sunshine the fish got really bold and were willing to come up for the fly. It was as if someone had declared a roach bank holiday and they had all decided to go mental and chase anything for a few minutes.

roach fly patterns

I had half a dozen or so in the 4-8oz bracket, but the real heart breaker was a  leviathan that looked easily over the pound mark that mouthed the fly and put a lovely deep bend in the four weight. I had it on for perhaps ten seconds before it twisted off the hook. I was sorely tempted to walk and look for more fish, but with time pressing and the whole summer ahead, I decided to pack up without really catching my fill, which is a never a bad way to leave the water.

Sport would have been tricky with the downpour that followed in any case. Nor do fish always like yo-yoing conditions. Actually, one of the great things about the canals is that they are so consistent, unlike our bigger rivers that tend to suffer in the rain. Which had been the case entirely when I met up with the Fallon’s Angler team on the Wye in March.

Steve Roberts River Wye

It had gone totally “Willy Wonka” in fact. At one stage I thought I’d never get there at all, after a late finish at the West of England Game Fair, dire weather and a remote location to find. I’d just about managed to stock up on beer for the lads having found a Bargain Booze store that was miraculously open as I headed for Wales; but where the devil were they hiding? The eyes of deer glowed at me down rough tracks; then I nearly ended up in some poor suckers back yard and had visions of sleeping in the car. Where on earth was I?

It was a double relief then to get a signal and better directions to finally locate the lads! We had a great social to commiserate the rising river too. Even if the river was still a bit high the next day we tried to fish; and although I didn’t add a salmon to the net, I added a heck of a lot of useful knowledge thanks to our guide, Steve Roberts of River Days. He also has a taste for old school methods and tackle, and there is always some treasure in his creel somewhere.

Classic Devon minnows

For those of you who don’t know Steve, he runs a service with a difference on various rivers. Not only does he supply decades of knowledge and great anecdotes, but that unquenchable enthusiasm and humour up there with the best of guides. So although I blanked, it was far from time wasted- and with an ale or two he also supplied one of the best “one that got away” stories I’ve heard in a long time, about a huge River Wye salmon. Sadly for Garrett, Ed, Nick Fallowfield Cooper and myself, we couldn’t add another tale to the river the next day, although the company ensured the session was anything but dreary.

In other news Issue 9 of Fallon’s Angler is also now available! The cover story alone, about a “time capsule” tackle shop, left untouched for some 20 years, is a belter, with beautiful shots from Nick. You can find it at

Fallons Angler issue 9

Otherwise, I’ve been trying to take life a bit easier and get my bearings a little after a frenetic start to 2017. Not that there was much chance of that with a bit of a reunion with my mate Seb Nowosiad, with what turned into a bit of an England vs Poland style lure fishing match! He’s always a tough man to keep up with when it comes to jigging, but hopping between Midlands canals I hoped my dropshot presentation would give him a run for his money… but that’s all I’m giving away for now.

drop shot for zander

Actually, I’m enjoying the light lure fishing every bit as much as the fly at present. Both approaches are child’s play to set up and a real time saver if nothing else. I’ve also been sneaking a few casts in on the coast too. Keep an eye on the Angling Times for more news and some curious recent catches from both the towpaths and some of my favourite sea fishing spots in Devon.
LRF tompot blennie


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