Saturday, 14 November 2009

Getting layered.......

Poking my head out of the door was enough to confirm that it is now time to bring out the winter clothing. Just like the rest of the country, Devon has just been battered by some of the worst weather in years. So they say! Admittedly it was a bit windy, with some horizontal rain thrown in just to spoil the day. But living next to Dartmoor, it always seems to rain and the wind is often howling off the tops of the tors. So if you want to stay comfortable in such conditions, it pays to protect yourself adequately. Gone are the days when you would have to climb into a mound of thick clothes, and increase your shoe size with about four pairs of socks just to stay warm. Combine all this an inadequate waterproof jacket and you were still usually set up for a damp, cold day.

At Adventure fly fishing UK we spend a fair amount of time in the elements. Experience of getting wet and cold over the years has now thankfully come to an end. There is an old saying, that says "there is no such thing as bad weather, only inappropriate clothing". This is true. As long as you are protected from the weather, then there is no problem. There is nothing worse than feeling uncomfortable whilst trying to enjoy your fly fishing. Fishing clothing has taken quite a long time to catch up compared to that of walkers and climbers. Specialist clothing has been around for years to cater for bad weather ramblers. But for many years anglers would trundle around in cumbersome clothing.

Modern fly fishing clothing is now perfect for all conditions.

Dependant on the weather and the time of year will usual dictate what I will wear to keep me comfortable whilst fishing or guiding. Starting with under layers, or base layers as they are commonly know, these are the items that keep the skin dry and help to keep a steady body temperature. The more you work, the harder the base layers work to keep you dry. Unlike wearing a basic cotton t-shirt that will hold the moisture and chill the body down when you take a breather, most base layers are made from synthetic fibres that wick moisture and dry quickly. This means that after a bit of hard fishing or wading you will still be comfortable and dry on the inside. When things get really nippy, then I will often wear base layer bottoms under my fishing trousers or waders.

Not a pile of washing..... but various base layers and socks to keep me comfortable.

There are two sorts of base layers. Thermal and cool. As the name suggests one type is best worn in cooler weather and the other when it is warm. Thermal base layers are constructed using marino-wool or synthetic thermal fibres. The best out of the two in my opinion is marino-wool. Not only is it warm and comfortable, but marino wool is one of the only natural fibres that allows quick moisture transfer, and retains warmth. During the warmer months then I tend to use coolmax fabrics to help regulate body temperature. Again there is nothing worse than hiking up a stream with sweat dripping off you. Apart from becoming a fly magnet, when the air temperature drops, so does your body temperature. This is where the base layer will help to keep you comfortable.

One important item that is often overlooked are socks. Socks are your comfort. Its quite common for people to buy a decent pair of wading or walking boots and then forget about wearing decent socks. Boots on the whole aren't usually all that comfortable until they are broken in or knackered. But by changing the insoles in the boots to a quality pair like 'superfeet' and wear a decent pair of hiking socks and the miles will feel far less on your feet. Decent socks aren't cheap. They can cost anything from £10-£20 a pair. But well worth the money when your when you five miles down river and you have to make the same journey back.

General fly fishing clothing comes in two ranges. Practical and affordable, or high quality and expensive. A lot may think it is mainly a sales ploy by putting a certain brand logo on a jacket, waders or trousers that is causing the increased price. In reality a lot of the extra money has gone into r&d of the fabrics and it performance. This will be the testing of breath ability of the fabrics, durability, new waterproofing coatings, mixed fabrics and higher breathable membranes. Waterproof jackets have come on leaps and bounds over the years. The key to a decent jacket is it's breath ability. Everyone has heard of Gore-Tex, and associates this with quality. Along with this comes its price tag. One fault with cheaper jackets, and trousers is the lack of breath ability. So as you become more active, the harder the garment has to work to eliminate the moisture from inside, and pass it to the outside of the jacket where it evaporates. If the membrane can't keep up with the pace, then it becomes damp inside, and you become chilled. I'm not saying you must buy a jacket or trousers that uses a Gore-Tex membrane, or it won't do the job. In fact I tend to waterproof clothing that doesn't use a Gore membrane. Over the years, it has been developed to be more breathable and and works even faster. This is ideal for when we are yomping over the moors or tackling the steep coastal paths, as we build up a bit of steam up in search of fish.

Left: Gore-Tex membrane.
Center: Inner lining.
Right: Outer face fabric.

One major factor to maintaining all breathable, waterproof clothing is to make sure it is kept as clean as possible. Not so much to look well kept, but to make sure that the performance of the clothing is still working. Things like dirt, sweat and fish slime and saltwater all take their toll. If the clothing is dirty, then it won't allow the moisture to evaporate from inside the garment. One other problem is when the clothing starts to 'wet-out'. This is when the water doesn't bead off anymore and looks like it it soaking through the fabric. It shouldn't get past the internal membrane, but with the inner moisture getting trapped it often feels like the clothing is leaking. Time for a wash and tumble dry! Always use the proper stuff for cleaning. The best are Grangers or Nik Wax. These are a pure soap, that will clean the garments, but not strip it of the DWR (Durable, water repellent) coating that is either washed into the fabric or sprayed onto the face of it during manufacture. It is always best followed with a tumble dry to activate the water repellent coating again. If it still continues to wet-out after washing, then it simply needs reproofing. Either a wash in or a spray should be applied to help it shed water again. Simple! If I can do it, anybody can.

The main outer layers that take the battering and keep you protected.

Colour of clothing is entirely personal. Nowadays most of my kit is quite subtle in colour which i feel helps when fly fishing the small Devon stream and rivers. Often close up to our quarry, I feel more comfortable blended into the surroundings. On bigger waters and rivers I don't really think it makes a great deal of difference. Awesome Salmon angler and AAPGAI instructor Jim Fearn can often be found wearing an orange wading jacket. Most anglers could only dream about the amount of fish he catches each season, and if a bright orange wading jacket was putting the fish off a bit, I would love to see how he would do wearing green!

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

BFFI 09.

Well, it was that time of year again. Another drive out of Devon and back to my home town of Newcastle to the British fly fair. For anyone who is interested in fly fishing and particular fly tying this is the show to go and visit. I always like it because there's also the added bonus of visiting family and friends whilst I am in the area. After a laborious journey up the M5 and onto the M6, Friday afternoon travel is always the same. I don't know why I do it, but I always seem to get caught up in it. Perhaps leaving too late never helps. Six hours later, I arrived in Newcastle, fresh, relaxed and ready for it! Or was it tired, stressed and ready for a kip! It was good of my brother to put me up at short notice, and arranged for a few of the guys to crash over instead of driving back home.

The following morning after to speaking to a few of the AAPGAI lads who were making their way down from Cumbria, I arrived at Trentham and first things first, hunted down the burger van for a fresh brew of overpriced coffee and a soggy bacon bap. Twelve pound lighter (not in weight), it wasn't long before I met up with Tony, Lee and Jim, and a few rods were set up. Even though it is primarily a fly tying show, AAPGAI always has a good presence and it was good to meet up with some old and new faces. Not only is it good to catch up with the guys and have a laugh, but with every meet and casting session, there is always a progression in ideas and new tackle to try. One new product that was impressing a lot of people was the new 'I' line. A short-headed line, that seemed ideal for all casting and fishing purposes. If you havn't yet come across one, it's well worth a try.

AAPGAI- Jim Williams, Lee Cummings, and Tony Riley catching up.

Like usual, the AAPGAI demo's were first class. They varied from roll casting with a twist, to specialist river techniques. It was nice to see a few familiar faces in the crowd, both from Stoke and also a few that I have got to know from here in Devon and Cornwall.

Gary Coxon and Lee Cummings- AAPGAI demo.

Back inside, some of the world's leading fly tyers were pulling off their magic. Paul Little was once again on form, and was tying some of the nicest flies that you will ever come across. You could hear the same old sentence from around the hall, "well mine are fishing flies, that I tie". Usually meaning, mmmm, wish mine were that neat! It was good to see Mr T at the show. Not Mr T from the A-Team, but Toby from Funky Products. A good friend from down in Somerset, and who's fly tying materials I have been using with good results for my pike fly fishing and saltwater fly fishing for the past few years. Damn, does this mean the secret is now out! He has a top range of materials for all types of flies and fishing.

Toby Merigan, showing his new 'Funky-Products' range.

Over the two days, the show was a success. Everyone seemed to be enjoying all of the demo's and tying displays. There were plenty of full bags knocking around at the show, so the stands inside must have been doing well. I came back home laden with new materials, and ideas. So I can see a few more 'Chewed Up' pike flies coming out of the vice. Talking of pike, it has been a week since last having a crack at a few, so I think it's time to get out and get a bend in the rod! For those who are interested, 'Adventure fly fishing UK', will be running a few Pike on the Fly taster days, for those looking to get into the sport or wanting to progress. Please get in touch regarding dates and bookings.

Sunday, 1 November 2009

Blown off!

I don't know what it is when the clocks go back in the autumn, but it seems to take me ages to get used to it. Everything seems to change quickly, and you have to get everything crammed in before it goes dark. We have still been busy at aff-UK with the fishing and casting as usual. But with the closed season here, it has been nice to put something back. We met up with a group of volunteers from the Okment Trust to help with a bit of bank work and to help tidy up the river. It amazes me, that even in the most stunning areas, how mindless some people are to throw crap into our rivers. It is the kind of thing that we would often come across in our inner city canals, not two miles up on the moors! I hate to admit that the EA weren't all that helpful in our quest to get it removed. They more or less told us we would have to clean it out ourselves. Mmmmm. I'll remember that when it's time to buy my next EA rod licence!

Its surprising what you find. We were missing the shopping trolley though.

When we were done it was really rewarding to see the difference that was made, and I certainly felt it the next day. Not bad for a morning's work. One sofa, a dingy, half a bath and two trees were pulled out from one of the pools. The Okment Trust have been working hard for a number of years to make sure that the rivers in the area are well maintained and it is something that I hope to get involved with more and more. It was nice to see a few sea-trout and odd salmon holding at West bridge in the centre of town. I have spoken to people who say that the salmon sometimes run right up as far as the dam if the water allows it. But this is the highest that I have seen them since living here.

Speaking to Tim at the Arundel and the winter casting sessions will be starting up again after the British fly fair. These are always a good do, and it's always nice to meet up with the guys and see what they have been getting up to throughout the season. It was brilliant news to hear that Derek has passed his AAPGAI assessment. He has worked hard for months to hit the level that was required, and on effort alone would be worth the badge. I'm sure Dek will be coming along on a few of those casting days. Even if it's only for one of Tim's winter brews.

DJ still grinning like a Cheshire cat after passing his AAPGAI assessment.

It was nice of him to phone and thank me for the bit of help I gave him. Even nicer was the offer of a days fishing at Chew Valley. Like usual I didn't take much persuading and I was soon sitting behind the vice tying a few more patterns to take. We originally opted to go on Thursday whilst the weather was settled, mild and would of made a good fishing day. But due to prior engagements we couldn't go until the following Sunday. Typically by Sunday the weather had deteriorated and it was blowing a gale, lashing down with rain and it looked like a tough day was on the cards. But that's pike fishing. It can be a tough game at times. But it's all about taking the rough with the smooth, and rough was the word!

Nevertheless we met up and made the drive up the M5 and arrived at Chew in time for tea and toast. Looking out of the lodge window we could see the waves washing over the landing stages and the boats had been pulled up onto the bank. Not a good sign! So it was no real surprise when the guy in the office told us that we couldn't go out and have a do for them. We were gutted. I was well up for it, but could only watch as the waves rolled down the lake and the gale force wind was bending the trees in half. For safety reasons he was right, but as fly fishers we thought if we can still make a cast into the wind, we could still catch a fish. But he was having non of it.

Come in boat number 46, your about to sink!

There was no way we were coming home empty handed. Well, not if we could help it anyway. So we changed plans and headed off to a water that was new to us. Not far from Chew Valley is Cheddar Reservoir. Not a particular nice looking water, but what the hell pike swim in it. So we tackled up and made our way up the embankment to the valve tower. As soon as my head popped over the brow, I was nearly blown off my feet. Things were just a breezy on here, but unlike Chew there was no shelter from it. The wind just kept coming and coming, and getting stronger throughout the day. It was a case of head down and digging your heels in- and that was just getting to the waters edge!

Trying not to get blown back over the wall.

Talk about hard casting. It doesn't matter how much you fish or practice your casting, there are some days that still have you over. It was more of a case of making sure the flies didn't get blow back and hit us. I didn't fancy the prospect of a 4/0 pike hook been blow back at thirty miles an hour and hitting me in the face. It was easy to get the line to pop through the wind, but as soon as it hit the fly, it stopped it dead in its tracks. There are few ways to make it a bit more easier to get the fly out. Shorten your leader to as short as you can get it, downsize the size of fly, and then figure out the best type of cast to fire it through the wind. Each cast was usually different due to the constant squalling wind that blew around us. Sometimes it was a side cast, others times angles of trajectory were altered. Fly lines were also changed to help it cut through the wind, and sometimes the fly was simply crashed at the waters surface. Not pretty, but it was what was needed to do the job. We tried to take advantage of the wind as much as possible, allowing the wind to carry out as much line as possible, and hopefully carry the fly out with it. But sometimes it's just too windy to make efficiant fishing possible.

Derek down sizing leader and fly, ready for another go.

All in all, the end result was pretty predictable. We didn't manage to hook into anything, or see anything moving. But as long as the fly was somewhere in the water, then there was a chance. As the day went, it was well worth the effort by having a look at a new water. I'm sure we will have another run up to Cheddar for another go at the concrete bowl. There are big pike present, and I'm sure if the conditions were a bit more kind then we would of seen or hooked into something. Next time, they are ours!

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