Sunday, 24 January 2010

Dryz a bone!

When it comes to catching fish on a fly, the most exhilarating way has got to be on a surface fly. Whether you are stripping a popper back across the surface for bass or pike, or drifting a small dry fly down stream in search of a big old brown trout, in my opinion the visual way is the best way. One second the fly is minding it's own business as it works the surface, the next a big gaping mouth opens behind it, and all hell starts to break loose. It still get the heart pumping as you watch a huge fish turn onto your fly and suck it in. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy the pull on a line that a subsurface fly gives when it is taken, but the added attraction of seeing what is going on is always a winner.

Like a missile, a big pike chases a surface popper.

With the new trout season around the corner, I thought I would have a blitz on tying a few flies. Not only do we get through them during our own fishing, but we always like to make sure we have enough for our guests and friends that come down to us for tuition and guiding sessions. If I don't get them sorted now, then next week will be a busy week. We have got a few days pike and grayling fishing lined up in Somerset, and by the time you get in late your not always up for an all-nighter behind the vice. So I decided to get things underway and make a start. I must be getting wiser as I get older. I usually fly by the seat of my pants and tie as they are needed! Or maybe it's because I am sitting here with a kidney infection with nothing else better to do.

It has been nice to have a bit of settled weather of late. It has seemed like spring has been trying to poke through. I'm not to sure how long it will last though, so regular casting and recce trips have been made along our stretches of rivers and streams to keep an eye on what is going on. There have been quiet a few natural flies showing themselves and plenty of trout have been spotted hanging around. Even during 'Britain's Big Freeze' or whatever they called it, we were still seeing flies buzzing around. Most were midge that are often found all year around whatever the conditions. Give them a small opening of warmer temperature throughout the day and they are always out and about. I think out of all the cold weather we had, there was only one or two that I didn't see any fly life at all. What was a surprise was seeing a couple of Large dark olives coming off whilst the air temperature must of been about -5 degrees. Something must of felt right for them to take flight. The rest had more sense and decided to hold tight until it warms up a bit.

With a batch of Varivas hooks arriving, I opted to crack on with some dry flies. Not only will they stock up the boxes for the forthcoming trout season, but hopefully they'll have a few grayling hanging onto them next week!

aff-UK 'fly lab', where magic or usually a mess is created!

Most of the dry flies that I use nowadays tend to be parachute style. This is for various reasons, but especially for the way that they sit in the water. Unlike a lot of traditional shoulder hackle dries that tend to sit high on the surface, parachute dries hold lower in the film giving it a much better footprint. Even in fast flowing streams, if the fly isn't sitting right it can still be rejected. A parachute fly is a stable fly which seems to land better on the surface and drifts well in both slow and fast flowing currents. So it is perfect for a lot of the wild trout fishing that we do on our moorland rivers.

A swarm of parachute flies ready to get chomped!

Probably the most famous parachute fly throughout the fly fishing world is the trusty 'Klinkhamer'. If you are going to tie a fly that has a reputation like the klinkhamer, then it pays to see the proper way to tie it. Check out Hans Van Klinken's website for the tying and history behind it. I have my own way of tying a similar pattern, but I like to add a tail to some of the flies and use CDC for the post. Colour and size are determined by the natural food that is floating down stream. It pays to carry a good selection to allow you imitate the footprint and shade of the natural flies that come off your rivers, or even still waters. Parachute flies are as deadly on both types of waters.

A typical parachute fly, size 20 for our moorland and river trout.

Dependant on the style of fly fishing that we are doing or the request of our guests, will determine how we use the dry fly. Like I mentioned at the beginning of the blog, visually watching a fish rise and suck your fly into it's mouth is the way to go. So when the fish are on the rise and feeding on surface flies, then we will usually fish a team of three dries. When the fishing are taking both emerging and emerged flies, then again a few parachute flies will be attached to the leader. One of the most common set-ups for the parachute fly, is to combine it with a nymph. Known by various names such as 'New Zealand dropper', 'Klink and dink', 'The duo', they are all the same method, that hangs a weighted nymph underneath the dry. This does two things. One it gives the fish two bites of the cherry. Some will hit the nymph, others will rise to the dry. Or simply the dry fly is pretty much used as an indicator and sets the depth for the trundling nymph. It is also good way to prospect a water when there isn't much surface action going on. Again you will be surprised what is lurking under your fly. One minuet nothing, next you are buckled over and trying to stop a fish from diving back into cover.

A few bits and a 'duo set up'.

When it comes to my own dry fly fishing, I always like to spend the extra time to get things right. If it doesn't cut into your fishing time too much, then it's always worth the effort. First is to use the correct lenght and diameter leader and tippet. I tend to opt for a co-polymer and flexible tippet. This will allow for a more natural movement of the fly, that in fishing practice should entice the fish more instead of a last minuet turn away. I always like to dress the tippet with a sinkant of some description. Even in faster flowing water I still like to have to tippet leading to the dry fly sunk under the surface. We have spent loads of time trying untreated and treated leaders, and found that the more discrete tippet fooled even the most line shy fish. Last is to use a decent floatant on the fly. Most people tend to use Gink for this job. Personally I have changed to 'Loon Aquel' after years of use. Gink will keep most flies floating, but it has the problem of going hard in the cooler temperatures and sometimes gives a slick off when the fly lands on the water. Giving the leader a quick stretch before making the cast will also help land the fly further away from the fly line. I have witnessed it countless times when a coiled leader lands on the water and spooks fish as it drifts over them. Also with the added slack in the leader, it can also be tricky to set the hook in time before it is spat out.

Hopefully with everything set right it will help to get a few more fish out. You still always manage to spook or miss a few but that's fishing. Again, making sure you have a stealthy approach will help just as much as a decent set up. There is no point in spending your time tying the perfect fly, setting the leader up and finishing everything off nicely, only to alert the fish when you get in the river. Gravel crunch is one of the first indicators to the fish that you are in the area. So watching where you put your feet is a must. If I could get away with it, then I would opt for not using studs in the soles of my wading boots. But with the kind of rocky ground that we have in our Devon streams it can be like walking on bowling balls and ice.

The thing that I love about wild trout fly fishing or river fly fishing in general is the mobility factor. I wouldn't say I'm an impatient angler, but If there are a few miles of river to fish then I will try and get as much of it covered as possible in a session. This could take one or two days, but I like the challenge. You don't get much freedom in life, so when your faced with an open stream and a few hills to walk over I'm in my element. I'm not one for getting out of the car and dropping into the first run that we stumble across, (unless its a good one). I prefer to travel light and get up to some mischief. Only experience can really teach you what to take, but most importantly what to leave in the car. We have all made the mistake of carrying unnecessary stuff with us. Trying to clamber in and out of the river with pockets bulging with fly boxes, spare spools and lines, zingers draping all sorts of iron works, over sized nets that get caught up on everything and a couple of spare rods. Dependant on conditions, if it doesn't fit in a bum bag or help to catch fish then it doesn't come along. The trick is not to buy things with too many pockets or compartments. For some reason if we have them, we seem to have to fill them. In my next blog, I will write a short piece about the kind of gear that comes along with us. I recently had an email asking about chest packs and lines trays. Both have their positive angles, but can make things awkward for both wading/walking and fly casting. Again I will try and fit a bit in about the pros and cons of carrying them. Till then, tight lines! Roll on the fishing.

Saturday, 9 January 2010

Better safe than sorry.

We all have to admit that in today's crazy world of health and safety it has all gone a bit too far! Kids can't play conkers unless they wear a crash helmet, if its dirty you can't go in it, if it's slippy you can't go on it. The same applies to fly fishing. When I started down the road of becoming a fly fishing instructor and guide, the first series of exams that I undertook (Level II) seemed more interested in knowing what I knew about health and safety, than it did of fly fishing skills, teaching and communication skills. We all know that if we fall into water or slip on a muddy bank that there could be consequences. But I am a firm believer in common sense and practice over paperwork. If I remember correctly, one of the questions was something to do with walking across a fishery car park and the nearest fire escape! Not, how would you teach an angler how to safely get out of a river if they had slipped, or how would you manoeuvre a boat to a jetty facing an on shore wind. Or how about tides and times, and when it is safe to take people.

At Adventure fly fishing UK, we understand the importance of the safety of our anglers and guests who visit us us for fly fishing tuition and guiding. Whether fly fishing from the shore or afloat nothing is taken to chance. As AAPGAI instructors, you won't usually see the preparation that goes into a day with us, because all that we want is for you to be focusing on day. Not worrying about safety or finding the fish. That is our job. One side of fly fishing that is really booming at the moment is fly fishing for pike. With many fly fishers targeting them on some of the large trout waters and big lakes, most anglers will be looking for them from a boat. On the whole, fly fishing is a safe sport. As long as you wear a hat and glasses, pay attention to the conditions, surrounds and don't fall in then you should be back for more fun. The same applies when fly fishing from a boat. The only other factor is your afloat.

As a life long angler I have spent my fare share of time in a boats. Most of it has been spent on the large lochs and loughs of Scotland and Ireland. Many of my local fly fishing venues also had boats and I often preferred to fish from them, than fishing from the bank. This was due to fish location, restricted casting or shear laziness. So over time your own awareness of what is safe and what isn't soon sharpens. It is fare to say that there are a lot of people out there who go out for the first time, and you wonder if they will return! This was brought home to me when I used to managing a large still water trout fishery in Somerset. We would often have to go and tow boats back in that had run into trouble, repair damaged props and keels, ensure life jackets were worn, remove rod tips and line from around the props and even had to drag an angler into a rescue boat that had fallen in. Its easy to hire a boat for the day and set off on your fly fishing trip, but by paying attention to a few important points will make it a lot smoother and safer.

Fly fishing from boats is very popular, but a bit of
knowledge and know how will be a big help.

As I mentioned earlier, fly fishing on large trout venues and lakes is getting very popular. Most of these waters have their own safety policies and will maintain and check boats are in good working order and decide whether it is safe to go out or not. When fishing on large unrestricted waters, then it is down to the angler to make these checks and asses the danger. It doesn't hurt to have some kind of powerboat training, which will teach you about weather forecasts, navigation, boat preparation, boat handling and manoeuvring, self rescue, and engine maintenance. This may all sound a bit OTT, but once you have learnt all about it you will be surprised how many scrapes it will get you out of. These are regularly carried out at RYA centers throughout the country.

The last thing we want as a tuition and guiding service is to floating around like idiots waiting to get rescued or waiting until we drift into the bank. When people are paying good money to spend the day bent into fish, they don't really want to get towed back in behind a safety boat, looking like the Chuckle brothers!! It may be worth asking the guys who are taking you out if they have any kind of boat training. I am not saying that it is paramount, but i would be more confident if I knew the guide in charge of the boat knew what they were doing. I have even been out to rescue so called 'celebrity anglers' when they have got into trouble, and I know Derrick had to send a chopper out to rescue another celeb from the coast. I'm not going to mention names, but maybe they ought just stick to writing about it. Saying that I never read about the trouble that they got into. Only how good they were and how many fish they caught. Funny that!

When thinking about taking a boat out, the first thing to consider is the weather. On the flip side of rough, windy weather there are those blistering hot days. You often see pale anglers setting off in the morning, only to return in the evening looking like a boiled lobster. So it pays to carry everything that you think you will need throughout the day. There is usually no nipping back to the car. As well as all of the fly fishing tackle, we always carry a 'boat bag'. This is easily stowed away under the seat of a boat and will help us in any situation. First things first is you own protection. Just like bank fishing we always advise on wearing a hat and glasses, but when afloat a floatation device is also a must. I'm not going to get into the debate of whether it should be a 'self inflating' life jacket, a manual or a buoyancy aid. My personal choice when in a boat is a buoyancy aid. This is only because I'm lazy and once its on its on. I don't have to worry about checking it for leaks, changing cartridges, have them going off in the bag, or putting a hole in it. The only advantage of a self inflating life jacket is it will go off when submersed in water, then right you up so you are not floating face down in the water. But when fishing in pairs this doesn't tend to be much of a problem.

When afloat always make sure you wear protection.
(Hat, glasses, and a buoyancy aid). The fish is optional!

Apart from making sure you are safe from stray flies or falling in, it is also vital to make sure that your boat is going to get out and back OK. Checking that it isn't leaking is always a winner. The last thing you want to do is spend the day bailing it out, instead of fishing. If you are using a boat with an outboard motor, check that there is enough fuel for the day and there is an alternative method of propulsion i.e. oars or electric motor. All motors vary in controls, so if you are unfamiliar with the type of engine play around with it for a while before setting off. Run the engine for a while, checking that the tick over is right and the fuel is running through it OK. Look over the back of the engine and check that the exhaust is working and spitting water out. Check that the engine can be pulled up and dropped back in and out of the water, and most important check that the kill switch works and you have the kill cord. If in doubt, don't go out. A lot of anglers are happy letting the cord dangle from the engine whilst they set off. But for the sake of clipping it around your leg it will make all the difference if you fall over. Used correctly, it will kill the engine and you can clamber back into the boat. Leave it dangling from the engine and the boat will blast off into the distance leaving you to swim for it.

Carry spares, repairs and other bit and pieces in a
waterproof boat bag, that is easily stored under the seat.

In our 'boat bag' we carry a range of items that will help us to have a good day even if there is any small glitch.

My own PFD, with room to carry plenty of bits and bobs.

Navigation equipment, maps and charts.

There is no better substitute than knowing your water first hand. But it is always helpful to have a map of the water, to plot shallow areas which may ground the boat, to check for likely looking holding and feeding areas, or simply to get a better understanding of the area you are floating on. A GPS and compass also comes aboard to help with plotting holding areas. These may change as the season progresses, but if in spring you are picking fish up in a certain area, then they move somewhere else in the summertime, then again throughout autumn, it helps to plot these areas for future reference. One piece of kit that I also like to use is a sounder. Usually called a fish finder, and often frowned upon by a lot of trout anglers. Our main use for it is for working and finding contours. Again it will show us the depth and shape of the lake bed, and has saved us from grounding the boat on several occasions over the years. This is a lifesaver when fishing on some of the remote lakes, where it is possible to be cruising over 100ft of water one minute then 2ft the next as you pass over a sunken island. This gives us time to make adjustments of the cruise and steer around it in time.

Rescue and first aid kit should also be carried.

If someone was to accidentally fall over the side of the boat, then it pays to have something at hand to pull them back. If the boat is anchored then a hand, landing net handle or an oar should suffice. If the boat is drifting or the person is moving away, then a throw line a throw line will do the job. No kit would be complete without a reflective blanket! If it is cold, then wrapping the person up should keep them warm until you can get back to shore. First aid kits can be cumbersome. But when your on a boat it doesn't really make that much difference. It isn't very often that I have had to use one, but when fly fishing for fish with sharp teeth, you get the odd knick every now and again.

Pike like to get their own back every now and again!

A few spare items that are sometimes missing or broke.

It can be a pain if you turn up and there are a few things missing. Spare rowlocks and a bailer have come in handy a few times over the years. If they aren't missing then they are sometimes damaged and may need replacing to get back. There is nothing more frustrating than finding the kill cord missing. Without it, you will have a job to keep the engine running. At least if you have a spare (for the right engine), you can still get out and crack on with some fishing.

The last few bits that we take are a knife, leatherman, screwdriver, head torch, cord, cable ties, shear pins, spark plug and a spanner. I know it may sound like we are rebuilding the boat, but most of this stuff doesn't get used from one season to the next. It is with experience over a long time that dictates what I now carry. After snapping a rowlock whilst rowing across loch Lomond, I decided to carry spares. After loosing the kill cord and having to row back along rutland, I got my own spare just in case, and loosing the bailer whilst having a pee, meant we had to stand in a foot of water during a torrential storm on LLandegfedd as the boat filled up. There was stuff and gear floating all over the place. So as the old saying goes 'once bitten, twice shy'. Now we are more prepared for all our trips. With most of the boat fishing done on freshwater in search of trout and pike, then these kind of commercial fisheries will have fishery workers who maintain the boats and jetties. So 99% of the time every will be good. If there are any problems with a boat it is just a case of swapping it or getting it put right before you go adrift. When hiring boats on small fisheries or wild waters where they only usually have the odd boat or two that can get neglected, may get a bit of 'boat bag' treatment. I'm no kind of formula one pit crew guy, but I can just about keep a boat limping along when it should be been towed in.

Tuesday, 5 January 2010

Making the most of it!

According to the weather forecast, it is the coldest winter for thirty years. They say it has something to do with high pressure over Siberia, causing freezing winds and heavy snowfall all over the UK. I noticed this when my car got stuck in snow and had to walk about 8 miles back to home. It does prove that it sometimes pays to be prepared. One inch of snow in this country and it has had it! The whole place comes to a stand-still and local councils can't seem to cope with sprinkling a bit of salt on the roads. Good job for the council tax that gets paid to them every month. We have to keep the boys topped up with brews and biscuits whilst they sit around depot. When they have run out and the thaw starts, you begin to see them on the road firing grit all over your car!

So what do you do? You can sit in the house watching telly, better still tie a few flies, or even better, get out and make the most of it. Leaving the car where it was, I decided to get out for a bit of casting practice as normal and then have a stroll down to look at the river. One thing that I enjoy about this time of year is been able to see more of the river and its surrounding areas. This can help during the fishing season when overhanging trees are in leaf and the bank side cover is disguising the shape and features of it. Knowing where likely looking holding areas are will help when the river drops back and the vegetation starts cover the area again. Whether you can get a fly into the area is another story. But that's the fun of wild trout fly fishing.

Looking upstream a cold and bare West Okment.

Searching for new smaller feeder streams running in to the main rivers can also be interesting. Many of the streams that come off the moors are often topped up with the help of run-ins and feeders. These then can hold into small streams and pools which can hold trout in quite good numbers before reaching the main river. These can often be located on OS maps or by searching for them on foot. Unfortunately during mid season these areas will often be unfishable due to the overgrowth. So finding these areas during the bald spell, will always be worth a look early season before the cover gets too thick, making casting a fly impossible.

One of the many feeders that run off the moors into the Okment

By mid summer, these areas will be overgrown and unfishable.
Well worth a visit early season.

Woodland cover will also be thinner, so tracking the river will be easier. I've ragged a few wading jackets scrambling through thick trees, bushes and gorse in the summer, so only having to make the odd duck to miss a branch or two means you can keep can eye on frozen patches of marsh that love to suck the boots off your feet. Walking is fairly easy. The cooler temperatures and lack of flies is a bonus for a start. Sweat loving flies that swarm around you in the summer soon get on your nerves. At least this time of year they will be hibernating somewhere I think! So all that you have to do is concentrate on not slipping over.

Make the most of thinner woodland cover to check
out harder to reach parts of the river.

If you do decide to go out in the sort of weather that we are having at the moment, make sure you are prepared. You may think its bit of an overkill having to carry spare clothing, stove, map, compass and a shelter when making a trip that you usually make in shorts and t-shirts during the warmer months. But when you are high on Dartmoor the weather can soon come in. Preparation and having the right kit with you will make things easier and safer. The same applies when fly fishing on the moors even when the weather seems good. Knowing how to get off a moorland stream and back down in thick fog is always worth learning. Nowadays you can pick a GPS up for around £70. These are always a winner when searching new areas for plotting grid references, but also a lifeline when the weather blows in and you can't see where to go. This is especially true if you start to track off river and go overland in search of another stream. If the weather starts to close in whilst tracking a single river, then it's just a case of walking back along it until you know where you are. At Adventure Fly Fishing UK we also use GPS on some of the larger still waters that we often work and guide on. Sometimes they have helped us back to shore when the weather has turned bad, other times for 'marking' holding areas of fish. I remember a 10 mile trip back through thick fog and rolling waves of Lough Derg in Ireland. If it wasn't for a GPS it would of meant spending the night on a island. But using the track back feature, it directed us straight back to the jetty.

Not standard fly fishing kit, but useful in bad weather
or for plotting fish holding areas.

As I am writing this the snow is falling even harder than the past few days. I might even get out for a spot of winter camping when it settles a bit. If not I will get a few flies tied. Beats sitting around watching the telly!

Taking the easy path to the camp.

Saturday, 2 January 2010

Christmas Cast.

Well, that's it for another year. A few pounds lighter in the pocket and a few heavier around the gut! I would like to wish everybody a 'Happy New Year' and hope that there is plenty of fishing lined up for 2010. I have just returned back to Devon from the Christmas visit to catch up with mates and family. All in all, a good time all round. But it's now time to crank things up and get ready for the new season, plenty of fly casting and those pike and grayling that had eluded us during the last visit will be in for it.

After the usual Christmas get-together, it was good to get out and travel up north to the 'Christmas Cast'. I'm not sure how many years we have been meeting up for this social, but it is always worth the miles to attend. After a slow journey up the M6 to Lancashire, I met up with Jim Fearn at his house and we set off to to the river, meeting up with Gary Coxon en-route. The weather was quite nice for the event. There was a bit of fresh snow fall, sleet and a cold wind. But this is what we do! So no complaining, it was hoods up, heads down and crack on with the casting, learning, and having a laugh.

There was a good turn out like usual, with lads traveling down from Scotland, Cheshire, Cumbria and me flying the flag for Devon. In my opinion AAPGAI is the best fly fishing organisation in the world. It certainly has the standard and the instructors and guides who are a part of it put the time and rod hours in to maintain this. There is no better way to learn and progress than spending time at these kind of sessions. It doesn't matter how good you are or think you are, you are never too good to learn. Again I came home with a head full of new ideas, thoughts, questions and answers.

Another good turn out for the 'Christmas Cast'.

As well as some stunning single handed fly casting going on, the salmon guys were displaying some top casting with the double handed rods. As well as using our own set-up whilst casting, it is always good to try and use other types of fly rods and lines. There were plenty of Sage rods and Rio fly lines been used as well as Vision, and Orvis. So there was plenty of selection to try and compare.

Plenty of casting and tackle to try throughout the day.

The beauty of AAPGAI is the range of interest between its members. Primarily game fishing instructors teaching the skills required for successful trout, salmon and grayling fishing. Fly fishing is also the perfect method for many other species. These range from a variety of course fish and saltwater species, that are willing to rise or take a passing fly. Here at Adventure fly fishing UK, we also like to offer this added service. If it takes a fly, we will fish for it and teach you how. These range from pike, carp, zander, bass, pollack, mullet and sharks.

Gary Coxon keeping an eye on proceedings!

For anybody wishing to find a local AAPGAI instructor, then check out the website at With the high standard of its instructors and guides you can be confident that you will get the best service and advice out there. For a quick reference of AAPGAI instructors in Devon, Cornwall, Cumbria, Midlands and Lancashire, have a chat with:-

Mark Bailey: aff-UK (Devon)-
Derrick Jones: aff-UK (Devon)-
Jim fearn: (Lancashire)-
Lee Cummings: (Cumbria)-
Tony Riley: (Cumbria)-
Gary Coxon: (Midlands)-