Thursday, 30 June 2011

Trout to order

I had a really interesting day yesterday teaching and guiding Simon Dawson, writer, self sufficiency guru, pig farming friend of mine. Simon was with me to write an article for a well known magazine on Adventure Fly Fishing UK - very exciting, it's due out in the September issue, I will tell you all about it when it happens!

My plan for the day was to try and show Simon the key components of this fantastic sport. How do you sum up this sport in such a short period of time? A sport that has entertained me for 30 years, that is still showing me new things, that still contrives every now and again to completely confuse me.

How to cast a fly was obviously top of the list but there are so many other things that I consider to be a vital part of the sport, entomology, fly tying, fly selection, the excitement or tension of the pursuit of our quarry, what about the killing, preparation and eating of our quarry - maybe not the top of everybody's agenda when fishing but still a very important aspect? So a full day then?!

Casting, sorted. Kind of!

Needless to say I was being a little optimistic! It is in my opinion impossible to convey all that there is to love about this sport in one short day. What was completely new to me was trying to see the day through the eye of an Editor, how to convey these experiences in 1200 words? What photographs do we need to aim for? For the first time I am not just concentrating on the Client's experience or enjoyment or teaching, but where does the photographer want me to stand whilst I am explaining the purpose of a tight casting loop? What aspects do Simon think will appeal to the readership? Did I hold my stomach in for that shot? Can we airbrush out one of my chins? Etc, etc.

Fly fishing tension and excitement as fish followed, swirled and tweaked our flies.

Thankfully it seemed to go quite well. The weather was relatively kind to us, the fishery beautiful as always and the fish played the game as well, lots of visual fishing, big follows, little tweaks, swirls, brief fights and finally some success.

FISH ON! Photographer tells me off for waving me arms around like a loon.

Finally Simon's first fish. I still remember my first fish nearly 30 years on. Somehow I think Simon well remember his.

So some interesting new experiences, a thought provoking but thoroughly enjoyable day. A useful exercise I think, particularly on those occasions when the marketing and hype overtakes us, to think about what aspects of this sport are most important to us.

On that deep and meaningful note, I am signing off.

Tight lines.

Monday, 27 June 2011

I love it when I am right!!!

Do you remember when I talked about the rain really livening up the rivers? I talked about the freshwater encouraging the seatrout and salmon to running the rivers and streams and also switching on the resident brown trout? Well its all true - I have the proof!

I have been fishing the rivers and streams of North Devon hard since Friday when we had a day of steady rain and the river rose and coloured up. When the conditions are like this it is time to move away from your traditional trout tactics, I like to fish larger streamers on sink tips and full sinkers. The techniques is a lot like the spinning and lure fishing that I learnt on the small welsh rivers when I was a kid - be daring, get the lure in all of the likely nooks, crannies, pots and runs, under the trees and amongst the snags, as you work down the river. It is a real test of your casting skills and great, great fun and can turn up sea trout as well as the odd salmon.

Fishing the streamer in big water. Casting can be a bit of an adventure.

It is really pleasing to report a good run of sea trout ('Peal' in Devonian) making the most of the conditions. They are really good fun, nipping, swirling and occasionally actually taking your streamer. The fish, fresh run from the sea, are a good looking fish, fight really well and if your that way inclined - eat beautifully. There are also some salmon running our rivers at the moment, I had a very brief encounter with one early (very early) yesterday morning. It really is great to share a river with these fish, they have to overcome so much just to get here and whilst the numbers are nothing compared to fifty even twenty years ago, I can't help but feel optimistic for their future.

A nice peal on the streamer.

Whilst I am on the subject of being right, do you remember I mentioned my theory that the larger resident brown trout are best targeted with large flies fished at night or in a spate? On these rain fed rivers the feeding is relatively sparse in comparison to the chalkstreams of the South or the limestone rivers to the North. Our streams hold a large number of small trout, 6-10inches, to get significantly larger than that a trout has to do something different. They have to eat a more substantial diet, I firmly believe that we have carnivorous brown trout here, we don't see them much as they hunt at night or in spate conditions. As much as I love fishing the dry fly, nymph and wet fly I have vowed to spend more time fishing bigger flies at these times as I am absolutely convinced these sort out the better trout. I have had some success over the last couple of days.

A 14ins brown trout on a 2ins streamer in big water.

Thanks for reading.


Friday, 24 June 2011

Its all about the timing.

At last some rain. At last some fresh water in the streams and rivers of the Westcountry. At last some reports of salmon and seatrout pushing upstream. And where was I for this first bit of freshwater this season? After all of my waiting, cloud watching and rain dancing? The Mediterranean...

The messages from my friends and family as we basked in 30 degree heat under cloudless skies were all about how lucky we were to get away from the gales and rain. Lucky? I wasn't so sure. Even before we were through customs I was on the phone, what are the river levels? What is the weather forecast? The very next morning sees me on a favourite river to find the spate fining down nicely. The river feels so different from when I fished it last just 10 days ago. It is really hard to describe, it just feels more alive. There is more noise, more motion and less silt and algae.

It isn't just the seatrout and salmon that seem to rejoice in these conditions, suddenly the resident trout seem to be on the fin. Lots of fish that we catch on these streams are small - somewhere in the region of 4-6ins with the occasional larger ones. I have a theory that on these streams the larger fish get large from feeding on bigger food items and from avoiding the predators. If you look into the catch records on rainfed streams and rivers I reckon you will see that a considerable number of larger than average brown trout are caught accidentally - perhaps when fishing larger flies during a spate for sea trout and salmon or when fishing at night for seatrout with big lures. Of course there are exceptions but I reckon these fish are most active after dark and in times of spate when the risk of predation is less.

That is how I saw it today with a number of fish above what I would consider to be the average size taken on dries and nymphs. It is good to be home again, now lets have some more rain.

Getting these fish to the camera singlehanded can prove difficult. Notice the blooded ring finger, this fish escaped my hand at the first attempt unfortunately the trailing nymph was buried up to the bend in my finger. Times like this I am glad I fish barbless.

Wednesday, 15 June 2011


It is Father's day on Sunday. There, that is the public service element of Adventure Fly Fishing UK, a reminder for you to buy the card or to book the table at the local carvery, we are so much more than a fly fishing instruction and guiding service...!

I have never been very good at remembering Father's Day, I tend to recoil at the commercialisation of something that should be said far more often than once a year - thank you. The main thing I have to thank my Dad for is getting me interested in fish and fishing.

My Dad has always been a keen fisherman, when fatherhood struck in the form of my brother and I it threatened to seriously curtail his sport. In order to continue he took us with him. Some of my earliest memories are being on the riverbank with my Dad, watching as he fished for sewin (that’s the welsh word for sea-trout) with spinners or worm. I remember my Dad cutting me a hazel stick and teaching me to catch eels when the river was in raging spate by trotting earthworms into the slack water in and around tree roots. I soon progressed onto a real fishing rod and remember catching my first trout, again on worm, I struck the bite so hard that the fish left the water like a polaris missile and flew over my head, becoming detached from the hook mid air. I remember excitedly telling my Dad that I was sure it was a trout because I saw something silver streaking passed. It was some time later that we tracked that fish down in the hedge behind. To me it was the most beautiful fish; it had the biggest, reddest spots I have seen on a trout, ever.

It must have been hard work for my Dad, just getting me to the river bank couldn’t have been easy, I remember riding the bus, sitting amongst the shoppers and commuters trying not to accidentally hit anybody with my fishing rod, whilst trying to check on the well being of my tub full of earthworms (again) without anybody noticing. I remember countless journeys to the river and the estuary on the back of Dad’s bicycle including a close encounter with an angry wasp’s nest on one particular journey. And then once he got me there it couldn’t have been easy to educate, enthuse and entertain an 8 year old whilst trying to winkle a sewin, a tricky character at the best of times, out of the overgrown, snag infested river.

No, it certainly couldn’t have been easy, but my Dad managed it and by doing so he gave me the key to an amazing sport that in turn has given me so much. This is why I am so excited about establishing Aff-UK, this opportunity to help people discover flyfishing for the first time or to open up new areas of the sport that have so far been closed to them, like my Dad did for me (but without the bike rides, bus journeys and piggy backs). So Dad if you read this blog - thank you.

Having said that, my Dad reading this blog would more than likely be a first for him, one which would probably require the assistance of my 12 year old nephew to log on for him. I think I may have inherited my distrust of technology from him as well…

Me with my Dad learning his 'unique' hat wearing style.

Sunday, 5 June 2011

The Five Ps

Have you heard of the 5 Ps? Preparation prevents P**s Poor Performance? I have heard this banded about in all sorts of different environments, the sports field, the office and on the riverbank. Whilst I largely agree with this there are times when all of the preparation in the world will not give you the results you need or deserve. These last couple of days are a perfect example. The fishing has been strangely tough.

In terms of preparation it was done, we had the right flies, the tactics proven, the venues sorted and yet nothing. Sure the fish were there, we saw stacks, mullet feeding hard, bass streaming passed our feet on the front of the tide and yet nothing more than a few tweaks and one small bass. At these times as a guide I can trail out the clich├ęd excuses for the lack of fish, too windy, too bright, water too clear / too murky etc but at times like this there is only one thing for it - Perseverance. I don't mean continuing to flog the water regardless, I mean knuckling down to a long period of concentration, working the changes and ensuring that the fly stays in the water for the maximum amount of time.

This is something I learnt as a competition angler. The best competition anglers, and I have been lucky to fish with some very good ones, know all about this. Sure they have all of the Ps sorted, the preparation that goes into an international fly fishing competition would have to be seen to be believed, but when the fishing starts it is all about maximising your chances. That means perseverance, maximising fishing time and generally working damn hard.

When things aren't going well Perseverance is what it is all about. This is what we did this week, perseverance and a little bit of adaptation, when the original plan quite simply isn't working, work hard and adapt. When people are willing to do this the rewards can be awesome.
Luke with a personal best.