Sunday, 31 July 2011

Old friends and fly boxes

Fishing is a fantastic sport at any time but even better when you are with good friends. Mark Thomas and I have known each other for a very long time but for one reason or another we only manage to get together to fish perhaps once a year and yesterday was this year's fishing adventure. We usually meet at Chew reservoir as a mid point between my home in North Devon and Mark's in West Wales and we invariably toil under a blazing sun and flat calm conditions. This year would be different we were going afloat on Blagdon and as the rain hit my windscreen as I journeyed up the M5, even the weather was looking different.

I arrived at the car park before Mark who's satnav was refusing to recognise the existence of Blagdon reservoir or Blagdon village. This was a tactical blunder on my behalf. As I mentioned in my last blog Mark is an awesome fly tyer and usually I wait for him to open one of his fly boxes before I tackle up and select my flies, hoping to make a clandestine raid of an unguarded box. Delaying tactics didn't work, I had done everything that needed to be done and a few things that didn't and Mark still hadn't shown up, so there was nothing else for it but to tie on a team of Jonesy's favourite dry flies.

Typically Mark and his fly boxes showed up shortly after I had tied my cast. Fortunately he came bearing sausages and the day began with a bankside fry up. Afloat we found favourable conditions, a light breeze, good cloud cover and rising fish. Mark set up a team of nymphs whilst I plied the dries.

First peek into Mark's fly boxes, I hope he didn't notice the sudden appearance of those gaps...

We moved fish to both methods through the remains of the morning and as always good banter and friendly competition prevailed.
Some really well conditioned, hard-fighting fish

Over lunch I was able to rummage through a few more of Mark's boxes and take a few 'arty' shots:

Over lunch the sun broke through the cloud and the wind eased, by the time we shoved the boat afloat again the conditions had reverted to typical Thomas and Jones fishing conditions, hot, sunny and calm. Those fish that were moving in the morning had disappeared. It was time to graft. 'Mate, I am going to change tactics, can I have a look at your box of buzzers?' There's always a plus point. The afternoon was hard work, we picked up a couple of fish on deeply fished buzzer and diawl bachs before we were able to welcome the return of a bit of cloud cover and duly the rising fish returned.

What followed was a really intense few hours of dry fly fishing as we came across fish feeding heavily on snails and corixa along the weedbed fringes. Interestingly the fish were rising extremely gently, it was difficult at times to spot these fish and even sometimes (particularly as the light faded) it was difficult to watch the flies and see the fish take. The friendly competition continued into the evening with Mark generally keeping one or two fish ahead of my tally. Good fish too, up to around 3.5lbs, full finned and hard fighting. With the last cast of the evening, with Mark already stripping down his gear, I hooked the fish that finally evened up the tally. Given Mark's skill as a fly fisher, experience in this form of fishing and his fly box I was more than happy with that!

I really enjoy fishing with Mark, he is a man really on top of his game and I find it a great way to keep abreast of what's new on the competition scene, best not to mention the new patterns I had squirrelled in the depth of my fly box!

See you next year mate!


Ps. I have just had some photos through from Mark which I have added below:

Jonesy, milking it for the camera.

fin perfect & hard fighting. A great sporting fish.

Friday, 29 July 2011

Fly Tying, pedalling and planning

I have taken a break from fly tying to compose this blog. I don't normally tie many flies during the fishing season, too busy using them to tie them, but the last few days has seen me working feverishly at the vice. Why? Tomorrow I am fishing with a very good friend of mine, Mark Thomas. Mark and I go back years, we have fished together since I was a short, chubby kid and him a 18 year old with a fast car and various girlfriends, all of the things a spotty, teenage kid like me aspired to. Mark is an excellent fly fisher, specialising in stillwater trout fishing, competing regularly at international level. In addition to that and the reason for the fly tying is that Mark is an absolutely awesome fly tyer.

I tie lots of flies, but I must confess it is not something I really love, I tie 'functional flies' (for that read - scruffy), Mark ties immaculate flies, truly immaculate. Whenever we fish together Mark will produce boxes full of these flies, a box of dries and emergers, a box of nymphs, another of pulling flies etc etc every single one of them filled with neat rows of these beautiful flies. I have this feeling of inadequacy whenever I fish with Mark, don't get me wrong I have plenty of flies, some in this pocket, some in that bag, some loafing around in my waistcoat and others stuck to the ceiling of my car, but whenever I look at Mark's bag full of labelled boxes I can't help wishing that I was as organised as Mark or even half as skilled as him at the vice.

So here I am madly tying hoppers, emergers and sorting them into some semblance of order. It won't make a blind bit of difference, as soon as we tackle up tomorrow I will be overcome by this feeling of inadequacy again, but in the meantime I feel a bit better about it all. I will as always take every opportunity to rifle through his boxes tomorrow for the latest patterns and hopefully take a couple of clandestine photos for the next blog.

Should you be following my mumblings on Twitter or on Facebook you will be aware that I am planning a new Fly Fishing Adventure. I am really excited about this one, but also slightly nervous. The Westcountry Angling Passport scheme offers fantastic wild fishing opportunities throughout the southwest, I fish and occasionally guide on some of the beats. The plan is to travel across Devon on my bicycle being completely self sufficient, fishing Westcountry Angling Passport beats on 5 different rivers in 5 days. Camping, pedalling and fishing - that's the plan in a nutshell, obviously there is much more to it than that. I have identified the beats I want to fish, the campsites I want to use and now I am plucking up the courage to work out the routes I am going to cycle, I am trying not to think about how far I have to cycle. I am going to need to think really carefully about what I take with me, room on my bike is pretty limited. Tent, sleeping bag, cooking stove, food, clothes have to be fitted in before I even start thinking about fishing gear. A two weight rod, floating line and various bits and pieces are essentials but what about if we get some rain, there might be peal, do I need a second heavier rod? How do I attach rod tubes to the bike? Chest waders and boots, they will have to come I guess, don't think I can cycle in them so they will have to fit on the bike somewhere. I don't need a coat, not in Devon in August, surely?

Lots and lots to think about.


Wednesday, 13 July 2011

EU Fishery proposals - can we start celebrating?

The European Commission has today announced its proposals for the future fisheries policy. It largely went unreported in the news on a day dominated with the latest actions of the Murdoch's, bombings in the Middle East and fighting in Libya. The Commission described it as a radical approach for fisheries management in Europe, capable of preserving the livelihood of fishermen whilst putting an end to overfishing and depletion of fish stocks.

Maria Damanaki the Commissioner for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries presented the proposals today saying that 'action is needed now to get all of our fish stocks back into a healthy state to preserve them for present and future generations'. One of the key points of today's proposals was that all fish stocks will have to be brought back to sustainable levels by 2015. Another was the resolution to phase out the practice of throwing unwanted fish back into the sea dead - discards, as highlighted recently by Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall's Fishfight.

All really good news then, right?

Well yes, possibly?

In my opinion's there are two reasons to be concerned.

The first is this: This new package is being submitted to the European Parliament and Council for adoption under the ordinary legislative procedure, whatever that means. The Commission aims for adoption and entry into force by 1 January 2013. 2013? This seems in direct contradiction to what the Commissioner said earlier, ie that action is needed now. Things need to be happening now to preserve fish stocks for the future and yet we seem about to enter a period of negotiation, argument and lobbying. It will be extremely difficult to get this proposal through to adoption in it's current form given the weight of influence interested parties will be able to bring to bare and the conflicts of interest between member countries.

My second concern is this, will these proposals be enough, even if they manage to get implemented in their current form? I am no scientist but I am very interested in the state of our fish stocks. For years I have heard scary information from these scientists, even today the stats make scary reading: The Commission says that in the Mediterranean 82% of fish stocks are overfished, while in the Atlantic the figure is 63%. As far back as 1992 the ICES (International Council for the Exploration of the Seas) advised that the 'Recovery of the Cod stock would require, at minimum, a marked and sustained reduction of effort or even a closure of a fishery'. And yet now nearly 20 years of more overfishing and we are now able to recover these fisheries to a 'healthy state' by 2015, just two years from the planned adoption of these proposals. Two years of action which to me looks far short of 'a sustained reduction of effort'. As I said, I am no scientist, but that just doesn't make sense to me.

So for me I am encouraged to see some progress, but I remain sceptical. There is very much a need to keep up the pressure on our politicians to make sure these proposals go through as intended and that their effectiveness is reviewed frequently. So if you haven't signed up to Hugh's Fishfight the I urge you to do it now, I ask you to consider carefully what you order next time you pop into the chippy (why is cod still the cheapest fish available?) and the next time you meet your MP why not make sure they not exactly how important you feel this matter is.

Thanks for reading.


Sunday, 10 July 2011

Drying Out

This weekend I have been mainly fishing the dry fly. No particular reason, other than I like it, so I did. Its funny, when I read about people fishing the dry fly they often write about it being a good method 'on its day' or that despite common sense suggesting they should fish a more effective method they have elected to fish dries because it is aesthetically pleasing, or traditional, or 'the done thing'. Dry fly fishing can be all of those things, it is fantastic to see the fish rise to the fly or to target an individual fish, but for me in most circumstances it is my 'go to method'. What happened this weekend illustrated perfectly what can happen when the dry fly is fished when the conditions are not what people would consider to be ideal.

Day one - North Devon river. The heavy showers at the latter part of the week had seen the river rise and adopt the colour of milky tea. Those heavy showers were still about and breezy sunshine was interspersed with torrential downpours. Hardly classic dry fly conditions.

I think I saw a fish move to a size 26 caenis spinner - or was it just a hail stone?

These conditions would normally have me fishing the streamer or the wet fly but today I wanted to fish the dry fly, so dry fly it was. Remarkably effective it was too. I am going to get round to writing an article on how to fish these North Devon rivers at some point. It will be all about line control, accuracy and reading the water. With the water up like this the 'reading the water' bit becomes really important. Places where you can normally expect to find a trout when the river at normal levels will now be a raging torrent, and your deep holding pools will hold the coloured water for longer. You need to identify where the fish may hold out now. I look for the shallow, clearer, streamy water quite often fishing areas which are dry at normal levels.Bigger than normal flies fished in these areas produced a succession of feisty brown trout, nothing remarkably large although I did rise what looked to me to be a small peal but failed to connect. A really good day's fishing in what are often regarded as difficult conditions.

Day two, dry fly fishing again, but different. Today saw me afloat on a local reservoir chasing rainbow trout. Conditions were a bit better this time, good cloud cover and warm, but (as ever) blowy. This was the first visit to this water for a little while and so the mission was to locate the fish and this meant covering a lot of water and quickly. Drifting with no drogue in a good wave meant that I moved along at a fair lick and for this dry fly fishing is perfect. Despite the fact that there was absolutely no sign of feeding fish I fished a team of dry flies with confidence. Short casting across the wave and leaving the flies in place for only 5-10 seconds before placing them somewhere else meant, with a fast drifting boat, that I covered a huge area of water. I did not see a fish rise to a natural for the first 4 hours of fishing. By then I had 3 good fish in the bag and that riser very soon became the fourth and there were more to follow, particularly when the wind eased into the evening and the fish started to rise.

Dry fly munching trout admires gaudy coloured fly reel.

So two days of fishing, the same tactic - the dry fly - but very different and in conditions which would not be considered ideal. Fishing the dry fly is a massive subject but is great fun and can be remarkably effective. On its day...

Happy fishing.


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