Friday, 22 June 2012

Events dear boy, events.

Sometimes deciding where to fish within a fishery can be extremely difficult. When I guide on the coast or even occasionally on large stillwaters I am often asked how I decide where to start. It can be difficult, particularly when faced with large, relatively uniformed, expanses of water or miles upon miles of coastline.

When in these situations I always try to think about what constitutes as a fish attracting feature within that sort of fishery or for that species of fish. I am a firm believer that in order to be a consistently successful angler you must first have a detailed understanding of your quarry. We need to know how it feeds, how it rests and how it evades predators. Armed with this knowledge it is a simple matter of analysising what we can see on or above the water surface and interpreting what this may mean to our quarry. Identify the places where the fish want to hang out and (perhaps more importantly) where they want to feed and fish there. 

That is all well and good, but yesterday I was reminded of a discussion with a really good saltwater guide I fished with a couple of years back. We were chasing bass, without much luck as it turned out, but nevertheless what he said to me has steered much of my thinking in fishing ever since. We were recce-ing an area that we wanted to hit later on when it was dark, it was a massive expanse of rocky foreshore, with mile upon mile of what I would describe as textbook bass feeding territory. Gulleys, rockpools and any other bassy feature you could imagine. The problem here was not to identify the fish-attracting feature but to try and prioritise which feature would be more likely to attract the most fish. Not easy. 

So when I say 'its all about the features' my guide disagreed, when faced with this many potentially fantastic features it can serve to divide the fishes feeding efforts and subsequently our chances. He explained that it is all well and good identifying feeding areas, the key to fishing these areas is to identify the key events. ie to be at a prime feeding position at the prime feeding time or, as he put it - its all about the 'events'.

So in order to maximise our chances in addition to identifying the features we need to time our attack to coincide with an event. So an understanding of what constitutes an event is as important as what constitutes a feature. Now this is more difficult. Now we need to understand a great deal more than where our quarry likes to hang out, we need to understand what influences the prey species, this is relatively easy. But what about the effects on our prey of the onset of darkness, a temperature change, a drop in air pressure, or moonrise. Interestingly my guide put a huge importance on the arrival and departure of the moon as an event. So in essence, pick your feature and then plan your assault to be there when an event happens, to maximise the chance of sport. In if you can plan to arrive at a succession of features to coincide with a succession of events, then happy days.

Yesterday I spotted the onset of an event. From around mid morning it honked down, proper summer rain, massive drops that fall vertically, uninfluenced by the wind and hurt when they land on your head. I knew that there should be some decent fish around and by 1600 I was to found on my favourite spate river. Water levels were still a little low but already the colour of weak tea, a spate was coming I could see that and I hoped that the fish could too. I had a window of just two hours before branches and tree trunks started to drift past me indicating the arrival of the spate and the end of my fishing. But for those two hours I am happy top report that the river felt as alive as I can remember it.

Be in the right place for an 'event' and the rewards can be spectacular. 



Thursday, 14 June 2012

The recipe for adventure

Fly fishing is a truly international sport, what I mean by that is that it seems to me more and more fly fishers that I speak to are travelling far and wide to experience sport in all sorts of places. A scan through any fishing magazine will have photos of amazing scenery, or monster fish from various glamorous locations, there seems to be more opportunities for fishing adventures now than ever before. Note I say 'adventures' and not 'holidays', I believe that they are different.

 A holiday to me brings up thoughts of 5 star hotels, all inclusive dining and balconies overlooking the pool, similarly the term 'fishing holiday' summons thoughts of 5 star lodges, all inclusive meals and carefully mapped out fishing itineraries. Not that there is anything wrong with this, but for me an adventure is slightly different. The recipe for a fishing adventure is somewhat different. I am preparing to depart on an adventure and the ingredients look like this;

1. A different location.
An adventure involves going and discovering fishing, not knowing beforehand what you can expect.

2. Room to explore.
Linked to point 1, part of an adventure is the ability to travel and get a feel for the fishing over a wider area.

3. Flexible accommodation.
I don't mean a chef that can keep your evening meal warm whilst you enjoy the evening rise, I mean the ability to have dinner at 3am or to shelter from the worst of the weather when the worst of the weather arrives. For the majority of my adventures that means a tent.

4. Time to really immerse yourself in the fishing.
In this age time is often the most difficult ingredient to source. Ideally in an adventure I really like to feel I have 'done' the fishing in that location.

5. An element of ...well, adventure.
I struggled with this one a bit, I thought 'danger' or 'survival' or even just plain old 'unusual' but it doesn't have to be any of them. I guess what I mean is an element of effort - be that travelling to the fishing location, living in difficult conditions, enduring bad weather or whatever.

Let me demonstrate by telling you about my plans:

1. Location; next month I travel to Iceland to fish for wild trout, I know that in itself is not very unusual, Iceland is fast becoming a very popular fishing destination, with well publicised trout fishing. But I am not fishing these places, instead I am heading up in to the Highlands - the bits up near the glaciers. The plan is to fish the tributaries of some of these famous waters, or more accurately their tributaries - and the small streams that run in to those tributaries. Waters, as far as I can tell that don't get fished - or even visited.

2. Room to explore; Yep, loads of it, more than I can actually fish in the time I have available, which is fine because I suspect some of it won't have any fish in it so I can just walk passed that bit.

3. Flexible accommodation; yes of course, the tent, a really sturdy one and I will be carrying all of the food I require for the trip with me, which presents one or two problems...

4. Time; Oh yes, as you can see I have not exactly splashed out on fancy living here so cost isn't the limiting issue to this one, so 10 days which is just about as much food as I can carry.

5. The adventure element; I think so. I have identified a Country with great fishing but relatively harsh environment and I have chosen the harshest bit of that harsh environment to explore solo and unsupported for 10 days. My fishing itinerary involves a drop off point and a pick up point with a date and time, in between those points lie kilometers of  unexplored rivers and streams.

To me, those are the ingredients of a fine fishing adventure, I don't know if I will find fine fishing, but I think the adventure bit is pretty much guaranteed.

Now you have probably identified a few issues that need to be overcome, that is what I am working on at the moment, here's a few I am mulling over currently:

Navigation - this area is not exactly frequently visited so the best maps I can find aren't exactly modern or hugely detailed. I will be carrying GPS, I have no idea if it will receive the satellite signal required to be any good, so I plan for the old fashioned method. Similarly I have no idea if I will have a phone signal so I am looking at alternative ways to raising the alarm should it all get messy. 

Food - 10 days worth of sufficient calories to compensate for a relatively high level of physical exertion. It will come down to the old favourites again - pasta, porridge, peanuts supplemented with some dried meat that I will carry for extra taste and fat content and I may kill the odd fish (although I won't plan for that). It could all get a little boring after the first 6 days or so.

The Weather - Apparently it could get a bit nasty up there, even in July, so I am going to need a full range technical clothing or a really good cagoule.

Stuff - Tent, sleeping bag, cooking equipment, food, clothing, fishing gear, waders, camera and everything else needs to be firstly, fitted in to a weight limit that the airline isn't going to have to call on some extra fairy dust to fly over to Iceland and secondly, has to fit in (or on) a rucksack that I can carry comfortably, a long way.

I will let you know how the plans develop.

In the meantime I am doing some fishing.



Sunday, 3 June 2012

Great Things

No fisherman worth his or her salt is unaccustomed to a bit of adverse weather, that doesn't mean we don't like the odd drop of the good stuff. Just 3 weeks ago I was forced to cancel a planned adventure, flooding, damaging winds and general horribleness took the outlook for 4 days in the mountains from uncomfortable to outright dangerous. And now as I headed up the M5 it seemed my fortunes had changed and I was finally in for some of that good stuff. Ahead of  me lay 4 days of adventure - trekking, camping and generally existing in the Rhinog mountains with a plan to explore some of the lakes and streams  that  I come across along the way.

The Rhinog mountains are a favourite play area of mine, beautiful, rugged and without anywhere near the number of visitors the Snowdonia range seems to attract. It is perfectly possible to disappear into these hills for days and not see a soul and that was exactly what I planned. As I abandoned the car and prepared for the climb into the hills the thermometer read 29 celsius, the sun beat down relentlessly, tempered only by a near gale force easterly wind. Is it possible to have too much of this good stuff?

I think it might have been better when it was blowing a gale.

Those of you that fish for brown trout will realise that these were perhaps far from ideal conditions for filling your boots, or any other receptacle for that matter, with fish. Those of you that spend time in the mountains will realise that these conditions were far from ideal for moving about comfortably. Those of you that do both of these things will realise that things were fairly tough. The great thing about these trips for me is that all of the normal stresses and worries of daily life quickly evaporate as your attentions most turn to more basic needs, in this case water and sunscreen.

Down time.

The other great thing about fishing in these mountains is the variety. The variety of fishing opportunities, tiny streams narrow enough to step across, fast flowing  with unexpected waterfalls and shady plunge pools which leave you in a dilemma (particularly in weather such as this) do I cast a line there or just dive on in? Milly, my companion on most adventures such as this, had no such dilemma and flung herself in to any water she came across on her travels. Some of the lakes, or Llyns, are shallow, clear and rich with good insect  life and free rising fish, despite the conditions, others are deep and mysterious with peat stained waters and very little sign of life. 

Meet Milly A.K.A 'Loops' which is nothing to do with flycasting but her general direction of travel.

The trout too vary enormously from dark, almost black backed sleek fish to the fat, buttery yellow fish that I always associated with the rich chalkstreams of the south. I found free  rising, enthusiastic fish in one lake and dour, stubbornness in the lake next door, separate by just hundreds of yards.

The best thing of all about simply existing in places such as this is the pure, unaltered, untamed beauty. Fish  or no fish, rain or shine I cannot help but feel somehow cleansed from my time there.