Catching those dream fish – this much I know….

16 Jan
A golden mahseer like this from a remote Himalayan river is Martin's next target - but with the nearest tackle shop 500 miles away preparation is crucial

A golden mahseer like this from a remote Himalayan river is Martin’s next target – but with the nearest tackle shop 500 miles away preparation is crucial

We should welcome the news that the BBC Natural History Unit, the world’s leading producer and broadcaster of nature programmes, is applying its considerable expertise to bringing angling back to mainstream television with the forthcoming series The Big Fish. The Angling Trust is proud to be supporting and promoting this exciting new programme which will see anglers from the UK pitting their wits and skills up against some unfamiliar species in six exotic, but challenging, locations around the world.Talking to the programme’s production team about how the anglers will have to prepare themselves for fishing in far off waters got me thinking about my own foreign fishing adventures and how much I’ve had to learn about tactics, travel and tackle along the way. As it happens I’m right in the middle of another ‘fish frenzy’ in preparation for my first ever trip to the Himalayas to try and catch both golden and chocolate mahseer. The dining room table is a mass of lures, braid and various items of luggage that will hopefully withstand the rigours of white water rafting and possibly the hardest fighting freshwater fish on the planet. Back in the 1990s I caught some huge mahseer in Southern India and although these mountain river battlers of the North may be a little smaller, they inhabit such remote and hostile environments that this was one challenge I wasn’t going to let pass me by. Since standing down from the UK Parliament in 2010 I’ve been lucky enough to have landed some cracking fish on my travels including: marlin, kingfish, tuna, shark, barramundi and silver Trevally in Australia; snapper, kahawai and trout in New Zealand; sailfish, amberjack and wahoo in Kenya; giant Trevally and bonefish in the Seychelles; bass and pollack in Ireland; golden dorado in Argentina; salmon in Scotland and tarpon, barracuda and grouper in Cuba.

My first River Cauvery monster came in 1996 in the company of the late and legendary fishing guide Bola

My first River Cauvery monster came in 1996 in the company of the late and legendary fishing guide Bola

What follows is hopefully a handy guide to making the most of a trip of lifetime and ensuring that you put yourself in with a fighting chance of actually landing those fish you’ve spent so long dreaming about.

Rods for Travel

The arrival of good quality, affordable, multi-pieced travel rods couldn’t come quickly enough for those of us fed up with lugging huge, extendable ‘Bazooka’ style rod cases through international airport terminals. Being able to pack your rods away in your luggage is not only convenient, it’s one less thing for the airlines to lose, or send to the wrong continent. It also enables the traveling angler to disguise to would be thieves the fact that those bags may be worth pilfering. For heavy duty work I can personally recommend the Deep Blue range from Snowbee and the Trek travel rods from Fox. These tough workhorses will land anything from tarpon to giant marlin. http://www.snowbee.co.uk/sea-fishing/deep-blue-rods/ http://www.foxsportfishing.com/catalogues-sections-products.php?section=1&catalogue=6

For lighter work, and by that I mean using 30 to 50lb braid and lures up to 50 grams, I’ve become a huge fan of the Shimano Exage and the Sonik new SK4 ranges. The Exage was probably the first quality travel rod on the market and I’m packing their new 9ft 11inch model, rated at 20 to 50 grams, for the mahseer trip as a back up to the heavier Snowbee tarpon rod which can throw lures and spoons up to 100grams. Sonik are relatively new kids on the block but I took the SK4 to the Scillies last summer and it was just the job for firing out light soft plastics while retaining enough power to bully some pretty powerful wrasse out of their rocky homes.

http://www.sportfish.co.uk/shimano-exage-bx-spinning-rods.html http://www.soniksports.com/lure/lure-rods/1449-sk4xtr-spinning-rods

My good friend Al McGlashan with a lovely Australian kingfish - these are some of the toughest fighters around

My good friend Al McGlashan with a lovely Australian kingfish – these are some of the toughest fighters around

Reels that last

The big learning curve for me came during my time in Australia when my previously ‘indestructible’ Shimano baitrunner literally exploded as I tried, unsuccessfully, to keep an angry kingfish out of the reef. I’m afraid the clutches on our standard freshwater reels are rarely up to the job of using heavy braid on hard fighting sportfish. A great place to check out informed and unbiased reviews of various reels is the American striped bass forum Stripers Online - but don’t make the obvious spelling mistake when googling their site or you could be in for a shock!

The Yanks take their tackle seriously and it was this review that decided me to track down a nearly new Shimano Spheros 8000 on eBay at a bargain price.

http://www.stripersonline.com/t/840812/reel-comparison-penn-battle-6000-vs-shimano-spheros-8000

Penn also have an excellent range of spinning reels and their Fierce 5000 is reasonably priced but with a drag that pulls an impressive 25lbs. Again, both models are in the bag for India and have been spooled up with 65 and 50lb braid in readiness for tackling muscular mahseer in a powerful and rocky river.  If your pockets are deep enough then it’s worth taking a peek at Daiwa’s Saltiga range with their mag sealed, carbon clutches that can slow down a London bus if required. These are top quality bits of kit that have landed huge fish all over the world and will last half a lifetime. http://www.daiwa.com/reel/detail.aspx?id=603

Circle hooks even allow you to unhook a shark!

Circle hooks even allow you to unhook a shark!

Hooks that hold

Coming from an environment where I rarely caught anything with teeth it took me a while to adjust to some of the creatures I was encountering Down Under. There was one fish, known as the Bluefish in America -the Aussies call them Tailor – which also went by the nickname of ‘chopper’. Whether using bread, prawn or fish baits in Sydney Harbour, the result was invariably the same. A savage bite and a missing hook. They wouldn’t look at a bait on a wire trace so I resorted to using long shanked hooks in sizes 2 and 4 and the problem was all but solved. These days I always carry a few long shanks with me on my travels as even some of the baitfish intended for larger quarry can have sets of tackle robbing teeth. I like to release the vast majority of the fish I catch and deep hooking has no place the fishing I do. I learned to use circle hooks for live baiting and, once I got over the urge to strike and simply tightened into the running fish, I don’t recall ever hooking anything, even sharks, anywhere other than in the corner of the mouth. The hook is the last item of tackle that should be compromised and it’s worth spending the extra on brands like Owner, Gamakatsu and Eagle Claw to ensure that when that dream fish finally comes along you are not going to be reeling in a crushed or straightened piece of useless wire. One final tip that I learned the expensive way – chemically sharpened and super strong hooks like the Owner ST66 are brilliant until you bounce them across the rocks a couple of times. Then you discover that they are virtually impossible to sharpen so it’s worth also packing a brand that can be filed back into shape.  

Lines and Braid

You can take your pick from the mass of braids available but you won’t go far wrong with bulk spools of PowerPro or Berkley’s Whiplash for your heavier work. Check out Henry Gilbey’s blog for an in depth analysis of what else is on the market and for his favourite 8 strand braids which will deliver extra yards on the cast – but at a price. http://www.henry-gilbey.com/fishing_tackle/fishing_lines

Unless I’m targeting beasties like barracuda, dorado, wahoo or sharks I prefer to use tough, clear mono or fluorocarbon for my leaders. Again there are plenty of top quality brands to chose from but I’ve settled on Seaguar flouro for anything below 35lbs and Berkley Big Game for when towrope is required. Remember that mono is far more abrasion resistant than braid and a decent length of leader can reduce losses from rub offs on rocks or even from contact with the sharper parts of the fishes bodies.

Balls Pyramid - home to some tackle testing fish and where a valuable lesson was learned.

Balls Pyramid – home to some tackle testing fish and where a valuable lesson was learned.

 Essential Knots

 I’ve become a bit of an anorak about sportfishing knots in recent years and this probably has something to do with an epic, but frustrating session, in the shadow of the famous Balls Pyramid – an ocean rock stack far out in the Tasman Sea. We were actually hunting yellow-tailed kingfish on the surface when I spotted a shoal of big silver trevally hugging a reef some 20 metres down. These things pull like trains but the first fish was eventually landed. I broke on the second and retied the 30lb braid to a 40lb leader using the usual Albright knot. In less than an hour I had eight more hook ups but only landed two more fish due to the leader knot popping or getting cut off on the reef when I eased back on the clutch. Those trevally were between ten and twenty pounds and I’m sure the gear would have been sufficient if only I had used a stronger knot.

One that didn't get away !

One that didn’t get away !

Braided Doubles

A large braided loop at the end of the mainline has two advantages. It enables the use of the strongest of all braid to mono knots and it provides some additional security at the business end of the outfit when bringing a fish to the net or boat. The simplest double of all is the Surgeon’s Loop which is nothing more than a double overhand knot but I prefer to use the Bimini Twist. This favourite of big game anglers can be tied with braid or mono but takes a bit of practice and involves the use of both hands and at least one foot. Check out this clip below and you’ll see how and why: http://youtu.be/Bl5OlzKMcYA

The GT Knot

Just the name of this knot should inspire confidence for if there’s a fish in the ocean that pulls harder pound for pound than a Giant Trevally then I’ve yet to find it. It is easy tie to a braided loop, it will never slip, and importantly, the mono tag ends up pointing up the line meaning that it can be cast through the rod rings without catching. It is the perfect knot for those long, wind on, leaders necessary for bringing big fish safely to the boat. Check it out here: http://youtu.be/AjcFEKJEhHw

The FG Knot

The FG is now Henry Gilbey’s favourite and can be tied to a single strand of braided mainline. This one is fiddly to tie but has such a low profile it runs through the rod rings so smoothly you will barely hear it. This is because there’s no loop in the mono as instead, the knot relies on a cross weave of braided wraps digging into the leader in the manner of a Chinese Burn. I’ll leave to Henry to sing its praises and show you the instructional video.  http://www.henry-gilbey.com/photo_essays/the_best_braid_to_fluoro_knot_i_know

Lefty’s Loop Knot

I’m assuming everyone reading this can tie a Grinner or Uni knot and these are perfectly good for use with swivels or eyed hooks. However, there are times when you want a reliable non slip loop knot to allow the fly or lure more freedom of movement than a stiff mono or flouro leader will permit. Named after the famous American fly fisherman Lefty Kreh this is a knot well worth learning and one in which I have complete confidence. It also ties up easier than the Grinner in thicker diameter lines so I often use it as an alternative.

http://www.animatedknots.com/nonslipmono/index.php?Categ=fishing&LogoImage=LogoGrog.jpg&Website=www.animatedknots.com

More Knots

There’s a heap more knots out there and you can find a selection below but if you master these four you won’t go far wrong.

http://www.netknots.com/fishing_knots/

The travel arrangement will require some thought !

The travel arrangement will require some thought !

 Creature Comforts

 The Himalayan trip will involve rafting through some none too warm water and sleeping in tents on shingle beaches. Keeping warm and enjoying a decent nights sleep are priorities for me these days which is why I’ve handed over some more cash for a blow up mattress and some neoprene long johns. I’m told we may suffer from sand flies at dawn and dusk so those light trousers which zip apart at the knee are going into the bag along with a couple long sleeved tropical sportfishing shirts. Fashionable we will not look!

 Staying Safe

A bit of danger and excitement are a big part of these trips but it makes no sense to take unnecessary risks. The sea and the jungle can be dangerous places so go with people who know what they are doing, wear life jackets where appropriate, respect the wildlife – particularly those that might want to eat you, protect your head and skin from the sun and never travel without a first aid kit and a means of escape.

I’m counting the days until that plane takes off on the next bucket list adventure and I like to think I’ll be prepared for whatever challenges the river and the fishing has to offer. I hope the contestants in the BBC’s Big Fish programme become just as excited and that they get, not only to hook, but to land some fish of their dreams.

Note: We are hoping to feature a video of the Himalayan adventure in a future edition of Fishing Britain on the You Tube Channel

 

 

 

Happy New Year – Some Reasons to be Cheerful

24 Dec

I guess one of the downsides about working as a campaigner is that I am forever dealing with problems and trying to get action to put right the many wrongs that the ever expanding human race are doing to our fish and fisheries. It’s not as though people deliberately set out to wipe out fish stocks – at least not as a primary purpose for their actions. The industrialist just wants to make stuff as cheaply as possible without the ‘burden’ of environmental legislation stopping his factories from polluting the waterways. The commercial fisherman just wants to make a living harvesting the sea for hungry consumers whilst the keen gardener wants a green lawn and healthy flower beds without having to think to much about the consequences of turning on that hose or sprinkler system.

Looking back through my Angling Trust work schedule for the year just ending I could easily easily pen a piece about human greed, political incompetence and pending environmental catastrophes. However, Christmas and the New Year should be a time of comfort and joy, and you know what? There really are some reasons for us anglers to be cheerful.

Here’s my personal Top Ten for 2015 – if you think about it I’m sure you can find ten of your own.

River Roach Revival?

I say the words with some trepidation but after a generation of decline, in part caused by a massive increase in cormorant predation there are encouraging signs that river roach are making something of a comeback. Whether it’s down to better controls, improved water quality and habitat or the fish simply learning how to adjust to predator pressure I wouldn’t like to say but increasingly there are welcome reports of the return of my favourite species in both size and numbers. In Yorkshire the once polluted River Calder is throwing up some lovely bags of redfins while in the Midlands the Trent is making the news for all the right reasons. In the East I hear of good catches from parts of the Ouse system while in the South the Thames continues to deliver good sport in the right spots. Further West the Wessex rivers are stirring again with more regular reports of two pounders from the once famous Hampshire Avon and the reappearance of some of those fabled three pounders from the Dorset Frome.

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2) Plentiful Perch

Although my first fish was the inevitable small perch I’m also old enough to remember the perch disease, which annihilated stocks across the country, making reliable perch fishing a dim and distant memory. Not so these days with four pounders now a realistic target in all manner of fisheries and waterways, ranging from mighty rivers like the Severn to humble canals, or from tiny, over-looked commercial carp puddles to massive reservoirs like Grafham or Chew. Has there ever been a better time to catch a big stripey?

3) Water, water, everywhere

When I returned to the UK in 2011 the country was in the middle of a two year drought. The consequences of a hot summer and third dry winter in 2012 would have had a cataclysmic impact on fish stocks and the forecasts where alarming. Luckily, one extreme weather pattern was followed by another and the low flows and dried up river beds were refreshed by the wettest summer on record followed by some serious winter floods. These may have brought misery to a number of vulnerable communities but they brought life back to our rivers and have recharged the aquifers and groundwater supplies. My local rivers are in cracking condition as we approach the Christmas break and in a few hours time I shall be swapping this keyboard for a float rod and centre pin to take advantage of the good flow and colour.

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4) Clean gravel and growing grayling

Plentiful water in my part of the world means clean gravel on the riverbed and a much better chance of seeing successful spawnings. I’m told the fry count in the Thames has been tremendous and I’ve seen for myself just how well fast growing fish like grayling have been doing over the last couple of years. Two keepers from separate beats on the upper Kennet have told me that they can’t remember a time when they’ve witnessed so many young grayling in the river.

5) Living with otters

In some areas the return of otters has seen a decline in fish numbers. Big, slow old fish have little chance of avoiding this apex predator and we could well have done without the the artificial reintroductions of the 1990s. However, there are signs that populations are stabilising not least as a result of dog otters turning on each other to defend their territories. I’ve heard that a surprising number of reported otter road kills are in fact younger otters already injured by a dominant male. Fish and otters have lived side by side long before mankind discovered angling and nature does have a way of finding a balance. Yes I’d love to have more effective predator controls, particularly for mink which are vicious bastards who have no business being here, but we have to be realistic about what is ever going to be acceptable in this animal loving country of ours. There have always been otters on the Wye and Hampshire Avon, and yes there are a lot more around at the moment, but the Wye remains possibly the best fishing river in Britain and I can confidently state that, whilst the Avon barbel are not so numerous nowadays, the chub fishing has never been as good.

6) Happy Dace are here again

I’ve only ever caught one dace over a pound and I honestly thought I’d never see another one in my lifetime. Now I’m not so sure as reports are coming in from several Thames tributaries of some pigeon chested clonkers that could threaten the current British record. Certainly on parts of the Kennet the dace shoals are making a return and friends of mine have caught some beauties this year from several different southern chalk streams.

7) Crocks of Gold

Less than a year ago Chris Turnbull took his concerns to the Angling Trust about the rapid disappearance from British waters of one of our loveliest freshwater fish, the crucian carp. I jumped at the chance to pull together crucian enthusiasts from all over the country and in a very short space of time the National Crucian Conservation Project was launched. This brought together a host of crucian experts, including ‘Crock of Gold’ author Peter Rolfe, to work together at saving our crucians and the progress made in just a few meetings has been fantastic. Check out our new webpage to see how you can help create bespoke crucian waters in your area…www.anglingtrust.net/crucian

8) Cod piece

There’s not a lot of good news about on the marine front and the failure to reach an agreement in Europe on much needed bass conservation measures was a huge disappointment. However, there is a glimmer of hope that we may now get a sensible minimum landing size in UK waters to allow the fish a chance to spawn along with an expansion in bass nursery areas to aid recruitment. Where sensible fishery management measures have been introduced, such as reductions in quota for cod and greater protection for rays in the English Channel, we have seen some welcome upturns in sport for recreational sea anglers.

9) Follow the money

The Angling Trust has been working hard to get over to our politicians the economic benefits of recreational fishing and there are encouraging signs that they are finally getting the message. The recent parliamentary debate on bass stocks saw MPs from both the Conservative and Labour parties calling for bass to be made a recreational only species whilst others were extensively quoting figures from the Sea Angling 2012 report which showed that there are: “884,000 sea anglers in England who directly pump £1.23 billion p.a. into the economy and upon which 10,400 full time jobs are dependent. If induced and indirect impacts are taken into account these figures soar to £2.1 billion and 23,600 jobs. The VAT alone which is collected from sea anglers dwarfs the entire value of all commercial fish landings in England”

10) The Angling Trust and Fish Legal

The Angling Trust and Fish Legal continue to grow in strength and influence as the value of having a single unified organisation to represent all branches of our sport becomes clear. We have strong links to senior politicians in all the main parties and are working closely with both Sport England and the Environment Agency to get more money and resources into angling. There is now a wide recognition of benefits of angling and a real willingness to support angling development projects. Of course the challenges remain huge and the pressure on fish stocks and fisheries is not likely to recede anytime soon but by having a strong, well funded body that will take polluters to court and tackle threats to fishing, we can ensure that the next generation can enjoy a fishing future.

You can play your part and join the Angling Trust here… http://www.anglingtrust.net/page.asp?section=32&sectionTitle=Join+Angling+Trust

Have a very Happy and Fish Filled New Year

Just how many rods should we pay for?

1 Dec

 

Terry Hearn is still searching for that uncaught monster and is always likely to want two rod licences

Terry Hearn is still searching for that uncaught monster and is always likely to want two rod licences

Plenty to talk about with Alan Stagg at the Carp Society Show

Plenty to talk about with Alan Stagg at the Carp Society Show

I spent an enjoyable afternoon at the annual Carp Society Show at Sandown catching up with old mates like Dave Mannall, talking big barbel tactics with Alan Stagg, picking up a few tackle bargains and doing a stint on the Angling Trust stand. I also used the opportunity to take the temperature of carpers about the thorny issue of multiple rod licences.

 

As many people already know the Angling Trust has begun talks with the Environment Agency on the structure of the coarse angling licence. Subjects under discussion include the possibility of introducing a free junior licence in order to encourage more youngsters to take up fishing and introducing a 365 day rolling licence rather than the current 31st March end date.

It was clear from talking to anglers, and from the straw poll I conducted at the end of the Julian Cundiff forum, that most people see the sense in the rod licence running for twelve months from the date of purchase rather than someone having to pay for a whole year when they buy halfway through the season. There was also strong support for abolishing the £5 charge for 12 – 16 year olds but a feeling that getting youngsters into the habit of registering as anglers, thereby enabling them to be made aware of the rules and opportunities that exist, was a thoroughly good thing.

The charging for the use of multiple rods has been a longstanding complaint of many carp and specimen anglers who feel aggrieved at having to buy two separate rod licences, allowing four rods to be used, when most fisheries only permit three at most. The strength of feeling on this subject was illustrated in the recent Angling Trust angling survey and comes up in representations to both the Trust and carp fishing magazines and organisations.

The Angling Trust isn’t wedded to any particular system but we do believe that the current arrangements need to change as they don’t seem fair to carp and other specimen anglers using three rods, but being charged for four.  On the other hand any changes must not reduce the funds available to the EA for the restocking of waters, tackling fish health issues and delivering fisheries improvement and habitat restoration works. Particularly at a time when the government is cutting grant funding to the Agency. We also don’t want to see any additional burdens placed on game or match anglers who only ever fish with one rod at a time.

We’ve also been very encouraged by the willingness of Sarah Chare, the new Head of Fisheries at the EA, to consider this and other possible reforms of the rod licence regime.  Any changes could not be implemented until April 2016 at the earliest however, because of the constraints of the commercial rod licence contract.

Surely kids should be able to fish for free?

Surely kids should be able to fish for free?

 A personal view

I floated some my own thoughts at Sandown and they go like this.

  • The existing two rod limit on the standard licence should remain
  • Anglers wishing to use a third rod should pay a 50% supplement
  • Juniors over 12yrs should be licensed for free
  • Rod Licence holders should have their own licence number, like a driving licence, and it should be renewable from the date of purchase
  • The EA should make it clear that the courts have the power to revoke licences in cases of serious transgressions. (Fishing out of season for a magazine feature perhaps?!)
  • The rod licence needs to rise as income is falling and the price has been frozen for five years.
  • Do we really want to carry on allowing the use of four rods for coarse fishing in rivers?

Now I’m only an occasional carper so have been happy enough, up until now, to limit myself to using two rods. But if I could buy a supplementary licence for a third rod, rather than having to buy two licences, I reckon I’d shell out the extra cash. And I can think of others who’d do likewise. There are plenty of tench anglers like myself, who usually fish with either one or two rods at a time, but who would sometimes like to use a third rod to switch quickly to a new method to stalk a fish showing in the margins or well away from our baited areas. We would represent an additional revenue stream for the EA which would go some way to balancing the loss of income from those carpers who would pay less under a new system.

And, as I’ve said before, I wouldn’t mind paying a bit more for my own licence if it meant that juniors could fish for free as anything that attracts youngsters into our sport has to be good for the future of our sport.

Simon Crow and Beverley Clifford from Carp Talk - these two certainly had something to say on the charges for multiple rod licences !

Simon Crow and Beverley Clifford from Carp-Talk – these two certainly had something to say on the charges for multiple rod licences !

What others think

These changes have been welcomed by leading figures in the carp world. Simon Crow, editor of Carp-Talk told us – “It would be so much more user friendly if a single rod licence was introduced.”

Sarah Chare, Head of Fisheries at the Environment Agency has said:

“This review may also affect the cost of rod licences, which have remained at the same level for the last 5 years. As part of this review we are talking with the Angling Trust and other partners to understand the views of the angling groups they represent. Within government rules we will be seeking the fairest deal for anglers that secures the best future for angling through the services the Environment Agency delivers both directly and through the partners we fund.”

 

What do you think?

 We’ve had a fair bit of correspondence on this subject already but we are keen to hear as wide a range of views as possible. For example, the Secretary of a well-known game angling club has written to me with concerns that his fly fishing members could end up paying for those who want to fish with three rods. Now at the Angling Trust we are quite clear that any changes we put forward will not mean that some anglers end up paying for another type of angling method.

To facilitate the debate we’ve set up a Hot Topics page on the Angling Trust website here:

http://www.anglingtrust.net/page.asp?section=1060&sectionTitle=Should+carp+and+specimen+anglers+have+to+buy+two+rod+licences%3F

As with the Close Season issue we would like to publish a selection of contributions so please feel free to pitch in. Alternatively you can post a comment here.

I would remind everyone that it will be the EA that makes the final recommendation to ministers, not the Angling Trust, but this is a really good opportunity for anglers to make their views known.

Books, blanks and barbel by the Loddon

4 Nov

It’s funny how certain rivers keep drawing us back, even after endless struggles and disappointments. When I first moved to Reading nearly 35 years ago the Loddon was regarded as very much the poor relation of the nearby Kennet. This was in the days before the opening of the canal and the spread of the cursed signal crayfish, when the Kennet was, as a friend of mine once wrote, as close to ‘fishing heaven’ as any river could be. It gave me five two pound roach on a memorable winter’s afternoon and twice I landed over 30 barbel in a days float fishing. For eight years my house backed onto the renowned ‘Jam Factory’ stretch on the outskirts of the town and it was possible to stand on my garden landing stage and get the roach boiling on hemp on a summer’s evening before casting a lead down for a barbel as the light faded.  Small wonder then the Loddon didn’t get much of a look in.

Times have changed and so have the rivers. The Kennet is sadly a shadow of its former self while the water quality has improved dramatically in the Loddon, to the extent that it now hosts an occasional seatrout run. That said the Loddon is no easy river to fish and although it it now contains some seriously big chub and barbel they are usually in low stocked stretches where blanks can be more common than good days. This season I decided to go all out to improve my personal best barbel and my goodness was it a struggle. I went seven sessions with just a couple of chub and an eel to show for my efforts. Friends fared much better and I got to photograph some fine fish. Apart from a handful of modest Wye fish early on, by the time mid October came around it was shaping up to be my worst barbel season ever.

Despite near perfect conditions I nearly didn’t go out that evening but these Loddon blanks were irritating the hell out of me and I knew of a swim with a bit of form that had been left alone for a while. Three hours after making my first cast at dusk all the blanks were forgotten as the rod tip carted round and, after a powerful tussle, a big beautiful barbel  of 12.11 rolled over the net. Job done and a PB as well.

A Loddon Lunker at last!

A Loddon Lunker at last!

 

For those that are interested in the technicals – I got the big one on two 10mm fish meal boilies over a light bed of hemp and pellets on a combi-rig comprising 2 foot of  flourocarbon and 5inches of braid to a size 11 Drennan barbel hook and a short hair. The whole lot was pinned to the bottom and backleaded to avoid spooking the fish. I baited, waited an hour and made only four casts all evening with little pva bags on the lead.These Loddon barbel are big old wary fish that spook off tight lines and have learnt to avoid of large beds of bait. It was hugely satisfying to finally get one and the Loddon love affair looks set to continue.

 

Big Roach 2 by Mark Wintle

 Now if there’s one species that doesn’t thrive in the Loddon it’s the roach – I’ve no idea why but they just don’t do well and are scarcely seen in there above a few ounces. Ironic then that the venue for the launch of the latest book on big redfins is a pub on the banks of Loddon at Charvil. However, landlord Steve Collier has made the Land’s End Pub a home from home for fisherman with a fine collection of stuffed fish and angling portraits and in recent years it has become the place to launch a new angling book.  http://www.thelandsend.co.uk/index.html

 

Roach enthusiasts will be gathering this Saturday for the launch of Mark Wintle's latest book on  their favourite species

Roach enthusiasts will be gathering this Saturday for the launch of Mark Wintle’s latest book on their favourite species

The respected roach angler Mark Wintle has written a follow-up book to his acclaimed Big Roach and very kindly invited me to contribute a chapter. Feel free to come along and meet Mark and some of the other well-known roach anglers at the book launch at The Land’s End on Saturday 8th November, starting at noon.

Having written one book on big roach, Mark had the challenge of putting an entirely new book together to complement his first one. It was clear that this new volume would need a different focus; new waters, anglers, methods, bait and tackle. With a wealth of research material to hand and plentiful assistance from many other equally keen roach anglers there’s no doubt that he has once again succeeded.

The stories of the waters include the Hampshire Avon, Dorset Stour, Frome, the Taw, the Test, the Tweed and Tay, the Cork Blackwater, the Ebro, the Trent, and the Thames, together with the exploits of Kevin Ashurst, Vic Beyer, Geoffrey Bucknall, Fred Buller, Pete Burrell, Colin Dyson, Colin Graham, Bryan Hewitt, Dave Howes, Luke Jennings, Mick Lomas, Ivan Marks, Graham Marsden, Dave Moody, Dan Sales, Pete Shadick, Dave Steuart, Wayne Thomas, Mike Townsend and Jonathan Webb.

This book costs £25 (plus p&p). There are 40 special cloth-bound numbered first-editions only available on the day of the book launch, one per customer, at £45. If you can’t make it on Saturday you can contact the Calm Productions hotline on 0845 408 2606 or visit www.calmproductions.com to obtain a copy.

A word of warning – this big river roach thing is a dangerous obsession. Think carefully before taking the plunge!

 

A Keepnet Full of Dreams by Kevin Grozier

The Fish Inn at Ringwood, appropriately located on the banks of the famous Hampshire Avon was the venue for the launch of Kevin Grozier’s follow up book to his widely acclaimed Avon Days and Stour Ways. I’ve known Kev since the 1970s and happily agreed to his request to come and say a few words at the gathering. Kevin has never fallen out of love with either the Avon or the Dorset Stour and describes these rivers as his spiritual home. And it’s this passion for these iconic streams, for their environment and their wildlife, that flows through every page of this, his second book. For sure there are tales of monster barbel, chub, perch and roach, with plenty of fine colour pictures to match, but there is also another side to Kevin’s writing. He attempts some fictional stories, some of which paint a nightmare vision of the future for the rivers of England unless we start taking our stewardship of the natural environment a good deal more seriously. These fictional elements might not be to everyone’s taste but they make this more than just another fishing book.

 As much about fishing stories as it is about stories of fish - 'A Keepnet full of Dreams' will keep the angling fires burning through the long winter to come

As much about fishing stories as it is about stories of fish – ‘A Keepnet full of Dreams’ will keep the angling fires burning through the long winter to come

I particularly liked the descriptions of the amusing, but usually unwelcome, encounters with some of the strange individuals that stalk the banks of our rivers. We’ve all met them – the ‘local expert’, ‘the curiously oblivious to requests for silence’, the mad, the bad and the sad – they all make a beeline for an angler with a willing ear and no visible means of escape. I guess there must be something about Kevin Grozier that attracts these characters and it is no surprise that they get more than an honourable mention.

Like it’s predecessor this a beautifully presented book that will enhance any anglers collection and which can be dipped into on days when either the weather or other irritants keep us away from our favourite pastime. I can thoroughly recommend A Keepnet Full of Dreams to anyone with a love of running water and a penchant for some of the more quirky tales from the riverbank.

Copies can ordered from: http://www.keepnetfullofdreams.com/

Save our Bass – Time to contact your MP

29 Oct
With surveys continuing to show bass stocks plummeting beautiful fish  like this could become a rare sight - although perhaps not in Ireland, where this one was caught, as they had the sense to ban commercial bass fishing and adopt sensible conservation policies.

With surveys continuing to show bass stocks plummeting beautiful fish like this could become a rare sight – although perhaps not in Ireland, where this one was caught, as they had the sense to ban commercial bass fishing and adopt sensible conservation policies.

No apologies for returning to the campaign to protect bass stocks in the UK. The Angling Trust continues to work with our colleagues in the Bass Anglers Sportfishing Society (B.A.S.S.) to persuade our politicians of the plight of of British bass and the need for action, not just at a  European level but in our inshore waters as well.

We have been well supported in these efforts by prominent figures in the bass world including Matt Powell from Wales and Henry Gilbey whose recently wrote a great blogpost which you can find here:

http://www.henry-gilbey.com/blog/could_there_be_a_total_collapse_of_our_bass_stocks

Welsh bass guide Matt Powell joined Martin for a day's fishing on the beautiful Pembrokeshire coast. Matt fully supports the Save our Bass campaign and is already lobbying the Welsh Assembly Government

Welsh bass guide Matt Powell joined Martin for a day’s fishing on the beautiful Pembrokeshire coast. Matt fully supports the Save our Bass campaign and is already lobbying the Welsh Assembly Government

Successive Fisheries Ministers from both sides of politics have been well aware of the increasingly parlous state of bass numbers and the long overdue need for the introduction of measures to prevent a catastrophic stock collapse. Sadly, it now seems that this collapse could be about to happen. The results from the recent Solent bass survey in the English Channel confirm that there have been five poor year classes in a row (2008 – 2012) which offers a bleak prospect for the future.

With the exception of Labour’s Ben Bradshaw, who tried unsuccessfully to raise the ridiculously inadequate bass minimum landing size (mls), and the Conservative’s Richard Benyon, who instigated the current mls review, other ministers have been reluctant to either heed the warnings or follow scientific advice. This is partly because the commercial sector consistently sets it’s face against any restrictions on their activities and they are effective lobbyists to which politicians have become accustomed to listening. However, we are hoping that the current incumbent, George Eustice, will be prepared to finally grasp the nettle and introduce long overdue conservation measures for this most iconic of sportfish.

The reason we are now in this unhappy place is because for the last 10 years our politicians have been ignoring the evidence from the International Council for the Exploration of the Seas (ICES) and their own scientists and listening to the loudest and most self-interested voices. The scientific advice from ICES in 2013 for a 36% cut in total catches was not acted upon and now the latest recommendation is for an 80% cut in catches of bass across the EU in 2015. Increasing commercial fishing effort and successive years of recruitment failure are cumulatively driving bass stocks towards a precipice. Unless action is taken immediately to protect the remaining stock a total moratorium on bass fishing in Europe will soon be the only option available to protect and restore this important fishery.

A collapse in bass stocks or a total moratorium on all forms of bass fishing would be disastrous for recreational sea angling which, according to Defra’s own Sea Angling 2012 report shows there are 884,000 sea anglers in England who directly pump £1.23 billion p.a. into the economy and upon which 10,400 full time jobs are dependent. If induced and indirect impacts are taken into account these figures soar to £2.1 billion and 23,600 jobs. The VAT alone which is collected from sea anglers dwarfs the entire value of all commercial fish landings in England. In purely economic terms, we would be better off if bass were retained as a line caught species only with the bulk of the market demand met by farmed fish. This would immediately revive the UK fishery for both the inshore under ten metre commercial fleet, who would be in position to provide a premium product caught in a sustainable way, and the recreational sector –  the majority of whom practice catch and release.

In Ireland there is no commercial exploitation of bass stocks and anglers have bag and size limits.

Hopefully, one day, we will see a reduction in commercial over fishing of bass stocks with recreational anglers playing their part by fishing to sensible bag and size limits.

Will Europe Deliver?

Despite some encouraging signs that the European Commission has finally woken up to the unfolding disaster that is happening across the North Atlantic Fishery we remain concerned that their proposals will inevitably get watered down once the commercials get to work on their individual parliamentarians. A number of welcome measures are on the table at the moment and relate to the main bass stock in the Celtic sea, Channel, Irish Sea and North Sea. The interested Member States (i.e. France, UK, Netherlands, Ireland, Belgium, Spain and Portugal) agreed on the following key factors:

  • acceptance of the assessment of the state of the stock;
  • a total allowable catch (TAC) not being the best option;
  • the need for immediate action to reduce fishing mortality significantly, with specific limits on targeted fisheries, both commercial and recreational;
  • the need to protect spawning aggregation areas;
  • the need to take into account socio-economic factors; and,
  • beyond immediate action the need in the medium term for a management plan.

There is no doubt that Mr Eustice’s fisheries officials at Defra are pushing hard for conservation measures at a European level. In recent correspondence they said:

This consensus is important as it now paves the way for action to be taken forward by the Commission, with the intention of including proposals in the Fishing Opportunities Regulation for 2015 for agreement at December Council. There is still further discussion expected with the Commission on whether the restrictions on commercial vessels will include entry and effort limits or catch limits for vessels, the latter being preferred by the UK.

 In addition, the Commission indicated that it would want to provide for closed fishing seasons for the commercial sector, and will be exploring the best legislative means to do so promptly for 2015.

This should mean closing the main spawning aggregation areas in South West waters to directed fisheries, consequently ending the pair trawl fishery during the spring months, targeted fishing which alone accounts for 25% of the EU catch.

 The Commission is also likely to propose catch limits for recreational fisheries (e.g. bag limits).

Most of the interested Member States already have some sort of bag limit. An EU standard would, we think, be a new approach and an appropriate level would need to be set, for example, we have an estimate that a two fish bag limit per fisherman a day would reduce the UK recreational take by a third.

 In my view this is good stuff but how much of it will survive the inevitable political trade-offs remains to be seen. That’s why both B.A.S.S. and the Angling Trust are pushing hard for the UK to adopt a management plan for bass in our territorial waters. After all, this is primarily an inshore species and other EU countries such as the Netherlands and Ireland have introduced bass minimum landing sizes and other management measures rather than leaving it all to Europe. Unfortunately, ‘leaving it to Europe’  has been our own government’s preferred position up until now but there’s some signs of a welcome shift. At a recent Angling Summit at Defra we challenged George Eustice and showed how reports from his own scientists demonstrated that bass displayed considerable site fidelity and that domestic technical measures could make a real difference.

These results, taken with those of an earlier study on the recruitment patterns of bass from UK nursery areas (Pickett et al., 2004), suggest that the main benefits (in terms of yield) of management aimed at protecting juvenile sea bass in coastal waters of England and Wales accrue chiefly to fisheries operating within the UK 6-mile zone. (Pawson et al 2007)

 This is why now is the right time for everyone who cares about the future of this wonderful fish to to pick up a pen or start tapping on a keyboard in order to let our MPs know that we are expecting to see action to save British bass stocks, not just in Europe but here at home. We have made it as easy as possible for anglers to get involved with a special Fishing Lines briefing on bass conservation from the Angling Trust and a draft letter to MPs which can be downloaded from our website here:

Letter template -   http://bit.ly/basstemplate

Fishing Lines briefing -  http://bit.ly/bassbriefing

In addition it would be helpful to remind the government of what their own officials are saying about  UK bass management measures:

George Eustices confirmation of the previous Ministerial undertaking to review the domestic minimum landing size for bass still stands in this regard in recent correspondence. Against the background of EU developments our domestic management role remains particularly important in consideration of the site fidelity characteristics of bass, meaning local management will make a key contribution.

To make a difference we need thousands of letters and emails from concerned anglers pressing parliamentarians to raise the issue with the Fisheries Ministers and to table parliamentary questions demanding action to save our bass. Most importantly we need an immediate increase in the current minimum landing size from 36cms to 45 – 48cms in order to allow bass to successfully reach their initial spawning size of 42cms and to complete their life cycles. Many of us would like to go further with the introduction of slot size limits to protect the bigger, more fertile, trophy fish which are of such value to any fishery. We also want to press for an end to commercial harvesting during the spring spawning period, restrictions on pairs trawling and trammel netting, which have done so much damage already, and for a significant expansion in estuarine bass nursery areas where juvenile fish can be afforded greater protection.

It would be great if you joined the Angling Trust and B.A.S.S. in order to contribute to the fight to save our bass but if you do nothing else this week please at least find ten minutes to download the info and ping off some choice words to your local MP.

You can get their details from:    http://www.parliament.uk/mps-lords-and-offices/mps/

To join the Angling Trust go to: http://www.anglingtrust.net/page.asp?section=32&sectionTitle=Join+Angling+Trust

And for B.A.S.S. go to:  http://www.ukbass.com/join-us/

Remember – our bass are in trouble and they need all the help we can give !

On the Road Again – Campaign Diary

13 Oct
Tidefest 2014 champion Clive Westwood receives his cheque and trophy after catching 34lbs of tidal Thames bream

Tidefest 2014 champion Clive Westwood receives his cheque and trophy from Cllr Corinna Smart, Mayor of Hounslow, after catching 34lbs of tidal Thames bream

I’ve been on the road, actually more often on the railroad, a fair bit lately. Two days after returning from a fabulous time holidaying in the Scilly Isles it was up to London at the crack of dawn to get everything ready for our inaugural TideFest Competition on the Thames at Kew Bridge.  The early high tide meant a 7am draw and we had the guys fishing from 8.15 by which time the levels had dropped sufficiently for all competitors to be able to access the foreshore at Strand on the Green. Sadly I couldn’t fish the match myself as I needed to keep things ticking over at our HQ at the Brentford Boating Arch. TideFest is a new part of the Mayor of London’s Totally Thames Festival and we had a full programme of events to deliver including kayaking, paddleboarding, river dipping and a sailing race. It was sponsored by the Thames Tideway Tunnel and will take place every year on the last Sunday in September to coincide with World Rivers Day. As well as bringing together all manner of river users TideFest aims to highlight the recreational and environmental potential of London’s river in order to keep up the momentum for a cleaner Thames.

 

With the river fishing well this year and some top quality anglers in the field I had no doubt that some impressive weights would be on the cards. Despite bright sunny conditions the bream fed well in the first half of the match and Farnborough matchman Clive Westwood’s 34lbs net of bream saw him go home £500 richer and clutching a nice trophy presented by the Mayor of Hounslow. There were some good back up weights and a real enthusiasm to extend the event next year to other sections of the Thames Tideway. I’m currently talking to people about the possibility of a pairs event with 30 pegs at Kew and 30 further downstream at Barnes where roach and dace will make up the bulk of the catches rather than bream.

Angling Trust CEO Mark Lloyd telling the politicians a few home truths about the plight of bass stocks in Britain

Angling Trust CEO Mark Lloyd telling the politicians a few home truths about the plight of bass stocks in Britain

 

Enemy Territory

 Travelling up to spend two days at Conservative Party conference was not top of my list of fun things to do but the Angling Trust enjoys excellent relations with supportive MPs in all the main political parties and we always organise a joint reception with our colleagues from the British Association Shooting and Conservation for delegates, MPs and ministers. With the news of yet another Tory defection to UKIP I was inevitably teased by my former parliamentary colleagues as to whether I was planning to switch my colours from Red to Blue in order to help them even up their numbers!

Mark Lloyd and myself put a strong case for the introduction of immediate and unilateral UK conservation measures to halt the predictable and alarming collapse of bass stocks. This triggered a rather heated exchange with a particularly dim individual who appeared to be nothing more than an apologist for the commercial sector and their race to catch the last bass in the ocean. Never mind if over fishing causes a total stock collapse just as long as that last bass is caught in an English net and not by a beastly foreigner!

 

North,West and Midlands

 After a day in the office on Wednesday it was time to pack another travelling bag as I was due to speak at the North Yorkshire Angling Trust regional forum up in Humberside. It was a lively meeting and particularly good to catch up with Mike Lee from the local fisheries team who do a great job for anglers and fisheries with ever shrinking resources. With my next meeting scheduled for the following morning in Bristol it was pointless, if not practically impossible, to think of returning by train to a Reading that night so I tapped up our Regional Officer John Cheyne for both a lift and a bed in Worcester. John is a fine angler and good company so despite arriving back after 1am the long drive passed quickly enough.

With our head office based in Leominster, and staff spread around Wales and the Midlands, Bristol is a sensible place to hold occasional meetings and on Friday we were assembled there in order to pick the brains of our colleagues from Fish Legal on what measures we can realistically press for to ensure greater protection for estuaries. These diverse and dynamic habitats are vitally important to both marine and freshwater species. They are the missing piece in the conservation network and serve not only as gateways for migratory species but as a nursery area for many sea fish. On Saturday morning I swapped the train for the car for the trip up to Warwickshire for the Angling Trust AGM  and conference. The conference theme was on angling participation and the National Angling Strategy with an interesting perspective on the creation of community waters. It was particularly pleasing to hear of the support the angling projects are now attracting from local councils in intensely urban areas.

 

South West for work and pleasure

 The following week was a little less intense but still involved clocking up the miles. Luckily the venue chosen for the Countryside Alliance’s excellent Fishing4Schools programme couldn’t have been closer to my home as Sportfish at Theale is just ten minutes away. I’ve had my run ins with the CA in the past but I’ve got nothing but praise for the work of Charles Jardine who brought down parties of youngsters from as far afield as Yorkshire, Dorset and Kent to sample everything that angling can offer from tying flies and making floats to catching, cooking and eating fresh trout.

A nice morning in support of the excellent Fishing4Schools programme at Sportfish in Theale

A nice morning in support of the excellent Fishing4Schools programme at Sportfish in Theale organised by Charles Jardine

 

On Thursday it was back on the road for a visit to the Cefas labs in Weymouth to discuss strategies to try and deal with invasive species such as signal crayfish and to explore how we can help them publicise the measures necessary to improve bio-security to prevent the spread of lethal fish diseases such Koi Herpes Virus (KHV) and Spring Viremia of Carp (SVC). It turns out that, lovely as it was to enjoy a long hot summer, 2014 looks like being a record year for reported incidents of KHV. Match fisheries with a high stock biomass are particularly vulnerable and the Angling Trust with be working with Cefas to encourage better practice in some areas of our sport.

 

I stayed with family on the South Coast as I had booked a days chub fishing on Friday with my old friend Andy Cowley on a beautiful stretch of the middle Hampshire Avon near Ringwood. As it happens I’ve had a rather lean time myself on the rivers this season so it was good to get the rod bent again. The river was in good nick after a bit of rain which had livened things up and got the fish on the munch. Heavy feeding with maggots brought the chub up in the water and I enjoyed some tremendous sport with fish up 5.14, which take a bit of landing on a size 20 Super Spade in a strong flow. All in all Andy and I had 17 chub with 7 over five pounds plus some bonus grayling. This perfect day ended when an angry seatrout took a liking to my double red maggot and dragged me forty yards down river. All I could say when I eventually gazed at this bar of silver nestling in the net say is that Mr Drennan makes exceedingly good hooks!

 

A golden day on the Hampshire Avon with this 5.14 beauty being the best of an eleven fish chub haul

A golden day on the Hampshire Avon with this 5.14 beauty being the best of my eleven fish chub haul. And Andy Cowley (below) weighing in four fish over five pounds to 5.12

5-12 10-10-14 1

 

Saturday saw the trusty Skoda heading back down the A34 to Hampshire for the launch of Kevin Grozier’s follow up book to his widely acclaimed Avon Days and Stour Ways. I’ve known Kev since God was a Boy and happily agreed to his request to come and say a few words at the gathering. Although I will be writing a full review of A Keepnet Full of Dreams in due course I can thoroughly recommend Kevin’s second book to anyone with a love of running water and a penchant for some of the more quirky tales from the riverbank. And of course these book launches are about far more than a single publication, however meritorious it might be. They are a good excuse to meet up with fellow river enthusiasts and chew the fat about monsters caught and lost and the condition of our favourite streams. Big Dave was there along with Mark Wintle, Dave Stueart, Chris Ball and the irrepressible float maker Andrew Field. To mark the occasion Andrew crafted a special edition dome topped stick float which, although less ornate than most of his range, looks just the job for trotting flake down some of my favourite winter roach swims.

 

Joining angling author Kevin Grozier at the launch of his new book on the banks of the Avon at Ringwood

Joining angling author Kevin Grozier at the launch of his new book on the banks of the Avon at Ringwood

Check out some of the most impressive floats you’ve ever seen on Andrew’s website at http://lureofthefloat.co.uk/

To order a copy of A Keepnet Full of Dreams contact Kevin directly at. k.grozier@btinternet.com

To join the Angling Trust and help us to keep fighting for fish and fishing please go to http://www.anglingtrust.net/default.asp  or call 0844 7700616

The more members we have, the stronger we become and the more we can do for the sport we all love.

 

A perfect combination - a great new book about fishing two famous rivers and a special handmade Andrew Field float to catch a 'Keepnet full of Dreams'

A perfect combination – a great new book about fishing two famous rivers and a special handmade Andrew Field float to catch a ‘Keepnet full of Dreams’ 

 

 

 

 

Simply Wrassetastic

28 Sep
Wrasse Heaven - one of many uninhabitated islands in the Scillies

Wrasse Heaven – one of many uninhabitated islands in the Scillies

One of the things I love most about fishing is discovering something new. Like why the hell I didn’t go to the beautiful Isles of Scilly 30 years ago and why has it taken me this long to experience the fun of catching chunky wrasse on soft plastics? I’ve just returned from the UK’s largest collection of offshore islands, situated some 28 miles from the south west tip of Cornwall and home to probably the best wrasse fishing to be found in Britain.

 

These gorgeous fish come in a stunning array of colours, they fight hard and dirty and live in places that you’d want to visit even if you weren’t fishing. I was so impressed with the place and the fishing that I’ve booked to go back next year and I will be researching other wrasse spots along the south coast in the meantime!

Just add braid and a suitable rod and reel and this little lot will catch plenty of wrasse in the right spots

Just add braid and a suitable rod and reel and this little lot will catch plenty of wrasse in the right spots

 

Being brought up as coarse angler in the rivers, lakes and gravel pits of the Thames Valley I’m relatively new to chasing fish in the sea and to the weird, wonderful and totally addictive world of lure fishing. I guess it really kicked off for me in my time out in Australia where I had to learn a host of new techniques to catch hard fighting predators from the reefs and rocky headlands around Sydney. Using braid, jig heads, cone weights, soft plastics, Texas and Carolina rigs, vibrating blades, poppers and stick baits took some getting used to but it was a fascinating learning curve which totally changed my attitude to fishing back in the UK.

 

 

The Sonik Travel Rod -rigged and ready in a minutes - and tough enough to to keep the decent wrasse out of the rocks

The Sonik Travel Rod -rigged and ready in a minutes – and tough enough to to keep the decent wrasse out of the rocks

I now own a motley collection of lure rods and reels covering everything from drop shotting for perch in my local canal to powerful outfits capable of taming tarpon, golden dorado and mahseer from exotic locations in far flung countries. I’ve learnt those all important knots necessary for attaching braid to nylon and for allowing the lure or plug to retain life and movement on the retrieve despite being attached to stiff and heavy duty fluorocarbon leaders. I’m now perfectly confident at dragging a weedless shad through seemingly impenetrable forests of weed and kelp or  bouncing a Texas rigged soft plastic worm over limpet covered rocks that would swallow conventional tackle in the blink of an eye. Five years ago I wouldn’t have had a clue how to fish such spots yet this summer some of my best wrasse and bass have come from what I once considered to be tempting but unfishable habitat.

Like this...

Just rig it up like this…and twitch…and lift…and bang !

 

Lure fishing is the new rock and roll in the world of angling. It is growing in popularity when other arms of our sport are in decline. And it’s not just youngsters that like the cool gear that’s on offer. The highly mobile approach and the fact it is possible to grab a quick session on the bank without the hassle of getting hold of smelly bait and carting a barrow load of gear around is equally attractive to those of more mature years and weaker backs!

 

The UK tackle trade has been keen to meet the new demand and I’ve been impressed by the range gear that is now available through specialists lure fishing suppliers such as Art of Fishing or Lure Heaven. I spent some time at this year’s Game Fair with Ian McCormack of Sonik, a company who are relatively new entrants to this market. We were discussing the tremendous improvements in the range and quality of travel rods available and how the travelling angler has never had it so good. Before I knew it I was buying a new Sonik SK4XTR 9′ 15-40gram travel lure rod to team up with a new Shimano Aernos 4000FA spinning reel that Henry Gilbey told me I just had to have. Just to be on the safe side I also took over to the Scillies a lighter Major Craft Skyroad 10-30gram outfit – another Gilbey ‘must have’ item!

My first three pounder

My first three pounder

 

The Skyroad was a positive joy to use as it is light and responsive, casts like a dream and allows the angler to impact real action into the lures. Whilst it is a great bass rod and was fine on the smaller wrasse up to a couple of pounds there was just too much give in it to keep some of the larger specimens out of the rocks and kelp during those crucial first three seconds of the fight. After a couple of days I upgraded to the slighty heavier Sonik and a 20lb leader and the losses were dramatically reduced.

 

Wrasse are certainly not tackle shy but they can be picky about which lures and which retrieving techniques will persuade them to hang on. Worm patterns are by far the most effective and I certainly had a better hook up ratio by using as light a cone weight on the line as possible. I suspect that this is because most of the hookable takes, as opposed to the inconclusive plucks, tend to come as the lure is falling back into the rocks following a lift and twitch retrieve. The lighter the weight on the nose of the rig gives the wrasse just a little longer to home in on the target.

 

My most successful patterns were the four inch Hawg Wild Lure worms in pumpkinseed and watermelon colours, the Spro Komodo worms and an American largemouth bass lure from Poor Boy’s Baits called an Erie Darter. However, there are countless other patterns that will catch wrasse and plenty of room for experimentation. I would also add that having a colour change available will often keep the wrasse coming longer after a few have been caught and released from the same spot.

 

The only other advice I can offer is to avoid turbulent water and big swells as wrasse, understandably, are not keen on feeding whilst being smashed against the boulders. Forget about dawn and dusk, this is a family friendly species that bites well in the middle of the day and in bright sunshine. And concentrate on the couple of hours either side of high tide over rocks with plenty of weed, limpets and other tempting morsels rather than smooth and lifeless ground which might be kinder on your tackle but which will be less attractive to the fish.

My wife and I stayed on St Martin’s, the smallest of the five inhabited islands, at Churchtown Farm, in a handily placed and well appointed self catering apartment in the middle of the island. It was a short walk to Higher Town quay where we had arranged for the guys from Bennetts Boats to leave our dingy for the week. Check them both out at http://www.churchtownfarmholidays.co.uk/ and http://www.bennettboatyard.com/boat-hire-scilly.html

A great way of accessing some remote Scilly rock marks

A great way of accessing some remote Scilly rock marks

 

They like those plastic worms !

They like those plastic worms !

Local expert Del Thompson with a real brute

Local expert Del Thompson with a real brute

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I had no intention of fishing from the boat but with scores of other islands and islets that are not served by the otherwise excellent Scilly Island Ferries I felt that having our own transport would give me the rare opportunity to explore some virtually unfished rock marks. As it happens I caught just as many fish from a cove less than ten minutes stroll from our apartment as I did from some of the more isolated spots. That said I would recommend having the flexibility of your own transport as it greatly increases the fishing options available and you don’t have to worry about packing up as the wrasse come on the bite in order to catch the last scheduled ferry back to your accommodation.

 

The fishing was at times a struggle, but only because it took me a while to cotton on to picking the right spots with the right habitat and that were sufficiently sheltered from excessive waves or swell. Once it all clicked into place I enjoyed some truly great sport the highlight of which was a 12 fish catch in a couple of hours before breakfast. I had plenty of smaller wrasse up to around two pounds and a handful of larger fish to just shy of four pounds. However, there are much bigger brutes out there as these pictures from local expert Del Thompson clearly demonstrate. Check out Del’s blog, Scilly Lure Addicts, for a flavour of some of the reel screaming action that the Scillies can deliver. http://scillylureaddicts.blogspot.co.uk/

Wrassetastic or what ?

Wrassetastic or what ?

 

My next expedition to the sunny Scillies might be a year away but I can guarantee that my next wrasse trip will be a damn sight sooner. A quick look on Google Earth and few phone calls to some helpful friends should set me on the road to some more ‘wrassetastic’  action a little closer to home.

 

 

 

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