A CORNISH ADVENTURE – Tuna

Many thanks to our son James Thomas for providing this vivid account of our trip in search of tuna off the Cornish Coast.

Arriving in the harbour of Looe with the sun glistening off the water was a great sign for the days fishing ahead. However, the evidence of recent storms was still prevalent with sea weed scattered across the beach.

A quick visit to the pasty shop to stock up for the day and we were ready to board Sowenna. As we waited on the quayside fellow anglers Jeff Pierce and James Coggan turned up and we were all full of excitement and anticipation of the day ahead.

A rainbow 🌈 hung across the river, again a sign of the inclement and changeable weather that November often brings. We were all feeling fortunate to be heading out to sea with the chance of an encounter with a bluefin tuna.

Climbing down the ladder and stepping aboard we met the team Dan Margetts and John McMaster who were very welcoming and busy preparing the boat and fishing tackle ready to head out to sea. Having never been tuna fishing before I was marvelling at the tall booms that are setup to trail squid lures behind the boat and the sheer size of the reels on the rods that were shining in the sun. As we left the harbour we chatted about how we were going to play the day and I was extremely grateful and a little nervous that I was given the opportunity of the first fish. Thank you to Jeff, James and my Dad for allowing me pole position on the day and the chance of a fish of a lifetime.

We headed out past Looe island with Dan at the helm chatting through the plan for the day. John set about explaining to me how to get ready to play a tuna; harness on and make sure you’re ready at all times as if one takes it’ll all happen in a flash. The main thing is to not give the fish any slack line and keep steady pressure on at all times.

My memories of fish I had lost in the past through bad angling started to resurface in my head; a huge halibut that had broken free in Norway due to a bad knot and a couch’s bream I lost after a clutch malfunction.  I think it is more curiosity of what these fish would have looked like and how much they would have weighed and the missed opportunity that does pain anyone that has lost a significant fish that was the target of an adventure. Sometimes you only have one shot as an opportunity presents itself for a catch and you want to do everything you can to secure the prize.

As an infrequent and novice angler I was feeling the pressure of being given first opportunity of the day and determined if I did get a chance of a tuna that I wouldn’t mess it up due to a lack of concentration.

The hard work and passion of the crew aboard Sowenna was evident and the dedication to be able to target bluefin tuna through the CHART programme and the hours at sea certainly cannot be underestimated. After an hour cruise into rougher waters, we were ready to start fishing. The method involves trolling for the fish with the engine continually rumbling away. The large booms were sent out and the line carefully played out on the reel until 4 rods were all fishing with the lures trailing behind the boat carefully arranged to avoid any tangles. The swell was gently rolling the boat with the odd slightly bigger wave chopping into the side bringing on the feeling of your stomach rising and the occasional clatter of crockery being moved around inside the cabin.

           Stories of previous fishing trips were flowing and Dan decided to put out the shout for a cuppa tea. With that the Rod at the back of the boat bent over and the reel screamed off. John and I rushed to the stern and the reel then stopped screaming momentarily, had it come off? John’s experience kicked in as he wound the reel furiously to take up the slack line. The fish had started swimming towards the boat which is a nerve wracking situation as this could create slack line with a chance of the hook popping out. John regained control and passed the rod and reel over to me. The fish then set off on a charge peeling line off the reel with ease.

I was thinking of the battle and how long it would take to regain this line and I knew that a lot of effort and concentration would be required. The fish turned several times trying to create slack line but every time I managed to stay on top of the fish; I think spurred on by memories of previously lost fish. On this occasion, the tackle was expertly put together by Dan and John so an equipment failure was unlikely meaning it was up to me to stay in the moment and focus on the rod, reel , line and fish.

The next 25 minutes it was like the rest of the world had disappeared and all that mattered for that brief battle was hauling the fish in. Modern day life is so busy it’s rare to find a zen moment where you can truly switch off. I think that’s one of the things that draws people, including me, to amateur sport, whether that is negotiating a tricky section on the mountain bike, batting or bowling in a tight cricket match, felling a large tree or playing in a fish. It’s during the period of truly being in the zone with the adrenaline pumping that I feel most alive.

         After around 20 minutes of slowly gaining using the rolling sea to my advantage and the harness setup to slowly gain back line that the fish had earlier furiously stripped from the reel, the leader was in sight. After several circles around the boat the fish came into view for the first time; a lean magnificent silver bar full of muscle.

 

A short time later, the fish was secured alongside, a relieved feeling that I hadn’t let myself or the others on the boat down was the overwhelming emotion and a pure admiration for such a huge powerful creature that we were all grateful to witness and have a close encounter with.

The recovery of the fish began with it held steady next to the boat with time for some photos and for the fish to be tagged as part of the CHART program for scientific research which will be used to learn about the distribution of fish and their migration back into British waters.

I opened the door, staring at the fish and wondering how old it might be and how far it may have travelled. As I looked up to the camera one of the infrequent waves with a little more chop rolled in and covered me in icy cold water.

After regaining my composure, a few good photos were captured and we were ready to release the fish back to the depths of the ocean. With a powerful turn the fish swam out of sight. As someone recently said fishing trips are often about the memories that are made and this is certainly one that will live with me. The rest of the day passed by and I was gutted that no-one else had the opportunity to hook up with a tuna and felt a little guilty that I had been given the only chance of the day.

 

My dad had said before that if he had caught a tuna he would have retired from tuna fishing. Dan joked that he would make sure he was always number 4 so that he had to keep coming back. As we headed back to the harbour the light began to fade and thoughts started to turn to the journey home and the week of work ahead. Another adventure over and more great memories made! Thanks to Jeff, James, Dan, John and Dad for making it such an enjoyable trip; a trip I’ll never forget.

Richard Wilsons Fish Rise – Tell Me Sweet Little Lies

Many thanks to Richard Wilson for allowing me to publish his regulars features full of dry humour and comment on todays fishing world.

For the guides and gillies on the frontline

Hey Mr Dream-Seller, tell me how’s it gonna be. Are the Salmon running? Are there fish you can see? Have you, as the song says, dreams enough to spare?

Comes the answer: ‘Fish are moving and the river’s looking great – and it should hold well for the whole of your week’.  All of which sounds very promising. But buyer beware; we hear what we want to hear and nowhere do these words say there are more than a handful of salmon in the river.

The language of guiding has always been creative and bendy, but as the Salmon and Steelhead runs diminish this inventiveness is being tested. Telling anglers what they want to hear without promising the impossible is an art form, although it helps that no audience was ever more willingly misled than we fishing junkies. There is nothing we want to hear more than that we’re arriving at a river full of fish.

Back in the real world, far from any river, deceiving clients is easier. The clerk on the airline check-in desk (if you can still find one) has always promised that your seat has extra legroom and your baggage has been checked all the way through. This is done with impunity because by the time you find out that your seat is in the loo and your baggage in Bahrain, you are a continent away. On a river your guide must sell you a dream that holds you enthralled for the duration of the trip. You’re both in it together and, for added frisson, there’s that tip at the end.

The scale of this challenge cannot be understated. At one of England’s salmon fisheries, a famous hotel, the total salmon catch last year was 1. That’s right: One salmon. Imagine being a guide with that to deal with.

So, let’s go fishing: We’ve arrived. It’s our big week and our hopes are highThe anxious first question we ask is “How’s the fishing?”.

‘Hey!’ the guide smiles broadly. ‘Great to meet you. The river’s in fine condition and we’re gonna have a really good time’. Our pulse quickens in anticipation of the thrills to come.  It’s going to be an awesome week!

Later, after all the pleasantries are done, the bags unpacked and the tackle checked, there will be a more serious word in your ear: “The river’s looking terrific and the water levels couldn’t be better, but – I’ll be straight with you – the salmon are running a little late this year”.  This should set your alarm bells ringing.  The phrase used to mean that the February salmon had arrived in April, presumably in an act of contrarian defiance against the early arrival of spring.  Nowadays this trend is taking a desperate turn and the truth would sound something like this: “We don’t know where the fish are. In recent years the redds have been a hot tub, the sea nets are longer and finer, the fish farm’s doubled in size and the town sewage works pumps raw effluent to match the farm slurry.” Apex predators vary from country to country but you can be sure they’re also in trouble. The entire ecosystem is in decline.

Against this fishless backdrop of warm and perhaps excremental water (try fishing in England or Wales) our hapless guide or gillie must keep our spirits up for a whole week. And that takes a very special sort of talent.

If I create the impression that I’m singling out guides and gillies as the reality-benders, it’s because I am. And I have a great deal of sympathy for their plight because, if I were your guide, I’d do the same.

It’s not the guide’s fault. He or she is a decent human being with a job to do and bills to pay. But the unvarnished truth can be brutal and visitors who believe there are fish to catch are easier company than those whose hopes have been dashed before a fly is cast. There’s also a trade-off in this: As less time is spent catching fish so more must go into managing the client. This is compounded by the human weariness that sets in as a dud week unfolds.

Meanwhile, back at our accommodation, the new day is here and it’s time to hit the river. The guide’s rules are simple: Keep smiling and remember that the lack of action can’t be blamed on the visitor, no matter how badly they fish. And no self-respecting guide could ever say it’s down to poor guiding. So, if we can’t blame the angler or the guide and we’ve already agreed the river is looking great, what does that leave? We can’t, at this early stage in the week, blame the fish because the illusion of their presence is why we’re here. In defiance of reality, we must travel hopefully.

For once the world is on the guide’s side. The ubiquitous Global Fishing Mega-Corp has fragmented fishing tackle into so many interchangeable and marketable parts that I doubt anyone has yet explored all the mind-numbing combinations that can now connect a reel to a fly. Mostly they just connect Mega-Corp with your bank account.

Changing tackle combinations looks like rational problem-solving and keeps the client optimistic. For a single Skagit line there can be some 28 mow-tip variations (perhaps doubling by the time you read this) one or two of which might even be appropriate. Thankfully there are cheaper alternatives. Then there’s the leader and, if time drags, we can learn some new knots. And if that doesn’t work there’s always a Scandi or a Spey or just a good old-fashioned WF line on a single-handed rod. Or a single-handed Spey line. How long have you got? (Answer: A week).

Top of this list is the fly, the interminable way to fill time. This works because most people cling to the belief that there is a right fly to deploy right now. So devoting effort to choosing a winning fly seems crucial, even though experience suggests that successful fly selection mostly works only in hindsight. And, of course, all the time you’re making these changes the fly is on the bank. Which is a lot less disappointing than having it in the water.

I was once with a Steelhead guide whose fly wallet was stuffed entirely with bright pink flies. He carried no other colour. From this fanfare of explosive and uniform pinkness he selected a single fly that he thought would catch fish. How it differed from the rest I could not tell, but I was smitten by the concept. You can have any colour you want, provided it’s pink.  And it worked. No time was wasted tying knots and 4 Steelhead were caught (there were fish in the river).

So the next time I’m with some austere gillie on a drear Scottish river I’ll have the perfect response when he asks to see my flies.  What he wants to say to me is: ‘If only you had a Dour Dreich-Black Doomster Fly you might have been in with a chance. With that lot, all shiny black + a hint of silver thread, nay chance.”  I’m going summon up all my courage and flash a wonderland of effervescing pink and then hope it works.

But back to our river: As the fishless week progresses the guide will see our mood disintegrate. Hope flees and life loses all meaning. We persevere because we must. Admitting defeat is not an option.

Life losing meaning …

This is when I get hit with The Great Euphemism of Last Resort – an intervention reserved exclusively for the fishless angler on suicide watch. I’ve heard it on both sides of the Atlantic and it’s the moment when guide euphemisms morph into lies. And it really annoys me, not for the lie, but because I willfully fall for it every time.

The week has reached the point where small mistakes multiply into big ones and my patience with myself is running thin. I just hope the guide is with my fishing partner and not watching my dire performance. My casting is falling apart. And then, suddenly and with a big smile, up pops the guide, as cheerful as a cheerful thing can be   … ‘Hey, you’re looking great! There’s nothing wrong with your casting and you’re covering the water really well’.

The effect on me is electric. Oh WOW! A real, live pro-fisherman or woman has just told me my casting is faultless.  I’m really good at this! It’s going on my gravestone as proof of a life well-lived:  Here Lies Richard – Oh Boy Could He Cast!  Confidence is restored, my casting recovers and I’m poised to strike when the inevitable fish takes. Life is great.

But only for a while, because reality is corrosive and this praise is not what it seems. It always comes at that moment when even a passing stranger can see that I need a bottle of wine, a whole cake and a long afternoon nap. It’s an undeniable, self-evident fact that I’m casting very, very badly. And yet I fall for it every time – hook, line and sinker.

Let’s take a step back and look at this dispassionately: The guide said ‘There’s nothing wrong with your casting’. They didn’t say anything much was right with it either. What this says is that my casting’s sort of OK.  ‘Sort of OK?’.  ‘Yup, it could be worse’. And if I then take another step back this is what the thought bubble over the guide’s head says: ‘What can I say?  You’re getting the line out. That’s OK. But a fishless week combined with a lifetime of accumulated bad habits is taking its toll. Even if a fish shows up, the best you’ll do is give it a slapping. It’s day 6 and I’ve run out of ideas.’

Thankfully most guides are much too canny to say anything of the sort.

So that’s it. The week’s heading for a dud, the guide has played their last card and the guest is wilting. Everyone is ready to go home.

This is now happening on too many rivers and to too many people. We all know the reasons – climate change, pollution, commercial exploitation, land use, fish farming, overheated oceans and so on.  As a result, guiding is becoming less about catching fish and more about providing emotional support for wilfully gullible clients.  The times they are a’changing.

Inevitably, as migratory runs continue their decline, I’ll be falling for The Great Euphemism of Last Resort more often. And, much to my surprise, I really don’t mind.  I’ve realised that if I’m out on the water, rod in hand, then the two sweetest little lies you can tell me are that the river is full of fish and that my casting is great. So, please, hit me with it one more time.  And sometimes, every once in a while, it will be true: my casting will find that sweet spot and a fish will oblige.

But until that happens, please don’t stop: Tell me lies, tell me sweet little lies.

— — — —

This article first appeared in Chasing Silver Magazine and has been republished in Hatch Magazine.

 

NETTING IN PARADISE

NETTING IN PARADISE

Anglers Paradise was created by Zyg Gregorek around forty years ago a man who had a vision to transform a few acres of marshy ground into a fishing paradise. Visiting the complex to attend the annual netting event it is apparent that Zyg’s vision is still going strong.

Each year one of the complexes thirty plus lakes is netted to ensure fish stocks are kept at optimum levels. The netting also signals the start of the venue’s charity week.

This year the float lake was to be netted, a lake of around one acre that holds koi, barbel, golden tench, carp, goldfish and a large population of rudd. The plan was to remove  a large number of the rudd, transferring them to the pike lake. The koi, golden tench, ghost carp and barbel would be returned to the lake along with a few new additions including chub and blue orfe.

 

I arrived at around 9:00am and found the netting party assembling at the side of the lake. I took a walk around the lake capturing a few images of the partially empty lake. Late autumn sunshine illuminated the scene highlighting autumn colours on the trees.

 

I chatted with Joe and Zenia who between them run the complex that is very much a family business. As the working party slowly gathered one or two were undoubtedly nursing hangovers from a night before in the renowned Safari Bar.

Netting a lake requires a degree of planning and after many years the operation is a well-rehearsed project. The first task being to ensure that the lake is at the right level. Too much water and it becomes dangerous, too little water and there is a risk to the valuable stock.

 

 

There is always a sense of anticipation as the net draws together and the contents are slowly revealed. The fish within were sorted with carp, rudd and a selection of koi removed for relocation across the complex.

The enthusiasm of the team for the task at hand was impressive with no one grumbling about the mud and cold water.

The netting day signals the start of a week of events to raise money for charity. This year’s charity is Tackling Minds. Tackling Minds is a charity formed in 2020 that offers support to people from all walks of life who are suffering from a huge range of issues. In 2022 Tackling Minds teamed up with Angling Direct and Anglia Ruskin University to highlight the measurable benefits of angling for both mental and physical health conditions.

I think we can all relate to the massive increase in mental health issues over recent years. I chatted with several present about mental health and how angling provides a valuable link to the natural world that is good for the mind. Speak with young people today and it is frightening how many know of friends they have lost to suicide. This is I believe the largest cause of death for young men. A fact that is often reported in the national media.

Angling provides a vital connection to the natural world that is recognised as being extremely beneficial to mental health. There is of course also a social benefit from mixing with like-minded people who share the passion for angling.

I fear that mental health is going to be increasingly high on the agenda in future years. Elon Musk raised the possibility of AI removing the need to work and that this will result in people searching for meaning in life. As social media continues to polarise opinions and religion becomes less relevant to many mental health will become increasingly challenged.

Fishing and other pastimes will perhaps play a vital role in exercising our minds and ensuring a vital link with the natural world.

Each day of the annual charity and netting week see fund raising activities such as quiz nights and bingo nights. The week culminates in a fireworks bonanza. This year’s event raised an impressive £3000 + for tackling minds.

         The complexes thirty odd lakes are now well established and offer rich and diverse habitat where wildlife abounds. Many of the visitors to Anglers Paradise have been visiting for years and as each generation grows they bring their families. Those who first fished as children now returning with children of their own to share the joys of angling.

Anglers Paradisehttp://www.anglers-paradise.co.uk

Report from Zenia below :-

£3000 raised for TACKLING MINDS ‼️💖🎣✨🥳
We are absolutely delighted to share with you all that from last week’s fundraising events and events throughout the year that we have raised 3K for the inspirational Tackling Minds 💖🎣✨🥳
The Events that helped us reach this total were –
Charity Wine – Anglers Paradise
Thumbnail painting – special thanks to Nicky Lock
Bingo – special thanks to Di and Andy Mepham
Fishing Match – special thanks to Sam Wahid and his boys
Pool and Darts 🎯 matches – special thanks to Adam, Georgina and Harry Smith
Quizzes – special thanks to Paul Tegg
Tombola – special thanks to Kathryn and Ellis Williams
Treasure Hunt – Anglers Paradise
Raffle – special thanks to EVERYONE
The GUY – special thanks to Di, Di, Trace, Georgina, Adam, Harry and Dawn and to Sam Wahid for bidding for him!
Badges – special thanks to Di Mepham
Party Games – special thanks to Kathryn, Ellis, Mark and Dawn
Waxing of chests and backs – special thanks to the volunteers Toby Hayward and Devon’s Austin Powers aka Will Peyton and to Jaz Trent for getting the waxing strips
Chilli party night – special thanks to Georgina and Adam Smith
Fireworks- Step Pearson, Spen and Paul. Thank you for a fantastic display and finishing the week in style 👏🎇🎆
A ‼️MASSIVE‼️THANK YOU 🙏TO EVERYONE THAT HELPED AND DONATED TO GET US TO THIS AMOUNT!! THANK YOU TO EVERY SINGLE ONE OF YOU 💖👏🏻✨🙏

SONG OF THE STREAMS By Michelle Werrett

SONG OF THE STREAMS

By Michelle Werrett

         Michelle Werrett’s book ‘ Song of the Streams’ is set to become a classic of its genre painting an evocative portrait of Exmoor’s rivers and streams as they are today and comparing them with their glorious past. The prose flows throughout the book reflecting upon days with rod and line spent beside the bright waters that flow through Exmoor’s landscape. Pausing frequently to savour chocolate along the way and glimpse dippers, wagtails, kingfishers and other wildlife.

         Joyful Spring and Summer days are described in enchanting detail making it perfect reading for those long winter nights beside the glowing embers of the fire. The book highlights the “ ‘Shifting Baseline Syndrome’, which basically means we have short memories. As the world around us changes we come to accept the new state of things, constantly updating our expectations of what is normal.”

         Michelle draws upon the writings of earlier generations to highlight the abundance that we have lost from our rivers. The beauty that remains is recorded within the pages of this book as we wander and wade the streams, rivers and paths of fishers from a different age. The beautiful wild brown trout may not be so plentiful as in Claude Wade’s Exmoor Stream days but they still offer tranquil days and escape from the modern world.

           The monochrome images taken by Robin Baker give the book a timeless essence that links to the past.

         The sterling work of angling groups in conservation efforts is described giving a glimmer of hope for the future. On a personal note; I could connect closely with the book and the locations it describes so vividly having grown up to walk and fish the waters frequently over the past fifty years. I bought a first edition of Exmoor Streams at an auction in Dulverton over thirty years ago and conclude that ‘Song of the Streams’ is a worthy companion.

         There are few books that bring a tear to the eye but as I finished reading ‘Song of the Streams’ I could not help but feel moved as the book could almost be an epitaph to the once prolific salmon that are now endangered and could be extinct within our lifetimes.

                  Wayne Thomas

Hours Spent in company with the river are always enriching and life affirming; relaxing in times of stress, reviving at times of staleness, cheering on days of sadness and always brightening as reflected sunlight sparkles from the shimmering surface. And like the best of companions, the river often makes me laugh and sometimes laughs at me”.

 

Memories of past glories effectively highlight the process of change and loss our land has suffered. Losses of some things – cuckoos and nightingales for example- are obvious to almost everyone but only fisherman notice the loss of the fish.

Vellacotts Pool on the East Lyn – Image Robin Baker

‘Song of the Streams’, Michelle Werrett’s first book, is in stock now! Priced at £26.

Michelle will also be signing copies at Lance Nicholson’s shop in Dulverton, on Saturday 18th November from 10am to 12.

The perfect Christmas gift to yourself, or any other angler in your life!

 

Reserve your copy now…

Introduction by Medlar Press

https://www.medlarpress.com

Fishing and Conservation on Exmoor Streams

Inspired by tales of the past gleaned from old fishing books, the author sets out to fish those same waters, to cast the same flies on the same pools, to explore how fishing the streams of Exmoor might compare with fishing them over a century ago, whether those streams have changed and how they might be faring today. Exmoor rivers and streams appear pristine, barely changed since Claude Wade described them in his 1903 book Exmoor Streams, yet the numbers of trout he and other long-ago writers reported catching seem unbelievable today. Those streams must once have held an astonishing abundance of fish.

Modern problems affect even upland streams, yet many good folk are dedicated to their restoration and there is much we can do to help. River conservation work can be fascinating and rewarding as we develop a deeper understanding of river habitats through, for example, managing a balance of light and shade, monitoring aquatic invertebrates and cleaning riverbed spawning gravels then watching for their use when migratory salmon return home from the sea.

Those nail-booted, greenheart wielding fishermen of the past have gone but the streams still run on their wild ways, singing their endless songs to the moor. This book is for all who share concern for the wellbeing and conservation of our rivers and streams as well as those entranced by the rise of a trout to a well-placed fly.

Meet the Klutz – Richard Wilsons Fish Rise

Many thanks to Richard for sharing his monthly essay. Always humorous and slightly off piste

Meet the Klutz

You looking at me, kid?

What kind of creature bore you,
Was it some kind of bat?
They can’t find a good word for you,
But I can … TWAT.”

John Cooper Clark – Punk Poet

A few years ago the stranger (above) and I both arrived too early for check-in at the lodge on the fabled Gjöll River. A place steeped in myth and vengeful Norse gods.

It was a warm, late-summer day and the deck offered fresh coffee with a view of the river and mountains. The perfect setting to kill time with idle chatter. Our hosts were a fine and professional bunch of people and all was well with their world and mine. It was the sort of place that puts a smile on your face and fly-rod to hand.

My fellow guest greeted me with a sneering eyeball shake-down. Perhaps it was the triggering way I had said, “Hi, lovely day isn’t it?”.

Small talk? No. In rapid succession he declared that all forest fires are started by arsonists. That George Soros is Jewish (a terrible thing, he said), heavy snowfall proves global warming is fake, wokesters are provocative bastards and Anne Frank’s latest porn book for kids must be banned & burned (both) along with the paedos, Fauci, all UN scientists and foreigners (me?). And coal is king and should also be burned. It was a lot to take in. And if looks could have killed, I was dead.

Putting the threatening bigotry aside, for the moment, when did climate change become a right-wing wedge issue? The right’s talismanic icon Margaret Thatcher must be spinning in her grave.

I kept my head down for the rest of the trip, although it turned out that it wasn’t anything that I or Mrs Thatcher had said.  The next day Mr Wedgie’s newly arrived fishing party erupted into ear-piecing verbal abuse. Our misfit was now at odds with his buddies. I couldn’t work out exactly who he wanted to kill first, but I think Mike Pence was high on the list. Mostly he generalised: Scientists, environmentalists, whales, migrants and probably cute little kittens. You get the idea: Tough Guy v World.

That night found me thinking about Twats on Banks. The who, the why and the such-like. I have a bit of weakness for this sort of thing and, generally speaking, the weirder people are, the bigger their metaphoric car crashes and the more I rubber-neck. And there we were in a Norse fishing lodge with a hotline to 1930s Berlin and I’m suddenly thrust into team Thatcher – weird and weirder.

So with the worrying caution that maybe it takes one to know one … this is my essay, formally titled A Short Discourse on Fishing Twats. 

There are two fishing twat-types chewing away at the margins of my watery world. The on-line variety and the much more alarming physical version you hope never to find in your river.

The online twat is, at worst, a minor irritant. Mostly they rally around a pick n’mix of conspiracy theories and grievances with their own victimhood worn as the shared badge of honour.  They’re found in small and grumpy internet echo chambers, bickering and shouting insults at the heresies they find threatening: Science, for example. They go unheard even by the new-agers they assertively hate, which is a pity because they have much in common. Intolerance and a high rate of attrition from vaccine-preventable diseases, to name just two.

It is precisely because they heckle the twilight that our online fishing twats are mostly irrelevant and marginalised – for comparison, the online world of Chess players is properly vicious and ruins lives.

So that brings us to the real-life Twat of the sort that invades your space and makes Hotel and Lodge owners miserable. The angler from hell (or, in this story, the Norse Hel).

First, some background: I am not a digital native and hail from the era of flesh and blood – which means my formative years were spent face-to-face with real people. This tended to moderate some of our worst excesses. Maybe you know the song:

“Soon we’ll be out amid the cold world’s strife, Soon we’ll be sliding down the razor blade of life.”

Tom Lehrer, Bright College Days.

The message is clear: Shape up, or it’s going to hurt.  So most of us reached adulthood with a basic set of social skills. For example; avoid inflicting your politics on strangers met on a fishing trip.

They say the boy is father to man, and I was a flawed teenager who, I hope, was more Prat than Twat. Not ideal, but it could have been worse and, like most teens, I have mostly recovered in the decades since. Sadly, some people don’t.

This Prat-predisposition set me in direct conflict with the biggest Twat in my teenage fishing life: My godfather – a groping, leering and utterly repellent misogynist.  He even carried a little black book of sexist jokes.  Like the man, none of the jokes were funny, and he made life miserable for every barmaid and waitress who had the misfortune to cross his path.

That’s not all: Unforgivably, he could also throw a line further and with less effort than me – something nobody else in my very limited circle could do (this was long before YouTube and Spey Casting brought me crashing down to earth). Being outperformed by such a groping grotesque annoyed me. Meanwhile, he thought I was a long-haired little jerk – and, with hindsight, I can see he had a point. We were not a good mix.

To make matters worse, every year my father would organise a week’s fishing for the three of us (for me it was free, so of course I went).

One year we were blighted by a drought so severe the fishing was impossible. Not that my teenage self was prepared to admit it. I took it all very seriously. Too seriously. So there I was, working my way inch-by-inch through a large, slow-moving pool which had some water, but no oxygen and no fish. Nobody else was making an effort. Just me.

Out of the corner of my eye I caught a glimpse of movement in the pool’s neck. Something was drifting downstream towards me.  Something blubbery and brilliant white. Something that, bizarrely, seemed to be a belly-up Beluga Whale.

The whale processed all stately and ceremonial into the main pool. I slowly realised it was wearing paisley-pattern boxer-shorts and had my godfather’s porkpie hat perched on its expansive stomach.  It was otherwise flabbily naked.

I was, by now, incandescent with rage at this invasion of my territory.  My pool.  My best chance of catching a fish. How dare he! I was raging with self-righteous afront.

The imperial and imperious Beluga drifted past me and, as it did so, raised a two-fingered salute in my direction. This put me in temper tantrum territory – which was presumably the Beluga’s intention.  It was only my awareness of this that kept the lid on my head. I don’t remember how it ended, but no rocks were thrown and I assume the Beluga joined us for dinner that night.

The point of this story is that I learned a long, slow lesson: That prats grow up. Admittedly, it took 20 years for me to realise, but the Beluga was perhaps the funniest thing to happen to me on a riverbank.  Had I not been such a pompous little prat I would have been rocking with laughter.

The author pratting around, back in the day.

So I learned some humility and didn’t grow up to be a Twat.  However, my godfather, being a fully grown Twat, continued his behaviour unchanged by his exposure to me. So by the time I had eventually realised how very funny the Beluga had been, he was getting a well-deserved visit from the police following allegations of a sexual assault.

So the moral of this tale is simple: Be tolerant of young Prats. They might grow up to be you.  But if you meet a full-blooded Twat just walk away. Don’t engage. They’re not worth the trouble and, sooner or later, they’re going to get hit by someone or something bigger and nastier than you or me.  Hopefully reality.  Perhaps the police. Or maybe guests at a fishing lodge. Thor could do it – but it won’t be me, although I did read somewhere that the pen is mightier than the sword.

 

 

RAINY DAY RAINBOWS

RAINY DAY RAINBOWS

         Waterproofs hanging drying beside the Wood-burner reflected the story of the previous day as we sat enjoying coffees and full English in the George Inn at Brompton Regis. I was with Snowbee Ambassador Jeff Pearce, Nigel Evans and Andy Jesson who had fished in a friendly competition at Wimbleball the previous day.

         The nine competitors had recorded thirty trout in a close run event that had seen them battling some pretty severe weather as the strong winds and rain of Storm Babet brushed the West Country. On practice day Nigel and Andy had boated 29 trout between them so were slightly baffled at the relatively reduced catches on match day.

         Breakfast chat included in depth analysis of match day and then diverged to include the problems of the wider world and the intricacies of drone flying. These included several accounts of expensive drone crash disasters that must have been stressful for their owners at the time yet highly entertaining in the subsequent retelling. Strange how tales of disaster are often recounted and savoured with an ironic humour frequently lurking far longer than successful events. A bit like the memory of a big fish lost at the net that lingers painfully for years.

         Feeling fortified we all set off for Wimbleball confident after referring to the latest from the met office inferring that today’s weather would be better.

         After five minutes with the bilge pump to empty the boat Jeff and I set off under grey skies to the sheltered waters of the Upton Arm.

         Tinges of autumn showed upon the wooded banks with shades of golden brown amongst the still predominantly green canopy. The Upton Arm at Wimbleball is sheltered by steep wooded banks and always seems to have a unique other world atmosphere.

         Jeff manoeuvred the boat into position in an area that had proved productive over recent days. I eagerly extended my Snowbee intermediate line and began to retrieve the team of flies. A solid jolt was transmitted down the line to be followed by an acrobatic trout!

The resulting 2lb plus rainbow was a great start to the day and ensured I had at least ensured my ongoing 100% catch rate during the modern Wimbleball era.

         The successful fly was the ever reliable gold headed blue flash damsel on the point. I constantly reiterate that it is important to tie on a fly that gives confidence. I probably catch more than 50% of my still-water trout on this pattern and that is undoubtedly due to my confidence in its use. I am not generally one to swap and change flies repeatedly preferring to try different depths and speeds of retrieve before swapping patterns.

         We could see fish moving on a regular basis further along the bank and moved towards these fish. Once again my fly was seized, there was a flurry of spray and an angry rainbow erupted from the water.

     Over the first hour or so the pattern continued and Jeff also started to hook up with some hard fighting rainbows. All full tailed fish in splendid condition. It soon became obvious that the fish were tightly shoaled as we glimpsed numerous fish in the dark clear water as they followed our flies.

         Sport was to be consistent throughout the day with some epic battles with Wimbleball’s finest the best of the trout nudging 4lb and averaging close to 3lb.

         It was the weather though that will linger in the memory along with persistently bent rods and purring reels. The dark skies brought some brutal showers on the tail end of storm Babet.

 

         It seems that we are increasingly weathering the storms to go fishing. Fortunately, modern waterproofs are up to the job ensuring that fishing is enjoyable in even the most hostile of conditions. There can be few climate change deniers amongst the angling fraternity.

         Sport proved consistent as the day drifted past all too quickly. The high banks of the Upton Valley provided welcome shelter from the wind and we were joined by Nigel and Andy who fished a hundred yards or so behind us. They too enjoyed consistent action and also noticed that most of the fish were patrolling one side of the bay hugging the shoreline.

         A red kite soared high above the valley as the rain eased. The calm surface of the lake reflected the dark trees and as the showers passed by wisps of mist lifted from the lake.

         By mid-afternoon we had caught 19 rainbows releasing all but a couple at the side of the boat. Barbless hooks and rubber meshed Snowbee nets ensuring minimal damage.

         Inevitably sport eased and we decided upon a change of scenery heading back to the yacht club bay for a final hour. We had a quick drift without success and then proceeded to drop the anchor. A small wild brownie brought the days total to twenty.

         Another brutal shower descended upon the lake and a rainbow appeared briefly as the late afternoon sun momentarily broke through the clouds. The trout proved elusive probably switched off the feed for we felt sure they would be present in the area that had been productive over recent days.

In truth I wasn’t too upset when Jeff suggested he had had enough, I had too!

         It had been a top day on the lake a water that has provided some spectacular sport under the management of Mark Underhill and his family since 2018. Wimbleball is not always an easy water with a vast acreage the trout can sometimes prove elusive but it is always well stocked with pristine conditioned rainbows. There is always the added chance of connecting with one of the lakes wild brownies that have grown large feeding upon the abundant fry.

         Winter sport can be enjoyed with plans under consideration to remain open for most of the winter.

FISHING CALM WATERS WITH SOUTH WEST FISHING FOR LIFE

            It was a peaceful Sunday morning as I negotiated the winding country lanes of the Quantock Hills on my way to Hawkridge Reservoir near the Village of Spaxton a few miles from Bridgewater.

            Countryside illuminated by the early morning sunshine seemed to ooze tranquillity and timelessness. This seemed particularly poignant as I listened to the news on Radio 4. The terror of conflict in Israel, death and destruction on the dawn of a new war that will undoubtedly bring much sadness and breed yet more hatred.

            I arrived at Hawkridge the mirror calm surface pimpled with rising trout. Herons stood fishing on the far bank.

            I was with Wistlandpound Fly Fishing Club on their annual meeting with South West Fishing For Life. https://www.southwestfishingforlife.org.uk

The organisation has been running for over fourteen years and provides free fly fishing sessions for people who have one thing in common – breast cancer.

            This friendly meeting always results in plenty of smiles as we share boats and try to tempt a few trout.

            Members of the two groups slowly assembled beside the lake all eagerly eyeing the lake and its surface still dimpled with rising trout.  On the far bank a couple of roe deer bounded into view disturbed by an angler approaching the far shoreline.

The draw was made at just after 10.00am and participants eagerly set off to various parts of the lake. My boat partner sadly failed to show leaving me soul occupancy of the boat a fate of hand that proved fruitful from a fishing perspective.

Loitering close to the dam end of the lake I drifted about for a while searching the water with a floating line and a team of flies. By now the fish had stopped rising as the unseasonably warm October sunshine illuminated the surroundings. After an hour with just one chance, I decided that the fish must be down in the water. As I wound in to change the lines over I felt a strong pull. A good sized rainbow appeared shaking its head to successfully rid itself of the hook.

I persisted with the change to a sinking line and allowed the boat to drift to rest against the buoys near the dam. A few fish were rising and I cast parallel to the buoys close to where a fish had showed. The line zipped tight and a spirited tussle followed before a pleasing rainbow was netted. An exciting hours sport followed as I hooked several trout some of which came off before I completed my five fish limit shortly after 1.00pm. The fish were all tempted using a blue flash damsel and generally took within seconds of the fly hitting the water. The fish were tightly shoaled and I had been lucky as I feel sure I would have headed to the far end of the lake if my boat partner had showed.

            The morning session ended at 2.00pm and we all assembled back at the lodge for the presentation of prizes. I was slightly embarrassed to receive the top boat man’s award for my five fish haul that totalled 13lb. Peter Mullins took the SWFFL prize with a 2lb 12oz rainbow.

Sally Pizii had once again done a splendid job of organising the event.

I headed for home after a great morning’s sport and tuned into Radio 2’ and sounds of the seventies. The rest of the Wistlandpound Club headed back out onto the water. David Eldred completed his five fish bag to win the competition with 14lb.

The club result was : –

1st David Eldred. Five trout – 14lb

2nd – Wayne Thomas – Five trout 13lb

3rd – Colin Combe –  three trout

4th – Roy Pink – Two trout

NOTHING REALLY HAPPENED

 

The lake was still barely a breeze. The sky many shades of grey reflecting in the water.

“Its not easy, you’ll be lucky to catch on a short session said the angler on the lake.”

Too much gear.

Twenty four hours that’s a long session for most anglers but not carp anglers who camp out for days waiting for their traps to work.

The reality of carp fishing sank home; pictures of bronze flanked carp adjourn the angling media including the pages of this website. Those pictures tell of the success not of the hours of inactivity.

It was my first trip to Torridge carp lakes and i was using a twenty four hour ticket I had won in Jamie Stewards raffle earlier in the year.

With the top lake full I headed to Old Meadow Lake and set up in the vacant end peg. The only other angler on the lake told me he had tempted a fine carp of over twenty pounds earlier in the day.

Sixty odd carp in 1 acre of water. plenty of features. A nice  intimate lake surely I could winkle one out?

Unlikely to catch with those rods set up like that!

I had some quality bait from Remix Baits and set my traps in spots that screamed carp.

I settled into the bankside life.. Watching, observing plotting. Spodding out, measuring the wraps.

Afternoon drifts past, night descends.

I sleep intermittently.

Dawn of a new day.

Rebait, lines pointing out into stillwater’s all is still not a bleep.

Late morning a breeze stirs the water. A dragonfly hovers over the water, any moment now I think?  But nothing happens.

It’s time to pack away. Nothing happened a blank trip.

Above a crow and a sparrow hawk play out a dogfight in the sky. The mewing of buzzard’s drifts across the lake. I thought back to the breaking of the dawn when the song of a solitary wren had emitted sweet melodies across the calm waters. The glimpse of the electric blue of a kingfisher. The owls hooting in the dead of night.

I said nothing happened I was wrong.