Friday, 31 October 2008

New Generation Fly Fishing

I am lucky enough to have been involved with the business of fly fishing for many years and during that time I have seen a definite change. Once upon a time our lake was surrounded by green clad old men slinging Montana's at any fish that would have it. Now that is not to say there is anything wrong with green clad men throwing Montana's at any fish that will have it, but, it is certainly nice to see a new generation of angler frequenting both our shop and the fishery.

Often sporting jeans or the latest hi tech waterproof clothing the other essential wear seems to be a baseball cap and a pair of the latest wrap around shades. Anyone who knows me will know that I have a fair collection myself! Well, lets face it ... who wants to look like Sherlock Holmes on the river bank?

So many people seem to be of the opinion that young people don't want to go fishing but that is just not the case. They want to go fishing, they want to catch fish. What they don't want is to look like a reject from a BBC period drama! Fighting the corner today were these energetic lads from Somerset who I had the pleasure of looking after for a half day. The youngest, Oscar (far left) is just 12 and his Dad (back row with rods!) is only too willing to admit that his boy can out cast and out fish him, no problem. 7 to 1 in fact today ... well done Oscar. I think you will agree he looks like a pretty cool dude too. Leo, James and Harry also did incredibly well and all went on to fish until last knockings. Not a mobile, ipod or Nintendo in sight! We like to do our bit here at Nick Hart Fly Fishing to promote this youthful generation into the sport by offering special discounts. Now it is time for the manufacturers out there to do their bit and realise that to inspire anglers such as these boys is to secure their business for many years to come.

On that note I stumbled across this blog with some very cool images of amazing fish caught on ultra lightweight tackle. Put together by guides involved with the fly tackle brand Loop, it is this kind of imagery and ethos that I would like to see entering the UK market. Its inspiring. In fact I have been thinking very seriously about adding Loop to our range here at the shop and after checking them out at the T&G show we are very shortly going to start doing just that. No blog entry tomorrow as I have some time with the family at last but look out on Sunday for some Pike news ... my favourite winter species. Oh, and I almost forgot, Happy Halloween!

Thursday, 30 October 2008

Big Fish Bonanza

I thought October was supposed to be a quiet month! In true "Harry & Paul" style perhaps their idea of a new 13 month ... "Augtember" ... is not such a bad one! If you didn't see their recent series then you won't know what the hell I am on about so I shall move on!

It has been a busy few weeks and although it has been cold we have enjoyed some glorious fine, dry days such as this one when I guided Tim Watson and Tony Kaye on the River Test. My Saturday date with the Avon fell through at the last minute as my guest for the day, Tom Steele, had some serious work issues to sort prior to his flight to India in search of Mahseer. I can't wait to hear his report when he returns and hopefully will post some details here. From what I can gather he is hoping to target these incredible fish on fly.

From one big fish ... to several others, but this time much closer to home. We have been having a real bonanza with Freds specimen sized Trout stocked into Exe Valley Fishery, the glorious base for our fly fishing courses. During the weekend and early this week we got 3 first time fly fishers into Trout exceeding 8lbs ...

The first lucky angler was David Atkinson who fished with Neil during a 2 day course over the weekend resulting in this 8lb 5oz specimen which took a Damsel fished deep.

Next up was Jonathan Maxted who has to be one of the most naturally gifted casters I have ever looked after. A whizz with the fly rod his efforts came to fruition when this superbly conditioned 9lb fish took a slowly fished Hares Ear. I haven't fished this pattern in anger with my guests for a long time but recently with the fish turning their attention to Hoglouse/Water Slaters (kinda like an underwater woodlouse!) it has been extremely effective.

Top fish of the week so far though is this 9lb 3oz Rainbow caught by John Denton who visited with his brother in law Len and his niece Robin to enjoy a 2 day course with Neil. The fish fell to a Buzzer under an Indicator and put up a tremendous scrap. There is no better way to hook people than a few fish and on her last day 18 year old Robin hooked up no less than six Trout and Dad had to dig deep for a fly fishing kit at the end of the day! You have to treat yourself sometimes though and so he also splashed out on a Hardy Demon for himself ... a rod I have been raving about all year.

Big fish have been plentiful on Exe Valley Fishery recently but the big news dominating the papers and our screens seems to be all this nonsense regarding Russell Brand and Jonathan Ross. OK, so the guys pushed things too far although watching the interview with Georgina Baillie it looks like she can handle herself. Andrew Sachs is an old man and yes the messages may have been offensive, but this great man is also a performer that starred in perhaps the greatest comedy show ever and his interview says that he accepts the apologies ... so if he can move on why can't everybody else? Fawlty Towers pushed boundaries did it not? I am not condoning what Brand and Ross said for one moment but based on their reaction, neither are they. Both are in my view talented guys and to be placed under the public spot light for something like this seems a little over the top. What a shame that as a nation we so often build people up just to knock them down.

Cynical types may say that this story is a great diversion based on the recent bad press that many politicians are receiving. If anyone should be placed under the spotlight for regular bouts of insane stupidity it is that lot!

Thursday, 23 October 2008

River Test Grayling

What a perfect day for fishing we encountered yesterday. Heading out at 7am with Tim Watson and Tony Kaye, we were all excited at the prospect of a session fishing the Fullerton beat of the River Test. Anyone who has spent any amount of time fly fishing will need no introduction to this river that is steeped in history. For my own part I find it a little manicured and I would always prefer to fish for wild fish (much of the Test is heavily stocked) but during the winter months this productive chalk stream provides hours of intense fishing fun for one of my favourite species, the Grayling.

We arrived at the Mayfly Pub in Fullerton a little after nine with frost still showing on the surrounding fields and had a quick look before eagerly heading to our beat where upon we were met by a beautiful scene as mist lifted from the water. Why didn't I get a picture!? Scenic it may have been but I learned long ago that during these early hours the water is best left alone, start fishing too early and you will spook a lot of fish. The mist also makes it difficult to spot fish and this is why I love chalk streaming so much in the first place; its visual fishing.

After a decent breakfast of pain au chocolat very kindly donated by Tim, we were soon donning waders although in fact waders are not strictly necessary! The banks are so well manicured I reckon you could get away with a pair of slippers and wading in the river is strictly forbidden to ensure the fly life is not damaged. Despite the relatively low air temperature through the day I believe this policy works as there was a great deal of fly life to be seen, especially during the warmest part of the day.

The fishing proved to be excellent. I got Tim and Tony started on an upstream nymph, using just one heavily weighted artificial to beat the flow connected to a long tapered leader. We greased from the fly line to around three feet before the fly and then made casts directly upstream. The idea behind this is to allow the fly to sink to the correct feeding depth of the target fish and it takes some practice to master. Tim soon had hold of the technique and despite a couple of missed takes, the greased leader suddenly stabbed forward and with a smooth lift the first fish was on. Takes can be obvious but at other times the line will just stop and very often I watch the fish to see their reaction. If they so much as twitch, I strike!

The Test Grayling are beautiful creatures and we landed many specimens through the day although by the afternoon the nymph was resigned to the fly box and instead we changed to small CDCs and mini Klinhammers for some top dry fly action. The Brown Trout can be pretty daft on these stocked chalkstreams but to outwit the Grayling everything had to be just right, especially in the bright sunny conditions. The sun did warm the day briefly and the fish took full advantage of the conditions as a hatch got going. Tony also made the best of the autumnal sun ending up in his shirt sleeves! Its late October, the sun is out, we are in shirt sleeves and the Grayling are biting ... does it get any better?!

Sometimes ... One real moment of excitement developed when while guiding Tony I spotted a jack Pike laid up near the edge of the river. I always carry a Pike fly and a length of trace, just in case we happen upon one of these toothy predators as they are very often willing to smack a fly. Not this fish, it staunchly ignored everything until all of a sudden there was a huge commotion and a fish shot out from the opposite side of the river and nailed our fly! My first reaction was that another, unseen Pike, had taken. In fact as the line tightened the fish cleared the water and a Brown Trout approaching double figures flicked two fins at us!!! The fish spat the hook in disgust leaving us to gibber for a good while afterwards!

Maybe the fish knew that this bad weather we are now experiencing was on the way because they made the most of the day feeding heavily right until the sun was almost set. The air temperature had dropped and usually this switches everything off, but not tonight, the fish just kept on coming. It was a cracking finale to a day of non stop sport which the guys deserved after enduring a couple of tough sessions this year at the mercy of our British summer. Leaving this beautiful scene at the end of the day we stopped on the way home for the obligatory pint and the conversation soon moved from fishing to .... Tim's home made cider! From the reports I have had I don't recommend drinking this the evening prior to a fishing session, the results maybe not so favourable!

On Saturday I head top another chalk stream ... the Avon ... but I am not so sure the weather is going to be so kind. But it would be boring if it was all the same. Fly Fishing is all about being able to adapt and if that means dealing with a gale and rain, so be it!

Tuesday, 21 October 2008

Getting ready for Grayling

After our session on the Pike I headed to Stoneleigh Park in Warwickshire with Sue for the Tackle & Gun trade show. It was great to catch up with the companies who supply us and make some new contacts. Look out online and in the store soon for the results as there were some very cool new products on offer.

Today though I have been engrossed in writing an article for Trout Fisherman and look out in the next issue (385) for a winter feature plus some more casting tips; this time dealing with the techniques required to deal with a head wind.

Right now I have to load the truck with gear which I have spent the last hour preparing in readiness for my first visit to the chalk streams this winter, guiding two regular guests on to some Grayling. This once persecuted fish has now become a cult hero amongst anglers and I for one relish the trip up the A303 in search of this particular species, especially as we will be fishing for them on the Test. I am not really into fishing for the stocked Trout that often find themselves living out their days in this river but the Grayling are truly wild and very often willing to accept a dry fly.

The weather looks good, my clients for the day are very good company and I have just loaded my box with at least 5 dozen new flies ... now all I have to do is manage some sleep! Not so easy when all you can picture is that little dimple as the fly is accepted with an almost inaudible sip resulting in a bent rod and a Cheshire cat grin for my guest. I love to catch them myself but guiding is just as good ... in fact often it is better. Full trip report on Thursday but for the moment check out the beauty of this fish captured above in all its glory by Henry Gilbey.

Monday, 20 October 2008

First Pike on Fly

A little while back I wrote a post here discussing my views on the close season. Right now the rivers are closed in this part of the world to all species except Grayling, so game anglers must turn their attention to small stillwaters or reservoirs, although a few of these will also close soon.

So what to do? Grab yourself a 10 weight, some big hairy flies ... a bit of wire and try some fly fishing for Pike. This is awesome sport and often prolific as Alasdare Lambert found during a session we enjoyed on Saturday.

Fishing the King Sedgemoor Drain I decided to ditch my fly gear for the day and try out some new lures that we are about to stock any day in the shop. More on the blog soon. Now I am no lure angler, if you want to find out more about this area of the sport check out Henry Gilbeys site. However, I have become very interested in the whole concept of carrying both a fly rod and a lure rod because there are times when one or the other will be more effective. Now ... had it just been me out fishing I would have put it down to my ineptitude with a fixed spool but Alasdare and I were in good company.

Mark Gibbs had joined us for our session and he has just recently landed this stunning 23lb + fish from the drain. Mark and I managed one hit apiece using the lures .... er hum! Alasdare was on his first ever Pike trip with a fly and took 6 fish from 3 different locations on the drain! This does not include the hits and lost fish he had!

Full credit to Alasdare, he fished very well. However I have seen this before during my own fly fishing sessions for Pike, the fluff can totally out fish even dead baits and certainly lures. There is just something irresistible about that pulsating fur and feather on a monster hook that this toothy critter can't ignore. None of the fish were big on Saturday. But .... Marks specimen was taken just a few yards from where Alasdare had most of his Pike! Put in enough hours and one day the 10 weight will snap tight to the tune of a 20 that will cause carnage as it tail walks in an attempt to shed the fly... that thought makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand up! I have heard people say that Pike don't scrap but this is ludicrous ... even Alasdares fish that went no more than 6lbs gave the rod a work out. So that's my goal this winter ... a 20lb canal Pike on the fly and with so many miles of the KSD and other great venues to explore I can't wait to get started!

"An absolutely fantastic weekend - great day with you on Saturday" Alasdare Lambert, London 2008

Friday, 17 October 2008

Full On Fishing

Its been a hectic few weeks and so much has happened on the water and up in the sky. One minute it was wall to wall rain and then suddenly the sun came out! Just last weekend I was guiding in shirt sleeves and enjoying flat calm conditions.

Speaking of which during a trip to London I caught up with Alasdare Lambert of Shirlaws and we grabbed a couple of hours on Syon Park Fishery near Richmond in stunning conditions. Can you believe such scenic fishing is available so close to the heart of the capital? The endless planes landing at Heathrow make it a bit of a novelty but all in all it is amazing to have fly fishing of this quality in such an urban area. Alasdare and I enjoyed a couple of quick hours with dries and buzzers flicked under overhanging trees to Rainbows that were only too happy to snaffle our offerings.

Alasdare is fast developing into a fishing junkie and I am very pleased to have him along on my next fishing adventure with Aardvark McLeod to Los Roques, Venezuela in search of Bonefish. If you are interested in coming along too give me a shout as there is just one space remaining, you can find out more here.

Just before my trip to London Neil Frost landed this very good looking Rainbow at Exe Valley Fishery during a half day course. The fish weighed in at 8lb 8oz and was his first ever Trout on a fly rod!

After this it was time to try and nail our last sequences for a programme that I am presenting for a new online fishing channel. As soon as I have more info regarding the channel I will add it to the blog. But for now here is a head shot of a very tough cock Salmon that was non too pleased to be hooked during late morning on Monday! Full story here.

After a great deal of charging around to meetings while also hosting courses and guided trips I was pleased to drop everything for a day and head to an amazing reservoir high on the Exmoor Hills. Situated not far from my old hometown of Exford, Nutscale Reservoir is owned by the National Trust and operated by Wessex Water to pipe water to Porlock village and as a back up resource to Minehead. A mysterious place I used to gaze at this high altitude lake from afar during my many bike rides and walks when I was a kid. I have had to wait around 25 years for an invite to fish it so when David Draper (a guest I taught to fly fish a couple of years back) invited me along for a day I had no hesitation accepting his generous offer.

Arriving late morning on Wednesday the wind was howling over the hills and the fishing proved to be tough. I caught a small Brown in the first hour but nothing more until well after lunch. After some experimentation I settled on fishing with a yarn indicator and two Buzzers. Nothing happened for a while and then a sudden take resulted in an explosive few minutes as this 6lb Rainbow shredded line from the reel. This fish hit the backing and had my Demon rod under yet more pressure as it also had to deal with the Monday morning Salmon. In fact I have to say that the Hardy Demon Rod range is right up there as one of my favourite rods of all time ... it just does everything so well.

Eventually the fish was netted and I admired the full fins. These fish are only trickle stocked and so naturalise well, hence they don't throw themselves at everything and take some landing ... if you manage to hook one. I lost a couple more and landed two later in the day by long casting with an Airflo 40+ Di-3 line which I had never used much. After seeing the huge distances possible with this product I will now be stocking them in the shop and adding some more densities to the tackle bag. Which leads me nicely to these ... The Greys GRXi Waterproof Tackle Bag which is very well thought out, does stay dry, its lightweight and the padded carry strap works, unlike those that always fall off the shoulder.

Finally, this time of year can seem depressing as the days close in, the leaves fall from the trees and rising Trout on beautiful rivers seem so far off. There are Grayling of course and I will soon be Fly Fishing for Pike but if you need even more of a fix check out this awesome new online magazine. Henry Gilbey is a contributor to this very cool fish porn that is bound to get the juices flowing!

Monday, 13 October 2008

A Salmon on Film .... Finally!

Its been a mad few weeks and although October really marks the end of the season we still have plenty of people attending courses. In fact I reckon these folk have picked just the right time because the weather has been unbelievable! I was looking after Bill Graysmark during the weekend and spent both days in shirt sleeves!

I will catch up on all the latest catches and news very soon but as Scarlet is one tomorrow (can you believe that too ... a year old already ... where does the time go?) I had better sort this post and get home. We will be celebrating in the evening as tomorrow I have Carp and Pike to catch to complete my filming with Shaun Fenton of Diesel Films.

We were both out today and by 10am, could breath a huge sigh of relief. Catching a Salmon on camera was always going to be a tough task with the recent weather and water changes. However on our first shoot I had a rush of blood to the head culminating in the loss of a fish after just 2 hours of fishing. Nothing transpired again that day. We met again for a second and third day and that's when the rubber hook syndrome began. A further 3 fish were hooked and all came unstuck. Watching the rushes at Shaun's studio in London it was evident that a fish was desperately needed.

Fortunately the season has been extended on the Exe by the Enviroment Agency for research purposes and so today we were out very early in the hope of putting this episode to bed. The first couple of hours shot past and despite the water looking good nothing came of our efforts. I got on the walkie talkie to Neil who was fishing a mile above us and he reported lots of fish showing so pretty sharp we were on our way. I say we as Andrew Maund who has caught a staggering number of Salmon in his lifetime was also out on a last dash mission for the king of fish.

Arriving at Blackpool it was evident that fish were in residence but Neil reported that autumn leaves flowing down the river were causing real problems. To combat this we armed our tube with a very sharp single hook and got down to business. It was right at the back of the pool when the line just stopped, pulled steadily tight and then I experienced that wonderful "thud, thud" on the tip of the rod as my fish realised its mistake. The battle took place over deep water and I have to say that when this particular fish hit the net I have rarely taken should a relieved breath! The fish was in the region of 7lb + and pretty red after a good amount of time in the river. But an aggressive cock fish in spawning colours is quite a sight and taking these fish on single handed rods is truly awesome fun.

I did my waffle, the fish went back and we then just had to shoot a few fill ins to complete the day. One of these sections involved discussing the use of varying hook types when dealing with leaves flowing down the river. Stepping back into the river I chucked the line across stream and nonchalantly said to Shaun "you watch this, a Salmon will take". Of course I didn't really believe this for one minute so imagine my surprise when the line ripped tight as I was stripping back across stream! Shaun took a few seconds to realise that I wasn't kidding around and again we set off in pursuit of another fish that was charging off downstream. I played that fish for a while and had it close to the net when it it threw the hook but this time instead of despair I was happy to have enjoyed such a thrilling few minutes. How strange this fishing game is. 3 1/2 filming days for 4 hooked and lost fish when we could have had it bagged in under two hours. Then two Salmon decide to take in two casts ... that's why I love this game, you just never know ....

Wednesday, 1 October 2008

Saying NO to the close season

In a way I guess having a close season is cool. As a kid I spent many winters evenings tying up flies and reading books, preparing myself for endless adventures on the river bank. Those memories are great but I also remember the "close season blues". These were dark days when 15th March seemed a lifetime away. All I could think about was another plump Brown Trout, nothing else mattered. In fact I reckon I was far more excited about the open day (even if it was bitterly cold and wet) than I was about Christmas. Today things are different.

We had our now annual close season bash yesterday to mark the official end of Trout fishing for another year and got very wet in the process but while I enjoyed every minute of the day I must admit that my mind had started to think about all the winter opportunities such as Pike on fly or even searching for a big Bass with a plugging rod. Plus of course there are trips such as Los Roques in Venezuela to look forward to. In fact I reckon my close season is about as busy as my open season these days!

So although I maybe resting the 8'0" #4 stream rod for a while the 9' 0" #10 will be soon take to the open seas, a canal or a lake. There are Grayling too on a chalk stream or even here on the Exe where stocks seem to be at a record high. This season has seen specimens to nearly 3lbs captured and during the winter bugs and a long rod will produce some excellent sport. Then of course we are able to head to Scotland in mere hours these days in search of Salmon. There is actually so much fishing ... where do we start?

For me it will be at the keyboard as I have a few features for Trout Fisherman to catch up on and I also need some time at the tying bench. There will be much to be done in readiness for 2009 too but I intend to fish as much as possible. Life's too short for a close season!

The sun has been shining on Exe Valley and some decent specimens have continued to be captured. However the autumnal orb has little power in it and during the last week of the season I guided regularly on the river but never witnessed anything like a decent hatch. But bugs caught fish and big dries scored too. I am still kicking myself for not picking up the camera when I looked after regular guest Jon Hettle. We headed out to the Lyn last Friday and although we had to work for the fish, the scene before us more than made up for it. This place has to be one of the prettiest places on earth and I feel privileged to guide there. Perhaps my lens does not show it off in all its glory anyway so check Henry Gilbeys website here to see some stunning images of this very special place and his blog to see some truly amazing African fishing.

Its not all just dreams for the moment because I am very pleased to learn of the Salmon season extension on the Exe and the Torridge systems. This scheme allows us to continue fishing on a special licence on a strict catch and release basis for the next 14 days! Enjoy the close season? Yeah right!