Friday, 31 July 2009

0730 and a pike on a bucktail!

I decided to set the clock for 0530 and try to get out on the water by 0630 at the latest... that means no shower or shave and a quick brush of my teeth I'm out of the door.

The forecast was for strong winds and a change in the weather by lunchtime so I decided to make hay while the sun shone... I set up two rods one with a floating line and the gurgler and the sink tip with a bucktail.

I started with the gurgler fan casting and then used the bucktail to try and winkle them out... I was looking at one swim and felt it in my bones that I had to try it. Not an easy swim to cast in... overhanging trees, large brambles and a hawthorn bush cum tree!

The gurgler was making plenty of noise... I fished it fast and I fished it slow... nothing... OK I know there is a snaggy drop off. Onto the rod with the sink tip... not on the rod I prefer to cast it with BUT I'll make do as I know the take will be close in. Second cast in was fair to reasonable - half a fly line out... count it down and retrieve... short, long, pause, long, long and pause and so on and so forth until the fly was within 6 feet of me.

As the fly was coming into sight through the murky water I saw a darkness in the water, not great but a patch of dark behind and to the left of the fly. The darkness was gone then it was back.... my eyes, well it is only 0730 and I haven't even had breakfast. I'll let the fly hang in the water... BANG - engulfed and away with the pike taking it to the depths. I got the spare line on the reel and played the fish on the drag... it wasn't a happy bunny!

Netted and on the bank and just short of 30 inches (the diameter of my net is 30 inches) a quick weigh for the books at almost 7.5lbs... surprised me it was as heavy... it did have a full belly though!

They just can't refuse the orange bucktail... great colour for murky water...

I stuck it out until 1100 thinking I could switch to a carp... but then I though perch, and went "Nah, breakfast!"

Wednesday, 29 July 2009

Off the top action on a gurgler!

When I was tying flies for my recent bass expedition my pal Mike Helliwell at Harrison's Advanced Rods suggested tying up some gurglers... this fly was one of the first I tied and I sent him a photo of it to his mobile phone... cell phone to you guys across the pond!

Mike's response was that it could do with being subtle... so I kept it for the pike!! My first time back on the lake and I decided to just stick to the deer hair diver that had done so well... not a response, so I felt a change was needed. I was going to pull out the trusty big bucktail but then decided to stick on top and fish around the lily pads with the gurgler.

The first free mark had a V shaped opening in the lilies and with the Polaroids I spotted a "log" in the water... but it moved! Mmm... I cast just beyond it and drew it slowly across the water... the log became a pike and finned itself into position, although it looked it didn't strike and at one point I thought it would spook. I deftly took the fly off the water and cast 15ft away to the edge of the lily pads and drew it parallel to the edge of the lilies... very gently! I stood well back from the water's edge under cover of the trees, gradually edging the tasty morsel to the inquisitive target. The fly was all but stopped in the water and the pike edged backwards and then repositioned itself to come up behind the gurgler... this was exciting! Front row seats at the execution... the crowd were baying for the gladiator to vanquish his foe.
As gently as I was fishing the fly so the pike was quietly stalking its prey... I wished I'd had a video camera to hand. The pike was motionless for a second then edged back as if putting a spring under tension and then all hell broke loose at it pounced and hooked itself on the fly.

"I'm in!" "What a fish!" along with the thrashing of the water brought young lads fishing for carp to watch. Gasping at the beauty of the pike... it's amazing how mid fight someone asks for a discourse on fly fishing for pike and what the fly line is made of!

Safely out and safely back in with a photo taken I got up and walked to the next mark. I could hear George Bernstein's comment from his book... How many pike are taken with a stationary fly? Quite a few in my book... but are they actually stationary? Full of mobile rabbit hair dancing enticingly in the water, how could that pike resist?
Footnote: The rod used was again the custom built 9/10 weight built for me by Harrison Advanced Rods - I can't speak highly enough of this rod. The line used is a Cortland 333 Pro Pike WF10F with 4-5 feet of Seaguar albrighted to 12 -18 inches of knotable 20lb wire... 49 strand similar to AWF but cheaper!

Toothy Critters Love Flies - Reviewed

Reviewing a book that has just been published isn’t easy and I was pleased to have the opportunity to review George Bernstein’s book “Toothy Critters Love Flies, Fly-fishing for Pike and Musky ”.

Very few books are written about pike fly fishing, although with the upsurge in interest in this particular aspect of the piscatorial pursuit of pike I can see a flurry of books appearing on the horizon.

Most books appear from across the pond for those of us who live in the UK and I doubt that I’m any different to any of my fellow “fluffchuckers” in that we pursue the written word as much as our toothy quarry.

Who is George Bernstein? Well according to his “Bio” George has spent most of his free time on the water fly fishing, but unlike the majority was able to combine this with the day job when he started Outdoor Safaris one of the earliest providers of premier fishing and hunting travel services. George supplied these trips to the likes of Pan Am, Lan Chile and Aerolinas Argentinas airlines. In addition to the business end of fishing and hunting he’s held about a dozen International Game Fish Association world records; two of which were pike records. So I guess he has the credentials.

So to the book. Through the post this morning a package arrived from Florida, it was George’s book; I set about reading the book cover to cover after dinner and have just put it down.

OK, let’s put aside a couple of wee niggles for the bibliophiles who will pick up the book… there are no colour plates and there are one or two proof reading errors. I guess that the cost of publishing a book is no mean feat and albeit that colour plates would have enhanced the book I didn’t find the lack of them distracting. In fact the lack of colour photos concentrated the mind on the written word.

The book is reflective, almost a pike fly fisherman’s autobiography but with an educational twist. I love the reference to the spinning and plugging pikers as those that chuck “hardware” it made me smile. The book guides you through piking and musky adventures and how to tempt these predators to take the fly and to take the bonus species along the way… sadly in the UK we don’t have musky or smallmouth bass never mind largemouth bass BUT we do have perch, zander (walleye), chub, trout, grayling… you get the picture. I have read many times that a book written in North America doesn’t hold water here… utter rubbish! You apply the same principles to the water you find yourself on and you’ll catch fish!

George tackles the issue of tackle coming down perfectly on thoughts of using a 9 or 10 weight rod for the reasons of catch and release. He also gives the advice that you can spend a fortune on rod and reel or keep it relatively cheap and still take pike on the fly. I was also interested to read his comments on the decision not to use hard mono at the end of the leader and to use wire instead. I know quite a few guys here who swear by hard mono, I, however, prefer to use knotable wire.

Fly choice is interesting, I’ve never used Marabou in tying flies having worked it to four patterns this year I might just have to order some marabou tomorrow and give it a go and have a fifth pattern in my fly box using the recipe’s included.

In order to get to North America and catch trophy fish there’s even guidance there, with names and addresses of suitable lodges.

Would I recommend the book? Yes, I would. It is easy to search the net and find article after article BUT it is hard to find an easy read in one volume that takes you from learning about your target species, through personal experiences with the “how to?” and “with what?” in there as well. It’s a book I would happily give to the tyro pike fly fisherman or woman, even the more experienced will enjoy the read (I did).

Undoubtedly there are the text books by Swier and Reynolds that are pure works of reference and it would be unfair to pitch this book next to those. Reading this book gave me the feeling that I had George sitting there in the boat with me sharing his life’s experiences as we fly fished for pike.

In short I’d be chuffed (happy) if I’d have written the book!

You can order the book direct from George Bernstein via his website which you can access by clicking the book cover image above or direct from Amazon.

Sunday, 26 July 2009

Back from Jersey and a great session on the bass!

I’m just back from a family holiday to Jersey and am totally blown away by the place for the second year on the run. Last year was a long weekend without kids and NO fishing rod! This year I made up for it…

Packing my bag with the allotted 20kg of hold baggage I managed to have 7.5kg of fishing gear and a 3kg bag – that left 9.5kg for clothes… oh there was hand luggage as well (no weight restriction on hand luggage but no sharp implements allowed). Needless to say the Abel went with me in the plane!

I’d had a few chats with Mick Ward aka Mr Fish prior to the trip and we’d discussed both fly and lure opportunities for bass… I really wanted to go over the water with a fly but Mick suggested that it may not be the best way of getting in touch with a bass… he’d commented that it was hard enough with a lure never mind the fly – it would be his call especially if there was someone else on the boat as well.

After we landed at Jersey airport and settled into the hotel I made contact with Mick… I knew they’d had a hard June but Mick had a couple of good sessions under his belt during the last week, however, sod’s law was that the weather had become rather changeable and the sea state not that kindly.

Sunday was spent mooching around the island with the family and we ended up at a lovely beach to end the day… the tide was on the in, probably an hour or two off high water and I met a couple of guys plugging the depths. I didn’t take much persuading and popped back to the car for the fly rod. I set up and put on a chartreuse clouser and cast about… my accidental companions left to try another few marks, I cast about and felt a significant knock on the fly… sadly we didn’t connect. On retrieving the fly I found that I’d got a right wind knot and tangle on the fly with the tippet effectively running eye to barb and back through the body… this would never have hooked up in a month of Sundays!

I met Mick at his shop at First Tower on St Aubin’s Road on Monday for a chin wag. When I say shop, it can only be described as an Aladdin’s cave as the walls are festooned with every type of lure you could imagine, racks of rods ranging from Red Dragon Expresses to modestly priced beach casters, reels that could haul a record breaking conger from the deep to super smooth fixed spools for the lure angler. Don’t even mention line and terminal tackle… spoilt for choice!

I had the chance of observing Mick dealing with a young lad buying what might have been his first major purchase in a tackle shop… rod, reel, line etc etc. The young lad was in with his grand mother and Mick treated him as if he was a top angler looking to spend hundreds of pounds – it was great to see and without a doubt Mick will have another customer for life.

We discussed fishing for the week and frankly the mixed weather didn’t really look good for a boat trip. Looking at the map of Jersey and taking into account the wind and that I wanted to fly fish I chose a small area of coastline that wouldn’t appeal to the family. It has to be said that you are either on a family holiday or a fishing trip and the two don’t really mix, so a few snatched hours aren’t going to help you conquer new marks. I didn’t have any success at fishing from the shore and this wasn’t down to technique or kit but down to lack of local knowledge… all will become apparent.

A couple of days later saw a window in the weather and an opportunity to get out that coincided a free day that we hadn’t booked to do anything as a family. Thursday morning came and I spoke with Mick… could I get down to the shop for 11.30? “Don’t bring the fly rod” was the only instruction from Mick.

We met at the shop and I was introduced to a Devonian baser called Martin, a pal of Mick’s holidaying on the island purely for the bass fishing and who was also hit by the less than favourable weather. They’d been out on Tuesday and Martin had blanked on an iffy sort of day. (As an aside I had a go on a Prowler 15 fishing kayak on the Tuesday with Jersey Kayak Adventures… subject for another post to the blog).

There was much talk of which lures to use and whilst at the shop I bought two lures. Having plenty of shallow runners and lures that would work to 4ft I decided to supplement my surface lures with a Xorus - Patchinko II in Silver/Black 27g and 140mm and go deeper with a Tackle House 18g 80mm intermediate minnow. I was also keen to see that Mick stocks single hooks for lures to replace trebles if that takes your fancy… I’m keen to try this out and bought some circle hooks to replace trebles on some smaller Rapala lures.

Off to the boat and get on the water… enough of talk – let’s catch some fish.

My choice of rod and reel has always been my 4 piece Harrison designed Mike Ladle 4Surespin… a great rod that has been used and abused BUT still pulls in the fish. The reel is a fairly standard and cheap Wychwood 4000 loaded with Powerpro 65lb with a 20ft leader of 15lb mono finished with a new purchase from Mick… a size 3 JB clip… an original and not a cheap copy… all I can say is WOW a fantastic bit of stainless!

With the boat in the water I put on a Bomber Long-A Salt lure in chartreuse on… I have been favouring chartreuse recently for bright days and having read a bit on fly colours for salt water fish this was the one!

We motored out of St Helier to tackle Henry Gilbey’s favourite stomping ground and frankly you can see why… reef upon reef of granite blocks providing a stunning flooded alpine landscape covered with barnacles and studded with limpets exposed at low water. In full flood an area for the unwary to have their craft torn apart or pinned to the rocks… an area for local knowledge.

Mick took us to a drift 30 minutes away from setting off, I can’t recall what lures Mick or Martin was fishing… I do know we did have to retrieve one that Martin sent the country mile without the braid attached when the bail arm decided to go on mid cast… but retrieve the lure we did… and at £20 a pop for some of the lures you need to!

Back to fishing… I was casting out and getting the lure to about 4ft bringing it in quickly then slowing it right down and giving it a twitch… not that easy with a spinning rod of 10ft up against the 2.7m Tenryu Red Dragons BUT I know my rod.
30 minutes in I’m into my first fish of the day… initial thoughts were that it was a Pollock but it was my first ever Bass… not a biggie but at 1.5lbs I wasn’t complaining, these are super fish! I have a fancy that I’m turning into a Mike Ladle stalker here by doing pike autumn, winter and spring with summer taken up with the salt water fish!

After being photographed and put back in the water safely we moved on. The next fish fell to Mike another schoolie bass. Martin lost a sinking lure on the premature bail arm problem on his reel and switched to putting a mono leader on to take some of the shock out of it if it happened again.

The tide was starting to turn and Mick was telling us that as Jersey has no estuaries to hold fish they move around and he knew where to find them (all being well) at certain states of the tide. The caveat here is that the bass have been fished hard over the years and some of the bass breeding grounds which supply Jersey with its summer visitor have been hammered with breeding stock overfished.

Bass interestingly stay in the schools, in their year groups so hit on small schoolies and you’ll catch small schoolies, bigger bass end up being solitary as their year group are caught or die. These are fascinating fish!

Almost 2hrs after setting off and drifting through rocky snags I cast into an area of dead water behind a rock… on the retrieve I slowed it down and I hit a snag, strike, bang and over the rod tip went and line stripped from the reel as the fish went south into the deep. I tightened the drag slightly and retrieved and again it took the line, tightened again and brought the fish around for Mick to net it… I admit there was a heart stopping moment as the fish was in the net then not then it was.

This was a terrific fish, 4lbs on the nose and every inch the perfect predator! Photographed and put back to fight another day… I was totally stoked! That Bomber Long-A was doing the work… Mick is going to stock this fab lure! He actually accused folk like Martin and me of feeding his habit… I don’t know what he means as I felt his shop was feeding my habit – I’m a fly fisherman now for heaven’s sake.

I hadn’t appreciated that Martin was on an empty streak but gauged from the conversation that the other boat partner from Tuesday had landed a good fish and Martin had to get a good fish or suffer potential ridicule on a forum. Another hour on we spotted some bass hammering sand eels and Mick put the boat on a drift over water that was boiling with convergence of tide lines over rocks. I was messing around with a different lure (should have stuck to what I knew!) and both Martin and Mick had a double hook up on schoolies… Blank over, with much relief for Martin. I have to say that he’d been really unlucky having had a number of follows to the boat… in fact if his follows had connected he would have outfished Mick and I.

With large rain clouds fast approaching Mick decided to head for home before the down pour caught up with us.

Like most fishing trips you get to meet some great folk, having the opportunity to fish with Mick was brilliant and thank you doesn’t really do it justice. In addition to his angling his watercraft was awesome in such a hostile environment. BUT Mick bring me a cushion next time if you are going to make me sit in the bow to balance the boat… my backside has only just recovered from the arse slapping ride home… ooh err missus!

A footnote to all: If you want lures, hard or soft then Mick is your man. He admits that in high season you may have to wait a couple of days BUT then you have to take into account that he’s out testing these things to destruction. The Red Dragon Express looks the business and certainly works the lures well. It is nice to see a fixed spool reel specification lure rod for a change rather than relying on multipliers!

Tuesday, 14 July 2009

International Pike Fly Fishing Tournament Finland - May 2010

Advance notice of an event organised by a pal of mine based in Finland... looks like it could be fun!

Can I do Canada and Finland in the same year? Would be a shame to miss it!

Sunday, 12 July 2009

Chained to the vice today!

OK, more time at the vice today making more saltwater flies...pretty chuffed particularly with the bait fish patterns in that they are like peas out of the same pod... my tying improves (hopefully)!
I have a day out fishing this week BUT I'm looking forward to the taste of summer salt!

Thursday, 9 July 2009

What's tying tonight!

I have two trips coming up - both are diametrically opposed! I have a pike trip next week to a new location... so a fact finding trip is the name of the game. My partner is a major UK angler of note BUT I don't believe he's fly fished for old esox before... so yours truly is providing kit and tying killer patterns.

In addition to pike flies I'm tying bass patterns (sea bass - like your striped bass for readers across the pond). I was told to tie a Gartside Gurgler by a pal of mine and he suggested that it could do with being a little more on the subtle side! I guess I tie with pike in mind at the moment. However the top two should do for the bass. The surf candy is interesting in that I've put a silver bead in the head and used a Dremel drill to open the hole so that I can retain the barb. There is also something peculiar about this fly in its construction - I'll let you figure it out for a month or two!