14/05/2023 - Braunton brownies part two

Was a bit knackered following my efforts (and 30,000+ steps!) on Saturday, so had a lie in. The weather was also a bit cooler - breezy and overcast - so after some breakfast I had a leisurely walk with a couple of the lads around the coast into Croyde and then back over the headland. 

By the time we returned those that had ventured out surfing were back and showered, so we had a discussion about what to do with the rest of the day. Whilst there was talk of fishing up at Ilfracombe, either off the pier on on a charter boat, we decided that it would be a bit windy. Instead we decided to head off to Crow Point again to have a walk along the estuary and to have a mess about with a drone that one of the lads had brought with him. After a couple of hours of mooching about we headed into Braunton to grab some bits for dinner. 

Whilst the others disappeared into Tesco I had quick look at the river and decided to have another couple of hours after the trout. Let the others know to go back to the bungalow without me and got the waders on once more. Dropped in at the point that I had finished the previous day, so as not to go over old ground. Happened to be the relatively straight, riffly section adjacent to the Tarka Trail. However, I was several feet below the level of the footpath and shielded by vegetation, so not really obvious to anybody passing by. 

Made my way slowly up the section, casting the baited jig head into the pockets. Again, there seemed to be lots of fish about, albeit tiddlers, as the worm was harried relentlessly as it drifted back downstream towards me but without me getting a decent hook up. Wasn't until I got to a pool mid-way along the section that I found some better fish. 

They must have all been hiding right under the lip as a worm cast up into the riffle beyond the pool was taken as soon as it dropped into the deeper water and I quickly had over half a dozen in succession - all stunners. All this time the people passing along the trail were completely oblivious both to me and to the pair of dippers that were constantly whizzing up and down the straight, presumably feeding a hungry brood somewhere. Picked off the odd fish here and there before eventually getting to the footbridge over to the supermarket. 

Added a few more from the pool directly under the bridge, the last one as a bloke walked over with his dog, his eyes glued to his mobile phone. Seemed a good point to finish - I'd managed to net 14 brownies, but had again missed loads more. Will be trout closed season the next time we are down, so I bid farewell to the river for another year - a proper little urban jewel. Just wish it was on my doorstep!

13/05/2023 - Estuary bassing

Got back from our walk to Georgeham just in time to grab a cup of tea and a bite to eat before I was off out again. Had been in touch with Joel Squires before coming down about the prospect of some bass on the lures and he was confident that he would find somewhere despite there being just small neap tides all weekend. 

Therefore headed out to Crow Point to meet him in the car park at the end of the toll road. Had a quick catch up before we got the waders on and made our way through the dunes to the mouth of the estuary of the Rivers Taw and Torridge. He'd fished it the previous day on the ebb and had a few small bass before it coloured up as the the dirty water from upriver from the recent rain was sucked out to sea. When we got to our starting point we had a chat about what lures would work best. With some sandeels already showing he suggested paddletails would be a good start, so I clipped on a weedless Savage Gear sandeel  in olive. This was cast upstream and then bumped back in the ebbing flow with a slow retrieve and low rod tip to keep it working near the bottom. 

Could feel the jig head clipping the tops of the ridges of sand on the bed of the estuary, so felt confident that I was in the right zone. Every few minutes we would wade a few metres downstream and start again to cover as much ground as possible. Joel's theory was that some fish would be moving with the tide, but others would also be lying in wait for food to pass by them.

After about half an hour I looked over to see Joel land a small bass. He'd just changed his lure over to a Savage Gear slender scoop shad and had a fish on it straight away, so he immediately offered it me to use instead. It had a nice flashy, rolling action that seemed to have made the difference, so I clipped it on and carried on casting out into the tidal flow. Shortly afterwards I felt the electric bang of take, which resulted in a little schoolie that punched above its weight in the current.

Both blanks avoided we carried on slowly making our way down the estuary with no further interest until we reached an area of rockier ground. At this point Joel suggested that I put the Savage Gear sandeel back on, but retrieve it with the rod tip held high to keep it up in the water. Followed his instructions while he went to see if they would be interested in a top water lure at this stage. After a couple of moves I again felt the thump of a fish through the braid and beached another hard-fighting schoolie in the shallows. A bit later I had another take from a better fish that took a bit longer to subdue, giving Joel time to spot my bent rod and jog back just in time to see me land it. Long and lean and hollow in the belly it was a nice fish nonetheless.

Whilst he reported that he'd just had a fish follow his Patchinko, I decided to stick with the eel for the last hour of the session. However, whilst I had another take that unfortunately failed to result in a hook-up, neither of us added anything else to the scorecard. 

The breeze that had been building switched round and starting blowing up the estuary, turning things chilly despite the late evening sun, so we called it a day and made the long walk back to the cars, putting the world to rights as we did so. I'd already had a cracking evening in good company but it was topped off, firstly with an amazing view of a barn owl working the fields next to the toll road and secondly with a well-earned fish and chip supper back at the bungalow with the lads.....oh, and something called Eurovision! 

Joel's contact details can be found here if you are ever in the area and fancy a few hours with a top bloke and very knowledgeable lure angler.

13/05/2023 - Braunton brownies part one

The first of the "lads" bi-annual trips to Saunton Sands, although advancing age and various physical ailments mean that these are now less about surfing and more about walking, fishing and the odd round of golf. Had some personal stuff to sort out so arrived late on Friday to find the others already several bottles of red wine in. 

Did my best to catch up while I cooked dinner - butter paneer, tarka dhal, rice, samosas, onion bhajis and all the trimmings - which was consumed with even more wine. Was therefore a bit bleary-eyed the following morning when the alarm went off at 05:30. Got dressed and crept out of the bungalow, although the loud snoring coming from the other rooms suggested that the occupants probably wouldn't have heard a bomb go off. Headed into Braunton and to the River Caen (pronounced "cane" by the locals) that runs through the centre of the town to target its abundant wild brown trout population. Got togged up in my new chest waders - some heavy duty, ripstop jobbies from Hart - and dropped into the river just upstream of the fish ladder that marks the boundary with the tidal section. 

The river was still high after the recent rain, but at a steady level and just carrying a tinge of colour - perfect for what I wanted to do. Waded up to the first pool, flicked the worm-baited jighead upstream and had a tickle straight away as it bumped back along  the bottom towards me. Next cast it was taken with a thump, the culprit going airborne and then shooting past me downstream a split second later. After a short but spirited fight I swept a stunning Devonshire brownie into the net. Carried on upstream under the tree canopy that shielded me from the adjacent industrial estate that was just starting to wake up for the day. The resident trout population certainly seemed to be in a ravenous mood as virtually every cast into a likely looking spot resulted in sharp rattles on the rod tip as the worm was grabbed and shortened by degrees by tiny teeth. 

Missed a lot of bites by being a bit too eager, but then got my eye in and started to improve the bite to fish ratio as several more cracking little brownies graced the net - all red and black spots on the back and flanks, buttery yellow bellies and with black and white trim to the leading edge of the fins. 

Looked at my watch to see that a couple of hours had flown by, although I'd barely covered half of the section up to the next road bridge as I'd been that busy. Outside of my little bubble it was still pretty quiet and the only "locals" aware of my presence were the birds - a pair of dippers, a kingfisher and a treecreeper being the highlights. Therefore carried on until I reached the bridge, which gave me a convenient route out of the river without having to risk pushing through the brambles in my waders. At that point I'd had eighteen spotties, but had been mugged by many more. That first fish had been the biggest of the bunch, but what the others lacked in size they made up for with looks.  

Had turned into a fantastic morning  by now - warm and sunny - and the town was getting busy, so headed back to the bungalow in time for a quick shower before joining the others to walk over Georgeham, a couple of pints of Exmoor Gold the reward!

27/04/2023 - A few Derbyshire brownies

Had built a stupid amount of flexi-time at work and it was a question of use it or lose it, so booked the day off to sort out a couple of domestic issues and hopefully get a few hours fishing in. Luckily the weather was playing ball, having been all over the place again in recent days, and it actually felt a bit warmer for a change

Trout were the target again, but with the fly rod this time. Had not been back to the Ecclesbourne for a while, so waited for the rush hour to finish and then headed over towards Duffield for mid-morning. The river here has recently benefited from the removal of a major insurmountable obstacle to fish trying to move upstream from the River Derwent. A 2.5 metre high, 10 metre wide concrete weir at Snake Lane was demolished and replaced with a rock ramp in a project funded by the Environment Agency and managed by the Wild Trout Trust . A testament to the success of the work was when the remains of a spawned out salmon was found upstream just a few months after the weir was removed - worthy of nomination of being named European dam removal project of the year (see here)!

Not that I was after a silver tourist - a few wild, Derbyshire brownies would suffice - so got togged up in the chest waders, walked across the field and dropped in at the downstream limit. Went with the previously successful tactic of a single, goldhead mini-streamer on a tapered leader with a 4lb fluorocarbon tippet. No fancy casting required here with all of the fishing done at close quarters, the fly propelled up to the head of each little pool with just a flick of my brook rod or with a "bow and arrow" cast in the tighter corners. Had nothing in the first couple of spots, so carried on wading upstream, the occasional fallen tree requiring me to get out of the river and detour through swathes of wild garlic and butterbur. First chance came in a faster run, although I never saw or felt the take and only realised I'd got a fish on when I mended the line. 

Needless to say it came off after a few seconds! Next one I did feel but missed on the strike - not a great start, but at least it looked as if there were a few interested fish about. Eventually managed to get the brain into gear on the third time of asking and, after a short tussle and a flirt with some tree roots, bundled a wild spotty into the net - long and lean and with enough energy left to flick free of my hand as soon as the hook came out. 

Carried on and had a handful more over the next couple of hours, all of them coming from the faster, broken water in the runs or at the head of the pools. Didn't quite make it to the end of the section as unfortunately I had to get back to Nottingham for an appointment. However, I had only fallen on my arse once, not lost a single fly and had managed to avoid putting a hole in my new waders on their first outing, so a satisfactory outing all round!

09/04/2023 - Wild Welsh spotties

Couldn't come down to Wales without seeing how the resident brownies in "my" urban trout stream were getting on and I'd brought a tub of dendras with me for exactly that purpose, rather than have to scrat about in the father-in-law's compost heap. 

The level of the stream had been up when we first arrived but, due to its flashy nature, it was back to normal after a couple of days and whilst it was quite windy I knew that I would be sheltered once down below the level of its steep, tree-lined banks. Therefore headed off to Haverforwest at first light, but found that the layby that I usually use as my sneaky access point down to the water was blocked off due to roadworks. However, a bit further on I found a parking spot next to an electricty sub-station that afforded an equally quick and hopefully un-noticed scramble down the bank. 

Not that my secrecy is to avoid getting caught, but more about not revealing this little jewel to anybody else! Tackle was as before, my ultra-light lure rod, 6lb braid on a size 1000 reel, 4lb flourocarbon leader and a size 12, pink jig head. A worm was hooked through the saddle "wacky style", pitched up to the head of the first run and allowed to drift down with the current - all the time waiting for that rattle on the rod tip. 

That first spot yielded two, fin-perfect little Welsh spotties in consecutive casts before the jig head got snagged up in one of the various pieces of urban junk littering the stream bed and I had to wade in to free it, killing the swim in the process. Carried on in the same vein for the next couple of hours, snagging up and losing a handful of jigheads, but catching several more acrobatic little brownies whenever I managed to get the bait to successfully run through a swim unhindered. 

Also shared the stream with a pair of industrious dippers that regularly flew up and down, often within a couple of feet of me. Presumably they had more important things to worry about than some weird looking bloke stood knee deep in the water, like feeding a brood of hungry mouths. 

Found that several of the large trash dams from the summer had now gone, whether removed by design or just pushed on by the floods I don't know. In addition the redundant weir part way down the section had also gone. I would like to think that this had been done purposely to improve passage for any migratory fish coming up from the estuary (I've had a little sea trout and even a flounder in the past), but again suspect that that the old and un-maintained structure just gave up in a flood. All of this had created new spots that I would have to investigate properly at a later date, as I was on a strict timescale to get back for an Easter brunch. 

By the time I had worked my way back to the car I'd had nine fish and missed half as many again while the cars and lorries flew past on the bypass above my head. The only downside was that I'd got a wet left foot after stumbling and puncturing my old waders (worn exactly for this reason!) on some wire or rebar. Not that I was complaining - give me an urban stream full of wild spotties over a managed fishery full of stockies any day! 

08/04/2023 - Pins and doggies at Fishguard

Was out early again to take advantage of the tides and the weather, but headed up north to Fishguard with the bait rods this time with the plan to fish the two hours up to high water. 

Stopped off at the local Spar and raided their bait freezer for some mackerel and squid then made the long walk to the end of the inner breakwater, spotting an early summer visitor in the form of a male wheatear in the process. The sun was just starting to come over the headland, but it was still quite gloomy as I got comfortable on the concrete apron to the right of the beacon. Set up my bass rod with a one up, one down rig with size 2 hooks baited with mackerel strip and tipped with a bit of squid and lobbed it out into the bay. 

Started getting fast, jabbing rattles as soon as the lead hit bottom and before I'd even put the rod in the rest! I knew that trying to strike would be futile, so sat on my hands and waited for the culprits to eventually hang themselves. It soon looked as if the pin whiting were still about in numbers as I had half a dozen in quick succession. 

Spent the first half an hour constantly re-baiting in order to keep up with the voracious little buggers before I eventually got round to setting up the other rod. This one was lobbed out with a couple of mackerel fillets whipped onto a dongle on a size 4/0 circle hook on a pulley rig in the hope of something bigger. As the sun came up and it got brighter it seemed to put the whiting off and things calmed down a bit. 

Wound in the big bait after 20 minutes to find that it had been completely stripped, so re-baited and sent it out to soak again. In the meantime I'd been getting slow pull downs on the other rod. 

Wound down to momentarily feel a dead weight before the rig apparently pulled free, coming back with bare hooks. Happened again a few minutes later but this time the weight stayed on. Turned out ot be a spider crab hooked through a leg joint - no wonder my baits weren't lasting, what with the attention from the whiting and the crabs. Was therefore pleased when I eventually had a couple of doggies (or cat sharks to use the correct nomenclature) - like peas in a pod and both on the flapper rig rather than the big bait. High water came and passed and with it went the bites. To be honest I'd had enough of standing out in the freshening south-easterly breeze and the breakwater was getting busy with jogger and dog walkers, their various mutts intent on snaffling the bait off my cutting board. 

Packed up just as the Stena Line ferry nosed into the bay and headed back home over the Prescelli Hills - no doubt I'll be back in the summer for the wrasse!

07/04/2023 - Some welcome "minis" at Milford

Had the wind taken out of my sails by yet another disappointing end to the river season and as the unsettled weather continued through March I found that I had zero inclination to get out despite some having some vague plans for stillwater perch and canal zeds. Nearest I got to anything fishing-related was to make a hanging ceiling rack for my rods in the garage!

However, a few days down in Pembrokeshire at the in-laws gave me a chance to rediscover my mojo. With most of my sea fishing gear already down there I just had to throw a few extra bits in the car to cover all eventualities. The weather and the tides looked good for some early season species hunting, so Thursday morning saw me heading off to the Haven bright and early for high water. The sun had just started to paint the horizon in orange, reds and pinks and whilst I had to scrape a layer of ice off the car windows it looked as if it was going to be a glorious day. 

However, descending into the valley I was enveloped by thick fog that persisted all the way to Milford. Set up on the jetty in the gloom, the far side of the Haven obscured and the fog horn sounding off at regular intervals. Went with the usual scaled down two hook flapper with size 16 Drennan widegapes baited with last summer's salted rag. Started near the steps and slowly worked my way along the jetty, dropping my rig straight down the wall. Got to the end without a sniff, but then chanced upon some mini-species manna from heaven in the form of half a dozen large ragworm. 

Probably only discarded the previous evening otherwise the crows and gulls would have had them and barely alive but perfectly usable. The fish aren't fussy in these parts! Snipped them into small pieces, re-baited my rig and then dropped it down the far side of the jetty. 

Had a couple of rattles before the tip bent over properly and an indignant shanny dragged up to the surface. Seemed to have found the "honey hole" as several more followed, along with a few pollack, corkwings and ballan wrasse. 

A chap turned up with his two kids at this point. Discovered that he was a regular visiting angler from Kent, so we were able to share some intelligence about the various marks we fished over the years. On this occasion he was just after a couple of doggies to keep the kids happy, so left him to set up. By now the fog had been cleared away by the combination of the sun and a freshening breeze. Carried on until my supply of second-hand rag was exhausted, missing far more bites than were converted into fish but still ending up a a decent mixed bag. 

Packed up and then popped into Costa for a coffee that I drank overlooking the Haven, now bathed in bright sunshine. The number of buzzards and red kites spotted making use of the subsequent thermals was well into double figures by the time I got home. A quick bacon sarnie and all was well with the world!