27/07/2021 - Pembrokeshire Part Two (corkwing chaos at Milford)

Got up bright and early again on Monday despite not having a particularly restful night's sleep. Had woken up freezing cold in the camper in the early hours of the morning and had to scrounge a share of the wife's duvet, so wasn't really surprised to see that the temperature had dropped by ten degrees overnight. 

However, the sun was already making it's presence felt, so it didn't look as if it was going to remain cool for long. Had a quick cup of tea and then headed off to Milford Haven to a spot I'd discovered this time last year, the plan being to fish an hour either side of high tide. Threaded my way through the docks past the abandoned seal hospital to the stone jetty at Hakin, parking up next to the pub recently frequented by the moody Luke Evans in "The Pembrokeshire Murders", but now undergoing renovation. There was a fishing boat moored up on the right hand side of the jetty, so I set up on the left near the steps. Changed my drop shot rig for a scaled down two hook flapper tied up with size 10 sabpolo wormers. 

Baited it up with sections of ragworm and dropped it down the side of the wall, feeling with the lead for the clean areas between the patches of weed. Had to wait a couple of minutes before I started getting the tell-tale taps on the rod tip and on the first positive pull down I struck into the first corkwing wrasse of the mornning. If Hobbs Point is the domain of the rock goby, then Hakin stone pier is the kingdom of the corkwing as one after another soon followed - both brightly coloured males and drabber females. 

Was into double figures before I added to the species count in the form of a pretty ballan wrasse. 

Another flurry of "corkies" followed before pattern was broken again by a couple of small pollack and a shanny. Carried on in the same vein whilst getting through my precious ragworm at an alarming rate as I was having to re-bait every cast. By 1030 I'd had 41 corkwings, 14 pollack, 12 ballans and three shannies. Sun was extremely bright and hot by now, so I revived the remnants of my bait with some fresh seawater and called it a day. After my disturbed night and early start I was in need of some reviving myself, so headed home for a strong coffee and a bacon bap!

After a much better (and warmer) night's sleep I headed off to Milford Haven again this morning to use up the remaining ragworm. I had intended to fish from the "bull nose" near the marina this time, but I arrived to find some building works going on and my access blocked by site fencing. 
Therefore made the quick trip over to the jetty at Hakin again. Unwrapped my bait to find it was already a bit worse for wear. 

However, wasn't concerned as the fish don't seem to mind it when its a bit stale and falling to bits - keeping it on the hooks is the problem! Baited up and swung out the rig and basically carried on where I'd left off yesterday. Whilst initially there were a few more little pollack about it didn't take long for the corkwings to catch the scent of manky ragworm and move in. Again I also had a few shannies and ballans, their subtle green hues matching the colour of the dominant weed growth. Carried on until I'd used all of the bait up, at which point I'd had another 35 corkies, 13 pollack, 10 ballans and 4 shannies. Did briefly see a shoal of sand smelt flashing on the surface, but they were moving at speed and disappeared as quickly as they arrived.
With the tides neither here nor there for the next couple of days I'll be putting away the LRF rod for a bit, but hopefully it'll soon be bass time!

25/07/2021 - Pembrokeshire Part One (a plague of gobies!)

Saturday saw us driving down to Pembrokeshire for a much anticipated Summer holiday. Of course, fishing was always going to be high on the agenda. In fact I'd already planned my sessions in advance by studying the time tables and weather forecast although, with it a being a family holiday, the concession was that I'd have to be out and back each day early doors. 

First priority, however, was to source some bait and again I'd planned ahead and phoned J & M's Tackle in Pembroke Dock to check they had some ragworm available (and a good job too as it turned out). With a bit of time to kill before they opened on Sunday morning I therefore headed to Hobbs Point in warm, bright sunshine with the LRF rod to see what I could winkle out at high tide. Now whilst I have had a variety of mini-species from this venue in the past, if I had to bet my life on catching a rock goby from anywhere it would be here. From many a previous sessions I knew that a bait fished on or near the bottom would invariably attract the attention of a "rocky" sooner or later.

Unfortunately, once you caught one it usually meant that the rest of the session would be dominated by them. However, on this occasion they must have been present in plague proportions because I was into them from the off. Fishing down the side of the ramp with a dropshot rig baited with bits of "Gulp" angleworm I started to get aggressive rattles on the tip of my Rock Rover almost immediately and it wasn't long before the first of many rock gobies came spiralling out of the depths. 
Coming in different sizes and colours ranging from "seabed camou" to chocolate brown they all had a fins-up attitude belying their size and an ability to clamp their toothy little gobs shut on the artificial worm - like a Staffy with a rubber bone! 

I tried to get away from them by moving along the ramp and fishing around the pontoon in the hope of a wrasse, but the little beggars would not leave me alone. The only respite came form a couple of tiny pollack that somehow managed to beat them to the hookbait by intercepting it on the drop. As the tide started ebbing and ripping along the wall I moved again to fish the slacker water around the corner in search of a shanny or two, but could still only only catch gobies and quickly racked up over two dozen. Still, it was all good fun with the light gear and along with the numerous enquiries from passers by obviously confused by the sight of a grown man catching tiddlers it made a couple of hours pass by very quickly.

The spring tide was now ripping back down the haven and out to sea, carrying sundry detritus with it. This meant that I couldn't hold bottom properly now anyway, so I headed into town to collect my reserved, fivers-worth of rag from the tackle shop. Following a morning rush they were already down to their last two trays of worms and were not expecting any more fresh dug rag until Tuesday, so it was lucky that I'd called them. Unfortunately, due to the closure of the other tackle shop in Pembroke Dock following a bereavement there's just one either side of the Cleddau Bridge now. Means that sourcing bait can be tricky at times for the casual visitor, so I made sure to whack them straight in the fridge when I got home to keep them fresh. Hopefully they will bring me a bit more variety next session! 

07/07/2021 - Summer trotting part two (a "ton" up on the River Soar)

Needed a time out this week - pressures of work and family issues conspiring to feed the black dog. A few hours by myself to get some "head space", whether it be fishing, running, or out on the bike is generally all that's required to keep it at bay. 
With half a pint of maggots left over from the last trip I therefore gambled on a trip to the River Soar near Kegworth.  
It had rained quite a lot the day before and whilst I could see from .GOV.UK that the river level was still manageable, I couldn't be sure of the clarity until I got there. However, just grabbing my Ultralite, landing net and shoulder bag I jumped in the car as soon as work allowed. 
Popping my head over the bridge upon arrival I was relieved to see that the river was carrying just a tinge of colour and was hopeful that this could actually be to my advantage. Pulled on my chest waders again (still slightly damp and clammy from last week!) and set off upstream. Loads of small fish were topping mid-river, which I took to be a good sign. In addition, I found found the section to be  completely deserted, the impending Euro semi-final possibly being a factor. 

However, the chest high nettles also seemed to indicate that there'd not been much footfall since the start of the season and I was glad of my waders as I pushed my way through them to reach the river. Only the obvious "armchair" swims had any evidence of their previous moronic occupants, discarded deadbait packets accompanying the empty beer bottles. Dropped
 into the river just downstream of the weir, waded into just over the knees and started running the stick down the foam line. 

From literally the first cast the float only had to travel a few feet before it started bobbing and weaving as the single maggot hookbait was mercilessly chewed to bits and reduced to an empty skin down below.

Bleak were the intial culprits, although as the session wore on I started adding dace, chub and roach. 

It had been threatening rain all evening and at about six o'clock the heavens opened sending the kingfisher darting for cover downstream and me reaching for my rain jacket. Backing up a bit to gain some extra shelter under the trees I was glad that I'd left the 14 foot Acolyte at home. Forced to fish the slower paced water on the near side of the crease I added three few more species - perch, skimmers and a welcome little gonk.

Nearly added another species as I suppose it was inevitable that all of the prey fish activity would attract a larger predator. Hooked into another fish only for everything to go solid. 

Applying some steady pressure I got the lump on the end of my line moving towards me. Reached for the net just as a decent pike appeared on the surface with an unfortunate dace or chub wedged in its gob. Suspect it hadn't realised what was happening up until that point, but a soon as I moved the net towards it there was a sudden acceleration and my line came pinging back at me as he disappeared with his prize. Carried on trotting away, but with an eye on the clock and kick-off. By the time I had to pack up to get back home for the footie I'd had well over 100 fish in total, with roughly half of those being dace. Also, in contrast to the other evening, I'd lost only a couple of fish in the process. 
Whilst I had replenished my hook supply in the interim, the conditions could well have been a factor with the river being more like a "hazy IPA" rather than gin!  As for the rest of the evening.....is it really coming home??

01/07/2021 - Summer trotting part one (hard going on the River Derwent)

Wrapped up work early this afternoon and headed to Bridge Tackle in Long Eaton for a pint of the best kept grubs in the East Midlands. A few minutes later I was pulling on my chesties in an empty carpark next to the River Derwent at Draycott. 

The day had turned out warm and sunny so by the time I had walked upstream to the upper limit I was sweating profusely and couldn't wait to get in the water, if only to cool off. With no wind the river was like a mirror and a completely different beast compared to when I'd visited in the winter - gliding smoothly over shallow gravels, rather than a boiling mess. Finally dropping into the water just downstream of the weir I scattered a large shoal of fry in the crystal clear water - good news for future provided they avoided the female merganser and her brood of seven youngsters I'd passed earlier. 

Ran the float through a few times but didn't feel confident in the bright conditions, so moved a little way downstream where some broken water dropped into a deeper pool. Second trot through the float disappeared and I struck into a solid weight. Was left in no doubt that I had hooked a barbel when it suddenly woke up and headed straight for a snag, bending the Acolyte double in the process. Hung on grimly for a few minutes locked in a stalemate but as the rod tip started to ease back it started to look as if the pressure was telling and that I was gaining the upper hand. However, there was another lunge and everything fell sickingly slack - the line eventually snapping at the hook. 

Tied on a new hook link and next trot down the float buried again. Thankfully lightening didn't strike with a summer grayling coming to the net instead. Had nothing else out of that spot, so moved downstream again to a long glide shaded by trees. Trotted the float down as far as my failing eyesight would allow and started picking up the odd dace and chub at the bottom of the swim. A few late mayfly were emerging around me, struggling laboriously off the water's surface. However, as soon as they reached the height of the tree line they were unceremoniously nailed by the wagtails and great tits lying in wait for an easy meal. Moved again after another angler set up in the swim downstream, his presence given away by the cloud of cigarette smoke that preceded the "splosh" of a heavy feeder in mid-river. 

In the next spot the low levels allowed me to wade out into mid-river and run the float down along the bushes on the far margin. Was hoping there would be some chub in residence, but could only add a few more dace before the bites dried up, probably not helped by several bumped or lost fish. I'd lost my last Kamasan Animal to that earlier barbel and had put on a similar barbless pattern that just didn't seem to be doing the business. I therefore dug around in the bag and found some Drennan widegapes and tied one on instead. Tried a couple more spots, but only the dace seemed to be interested and I was again frustrated by bumped and lost fish, including what felt like a couple of lumps, despite the hook change. 

With more barbel anglers arriving for the evening I therefore decided
to call it a day and head home for some supper, stumbling across a damselfly graveyard on the way. The long grass had been full of banded demoiselles and something had obviously been taking taking advantage of this bounty, consuming the best bits and discarding the wings in the mud. Now getting on for nine o'clock it was still very warm, so it was a relief to peel off the waders back at the car and air my sweaty legs. Had been good to get out on the river for the first time this season, although conditions probably hadn't been ideal. Must sort out the hook situation before my next session though!

20/06/2021 - A few dabbles in saltwater

Unfortunately I didn't get out with the fly rod again due a combination of work, the weather and a long list of house improvements. However, a couple of impromptu weekends away gave me the opportunity to dust off the LRF gear and have a few sessions chasing mini-species again, albeit with mixed results. 

At the start of June the wife and I headed down to Falmouth to visit the boy, stopping off for the night in Exmouth to catch up with friends on the way. Early the following morning and despite a few drinks the night before I headed down to the docks with Simon and his lad Daniel only to find a proliferation of new "no fishing signs" in our usual spots. 

The previous owner of the docks had turned a blind eye to fishing provided you were sensible and left no litter behind and we'd actually been approached and spoken to by him in the past without knowing who he was. Sadly he passed away recently and it looked like the new owners were not going to be so tolerant. However, as there was nobody about and with the ferry still parked out in the estuary we risked dropping our rigs down the side of the dock wall into the "wrasse hole". Normally the bites would start as soon as the lead hit bottom. However, after five minutes we'd not had a single nibble between us.  Uncomfortable with having to look over our shoulders we therefore moved on to the next spot. 

Bites were again inexplicably slow but we eventually tempted a funky tompot and a couple of small, pretty ballan wrasse from between the boulders. Our next stop at the normally productive boat ramp drew another head-scratching blank, so we headed over to the "compass" for a last throw of the dice. First cast I had another small wrasse. However, seconds later some council workers pulled up and turfed us off so they could jetwash the seagulll sh*t off the pavement. 

It obviously wasn't going to be our morning! We therefore didn't put up much opposition when our other halves suggested meeting for a coffee instead. Packed up hoping that Exmouth will be back to its old self next time.

Later that morning we said our farewells and travelled on to Falmouth, which was in the middle of preparations for the G7 summit including the arrival of a Baltic cruise ship to house the 650 security staff required to police the event! Had a pleasant 
afternoon and evening with the lad and his girlfriend but early the following morning I was down on the Prince of Wales Pier, the departure point for the WWII raid on St Nazaire. Unfortunately things proved to be very hard going given the bright, sunny conditions and low, gin-clear water. A couple of hours later I made my way back to the Air BnB with just a couple of ballan wrasse and a black goby to show for my efforts, tempted into snatching a "Gulp" fish fry dangled in front of them.
Final trip was down to Wales to the in-laws, primarily for Father's Day, but with permission already secured from the wife for an early morning LRF session! Taking account of the tide and wind direction it looked like Hobbs Point was going to be the best option. Arrived just after low water and carefully made my way down the old car ramp. Lowering my dropshot rig baited with "Gulp" angleworm straight off the end I had a bite straight away from a stunning, little male corkwing wrasse - more Mediterranean than Milford Haven.

Spent the next hour or so of slack water exploring the weedy fringes of the ramp, adding some tiny pollock, a female corkwing and a shanny. Casting out a bit further onto the mud resulted in a couple of black gobies before the incoming tide pushed me higher up the wall and into rock goby territory. The little beggars soon put in an appearance, apparently pushing everything else out of the way as I had 19 of them before deciding to call it a day. Had been nice to finally see the coast again and to catch a few "minis". I should be back in Wales in July (if if the Delta variant and Mr Drakeford allows) for a more concerted effort. In the meantime I'll be dusting off the trotting gear and heading out on my local rivers. Tight lines!

15/04/21 - Catching spotties in Shakespeare country

Growing up in Birmingham my early fishing experiences were mostly centred on the numerous park pools we had at our disposal, but occasionally dad would take us out to the Birmingham Anglers Association waters on the River Severn to get beaten up by the resident barbel. Whilst I later escaped Birmingham to go to university and didn't return, my brother never left. Lockdown was therefore a difficult time for us, having to put family celebrations for his 50th on hold and then him getting diagnosed with advanced prostate cancer, thankfully now successfully treated. I was therefore prompted to buy a BAA ticket at the start of this year with a view to reconnecting and dragging him away from the golf course.

Instead we were plunged into lockdown III almost immediately, unfortunately putting an end to any travel for the remainder of the coarse river season. Fast forward three months, not wanting the ticket to go to waste and now with freedom to travel, I had a look at the BAA website to see if there were any suitable places where I could take the fly fishing gear. Spotted a water on a tributary of the River Avon that looked promising - in the middle of nowhere and with a decent head of brownies according to the reports. 

Booked a day off and, after a leisurely drive down the M42, I arrived at the venue mid-morning in bright sunshine. Hadn't really known what to expect, so had taken two outfits - my 7' brook rod and a heavier 8' 6" rod to give me a bit more reach if required. As it was I carried both and mixed & matched during the day as it allowed me to have two slightly different set-ups and therefore didn't have to change flies all the time. Was pretty cold despite the sun, so put on my quilted jacket and woolly hat. In fact I didn't take them off again until it was time to go home! 

At first glance the river next to the parking spot wasn't particularly inspiring -  shallow, clear and featureless, with the snotty, brown growths of diatoms that are prevalent at this time of year. However, not far away I could see the sunlight reflecting off some riffles and the gleam of some clean gravel. With the stretch effectively split in two by a road bridge I started off by heading  upstream. As there was obviously nothing moving yet I tried flicking a gold-headed GRHE nymph up into the faster, broken water and letting it trundle back towards me. However, by the time I was nearly at the upstream limit I'd not had a sniff. Came to a small pool at this point, so changed tack and flicked a size 10 mini-streamer (apologies to the purists!) downstream alongside the tree roots . 

Jinking it back along the bottom with short erratic strips it got hit twice before I hooked the culprit - a small, but  perfectly-formed and colourful Warwickshire brownie. A few casts later I had two more in the net, albeit even smaller than the first, so headed back downstream to try the same tactic in the pool under the bridge where I'd left the car. Flicked the streamer into the shadows under the bridge with a bow cast and let it swing alongside the brickwork before again jinking it back. Had only moved it a couple of times when it got whacked by a better fish. After a couple more casts it seemed that he was the only one in residence, so I went back to the car and had a sandwich and a cup of coffee before heading downstream. 
In contrast to upstream, this section of river had a little more depth and a lot more features. As there was still a distinct lack of any insect life visible I therefore decided to continue with the streamer rod. Again, actively working the fly around the tree roots and the structure in the deeper pools was the winning method. By the end of the afternoon I'd had eight wild brownies, the best fish coming right at the end - a proper small stream bruiser with a nicely marked adipose fin. Had to slide down the bank into the water to land him and it was a shock to feel how cold the water actually was, even through my waders. However, back at the car, having not seen anything move all day and having packed away the rods, I saw at least three fish start to rise just a few yards downstream - Sod's Law! Failed to identify what they were feeding on as they stopped rising almost as quickly as they started, but filed their location away for potentially another visit.

Ten minutes later I was having a cup of coffee with the brother on his patio next to the Straford-upon-Avon canal - a nice end to a very enjoyable sesson on a new venue. 

01/03/2021 - Back on the predators

Decided a change was in order after struggling a bit for the grayling, so dusted off the pike gear, emptied the freezer of dead baits and headed to my local River Soar. Got there for first light, but in contrast to the previous few mornings it was dull and overcast, with a bit of mist in the air.

Before I'd left the house I'd chopped up the more tired-looking of my dead baits and as I walked upstream I flicked the pieces into the near-side margin, hopefully to act as an appetiser to the main course that would come later. River had been over the top of the flood wall not so long ago, but was well down and with no sign of the extensive beds of pennywort that were present on my previous visit - probably now all in the Humber! Visibilty in the margins was also good. Got both rods baited up, one with a smelt and the other with a joey. 

Intention was to use the downstream rod to fish the near-side margin and the upstream rod to search between mid-river and the boats on the far bank. Got off to a slow start and had moved the rods around a couple of times when I saw a another car park up at the end of the lane. Watched the occupant start lure fishng downstream of me and a couple of casts later he was into a fish! However, didn't have to be envious for long as the float positioned mid-channel bobbed and then headed off, resulting in my first jack of the morning. By this time my fellow angler had walked upstream to say hello - turned out to be one-time fellow blogger and member of the Soar Valley Speciment Group, Leo Heathcote. Had a good natter before he headed off to try a little further upstream. By the time he returned a bit later neither of us had added anything to our respective tallies. However, shortly after he left I had another pick up over near the boats.  

Unfortunately the bait was dropped before I could wind down, something that would happen a few times throughout the morning. Had another small one down the nearside before the float in mid-channel went off again.This is an area that I have neglected in the past, always concentrating on the margins, possibly to my detriment. Wound down and felt an obviously much better fish that actually took some line off the reel on its first dash, but after a few seconds the hooks pulled! Found that two of the points on the top treble had opened out. I'd had to bend them back into position after the first fish did a crocodile impression and had caught the hook in the net, so they were obviously weak and had probably cost me a decent pike. Needless to say I changed the trace after that. Carried on leapfrogging the rods back downstream and had a couple more before the wind started getting up. 

Blowing straight upstream it was making it difficult to see the first indications on the float (usually I'm onto the rod at the slightest knock and feeding line off the reel), which again cost me a couple of fish as the increasing tension on the rod tip before the line pulled out of the clip was apparently enough to make them drop the bait. By the time I'd got to the end of the section I'd had a total of six pike, but I wasn;t happy with the lost fish and dropped runs. Even those I had landed were only lightly hooked by one of the two trebles, so they were obviously being a bit finnicky. Luckily they had all decided to come in like wet sacks! With about 15 minutes left before I had to leave for lunch I popped a mackerel over to the far bank and a lamprey down the margin. A few minutes later the mackerel developed a life of its own as it headed downstream. However, before I could wind down the bait was dropped yet again! 

Popped the now mangled mackerel back in the same spot only to have the float waddle off once more. This time I managed to set the hooks into a fish that gave a good scrap for a change, all the time me thinking I was going to lose it. Had just unhooked it in the net when I heard the indicator on the other rod hit the back rest and the bite alarm start shrieking. Luckily the fish on the end of this one wasn't giving up its prize and was on its way to the Trent! After another spirited scrap I had him lying side-by-side with his companion in the net.That mad few minutes had not only served to flatter the scorecard, but had also pushed me well into borrowed time, so I didn't find out whether that was the start of a bit of a feeding spell or I'd found a group of fish. I'd almost exhausted my bait supply anyway, so chucked everything back in the car and got home just in time for a bite to eat before my first work call of the afternoon. 

With regards to those fussy pike, there's an interesting article by Dominic Garnett here, which suggests that we have created the most cautious generation of pike fishing ever through relentless fishing pressure. Food for thought, but the old saying has always been that pike thrive on neglect. Unfortunately there just aren't any wild, pristine venues in my neck of the woods, so I'll just have to up my game next time!