As months of record-breaking heat finally appear to be cooling, Angling Trust blogger Dominic Garnett reflects on a memorable summer for fishing.
For the best and worst of reasons, there are times in an angler’s life that permanently stick in the memory. For every dozen good to indifferent trips, there’s the day you fell in the river or caught the fish of a lifetime.
If the same is occasionally true for whole seasons, the summer of 2018 will definitely be one to remember. In the hottest spell for decades, many of our rivers and stillwaters were at record low levels. In some cases you could sunbathe on the spot your bait was sitting 2017.
The best laid plans…
If ever there was a summer to play to the conditions, it was this one. I guess most of us try and plan for our favourite methods and species; but experience will often tell you loud and clear that plan A is not a good idea.
When it comes to catching tench or river fishing for wild trout, for example, the hot, sunny conditions beloved of holiday makers can be dreadful.It’s also a time of year that tells you that spotting fish and actually catching them are two very different things. If you can make an abrupt change of scenery, though, that baking hot afternoon can occasionally be spot on for an alternative target species.
There’s a lot of fun to be had by being a little less selective, for one thing, and I enjoyed a fantastic day trying for mini species on the Birmingham and Worcester Canal (above) with the Trust’s Andy Wedgbury. Finding a spot with some shade to avoid being cooked to a crisp was a result in itself, before we attempted to catch as many smaller species as possible.
As we discussed on our visit, so many UK canals are “well beaten paths” but seeing another angler is rare. Crazy, when you see the number and variety of fish! I went conventional on this occasion (pole, with pinkie and worm), while Andy threw a complete curveball with a tiny rod, using baited jigs right under the bank. Indeed, detailing these tactics made for an enterainingly leftfield Angling Times piece, for those who caught it!
The main event were the ruffe, a fish I just love to see. That said, we also managed roach, perch, silver bream, common bream, gudgeon and even a rare bullhead. My only slight disappointment is that this was before the Freshwater Team’s little staff species hunt competition kicked off; because at present I’m getting thrashed out of sight!
Closer to home, the heat forced some different plans, too. As for the very best species to fish for in hot weather, those would have to be rudd and chub. Both are customers I like to target by sight on brighter days. In fact they can be extremely catchable when basking just under the surface. In the upper layers of the water, however, they can be quite tackle shy. Hence simplicity rules.
Freelined, floating baits are one way to chase these species, but my absolute favourite for enjoyment has to be fly fishing. It’s so simple and unobtrusive for one thing, not to mention visually exciting. Tiny slow-sinking flies are a must for the rudd on canals and drains. Meanwhile chub are also suckers for any juicy looking wet fly, but are even more fun on big, leggy dry flies.
The faster stretches of water in my neck of the woods have been great for good numbers of chub; and that includes free fisheries and some of the most urban waters going. Ben Garnett was relieved anyway, because with just one meagre afternoon off to fit around work and childcare, he still managed half a dozen nice chub to match me fish for fish. Well, it’s not on being beaten by your brother, is it?
For those who enjoy going for coarse fish on the fly, my “Fish Where You Live” mini-series for Today’s Flyfisher might also be of interest. See todaysflyfisher.com
Summer match fishing
Another great summer pleasure from my perspective has been match fishing. It’s not everyone’s cup of tea, I know, but it’s another branch of fishing where too many of us don’t know what we’re missing. Records are tumbling quicker than Trump lawyers at the moment on the famous commercials including Dorset’s Todber Manor and Kent’s Monk Lake. However, it would be wrong to assume that today’s matches are all about gazillion-pound bags of carp and elite level competition.
In fact, smaller club matches tend to find a nice balance between camaraderie and competition. There are some very useful anglers in most clubs to be fair, but whether you draw a great peg or come nowhere, it never gets too serious and a fun day out in good company is guaranteed. Well, that’s certainly been the case with my local Tiverton AA, with turnouts of two-dozen anglers to most events and a nice variety of waters including more traditional venues.
The highs this season have included several top three finishes and catches that exceded my initial, modest expectations. The lows have included getting smashed up by fish I probably tackled up too light for, as well as being pipped by just one net-sized fish in the last outing! All good fun though and every match day rewards you with a lesson or two for next time.
What have I learned most about this season then? Well, more thorough preparation and bait presentation have been the two biggest things. You quickly realise that details such as dotting floats right down, switching baits and plumbing your swim with the mindset of a detective are important. Even if you had a poor match, you cannot fail to improve as an angler.
I’m unlikely to win the Tivvy league this year then, but have surprised myself by keeping right up in the top three and enjoyed every match. Not that you need to fish a series to start match fishing or get back into it! In fact, the other matches I have my eye on are the Canal Pairs series, joint hosted by the Angling Trust and Canal and Rivers Trust.
For those not enamoured with carp venues and mega weights, these contests take place on classic venues, where old school tactics and traditional baits will come to the fore. I’m going to be joining forces with Angling Trust colleague Alex Clegg on the Trent and Mersey Canal next month, where I know he has some “previous”. Wish us luck!
Roads less travelled
Of course, anglers love to concoct lots of plans and daydreams, but there is only so much time every summer. At some point, you have to accept that it’s not possible to do everything (even if your life and work are basically defined by fishing!).
That said, sometimes an hour or two is all it needs. An ultralight lure rod has come in especially handy on several occasions by the sea this summer. Quick as a flash you can be fishing somewhere completely new, miles from home, and snatching gobies, wrasse, pollack and other species. Over the past few seasons this is something I’ve really fallen in love with, in fact.
Actually, to spill a bean or two, I’m still busy gathering pictures and detailed information on many of these delightful and lesser known critters for a future book, which will be all about the world of modern species hunting. That’s about all I can reveal for now, though.
Otherwise, my work for the Angling Trust has taken me hundreds of miles from my home in Devon to cover various stories and meet the individuals making a difference. Meeting award winning Voluntary Bailiff Roy Bridson was one of the very best of these road trips, which made a lovely spread for the Angling Times.
Continuing to patrol the banks while recovering from cancer, he had some amazing stories to tell, from foiling crude attempts to net his local waters, to actually saving a young woman’s life. Indeed, when you see what folks like Roy and the Angling Trust’s army of 500 Voluntary Bailiffs do for the sport, it really shows what huge strides have been made for fisheries enforcement in recent years.
Once I’d interviewed Roy and walked the banks with the Trust’s Paul Thomas and Kelvin Allen, the idea was to get some pictures of Roy fishing. But with other things to get on with, he’d suggested I take an hour or two with a rod seeing as we had our story in the can.
You really cannot beat local knowlegde when it comes to tracking down the bigger fish in any water and within an hour or so of Roy pointing out a favourite chub hole, I had a bite that nearly pulled the rod in! At just over five pounds, it was a sweet ending to what had already been an excellent day.
To read more fishing news and the latest on various projects and campaigns, all you have to do is follow this blog! So far this year, I’ve been covering issues, from fisheries enforcement and participation to our ongoing action on issues like littering, invasive species and all the other ways your Environment Agency rod licence money is being used.
Meanwhile, you can also find more current fishing articles across digital and print media alike. For Angling Trust members, our action-packed 2018 issue of The Angler has a special crucian carp feature to read, while those who pick up the Angling Times can read my “Far Bank” column every week. Online, you’ll also find further free fishing articles and blogs from yours truly at Fishtec, Today’s Flyfisher, and my own website: dgfishing.co.uk
Tight lines to all of you for the rest of the summer, let’s hope for less heat and great fishing.